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´╗┐Title: The Drummer's Coat
Author: Fortescue, J. W. (John William), 1859-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Drummer's Coat" ***

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[Frontispiece: "Hold mun fast, brave lads!"]



The Drummer's Coat


by the

Hon. J. W. Fortescue


Author of "The Story of a Red Deer"



With illustrations by

H. M. Brock



London

MacMillan and Co., Limited

New York: The MacMillan Company

1899

_All rights reserved_



RICHARD CLAY AND SONS, LIMITED

LONDON AND BUNGAY.


First Edition, November 1899.

Reprinted, December 1899.



TO

D. W.



PREFATORY NOTE

Lest a principal incident in this little tale should seem incredible,
it may be mentioned that an instance of a child being deprived of
speech for several days, at the bidding of a reputed witch, came under
the author's immediate notice less than three years ago, in a village
but three miles distant from his own home.

It may be added that the military details in Chapter XIII. are all
drawn from authentic sources, mainly from the _Recollections of
Rifleman Harris_ and the _History of the Fifty-Second Regiment_.

CASTLE HILL,

28th August, 1899.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


"HOLD MUN FAST, BRAVE LADS!" . . . _Frontispiece_

BENT DOWN TO KISS ELSIE'S AS HE HAD KISSED HER MOTHER'S

"THE BIRD BEGAN TO PIPE A LITTLE TUNE"

"STILL THE WOMAN LED THEM ON"



THE DRUMMER'S COAT


CHAPTER I

In a deep wooded valley in the north of Devon stands the village of
Ashacombe.  It is but a little village, of some twenty or thirty
cottages with white cob walls and low thatched roofs, running along the
sunny side of the valley for a little way, and then curving downward
across it to a little bridge of two tiny pointed arches, on the other
side of which stands a mill with a water-wheel.  For a little stream
runs down this valley as down all Devonshire valleys; and as you look
up the water from the bridge you can see it winding and sparkling
through its margin of meadow, while the great oak woods hang still and
solemn above it, till some bold green headland slopes down and shuts it
from your sight; and you raise your eyes, and count fresh headlands
crossing each other right and left beyond it, fainter and fainter, till
at last they end in a little patch of purple heather, which seems to be
the end of all things.

But when you look down the water, you find that the woods no longer
cover the sunny side of the valley so thickly, but that there is open
ground like a park.  There is a gate by the bridge opening on to a
narrow road, which presently ends in two great spreading yews; and
through these you can see a lych-gate, and beyond it a little grey
church with a low grey tower.  Close to this gate is a lodge of grey
stone, with a winding drive which guides your eye through the trees to
the gables of a house of the same grey stone, which peer up over the
trees on the ground above the church.  Then beyond it the headlands of
green wood begin to cross each other again, lower and lower, till you
can follow them no more.

So Ashacombe, as may easily be guessed, is a sleepy little village,
which sees little of the great world outside.  But whatever it sees it
can see well, for the hill on which it stands is so much broken by
little clefts and hollows that some of the cottages stand level with
the road and some high above it; wherefore if you are not satisfied
with looking at anything on the road from the same level, you can go to
some neighbour's garden and gaze down upon it from above, or again you
can slip down from the road into the meadow (for the road is raised on
a wall) and scrutinise it carefully from below.  Still sleepy though
the village may be, it is always beautifully neat and clean.  The walls
are always of spotless white, and the thatch trim and in good repair.
The scrap of garden behind each cottage is well tended and full of
vegetables, and the scrap of garden in front gay with flowers; for
Ashacombe has never known the time when there was not a master or
mistress in the Hall who made the village their first care.  Such it is
now, and such, if old pictures are to be trusted, it was with little
difference eighty years ago, at which time we are about to examine its
history.

But if visitors come to Ashacombe it is to see not the village but the
Hall, for Bracefort Hall has some fame of its own.  It is a beautiful
little house, built in the time of King Henry the Sixth, and therefore
in the shape of an H, with two gables marking the end of the
downstrokes, and a short length of grey roof standing for the
cross-bar.  It faces to the south, so that the little court between the
gables is a veritable sun-trap, wherein grow magnolia and jessamine;
while roses, Dutch honeysuckle, clematis and wistaria cover the whole
front of the house and almost hide the mullioned windows.  But the Hall
is even more attractive within than without, for from the moment when
you enter the door you find yourself among oak panels, oak carving and
old tapestry on every side and in every room.  The house has but two
storeys, so that the rooms are not very large not very high, with the
exception of the hall, which fills both storeys of the cross-bar of the
H, from the floor to the roof.  The ceiling is of open work,
beautifully carved; the walls are panelled high, and at the head of
each panel is painted a coat of arms showing the marriages of many
generations of Braceforts.  Above the panels at one end of the hall are
huge coats of arms carved in stone and gorgeously coloured; and at the
other end is a gallery of carved oak with the gilded pipes of an organ
shining above it.  A great part of the outer wall is taken up by a very
large mullioned window with quaint round panes, many of them filled
with old stained glass; and on the wall opposite to it is a great
fireplace of carved stone, the centre of it showing the crest of a
mailed arm and the motto, Dieu et bras fort.

Above this fireplace hang some curious things--stags' horns, and
weapons of bygone times, and among them a buff coat, an iron helmet, a
cuirass, and two long straight swords, which evidently belonged to one
of the gentlemen with flowing love-locks and broad collars turned down
over their mail, whose portraits are hung on each side.  But below
these is a more modern helmet, such a helmet as was worn by Light
Dragoons about a century ago, of lacquered leather with a huge comb of
fur, a scarlet turban wound about it, and a short plume of red and
white.  Also there is a curved sword with a crimson sash draped round
it; and below these again, neatly spread in a glass case, is a quaint
little child's coat of yellow, with red collar, cuffs and lapels, two
tiny red wings at the shoulders and two tiny red tails behind; which
garment an inscription, now much faded, declares to be a drummer's coat
of the time of the Peninsular War.

Now it is easy to guess to whom the Light Dragoon's helmet and sword
and sash belonged, for immediately on one side of it is a portrait of a
very handsome man with dark hair and eyes, dressed in a blue coat with
silver braid, with the crimson sash round his waist, the curved sword
at his side, and the identical helmet under his arm; and you may read
underneath the picture that it represents Captain Richard Bracefort,
who was killed at the battle of Salamanca.  Close by, too, is a picture
of his charger, Billy Pitt, which he rode in the battle, and which
lived, as is written on the picture, for many years afterwards.  Again,
as a pendant to the Captain's picture hangs a portrait of a lady,
showing a beautiful oval face with three chestnut curls on each side of
it and a mass of chestnut hair above, and two blue eyes as clear and as
pure as a child's; and underneath this portrait is written the name of
Lady Eleanor Bracefort, wife and widow of Captain Richard the Light
Dragoon.

But how the drummer's coat ever found its way into Bracefort Hall there
is nothing to show.  Nevertheless by that little coat there hangs a
tale; and though that tale is now nearly eighty years old, both the
Hall and the village are so little changed that it is perhaps worth the
telling.



CHAPTER II

It was the 22nd of July 1820, and the shadows were beginning to
lengthen over Ashacombe village on a burning summer's afternoon.  The
men were still at work, and most of the women also; for, early though
it was, a farmer was cutting a field of wheat over the hill on the far
side of the valley, a field which was always the first in the whole
parish to ripen.  So the men were cutting and the women were binding,
for women did more work in the fields in those days than in these; and
now and again, when the booming of the mill-wheel ceased for a moment,
the sound of the hones on the sickles could be heard clinking musically
in the still heavy air.  Two or three old women alone stood in their
porches, with their sun-bonnets over their neat white caps, gossiping
as they knitted, and speaking an occasional word to an old, old man who
sat in a high-backed chair basking in the sun.  The children were all
down in the meadow below, the little maids mostly sitting in the shade
and making nosegays of forget-me-nots; while every boy that could walk,
and some of the maids also, were paddling in the little stream or
dancing about the bank in chase of such unhappy fish as had been too
lazy to leave the shallows when the stream was turned into the
mill-leat.  Sometimes they were silent, and the next moment they broke
into chorus like a pack of hounds, while occasionally there came a
shrill rate from one of the old women who watched them from the
cottages, calling back some too venturesome boy from the deep water of
the mill-leat.

So the old women gossiped and the children played, for the daily
coaches up and down had passed some hours before, and there was little
excitement to be looked for in the road after they were gone.
Presently the old women stopped and listened, for they heard the gate
at the lodge clang as it opened and shut, and two children's voices
crying merrily, "Oh, corporal, corporal, put on your watering-cap!"
Then one of the old women hastened, though with infirm steps, across
her little garden towards the road, and stood by the edge of it among
tall stalks of red valerian and a great plant of periwinkle which hung
down over the wall.  And there came along the road a tall man with
grizzled hair, dressed in drab breeches and gaiters just like any other
man, but wearing on his head a flat blue cap, widening out from brim to
crown, with a yellow band round the forehead--the watering cap of a
Light Dragoon.  He walked very erect, though he limped slightly with
one leg; and over one shoulder he carried a clean white stable-rubber,
neatly folded, with a stable-halter tied across it.  Hanging on to his
hand on one side was a little boy of about nine years old with great
brown eyes and glossy black hair, dressed in a very short little brown
jacket with brown breeches buttoning on to it, and a broad white
collar.  On the Corporal's other side and clinging tight to his other
hand skipped a little girl with wide blue eyes and fair hair, dressed
all in white, and with her face almost hidden under a little white
sun-bonnet.  Both children carried a little wreath of laurel in their
hands and seemed to have some very important business before them,
until they caught sight of the old woman looking down upon them, when
they cried out "Sally!  Sally!" and letting go the Corporal's hand ran
up the steep little steps to her, while the Corporal limped more slowly
after them.

"Ah, my dear hearts," said old Sally, "I minded that it was Sallymanky
day, and I said to myself that Master Dick and Miss Elsie would surely
be coming in for the ribbins.  Shall us go in to house and fetch mun?
Then please to come in.  Please to come right in, Mr. Brimacott," she
added, addressing the Corporal.  So they passed through the little low
door into the cottage, and in two seconds the children were standing on
chairs and examining all the treasures on the walls.  For Sally had
been a servant at Bracefort Hall, and was never so glad as when little
Dick and Elsie Bracefort came to pay her a visit; first because she
thought there was no family to equal the Braceforts in the whole wide
world, and secondly, because these children had lost their father at
Salamanca just eight years before to a day.  And there were wonderful
things on the walls, too.  First and foremost there were two coloured
pictures, one of France and Britannia joining hands, with a very woolly
lamb and a very singular lion lying down together at their feet; and
the other of Commerce and Plenty, represented as two very slender
ladies with very short waists, loading Britannia with corn and fruit
and flowers of the brightest colours.  The children had heard Sally
tell the story of them fifty times but were quite content to hear it
again--how Sally had bought them of a hawker in the year 1802, for joy
that peace was come at last, and how that wicked Boney had plunged all
the world into war again.  Then Dick jumped up and brought down a china
figure of a man in a blue coat on a prancing horse with his hand
pointing upwards, who was no other than Boney, the terrible Bonaparte
himself, as he appeared when crossing the Alps.

"Ah, the roog," said Sally, as Dick flourished the figure.  "Many's the
time that I've wanted to throw he behind the fire.  He tooked from me
my boy, my Jan; ah, you knows the story of my Jan, don't 'ee, my dear?"
she added turning to Elsie.

"Yes," said Elsie, who had heard the story so often as a mite of a
child that she told it herself with something of a Devonshire accent,
"poor Jan that 'listed for a soldier and went to Portingale to the
wars, and never come back, not he, nor wild Lucy that ran away for the
love of him, nor the boy that was born to them."

"Aye," said the old woman to the Corporal, but smiling sadly on the
child.  "Killed he was, so they said, but they couldn't tell how nor
where; and missing they was, but I never could find out nought about
mun, though I hope still to hear somewhat; but it must come soon for
it's ten years agone now, and I reckon that my time's a getting short."

The Corporal nodded; but Dick had brought down another figure in china,
the figure of a man in a red coat with a hooked nose and two curves of
black whisker on his cheeks, underneath which was written WELLINGTON.

"Aye," said old Sally, triumphantly, "that was the boy to give Boney
what vor.  And now here's the wreaths, my dears, tied with the family
colours, blue and white.  I've a had they ribbins forty years, ever
since the great election, when Bracefort was head of the poll, your
grandfather that was.  And now you'm going to catch the old Billy Pitt,
I reckon; dear, dear, to think that the horse should still be here and
the captain gone."

"But the Lieutenant's come back," said the Corporal.  "Colonel
Fitzdenys, I should say, whom I mind as the captain's lieutenant; come
back only yesterday safe and sound from the Injies."

"That's well," said Sally, "for a fine brave gentleman he is, as never
passes me without a kind word.  But don't 'ee go yet for a minute, my
dears," and she hobbled away to a large glass bottle, took out two
sticks of toffee, such as she sold to the village boys for a halfpenny
a piece, and gave them to Dick and Elsie.

The children took them gratefully, for it was little sweet stuff that
children got in those days; and old Sally watched them as they went up
the road, each of them breaking off a large piece for the Corporal.

They had not long been gone when a new and strange figure suddenly
bounded into the road from the bank at the side.  It was that of a
young man who seemed to be about five and twenty, short in stature and
slight in figure, and dressed in a long skirted coat, breeches and
gaiters, which were all alike full of rents and patches.  He wore no
hat, but his head was so thickly covered by a shock of brown hair that
he did not seem to want one.  His face was brown and sunburnt and
partly covered by a fair downy beard, which, though not thick, added to
his wild and untidy appearance; and his eyes were very large, grey and
vacant.  He sprang down from the bank as though he had lived there all
his life, like a rabbit, and then moved on towards the village at a
strange shambling pace, straying from side to side of the road and
waving his arms meaninglessly.  Suddenly he stopped, and pulling a
squirrel out of his pocket began to play with it, cooing and whistling
to it as it ran over his arms, and chirping when it stopped and threw
its tail over its back.  The two seemed to be the very best of friends,
and after playing for some time the man moved on with the squirrel on
his shoulder, drawing closer to the village; when of a sudden the boys
at play in the stream broke into such a storm of yells that he jumped
up on the bank again to look at them, and stood there for a time gaping
and grinning from ear to ear at what he saw.

For the boys had succeeded in driving a little eel into a corner and in
throwing it ashore; and there they were, dancing about like mad
creatures, unable to hold it, more than half afraid to touch it, but
always contriving to twitch the wretched wriggling thing further from
the water.  One brave little maid managed for a moment to catch it in
her pinafore but dropped it instantly, as all the boys screamed: "Put
it down! he'll bite 'ee."  And so they went on babbling their loudest,
when the ragged man in the road suddenly put the squirrel into his
pocket and ran down into the meadow, laughing louder than the loudest,
to take part in the fun.  In spite of his long-skirted coat he was as
active as any of them, now clutching desperately at the eel with his
hand, now running at full speed for a few yards and then plunging down
on his knees, and all the while laughing and whinnying with a noise
more like that of a horse than of a man.  The boys, though at first a
little startled at the appearance of such a figure in their midst, soon
screamed louder than ever with laughter at his strange antics; until at
last the ragged man got the eel fairly clamped between his fingers and
ran away with it, the whole of the children following him in full cry.
He had almost reached the road when his foot slipped and down he fell
violently on his face.  The squirrel, scared to death, ran out of his
coat-pocket, and the eel slipped through his fingers into the long
grass by the ditch and was seen no more.

The man got up looking dazed and foolish, with his hair full of
forget-me-nots, into which he had plunged in his fall.  The children
gathered round him hooting and screaming; and he stared at them
grinning vacantly without a word.  From shouts the boys soon went on to
taunts of "Shockhead!  Shockhead!" but still the ragged man stood and
grinned, until at last two of them caught sight of the squirrel and
began to hunt it about the field.  Then the man's whole demeanour
changed in an instant; and charging down upon the boys he gave them a
push which laid both of them flat on the ground, while the squirrel ran
hastily up his leg and nestled in terror against his cheek.  Then he
began to look, with the air of a hunted beast, for some means of
escape.  The two boys got up whimpering, more frightened than hurt, and
at the sight of their tears the merriment of the rest turned instantly
to anger.  The boys remembered suddenly that their eel was gone, and
crowded round the man, yelling continuously, "Where's our ale?  Where's
our ale?  You've stole our ale."  And the ragged man with drooping
shoulders and white scared face slunk along the fence under the road,
looking for a weak place by which he might scramble out of the field.
At last he found one and made a bound to climb up it; but the bank was
too steep and he fell back.  The boys seeing that he was afraid of them
began to raise the cry of thief, or, as they called it, thafe.  Half a
dozen of them ran round to the gate of the meadow to cut him off, while
the rest yelled round him like a pack of baying hounds, with cries of
"Thafe!  Thafe!  Thafe!"  The man made a second attempt to climb up the
bank, and this time reached the top, where he lay for a few moments
sprawling, amid the jeers of his tormentors; and Tommy Fry, who was the
scapegrace of the village, picked up a clod of earth and threw it at
him.  The clod, which was full of little stones, struck him full on the
cheek and drew blood.  The man gave a little whine of pain, and
struggled quickly to his feet; but the boys were in the road before
him, and, worse than that, the women hearing the cry of thief were
hastening to the spot; for they thought of clean clothes that might be
drying on their garden hedges, and, if there be a creature which
villagers dread and detest, it is a tramp.  The man looked fearfully up
and down the road, and saw that it was blocked on every side by
hurrying women and children; and then sinking down by the roadside he
buried his face in his hands and blubbered aloud, while the squirrel,
fully as frightened as he was, nestled close to his bleeding cheek.

Then there was a babel of voices, scolding, complaining and accusing,
but the man sat blubbering and took no heed.  Two or three children
were ready to start to fetch the men from the harvest-field, and one
old crone was declaiming with great eloquence on the iniquity of
tramps, when a strange woman suddenly forced her way through the crowd
to the sobbing man and took him by the arm.  Her sun-bonnet was so tied
before her face that they could see little of it but two eyes, which
gleamed black and keen like the eyes of a hawk.  She raised the man
gently to his feet, and then turned round fiercely upon the ring of
women and children about her.

"Now," she said imperiously, "cease your bawling, and let mun go.  The
poor soul a'nt done no harm to you, I'll warrant mun.  Let mun go, and
shame upon 'ee."

The man rose to his feet still blubbering, and the squirrel moved back
from his face.  Then she saw the blood on his cheek, and her eyes
glowed like fire as she said in a voice that trembled with rage:

"Who's been a drowing stones at my boy?"

"He stole our ale," shouted Tommy Fry boldly, and the rest of the
children took up the chorus--"He stole our ale!"  And Tommy Fry ended
the cry with the word, "Thafe."

The strange woman turned upon him instantly.  "_You_ drowed the stone,"
she said, quivering with rage.  "_You_ dare to call mun thafe.  You
don't spake again till I tell 'ee--mind that.  I'll tache 'ee to call
my boy names."  And Tommy Fry shrank back with staring eyes, appalled
at her fury, while she put her arm again tighter round that of the
ragged man and began to lead him away.

"No, no, no," broke in a village woman who came up breathless at this
moment: "You'm too fast by half.  'Tis the like of he that we want to
catch, taking our linen off the hedges.  I lost some but two months
agone, and I'll be bound 'twas he that did it.  What was it was taked
away, Mary?" she asked, turning to one of the little girls.  "Two pair
of stockings and a chimase or one pair of stockings and two chimases?
No, no, no; run, my dear, and fetch father home quick.  No, stop!  Here
comes Mr. Brimacott."

And as she spoke there was a sound of hoofs and the Corporal appeared
leading a brown horse with a little wreath of laurel hung round his
ears and the white rubber spread over his back, on which were seated
Dick and Elsie, Dick riding in front brandishing his toffee, while
Elsie with her arm round his waist sat quietly behind him.

"What's all this?" said the Corporal, as the horse pricked up his ears
over the hubbub before him; and without waiting for a moment he lifted
the two children to the ground.  Then all the women came clamouring
round him with their complaints; and the Corporal frowned, for he loved
a tramp as little as any of them.

"'Tain't true," said the strange woman firmly, "'tain't true.  He's but
a poor harmless lad.  Sarch mun, if you will, maister; ye won't find
nought."

The Corporal eyed the ragged man keenly.  "He looks to be a half-baked
body," he said as if to himself.

"Aye, the poor thing's mazed," bleated out an old man who had hobbled
down to the edge of his garden to look on.

"Has any one missed anything?" the Corporal went on after hearing the
rest of the story.  "Who's got any clothes drying to-day?"

There was a long silence and much shaking of heads, till some one said:
"'Twas Mary Mugford was saying that she missed something or 'nother;
stockings, was it, or chimases, two months agone.  Where's Mary
Mugford?"  But Mary Mugford had discreetly retired, for she saw a new
figure coming up the road, the figure of a lady, tall and slender,
dressed all in black and with a huge black bonnet, from which there
peeped out the oval face with the chestnut curls and the great blue
eyes, which we saw in the picture at Bracefort Hall, with the name of
Lady Eleanor underneath it.  Dick and Elsie ran to her at once, and the
Corporal shortening the horse's halter in one hand, drew himself up,
saluted, and made his report.

"It's a poor half-witted lad, my Lady, and they thought he had stolen
some clothes.  He got playing with the boys over an eel which they
caught, and let it get away, but I can't find that he meant no harm nor
hasn't taken nothing, but the boys got worriting him and scared him a
bit, I am afraid."

The strange woman looked at the Corporal with softened eyes and a sigh
of relief; and then Lady Eleanor turned to her, with her hand resting
on Dick, who had come round to her side, and said very gently:

"Is it true that he is not quite right in his head?"

The strange woman nodded.

"Have you ever known him steal?"

"Never," she answered hoarsely.  "'Tis seldom I let mun out of my sight
among strangers, but he slipped away from me to-day."

"You have no other children?"

"No," answered the woman, almost fiercely.

