The Devil Came to Ashcombe
HELEN NORSWORTHY SANGSTER
HEREABOUTS.” Sir Ralph said, “it’s common knowledge that the devil once visited Ashcombe, and that some day he’ll come again.”
Young John Cortleigh, for the past two months in England with the R.C.A.F., smiled uncertainly. His gaunt distinguished host and the slender fair girl on the fireside seat were smiling too, but their eyes were grave. For all the centuries of civilized living behind them, father and daughter were born on Dartmoor, and John suspected that they more than half believed the legends that Sir Ralph had been recounting.
In this ancient oak-panelled library, with the fire bright on the hearth and the curtains drawn against the chilly mist from the moor, such tales did not sound unduly fantastic to John himself. His scalp had prickled when Sir Ralph casually remarked: “This is a night for the Wish Hounds to hunt.” and told of the phantom pack that for centuries had roamed the moor without a master. There must be some truth behind such legends, he thought
defensively. This fantastic tale about the devil, for one.
“Had he some grudge against Ashcombe?” he asked.
Sir Ralph settled deeper in his chair.
“Naturally, he hasn’t any love for churches, and Ashcombe has a very fine one. Its tower is favorably compared with Magdalen Tower at Oxford, and there’s a fine old rood screen, and some curious carvings on the bosses; three rabbits with single ears conjoined. It’s said
Of course it was the devil ! For hadn't he sworn to come back? — And hadn't a young Cortleigh come from across the seas to defy him?
to be an ancient alchemical symbol—tinners contributed largely to the building of the church, you see.”
He smiled. “But I’m getting off the subject, as usual. One Sunday early in the seventeenth century there was a terrible storm on Dartmoor. A stranger took shelter at a small moorland inn, and when the innkeeper's wife brought his drink he asked the way to Ashcombe. A moment later the woman was horrified to hear the liquor go sizzling down his throat, and she vowed that she saw a cloven hoof under his cloak.”
Sir Ralph reached for a cigarette. “Probably she imagined the whole thing, and also the smell of brimstone that she declared hung about the room after the stranger had gone. But the fact remains that the tower of Ashcombe Church was damaged by lightning that very night, and four people were killed and sixty-odd injured. Legend has it that the devil intended to destroy the church and all those inside, and that he rode off in a rage muttering that he would come back one day and finish off the job.”
“And you think he might?”
"I wouldn't swear to it.” Sir Ralph admitted, “but the odd thing is that a war often brings a sequel to one of these old folk tales. You’ve heard that Drake is supposed to come back to help England whenever his drum is beaten? Devon sailors, and others too, will take oath on it that the drum was heard at Dunkirk, and that Drake himself was there. Certainly no one has been able to explain the strange calm that made it possible for small boats to cross and recross the Channel to evacuate the troop. So you can’t blame Devon folk for giving the credit to their most famous son. And,” Sir Ralph shrugged, “in the light of that, how can I say that the devil won’t return to Ashcombe?”
John nodded. This lonely part of the West Country was a land to breed legends. Travellers disappeared on its jmist-hung tors, the wind blew down its valleys with eerie twailings; and scattered over its bleak highlands were •ancient stones and earthworks, mute evidences of men who lived there before history began. It was old land, old and haunted, and in a single day John had fallen under its 'spell. What was more, he had found it oddly familiar.
TT WAS at dinner, earlier in the evening, that he had discovered a pssible reason for this sense of familiarity, that they had got around to the first mention of Ashcombe. Sir Ralph had turned to him suddenly and said:
"Did your pople happen to come from this part of England? Cortleigh’s an old Devonshire name.”
John recalled his father’s parting words. "You might look up the family if you have time—1 never got around to it when 1 was over. They live in Ashcombe, a God-forsaken little village down in the south of England. I suppae some of them are still alive.”
“They did come from somewhere down here, sir,” John said. "I don’t suppse you’ve ever heard of the place; it’s a very small village called Ashcombe.”
Sir Ralph turned to the elderly butler, "A bottle of the speial p>rt, Graves.”
A smile warmed his rather austere features as he turned back to John. "This calls for a toast. Ashcombe’s the next village, SÍ) you’ve actually come home. I’m not surprised.” he added. “You have the Cortleigh l;x>k. Don’t you agree, Holly?”
His daughter, who had harbored the same thought from th^ moment of meeting and incidentally falling in love with John two months before in Dmdon. agreed happily.
