The Curse of Carne's Hold: A Tale of Adventureскачать книгу бесплатно
But had they been so hidden they would assuredly have been put in a box or some sort of cover that would protect them from the damp, and not have been merely thrust into the ground. Altogether the discovery greatly heightened, instead of diminishing, the impression that the murder was an act of revenge and not the outcome of robbery; and the cloud over Ronald Mervyn became heavier rather than lighter in consequence.
Ruth Powlett had gained health and strength rapidly after the verdict "Not guilty" had been returned against Ronald Mervyn. She was still grave and quiet, and as she went about her work at home, Hesba would sometimes tell her that she looked more like a woman of fifty than a girl of nineteen; but her mind had been lightened from the burden of her terrible secret, and she felt comparatively happy. She spent much of her time over at the Foresters', for the old man and his wife were both ailing, and they knew that there was little chance of their ever seeing their son again, for the gamekeeper who had been injured in the poaching affray had since died, and as the evidence given at the inquest all pointed to the fact that it was George Forester who had struck the blow that had eventually proved fatal, a verdict of "Wilful murder" had been returned against him.
Ruth's conscience was not altogether free as to her conduct in the matter, and at the time of Mrs. Mervyn's death she suffered much. As for Ronald Mervyn himself, she had little compassion for him. She would not have permitted him to be hung; but the disgrace that had fallen upon him, and the fact that he had been obliged to leave the country, affected her but little. She had been greatly attached to her mistress, who had treated her rather as a friend than as a servant; and that he should have insulted and threatened Margaret was in her eyes an offence so serious that she considered it richly deserved the punishment that had befallen him.
Until she heard of Mrs. Mervyn's death, she had scarcely considered that the innocent must suffer with the guilty, and after that she felt far more than she had done before, that she had acted wrongly in keeping the secret, the more so since the verdict returned against George Forester in the other case had rendered the concealment to some extent futile. But, indeed, Forester and his wife did not suffer anything like the pain and shame from this verdict that they would have done had their son been proved to have been the murderer of Miss Carne. Public opinion, indeed, ran against poaching as against drunkenness, or enlisting in the army, or other wild conduct; but it was not considered as an absolute crime, nor was the result of a fight, in which a keeper might be killed by a blow struck in self-defence, regarded as a murder, in whatever point of view the law might take it. Still Ruth suffered, and at times told herself bitterly that although she meant to act for the best, she had done wrongly and wickedly in keeping George Forester's secret.
Three months later, to the regret of all Carnesford, the carpenter, who, although not a first-rate hand, had been able to do the work of the village and neighbourhood, suddenly left.
He had, he said, received a letter telling him he had come into a little property up in the North, and must return to see after it. So two days later the cottage again stood vacant, and Carnesford, when it wanted a carpenter's job done, was obliged to send over to the next village for a man to do it.
It was in August, 1850. Some newly-arrived emigrants had just landed from their ship, and were walking through the streets of Cape Town, watching with great amusement the novel sights, the picturesque groups of swarthy Malays in huge beehive-shaped hats, with red-and-yellow bandanas round their necks, and their women in dresses of the most gorgeous colours. Settlers from inland farms rode at a reckless pace through the streets, and huge waggons drawn by eight or ten bullocks came creaking along, often at a trot. One of the party stopped before a placard.
"Active young men wanted for the Cape Mounted Rifles. For full particulars as to service and pay, inquire of the Adjutant at the Barracks of the Corps."
"I thought they were recruited in England," he muttered to himself. "I will go round presently and see about it, but I will look at the papers first. If there is any trouble on with the natives it would suit me well, but I certainly will not enlist merely to dawdle about in the towns. I would rather carry out my idea of buying a farm and going in for stock-raising." He went into a liquor shop, called for some of the native wine, and took up a newspaper. It contained numerous letters from settlers on the frontier, all saying that the attitude of the natives had changed greatly within the last few weeks, and that all sorts of alarming rumours were current, and it was feared that in spite of the solemn treaties they had made two years before, the natives were again going to take up arms.
"I think that's good enough," he said to himself. "There are likely to be stirring times again here. Nothing would suit my case better than an active life, hard work, and plenty of excitement."
Having finished his wine, he inquired the way to the barracks of the detachment of the corps stationed at Cape Town, and being directed to it, entered the gates. He smiled to himself at his momentary feeling of surprise at the sentry at the gate neglecting to salute him, and then inquiring for the orderly room, he went across the little barrack-yard and entered. The adjutant looked up from the table at which he was writing.
