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Frenchman’s Creek
by [?]

In this fashion she was rattling away, good soul–settling her wraps about her and scarcely drawing breath–when Bligh slewed himself around in his seat, and for answer treated her to a long stare.

Now, Bligh wasn’t a beauty at the best of times, and he carried a scar on his cheek that didn’t improve matters by turning white when his face was red, and red when his face was white. They say the King stepped up to him at Court once and asked him how he came by it and in what action. Bligh had to tell the truth–that he’d got it in the orchard at home: he and his father were trying to catch a horse there: the old man flung a hatchet to turn the horse and hit his boy in the face, marking him for life. Hastiness, you see, in the family.

Well, the sight of his face, glowering back on her over his shoulder, was enough to dry up the speech in Mrs. Polwhele or any woman. But Bligh, it seems, couldn’t be content with this. After withering the poor soul for ten seconds or so, he takes his eyes off her, turns to his friend again in a lazy, insolent way, and begins to talk loud to him in French.

‘Twas a terrible unmannerly thing to do for a fellow supposed to be a gentleman. I’ve naught to say against modern languages: but when I see it on the newspaper nowadays that naval officers ought to give what’s called “increased attention” to French and German, I hope that they’ll use it bettern than Bligh, that’s all! Why, Sir, my eldest daughter threw up a situation as parlour-maid in London because her master and mistress pitched to parleyvooing whenever they wanted to talk secrets at table. “If you please, Ma’am,” she told the lady, “you’re mistaking me for the governess and I never could abide compliments.” She gave a month’s warning then and there, and I commend the girl’s spirit.

But the awkward thing for Bligh, as it turned out, was that Mrs. Polwhele didn’t understand his insolence. Being a woman that wouldn’t hurt a fly if she could help it, and coming from a parish where every man, her husband included, took pleasure in treating her respectfully, she never dreamed that an affront was meant. From the moment she heard Bligh’s lingo, she firmly believed that here were two Frenchies on the coach; and first she went white to the lips and shivered all over, and then she caught at the seat to steady herself, and then she flung back a look at Jim the Guard, to make sure he had his blunderbuss handy. She couldn’t speak to Sammy Hosking, the coachman, or touch him by the arm without reaching across Bligh: and by this time the horses were at the top of the hill and settling into a gallop. She thought of the many times she’d sat up in bed at home in a fright that the Frenchmen had landed and were marching up to burn Manaccan Vicarage: and how often she had warned her husband against abusing Boney from the pulpit–’twas dangerous, she always maintained, for a man living so nigh the seashore. The very shawl beside her was scarlet, same as the women-folk wore about the fields in those days in hopes that the invaders, if any came, would mistake them for red-coats. And here she was, perched up behind two of her country’s enemies–one of them as ugly as Old Nick or Boney himself– and bowling down towards her peaceful home at anything from sixteen to eighteen miles an hour.

I dare say, too, the thunderstorm had given her nerves a shaking; at any rate, Jim the Guard came crawling over the coach-roof after a while, and, said he, “Why, Mrs. Polwhele, whatever is the matter? I han’t heard you speak six words since we started.”