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Fine Feathers

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



WE'VE had a terrible come-along-of-it to Daleham, I do assure you, and of all strange happenings begot of this misbegotten war the copper mystery was the strangest. Of course, we'd had our scares and frights, like bigger places ; but among the proper curious things that have happened the mystery about the copper was out and away the queerest.

Because with the spy stories and such like, time generally proves they'm all nonsense at bottom, and most of 'em be just another example of how you've only got to start a lie for it to take wings on its own ; but with our copper mystery there was a fact staring you in the face. It wasn't what somebody had told somebody else, but what we found out for ourselves all round, to our own cost and loss.

Mrs. Baskervell was the first to suffer, and she went into Mrs. Forbes to have a dish of tea and told how she'd lost her copper candlesticks. Mrs. Baskervell's front door opens into the kitchen, you must know, for 'tis rather a poor house she've got, and from the door you could see her copper candlesticks on the mantel-shelf. They were the joy of her life so she said after they'd gone. But go they did clean vanished one fine day and naught to show for it. And the very evening after she'd told Mrs. Forbes the sad tale, if Mrs. Forbes herself didn't lose her warming-pan !

She ran out at dusk to post a letter to her son at the front, and she weren't away twenty minutes, but when she got back the warming-pan had gone for ever. Some unknown rogue had marked her go out and popped in the minute her back was turned. Then old Masterman lost a bowl that he'd fetched all the way from India, when he was a sailor man, and 'twas all worked by hand and was worth money. And then I had my turn, and a bad turn too. Sarah Blades had just been in with her little boy, Harold him as sings in the choir and she'd told me how the baggering thief had took her coal-scuttle : a gert thing, big enough to hold a quarter of a hundredweight. Yet he'd took it from under her nose seemingly, though how the mischief he could have done such a deed unseen none knew. Cunning as a sarpent the creature clearly was. And I walked down the road with Sarah after she'd told me, and when I came back, if my little copper figure of Moses in the bulrushes weren't gone ! And my daughter only one room off all the time. She was a bed-lier with a crooked back and as quiet as a mouse at all times ; and yet the wicked robber had come and gone with my beautiful baby Moses--a treasure left to me when my Uncle Nathan died, and far ways the best heirloom I'd got. Then two days later a copper vase went off the counter at Mary Mayne's knick-knack shop, and the rogue actually paid another visit to Sarah Blades and lifted her copper kettle ! And what she said about the police I can't write down.

By this time Daleham was in a proper upstore I warn 'e. For it weren't so much the value of the things, but the deadly certainty as we'd got a bowldacious German spy in our midst helping himself right and left to the very stuff Germany wanted most.

There was a lot of feeling about, and though the only German to our knowledge in our midst was an old sand-blind man named Tann, as had been in Daleham fifty years and didn't remember a word of his own language, yet the people wouldn't go to his tobacco shop no more and wanted to have the ancient creature interned. Because, they said, " Once a German, always a German," and they reckoned you can't get their " culture " out of they awful people, no more than you can get spots off a leopard. And they said though 'twas a very sure thing Tann wasn't stealing our copper, yet for sure he'd got a rascal hid in his house who was.

Then came the amazing light on the mystery, and it shows how a spirit to serve his country by hook or by crook be just as common a thing in a English human boy as a German one ; for if you'll believe me 'twas one of our own native sons, and him not up home twelve year old, as had been stealing the copper ! And all for England he done it, because the ridiculous toad knew Germany was properly spoiling for copper, and he thought, no doubt, his own country was in the same fix. And hearing tell as the German school-children were invited to bring copper to their schoolmasters, and praised for so doing, the rash young blid set out on his wicked career ; and when he was caught, all he said was that he was doing his duty and 'twas a proper scandal that all the rest of us weren't doing ours.

Bob Blades made the discovery.

You see his son Harold kept rabbits down at the bottom of the garden in a bit of a outhouse, and the child always locked 'em in most careful and kept the key most careful. Well, missing a rake he wanted for his work, Bob judged it was in the shed along with his boy's rabbits, but Harold was to school, so, being an impatient man, Blades kicked in the door. And half a minute after he barked his shins on his own copper coal-scuttle !

He fetched a candle, then called his missus, and in five minutes they stood aghast afore Master Harold's hoard. There was all the things he'd lifted thirty-two pieces of copper, all sorts and all sizes.

Sarah, she burst into tears, and doubted not that her boy would be hanged at the least, but Bob kept his nerve and bade her shut her mouth, and doubted not that 'twas for England, not Germany, his whelp had done it. And so it proved, and when Harold came home and found out his secret place had been broke open, he told 'em his views, so calm as you please, and weren't down-daunted about it neither, but said he'd do it again the first chance. He even dared to tell his father 'twas his duty to knock up a box and send the things to London to the War Office ! And even after his father had give him the thrashing of his life he didn't move a muscle. In fact, the mistaken little wretch only broke clown when it was explained to him that England had all the copper she wanted and a bit over, and that 'twas Germany, not us, that was hard up. After hearing that he was sorry and wept bitter tears. But he never felt no pang of conscience about it even then, and the only thing he feared was they'd turn him out of the Boy Scouts.

He took the future into his own hands, being that sort of boy, and he went along to every house he'd robbed and took each man and woman their copper back. And some forgave him, hearing the story and seeing he'd meant well for England ; but some did not, and 'twas all we could do to keep old Masterman having the law of him. However, afore the old man made up his mind, to the great joy of Harold Blades, he was took on for a bugler in the Fifth Devons, for he had a rare gift for music and had lamed the instrument to perfection along with the Boy Scouts. And it shows, if that wanted showing, that though we always reckon the female character is the most tricky and difficult to know, the human boy be every bit as much of a puzzle in his way. You never can tell what the little devils have got in their minds, and, along of being so young and inexperienced, it often happens that the very best of 'em will properly flummox you by doing damn disgraceful things with the most high-minded intentions. But what I say is, seeing how mighty difficult us grown-ups often find it to know right from wrong, we must never be too hard on young creatures when they make their little mistakes in the same direction.

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