Read CHAPTER ONE of Deep Down‚ a Tale of the Cornish Mines , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on


Necessity is the mother of invention.  This is undoubtedly true, but it is equally true that invention is not the only member of necessity’s large family.  Change of scene and circumstance are also among her children.  It was necessity that gave birth to the resolve to travel to the end of the earth ­of English earth at all events ­in search of fortune, which swelled the bosom of yonder tall, well-favoured youth, who, seated uncomfortably on the top of that clumsy public conveyance, drives up Market-Jew Street in the ancient town of Penzance.  Yes, necessity ­stern necessity, as she is sometimes called ­drove that youth into Cornwall, and thus was the originating cause of that wonderful series of events which ultimately led to his attaining ­but hold!  Let us begin at the beginning.

It was a beautiful morning in June, in that period of the world’s history which is ambiguously styled “Once-upon-a-time,” when the “Kittereen” ­the clumsy vehicle above referred to ­rumbled up to the Star Inn and stopped there.  The tall, well-favoured youth leapt at once to the ground, and entered the inn with the air of a man who owned at least the half of the county, although his much-worn grey shooting costume and single unpretentious portmanteau did not indicate either unusual wealth or exalted station.

In an off-hand hearty way, he announced to landlord, waiters, chambermaids, and hangers-on, to all, indeed, who might choose to listen, that the weather was glorious, that coaches of all kinds, especially Kittereens, were detestable machines of torture, and that he meant to perform the remainder of his journey on foot.

He inquired the way to the town of St. Just, ordered his luggage to be forwarded by coach or cart, and, with nothing but a stout oaken cudgel to encumber him, set out on his walk of about seven miles, with the determination of compensating himself for previous hours of forced inaction and constraint by ignoring roads and crossing the country like an Irish fox-hunter.

Acting on the presumptuous belief that he could find his way to any part of the world with the smallest amount of direction, he naturally missed the right road at the outset, and instead of taking the road to St. Just, pursued that which leads to the Land’s End.

The youth, as we have observed, was well-favoured.  Tall, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and athletic, with an active step, erect gait, and clear laughing eye, he was one whom a recruiting-sergeant in the Guards would have looked upon with a covetous sigh.  Smooth fair cheeks and chin told that boyhood was scarce out of sight behind, and an undeniable some thing on the upper lip declared that manhood was not far in advance.

Like most people in what may be termed an uncertain stage of existence, our hero exhibited a variety of apparent contradictions.  His great size and muscular strength and deep bass voice were those of a man, while the smooth skin, the soft curling hair, and the rollicking gladsome look were all indicative of the boy.  His countenance, too, might have perplexed a fortune-teller.  Sometimes it was grave almost to sternness, at other times it sparkled with delight, exhibiting now an expression that would have befitted a sage on whose decisions hung the fate of kingdoms, and anon displaying a dash of mischief worthy of the wildest boy in a village school.

Some of the youth’s varied, not to say extravagant, actions and expressions, were perhaps due to the exhilarating brilliancy of the morning, or to the appearance of those splendid castles which his mind was actively engaged in building in the air.

The country through which he travelled was at first varied with trees and bushes clothed in rich foliage; but soon its aspect changed, and ere long he pursued a path which led over a wide extent of wild moorland covered with purple heath and gorse in golden-yellow bloom.  The ground, too, became so rough that the youth was fain to confine himself to the highroad; but being of an explorative disposition, he quickly diverged into the lanes, which in that part of Cornwall were, and still are, sufficiently serpentine and intricate to mislead a more experienced traveller.  It soon began to dawn upon the youth’s mind that he was wandering in a wrong direction, and when he suddenly discovered a solitary cottage on the right hand, which he had previously observed on the left, he made up his mind to sacrifice his independence and condescend to ask for guidance.

Lightly leaping a wall with this intent, he crossed two fields, and stooped as he looked in at the low doorway of the cottage, from the interior of which there issued the loud cries of a child either in great pain or passion.

A sturdy little boy seated on a stool, and roaring like a young bull, while an elderly woman tried to comfort him, was the sight which met his gaze.

“Can you show me the road to St. Just?” inquired our adventurer.

“St. Just, sur?” said the woman, stepping out in front of the door, “why, you’re on the way to St. Buryan, sure.  Ef you do keep on the right of the hill over theere, you’ll see the St. Just road.”

A yell of unparalleled ferocity issued at this moment from the cottage, and it was found that the noisy urchin within, overcome by curiosity, had risen to ascertain who the stranger outside could be, and had been arrested by a pang of agony.

