THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE BOUNTY SHILLING. [Continued.'] Dick Harlowe, cross between yeoman and farm laborer, living in the outskirts ofNunscroft, one of the pleasant little villages of Warwickshire, on the borders of Worcester and skirting the Yale of Evesham, almost magical in its summer beauty, and redolent of memories of Simon de Montfoit and King Edward Longshanks—Dick Harlowe was decidedly in that mood fitting him to be operated upon by any doubtful agent, when he went out from his mother’s thatched cottage on a certain September evening during the great war of England and Napoleon I. Eit at that moment, to have been met by Mephistopheles, in any of the shapes which he assumes in those weird legends of which the young farmer had never heard ; fit to be operated upon by any mere human instrumentality falling in his way and having motive to influence him. Fit, especially fit, for that governmental agency and influence, through so many ages known to Englishmen as the recruiting sergeant. Dick was young, round-faced, goodlooking generally, and so athletic as to be a proverb of nimbleness in that active portion of the West country. He had that comeliness that belongs to his years, and, alas ! that nervous sensitiveness so apt to belong to the same age, not dependent on any great keenness of intellect, and quite capable of making the holder unhappy without affording the necessary wisdom for extrication from unpleasant surroundings. He knew quite enough to feel acutely and to become very unhappy; but—poor fellow!—he did not know enough to place himself beyond the necessity of that feeling—as, indeed, how small a percentage will be found to have that power, in any given hundred or thousand 1 Not to make any mystery of the matter —things had “ gone wrong with him,” to quute the phrase when he would himself have used if he used any— in the farming of the small glebe held by his father before him, and afterwards entrusted to himself and his mother, the widow. The season had been rainy; help was beyond his means ; and much of what might have been the product of his fields had been lost through inefficiency combined with a certain. amount of inattention. In fact, so doleful had become the prospect for the ensuing winter, that he had been ekeing out subsistence for the present, and preparing a dismal way for the dark hour, by working, half as farm-hand and half as overseer, on the luckier or better-tilled fields of some of the other land-owners in the neighborhood. He was consequently poor, dull, discouraged, sad-hearted, without quite knowing the whole meaning of the phrase, and with that sort of indefinite feeling sometimes characterized, nowadays, as “ down in the mouth.” Then, the evening was that of Monday; and on the previous day, coming back from the little church to the abode of that “neat-handed Phillis,” he had managed to get up a sort of lover’s quarrel with pretty Susan Ackley, his finances for the previous twelvemonth and his playmate and admiration from childhood—this quarrel leading him to the belief that he was the moat miserable, worthless and wronged dog in creation ; and that the sooner he was out of the way, and Susan made happy by that indefinite removal, the better for all parties. (N, 8.- Dick would have pounded to a jelly, in five minutes, any man who dared hint that Susan would be the happier for parting with him ; that peculiar and peculiarly foolish assertion he held as his own private right and property ; and held it, of course, all the more solemnly and sacredly on that account. Then he had another grief or grievance, manifested in a row with his mother, the widow, who was certainly not in the habit of inflicting unheard of cruelties upon any one falling under her charge. It is not necessary to state, at the present moment, what was that grievance, indeed, to do so would remove it, and so the little story could not be told at all. Enough to say that the fact will develop itself indue time ; a little more to that disproof of old maxims and general leveling of arrogant statements which will no doubt be found necessary before the coming of the millennium. But the sense of injury was sufficient to induce him, just after changing the corduroy pants and smock-frock in which he had been at work afield during the day, to an old but more becoming suit of velveteens for “ evening promenade,” to hurl out at the window a very injured, innocent expression of wrathful disappointment, his hands meanwhile thrust nearly deep enough in his breeches pocket to produce the belief that he must have had a covert Yankee somewhere among his ancestry. “I do think that you might ha’ done it mother! ” he ejaculated on that occasion, with an amount of feeling showing that the wrong had struck very near to the fountain of his existence. “ It was a main little to do, for a woman like you ; and, dang it!