The Watchers

Chapter IV

Describes the Remarkable Manner in which Cullen Mayle Left Tresco

A.E.W. Mason

“IT WAS my business,” he began, “to fetch Cullen Mayle from Tresco over to St. Mary’s where the stocks were set. It was an unpleasant business, and to me doubly and damnably unpleasant.”

“I understand!” said I, thinking of how he had before spoken to me of Adam Mayle’s adopted daughter.

“I took a file of Musquets, found the three of them at breakfast, and, with as much delicacy as I could, explained my errand. Helen alone showed any distress or consciousness of disgrace. Cullen strolled to the window, and seeing that I had placed my men securely about the house and that my boat was ready on the sand not a dozen yards away, professed himself, with an inimitable indifference, willing to gratify my wishes; while Adam, so far from manifesting any anger, broke out into a great roar of laughter.

“‘Cullen, my boy,’ he shouted, like a man highly pleased, ‘here’s a nasty stumble for your pride. To sit in the stocks of a Sunday morning, when all the girls can see you as they come from church! To sit in the stocks like a common drunkard; and you that sets up for a gentleman! Oh, Cullen, Cullen!’ He wagged his head from side to side, and so brought his fist upon the table with a bang which set all the plates dancing. ‘Devil damn me,’ said he, ‘if I don’t sail to church at St. Mary’s myself and see how you look in your wooden garters.’ Cullen glanced carelessly towards me. ‘An unseemly old man,’ said he; and we left Adam still shaking like a monstrous jellyfish, and crossed back to St. Mary’s from Tresco.

“Sure enough Adam kept his word. They were singing the Nunc Dimittis in the church when Adam stumped up the aisle. He had brought Helen with him, and she looked as though she wished the brick floor to open and let her out of sight. But Adam kept his head erect and showed a face of an extraordinary good humour. You may be certain that the parson got the scantiest attention imaginable to his discourse. For one thing, Adam Mayle had never set foot in St. Mary’s Church before, and for another, every one was agog to see how he would bear himself afterwards, when he passed on his way to the quay across the little space before the Customs House.

“There was a rush to the church door as soon as the benediction was pronounced, and it happened that I was one of the last to come out of the porch. The first thing that I saw was Adam walking a little way apart amongst the gravestones with a stranger, and the next thing, Helen talking to Dick Parmiter.”

Here I interrupted Clutterbuck, for I was anxious to let no detail escape me.

“Had Dick crossed with Adam Mayle from Tresco?”

“I think not,” returned Clutterbuck. “He was not in the church. I do not know, but I fancy he brought the stranger over to St. Mary’s afterwards.”

“And who was this stranger?”

“George Glen he called himself, and said he had been quartermaster with Adam Mayle at Whydah. He was a squat, tarry man, of Adam’s age or thereabouts, and the pair of them walked through the gates and crossed the fields over to the street of Hugh Town. I made haste to join Helen,” Clutterbuck continued, and explained his words with an unnecessary confusion. “I mean, I would not have it appear that she shared in the disgrace which had befallen Cullen Mayle. So I walked with her, and we followed Adam down the street to the Customs House, where it seemed every inhabitant was loitering, and where Cullen sat, with his hat cocked forward over his forehead to shield him from the sun, entirely at his ease.

“It was curious to observe the behaviour of the loiterers. Some affected not to see Cullen at all; some, but those chiefly maidens, protested that it was a great shame so fine a gentleman should be so barbarously used. The elders on the other hand answered that he had come over late to his deserts, while a few, with a ludicrous pretence of unconsciousness, bowed and smiled at him as though it was the most natural thing in the world for a man in a laced coat to take the air in the stocks of a Sunday morning.

“Into the midst of this group marched Adam Mayle, and came to a halt before his son. He had composed his face to an unexceptionable gravity, and as he prodded thoughtfully with his stick at the sole of Cullen’s shoe,

“‘This is the first time,’ he said, ‘that ever I saw a pair of silk stockings in the stocks.’

“‘One lives and learns,’ replied Cullen, indifferently; and the old man lifted his nose into the air and said dreamily:

“‘There is a ducking-chair, is there not, at the pier head?’ and so walked on to the steps where his boat was moored. He went down into it with Mr. Glen, and the two men set about hoisting the sail. I was still standing on the pier with Helen.

“‘You will come too?’ she said with a sort of appeal. ‘I do not know what may happen when Cullen is set free and comes back, I should be very glad if you would come.’”

Lieutenant Clutterbuck broke off his story and walked uneasily once or twice across the room as though he was troubled even now with the recollection of her appeal and of how she looked when she made it.

