‘It can’t be time for the gipsies to come along,’ said Una. ‘Why, it was summer only the other day!’
‘There’s smoke in Low Shaw!’ said Dan, sniffing. ‘Let’s make sure!’
They crossed the fields towards the thin line of blue smoke that leaned above the hollow of Low Shaw which lies beside the King’s Hill road. It used to be an old quarry till somebody planted it, and you can look straight down into it from the edge of Banky Meadow.
‘I thought so,’ Dan whispered, as they came up to the fence at the edge of the larches. A gipsy-van—not the show-man’s sort, but the old black kind, with little windows high up and a baby-gate across the door—was getting ready to leave. A man was harnessing the horses; an old woman crouched over the ashes of a fire made out of broken fence-rails; and a girl sat on the van-steps singing to a baby on her lap. A wise-looking, thin dog snuffed at a patch of fur on the ground till the old woman put it carefully in the middle of the fire. The girl reached back inside the van and tossed her a paper parcel. This was laid on the fire too, and they smelt singed feathers.
‘Chicken feathers!’ said Dan. ‘I wonder if they are old Hobden’s.’
Una sneezed. The dog growled and crawled to the girl’s feet, the old woman fanned the fire with her hat, while the man led the horses up to the shafts, They all moved as quickly and quietly as snakes over moss.
‘Ah!’ said the girl. ‘I’ll teach you!’ She beat the dog, who seemed to expect it.
‘Don’t do that,’ Una called down. ‘It wasn’t his fault.’
‘How do you know what I’m beating him for?’ she answered.
‘For not seeing us,’ said Dan. ‘He was standing right in the smoke, and the wind was wrong for his nose, anyhow.’
The girl stopped beating the dog, and the old woman fanned faster than ever.
‘You’ve fanned some of your feathers out of the fire,’ said Una. ‘There’s a tail-feather by that chestnut-tot.’
‘What of it?’ said the old woman, as she grAbbéd it.
‘Oh, nothing!’ said Dan. ‘Only I’ve heard say that tail-feathers are as bad as the whole bird, sometimes.’
That was a saying of Hobden’s about pheasants. Old Hobden always burned all feather and fur before he sat down to eat.
‘Come on, mother,’ the man whispered. The old woman climbed into the van, and the horses drew it out of the deep-rutted shaw on to the hard road.
The girl waved her hands and shouted something they could not catch.
‘That was gipsy for “Thank you kindly, Brother and Sister,”’ said Pharaoh Lee.
He was standing behind them, his fiddle under his arm. ‘Gracious, you startled me!’ said Una.
‘You startled old Priscilla Savile,’ Puck called from below them. ‘Come and sit by their fire. She ought to have put it out before they left.’
They dropped down the ferny side of the shaw. Una raked the ashes together, Dan found a dead wormy oak branch that burns without flame, and they watched the smoke while Pharaoh played a curious wavery air.
‘That’s what the girl was humming to the baby,’ said Una.
‘I know it,’ he nodded, and went on:
He passed from one odd tune to another, and quite forgot the children. At last Puck asked him to go on with his adventures in Philadelphia and among the Seneca Indians.
‘I’m telling it,’ he said, staring straight in front of him as he played. ‘Can’t you hear?’
‘Maybe, but they can’t. Tell it aloud,’ said Puck.
Pharaoh shook himself, laid his fiddle beside him, and began:
‘I’d left Red Jacket and Cornplanter riding home with me after Big Hand had said that there wouldn’t be any war. That’s all there was to it. We believed Big Hand and we went home again—we three braves. When we reached Lebanon we found Toby at the cottage with his waistcoat a foot too big for him—so hard he had worked amongst the yellow-fever people. He beat me for running off with the Indians, but ’twas worth it—I was glad to see him,—and when we went back to Philadelphia for the winter, and I was told how he’d sacrificed himself over sick people in the yellow fever, I thought the world and all of him. No, I didn’t neither. I’d thought that all along. That yellow fever must have been something dreadful. Even in December people had no more than begun to trinkle back to town. Whole houses stood empty and the niggers was robbing them out. But I can’t call to mind that any of the Moravian Brethren had died. It seemed like they had just kept on with their own concerns, and the good Lord He’d just looked after ’em. That was the winter—yes, winter of ’Ninety-three—the Brethren bought a stove for the church. Toby spoke in favour of it because the cold spoiled his fiddle hand, but many thought stove-heat not in the Bible, and there was yet a third party which always brought hickory coal foot-warmers to service and wouldn’t speak either way. They ended by casting the Lot for it, which is like pitch-and-toss. After my summer with the Senecas, church-stoves didn’t highly interest me, so I took to haunting round among the French emigres which Philadelphia was full of. My French and my fiddling helped me there, d’ye see. They come over in shiploads from France, where, by what I made out, every one was killing every one else by any means, and they spread ’emselves about the city—mostly in Drinker’s Alley and Elfrith’s Alley—and they did odd jobs till times should mend. But whatever they stooped to, they were gentry and kept a cheerful countenance, and after an evening’s fiddling at one of their poor little proud parties, the Brethren seemed old-fashioned. Pastor Meder and Brother Adam Goos didn’t like my fiddling for hire, but Toby said it was lawful in me to earn my living by exercising my talents. He never let me be put upon.
