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PAGE 5

Frenchman’s Creek
by [?]

“Not taken well?” cried the Parson. “Oh, my poor Mary–my poor, dear Mary!”

“‘Tisn’ so bad as all that,” says Jim, as soothing as he could; but he thought it best to tell nothing about the rumpus.

“If ’tis on the wings of an eagle, I must fly to her!” cries the Parson, and he hurried indoors and called out for a chaise and pair.

He had some trouble in persuading a post-boy to turn out at such an hour, but before midnight the poor man was launched and rattling away eastward, chafing at the hills and singing out that he’d pay for speed, whatever it cost. And at Grampound in the grey of the morning he almost ran slap into a chaise and pair proceeding westward, and likewise as if its postilion wanted to break his neck.

Parson Polwhele stood up in his vehicle and looked out ahead. The two chaises had narrowly missed doubling each other into a cocked hat; in fact, the boys had pulled up within a dozen yards of smash, and there stood the horses face to face and steaming.

“Why, ’tis my Mary!” cries the Parson, and takes a leap out of the chaise.

“Oh, Richard! Richard!” sobs Mrs. Polwhele. “But you can’t possibly come in here, my love,” she went on, drying her eyes.

“Why not, my angel?”

“Because of the parcels, dearest. And Heaven only knows what’s underneath me at this moment, but it feels like a flat-iron. Besides,” says she, like the prudent woman she was, “we’ve paid for two chaises. But ’twas good of you to come in search of me, and I’ll say what I’ve said a thousand times, that I’ve the best husband in the world.”

The Parson grumbled a bit; but, indeed, the woman was piled about with packages up to the neck. So, very sad-like, he went back to his own chaise–that was now slewed about for Falmouth–and off the procession started at an easy trot, the good man bouncing up in his seat from time to time to blow back a kiss.

But after awhile he shouted to the post-boy to pull up again.

“What’s the matter, love?” sings out Mrs. Polwhele, overtaking him and coming to a stand likewise.

“Why, it occurs to me, my angel, that you might get into my chaise, if you’re not too tightly wedged.”

“There’s no saying what will happen when I once begin to move,” said Mrs. Polwhele: “but I’ll risk it. For I don’t mind telling you that one of my legs went to sleep somewhere near St. Austell, and ’tis dreadfully uncomfortable.”

So out she was fetched and climbed in beside her husband.

“But what was it that upset you?” he asked, as they started again.

Mrs. Polwhele laid her cheek to his shoulder and sobbed aloud; and so by degrees let out her story.

“But, my love, the thing’s impossible!” cried Parson Polwhele. “There’s no Frenchman in Cornwall at this moment, unless maybe ’tis the Guernsey merchant or some poor wretch of a prisoner escaped from the hulks in the Hamoaze.”

“Then, that’s what these men were, you may be sure,” said Mrs. Polwhele.

“Tut-tut-tut! You’ve just told me that they came across the ferry, like any ordinary passengers.”

“Did I? Then I told more than I know; for I never saw them cross.”

“A couple of escaped prisoners wouldn’t travel by coach in broad daylight, and talk French in everyone’s hearing.”

“We live in the midst of mysteries,” said Mrs. Polwhele. “There’s my parcels, now–I packed ’em in the Highflyer most careful, and I’m sure Jim the Guard would be equally careful in handing them out–you know the sort of man he is: and yet I find a good dozen of them plastered in mud, and my new Moldavia cap, that I gave twenty-three shillings for only last Tuesday, pounded to a jelly, quite as if someone had flung it on the road and danced on it!”