THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE BOUNTY SHILLING. [Continued.'] “What can have happened to Dick ? When did you see him last, dame ? ” asked the young girl, eagerly. “ He went away from the cottage last nit'ht at dusk, and he never shya out of a n i°ht never ! What has happened between you, lass, to make my boy speak and act:ol” , „ “Oh nothing but a little tifl, name, replied Susan. “Nothing that I remembered for an hour afterwards. Oft with me, is he—the silly, handsome fellow ! I will teach him better things than that, once we find him ! ” “ Ay, lass, once we find him-—if he has gone away and left my poor old heart to break, and you !—” “Me to wear the willow!” broke in Susan, energetically. “ No, dame, nought of the sort, be sure of that ! But, tell °me— had he any money do you think ! ” “Over little, v if any, I think, lass, responded the mother. “ For I remember that he said how little there was to put into his pockets, when—” “ Don’t you see then, dame, that he cannot have gone far away?” was the inquiry, constituting another interruption. “ Dick may be a trifle silly, when he is in his humours ; but he is not silly enough for that—to go away without any money and without seeing me. And which way did he go when he left the cottage ?” It will be observed that this young female was, like so many of her sex, halfway an incarnate lawyer, and that she had at least the legal propensity for beginning at beginnings and tracing out things to their end. “He struck across the field, towards the ale-house, where, belike, he has been too often of late,” was the reply of the widow. “ But what then, lass ? Surely he has not staid there until this time o’ the morning. ” “ Humph, I do not know that, one way or the other,” said Susan. “At all events, we will go first to the ale-house, see whether he was there at all last night, and then—”
k ‘ You go to the ale-house, Susan? — looking for a man, too, if that man is my boy 1” inquired dame Harlowe, in a mixture of surprise and helplessness. “ Yes ! —why not, dame ?” was the response, with the whole face of the young girl showing that she did not admit the force of the objection, even if she recognized it. “ Who not ? I say. Oh, because people will say I am a girl, and after him! Bah ! who cares for what they say. Everybody knows that I am promised to Dick, for his wife, or they ought to know ; and why shouldn’t I look for him as I might for my husband, that he is to be some day! Answer me that, dame.” “ He ought to be your husband, lass, and a better man than he is, to be worthy of you ; for you are a brave and steady one !” exclaimed the widow, a little (jazed, but looking at the bright face and plump form with a sort of dim idea that if she had been a man it would have been no light temptation that drew her away from such a prize. “ Come, then—come, dame : let us go after our ale to the ‘ Nine Chickens’ !” Dame Harlowe obeyed, in more than one sense carried away by the enthusiasm of the young girl ; and the walk was a brief one, the younger legs hurrying on the elder to the full measure of their capacity. Not five minutes had elapsed, when they reached the hostelry and found themselves iii the midst of a most singular scene, occurring in and at the door of the taproom, with supplementary portions without, .and extending quite across the
green lane fronting the old inn. At the door and near it were gathered not less than fifty or sixty of the village clodpoles and farmers’ men from the fields close about, "with a few of better condition among them blacksmiths, carpenters, and the like. Some had sticks of formidable pattern ; all looked excited, and a trifle dangerous; and two or three of them uttered exclamations of mingled joy, sorrow, and suspense when they recognised the coming of Widow Harlowe and pretty Susan Ackley. Just without tlie door, at (the moment when the two approached it, a fine-looking man of middle age, evidently a person in condition, was alighting from his horse, with evidences of haste, as if he had been suddenly summoned, One of the people held his bridle, as he dismounted ; and
two or three others seemed desirous of
