Read CHAPTER V. - THE SHADOW OF ARCHIBALD. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

It is not only children who, having once tasted bliss, suppose fondly that one has only to prepare a time and place for it again and it can be repeated.  But he must be a queer child who starts with expecting any less.  Certainly no doubts assailed me when the anniversary came round and I made my way to Mr. Tucker’s Bun Shop; nor did Miss Plinlimmon’s greeting lack anything of tenderness.  She began at once to talk away merrily:  but children are demons to detect something amiss, and there was a note in her gaiety which somehow did not sound in key.  After a while she broke off in the middle of a sentence and sat stirring her tea, as with a mind withdrawn; recovered herself, and catching at her last words, continued ­but on a different subject; then, reading some puzzlement in my eyes, exclaimed abruptly, “My dear Harry, you have grown beyond knowledge!”

“Were you thinking of that?” I asked, for I had heard it twice already.

She answered one question with another.  “Of what were you thinking?”

I hesitated, for in truth I had been thinking how much older she had grown.  A year is a long time to a child, but it did not account to me for a curious wanness in her colour.  Her hair was greyer, too, and there were dark rings under her eyes.  “You seem different somehow, Miss Plinlimmon.”

“Do I?  The Hospital has been wearing me out, of late.  I have thought sometimes of resigning and trying my fortune elsewhere:  but the thought of the children restrains me.  I make many mistakes with them ­perhaps more as the years go on:  they love me, however, for they know that I mean well, and it would haunt me if they fell into bad hands.  Now I am not sure that Mr. Scougall would choose the best successor.  Before he married I could have trusted his judgment.”  She fell a-musing again.  “Archibald is here in Plymouth,” she added inconsequently.  “My nephew, you know.”

I nodded, and asked, “Is he quartered here?”

“Why, how did you know he was in the Army?”

“You told me Major Arthur was saving up to buy him a commission.”

“How well you remember!” she sighed.  “Alas! no:  the debts were too heavy.  Archibald is in the Army, but he has enlisted as a private, in the 105th, the North Wilts Regiment.  His father advised it:  he says that, in these days, commissions are to be won by young men content to begin in the ranks; and the lad has (I believe) a good friend in Colonel Festonhaugh, who commands the North Wilts.  He and Arthur are old comrades in arms.  But garrison life does not suit the poor boy, or so he complains.  He is a little sore with his father for subjecting him to it, and cannot take his stern view about paying the debts.  That is natural enough, perhaps.”  She heaved another sigh.  “His regiment ­or rather the second battalion, to which he belongs ­was ordered down to Plymouth last January, and since then has been occupied with drill and petty irritating duties at which he grumbles sorely ­though I believe there is a prospect of their being ordered out to Portugal before long.”

“You see him often?” I asked.

She seemed to pause a moment.  “Yes; oh, yes to be sure, I see him frequently.  That is only natural, is it not?”

We left the shop and strolled towards the Hoe.  I felt that something was interfering to spoil our day; and felt unreasonably sure of it on finding our old seat occupied by three soldiers ­two of them supporting a drunken comrade.  We made disconsolately for an empty bench, some fifty yards away.

“They belong to Archibald’s regiment,” said Miss Plinlimmon as we settled ourselves to talk.  I had noted that she scanned them narrowly.  “Why, here is Archibald!” she exclaimed:  and I looked up and saw a young red-coat sauntering towards us.

Her tone, I was jealously glad to observe, had not been entirely joyous.  And Master Archibald, as he drew near, did not seem in the best of tempers.  He was beyond all doubt a handsome youth, and straight-limbed; but apparently a sullen one.  He kept his eyes on the ground and only lifted them for a moment when close in front of us.

“Good afternoon, aunt.”

“Good afternoon, Archibald.  This is Harry ­my friend of whom you have heard me speak.”

He glanced at me with a curt nod.  I could see that he considered me a nuisance.  An awkward silence fell between the three of us, broken at length by a start and a smothered exclamation from Miss Plinlimmon.

Archibald glanced over his shoulder carelessly.  “Oh, yes,” said he, “they are baiting a bull down yonder.”

The ridge hid the bull-ring from us.  Dogs had been barking there when we seated ourselves, but the noise held no meaning for us.  It was the bull’s roar which had startled Miss Plinlimmon.