‘In February of ’Ninety-four—No, March it must have been, because a new Ambassador called Faucher had come from France, with no more manners than Genet the old one—in March, Red Jacket came in from the Reservation bringing news of all kind friends there. I showed him round the city, and we saw General Washington riding through a crowd of folk that shouted for war with England. They gave him quite rough music, but he looked ’twixt his horse’s ears and made out not to notice. His stirrup brished Red Jacket’s elbow, and Red Jacket whispered up, “My brother knows it is not easy to be a chief.” Big Hand shot just one look at him and nodded. Then there was a scuffle behind us over some one who wasn’t hooting at Washington loud enough to please the people. We went away to be out of the fight. Indians won’t risk being hit.’
‘What do they do if they are?’ Dan asked.
‘Kill, of course. That’s why they have such proper manners. Well, then, coming home by Drinker’s Alley to get a new shirt which a French Vicomte’s lady was washing to take the stiff out of (I’m always choice in my body-linen) a lame Frenchman pushes a paper of buttons at us. He hadn’t long landed in the United States, and please would we buy. He sure-ly was a pitiful scrattel—his coat half torn off, his face cut, but his hands steady; so I knew it wasn’t drink. He said his name was Peringuey, and he’d been knocked about in the crowd round the Stadt—Independence Hall. One thing leading to another we took him up to Toby’s rooms, same as Red Jacket had taken me the year before. The compliments he paid to Toby’s Madeira wine fairly conquered the old man, for he opened a second bottle and he told this Monsieur Peringuey all about our great stove dispute in the church. I remember Pastor Meder and Brother Adam Goos dropped in, and although they and Toby were direct opposite sides regarding stoves, yet this Monsieur Peringuey he made ’em feel as if he thought each one was in the right of it. He said he had been a clergyman before he had to leave France. He admired at Toby’s fiddling, and he asked if Red Jacket, sitting by the spinet, was a simple Huron. Senecas aren’t Hurons, they’re Iroquois, of course, and Toby told him so. Well, then, in due time he arose and left in a style which made us feel he’d been favouring us, instead of us feeding him. I’ve never seen that so strong before—in a man. We all talked him over but couldn’t make head or tail of him, and Red Jacket come out to walk with me to the French quarter where I was due to fiddle at a party. Passing Drinker’s Alley again we saw a naked window with a light in it, and there sat our button-selling Monsieur Peringuey throwing dice all alone, right hand against left.
‘Says Red Jacket, keeping back in the dark, “Look at his face!”
‘I was looking. I protest to you I wasn’t frightened like I was when Big Hand talked to his gentlemen. I—I only looked, and I wondered that even those dead dumb dice ’ud dare to fall different from what that face wished. It—it was a face!
‘“He is bad,” says Red Jacket. “But he is a great chief. The French have sent away a great chief. I thought so when he told us his lies. Now I know.”
‘I had to go on to the party, so I asked him to call round for me afterwards and we’d have hymn-singing at Toby’s as usual. “No,” he says. “Tell Toby I am not Christian tonight. All Indian.” He had those fits sometimes. I wanted to know more about Monsieur Peringuey, and the emigre party was the very place to find out. It’s neither here nor there, of course, but those French emigre parties they almost make you cry. The men that you bought fruit of in Market Street, the hairdressers and fencing-masters and French teachers, they turn back again by candlelight to what they used to be at home, and you catch their real names. There wasn’t much room in the washhouse, so I sat on top of the copper and played ’em the tunes they called for—“Si le Roi m’avait donne,” and such nursery stuff. They cried sometimes. It hurt me to take their money afterwards, indeed it did. And there I found out about Monsieur Peringuey. He was a proper rogue too! None of ’em had a good word for him except the Marquise that kept the French boarding-house on Fourth Street. I made out that his real name was the Count Talleyrand de Perigord—a priest right enough, but sorely come down in the world. He’d been King Louis’ Ambassador to England a year or two back, before the French had cut off King Louis’ head; and, by what I heard, that head wasn’t hardly more than hanging loose before he’d run back to Paris and prevailed on Danton, the very man which did the murder, to send him back to England again as Ambassador of the French Republic! That was too much for the English, so they kicked him out by Act of Parliament, and he’d fled to the Americas without money or friends or prospects. I’m telling you the talk in the washhouse. Some of ’em was laughing over it. Says the French Marquise, “My friends, you laugh too soon. That man ‘ll be on the winning side before any of us.”
‘“I did not know you were so fond of priests, Marquise,” says the Vicomte. His lady did my washing, as I’ve told you.
‘“I have my reasons,” says the Marquise. “He sent my uncle and my two brothers to Heaven by the little door,”—that was one of the emigre names for the guillotine. “He will be on the winning side if it costs him the blood of every friend he has in the world.”
