**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


The Penance Of John Emmet
by [?]

“I lost my temper this afternoon, and I beg your pardon, my boy.”

I began to stammer my contrition for having offended him: but he cut me short with a wave of the hand. “The fact is,” he explained, “I was worried by something quite different.”

“By John Emmet’s death,” I suggested. He nodded, and looked at me queerly while he poured out a glass of Tarragona.

“He was my gardener years ago, before he set up market-gardening on his own account.”

“That’s queer too,” said I.

“What’s queer?” He asked it sharply.

“Why, to find a gardener cox’n of a life-boat.”

“He followed the sea in early life. But I’ll tell you what is queer, and that’s his last wish. His particular desire was that I, and I alone, should screw down the coffin. He had Trudgeon the carpenter up to measure him, and begged this of me in Trudgeon’s presence and the doctor’s. What’s more, I consented.”

“That’s jolly unpleasant,” was my comment, for lack of a better.

The Vicar sat silent for a while, staring across the lawn, while I watched a spider which had let itself down from a branch overhead and was casting anchor on the decanter’s rim. With his next question he seemed to have changed the subject.

“Where do you keep your boat now?”

“Renatus Warne has been putting in a new strake and painting her. I shall have her down on the beach to-morrow.”

“Ah, so that’s it? I cast my eye over the beach this afternoon and couldn’t see her. You haven’t been trying for the conger lately.”

“We’ll have a try to-morrow evening if you’ll come, Sir. I wish you would.”

The Vicar, though he seldom found time for the sport, was a famous fisherman. He shook his head; and then, leaning an arm on the table, gazed at me with sudden seriousness.

“Look here: could you make it convenient to go fishing for conger this next night or two–and to go alone?”

I saw that he had something more to say, and waited.

“The fact is,” he went on after a glance towards the house, “I have a ticklish job to carry through–the queerest in all my experience; and unfortunately I want help as well as secrecy. After some perplexity I’ve resolved to ask you: because, upon my word, you’re the only person I can ask. That doesn’t sound flattering–eh? But it isn’t your fitness I doubt, or your nerve. I’ve hesitated because it isn’t fair to drag you into an affair which, I must warn you, runs counter to the law in a small way.”

I let out a low whistle. “A smuggling job?” I suggested.

“Good Heavens, boy! What do you take me for?”

“I beg your pardon, then. But when you talk of a row-boat–at night–a job that wants secrecy–breaking the law–“

“I’ll have to tell you the whole tale, I see: and it’s only fair.”

“Not a bit,” said I stoutly. “Tell me what you want done and I’ll do it. Afterwards tell me your reasons, if you care to. Indeed, Sir, I’d rather have it that way, if you don’t mind. I was abominably disrespectful this afternoon–“

“No more about that.”

“But I was: and with your leave, Sir, that’s the form of apology I’ll choose.”

And I stood up with my hands in my pockets.

“Nonsense, nonsense,” said the Vicar, eyeing me with a twinkle. But I nodded back in the most determined manner.

“Your instructions, sir–that is, unless you prefer to get another helper.”

“But I cannot,” pleaded he. “That’s the mischief.”

“Very well, then. Your instructions, please.” And thus I had my way.

This happened on a Tuesday. The next evening I walked down to the Porth and launched my boat. A row of idlers watched me from the long bench under the life-boat house, and a small knot on the beach inspected my fishing-gear and lent a hand to push off. “Ben’t goin’ alone, be ‘e?” asked Renatus Warne. “Yes,” said I. “The conger’ll have ‘ee then, sure enough.” One or two offered chaffingly to come out and search for me if I shouldn’t return before midnight; and a volley of facetious warnings followed me out upon the calm sea.