making themselves useful to one whom they evidently liked as well as knew, and more than possibly feared. The head of the widow swam a little, and even bright Susan felt a slight sinking of the heart, marking the gatheringjand confusion at the door, and necessarily associating them with the absence of the son and lover, at that moment the one predominant object of the whole world. But Susan had not taken the bold step of coming to the “ Nine Chickens” for nough.t as was soon discovered. There was nothing without to show that Dick Harlowe had been at the inn, much more was there at that moment ; but there was equally nothing to show that he was Hof and his girlish fiancee meant to measure both sides of the question before deciding. She pressed her way into the tap room, rather leading than accompanying the slower dame, but the moment she was well within the door, she saw that which explained itself only too well. There stood a recruiting-sergeant, with four or five recruits, half a dozen regular soldiers, with a fife and drum which the latter had just brought with them from Warwick. Near the officer stood Dick Harlowe, swollen of face and very sullen as well as sorrowful looking—ribbons on the hat which he seemed to be holding in his hand because he would not allow it to remain on his head —and very evidently under guard of the soldiers who had come in with the recruits. This was the meaning, then, of the gathering at the door ; the villagers and neighboring farmers had discovered the entrapping of Dick, a general favorite, and showed the will, if not the power to resist his being dragged away. The poor fellow saw his mother and betrothed the moment after they entered; possibly he had been helplessly looking at least for the former; and there was something very like a wail in his ordinarily manly tones as he said, without attempting to move toward them : “ See what a pass they ha’ brought me to me to, mother; and you, Susan —all along wi’ my being a beast last night! They say I ha’ listed, to go away to the wars and fight as a soldier; though I don’t remember naught o’ that. Any way, what can I do but go for a soldier, now that they ha’ gotten me ? —though it does make my heart so sore to think o’ leavin’ home and them that I love, and going to shoot and be shot at, among the .wild Injins and the Frenchmen—that it does! ”
“ Oh, why did you do such a thing, my poor dear boy ? —why did you V’ was all that the afflicted widow could say, tears filling her eyes, and her hands clasping helplessly. But perhaps good husbands were scarcer than sons in Midland England at that period ; that may even be so at this much later day. At all events, the fiancee displayed much more outspoken spirit than the mother. “ You be not going a step, Dick Harlowo, for a soldier among Indians, or Frenchmen, or what not! I, Susan Ackley, say it; and I mean what I speak. No—you needn’t look at me so, good people ; for most of you know that I am
Dick Harlowe s promised wife, and that I have a right to have my say ! As for you, you red-coated wretch ! ” (to the recruiting-sergeant), “ yon have played some trick on him, —you know that you have ; for he never ivould have ‘ listed,’ as you call it, and flung away his old mother and me and everything of his own will! ” ‘ ‘ I didn’t list, Susan ! as I am a man I didn’t so far as I know !” said the poor fellow. “ I must ha’been tricked, some way, as you say, or sure I would never ha’ done it i” “ Shame! shame to trap a man ! shame! shame ! ” The words came from many different lips and seemed to express the general feeling both within and without doors. There may have been some sticks | tighter grasped, in addition ; but the presence of regular soldiers and the terror of the law combined to make any attempted rescue by force as unlikely as dangerous. The recruiting-sergeant may, before that time, have seen something of the same character, in other places ; and he felt the necessity, of a little verbal overawing to prevent more trouble. “Take care vhat you are doing, good people!” he spoke, in a loud voice with a trifle cf tremble in it. “I know my rights, and the rights of the King. Don’t put yourselves into the hands of the law, any of you, or by Jove you will smart for it! This man, who is not any better than the rest of you, has taken the King’s Bounty ; and I am going to take him to Worcester, dead or alive —mind that! ” “ If I had my will of you, you wretch with a coat the color of blood—ugh ! there might be somebody going to Worcester, dead ; and Dick Harlowe would not ; be the man ! ” flashed out Susan Ackley, in ungovernable feeling; raising the suspicion of a laugh even amid the painful surroundings, and perhaps creating an impression among some of the more thoughtful, that if Dick Harlowe escaped the service and came to his marriage, he might not only have a loving wife but a bit of handsome shrew into the bargain. But at the moment another character came upon the scene—the man who had been alighting from his horse before the inn at the moment of the two women’s entering—and who had been for those few minutes listening at the door, unobserved by most of those within. When they saw him, they