‘“Then what does he want here?” says one of ’em. “We have all lost our game.”
‘“My faith!” says the Marquise. “He will find out, if any one can, whether this canaille of a Washington means to help us to fight England. Genet” (that was my Ambassador in the Embuscade) “has failed and gone off disgraced; Faucher” (he was the new man) “hasn’t done any better, but our Abbé will find out, and he will make his profit out of the news. Such a man does not fall.”
‘“He begins unluckily,” says the Vicomte. “He was set upon today in the street for not hooting your Washington.” They all laughed again, and one remarks, “How does the poor devil keep himself?”
‘He must have slipped in through the washhouse door, for he flits past me and joins ’em, cold as ice.
‘“One does what one can,” he says. “I sell buttons. And you, Marquise?”
‘“I?”—she waves her poor white hands all burned—“I am a cook—a very bad one—at your service, Abbé. We were just talking about you.”
‘They didn’t treat him like they talked of him. They backed off and stood still.
‘“I have missed something, then,” he says. “But I spent this last hour playing—only for buttons, Marquise—against a noble savage, the veritable Huron himself.”
‘“You had your usual luck, I hope?” she says.
‘“Certainly,” he says. “I cannot afford to lose even buttons in these days.”
‘“Then I suppose the child of nature does not know that your dice are usually loaded, Father Tout-a-tous,” she continues. I don’t know whether she meant to accuse him of cheating. He only bows. ‘“Not yet, Mademoiselle Cunegonde,” he says, and goes on to make himself agreeable to the rest of the company. And that was how I found out our Monsieur Peringuey was Count Charles Maurice Talleyrand de Perigord.’
Pharaoh stopped, but the children said nothing.
‘You’ve heard of him?’ said Pharaoh.
Una shook her head. ‘Was Red Jacket the Indian he played dice with?’ Dan asked.
‘He was. Red Jacket told me the next time we met. I asked if the lame man had cheated. Red Jacket said no—he had played quite fair and was a master player. I allow Red Jacket knew. I’ve seen him, on the Reservation, play himself out of everything he had and in again. Then I told Red Jacket all I’d heard at the party concerning Talleyrand.
‘“I was right,” he says. “I saw the man’s war-face when he thought he was alone. That’s why I played him. I played him face to face. He’s a great chief. Do they say why he comes here?”
‘“They say he comes to find out if Big Hand makes war against the English,” I said.
‘Red Jacket grunted. “Yes,” he says. “He asked me that too. If he had been a small chief I should have lied. But he is a great chief. He knew I was a chief, so I told him the truth. I told him what Big Hand said to Cornplanter and me in the clearing—‘There will be no war.’ I could not see what he thought. I could not see behind his face. But he is a great chief. He will believe.’
‘“Will he believe that Big Hand can keep his people back from war?” I said, thinking of the crowds that hooted Big Hand whenever he rode out.
‘“He is as bad as Big Hand is good, but he is not as strong as Big Hand,” says Red Jacket. “When he talks with Big Hand he will feel this in his heart. The French have sent away a great chief. Presently he will go back and make them afraid.”
‘Now wasn’t that comical? The French woman that knew him and owed all her losses to him; the Indian that picked him up, cut and muddy on the street, and played dice with him; they neither of ’em doubted that Talleyrand was something by himself—appearances notwithstanding.’
‘And was he something by himself?’ asked Una.
Pharaoh began to laugh, but stopped. ‘The way I look at it,’he said, ‘Talleyrand was one of just three men in this world who are quite by themselves. Big Hand I put first, because I’ve seen him.’
‘Ay,’ said Puck. ‘I’m sorry we lost him out of Old England. Who d’you put second?’
‘Talleyrand: maybe because I’ve seen him too,’ said Pharaoh.
‘Who’s third?’said Puck.
‘Boney—even though I’ve seen him.’
‘Whew!’ said Puck. ‘Every man has his own weights and measures, but that’s queer reckoning.’
‘Boney?’ said Una. ‘You don’t mean you’ve ever met Napoleon Bonaparte?’
‘There, I knew you wouldn’t have patience with the rest of my tale after hearing that! But wait a minute. Talleyrand he come round to Hundred and Eighteen in a day or two to thank Toby for his kindness. I didn’t mention the dice-playing, but I could see that Red Jacket’s doings had made Talleyrand highly curious about Indians—though he would call him the Huron. Toby, as you may believe, was all holds full of knowledge concerning their manners and habits. He only needed a listener. The Brethren don’t study Indians much till they join the Church, but Toby knew ’em wild. So evening after evening Talleyrand crossed his sound leg over his game one and Toby poured forth. Having been adopted into the Senecas I, naturally, kept still, but Toby ’ud call on me to back up some of his remarks, and by that means, and a habit he had of drawing you on in talk, Talleyrand saw I knew something of his noble savages too. Then he tried a trick. Coming back from an emigre party he turns into his little shop and puts it to me, laughing like, that I’d gone with the two chiefs on their visit to Big Hand. I hadn’t told. Red Jacket hadn’t told, and Toby, of course, didn’t know. ’Twas just Talleyrand’s guess. “Now,” he says, my English and Red Jacket’s French was so bad that I am not sure I got the rights of what the President really said to the unsophisticated Huron. Do me the favour of telling it again.” I told him every word Red Jacket had told him and not one word more. I had my suspicions, having just come from an emigre party where the Marquise was hating and praising him as usual.