“So I went,” he continued suddenly, and with a burst of frankness. “You see, Steve, she and I were very good friends; I never saw anything but welcome in her eyes when I crossed over to Tresco, and the kindliness of her voice had a warmth, and at times a tenderness, which I hoped meant more than friendship. Indeed, I would have staked my life she was ignorant of duplicity; and with Cullen she seemed always at some pains to conceal a repugnance. Well, I was young, I suppose; I saw with the eyes of youth, which see everything out of its due proportion. I crossed to Tresco, and while we were seated at dinner, about two hours later, Cullen Mayle strolled in and took his chair. Dick Parmiter had waited for him at St. Mary’s until such time as he was set free, and had brought him across the Road.

“I cannot deny but what Cullen Mayle bore himself very suitably for the greater part of the time we were at table. Adam’s blatant jests were enough to set any man’s teeth on edge, yet Cullen made as though he did not hear a word of them, and talked politely upon indifferent topics to us and Mr. Glen. Adam, however, was not to be silenced that way. His banter became coarse and vindictive; for one thing he had drunk a deal of liquor, and for another he was exasperated that he could not provoke his son. I forget what particular joke he roared out from the head of the table, but I saw Cullen stretch his arm out over the cloth.

“‘I see what is amiss,’ he said, wearily, and took away the brandy bottle from his father’s elbow. He went to the window, and opening it, emptied the bottle on to the grass beneath the sill. Then he came back to his seat and said suavely to Mr. Glen: ‘My father cannot get the better of his old habits; he is drunk very early on Sundays—an unregenerate old put of a fellow as ever I came across.’

“The quarrel followed close upon the heels of that sentence, and occupied the afternoon and was renewed at supper. Adam very violent and blustering; Cullen very cool and composed, and only betraying his passion by the whiteness of his face. He used no oaths; he sat staring at his father with his dark sleepy eyes, and languidly accused him of every crime in the Newgate Calendar, with a great deal of detail as to time and place, and adding any horrible detail which came into his mind. The old man was routed at the last. About the middle of supper he got up from his chair, and going up the stairs shut himself into a room which he had fitted up as a cabin, and where he was used to sit of an evening.

“We were all, as you may guess, inexpressibly relieved when Adam left the parlour, for here it seemed was the quarrel ended. We counted, however, without Cullen. He looked for a moment or two at his father’s empty chair, and stood up in his turn.

“‘Here’s an old rogue for you,’ he said in a gentle voice. ‘He has no more manners than a nasty pig. I’ll teach him some,’ and he followed his father up the stairs and into the cabin above. What was said between them we never heard, but we gathered at the foot of the stairs in the hall and listened to their voices. The old man bellowed as though he was in pain, and shook the windows with his noise; Cullen’s voice came to us only as a smooth, continuous murmur. For half an hour perhaps we stood thus in the hall—interference would have only made matters worse—and I own that this half hour was not wholly unpleasant to me. Helen, in a word, was afraid, and more than once her hand was laid upon my coat-sleeve, and, touching it, ceased to tremble. She turned to me, it seemed, in that half hour of fear; I was fool enough to think it.

“At length we heard a door opening. Cullen negligently came down the stairs; Adam rushed out after him as far as the head of the stairs, where he stopped.

“‘Open the door, one of you!’ he bawled. ‘Kick him out, Clutterbuck, and we’ll see what damned muck-heap his fine manners will lead him to.’

“The outcry brought the servants scurrying into the hall. Adam repeated his order and one of the servants threw open the door.

“‘Will you fetch me my boots?’ said Cullen, and sitting down in a chair he kicked off his shoes. Then he pulled on his boots deliberately, stood up and felt in his pockets. From one pocket he drew out five guineas, from a second two, from a third four. These eleven guineas he held in his open hand.

“‘They belong to you, I think,’ he said, softly, poising them in his palm; and before any one could move a step or indeed guess at his intention, he raised his arm and flung them with all his force to where his father stood at the head of the stairs. Two of the guineas cut the old man in the forehead, and the blood ran down his face; the rest sparkled and clattered against the panels behind his head, whence they fell on to the stairs and rolled one by one down into the hall. No one spoke; no one moved. The brutal violence of the action for the moment paralysed every one; even Adam stood shaking at the stair head with his wits wandering. One by one the guineas rolled down the staircase, leaping from step to step, rattling as they leaped; and for a long time it seemed, one whirred and sang in a corner as it span round and settled down upon the boards; and when the coin had ceased to spin, still no one moved, no one spoke. A murmur of waves breaking lazily upon the sand, a breath of air stirring a shrub in the garden, the infinitesimal trumpeting of a gnat, came through the window, bringing as it were tales of things which lived into a room of statues.

“Cullen himself was the first to break the enchantment. He took his watch from his fob and holding it by the ribbon twirled it backwards and forwards. It was a big silver watch, and as he twirled it this way and that, it caught the light, seemed to throw out little sparks of fire, and flashed with a dazzling brightness. The eyes of the company were caught by it; they watched it with a keen attention, not knowing why they watched it; they watched it as it shone and glittered in its revolutions, almost with a sense of expectation, as though something of great consequence was to happen from the twirling of that watch.

