"So this is what you call a good road here-abouts, is it?" said Dr. Jenkins.
He had stopped half-way up the hill, to look about him, and to let Timothy, the fisherman who had met him at the station, put down the heavy bag and rest a bit before climbing any further. Behind them the steep road wound in and out between rough granite blocks and tussocks of dwarf gorse. Before them it rose up sharply, a stony track bordered by wet and withered heather tufts; and turned, passing out of sight round the shoulder of a lichened rock. For the rest, a waste of barren moorland; an angry sun going down, red in a fiery glow; a fierce north wind that rushed by, shrieking curses; and below the cliffs a sullen, moaning, desperate sea; that was all. On summer days the moor might wear a brighter face among the gold and purple glories of its flowering time; even this ashen sea had doubtless green or blue delights to show on sunny mornings after rain; but this was the doctor's first glimpse of Cornwall, and in the December evening every thing seemed to him chill and bleak and desolate.
The sun dipped, leaving a long red trail across the water, a bloody finger-mark that the waves made haste to wash out. Timothy picked up the bag again.
"It's not so far now, sir; we shall be in before dark. Eh, why surely that be Maaster Richards from Gurnard's Head, and the old woman with him. Good evening, maaster!"
A pony-cart laden with apples jogged round the projecting shoulder of the granite rock. Farmer and pony walked side by side; but for the difference in the number of legs they might have been twin brothers, so much alike they were in expression, in roundness of comfortable figure, in solid evenness of tread. In the cart, among the apples, sat an old woman, half asleep.
"This is the new doctor for Porthcarrick," said Timothy. "We shall have two doctors now, for old Dr. Williams is stopping on, though he's past much work. Are you rested now, sir?"
They climbed a little further, while Farmer Richards and his pony jogged slowly down the hill.
"Hullo!" said the doctor, looking round. "Something's wrong with the old fellow's cart. Look, he's making signs to us. What is it?"
The farmer was gesticulating frantically with his whip, and trying to shout louder than the angry wind.
"Police!" he yelled in a despairing voice. "Murder! Help! Police!"
"'In all time of our tribulation'!" gasped the old woman, folding her hands. "It's the gang."
A big, muscular, black-haired boy, with a skin tanned almost to coffee-colour, and a face which struck the doctor as repulsively ugly, came tearing over the brow of the hill. A score of minor demons followed at his heels, brandishing sticks and yelling ferociously. The gang descended with such suddenness, that before the farmer could defend himself the pony was unhooked from the shafts and the old woman stood wailing by the roadside, wringing her hands at the sight of the overturned cart and the apples rolling in the mud. As Timothy and the doctor came running back, the farmer recovered heart of grace and laid about him with his whip. After a sharp skirmish the gang broke and fled in all directions down the hill, yelling and screeching, with bulging pockets crammed with apples. Pursuit seemed to be hopeless; but in the act of escaping, one of the boys, a freckled, lanky hobbledehoy, caught his foot against a stone and fell sprawling. The farmer pounced upon him instantly. "Jack!" shrieked the captive. "Jack!"
The leader bounded to the spot, tripped up the top-heavy farmer with a dexterous twist of one foot, dragged the fallen boy up by the collar, and despatched him at a headlong pace downhill by a thump between the shoulders. Then he glanced round to see if any one else were in need of help. It was evidently an established convention that he should be the first to charge and the last to flee. As he turned to follow the gang a hand dropped on his shoulder.
"I've caught one, at any rate," said Dr. Jenkins. "No, don't hit him," he added, intercepting the farmer's fist. "And all that bad language won't get your cart up, my man; Timothy, help him with the cart, and leave the boy to me."
The farmer, still swearing, went to join Timothy, who was trying to lift the cart; the old woman meanwhile collecting the scattered apples.
"Well, you're a promising young devil," said Dr. Jenkins to his prisoner, who was wriggling in his grasp like a conger eel. "What's your name?"
"Lord bless you, sir," said Timothy, "that's Jack Raymond. He be nephew to our vicar."
"And own son to Beelzebub," the farmer muttered from between the wheels.
The swarthy imp grinned at the compliment, showing his white teeth.
"Nephew... to the Vicar!" Dr. Jenkins repeated incredulously. "Here, stand up, boy; don't wriggle about so. I won't hurt you."
Jack's eyes opened wide in scornful amazement, and the doctor saw how dusky and yet how luminous they were.
"I should just about think you wouldn't!"
