Page images

rescue efforts which proved successful in the end. After the vicar had given up hope, he got a note on a Sunday morning that gladdened him: "The captain and crew of the Margaret Quayle desire to give thanks to Almighty

God for their rescue from wreck and death." Another letter gives a ghastly account of recovering and burying the battered bodies floated ashore from the wreck of the Ben Coolen, East Indiaman. "When all is done, it is not without a battle that we can win from the county rate about 30s. a corpse for each interment-the balance, always £2 or £3, being from my own purse." Mr Hawker was the veritable author of the spirited Trelawny ballad, which Macaulay mistook for ancient Cornish. In a volume of various poems of very unequal merits but with many beauties, the most striking and original were those that were inspired by the picturesque surroundings and traditions of his Cornish parish. Of the two I quote, the short "Death Song was doubtless written after one of his burial - services read over waifs cast up by the Atlantic surges :

[ocr errors]

"There lies a cold corpse upon the sand,

Down by the rolling sea;

[blocks in formation]

There are no attractions in the way either of architecture or land

Close up the eyes and straighten the scape-gardening on Lundy Island,


As a Christian man's should be.

Bury it deep, for the good of thy soul,
Six feet below the ground;
Let the sexton come and the death-bell

And good men stand around.

Lay it among the churchyard stones, Where the priest hath blessed the clay;

I cannot leave the unburied bones,
And I fain would go my way."

As for "Mawgan of Melhuach,"

which lies midway in the British Channel, some dozen of miles off Hartland Point. But the story of Lundy is full of sensational romance. There are the remains of round towers and of feudal strongholds, and the wall of cliffs by which it is encircled is breached and broken into tortuous curves and tunnels, which become so many hells of boisterous turmoil when the sea boils through them in storms. Lundy, from time immemorial, has always been the resort of the

[blocks in formation]

must have been expelled; but in 1625 the island is said actually to have fallen into the hands of an Algerine squadron, and thenceforward, for many years, "it was nothing" if not piratical. In 1632 it was reputed the headquarters of a notorious buccaneer named Admiral Nutt, who required for his repression a fleet of some dozen vessels. It should be remembered, in planning a trip to Lundy, that everything depends on the weather. Except when the Channel is perfectly calm, landing and embarking are always more or less difficult; and the tourist who has gone ashore in the clothes he wears, may be detained indefinitely while a gale is blowing itself out.

Enlivening himself with such excursions from time to time, the visitor may make himself very comfortable at Ilfracombe. The seats scattered along the bulks,

escarped on the Capstone Hill, are delightful places for reading or dreaming. One need never be

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

tired of admiring the quaint little harbour, with the characteristic chapel - lighthouse on the hill above, where coasting craft are riding loose at their moorings on the rise and fall of the tide; and where steamers are sounding their whistles of a morning, before starting on trips up and down the Channel. The strolls in the neighbourhood are extremely enjoyable; go which way you will, you can hardly go wrong. There are glorious views from the "Torr Walks to the westward the objection to them being that they land you in a cul-de-sac; for the entrance is by a bower of roses, which is the gateway at a cottagelodge, where a penny is paid as the privilege of admission. in all directions, at each turn, and from every height, the eye ranges over the Channel or the open sea, and the air on these heights is always fresh and invigorating, without any of the bitter easterly nip. That Ilfracombe may flourish without further expansion must be the hope rather than the expectation of each visitor who has fallen in love with the place.





THE saying commonly attributed to Mencius, that "Marriages are made in heaven," is one of those maxims which unfortunately find their chief support in the host of exceptions which exist to the truth which they lay down. Not to go further for an instance than the Street of Longevity, in our notable town of King-chow, there is the case of Mr and Mrs Ma, whose open and declared animosity to each other would certainly suggest that the mystic invisible red cords with which Fate in their infancy bound their ankles together, were twined in another and far less genial locality than Mencius dreamed of.

[ocr errors]

With the exception of success in money-making, fortune has undoubtedly withheld its choicest gifts from this quarrelsome couple. The go-between who arranged their marriage spoke smooth things to Ma of his future wife, and described her as being as amiable as she was beautiful, or, to use her own words, as pliant as a willow, and as beautiful as a gem ; "while to the lady she upheld Ma as a paragon of learning, and as a possessor of all the virtues. Here, then, there seemed to be the making of a very pretty couple; but their neighbours, as I have been often told, were not long in finding out that harmony was a rare visit ant in the household. The daily wear and tear of life soon made it manifest that there was as little of the willow as of the gem about Mrs Ma, whose coarse features, imperious temper, and nagging tongue made her anything but an agreeable companion; while a hasty


and irascible temper made Ma the constant provoker as well as victim of her ill-humours.

By a freak of destiny the softening influences of the presence of a son has been denied them; but en revanche they have been blessed with a pair of the most lovely twin daughters, who, like pearls in an oyster-shell, or jewels in the heads of toads, have grown up amid their sordid surroundings free from every contamination of evil. They are beyond question the most beautiful girls I have ever seen. In figure they are both tall and finely shaped, with plastic waists and gracefully bending forms. In feature-for both Plumblossom and Convolvulus, as they are called, are so exactly alike, that in describing one I describe both

they are lovely, having eyebrows like half-moons, eyes which are so lustrous that one would expect them to shine in darkness, lips of the most perfect vermilion, finely shaped noses, and softly modelled cheeks. In fact, they are more like children of the gods than the daughters of men; and from all I have ever heard of them, their tempers and dispositions are counterparts of their outward appearance. All these charms of mind and of person were, however, quite lost upon their sordid mother, who until lately regarded them as though they were of the same mould as herself. So much so, that when they reached the prescribed marriageable age, instead of proposing to seek through the empire for two incomparables to pair with such matchless beauties, she announced to her husband, in her usual brusque and

overbearing manner, that she intended to look out for two rich young shopkeepers as husbands for "the girls." The moment she chose for making this announcement was not happily timed. She had already succeeded in ruffling Ma once or twice in the earlier part of the day, so that when she now blurted out her intention his colour rose with more than usual rapidity in his commonly sallow cheeks, and he replied angrily

"I forbid your doing anything of the kind. You have no business to meddle with matters which don't pertain to you. Your duty in life is to obey me, and to do nothing without my instructions."