‘“Much obliged,” he said. “But I couldn’t gather from Red Jacket exactly what the President said to Monsieur Genet, or to his American gentlemen after Monsieur Genet had ridden away.”
‘I saw Talleyrand was guessing again, for Red Jacket hadn’t told him a word about the white men’s pow-wow.’
‘Why hadn’t he?’ Puck asked.
‘Because Red Jacket was a chief. He told Talleyrand what the President had said to him and Cornplanter; but he didn’t repeat the talk, between the white men, that Big Hand ordered him to leave behind.’
‘Oh!’ said Puck. ‘I see. What did you do?’
‘First I was going to make some sort of tale round it, but Talleyrand was a chief too. So I said, “As soon as I get Red Jacket’s permission to tell that part of the tale, I’ll be delighted to refresh your memory, Abbé.” What else could I have done?
‘“Is that all?” he says, laughing. “Let me refresh your memory. In a month from now I can give you a hundred dollars for your account of the conversation.”
‘“Make it five hundred, Abbé,” I says. ‘”Five, then,” says he.
‘“That will suit me admirably,” I says. “Red Jacket will be in town again by then, and the moment he gives me leave I’ll claim the money.”
‘He had a hard fight to be civil, but he come out smiling.
‘“Monsieur,” he says, “I beg your pardon as sincerely as I envy the noble Huron your loyalty. Do me the honour to sit down while I explain.”
‘There wasn’t another chair, so I sat on the button-box.
‘He was a clever man. He had got hold of the gossip that the President meant to make a peace treaty with England at any cost. He had found out—from Genet, I reckon, who was with the President on the day the two chiefs met him. He’d heard that Genet had had a huff with the President and had ridden off leaving his business at loose ends. What he wanted—what he begged and blustered to know—was just the very words which the President had said to his gentlemen after Genet had left, concerning the peace treaty with England. He put it to me that in helping him to those very words I’d be helping three great countries as well as mankind. The room was as bare as the palm of your hand, but I couldn’t laugh at him.
‘“I’m sorry,” I says, when he wiped his forehead. “As soon as Red Jacket gives permission—”
‘“You don’t believe me, then?” he cuts in.
‘“Not one little, little word, Abbé,” I says; “except that you mean to be on the winning side. Remember, I’ve been fiddling to all your old friends for months.”
‘Well, then his temper fled him and he called me names.
‘“Wait a minute, ci-devant,” I says at last. “I am half English and half French, but I am not the half of a man. I will tell thee something the Indian told me. Has thee seen the President?”
‘“Oh yes!” he sneers. “I had letters from the Lord Lansdowne to that estimable old man.”
‘“Then,” I says, “thee will understand. The Red Skin said that when thee has met the President thee will feel in thy heart he is a stronger man than thee.”
‘“Go!” he whispers. “Before I kill thee, go.”
‘He looked like it. So I left him.’
‘Why did he want to know so badly?’ said Dan.
‘The way I look at it is that if he had known for certain that Washington meant to make the peace treaty with England at any price, he’d ha’ left old Faucher fumbling about in Philadelphia while he went straight back to France and told old Danton—“It’s no good your wasting time and hopes on the United States, because she won’t fight on our side—that I’ve proof of!” Then Danton might have been grateful and given Talleyrand a job, because a whole mass of things hang on knowing for sure who’s your friend and who’s your enemy. just think of us poor shop-keepers, for instance.’
‘Did Red Jacket let you tell, when he came back?’ Una asked.
‘Of course not. He said, “When Cornplanter and I ask you what Big Hand said to the whites you can tell the Lame Chief. All that talk was left behind in the timber, as Big Hand ordered. Tell the Lame Chief there will be no war. He can go back to France with that word.”
‘Talleyrand and me hadn’t met for a long time except at emigre parties. When I give him the message he just shook his head. He was sorting buttons in the shop.
‘I cannot return to France with nothing better than the word of an unsophisticated savage,” he says.
‘“Hasn’t the President said anything to you?” I asked him.
‘“He has said everything that one in his position ought to say, but—but if only I had what he said to his Cabinet after Genet rode off I believe I could change Europe—the world, maybe.”
‘“I’m sorry,” I says. “Maybe you’ll do that without my help.”
‘He looked at me hard. “Either you have unusual observation for one so young, or you choose to be insolent,” he says.
‘“It was intended for a compliment,” I says. “But no odds. We’re off in a few days for our summer trip, and I’ve come to make my good-byes.”
‘“I go on my travels too,” he says. “If ever we meet again you may be sure I will do my best to repay what I owe you.”