"He’s exactly like Miss Honoria as she was when I was a little girl." She laughed. "She had red hair like yours, John, and a fearful tempr—I’ll never forget the way she shrivelled a groom who didn't rub down her hunter the minute she came in from a run! Everybody adored her. in spite of her tempr. They st ill do,”
"Her brother Walter was my best friend,” said Sir Ralph. "It was their uncle who went out to Canada. He must have been your grandfather."
John had had no intention of looking up his English relatives, but now his interest stirred.
"Do any of the family still live at Ashcombe?"
Sir Ralph’s face was sad. "Only Honoria. Walter was killed in France in 1915; l was with him when he died. And young Walter was reprted missing with his submarine four months ago. You’ve heard of the Dolphin?"
John’s interest quickened. The Dolphin's daring exploits had won fame for itself and made Walter Cortleigh the youngest commander in the British Navy. A scant six months later, the newspaprs had carried the Admiralty’s curt statement : "H. M. Submarine Dolphin is considerably overdue and must be presumed missing.
“Commander Cortleigh was one of my relatives?” he said. "Of course I noticed that the name was the same, but 1 never thought of his being a sort of distant cousin.” He hesitated. "Is Ashcombe very far? Would it be pssible for me to get over there tomorrow? Since I’m so close, I'd like to see his home.”
"Naturally you’ll want to see the place.” Sir Ralph said. "Besides. 1 lonoria would feel it if she found out you were here and didn’t call. She's very lonely; Walter’s mother went up to Dmdon when the boy was reprted missing, and I doubt that she'll come back. Walter hadn't married, more’s the pity. I’m afraid it’s the end of a fine old line.” He straightened and looked at John sharply. “But what am I saying? You're a Cortleigh yourself! Of course! Of course, you must go to Ashcombe.” His face lit with a brief smile. "I dare say we can spare enough of our precious ptrol for Holly to drive you over tomorrow.”
"And then you can ride old Jane on your ARP. rounds.” The girl’s eyes sparkled. "He loathes a car,” she explained to John. “Nothing pleases him so much as to find an excuse to ride instead.”
The prt arrived, and with it two beautiful Georgian wineglasses. “Another glass for Miss Holly, Graves.” Sir Ralph directed. He turned punctiliously to his daughter. “You’ll stay and drink our guest’s health, my dear?”
“Of course I’ll stay,” Holly retorted with spirit. "After all. I’m the one who's respnsible for his being here!”
So John’s coming to the country of his forefathers was toasted with a formality which seemed, in this dignified old dining room with the prtraits of long-dead Travises
looking down from its walls, entirely right and propr. A lump came into his throat as he rose to reply; the little ceremony was strangely touching.
When they had ended by drinking to Sir Ralph’s son. in camp with his regiment, the Royal Devons, Holly said: "We'll have coffee in the library. I know father wants to get out the Exeter Book. It always goes with the best prt.”
“Holly knows my weakness,” Sir Ralph admitted, "but an interest in one’s own county—that seems to me understandable.”
TN THE library, he took down a calf-bound volume.
"This is a very old copy of the Exeter Book, prt of the Domesday Survey made by William the Conqueror. This book dates back to 1086, twenty years after William met Harold at I lastings.”
He leafed over the yellowed pages. “A Ralph Travis came over from Normandy with William, and was given this manor for his services. You’ll find it listed here.”
I íe pointed out the entry for John to read. "Much of the land has been sold for taxes. If we go on fighting expnsive wars, I'm afraid the Hall will have to go, tcx>.”
He closed the lxx)k. "We won’t think of that yet,” he said more cheerfully. "I wanted to show you the record to make clear just how long Travises have been in Devon. Your own people have been here even longer.”
"Since before 1086?” John was incredulous.
"A good deal before that. Cortleigh’s a Saxon name, and the Saxons came to Devon in the tenth century.” John laughed. "And at home people boast of living in the same place for a hundred years! I suppse,” he added thoughtfully, "the first Ralph Travis or some other Norman noble took over the Cortleighs lock, stock and barrel?”
"Cortleighs have never been taken over by anyone,” Sir Ralph smiled. "The old Saxons were a proud and stubborn lot, and some of them managed to keep their land when William was parcelling out estates to his followers. Cortleigh Farm wasn’t a large proprty; perhaps that’s how it escaped. Later, the tin mines in the district made the family comfortably well off and they were able to increase their holdings. Even today it’s not a large proprty, as estates go, but it’s a fine one.”
It was then that Sir Ralph had settled to the topic nearest his heart, the Devonshire legends.