“Pray let us go!” She gathered her shawl about her in a twitter.  “This is quite horrible!”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he assured her.  “The brute’s tied fast enough.  Don’t go, aunt:  I want a word with you.”

He glowered at me again, and this time with meaning.  I saw that he wished me gone, and I moved to go.

“This is Harry’s birthday.  I am keeping it with him:  his birthday as well as mine, Archibald.”

“Gad, I forgot!  I’m sorry, aunt ­Many happy returns of the day!”

“Thank you,” said she drily.  “And now if you particularly wish to speak to me, I will walk with you, but only a short way.  Harry shall find another seat.”

As they walked away side by side, I turned my head to look for a bench farther removed from the bull-ring; and so became aware of another soldier, in uniform similar to Mr. Archibald’s, stretched prone on the turf a few paces behind me.

When I stood up and turned to have a look at him, his head had dropped on his arms and he appeared to be sleeping.  But I could have sworn that when I first caught sight of him he had been gazing after the pair.

Well, there was nothing in this (you will say) to disturb me; yet for some reason it made me alert, if not uneasy.  I chose another seat, but at no great distance, and kept him in view.  He raised his head once, stared around like one confused and not wholly awake, and dropped into slumber again.  Miss Plinlimmon and Archibald turned and came pacing back; turned again and repeated this quarter-deck walk three or four times.  He was talking, and now and then using a slight gesture.  I could not see that she responded.  At any rate, she did not turn to him.  But the man on the grass occupied most of my attention, and I missed the parting.  An odd fancy took me to watch if he stirred again while I counted a hundred.  He did not, and I shifted my gaze to find Miss Plinlimmon coming towards me unescorted.  Archibald had disappeared.

Her eyes were red, and her voice trembled a little.  “And now,” said she, “that’s enough of my affairs, please God!” She began to put questions about the Trapps.  And while I answered them I happened to look along the flat stretch of turf to the right, in time to see, at perhaps a hundred yards’ distance, a soldier cross it from behind and go hurrying down the slope towards the bull-ring.  I recognised him at a glance.  He was the black-avised man who had pretended to be sleeping.

Almost at once, as I remember it ­but I dare say some minutes had passed ­a furious hubbub arose below us, mixed with the yelling of dogs and a few sharp screams.  And, before we knew what it meant, at the point where the black-avised man had disappeared, he came scrambling back, found his legs and headed desperately towards us, with a bull behind him in full chase.

I managed to drag Miss Plinlimmon off the bench, thrust her like a bundle beneath it, and scrambled after her into shelter but a second or two before the pair came thundering by; for the bull’s hooves shook the ground; and so small a space ­ten or twelve yards at the most ­divided him from the man, that they passed in one rush, and with them half a dozen bulldogs hanging at the brute’s heels as if trailed along by an invisible cord.  Next after these pelted Master Archibald, shouting and tugging at his side-arm; and after him again, but well in the rear, a whole rabble of bull-baiters, butchers, soldiers, boys and mongrels, all yelping together with excitement and terror, the men flourishing swords and pitchforks.

To speak of the man first. ­I have since seen soldiers crazed and running in battle, but never such a face as passed me in that brief vision.  His lips were wide, his eyes strained and almost starting from his head, the pupils turned a little backward as if fascinated by the terror at his heels, imploring help, seeking a chance to double ­all three together ­and yet absolutely fixed and rigid.

The bull made no account of us, though below the seat I caught the light of his red eye as he plunged past, head to ground and so close that his hot breath smote in our faces and the broken end of rope about the base of his horns whipped the grass by my fingers.  Perhaps the red coat attracted his rage.  But he seemed to nurse a special grudge against the man.

This appeared when, a stone’s-throw beyond our seat, the man sprang sideways to the left of his course ­in the nick of time, too, for as he sprang he seemed to clear the horns by a bare foot.  The bull’s heavier rush carried him forward for several yards before he swerved himself on to the new line of pursuit; and this let up Master Archibald, who by this time had his side-arm loose.

“Ham-string ’en!” yelled a blue-shirted butcher, pausing beside us and panting.  “Quick, you fool ­ham-string ’en!”

