Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
A. T. Quiller-Couch was born of Cornwall intellectuals in Cornwall (the proboscis of England). He was a folklorist and historian just like his sisters Lilian and Florence, and his physician father before him. Quiller-Couch, however, became the most famous of them all by using his pen. The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 contained the collected poems of Britain's most famous poets and sold over 500,000 copies. It was his most popular work, unless you consider the ghost short story genre.
His "Roll-Call of the Reef" was published five years before The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900, in 1895. The scary ghost short story appeared in the July issue of McClure Magazine. It was his best ghost story and works in elements from the sea to great effect. I'm picking it as #20 in my countdown of the best ghost short stories from 1850-1899 with the top ten in my new anthology Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Ghost Anthology.
THE ROLL-CALL OF THE REEF
"Yes, sir," said my host, the quarryman, reaching down the relics from
their hook in the wall over the chimneypiece; "they've hung here all my
time, and most of my father's. The women won't touch 'em; they're afraid
of the story. So here they'll dangle, and gather dust and smoke, till
another tenant comes and tosses 'em out o' doors for rubbish. Whew! 'tis
coarse weather, surely."
He went to the door, opened it, and stood studying the gale that beat
upon his cottage-front, straight from the Manacle Reef. The rain drove
past him into the kitchen, aslant like threads of gold silk in the shine
of the wreck-wood fire. Meanwhile, by the same firelight, I examined the
relics on my knee. The metal of each was tarnished out of knowledge. But
the trumpet was evidently an old cavalry trumpet, and the threads of
its party-colored sling, though fretted and dusty, still hung together.
Around the side-drum, beneath its cracked brown varnish. I could
hardly trace a royal coat-of-arms and a legend running, "Per Mare Per
Terrain"--the motto of the marines. Its parchment, though black and
scented with wood-smoke, was limp and mildewed; and I began to tighten
up the straps--under which the drumsticks had been loosely thrust--with
the idle purpose of trying if some music might be got out of the old
But as I turned it on my knee, I found the drum attached to the
trumpet-sling by a curious barrel-shaped padlock, and paused to examine
this. The body of the lock was composed of half a dozen brass rings,
set accurately edge to edge; and, rubbing the brass with my thumb, I saw
that each of the six had a series of letters engraved around it.
I knew the trick of it, I thought. Here was one of those word padlocks,
once so common; only to be opened by getting the rings to spell a
certain word, which the dealer confides to you.
My host shut and barred the door, and came back to the hearth.
"'Twas just such a wind--east by south--that brought in what you've got
between your hands. Back in the year 'nine, it was; my father has told
me the tale a score o' times. You're twisting round the rings, I see.
But you'll never guess the word. Parson Kendall, he made the word, and
he locked down a couple o' ghosts in their graves with it; and when his
time came he went to his own grave and took the word with him."
"Whose ghosts, Matthew?"
"You want the story, I see, sir. My father could tell it better than I
can. He was a young man in the year 'nine, unmarried at the time, and
living in this very cottage, just as I be. That's how he came to get
mixed up with the tale."
He took a chair, lighted a short pipe, and went on, with his eyes fixed
on the dancing violet flames:
"Yes, he'd ha' been about thirty year old in January, eighteen 'nine.
The storm got up in the night o' the twenty-first o' that month. My
father was dressed and out long before daylight; he never was one to
bide in bed, let be that the gale by this time was pretty near lifting
the thatch over his head. Besides which, he'd fenced a small 'taty-patch
that winter, down by Lowland Point, and he wanted to see if it stood the
night's work. He took the path across Gunner's Meadow--where they buried
most of the bodies afterward. The wind was right in his teeth at the
time, and once on the way (he's told me this often) a great strip of
oarweed came flying through the darkness and fetched him a slap on the
cheek like a cold hand. But he made shift pretty well till he got to
Lowland, and then had to drop upon hands and knees and crawl, digging
his fingers every now and then into the shingle to hold on, for he
declared to me that the stones, some of them as big as a man's head,
kept rolling and driving past till it seemed the whole foreshore was
moving westward under him. The fence was gone, of course; not a stick
left to show where it stood; so that, when first he came to the place,
he thought he must have missed his bearings. My father, sir, was a
very religious man; and if he reckoned the end of the world was at
hand--there in the great wind and night, among the moving stones--you
may believe he was certain of it when he heard a gun fired, and, with
the same, saw a flame shoot up out of the darkness to windward, making
a sudden fierce light in all the place about. All he could find to
think or say was, 'The Second Coming! The Second Coming! The Bridegroom
cometh, and the wicked He will toss like a ball into a large country';
and being already upon his knees, he just bowed his head and 'bided,
saying this over and over.
