Read CHAPTER IV. - MISS PLINLIMMON. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

Late in August, and a week or two before Mr. Trapp changed his signboard and resumed his proper business, I was idling by the edge of the Barbican one evening when a boy, whose eye I had blacked recently, charged up behind me and pushed me over.  I pretended to be drowning, and sank theatrically as he and half a dozen others, conveniently naked, plunged to the rescue.  They dived for my body with great zeal, while I, having slipped under the keel of a trading-ketch and climbed on board by her accommodation-ladder dangling on the far side, watched them from behind a stack of flower-pots on her deck.  When they desisted, and I had seen the culprit first treated as a leper by the crowd, then haled before two constables and examined at length, finally led homeward by the ear and cuffed at every few steps by his mother (a widow), I slipped back into the water, dived back under the ketch, and, emerging, asked the cause of the disturbance.  This made a new reputation for me, at the expense of some emotion to Mrs. Trapp, to whom the news of my decease had been borne on the swiftest wings of rumour.

But I have tarried too long over those days of my apprenticeship, and am yet only at the beginning.  Were there no story to be told, I might fill a chapter by fishing up recollections of Plymouth in those days; of the women, for instance, carried down in procession to the Barbican and ducked for scolding.  A husband had but to go before the Mayor (Mr. Trapp sometimes threatened it) and swear that his wife was a common scold, and the Mayor gave him an order to hoist her on a horse and take her to the ducking-chair to be dipped thrice in Sutton Pool.  At last a poor creature died of it, and that put an end to the bad business.  Then there were the press-gangs.  Time and again I have run naked from bathing to watch the press as, after hunting from tavern to tavern, it dragged a man off screaming to the steps, the sailors often man-handling him and the officer joking with the crowd and behaving as cool and gentlemanly as you please.  Mr. Trapp and I were by the door one evening, measuring out the soot, when a man came panting up the alley and rushed past us into the back kitchen without so much as “by your leave.”  Half a minute later up came the press, and the young officer at the head of them was for pushing past and into the house; but Mr. Trapp blocked the doorway, with Mrs. Trapp full of fight in the rear.

“Stand by!” says the officer to his men.  “And you, sir, what the devil do you mean by setting yourself in the way of his Majesty’s Service?”

“An Englishman’s house,” said Mr. Trapp, “is his castle.”

“D’ye hear that?” screamed Mrs. Trapp.

“An Englishman’s house,” repeated Mr. Trapp slowly, “is his castle.  The storms may assail it, and the winds whistle round it, but the King himself cannot do so.”

The officer knew the law and called off his gang.  When the coast was clear we went to search for the man, and found he had vanished, taking half a flitch of bacon with him off the kitchen-rack.

All those days, too, throb in my head to the tramp of soldiers in the streets, and ring with bugles blown almost incessantly from the ramparts high above my garret.  On Sundays Mr. Trapp and I used to take our walk together around the ramparts, between church and dinner-time, after listening to the Royal Marine Band as it played up George Street and Bedford Street on the way from service in St. Andrew’s Church.  If we met a soldier we had to stand aside; indeed, even common privates in those days (so proudly the Army bore itself, though its triumphs were to come) would take the wall of a woman ­a greater insult then than now, or at least a more unusual one.  A young officer of the ’ ­’th Regiment once put this indignity upon Mrs. Trapp, in Southside Street.  The day was a wet one, and the gutter ran with liquid mud.  Mrs. Trapp recovered her balance, slipped off her pattens, and stamped them on the back of his scarlet coat ­two oval O’s for him to walk about with.

Those were days, too, which kept our Plymouth stones rattling.  Besides the coaches ­the “Quicksilver,” which carried the mails and a coachman and guard in scarlet liveries, the humdrum “Defiance” and the dashing “Subscription” or “Scrippy” post-chaises came and went continually, whisking naval officers between us and London with dispatches:  and sometimes the whole populace turned out to cheer as trains of artillery wagons, escorted by armed seamen, marines, and soldiers, horse and foot, rumbled up from Dock towards the Citadel with treasure from some captured frigate.  I could tell, too, of the great November Fair in the Market Place, and the rejoicings on the King’s Jubilee, when I paid a halfpenny to go inside the huge hollow bonfire built on the Hoe:  but all this would keep me from my story ­ for which I must hark back to Miss Plinlimmon.