For some reason the young man seemed to hesitate.  Likely enough he did not hear; perhaps had lost presence of mind.  At any rate, for a second or so, his arm hung on the stroke, and as the bull swerved again he jabbed his bayonet feebly at the haunch.

The butcher swore furiously.  “Murdered by folly if ever man was!  Ye bitter fool,” he shouted, “it’s pricked him on, ye’ve done!”

The black-faced man, having gained maybe a dozen yards by his manoeuvre, was now heading for the Citadel gate; beside which ­so far away that we saw them as toys ­stood a sentry-box and the figure of a sentry beside it.  Could he reach this gate?  His altered course had taken him a little downhill, to the left of the ridge, and to regain it by the Citadel he must fetch a slight loop.  Luckily the bull could not reason:  he followed his enemy.  But there was just a chance that by running along the ridge the chase might be headed off.  The crowd saw this and set off anew, with Master Archibald still a little in front and increasing his lead.  I scrambled from under the seat and followed.

But almost at once it became plain that we were out-distanced.  Alone of us Master Archibald had a chance; and if the man were to be saved, it lay either with him or with the sentry at the gate.

I can yet remember the look on the sentry’s face as we drew closer and his features grew distinct.  He stood in the middle of the short roadway which led to the drawbridge, and clearly it had within a few moments dawned upon him that he was the point upon which these fatal forces were converging.  A low wall fenced him on either hand, and as he braced himself, grasping his Brown Bess ­a fine picture of Duty triumphing over Irresolution ­into this narrow passage poured the chase, rolled as it were in a flying heap; the hunted man just perceptibly first, the bull and Archibald Plinlimmon cannoning against each other at the entrance.  Master Archibald was hurled aside by the impact of the brute’s hindquarters and shot, at first on all fours, then prone, alongside the base of the wall; but he had managed to get his thrust home, and this time with effect.  The bull tossed his head with a mighty roar, ducked it again and charged on his prey, who flung up both arms and fell spent by the sentry-box.  The sentry sprang to the other side of the roadway and let fly his charge at random as box, man, and bull crashed to earth together, and a dreadful bellow mingled with the sharper notes of splintered wood.

It was the end.  The bullet had cut clean through the bull’s spine at the neck, and the crowd dragged him lifeless, a board of the sentry-box still impaled on his horns, off the legs of the black-avised man ­who, at first supposed to be dead also, awoke out of his swoon to moan feebly for water.

While this was fetching, the butcher knelt and lifted him against his knee.  He struck me as ill-favoured enough ­not to say ghastly ­with the dust and blood on his face (for a splinter had laid open his cheek), and its complexion an unhealthy white against his matted hair.  I took note that he wore sergeant’s stripes.

“What’s the poor thing called?” someone inquired of the sentry.

The sentry, being an Irishman, mistook the idiom.  “He’s called a Bull,” said he, stroking the barrel of his rifle.  “H’what the divvle else?”

“But ’tis the man we mean.”

“Oh, he’s called Letcher; sergeant; North Wilts.”

Letcher gulped down a mouthful of water and managed to sit up, pushing the butcher’s arm aside.

“Where’s Plinlimmon?” he asked hoarsely.  “Hurt?”

“Here I am, old fellow,” answered Archibald, reeling rather than stepping forward.  “A crack on the skull, that’s all.  Hope you’re none the worse?” His own face was bleeding from a nasty graze on the right temple.

“H’m?” said Letcher.  “Mean it?  You’d better mean it by !” he snarled suddenly, his face twisted with pain or malice.  “You weren’t too smart, the first go.  Why the deuce didn’t you hamstring the brute?  You heard them shouting?”

“That’s asackly what I told ’en,” put in the butcher.

“Oh, stow your fat talk, you silly Devonshire-man!” The butcher’s tongue was too big for his mouth, and Letcher mimicked him ferociously and with an accuracy quite wonderful, his exhaustion considered.  He leaned back and panted.  “The brute touched me ­under the thigh, here.  I doubt I’m bleeding.”  He closed his eyes and fainted away.

They found, on lifting him, that he spoke truth.  The bull had gored him in the leg:  a nasty wound beginning at the back of the knee, running upward and missing the main artery by a bare inch.  A squad of soldiers had run out, hearing the shot, and these bore him into the Citadel, Master Archibald limping behind.

