Chapter I

Juliana Horatia Ewing

LAST noon beheld them full of lusty life,
Last eve in Beauty’s circle proudly gay,
The midnight brought the signal sound of strife,
The morn the marshalling in arms—the day
Battle’s magnificently stern array!
The thunder clouds close o’er it, which when rent
The earth is covered thick with other clay,
Which her own clay shall cover, heaped and pent,
Rider and horse:—friend, foe,—in one red burial blent.

Their praise is hymn’d by loftier harps than mine:
Yet one would I select from that proud throng.

.     .     .     .     .

——to thee, to thousands, of whom each
And one as all a ghastly gap did make
In his own kind and kindred, whom to teach
Forgetfuluess were mercy for their sake;
The Archangel’s trump, not glory’s, must awake
Those whom they thirst for.


TWO Donkeys and the Geese lived on the Green, and all other residents of any social standing lived in houses round it. The houses had no names. Everybody’s address was, “The Green,” but the Postman and the people of the place knew where each family lived. As to the rest of the world, what has one to do with the rest of the world, when he is safe at home on his own Goose Green? Moreover, if a stranger did come on any lawful business, he might ask his way at the shop.

Most of the inhabitants were long-lived, early deaths (like that of the little Miss Jessamine) being exceptional; and most of the old people were proud of their age, especially the sexton, who would be ninety-nine come Martinmas, and whose father remembered a man who had carried arrows, as a boy, for the battle of Flodden Field. The Grey Goose and the big Miss Jessamine were the only elderly persons who kept their ages secret. Indeed, Miss Jessamine never mentioned any one’s age, or recalled the exact year in which anything had happened. She said that she had been taught that it was bad manners to do so “in a mixed assembly.”

The Grey Goose also avoided dates, but this was partly because her brain, though intelligent, was not mathematical, and computation was beyond her. She never got farther than “last Michaelmas,” “the Michaelmas before that,” and “the Michaelmas before the Michaelmas before that.” After this her head, which was small, became confused, and she said, “Ga, ga!” and changed the subject.

But she remembered the little Miss Jessamine, the Miss Jessamine with the “conspicuous” hair. Her aunt, the big Miss Jessamine, said it was her only fault. The hair was clean, was abundant, was glossy, but do what you would with it, it never looked like other people’s. And at church, after Saturday night’s wash, it shone like the best brass fender after a Spring cleaning. In short, it was conspicuous, which does not become a young woman—especially in church.

Those were worrying times altogether, and the Green was used for strange purposes. A political meeting was held on it with the village Cobbler in the chair, and a speaker who came by stage coach from the town, where they had wrecked the bakers’ shops, and discussed the price of bread. He came a second time, by stage, but the people had heard something about him in the meanwhile, and they did not keep him on the Green. They took him to the pond and tried to make him swim, which he could not do, and the whole affair was very disturbing to all quiet and peaceable fowls. After which another man came, and preached sermons on the Green, and a great many people went to hear him; for those were “trying times,” and folk ran hither and thither for comfort. And then what did they do but drill the ploughboys on the Green, to get them ready to fight the French, and teach them the goose-step! However, that came to an end at last, for Bony was sent to St. Helena, and the ploughboys were sent back to the plough.

Everybody lived in fear of Bony in those days, especially the naughty children, who were kept in order during the day by threats of, “Bony shall have you,” and who had nightmares about him in the dark. They thought he was an Ogre in a cocked hat. The Grey Goose thought he was a fox, and that all the men of England were going out in red coats to hunt him. It was no use to argue the point, for she had a very small head, and when one idea got into it there was no room for another.

Besides, the Grey Goose never saw Bony, nor did the children, which rather spoilt the terror of him, so that the Black Captain became more effective as a Bogy with hardened offenders. The Grey Goose remembered his coming to the place perfectly. What he came for she did not pretend to know. It was all part and parcel of the war and bad times. He was called the Black Captain, partly because of himself, and partly because of his wonderful black mare. Strange stories were afloat of how far and how fast that mare could go, when her master’s hand was on her mane and he whispered in her ear. Indeed, some people thought we might reckon ourselves very lucky if we were not out of the frying-pan into the fire, and had not got a certain well-known Gentleman of the Road to protect us against the French. But that, of course, made him none the less useful to the Johnson’s Nurse, when the little Miss Johnsons were naughty.