For many months I heard nothing of this dear lady, and it seemed that I had parted from her for ever, when one evening as I returned from carrying a bag of soot out to Mutley Plain (where a market-gardener wanted some for his beds), Mrs. Trapp put into my hands a letter addressed in the familiar Italian hand to “H.  Revel, residing with Mr. S. Trapp, House Renovator, near the Barbican.”  It ran: 

“My dearest Harry, ­I wonder if, amid your new avocations, you will take the pleasure in the handwriting of an old friend?  I remember you many times daily, and often when I wake in the night; and commend you to God morning and evening, kneeling on the place where your cot used to stand, for I have no one now to care for in my room.  There is little change in our life here; though Mr. Scougall, as I foreboded, takes less heart in his ministrations, and I should not wonder if he retired before long.  But this is between ourselves.  Punctual as ever in his duties, he rarely spends the night here, but departs at six p.m. for his wife’s farm, where Mrs. S. very naturally prefers to reside.  Indeed, I wish she would absent herself altogether; for when she comes, it is to criticise the housekeeping, in which I regret to say she does not maintain that generous spirit of which she gave promise in the veal pies, etc., of that ever memorable morning.  I never condescended to be a bride:  yet I feel sure, that had I done so, it would have given me an extra compassion for the fatherless.”

“But enough of myself.  My object in writing is to tell you that my birthday falls on Wednesday next (May 1st, dedicated by the Ancient Romans to the Goddess of Flowers, as I was yearly reminded in my happy youth.  But how often Fate withholds from us her seeming promises!).  It might be a bond between us, my dear boy, if you will take that day for your birthday too.  Pray humour me in this; for indeed your going has left a void which I cannot fill, and perhaps do not wish to, except with thoughts of you.  I trust there used to be no partiality; but for some reason you were dearer to me than the others; and I feel as if God, in His mysterious way, sent you into my life with meaning.  Do you think that Mr. Trapp, if you asked him politely (and I trust you have not forgotten your politeness), would permit you to meet me at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, in Mr. Tucker’s Bun Shop, in Bedford Street, to celebrate your birthday with an affectionate friend?  Such ever is,”

“Amelia Plinlimmon.”

“Oh, very well,” said Mr. Trapp when I showed him the letter and put my request; “only don’t let her swell you out of shape.  Chimbleys is narrower than they used to be.  May-day is Sweeps’ Holiday, too, though we don’t keep it up in Plymouth:  I dare say the lady thought ’pon that.  In my bachelor days I used to be Jack in the Green reggilar.”

“It’s just as well I never saw ye, then,” said his wife tartly.  “And to imagine that a lady like Miss Plinlimmon would concern herself with your deboshes!  But you’d lower the King on his throne.”

Indeed, Mr. Trapp went on to give some colour to this.  “I wonder what she means, talking about Roman goddesses?” he mused.  “I seen one, once, in a penny show; and it was marked outside ’Men only Admitted.’”

Mrs. Trapp swept me from the room.

On May-day, then, I entered Mr. Tucker’s Bun Shop with a beating heart, a scrubbed face and a sprig of southernwood in my button-hole, and Miss Plinlimmon fell on my neck and kissed me.  All the formality of the Genevan Hospital dropped away from her as a garment, and left only the tender formality of her own nature, so human that it amazed me.  I had never really known her until now.  She had prepared a feast, including Mr. Tucker’s famous cheese-cakes, “as patronised by Queen Charlotte,” and cakes called “maids of honour.”  “To my mind,” said Miss Plinlimmon, taking one, “there is always an air of refinement about this shop.”  She praised my growth, and the cleanliness of my skin, and the care with which Mrs. Trapp kept my clothes; and laughed when I reported some of Mrs. Trapp’s sayings ­ but tremulously:  indeed, more than once her eyes brimmed as she gazed across the table.  “You cannot think how happy I am!” she almost whispered, and broke off to draw my attention to a young officer who had entered the shop, with two ladies in fresh summer gowns of sprigged muslin, and who stood by the counter buying sweetmeats.  “If you can do so without staring, Harry, always make a point of observing such people as that.  You will be surprised at the little hints you pick up.”  I told her, growing bold, that I knew no finer lady than she, and never wanted to ­which I still think a happy and highly creditable speech for a boy of eleven.  She flushed with pleasure.  “I have birth, I hope,” she said, and with that her colour deepened, perhaps with a suspicion that this might hurt my feelings.  “But since our reverses,” she went on hurriedly, “we Plinlimmons have stood still; and one should move with the times.  I am not with those who think good manners need be old-fashioned ones.”  She recurred to Mrs. Trapp.  “I feel sure she must be an excellent woman.  Your clothes are well kept, and I read more in needlework than you think.  Also folks cannot neglect their cleanliness and then furbish themselves up in a day.  I see by your complexion that she attends to you.  I hope you are careful not to laugh at her when she makes those ludicrous speeches?”