“‘This, too, is yours,’ said Cullen, ‘but it was no doubt some dead sailorman’s before you stole it;’ and ceasing to twirl the watch he held it steady by the ribbon. Then he looked round the hall and saw Helen staring at the watch with a queer intentness. I remember that her hand was at that moment resting upon my sleeve, and I felt it grow more rigid. I looked at her; her face was set, her eyes fixed upon Cullen and his glittering watch. I spoke to her; she did not answer, she did not hear.”

Clutterbuck interrupted his story and sat moodily lost in his recollections, and when he resumed it was with great bitterness.

“I think,” he continued, “that when Cullen spoke, he spoke with no other end than to provoke his father yet more. You must know that the old man had just one tender spot in his heart. Cullen could have no other aim but to set his heel on that.

“‘I will come back for you, Helen,’ he said, bending his eyes upon her and making as if there was much love between them; and to everybody’s surprise Helen lifted her eyes slowly from the watch until they met Cullen’s, and kept them there. She did not answer him in words, there was no need she should, every line of her body expressed obedience.

“Even Cullen was puzzled by her demeanour. Boy and girl, maid and youth, they had lived side by side in the house with indifference upon his part and all the appearance of aversion upon hers. Yet here was she subdued in an instant at the prospect of his departure! It seemed that the mere thought that Cullen was henceforth an outcast tore her secret live and warm from her heart.

Cullen was plainly puzzled, as I say, but he was not the man to miss an advantage in the gratification of his malice. He shot one triumphant look at his father and spoke again to Helen.

“‘You will wait for me?’

“Her eyes never wavered from his.

“‘Yes!’ she answered.

“It was a humiliating moment for me as you may imagine. It must have been more humiliating for Adam. With a hand upon the rail he lumbered heavily down a couple of the stairs.

“‘No!’ he cried, with a dreadful oath and in a voice which was strangely moved.

“‘But I say yes,’ said Cullen, very quietly. The smile had gone from his face; a new excitement kindled it. He was pitting his will against his father’s. I saw him suddenly draw himself erect. ‘Or, better still, you shall come with me now,’ he cried. He reached out his arm straight from the shoulder towards her.

“‘Come! Come with me now.’

“His voice rang out dominant like the clang of a trumpet, and to the consternation of us all, Helen crossed the floor towards him. I tried to detain her. ‘ Helen,’ I cried, ‘you do not know what you are doing. He will drag you into the gutter.’

“‘Lieutenant Clutterbuck,’ said Cullen, ‘you are very red in the face. You cannot expect she will listen to you, for you do not look well when you are red in the face.’

“I paid no heed to his gibes.

“‘Helen,’ I cried, again. She paid no more heed to my prayers. ‘ What will you do? Where will you go?’ I asked.

“‘We shall go to London,’ answered Cullen, ‘ where we shall do very well, and further to the best of our means Lieutenant Clutterbuck’s advancement.’

“Humiliation and grief had overset my judgment or I should not have argued at this moment with Cullen Mayle. I flung out at him hotly, and like a boy.

“‘When you are doing very well in London, Cullen Mayle, Lieutenant Clutterbuck will not be so far behind you.’

“‘He will indeed be close upon my heels,’ returned Cullen as pleasantly as possible, ‘for most likely he will be carrying my valise.’

“With that he turned again to Helen, beckoned her to follow him, and strode towards the open door. She did follow him. Cullen was already in the doorway; in another second she would have crossed the threshold. But with a surprising agility Adam Mayle jumped down the stairs, ran across the hall, and caught the girl in his arms. She did not struggle to free herself, but she strained steadily towards Cullen. The old man’s arms were strong, however.

“‘Shut the door,’ he cried, and I sprang forward and slammed it to.

“’Lock it! Bolt it!’

“Adam stood with his arms about the girl until the heavy bar swung down across the door and dropped into its socket with a clang. Now do you understand why I will not go down to Tresco? I can give you another reason if you are not content. When I spoke to Helen two days later, and taxed her with her passion for Cullen,—would you believe it?—she was deeply pained and hurt. She would not have it said that she had so much as thought of following Cullen’s fortunes. She outfaced me as though I had been telling her fairy tales, and not what my own eyes saw. No, indeed, I will not go down to Tresco! I am not the traveller who has ridden into your wood upon the Great West Road.”

Lieutenant Clutterbuck took up his hat when he had finished his story,

“The girl, besides, is not worth a thought,” said he.

“I am not thinking of her,” said I. Of Lieutenant Clutterbuck, of myself, above all of Dick Parmiter, I was thinking, but not at all of Helen Mayle. I drew the map towards me. Clutterbuck stopped at the door, came back and again leaned over my shoulder.

“Has your traveller come out from that wood? “he asked.

“No,” I answered.

“It is an allegory,” said he. “The man who rides down on this business to the West will, in very truth, enter into a wood from which he will not get free.”

The Watchers - Contents    |     Chapter V - The Adventure in the Wood

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