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Deep Down, a Tale of the Cornish Mines

Deep Down, a Tale of the Cornish Mines

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


Necessity is the mother of invention. This is undoubtedly true, but it is equally true that invention is not the only member of necessity's large family. Change of scene and circumstance are also among her children. It was necessity that gave birth to the resolve to travel to the end of the earth--o....
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  Necessity is the mother of invention. This is undoubtedly true, but itis equally true that invention is not the only member of necessity'slarge family. Change of scene and circumstance are also among herchildren. It was necessity that gave birth to the resolve to travel tothe end of the earth--of English earth at all events--in search offortune, which swelled the bosom of yonder tall, well-favoured youth,who, seated uncomfortably on the top of that clumsy public conveyance,drives up Market-Jew Street in the ancient town of Penzance. Yes,necessity--stern necessity, as she is sometimes called--drove that youthinto Cornwall, and thus was the originating cause of that wonderfulseries of events which ultimately led to his attaining--but hold! Letus begin at the beginning.

  It was a beautiful morning in June, in that period of the world'shistory which is ambiguously styled "Once-upon-a-time," when the"Kittereen"--the clumsy vehicle above referred to--rumbled up to theStar Inn and stopped there. The tall, well-favoured youth leapt at onceto the ground, and entered the inn with the air of a man who owned atleast the half of the county, although his much-worn grey shootingcostume and single unpretentious portmanteau did not indicate eitherunusual wealth or exalted station.

  In an off-hand hearty way, he announced to landlord, waiters,chambermaids, and hangers-on, to all, indeed, who might choose tolisten, that the weather was glorious, that coaches of all kinds,especially Kittereens, were detestable machines of torture, and that hemeant to perform the remainder of his journey on foot.

  He inquired the way to the town of St. Just, ordered his luggage to beforwarded by coach or cart, and, with nothing but a stout oaken cudgelto encumber him, set out on his walk of about seven miles, with thedetermination of compensating himself for previous hours of forcedinaction and constraint by ignoring roads and crossing the country likean Irish fox-hunter.

  Acting on the presumptuous belief that he could find his way to any partof the world with the smallest amount of direction, he naturally missedthe right road at the outset, and instead of taking the road to St.Just, pursued that which leads to the Land's End.

  The youth, as we have observed, was well-favoured. Tall,broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and athletic, with an active step, erectgait, and clear laughing eye, he was one whom a recruiting-sergeant inthe Guards would have looked upon with a covetous sigh. Smooth faircheeks and chin told that boyhood was scarce out of sight behind, and anundeniable _some thing_ on the upper lip declared that manhood was notfar in advance.

  Like most people in what may be termed an uncertain stage of existence,our hero exhibited a variety of apparent contradictions. His great sizeand muscular strength and deep bass voice were those of a man, while thesmooth skin, the soft curling hair, and the rollicking gladsome lookwere all indicative of the boy. His countenance, too, might haveperplexed a fortune-teller. Sometimes it was grave almost to sternness,at other times it sparkled with delight, exhibiting now an expressionthat would have befitted a sage on whose decisions hung the fate ofkingdoms, and anon displaying a dash of mischief worthy of the wildestboy in a village school.

  Some of the youth's varied, not to say extravagant, actions andexpressions, were perhaps due to the exhilarating brilliancy of themorning, or to the appearance of those splendid castles which his mindwas actively engaged in building in the air.

  The country through which he travelled was at first varied with treesand bushes clothed in rich foliage; but soon its aspect changed, and erelong he pursued a path which led over a wide extent of wild moorlandcovered with purple heath and gorse in golden-yellow bloom. The ground,too, became so rough that the youth was fain to confine himself to thehighroad; but being of an explorative disposition, he quickly divergedinto the lanes, which in that part of Cornwall were, and still are,sufficiently serpentine and intricate to mislead a more experiencedtraveller. It soon began to dawn upon the youth's mind that he waswandering in a wrong direction, and when he suddenly discovered asolitary cottage on the right hand, which he had previously observed onthe left, he made up his mind to sacrifice his independence andcondescend to ask for guidance.

  Lightly leaping a wall with this intent, he crossed two fields, andstooped as he looked in at the low doorway of the cottage, from theinterior of which there issued the loud cries of a child either in greatpain or passion.

  A sturdy little boy seated on a stool, and roaring like a young bull,while an elderly woman tried to comfort him, was the sight which met hisgaze.

  "Can you show me the road to St. Just?" inquired our adventurer.

  "St. Just, sur?" said the woman, stepping out in front of the door,"why, you're on the way to St. Buryan, sure. Ef you do keep on theright of the hill over theere, you'll see the St. Just road."