knew him at once as Sir Thomas Barclay, of Teddingstone, justice of the peace and castus rotulorum of the Yale of Evesham, whose hurried alighting from his horse had been no pretence, a message having reached him a few minutes earlier as he passed through Nunscroft, on his way to Stratford, of probable trouble at the “ Nine Chickens.” He had heard, at the door, enough to possess him very closely of the state of facts at that moment existing, through the conversation already recounted; and new he advanced up the room, all present manifesting respect for his person and his well-known uprightness and dignity of character. “ What is all this?” he asked. “Refusal on the part of a recruit, to enter His Majesty’s service, and threatening words from an officer 1 Sergeant, what does it all mean ? Answer, and the rest of you keep silence.” “ Please your worship,” replied the sergeant, touching his hat, “ this man enlisted last night, and now denies service; and these people have acted like making a forced rescue. That is all, your worship; and may be your worship may think that is quite enough.” “Never mind what I may think, sergeant,” replied Sir Thomas, with dignity : then adding . “ you are quite sure of what you say that he did enlist t ” “Quite sure, your worship!” replied the sergeant, again touching his hat. 1 ‘ This man enlisted last night, as I have already told your worship. Look at the ribbons on his hat, and his passing the night with me ; would that have been so if he had not taken bounty ? ” i “ I am not here to answer questions, sergeant, but to ask them and he answered,” said Sir Thomas, a second time with some severity : “ there have , been somewhat too many complaints, of 1 late, of what they call ‘ trapping ’ recruits ; and I am likely to make full investigation of this. England needs soldiers, my man, but she can raise them fairly and honorably ; and when she cannot, let her beg for her rights instead of fighting for them .by doing wrong to her people.” There was a murmur of satisfaction in the tap-room, extending to the people without. Such words as those of Sir Thomas Barclay were not too often heard in the old land at that day, be it remembered ; and a single good word sometimes makes a long link between authority and those subject to it. The magistrate did not, as he could not, recognize the signs of approval. His next words were to the unfortunate reeruii. “ What have you to say, young man? Speak truly as you know 1 Did you enlist, or did you not 1 ” “I be ’shamed to confess, your worship,” answered Dick Harlowe, his face expressing all the humiliation he alleged, “ that I do not know quite all I ha’ done or ha’ not done; I was drunk last night, your worship, more than half thanks to him. ” “ Shame, indeed, for a young man of your speech and appearance !” said Sir Thomas, sorrowfully. “Well, what more ? ” “ I corned from home, last night, your worship, in anger with my old mother, there, and she is a widow, —also with a young lass, Susan Ackley, there, that I ha’ been contracted with for more than a year. ” ‘ ‘ That is true, your worship, and I am not a bit ashamed of it !” the young girl could not avoid throwing in, with a courtsey. “ I coined here to the ‘ Nine Chickens,’ half desperate like—like a fool,” the young fellow went on, with one glance of helpless and hopeless gratitude to Susan. “I found this man here—this man wi’ the red coat; and I was a bigger fool not to know that he was the King’s officer, looking for us poor fellows. I drunk ale with him—then wine—he main five about payin’ the score. Then I must ha’ been drunk, for I remember nought more. He do say that I ’listed, while he was talking to me and giving me wine ; but I don’t remember nought of it. And that be all, your worship, as I can say for myself.” The countenance of the justice fell, after a glance at the young girl and another at the compelled recruit. He was evidently disappointed in a momentary hope of being able to find some pretext for relieving the young fellow from his painful position, without trenching upon the law of which even he stood in fear. “If you were drunk last night, no matter how you became so, young man,” ho said, very gravely, “you cannot be a competent witness as to anything that occurred; and I shall be compelled to accept the testimony of this officer, who, however unjustly he may have dealt with you morally, can hold you for the King’s service if he has the letter of the law with him. ” [TO UK CONTINUED.]
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 126, 15 July 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 126, 15 July 1880
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