"But by'm by, between two squalls, he made bold to lift his head and
look, and then by the light--a bluish color 'twas--he saw all the coast
clear away to Manacle Point, and off the Manacles in the thick of the
weather, a sloop-of-war with topgallants housed, driving stern foremost
toward the reef. It was she, of course, that was burning the flare. My
father could see the white streak and the ports of her quite plain
as she rose to it, a little outside the breakers, and he guessed easy
enough that her captain had just managed to wear ship and was trying to
force her nose to the sea with the help of her small bower anchor and
the scrap or two of canvas that hadn't yet been blown out of her. But
while he looked, she fell off, giving her broadside to it foot by foot,
and drifting back on the breakers around Cam Du and the Varses. The
rocks lie so thick thereabout that 'twas a toss up which she struck
first; at any rate, my father could'nt tell at the time, for just then
the flare died down and went out.
"Well, sir, he turned then in the dark and started back for Coverack to
cry the dismal tidings--though well knowing ship and crew to be past any
hope, and as he turned the wind lifted him and tossed him forward 'like
a ball,' as he'd been saying, and homeward along the foreshore. As
you know, 'tis ugly work, even by daylight, picking your way among the
stones there, and my father was prettily knocked about at first in
the dark. But by this 'twas nearer seven than six o'clock, and the day
spreading. By the time he reached North Corner, a man could see to read
print; hows'ever, he looked neither out to sea nor toward Coverack, but
headed straight for the first cottage--the same that stands above North
Corner to-day. A man named Billy Ede lived there then, and when my
father burst into the kitchen bawling, 'Wreck! wreck!' he saw Billy
Ede's wife, Ann, standing there in her clogs with a shawl over her head,
and her clothes wringing wet.
"'Save the chap!' says Billy Ede's wife, Ann.
"'What d'ee mean by crying stale fish at that rate?'
"'But 'tis a wreck, I tell 'ee.'
"'Ive a-zeed 'n, too; and so has every one with an eye in his head.'
"And with that she pointed straight over my father's shoulder, and he
turned; and there, close under Dolor Point, at the end of Coverack town,
he saw another wreck washing, and the point black with people, like
emmets, running to and fro in the morning light. While he stood staring
at her, he heard a trumpet sounded on board, the notes coming in little
jerks, like a bird rising against the wind; but faintly, of course,
because of the distance and the gale blowing--though this had dropped a
"'She's a transport,' said Billy Ede's wife, Ann, 'and full of
horse-soldiers, fine long men. When she struck they must ha' pitched the
horses over first to lighten the ship, for a score of dead horses had
washed in afore I left, half an hour back. An' three or four soldiers,
too--fine long corpses in white breeches and jackets of blue and gold. I
held the lantern to one. Such a straight young man!'
"My father asked her about the trumpeting.
"'That's the queerest bit of all. She was burnin' a light when me an'
my man joined the crowd down there. All her masts had gone; whether they
carried away, or were cut away to ease her, I don't rightly know. Her
keelson was broke under her and her bottom sagged and stove, and she
had just settled down like a sitting hen--just the leastest list to
starboard; but a man could stand there easy. They had rigged up ropes
across her, from bulwark to bulwark, an' besides these the men were
mustered, holding on like grim death whenever the sea made a clean
breach over them, an' standing up like heroes as soon as it passed. The
captain an' the officers were clinging to the rail of the quarterdeck,
all in their golden uniforms, waiting for the end as if 'twas King
George they expected. There was no way to help, for she lay right beyond
cast of line, though our folk tried it fifty times. And beside them
clung a trumpeter, a whacking big man, an' between the heavy seas he
would lift his trumpet with one hand, and blow a call; and every time he
blew the men gave a cheer. There [she says]--hark 'ee now--there he
goes agen! But you won't hear no cheering any more, for few are left to
cheer, and their voices weak. Bitter cold the wind is, and I reckon
it numbs their grip o' the ropes, for they were dropping off fast with
every sea when my man sent me home to get his breakfast. Another
wreck, you say? Well, there's no hope for the tender dears, if 'tis the
Manacles. You'd better run down and help yonder; though 'tis little help
any man can give. Not one came in alive while I was there. The tide's
flowing, an' she won't hold together another hour, they say.'
