Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted
BUSINESS & INVESTMENTS
The Sixth, and Final, Story of the “Forest of Ys” Series
HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL
HABAKKIJK MTJCKLOW was much disturbed. A young kinsman of his, Peter John Brockley, had got into serious trouble. Old Mrs. Brockley, sorely crippled by sciatica, had asked her son to fill un the woodshed Poor
Foresters are allowed to pick up fallen wood. At the same time, picking up fallen wood, unless you happen to live some distances from the villages, is a tedious job. Probably this occurred to Peter John. However, to his mother’s satisfaction and pride, Peter John, who was out of a regular job, filled up the woodshed, with well packed wood, in three days.
Unhappily, this nice lot of fuel had been gleaned, not in the Forest of Ys, but out of a wood belonging to Sir Giles Mottisfont, of Hernshaw Magna. Sir Giles might have dealt leniently and privately with a first offense. As a Verderer he was much respected. He protected, even against the Crown, the Commoners’ rights— and his own. But this wood-pilfering was not a first offense. Before the war, Peter John had been caught with a hare in his pocket. The Bench at Puddenhurst imposed a fine.
Now, he had been summoned to appear before the
august tribunal for the second time and upon a more serious charge. Sir Giles said openly that “an example” must be made.
The gaffers in the alehouses shook their hoary heads; andHabakkuk.betterknown all over the Forest as “Uncle,” had an uneasy presentiment that some of his sins might be visited upon the curly head of Peter John. Large signs upon Sir Giles’s property informed all and sundry that trespassers would be prosecuted. Uncle, sly old sinner, laughed at such injunctions.
“They notices,” he said to his cronies at the Pomfret Arms, over a tankard,
“bain’t worth a-settin’ up.
For why? I’ll tell ’ee what
lawyer feller tole me when I was carryin’ golf clubs for ’un. A K.C. too, whatever that means. He druv four balls out o’ bounds an’ into Sir Giles’s field, he did. Well, he sends me into field to pick up balls, an’ he gives me three coppers. Now comes along climax.” “Climax? Be that the name o’ Sir Giles’s gingeryedded keeper?”
“Climax,” replied Uncle, expectorating disdainfully, “be summat which ignerunce may butt up against wi’out onderstandin’. You bide in your earner, Mister Gilbert, an’ finish your ale. I sees Sir Giles in field, reckonin’ up chances for a good hay crop; but, mind ’ee, grass were no higher ’n a tomtit. I says to the K.C. chap: T shall be downscrambled by Sir Giles.’ He laughs, he do, an’ says: ‘Fine! ’Twill be a test case,’ says he. ‘Now look ’ee here, my man, if that be Sir Giles hisself, an’ if he kicks up a rumpus and orders you off his land, you pick up my balls. Take very careful note o’ what languidge the ole gen’leman uses. When you has the balls, give ’un three pence for damage done an’ my card.’ ”
Uncle paused to moisten his lips. He had the attention of every man in the snug bar. He continued: “Well, I marches bold as brass into field and picks up the balls. Sir Giles stumps up so red as any turkey cock, an’ ’twas a treat to listen to ’un. 1 hands over the coppers first. ‘What be this?’ says he. ‘ ’Tis for damage done,’ says I. ‘An’ this be the gen’leman’s card.’ Sir Giles up and looks at card, an’ then at me. ‘I knows you, Habakkuk Mucklow,’ he says, ‘an’ you knows me. You ain’t heard the last o’ this.’ I ’lows I’d ought to have left it at that, but I allers have carried a high yed, so I answers back: T hopes, sir,’ I says, ‘that I has heard the last o’ this, ’cause the fust of it don't
bear repeatin’, at least, to my way of thinkin’, do it?’ ” The memory of this incident made Uncle unhappy when he thought of Peter John coming up before the Bench. Otherwise, being a bold man, and popular with the quality, he might have gone to Sir Giles and pleaded for his kinsman.
It happened to be the time of year when Uncle made good money by carrying clubs and by instructing young ladies in the arts and crafts of playing golf at Hernshaw Magna. Generally, he would stroll home to NetherApplewhite through the Forest.
About the middle of May, he was passing a pond where moorhens and dabchicks nested. Uncle duly noted that the nests were nearer the water than usual, justifying his prediction that the season would be abnormally dry. Very little rain had fallen either in April or May.
“Be—utiful weather, to be sure,” reflected Uncle.
Standing still, staring at the nestlings, his alert eye detected two figures amongst the rhododendrons across the pond. Uncle slipped behind a big fir. As he moved his feet sank softly into the carpet of pine needles. Across the pond, delicately sublimated, floated a girl’s voice:
“Don’t ’ee now, don’t!”