“Aw dear, aw dear, my poor booy,” exclaimed the woman, endeavouring gently to press the boy down again on the stool, amid furious roaring.

“What’s wrong with him?” asked our traveller, entering the apartment.

“He’s tumbled off the wall, dear booy, an’ semen to me he’s scat un shoulder very bad.”

“Let me have a look at him,” said the youth, sitting down on the edge of a bed which stood at one end of the room, and drawing the child between his knees.  “Come, little man, don’t shout so loud; I’ll put it all right for you.  Let me feel your shoulder.”

To judge from the immediate result, the young man seemed to put it all wrong instead of “all right,” for his somewhat rough manipulation of the boy’s shoulder produced such a torrent of screams that the pitying woman had much ado to restrain herself from rushing to the rescue.

“Ah!” exclaimed the youth in grey, releasing his victim; “I thought so; he has broken his collar-bone, my good woman; not a serious matter, by any means, but it will worry him for some time to come.  Have you got anything to make a bandage of?”

“Sur?” said the woman.

“Have you a bit of rag ­an old shirt or apron? ­anything will do.”

The woman promptly produced a cotton shirt, which the youth tore up into long strips.  Making a pad of one of these, he placed it under the boy’s arm-pit despite of sobs and resistance.  This pad acted as a fulcrum on which the arm rested as a lever.  Pressing the elbow close to the boy’s side he thus forced the shoulder outwards, and, with his left hand, set the bone with its two broken ends together.  To secure it in this position he bound the arm pretty firmly to the boy’s body, so that he could not move a muscle of the left arm or shoulder.

“There,” said the youth, assisting his patient to put on his shirt, “that will keep all straight.  You must not on any account remove the bandage for some weeks.”

“How long, sur?” exclaimed the woman in surprise.

“For some weeks; but that will depend on how the little fellow gets on.  He may go about and use his right arm as he pleases, but no more climbing on walls for some time to come.  Do you hear, little man?”

The urchin, whose pain was somewhat relieved, and who had moderated down to an occasional deep sob, said “Iss.”

“You’re a doctor, sur, I think?” said the woman.

“Yes, I am; and I’ll come to see you again, so be careful to attend to my directions.  Good-morning.”

“Good mornin’, sur, an’ thank ’ee!” exclaimed the grateful dame as the youth left the house, and, leaping the low enclosure in front of it, sped over the moor in the direction which had been pointed out to him.

His resolution to ignore roads cost our traveller more trouble than he had anticipated, for the moor was very rugged, the brambles vexatious, and the spines of the gorse uncommonly sharp.  Impediments of every kind were more numerous than he had been accustomed to meet with even on the heath-clad hills of Scotland, with which ­although “the land of the mountain and the flood” was not that of his birth ­he had from childhood been familiar.

After a good deal of vigorous leaping and resolute scrambling, he reached one of those peculiar Cornish lanes which are so deeply sunk in the ground, and edged with such high solid walls, that the wayfarer cannot in many places see the nature of the country through which he is passing.  The point at which he reached the lane was so overgrown with gorse and brambles that it was necessary to search for a passage through them.  This not being readily found, he gave way to the impetuosity of his disposition, stepped back a few paces, cleared the obstacles with a light bound, and alighted on the edge of the bank, which gave way under his weight, and he descended into the lane in a shower of stones and dust, landing on his feet more by chance than by dexterity.

A shout of indignation greeted the traveller, and, turning abruptly round, he beheld a stout old gentleman stamping with rage, covered from head to foot with dust, and sputtering out epithets of opprobrium on the hapless wight who had thus unintentionally bespattered him.

“Ugh! hah! you young jackanapes ­you blind dumbledory ­ugh!  What mean you by galloping over the country thus like a wild ass ­eh?”

A fit of coughing here interrupted the choleric old gentleman, in the midst of which our hero, with much humility of demeanour, many apologies, and protestations of innocence of intention to injure, picked up the old gentleman’s hat, assisted him to brush his clothes with a bunch of ferns, and in various other ways sought to pacify him.

The old man grumbled a good deal at first, but was finally so far mollified as to say less testily, while he put on his hat, “I warrant me, young man, you are come on some wild-goose chase to this out-o’-the-way region of the land in search of the picturesque ­eh? ­a dauber on canvas?”