"Well, sure enough, the end was coming fast when my father got down to
the point. Six men had been cast up alive, or just breathing--a seaman
and five troopers. The seaman was the only one that had breath to speak;
and while they were carrying him into the town, the word went round
that the ship's name was the 'Despatch,' transport, homeward-bound
from Corunna, with a detachment of the Seventh Hussars, that had been
fighting out there with Sir John Moore. The seas had rolled her further
over by this time, and given her decks a pretty sharp slope; but a dozen
men still held on, seven by the ropes near the ship's waist, a couple
near the break of the poop, and three on the quarterdeck. Of these three
my father made out one to be the skipper; close by him clung an
officer in full regimentals--his name, they heard after, was Captain
Dun-canfield; and last came the tall trumpeter; and if you'll believe
me, the fellow was making shift there, at the very last, to blow 'God
Save the King.' What's more, he got to 'Send us victorious,' before an
extra big sea came bursting across and washed them off the deck--every
man but one of the pair beneath the poop--and he dropped his hold before
the next wave; being stunned, I reckon. The others went out of sight at
once, but the trumpeter--being, as I said, a powerful man as well as a
tough swimmer--rose like a duck, rode out a couple of breakers, and came
in on the crest of the third. The folks looked to see him broke like
an egg at their very feet; but when the smother cleared, there he was,
lying face downward on a ledge below them; and one of the men that
happened to have a rope round him--I forgot the fellow's name, if I ever
heard it--jumped down and grabbed him by the ankle as he began to slip
back. Before the next big sea, the pair were hauled high enough to be
out of harm, and another heave brought them up to grass. Quick work, but
master trumpeter wasn't quite dead; nothing worse than a cracked head
and three staved ribs. In twenty minutes or so they had him in bed, with
the doctor to tend him.
"Now was the time--nothing being left alive upon the transport--for my
father to tell of the sloop he'd seen driving upon the Manacles. And
when he got a hearing, though the most were set upon salvage, and
believed a wreck in the hand, so to say, to be worth half a dozen they
couldn't see, a good few volunteered to start off with him and have a
look. They crossed Lowland Point; no ship to be seen on the Manacles
nor anywhere upon the sea. One or two was for calling my father a liar.
'Wait till we come to Dean Point,' said he. Sure enough, on the far side
of Dean Pont they found the sloop's mainmast washing about with half a
dozen men lashed to it, men in red jackets, every mother's son drowned
and staring; and a little further on, just under the Dean, three or four
bodies cast up on the shore, one of them a small drummer-boy, side-drum
and all; and near by part of a ship's gig, with 'H.M.S. Primrose' cut
on the stern-board. From this point on the shore was littered thick with
wreckage and dead bodies--the most of them marines in uniform--and in
Godrevy Cove, in particular, a heap of furniture from the captain's
cabin, and among it a water-tight box, not much damaged, and full of
papers, by which, when it came to be examined, next day, the wreck was
easily made out to be the 'Primrose,' of eighteen guns, outward bound
from Portsmouth, with a fleet of transports for the Spanish war--thirty
sail, I've heard, but I've never heard what became of them. Being
handled by merchant skippers, no doubt they rode out the gale, and
reached the Tagus safe and sound. Not but what the captain of the
'Primrose'--Mein was his name--did quite right to try and club-haul his
vessel when he found himself under the land; only he never ought to have
got there, if he took proper soundings. But it's easy talking.
"The 'Primrose,' sir, was a handsome vessel--for her size one of the
handsomest in the King's service'--and newly fitted out at Plymouth
Dock. So the boys had brave pickings from her in the way of brass-work,
ship's instruments, and the like, let alone some barrels of stores not
much spoiled. They loaded themselves with as much as they could carry,
and started for home, meaning to make a second journey before the
preventive men got wind of their doings, and came to spoil the fun.
'Hullo!' says my father, and dropped his gear, 'I do believe there's
a leg moving?' and running fore, he stooped over the small drummer-boy
that I told you about. The poor little chap was lying there, with his
face a mass of bruises, and his eyes closed; but he had shifted one
leg an inch or two, and was still breathing. So my father pulled out a
knife, and cut him free from his drum--that was lashed on to him with a
double turn of Manila rope--and took him up and carried him along here
to this very room that we're sitting in. He lost a good deal by this;
for when he went back to fetch the bundle he'd dropped, the preventive
men had got hold of it, and were thick as thieves along the foreshore;
so that 'twas only by paying one or two to look the other way that he
picked up anything worth carrying off: which you'll allow to be hard,
seeing that he was the first man to give news of the Wreck.