He left off kicking, however, and stood up straight. His ugliness was of an unfamiliar, barbaric type; but there was nothing degenerate about it, notwithstanding the heavy jaw; his head, indeed, was finely shaped, and the deep-set eyes would have been really magnificent, but for their sullen, morose expression. The singular breadth between them, and the black line of the brows meeting above, gave to the face a look of strength and concentration more appropriate to a bison than to a child.
"So you're the captain of the Bad Boys' Gang, are you?" said the doctor. "And what's your special line, if one may ask? Stealing poor men's goods and frightening old women out of their senses, eh?"
"Yes," said Jack, looking straight at him: "and stinging when we get a chance, like that hornet on your beard."
Dr. Jenkins, forgetting the season, instinctively put his hand up to his face. Immediately he received a violent blow, delivered with admirable precision; and by the time he realised that a trick had been played on him, Jack was racing downhill at breakneck speed.
The doctor leaned against a rock and laughed till the tears ran out of his eyes. It was impossible to feel angry, the thing had been so neatly done.
"What a little devil!" he gasped, as soon as he could speak. "Oh, what an outlandish little devil!"
"And that boy," said Timothy, as they walked on again after the cart had been righted, "has been brought up in a godly house and has had the advantages of Christian precept and example ever since he was six years old. But 'tis no use; what's bred in the bone will come out in the flesh."
"It strikes me," the doctor remarked, "that a good thrashing would have more effect on that urchin than Christian precept and example. He wants the nonsense taken out of him."
"Why, sir," said Timothy; "there's not a boy in Porthcarrick that gets the cane as often as Jack Raymond; anyway, since the captain died."
"Captain John, the Vicar's youngest brother. He was drowned three years ago last October, saving life in rough weather off Longships way by Land's End. The Vicar has no children of his own, so he took in the orphans, for they were left ill-provided, and he's done his duty by them, as a Christian man."
"There are more children, then?"
"There's one little girl, sir — eight years old; and a sweet little maid she is, no more like this imp of darkness than a plaice is like a pilchard. She takes after the Raymonds."
"And the Vicar is strict with the boy?"
Timothy screwed up his lips.
"Well, sir, there be some gentlemen on the school board do say he's a bit too strict; 'the flogging parson', they call him, because he's all for more caning in the schools. But to my mind he's right, sir; the human heart is corrupt and desperately wicked, and how else be 'ee goin' to instil the fear of God into a boy?"
"It doesn't seem to have got instilled into this one."
"Ah, that's the bad blood in him. Many a tear he's cost poor Mrs. Raymond. You must know, she comes of a very respectable family, up St. Ives way; good church people, all of them, and not used to such goings on. She's a godly, pious woman, and good to the poor, as a clergyman's wife should be, and she's cared for those two children as if they'd been her own, though they're none of her kin. Little Molly's the apple of her eye. She's tried her hardest to coax the devil out of the boy, and the Vicar, he's tried to thrash it out, and you might as well plant potatoes on the Runnel Stone. He's his mother's own brat."
"Who was she?"
"A scarlet woman, sir; a play actress from London that Captain John brought home when he was young and wild, to carry shame into a decent house. Lord knows what she'd been before he married her. If you'll believe it, sir, she'd smoke tobacco like a man, and her foot was never inside a place of worship. And then her flaunting skirts and her lewd ways — it was enough to make the old folks turn in their graves! She'd trapes about under the cliffs in dirty weather singing to herself, with her hair streaming down her back, for all the world like a madwoman. Why, I've seen her myself sitting half-dressed with her bare feet in a rock-pool and a crazy artist fellow from London painting her portrait — great maazed antic! She was as ugly as sin, too; you can tell by the boy; but Captain John was fair mad about her. However, she went the way of damnation after the little maid was born; 'took an engagement,' she called it, and ran off to Paris to her play-acting; as 'tis written in the Scriptures: 'the dog returneth to his vomit, and the sow to her wallowing in the mire.'
And there she took the cholera, and died like an unrepentant heathen, so I've heard tell. 'Tis plain it was a judgment. And the captain, poor silly fool, instead of being duly grateful to Providence for a good riddance of bad rubbish, he took on as if his heart was broken in him, and never held up his head again ------"
"Is this Porthcarrick?" the doctor interrupted as a sharp turn of the road brought them to a break in the hills and a fishing village nestling between two great cliffs.