Uncle had recognised the voice, but the voice that replied, a man’s voice, was low and inarticulate. Uncle peered through the branches. He could see the rhododendrons, nothing else. Sinking upon his hands and knees, he began to crawl round the pond, finding at last safe harbourage in a clump of willows. From this coign of vantage he could see plainly a man and a maid, and he could see quite as plainly that the man was not having his way with the maid. Presently, the man laughed and walked off. The maid sat down.
“He’ll come back,” thought Uncle.
Presently, Uncle heard a soft whistle. The girl looked up, smiling.
“The lil’ baggage,” murmured Uncle. He had recognised the man. However, his muscles relaxed as he
noted the general behaviour of the young woman, who seemed quite able to take care of herself. Uncle began to grin, as a happy thought invaded his remarkable head. He lay low till the man marched off again, after attempting, not successfully, to kiss the girl. Uncle waited.
The girl sat down again. Uncle knew her xVell. She lived in a tiny hamlet between Nether-Applewhite and Hernshaw Magna, not far from the Broekley cottage. Uncle respected her because she was a Forester. Her “granfer” had kept pigs in the Forest. Towards the end of the war, she went into service, and was now at
home on a holiday.
Uncle left his harbourage and advanced noiselessly. Then he whistled, reproducing the exact note of the young man. The girl jumped up.
“Be—utiful evenin’,” said Uncle.
The girl blushed.
“I seen him an’ you,” said Uncle. “Now, me maid, I can mind me own business, I can.” “Can you?” she asked roguishly.
UNCLE laughed,being quick at the uptake. His business was that of a thatcher, a craft at which he was an expert. Ordinary thatching of ricks, let us say, he despised. Ornamental thatching, as an industry, is moribund. Uncle preferred to earn a good living by the exercise of his lively wits. In the hunting season, he ran with hounds
and pocketed innumerable shillings and half-crowns because followers easily lose hounds and Uncle somehow —you must ask him how he did it—was invariably at hand bursting with information that, as a rule, could be depended on. He had a spaniel that paid for more than its keep by finding golf balls in whin and heather. He could play a fair round of golf and, in the absence of a “Pro,” could and did mend clubs and give lessons. He liked odd jobs at odd hours which brought him into fellowship with rich and poor. Really, as he admitted with disarming candour, it was the minding of businessessentially not his own that brought grist to his mill. Apparently, this saucy maid knew this.
“What be you a-doin’ here in they rosydandrons wir a young gen’leman?”
“Is that your business, Uncle?”
“I makes everything my business, Sally. And I knows what I knows.”
“I wonders what you do know, Uncle, ’bout me an’ him?”
Uncle attended his parish church, and was fervent inresponse. He inflated a deep chest and uplifted a large and nobly formed nose.
“You be playin’ wi’ fire, Sally. I give ’ee fair warnin’.. ’Tis resky work. A very lively young spark he be.”
“I ain’t burned my fingers, Uncle. If I could trust
She paused, glancing at him. Woman’s intuition told! her that Uncle could be trusted—up to a point.
“’Tis all along o’ my Peter John.”
“Your Peter John—? He be of kin to me.”
“Aye. You learned Peter John some of his tricks, too. ’Twas your doing, as I sees it, that he got catched ini Sir Giles’s woods.”
“What a tale!” “Anyways, Peter John be in trouble. Dad says more’n likely ’twill land him in gaol. Folks are throwing that up to me.” She tossed her head angrily. Uncle stroked his ample chin, peering alertly at flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes. Deep down in his sinful old heart he was reflecting that the young Captain must not be dealt with too drastically. If this “lil baggage” had held up an alluring finger—? He spoke pleasantly:
“Don’t ’ee get miffed! I wants to help Peter John, but Sir Giles be tarr’bly set agen me. Gittin’ catched was none o’ my teachin’. I allers says, speakin’ as a Forester, that if you makes no noise you won’t be heard; and if you keeps out o’ sight you won’t be seen.”
HE CHUCKLED whimsically, feeling in an ample pocket for a rabbit that wasn’t there. Sally clutched his arm.
“I ain’t a bad girl, Uncle. I loves Peter John, honest I do.”
The face upturned to his was so free from guile and so distressed that Uncle kissed it paternally:
“There, there! I be cocky-sure o’ that. But this yere mumbudgettin’ wi’ Captains, this meetin’ on the sly, is a silly sart o’ game, to my notions, onless—” “Unless—?”
“Onless ther be something in it more’n meets my eye.”
“Perhaps there is.”