‘“Without malice, Abbé, I hope,” I says.
‘“None whatever,” says he. “Give my respects to your adorable Dr Pangloss” (that was one of his side-names for Toby) “and the Huron.” I never could teach him the difference betwixt Hurons and Senecas.
‘Then Sister Haga came in for a paper of what we call “pilly buttons,” and that was the last I saw of Talleyrand in those parts.’
‘But after that you met Napoleon, didn’t you?’ said Una.
‘Wait Just a little, dearie. After that, Toby and I went to Lebanon and the Reservation, and, being older and knowing better how to manage him, I enjoyed myself well that summer with fiddling and fun. When we came back, the Brethren got after Toby because I wasn’t learning any lawful trade, and he had hard work to save me from being apprenticed to Helmbold and Geyer the printers. ’Twould have ruined our music together, indeed it would. And when we escaped that, old Mattes Roush, the leather-breeches maker round the corner, took a notion I was cut out for skin-dressing. But we were rescued. Along towards Christmas there comes a big sealed letter from the Bank saying that a Monsieur Talleyrand had put five hundred dollars—a hundred pounds—to my credit there to use as I pleased. There was a little note from him inside—he didn’t give any address—to thank me for past kindnesses and my believing in his future, which he said was pretty cloudy at the time of writing. I wished Toby to share the money. I hadn’t done more than bring Talleyrand up to Hundred and Eighteen. The kindnesses were Toby’s. But Toby said, “No! Liberty and Independence for ever. I have all my wants, my son.” So I gave him a set of new fiddle-strings, and the Brethren didn’t advise us any more. Only Pastor Meder he preached about the deceitfulness of riches, and Brother Adam Goos said if there was war the English ’ud surely shoot down the Bank. I knew there wasn’t going to be any war, but I drew the money out and on Red Jacket’s advice I put it into horse-flesh, which I sold to Bob Bicknell for the Baltimore stage-coaches. That way, I doubled my money inside the twelvemonth.’
‘You gipsy! You proper gipsy!’ Puck shouted.
‘Why not? ’Twas fair buying and selling. Well, one thing leading to another, in a few years I had made the beginning of a worldly fortune and was in the tobacco trade.’
‘Ah!’ said Puck, suddenly. ‘Might I inquire if you’d ever sent any news to your people in England—or in France?’
‘O’ course I had. I wrote regular every three months after I’d made money in the horse trade. We Lees don’t like coming home empty-handed. If it’s only a turnip or an egg, it’s something. Oh yes, I wrote good and plenty to Uncle Aurette, and—Dad don’t read very quickly—Uncle used to slip over Newhaven way and tell Dad what was going on in the tobacco trade.’
Go on, Brother Square-toes,’ said Puck. Pharaoh laughed and went on.
‘Talleyrand he’d gone up in the world same as me. He’d sailed to France again, and was a great man in the Government there awhile, but they had to turn him out on account of some story about bribes from American shippers. All our poor emigres said he was surely finished this time, but Red Jacket and me we didn’t think it likely, not unless he was quite dead. Big Hand had made his peace treaty with Great Britain, just as he said he would, and there was a roaring trade ’twixt England and the United States for such as ’ud take the risk of being searched by British and French men-o’-war. Those two was fighting, and just as his gentlemen told Big Hand ’ud happen—the United States was catching it from both. If an English man-o’-war met an American ship he’d press half the best men out of her, and swear they was British subjects. Most of ’em was! If a Frenchman met her he’d, likely, have the cargo out of her, swearing it was meant to aid and comfort the English; and if a Spaniard or a Dutchman met her—they was hanging on to England’s coat-tails too—Lord only knows what they wouldn’t do! It came over me that what I wanted in my tobacco trade was a fast-sailing ship and a man who could be French, English, or American at a pinch. Luckily I could lay my hands on both articles. So along towards the end of September in the year ’Ninety-nine I sailed from Philadelphia with a hundred and eleven hogshead o’ good Virginia tobacco, in the brig Berthe Aurette, named after Mother’s maiden name, hoping ’twould bring me luck, which she didn’t—and yet she did.’
‘Where was you bound for?’ Puck asked.
‘Er—any port I found handiest. I didn’t tell Toby or the Brethren. They don’t understand the ins and outs of the tobacco trade.’
Puck coughed a small cough as he shifted a piece of wood with his bare foot.
‘It’s easy for you to sit and judge,’ Pharaoh cried. ‘But think o’ what we had to put up with! We spread our wings and run across the broad Atlantic like a hen through a horse-fair. Even so, we was stopped by an English frigate, three days out. He sent a boat alongside and pressed seven able seamen. I remarked it was hard on honest traders, but the officer said they was fighting all creation and hadn’t time to argue. The next English frigate we escaped with no more than a shot in our quarter. Then we was chased two days and a night by a French privateer, firing between squalls, and the dirty little English ten-gun brig which made him sheer off had the impudence to press another five of our men. That’s how we reached to the chops of the Channel. Twelve good men pressed out of thirty-five; an eighteen-pound shot-hole close beside our rudder; our mainsail looking like spectacles where the Frenchman had hit us—and the Channel crawling with short-handed British cruisers. Put that in your pipe and smoke it next time you grumble at the price of tobacco!