"I see that the boys have hurt him," Lady Eleanor went on.  "Bring him
down the road by the well, and let me wash the blood away;" and leading
the way she dipped her handkerchief into the water and was about to
wash the blood-stained face herself, but stopped and gave the
handkerchief to the woman.  The villagers had withdrawn respectfully
apart, and the idiot, no longer frightened by their presence, had
ceased blubbering.  He blinked foolishly while his face was washed; but
when it was clean he looked at Lady Eleanor's beautiful face and
grinned, and then at Dick and grinned wider, and lastly at Elsie and
grinned wider still.  He looked so much like a great simple boy that
little Elsie came forward to give him what was left of her toffee,
whereupon Dick, not to be outdone, did the like, though there was not
much of his remaining.  Finally the Corporal produced his share of
toffee also from his pockets and gave it to the children for the ragged
man, who seemed so much pleased that they did not regret parting with
it.

"There is no harm done, I think," said Lady Eleanor to the woman, "but
it was a wicked thing to throw stones at him."

"It's nought, thank you.  Good-evening," said the woman, taking the
ragged man by the arm.

"Have you far to go?" asked Lady Eleanor.

"A middling ways," was the only reply; and the woman turned round to go.

"Stop!" said Lady Eleanor.  "My name is Lady Eleanor Bracefort, and if
ever you want anything for your poor son, I hope you will tell me."

"Thank you, my Lady, he wants for nothing," answered the woman rather
gruffly, and turning the man round she led him away across the bridge.
They watched her until she disappeared, a tall powerful woman, with her
back somewhat bent, as if by carrying heavy burdens.

Then Lady Eleanor turned to the children.

"Now, my darlings!  Give Master Dick a leg up, Corporal.  Wo-ho, Billy;
now, Elsie, up behind him.  How young the old horse looks, Corporal!
Are you ready?  Walk, march."  And away she walked fondling Billy Pitt
as she led him, and with good reason, for, old though he was, his legs
were as clean as a four-year-old's, his muzzle fine and taper, and his
eye full and bright, while he walked with the swinging easy stride that
surely tells of good blood.  Indeed, but that his tail was docked
rather short, as was once the rule in the Light Dragoons, and that he
had a large scar on his neck, you could not have wished to see a
handsomer horse.  So on they went, through the lychgate to the church;
and while the Corporal waited outside with the horse.  Lady Eleanor and
the children went in.  There at the back of a square family pew, among
strange old monuments, all showing heraldic shields coloured white and
blue, was a tablet: "To the memory of Captain Richard Bracefort of the
116th Light Dragoons, who fell in the glorious action of Salamanca, on
the 22nd of July, 1812, and was buried with his dead comrades on the
field of battle."  Just below it was a second but smaller and simpler
tablet: "To the memory of Private John Dart, of the 128th Foot, and
late of this parish, who fell in the retreat to Corunna under Sir John
Moore, January 1809;" and in very small letters were added the words
"Erected by Eleanor Bracefort."  Around both were the words, "Death is
swallowed up in Victory," and midway between the two, Dick placed the
wreath of laurel.  Then they went back to the Corporal and Billy Pitt,
and returned, as they had come, to the Hall.



CHAPTER III

Though there was more than one snug little room at Bracefort which
other people might have turned into a schoolroom, yet Lady Eleanor
always preferred, in the summer at any rate, to take the children with
her to the hall for their lessons.  Her favourite seat was by the great
mullioned window, which shed light on everything in the rooms, and her
favourite teaching was to make every old picture or helmet or weapon on
the walls tell its story to the children.  So on the day after
Salamanca Day she was sitting as usual in her corner by the window, on
a very stiff high-backed chair; for people did not lounge in those
days, and children were taught at meals to keep their thumbs on the
table to make them sit upright.  Little Elsie sat by her on a smaller
but equally stiff chair, stitching diligently at her sampler, and Dick
stood before her glancing furtively over his shoulder.  The blue sky
outside was so great a distraction to him that Lady Eleanor had turned
his back to the window, and set before him an old steel morion of the
time of Queen Elizabeth; and with this to inspire him, Dick was
struggling with the ballad of the Brave Lord Willoughby.

"Come, Dick," Lady Eleanor was saying, "we can do better than that.
Try again.  'For seven hours to all men's view--'"

But just at this moment the Corporal came in.

"If you please, my Lady, Betsy Fry's just come up.  She's in a terrible
taking about her boy, and she's brought him up to see you."

"Very well.  I'll come out and see her directly," said Lady Eleanor.
"Come, Dick,"--but Dick had turned half round and was smiling at the
Corporal.

"Come, sir," said the Corporal returning, "heels together.  Little
fingers on the seams of the overalls.  Eyes to the front," and he
placed the boy's hands gently in position by his sides, and went out.

"Now, Dick," said Lady Eleanor.  "'For seven hours--'" and the boy
began, with much prompting,

  "_For seven hours to all men's view
  This fight endured sore,
  Until our men so feeble grew
  That they could fight no more._"

Then his memory seemed to return, and he went on with great gusto:

  "_And then upon dead horses
  Full savourly they eat,
  And drank the puddle water--
  They could no better get._"

Then there was a dead stop.  "'When they--'" said Lady Eleanor.  "Oh,
Dick."

"I always remember the puddle water, mother," said Dick reproachfully.

"Elsie," said Lady Eleanor; and Elsie folded her hands over her work
and began:

  "_When they had fed so freely,
  They kneeled upon the ground,
  And praised God devoutly
  For the favour they had found._"


"Then," broke in Dick triumphantly--

  "Then beating up their colours
  The fight they did renew,
  And turning on the Spaniards,
  A thousand more they slew."


"There, I know it now, mother, mayn't I go now and tell the Corporal to
saddle Prince for me?  And mayn't Elsie come too?"

So away the children ran, and there was the Corporal waiting outside
the door, as anxious to be off as themselves; while Lady Eleanor made
her way to see Betsy Fry, who was waiting by the old gate-house a few
yards away from the front door.

"Well, Betsy, what is it?" she said kindly, coming up to a woman of
rather hard features, who stood patiently in the shade with her
sun-bonnet fluttering in the breeze.

"'Tis about my Tommy, my Lady," said the woman curtseying.  "Here,
Tommy, come 'vor, and take off your hat to her Ladyship," and she
pulled forward a frightened shrinking boy in a suit of corduroy, who
had hidden himself behind her.  "Look to mun, my Lady, he that was the
most rompageous boy in Ashacombe, so quiet as a snail.  And he can't
spake, my Lady, he can't spake."

"Can't speak?" said Lady Eleanor.

"I can't make mun spake, my Lady.  I don't know if your Ladyship was to
try--"

"Why, Tommy," said Lady Eleanor, bending down towards the boy, in her
sweet winning tones, "what's the matter with you?  Come along and tell
me, like a good boy."

The lad came forward, for no one could resist Lady Eleanor's smile, and
opened his mouth confidently to speak; but he made only a few
inarticulate sounds, and then thrust his knuckles into his eyes and
began to cry.

"Come, come, don't be frightened.  Try again," said Lady Eleanor
kindly; but the boy only continued sobbing and remained speechless.
Nor could all her endeavours succeed in making him utter a word.

"He must recover his speech presently," she said, much puzzled.  "He
has not lost the power of uttering sound."

"No, no, my Lady," said Mrs. Fry very confidently.  "He can scream and
holly loud enough.  I bate mun last night, poor soul, because he
wouldn't spake, and he scritched so loud that Mrs. Mugford come in, and
asked me what I was 'bout killing a pig at that time o' night; though
she knows very well that it was my pig that was drownded in the
mill-leat back along in the spring.  So I says to her, 'Mrs. Mugford,'
I says, 'if those that talks about pigs would look to their own boys,
they wouldn't run off to sea and come home with the shakums,' I says;
'and if they would keep their fowls from scratting about in their
neighbours' gardens,' I says, 'they wouldn't run about crying for lost
chimases.'  For there's hardly a day but I drive her fowls from my
garden, my Lady.  And you mind her son, my Lady, him that went for a
marine, and what terrible shakums he had when he comed back from the
Injies.  And I consider that they stolen chimases is a jidgment, my
Lady, a jidgment for the mischief her fowls have done in my garden--"

"Stop, stop," said Lady Eleanor, whose eye had wandered to a shady spot
under the trees where the Corporal was lunging a steady old Exmoor pony
round and round, while Dick, with a pair of long gaiters added to his
attire, sat firmly on its back, though without saddle or stirrups.
"Tell me; has anything happened to the boy to frighten him?"

"Well, my Lady," answered Mrs. Fry, "I consider myself that the boy's
overlooked."

"Overlooked?" said Lady Eleanor.

"Yes, my Lady.  For they do tell me that the woman that comed through
the village yesterday with the mazed body told my Tommy, 'You don't
spake again,' she says, 'till I tell 'ee.'"

"Oh! nonsense," said Lady Eleanor, "don't think of such stuff."

"But she _did_," persisted Mrs. Fry, "and sure enough the boy can't
spake.  She's overlooked mun!  she's awitched mun, you may depend, my
Lady.  And I'm sure if you'd a known who they two was, you wouldn't
never have let mun go.  She's the old witch to Cossacombe, that's what
she is, though she a'nt never been this way afore, and the man's as bad
as she is, I'll be bound, though I never heard tell of he afore."

"Why, it was easy to see that he was but a poor half-witted creature,"
said Lady Eleanor, "as harmless as a child; his mother told me that she
hardly let him out of her sight."

"Well, my Lady, 'tis all very well to say that the man's mazed,"
answered Mrs. Fry almost forgetting her manners in her excitement, "but
what took mun down among the boys?  Why, to take the ale from them!
And what is ales but sarpints, my Lady?" said Mrs. Fry throwing out her
hands, "and what makes the man so friendly with sarpints, that he must
come to save mun?  _We_ know, do you and I, my Lady, who is the old
sarpint and the father of sarpints.  And then what was he doing with
that strange baste on his shoulder, my Lady?"

"Why, it was only a tame squirrel," said Lady Eleanor.

"Squirrel, my lady," said Mrs. Fry mysteriously.  "Aye, 'twas a
squirrel; but who knows but what it mayn't be a dragin when it gets
'oom?"

"A squirrel turn into a dragon?" said Lady Eleanor.  "I never heard
such childish stuff in my life; and I wouldn't have believed that a
sensible woman like you could have thought of such a thing."

"Well, I won't say as it _was_ a dragin, my Lady," said Mrs. Fry, a
little abashed, "but they do say that the witch has to do with dragins.
She comes from out over the moor some place, she doth; and though she's
a seen on times about Cossacombe, no man can tell where she liveth nor
dare go sarch for mun.  Jimmy Beer went out to look for mun two year
agone in the dimmet after Cossacombe revel, but the fog came down so
thick as a bag; and while he was a-wandering, a dragin (for so he saith
it was, though I never seed a dragin myself) passed so close to mun as
I be to you, my Lady, and when he looked to the ground he saw the mark
of his cloven hoof so plain as could be.  And he was pixy-led all that
night, my Lady, was the old Jimmy, and when he come home all his money
was gone; so I reckon that the pixies is in league with the witches."

"I suspect that Jimmy had drunk too much cider," said Lady Eleanor
severely; "he should have kept sober or stuck to the road, and then he
would not have brought back foolish stories about pixies and witches.
I wonder that you can believe in such things."

"I know mun too well, my Lady," said Mrs. Fry mournfully.  "There was
my pig back in the spring, so rasonable a pig as ever ate mate, until
the white witch to Gratton overlooked mun.  And I never did the white
witch no harm, nor the pig didn't neither; but as they was driving the
pig along the road--and you know what pigs is, driving, my Lady,--the
white witch comes riding on his one-eyed donkey; and the pig runned
against the donkey, and the old man[1] muttered something or 'nother--"

"But the old man is dead, I was told," said Lady Eleanor.

"'Eas fai! and so he is, my Lady, and a terrible job they had to bury
mun--thunder, lightning and hailstones so big as sloes.  Dead he is,
and I won't jidge mun--but not afore he'd a doed the mischief, for but
three weeks afterward my pig falls into the mill-leat.  So there's my
pig a drownded, and my Tommy so dumb as a haddock--can't go to school,
can't do nought but ate his mate and sit in the corner for all the
world like a moulting hen.  Ah, they witches!  I wish they was
a-burned, I do."  And she hid her face in her apron and sobbed.

"Hush, hush!" said Lady Eleanor gently; but just then she was startled
by a little cry from Elsie; and there was Dick, who had just leaped his
pony over a low bar, tilted right forward on the pony's neck.  "Sit
fast, sir, sit fast," cried the Corporal, as Dick floundered to regain
his seat; and with a desperate effort the boy recovered himself and sat
up, flushed and smiling.  Elsie clapped her hands with delight, and a
strange man's voice shouted "Bravo!" at the sound of which Lady Eleanor
started and coloured for a moment.

"'Tis surely his lordship from Fitzdenys Court," said Mrs. Fry, who had
lowered her apron a little.  "'Eas, 'tis.  Now, my Lady, do 'ee plase
to spake to mun about my Tommy; for it's a poor job if his lordship
can't do something for the boy, and he the lord-lieutenant as can call
out the milishy any time."

And as she spoke two gentlemen came cantering up through the park; so
Lady Eleanor bade Mrs. Fry take Tommy to the back-door and get
something for him and herself to eat.



[1] It is a fallacy to suppose that a white witch, in Devon, at any
rate, is necessarily a woman.  The few that I have known were men.



CHAPTER IV

The two gentlemen dismounted at the gate giving their horses to their
groom, and then walked towards Lady Eleanor together.  Both were
dressed in blue coats, buff waistcoats, and broad-brimmed white hats,
and wore riding trousers strapped very tightly over their boots.  They
were evidently father and son, though the elder seemed almost as young
and alert as the younger.  The old gentleman took off his hat, bent his
grey head over Lady Eleanor's out-stretched hand, and kissed it with
the old-fashioned courtesy which has now vanished.  Then beckoning the
younger man forward, he said:

"I bring you back an old friend with a new title, Lady Eleanor.  He has
just returned from India with a new scar on the right shoulder to
balance the old scar on the left, and with a letter from the
Commander-in-Chief, which he is too modest to show to his friends and
too proud to show to his enemies, if he has any--_Colonel_ George
Fitzdenys."

And the younger man came forward, tall, lean, wiry, and erect as the
Corporal himself.  He wore the moustache which showed him to be a Light
Dragoon, and looked every inch a soldier; but though he could not have
been more than three or four and thirty, he had the sad expression of a
man who has found the years long.  Still bronzed and brown though his
face was, he blushed just a little as he caught his father's proud
glance at him, and bent in his turn over Lady Eleanor's hand.

"Welcome back, Colonel Fitzdenys," she said very quietly; "we have not
lost sight of you in the Gazettes through all these years; and you are
quite recovered from your wound, I hope."

"Wound! it was nothing," he said, "an arrow in the shoulder which your
boy would have laughed at."

And then Lady Eleanor beckoned to the children to come up; and old Lord
Fitzdenys gave Dick two fingers and Elsie one, for he said that if her
hand was like her mother's it could not hold more.  But Colonel George
gave Dick his whole hand, and bent down to kiss Elsie's as he had
kissed her mother's, which won her little heart completely.

[Illustration: Bent down to kiss Elsie's as he had kissed her mother's.]

"Now, my dear lady," said the old gentleman, "I must ask you for the
favour of a few minutes' private conversation."

"And I will stay with the children," said Colonel George, "for I want
to make friends again."

Dick and Elsie were a little shy at being left alone with a stranger;
but before he could say a word to them the Corporal appeared leading
the pony towards the stable.  He saluted Colonel Fitzdenys, and was
going on, but the Colonel at once called to him by name and shook his
hand warmly, while the Corporal beamed with pleasure, and said how glad
he was to see his honour returned in good health.

"Oh! do you know the Corporal?" asked Dick timidly.

"Know the Corporal?" said Colonel George.  "I should think I did know
him, and a fine, brave fellow he is.  Why, he saved my life once, he
and your father.  I was lieutenant in your father's troop, and at the
very first skirmish in which we were engaged in the war, I was hit
here, in the shoulder, so that I could not hold my reins.  My horse ran
away with me, right into the middle of the French, and there was not
another horse in the regiment that could catch him, except your
father's horse, Billy Pitt.  But he came galloping after me as hard as
he could ride, and caught him; and Brimacott, who was his servant,
followed as fast as he could, and between them they brought me back
from the middle of the enemy, or perhaps I shouldn't be here now.  So I
have good reason to remember Brimacott and Billy Pitt.  Do you remember
Billy Pitt?"

"He's here in the stable," said both the children in a breath.

"Then let us go and see Billy Pitt, for he's a very old friend of
mine," said the Colonel, and away he walked to the stable with the
children following him.  The old horse seemed to know him, for he
pricked his ears and kept nuzzling with his nose all over the Colonel's
coat, until he put his hand into his pocket and pulled out an apple for
him.  "Look there," said the Colonel, passing his hand along the scar
on the horse's neck.  "The time came for Billy to get wounded and for
me to look after him, as he had saved me.  That was at Salamanca."  He
stopped for a minute and laid his hands on the children's shoulders.
"Poor Billy had lost his master, you know, and came galloping up to me
with his saddle empty, for he knew my horse well.  And then he remained
by my side, moving when I moved and stopping when I stopped, and
charging with us when we charged.  He came out of the fight with this
cut on his neck.  Poor Brimacott was badly wounded in the leg, and
there was no one to look after the old horse, so I sewed up Billy's
wound myself and kept him.  He was well long before the Corporal--I
made him corporal, you know--and, indeed, poor Brimacott was never fit
for rough work again, so when he went home I sent Billy with him."

Then nothing would serve the children but that Colonel Fitzdenys must
ride Billy again; so a snaffle was put into his mouth and the Colonel
mounted him bare-backed, and took him for a little turn in the park and
leaped him over the bar, to their great delight.  Then all three went
back to the garden again, and the children began plying him with
questions.  His own poor horse was dead, the Colonel told them; he had
carried him all through the Peninsular War but had been killed at
Waterloo.  The Colonel himself had been in the wars in India since
then, and the name of the battle was Maheidpore, but the Duke of
Wellington was not there.  He had seen the Duke, however, only a few
days before in London, but he wasn't dressed in his red coat and cocked
hat, and he believed that the Duke never slept in his red coat and
cocked hat now.

"Is the Corporal like the Duke?" asked Dick anxiously.  No! the Colonel
could not truthfully say that he was, but the Corporal was the bigger
man of the two, which was a consolation to the children.

Then the children asked him about Boney, for Polly Short, who had been
their maid, had told them that he was a "riglar monster," and she had
heard it from her first cousin's wife's brother-law, who was a sergeant
of Marines.  But the Colonel said that Polly was wrong, for he had seen
Boney himself at St. Helena, and he was not in the least like a
monster, but a little fat man with a pale face and auburn hair, not
nearly as big as the Corporal.  And Boney had made no attempt to eat
him up, but had received him with the pleasantest smile that he had
ever seen, and had told him that English horses were good.  "And of
course he was thinking of Billy," said Elsie, "when he said that."

And then the Colonel brought out pencil and paper and drew pictures of
Boney and of the Duke, and of Bheels and Pindarrees and Mahrattas and
other strange people against whom he had fought in India.  He also
assured Dick that he had drunk puddle-water, like Lord Willoughby's
men, and had been very glad to get it.  Finally he produced a little
silver bangle hung with curious silver coins which he put on Elsie's
wrist for her very own, and a knife in a sheath for Dick.  The knife
was not very sharp, but then the sheath was beautiful.  So that by the
time when Lord Fitzdenys and Lady Eleanor came out to look for them,
they found the children hanging on to the Colonel's arms and calling
him Colonel George as if they had known him all their lives.

Lord Fitzdenys called Colonel George to him; and he left the children
to join Lady Eleanor, who told him the story of Tommy Fry, and asked
him what he made of it.

"Witchcraft, of course, is nonsense," he said, "but there are people
who can wield such influence as this over others, the power of a
stronger will over a weaker, I suppose.  One hears of it often in
India.  Probably the boy will recover in a day or two, when he gets
over his fright."

"But if he does not?" said Lady Eleanor.

"Why, if the doctor can't deal with it, the best thing we can do will
be to find the woman; and if she has bound the boy by force of her will
to be silent, to make her release him again.  Where does she live?"

"No one knows," said Lady Eleanor, and repeated what Mrs. Fry had told
her.

"I never remember any one being pixy-led but that cider was at the
bottom of it," said Colonel George.  "As to the dragon, I expect that
Jimmy Beer chanced upon an old stag which looked very big and terrible
in the mist, and that the print of his cloven hoof was the mark of his
slot in the ground.  The moor is wide, but I cannot think it will be
very difficult to find this woman."

"I should be greatly relieved if we could, if only to prevent her from
playing such tricks in future," said Lady Eleanor.

"Then I will make it my business to find her," said Colonel George, "if
my father approves; and you need trouble yourself no more about the
matter, but leave it to me."

Old Lord Fitzdenys quite approved, and stumped off by himself to look
at a shrub which he could never induce to grow at his own place.  Then
the children came running up to show their treasures, and Lady Eleanor
looked into Colonel George's face with eyes full of gratitude, and said
"How good of you!  You never forget them, and you are rather inclined
to spoil them.  You did when you came back from the Peninsula, and
again after Waterloo, and now after all these years you are just the
same."

"Yes," he said quietly, "I am just the same.  Why should I be changed?"
He stopped rather abruptly; and Lady Eleanor began a new subject by
saying that she wanted to hear all about India.  So the two walked
about the garden talking, and seemed to have plenty to say.  Indeed
they were still talking hard, and did not seem to want to be
interrupted, when old Lord Fitzdenys came back to say that it was time
for him to return.  The old gentleman took his leave with the same
stately courtesy; but both the children put up their cheeks to be
kissed by Colonel George, who promised to come back to them soon.  Then
seeing Mrs. Fry waiting outside they spoke a few words to her and took
a look at Tommy, whose mouth was smeared with brown sugar from Lady
Eleanor's still-room.  The Corporal held open the gate with his best
salute, and they cantered down over the park, Colonel George turning in
his saddle to look back and wave his hand before they finally
disappeared from sight.

"It is pleasant to see Colonel Fitzdenys again," said Lady Eleanor to
the Corporal, as he held the door for her.