“Then out wi’ it, and I’ll help ’ee wi’ my ripe wisdom.” Thus adjured pretty Sally did out with the truth. Possibly, she had discovered that all of us are dependent on others. And intimate knowledge of her lover may have made her realize that he, in his trouble, was in-
capable of saving a not altogether hopeless situation. Foresters are peculiar in many ways. Living in the great woods, children of sun and rain, getting a precarious living in a simple primitive fashion, they share with savages a strange fatalism. Because life, in a sense, is easy, they shrink from obstacles, travelling slowly along lines of least resistance. You see a gypsy taking the beaten track across a moor, not the short cut which might lead him into a bog. Peter John, after the summons had been served, sat down and grinned philosophically. Sally’s plan was this. She had lured a young gentleman into the rhododendrons because she beheld in him a lever wherewith a very obstinate, crossgrained old gentleman might be budged from an almost impregnable position. Uncle nodded. He approved the design; he questioned the treatment.
“You be a peart maid, but too timoresome. I’ll wager now that you hasn’t talked to young Captain ’bout Peter John.”
“Not yet. He—he wanted to talk about hisself.
“He tried to kiss ’ee.”
“And I come nigh smackin’ his face, I did.”
“Ah-h-h! ’Twas God A’mighty’s savin’ grace you didn’t. That ’ud ha’ maddened him. You be right, Sally, in your main plan. This young gen’leman has the ear o’ Sir Giles. I makes no doubt that a word from him ’ud do the trick. But ’tis ticklish work, me girl. You was minded just now to smack his face; I was minded to punch his head, old as I be. But, Lard love ’ee! lookin’ at your pretty eyes, I can’t blame ’un. And this be May. I minds me when I ran loose in sap time, and, seemin’ly, our bracken do grow high apurpose to hide lovers. When it grows yaller, it serves to bed down the beasts o’ the field. But I be ramblin’ in the pleasant ways o’ my youth. So you smiled at
’un, did ’ee, wi' thoughts o’ Peter John in your heart?” “Yes; I did.”
“I called ’ee a timoresome maid, but you was takin’ chances, Sally, meetin’ a man in this lonely part o’ Forest.”
“He be a gen’leman, Uncle.”
“Ah-h-h! I must smoke a pipe over this.”
He filled an old briar very carefully, coaxing the tobacco into the bowl. Uncle boasted amongst the gaffers, that he could keep one pipe going for a full hour and a half. But now he smoked carelessly, expelling vast volumes of smoke. And as he smoked, he scratched his head. Sally sat still, with her hands folded upon her lap, watching a squirrel peering at Uncle from behind a branch. Finally, Uncle broke the silence.
“Honesty be the policy o’ wisdom. You must own up, Sally. I leaves ways to your ’ooman’s owdacious wits. You coaxed ’un here; you must coax ’un agen. And, then, I says, out wi’ the truth. Ax a sportsman to help ’ee. I bain’t sartain sure in my mind that he be a sportsman. I ain’t never seen ’un at top o’ the hunt, but he be one of us, barn and bred i’ the Forest. If you has tears on tap, let ’em flow. Ax him to be a friend. Give ’un your lil hand, not your lips. You be a sweet maid, and if he’s a man, he’ll help ’ee. Now, I must tramp homealong.”
DETER JOHN, as has been said, was doing nothing -*• till haying began. And Sally was home on holiday. But ever since he had strayed within reach of the law, Sally had puzzled him, as well she might. Such an offense as his was deemed negligible by the Brockleys and their neighbours. In far-off Georgian days, many
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Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted
Foresters had been smugglers. Most of them, to-day, were poachers upon a small scale. The King’s venison rarely tickled their palates simply because the King’s keepers were alert if not unduly active. None the less, it was, as Peter John admitted to himself, a shameful thing to be “catched.” It would be a still more shameful thing to be sent to gaol. Sally, probably, shared the common view about that.
To make matters worse, he and Sally were not actually engaged. There had been no formal plighting of troth. Each had set, perhaps, an inordinate value upon independence, so dear to all Foresters. He had “courted” her for years. He had been sure that sooner or later they would settle down in some cottage, very hard to come by in postwar days. Marriage, in rural districts, is far less exciting than courtship. To the women it means service without wages; to the men it means harder service with the wages handed over to the woman on Saturday night.
Ultimately, Peter John ambled to the conclusion that his Sally was waiting to see what would happen when he was haled before the Bench. Sir Giles, as prosecutor, would not sit upon it. But the other magistrates would be influenced by him. And Peter John was aware that gentlemen, accustomed to live at ease before the war, had become, as he put it, “wonnerful peevish” under the yoke of tax and super-tax. By them, at any rate, he was regarded as a thief, a rascal who had stolen something quite as valuable as coal. The village constable said lugubriously:
“’Tis more than petty larceny, my man.”
Peter John did not take in at once the full meaning of this cryptic statement. When it dawned upon him that his offense might be deemed so heinous that it lay beyond the jurisdiction of the Bench, his soul sickened within him. If Sally knew that—!
