« 前へ次へ »
It was late in the autumn when I visited St. Agnes, and it was towards the close of a gloomy day that I found myself at the residence of Captain Thomas, so I shall call him, whose acquaintance I had made in London, and who had succeeded in persuading me, that the only sure way to make a fortune was, by investing a trifle of ready money in a copper-mine. He held the rank of captain by the custom of the country, as a mine is conducted, like a ship, by a captain and officers. The Captain was rather a decent specimen of his caste; for, where all are combinations of the miner, smuggler, wrecker, and, consequently, ruffian, a inan even of decent manners is something. He had one fault, however, which I afterwards discovered :-he would have considered it a most meritorious employment, to have robbed even his own father, rather than not to have robbed at all.
Our repast being over, and I, like a witless booby, having invested my bank-notes in his pouch, in exchange for certain bits of paper he was pleased to call shares ; and having received from him, in addition to such valuable considerations, the most flattering congratulations on the prospect of immediate wealth, he proposed an adjournment to the 'Red Dragon,' or red something ; I almost forget, it is so long since; where he assured me I should meet a most respectable society, and where I might pick up much valuable information. They were all particular friends of his--captains and pursers of mines.
It was a dismal night. When we sallied out, a thick mist was gathering around : the sea was breaking against the huge rocky cliffs of the adjacent coast, with a deafening roar; and at intervals was heard the distant thunder. It was with no uncomfortable feeling, that I felt myself safely housed at the rendezvous of the choice spirits of the mines.
The party to which I was introduced was seated at a long deal table, in a spacious apartment, half kitchen, half tap-room; at the upper end of which appeared a blazing fire, beneath a chimney-porch of a most ancient and approved formation. On one side of the room, a door opened into a small parlour, and in the corner was a little bar, for the host to dispense to his customers their various potations froin his smuggled treasures. For, although it was not a trifle of Schidam or Cogniac that would satisfy these congregated worthies, I question whether the king could afford to pay the salaries of the commissioners of excise, if the greater portion of his lieges were not more considerate customers than our friends of the Red Dragon.'
The arrival of Captain Thomas was hailed with marked satisfaction. We were soon seated, and in a twinkling a large tumbler of hot brandyand-water was placed before me, and a pipe thrust into my hand. The conversation, which was rather loud when we entered, was now suddenly hushed, and intelligent glances were quickly interchanged, which I saw related to myself. Thomas understood it, and said, 'You need not be afraid ; that gentleman is a particular friend of mine, and a great patron of the mining arts.'
I then begged to assure the company of my veneration for miners and mines, and all connected with them. There was a visible brightening up at this declaration, and doubtless at that moment various were the plans of swindling and rascality which shot through the stolid brains of that pleasant coterie to put my devotedness to the proof.
'A likely night this, Captain Thomas,' said a beetle-browed, shockheaded, short, muscular man, whose small dark eyes peered from beneath a brow of peculiar ferocity.
Uncominon likely!' returned the other, and if we should have a bit of luck to-night, it would not be a bad beginning this winter.'
"Ah!' said the former, who answered to the name of Knox, 'my wife says she thinks Providence has deserted our coast; we haven't had a godsend worth telling about these two years. I've seen the time when we've had a matter of a dozen wracks in a season.'
"Well, never mind, Master Knox,' said a pert-looking, snub.nosed fellow, named Roberts, who I at first glance took for an attorney, but afterwards found that he was a mining-agent. From his more constant intercourse with Truro, he was rather better dressed than some of his companions ; but his town breeding gave him no other advantage than a conceited saucy air. Never mind, Master Knox,' said he, jingling a bunch of seals which peeped from beneath the waistcoat of that worthy, you have made the most of your luck, and if you don't get any more you won't harm.'
• Why, yes,' said the fellow, drawing out a handsome gold watch, which accorded curiously with his coarse attire. 'I don't complain of the past; and yet I had a narrow escape with this; if it hadn't been for my boy Jem, I should have lost it.'
He's a 'cute child, that boy of yours,' remarked one.