[ocr errors]

Hai-yah! If I did that," said Mrs Ma, now thoroughly aroused, "the household would soon come to a pretty pass. What do you know about managing matters? You remind me of the owl which made itself look like a fool by trying to sing like a nightingale!"

"You ignorant woman!" replied her husband; "how dare you bandy words with me! Don't you know that Confucius has laid it down as an imperishable law that a woman before her marriage should obey her father, and after her marriage her husband ?”

[ocr errors]

"And do you know so little of the Book of Rites," said Mrs Ma, nothing abashed, as not to be aware that the mother should arrange the marriages of her daughters? So just you leave this matter to me. If you want to be doing something, open your chemist's shop again. What will it matter if you do poison a few more people by dispensing the wrong drugs?"

"You infamous creature! how dare you utter such slanders! If you ever again venture on such unparalleled insolence, I will divorce you! for remember that one of the

seven grounds for divorce is violence of language. And how would you like to be turned adrift into the cold world at your age, and with your anything but pleasing appearance?"

This last shot told, and Mrs Ma flung herself out of the room without a word, contenting herself with expressing her anger and defiance by banging the door furiously after her. No sooner was the door shut, than Ma took paper and pencil and wrote to invite his friend Ting "to direct his jewelled chariot to the mean abode of the writer, who was preparing a paltry repast for his entertainment." Ting was one of Ma's oldest friends, and, being linked to a wife of a harridanish temperament, had a common bond of union with him. Like Ma also, he was secretly afraid of his better half, and his counsel, therefore, on the several occasions of domestic dispute on which he had been consulted, had naturally tended rather towards artifice than open war. Ma's note at once suggested to Ting a family disagreement, and he lost no time in obeying the summons, being always glad to find fresh evidences that others were as evilly circumstanced as himself. He was a tall, stout man, with a loud voice, but wanting that steadiness of eye which should match those outward seemings. By many people he was

credited with a firm and somewhat overbearing character; but his wife probably showed more discernment when on one occasion, after a shrill outburst, she reminded him that "an empty pot makes the greatest noise."

As Ting entered Ma's room the two friends greeted one another cordially, and into the sympathetic ear of his guest Ma poured the story of his griefs.

"And now, what do

you advise

me to do?" asked the host. "My insignificant daughters have arrived at a marriageable age, and though they profess an aversion to matrimony and a contempt for the young men of this place, I consider it my duty to settle them in life. But I see clearly that if I am to do it at all, I alone must be the doer. My wife's views are so invariably opposed to mine, that it is hopeless to attempt to act in harmony with her."


'Well," replied Ting, "I myself always act on the principle of the proverb, 'What the eye does not see, the heart does not grieve after.' I have on several occasions made family arrangements without letting my wife into the secret until the time for interference has passed, and then, of course, she has been compelled to accept the inevitable. It is true the artifice has resulted in very unpleasant outbursts of wrath; but that is nothing— nothing, my dear Ma." Here Ting's voice, in spite of his brave words, trembled, as a recollection of certain domestic scenes came back to his memory. "Besides, I have in this way succeeded in asserting my position as master of my own household. And my advice to you in your present circumstances is that you should do likewise. If you have made up your mind to marry your daughters, employ a go-between to look out fitting partners, and make the necessary arrangements without saying anything to your wife about it. Then, when the presents have been sent and the cards exchanged, she will find it as easy to dam up the river with her pocket-handkerchief as to bar their marriages."

"Excellent! excellent!" said Ma; "I will act upon your advice. But I must be very circumspect, Ting, very circumspect; for Mrs Ma has a number of old cronies

about her, who gather gossip from stone walls, rumours from the wind, and scandal from everything."

[ocr errors]

Perhaps then it would be as well," replied Ting, rising to take his leave, "if you were to make use of my study for seeing the gobetween and others whom you may wish to employ in the affair. It is quite at your disposal."

"Ten thousand thanks," said Ma. "Your advice has made a man of me, Ting, and your kindness has carved for itself a place in my heart in which it will be for ever enshrined."

Meanwhile Mrs Ma, although for the moment discomfited, was by no means inclined to give up the struggle. After a short communing with herself she sent for Plum - blossom and Convolvulus, and announced to them her intention of forthwith providing them with husbands of their own rank in life, directing them at the same time to preserve absolute silence on the subject to all but old "Golden-lilies," their maid and chaperon.

"But, mother, we do not wish to marry," said Convolvulus; "least of all to be tied for life to the sort of young man whom you are kind enough to contemplate for us. Why should we not remain as we are?"

"You are too young to understand such matters," replied Mrs Ma.


"I have seen mischief enough arise from leaving young girls unmarried, and I am determined that you shall not be exposed to any such danger. sides, I have been so bothered lately by suitors who, it seems, have heard of your beauty, that I shall have no peace until you are settled."

"Remember, mother," put in Plum-blossom, "that as you have

« PreviousContinue »