“There’s a little more to add to the tale alxnit the devil’s visit to Ashcombe,” he said. "It is suppsed to be a Cortleigh who heard the devil’s threat as he rode away, and he countered with one of his own. Let Satan come back to Ashcombe and he would find a Cortleigh waiting to drive him off. Of late." Sir Ralph continued. “I’ve !x*en afraid there wouldn’t be anyone of the name left to carry out the threat if he did return, but I was mistaken. Ashcombe still has a Cortleigh to defend it.”
Holly and John t;x>k a turn on the terrace before bedtime. The scent of the gardens was spicy and sweet in the late summer night, but the mist rolling down from the moor was cold and the old manor house loomed dark and forbidding behind them, blackout being carefully observed even on Dartmoor.
"I’ve a confession to make,” Holly said as they paced up and down. "I've been almost certain from the first that you must be related to the Ashcombe Cortleighs. I hoped so. But I didn’t ask because I wanted father to have the fun of discovering it for himself.”
“Why? Does it matter so much?” John asked. "He did seem pleased about it. at that, didn’t lie?"
“You’ve no idea how much it matters,” Holly told him. "You see. I've been a little afraid to tell him I wanted to marry a Canadian. Not that he wouldn’t have liked you,” she hastened to add, "but he’s always had his heartset on my marrying someone from Devon. He psitively snubs anyone who so much as looks at me if he’s from anywhere else.”
“But I’m from somewhere else,” John protested. "I'm a Canadian, and so is my father.”
"What’s a generation or two when you’re thinking in hundreds of years?” Holly scoffed. "Our families have hunted together and fought side by side and been buried in the same churchyard for heaven knows how many centuries. You’re no outsider. John. To father you’re as gtxxi as Devon born. After all. what more proof do you want? The best prt, and the Exeter Book, and father’s pt legends!”
"1 only want your father to think I'd make a good son-in-law,” John said.
Holly shivered. "What if you hadn't come to England?”
His arm drew her close. "Then I wouldn't have met Holly Travis doing A.R.P. work in London, and fallen in love with her at first sight—”
“And after a whirlwind courtship, you wouldn’t have been brought down to Haytor Hall to be looked over by her father before asking her hand in marriage!” Holly ended triumphantly.
John looked down at her. She was not the prettiest girl he had ever known, but she was small and finely made.
and about her there was a combination of gallantry and gentleness that had held him from the first. He was tall beside her, tall and lean and red-headed, with direct blue eyes and an arrogant nose that was, had he known it, a family feature.
They had been together whenever John's increasingly curtailed leaves enabled him to get up to London. But his squadron was stationed on the south coast, and it was plain that there might soon come a time when there would be no leave at all, or even when John might take his Spitfire out over the Channel and not come back ... I lolly turned her thoughts resolutely from such a (possibility, but the first time they could manage leave together she brought him down to Devonshire to meet her father.
PHEY drove to Ashcombe the next afternoon. It was a clear day, with small white clouds in a blue sky and the air deliciously warm.
At the top of a bold escarpment Holly stopped the car. "We're on Great Tor,” she said, “and that’s Barrow Tor over there, and that”-—she pointed downward—“that’s Ashcombe, John. Ashcombe-in-the-Moor.”
They were looking into a deep green valley. A fine old church tower rose from a smother of trees; there was a
glimpse of white cottages clustered about a village green and a small friendly inn asleep in the sun.
John looked down at it. small and innocent and serene in the granite arms of the moor.
“It’s hard to believe there’s a war when you look down there, isn’t it?”
“When you’re nearer, you’ll see that even Ashcombe hasn’t escaped,”Holly said sadly. “It’s been bombed twice already, but only one cottage was hit and nobody’s been hurt—yet.”
They drove down the steep winding road to the village and turned into a lane whose high banks and thick hedges had protected the fields from the ravages of large game in the time of King John,
At an abrupt turn they came upon Cortleigh Farm. Again Holly stopped the car. Before them, an Elizabethan house of rose-red brick seemed to have grown out of its own green lawn, and all about it were ancient trees, some of them the ash trees always to be found where Saxons have settled. Rooks cawed; from somewhere near by came the peaceful clacking of a lawn mower.
“It’s like something out of a fairy tale,” John said at last. “You don’t believe anything as perfect as that really
exists.” He turned to, smile at Holly. “And if it hadn’t been for you, I’d never have seen it.”
A plump little maid admitted them. "Miss Honoria’s at back," she said shyly.
