Arthur Quiller-Couch's "Roll Call of the Reef" is one such story. To read the entire tale, it's in many places, but I suggest going to Gothic Horror Stories, one part of a site for lovers of eerie tales, but those Gothic writers can be a long-winded bunch for modern audiences.
There's a LibriVox recording that runs a few seconds short of 40 minutes, but if you want to get to the heart of the story, today's excerpt is roughly a fourth of that. To tell it, I suggest you review the whole story and give the background, especially the bit about the padlock. Doing that, you will have a story that runs about 12 minutes if you start where I give it here.
“The rest of the tale you’re free to believe, sir, or not, as you please. It stands upon my father’s words, and he always declared he was ready to kiss the Book upon it, before judge and jury. He said, too, that he never had the wit to make up such a yarn; and he defied any one to explain about the lock, in particular, by any other tale. But you shall judge for yourself.
“My father said that about three o’clock in the morning, April fourteenth, of the year ‘fourteen, he and William Tallifer were sitting here, just as you and I, sir, are sitting now. My father had put on his clothes a few minutes before, and was mending his spiller by the light of the horn lantern, meaning to set off before daylight to haul the trammel. The trumpeter hadn’t been to bed at all. Toward the last he mostly spent his nights (and his days, too) dozing in the elbow-chair where you sit at this minute. He was dozing then (my father said) with his chin dropped forward on his chest, when a knock sounded upon the door, and the door opened, and in walked an upright young man in scarlet regimentals.
“He had grown a brave bit, and his face the color of wood-ashes; but it was the drummer, John Christian. Only his uniform was different from the one he used to wear, and the figures ’38’ shone in brass upon his collar.
“The drummer walked past my father as if he never saw him, and stood by the elbow-chair and said:
“‘Trumpeter, trumpeter, are you one with me?’
“And the trumpeter just lifted the lids of his eyes, and answered: ‘How should I not be one with you, drummer Johnny”Johnny boy? If you come, I count; if you march, I mark time; until the discharge comes.’
“‘The discharge has come to-night,’ said the drummer; and the word is Corunna no longer.’ And stepping to the chimney-place, he unhooked the drum and trumpet, and began to twist the brass rings of the lock, spelling the word aloud, so”’C-O-R-U-N-A.’ When he had fixed the last letter, the padlock opened in his hand.
“‘Did you know, trumpeter, that, when I came to Plymouth, they put me into a line regiment?’
“‘The 38th is a good regiment,’ answered the old Hussar, still in his dull voice; ‘I went back with them from Sahagun to Corunna. At Corunna they stood in General Fraser’s division, on the right. They behaved well.
“‘But I’d fain see the Marines again,’ says the drummer, handing him the trumpet; ‘and you, you shall call once more for the Queen’s Own. Matthew,’ he says, suddenly, turning on my father”and when he turned, my father saw for the first time that his scarlet jacket had a round hole by the breast-bone, and that the blood was welling there”’Matthew, we shall want your boat.’
“Then my father rose on his legs like a man in a dream, while they two slung on, the one his drum, and t’other his trumpet. He took the lantern and went quaking before them down to the shore, and they breathed heavily behind him; and they stepped into his boat, and my father pushed off.
“‘Row you first for Dolor Point,’ says the drummer. So my father rowed them past the white houses of Coverack to Dolor Point, and there, at a word, lay on his oars. And the trumpeter, William Tallifer, put his trumpet to his mouth and sounded the reveille. The music of it was like rivers running.
“‘They will follow,’ said the drummer. Matthew, pull you now for the Manacles.
“So my father pulled for the Manacles, and came to an easy close outside Carn Du. And the drummer took his sticks and beat a tattoo, there by the edge of the reef; and the music of it was like a rolling chariot.
“‘That will do,’ says he, breaking off; ‘they will follow. Pull now for the shore under Gunner’s Meadow.’
“Then my father pulled for the shore and ran his boat in under Gunner’s Meadow. And they stepped out, all three, and walked up to the meadow. By the gate the drummer halted, and began his tattoo again, looking out toward the darkness over the sea.
“And while the drum beat, and my father held his breath, there came up out of the sea and the darkness a troop of many men, horse and foot, and formed up among the graves; and others rose out of the graves and formed up”drowned Marines with bleached faces, and pale Hussars, riding their horses, all lean and shadowy. There was no clatter of hoofs or accoutrements, my father said, but a soft sound all the while like the beating of a bird’s wing; and a black shadow lay like a pool about the feet of all. The drummer stood upon a little knoll just inside the gate, and beside him the tall trumpeter, with hand on hip, watching them gather; and behind them both my father, clinging to the gate. When no more came, the drummer stopped playing, and said, ‘Call the roll.’
“Then the trumpeter stepped toward the end man of the rank and called, ‘Troop Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons,’ and the man answered in a thin voice, ‘Here.’
“‘Troop Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons, how is it with you?’
“The man answered, ‘How should it be with me? When I was young, I betrayed a girl; and when I was grown, I betrayed a friend, and for these I must pay. But I died as a man ought. God save the King!’
“The trumpeter called to the next man, ‘Trooper Henry Buckingham,’ and the next man answered, ‘Here.’
“‘Trooper Henry Buckingham, how is it With you?’
“‘How should it be with me? I was a drunkard, and I stole, and in Lugo, in a Wine-shop, I killed a man. But I died as a man should. God save the King!’
