The Watchers

Chapter II

Dick Parmiter’s Story

A.E.W. Mason

I WOKE up at mid-day, and lay for awhile in my bed anticipating wearily the eight limping hours to come before the evening fell, and wondering how I might best escape them. From that debate my thoughts drifted to the events of the night before, and I recollected with a sudden thrill of interest, rare enough to surprise me, the coming of Dick Parmiter, and his treatment at Clutterbuck’s hands and his departure. I thought of his long journey to London along strange roads. I could see him tramping the dusty miles, each step leading him farther from that small corner of the world with which alone he was familiar. I imagined him now sleeping beneath a hedge, now perhaps, by some rare fortune, in one of Russell’s waggons with the Falmouth mails, which at nightfall he had overtaken, and from which at daybreak he would descend with a hurried word of thanks to get the quicker on his way; I pictured him pressing through the towns with a growing fear at his heart, because of their turmoil and their crowds; and I thought of him as hungering daily more and more for the sea which he had left behind, like a sheep-dog which one has taken from the sheep and shut up within the walls of a city. The boy’s spirit appealed to me. It was new, it was admirable; and I dressed that day with an uncommon alertness and got me out to Clutterbuck’s lodgings.

I found the lieutenant in bed with a tankard of small ale at his bedside. He looked me over with astonishment.

“I wish I could carry my liquor as well as you do,” said he, taking a pull at the tankard.

“Has the boy come back? “I asked.

“What, Dick?” said he. “No, nor will not.” And changing the subject, “If you will wait, Steve, I will make a shift to get up.”

I went into his parlour. The room had been put into some sort of order; but the shattered remnant of the mirror still hung between the windows, and it too spoke to me of Dick’s journey. I imagined him coming to the great city at the fall of night, and seeking out his way through its alleys and streets to Lieutenant Clutterbuck’s lodgings. I could see him on the stairs pausing to listen to the confusion within the rooms, and in the passage opening and closing the door as he hesitated whether to go in or no. I became all at once very curious to know what the errand was which had pushed him so far from his home, and I cudgelled my brains to recollect his story. But I could remember only the youth Cullen Mayle, who had sat in the stocks on a Sunday morning, and the girl Helen, and a negro who slept and slept, and a house with a desolate tangled garden by the sea, and men watching the house. But what bound these people and the house in a common history, as to that I was entirely in the dark.

“Steve,” said Clutterbuck—I had not remarked his entrance—“you look glum as a November morning. Is it a sore head? or is it the sight of your mischievous handiwork?” and he pointed to the mirror.

“It’s neither one nor the other,” said I. “It’s just the recollection of that boy fumbling under the table for his cap, and dragging himself silently out of the room, with all England to tramp and despair to sustain him.”

“That boy!” cried Clutterbuck, with great exasperation. “Curse you, Berkeley. That boy’s a maggot, and has crept into your brains. We’ll talk no more of him, if you please.” He took a pack of cards from a corner cupboard, and, tossing them on the table, “Here, choose your game I’ll play what you will, and for what stakes you will, so long as you hold your tongue.”

It was plain that I should learn nothing by pressing my curiosity upon him. I must go another way to work. But chance and Lieutenant Clutterbuck served my turn without any provocation from myself.

I chose the game of picquet, and Clutterbuck shuffled and cut the cards; whereupon I dealt them. Clutterbuck looked at his hand fretfully, and then cried out:

“I have no hand for picquet, but I have very good putt cards.”

I glanced through the cards I held.

“Make it putt, then,” said I. “I will wager what you will my hand is the better;” and Clutterbuck broke into a laugh and tossed his cards upon the table.

“You have two kings and an ace,” said he, “I know very well; but I have two kings and a deuce, and mine are the better.”

“It is a bite,” said I.

“And an ingenious one,” he returned. “It was Cullen Mayle who taught it to us in the mess at Star Castle. For packing the cards or knapping the dice I never came across his equal. Yet we could never detect him, and in the end not a soul in the garrison would play with him for crooked pins.”

“Cullen Mayle,” said I; “that was Adam’s son.”

Clutterbuck had sunk into something of a reverie, and spoke rather to himself than to me.

“They were the strangest pair,” he continued; “you would never take them for father and son, and I myself was always amazed to think there was any relationship between them. I have seen them sitting side by side on the settle in the kitchen of the “Palace Inn” at Tresco. Adam, an old bulky fellow, with a mulberry face and yellow angry eyes, and his great hands and feet twisted out of all belief. His stories were all of wild doings on the Guinea coast. Cullen, on the other hand, was a stripling with a soft face like a girl’s, exquisite in his dress, urbane in his manners. He had a gentle word and an attentive ear for each newcomer to the fire, and a white protesting hand for the oaths with which Adam salted his speech. Yet they were both of the same vindictive, turbulent spirit, only Cullen was the more dangerous.

