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unkind to you?" "It is a long tale," replied Edwards "but I will try to tell it to you as we walk."
"When you were at school in the neighbourhood, you remember me at South-hill: that farm had been possessed by my father, grandfather, and great grandfather, which last was a younger brother of that very man's ancestor who is now lord of the manor. I thought I managed it, as they had done, with prudence; I paid my rent regularly as it became due, and had always as much behind as gave bread to me and my children. But my last lease was out soon after you left that part of the country; and the 'squire, who had lately adopted a London attorney for his steward, would not renew it, because he said, he did not chuse to have any farm under 300l. a year value on his estate; but offered to give me the preference on the same terms with another, if I chose to take the one he had marked out, of which mine was a part.
"What could I do, Mr. Harley? I feared the undertaking was too great for me; yet to leave, at my age, the house I had lived in from my cradle! I could not, Mr. Harley, I could not! there was not a tree about it that I did not look on as my father, my brother, or my child; so I even ran the risk, and I took the 'squire's offer of the whole. But I had soon reason to repent of my bargain; the steward had taken care that my former farm should be the best land of the division: I was obliged to hire more servants, and I could not have my eye over them all; some unfavourable seasons followed each other, and I found my affairs entangling on my hands. To add to my distress, a considerable corn-factor turned bankrupt with a sum of mine in his possession: I failed paying my rent so punctually as I was wont to do, and the same steward had my stock taken in execution in a few days after. So Mr. Harley, there was an end of my prosperity. However, there was as much produced from the sale of my effects as paid my debts, and saved me
from a jail: I thank God, I wronged no man, and the world could never charge me with dishonesty.
"Had you seen us, Mr. Harley, when we were turned out of South-hill, I am sure you would have wept at the sight. You remember old Trusty, my shag house-dog; I shall never forget it while I live; the poor creature was blind with age, and could scarce crawl after us to the door; he went, however, as far as the gooseberry bush; that you may remember stood on the left side of the yard; he was wont to bask in the sun there; when he had reached that spot, he stopped; we went on: I called to him; he wagged his tail, but did not stir: I called again; he laid down I whistled, and cried Trusty! he gave a short howl, and died! I could have lain down and died too; but God gave me strength to live for my children.
The old man now paused a moment to take breath. He eyed Harley's face; it was bathed with tears: the story was grown familiar to himself; he dropped one tear and no more.
"Tho' I was poor," continued he, " I was not altogether without credit. A gentleman in the neighbourhood, who had a small farm unoccupied at the time, offered to let me have it, on giving security for the rent; which I made shift to procure. It was a piece of ground which required management to make any thing of; but it was nearly within the compass of my son's labour and my own. We exerted all our industry to bring it into some heart. We began to succeed tolerably, and lived contented on its produce, when an unlucky accident brought us under the displeasure of a neighbouring justice of the peace and broke all our family happiness again.
My son was a remarkably good shooter; he had always kept a pointer on our former farm, and thought no harm in doing so now; when one day having sprung a covey of birds in our own ground,
the dog, of his own accord, followed them into the justice's. My son laid down his gun, and went after his dog to bring him back; the game-keeper, who had marked the birds, came up, and seeing the pointer, shot him, just as my son approached. The creature fell; my son ran up to him: he died with a complaining sort of cry at his master's feet. Jack could bear it no longer; but flying at the gamekeeper, wrenched his gun out of his hands, and with the but-end of it felled him to the ground.
"He scarce had got home, when a constable came with a warrant, and dragged him to prison: there he lay, for the justices would not take bail, till he was tried at the quarter sessions for the assault and battery. His fine was hard upon us to pay; we contrived however to live the worse for it, and make up the loss by our frugality: but the justice was not content with that punishment, and soon after had an opportunity of punishing us indeed.
"An officer with press-orders, came down to our country, and having met with the justices, agreed that they should pitch on a certain number who could most easily be spared from the county, of whom he would take care to clear it: my son's name was in the justices' list.
"It was on a Christmas Eve, and the birth-day too of my son's little boy. The night was piercing cold, and it blew a storm, with showers of hail and snow. We had made up a cheering fire in an inner room; I sat before it in my wicker-chair, blessing Providence, that had still left a shelter for me and my children. My son's two little ones were holding their gambols around us; my heart warmed at the sight: I brought a bottle of my best ale, and all our misfortunes were forgotten.
"It had long been our custom to play a game at blind-man's-buff on that night, and it was not omitted now; so to it we fell, I, and my son, and his wife, the
daughter of a neighbouring farmer, who happened to be with us at the time, the two children, and an old maid servant who had lived with me from a child. The lot fell on my son to be blindfolded: we had continued some time in our game, when he groped his way into an outer room in pursuit of some of us, who, he imagined, had taken shelter there; we kept snug in our places, and enjoyed his mistake. He had not been long there, when he was suddenly seized from behind; "I shall have you now," said he, and turned about. “Shall you so, Master?" answered the ruffian, who had laid hold of him; we shall make you play at another sort of game by and by."-At these words, Harley started with a convulsed sort of motion, and grasping Edwards's sword, drew it half out of the scabbard, with a look of the most frantic wildness. Edwards gently re-placed it in its sheath, and went on with his relation.
On hearing these words in a strange voice, we all rushed out to know the cause; the room by this time was almost full of the gang. My daughter-in-law fainted at the sight; the maid and I ran to assist her, while my poor son remained motionless, gazing by turns on his children and their mother. We soon recovered her to life, and begged her to retire and wait the issue of the affair; but she flew to her husband, and clung around him in an agony of terror and grief.
"In the gang was one of a smoother aspect, whom, by his dress, we discovered to be a serjeant of foot: he came up to me, and told me, that my son had his choice of the sea or land service, whispering at the same time, that if he chose the land, he might get off, on procuring him another man, and paying a certain sum for his freedom. The money we could just muster up in the house, by the assistance of the maid, who produced, in a green bag, all the little savings of her service; but the man we could not expect to find. My daughter-in-law gazed upon her
children with a look of the wildest despair: "My poor infants!" said she, your father is forced from you; who shall now labour for your bread; or must your mother beg for herself and you?" I prayed her to be patient; but comfort I had none to give her. At last, calling the serjeant aside, I asked him, "if I was too old to be accepted in the place of my son?" Why, I do not know," said he; you are rather old to be sure, but yet the money may do much." I put the money in his hand, and coming back to my children; " Jack," said I, " you are free! live to give your wife and these little ones bread; I will go, my child, in your stead: I have but little of life to lose; and, if I staid, I should add one to the wretches you left behind." "No," replied my son, " I am not that coward you imagine me; Heaven forbid that my father's gray hairs should be so exposed, while I sat idle at home; I am young, and able to endure much, and God will take care of you and my family.' "Jack," said I, "I will put an end to this matter; you have never hitherto disobeyed me; I will not be contradicted in this; stay at home, I charge you, and for my sake be kind to my children.
"Our parting, Mr. Harley, I cannot describe to you; it was the first time we ever had parted: the very press-gang could scarce keep from tears; but the serjeant, who had seemed the softest before, was now the least moved of them all. He conducted me to a party of new raised recruits, who lay at a village in the neighbourhood; and we soon after joined the regiment. I had not been long with it, when we were ordered to the East-Indies, where I was soon made a serjeant, and might have picked up some money, if my heart had been as hard as some others were; but my nature was never of that kind that could think of making myself rich at the expence of my conscience.
Amongst our prisoners was an old Indian,