"It's a treat to look upon his face, my Lady," said the Corporal, "a
noble gentleman like that who never forgets the humblest of his
friends.  I've always said that if I were not in your Ladyship's
service there is no one that I would serve so willingly as he.  'Tis no
wonder that his honour the Captain and he were friends, for there
wasn't two such gentlemen in the army."

So when the children rejoined the Corporal they heard nothing but the
praises of Colonel Fitzdenys, of his bravery, his gentleness, and his
excellence as an officer; all of which they passed on in the evening to
Lady Eleanor, who seemed quite content to hear it.



CHAPTER V

Notwithstanding Colonel George's hopes, Tommy Fry remained dumb during
the next day, and the next, and the next; and Lady Eleanor became
seriously alarmed.  She sent for the apothecary from the little
neighbouring town, by Colonel George's advice, and he duly arrived in
his yellow gig; but he frankly confessed that he could do nothing.  So
he wisely went away, as Mrs. Fry indignantly put it, without leaving so
much as a drench behind him, or taking so much as a drop of blood from
the boy, whereas every one knew (or at any rate the villagers did) that
the evil spirit, which no doubt possessed poor Tommy, might have left
him if a convenient outlet had been made with a lancet, or if the boy
had swallowed a few doses of the nastiest possible medicine such as
evil spirits find it impossible to live with.

The doctor having failed, a local preacher was called in, who with the
assistance of certain of his flock screamed and sang and raved over
Tommy for several hours, making such a noise as set Lady Eleanor's
peacocks screaming till they could scream no more.  The boy was at
first rather terrified, but as his helpers became more vehement and
their antics more grotesque, he lost his fright and was intensely
amused.  Finally the whole congregation rose and, headed by the
preacher, rushed out of the house with wild cries that the evil spirit
had left Tommy and that they would hunt it out of the village.  None
the less the boy remained dumb; so that the evil spirit, if ever it had
thought of going, had certainly changed its mind very quickly.

Both doctor and preacher having failed, Mrs. Fry was at her wits' end;
but her neighbours pointed out that witchcraft could be met only by
witchcraft; and a remark made by her nearest neighbour, Mrs. Mugford,
soon brought her round to their mind.  "'Tisn't witchcraft," said Mrs.
Mugford very loudly in Mrs. Fry's hearing, "'tis a jidgment on evil
tongues, and the sins of parents that's visited on the children.  The
mother goeth back and vor biting and slandering, and the mouth of the
innocent child is stopped."  Mrs. Fry wept with rage as she heard the
words, for she had no answer ready.  But she was more than ever
convinced from that moment that it was witchcraft which had wrought the
mischief in poor Tommy, and that only further witchcraft could undo it.
Despite the sad end of her pig, owing to the malignant influence of the
white witch of Gratton, she now lamented the death of the old man and
wished that he were back, if only for one day, that she might consult
him and show her contempt for Mrs. Mugford.  As things were, she was
fain to fall back on her neighbours to learn where some wizard or wise
women of equal power could be discovered; and it was with dismay that
she found that not one of any repute was to hand nearer than the
borders of Dartmoor, fifty miles away.  In vain she questioned hawkers,
waggoners, and the guards of the coaches, any passing folks in fact
that had seen the world; not one could enlighten her.

The neighbours, however, were ready enough with suggestions of their
own, of which the commonest was that Tommy's tongue should be split
with a silver sixpence.  It is possible that some attempt might have
been made to perform this operation, for abundance of sixpences were
offered for the purpose; and there was a crooked one of the time of
Queen Anne from which great things were expected, for it was said to
have been given by the Queen herself when, touching children for the
King's Evil.  Unfortunately, however, not one of these designs escaped
the keen ears of Mrs. Mugford, who at once communicated them to the
Corporal.

"'Tis not that I hold with them as slanders their neighbours, Mr.
Brimacott," she said, "nor that I bear no malice against them that
can't let a poor boy go to sea to sarve the King without a-saying that
his mother drave mun from home.  I could tell of many in this parish as
isn't no better than they should be, and yet takes her Ladyship's
kindness and charity as if no one hadn't no right to it but themselves.
I could tell of such, but I won't, not I.  But I'm not going to stand
by and see an innocent boy's tongue cut out of his mouth; though I
wouldn't say, Mr. Brimacott, but what there's tongues in the parish
that would be the better for cutting."

It was in this appalling form that the projected operation with the
sixpence made its way through the Corporal to Lady Eleanor, who was
horrified.  She at once sent for both Mrs. Mugford and Mrs. Fry to get
at the truth of the story, and gave them such a scolding for their
folly and their quarrelsomeness that they departed weeping hand in
hand, in deep sympathy with each other as two thoroughly ill-used
women.  They were a little frightened too, for though they had long
known Lady Eleanor as the gentlest and kindest of creatures, they now
found out that her beautiful face could be stern, and her voice sharp
and severe in rebuke; but for all their crying they knew in their
hearts that they liked her all the better for it.

So all attempts to heal Tommy by magic were stopped; and meanwhile
Colonel George scoured the moor in all directions without the least
success in finding out anything about the strange woman and her idiot
son.  He had ridden first to Cossacombe, which was twenty miles away on
the other side of the moor, and had heard that the woman had been seen
there occasionally, but the idiot never; in fact no one seemed to know
anything about him.  He learned also that she had brought down some
honey for sale on the day following her appearance at Ashacombe, and
had bought a sack of oatmeal at the mill, which she had taken away on a
scarecrow of an Exmoor pony.  There were of course sundry stories of
her, but these were dark and uncertain, and of no value for tracing her
to her dwelling place.  Then Colonel George took long rides over the
moor, crossing it this way and that from end to end, in the hope of
finding what he sought; for he had made up his mind that this strange
couple were lodged somewhere in the waste of bog and heather.  But he
failed to find the least trace of them; and indeed the moor is wide now
and was far wider and wilder and more desolate in those days, before
there was a fence or a ditch to be found in the whole of it.  Then
stag-hunting began, and Colonel George felt confident that with so many
people galloping over the moorland in all directions he must certainly
learn something; but here again he was disappointed.  Still he went on
trying day after day, and very often came home by Ashacombe, when he
did not fail to call at Bracefort Hall, where everybody was glad to see
him, whatever the failure of his efforts.

Thus a whole month passed away without any change in Tommy Fry or any
sign that might give hope of discovering the strange woman.  Lady
Eleanor then became very unhappy indeed, and blamed herself for letting
her go without further inquiry.

Colonel George still insisted that all would soon right itself, for he
was pained to see how much Lady Eleanor took the matter to heart, but
in truth he too was at his wits' end.  And indeed those two distressed
themselves over Tommy Fry far more than anybody else; for Mrs. Fry
gained great importance from her boy's misfortune.  Folks from
neighbouring villages came to see for themselves if the story that they
had heard was true; and from time to time some gentleman passing to or
from the hunting-field would drop in, when Tommy was produced and
proved to be speechless, while Mrs. Fry told the tale with every
harrowing detail.  The great Lord Fitzdenys himself came once, and the
doctor regained favour in Mrs. Fry's eyes by bringing another doctor to
see what he called "this interesting case;" and as none of the
gentlemen ever went away without giving a few pence to the boy and a
few shillings to his mother, the family of Fry gained both dignity and
profit.  Nor were the Frys at first the only gainers, for, Tommy being
of a generous nature, there was an uncommon demand for Sally Dart's
toffee, until Mrs. Fry, perceiving how quickly his money disappeared,
thought it prudent to take care of it for him.

Then suddenly one day there came an event which revived all the hopes
of Colonel George and Lady Eleanor.  For one beautiful evening while
Dick and Elsie were wandering with the Corporal round the fence of the
park to pick blackberries, they heard a strange whistling in the wood
beyond.  At first they thought that it was a bird, but the Corporal
said that he had never heard such a bird in his life, though the sound
seemed to pass so swiftly from place to place that it was difficult to
think what it might be.  They followed the sound along the fence for a
little way, and then suddenly the Corporal shaded his eyes with his
hand for a moment, and telling the children to wait till he came back,
ran away down the fence as fast as his lame leg would carry him, turned
into the wood by a hunting-gate and disappeared.  The children wondered
for a time what could have happened, but discovering some very fine
ripe blackberries soon turned to picking and tasting them again, when
suddenly they heard the whistling close to them, and again still
closer; and presently there was a little rustle through the bushes, and
there stood the idiot before them, still whistling.  They were at first
a little frightened, but too much astonished to cry out; and the ragged
creature (for he had just the same appearance as when they had first
seen him) grinned at them so kindly that they could not help smiling
back.  He looked round him nervously for a moment and then holding up
his finger as if to bid them keep silence, he scrambled down from the
fence to them, and produced a rudely made cage of hazel-wands from
under his coat.  This he opened, and took from it a bullfinch, which
perched on his finger without attempting to fly away.  Then he whistled
a few notes and the bird began to pipe a little tune, though the man
was obliged to remind him of his note now and again.  Then he whistled
few more notes and the bird piped another tune or part of one, after
which he lifted the bird to his face and the little creature laid its
beak against his lips.  He then listened nervously for a few seconds,
shut he bird up in the cage again, put the cage into little Elsie's
hand, nodding and smiling all the time, jumped over the fence into the
wood and was gone.

[Illustration: The bird began to pipe a little tune.]

The Corporal came back a few minutes later, very hot, out of breath,
and very nearly out of temper.  He had caught sight of some one in the
wood, he said, a poacher or some one who had no business there, and
made sure to have caught him or at any rate to have found out who he
was.  But when he heard the children's story he opened his eyes wide
and said that they had better go home at once; and that very same
evening he rode over to Fitzdenys Court with a letter from Lady Eleanor
to Colonel George.  But the children were far too much taken up by the
bullfinch to think of anything else, for the bird took courage to pipe
a little to Dick's whistling, and then they discovered that one of his
tunes was "The British Grenadiers."

Colonel George duly came over next morning and was not a little
astonished to hear what had happened, but could not explain it in the
least.  "The children will solve this mystery before I shall, you will
see," he said to Lady Eleanor, laughing, "and I may as well give up the
attempt."

"But do you not think that this proves these two people to be harmless
and innocent?" asked Lady Eleanor.

"You judged them to be so from the first," he answered, "and that is
sufficient for me."

Lady Eleanor hesitated for a moment, and then said that he must come
and see the bullfinch.  So Elsie produced the bird with great pride,
and Colonel George recognised one tune as "The British Grenadiers" and
the other as part of "Lillibulero," the famous marching song which was
so popular with King William's soldiers.  "Strange," he said, "that
both tunes should be marching tunes.  What can it mean?"

But before they had done with the bullfinch, a frightened woman came
hurrying up with the news that old Sally Dart was taken bad.  She had
got up as usual and begun to lay the fire, but the neighbours seeing no
more of her had entered the cottage and found her lying on the floor,
speechless, with one side of her face pulled down.  Lady Eleanor at
once sent for the doctor, and walked down with Colonel George to see
what she could do; but as they came back they found that there was
fresh excitement in another quarter.  The village preacher's cow had
also been taken bad; her calf was dead already, and it was doubtful if
the cow could be saved.  Finally, Mrs. Mugford was seen weeping over
the ghastly heads of six or eight fowls which lay in a heap before her
door.  The said fowls, so Colonel George ascertained from her, had
strayed away in the previous night, which she had never known them do
before, and the keeper had found the heads scattered about the wood not
far from an earth where an old vixen was known to have brought up a
litter of cubs.  What could have possessed the fowls Mrs. Mugford
couldn't say, for her old stag (and she selected the head of a
venerable cock from the heap as she spoke, to give point to her remark)
was so sensible as a Christian almost.

"What a day of misfortunes!" said Lady Eleanor, as they left the
disconsolate woman.

"Yes, indeed," said Colonel George, "I only hope that they may end
here.  Listen!"  And as he spoke the voice of Mrs. Fry rose high from
the garden above.

"Yes," she said, "the mazed man was up to the park yesterday.  The
young gentleman and the little lady seed mun; and the witch wasn't far
away, you may depend.  She's a-witched mun all; that's what it is; and
now maybe," she added with a triumphant glance at the weeping Mrs.
Mugford, "there's some as won't be so sartain as they was as to the
doings of witches."

Lady Eleanor gave a little laugh, but turned suddenly grave, and asked
Colonel George anxiously, "Do you think that they really believe it?"

"There is no doubt that they believe it," he said quietly.  "It is best
to face facts."

"But if it should lead to trouble?" said Lady Eleanor.

"Wait till the trouble comes," he said, "and then send for me.  You may
be sure that I shall come."



CHAPTER VI

The day of misfortunes brought about very much such results as Colonel
George had foreseen.  Old Sally Dart, it is true, recovered, though she
was sadly shaken; and she declared, as soon as she could speak, that
she was not going yet awhile, not at any rate till she had heard the
full story of her Jan's death.  But on the other hand the preacher's
cow did die, and as the preacher himself was but a small farmer of
eight or ten acres of land, the loss to him was very serious.  Mrs.
Mugford, too, was thoroughly converted to belief in witchcraft by the
loss of her fowls; though since Tommy Fry's noise no longer disturbed
her, and her fowls were no longer numerous enough to make havoc of Mrs.
Fry's garden, she and Mrs. Fry lived for the present in comparative
peace.  Hoping therefore to do something to destroy the belief in
witches and to soften the harsh feeling against them, Lady Eleanor
wrote to the parson to speak on the subject in next Sunday's sermon.

Her hopes, however, were not very great.  There was no parson living in
the village, the parish being so small that it was joined to another
and served by an old, old man, who wore his hair in powder and droned
through one service only on Sundays in the little dark church at
Ashacombe.  The congregation was always small, and perhaps the three
most enthusiastic members were Dick, Elsie, and the Corporal.  For the
Corporal had inherited a violoncello, or as it was always called in the
village, a bass viol, from his father, and played it in the little
gallery along with the two violins, flageolet and bassoon that formed
the rest of the band.  The notes that he could play were few, though
sufficient for the humble needs of the church, but the children had no
doubt that he was the finest performer in the world, and watched
anxiously for the minute when he should begin sawing away at the
strings, and the choir should break (very much through their noses)
into the anthem, "I will arise, I will arise and goo tu my va-ther,"
with which the service always began.

The old parson, though he did attempt to fulfil Lady Eleanor's wishes
in his sermon, only succeeded in being duller and longer than usual,
and neither Dick nor Elsie could understand what he was talking about.
Moreover they had been much distracted by a printed handbill which they
had seen on the church door, headed in large letters by the word
"Deserted," with the description of a deserter named Henry Bale from
the Royal Marines, set forth in the usual terms--"Height five feet four
inches, fair hair, grey eyes; when last seen was dressed in his
regimentals," and so on.  This had set Dick thinking very seriously,
for the Corporal had always told him that no man was so bad as he that
deserted his colours and ran away from the King's service; and he had
hardly believed that such people could exist.  And the bill had set
other people thinking too, for a reward of two guineas was offered for
this deserter, which made sundry poor mouths water; so that altogether
the parson's long sermon was not much listened to, many heads being
occupied with an attempt to remember some strange man five feet four
inches in height, with fair hair and grey eyes, and dressed in
regimentals.

When service was over, the Corporal solemnly packed up his bass viol in
a bag of green baize, and was about to carry it off, when he was
stopped by the village preacher, who begged the loan of it for the
evening.  But the Corporal, who as a soldier and Lady Eleanor's servant
was a staunch supporter of Church and King, did not like the preacher,
who was always railing against all authority and driving silly maids
into hysterics with his ravings; so he answered him very civilly (for
he never quarrelled with any one) that he was afraid he could not.  The
preacher, however, would not take no for an answer, and tried to
wheedle the Corporal, who at last told him very decidedly that his
father had played that viol in the church at Fitzdenys for forty years,
and he himself at Ashacombe for near seven years more, and that he
would be hanged if it should ever enter a chapel so long as he was
alive.  With which words he drew himself up to his full height and
stalked away.

The preacher was not a little annoyed, for he wanted the viol for his
own service at the chapel, where he was going to preach directly
contrary to the old parson.  Moreover at the close of his service there
was to be a collection to make good to him the loss of his cow, so that
it was important to him that all should go off as well as possible.
However, notwithstanding the absence of the viol, his discourse was
enough to gain for him a good collection, to strengthen the general
belief in witches, and to influence the minds of the villagers against
them; for he singled out those who dealt leniently with witches for
punishment, either in the near or distant future, which was just what
his congregation was glad to hear.  Not that the preacher was a bad
man, certainly not worse than his neighbours, but he was as ignorant
and superstitious as any of them.

Great cackling there was among the women when the discourse was ended.
It was Lady Eleanor who had delivered the witch and the idiot out of
their hands; but the villagers could not suspect her of harm who was
always so thoughtful and kind, and who had given more than any one
towards replacing the preacher's cow.  "But her ladyship's that
tender-hearted, you see," they said, "and the best of folks is
sometimes mistook;" and they shook their heads solemnly, each thinking
in her heart that she knew of at least one excellent person who was
never mistaken.  But who was it that had excused the mazed man to her
ladyship?  The Corporal.  Who had contrived to be out of the way,
though in charge of the children, when the mazed man came to them?  The
Corporal again.

So the whisper went round that the Corporal was in league with the
witch; and the preacher, who had not forgotten about the bass viol,
though he said only a few mysterious words, seemed rather to agree.
Then Mrs. Fry revealed the fact that she had suspected the Corporal
from the first; for to begin with he was a soldier.

"And what drove he to 'list?" she asked indignantly.  "No good, I'll
warrant mun.  'Tisn't good that drives men to 'list.  There was Jan
Dart that 'listed twenty year agone, and 'ticed away Lucy Clatworthy to
follow mun, her that was only child of Jeremiah Clatworthy up to
Loudacott; and the old Jeremiah got drinking and died after she left
mun.  And there's Jan's old mother, poor soul, that loved mun as the
apple of her eye, waiting here alone, and I reckon her time's short.
No!  I knows what it is when men go for sojers."

It was perhaps fortunate that Mrs. Mugford was not at chapel that
evening or there might have been angry words; but the rest of the
women, having no interest in soldiers, with perfect honesty agreed with
Mrs. Fry, and lamented that her ladyship should be so misguided as to
employ a man like the Corporal, for it would surely end in no
good,--sojers never did.  Look at Mrs. Mugford's boy that went for a
marine, and came back with the shakums so bad that you could hear his
teeth chattering a mile away when the fit was on him.  The conversation
would have lingered long on the symptoms of "shakums," or in other
words of ague, had not some one called to mind the bill on the
church-door about the deserter.  Then the tongues were set wagging
afresh.  Two guineas were a lot of money, they said, but soldiers was
often badly served, and 'twas no wonder they runned away.  But it
wasn't well to have strange men about the place, least of all sojers,
for they never learned no good.

The mention of strange men about the place of course brought back the
subject of the idiot, and then the thought occurred to one of the women
that he might be the deserter in question.  The idea was at once taken
up by her companions, and the more they talked, the more likely it
seemed to them.  The man had been driven from his regiment probably
because of his evil doings, and was come to Ashacombe to plague them;
and all agreed that it would be very pleasant to earn two guineas by
the catching of him.  Mrs. Fry went home brimful of this new notion and
poured it out to Mrs. Mugford, who listened with unusual interest, and
without either contradiction or interruption, which was a most unusual
thing.  But at last she broke out with much earnestness:

"You'm right, you may depend, Mrs. Fry; you'm right.  That mazed man is
the man that they'm a-sarching for; and it's my belief that he isn't
mazed at all but so well in his head as you and I be,--just pretending
like.  And you'm right about that Brimacott too, and I do hope that
every one will let mun know that he's not welcome in Ashacombe.  He's a
prying man and a tale-bearing man, that's what I believe he is, and all
to deceive her ladyship and keep friends with the witch.  But we'll
catch that mazed man for all his pretending, and there there will be
two guineas for you and me."

Any one else but Mrs. Fry might have thought it strange for the
Corporal to be called a tale-bearer by the very woman who had told
tales against her; but Mrs. Fry was not a clever woman, and after all
she had suffered under Lady Eleanor's tongue through the Corporal's
report.  Lady Eleanor knew that if the Corporal told her anything that
went on in the village, which he very rarely did, it was right that she
should know it; but that was not Mrs. Fry's opinion.  So the two agreed
that the Corporal was an enemy to the village, though, as is usually
the way, they never thought of complaining to Lady Eleanor of him.

But had Mrs. Fry stayed at home instead of going to chapel, she would
have understood better the meaning of Mrs. Mugford's words.  For having
packed off her husband, who was a feeble creature, to take the children
out for a walk, Mrs. Mugford stationed herself at a window from which
she could see any one that came down from the woods at the back of the
house; and after a time she saw a shortish man, fair-haired and
blue-eyed, walk stealthily down to her.  He was a miserable-looking
fellow, with a pinched white face, matted hair and new-grown beard, and
dressed only in a shirt and a pair of light-blue soldier's trousers.
She smuggled him quickly into the house and locked the door; and when
after a quarter of an hour the door opened again, and after due looking
round the man was let out, he was dressed like an ordinary labourer.
He carried bread and bacon tied up in a handkerchief in his hand, and
disappeared into the wood as quickly as he could; and as soon as he was
gone Mrs. Mugford very solemnly put the trousers and shirt, that he had
worn when he came in, upon the fire and burned them.



CHAPTER VII

So another fortnight passed away, and nothing happened to disturb the
usual peace of Ashacombe.  Nothing was seen or heard of the idiot or
his mother nor of any one who corresponded to the description of the
deserter.  The Corporal indeed realised that the tone of the village
towards him was not so friendly as before, but he set that down to the
preacher's influence and took little notice of it; for indeed he cared
little so long as he was with Lady Eleanor and the children, and could
count Colonel Fitzdenys among his friends.

But up at the Hall there were heavy hearts; for Lady Eleanor had
spoken, not for the first time, to Colonel George about sending Dick to
school, and he had answered that it was high time for him to go, as it
was a bad thing for boys to stay too long at home with their mothers;
and he said that he himself had been sent to school at six, whereas
Dick was already nine.  He added that by chance he had heard of a good
school while passing through London, and would arrange matters for her
if she wished it.  It was rather strange, by the way, that Colonel
George always happened by chance to know everything that could save
Lady Eleanor trouble.  So with a sigh Lady Eleanor had assented that
Dick should go; and it had been settled that he should leave in a few
weeks.  Dick was rather triumphant, Elsie rather jealous, the Corporal
in secret rather sad, and Lady Eleanor very melancholy.