“We’ll find her ourselves,” Holly said. “She'll be so glad to see you, John. She’s dreadfully alone now that Walter's gone—she practically worshipped him and she hasn't been well since he was reported missing. It’s her heart. She shouldn't be working in the garden, but you couldn't keep her away from it short of killing her.”
She led the way through the dark cool hall and out a door that gave on a great square of mossy turf. Flower borders surrounded it. and at the farthest a tall spare figure was tying up late spires of delphinium.
“Miss Honoria !” Holly called. “I’ve brought someone to see you.”
The tall woman rose and came toward them, a smile on her worn handsome face.
“My dear, how kind of you to come!" She turned courteously to John.
Cortleighs are not given to displaying their emotions, but she stared at him as though at a ghost. "Who are you?” she faltered at last.
Holly said: “It's a cousin from Canada. Your cousin, John Cortleigh."
Miss Honoria noddl'd, still staring. “Yes," she agreed. “Yes. Your name would be John.” Then she seemed to collect herself, and held out a thin hand.
“I won’t ask you to forgive my rudeness,” she smiled at him. "Come and see for yourself why I was startled."
nPHEY followed her back across the lawn and through French doors into a room comfortable with faded chintz and much-handled hxx)ks and a wide hearth on which a fire crackled. Over the mantel hung a portrait of a young man in naval uniform.
“John Cortleigh." said Miss Honoria. “He’d be. your great-grandfather.”
John start'd in his turn. He might have sat for the portrait himself. The same thin face looked back at him with its red hair and blue eyes and arrogant nose.
“But father doesn’t look like that,” he said, perplexed. “And I don’t believe grandfather did. Now I think of it, though,” he smiled, “my mother does complain that I’ve inherited his nose!”
“You’re one of the red Cortleighs,” Miss Honoria said.
Continued on page 24
--Continued from page 7—Starts on page 5 -
“There’s one in every two or three generations. They are usually”—she hesitated— “of a roving disposition. Your greatgrandfather was in the Navy before he settled down to manage Cortleigh Farm. He was quite happy here, but he had to get the restlessness out of his blood first.” "Then I’m a red Cortleigh,” John agreed. “My young brother isn’t like that at all. He’s quite willing to go into father’s business when he’s through university -unless he’s over here, of course - but I was too restless to settle down. Flying is the only thing I want to do right now.” Miss Honoria nodded at the portrait. “He would have liked it, too. But in his day it was the Navy.” Her face saddened swiftly. “I’m sorry you couldn’t have met Walter. You’ve heard of him?”
“Yes,” John said. “I’m sorry too. You must be very proud of him.”
“That’s his picture.” She indicated a photograph of a young man, dark, but with the family features. “I can’t believe he’s gone.” Her voice shook, for all her effort to control it. "He loved this place, and he was so good with the villagers—I don’t know how I’ll manage without him.” Again she seemed to pull herself together. “Come and see old Dan. He grew up with your grandfather, and he remembers your great-grandfather well.”
She led the way to the rose garden beyond the lawn. “It’s badly neglected now,” she said apologetically. “The young men have all gone, of course, and the older ones are kept busy working the farmlands and looking after the animals, so Dan and I do what we can.” She nodded toward an ancient kneeling figure. “Go and speak to him yourself. John.”
At John’s approach the old man looked up. His faded eyes widened and his toothless jaw gajxxi in amazement.
“Lord take us - Master John !”
Miss Honoria came up swiftly. “It’s Master John’s great-grandson, from Canada.”
The old man rubbed a gnarled fist across his eyes and looked again. “You gave me a turn, zur, that you did. 'Tis good to zee you here; ’tis indeed.”
As the afternoon wore on, John was conscious of their eyes following him, Miss Honoria’s with growing happiness and the old man’s with a certain wistful anxiety. He seemed to be waiting for some sign, some unassailable proof that in this Cortleigh from the new world the ancient blood ran strong.
All unconsciously, John gave it to him. They had looked over the fields and the stables, old Dan hobbling in their wake, and were turning back to the house for tea when John’s eye was caught by a great mountain ash tree, loaded with clusters of bright berries. It was like some splendid painting in the late afternoon light, vivid against the background of Barrow Tor.
He stopped short. “Lord, but that’s beautiful !”
There was a choked sound from the old man. He was looking at Miss Honoria, his wrinkled face transfigured.