"Well, the inquiry was held, of course, and my father gave evidence, and
for the rest they had to trust to the sloop's papers, for not a soul was
saved besides the drummer-boy, and he was raving in a fever, brought on
by the cold and the fright. And the seaman and the five troopers gave
evidence about the loss of the 'Despatch,' The tall trumpeter, too,
whose ribs were healing, came forward and kissed the book; but somehow
his head had been hurt in coming ashore, and he talked foolish-like, and
'twas easy seen he would never be a proper man again. The others were
taken up to Plymouth, and so went their ways; but the trumpeter stayed
on in Coverack; and King George, finding he was fit for nothing, sent
him down a trifle of a pension after a while-enough to keep him in board
and lodging, with a bit of tobacco over.
"Now the first time that this man--William Tallifer he called
himself--met with the drummer-boy, was about a fortnight after the
little chap had bettered enough to be allowed a short walk out of doors,
which he took, if you please, in full regimentals. There never was a
soldier so proud of his dress. His own suit had shrunk a brave bit with
the salt water; but into ordinary frock an' corduroys he declared he
would not get, not if he had to go naked the rest of his life; so my
father--being a good-natured man, and handy with the needle--turned to
and repaired damages with a piece or two of scarlet cloth cut from the
jacket of one of the drowned Marines. Well, the poor little chap chanced
to be standing, in this rig out, down by the gate of Gunner's Meadow,
where they had buried two score and over of his comrades. The morning
was a fine one, early in March month; and along came the cracked
trumpeter, likewise taking a stroll.
"'Hullo!' says he; 'good mornin'! And what might you be doin' here?'
"'I was a-wishin',' says the boy, 'I had a pair o' drumsticks. Our lads
were buried yonder without so much as a drum tapped or a musket fired;
and that's not Christian burial for British soldiers.'
"'Phut!' says the trumpeter, and spat on the ground; 'a parcel of
"The boy eyed him a second or so, and answered up: 'If I'd a tav of turf
handy, I'd bung it at your mouth, you greasy cavalryman, and learn you
to speak respectful of your betters. The Marines are the handiest body
o' men in the service.'
"The trumpeter looked down on him from the height of six-foot two, and
asked: 'Did they die well?'
"'They died very well. There was a lot of running to and fro at first,
and some of the men began to cry, and a few to strip off their clothes.
But when the ship fell off for the last time, Captain Mein turned and
said something to Major Griffiths, the commanding officer on board, and
the Major called out to me to beat to quarters. It might have been for a
wedding, he sang it out so cheerful. We'd had word already that 'twas to
be parade order; and the men fell in as trim and decent as if they were
going to church. One or two even tried to shave at the last moment. The
Major wore his medals. One of the seamen, seeing I had work to keep the
drum steady--the sling being a bit loose for me, and the wind what you
remember--lashed it tight with a piece of rope; and that saved my life
afterward, a drum being as good as a cork until it's stove, I kept
beating away until every man was on decks and then the Major formed them
up and told them to die like British soldiers, and the chaplain was in
the middle of a prayer when she struck. In ten minutes she was gone.
That was how they died, cavalryman.'
"'And that was very well done, drummer of the Marines. What's your
"'Mine's William George Tallifer, trumpeter, of the Seventh Light
Dragoons--the Queen's Own. I played "God Save the King" while our men
were drowning. Captain Duncanfield told me to sound a call or two, to
put them in heart; but that matter of "God Save the King" was a notion
of my own. I won't say anything to hurt the feelings of a Marine, even
if he's not much over five-foot tall; but the Queen's Own Hussars is
a tearin' fine regiment. As between horse and foot, 'tis a question o'
which gets a chance. All the way from Sahagun to Corunna 'twas we that
took and gave the knocks--at Mayorga and Rueda, and Bennyventy.'--The
reason, sir, I can speak the names so pat, is that my father learnt
'em by heart afterward from the trumpeter, who was always talking
about Mayorga and Rueda and Bennyventy.'--We made the rear-guard, under
General Paget; and drove the French every time; and all the infantry did
was to sit about in wine-shops till we whipped 'em out, an' steal an'
straggle an' play the tomfool in general. And when it came to a
stand-up fight at Corunna, 'twas we that had to stay seasick aboard the
transports, an' watch the infantry in the thick o' the caper. Very well
they behaved, too--specially the Fourth Regiment, an' the Forty-Second
Highlanders, an' the Dirty Half-Hundred. Oh, ay; they're decent
regiments, all three. But the Queen's Own Hussars is a tearin' fine
regiment. So you played on your drum when the ship was goin' down?