‘Well, then, to top it off, while we was trying to get at our leaks, a French lugger come swooping at us out o’ the dusk. We warned him to keep away, but he fell aboard us, and up climbed his JAbbéring red-caps. We couldn’t endure any more—indeed we couldn’t. We went at ’em with all we could lay hands on. It didn’t last long. They was fifty odd to our twenty-three. Pretty soon I heard the cutlasses thrown down and some one bellowed for the sacri captain.
‘“Here I am!” I says. “I don’t suppose it makes any odds to you thieves, but this is the United States brig Berthe Aurette.”
‘“My aunt!” the man says, laughing. “Why is she named that?”
‘“Who’s speaking?” I said. ’Twas too dark to see, but I thought I knew the voice.
‘“Enseigne de Vaisseau Estephe L’Estrange,” he sings out, and then I was sure.
‘“Oh!” I says. “It’s all in the family, I suppose, but you have done a fine day’s work, Stephen.”
‘He whips out the binnacle-light and holds it to my face. He was young L’Estrange, my full cousin, that I hadn’t seen since the night the smack sank off Telscombe Tye—six years before.
‘“Whew!” he says. “That’s why she was named for Aunt Berthe, is it? What’s your share in her, Pharaoh?”
‘“Only half owner, but the cargo’s mine.”
‘“That’s bad,” he says. “I’ll do what I can, but you shouldn’t have fought us.”
‘“Steve,” I says, “you aren’t ever going to report our little fall-out as a fight! Why, a Revenue cutter ’ud laugh at it!”
‘“So’d I if I wasn’t in the Republican Navy,” he says. “But two of our men are dead, d’ye see, and I’m afraid I’ll have to take you to the Prize Court at Le Havre.”
‘“Will they condemn my ’baccy?” I asks.
‘“To the last ounce. But I was thinking more of the ship. She’d make a sweet little craft for the Navy if the Prize Court ’ud let me have her,” he says.
‘Then I knew there was no hope. I don’t blame him—a man must consider his own interests, but nigh every dollar I had was in ship or cargo, and Steve kept on saying, “You shouldn’t have fought us.”
‘Well, then, the lugger took us to Le Havre, and that being the one time we did want a British ship to rescue us, why, o’ course we never saw one. My cousin spoke his best for us at the Prize Court. He owned he’d no right to rush alongside in the face o’ the United States flag, but we couldn’t get over those two men killed, d’ye see, and the Court condemned both ship and cargo. They was kind enough not to make us prisoners—only beggars—and young L’Estrange was given the Berthe Aurette to re-arm into the French Navy.
‘”I’ll take you round to Boulogne,” he says. “Mother and the rest’ll be glad to see you, and you can slip over to Newhaven with Uncle Aurette. Or you can ship with me, like most o’ your men, and take a turn at King George’s loose trade. There’s plenty pickings,” he says.
‘Crazy as I was, I couldn’t help laughing.
‘“I’ve had my allowance of pickings and stealings,” I says. “Where are they taking my tobacco?” ’Twas being loaded on to a barge.
‘“Up the Seine to be sold in Paris,” he says. “Neither you nor I will ever touch a penny of that money.”
‘“Get me leave to go with it,” I says. “I’ll see if there’s justice to be gotten out of our American Ambassador.”
‘“There’s not much justice in this world,” he says, “without a Navy.” But he got me leave to go with the barge and he gave me some money. That tobacco was all I had, and I followed it like a hound follows a snatched bone. Going up the river I fiddled a little to keep my spirits up, as well as to make friends with the guard. They was only doing their duty. Outside o’ that they were the reasonablest o’ God’s creatures. They never even laughed at me. So we come to Paris, by river, along in November, which the French had christened Brumaire. They’d given new names to all the months, and after such an outrageous silly piece o’ business as that, they wasn’t likely to trouble ’emselves with my rights and wrongs. They didn’t. The barge was laid up below Notre Dame church in charge of a caretaker, and he let me sleep aboard after I’d run about all day from office to office, seeking justice and fair dealing, and getting speeches concerning liberty. None heeded me. Looking back on it I can’t rightly blame ’em. I’d no money, my clothes was filthy mucked; I hadn’t changed my linen in weeks, and I’d no proof of my claims except the ship’s papers, which, they said, I might have stolen. The thieves! The door-keeper to the American Ambassador—for I never saw even the Secretary—he swore I spoke French a sight too well for an American citizen. Worse than that—I had spent my money, d’ye see, and I—I took to fiddling in the streets for my keep; and—and, a ship’s captain with a fiddle under his arm—well, I don’t blame ’em that they didn’t believe me.
‘I come back to the barge one day—late in this month Brumaire it was—fair beazled out. Old Maingon, the caretaker, he’d lit a fire in a bucket and was grilling a herring.
