A REPORTED TALE.
Frenchman’s Creek runs up between overhanging woods from the western shore of Helford River, which flows down through an earthly paradise and meets the sea midway between Falmouth and the dreadful Manacles–a river of gradual golden sunsets such as Wilson painted; broad-bosomed, holding here and there a village as in an arm maternally crook’d, but with a brooding face of solitude. Off the main flood lie creeks where the oaks dip their branches in the high tides, where the stars are glassed all night long without a ripple, and where you may spend whole days with no company but herons and sandpipers:
Helford River, Helford River,
Blessed may you be!
We sailed up Helford River
By Durgan from the sea. . . .
And about three-quarters of a mile above the ferry-crossing (where is the best anchorage) you will find the entrance of the creek they call Frenchman’s, with a cob-built ruin beside it, and perhaps, if you come upon it in the morning sunlight, ten or a dozen herons aligned like statues on the dismantled walls.
Now, why they call it Frenchman’s Creek no one is supposed to know, but this story will explain. And the story I heard on the spot from an old verderer, who had it from his grandfather, who bore no unimportant part in it–as will be seen. Maybe you will find it out of keeping with its scenery. In my own words you certainly would: and so I propose to relate it just as the verderer told it to me.
First of all you’ll let me say that a bad temper is an affliction, whoever owns it, and shortening to life. I don’t know what your opinion may be: but my grandfather was parish constable in these parts for forty-seven years, and you’ll find it on his headstone in Manaccan churchyard that he never had a cross word for man, woman, or child. He took no credit for it: it ran in the family, and to this day we’re all terribly mild to handle.
Well, if ever a man was born bad in his temper, ’twas Captain Bligh, that came from St. Tudy parish, and got himself known to all the world over that dismal business aboard the Bounty. Yes, Sir, that’s the man–“Breadfruit Bligh,” as they called him. They made an Admiral of him in the end, but they never cured his cussedness: and my grandfather, that followed his history (and good reason for why) from the day he first set foot in this parish, used to rub his hands over every fresh item of news. “Darn it!” he’d say, “here’s that old Turk broke loose again. Lord, if he ain’t a warrior!” Seemed as if he took a delight in the man, and kept a sort of tenderness for him till the day of his death.
Bless you, though folks have forgotten it, that little affair of the Bounty was only the beginning of Bligh. He was a left’nant when it happened, and the King promoted him post-captain straight away. Later on, no doubt because of his experiences in mutinies, he was sent down to handle the big one at the Nore. “Now, then, you dogs!”–that’s how he began with the men’s delegates–“His Majesty will be graciously pleased to hear your grievances: and afterwards I’ll be graciously pleased to hang the lot of you and rope-end every fifth man in the Fleet. That’s plain sailing, I hope!” says he. The delegates made a rush at him, triced him up hand and foot, and in two two’s would have heaved him to the fishes with an eighteen-pound shot for ballast if his boat’s crew hadn’t swarmed on by the chains and carried him off. After this he commanded a ship at Camperdown, and another at Copenhagen, and being a good fighter as well as a man of science, was chosen for Governor of New South Wales. He hadn’t been forty-eight hours in the colony, I’m told, before the music began, and it ended with his being clapped into irons by the military and stuck in prison for two years to cool his heels. At last they took him out, put him on board a ship of war and played farewell to him on a brass band: and, by George, Sir, if he didn’t fight with the captain of the ship all the way home, making claim that as senior in the service he ought to command her! By this time, as you may guess, there was nothing to be done with the fellow but make him an Admiral; and so they did; and as Admiral of the Blue he died in the year ‘seventeen, only a couple of weeks ahead of my poor grandfather, that would have set it down to the finger of Providence if he’d only lived to hear the news.