“No, sir,” replied the youth, “I profess not to wield the pencil or brush, although I admit to having made feeble efforts as an amateur.  The scalpel is more to my taste, and my object in coming here is to visit a relative.  I am on my way to St. Just; but, having wandered somewhat out of my road, have been obliged to strike into bypaths, as you see.”

“As I see, young man! ­yes, and as I feel,” replied the old gentleman, with some remains of asperity.

“I have already expressed regret for the mischance that has befallen you,” said the youth in grey somewhat sternly, for his impulsive spirit fired a little at the continued ill-humour of the old gentleman.  “Perhaps you will return good for evil by pointing out the way to St. Just.  May I venture to ask this favour of you?”

“You may venture, and you have ventured; and it is my belief, young man, that you’ll venture many a thing before this world has done with you; however, as you are a stranger in these parts, and have expressed due penitence for your misdeed, though I more than half doubt your sincerity, I can do no less than point out the road to St. Just, whither I will accompany you at least part of the way; and, young sir, as you have taken pretty free liberty with me this morning, may I take the liberty of asking you the name of your relative in St. Just?  I am well acquainted with most of the inhabitants of that town.”

“Certainly,” replied the youth.  “The gentleman whom I am going to visit is my uncle.  His name is Donnithorne.”

“What!  Tom Donnithorne?” exclaimed the old gentleman, in a tone of surprise, as he darted a keen glance from under his bushy eyebrows at his companion.  “Hah! then from that fact I gather that you are Oliver Trembath, the young doctor whom he has been expecting the last day or two.  H’m ­so old Tom Donnithorne is your uncle, is he?”

The youth in grey did not relish the free and easy, not to say patronising, tone of his companion, and felt inclined to give a sharp answer, but he restrained his feelings and replied, ­“He is, and you are correct in your supposition regarding myself.  Do you happen to know my uncle personally?”

“Know him personally!” cried the old gentleman with a sardonic laugh; “Oh yes, I know him intimately ­intimately; some people say he’s a very good fellow.”

“I am glad to hear that, for to say truth ­”

He paused abruptly.

“Ha!  I suppose you were going to say that you have heard a different account of him ­eh?”

“Well, I was going to observe,” replied Oliver, with a laugh, “that my uncle is rather a wild man for his years ­addicted to smuggling, I am told, and somewhat given to the bottle; but it is well known that tattlers give false reports, and I am delighted to hear that the old boy is not such a bad fellow after all.”

“Humph!” ejaculated the other.  “Then you have never seen him, I suppose?”

“No, never; although I am a Cornishman I have seen little of my native county, having left it when a little boy ­before my uncle came to live in this part of the country.”

“H’m ­well, young man, I would advise you to beware of that same uncle of yours.”

“How!” exclaimed the youth in surprise; “did you not tell me just now that he is a very good fellow?”

“No, sir, I did not.  I told you that some people say he is a very good fellow, but for myself I think him an uncommonly bad man, a man who has done me great injury in his day ­”

“It grieves me to hear you say so,” interrupted Oliver, whose ire was again roused by the tone and manner of his companion.

“A decidedly bad man,” continued the old gentleman, not noticing the interruption, “a thorough rascal, a smuggler, and a drunkard, and ­”

“Hold, sir!” cried the youth sternly, as he stopped and faced the old gentleman, “remember that you speak of my relative.  Had you been a younger man, sir ­”

Again the youth paused abruptly.

“Go on, sir,” said the old gentleman ironically, “you would have pommelled me to a jelly with your cudgel, I suppose; is that it? ­acting somewhat in the spirit of your kinsman, that same smuggling and tippling old scoundrel, who ­”

“Enough, sir,” interrupted the young man angrily; “we part company here.”

So saying, he vaulted over the wall that separated the road from the moor, and hurried away.

“Take the first turn to the left, and keep straight on, else you’ll lose yourself aga-a-a-in,” roared the old gentleman, “and my compliments to the rascally old smugg--e-r-r!”

“The old scoundrel!” muttered the youth as he hurried away.

“The young puppy!” growled the old gentleman as he jogged along.  “Given to smuggling and the bottle indeed ­humph! the excitable jackanapes!  But I’ve given him a turn in the wrong direction that will cool his blood somewhat, and give me leisure to cool mine too, before we meet again.”

Here the old gentleman’s red countenance relaxed into a broad grin, and he chuckled a good deal, in the midst of a running commentary on the conduct and appearance of his late companion, from the disjointed sentences of which it might have been gathered that although his introduction to the young doctor had been unfortunate, and the succeeding intercourse stormy, his opinion of him was not altogether unfavourable.