So one day early in September Lady Eleanor promised the children that
for an unusual treat they should have a ride with the Corporal rather
further than usual on to the moor.  She would not ride herself, for her
favourite horse was lame, but settled that she would drive them some
way up the valley in the afternoon, and there meet the Corporal, who
would go on before them leading the ponies, and ride with them on to
the moor.  Accordingly on the appointed day the Corporal rode through
the village on old Billy, leading a pony on each side.  Not a soul
wished him good-day, and the Corporal felt that all were making
unpleasant remarks--indeed he caught the words, "Dear! to think that
they sweet children should be trusted to such as he."

But he trotted on without taking any notice, up the valley to the
appointed meeting-place.

Lady Eleanor drove up rather late, for the horse-flies had been very
troublesome; and the children seeing the grey pony which drew them
covered all over with little flecks of blood, had constantly entreated
her to stop while they jumped down and knocked the flies off him.  At
last, however, she came.  The children mounted their ponies, Dick very
proud of a new saddle and stirrups to which he had been promoted after
leaping the bar bare-backed, and they rode away up a grass path to the
covert, kissing their hands as they went.

And then Lady Eleanor turned round and drove down the valley, feeling
very lonely and unhappy over the prospect of losing Dick.  Her thoughts
wandered back to her first meeting with Richard Bracefort, the handsome
captain of Light Dragoons, her engagement, her wedding in a London
drawing-room, and her first visit to Bracefort Hall.  Then had come
some two years of happy life in country-quarters.  Those were pleasant
days to look back on, when her husband would come in from parade and
say that he believed he had in his troop as good officers and men as
were to be found in the service; while George Fitzdenys, the
lieutenant, would tell her that there were few such officers as her
husband to be found in the Army, and the little cornet, who was little
more than a boy, would be lavish in praise of both.  Her maid again was
always repeating to her what Brimacott, then her husband's
soldier-servant, said of the devotion of the men to the captain.
Finally there came the crowning happiness of the birth of the children;
and she still remembered seeing a little knot of troopers gathered
round the diminutive creatures called Dick and Elsie.

But, very soon after, came the miserable day when the regiment was
ordered on active service, and she rode with her husband at the head of
his troop to the rendezvous.  She could see him still as he appeared
mounted on Billy Pitt that day.  Then followed the embarkation of men
and horses, and a desperate struggle with Billy, who objected to be
slung on board; and finally the last glimpse of sails disappearing over
the horizon and the long drive westward to Bracefort Hall.  There old
Mr. Bracefort's delight over her arrival and over the children had
almost brought happiness back to her again; and cheerful letters from
Spain kept hope alive.  But when the regiment reached the front, the
tragedy of war soon made itself felt.  George Fitzdenys was badly
wounded in the first skirmish, two of the best troopers were killed and
others wounded; and, after that, twelve months of service seemed to cut
off member after member of what Fitzdenys had called the happiest troop
in the Army.  The little cornet was shot dead, the troop-sergeant-major
drowned while crossing a treacherous ford, this trooper maimed for
life, that trooper--but she could not bear to think of it.  And then
came the morning in August when old Mr. Bracefort had come in white and
trembling to break to her the news of Salamanca.  It was well that in
those dreary days she had been obliged to look after him and give him
the comfort which he tried, but in vain, to give to her.  She
remembered how, for all his courage, the old gentleman had drooped and
died after the death of his son, and how all ties with the old life
seemed to be severed, but for George Fitzdenys' letters of sympathy.
Then she recalled the arrival of Brimacott and Billy Pitt, which seemed
to mark the end of one stage of her life and the beginning of a new,
and yet to carry the last relics of the past continuously into the
present.  All had been peaceful since then; the war had done its worst
for her, and her only link with Spain now lay in the messages, always
punctually delivered by old Lord Fitzdenys in person, that Captain
Fitzdenys sent his respectful service to her and hoped that she and the
children were well.  She remembered how she had dreaded her first
meeting with Captain Fitzdenys after the peace, and how he seemed to
have realised that her whole life now lay in the children, and had made
friends with them at once.  He had helped her through some difficulties
of business and had then rushed off to the campaign of Waterloo; and he
had come back safe and sound only to run away again after a few months
to India.  And now he was back once more, in time to be of help to her;
but Dick must go to school and the happy home must be broken up again.
She sighed sadly, wondering where it all would end.

In this frame of mind she returned and sat in the hall waiting for the
children to come back.  Six o'clock came, and there was no sign of
them.  The long twilight faded slowly without a sound of hoofs on the
drive; seven o'clock struck; and she rang the bell and asked if nothing
had been seen of the Corporal and the children.  The answer was
"Nothing;" and she waited in growing anxiety, listening for the trample
of the ponies or the sound of the children's voices, but hearing only
the ticking of the clock; until unable to endure the suspense, she went
out and walked first into the yard and then into the road by which they
should come.  The night was fine, but overcast by light clouds of grey
mist, through which the moon pierced but very faintly.  More than once
her hopes were raised by the sound of hoofs, and dashed to the ground
by the drone of wheels or by the appearance of a fat farmer jogging
home.  She asked more than one if they had seen a man on a brown horse
and two children on ponies, but they only answered "no," and wished her
civilly good night.  In this way the rumour passed through the village
that the Corporal and the children were missing; and many wondered, but
made no doubt that they would be back presently.  As Lady Eleanor came
back to the house, the clock struck eight, and she returned to the Hall
with a deadly sinking at her heart.  A quarter of an hour later, she
heard the Corporal's step, limping heavier than usual, and jumped to
her feet; and the Corporal came in, looking white and haggard and
weary, but braced himself to his usual erect attitude when he saw her,
and stood at attention.

Then he told his story quietly and clearly.  They had ridden right up
to the highest point of a ridge, as they had designed, to look over the
moor to the coast of Wales; and while they were standing there a deer
had come by, and they had ridden down a little further to see what
should come next.  And then the hounds had come up in full cry and only
half-a-dozen horsemen, among whom was Colonel Fitzdenys, anywhere near
them.  Old Billy was so much excited that the Corporal could hardly
hold him, and at last the old horse fairly bolted away with him and the
two ponies after him.  The Corporal had managed to pull up Billy, but
the two ponies had shot past him, both the children crying out with
delight, and while galloping on to catch them Billy had come down in a
boggy place, and the corporal supposed that he himself must have been a
bit stunned, for when he got up he found that he had let go of his rein
and that Billy and everybody else had disappeared.  He had followed the
tracks of the horse as well as he could and had found him in the next
combe by the water, but had had a deal of trouble to catch him; and
though he had shouted and holloaed for the children he had neither seen
nor heard anything of them.  Then as soon as he had ridden to the top
of the hill again, the mist came down thick and heavy, and there was no
seeing anything.  So with some trouble he found his way back to the
road, being obliged to travel slowly, as the old horse had lamed
himself.  He had left word at every house that he passed, and parties
had gone up the road in the valley with lanterns.  "I hope and trust,
my Lady," said the Corporal in conclusion, "that Master Dick and Miss
Elsie have followed the hunt to the end, for his honour the colonel
will see to them.  A man that I met on the road promised to carry a
message to Fitzdenys Court, but the deer was travelling fast, so I
doubt if the colonel will come home to-night unless so be as he must.
But, if you please, my Lady, I'll just take another horse and ride over
to the Court myself."

"Can nothing more be done?" said Lady Eleanor, calmed in spite of
herself by the Corporal's calmness and forethought.

"Nothing, I fear, my Lady," he answered sadly; "it's terrible thick out
over."

"But you are hurt," said Lady Eleanor, noticing the paleness of his
face, and the effort which it cost him to walk.

"It's nothing, my Lady," he said.  "I'd sooner have lost both legs than
that this should have come."  And he bowed and limped out; but within
an hour and a half he came galloping back with Colonel George, who had
met him on the road, and was hurrying over to say that though he had
ridden to the death of the hunted stag he had seen nothing of the
children then nor at any other time.

"Is the fog as thick on the moor as they say?" asked Lady Eleanor,
speaking bravely, though she was white to the lips.

"So thick that without a compass I could not have found my way across
it," said Colonel George.  "It is right that you should know the truth.
But the farmers on the edge of the moor know what has happened and are
riding as far as they dare with whistles and horns--Brimacott saw to
that--and I propose to join them myself at once."

"I shall go with you," said Lady Eleanor, quietly.

Colonel George hesitated for a moment and then answered as quietly: "Be
it so; then you must ride my horse, which is cleverer on the moor than
any of yours.  I will take my groom's, and you must let him have a
horse to take back some directions from me to Fitzdenys.  Brimacott,
with your permission, shall watch the road by which you drove out this
morning, in case the ponies should find their way there."

Lady Eleanor soon came down in her habit, impatient to start, but found
Colonel George writing, with a tray of food and drink set down by him.
"You cannot start until you have eaten something," was all that he
said.  "We may have a long ride and a long watch before us;" and Lady
Eleanor gulped down a few morsels, for she felt, while hardly knowing
why, that Colonel George had taken command and that she must obey
orders.  In a few minutes he finished writing and sent the letter back
to Fitzdenys Court.  Then he slung a field-glass over his shoulders;
and Lady Eleanor's heart sank low as she walked with him to the door,
for she perceived that he expected the search to be prolonged beyond
the night.  "Courage," he said, as if reading her thoughts; and they
went out and rode away together into the dark.



CHAPTER VIII

And what had become of Dick and Elsie?  The account given by the
Corporal had, of course, been perfectly true.  It was Dick who had been
the first to see the hunted stag about a quarter of a mile away,
travelling along at that steady lurching gallop which seems so slow and
is so astonishingly swift; and it had needed all the Corporal's
firmness to keep the boy from galloping after him on the spot.  And
then after a time the hounds had come on upon the line of the deer,
their great white bodies conspicuous as they strode on in long drawn
file across the waste of pale green grass, and the sound of their deep
voices booming faintly over the vast solitude.  Surely and steadily
they pressed on, seeming like the deer to move but slowly, but in
reality running their hardest with a swinging relentless stride.  There
was something almost dreamlike in this strange procession as it moved
on between green earth and blue heaven, with none to see it, as it
appeared, but the white-winged curlew which whistled mournfully
overhead.  But presently a little group of horsemen appeared on the far
side of the hounds, just six of them in all.  The old huntsman was
leading them, in his long skirted coat and double-peaked cap, as Dick
had often seen him, with his little legs thrust forward, his old body
bent over his saddle-bow, and his eyes glued to his hounds.  Just a few
yards from him rode Colonel George, erect and easy, but also evidently
with no eyes for anything but the hounds; and close after him came
three more, while the sixth was a full hundred yards behind.

And all the time the Corporal and the children kept moving down, as if
drawn by some fascination, insensibly closer to them.  Old Billy was
worrying at his bit and dancing about, and the ponies squeaking and
dancing round him; until for the sake of peace the Corporal allowed the
old horse to move in the direction which he desired, when an impatient
trot soon turned after a few huge strides to an impatient canter, and
Billy put his head down and was off.  And off the ponies went also, for
they had taken the bit in their teeth and meant to catch the hindmost
of the horsemen if they could; and neither Dick nor Elsie turned their
heads, or they would have seen Billy plunge deep into a patch of bog,
and come down heavily, throwing the Corporal far over his head.  So on
they went, flying down the long slope before them, dashed across a
little stream at its foot in hot pursuit of the last of the horsemen,
and on again along a little track on the other side.  The ascent was a
little steep beyond the stream, but the ponies struggled gamely up, and
then another long slope stretched downward before them, beyond which
rose a great bank of heather.  The hounds had already reached the
heather and were breasting the ascent, but their voices could be heard
now and then, and the last of the horsemen was not many hundred yards
ahead.  So away the ponies went again, the children nothing loth, for
they doubted not but that the Corporal was near them.  By the time that
they reached the foot of the slope the ponies were beginning to roll a
little, but they splashed through the next little stream as lively as
ever, and began to gallop up through the heather on the other side.
The horseman whom the children were following was still just in sight,
hugging his horse up the ascent; but first his horse's tail disappeared
over the hill, then only his shoulders were visible, then only his hat,
and presently he vanished from sight altogether.  And Dick hustled his
pony up the hill to catch him, and Elsie hustled hers after him; but
the feeble gallop soon became a slow trot, and the trot became feebler
and feebler in spite of all the hustling.  Before long both ponies were
sobbing heavily, and it was only with great difficulty that the
children kept them going fast enough to regain sight of their leader.
Presently the ponies came to a dead stop, and Dick looked about him for
the Corporal; but the Corporal was nowhere to be seen.

As a matter of fact the Corporal at that moment was just rising to his
feet, and wondering whether he was on his head or his heels.  For old
Billy on finding himself in the bog had plunged madly about,
girth-deep, until he had pumped all the wind out of himself, when he
had waited quietly to recover his breath and floundered out on to the
sound ground, shaking such a shower of brown drops over the Corporal as
brought him to himself and made him stagger to his feet, rub his eyes,
and remember where he was.  He soon made out in which direction Billy
was gone and presently caught sight of him, making his way to the water
to drink; but the horse was not going to let himself be caught at once,
and led the Corporal a long dance down by the water-side, where, of
course, he could see nothing of the children, though he kept hallooing
from time to time in the hope that they would hear him.

And meanwhile the children looked round and round, wondering where they
had come from and where they should go to.  They had not the least idea
where they were, and they could see no one and hear no one; but they
laid their heads together and decided that they had better go on to the
top of the hill before them, from which, as Dick said, they would be
able to see further.  So as soon as the ponies had recovered their wind
they went on upward, and presently to their delight they saw far ahead
of them the horseman whom they had followed, no longer moving but
stopped still.  They hustled the ponies into a gallop once more, when
to their dismay the man began to move slowly on away from them.  They
called out at the top of their voices but could not make him hear, in
fact he seemed rather to quicken his pace.  So they drove the ponies on
again, not noticing that tufts of grass were beginning to show
themselves in the heather over which they rode.  Then the man suddenly
turned to his left and went galloping on, and the children turned also
to catch him by cutting off the corner; but the ponies seemed unable to
travel very fast, and presently Dick's pony after some desperate
floundering came right down on his nose, shooting the boy gently over
his ears, where he landed with his head and shoulders in a shallow pool
of brown peaty water.

Dick jumped to his feet at once, for he was not a bit frightened, and
caught the pony easily; but he felt a little humiliated, for he could
just see that his white collar was stained with brown mud, and he did
not like the trickling of the water down his back.  It took him a few
minutes to repair damages, and when he put his foot into the stirrup to
jump up again, the saddle began to turn round on the pony's back, and
he had to jump down again hastily and try to set the saddle right while
Elsie held the pony's rein.  But while he was heaving with all his
little strength, the pony's back suddenly sank before him, and Elsie
cried out that Stonecrop (for that was the pony's name) was going to
lie down.  Like a wise little woman she gave the rein a jerk, which
brought Stonecrop's head up and kept him on his legs; but Stonecrop was
so much annoyed that he whisked round and tugged so hard at the rein
that he drew it over his head; and Dick had only just time to catch
hold of it before Elsie was obliged to let go, for fear of being pulled
out of her saddle.  Then Stonecrop, who was now still more annoyed and
had quite recovered his wind, refused for a long time to allow the rein
to be put over his head again, but kept dodging and backing until he
drove Elsie almost to despair.  At last he backed into some soft ground
where he could not move very quickly, and Dick threw the rein over his
head; after which Stonecrop decided to behave himself, and actually
stood still for a moment to let Dick mount him.  The saddle very nearly
turned round as he did so, but Elsie held on stoutly to the stirrup on
the other side, and, once mounted, Dick soon set the saddle straight
again by his weight; but both of the children were wearied and
disheartened by all these misfortunes, for Stonecrop had kept them
waiting by his antics for more than half an hour.

Then they looked about them again for some one to guide them, and
particularly for the Corporal; but the Corporal, as luck would have it,
though he was trying his best to find them, never came within eyesight
or earshot of them.  Besides, Billy was so lame that he could not ride
him very fast, and the Corporal himself was not so sure of his way but
that he had to keep looking out sharply to remember where he was.  So
seeing no help Dick and Elsie made up their minds that they must try to
find their own way home, though they had little idea in which direction
to start, for they had never been so far on the moor before.  The
rolling hills and grass and heather seemed to be very much the same on
every side, and there was no road nor track to guide them.  Dick did
indeed think of following the hoof-marks of their own ponies backward,
for he had heard the Corporal tell stories how lost and tired soldiers
had rejoined an army on the march by sticking to its tracks; but
unfortunately this was not very easy.  Very soon they made up their
minds that the first thing to be done was to get clear of the
treacherous ground on which they stood, for the ponies floundered
terribly, and in one desperate scramble over a very soft place Dick let
his whip fall and could not find it again.  Still on they went, and at
last came to a little trickle of water in a hollow, running between
what seemed to be sound green grass; but the ponies refused to cross
it; and it was well that they did so, for it was deeper and more
dangerous than any ground that they had yet traversed.  So there was
nothing for it but to follow the water in the hope that the ground
would improve; and accordingly they did follow it, upward.  The stream
grew smaller and smaller, and Dick hugged himself with the idea that
when it disappeared altogether they would be able to travel faster.
But, on the contrary, the ground grew worse instead of better, for
water underground makes worse foothold than water flowing honestly
above, and very soon they lost all sense of their direction in the
difficulty of keeping the ponies on their legs at all.  At last after
several very unpleasant struggles they luckily found their way out of
the worst of the bog; but there seemed to be no end to the tract of
mixed grass and heather, which is always treacherous to ride over; and
the ponies were constantly in difficulties.  Then to Dick's joy at last
they came upon tracks of a horse or pony, and there was something to
guide them, though it was very often difficult to find and follow it.
They wandered on, however, until Dick's eye caught the gleam of silver,
and there lay his lost whip; so that, after all their riding, they had
but wandered round and round and come back to the place from which they
had started.

Poor Elsie, who was getting very tired, was very much disheartened, but
Dick choked down his vexation and disappointment, for it was at any
rate something for him to recover his whip, which he valued greatly.
Stonecrop was too much blown now to give much trouble, so he jumped off
and picked it up safely, and then he and Elsie held a long
consultation, and at last agreed to make straight for a high hill
towards which the sun was sinking.  So they turned their ponies' heads
towards it, and started again, keeping their eyes steadily on a mound
or barrow on the hill-top.  In a short time they found themselves clear
of the boggy ground; and the ponies stepped out so bravely that they
felt sure that they were going right.  So they trotted on, greatly
encouraged, and came to a stream babbling over its bed of yellow
stones, though the ground beyond it was so steep that they were obliged
to follow it for some distance before they could find a way across.
Thus they were compelled to move slowly, and Elsie suddenly gave a
little shiver, and both she and Dick realised that the air was grown
chill and that the light was beginning to fail.  Still they pressed the
ponies on, and at last they caught sight again of the barrow on the
hill, though, to their disappointment, it seemed little nearer than
before.  Then even while they watched it, a great bank of gray mist
suddenly came rolling out of the west and blotted out the barrow and
the ridge on which it stood.  Still they rode on towards the same
point, until, almost before they knew it, the mist was upon them and
they could not see fifty yards away.  Their hearts sank within them as
the darkness gathered round them, but though they drew closer together
they said nothing, for the ponies still travelled on with confidence,
and they hoped that all the while they were drawing nearer to the
barrow.  But the mist struck damp and cold through them, weary and
fasting as they were, and they had much ado to keep up each other's
spirits.  So they wandered on, until the ponies, as if they felt that
their little riders had lost resolution, came to a dead stop.  A keen
breeze came out of the west, chilling the two children to the bone; and
Stonecrop turning his head to the wind broke out into a long wailing
whinny, which brought home to the children such a sense of their
loneliness and desolation that Elsie looked blankly at Dick and Dick as
blankly at Elsie, and neither found heart to say a word.

So they sat in their saddles for a minute or two silent and hopeless,
when suddenly both ponies pricked their ears and snuffed at the wind,
and Stonecrop again raised a loud but more cheerful whinny.  And out of
the mist faint and far distant came the sound of a whinny in answer.
Then Elsie stopped, checked the tears that were rising to her eyes, and
looked at Dick, who was listening intently.  He had some thought of
jumping off and saying his prayers, except that he was not sure how
Stonecrop would behave; but, even while he reflected, Stonecrop's knees
began to bend as if to lie down again, and then he caught hold of the
pony by the head and gave him a cut with his whip that drove him on in
a hurry.  "Come along, Elsie," he said resolutely, "if we can reach
that horse we may find some one to help us.  Perhaps it may be Billy."
And off he went dead up wind at a good round pace, which warmed them
both and put them into better heart; and Dick broke into a cantering
song which the Corporal had taught him, and sang it in time to
Stonecrop's pace.

  "_Oh, a soldier's son, and a soldier's son,
  He must never go back, but always go on.
  Though it may be hard, he must always try,
  Though he may be hurt, he must never cry.
  He must never lose heart nor seem distressed,
  But pluck up his courage and do his best.
  And so struggle on, and on, and on,
  For that's the way for a soldier's son._"

Now nothing is more certain than that, if you wish to find your way
through a fog, you must travel in the direction that you have chosen as
fast as you can.  Very soon the children found themselves going down
rather a steep descent, when Stonecrop again stopped and whinnied, and
an answering whinny once more came faintly out of the mist.  So they
kept on their way down and came to a stream, where Dick guided his pony
across and up the ascent on the other side.  But Stonecrop after
scrambling up for a little way deliberately came back to the water and
followed it downwards, sometimes in the bed of the stream, sometimes on
the bank by the side; and Dick let him go, feeling confident that the
pony knew better than he.  So they went splashing down for a long way,
wondering what would come next, until Stonecrop again stopped and
whinnied; and a little further on they came upon another little stream,
running into that which they were following, where the pony turned and
followed the new water upward.  A little further on he gave a kind of
whispered grunt of satisfaction, and presently there came the sound not
only of neighing but of pattering hoofs, and a pony suddenly came
trotting out of the mist towards them.  He stopped and whinnied gently,
turned round, trotted back for some way, then stood and whinnied again,
while the children's ponies hastened their own pace towards him.  Then
the sound of a shrill whistle came down the water, and the strange pony
at once turned and cantered away towards it; but Stonecrop only moved
the faster in the same direction, giving a loud scream to call him
back.  And now a faint light came dancing down by the water, drawing
closer and closer to the children till they could see that it was a man
carrying a lantern.  Nearer and nearer it came, and Dick cleared his
throat and began, "Oh, please--," whereupon the man stopped so short
that Dick stopped too, and Elsie came up close to him and clung to his
arm.  Then the light disappeared and the man gave a peculiar whistle.
It was answered by the same whistle at a distance, and the children
waited with beating hearts till the light appeared again; and at last a
woman's voice said very roughly out of the mist,

"Who's there?"