“I have watched the gannets often through an afternoon in Hell Bay over at Brehar. They would circle high up in the air where no fish could see them, and then slant their wings and drop giddily with the splash of a stone upon their prey. They always put me in mind of Cullen Mayle. He struck mighty quick and out of the sky. I cannot remember, during all the ten years I lived at the Scillies, that any man crossed Cullen Mayle, though unwittingly, but some odd accident crippled him. He was the more dangerous of the pair. With Adam it was a word and a blow. With Cullen a word and another and another, and all of them soft, and the blow held over for a secret occasion. But it fell. If ever you come across Cullen Mayle, Berkeley, take care of your words and your deeds, for he strikes out of the sky and mighty quick.”

This Clutterbuck said with an extreme earnestness, leaning forward to me as he spoke. And even now I can but put it down to his earnestness that a shiver took me at the words; for nothing was more unlikely than that I should ever come to grips with Cullen Mayle, and the next moment I answered Clutterbuck lightly.

“Yet he sat in the stocks in the end,” said I, with as much indifference as I could counterfeit; for I was afraid lest any display of eagerness might close his lips. Lieutenant Clutterbuck, however, was hardly aware that he was being questioned. He laughed with a certain pleasure.

“Yes. A schooner, with a cargo of brandy, came ashore on Tresco. Cullen and the Tresco men saved the cargo and hid it away, and when the collector came over with his men from the Customs House upon St. Mary’s, Cullen drove him back to his boats with a broken head. Cullen broke old Captain Hathaway’s patience at the same time. Hathaway took off his silver spectacles at last and shut up his Diodorus Siculus with a bang; and so Cullen Mayle sat in the stocks before the Customs House on the Sunday morning. He left the islands that night. That was two years and a month ago.”

“And what had Dick Parmiter to do with Cullen Mayle?” said I.

“Dick?” said he. “Oh, Dick was Cullen Mayle’s henchman. But it seems that Dick has transferred his allegiance to——” And he stopped abruptly. His face soured as he stopped.

“To the girl Helen?” said I, quite forgetting my indifference.

“Yes!” cried Clutterbuck, savagely, “to the girl Helen. He is fifteen years old is Dick. But at fifteen years a lad is ripe to be one of Cupid’s April fools.” And after that he would say no more.

His last words, however, and, more than his words, the tone in which he spoke, had given me the first definite clue of the many for which my curiosity searched. It was certainly on behalf of the girl, whom I only knew as Helen, that Dick had undertaken his arduous errand, and it was no less certain that just for that reason Lieutenant Clutterbuck had refused to meddle in the matter. I recognised that I should get no advantage from persisting, but I kept close to his side that day waiting upon opportunity.

We dined together at Locket’s, by Charing Cross; we walked together to the “Cocoa Tree” in St. James’s Street, and passed an hour or so with a dice-box. Clutterbuck was very silent for the most part. He handled the dice-box with indifference; and, since he was never the man to keep his thoughts for any long time to himself, I had no doubt that some time that day I should learn more. Indeed, very soon after we left the “Cocoa Tree” I thought the whole truth was coming out; for he stopped in St. James’s Park, close to the Mall, which at that moment was quiet and deserted. We could hear a light wind rippling through the leaves of the poplars, and a faint rumble of carriages lurching over the stones of Pall Mall.

“It is very like the sound of the sea on a still morning of summer,” said he, looking at me with a vacant eye, and I wondered whether he was thinking of a tangled garden raised above a beach of sand, wherein, maybe, he had walked, and not alone on some such day as this two years ago.

We crossed the water to the Spring Gardens at Vauxhall, where we supped. I was now fallen into as complete a silence and abstraction as Clutterbuck himself, for I was clean lost in conjectures, I knew something now of Adam Mayle and his son Cullen, but as to Helen I was in the dark. Was her name Mayle too? Was she wife to Cullen? The sight of Clutterbuck’s ill-humour inclined me to that conjecture; but I was wrong, for as the attendants were putting out the lights in the garden I ventured upon the question. To my surprise, Clutterbuck answered me with a smile.