Sally, of course, had she been the heroine of a popular film play, would have hastened to her lover, embraced him tenderly, and assured him, in a passion of tears, that she was his for eternity even if hanging were his portion. Being a Forester, she was more concerned in pulling strings that might lead to the summons being withdrawn. Also, she knew her Peter John would not countenance any tampering with Captains. Sally, therefore, was constrained to work “on her own,” and, fortified by the sage counsel of Uncle, she went her way joyously.
PETER JOHN was not of a suspicious nature, but Sally’s charms of mind and person obsessed and distressed him. Many likely young fellows had fluttered
about this honey-pot. Their activities noticeably diminished when Peter John loomed into sight, squaring his broad shoulders. It was understood that “taking up” with Sally meant “taking on” young Brockley, not a “cushy” job. Accordingly, Sally had never excited much more than flutterings. It was hardly safe to dance with her more than twice if Peter John happened to be present.
Mazed and dazed by the-bludgeonings of fortune, Peter John worked in his mother’s small garden. Friends of his own sex were sympathetic, when Peter John paid for their ale, but not optimistic. To his mother alone he confided his greatest trouble.
“Sally,” he said, “be keepin’ herself to herself.”
Mrs. Brockley smiled sourly. Mothers with stout sons who contribute to their support rarely display undue warmth of affection for putative daughters-in-law. Sally, in Mrs. Brockley’s considered judgment, was extravagant. To put your wages into a hat and then get photographed in it did not commend itself to her.
“Bit of a besom,” she suggested.
“If you wasn’t my mother, I’d call you a liar,” said Peter John.
He bounced out of the kitchen, and hoed vigorously, attacking weeds with astonishing rancour. As he worked a missel-thrush sang to him and—so Peter John believed—at him.
“Damned storm-cock,” he growled. He threw a stone at the bird and missed it. The bird sang on lustily. Foresters affirm that the louder song of the misselthrush heralds rain. Peter John accepted the song metaphorically. A storm was coming up for him. But his mind dwelt upon Sally, who was keeping herself to herself. For why? Uncle could have answered that devastating question. Uncle could have told an unhappy kinsman that Sally was working out his salvation according to plan, a plan that justified a temporary coldness. How could Sally sport with Captains in the shade if Peter John insisted on doing the sporting himself? To keep an ardent lover at a discreet distance became absolutely necessary.
The missel-thrush, innocent bird, sang louder than ever.
At this moment conviction stole upon Peter John. Sally had found somebody else. Women understood women. A bit of a besom—! He envisaged a broom daintily fashioned out of sweet-smelling heather sweeping up somebody else. Probably his mother knew all about it, but he was too proud to ask for details. Those he would sweep up for himself.
' He would play the besom. And he wouldn’t be “catched.” He threw down
the hoe, pulled on his old coat, cocked his cap at an aggressive angle, and sauntered down the high road. It was the hour when swains released from durance vile seek their sweethearts. Sally’s cottage lay at the farther end of the hamlet. Peter John matured his plans as he strode along. He intended to seek cover in some gorse bushes opposite to Sally’s cottage. After tea she would slip out, if—if she were a besom—!
After tea she did slip out, carrying a letter in her hand. It was not necessary to follow her, except with a sharp pair of eyes. She walked demurely as far as the letter-box, the hamlet had no postoffice, popped in her letter and went back to the cottage. Peter John hoped that the letter was for him. It wasn’t. Jealousy consumed him, gnawed at his vitals. To whom could Sally be writing?
NEXT day, at the same hour, he stood for an hour in the gorse, but Sally, obviously, was “helping Mother.” He could see her flitting to and fro, carrying linen nicely bleached by the sun. He was tempted to present himself, but pride choked him.
Upon the evening of the third day, patience was rewarded. Sally appeared, not in her Sunday best, but in a white skirt and sports’ coat, which became her slender figure admirably. Peter John had given her the sports’ coat, of Saxe blue, made of a silken material. Where was she taking it?
He followed her.
She moved lightly and so did he, but his heart grew heavier with every step, as she left the outlying cottages behind her. Still she might be on her way to Nether-Applewhite. There is constant intermarriage between the older families in and about the Forest of Ys. Peter John hoped that Sally might be merely “a-visitin’.” But on such formal occasions, the visitor takes a gift, some honey, a pat of butter, a pot of jam. Sally carried nothing.
Presently she turned into the Forest. More, before she did so, she glanced quickly backwards. The long road stretched behind and before her. Nobody was in sight.
“She be a besom,” he thought. However, Sally stuck to a track, winding through bracken and beech trees. If she hadn’t looked back, hope might have lingered in Peter John’s breast. The track led to a keeper’s cottage. Sly Sally skirted this, and when she executed the flanking movement a Saxe blue sports’ coat turned to red in the eyes of the man who was gliding after her.
Presently she reached the pond, and sat down upon the trunk of a fallen tree. Peter John hid himself in the rhododendrons.