But I shifted the talk from Mrs. Trapp.

“What did you mean, just now, by ‘we,’ Miss Plinlimmon?” I asked.

“Did I say ’we’?”

“You talked about your reverses ­’our reverses,’ you said.  I wish you would tell me about it:  I never heard, before, of anyone belonging to you.”

“‘We’ means ‘my brother and I,’” she said, and said no more until she had paid the bill and we walked up to the Hoe together.  There she chose a seat overlooking the Sound and close above the amphitheatre (in those days used as a bull-ring) where Corineus the Trojan had wrestled, ages before, with the giant Gogmagog and defeated him.

“My brother Arthur ­Captain Arthur Plinlimmon of the King’s Own ­is the soul of honour.  I do not believe a nobler gentleman lives in the whole wide world:  but then we are descended from the great Glendower, King of Wales (I will show you the pedigree, some day), and have Tudor blood, too, in our veins.  When dear papa died and we discovered he had been speculating unfortunately in East India Stock ­’buying for a fall’ was, I am told, his besetting weakness, though I could never understand the process ­Arthur offered me a home and maintenance for life.  Of course I refused:  for the blow reduced him, too, to bitter poverty, and he was married.  And, besides, I could never bear his wife, who was a woman of fashion and extravagant.  She is dead now, poor thing, so we will not talk of her:  but she could never be made to understand that their circumstances were altered, and died leaving some debts and one child, a boy called Archibald, who is now close on twenty years old.  So there is my story, Harry; and a very ordinary one, is it not?”

“Where does Captain Plinlimmon live?” I asked.

“He is quartered in Lancaster just now, with his regiment:  and Archie lives with him.  He had hoped to buy the poor boy a commission before this, but could not do so honourably until all the debts were paid.  ‘The sins of the fathers ­’” She broke off and glanced at me nervously.

But I was not of an age to suspect why, or to understand my own lot at all.  “I suppose you love this Archibald better than anybody,” said I with a twinge of jealousy.

“Oh, no,” she exclaimed quickly, and at once corrected herself.  “Not so much as I ought.  I love him, of course, for his father’s sake:  but in features he takes after his mother very strikingly, and that ­on the few occasions I have seen him ­chilled me.  It is wrong, I know; and no doubt with more opportunity I should have grown very fond of him.  Sometimes I tax myself, Harry, with being frail in my affections:  they require renewing with a sight of ­of their object.  That is why we are keeping our birthdays together to-day.”

She smiled at me, almost archly, putting out a hand to rest it on mine, which lay on my knee; then suddenly the smile wavered, and her eyes began to brim; I saw in them, as in troubled water, broken images of a hundred things I had known in dreams; and her arm was about my neck and I nestled against her.

“Dear Harry!  Dear boy!”

I cannot tell how long we sat there:  certainly until the ships hung out their riding-lights and the May stars shone down on us.  At whiles we talked, and at whiles were silent:  and both the talk and the silences (if you will not laugh) held some such meanings as they hold for lovers.  More than ever she was not the Miss Plinlimmon I remembered, but a strange woman, coming forth and revealing herself with the stars.  She actually confessed that she loathed porridge! ­ “though for example’s sake, you know, I force myself to eat it.  I think it unfair to compel children to a discipline you cannot endure with them.”

She parted with me under the moonlit Citadel, at the head of a by-lane leading to the Trapps’ cottage.  “I shall not write often, or see you,” she said.  “It is seldom that I get a holiday or even an hour to myself, and we will not unsettle ourselves” ­mark, if the child could not, the noble condescension ­“in our duties that are perhaps the more blessed for being stern.  But a year hence for certain, if spared, we will meet.  Until then be a gentleman always and ­I may ask it now ­for my sake.”

So we parted, and for a whole year I saw nothing of her, nor heard except at Christmas, when she sent me a closely written letter of six sheets, of which I will transcribe only the poetical conclusion: 

    “Christmas comes but once a year: 
        And why? we well may ask. 
     Repine not.  We are probably unequal
        To a severer task.”