"I see a notice that you want men, sir," the new-comer said.
"Yes, we are raising two fresh troops. What age are you?"
"You have served before, have you not?" the adjutant said, looking at the well-knit figure standing before him.
"Yes, I have served before."
"Infantry or cavalry?"
"The infantry; but I can ride."
"Have you your papers of discharge?"
"Have you any one to speak to your character?"
"No one here. I only landed this morning by the Thalia, which came in from England last night."
"That is awkward," the officer said. "You know that as a rule we only enlist in England, and only take applicants of good character."
"I am aware of that, sir; but as just at present you are likely to want men who can fight, character is not of so much importance."
The adjutant smiled, and again scrutinised the applicant closely.
"The man has been an officer," he said to himself. "Well, that is nothing to me; he has the cut of a soldier all over."
"Do you know the conditions of service? You provide your own horse and uniform. Government provides arms. In the event of your not being able to find your horse and uniform, Government will – as it is anxious to fill up the ranks as soon as possible – provide them, and stop the money from your pay."
"I can provide horse and uniform."
"Very well, then, I will take you," the officer said.
"I enlist as Harry Blunt. I may say, sir, that I should feel very greatly obliged if, as I know my duty, you would post me to a troop already up the country instead of to one of those you are raising, and who will have to learn their drill and how to sit a horse before they can be sent up on active duty."
"I can do that," the officer said; "it is only yesterday that we called for recruits, and we have only had two or three applications at present; there is a draft going on to Port Elizabeth next week, and if I find that you are, as you say, up in your drill, I will send you up with them."
"Thank you, sir, I am very much obliged to you."
"The major will be here at four o'clock," the adjutant said; "come in at that time, and you can be attested and sworn in."
"After all," Ronald Mervyn said to himself, as he strode away, "there's nothing like soldiering. I know I should have fretted for the old work if I had settled down on a farm, or even if I had gone in, as I half thought of doing, for shooting for a year or so before settling down. If these natives really mean to make trouble, we shall have an exciting time of it, for the men I have talked with who fought in the last war here say that they have any amount of pluck, and are enemies not to be despised. Now I will be off and look for a horse. I'd better not order my uniform until I am sworn in; the major may, perhaps, refuse me on the ground of want of character." He went up to two or three young farmers who were standing talking in the street.
"I am a stranger, gentlemen, and have just landed. I want to buy a good horse; can you tell me what is the best way to set about it?"
"You will have no difficulty about that," one of them replied, "for there's been a notice up that Government wants to buy horses, and at two o'clock this afternoon, those who have animals to dispose of fit for cavalry service are to bring them into the parade ground in front of the infantry barracks. Government has only asked for fifty horses, and there will probably be two or three times that number brought in. We have each brought in a horse or two, but they are rather expensive animals. I believe the horses are intended for mounts for staff-officers. They want more bone and strength than is general in the horses here."
"I don't much mind what I pay," Ronald said, carelessly. "However, gentlemen, I may see you down there, and if Government does not take your horses, perhaps I may make a deal with one of you."
At the appointed hour Ronald strolled down to the parade. There were a good many officers assembled there, and a large number of young Boer farmers, each with one or more horses, led by natives. The major and adjutant of the Cape Mounted Rifles were examining the horses, which were ridden up and down before them by their owners, the adjutant himself sometimes mounting and taking them a turn. Presently his eyes fell upon Ronald, who was closely scrutinising the horses.
"That is the young fellow I was speaking to you about, major, the man in the tweed suit examining that horse's mouth."
"Yes, I have no doubt you are right, Lawson; he has the cut of a military man all over, and beyond all question a gentleman. Out-ran the constable at home, I suppose. Well, we will take him anyhow; for rough work men of that stamp make the very best soldiers. I fancy we have more than one in our ranks now. No, you need not bring that horse up," he broke off, addressing the young farmer, whose horse Ronald had just been examining. "He's got some vice about him, or you would not be offering him at our prices."
"He's as good a horse as there is in the colony," the young Dutchman said; "but I am not offering him at your price. I thought that some young officer might be inclined to buy him, and I have brought him down to show. There is no vice about him that I know of, but he has only been mounted twice, and as he has never been off the farm before he is a bit fidgety."
"What do you want for him?" the major asked, examining the horse closely.