Drummer John Christian, I'll have to get you a new pair of sticks.'
"The very next day the trumpeter marched into Helston, and got a
carpenter there to turn him a pair of box-wood drumsticks for the boy.
And this was the beginning of one of the most curious friendships you
ever heard tell of. Nothing delighted the pair more than to borrow a
boat off my father and pull out to the rocks where the 'Primrose' and
the 'Despatch' had struck and sunk; and on still days 'twas pretty
to hear them out there off the Manacles, the drummer playing his
tattoo--for they always took their music with them--and the trumpeter
practising calls, and making his trumpet speak like an angel. But if
the weather turned roughish, they'd be walking together and talking;
leastwise the youngster listened while the other discoursed about Sir
John's campaign in Spain and Portugal, telling how each little skirmish
befell; and of Sir John himself, and General Baird, and General Paget,
and Colonel Vivian, his own commanding officer, and what kind of men
they were; and of the last bloody stand-up at Corunna, and so forth, as
if neither could have enough.
"But all this had to come to an end in the late summer, for the boy,
John Christian, being now well and strong again, must go up to Plymouth
to report himself. 'Twas his own wish (for I believe King George had
forgotten all about him), but his friend wouldn't hold him back. As for
the trumpeter, my father had made an arrangement to take him on as
lodger, as soon as the boy left; and on the morning fixed for the start,
he was up at the door here by five o'clock, with his trumpet slung by
his side, and all the rest of his belongings in a small valise. A Monday
morning it was, and after breakfast he had fixed to walk with the boy
some way on the road toward Helston, where the coach started. My father
left them at breakfast together, and went out to meat the pig, and do a
few odd morning jobs of that sort. When he came back, the boy was still
at table, and the trumpeter sat with the rings in his hands, hitched,
together just as they be at this moment.
"'Look at this,' he says to my father, showing him the lock. 'I picked
it up off a starving brass-worker in Lisbon, and it is not one of your
common locks that one word of six letters will open at any time.
There's janius in this lock; for you've only to make the rings spell any
six-letter word you please and snap down the lock upon that, and never
a soul can open it--not the maker, even--until somebody comes along that
knows the word you snapped it on. Now Johnny here's goin', and he leaves
his drum behind him; for, though he can make pretty music on it, the
parchment sags in wet weather, by reason of the sea-water getting at it;
an' if he carries it to Plymouth, they'll only condemn it and give
him another. And, as for me, I shan't have the heart to put lip to the
trumpet any more when Johnny's gone. So we've chosen a word together,
and locked 'em together upon that; and, by your leave, I'll hang 'em
here together on the hook over your fireplace. Maybe Johnny'll come
back; maybe not. Maybe, if he comes, I'll be dead an' gone, and he'll
take 'em apart an' try their music for old sake's sake. But if he never
comes, nobody can separate 'em; for nobody besides knows the word. And
if you marry and have sons, you can tell 'em that here are tied together
the souls of Johnny Christian, drummer of the Marines, and William
George Tallifer, once trumpeter of the Queen's Own Hussars. Amen.'
"With that he hung the two instruments 'pon the hook there; and the boy
stood up and thanked my father and shook hands; and the pair went out of
the door, toward Helston.
"Somewhere on the road they took leave of one another; but nobody saw
the parting, nor heard what was said between them. About three in the
afternoon the trumpeter came walking back over the hill; and by the time
my father came home from the fishing, the cottage was tidied up, and the
tea ready, and the whole place shining like a new pin. From that time
for five years he lodged here with my father, looking after the house
and tilling the garden. And all the while he was steadily failing; the
hurt in his head spreading, in a manner, to his limbs. My father watched
the feebleness growing on him, but said nothing. And from first to last
neither spake a word about the drummer, John Christian; nor did any
letter reach them, nor word of his doings.