"Yes, sir, and that's the lighthouse beyond Deadman's cliff. The white house there is Mr. Hewitt's school; a lot of gentlefolk send their sons there — the Vicar's trustee for it; and that big one higher up is Heath Brow, where the Squire lives."
"And the old house by the church, all over ivy?"
"That's the Vicarage."
The next morning, when Dr. Jenkins returned from his first stroll through the village, he found on his table a card bearing the inscription: "Rev. Jos. Raymond, The Vicarage, Porthcarrick, Cornwall."
"The Vicar said he'd call again," said the landlady. "He seemed in a great taking; I suppose it's that devil's limb Jack again; they do say he scared poor old Mrs. Richards fair to death on the cliff road yesterday; smashed the cart and lamed the pony and ------"
"Come, come," said the doctor, "it's not quite so bad as that. I was there myself. Has the farmer been complaining?"
"Yes, sir; they say the Vicar had a long bill to pay him this morning; he threatened to bring an action for assault and battery."
"Oh, that's absurd. I'll go round to the Vicar after dinner and tell him the truth of the story myself."
As he entered the Vicarage garden a sound of light feet running came from behind the fuchsia hedge. Before he had time to draw back, a small creature in a holland pinafore dashed round the corner and came in a headlong rush against his legs, then started away, tossing back a tawny mane.
"Oh, I'm so sorry! Did I hurt you, sir?"
The doctor looked down in surprise, wondering if this pretty child could really be Jack Raymond's sister.
"Hurt me? What, by treading on my toes? I was afraid it was I that had hurt you. Are you Mr. Raymond's little niece?"
"I'm Molly. Did you want to see uncle?"
She led him into the house; he, meanwhile, unsuccessfully trying to draw her into conversation. He was fond of children; and Molly, clean and wholesome throughout, shy yet not awkward, freckled and tanned with sun and wind, appeared to him a creature altogether delightful. Charming as she was, however, she would certainly not grow up beautiful; for, though so unlike her brother in colouring and expression, she possessed, in a modified form, the same obstinate mouth and heavy jaw; but her eyes bore no resemblance to Jack's; they were deliciously limpid and blue.
The Rev. Mr. Raymond was an iron-grey man, serious and cold, with eyes as lifeless as his grizzled hair. He held himself erect like a soldier, though without a soldier's ease. There was about him an antiquated stiffness, yet withal a certain patient dignity, as of one mindful that he was made in the image of God. His sense of order would not tolerate useless growth of any kind; therefore he was clean-shaven, showing the nakedness of the worst thing in his face — a Chinese insensitiveness, at the corners of the mouth. A little more curve and pointing of the lines might have rendered the face a fine one, impressive if not sympathetic; but as it was, he seemed a diagram of virtue drawn in monochrome.
He sent Molly away, and then began a laborious apology for the wickedness of Jack, the "devil's limb." Seeing how much he took the matter to heart, the visitor cut him short good-humouredly, giving his own version of the story, as of a mere schoolboy prank, and turned the conversation to other subjects.
Presently tea was brought in, and together with it came Mrs. Raymond, a stout, submissive, motherly woman, older than her husband, with indefinite eyebrows plaintively raised in an arch of chronic faint surprise. Her black gown was the perfection of neatness, and not a hair of her head was out of place. Molly, in a clean white pinafore, the thick curls carefully brushed and tied back with a ribbon, made a gracious little picture, clinging shyly to her aunt. An air of peaceful domesticity seemed to enter with the woman and child. The bread, butter, and cake were too good not to be home made; and when, after tea, Mrs. Raymond sat down by the window to finish embroidering a frock for Molly, the visitor saw that she was no less excellent a needlewoman than a cook. She was also charitable, as appeared from the red woollen comforter which Molly was learning to knit; the little girl had evidently been taught that the making of warm garments for the poor is an important duty. It occurred to him that this woman of plastic virtues must sometimes find it a little fatiguing to stand a perpetual buffer between husband and nephew.
"Sarah," said the Vicar, when the tea had been cleared away, "I have been telling Dr. Jenkins how deeply we regret what happened on the cliff road yesterday. He is so kind as to take the matter very lightly, and not to demand any more formal apology."
Mrs. Raymond lifted her mild eyes to the visitor's face.
"We are very sorry that you should have had any annoyance. But we have done our best, indeed; and it is most kind of you not to want the boy punished..."
"He will be punished in any case," said the Vicar quietly. "The entry is already made in the conduct book."