THE Captain rode to the trystingplace. He had received a letter from Sally, which puzzled him. Also, being young and optimistic, he placed upon this artless epistle an interpretation which inflamed, perhaps, his vanity more than anything else. The girl had repulsed him; now she whistled him back. He had known her ever since she wore pinafores and sucked a not too clean thumb. At the last annual flower show he had danced with Sally, who was no mean performer. Such slight attentions were paid by sprigs of quality to pretty villagers coram publico and signified nothing. And then, only a week previously, he had met Sally, who smiled sweetly at him. That, too, might mean nothing or anything. He stopped to exchange a few bantering words. Sally wanted to ask a favour, but she didn’t know how to do it. She blushed, poor child, and stammered. The bold Captain unhesitatingly drew the wrong conclusion from these signals of distress. And he, too, was conscious of prying eyes, for the pair had met in the middle of Hernshaw Magna. Swiftly, he proposed a meeting elsewhere; falteringly Sally consented. . .
And now she had asked for another meeting!
A hundred yards from the pond, he tied his cob to a swinging branch, lit a cigarette, assumed the smile of a conqueror, and swaggered past the clump of rhododendrons where Peter John was hiding.
Then he whistled.
Sally stood up, aflame with nervousness and blushes. Village maidens, even before they leave school, have little to learn about men. Their mothers attend to that, using very plain speech. Sally, therefore, blushed crimson because she knew well enough that the Captain had been lured to the pond under false pretences. When he discovered that, probably he would be very angry, not in a mood to grant favours. Uncle, nevertheless, was right. His ripe wisdom percolated through Sally’s brain cells. She must appeal, forthwith, to the chivalry of a gentleman. But the situation was intolerably difficult.
The Captain, it must be admitted, was something of a fool, but he could see, plainly enough, that the pretty girl in front of him was quivering with emotion. The spot chosen was secluded; the sun shone in azure skies; soft breezes ruffled the surface of the pool. And haste is abhorrent to all who dwell in the Forest of Ys. Accordingly, he greeted the quivering maid courteously and sat down beside her on the tree trunk, taking a limp hand in his. Sally left it there for the moment, as Peter John duly noted.
“I got your dear little letter,” began the Captain. “And I’ve chucked a very important engagement to come here. What do you say to that, my little Sally?”
SALLY had nothing to say. She accepted the statement for what it appeared to be worth—to her. Gentlemen did have very important engagements. Her pulses fluttered; her hand trembled. She tried to withdraw it, but the Captain held it prisoner.
“You did not write much, Sally, but you made it plain that you wanted to see me again—here.”
He emphasised the word. The selection of such a trysting-place aroused all the pleasures of anticipation. He was reflecting that Adam must have met Eve in just such another enchanted glade, beside a pool upon which lilies floated, beneath primeval trees, the sentries of time, with nothing to disturb the exquisite silence save the drowsy hum of insects and the soft whisperings of the leaves.
“I—I did, sir. ’Tis true. I—I had a reason, sir, for wanting to see you quite alone.”
“Tell me the reason,” he whispered.
“I be mazed an’ dazed as never was,” faltered Sally.
The Captain pressed her hand, moving closer to her. Peter John was not near enough to hear the duologue, but a patron of the “movies” was quick to interpret actions.
“Soft stuff,” he murmured, as he stirred restlessly.
With a tremendous effort he restrained action. He was watching, fascinated, the familiar development, the protagonists of a hundred films, the villain and the maid. “He be a trespasser,” he thought. Resentment, as yet, had not obliterated elemental common sense. Had the man in front of him been of his own class, he would have slunk away, grievously mortified, but recognising the right of any young woman not definitely engaged to change her mind. More, realising miserably that his Sally was a “besom,” the preconceived idea, inculcated by films of the baser soft, asserted itself. He could behold Sally as the village maid in the toils of the titled blackguard. Sally continued, breathlessly:
“I be fair desperate.”
“Tell me, you dear little thing, tell me! Don’t be afraid!”
He told himself, with an inward chuckle, that he was sipping delightfully the rarest vintage brewed by Cupid. Encouraged by his kindly words, Sally went on:
“I just feels that I would do anything, anything—for somebody.”
The Captain said admiringly:
“By Jove! I believe you would.”
At another time, in another place, Sally, when speaking to the quality, would have expressed herself mincingly, avoiding the Doric of the Forest. But she was far too moved to pick her phrases or mind her grammar. Suddenly, she tried a fresh tack, sailing boldly into the wind.
“You was allers nice to me.”
“Aye—allers a pleasant word and a smile. An’ that do embolden me; yes it do. An’ you’ll go on bein’ nice to me, won’t you?”
She lifted a pleading face to his.
“You needn’t worry about that, Sally.”
“I wants you to do something for me.” 1 “Carry on!”