—l am a chap that needs taking a little care of, just now—that I do ! I don’t like a bit to have what you promised to do, neglected in that way, seeing that I am not one of the kind that asks for favors very often; harkee to that, now! And when I come back, if I do come back at at all," — “ Why, boy, what are you talking of 1 ” interrupted the grey-headed and snuglycapped poor widow, just in time to prevent the utterance of that no-doubt awful threat. Her kind and motherly appearance, however humble, seemed to make it doubtful whether she could have perpetrated any crime beyond forgiveness, against her only son; and there was a promise of reparation in what follows. “ Sure it was only a little miss, Dick, and I’ll do it to-morrow, true as I’m a woman. Don’t ’ee grieve old mother by making so much ado about so small a thing ! And then to talk of staying away ! Why, Susan—” “Dang Susan, and all girls like her !” exclaimed the son, interrupting in his turn, and with much more than the widow’s force of expression. “Don’t talk to me any more about Susan Ackley, mother—never i She and I be off—that’s all, and that be enough !” “ You and Susan ! Why, Dick I” That was all that the widow, literally overwhelmed by such intelligence, found time to say ; for Dick, bearing both his old and new griefs about him, strode away from the little cottage porch, in which his mother was standing under the yet unfaded vines and climbing flowers —strode away through the rustic gate, closing it with a bang enough to have shown his temper without any other evidence, and took his way across the field, as the widow could see in the lingering September light, toward that portion of the picturesque straggling hamlet of Nunscroft where stood the noted ale-house known as the “ Nine Chickens.” The watering place of all the carriers who traversed that well-frequented road; the lounging-place, and, alas ! the tipplingplace of the thriftless and the idle of a whole neighborhood ; as such houses have been, time out out of mind, in other sections of Merrie England than that bordering the Vale of Evesham. Good old Dame Harlowe would much have preferred that Dick should assuage his grief, even at a quarrel with Susan Ackley, as well as any discontent with herself, in some other mode than by a night at the ale-house, with its company lower than himself as well as much less intelligent; but she sighed a remembrance that “ his lather before him, God rest his soul, did so I” closed the door, and went
in to what night labor yet remained to do by the dim evening lamp. She was resolving, meanwhile, that the forgetfulness of which her son complained should not occur again—that she would do, yet that night or certainly on the morrow, what she had so grieved and angered him by neglecting to do that day. Dick Harlowe, meanwhile strode on towards the “Nine Chickens.” He was just at that desperate folly of youth, so quick to find duplicated at an earnest search, so hard to resist, so easy for any one except the sufferer to ridicule or argue away. He had not a penny in his pockets—not a ha’penny—not a farthing ; perhaps it had been to make that discovery, that his hands went so deep down in those pockets ; but he had credit at the ale house, and a score consequent thereupon ; and if he had any intention at all, as he strode, it was to get as “ boozy,” that night, as stiff old ale could make him, and then decide in the morning (we do decide those things so much better in the morning, with eyes reddened and head splitting !) what he would especially do to spite cruel Susan and better his dull prospects. Arrived at the ale-house, fortune proved more kind to the young fellow, in the way of providing cheap potables for at least a part of that wise resolution, than he could have possibly have anticipated. Two or three of his village companions dropped into the tap-room of the “Nine Chickens,” very soon after his arrival; and they guzzled ale comfortably at each meeting, with Dick Harlowe making more stupid and ineffectual attempts to be jolly, than any of the others remembered of him. But these dropped away again somewhat early—the evening being a remarkably unproductive one, for some cause, to the hostelry; and, at no very late hour, Dick found himself alone in the company of the very pleasantest fellow he had ever met—certainly the most entertaining conversationalist, .and , quite ,as certainly the most liberal-handed. This gentleman, who sat at one of the side-tables in the tap-room, seemed to take an especial interest in Dick from the moment of meeting—an interest highly flattering to that young person. He wore a red coat, and had a bunch of colored ribbons on his cocked hat; he told the most interesting and appetizing stories of the adventures he had met in His Majesty’s service, in Spain, Flanders, America—everywhere. He