'There wever was a 'cuter. I'll tell you, sir,' said he, addressing me. Its two years ago come December, on a Sunday, when we were all in church, that we had news of a wrack. Well, off we all started you may be sure, and the parson not the last, to see what it hrad pleased God to send us. We found on coming up, that it was a French India-man. She had gone to pieces off the rocks, and the goods were floating about like dirt. I wasn't long in making the most of it; and Jem was just going off for the cart, when I 'spied, half-covered with weed, and hidden by a piece of rock, the body of a Frenchman. I soon saw I had got a prize, for he was loaded with money and trinkets. These I quickly eased him of, seeing as he'd never want 'em ; but to make sure, I hit 'un a good slap over the head just to see whether the life was in 'un or no.' [Here one or two of the auditors grinned.] 'Well, I was just going away, when I see'd a diamond ring on his finger, and the finger being swelled with the water, I cuts it off '[displaying at the same time a knife of rather formidable proportions and walks off with my goods. I hadn't gone far, when little Jem runs after, crying, “ Dad, dad! hit 'un again dad! he grin'th, he grin'th!' I looked back, and sure enough that rascally French thief-whether it was drawing the blood or not, I don't know -but he was moving his arm about, and opening his eyes, as though
he were bent on taking the bread out of my mouth. This put me in a precious rage—these Frenchmen are always a spiteful set, and hate Englishmen as they hate the devil. So I makes no more ado but I hits 'un a lick with the tail of a rudder laying close by, and I'll war. rant me he never come to ask for my goods.'
The miscreant chuckled over this horrid recital with all the selfsatisfaction that another might feel at the recollection of a virtuous action; whilst his companions, to whom no doubt the story was familiar, felt no other sensations of uneasiness at its recapitulation than from the recollection that they had not been able to do the same thing. Knox was evidently the ruffian par ercellence. I beheld others around me, the expression of whose countenances would have hung them at any bar in England without any other evidence; yet none ventured to boast of crime ; Knox was the only open professor of villany, and seemed to claim his right of pre-eminence. I have been in many parts of the world, and have encountered ruffians of every country and grade ; but never before did I have the fortune to hear depravity, and of such a revolting character, so freely confessed, so unblashingly avowed.
'Well, Knox,' said Thomas, after a short pause, so you have seen Hibbert Shear. How's poor Bill Trecuddick?' Knox placed his finger significantly on his cheek. How,' said the other, · dead !
Dead as mackerel,' returned Knox; ‘ you know I was in it, and a sharp brush we had. Poor Bill had three balls in him': he died the same night.' A universal expression of sympathy followed this anncuncement, and various were the questions put by different indi. viduals as to the details of his death. It appeared that he was killed in an engagement with a revenue cruiser.
He was as likely a lad that ever run a cargo,' said Thomas; 'where did you bury him?
* Along side of the gauger, I s'pose,' said Roberts, who ventured a sidelong glance of malicious meaning, though apparently half-doubtful of the consequences. I never saw so speedy a change in any human being as that remark produced in Knox. In an instant his brow became as black as the storm which now raged with appalling violence from without.
• What hast thee to do with that, thou pert, meddling coxcomb?' said he, as he fixed his black eyes, alır.ost concealed by their overhanging brows, on the object of his wrath. Now mark me, Master Roberts; play off no more of thy jokes on ine. This is not the first time I have warned thee; but it shall be the last.'
I learned afterwards that the gauger alluded to was Knox's halfbrother, who was supposed to have met with his death by the hands of his relation, and his body flung down a shaft near the sea, now known by the name of the Gauger's Shaft. What confirmed the suspicion was that he was known to have frightful dreams about his murdered brother, and some said that he was known to trenible like a
child if left alone at night. Be that as it might, however, a ferocious altercation was now proceeding between Knox and a friend of Roberts, who had replied to the other's threats, which appeared likely to procecd to serious consequences, had not the attention of all parties been diverted by a loud and continued knocking at the outer door. This seemed so unusual an occurrence that the host hesitated to unbar, for never was a stranger known to arrive at St. Agncs at such an hour, and on such a night too; for we heard the rain descend in torrents, and the thunder howling at intervals.