‘“Courage, mon ami,” he says. “Dinner is served.”
‘“I can’t eat,” I says. “I can’t do any more. It’s stronger than I am.”
‘“Bah!” he says. “Nothing’s stronger than a man. Me, for example! Less than two years ago I was blown up in the Orient in Aboukir Bay, but I descended again and hit the water like a fairy. Look at me now,” he says. He wasn’t much to look at, for he’d only one leg and one eye, but the cheerfullest soul that ever trod shoe-leather. “That’s worse than a hundred and eleven hogshead of ’baccy,” he goes on. “You’re young, too! What wouldn’t I give to be young in France at this hour! There’s nothing you couldn’t do,” he says. “The ball’s at your feet—kick it!” he says. He kicks the old fire-bucket with his peg-leg. “General Buonaparte, for example!” he goes on. “That man’s a babe compared to me, and see what he’s done already. He’s conquered Egypt and Austria and Italy—oh! half Europe!” he says, “and now he sails back to Paris, and he sails out to St Cloud down the river here—don’t stare at the river, you young fool! —and all in front of these pig-jobbing lawyers and citizens he makes himself Consul, which is as good as a King. He’ll be King, too, in the next three turns of the capstan—King of France, England, and the world! Think o’ that!” he shouts, “and eat your herring.”
‘I says something about Boney. If he hadn’t been fighting England I shouldn’t have lost my ’baccy—should I?
‘“Young fellow,” says Maingon, “you don’t understand.”
‘We heard cheering. A carriage passed over the bridge with two in it. ‘“That’s the man himself,” says Maingon. “He’ll give ’em something to cheer for soon.” He stands at the salute.
‘“Who’s t’other in black beside him?” I asks, fairly shaking all over.
‘“Ah! he’s the clever one. You’ll hear of him before long. He’s that scoundrel-bishop, Talleyrand.”
‘“It is!” I said, and up the steps I went with my fiddle, and run after the carriage calling, “Abbé, Abbé!”
‘A soldier knocked the wind out of me with the back of his sword, but I had sense to keep on following till the carriage stopped—and there just was a crowd round the house-door! I must have been half-crazy else I wouldn’t have struck up “Si le Roi m’avait donne Paris la grande ville!” I thought it might remind him.
‘“That is a good omen!” he says to Boney sitting all hunched up; and he looks straight at me.
‘“Abbé—oh, Abbé!” I says. “Don’t you remember Toby and Hundred and Eighteen Second Street?”
‘He said not a word. He just crooked his long white finger to the guard at the door while the carriage steps were let down, and I skipped into the house, and they slammed the door in the crowd’s face. ‘“You go there,” says a soldier, and shoves me into an empty room, where I catched my first breath since I’d left the barge. Presently I heard plates rattling next door—there were only folding doors between—and a cork drawn. “I tell you,” someone shouts with his mouth full, “it was all that sulky ass Sieyes’ fault. Only my speech to the Five Hundred saved the situation.”
‘“Did it save your coat?” says Talleyrand. “I hear they tore it when they threw you out. Don’t gasconade to me. You may be in the road of victory, but you aren’t there yet.”
‘Then I guessed t’other man was Boney. He stamped about and swore at Talleyrand.
‘“You forget yourself, Consul,” says Talleyrand, “or rather you remember yourself—Corsican.”
‘“Pig!” says Boney, and worse.
‘“Emperor!” says Talleyrand, but, the way he spoke, it sounded worst of all. Some one must have backed against the folding doors, for they flew open and showed me in the middle of the room. Boney whipped out his pistol before I could stand up.
“General,” says Talleyrand to him, “this gentleman has a habit of catching us canaille en deshabille. Put that thing down.”
‘Boney laid it on the table, so I guessed which was master. Talleyrand takes my hand—“Charmed to see you again, Candide,” he says. “How is the adorable Dr Pangloss and the noble Huron?”
‘“They were doing very well when I left,” I said. “But I’m not.”
‘“Do you sell buttons now?” he says, and fills me a glass of wine off the table.
‘“Madeira,” says he. “Not so good as some I have drunk.”
‘“You mountebank!” Boney roars. “Turn that out.” (He didn’t even say “man,” but Talleyrand, being gentle born, just went on.)
‘“Pheasant is not so good as pork,” he says. “You will find some at that table if you will do me the honour to sit down. Pass him a clean plate, General.” And, as true as I’m here, Boney slid a plate along just like a sulky child. He was a lanky-haired, yellow-skinned little man, as nervous as a cat—and as dangerous. I could feel that.
‘“And now,” said Talleyrand, crossing his game leg over his sound one, “will you tell me your story?”
‘I was in a fluster, but I told him nearly everything from the time he left me the five hundred dollars in Philadelphia, up to my losing ship and cargo at Le Havre. Boney began by listening, but after a bit he dropped into his own thoughts and looked at the crowd sideways through the front-room curtains. Talleyrand called to him when I’d done.
‘“Eh? What we need now,” says Boney, “is peace for the next three or four years.”