“Sure,” said he, “you are the most pertinacious fellow. What’s come to you, who were content to drink your liquor and sit on one side while the world went by? No, she was not wife to Cullen Mayle, nor sister. She was a waif of the sea. Adam Mayle picked her up from the rocks a long while since. It was the only action that could be counted to his credit since he came out of nowhere and leased the granite house of Tresco. A barque—a Venetian vessel, it was thought, from Marseilles, in France, for a great deal of Castile soap, and almonds and oil was washed ashore afterwards—drove in a northwesterly gale on to the Golden Bar reef. The reef runs out from St. Helen’s Island, opposite Adam Mayle’s window. Adam put out his lugger and crossed the sound, but before he could reach St. Helen’s the ship went down into fourteen fathoms of water. He landed on St. Helen’s, however, and amongst the rocks where the reef joins the land he came across a sailor, who lay in the posture of death, and yet wailed like a hungry child. The sailor was dead, but within his jacket, buttoned up on his breast, was a child of four years or so. Adam took her home. No one ever claimed her, so he kept her, and called her Helen from the island on which she was wrecked. That was a long time since, for the girl must be twenty.”

“Is she French?” I asked.

“French, or Venetian, or Spanish, or what you will,” he cried. “It matters very little what country a woman springs from. I have no doubt that a Hottentot squaw will play you the same tricks as a woman of fashion, and with as demure a countenance. Well, it seems we are to go to bed sober;” and we went each to his lodging.

For my part, I lay awake for a long time, seeking to weave into some sort of continuous story what I had heard that day from Lieutenant Clutterbuck and the scraps which I remembered of Parmiter’s talk. But old Adam Mayle, who was dead; Cullen, the gannet who struck from the skies; and even Helen, the waif of the sea—these were at this time no more to me than a showman’s puppets; marionettes of sawdust and wood, that faced this way and that way according as I pulled the strings. The one being who had life was the boy Parmiter, with his jersey and his red fisherman’s bonnet; and I very soon turned to conjecturing how he fared upon his journey.

Had he money to help him forward? Had he fallen in with a kindly carrier? How far had he travelled? I had no doubt that, whether he had money or no, he would reach his journey’s end. His spirit was evident in the resolve to travel to London, in his success, and in the concealment of any weakness until the favour he asked for had been refused.

I bought next morning one of the new maps of the Great West Road and began to pick off the stages of his journey. This was the second day since he had started. He would not travel very fast, having no good news to lighten his feet. I reckoned that he would have reached the “Golden Farmer,” and I made a mark at that name on the map. Every day for a week I kept in this way an imagined tally of his progress, following him from county to county; and at the end of the week, coming out in the evening from my lodging at the corner of St. James’s Street, I ran plump into the arms of the gentleman I had met at Clutterbuck’s, and whose name I did not know. But his familiarity was all gone from him. He bowed to me stiffly, and would have passed on, but I caught him by the arm.

“Sir,” said I, “you will remember a certain night when I had the honour of your acquaintance.”

“Mr. Berkeley,” he returned with a smile, “I remember very much better the dreadful morning which followed it.”

“You will not, at all events, have forgotten the boy whom you discovered outside the door, and if you can repeat the story which he told, or some portion of it, I shall be obliged to you.”

He looked at his watch.

“I have still half an hour to spare,” said he; and he led the way to the “Groom Porters.” The night was young, but not so young but what the Bassett-table was already full. We sat down together in a dark corner of the room, and my companion told me what he remembered of Parmiter’s story.

It appeared that Cullen Mayle had quarrelled with his father on that Sunday night after he had sat in the stocks and had left the house. He had never returned. A year ago Adam Mayle had died, bequeathing his fortune, which was considerable, and most of it placed in the African Company, to his adopted daughter Helen. She, however, declared that she had no right to it, that it was not hers, and that she would hold it in trust until such time as Cullen should come back to claim it.

He did not come back, as has been said; but eight months later Dick Parmiter, on an occasion when he had crossed in his father’s fishing boat to Cornwall, had discovered upon Penzance Quay a small crowd of loiterers, and on the ground amongst them, with his back propped against a wall, a negro asleep. A paper was being passed from hand to hand among the group, and in the end it came to Dick Parmiter. Upon the paper was written Adam Mayle’s name and the place of his residence, Tresco, in the Scilly Islands; and Dick at once recognised that the writing was in Cullen Mayle’s hand. He pushed to the front of the group, and stooping down, shook the negro by the shoulder. The negro drowsily opened his eyes.

‘’You come from Mr. Cullen Mayle?” said Dick.

“Yes,” said the negro, speaking in English and quite clearly.

“You have a message from him?”


“What is It? “asked Dick; and he put a number of questions eagerly. But in the midst of them, and while still looking at Dick, the negro closed his eyes deliberately and fell asleep.

“See,” cried a sailor, an oldish white-haired man, with a French accent; “that is the way with him. He came aboard with us at the port of London as wide awake as you or I. Bound for Penzance he was, and the drowsiness took him the second day out. At first he would talk a little; but each day he slept more and more, until now he will say no more than a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No.’ Why, he will fall asleep over his dinner.”

Dick shook the negro again.

“Do you wish to cross to Tresco?”