“You leave off crying this minnit, Miss Jane, or I’ll give you right away to that horrid wicked officer. Jemima! just look out o’ the windy, if you please, and see if the Black Cap’n’s a-coming with his horse to carry away Miss Jane.”

And there, sure enough, the Black Captain strode by, with his sword clattering as if it did not know whose head to cut off first. But he did not call for Miss Jane that time. He went on to the Green, where he came so suddenly upon the eldest Master Johnson, sitting in a puddle on purpose, in his new nankeen skeleton suit, that the young gentleman thought judgment had overtaken him at last, and abandoned himself to the howlings of despair. His howls were redoubled when he was clutched from behind and swung over the Black Captain’s shoulder, but in five minutes his tears were stanched, and he was playing with the officer’s accoutrements. All of which the Grey Goose saw with her own eyes, and heard afterwards that that bad boy had been whining to go back to the Black Captain ever since, which showed how hardened he was, and that nobody but Bonaparte himself could be expected to do him any good.

But those were “trying times.” It was bad enough when the pickle of a large and respectable family cried for the Black Captain; when it came to the little Miss Jessamine crying for him, one felt that the sooner the French landed and had done with it the better.

The big Miss Jessamine’s objection to him was that he was a soldier, and this prejudice was shared by all the Green. “A soldier,” as the speaker from the town had observed, “is a bloodthirsty, unsettled sort of a rascal; that the peaceable, home-loving, bread-winning citizen can never conscientiously look on as a brother, till he has beaten his sword into a ploughshare, and his spear into a pruning-hook.”

On the other hand there was some truth in what the Postman (an old soldier) said in reply; that the sword has to cut a way for us out of many a scrape into which our bread-winners get us when they drive their ploughshares into fallows that don’t belong to them. Indeed, whilst our most peaceful citizens were prosperous chiefly by means of cotton, of sugar, and of the rise and fall of the money-market (not to speak of such salable matters as opium, firearms, and “black ivory”), disturbances were apt to arise in India, Africa and other outlandish parts, where the fathers of our domestic race were making fortunes for their families. And, for that matter, even on the Green, we did not wish the military to leave us in the lurch, so long as there was any fear that the French were coming.1

To let the Black Captain have little Miss Jessamine, however, was another matter. Her Aunt would not hear of it; and then, to crown all, it appeared that the Captain’s father did not think the young lady good enough for his son. Never was any affair more clearly brought to a conclusion. But those were “trying times;” and one moon-light night, when the Grey Goose was sound asleep upon one leg, the Green was rudely shaken under her by the thud of a horse’s feet. “Ga, ga!” said she, putting down the other leg, and running away.

By the time she returned to her place not a thing was to be seen or heard. The horse had passed like a shot. But next day, there was hurrying and skurrying and cackling at a very early hour, all about the white house with the black beams, where Miss Jessamine lived. And when the sun was so low, and the shadows so long on the grass that the Grey Goose felt ready to run away at the sight of her own neck, little Miss Jane Johnson, and her “particular friend” Clarinda, sat under the big oak-tree on the Green, and Jane pinched Clarinda’s little finger till she found that she could keep a secret, and then she told her in confidence that she had heard from Nurse and Jemima that Miss Jessamine’s niece had been a very naughty girl, and that that horrid wicked officer had come for her on his black horse, and carried her right away.

“Will she never come back?” asked Clarinda.

“Oh, no!” said Jane decidedly. “Bony never brings people back.”

“Not never no more?” sobbed Clarinda, for she was weak-minded, and could not bear to think that Bony never, never let naughty people go home again.

Next day Jane had heard more.

“He has taken her to a Green?”

“A Goose Green?” asked Clarinda.

“No. A Gretna Green. Don’t ask so many questions, child,” said Jane; who, having no more to tell, gave herself airs.

Jane was wrong on one point. Miss Jessamine’s niece did come back, and she and her husband were forgiven. The Grey Goose remembered it well, it was Michaelmastide, the Michaelmas before the Michaelmas before the Michaelmas—but ga, ga! What does the date matter? It was autumn, harvest-time, and everybody was so busy prophesying and praying about the crops, that the young couple wandered through the lanes, and got blackberries for Miss Jessamine’s celebrated crab and blackberry jam, and made guys of themselves with bryony-wreaths, and not a soul troubled his head about them, except the children, and the Postman. The children dogged the Black Captain’s footsteps (his bubble reputation as an Ogre having burst), clamoring for a ride on the black mare. And the Postman would go somewhat out of his postal way to catch the Captain’s dark eye, and show that he had not forgotten how to salute an officer.