  A yell of unparalleled ferocity issued at this moment from the cottage,and it was found that the noisy urchin within, overcome by curiosity,had risen to ascertain who the stranger outside could be, and had beenarrested by a pang of agony.

  "Aw dear, aw dear, my poor booy," exclaimed the woman, endeavouringgently to press the boy down again on the stool, amid furious roaring.

  "What's wrong with him?" asked our traveller, entering the apartment.

  "He's tumbled off the wall, dear booy, an' semen to me he's scat unshoulder very bad."

  "Let me have a look at him," said the youth, sitting down on the edge ofa bed which stood at one end of the room, and drawing the child betweenhis knees. "Come, little man, don't shout so loud; I'll put it allright for you. Let me feel your shoulder."

  To judge from the immediate result, the young man seemed to put it allwrong instead of "all right," for his somewhat rough manipulation of theboy's shoulder produced such a torrent of screams that the pitying womanhad much ado to restrain herself from rushing to the rescue.

  "Ah!" exclaimed the youth in grey, releasing his victim; "I thought so;he has broken his collar-bone, my good woman; not a serious matter, byany means, but it will worry him for some time to come. Have you gotanything to make a bandage of?"

  "Sur?" said the woman.

  "Have you a bit of rag--an old shirt or apron?--anything will do."

  The woman promptly produced a cotton shirt, which the youth tore up intolong strips. Making a pad of one of these, he placed it under the boy'sarm-pit despite of sobs and resistance. This pad acted as a fulcrum onwhich the arm rested as a lever. Pressing the elbow close to the boy'sside he thus forced the shoulder outwards, and, with his left hand, setthe bone with its two broken ends together. To secure it in thisposition he bound the arm pretty firmly to the boy's body, so that hecould not move a muscle of the left arm or shoulder.

  "There," said the youth, assisting his patient to put on his shirt,"that will keep all straight. You must not on any account remove thebandage for some weeks."

  "How long, sur?" exclaimed the woman in surprise.

  "For some weeks; but that will depend on how the little fellow gets on.He may go about and use his right arm as he pleases, but no moreclimbing on walls for some time to come. Do you hear, little man?"

  The urchin, whose pain was somewhat relieved, and who had moderated downto an occasional deep sob, said "Iss."

  "You're a doctor, sur, I think?" said the woman.

  "Yes, I am; and I'll come to see you again, so be careful to attend tomy directions. Good-morning."

  "Good mornin', sur, an' thank 'ee!" exclaimed the grateful dame as theyouth left the house, and, leaping the low enclosure in front of it,sped over the moor in the direction which had been pointed out to him.

  His resolution to ignore roads cost our traveller more trouble than hehad anticipated, for the moor was very rugged, the brambles vexatious,and the spines of the gorse uncommonly sharp. Impediments of every kindwere more numerous than he had been accustomed to meet with even on theheath-clad hills of Scotland, with which--although "the land of themountain and the flood" was not that of his birth--he had from childhoodbeen familiar.

  After a good deal of vigorous leaping and resolute scrambling, hereached one of those peculiar Cornish lanes which are so deeply sunk inthe ground, and edged with such high solid walls, that the wayfarercannot in many places see the nature of the country through which he ispassing. The point at which he reached the lane was so overgrown withgorse and brambles that it was necessary to search for a passage throughthem. This not being readily found, he gave way to the impetuosity ofhis disposition, stepped back a few paces, cleared the obstacles with alight bound, and alighted on the edge of the bank, which gave way underhis weight, and he descended into the lane in a shower of stones anddust, landing on his feet more by chance than by dexterity.

  A shout of indignation greeted the traveller, and, turning abruptlyround, he beheld a stout old gentleman stamping with rage, covered fromhead to foot with dust, and sputtering out epithets of opprobrium on thehapless wight who had thus unintentionally bespattered him.

  "Ugh! hah! you young jackanapes--you blind dumbledory--ugh! What meanyou by galloping over the country thus like a wild ass--eh?"

  A fit of coughing here interrupted the choleric old gentleman, in themidst of which our hero, with much humility of demeanour, manyapologies, and protestations of innocence of intention to injure, pickedup the old gentleman's hat, assisted him to brush his clothes with abunch of ferns, and in various other ways sought to pacify him.

  The old man grumbled a good deal at first, but was finally so farmollified as to say less testily, while he put on his hat, "I warrantme, young man, you are come on some wild-goose chase to thisout-o'-the-way region of the land in search of the picturesque--eh?--adauber on canvas?"