"Oh, please, we have lost our way," said Dick; "please, please tell us
the way home."

A suspicious grunt was the only answer; and Dick hastened to go on,
"Oh, please, we mean no harm, but we've lost our way.  It's only Elsie
and me."

"Ah!" said the woman's voice, as if in surprise.

"Yes, it's only Dick and me," said Elsie in her most reassuring voice,
but, like Dick, forgetting her grammar.

And then a curious, cackling laugh sounded out of the mist; the lantern
came bounding forward, and before she could realise what had happened,
Elsie found her skirt seized and a great rough head scrubbing against
it.  She gave a cry of terror, but directly afterwards the lantern
showed her the face of the idiot, which grinned at her with delight for
a moment and then bent again to kiss her skirt.  Then another figure
came out of the darkness, seized the lantern and held it first to her
face and then to Dick's.  They saw that it was the idiot's mother, and
Dick again repeated, though with much secret fear, that they had lost
their way.

"Is there no one with 'ee?" asked the woman astonished.

"No," said Dick sadly.  "We're lost."

"Why, my dear tender hearts," said the woman in a voice of great pity,
"to think of that.  But don't 'ee cry, my dear," for she could hear
Elsie sobbing gently, "don't 'ee cry, for 'tis all well now.  See now,
my house is close by, and you'm safe, both of 'ee.  Come long with me,
and don't be afeared; I'll take care of 'ee and take 'ee home safe
enough.  To think of that now--" and so she went on, leading the way
for them with the lantern for another quarter of a mile up the water,
till she stopped, and saying, "Now, my dears, we'm home," lifted Elsie
from her saddle and carried her under a low doorway, and then coming
back, called Dick in also, leaving the ponies in charge of the idiot.



CHAPTER IX

It was but a very little house in which the children found themselves;
and it took some time for them to make it out, for there was no light
but that of a feeble rushlight in a horn lantern, and the faint glow of
a peat fire.  But after a while they perceived that it was built of
sods of turf and lined with heather, neatly fixed into the turf by
wooden pegs such as gardeners use; while the ceiling was also of
heather, laid crosswise against ashen poles.  The fire-place seemed to
be built of round stones, evidently taken from a stream, which were
plastered together with clay; and the chimney was carried outside the
wall.  Across the chimney was fixed an iron bar, from which hung a rude
chain that appeared to have been made of old horse-shoes, and at the
end of the chain was an iron pot.  The only furniture was a low table
of turf, which was built in the middle of the floor, and a couple of
three-legged stools; and besides the iron pot on the fire, a
frying-pan, a jug or two, a couple of wooden bowls and as many
platters, there was hardly a vessel or a plate to be seen.  The house,
though of but one room, had one portion of it shut off by a low screen
made of ash-poles and heather; and a similar screen lying against the
wall appeared to take the place of a front door, when a front door was
needed.

Little Elsie was so tired that she sank down at once on the low table
of turf, and Dick staggered in, very stiff from long riding, and sat
down by her side.  But the old woman bustled into the room behind the
screen and returned with a great armful of heather which she threw on
the floor, and lifting the girl gently on to it, laid her down with her
back resting against the table, as comfortable as could be.  Then she
fetched a jug full of milk, and although the milk tasted rather strong
and the children were not accustomed to drink out of a jug, they were
both too hungry to be particular.  She then fetched another armful of
heather for Dick, and bade him make himself comfortable too, when,
laying her hand upon his shoulder she said, "Why, bless your life!  the
boy's so wet as a fisher; and where ever be I to find 'ee dry clothes?
Dear, dear, this is a bad job."  And she ran to the door where the
idiot was standing with the ponies, and said something which the
children could not understand.  Dick jumped to his feet, for the
Corporal had impressed upon him that a good dragoon always looks after
his horse before he looks after himself; but the old woman stopped him
at the door.

"Don't you be put about for the ponies, my dear.  My Jan will look to
mun and hobble mun, and bring in saddles and bridles, and when they've
a rolled they'll pick up a bit of mate and do well enough, I'll warrant
mun."

Then she again went behind the screen, brought out a box, and began
turning over what seemed to be clothes inside it, shaking her head and
talking to herself, until at last she said, "'Eas! this it must be."
And she brought forward a little coat such as Dick had never seen
before.  It was of yellow, with a scarlet collar, facings and cuffs,
there were two little red wings at the shoulders, and two little red
tails at the back; and the buttons were of brass with a number in Roman
letters upon it.  Dick was not sure of the number, for he had not yet
quite mastered Roman letters, and could never find the Psalms in church
except by remembering the day of the month.  Then she bade him take off
his wet jacket, hung it near the chimney to dry, and helped him into
the little coat, which was really not much too big for him.  Dick
turned himself round and strutted with delight in a way that set Elsie
laughing in spite of her weariness; but the old woman smiled rather
sadly, turned back the red cuffs, as the sleeves were rather too long
for Dick, and pinned a shawl over the coat so that it could not be
seen.  She became cheerful again, however, and said: "But you'm hungry,
my little lady.  Now what shall I get you to ate?"

"Please may I have some bread and butter?" asked Elsie; but the old
woman shook her head.  "I have got neither bread nor butter," she said;
"but think now--a bit of porridge and a drop of milk, and a bit of
honey--how will that do?  Jan!" she called out.

The idiot came in grinning at the children, but she shook her finger at
him and made a sign, at which he nodded and went out again.  Then she
blew up the fire and added a few sticks to it, and taking oatmeal out
of a sack which lay in one corner, and water from a wooden pitcher,
began to make the porridge.  Presently Jan came in again with half a
dozen little trout, ready for cooking, and bending down at another
corner of the fire was soon very busy over them.  The porridge was
quickly ready, and though the children had never eaten it before, and
were not accustomed to pewter spoons and wooden bowls, yet the
heather-honey, which was given to them with it, was so delicious that
they found it good enough.

By the time that the porridge was all gone, the fish were cooked and
served up on the two wooden platters with some salt; but now came a
difficulty, for there were nothing but the same two spoons to eat them
with, and it is not easy to eat a trout with a spoon, especially if one
has been brought up not to use one's fingers.  But the old woman soon
settled matters by splitting up the fish with a knife and taking out
the bones; after which both spoons were soon hard at work and the fish
disappeared as rapidly as the porridge; for little trout, freshly
caught from a moorland stream, are sweet enough, as all that have eaten
them are aware.  Finally the old woman laid before the children a huge
pan full of stewed whorts; and as there were no plates left, nor as
much as a saucer to be produced, they just helped themselves with their
spoons out of the pan and ate as much as they wanted, which, after the
porridge and trout, was not a very great deal.

Then they looked at the idiot, who had taken the squirrel out of his
pocket and was fondling it and purring to it in his own strange way.
He gave it to them also to make friends with, and seeing that they were
fond of animals he went to the door and whistled; and presently there
came trotting up a little hind of a year old, which walked in at the
door as if she had been accustomed to live in a house all her life, and
reared up like a begging dog on her hind legs to eat a bunch of
mountain-ash berries which he held over her head.  Then he gave the
berries to the children, and the hind poked her little cool nose into
their hands to get at the food, so tame was she; while the old woman
told them how the idiot had found the poor little thing as a calf,
bleating beside the dead body of her dam, and had brought her home and
reared her.

But the children's eyes soon began to blink, and before long they were
more than half asleep; so the old woman brought in more heather and
made them up two little beds, and laid them down in their clothes.
They had a faint idea, both of them, that some one took off their shoes
and loosened their clothes about their necks, but they were too
comfortable (for heather makes the best of rude beds) to think very
much about it; and when Elsie felt vaguely that something warm was
thrown over her and that a voice said "Good-night," she had only just
wakefulness enough to whisper back good-night and to put up her cheek
to be kissed.  Dick also curled up as though heather was his usual bed;
and very soon both were asleep, though at first rather fitfully and
restlessly, for they were over-tired.  But whenever they woke for a
moment they were lulled to sleep by the voice of the woman, who sat on
a stool watching them and crooning a song to herself.  The children
were too sleepy to catch the words, but they were as follows:

  "_Oh! whither away that ye fly so fast,
    Ye black crows croaking loud?
  And what have ye sped that ye wheel so wide
    Above yon grey dust cloud?_

  "_We spy two hosts of fighting men,
    The blue coats and the red.
  For mile on mile in rank and file
    They come with even tread._

  "_And brave and bright on brass and steel
    The slanting sunbeams fall.
  Like giant snakes, with glittering flakes,
    Their columns wind and crawl._

  "_The red march north and the blue march south,
    And we wheel betwixt the twain;
  And we hear their song, as they tramp along,
    Rise joyous from the plain._

  "_The red march north and the blue march south,
    And the daylight wanes apace,
  'Till their fires gleam bright through the falling night,
    And the twain rest face to face._

  "_And the morning's thunder shall be of guns,
    And the morning's mist of smoke,
  And higher and higher o'er din and fire,
    We crows shall rise and croak._

  "_While the ranks of red and the ranks of blue
    In mingled swathes are shorn;
  As the poppies nigh to the cornflowers lie,
    At the reaping of the corn._

  "_Oh! merry to stoop over chasing hounds,
    As they speed through field and wood,
  When their bristles rise, and with flaming eyes
    They yell for blood, for blood._

  "_And merry to croak at the hunted fox,
    When his brush trails draggling down,
  And his strength is spent, and his back is bent,
    And his tongue lolls parched and brown._

  "_But merriest far to wheel o'er the fight
    Of the blue coats and the red,
  'Till the fire has ceased, and we swoop to the feast
    Which the strife of men has spread._"


Dick's last vision before he fell asleep was of her strange figure bent
forward and watching, but he was a little startled when he woke in the
morning and remembered where he was; for he was not accustomed to sleep
in his clothes, still less in such a coat as the yellow one with the
red facings, which he found upon his back.  Elsie also was much
astonished; and the sight of Dick in so strange a garment half
frightened her for a moment.  But the old woman was so kind and gentle
that they were reassured, particularly when she told them that in a
very few hours she hoped they would be at home.  There was indeed some
difficulty about washing, for there was no such thing as jug or basin
in the house; and, as to tubs, you would not have found them in those
days in any country-house in England.  The woman told Dick that all her
own washing was done in the stream, so Dick went out to wash his face
in it; but the mist still hung thick over the moor, the air was sharp
and cold and the water colder still; so that both he and Elsie were
satisfied with very little washing.  When they went back, they found
that the old woman had set the two stools close to the fire for them
and was making the porridge; so they breakfasted off porridge and
trout, as they had supped on them the day before; and then the old
woman gave Dick his own jacket and asked him to take off the yellow
one.  Dick was a little reluctant to part with it, and asked what it
was and where it came from; but she only answered that it was a long
story.  He followed it with his eyes to see the last of it as she
folded it up and put it away, and she smiled rather sadly as she saw
him.  "I can't a let you have it yet, my dear," she said, guessing his
thoughts, "and maybe when I can spare it for 'ee you won't care for to
take it.  But if ever it goes from me it shall go to you, that I
promise 'ee, if so be as I can get it to 'ee."

Then they ran out to see the idiot saddle the ponies, with which he was
already as friendly as if he had known them all his life.  All animals
seemed to take to him, for he had pets without end.  The two
nanny-goats and the little hind followed him like dogs; the squirrel
was always in his pocket or on his shoulder; and a jackdaw and a
magpie, both of them pinioned, fluttered after him wherever he went,
chattering and scolding as though the place belonged to them.  Then the
children mounted their ponies and off they started, the idiot leading
the way on his own ragged pony, which he rode barebacked and with a
halter only for bridle; Dick came next, and then Elsie with the old
woman walking by her side.  The mist was as thick as ever, but this
seemed to make no difference to the idiot, as he guided them up the
stream for a little distance and on over the rough yellow grass.  The
ground was very deep and much cut by tiny clefts that carried the water
away from the bog, but the idiot went on straight and unconcerned as
though he were on a high road, though often his pony floundered
hock-deep.  So on they went for a full hour with the mist whirling
about them, the children being kept warm in spite of the bitter cold
air, by their excitement, and by the constant scrambling of the ponies.
At last they reached firmer soil, but after travelling over it for a
little way the idiot stopped and held up his hand; and the children
listening with all their ears thought they made out the faint sound of
a horn.  At a sign from his mother the idiot turned, and presently the
children found themselves going down hill and realised that the mist
was not so thick about them.  A little further on they reached the edge
of a wood, where the idiot led his pony into a hollow and hobbled it,
and guided them into the trees on foot.

It was not pleasant riding now, for the ground was very steep, and the
trees very thick and low; and when after long scrambling down they came
to a stream at the bottom of the hill, the children found no better
path than a very rough track by the water, full of great boulders, over
which the ponies stumbled continually.  Presently they crossed the
water, and then for the first time the children perceived that the
woman was no longer with them, though where she had left them they
could not tell.  Still the idiot guided them on through the woods,
uphill and down and across more than one stream, till at last he led
them into a grass path, where after walking for some time he suddenly
stopped and listened.  Then pointing down it, he grinned and touched up
Stonecrop to make him trot, and after running for some time alongside
them, dropped behind.  Dick began to think that the path was familiar
to him, and the ponies began to pull, as though they knew it also.  In
another five minutes they came down into the road by which they had
driven up on the previous morning, and there stood the Corporal and
another servant, both of them mounted, not a hundred yards away.

Dick shouted joyfully, and the Corporal galloping hastily up,
dismounted and ran to them.  He was white, haggard and unshorn, and for
a time only patted their ponies apparently unable to speak.  Then he
looked up the valley at the hills, and seeing that they were clear of
mist told the other servant to get up to the top of the hill and make
the signal, and to look sharp about it; upon which the servant turned
his horse up the path and galloped away like one possessed.  Then the
Corporal turned to the children and asked them who had brought them
back; and when they told him they noticed for the first time that the
idiot was not with them.  They called and shouted for him several
times, but he never came; and then they rode back with the Corporal,
telling their adventures as they went.

But far behind them on one of the highest points of the moor stood
Colonel George and their mother.  She was now deadly white, with great
black rings round her eyes, for she was worn out with watching and
anxiety; but she would not give in.  She had dismounted and was sitting
on the heather, while Colonel George with his field-glass laid across
his horse's saddle conned the moor anxiously in every direction.  The
mist was only just gone, and he seemed to have much to look at, for a
long line of horsemen was sweeping before him over the moor, searching
for the children.  At last he set down the glass and rubbed his eyes,
for he had been in the saddle for nearly twenty-four hours, and taking
a flask from his pocket poured out a little for Lady Eleanor.  She
shook her head as he brought it, but he only said "You must;" and then
she drank a mouthful or two.  He was just about to drink himself when
he hastily slipped the flask into his pocket, and taking out the
field-glass looked long and earnestly through it.  Then he tied a large
white handkerchief to his whip, waved it three times over his head and
looked again through the glass, after which he kept on waving for some
time.  Then after a last look he put away the glass, and walked slowly,
leading both horses, to the place where he had left Lady Eleanor.  She
was lying back with her face covered with her hands.

"Come," he said gently.  "The Corporal has found them and they are safe
and well.  I made them repeat the signal twice, so that I am quite
sure, and I have signalled to the search-parties to go home.  Let me
put you on your horse."

See looked up like one dazed; but there was Colonel George holding out
his hand to her, so she took it and rose to her feet; and then she
seized the hand between both of hers and wrung it hard without a word.
He lifted her into the saddle, and no sooner was he mounted than she
started to gallop down the hill at a pace which made it hard for
Colonel George to keep up with her.  Away she flew, and he felt
thankful that she was a fine horsewoman and mounted on his horse
instead of her own, which was not nearly so clever over rough ground;
though he could not help reflecting that he could never have found it
in his conscience to hustle a horse of hers as she hustled his.  There
were two or three valleys to cross, which gave the animals a little
respite, but not much, for Lady Eleanor went equally fast, uphill,
downhill and on the level.  So that when they arrived at the Hall
Colonel George, after seeing Lady Eleanor run in to the children, only
looked at his horse's heaving flanks, shook his head, and led him off
to the stable to look after him himself.  There he heard the whole
story from the Corporal, and leaving a message for Lady Eleanor that he
would call next day, rode back very quietly to Fitzdenys Court.



CHAPTER X

It need hardly be said that when her first joy over the recovery of the
children was over, Lady Eleanor's instant thought was for the strange
woman and her idiot son, who had befriended them and saved them for
her.  She longed to thank and to reward them, but she could not think
how to find them; and moreover it was plain that, for some reason which
she could not divine, the woman wished to keep out of her way.  It was
difficult for her to believe that there could be any harm in the woman,
after the care that she had taken of the children; but on the other
hand there was Tommy Fry, still speechless.  She was thankful when
Colonel George came over next day, that she might discuss matters with
him.

But he was as much at a loss as she was.  He had examined all the
people who had gone out to search for the children, but not one of them
had seen a sign of any dwelling where the strange woman could live.  He
was, however, struck by Dick's account of the little coat that he had
worn; for it seemed, he said, to be a drummer's coat, and he could not
imagine how such people should possess such a garment.  As he spoke,
the bullfinch broke into the first bars of "The British Grenadiers;"
and then the same thought occurred to Colonel George as had seized upon
the minds of the villagers--Was it possible that the idiot was a
deserter, or that he and his mother were harbouring a deserter?  But he
kept his thoughts to himself, for he knew the terrible punishment to
which a deserter would be liable, and did not wish Lady Eleanor to
think of such a thing.

But however the gentry might doubt at the Hall, the folks in the
village found no difficulty in accounting for everything.  It was the
witch who had enticed the children on to the moor and made them lose
themselves; and, though she had sent them back safe and sound, it was
impossible to say what trouble she might have in store for them.  One
soft-hearted woman did indeed suggest that no witch could have power to
hurt such dear innocent angels; but Mrs. Fry promptly rose up in arms
against her, for was not her Tommy also a dear innocent angel, though
to be sure he was but a poor boy, whereas her Ladyship's children were
rich?  Then Mrs. Mugford came forward with her explanation, which was,
that the Corporal, as had already been suspected, was undoubtedly in
league with the witch, and had led the children into her clutches.  It
might be that the witch could not hurt them; but certain it was that,
when all the country was out searching for them, she had led them
straight back to the Corporal.  As to the Corporal being thrown from
his horse, Mrs. Mugford had heard such stories before; and it was
strange that he had found his way home safe enough though he had left
the children to be eaten alive, for aught he knew.  It was strange,
too, that he was waiting in the right place for the children next day
when the witch brought them down, and that the witch had vanished, as
Mrs. Mugford averred, in a cloud of brimstone smoke.

So the feeling against the Corporal in the village increased, and not
the less because he looked ill for some days after the children's
adventure, owing partly to the shaking which he had received in his
fall, and partly to the miserable hours of anxiety and watching that
had succeeded to it.  The villagers of course attributed his appearance
to the torment of a guilty conscience, and no one was more careful to
dwell on this explanation than Mrs. Mugford, with a vehemence which
surprised even Mrs. Fry, who knew the sharpness of her tongue better
than her neighbours.

The Corporal took no more heed of the villagers' coldness than before;
for a new matter had come forward to occupy his thoughts.  While he was
walking one day with the children through the wood above the village,
Dick suddenly stopped and said that he had certainly seen a man
slinking off the path into the covert; and the Corporal at once hurried
to the spot in the hope that it might be the idiot.  Making his way
through the thicket he presently came upon a man lying down in some
bracken and evidently anxious to conceal himself.  The fellow was
ragged, unkempt and bearded, but he was not the idiot, and he seemed
terrified at being discovered, stammering out something about meaning
no harm, and begging to be allowed to go.  The Corporal sent the
children a little apart, felt the man's pockets to be sure that he was
not a poacher, and bade him begone and think himself lucky to escape so
easily.

"I've seen you before," he said, looking hard at him, "and I shall know
you again.  You know you have no business here, and if I catch you
again, it will be the worse for you."  But though he let the man go, he
puzzled himself all day to think where he had seen him before.

And now the annual fair at Kingstoke, the little town that lay nearest
to Ashacombe, was at hand, and all kinds of strange people were to be
seen on the road.  There were hawkers and cheapjacks with persuasive
tongues, which the villagers found difficult to resist; swarthy gipsies
with gaudy red and yellow handkerchiefs, whom they kept at a safe
distance; and great lumbering vans containing fat ladies, and learned
pigs and two-headed calves, which roused their curiosity greatly.
Finally one day a loud noise of drumming brought Dick and Elsie flying
down the road, and there was a recruiting serjeant as large as life,
with red coat, white trousers and plumed shako hung with ribbons, and
with him a drummer and a fifer.  The two last had stopped playing by
the time that the children reached them, and were apparently not best
pleased, for Mrs. Mugford had flown out at them directly they appeared
with, "No, no.  'Tis no use for the like of you to come here.  We won't
have naught to do with the like of you, taking our boys away to be
treated no better than dogs."  And all the other women had shaken their
heads knowingly and looked askance at the red coats; so that, as all
the men were out at work and as there seemed to be little chance of
obtaining refreshment, the serjeant simply scowled and moved on.  He
and his companions looked dusty and thirsty, for the day was hot, and
the drummer and fifer, who were both very young, looked tired and
hungry as well.  In fact they had only played in the hope of being
offered a drink, which hope Mrs. Mugford's tongue had effectually
extinguished for them.