"I want a hundred and twenty pounds for him."
"A hundred and twenty fiddlesticks," the major said. "Why, man, there are not ten horses in the colony worth a hundred and twenty pounds."
"Perhaps not," the young Dutchman said, coolly, "but this is one of the ten."
Several of the other officers now came up and examined the horse, and they were unanimous in their approval of him.
"He would be worth three hundred as a hunter at home," one of them remarked, "but nobody's going to give such a price as that out here, when you can get a decent runner for twenty; but he is certainly the handsomest horse I have seen since I have been in the colony, and I have seen some good ones, too."
The farmer moved off with the horse. As he left the ground, Ronald again walked up to him.
"I like your horse," he said, "and if you will take a hundred pounds for him, I will give it you."
"Very well," the Dutchman said, "I will take it, but I wouldn't take a penny under. Have you the money here?"
"I have not got it in my pocket," Ronald replied, "but I have letters of credit on the bank. Walk round with me there, and I will give you the cash."
In ten minutes the money was obtained and handed to the farmer, who gave Ronald a receipt for it. Ronald took the halter from the hands of the native, and at once led the horse to the stable of the hotel at which he had already left his luggage. Then he ordered one of the cases to be opened, and took out a saddle and bridle which he had brought out with him in view of rough colonial work.
"I did not expect to be suited so soon," he said to himself, "and certainly did not expect to find such a mount here. I like him better than either of my old hunters, and will back him, after a couple of months' good handling, to win any military steeplechase. That's money well laid out; when a man may have to ride for his life, money in horseflesh is a good investment."
He went down at four o'clock, and was attested and sworn in.
"I saw you down on the parade ground, Blunt," the adjutant said. "We have bought a score of horses for the use of recruits. You can have one of them at the Government price if you choose."
"I am much obliged to you, sir," Ronald replied, "but I picked one up myself."
"He will have to pass inspection, you know, Blunt?"
"I think he's good enough to pass, sir," Ronald said, quietly. "I am considered a pretty good judge of a horse."
"There is the address of a tailor," the adjutant said, handing him a card; "he has got a supply of the right cloth, and has contracted to supply uniforms at a very reasonable price. You need not come into barracks until to-morrow, unless you choose."
"I thank you, sir. I have a few things to get, and I would rather not report myself until to-morrow afternoon, if you will give me leave."
"Very well, then, I will not ration you to-morrow. Report yourself to Sergeant Menzies any time before nine o'clock in the evening."
Ronald gave the military salute, turned on his heel, and went out of the barracks. He went straight to the tailor whose card had been given to him. "I want to be measured for a uniform for the Mounted Rifles," he said. "How much do you charge?"
"We supply tunic, jacket, and two pairs of breeches, and cap, for nine pounds."
"When can you let me have them?"
"In three days."
"I must have them by to-morrow afternoon, by six o'clock, and I will pay you two pounds extra to get them done by then. But mind, I want good-fitting clothes. Do you understand?"
"You will pay eleven pounds for them if I get them ready by six o'clock. Very well, then, I will try and do them."
"Of course you can do them, if you choose," Ronald said. "If you get them cut out and stitched together, I will come in at nine o'clock in the morning to try them on. Now where can I get jack-boots?"
"The last shop down the end of this street. Moens is the name. He always keeps a lot by him, and the Mounted Rifles here mostly deal with him."
Ronald was fortunate enough to obtain a pair of boots that fitted him well, and he now strolled back to his hotel. The next morning, after trying on his uniform, which was of dark green, he went to the stables and saddled his new purchase. The horse was fidgety and nervous from its new surroundings, and refused for some time to let him mount; but he patted and soothed it, and then putting one hand on the saddle, sprang into it at a bound. He rode at a walk through the streets, and when he got beyond the limits of the town touched the horse with his spurs. The animal reared up, lashed out behind once or twice, and then went off at a gallop. Ronald kept along the road until he was beyond the patches of land cultivated by the natives. When once in the open country, he left the road, and allowed the horse to gallop across country until its speed abated, by which time he was nearly ten miles from Cape Town; then he turned its head, and at a quiet pace rode back to the town.
"A month's schooling," he said, "and it will be an almost perfect horse; its pace is very easy, and there's no doubt about its strength and wind. You are a beauty, old boy," he went on, as he patted the animal's neck, "we shall soon be capital friends."
