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by [?]

Mr. Spettigew cheerfully ignored the hint. “Talkin’ of frost and ‘taties,” he said, “have you ever tried storin’ them in hard weather under your bed-tie? ‘Tis a bit nubbly till the sleeper gets used to it, but it benefits the man if he’s anyway given to lumbago, an’ for the ‘taties themselves ’tis salvation. I tried it through the hard winter of the year ‘five by the advice o’ Parson Buller, and a better Christian never missed the point of a joke. ‘Well, Israel,’ says he that January, ‘how be the potatoes getting along?’ ‘Your honour,’ says I, ‘like the Apostles themselves, thirteen to the dozen; and likewise of whom it was said that many are cold but few are frozen’–hee-hee!”

Nobody smiled. “If you go strainin’ yourself over little witticisms like that,” observed young Gunner Oke gloomily, “one of these days you’ll be heving the Dead March played over you before you know what’s happenin’: and then, perhaps, you’ll laugh on t’other side of your mouth.”

Uncle Issy gazed around upon the company. They were eyeing him, one and all, in deadly earnest, and he crept away. Until that moment he had carried his years without feeling the burden. He went home, raked together the embers of the fire over which he had cooked his breakfast, drew his chair close to the hearth, and sat down to warm himself. Yes: Sergeant Pengelly had spoken the truth. There was an unnatural touch of frost in the air this morning.

By and by, when William Henry Phippin’s son, Archelaus, bugler to the corps (aged fifteen), took the whooping-cough, public opinion blamed Captain Pond no less severely for having enlisted a recruit who was still an undergraduate in such infantile disorders: and although the poor child took it in the mildest form, his father (not hitherto remarkable for parental tenderness) ostentatiously practised the favourite local cure and conveyed him to and fro for three days and all day long in the ferry-boat which plied under Captain Pond’s windows. The demonstration, which was conducted in mufti, could not be construed as mutiny; but the spirit which prompted it, and the public feeling it evoked, galled the worthy Captain more than he cared to confess.

Still, and when all was said and done, the sweets of notoriety outflavoured the sours. The Troy Artillery, down the coast, had betrayed its envy in a spiteful epigram; and this neighbourly acid, infused upon the pride of Looe, had crystallised it, so to speak, into the name now openly and defiantly given to the corps. They were the Die-hards henceforth, jealous of the title and of all that it implied. The ladies of Looe, with whom Captain Pond (an unmarried man) had ever been a favourite, used during the next few weeks far severer language towards their neighbours of Troy than they had ever found for the distant but imminent Gaul and his lascivious advances.

All this was well enough; but Looe had a Thersites in its camp.

His name was Scantlebury; he kept a small general shop in the rear of the Town Quay, and he bore Captain Pond a grudge of five years’ standing for having declined to enlist him on the pretext of his legs being so malformed that the children of the town drove their hoops between them.

In his nasty spite this Scantlebury sat down and indited a letter, addressed–

“To the Right Honble Person as looks after the artillery.

Horse Guards,

“Honble SIR,–This comes hoping to find you well as it leaves me at present and I beg leave to tell you there be some dam funny goings-on, down here to Looe. The E. & W. Looe Volunteer Artllry have took to calling themselves the Die-hards and the way they coddle is a public scandal, when I tell you that for six weeks there has been no drill in the fresh air and 16s 8d public money has been paid to T. Tripconey carpenter (a member of the corps) for fastening up the windows of the Town Hall against draughts. Likewise a number of sandbags have been taken from the upper battery and moved down to the said room (which they use for a drill hall) to stop out the wind from coming under the door. Likewise also to my knowledge for three months the company have not been allowed to move at the double because Gunner Spettigew (who owns to seventy-three) cant manage a step of thirty-six inches without his heart being effected.