“You knows Peter John Brockley, who lives t’other end of our village?” The j Captain nodded. We can hardly blame him for not making four out of two and two, because as yet he had never seen Peter John and Sally together as a pair. Sally, wound up to full explanation, hurried on: “Him as was summonsed for | pickin’ up wood belongin’ to Sir Giles, j Constable says ’tis more’n petty larceny, i It may mean assizes. An’ Sir Giles be 1 fair set on makin’ a sample o’ Peter John, j ’Twill kill old Mrs. Brockley.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“If so be as you’d speak a word for Peter John to Sir Giles. I knows ’tis a great favour, but gaol—oh, dear!”
TEARS filled her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. The Captain, not insensible to beauty in distress, pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve, and dabbed gently Sally’s eyes.
“Young Brockley won’t go to gaol. A fine will be imposed, nothing more.” “Constable says ’tis assizes for Peter John, if summons bain’t withdrawn, ’cause—’cause, afore the war, he was had up for poachin’. They found a hare on him. Peter John said he didn’t know how it corned there. He allers was free wi’ his jokes. Anyways, he got off wi’ a fine. Now, look ’ee, he can’t plead first offense, an’ there be a conviction against ’un.”
The Captain whistled. He was not a Justice of the Peace, and he knew nothing of the majesty of the Law, but he divined that young Brockley was in a tight place. Probably Sally and the constable stated a fact. If the summons were not withdrawn, Peter John might find himself in the dock at Melchester. Possibly, so he reflected, Peter John might be of kin to Sally, which would account for her interest in him.
“Are you a cousin of his?”
“Then why do you plead for him so— so eloquently?”
She answered with belated directness: | “’Cause I love him.”
The Captain jumped up.
Allowances may be made for him, except by the unco guid. He felt and looked like a fool. But he might have swallowed a bitter dose without grimacing. Futile wrath glowered in eyes set too close together.
“You damned little humbug!”
SALLY winced, covering her face with trembling fingers. She had shot her bolt. Apparently, it had missed the mark. Very miserably, she told herself that the crushing indictment was true. She had humbugged the Captain. And he looked a fool even to her.
“Do forgive me,” she wailed.
Peter John, in the rhododendrons, wondered what had happened. Obviously, a pair of lovers had quarrelled. Not an illuminating word had reached him. He could see Sally sobbing piteously, and the Captain, tall and erect, glaring down at her.
The Captain’s expression changed as Sally looked up at him, beseechingly. Certainly she was distractingly pretty. And she had asked him to be “nice” to her. More, it looked as if she were terribly distressed because he had sworn at her.
“If I promise to say a word for young Brockley, will you give me a kiss?”
Sally hesitated. Unfortunately she blushed. To save Peter John she would have kissed an ourang-outang. She jumped up.
“If I give ’ee a kiss, just a lil ’un, you’ll speak up for ’un?”
“That is understood.”
Gallantly, she approached him. A du Guesclin, had he asked for such a kiss, would have accepted it in the spirit with which it was proffered. The Captain was no perfect knight. Possibly he had not been kicked hard enough at Eton. He seized Sally in his arms, and kissed her violently.
Peter John slipped out of the rhodo¡ dendrons.
SALLY was the first to see him, as he strode across the glade. Instantly she yelped. The verb is used to describe the cry of an animal. Sally yelped
because she was frightened. The Captain had frightened her. In another moment, half choked by the pressure of his arms, she might have screamed. The yelp indicated dismay quite as much as fear.
The Captain released her and confronted a Peter John still hypnotised, so to speak, by the preconceived idea. In picture plays, the hero always advances upon the villain and smites him. That was Peter John’s idea. To smite—!
Nor did he invite the Captain, in the chaste language of the novelette, to “put up his hands.” The Captain did that instinctively. Peter John smote. The Captain, no novice, countered him full on the nose. Peter John staggered back. Sally stared at the men in horror. Peter John advanced more warily. He was really a fighter, whereas the Captain, at best, was a second-rate boxer. Young Brockley could take punishment—to use the language of the ring—like a glutton. Regardless of consequences, he intended to knock out the Captain. He accomplished this fairly easy task in less than two minutes. Having knocked out his antagonist, he bent down, lifted up an almost unconscious body, and dropped it into the pond!
At this interesting moment, Uncle appeared on the scene. The long arm of coincidence had not wrenched him from the Pomfret Arms. Before he parted from Sally upon the afternoon when his ripe wisdom had inundated that young woman, he learnt from her that she meant to write to the Captain. He had, indeed, urged her to ask her favour in that letter. Wisely or otherwise, Sally distrusted her spelling. Uncle never argued with an obstinate female. He contented himself with finding out when and where the contemplated meeting would take place, and he decided not being sure of the Captain, that he would assist if, haply, assistance were needed.
His honest face indicated pleasure. He had enjoyed the fight, but he knew that the pond was deep and full of weeds.