But they were “trying times.” One afternoon the black mare was stepping gently up and down the grass, with her head at her master’s shoulder, and as many children crowded on to her silky back as if she had been an elephant in a menagerie; and the next afternoon she carried him away, sword and sabre-tache clattering war-music at her side, and the old Postman waiting for them, rigid with salutation, at the four cross roads.

War and bad times! It was a hard winter, and the big Miss Jessamine and the little Miss Jessamine (but she was Mrs. Black-Captain now), lived very economically that they might help their poorer neighbors. They neither entertained nor went into company, but the young lady always went up the village as far as the George and Dragon, for air and exercise, when the London Mail2 came in.

One day (it was a day in the following June) it came in earlier than usual, and the young lady was not there to meet it.

But a crowd soon gathered round the George and Dragon, gaping to see the Mail Coach dressed with flowers and oak-leaves, and the guard wearing a laurel wreath over and above his royal livery. The ribbons that decked the horses were stained and flecked with the warmth and foam of the pace at which they had come, for they had pressed on with the news of Victory.

Miss Jessamine was sitting with her niece under the oak-tree on the Green, when the Postman put a newspaper silently into her hand. Her niece turned quickly—“Is there news?”

“Don’t agitate yourself, my dear,” said her aunt. “I will read it aloud, and then we can enjoy it together; a far more comfortable method, my love, than when you go up the village, and come home out of breath, having snatched half the news as you run.”

“I am all attention, dear aunt,” said the little lady, clasping her hands tightly on her lap.

Then Miss Jessamine read aloud—she was proud of her reading—and the old soldier stood at attention behind her, with such a blending of pride and pity on his face as it was strange to see:—

“DOWNING STREET,                                
June 22, 1815, 1 A.M.”        ;

“That’s one in the morning,” gasped the Postman; “beg your pardon, mum.”

But though he apologized, he could not refrain from echoing here and there a weighty word. “Glorious victory,”—“Two hundred pieces of artillery,”—“Immense quantity of ammunition,”—and so forth.

“The loss of the British Army upon this occasion has unfortunately been most severe. It had not been possible to make out a return of the killed and wounded when Major Percy left headquarters. The names of the officers killed and wounded, as far as they can be collected, are annexed.

“I have the honor——”

“The list, aunt! Read the list!”

“My love—my darling—let us go in and——”

“No. Now! now!”

To one thing the supremely afflicted are entitled in their sorrow—to be obeyed—and yet it is the last kindness that people commonly will do them. But Miss Jessamine did. Steadying her voice, as best she might, she read on, and the old soldier stood bareheaded to hear that first Roll of the Dead at Waterloo, which began with the Duke of Brunswick, and ended with Ensign Brown.3 Five-and-thirty British Captains fell asleep that day on the bed of Honor, and the Black Captain slept among them.

.     .     .     .     .

There are killed and wounded by war, of whom no returns reach Downing Street.

Three days later, the Captain’s wife had joined him, and Miss Jessamine was kneeling by the cradle of their orphan son, a purple-red morsel of humanity, with conspicuously golden hair.

“Will he live, Doctor?”

“Live? GOD bless my soul, ma’am! Look at him! The young Jackanapes!”

1.    “The political men declare war, and generally for commercial interests; but when the nation is thus embroiled with its neighbors the soldier  . . .  draws the sword, at the command of his country . . . . One word as to thy comparison of military and commercial persons. What manner of men be they who have supplied the Caffres with the firearms and ammunition to maintain their savage and deplorable wars? Assuredly they are not military . . . . Cease then, if thou would’st be counted among the just, to vilify soldiers.”—W. Napier, Lieut. General, November, 1851.    [back]

2.    The Mail Coach it was that distributed over the face of the land, like the opening of apocalyptic vials, the heart-shaking news of Trafalgar, of Salamanca, of Vittoria, of Waterloo . . . . The grandest chapter of our experience, within the whole Mail Coach service, was on those occasions when we went down from London with the news of Victory. Five years of life it was worth paying down for the privilege of an outside place. DE QUINCEY.    [back]

3.    “Brunswick’s fated chieftain” fell at Quatre Bras, the day before Waterloo, but this first (very imperfect) list, as it appeared in the newspapers of the day, did begin with his name, and end with that of an Ensign Brown.    [back]

Jackanapes - Contents    |     Chapter II

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