insisted on being paymaster for the ale, again and again ; and then declaring the malt to be flat and stale to one who had drunk wine in the countries where the grapes grew, ordered a bottle of that beverage, followed it with a second, and insisted upon Dick appropriating much more than half ol most the orders. Dick Harlowe grew almost confidential with the very pleasant stranger whc treated him like an old friend and a prince —confided to him (it is feared) some oi his hopes and all his many troubles—had a dim impression of being invited by him to join in the gayest, brightest, easiest, beat-paid of lives—that of a soldier, and oi refusing to arrange for doing so—at leasi before the following morning—and then he did not seem to remember anything more, and he did not; for he dropped his head over on the table ond slept the sleep of the young and the—drugged Yes, drugged—that was precisely the misfortune into which Harlowe had fallen. He was, as the recruiting-sergeant at once recognized, a valuable prize, for whom the premium paid would be much higher thar for any ordinary clodhopper: and he engaged the young fellow in conversation, without naming his peculiar profession oi business wdiile any sobriety remained in his victim —then substituted wine when he found ale too slow and doubtful in bringing him to the proper state of unconsciousness, adding secretly a few drops ol a well-known preparation carried in big pocket for extreme cases. Now the deed was accomplished. His Majesty had another sarvant, sure and certain, for he had extracted enough drunken words from Dick to be able to swear to his willing acceptance of what he had, at the lasi moment, adroitly dropped into tho gaping pocket of his velveteen trousers —the “ King’s Shilling.” When he had slept, perhaps an hour, and no other victims seemed likely tc present themselves, the sergeant pinned a bunch of colored ribbons, like that he himself wore, to the hat of the young fellow (as the French and some others adorn and be-ribbon prize calves and bullocks for slaughter), then edged him on his feet, took him, half dead and entirely stupefied as he was, to the sleeping-room already engaged, and passed the night with his prize so fastened to him that escape, was impossible. A little alarmed by the words which Dick had spoken when leaving her, the widow Harlowe became much more so as hour after hour went by and she did noi hear his returning step. The night wore on, and there was no return, and, consequently no sleep for the anxious mother. What is it that induces mothers to place especial dependence upon the wives oi fiancees of their sons, and to believe thal those people exercise some influence beyond theirs—remains a question to be hereafter solved : enough to know that some such impression prevails. With the first rays of daylight the widow was stirring ; and before the sun had risen she presented herself at the still smaller thatched cottage of her neighbour widow Ackley, tapping at Susan’s window. The young girl sprang up, en deshabille and alarmed—then reddened with shame to see that the early visitor was the mother of the young man whom (in spite of occasional quarrels) she loved so dearly. She presented a very pretty picture, at that moment, with her sweet girlish face, Saxon-blue eyes and blonde hair, and a bewitching, plump, neat figure, which had never (of course) blessed Dick Harlowe’s eyes to any extent as it radiated upon his mother’s. “ What ever is the matter, dame Harlowe 1 Have anything happened to —to Dick ?” was the natural though shamefaced inquiry of the young girl, as she threw up tke window. “ Oh, lass, I do not know,” sighed the widow, “ Dick have been gone all night; and he did say such wild words, before he went away, about being off with thee, and about never coming back—” “ Hush ! do not let my mother hear you, dame ! Wait only a moment till I slip on my clothes, and then we will go over the wide world after him if need be ! Poor Dick ! poor Dick !” the young girl muttered as she made her hasty toilet, “ did he take my words so badly to heart that he could talk of leaving mother and me ? What a bad girl I must be, to be sure ! And if I have driven him away, why then I must bring him back again—that is my duty, and I must do that, you know !” Certainly, Susan—always do “duty;” but duty is much pleasanter when there is a little love mixed with it, as more than one ef us have had occasion to ascertain ? Less than five minutes, dame Harlowe waiting at the window, and her neighbor widow undisturbed, brought Susan without, bright-eyed even in the midst of her anxiety, short skirted, neat-ancled unbonetted.
(to be continued.)
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 125, 13 July 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 125, 13 July 1880
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