The uniform was delivered punctually, and after saying good-bye to his fellow-passengers who were staying at the hotel, Ronald put on his uniform, filled the valise, he had that afternoon purchased, with a useful kit, took out an excellent sporting rifle that would carry Government ammunition, and a brace of revolvers, and, packing up his other clothes and ordering all the baggage to be put away in a store until required, he mounted and rode into barracks.
"Where shall I find Sergeant Menzies?" he asked one of the men at the guardroom.
"His quarters are over there, the last door in that corner."
Ronald rode over to the point indicated, and then dismounted. He entered the passage. The sergeant's name was written on a piece of paper fastened on the first door. He came out when Ronald knocked. "I was ordered by the adjutant to report myself to you, sergeant," Ronald said, saluting.
"He told me that a recruit was coming, but how did you get your uniform? Why, you only enlisted yesterday."
"I hurried them up a bit," Ronald said. "Where shall I put my horse?"
The sergeant went into his quarters and came out with a lantern. He held it up and examined the horse.
"Well, lad, you have got a bonny beast, a downright beauty. You will have to get the regulation bridle, and then you will be complete. Let me look at you." He held up the lantern. "You will do, lad," he said, "if you make as good a soldier as you look. You only want the sword and belt to be complete. You will have them served you out in the morning. Now, come along and I will show you the stable." He made his way to the stable, where there was a vacant stall, and stood by while Ronald removed the saddle and bridle and put on the head-stall. "You can take an armful of hay from that rack yonder. I can't get him a ration of grain to-night, it's too late."
"He's just had a good feed," Ronald said, "and will not want any more, but I may as well give him the hay to amuse himself with. It will accustom him to his new quarters. What shall I do with my rifle and pistols?"
"Bring them with you, lad; but there was no occasion for you to have brought them. Government finds arms."
"I happened to have them with me," Ronald said, "and as the rifle carries Government ammunition, I thought they would let me use it."
"If it's about the right length I have no doubt they will be glad to do so, for we have no very great store of arms, and we are not quite so particular about having everything exactly uniform as they are in a crack corps at home. As for the pistols, there is no doubt about them, as being in the holsters they don't show. Several of the men have got them, and most of the officers. Now, I will take you up to your quarters." The room to which he led Ronald contained about a dozen men. Some had already gone to bed, others were rubbing up bits and accoutrements; one or two were reading. "Here's a new comrade, lads," the sergeant said; "Blunt's his name. He is a new arrival from home, and you won't find him a greenhorn, for he has served already."
Ronald had the knack of making himself at home, and was, before he turned in an hour later, on terms of good fellowship with his comrades.
In the morning, after grooming his horse, he went into the barrack-yard, when the troop formed up for dismounted drill.
"Will you take your place at once in the ranks?" Sergeant Menzies asked. "Do you feel equal to it?"
"Yes; I have not grown rusty," Ronald replied, as he fell in.
An hour's work sufficed to show Sergeant Menzies, who was drilling the troop, that the new recruit needed no instructions on that score, and that he was as perfect in his drill as any one in the troop.
"Are you as well up in your cavalry drill as in the infantry?" he asked Ronald as the troop fell out.
"No," Ronald said, "but when one knows one, he soon gets well at home in the other. At any rate, for simple work the system is exactly the same, and I think with two or three drills I shall be able to keep my place."
After breakfast the troop formed up again in their saddles, and the officers took their places in the ranks. As the sergeant handed to the adjutant some returns he had been compiling, the latter asked:
"By the way, sergeant, did the recruit Blunt join last night?"
"Yes, sir, and he is in his place now in the rear rank. He was in his uniform when he came, and I found this morning that he is thoroughly well up in his drill. A smart soldier all over, I should say. I don't know that he will do so well mounted, but I don't think you will see him make many blunders. He is evidently a sharp fellow."
"He ought not to have taken his place until I had passed his horse, sergeant. Still I can do that after parade drill is over."
The adjutant then proceeded to put the troop through a number of easy movements, such as forming from line to column, and back into line, and wheeling. There was no room for anything else in the barrack-yard, which was a small one, as the barracks would only hold a single troop. Before the movements were completed, the major came out. When the troop was dismissed Sergeant Menzies brought Ronald up to the two officers. He had in the morning furnished him with the regulation bridle, belt, and sword. Ronald drew up his horse at a short distance from the two officers and saluted.скачать книгу бесплатно