"The rest of the tale you're free to believe, sir, or not, as you
please. It stands upon my father's words, and he always declared he was
ready to kiss the Book upon it, before judge and jury. He said, too,
that he never had the wit to make up such a yarn; and he defied any one
to explain about the lock, in particular, by any other tale. But you
shall judge for yourself.
"My father said that about three o'clock in the morning, April
fourteenth, of the year 'fourteen, he and William Tallifer were sitting
here, just as you and I, sir, are sitting now. My father had put on his
clothes a few minutes before, and was mending his spiller by the light
of the horn lantern, meaning to set off before daylight to haul the
trammel. The trumpeter hadn't been to bed at all. Toward the last he
mostly spent his nights (and his days, too) dozing in the elbow-chair
where you sit at this minute. He was dozing then (my father said) with
his chin dropped forward on his chest, when a knock sounded upon the
door, and the door opened, and in walked an upright young man in scarlet
"He had grown a brave bit, and his face the color of wood-ashes; but it
was the drummer, John Christian. Only his uniform was different from
the one he used to wear, and the figures '38' shone in brass upon his
"The drummer walked past my father as if he never saw him, and stood by
the elbow-chair and said:
"'Trumpeter, trumpeter, are you one with me?'
"And the trumpeter just lifted the lids of his eyes, and answered: 'How
should I not be one with you, drummer Johnny--Johnny boy? If you come, I
count; if you march, I mark time; until the discharge comes.'
"'The discharge has come to-night,' said the drummer; and the word is
Corunna no longer.' And stepping to the chimney-place, he unhooked
the drum and trumpet, and began to twist the brass rings of the lock,
spelling the word aloud, so--'C-O-R-U-N-A.' When he had fixed the last
letter, the padlock opened in his hand.
"'Did you know, trumpeter, that, when I came to Plymouth, they put me
into a line regiment?'
"'The 38th is a good regiment,' answered the old Hussar, still in his
dull voice; 'I went back with them from Sahagun to Corunna. At Corunna
they stood in General Fraser's division, on the right. They behaved
"'But I'd fain see the Marines again,' says the drummer, handing him
the trumpet; 'and you, you shall call once more for the Queen's Own.
Matthew,' he says, suddenly, turning on my father--and when he turned,
my father saw for the first time that his scarlet jacket had a round
hole by the breast-bone, and that the blood was welling there--'Matthew,
we shall want your boat.'
"Then my father rose on his legs like a man in a dream, while they two
slung on, the one his drum, and t'other his trumpet. He took the lantern
and went quaking before them down to the shore, and they breathed
heavily behind him; and they stepped into his boat, and my father pushed
"'Row you first for Dolor Point,' says the drummer. So my father rowed
them past the white houses of Coverack to Dolor Point, and there, at
a word, lay on his oars. And the trumpeter, William Tallifer, put his
trumpet to his mouth and sounded the reveille. The music of it was like
"'They will follow,' said the drummer. Matthew, pull you now for the
"So my father pulled for the Manacles, and came to an easy close outside
Carn Du. And the drummer took his sticks and beat a tattoo, there by the
edge of the reef; and the music of it was like a rolling chariot.
"'That will do,' says he, breaking off; 'they will follow. Pull now for
the shore under Gunner's Meadow.'
"Then my father pulled for the shore and ran his boat in under Gunner's
Meadow. And they stepped out, all three, and walked up to the meadow.
By the gate the drummer halted, and began his tattoo again, looking out
toward the darkness over the sea.
"And while the drum beat, and my father held his breath, there came up
out of the sea and the darkness a troop of many men, horse and foot, and
formed up among the graves; and others rose out of the graves and formed
up--drowned Marines with bleached faces, and pale Hussars, riding
their horses, all lean and shadowy. There was no clatter of hoofs or
accoutrements, my father said, but a soft sound all the while like the
beating of a bird's wing; and a black shadow lay like a pool about the
feet of all. The drummer stood upon a little knoll just inside the
gate, and beside him the tall trumpeter, with hand on hip, watching them
gather; and behind them both my father, clinging to the gate. When no
more came, the drummer stopped playing, and said, 'Call the roll.'
"Then the trumpeter stepped toward the end man of the rank and called,
'Troop Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons,' and the man answered in a thin
"'Troop Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons, how is it with you?'
"The man answered, 'How should it be with me? When I was young, I
betrayed a girl; and when I was grown, I betrayed a friend, and for
these I must pay. But I died as a man ought. God save the King!'