The knocking continued vehemently, and although we were too many to fear any thing like personal danger, yet I could see an evident though undefinable fear spreading throughout the party, sufficiently expressed by their ansious glances. In no one was such an expression more visible than in Knox. It was the result of some superstitious feeling, which the conversation of the night, and the awful storm now raging about them, had called into play.
The knocking was now fiercer than ever, and the host was at last constrained to unbolt and unbar: the guest, whoever he was, would take no denial. As the door opened, in stalked a tall, weather-beaten looking man, enveloped in a huge shaggy great-coat, and a broad oilskin hat on his head.
"What the devil dost thee mean by this?' he said, dashing his hat upon the floor, and shaking the rain from his coat like a huge waterdog,-keeping a traveller outside your gates on such a night!' At this moment, during a lull in the storm, was heard a heavy booming sound from the sea.
'A wrack! a wrack !’ shouted Knox; and instantly a dozen fellows were on their legs ready to rush forth like thirsty blood-hounds on their prey. “Keep your places, you fools !' cried the stranger, if she goes ashore it will be many miles from here, with the wind in this quarter. They all seemed to acknowledge the justice of the remark, by sulkily resuming their places. “I've heard the guns some time continued the stranger; ‘but she has good offing yet, and she may manage to keep off. I'd lay my life she is a foreign craft, they're always in such a plaguey hurry to sing out.' The company had leisure by this time, to seat themselves and resume their pipes. They likewise, seeing he was no ghost, took the liberty of scanning their guest. He was not very remarkable further than beirig a tall muscular man with short curling black hair, immense bushy whiskers, meeting under his cliin, and large black eyes. Altogether it was not an unpleasant countenance. He did not apologize for his intrusion, but called at once for his pipe and his glass.
• Did you come from Truro side?' asked Knox. The stranger took a huge whiff, and nodded assent. · Who might have brought you across the moors ?'
Dost thou think no one can tread the moors but thyself and the louts of St. Agnes?'
None that I ever heard of, except Beelzebub;' said Knox, peering from beneath his brows suspiciously on the new comer.
The stranger laughed.
• The path is dangerous by night,' said Thomas; ' few strangers find the way alone.' "Then I am one of the few, for here I am,' said he.
I've lived here man and boy these forty years,' said Knox, “and I never knew a stranger do that before. And thou must be a stranger, for I've never seen thee.
* Art sure of that?'-Knox again scanned him attentively. * I never saw thee before.
• You see then a stranger can find his way in these parts. I came by the gauger's shaft. Thou know'st the gauger's shaft,' said he significantly.
Hell !' said the other furiously, dost thou come here to mock me, if thou dost thoud'st better return afore harm comes of thee.
• Thou'rt a strong man;' said his opponent; • but I'm so much a stronger, that I would hold thee with one arm on yonder fire till thou wert as black as thv own black heart. Come, thou need'st not frown on me man, if thou hast a spark of courage I'll put it now to the test. • Courage! I fear neither thee nor Beelzebub!
I'll wager thee this heavy purse of French louis d'ors against that watch and ring that befits thy finger so oddly, that thou durst not go into yonder room alone, and look on the face that shall meet thee there.
• Thou’rt a juggler and a cheat-I'll have nothing further to say to thee.'
There's my gold,' said he throwing a heavy purse on the table; look at it ; count it; a hundred as bright louis as ever were coined in France, against thy watch and ring, not worth the half.' The eyes of the wrecker glistened at the bright heap of gold. What is the wager ?'. he demanded.
*If thou durst go into yonder room, that I will raise the form of one whom thou wouldst most dread to see.'
I fear nothing, and believe thee to be a cheat.' * Theres my gold.'
• Take the wager !' cried several of Knox's friends; we'll see thou hast the gold.'
* Done!' cried Knox, with a sort of desperate resolve, which the cheers of his friends, and the sight of the gold helped him to assume; and he placed the ring and watch on the heap of louis.
'I must have arms and lights.'
"Take them ;' said the stranger: 'but before you go, I will show you a portion of your property you have never discovered.' He took up the ring and touching the inside with the point of a pin a small aperture flew open, and disclosed a small space filled with hair. It was not till that moment it was discovered that the stranger had lost the little finger of the left hand! For a moment all was still as the grave. A frightful feeling seemed to prevade the breast of every one