“ ’E takes to quick-beam!” he whispered. “ 'E be true Cortleigh, for zertain !” Miss Honoria was smiling, too. “The mountain ash has always been the Cortleighs’ favorite tree.” she explained. "It goes a long way back my brother, who was interested in such things, discovered a very old book in which there was the saying: ‘While quick-beam grows at Cortleigh Farm, Cortleighs shall remain.’ ”
Oddly, her next words were almost those Sir Ralph had used the night before. "Lately —since Walter died— I’ve been afraid there would be no Cortleighs left to bear out the saying. But now —” She turned away. “I’ll see about tea.” As she strode away, John caught a glimpse of her face, sternly set against tears.
“You see, John,” Holly said, shiningeyed. “You’ve come home.”
Old Dan regarded them with approval. “That you have, lad. Come when you’re needed, to marry a fine Devon lass and
take up your duties here.” He nodded blissfully. “I’ll zee another Cortleigh christened in Ashcombe Church yet !”
Color blazed in Holly’s cheeks, but she met John’s eyes. “I’ve always thought I’d like to live at Cortleigh Farm,” she said defiantly.
“But look here,” John protested, smiling down at her. “You mustn’t jump at conclusions. Of course I’d like to live here. How could I help it? But I’m only a distant cousin. There must be closer relatives here in England.”
“That there’s not,” the old man interrupted. “ Tis yourself belongs here, lad. Only t’other day I heard Miss Honoria talking to lawyer chap about kin in Canada. ‘They’re next in line and they must be let know,’ she told him. But she was fair fretted lest Farm might be zold, not knowing if you’d be proper Devon volk as keeps their land. Now you’ve come she knows different.” The old eyes dimmed. “You must stay, lad. You’ve been zent to take Master Walter’s place.”
Holly's hand was on John’s arm. “If your father’s to inherit, wouldn’t he let you stay here?” Her voice trembled. “It would mean so much to Miss Honoria. She needs someone to look after the place— someone who’d love it the way she does. I’m sure she’s going to ask you, John. Couldn’t you?”
He smiled at the pleading face raised to his. “Hadn’t we better wait till I really am asked?” he said reasonably. “Besides, you seem to forget that I have a job on my hands already.”
Holly’s head went up. “Of course I haven’t,” she said proudly. “Devon men have always defended their homes.”
When they left, John had promised to spend his next leave at Cortleigh Farm. "There are certain family matters I’d like to discuss with you,” Miss Honoria told him. She was making a gallant attempt to be casual, but her voice betrayed her anxiety. “You like it here, John? You’d like to come back?”
Suddenly he saw how frail and tired she was, how pathetically alone.
“Don’t worry,” he said gently, and took her hand. “I’ll be back.”
T-TE WAS to return sooner than he knew.
After one of its periodic lulls, the Nazi aerial attack was renewed with a kind of frenzied recklessness, a mad haste to assert its supremacy before autumn fogs and rains could throw a protective screen around the British coasts.
Alarms sounded at all hours of the day and night. John’s whole attention was focused on hurling his Spitfire into the midst of those swarming evil shapes from across the Channel. He lost all track of the days. When he thought of Holly it was in brief flashes, and Ashcombe, though actually quite near, seemed as remote as a dream.
It was exactly a week after his visit that he went back. The day began like any other day—the early-morning alarm, the scramble into his plane, the take-off with the rest of his squadron, and the dogfights in which the swift little Spitfires took on vastly superior numbers of bombers and fighters with utter disregard of the odds against them.
But on this particular morning he found himself chasing two big bombers which swung away from the centre of fighting. Mist was drifting in patches over sea and coastline. He lost his quarry and climbed higher.
The dark shapes loomed for an instant through the mist below. They were heading west, apparently without a definite objective. John reasoned that they intended to drop their bombs somewhere over the land, preferably on a town or village, before heading back to the French coast.
It was sheer madness for one Spitfire to take on two huge bombers, but the defending forces had come to take such madness quite as a matter of course. John had no thought of turning back.
For the moment he had the advantage. The Nazis evidently had not spotted him, and he could dive out of his bank of mist for one surprise attack before their guns went into action against him.
He chose his time carefully, diving on the rear bomber as its mate headed into another drift of white. A spray of bullets from his eight guns splattered across its back and against the glassed-in gun turret. He swooped underneath, stood his little fighter on its tail and pumped another deadly stream upward into the plane’s belly.
Incredibly, he scored. As he sideslipped and scrambled out of range of the bomber’s guns, the big machine lurched crazily, tilted into a nose dive and streaked down, trailing a streamer of black smoke.
