Imatges de pàgina

shock the delicacy of his female associates—" that is to say, different from the wishy-washy stuff they serve out at the Canteens." .“ It is good ale, that I can take upon myself to say, and it ought to be no less, for I brewed every drop of it with my own blessed hands, didn't I, Jane? Why, child, you sit there like a Statute, haven't 'e got a word to throw at a dog ?”

But Jane made no verbal reply, only looked at the Soldier, and then at Hannah, implying the reason of her silence. The intimation so conveyed was instantly understood, for her friend, with a look of complacency, and two or three significant nods, observed

“ Nonsense, child ! no occasion for the least fear I'm sure. D'ye think I don't know good from bad when I sees it?" - “ What has frightened you, ma'am ?" demanded the Soldier in a voice full of affectionate solicitude, “I suppose my being overtaken like on your common, and thinking I should never live to see the blessed sun rise again. But don't be down-hearted on my account, I'm quite a different man now,--and could knock down a giant !"

Jane shuddered, and grew paler still, at this assurance of his recovered strength. Hannah, anxious to prevent her fellow servant's fears from becoming too apparent, and thus tacitly imply the unprotected state of both, remarked gaily

I suppose you've seen a mortal deal of knock-down work in your time?

“ More than's pleasant to think of, ma'am, I can assure you. It would make your hair stand an end if I were to tell some of the terrible things I've been forced to see. For, you understand, if a place we was a-laying siege to, held out for a long while, and kept up a heavy fire upon us night and day, killing and wounding a many of our comrades, why 'tis almost natural like, though it be shocking to think on, that when the place was stormed and taken, the inhabitants were paid off for their obstinacy. As to shedding blood in fair fighting, that's only part of a soldier's duty, you see; but when it comes to women and children, then 'tis wicked work, and makes me shudder to remember.”

“But you don't mean to say that English soldiers kill women and children?” eagerly demanded Hannah, almost blushing at her military extraction.

“ Worse than killing, ma'am. I never had a wife, or child either, but if I had been a husband or a father, and knew that the enemy could soon get the upper hand of the place I was in,—that is to say, put in case, it was a strong fortified town that had given a good deal of trouble before it could be conquered, why I do think I should run my bayonet into any female creature that I dearly loved, in preference rather than they should fall into the enemy's hands.”

“Why you don't mean to say you could destroy your own Resh and blood ?" asked Hannah, with a face of incredulity.

Aye, ma'am, I should indeed. And you may take my honest word for it, death would be a mercy, compared to the cruel ill treatment they'd have to bear, poor helpless, inoffensive things !”

This last observation seemed to make an impression on Jane, favourable to the speaker, and she ventured to trust herself with a question addressed to him.

“ Have you been many years in the army?" “ Ever since I was a boy, ma'am.”

“ Then you've seen the Duke of Wellington often, I dare for to say?" chimed in the Cook. .Aye, hundreds o'times, and you were sure always to see the Noble Duke in the thickest of it. Lord love ye, how he 'scaped all through the Peninsula war, as people call it, I can't make out; 'tis a miracle and a mercy! Ah, and besides seeing him, I've something else to say, he once spoke to me, which I never shall forgel; 'was at Quarterbrass, two days before Waterloo,-a party of Highlanders were carrying off the body of one of their Officers, and I naturally asked who it was, and one of the Scotchys, with tears in his eyes, told me. I was thrown out as a skirmisher trying to hit some of the Cureasseers, and was just a reloading Brown Bess, as we do call our Firelocks, when up rode Wellington, Who was that of the 92nd?' he asked in his quick, short way, · Colonel Cameron, my Lord Duke, says I ; he closed his lips tight together, and galloped on; but I could see that he was vexed at losing such a fine Officer. We got pretty well cut up that same bout, the Leeftenant of my company took the command of the detachment, all our Officers having got hit, some of 'em, poor gentlemen, mortally; and a precious tiresome tramp we had on it before we got upon the ground where the great battle was fought.”

“ Whatever could tempt you to go for a soldier, you must have heard of all the terrible doings in War time?" observed Hannah.