  "No, sir," replied the youth, "I profess not to wield the pencil orbrush, although I admit to having made feeble efforts as an amateur.The scalpel is more to my taste, and my object in coming here is tovisit a relative. I am on my way to St. Just; but, having wanderedsomewhat out of my road, have been obliged to strike into bypaths, asyou see."

  "As I _see_, young man!--yes, and as I _feel_," replied the oldgentleman, with some remains of asperity.

  "I have already expressed regret for the mischance that has befallenyou," said the youth in grey somewhat sternly, for his impulsive spiritfired a little at the continued ill-humour of the old gentleman."Perhaps you will return good for evil by pointing out the way to St.Just. May I venture to ask this favour of you?"

  "You may venture, and you _have_ ventured; and it is my belief, youngman, that you'll venture many a thing before this world has done withyou; however, as you are a stranger in these parts, and have expresseddue penitence for your misdeed, though I more than half doubt yoursincerity, I can do no less than point out the road to St. Just, whitherI will accompany you at least part of the way; and, young sir, as youhave taken pretty free liberty with _me_ this morning, may I take theliberty of asking _you_ the name of your relative in St. Just? I amwell acquainted with most of the inhabitants of that town."

  "Certainly," replied the youth. "The gentleman whom I am going to visitis my uncle. His name is Donnithorne."

  "What! Tom Donnithorne?" exclaimed the old gentleman, in a tone ofsurprise, as he darted a keen glance from under his bushy eyebrows athis companion. "Hah! then from that fact I gather that you are OliverTrembath, the young doctor whom he has been expecting the last day ortwo. H'm--so old Tom Donnithorne is your uncle, is he?"

  The youth in grey did not relish the free and easy, not to saypatronising, tone of his companion, and felt inclined to give a sharpanswer, but he restrained his feelings and replied,--"He is, and you arecorrect in your supposition regarding myself. Do you happen to know myuncle personally?"

  "Know him personally!" cried the old gentleman with a sardonic laugh;"Oh yes, I know him intimately--intimately; some people say he's a verygood fellow."

  "I am glad to hear that, for to say truth--"

  He paused abruptly.

  "Ha! I suppose you were going to say that you have heard a differentaccount of him--eh?"

  "Well, I _was_ going to observe," replied Oliver, with a laugh, "that myuncle is rather a wild man for his years--addicted to smuggling, I amtold, and somewhat given to the bottle; but it is well known thattattlers give false reports, and I am delighted to hear that the old boyis not such a bad fellow after all."

  "Humph!" ejaculated the other. "Then you have never seen him, Isuppose?"

  "No, never; although I am a Cornishman I have seen little of my nativecounty, having left it when a little boy--before my uncle came to livein this part of the country."

  "H'm--well, young man, I would advise you to beware of that same uncleof yours."

  "How!" exclaimed the youth in surprise; "did you not tell me just nowthat he is a very good fellow?"

  "No, sir, I did not. I told you that _some_ people say he is a verygood fellow, but for myself I think him an uncommonly bad man, a man whohas done me great injury in his day--"

  "It grieves me to hear you say so," interrupted Oliver, whose ire wasagain roused by the tone and manner of his companion.

  "A decidedly bad man," continued the old gentleman, not noticing theinterruption, "a thorough rascal, a smuggler, and a drunkard, and--"

  "Hold, sir!" cried the youth sternly, as he stopped and faced the oldgentleman, "remember that you speak of my relative. Had you been ayounger man, sir--"

  Again the youth paused abruptly.

  "Go on, sir," said the old gentleman ironically, "you would havepommelled me to a jelly with your cudgel, I suppose; is that it?--actingsomewhat in the spirit of your kinsman, that same smuggling and tipplingold scoundrel, who--"

  "Enough, sir," interrupted the young man angrily; "we part companyhere."

  So saying, he vaulted over the wall that separated the road from themoor, and hurried away.

  "Take the first turn to the left, and keep straight on, else you'll loseyourself aga-a-a-in," roared the old gentleman, "and my compliments tothe rascally old smugg-le-e-r-r!"

  "The old scoundrel!" muttered the youth as he hurried away.

  "The young puppy!" growled the old gentleman as he jogged along. "Givento smuggling and the bottle indeed--humph! the excitable jackanapes!But I've given him a turn in the wrong direction that will cool hisblood somewhat, and give me leisure to cool mine too, before we meetagain."

  Here the old gentleman's red countenance relaxed into a broad grin, andhe chuckled a good deal, in the midst of a running commentary on theconduct and appearance of his late companion, from the disjointedsentences of which it might have been gathered that although hisintroduction to the young doctor had been unfortunate, and thesucceeding intercourse stormy, his opinion of him was not altogetherunfavourable.