John drew a long breath. It was over so quickly that he could hardly believe in his amazing luck. He shot up again, high above the mist, to locate the second raider.
The other bomber had, after all, seen its companion plummet downward. Its guns were ready for him. He dodged back into the concealing bank of white, well aware that ahead the mist thinned out into clear sunlight.
He set his teeth and hurtled out into the open. What he saw below made his stomach muscles cramp with cold horror. By some dreadful chance they were over the lower edge of Dartmoor, with Great Tor and Barrow Tor ahead and to the left.
He held his breath. Perhaps the Nazi pilot might not see the little village in the valley; might not consider it worth bombing if he did.
It was a vain hope. As the first burst of fire from the gun turret raked his little plane, the bomber veered left.
Till that moment, John had enjoyed tilting with death against tremendous odds. Now he felt only a sick rage at the thought of bombs falling on Ashcombe. Fighting wasn’t a hazardous game any more. It was a grim struggle to save his own land, the very soil his ancestors had held free and proud through the centuries. The gentle old house, the cottages and the church and the friendly inn—these were doomed unless he could save them. He must save them . . .
The bomber would go into its dive in a matter of seconds. John threw his Spitfire into screaming pursuit. He dived, guns chattering, directly at the big plane, swerved up and over and literally flung himself between it and the village below.
It was a suicidal thing to do, but for the moment it succeeded. The bomber postponed its dive to deal with the little fighter as some maddened bull might turn on a harassing terrier.
The Spitfire could not possibly escape the big plane’s fire at such close range. The cannon shots went wide, but bullets ripped the fuselage and John felt a sudden jolting shock in his left shoulder.
There was no pain, only numbness. But he could feel the blood soaking down inside his clothing. What was to be done must be done at once.
The exchange of shots had carried both planes beyond the village. That meant that the bomber must turn, giving John time for one more burst of gunfire. If that failed ... He shook his head to clear it of mounting dizziness. If that failed, he could do one thing more. He saw Holly’s head go up and heard her saying proudly: “Devon men have always defended their homes.” He’d never see her again, but he’d save Ashcombe. He could dive into the bomber and crash with it in a mass of burning wreckage.
He manoeuvrai into position as the great plane wheeled. By a miracle the hail of bullets and cannon shots struck no vital spot in his little Spitfire. Giddiness was creeping over him again, but he bit his lip till the pain sharpened his senses, and pressed the button that sent a final stream of bullets into the bomber’s body.
A shattering explosion ripped the sky. One of his shots must have detonated a bomb as it was ready to leave its rack, and the concussion set off the rest. The huge machine burst into a thousand fragments that sprayed the village with a scorching rain.
The Spitfire was tossed violently by the blast. Afterward, John could remember almost nothing from the time of the explosion until blackness closed over him. I but somehow, more by instinct than by any conscious skill, he managed to pancake the plane clumsily in the lower meadow of Cortleigh Farm.
"V/DUNG Master John Cortleigh, him that came from Canada, shot down two Nazi bombers and was decorated by the King as soon as he got out of the hospital. Ashcombe folk recount the event with enormous pride. They know, too, every detail of the battle as reported by the press; indeed, most of them possess the newspaper account, dog-eared with much handling; and one copy, under glass, is pridefully displayed beside the dart board in the village inn.
But already legend is coloring the event. Young Master John saved Ashcombe, true enough, but outsiders don’t know the right of it. They tell that he shot down two Nazi planes, but Ashcombe folk know that the second plane, the one that came to destroy their village, contained no Nazis, but the devil himself. Had it crashed, as any ordinary plane would have done? No; the devil had blown it up in the air and disappeared in a great burst of noise and flame once he saw that Master John had the better of him. Of course it was the devil! Hadn’t he sworn to come back, and hadn’t there been a Cortleigh ready to defy him?
The single village casualty wras old Dan. He had refused to take shelter, standing in the open and shaking a furious old fist at the bomber. A fragment of metal struck him down, but he would be up and about, he told visitors firmly, to see Master John wed Miss Holly in Ashcombe Church before Master John rejoined his squadron.
He believed implicitly that John was invulnerable in the air. “Never you fear,” he told Holly, who took comfort in his certainty, “ ’e’s zafe as in ’is bed, up there in sky. ’E’ll come back to manage Farm for us, Miss Holly, you’ll zee ’e wall. Why,” he always concluded, in a fine burst of scorn, “if devil himself can’t down Master John, Nazis never will !”