So on they went along the road, followed by Dick and Elsie, who were
deeply disappointed; but close by the lodge the children saw the
Corporal, and running forward to him prayed him to ask the serjeant to
give them a tune.  The serjeant evidently recognised the Corporal as an
old soldier, for he wished him good-day; and the Corporal then asked
him if he would play something for little master and mistress.

"Will little master give us something to wet our whistle with?" asked
the serjeant.  "We have had a longish march to-day, eight miles already
and six more to go, and there's little to be got on the road.  It's a
wild country hereabout."

At a word from the Corporal Dick flew up to the house with Elsie at his
heels, to ask his mother's leave, and meanwhile the serjeant asked the
Corporal if he knew anything of the deserter from the Marines whose
description was on all the churchdoors, as he was said to be somewhere
in those parts.  Presently Dick returned breathless with a message to
the recruiting party to come up to the Hall, where the fife and drum
struck up, and Lady Eleanor came out to say that soldiers were always
welcome, and this with a gracious condescension which in itself was
nearly as good as a glass of beer to a thirsty man.  Then the serjeant
followed the Corporal towards the back door; and the drummer, who was a
good-natured lad, seeing how Dick stared at his drum, took it off, and
shortening the slings put them over his head.  Lady Eleanor at once
called to Dick that he was keeping the drummer from his dinner; but the
drummer replied that he was sure little master would take care of the
drum and that he was very welcome; and Dick begged so hard to be
allowed to keep it for a little while that Lady Eleanor after some
hesitation gave in, only bidding Dick not to make too much noise close
to the house.

So off Dick strutted, followed by Elsie, tapping from time to time,
till on reaching a quiet place under the trees in the park, he was very
glad to take the drum off and turn it round very carefully, looking at
the Royal Arms and the names of battles that were painted round them.
Then he began tapping again, when all of a sudden there was a rustle
behind them, and there stood the familiar figure of the idiot Jan, with
his face grinning wider than usual.  The children were startled and
were on the point of running to the house, but he held up his finger as
usual and beckoned to Dick to go on beating; though after hearing a tap
or two he shook his head and, taking up the drum, let out the slings
and put them over his own head.  Then he squared his shoulders and
threw out his chest, and bringing up his elbows in a line with his chin
he beat two taps loudly with each stick, slowly at first and gradually
faster and faster till the taps blended together in a long, loud roll.
Then he stopped and grinned at the children, who were staring with
amazement and delight; and then beating two short rolls he began to
march up and down whistling the tune "Lillibulero," which the bullfinch
piped, and beating in perfect time with all his might.

So intent was he on his music that neither he nor the children noticed
the serjeant, who with halberd in hand came walking up with the drummer
and fifer close behind him.

"What have we here?" said the serjeant, eyeing the strange figure
before him.  "Where did you learn to beat like that, my man?" he went
on, laying a heavy hand on the idiot's shoulder.  The idiot glanced
round with a start, and uttering a whine of terror slipped away from
the serjeant's hand, swung the drum on to his back, and made off as
fast as his legs would carry him.

"What's the meaning of this?" said the serjeant staring for a moment.
"The deserter for a guinea!  After him boys, quick!  There's a reward
out for him."  And away went the drummer and fifer in pursuit, while
the serjeant followed as fast as he could; and the children, after
gazing for a time in bewildered alarm, ran back to the house.  The
idiot ran like the wind, but in his first terror he had taken the wrong
direction and was flying down towards the village.  Reaching the drive
before his pursuers he gained on them somewhat, but he fumbled at the
gate by the lodge and let them get close to him.  He broke away,
however, and was running gallantly through the village with the lads
hard after him, when down the road came the ample figure of Mrs.
Mugford, who put down the pitcher that she was carrying and stood right
in his way with her arms spread out wide.  She did not dare actually to
stop him, but she so confused him that in another few yards the drummer
and fifer had caught him each by an arm.  The idiot cowered abject and
trembling between them, and the three stood panting and breathless,
while Mrs. Mugford exhorted at the top of her voice,

"Hold mun fast, brave lads!" she cried, in a very different tone from
that which she had lately used to the soldiers.  "Hold mun fast!
That's the man you was a looking vor.  Hold mun fast!  Ah, you roog; so
we've a got 'ee at last, and now 'twill be the jail and the gallows for
'ee sure enough.  Ah! you may whine and guggle, but you won't get away,
not this time."  Her cries brought every woman in the village to the
spot, and solemn were the shakings of heads, and loud the recalling of
prophecies that vengeance would soon overtake the wicked.  Then the
serjeant came elbowing his way through the crowd, and was hailed
instantly, like the drummer and fifer, by Mrs. Mugford.  "That's the
man you'm a looking for, maister; and a bad one he is.  Hold mun fast,
maister; and don't let mun go, whatever."

"Ah! you know him, do you?" said the serjeant.  "Well, you can trust
him to me.  Take the drum off his back, my lads, and bring him along."

But the idiot seemed hardly able to move; and they had not taken him
far, with the women and children still crowding round them, when they
were stopped by his mother, who came hastening up the road and planted
herself full in the way.

"Now, then," she said sharply, "what be doing to that boy?  Let mun go.
He's a done no harm to you, I reckon.  Let mun go, I tell 'ee.  Where
be taking mun?"

"Come, mistress, no hard words," answered the serjeant.  "I don't know
who you are; but this young man's my prisoner, and to Kingstoke he must
go tonight, and before the nearest justice to-morrow for a deserter."

"Ay, and for a witch too and you with mun," yelled Mrs. Fry; and she
and the women with her raised a howl that was not pleasant to hear.
"She's awitched my boy," screamed Mrs. Fry high above the rest.  "She's
a witch and she ought to be drownded in the river."

The serjeant looked puzzled, and was relieved to see the Corporal come
limping up the road; but Mrs. Mugford no sooner saw him than she
screamed at the top of her voice, "Ah, don't 'ee listen to he, maister.
'Twas he that let mun go weeks agone, and there's been nothing but bad
work for us all since then.  He's so bad as any o' mun; 'twas he that
let mun take her Ladyship's childer; and we'm not going to be plagued
with witches no more.  Lave the witches to us.  We knows what to do
with mun."

"What have you got against the man?" asked the Corporal of the serjeant.

"He's a deserter," said the serjeant shortly, "and it seems that these
women know him well enough, if you don't."

"He ain't no deserter," said the idiot's mother savagely, "he wasn't
never 'listed."

"Then how comes he to drum as he did?" retorted the serjeant.  "Our own
drummers couldn't beat better."

The woman clenched her fists in despair, and the Corporal looked very
grave; but he no sooner tried to speak to the serjeant than the women
again raised a yell that he was not to be trusted, and renewed their
cry that they would be troubled with witches no longer, but would drown
them in the river and have done with them.  At last they worked
themselves up into such a state of fury that the Corporal saw that they
meant mischief, and said sharply to the serjeant that if he didn't look
out they would take his prisoner from him.  Even while he spoke they
made a rush, but the serjeant had his wits about him and brought down
his halberd to the charge, just in time to stop them.

"Now, enough of this," he said sternly.  "I know nothing about your
witches and nonsense, but this young man's my prisoner, and if you
don't leave him to me it will be the worse for you.  Take him along,
lads."

So the drummer and fifer led the idiot down the road, while the
serjeant, with his halberd still at the charge, kept the women at bay;
and thus slowly they passed clear of the village while the women and
children, after following for a time with yells and execrations, at
last dropped behind.

"Now, mistress," said the serjeant to the idiot's mother, "you'd best
look out for yourself, I expect, and go away."

The woman turned upon him with a scornful laugh.  "Do you suppose I be
afraid of they?" she said.  "Not I; and if 'ee think that I'm a going
to leave my boy--here, let mun go," she said resolutely, shoving away
the drummer's arm--"you've naught against mun.  I tell 'ee he wasn't
never 'listed."

The serjeant removed her hand instantly.  "None of that," he said.
"You can come along with him as far as you will, but the justice will
see to the rest to-morrow morning."

The woman glanced at the Corporal in despair, but the Corporal could
only shake his head.  "Best go quietly along with him, mistress," he
said; "I'll go to her Ladyship and do what I can."  Then he turned to
the serjeant and said: "I believe you've got hold of the wrong man; for
this is only a poor half-witted lad, not the man that you want.  Don't
be hard on him."

"Not I, if he gives no trouble," said the serjeant.  So he went on with
his charge along the road to Kingstoke, the idiot staggering along on
his mother's arm between the fifer and the drummer, and he himself
walking behind.  And the Corporal limped up over the park as quickly as
he could to the Hall.



CHAPTER XI

Great was Lady Eleanor's distress when she heard from the Corporal what
had happened.  "Ah, if only Colonel Fitzdenys had been here!" she
repeated more than once; but she could think of nothing that could be
done except to send a letter at once to the colonel to tell him the
whole story and to ask him to be present at Kingstoke, which lay close
to Fitzdenys, when the prisoner should be brought up next morning.
This was the Corporal's suggestion; but Lady Eleanor noticed that he
was unusually silent and subdued, and she was rather surprised when he
asked leave rather mysteriously to be absent from the house for the
rest of the day.  But she trusted him so implicitly that she granted
his request without hesitation, and the Corporal, having sent off the
letter, went out for the evening by himself.

The truth was that he was bitterly hurt and indignant at the hard words
that Mrs. Mugford had used towards him, of having betrayed the children
to the witch on the moor.  The bare idea that he should have been false
to his mistress and to the children, whom he worshipped, made him
furious; and he went out with the determination of giving Mrs. Mugford
a bit of his mind before night, but, like a wise man, not until he had
thought the matter well over during a solitary walk.  So he made his
way through the woods and in due time came to the place where Dick had
pointed out to him the ragged man, whom he had found skulking in the
fern a short time before.  Then it flashed across him suddenly that
this man might be the deserter, and he blamed himself for his stupidity
in not thinking of it at first.  Once again he racked his brains to
remember where he had seen the man before, for certainly he had seen
him or some one very like him; and with his mind full of Mrs. Mugford
he suddenly recalled her son Henry, who had enlisted for a marine, and
had once come back on sick-leave.  The more he thought of it, the more
certain he was that the man whom he had found was Henry Mugford, for
though he had not seen him for some years he had never heard that he
had been discharged.  That would account for Mrs. Mugford's anxiety to
keep the Corporal out of the village, and to get the idiot arrested,
for it would probably be some days before a serjeant of Marines could
arrive from Plymouth, or the idiot himself could be sent there, to
decide if he were the deserter Henry Bale or not.  And, as to the name,
the Corporal knew well enough by experience that men constantly
enlisted under assumed names, while Bale was a likely name for this
particular man to choose, as it had been Mrs. Mugford's own before she
married.

Thus reflecting, the Corporal turned along the path that led through
the woods lying above the village, stopped when he saw the roofs of the
cottages below him, and went down through the covert towards the hedge
that parted the cottage-gardens from it.  It was dusk, so that he had
little difficulty in remaining unseen, and as he drew nearer to the two
cottages where Mrs. Fry and Mrs. Mugford lived, he heard the voices of
the pair in violent altercation in the garden below.

"You said so plain as could be that you'd a-share the two guineas with
me," Mrs. Fry was saying indignantly.  "That's what you said."

"And don't I say that I'll give 'ee five shillings?" retorted Mrs.
Mugford, "and that's more than nine out of ten would give.  'Twas I
catched mun and not you.  If I hadn't stopped mun in the road they'd
never have catched mun at all, and 'twas a chance then that he might
have killed me, mazed as he is.  And you've a-taken pounds and pounds
from the gentry for the harm that was done your Tommy, and never given
me so much as a penny, though I've a-showed mun many times when you
wasn't in house."

"Well," said Mrs. Fry defiantly, "then we'll see what people say when I
tells what I've a-seen of a man coming round to your house night-times
these weeks and weeks, and you going out to mun with bread and mate.
I've a-seen mun, for all that you was so false."

Then they dropped their voices, and Mrs. Mugford appeared to be making
new offers.  But the Corporal had heard enough.  Keeping himself
carefully concealed he walked along the hedge until he found a rack
over it, which seemed to be well worn, leading down to the cottages
below, and by this rack he curled himself up in the bushes, and waited.
In a short time the village was dark and silent, for in those days
oil-lamps were never seen in a cottage; and the Corporal found waiting
rather cold work, but he had bivouacked on colder nights in the wars,
and lay patiently in his place.  A little after ten the moon rose, but
it was full eleven o'clock before the Corporal heard the bushes rustle,
and at last made out a man creeping cautiously alongside the hedge.
Nearer and nearer he came, straight to the rack in the hedge, where
after pausing for a moment to listen, he was beginning to scramble up;
when the Corporal suddenly laid hold of his ankles, brought him
sprawling down, rolled him into the hedge-trough, and was instantly on
top of him, with his knee on his chest and his hand on his throat.  The
unfortunate creature was too much paralysed by fright to resist; and
the Corporal soon dragged his face round into the moonlight and saw
that he had caught the man that he wanted.

"So you've come here again, Henry Bale," said the Corporal; "I told you
that it would be the worse for you, if you did."

"My name's Mugford," gasped the man, now struggling a little.

"And when did you get your discharge?" asked the Corporal; "and why are
you hanging about the woods instead of living with your mother like an
honest man?  But when you're back at Plymouth they'll know you as Henry
Bale fast enough, I'll warrant."

The man trembled, and begged abjectly for mercy; but the Corporal only
pulled out a knife, without relaxing his hold on his throat, turned him
over on his face, and cut his waistband.  "Now," he said, "the best
thing that you can do is to surrender and come quietly along with me.
Give me your hands."  And pulling a piece of twine from his pocket he
tied the man's thumbs together behind his back.  Then raising him to
his feet he shoved him over the rack in the hedge, and led him past
Mrs. Mugford's windows, where a rushlight was burning, into the road
and so to the stables at Bracefort.  There he locked his prisoner into
a separate loose-box with a barred window, having first tied his wrists
before him, instead of his thumbs behind him; and then he sought out
pen and paper and wrote; a letter to Colonel Fitzdenys, which, though
it was not very long, took him much time to write, and ran as follows:--


"Honoured Col.--these are to inform you that I have the deserter Henry
Bale saf under lock and kay which is all at present from your honour's
most ob't humble serv't.--J. BRIMACOTT."


He put the letter into his pocket, and drawing a mattress before the
door of the loose-box, went fast asleep on it till dawn, when he called
a sleepy stable-boy from the rooms above and bade him ride over with
the letter to Fitzdenys Court.

By eight o'clock Colonel Fitzdenys arrived at a gallop from Fitzdenys
Court.  Having seen and questioned the Corporal's prisoner, who made a
full confession, he left a message that he would return as soon as
possible, and that he would want to see Mrs. Fry and Tommy; after which
he rode back again, as fast as he had come, to Kingstoke.  There his
business was soon finished, for when the idiot was brought up before
him (which he had already arranged to be done) he was able to discharge
him directly, since he himself had ascertained that the true deserter
had been captured.  But none the less he gave the serjeant a guinea to
console him for his disappointment in having caught the wrong man.

Then he went to speak to the idiot's mother and to tell her how sorry
he was for the mistake that had been made; for the two had been locked
up all night in Kingstoke.  She did not receive him kindly, however,
for all that she said was: "It's very well to be sorry now, and I don't
say, sir, that it's no fault of yours, but they've agone nigh to kill
my boy with their doings;" and indeed the idiot was so weak and white
that he could hardly stand.  Still more distressed was she when Colonel
Fitzdenys told her that she could not go yet, but that she must first
visit Bracefort Hall.  She tried hard to obtain his leave to go to her
own place at once, but he insisted, though with all possible kindness,
that she must come with him to the Hall, and that then she should be
free to go where she would.  So very reluctantly she got into a
market-cart with her son, who sat like a lifeless thing beside her, and
was driven off, while Colonel Fitzdenys cantered on before them.

When the market-cart reached the door of the Hall, Lady Eleanor was
there waiting to welcome her and to thank her for all that she had done
for her own children; but the woman only said coldly that she was very
welcome, and seemed to have no thought but for her idiot son, who
remained sunk in the same abject condition.  They brought him wine,
which revived him enough to set him crying a little, but he would take
no notice of anything.  For a moment the woman softened, when Dick and
Elsie came in and thanked her prettily for the kindness that she had
shown to them, and she tried to rouse her son to take notice of them.
But he only went on crying; and she was evidently much distressed.

Then the Corporal came to say that Mrs. Fry was come and had brought
Tommy with her; on which Colonel Fitzdenys told the woman outright that
she had been accused of bewitching the boy and depriving him of his
speech.  The woman's hard manner at once returned, and she laughed loud
and scornfully.

"That's only their lies," she said.  "How should I take away a boy's
speech? they'm all agin me and my boy; that's all it is."

"Well, they say that he can't speak," said Colonel Fitzdenys.  "You
shall tell him to speak yourself, and then we shall be able to judge."

So Mrs. Fry was called in and told to hold her tongue, and Tommy, who
had hidden himself in her skirts, was brought forward.  The woman no
sooner saw him than her eyes gleamed, and she said: "That's the one who
throwed stones at my boy and called mun thafe.  He not spake?  He can
spake well enough if he has a mind, I'll warrant mun."

"But his mother says that he cannot," said Colonel Fitzdenys.  "See for
yourself," and he led the trembling boy forward.  "Tell him to speak to
you."

"Spake, boy," said the woman not very amiably.  "You can spake well
enough, can't 'ee?"

"Yas," said Tommy nervously, to his mother's intense surprise.

"There! what did I tell 'ee?" said the woman contemptuously.  "'Twas
only their lies.  He can spake so well as you and I."

Mrs. Fry, much taken aback, seized hold of the boy in amazement; but he
begged so hard to be let go as to leave no doubt that his speech was
restored; and Lady Eleanor lost no time in sending him off with his
mother.

Then Lady Eleanor again thanked the idiot's mother for all that she had
done for her own children, and asked what she could do for her; but the
woman would accept no money nor reward, nothing but a few cakes which
the children brought to her to take home for her son.  Lady Eleanor
offered her everything that she could think of, even to a remote
cottage in the woods where she would certainly live undisturbed; but
the woman only begged that she might not be asked to say where she
lived nor to give any account of herself.  She was quite alone with her
son, she said, and lived an honest harmless life.  As to Tommy Fry, she
could not understand how any words of hers could have taken his speech
from him; it was nonsense, and the women were fools.  Finally, she said
that if Lady Eleanor really wished to be kind she would let them go and
not try to find them again; but she faithfully promised that if
anything went wrong, she would come to her first for help.

So Lady Eleanor seeing that she was in earnest promised to do as she
had said; and the woman thanked her with real gratitude.  Then Dick and
Elsie came in again to say good-bye, and the woman, taking her son by
the arm, led him away.  He moved so feebly that Lady Eleanor offered
her a pony for him to ride, but his mother refused, though with many
thanks; so the two passed away slowly across the park, and disappeared.

"Well, there is Tommy Fry cured at any rate," said Colonel Fitzdenys.
"And I believe that the woman spoke the truth, when she said that she
did not know what she had done to him.  And now I must see to this man
who is locked up in the stable."

But even while he spoke the Corporal came to say that Mrs. Mugford was
come, and begged to be allowed to see her Ladyship.  So in the poor
thing came, crying her eyes out, to confess that her son in the stable
was the true deserter, and to beg her Ladyship to have mercy and not to
yield him up, giving such an account of the punishment that awaited him
as nearly turned Lady Eleanor sick; for those were rough days in the
army.

Colonel George meanwhile stood by without uttering a word; and when
Mrs. Mugford had crawled from the room, utterly broken down, and Lady
Eleanor turned to him with tears in her eyes, too much moved to speak,
he only shook his head.

"The fellow must be given up and sent back to his corps," he said.  "He
has already got an innocent man into trouble, and even if he had not I
am bound in duty to send him back."

"Could you not do something to intercede for him and save him from this
horrible punishment?" asked Lady Eleanor.  "I should be so thankful if
you would."

Colonel George hesitated.  "I have no wish to harm the poor wretch," he
said, "but there are other men in the same case, very likely less
guilty, who have no one to intercede for them.  It is a question of
discipline."

"Oh, don't be so hard," pleaded Lady Eleanor, "you who are always so
gentle.  You, who have done so much for me, grant me this one little
thing more."

Colonel George looked at the beautiful face before him, and Lady
Eleanor knew that she had gained her point.  "Well, well," he said at
last; "I will write on his behalf, and better still I will get my
father to write also, which will have more effect.  But it is all
wrong," he added; "it is not discipline."

"I am quite sure that it will be all right," said Lady Eleanor with
great decision.

Colonel George shook his head smiling; but he and old Lord Fitzdenys
wrote, as he had promised; and it may as well be said that they
obtained pardon for Henry Mugford the deserter.



CHAPTER XII

The village was not a little awed by the strange turn that affairs had
taken, for the two noisiest tongues in it had been silenced, Mrs. Fry's
by the restoration of her Tommy's power of speech, Mrs. Mugford's by
the arrest of her son.  The Corporal had been vindicated and his
slanderers confounded; but Lady Eleanor as usual did all that she could
to make unpleasant things as little unpleasant as possible.  The
deserter was sent away to Plymouth so quietly that hardly any one found
it out, and his disconsolate mother was somewhat comforted by Lady
Eleanor's assurance that everything would be done to obtain mercy for
him.  Moreover the Corporal declared that he would not touch the two
guineas reward that he had earned, but would hand them over to Lady
Eleanor to spend for the good of the parish as she should think best;
which fact leaking out through the servants at the Hall did much to
regain for him the goodwill that he had so unjustly lost.

Another thing also helped to restore harmony; for Dick could not leave
home for school without going round to say good-bye to all his friends,
and these were so numerous that there was hardly a cottage at which he
did not step in, being always sure of welcome and good wishes.  The
farewells ended with a visit to old Sally Dart, who, feeble and
crippled though she was, had prepared a great feast of hot potato-cake
(which was made under her own eye by a neighbour, since she was too
weak to make it herself) honey and clouted cream; while the little
silver cream-jug and the six silver spoons, which the old squire and
his lady had given her at her marriage, were all brought out for so
great an occasion.  A great meal they ate, the Corporal attacking his
potato-cake and cream as heartily as Dick himself; and when all the old
stories had been related for the fiftieth time, old Sally produced the
greatest treasure that she owned, a little snuff-box mounted in silver,
which had been made from the horn of an ox that had been roasted whole
at the great election, when old Squire Bracefort had stood at the head
of the poll.  This she gave to Dick for his own, and then setting the
boy in front of her she put his hair off his forehead and begged him
that if ever any child or children of her son Jan should appear, he
would be kind to them for her sake, and that he would think of this
when he looked at the box.  Dick promised this readily, though he was a
little puzzled at her earnestness; and then she bade him good-bye and
God bless him, and prayed that he might grow up to be such another man
as his father had been.  So the children and the Corporal returned to
the Hall thoughtful and subdued, though the children hardly knew why.