“Lard love ’ee,” said he to Peter John, “that was an upliftin’ scrap, but can the young gen’leman swim?”
“I hopes not,” replied Peter John.
The Captain was floundering amongst the lilies.
“He be drowndin’,” exclaimed Sally.
“He be caught i’ the weeds,” declared Uncle. “We must fish ’un out.”
The Captain was fished out, a bedraggled and exhausted object. Peter John said to Sally:
“You can kiss ’un now, if you’ve a mind to.”
“I done it for you, Pete.”
“What you say?”
SALLY explained. Uncle was rendering first aid to the Captain, but he could hear what passed between the lovers. He scraped mud and weeds from the young gentleman and propped him up with his back against the tree trunk. The Captain gasped and groaned, hardly conscious of Uncle’s ministrations.
“You be a dodgasted fool,” said Uncle, turning from the villain to the hero. “Me an’ Sally was minded to help ’ee. Your bacon fat be fairly i’ the fire—an’ sizzlin’.”
He held up a large hand and ticked off with a minatory finger the “counts” against his kinsman.
“Fustly—poachin’. Foolish to be
catched at that! Secondly—grand larceny —foolisher still to be catched twice. Thirdly an’ lastly—assault an’ battery! Six months, me lad, wi’out the option of a fine.”
Peter John glanced at Sally. He, too, was not an agreeable object for a woman’s eye to rest upon. But she gazed at him adoringly. He was her man. He had proved himself to be a man.
“I don’t care a damn,” he replied cheerfully.
“But I does,” whispered Sally.
Uncle filled his pipe. He was reflecting that truly great men, like himself and the Duke of Wellington, rose to heights under the pressure of emergency. He knew that he must act immediately, if a lamentable situation were to be saved. He puffed at his pipe, before he delivered an ultimatum.
“You’ve nearly killed ’un,” he said solemnly. “I leaves it to ’ee, both of ’ee, to help clean ’un. Mortal man couldn’t face his brother sinners lookin’ as he do this instant minute.”
“He rode here,” said Sally.
“Did he now? When he comes to
hisself, an’ reason mounts her throne, you tell ’un to ride his horse into a bog. ’Tisn’t many in the Forest 'ud ha’ thought o’ that, an’ it’s happened to better men than he be. But I reckons he won’t sit any horse for two hours yet. Anyways, I leaves ’un in your tender care.”
“Where be you goin’, Uncle?”
“I be going, hot foot, to Sir Giles Mottisfont.”
SIR GILES was sitting in his library, when an aged butler told him that Habakkuk Mucklow wished to see him on a matter of business.
“I can’t see that old rascal. Business? What business?”
“Habakkuk did say, Sir Giles, that the business was none of his. He refused to state what it was to me.”
Sir Giles nodded. As a Verderer he had to listen to complaints lodged by Commoners, and—to his credit let it be added—he never shirked his duties.
“Shew him in.”
Uncle made a dignified entrance, but was not invited to take a chair. He respected Sir Giles because he was a Mottisfont and head of an ancient family. Sir Giles could trace filiation from John de la Mothe, Knight of the Shire in the reign of Henry III, to George Mott, who appears to have obtained a deed of gift to a field near Hernshaw Magna in which bubbled a fine spring spoken of in still existing charters as Mott Hys Fonte, or Fontaine. Hence we arrive, by an easy transition to Gilles de Mottysfonte who married an heiress of the Pundle family and held a lucrative appointment under the Crown during the reign of Elizabeth. Ever since the days of George Mott the family seems to have justified its motto, Probus et Tenax, by acquiring—by marriage—as much land as possible and refusing under any circumstances to part with an acre of it.
“What can I do for you, Habakkuk?”
In his own house, Sir Giles treated everybody with courtesy.
“Be—utiful weather, to be sure, Sir Giles.”
“You didn’t come here to talk about the weather.”
“No, Sir Giles, I come to ’ee to ask for advice. You be a good friend to all Commoners, and a magistrate. I might ha’ gone straight to Police Station in Puddenhurst, but I takes the notion to see you fust. Sir Giles, I says, never did hold wi’ trespassin’.”
Sir Giles eyed Uncle with mild amusement.
“We has our preserves,” said Uncle. “Are you alluding to jam?” asked Sir Giles, wondering whether his visitor was perfectly sober. Uncle replied portentously:
“I speaks semaphorically, Sir Giles, allers likin’ a figure o’ speech. Call it jam. A bit o’ reel jam do, seemin’ly, describe Sally Owbridge.”
“Aye. This afternoon, as never was, a young gen’leman met Sally Owbridge in they rosydandrons close to pond where we killed that notable buck sixteen year ago. I mind me you had a slot, Sir Giles.”