“Why you see, Ma'am, my only sister married a soldier, and when he came home on Furlough, promoted to a Corporal, he persuaded me to list with a party then in the Market town. And I might ha' been a Corporal, or a Sergeant by this time, after such long service, but not having been taught to write and read when a boy, they wouldn't make a Non-Com. o' me for want of a little larning. My brother-in-law got on inainly by it, and was made Sergeant-Major in a very short time, but Lord help us! what of that? he was carried off by a fever in Indey, and his broken-hearted widow died on her passage to Old England, leaving a babby about a iwelvemonth old. I did hear that some tender-hearted soul had 'dopted the child, but I never could get at the rights of it, 'cause you see I wasn't able to read the papers.”

“Let me fill your mug again,” said Hannah, “ talking's but dry work-And now I'm puzzling my brain about where you can sleepGoodness knows we've plenty of spare beds”-and Hannah checked herself, having, as she used to express herself, “ let the cat out of the bag unknownst to her,” but her natural self-possession quickly coming to her aid, she continued, “ that is to say—we should have if the family were in town ;-but I don't know, I'm sure, how we can manage to-night. Tell me, Jane, what do you think is best to be done? I know 'tis reckoned very rude to whisper in company, but you must please to excuse it."

And rising from her seat she beckoned Jane into a remote corner of the kitchen, where they conversed in tones not intended to reach the ears of their male companion.

He, however, could not help observing, by their gestures, that they were both in a state of considerable perplexity, and as they returned to their chairs by the fire, said in a clear voice, and decided manner

“ I can easily see, my dear good creatures, that you don't know how to dispose of me for the night; in course you wouldn't like to leave me to sleep by this fire, for fear that I might happen to wake and take a fancy to walk about other parts of the house. Now, I'll just tell ye my mind, 'cause it's quite proper we should understand one another. I know, as well as though you had told me as much, that you two women are the only living creatures in this here house beside myself."

Jane fell back in the chair covering her face with her hands, and with difficulty suppressing an exclamation of terror, at this avowal of the knowledge of the absolute truth on the part of the Soldier.

“ And my notion is, that you are in a quandary where to put me so that no harm can happen. But look 'e here now, don't either of you think for a moment that I am such a damned villain-forgive my swearing, I don't mean it as such-as' to take advantage of your lonely situation, or to pay you by evil doings for having saved my life. You're quite welcome to tie me neck and heels, and lock me up in the cellar, though I don't think, after what I've seen of your goodness, you'd choose such a cold berth for me as that; but putting all joking a one side, find any place you please where I can stretch my old carcase upon the floor, and then you can lock me up secure, and take away the key,-only have the kindness to let me out as early in the morning as you can, 'cause I shouldn't like to bring either of you into trouble, and you might get angry words said to ye if ’twere known that I'd been here at all.”

“ Ah, that we should, and worse !" said Jane, half sobbing, and hardly intending her words to be heard.

“But take my word for it, as long as ever you live you'll neither of you repent having shown such Christian kindness to a fellow-creature in distress. And now as I sha'n't have much time to talk to you in the morning, I think 'lis but fair and honest in me to tell you my name, and how it happened that I came to need your help. First then, the old fellow you have been so very kind to, is called George Goulding, private in His Majesty's -th regiment of Foot. I have been laying in the depo at Chatham ever since my regiment returned from France, and was on my way to Chelsea, to pass the Board for my pension, when, just as I got outside of Dartford on came that infernal fog, in which I misfortunately lost my way, and by so doing have given you such a sight of trouble, and what's worse, uneasiness. But just do as I tell ye, fasten me up any where you think fit, and then you'll be sure no harm can happen.'

“ Well, Mr. Goulding,” said Hannah, “ we'll just do as you desire, not that we are at all afeard of you, Sir. We can put him into Henry's room you know, Jane."

“ No, not there, if you please - there's Coachman's bed quite ready, he hasn't been down since 'twas all put tidy, and there's a good strong lock to the door."

And Jane's lip quivered as she remembered that the room she recommended was very near her own sleeping chamber.

“ Coachman's be it then !" assented Hannah, “ we'll take down - the fire, and all go up together; and I'm sure and certain you'd rather have a good sound sleep after your long journey, than lie awake thinking how you might do us a mischief."

“Cheer up, girls, don't give way to such notions. I shall be too glad of a snooze even to dream of wickedness, if so be I was so minded, which Heaven be praised I am not.”

Hannah lit a couple of rushlights, and on handing one of them to their inmate, remarked

“ I hope you'll be good enough to put out your candle as soon as ever you can, for fear any body should chance to see a light burning in a room which ought to be empty.”