Two days later, early in the morning, Dick and the Corporal drove off
to meet the coach.  Little Elsie stood on the steps crying silently,
but Dick was so much excited at the prospect of the journey, that he
held up bravely, and fluttered his handkerchief out of the window as
long as the house was in sight.  So Lady Eleanor and Elsie waited until
the handkerchief could be seen no more, and then went in sadly
together.  Lessons were a heavy task that morning; and when they were
over and Elsie was gone out, Lady Eleanor felt lonely and depressed and
out of heart with everything.  She was roused by the sound of a horse
on the gravel; and presently Colonel Fitzdenys came in to say that he
had seen Dick off by the coach, and that the boy was in good spirits.
Lady Eleanor never felt more thankful for his presence than on that
morning; but they had not talked for very long, when a maid-servant
came in with a scared face to say that the strange woman from the moor
was come, and begged, if she might, to see her Ladyship directly.

So Lady Eleanor went out and Colonel George with her; and there the
woman was, with her face ghastly white, her eyes wild and weary, and
every line in her countenance ploughed thrice as deep as when they had
last seen her.  She was sitting in a chair which the frightened maid
had brought to her, but rose wearily as Lady Eleanor came to her.

"Are you in trouble, my poor soul?" said Lady Eleanor, shocked at her
appearance.  "Tell me what has happened!" and she motioned to her to
sit down again.

The woman waited for a moment and then said in a hard voice, "'Tis my
boy Jan; I can't rightly tell what's wrong wi' mun"--and then she
stopped, but seeing the sympathy in Lady Eleanor's eyes broke out
hurriedly, "Oh, my Lady, I believe that they've a-killed mun.  Since I
took mun home three days agone he won't eat and won't take no notice of
naught, but lieth still; and 'twas only when I left mun for a minute
that he made a kind of crying and clung to me like.  I had to carry mun
home herefrom the day I left you."

"You carried him home?" broke in Colonel George astonished.

"Yes," said the woman simply; "'most all the way, for he soon gived out
walking; and ever since he's growed weaker and weaker, till this
morning at daylight he didn't take notice of me no longer, so then I
was obliged to leave mun"--she stopped a minute and went on in a harder
voice--"I couldn't help it; I come to ask you if you could spare mun a
drop of wine or what you think might do mun good, for"--she stopped
again and buried her face in her hands.

Lady Eleanor did not speak; she only laid her hand gently on the
woman's shoulder, which sank down and down until she was bent double.
Colonel George at once slipped out of the room and presently returned
with wine, which he gave to Lady Eleanor.  The woman revived when she
had drunk a little, and then Colonel George said to her: "Now, my good
woman, you must let me go back with you to your son and take with me
some things for him.  Don't be afraid"--(for the woman was shaking her
head)--"I am your friend and you may trust me to keep your secret if
you have any to keep.  Think, now, if I know the way, you can stay with
your son and I can bring him up whatever he wants on any day that you
please; and I'll bind myself not to show the way to any one, nor to
come back except on the day that you choose."

The woman hesitated and looked from Colonel George to Lady Eleanor, who
said: "Colonel Fitzdenys is right.  You can trust him, and you will
show him the way; and I must come too in case I can be of use.
Remember that you saved my children for me."

The woman still shook her head, but she was evidently wavering.
Colonel George's tone of quiet authority at last prevailed with her,
and she consented to show them the way, saying gruffly that she would
always prefer a soldier, who knew what he was about, to a doctor.  But
she refused to ride a pony which Lady Eleanor offered to her, and
insisted on starting off by herself, appointing a place in a valley by
the edge of the moor where she promised to meet them without fail.  And
with that she strode away across the park, while Lady Eleanor ordered
her horse and ran to put on her habit.

The horses were soon ready, and Colonel George and Lady Eleanor started
off; but it was only by a long circuit that they could ride to the
appointed spot on horseback, and when they reached it the woman was
already there before them.  She then led them by a very rough path,
which was unknown to Colonel George, to the very head of a deep combe,
where the oak coppice grew thinner and thinner until at last it died
out in the open moor.  Among these thin trees was a rough Exmoor pony,
hobbled, which the woman caught and mounted, and then led the way
straight on over the hill.

"I don't understand this," said Colonel George to Lady Eleanor, "I have
always been told that the ground before us was impassable.  It is the
bog in which most of the rivers in the moor rise.  I have crossed it a
mile east and west of this after deer, and the ground is bad enough
there; but I had no idea that it could be crossed here."

"No," said the woman, who had evidently overheard him, "the deer don't
never cross here, but I know my way across well enough."

These were the only words that she spoke during the ride, except now
and again to bid her companions keep to right or left, for presently
they were on the treacherous ground across which she had guided the
children, and the horses sank deeper in it than the ponies.  With all
his knowledge and experience of the moor the colonel found it difficult
to pick his way, and Lady Eleanor's horse floundered so deep that she
was once or twice obliged to dismount before he could get out.  Still
the woman led them on until at last the worst of the ground was past,
though the horses still sank at least fetlock-deep at every step.  The
watershed was left behind and the ground began to fall rapidly, though
it was so heavily seamed by a network of deep drains dug by the water
through the turf, that without a guide any one would have found it
almost impossible to find a way out.  Colonel George watched carefully
for landmarks as he went on, and looked out keenly for the hut, but
could see nothing.  Once or twice the woman smiled grimly as she saw
his eyes roving in every direction, and the colonel smiled back and
said: "It's a good job that the deer do not cross here, mistress, for
no horse could live with them;" but she only shook her head and said
nothing.

At length the rank red and yellow grass of the boggy ground showed a
patch or two of heather.  They were riding upon a ridge between two
streams, and Colonel George was wondering which of the two they were
about to follow, when the woman turned sharply downward on one side and
followed the stream up for a little way; and then suddenly there opened
out a little cross combe, so deep and narrow that the colonel might
have been excused for not seeing it.  At one point a mass of rock rose
out abruptly from the earth, which had evidently turned the water from
above, so that for a short distance the stream ran almost the reverse
way to its true course.  Against the rock the washing of centuries had
thrown up a bank of pebbles, now thickly overgrown with grass; and
there lay the hut, almost invisible from any point, against the rock,
sheltered from the westerly gales and gathering more of the eastern and
southern sun than could have been thought possible.  The goats ran
bleating towards the three as they rode up, for they had not been
milked that morning; and the woman's face was set hard as she went to
the door of the hut and presently returned to beckon Lady Eleanor in.

[Illustration: Still the woman led them on.]

It was little that could be seen of the sick man, except a white
shrunken face and closed eyes, as he lay on his bed of heather, with
every description of garment piled upon him.  He lay quite still and
quiet, breathing rather heavily; and when his mother poured some wine
down his throat from the basket that Colonel George carried with him,
he only stirred slightly and composed himself again as it were to
sleep.  Then Lady Eleanor came out to hold the horses and Colonel
George went in.  She heard him ask a few questions, and when he came
out he could only shrug his shoulders in answer to her inquiring
glance.  "I can make nothing of it and get nothing out of her," he
said, "but I have seen that look on a man's face before, and it is not
a look that I like to see.  She seems unwilling to tell anything of the
reason for his illness, but there must be some story at the bottom of
it all, if we could only get at it.  Go in and try."

So Lady Eleanor went in, while Colonel George stood at the door holding
the horses, and sat for a time looking at the sick man in silence, till
at last she asked the woman if she thought the bandsmen had hurt him
when they seized him.

"No, 'twasn't the bandsmen," said the woman absently, and without
looking up; "'twas the sarjint as did it."

"What did the serjeant do to him?" asked Colonel George from the door.
"It is a shameful thing if he hurt him, for Brimacott told me that he
had begged him not to be hard on him."

But the woman gave no answer, seeming rather ashamed to have said so
much; and after another silence Lady Eleanor asked another question or
two which was answered very shortly, and said something about calling
in a doctor.

"Doctor, no!" answered the woman fiercely.  "They never do nought but
bleed a man to death."

"Are you sure?" said Colonel George.  "I know there were army-doctors
who used to bleed men disgracefully.  You remember," he added, turning
for a moment to Lady Eleanor, "what Charlie Napier of the Fiftieth
wrote from Hythe, that the doctors thought bleeding to death the best
way of recovering sick soldiers.  But I don't suppose, my good woman,
that you have ever had to do with such."

"What! not I?" said the woman scornfully, but instantly restrained
herself and stopped.

"I should give him a drop more wine from time to time, mistress," said
Colonel George, as if taking no notice of what she had said; and
hitching the reins of the horses round the poles of the hut he took a
spoon, and poured a little between the sick man's lips himself.  "The
poor fellow's dreadfully weak," he went on.  "Was he ever sick or hurt
as a boy, mistress?  Did you ever see him taken like this before?  If
you could tell us, we might know better how to treat him."  And as he
asked the question he looked straight into the woman's face, very
keenly but very kindly, and she dropped her eyes with a half sigh.
"You see," he went on, "my Lady's little son came home and told us of a
coat that you had put on him, which sounded to me like a drummer's
coat; though of course as I haven't seen it I may be quite wrong; but I
was wondering if he had ever been a soldier, as I am myself, and been
wounded at some time."

"No, he wasn't never a soldier," said the woman hastily.

"Ah," said Colonel George; "it was his knowing how to drum that made me
think so.  And so you had to carry the poor fellow all this way the
other day?  Well, it's more than many a strong man could have done.
Many's the man I've seen break down from the weight of his pack, and
many's the wife I've seen take the load off her husband's back and
carry it for him like a brave soul."  He looked up at the woman and saw
her eyes glisten.  "Ay," he said, "you've seen it too, maybe?  Now, my
good mistress, just tell me what the serjeant did to your son here, or
what has happened to him to bring him to this state."

The woman hesitated long.  "'Tis a long story," she said at last, "but
maybe it's time that it was told; for I'm thinking that before long
there may be none to tell it.  You've been kind to my boy, the both of
'ee, and you've a promised to keep my secret.  So if you have a mind to
hear, I'll tell 'ee."

So Colonel George stood in the doorway holding the horses, while Lady
Eleanor sat on the turfen table by the sick man; and the woman began
her story.



CHAPTER XIII

"Years agone, long afore you ever come this way, my Lady, my father
lived not above seven or eight mile herefrom, up to Loudacott; you must
surely have heard the name of the place.  Well, there he lived with his
own bit of land, for he was a yeoman, he was, and the Clatworthys had
lived up to Loudacott hundreds of years, as he used to tell me.  There
wasn't but the three of us, my father--Jeremiah Clatworthy was his
name--my mother and myself; for I was the only child they had a-living.
It's a lonely place, is Loudacott, and it wasn't many folks that we saw
there when I was a child; but when I growed up into a comely maid, and
men seed me now and again to market or fairing time, they began to come
a-courting; for 'twasn't me only that they would get, but forty acre of
land with me, if father liked mun well.  There was more came than you'd
a think for, plenty enough to turn the head of a silly maid; and there
was one that father favoured particular, for he had land close nigh by
Loudacott, but I didn't like he--never could.  There wasn't but one
that pleased me, and that was Jan Dart.  You know his old mother that
lives to Ashacombe, or used to live, for they tell me that she's
a-dying.  She couldn't never abide the name of me, Jan's mother
couldn't; and father, he couldn't abide Jan.  For his father hadn't
been more than a servant with the old squire, nor his mother neither,
and Jan, he'd a been bound 'prentice to a shoemaker, and wasn't long
out of his time; while we was the Clatworthys to Loudacott.

"Well, the men come, and I was well enough pleased to keep mun dancing
round me, and poor Jan with the rest of mun, for you may depend that I
wasn't going to let he go.  I'd a-been a bit spoiled, for my mother had
had a boy and another maid besides me, and fine children too, as I've
been told; but she'd a-lost the both of them o' smallpox, so that there
wasn't but me left.  So I couldn't tell what to do, for I know'd but
one thing for sartain, that the man that father wanted for me wasn't
the man that I wanted for myself.  But there was a wise woman--Betsy
Lavacombe her name was, I mind well, but what use to tell you
that?--that I used to see; and terrible afeared of her the folks was.
It was she that built this house, and no one knew where she lived
except myself, nor knoweth till this day.  But I wasn't afeared of her,
for I had a-helped her more than once, and used to put out a bit of
mate for her now and again when I could; and she would always carry any
message from me to Jan or from Jan to me.  And I asked her many times
which of mun I should marry, but she wouldn't never tell me more than
that I should cross the sea and come back with gold.  'That's enough
for 'ee,' she would say, 'don't ask no more.  You shall cross the sea
and there will be lords and gentlemen with 'ee, and your bed shall be
so good as theirs, and you shall come back with gold.'

"So time went on and Jan kept courting o' me and I kept a playing with
Jan, as foolish maids will, till at last one day, I forget what it was
I said to mun, but he flinged away like a mazed man.  'I'll never come
nigh 'ee again,' he said, 'you'll have to find me if you want to see me
more; and till you find me you won't never find a man as loves you so
well as I do.'  And I laughed so as he could hear as he walked away,
for I made no doubt but he'd come again so soon as I called mun.  And I
mind well then that the old Betsy comed out of a hedge soon
afterward--she'd a been listening, I reckon--and saith she, 'Shall I
call mun back to 'ee now?  Best lose no time,' she saith.  But I let
mun go, for I depended that he'd come back, though I don't deny that I
wasn't easy.

"And it wasn't above a week afterward that the old Betsy cometh back
and saith, 'You'd best have let me call mun back when I told 'ee'; and
then she told me that a serjeant was come to Ashacombe and that Jan was
listed for a sojer and was agone.  It was evening then and I heard
mother calling, so I went into house like a dumb thing, for I couldn't
think what I should do without Jan; and I minded the words that he had
said, that I must come and find mun if I wanted to see him more; and I
lay awake all night a-crying to think that I couldn't tell where to
seek for mun, for find mun I must.  But next day when I went out I
glimpsed the old Betsy on the road not far away and whistled to her
(for she never showed herself about Loudacott if she could help, but
watched for me and whistled), and when she saw my face, 'Where's your
rosy cheeks gone, my dear?' she saith.  'A red coat's red enough
without they to dye mun, I reckon.'  But she wouldn't tell me where he
was agone, till I said that if she did not I would go out to find mun
for myself.  'Do you mane that?' she saith--I mind it as if 'twas
yesterday--'Then I'll take 'ee to mun.  'Ere, look 'ee!  I'll give 'ee
time to think about it, and if you mane to go sarch for mun, do you
meet me here with your clothes o' this day fortnight when the moon
rises.'

"And with that she went away and showed herself down Ashacombe ways
'most every day, to make folks think she was busy thereabouts--that
false and artful she was.  But when the days was gone, and mortal long
days they was to me, she was waiting for me as she said, for I wasn't
agoing to change my mind; and then it was that she brought me to this
house and told me to mark the way well.  We stayed here till night, and
then we started off walking across the moor, the both of us, until
morning, for she wasn't going to let a maid like me walk by myself, she
said.  We took a bit of mate with us and flint and steel, and many was
the things that she taught to me on the road for a body to make herself
nighly as comfortable in the open air as in ever a house.

"We walked night-times only till we was fifty miles away from home, and
then we could keep the road middling well, though I kept my bonnet tied
across my face.  And so we drew nigh to Gloucester town, and then the
old Betsy told me that Jan was there with his ridgment, and that I must
find he by myself.  And she wished me good-bye, and then the poor soul
fell a-crying, for she said that there was no one left now to be kind
to her.  'And there's hard times before 'ee, my tender,' she saith--I
mind the words well--'but not yet.  Good luck will be with 'ee first
along.  There's a man loves 'ee, and a man he is; make the most of mun.
You shall cross the sea and come back with gold, but don't 'ee forget
my little house, and if I bean't there, dig under the table, and think
kindly of the old Betsy.'

"So she went back and I walked into the town alone, feeling terrible
fluttered; but I hadn't a-gone very far before I meets with a man in a
red coat and his hair a-powdered, a-walking along by hisself, for it
was evening.  I looked at mun and hardly knowed mun at first; but Jan
it was, and beautiful he looked in his ridgmentals sure enough.  The
old Betsy had a-promised me good luck first along, and yet I was most
afraid to speak to mun, though nobody was by.  And when he saw me he
turned so white as death, and saith quite hoarse like, 'Lucy, what do
you here?'  And I couldn't say no more than 'I've a come to find you,
Jan.'  And the blood come back into his face, and we didn't want to say
no more, not then.  Dear Lord!  That was a day!

"We was married so soon as could be, though a sojer's pay is little
enough, as _you_ know, your honour; for the half of what is given is
took away again, so far as I can see.  But Jan could always make
something with his shoe-making, while I could wash, and get many a
little job besides from the officers' ladies.  So we did middling well,
and Jan got one of the men that was a bit of a scollard to write to his
mother, and got a hawker to take the letter along for the mending of
his shoes.  And in six months the hawker came back to say that mother
was dead and that father had sold Loudacott and was gone to live in the
town, where he was drinking and doing no good.  I reckon 'twas the old
Betsy had told mun; and I suppose that really 'twas all o' my account,
but 'twas too late to think of that.  And it was less than six months
after this news come that my boy was a-born--"

She stopped a minute to pass her hand over the sick man's head, and
went on:

"A beautiful boy he was, sure enough, and glad I was, when he was about
a twelvemonth old, that the peace came and there was no chance for Jan
to be sent to the war.  Scores of men was discharged, but Jan said we
should do better to stay, for there wasn't nowhere for us to go to if
we went, and he'd a got fond of the sojer's life, as I had, so long as
I was with he; and they was glad to keep so fine a man.  But then the
war come again, and a terrible way I was in, for they said the ridgment
was sure to be sent soon to the Injies or some place.  But it chanced
that another ridgment was raising a new battalion in Gloucester, and
there was a young chap that was got into trouble and wanted to cross
the sea as soon as might be, so wished, if he could, to change with
Jan.  And by good luck 'twas done, and we was sent to the new
battalion.  So there we stayed to Gloucester nighly four year.  Those
was the days when they said that Boney was a-coming over, but he never
come, as you know very well, for he didn't dare.

"And at Gloucester it was that I had a little maid born to me, so sweet
a little maid as ever was seen, with blue eyes and golden hair like
your own little lady's.  But there was a terrible lot of sickness among
the men.  Whether it was that our other battalion brought it back from
Egypt, I can't tell, but so it was.  The men died fast, for all that
the doctors would do was to bleed mun like pigs; and whether it was
that, or what it was, I couldn't say, but the little maid sickened and
died, when she was fifteen months old.  Jan was terrible distressed, I
mind, and so was I; but since then I've a-thought often that it was
better so.

"But Jan and the boy kept well and strong, and as the boy growed
bigger, he got mazed with soldiering.  Nothing would sarve mun but he
must be a drummer; and one of the drummers took up with mun and taught
mun almost so soon as he was big enough to hold the sticks, and it was
wonderful to see how quick he learned.  It was pretty, too, to see his
little hands a-twinkling, for very soon he could beat so well as any of
mun.  So he became a bit of a favourite, for he was a sweet pretty boy,
and the officers took notice of mun, and the tailor he made mun a
little coat and breeches and dressed mun out for all the world like a
riglar drummer.  For the tailor's wife hadn't no children you see, my
Lady, and was wonderful took up with my boy; and Jan he made her a
beautiful pair of shoes in return, I mind.  And it was a saying that
our ridgment had the smallest drummer in the army, and the best.  Look
'ee, I've a kept the very coat."

And she pulled the outer clothes off the sick man's chest, and showed
the little coat which Dick had worn, tied by the sleeves about his
neck.  He moved slightly and his mother poured a few drops of wine
between his lips; but he made no further sign of revival, and she went
on with her story.

"Well, it was in the year seven, I mind well, that the other battalion
of the ridgment was sent to the war in Denmark and then on to
Portingale.  I didn't like that, for it seemed that the war was coming
nigh home to us, and our good luck had lasted long; and I couldn't
never get the old Betsy's words out of my head, that I must cross the
sea.  And at last in the autumn of the next year, the year eight that
was, the day come.  Our battalion was ordered to find men to fill up
the place of those that was dead in the other battalion, and Jan was
a-chosen for one.  There was only six women to every company allowed to
go with them, and they was drawed by lot.  Ah, well I mind the drawing
of they lots.  It was pity to see the poor wives a-screeching and
crying, as one after another was told that she must bide home.  Many a
one was on her knees to the officer begging mun to take her, and the
officer hisself oftentimes was near crying as he was forced to say No.
My turn came at last, and I was drawn to go; and then I couldn't help
a-crying so loud as any of mun for joy.

"So we was put a board ship with Jan, the boy and I was, and away we
went to sea; and the poor things that was left behind stood crying, and
the men aboard cheered and cheered again.  Many's the time I've
a-thought of that day.  I reckon you've a knowed what it is yourself,
my Lady, to see the ships sail away; but I was happy enough, for I was
with Jan.

"Well, we got to Lisbon, where Sir John Moore was a-waiting for us; and
the army marched away from Portingale into Spain.  The women was all
told that they might sail back to England if they would; but 'twasn't
likely that any would leave their husbands, let alone me who was only
just come.  So we marched with the army, and long marches it was, they
winter days, nighly five hundred mile in six weeks as I've been told.
But Jan kept up brave, for he was a strong man, and I was always
hearty, while the boy tramped along wonderful too; and when he was
a-tired there was always Jan or others of the men would carry mun, or I
would carry mun for a time myself.  And what I had learned from the old
Betsy 'bout walking and camping sarved me well, for I was nigh so handy
as any of mun.

