Boutigo’s van–officially styled The Vivid–had just issued from the Packhorse Yard, Tregarrick, a leisurely three-quarters of an hour behind its advertised time, and was scaling the acclivity of St. Fimbar’s Street in a series of short tacks. Now and then it halted to take up a passenger or a parcel; and on these occasions Boutigo produced a couple of big stones from his hip-pockets and slipped them under the hind-wheels, while we, his patrons within the van, tilted at an angle of 15 deg. upon cushions of American cloth, sought for new centres of gravity, and earnestly desired the summit.
It was on the summit, where the considerate Boutigo gave us a minute’s pause to rearrange ourselves and our belongings, that we slipped into easy and general talk. An old countryman, with an empty poultry-basket on his knees, and a battered top-hat on the back of his head, gave us the cue.
“When Boutigo’s father had the accident–that was back in ‘fifty-six,’ and it broke his leg an’ two ribs–the van started from close ‘pon the knap o’ the hill here, and scat itself to bits against the bridge at the foot just two and a half minutes after.”
I suggested that this was not very fast for a runaway horse.
“I dessay not,” he answered; “but ’twas pretty spry for a van slippin’ backwards, and the old mare diggin’ her toes in all the way to hold it up.”
One or two of the passengers grinned at my expense, and the old man pursued–
“But if you want to know how fast a hoss can get down St. Fimbar’s hill, I reckon you’ve lost your chance by not axin’ Dan’l Best, that died up to the ‘Sylum twelve years since; though, poor soul, he’d but one answer for every question from his seven-an’-twentieth year to his end, an’ that was ‘One, two, three, four, five, sis, seven.”
“Ah, the poor body! his was a wisht case,” a woman observed from the corner furthest from the door.
“Ay, Selina, and fast forgotten, like all the doin’s and sufferin’s of the men of old time.” He reached a hand round his basket, and touching me on the knee, pointed back on Tregarrick. “There’s a wall,” he said, and I saw by the direction of his finger that he meant the wall of the county prison, “and beneath that wall’s a road, and across that road’s a dismal pool, and beyond that pool’s a green hillside, with a road athurt it that comes down and crosses by the pool’s head. Standin’ ‘pon that hillside you can see a door in the wall, twenty feet above the ground, an’ openin’ on nothing. Leastways, you could see it once; an’ even now, if ye’ve good eyesight, ye can see where they’ve bricked it up.”
I could, in fact, even at our distance, detect the patch of recent stone-work; and knew something of its history.
“Now,” the old man continued, “turn your looks to the right and mark the face of Tregarrick town-clock. You see it, hey?”–and I had time to read the hour on its dial before Boutigo jolted us over the ridge and out of sight of it–“Well, carry them two things in your mind: for they mazed Dan’l Best an’ murdered his brother Hughie.”
And, much as I shall repeat it, he told me this tale, pausing now and again to be corroborated by the woman in the corner. The history, my dear reader, is accurate enough–for Boutigo’s van.
There lived a young man in Tregarrick in the time of the French War. His name was Dan’l Best, and he had an only brother Hughie, just three years younger than himself. Their father and mother had died of the small-pox and left them, when quite young children, upon the parish: but old Walters of the Packhorse–he was great-grandfather of the Walters that keeps it now–took a liking to them and employed them, first about his stables and in course of time as post-boys. Very good post-boys they were, too, till Hughie took to drinking and wenching and cards and other devil’s tricks. Dan’l was always a steady sort: walked with a nice young woman that was under-housemaid up to the old Lord Bellarmine’s at Castle Cannick, and was saving up to be married, when Hughie robbed the mail.