Meanwhile in his cottage the old man was waging a struggle with an appalling thirst. But
Beth, Frank's wife, was his favorite. There was something in her manner that reminded him of
Mary. He intended to keep his promise to her, no matter how much it cost him in suffering. So
he tried to tell himself that it was not Saturday night and sat down in his chair and busied himself
in putting the finishing touches to the head of a fox he was carving on a briar root, which he
intended as a Christmas gift for one of his grandsons.
When he began to nod over his patient work, and he realized that he was ready for bed, he
was surprised at the ease with which he had prevented himself from going down to the inn. Next
morning he awoke earlier than usual and, wondering why, he presently recognized the craving
which denoted his special thirst.
'I'll hang on now till I get to St. Just,' he told himself, and when he said the words he
meant them in all sincerity.
He got out of bed, pulled on his breeches and boots, blew on the black embers on the
hearth until they were red again, went to the pail he had drawn the previous afternoon from the
wall, took a hammer and chipped off lumps of ice into a black pot, which he hung over the
When he had eaten, he pottered about the cottage until the gold time-piece, which he had
taken from the body of a Spanish nobleman washed up on the shore of Mount's Bay, opposite
Mousehole, more than thirty-five years ago, told him that it was time to set out. So he tied up his
bundle of odds and ends he was taking with him for Frank's family, took his stick from the
corner, and left the cottage.
It was unfortunate that the road that was to take him to St. Just should bring him past the
inn. It was more unfortunate still that at the moment of his passing a neighbor who owned him a
drink should be entering the inn and caught sight of him.
'Well met!' the man called to him. 'Come in and let me get out of your debt.'
'That's kindly said,' Thomas called back. 'But I'm on my way to St. Just. I'll see you
when I come back.'
'I'll have forgotten by then.'
'Then I'll remind you,' Thomas laughed.
'Come in and have just one,' the neighbor urged. 'It'll set you up. It'll be a cold walk if
you're aiming to go over the dunes.'
'No thanks,' Thomas insisted. 'I promised Beth...'
'Oh, come in! Just one drink! That won't harm you.'
While they had been talking, the craving which had roused him had returned. It was true
what the man said; it would be a cold walk; a drink would set him up. Well, he would have one!
But only one!
'Only one then!' he cried to the neighbor. 'Then I must be on my way.'
But there were other neighbors in the inn, and yet others came in after them. Some called
up drinks for him without asking him; some insisted on paying debts; some that he should drink
with them for Christmas's sake, since he would not be there.
No one was more surprised than he when he found on next looking at his time-piece that it
was three o'clock. He knew that he was drunk, for he read the swaying time only with difficulty.
But he was not so drunk as to have forgotten that he must get to St. Just.
'I must go,' he shouted to the company. 'Where are my bundle and stick? I said I'd be
there for dinner. Beth will flay me for this. A happy feast to you neighbors!'
They gave him his bundle and stick, clapped him on the back and wished him on his way.
It did not occur to any one of them that he could not now reach St. Just before dark.
With the approach of night it had become colder. As he passed out into the fresh air, it
rushed at him with a staggering blow. He steadied himself and strode out uncertainly, the frost
striking him a fresh blow with every stride he took.
When he had come outside the village, his brain had become so befuddled that he sat
down by the side of the track to rest, so that he might get some easement.
'Old fool!' he muttered. 'Whatever happens you must get to St. Just!'
He awoke to the brittle twinkling of stars, and scrambled to his feet with an oath. He
searched the heavens for The Plough and when he found it muttered, 'Half-way to midnight! But
I must get to St. Just!' and he strode off, steadier now, along the track.
But his head burned like a thunder-bolt must burn, and for minutes at a time he was only
half-conscious of what he was doing for the pain of it.
When he had been walking about an hour, he suddenly realized that the landmarks about
him were strange, and in a sobering moment he knew that he had left the track. He stopped and
looked about him, but could see nothing that he recognized.
Turning about, he began to retrace his steps, hoping that they would bring him back to the
right track. What he did not know was that there was no path beneath his feet, that he was going
off at a tangent and that when he looked up at the Pole star he was already more than a mile too
far to the south.
In his anxiety at the thought that he would not now reach St. Just by midnight, he began to
panic a little. He plunged forward, not knowing where he was going, telling himself again and
again that he must get to St. Just come what may.
Then suddenly there was no ground at all beneath his feet. He was falling and falling until
it never seemed as if he would stop, his cries deafening him with the fright. At last the ground
struck him. It shook every bone in his body and he lay while the pain of it receded and his shaken
Gingerly he put out a hand and felt about him. There was solid earth beneath his hands,
but what they touched were mostly stones. He knew then that he had fallen into one of the pits
that the Romans had dug in their search for tin. It might be any one of a half a dozen such pits,
but not one of them was within a mile or more of the track over the dunes from Sancreed to St.
He put his weight on his hands to pull himself up, but as he tried to gather his legs under
him, frightful pains burned their way through every limb, making red and green lights shudder
before his eyes and his brain recoil. He sank down again with a groan.
The pain having eased a little, he tried again. This time the effects were more terrible than
before, and he lost consciousness. When he came round he told himself that one or both legs
were broken, and that he would not be able to move till help came.
The non-arrival of his father on Sunday, as he had promised, neither surprised nor worried
Frank Thomas or his wife. He was not even perturbed when he had not arrived by bed-time on
'He'll not have been able to stay away from the inn on Saturday night,' Frank remarked to
Beth. 'He'll be sleeping himself sober.'