“Yes,” said the negro.

Dick carried him back to Scilly and brought him to the house on Tresco, where Helen Mayle now lived alone. But no news could be got from him. He would answer “Yes” or “No” and eat his meals; but when it came to a question of his message or Cullen Mayle’s whereabouts he closed his eyes and fell asleep. Helen judged that somewhere Cullen was in great need and distress, and because she held his money, and could do nothing to succour him, she was thrown into an extreme trouble. There was some reason why he could not come to Scilly in person, and here at her hand was the man sent to tell the reason; but he could not because of his mysterious malady. More than once he tried with a look of deep sadness in his eyes, as though he was conscious of his helplessness, but he never got beyond the first word. His eyelids closed while his mouth was still open to speak, and at once he was asleep. His presence made a great noise amongst the islands; from Brehar, from St. Mary’s, and from St. Martin’s the people sailed over to look at him. But Helen, knowing Cullen Mayle and fearing the nature of his misadventure, had bidden Parmiter to let slip no hint that he had come on Cullen’s account.

So the negro stayed at Tresco and spread a great gloom throughout the house. They watched him day by day as he slept. Cullen’s need might be immediate; it might be a matter of crime; it might be a matter of life and death. The gloom deepened into horror, and Helen and her few servants, and Dick, who was much in the house, fell into so lively an apprehension that the mere creaking of a door would make them start, a foot crunching on the sand outside sent them flying to the window. So for a month, until Dick Parmiter, coming over the hill from New Grimsby harbour at night, had a lantern flashed in his face, and when close to the house saw a man spring up from the gorse and watch him as he passed. From that night the house was continually spied upon, and Helen walked continually from room to room wringing her hands in sheer distraction at her helplessness. She feared that they were watching for Cullen; she feared, too, that Cullen, receiving no answer to his message, would come himself and fall into their hands. She dared hardly conjecture for what reason they were watching, since she knew Cullen. For a week these men watched, five of them, who kept their watches as at sea; and then Dick, taking his courage in his hands, and bethinking him of Lieutenant Clutterbuck, who had been an assiduous visitor at the house on Tresco, had crossed over to St. Mary’s and learned from old Captain Hathaway where he now lived. He had said nothing of his purpose to Helen, partly from a certain shyness at speaking to her upon a topic of some delicacy, and partly lest he should awaken her hopes and perhaps only disappoint them. But he had begged a passage in a ship that was sailing to Cornwall, and, crossing thither secretly, had made his way in six weeks to London.

This is the story which my acquaintance repeated to me as we sat in the “Groom Porters.”

“And Clutterbuck refused to meddle in the matter,” said I. “Poor lad!”

I was thinking of Dick, but my companion mistook my meaning, for he glanced thoughtfully at me for a second.

“I think you are very right to pity him,” he said; “although, Mr. Berkeley, if you will pardon me, I am a trifle surprised to hear that sentiment from you. It is indeed a sodden, pitiful, miserable dog’s life that Clutterbuck leads. To pass the morning over his toilette, to loiter through the afternoon in a boudoir, and to dispose of the evening so that he may be drunk before midnight! He would be much better taking the good air into his lungs and setting his wits to unknot that tangle amongst those islands in the sea. But I have overstayed my time. If you can persuade him to that, you will be doing him no small service;” and politely taking his leave, he went out of the room.

I sat for some while longer in the corner. I could not pretend that he had spoken anything but truth, but I found his words none the less bitter on that account. A pitiful dog’s life for Lieutenant Clutterbuck, who was at the most twenty-four years of age! What, then, was it for me, who had seven years the better of Lieutenant Clutterbuck, or rather, I should say, seven years the worse? I was thirty-one that very month, and Clutterbuck’s sodden, pitiful life had been mine for the last seven years. An utter disgust took hold of me as I repeated over and over to myself my strange friend’s words. I looked at the green cloth and the yellow candles, and the wolfish faces about the cloth. The candles had grown soft with the heat of the night, and were bent out of their shape, so that the grease dropped in great blots upon the cloth, and the air was close with an odour of stale punch. I got up from my corner and went out into the street, and stood by the water in St. James’s Park, If only some such summons had come to me when I was twenty-four as had now come to Clutterbuck!—well, very likely I should have turned a deaf ear to it, even as he had done! And—and, at all events, I was thirty-one and the summons had not come to me, and there was an end of the matter. To-morrow I should go back to the green cloth and not trouble my head about the grease blots; but to-night, since Clutterbuck was twenty-four, I would try to do him that small service of which the stranger spoke, and so setting out at a round pace I made my way to Clutterbuck’s lodging.

The Watchers - Contents    |     Chapter III - Of the Magical Influence of a Map

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