THE SOLDIER'S WIFE.
It is now many years since the first battalion of the 17th Regiment of Foot, under orders to embark for India, —that far distant land, where so many of our brave countrymen have fallen victims to the climate, and where so few have slept in what soldiers call "the bed of glory,"--were assembled in the barrack yard of Chatham, to be inspected previously to their passing on board tho transports, which lay moored in the Downs.
It was scarcely day-break, when the merry drum and fife wero heard over all parts of the town, and the soldiers were seen sallying forth from their quarters, to join the ranks, with their bright firelocks on their shoulders, and tho knapsacks and canteens fastened to their backs by belts as white as snow. Each soldier was accompanied by some friend or acquaintance,—or by some individual, with a dearer title to his regard than either; and there was a strange and sometimes a whimsical mingling of weeping and laughter among the assembled groups.
The second battalion was to remain in England, and the greater portion of the division was present, to bid farewell to their old companions in arms. But among husbands and wives, uncertainty as to their destiny prevailed for the lots were yet to be drawn—the lots that were to decide which of the women should accompany the regiment, and which should remain behind. Ten of each company were to be taken, and chance was to be the only arbiter. Without noticing what passed elsewhere, I confined my attention to that company which was commanded by my friend Captain Loden, a brave and excellent officer, who, I am sure, has no moro than myself forgotten the scene to which I refer.
The women had gathered round the flag-serjeant, who held the lots in his cap, ten of them marked, “to go,” and all the others containing the fatal words “to remain” It was a moment of dreadful suspense, and never have I seen the extreme of anxiety so powerfully depicted in the countenances of human beings, as in the countenances of each of the soldiers’ wives who composed that group. One advanced and drew her ticket; it was against her, and she retreated sobbing. Another, she succeeded; and giving a loud huzza, ran off to the distant ranks to embrace her husband. A third came forward with hesitating steps: tears were already chasing each other down her cheek, and there was an unnatural paleness on her interesting and youthful countenance. She put her small hand into the serjeant’s cap, and I saw by the rise and fall of her bosom even more than her looks revealed. She unrolled the paper, looked upon it, and with a deep groan, fell back and fainted. So intense was the anxiety of every person present, that she remained unnoticed, until the tickets had been drawn, and the greater number of the women had left the spot. I then looked round and beheld her supported by her husband, who was kneeling upon the ground, gazing upon her face, and drying her fast falling tears with his coarse handkerchief, and now and then pressing it to his own manly cheek.
Captain Loden advanced towards them.— “I am sorry, Henry Jenkins,” said he, “that fate has been against you; but bear up and bo stout-hearted.”
“I am so, Captain,” said the soldier, as he looked up, and passed his rough hand across his face; “but ’tis a hard thing to part from a wife, and she so soon to be a mother.”
“Oh! Captain,” sobbed the young woman, “as you aro both a husband and a father, do not take him from me. I have no friend in the wide world, but one, and will you let him bide with me? Oh! take me with him,—take me with him,- for the lovo of God take me with him, Captain." "She fell on her knees, laid hold of the officer's sash, clasped it firmly between her hands, and looked up in his face, exclaiming, “Oh! leave me my only hope, at least till God has given me another;” and repeated in heart-rending accents, “Oh! take me with him, take me with him!”
The gallant officer was himself in tears; he knew that it was impossible to grant the poor wife's petition, without creating much discontent in his company, and he gazed upon them with that feeling with which a good man always regards the sufferings' he cannot alleviate. At this moment, a smart young soldier stepped forward, and stood before the Captain, with his hand to his cap.
“And what do you want, my good fellow?” said the officer.
“My name's John Carty, plase yer honour, and I belong to the second battalion.”
“And what do you want here?”
“Only, yer honour,” said Carty, scratching his head, “that poor man and his wife there, sorrow-hearted at parting, I'm thinking.”
“Well, and what then?”
“Why, yer honour, they say I am a likely lad, and I know I'm fit for sarvice, and if your honour would only let that poor fellow take my place in Captain Bond's company, and let me take his place in yours, —why, yer' honour would make two poor things happy, and save the life of one of 'em, I'm thinking.”
Captain Lodon considered for a few minutes, and directing the young' Irishman to remain whero ho was, proceeded to his brother officer's quarters. Ho soon mado arrangements for the exchange of the soldiers, and returned to the place where he had left them.
“Well, John Carty,” said he, “you go to Bengal with me, and you, Henry Jenkins, remain at home with your wife.”
“Thank yer honour,” said John Carty, again touching his cap as he walked off.
Henry Jenkins and his wife both rose from the ground, and rushed into each other’s arms. “God bless you, Captain,” said the soldier, as he pressed his wife closer to his bosom. “Oh, bless him for ever!” said the wife; “bless him with prosperity, and a happy heart!—bless his wife, and bless his children;” and she again fainted.
The officer, wiping a tear from his eye, and exclaiming, “May you never want a friend when I am far from you,—you, my good lad, and your amiable and loving wife!” passed on to his company.
The happy couple went in search of John Carty.
❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋
About twelve months since, as two boys were watching the sheep confided to their charge, upon a wide heath, in the county of Somerset, their attention was attracted by a soldier, who walked along apparently with much fatigue, and at length stopped to rest his weary limbs beside the old finger-post, which at one time pointed out the way to the neighbouring villages, which now afforded no information to the traveller, for age had rendered it useless.
Tho boys were gazing upon him with much curiosity, when he beckoned them towards him, and enquired the way to the village of Eldenby.
The eldest, a fine intelligent lad of about twelve years of age, pointed to the path, and asked if he was going to any particular house in the villago.
“No, my little lad,” said the soldier; “but it is on the high road to Frome, and I have friends there; but, in truth, I am very wearied, and perhaps may find in yon village some person who will befriend a poor fellow, and look to God for a reward.
“Sir,” said the boy, “my father was a soldier, many years ago, and he dearly loves to look upon a red coat; if you come with me, you may be sure of a welcome.”
“And you can tell us stories about foreign parts,” said the younger lad, a fine chubby-cheeked fellow, who, with his watch-cloak thrown carelessly over his shoulder, and his crook in his right hand, had been minutely examining every portion of the soldier's dress.
The boys gave instructions to their intelligent dog, who, they said, would take good care of the sheep during their absence; and in a few minutes tho soldier and his young companions reached the gate of a flourishing farm house, which had all the external tokens of prosperity and happiness. The younger boy' trotted on a few paces before, to give his parents notice that they had invited a stranger to rest beneath their hospitable roof; and the soldier had just crossed the threshold of the door, when he was received by a joyful cry of recognition from his old friends, Henry Jenkins and his wife; and he was welcomed as a brother to the dwelling of those, who, in all human probability, were indebted to him for their present enviable station.
It is unnecessary to pursue this story further than to add, that John Carty spent his forlough at Eldenby farm; and that at the expiration of it, his discharge was purchased by his grateful friends. He is now living in their happy dwelling; and his care and exertions have contributed greatly to increase their prosperity. Nothing has gone wrong with them since John Carty was their steward.
“Cast thy bread upon the waters,” said the wise man, “and it shall be roturned to thee after many days."
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