“ You may be sure I'll obey orders,” replied Goulding. The trio made their way up stairs.

“ That's where you are to lie,” said Hannah, taking the key from the inside, and turning it repeatedly in the open door to ascertain the strength and size of the lock.

“ And as good quarters as man can desire; so I wishes you both a very good night, and before I sleep depend on't I shall pray Heaven to reward you a thousand times over, for all your goodness to me-50 God bless ye both!”

Hannah fastened the door, and hurried into her own room, which she no sooner gained than she squatted down on the side of her bed, and burst into a violent flood of tears. Jane bastened to her side.

" What ails you, dear Hannah, why should you cry?

“I don't know, dear Jenny, I can't tell,--they ain't tears of sorrow, but I feel as though if I have done wrong in breaking master's orders, no harm will come on't; and so I won't make a fool of myself, but get to bed at once, and try to forget all about it.” They speedily retired to rest. Hannah who really felt disposed to

“Woo the sweet oblivion,” was now and then disturbed by the restlessness of Jane, who more than once jumped up and stared round the room with eyes on which sleep had no influence.

“Lord, child, what's the use of your being nervous and fidgetty after that fashion ? isn't all as safe as heart could wish ? do try and compose yourself.”

"Will it ever be morning, Hannah? Oh, how I wish it was broad daylight !"

• Well, child, if you don't choose to go to sleep yourself, you needn't disturb me, I'm sure."

“Don't be angry with me, dear Hannah, I can't help being foolish–"

And now it was poor Jane's turn to shed tears; her friend soothed her-they repeated together, above their breath, some prayers for protection during the dark hours, and soon after midnight, both slumbered soundly.

Two hours passed, and still

“Gentle Sleep, Nature's soft nurse,” held its balmy influence over Jane and Hannah.

From their sweet repose they were awakened by a feeling of strange oppression, and, as they became perfectly conscious, beheld, to their indescribable horror, two figures disguised in Carter's frocks, their faces covered with thick crape, and their hands employed in twisting strong cords round the bed posts and over the clothes, in such a manner, as to confine the limbs of the terrified females; this was no sooner accomplished, than a rope was hastily passed round each of their necks, and then tied securely to the upper part of the bedstead-certainly not so tight as to occasion the slightest feeling of suffocation-but so arranged that any violent movement on the part of either would hazard the strangulation of her companion.

This being effected in perfect silence, the tallest of the two men, with a voice evidently assumed, said —

“ Lie perfectly still, and no harm will happen, but attempt to cry out, and here's that will silence ye both!”

And he put a large horse pistol close to the heads of the affrighted women, who held their very breath lest its sound should tempt the ruffian to fulfil his dreadful threat. The fellow who had spoken now whispered his companion, and he appearing to act upon the directions given him, took the rushlight, which had been burning on the hearth stone, and they left the poor girls to suffer the accumulated misery of utter darkness.

Their steps were heard descending the stairs, nor did they appear to attempt moving about noiselessly, but on the contrary as though they were well assured that the two females were the only domestics in the house, and these had been placed beyond the power of preventing their intentions.

A sound, as though arising from articles of plate being hurriedly thrown together, convinced the girls that the robbers were busily oc. cupied in the Closet upon the ground floor, of which we have already spoken. Even this comparatively trilling distance appeared to afford both the sufferers some consolation, and inspired Jane with sufficient confidence to give utterance to her thoughts; accordingly she softly whispered to Hannah

“That old wretch is at the bottom of it! he has let in the thieves. Oh-didn't I say?

“ Hush, child, I can't nor I won't believe that such wickedness and barefaced hypocrisy is possible, and yet, d'ye know I fancied that the shortest of the iwo was the Soldier himself.”

“Oh Lord ha' Mercy, hearken to them breaking open the large escrutoire in Master's room.”

“Yes, and I know for certain that he keeps a sight of money in it, for he has paid me scores of times for things out of a little nest o' drawers in the centre of it.”

« My blood runs cold to hear the sound they make forcing the locks, it is so different from any other sort of noise, and can hardly be called a noise at all; and yet I dare say they'll manage to have every thing open they wish.”

“P'll be bound they have, and a fine rich plunder they'll make of it.”

“We're both utterly ruined, Cook, you may depend on't; if these wretches spare our lives, we shall be turned out of service without characters, or maybe sent to Jail for having let in the head of the

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