‘“Quite so,” says Talleyrand. “Meantime I want the Consul’s order to the Prize Court at Le Havre to restore my friend here his ship.”
‘“Nonsense!” says Boney. “Give away an oak-built brig of two hundred and seven tons for sentiment? Certainly not! She must be armed into my Navy with ten—no, fourteen twelve- pounders and two long fours. Is she strong enough to bear a long twelve forward?”
‘Now I could ha’ sworn he’d paid no heed to my talk, but that wonderful head-piece of his seemingly skimmed off every word of it that was useful to him.
‘“Ah, General!” says Talleyrand. “You are a magician—a magician without morals. But the brig is undoubtedly American, and we don’t want to offend them more than we have. “
‘“Need anybody talk about the affair?” he says. He didn’t look at me, but I knew what was in his mind—just cold murder because I worried him; and he’d order it as easy as ordering his carriage.
‘“You can’t stop ’em,” I said. “There’s twenty-two other men besides me.” I felt a little more ’ud set me screaming like a wired hare.
‘“Undoubtedly American,” Talleyrand goes on. “You would gain something if you returned the ship—with a message of fraternal good-will—published in the Moniteur” (that’s a French paper like the Philadelphia Aurora).
‘“A good idea!” Boney answers. “One could say much in a message.”
‘“It might be useful,” says Talleyrand. “Shall I have the message prepared?” He wrote something in a little pocket ledger.
‘“Yes—for me to embellish this evening. The Moniteur will publish it tonight.”
‘“Certainly. Sign, please,” says Talleyrand, tearing the leaf out.
‘“But that’s the order to return the brig,” says Boney. “Is that necessary? Why should I lose a good ship? Haven’t I lost enough ships already?”
‘Talleyrand didn’t answer any of those questions. Then Boney sidled up to the table and jabs his pen into the ink. Then he shies at the paper again: “My signature alone is useless,” he says. “You must have the other two Consuls as well. Sieyes and Roger Ducos must sign. We must preserve the Laws.”
‘“By the time my friend presents it,” says Talleyrand, still looking out of window, “only one signature will be necessary.”
‘Boney smiles. “It’s a swindle,” says he, but he signed and pushed the paper across.
‘“Give that to the President of the Prize Court at Le Havre,” says Talleyrand, “and he will give you back your ship. I will settle for the cargo myself. You have told me how much it cost. What profit did you expect to make on it?”
‘Well, then, as man to man, I was bound to warn him that I’d set out to run it into England without troubling the Revenue, and so I couldn’t rightly set bounds to my profits.’
‘I guessed that all along,’ said Puck.
The children laughed.
‘It’s comical enough now,’ said Pharaoh. ‘But I didn’t laugh then. Says Talleyrand after a minute, “I am a bad accountant and I have several calculations on hand at present. Shall we say twice the cost of the cargo?”
‘Say? I couldn’t say a word. I sat choking and nodding like a China image while he wrote an order to his secretary to pay me, I won’t say how much, because you wouldn’t believe it.’
‘“Oh! Bless you, Abbé! God bless you!” I got it out at last.
‘“Yes,” he says, “I am a priest in spite of myself, but they call me Bishop now. Take this for my episcopal blessing,” and he hands me the paper.
‘“He stole all that money from me,” says Boney over my shoulder. “A Bank of France is another of the things we must make. Are you mad?” he shouts at Talleyrand.
‘“Quite,” says Talleyrand, getting up. “But be calm. The disease will never attack you. It is called gratitude. This gentleman found me in the street and fed me when I was hungry.”
‘”I see; and he has made a fine scene of it, and you have paid him, I suppose. Meantime, France waits. “
‘“Oh! poor France!” says Talleyrand. “Good-bye, Candide,” he says to me. “By the way,” he says, “have you yet got Red Jacket’s permission to tell me what the President said to his Cabinet after Monsieur Genet rode away?”
‘I couldn’t speak, I could only shake my head, and Boney—so impatient he was to go on with his doings—he ran at me and fair pushed me out of the room. And that was all there was to it.’ Pharaoh stood up and slid his fiddle into one of his big skirt-pockets as though it were a dead hare.
‘Oh! but we want to know lots and lots more,’said Dan. ‘How you got home—and what old Maingon said on the barge—and wasn’t your cousin surprised when he had to give back the Berthe Aurette, and—’
‘Tell us more about Toby!’ cried Una.
‘Yes, and Red Jacket,’ said Dan.
‘Won’t you tell us any more?’ they both pleaded.
Puck kicked the oak branch on the fire, till it sent up a column of smoke that made them sneeze. When they had finished the Shaw was empty except for old Hobden stamping through the larches.
‘They gipsies have took two,’he said. “My black pullet and my liddle gingy-speckled cockrel.’
‘I thought so,’ said Dan, picking up one tail-feather that the old woman had overlooked.
‘Which way did they go? Which way did the runagates go?’ said Hobden.
‘Hobby!’ said Una. ‘Would you like it if we told Keeper Ridley all your goings and comings?’