“So the trumpeter went down the line; and when he had finished, the drummer took it up, hailing the dead Marines in their order. Each man answered to his name, and each man ended with ‘God save the King!’ When all were hailed, the drummer stepped back to his mound, and called:
“‘It is well. You are content, and we are content to join you. Wait, now, a little while.’
“With this he turned and ordered my father to pick up the lantern, and lead the way back. As my father picked it up, he heard the ranks of the dead men cheer and call, ‘God save the King!’ all together, and saw them waver and fade back into the dark, like a breath fading off a pane.
“But when they came back here to the kitchen, and my father set the lantern down, it seemed they’d both forgot about him. For the drummer turned in the lantern-light”and my father could see the blood still welling out of the hole in his breast”and took the trumpet-sling from around the other's neck, and locked drum and trumpet together again, choosing the letters on the lock very carefully. While he did this, he said.
“‘The word is no more Corunna, but Bayonne. As you left out an “n” in Corunna, so must I leave out an “n” in Bayonne.’ And before snapping the padlock, he spelt out the word slowly”’B-A-Y-O-N-E.’ After that, he used no more speech; but turned and hung the two instruments back on the hook; and then took the trumpeter by the arm; and the pair walked out into the darkness, glancing neither to right nor left.
“My father was on the point of following, when he heard a sort of sigh behind him; and there, sitting in the elbow-chair, was the very trumpeter he had just seen walk out by the door! If my father’s heart jumped before, you may believe it jumped quicker now. But after a bit, he went up to the man asleep in the chair and put a hand upon him. It was the trumpeter in flesh and blood that he touched; but though the flesh was warm, the trumpeter was dead.
“Well, sir, they buried him three days after; and at first my father was minded to say nothing about his dream (as he thought it). But the day after the funeral, he met Parson Kendall coming from Helston market; and the parson called out: ‘Have ‘ee heard the news the coach brought down this mornin’?’ ‘What news?’ says my father. ‘Why, that peace is agreed upon.’ ‘None too soon,’ says my father. ‘Not soon enough for our poor lads at Bayonne,’ the parson answered. ‘Bayonne!’ cries my father, with a jump. ‘Why, yes;’ and the parson told him all about a great sally the French had made on the night of April 13th. ‘Do you happen to know if the 38th Regiment was engaged?’ my father asked. ‘Come, now,’ said Parson Kendall, ‘I didn’t know you was so well up in the campaign. But, as it happens, I do know that the 38th was engaged, for ’twas they that held a cottage and stopped the French advance.’
“Still my father held his tongue; and when, a week later, he walked in Helston and bought a ‘Mercury’ off the Sherborne rider, and got the landlord of the ‘Angel’ to spell out the list of killed and wounded, sure enough, there among the killed was Drummer John Christian, of the 38th Foot.
“After this there was nothing for a religious man but to make a clean breast. So my father went up to Parson Kendall, and told the whole story. The parson listened, and put a question or two, and then asked:
“‘Have you tried to open the lock since that night?’
“‘I haven’t dared to touch it,’ says my father.
“‘Then come along and try.’ When the parson came to the cottage here, he took the things off the hook and tried the lock. ‘Did he say “Bayonne?’ The word has seven letters.’
“‘Not if you spell it with one “n” as he did,’ says my father.
“The parson spelt it out”’B-A-Y-O-N-E’ ‘Whew!’ says he, for the lock had fallen open in his hand.
“He stood considering it a moment, and then he says: ‘I tell you what. I shouldn’t blab this all round the parish, if I was you. You won’t get no credit for truth-telling, and a miracle’s wasted on a set of fools. But if you like, I’ll shut down the lock again upon a holy word that no one but me shall know, and neither drummer nor trumpeter, dead or alive, shall frighten the secret out of me.’
“‘I wish to heaven you would, parson,’ said my father.
“The parson chose the holy word there and then, and shut the lock back upon it, and hung the drum and trumpet back in their place. He is gone long since, taking the word with him. And till the lock is broken by force nobody will ever separate those two.”
This tale of two sailors, a bugler and a drummer who are friends in life and after their death, locking their secret away forever in a tiny locket, is definitely a story that fits the intent behind Public Domain and spooky storytelling in the month of October lets us keep alive both our literary and oral heritage. Just as they raised an army of the dead to defeat Napoleon, may we keep Public Domain alive and well. The multi-country trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the most recently resurrected attempt to keep copyrights from serving the public and instead further empowering corporations holding copyrights. For more about this issue, go to TPPs Copyright Trap and take the actions suggested before the U.S. and other countries lose the right to control their own works.
Here's my closing for days when I have a story in Keeping the Public in Public Domain.
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain." The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated. I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century. My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them. I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.
At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience. Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week. This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here. (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.) Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend -
- There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection. I have long recommended it and continue to do so. He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key. http://folkmasa.org/motiv/motif.htm
- You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories. There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
- The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:
- David K. Brown - http://people.ucalgary.ca/~dkbrown/stories.html
- Karen Chace - http://karenchace.blogspot.com/search?q=public+domain
- Richard Martin - http://www.tellatale.eu/tales_page.html
- Spirit of Trees - http://spiritoftrees.org/featured-folktales
- Story-Lovers - http://www.story-lovers.com/
- Tim Sheppard - http://www.timsheppard.co.uk/story/storylinks.html
This reminds me, you're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links. Tim's site is so huge, probably updating it would be a full-time job. In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online after she could no longer maintain it. For an example of using the "Wayback Machine", list member, Papa Joe is on both Time Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is gone, but you can still see it. I put in his site's address, then chose 2006 since it was a later year and clicked until I reached the Library at http://www.pjtss.net/library/.
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