"Well, after six weeks we come to a place--I forget the name--something
like sago I think it was."

"Sahagun," said Colonel George.

"Ay, that was it; and there we was told we women must bide while the
men went vor against the French.  And then I began to think that the
bad luck of which the old Betsy had a-spoke was come at last.  It was
two days before Christmas, I mind well, and we wondered what ever
Christmas Day would bring.  But the very next day the news come that
the French was stronger than we, and that we must go back; and many
ridgments turned back that very day.  But we waited, for Jan's ridgment
was gone farther on, expecting mun all through the night, and in the
morning sure enough they came; and out we ran through the snow, for the
snow was on the ground, and there was Jan alive and well, but a bit
tired.  But there wasn't no time for rest; and we had to go on to once.
The rain came down, the snow began to thaw, and the roads was so slushy
and heavy that it was miserable travelling.  The men was angry too at
turning away from the French, and they kept asking if the time wasn't
never coming to halt: but on they had to go.

"My boy soon began to tire, for the way was terrible soggy, and Jan
carried mun for a bit: but he hadn't had but little to ate and had
marched a long ways already.  So before very long Jan was obliged to
give mun to me, and I carried mun along as best I could.  But I
couldn't help dropping behind a bit, for Jan said that I could catch
mun up first halt, and that the boy would be able to get along better
after being carried a bit.  I couldn't get no help, for all the men
that I saw was so tired as I was, and worse.  Now and again one would
fall down not able to go no furder, and it's my belief that every one
of mun would have done the like if it hadn't been for the General
(Craufurd was the name of mun) who rode up and down, driving mun on as
if they'd a-been sheep.  But he wouldn't let mun go like sheep, not he.
'Kape your ranks and move on.  No straggling,' he kept saying.  And
you'd see the men a-looking up and scowling at mun: but he was
a-scowling worse than they, and if they didn't mind he'd break out at
them like a mad thing; and then look out!  I never see a man fly into
such passions as he, swearing and cursing in his strange Scotch tongue.
You'd have thought he was going to kill the men, and sometimes I
believe he would, for he talked of hanging mun often enough.

"It was late at night before we got to the town where we was to rest;
and the boy was so bate that it was all I could do to bring mun in.
'Twas raining so heavy that we couldn't light a fire out of doors, so
there was little to eat; but I got a bit for the boy, and Jan tried to
mend my shoes, which was in a sad way; but there was many crying out to
have their shoes mended, and he was that tired that he couldn't do
naught, but falled asleep over his awl and bristles.  The next morning
it was march again, tired as we was.  The boy was fresher after a bit
of sleep and could walk for a bit, and Jan and me managed to get mun
along so well as we could; but we growed weaker and he growed weaker
every day.  How many days and nights it was I can't tell, for there was
no rest, and the French was said to be close by; so days and nights we
tramped on, through the wind and the rain and the sleet; and every day
there was more men dropped down.  There was hardly a pair of shoes
among the lot, officers nor men, and our feet was cut and bleeding; but
still that General Craufurd kept driving of us on.  He was always the
first ready to start, and there he would stand waiting, his beard all
white with frost on the bitter mornings, looking to the men with their
clothes all in rags, so cold and stiff and faint that they was hardly
able to move; and this I will say, that he favoured hisself no more
than he favoured the men.  It was terrible to see mun looking them
over, for you could see that he feeled for them; but then he would open
his mouth and give the word to march in a voice that made you jump to
hear.  And when once they was a-moving, if ever a man dropped behind, a
sarjint went at mun for all the world like a sheep-dog, and a dog that
knowed how to use his teeth too.  My boy got terrible 'feared of they
sarjints, for he heard mun use rough words, ay, and more than words, to
our men, and more than once he thought the sarjint was speaking to he,
and clinged to me tight, poor little soul; and night-times he would
wake and cry that the sarjint was come for mun.

"It must have been nighly a week after we started that General Craufurd
tooked a different road from we; and we went on without mun.  And then
we found what it was to have such a man, hard though he was in driving
us 'vor and keeping the men in order.  For we came to a town where
there was stores and stores of wine; and there the sojers, that had
marched on before us, was lying in the gutter by scores, or staggering
about the streets more like to pigs than Christian men.  I seed General
Moore that night.  Ah! that was a man.  The handsomest man in the army
they said he was, for all that one of his cheeks was scarred where a
bullet had gone through it years before; and sure enough I never see a
finer man 'cepting my Jan.  But he was terrible stern too, and I never
saw man look so dark and angry as he did then.  I seed mun many times
afterward, for he was always a-looking to the rear where our ridgment
was, a-helping and encouraging so well as he could.  Well, I got a drop
of wine for the boy--it was the morning of New Year's day I mind--which
did mun good, and next morning we started again.

"But worse was avore us than we had left behind, for till now the
cavalry had been behind us and had kept away the French; but now the
cavalry was sent forward, and there was nothing betwixt us and the
enemy.  Two days afterward the French came upon us sure enough, and the
muskets was going all night.  I couldn't sleep, for I knowed that Jan
was there, but sat with the boy, who was lying by me, tossing and
tumbling, for he was ill with the wet, and the cold, and the long ways.
Some women that was with me told me to go to sleep and not be a fule,
for 'twas naught but a scrimmage; but I couldn't do that.  Ah, the
night was long; but a bit before dawn the boy grew quiet, and as the
light come in I heard our men was a-coming back, and runned out to see
Jan.  And there was Jan's company a-standing in line and the sarjint
calling the roll.  I heard mun call Jan Dart, but couldn't hear Jan's
voice answer; but there was a chance that he might be carrying a
wounded man or something or another, so I called 'Jan Dart, can anyone
say where Jan Dart is?' but no one answered; and then the captain asked
the same, and a man stepped out and said that he had seen mun fall.
And I cried out, 'Oh take me to mun,' and the captain (a kind gentleman
he always was) told the man to show me where he seed mun last; but he
saith, 'You mustn't stay long, my poor woman, for the French will be
here again directly;' and I knowed what that meant.  So the man showed
me the way and there was Jan, sure enough, a-lying on his face.  I
turned mun over, and, as I did, his hand fell across my knees, and his
face was so quiet that I thought for a minute that he was only
a-dropped asleep from weariness; but it wasn't of no use, for he was
dead--shot through the heart.

"And there I reckon I should have stayed, spite of all that the officer
said; but the man took me by the arm and told me to come on.  'The
saints rock his soul to rest in glory,' he saith, crossing hisself, for
he was an Irishman, 'and have mercy on us that is still living;' and
then I remembered the boy, and I left Jan and come away.  The boy was
terrible weak and ailing, but we set off to walk, though very soon I
had to carry mun; and so I dropped behind.  The road lay through the
mountains now, and was terrible rough and steep, while the snow come
down and made the ways so slippy that it was hard to move without
falling.  But on I went, I can't tell how, though there was many that
dropped behind me and never come up again.  That march was terrible
long, and the boy kept crying to be put down; but when I laid mun down
for a minute or two he couldn't rest for long, but would cry out again
that the sarjint was after mun, so I had to pick mun up and go on again.

"I reckon that it must have been the next day--but I can't tell, for
days turns to years at such times--that as I was a tramping on I seed a
crowd of women a-stooping down to the ground to gather up something or
another, and scrambling, and fighting, and squabbling like a lot of
fowls when they'm fed.  It was money they was a-fighting for.  The oxen
a-drawing the carts with the money was foundered, and the Gineral had
gived orders to throw the money away.  I picked up some few pieces
myself, thinking it might buy something for the boy, but there was one
woman that loaded herself like a bee with dollars, and said she would
be a lady when she got home.

"After that, she and I was a good bit together, she carrying her
dollars and I carrying the boy; but the way grew worse and worse, and
but for the boy I think that I should have gived out myself as so many
did.  Once I remember I saw a sojer and his wife a-lying down by the
wayside; they couldn't go no farther and had lain down to die together;
and I wished that it had been Jan and me; but I had the boy on my back
and I went on.  Well, I won't tell you what terrible sights we saw on
the road; but I'll tell 'ee this, that I have seen grown men a-sobbing
like children for pain and cold and hunger.  It was enough to turn the
head of a grown man, let alone a child.  And so it was that after a
time the boy stopped crying and complaining and went quite quiet.  I
couldn't think what was come to mun, that he was always a-staring and
never speaking nor taking no notice; but I reckoned that if I could
carry mun on to the end, he would recover hisself.  And I did carry mun
on to the end to--what was the name of the place again?--something like
currants it was."

"Corunna?" said Colonel George.

"Ay, that was it, Corinner--but when we got there, there wasn't no
ships, and General Moore had to fight the French and bate mun before he
could sail home.  And he was a-killed, poor gentleman, he was, as you
know, and many other brave men besides.  But we and the sick and the
wounded was put aboard before the battle was fought, and a strange
thing there was that happened.  The woman that had taken the dollars
come aboard with me, but her hands were so full that she gave me a part
of the money to hold, while she climbed from the boat to the ship's
side.  And as she stepped on the ladder, her foot slipped, and she fell
into the sea and sank like a stone; for she had dollars sewn up in her
clothes so heavy, that down she went and never come up again.  So there
was I left with what she give me, and as her husband was killed in the
battle and there wasn't no one else belonging to her to take the money,
I reckoned I might keep it.  And then one day I thought of what the old
Betsy had said, that I should cross the sea and bring back gold, though
it wasn't gold, but silver.

"Well, on board ship the boy didn't change, though he got a bit
stronger in his body.  We had a terrible storm on the way home, and for
all I could do I couldn't keep mun from being knocked about; the ship
rolling and plunging so that the men could hardly save themselves.  And
when we got home and was set ashore on the beach, I could see that my
boy wasn't the only one that was gone wrong.  I tell 'ee, my Lady, that
some men was even blind with the toil of that march, and hunger and
cold and misery.

"So there I was alone with my boy, for hardly a man of Jan's company
was left and not many of the whole ridgment, while what there was of
them was mostly sick.  'Twas lucky that I had money, or I can't think
what I should have done.  But the worst was that my boy remained just
the same as he was.  I showed mun to the doctors, and they took blood
from mun once and wanted to take more, but I wouldn't have that, for
I'd a-seen what they was with their lancets if they was let alone; and
at last they telled me that his mind was gone and wouldn't never come
back.  But he grew stronger in his body after a bit, and I was able to
take mun abroad; and though he liked the sound of the drums he was a
bit frightened at the sight of a red coat, for fear that it should be a
sarjint, and if it was a sarjint he would run like a rabbit.  So I was
obliged to move away as soon as I could; but go where I would there was
no peace, for he'd a-lost his speech except some few sounds, and I
couldn't let mun run with other children, for they always make sport of
such poor things as he.  So for a long time we wandered from place to
place, getting little but hard words, though the boy was happy enough,
I believe; for living in the air as we did he took up with every bird
and every beast that he could find, and they seem to know mun for a
friend.  Many was the young one that he took and made so tame as could
be.

"Then at last the money began to run short, for all that I was careful,
and that now and again we could earn a little bit; so I minded what old
Betsy Lavacombe had said, and thought I would go back and find she.  It
was a long way to go, but we walked on day after day till we got nigh
to the moor, when I chose my road very careful and walked night-times
only till we come to this house.  The old Betsy was agone, and the
house was nigh failed to pieces, and I've a-heard since that she was
found drowned in a lime-pit some years back.  But I digged under the
table as the old Betsy had said, and there deep down was a box wrapped
up in a sheepskin, full of silver money, and a little gold too.  How
she got it, I can't tell, unless she took it from her husband, who had
been a sailor, as she told me once, though sailors isn't given to
saving.  So we built up the house again and here I made up my mind to
live, where no one couldn't hurt my boy, for he was shy of grown-up
folks, and children won't leave mun alone.

"So here we've a-been now these many years, and the boy's been so happy
as could be.  Jackdaws, hedgehogs, squirrels, deer, naught comes amiss
to mun: and he knows the moor and the woods so well as the deer
themselves.  He growed stronger too, though I wouldn't never take him
with me when I went down to the villages to buy meal: but he would
always keep out of sight and wait for me.  And I suppose that just
lately he may have been getting a bit better in his head, for he runned
down to join the children that day when I come to Ashacombe, as you
remember; and for all that he was a bit frightened then, he was so took
up with your little lady that I hadn't the heart to keep mun from going
to look at her, though I was always hid not very far from mun.  It was
me that your servant saw in the woods the day Jan brought the
bullfinch; but Lord, Lord, I never thought that it would have come to
this."

She stopped, and pulling the clothes aside looked sadly at the sick
man's face.  "See there," she said in a hard, changed voice, "that's
how he looked often when we was marching back to Corinner.  I thought
that I should never get mun back alive then, but I did hope never to
see mun look so again.  And though he can't spake I know what he's
a-thinking.  He thinks that the sarjint's come for mun, and it's a
killed the heart within mun."



CHAPTER XIV

There was a long silence when Lucy Dart came to the end of her story.
There were parts of it that struck home to Lady Eleanor, for was not
she also the widow of a soldier who had been killed in action?  But
what moved her and Colonel George above all was the change in the
woman's face.  While she was talking of her young days her features
were softer; but as she neared the end of her story they grew harder
and harder until they assumed an expression of worn, dogged despair, as
though she still felt the stress of those terrible days in the retreat
to Corunna.  She was ghastly pale also, and seemed quite exhausted when
she came to the last word; and both of her visitors recalled her words,
that she had carried her son, a grown man, most of the many miles from
Bracefort to the hut where he now lay.

Colonel George broke the silence by telling Lucy that she must take
care to keep up her own strength as well as her son's, and that he
would come back the next day with a fresh store of provisions for them
both.  He begged at the same time to be allowed to bring the doctor
with him, but Lucy positively refused.  A doctor could do no good, she
said; and she begged that the colonel would not come again until the
day after to-morrow, as she wished to be left alone.

So with a heavy heart Lady Eleanor bade her good-bye, and they left her
bent over the body of her son; Colonel George saying that he could find
his way back over the bog without help.  And so indeed he did, with a
skill which to Lady Eleanor seemed marvellous; but she said not a word
to him until they reached the high ridge, on a point of which she had
once rested while the searching parties were scouring the moor for her
lost children, as weary with watching and misery as the woman from whom
she had just parted.  And then for the first time there occurred to her
the readiness, quickness and foresight with which Colonel George had
arranged everything, not only for the finding of the children, but for
letting her know by signal what had happened, for better or worse, as
early as possible.  Involuntarily she quickened her horse's pace a
little as she thought of her race home to the children, after they were
found; and then came the chilling remembrance that, when she reached
home, Dick would not be there.  She pulled up, and looked round for
Colonel George, who had dropped somewhat behind her, and was gazing at
the glorious prospect of moor and valley and woodland that was spread
out before him.  Instantly he was at her side.

"I am afraid that we have not the same excuse for scampering home
to-day," he said, divining her thoughts; "poor old Dick is well on his
way by now.  Well, the Corporal will be back in a few days to tell us
all about him; and I hope to see him myself before long, as he will be
close to London."

"Then you are going?" said Lady Eleanor, "for how long?"

"For a long time," he said, "I am going abroad again.  Three months is
not very long leave after a six months' voyage perhaps, but I am a
soldier and must go where I am told.  But I don't start for another
month," he added, "so I hope to clear up this little trouble for you
before I go."

Lady Eleanor stifled a little cry.  "Going away again so soon?" she
said.  "Surely you are not wanted already?"  But she checked herself
and went on calmly.  "Then you think there is nothing very serious the
matter with that poor idiot after all?"

Colonel George shook his head.  "I am not a doctor," he answered, "but
I confess that I think very badly of him, and I believe that the woman
is right, and that a doctor would be useless."

They rode on silently for a time, when Colonel George said, "That poor
woman looked nearly as ill as her son.  She went through terrible
things before Corunna, but the last few days must have been almost
worse.  The strain of carrying him all that distance from Bracefort
must have been more than she could really stand.  She has no one except
him in the world, and if he be taken from her, I cannot think how she
will struggle on alone."

"Yes," said Lady Eleanor, as if talking to herself, "it is terrible to
be left alone."

Colonel George glanced at her quickly, but she was looking sadly
straight in front of her, and he rode on for some way further in
silence before he broke out almost fiercely, "When I lost my best
friend at Salamanca, my first thought was for her who by his death was
left alone.  When I came back after the peace I should have asked her,
if I had dared, to live alone no longer, but to come and live with me.
But I dared not, and went away again, dreading every day lest I might
no longer find her alone when I came back.  And now I am about
accepting an appointment at the Cape and leaving her alone again, when
God knows, all I care for in this world is to throw up my commission
and stay with her--always, if she will let me.  Eleanor, it is
true--you are more than all the world to me.  Tell me, shall I go or
stay?"

Lady Eleanor flushed deeply but rode on in silence; and Colonel George
added very gently:

"One word more; whatever your answer, remember that you can count upon
me always for your faithful friend."

So they rode on without a word for some way further till they came to
two rough tracks, of which one led to Fitzdenys Court and the other to
Bracefort, where Colonel George pulled up and looked at her straight in
the face.

"Is it go or stay?" he asked.

"Go now," she said with some difficulty; "come back,--not to-morrow,
but when you return from visiting the hut on the day after."

"If I come back to you, I shall stay," he answered.

"Come back," she repeated, "but leave me for to-morrow; and now
good-bye."

So she gave him her hand, and they went their different ways; but both
stopped and looked back after they had gone a hundred yards, to the
great surprise and disgust of their horses, who were impatient to get
home.

But next morning Colonel George received a hurried note from Lady
Eleanor saying she had been disturbed in the night by the sound of
footsteps on the gravel by the house; and that, though she could see
nothing at the time, the maids on opening the door had found the
drummer's coat lying on the step.  She therefore feared that something
was gone wrong and begged Colonel Fitzdenys, despite his promise, to
ride up to the hut on the moor without delay.

Of course the colonel started off at once, and when he caught sight of
the hut he noticed that the goats were unmilked and bleating pitifully
round the door.  As he drew nearer, the jackdaw and magpie came hopping
out, cawing with mouths wide open; and then he jumped off his horse,
tied him up, and knocked with his whip against the pole which formed
the door-post.  There was no answer, and he went in.  The idiot was
lying as he had seen him on the previous day, but the troubled look was
gone from his face; and across him with her head close to his lay his
mother, while the squirrel with his little bright eyes was sitting up
by the heads of both.  The woman's skirts were dripping wet, as though
she had walked through dewy grass, and she lay quite still.  The
colonel laid his hand on the man's forehead; and it was quite cold.
Then he took the woman's hand and that also was cold.  He had seen such
sights too often in the wars to be dismayed at finding himself alone
with the dead.  "He must have died at sunset," he said to himself, "and
she walked over to Bracefort in the night in distraction and came back
to die before sunrise.  No wonder, after such a strain as carrying him
all those miles."  He left the two where they lay, and was about to put
the door in its place and go; but the goats clamoured so loud that he
stopped to milk them, which he had learned to do in India, and finding
the meat that he had brought on the previous day untouched in the
basket, he gave some scraps to the magpie and the jackdaw, and ferreted
about till he had discovered some nuts in the hut for the squirrel.
Then he set the door in its place and rode straight for Bracefort.

When he reached the hill-top he saw some one riding upward; and
galloping down soon found himself face to face with Lady Eleanor.  In
spite of what she had said on the day before she seemed very happy to
see him twenty-four hours earlier than she had appointed, and it was
not for some minutes that they came to the matter which had brought
them together again.  Then Colonel George told her what he had seen at
the hut, though he found it hard to tell her anything so sad at such a
time.  She listened with many tears, but when she had recovered herself
somewhat, she told Colonel George that there was one person more who
must hear the story of Lucy Dart at once.

So when they came to Bracefort they went to see old Sally Dart, who had
become weaker again in the last few days, and had taken to her bed.
She brightened up as they came in, and before either of them could say
a word, bade them, as if she knew for what they were come, to tell them
about her Jan.  So they told her how he had fallen in fair fight with
the French, among the rear-guard, which had covered itself with glory
in the retreat; and she said that it was well.  And they told her how
Lucy his wife had stuck to him faithfully through all the hardship of
war, that she had carried his boy to the end, when men were dying all
round of fatigue and despair, and had brought him out alive, by her
patience and courage, though injured for life; and that she had devoted
herself wholly to him in the years that followed and died from grief
when he died.  They kept back from her any more than this lest they
should grieve her, but old Sally was satisfied without asking
questions, for which indeed she had little strength, but said that it
was well, and that she would now go in peace.  Then she wished them
both good-bye and hoped they might live long and happily together,
though they had told her nothing of what had passed between themselves;
and those were the last words that she spoke, for she was stricken for
the second time that evening and after lingering for a day and a night
departed in peace, as she had said.

So there were three graves dug in the little churchyard; and
grandmother, mother and son were buried together, so that the mourners
for old Sally did honour also to the two whom they had treated as
outcasts.  The goats, the old pony, the magpie, the jackdaw and the
squirrel were all brought down at the same time and made over to Elsie;
and the little drummer's coat still lies in the glass case at Bracefort
Hall.


But it was all many, many years ago; and there are few now living in
Ashacombe village who remember to have heard from their parents the
story of the witch of Cossacombe.  There are many more monuments now in
the churches both at Ashacombe and Fitzdenys than there were then; but
those who read from them of George, Lord Fitzdenys, who fought in the
Peninsula, at Waterloo, and at Maheidpore, and of Eleanor his beloved
wife, think little or know nothing of the manner in which they were
brought together.  Still less do they know of the part played in the
matter by John Brimacott, sometime of the Light Dragoons, who died in
their household after forty years of good and faithful service.  Those
again who read an inscription to the memory of General Sir Richard
Bracefort, Colonel of the 116th Lancers, who fought in the Punjaub,
cannot tell that this was once little Dick, who was lost on the moor,
nor that Elizabeth his widowed sister, whose memory also is preserved
in Ashacombe church, was once little Elsie who was lost with him.  But
folks still pause to look at the tablet which records the death of
Private John Dart in the retreat to Corunna, and of Lucy his wife, who
after his fall carried her son of nine years old to the British ships,
and having devoted the rest of her life to the care of him, who by
God's visitation could take no care for himself, was found dead upon
his body when he died.



THE END





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