The crowd began to disperse, and I made my way back to Miss Plinlimmon.

“A providential escape!” said she on hearing my report.  “I am glad that Archibald acquitted himself well.”  She went on to tell me of a youthful adventure of her own with a mountain bull, in her native Wales.

Some days later she sent me a poem on the occurrence: 

    “Lo, as he strides his native scene,
     The bull ­how dignified his mien! 
        When tethered, otherwise! 
     Yet one his tether broke and ran
     After a military man
        Before these very eyes!”

“I feel that I have been more successful with the metre than usual,” she added, “having been guided by a little poem, a favourite of mine, which, as it also inculcates kindness to the brute creation, you will do well, Harry, to commit to memory.  It runs: 

    “’Poor little birds!  If people knew
     What sorrows little birds go through,
        I think that even boys
     Would never deem it sport, or fun,
     To stand and fire a frightful gun
        For nothing but the noise.’”

The shadow of Mr. Archibald seemed doomed to rest upon our anniversaries.  This second one, though more than exciting enough, had not answered my expectations:  and, on the third, when I presented myself at the Bun Shop it was to learn with dismay that Miss Plinlimmon had not arrived; with dismay and something more ­for I had walked into the country towards Plympton early that morning and raided an orchard under the trees of which grew a fine crop of columbines, seeded from a neighbouring garden.  Also I jingled together in my pocket no less a sum than two bright shillings, which Mr. Trapp had magnificently handed over to me out of a wager of five he had made with an East Country skipper that I could dive and take the water, hands first, off the jib-boom of any vessel selected from the shipping then at anchor in Cattewater.  I knew that Miss Plinlimmon wanted a box to hold her skeins, and I also knew the price of one in a window in George Street, and had the shopman’s promise not to part with it before five o’clock that evening.  I wished Miss Plinlimmon to admire it first, and then I meant to enter the shop in a lordly fashion and, emerging, to put the treasure in her hands.

So I paced the pavement in front of Mr. Tucker’s, the prey of a thousand misgivings.  But at length, and fully half an hour late, she hove in sight.

“I have been detained, dear,” she explained as we kissed, “ ­by Archibald,” she added.

Always that accursed Archibald!  “Did he wish you many happy returns?” I asked, thrusting my bunch of columbines upon her with a blush.

“You dear, dear boy!” she chirruped.  But she ignored my question.  When we were seated, too, she made the poorest attempt to eat, but kept exclaiming on the beauty of my flowers.

The meal over, she drew out her purse to pay.  “We shan’t be seeing Mr. Archibald to-day?” I asked wistfully, preparing to go.

“You may be certain ­” With that she paused, with a blank look which changed to one of shame and utter confusion.  The purse was empty.

“Oh, Harry ­what shall I do?  There were five shillings in it when .  I counted them out and laid the purse on the table beside my gloves.  I was just picking them up when ­when Archibald ­” Her voice failed again and she turned to the shop-woman.  “Something most unfortunate has happened.  Will you, please, send for Mr. Tucker?  He will know me.  I have been here on several previous occasions ­”

I had not the slightest notion of the price of eatables; but I, too, turned on the shopwoman with a bold face, albeit with a fluttering heart.

“How much?” I demanded.

“One-and-ninepence, sir.”

I know not which made me the happier ­relief, or the glory of being addressed as “sir.”  I paid, pocketed my threepence change, and in the elation of it offered Miss Plinlimmon my arm.  We walked down George Street, past the work-box in the window.  I managed to pass without wincing, though desperately afraid that the shopman might pop out ­it seemed but natural he should be lying in wait ­and hold me to my bargain.

Our session upon the Hoe, though uninterrupted, did not recapture the dear abandonment of our first blissful birthday.  Miss Plinlimmon could neither forget the mishap to her purse, nor speak quite freely about it.  A week later she celebrated her redemption in the following stanza: 

    “A friend in need is a friend indeed,
        We have oft-times heard: 
        And King Richard the Third
     Was reduced to crying, ‘My kingdom for a horse!’
        O, may we never want a friend! 
     ‘Or a bottle to give him,’ I omit, as coarse.”

She enclosed one-and-ninepence in the missive:  and so obtained her work-box after all ­it being, by a miracle, still unsold.