BUT Sir Giles was not thinking of slots. He understood instantly what Uncle meant by trespassing and preserves.
“Do you come to me as a magistrate? Have you a charge to make? What is it?”
He spoke testily. There were moments when Sir Giles told himself that he had lived too long, that he could no longer cope with changed conditions. It exasperated him beyond measure to hear that a young gentleman had been meeting pretty Sally Owbridge at all. Indeed he was hardly thinking of Uncle when he heard that great man’s ingratiating tones.
“You was allers one to respect your own rights, Sir Giles, and the rights o’ others.”
“You be down on trespassers.”
Sir Giles smiled grimly. Uncle went on, feeling his way cautiously, sensible that Sir Giles was waxing impatient and irritable.
“But you fights for us pore folk.. ’Cause o’ that I’ve made bold to come to
’ee this evenin’. A very dirty bit o’ work was -done down to pond not two hours ago. I lay sixpence you’ve kissed a pretty girl in your time, Sir Giles?” “For the Lord’s sake, man, get on with it!”
“I’ll lay a crown,” continued Uncle, imperturbably, “that you never kissed a girl against her will. I calls that trespassin’.”
“And so it is,” rapped out Sir Giles. “If little Sally Owbridge has been assaulted, I’ll make the matter my business, and thank you for coming to me instead of going to the Police Station. Mrs. Owbridge is one of my tenants.” “An’ so be Mrs. Brockley.”
“What on earth has she got to do with this?”
“I be gettin’ old,” murmured Uncle, “an’ I has to tell my tale my own way, Sir Giles. There was two assaults down by pond this afternoon.”
“Bless my soul! Two?”
“Aye. When lil Sally was strugglin’ wi’ the young gen’leman, her own boy happened along. What I axes you would you ha’ done, Sir Giles?”
“Knocked him down,” declared Sir Giles, bristling with indignation.
“You be the right sart. Sir Giles. I’ll lay a guinea you’d ha’ done it too. Sally’s boy manhandled ’un to rights, he did. And then he pitched ’un into pond.” “Capital. Sally’s boy is a good boy. You tell him so from me. Pitched him into the pond, did he?”
“I helped to fish ’un out. Now, Sir Giles, Sally feels, an’ I feels, that the young gen’leman got his desserts. Sally’s boy fit like a tiger in the Great War, an’ he fit like a wild cat down by old pond.” “I’m almost sorry I wasn’t there,” declared Sir Giles. “Perhaps, under the circumstances, justice has been done. It may be expedient not to press the matter further.”
“I knowed you’d say that,” exclaimed Uncle, with enthusiasm, “an’ Sally’s boy, Sir Giles, knows enough to keep his mouth shut. Wi’ your permission, may I speak a word for —him?”
“I don’t know who he is, but I’d like to shake his hand.”
“Ah-h-h! You knows me, Sir Giles, an’ I knows you. Sally’s boy be in sore trouble. He was convicted years ago, for snarin’ a hare, an’ he not much more’n a leveret, too. Now, a summons is out agen him for fillin’ up his old mother’s shed wi’ wood.”
“Um!” said Sir Giles.
“Wi’ your wood, Sir Giles. I be speakin’ of an’ for Peter John Brockley. What he ha’ done to-day may make you, Sir Giles, go easy wi’ ’un. We knows you didn’t grudge the fallen wood. We knows you respects property. But is Peter John Brockley to go to gaol, an’ this young sprig o’ quality to go free?”
SIR GILES stared hard at Uncle’s whimsical, weather-beaten countenance.
“Sally’s boy stole my wood, you say?” “He did help hisself,” murmured Uncle.
“I had forgotten the first conviction. A hare of mine was found in his pocket?” “A sad mishap, Sir Giles.”
The Verderer who pressed the claims of the Commoners even against the Crown leaned his head upon his hand.
“I shall see to it,” he said crisply, “that the summons is withdrawn.”
“I knowed you’d say that,” exclaimed Uncle for the third time. “An’, speakin’ as man to man, I’d sooner ha’ your word than the bond of the Deputy Surveyor hisself. I takes my leave of ’ee, Sir Giles, wi’ my humble respects. May be —I axes it as a favour—Sir Giles Mottisfont ’ll allow Habakkuk Mucklow to tell a pore man that a rich man bain’t a-goin’ to prosecute.”
“You can tell him that, Habakkuk.” Uncle moved majestically towards the door.
“One moment. Between ourselves—the matter shall go no farther—tell me the name of this young—a—gentleman.” “I’d like to spare ’ee, Sir Giles.”
“Spare me? What the devil do you mean?”
“The young gen’leman,” said Uncle slowly, edging towards the door, “be your youngest son, Captain Mottisfont.” Uncle vanished.
(This story concludes the series of six tales Mr. Vachell wrote around the romantic ‘‘Forest of Ys" for MacLean’s.)