"The trumpeter called to the next man, 'Trooper Henry Buckingham,' and
the next man answered, 'Here.'
"'Trooper Henry Buckingham, how is it With you?'
"'How should it be with me? I was a drunkard, and I stole, and in Lugo,
in a Wine-shop, I killed a man. But I died as a man should. God save the
"So the trumpeter went down the line; and when he had finished, the
drummer took it up, hailing the dead Marines in their order. Each man
answered to his name, and each man ended with 'God save the King!' When
all were hailed, the drummer stepped back to his mound, and called:
"'It is well. You are content, and we are content to join you. Wait,
now, a little while.'
"With this he turned and ordered my father to pick up the lantern, and
lead the way back. As my father picked it up, he heard the ranks of the
dead men cheer and call, 'God save the King!' all together, and saw them
waver and fade back into the dark, like a breath fading off a pane.
"But when they came back here to the kitchen, and my father set the
lantern down, it seemed they'd both forgot about him. For the drummer
turned in the lantern-light--and my father could see the blood still
welling out of the hole in his breast--and took the trumpet-sling from
around the other's neck, and locked drum and trumpet together again,
choosing the letters on the lock very carefully. While he did this, he
"'The word is no more Corunna, but Bayonne. As you left out an "n" in
Corunna, so must I leave out an "n" in Bayonne.' And before snapping the
padlock, he spelt out the word slowly--'B-A-Y-O-N-E.' After that, he
used no more speech; but turned and hung the two instruments back on the
hook; and then took the trumpeter by the arm; and the pair walked out
into the darkness, glancing neither to right nor left.
"My father was on the point of following, when he heard a sort of
sigh behind him; and there, sitting in the elbow-chair, was the very
trumpeter he had just seen walk out by the door! If my father's heart
jumped before, you may believe it jumped quicker now. But after a bit,
he went up to the man asleep in the chair and put a hand upon him. It
was the trumpeter in flesh and blood that he touched; but though the
flesh was warm, the trumpeter was dead.
"Well, sir, they buried him three days after; and at first my father was
minded to say nothing about his dream (as he thought it). But the day
after the funeral, he met Parson Kendall coming from Helston market; and
the parson called out: 'Have 'ee heard the news the coach brought down
this mornin'?' 'What news?' says my father. 'Why, that peace is agreed
upon.' 'None too soon,' says my father. 'Not soon enough for our poor
lads at Bayonne,' the parson answered. 'Bayonne!' cries my father, with
a jump. 'Why, yes;' and the parson told him all about a great sally the
French had made on the night of April 13th. 'Do you happen to know
if the 38th Regiment was engaged?' my father asked. 'Come, now,' said
Parson Kendall, 'I didn't know you was so well up in the campaign. But,
as it happens, I do know that the 38th was engaged, for 'twas they that
held a cottage and stopped the French advance.'
"Still my father held his tongue; and when, a week later, he walked
in Helston and bought a 'Mercury' off the Sherborne rider, and got the
landlord of the 'Angel' to spell out the list of killed and wounded,
sure enough, there among the killed was Drummer John Christian, of the
"After this there was nothing for a religious man but to make a clean
breast. So my father went up to Parson Kendall, and told the whole
story. The parson listened, and put a question or two, and then asked:
"'Have you tried to open the lock since that night?'
"'I haven't dared to touch it,' says my father.
"'Then come along and try.' When the parson came to the cottage here, he
took the things off the hook and tried the lock. 'Did he say "Bayonne?'
The word has seven letters.'
"'Not if you spell it with one "n" as he did,' says my father.
"The parson spelt it out--'B-A-Y-O-N-E' 'Whew!' says he, for the lock
had fallen open in his hand.
"He stood considering it a moment, and then he says: 'I tell you what. I
shouldn't blab this all round the parish, if I was you. You won't get no
credit for truth-telling, and a miracle's wasted on a set of fools. But
if you like, I'll shut down the lock again upon a holy word that no one
but me shall know, and neither drummer nor trumpeter, dead or alive,
shall frighten the secret out of me.'
"'I wish to heaven you would, parson,' said my father.
"The parson chose the holy word there and then, and shut the lock back
upon it, and hung the drum and trumpet back in their place. He is gone
long since, taking the word with him. And till the lock is broken by
force nobody will ever separate those two."