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of acclamation went up from every British throat in all
that vast assemblage, drowning out the vivas of the French,
and the Hochs of the German Legion, massed upon the
crowded slopes of Scutari :

' ' Hurrah ! Hurrah ! Hurrah ! ' '



xcv

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad" is a
hackneyed adage, undeniably true in the case hereunder
quoted. For when young Mortimer's not very shining
repartee to the False Retreat in the dandy red forage-cap
was mentioned in Dispatches, by request of the Duke of
Bambridge, and reproduced, with additions and embellish-
ment, in all the daily papers, headed "Amusing Incident
During The Action Of Alma," or "Good For The Guards,"
or "Smart Retort Of A Young Ensign," the joy of Thomp-
son Jowell almost turned his brain.

The man exulted like a triumphant ogre. He had said
to the boy ' ' Win distinction ! it 's in your blood ! ' ' and
by Gosh ! the youngster had gone and done it ! He wearied
Cowell, Sowell, Dowell, and the rest to the verge of tears
with endless boasts with windy prophecies of Morty's
future greatness. At home, or at his office or Club, or in
the sacred ante-rooms of stately Government Departments,
he would sit heaving and swelling and fermenting like a
large moist, crimson heap of beetroot being distilled into
the old Jamaica rum supplied by Mowell to Her Majesty's
Forces until he broke and burst in bubbles of pride. On



BETWEEN TWO THIEVES 619

an average he must have repeated the "I'm dam' if I
retreat! I'm blest if I do, so there!" utterance upwards
of a hundred times a day.

The fact of his son having ceased to write to him since
his unrelenting reply to the letter we know of, did not
shake the monstrous egotism of the father's certainty that
all would be well between them by-and-by. Meanwhile
he laid domineering, greedy hands on all letters that the
son wrote to his mother opening them first, and permit-
ting that much-bullied woman, as a favor, to read them
when he had done. He had only to get richer, and Morti-
mer would come to heel, like a blundering young pointer,
none the worse in his owner 's estimation, for having shown
spirit in threatening to break away.

And every day that dawned did see the man rise up with
a thicker coating of golden mud upon him, to be scraped
off and invested in safe things. He had boasted to his heir
that he stood to make millions by the War, and his boast
was verified. There had been moments when his success
had almost frightened him.

But now, between paternal pride and gratified vanity,
his greed of gain was quickened, and his few remaining
scruples sailed down the wind like thistle-blow. His con-
science slept behind his gorgeous waistcoat, seldom calling
for Cockle's pills or any other helpful remedy. He left
off jolting up in bed o' nights with the gray sweat of
terror standing on him, when the north-west wind roared
among the elms of his country place near Market Drowsing,
or bellowed among the sooty chimney-pots of Hanover
Square. He could think placidly under these circum-
stances of The Realm thrashing on her way to the Bay of
Balaklava, looking for the Black Sea gale she was not meant
to weather through. He could await with calmness the ar-
rival of the cablegram which should cram the coffers of
Cowell, Towell, Powell, Sowell, Bowell, Crowell, Dowell,
and Co. with solid golden drops wrung from the veins
of victimized firms of underwriters and materially hasten
the hour that should transform himself into a glittering
joss of solid bullion, before whom the world and chief
of all the world his son should burn incense and bow
down.

And all the time his Fate was drawing nearer, sword
uplifted. . . . And a day dawned when the blade flashed



620 BETWEEN TWO THIEVES

and fell. And it bit deep through the little slanting
forehead, behind which all the creatures of the Noah's Ark
the Goose and the Donkey uppermost lately were
jumbled and packed away.

It had been a wild wet summer in the British Isles that
year, and a wild wet autumn had followed. November
had set in with gales and thunderstorms. The floods were
out when Jowell went down to his little place in Slough-
shire. Suppose him humming "Marble Halls" and build-
ing castles in the air of Government hay-trusses at twenty
pounds a ton, as the train carried him through the sub-
merged country, where men in punts were lassoing the
floating stacks and cornricks, and fishing with grapnels
for drowned pigs, sheep, and cows.

Where the land was not under water, laborers were
breaking up the green fallows for the Spring sowing.
They were veterans or striplings for the most part.
Middle-aged men and young men were almost as rare as
strawberries in winter so many had been taken by the
War. . . . And the cry was for more men, and more, un-
ceasingly. At every barracks and police-station, at every
town-hall or railway booking-office, gayly-pictured placards
were posted offering bounties, baited lines were dangled,
to catch the Recruit. . . . Brakes carrying brass-bands,
and with beribboned warriors on the box, drove through the
country towns on market days, to the strains of "Rule,
Britannia" and "See the Conquering Hero"; the alluring
stories of the dashing sergeant, battled with newspaper-
reports of a country where there was wonderful little in
the way of eating, and scarce a drop o' beer.

But the bounties scored in the long run. Gearge and
Tummus, Market-Day over, would go back to their field-
work and plod behind the teams, whistling stray bars of
"See the Conquering" and "Rule, Britannia!" Then, as
the bright steel share clogged with the fat brown clay,
Gearge would throw down the plow-stilts, swearing bit-
terly :

"Ten shillin' to-wick and nowt but bread for dinner!
I '11 stand it no more be danged if I do now ! Wut say,
lad? Ool't jine th' Army?"

"Ay! wi' all my heart!" Lad would say. And they
would leave the farmer's team in mid-furrow in charge



BETWEEN TWO THIEVES 621]

of the whimpering plowboy tramp the six, ten or fifteen
miles to the nearest recruiting station take the Queen's
shilling, and be sent up to Regimental Headquarters with
the very next draft.

A month of drill, a week at home to say "Good-by!"
and then the rookies would be shipped to the distant land
where very often there was not even the tough crust to
gnaw for dinner; and you plowed your way, not amidst
cleanly clods, but through deep and stinking mud, where
dead bodies of men and beasts that had perished lay
bloated and corrupting, until swine or dogs or ravens had
picked their bones.

Arrived at his "little place," the large pretentious
country mansion standing in its brand-new shrubberies and
experimental gardens on the outskirts of a rustic hamlet
within a mile of Market Drowsing, the Contractor sent
for his agent who in a petty way was another Thompson
Jowell, and went thoroughly as was his wont into his
rents and dues.

His gross shadow loomed large upon the village, the
greater part of which belonged to him, in virtue of his
benevolent habit of advancing money upon mortgage to
small freeholders who were in difficulties, and subsequently
gulping down their land. His trail was upon the ancient
Church where the brazen pulpit-lamps by which the Par-
son read his sermon on winter evenings the font in which
infant pagans were made Christians the harmonium that
chased the flying choir to the last line of the hymn, the
copper shovels upon which the Church wardens collected
halfpennies and buttons bore brazen plates, testifying that
they had been presented by Thompson Jowell, Esq. And
in the churchyard -an imposing vault, containing the re-
mains of his deceased mother, transferred from a remote
burying-ground in the neighborhood of Shadwell where
the honest soul had kept a little tobacco-shop awaited the
hour when her son should condescend to die.

Death did not hover in the mind of Jowell at this par-
ticular juncture. He was happy as he issued mandates
for Distraint upon the goods of non-paying cottage tenants,
and indicated those mortgagors who were to have a little
rope, and those others who were to be shown no quarter.
Chief of these unfortunates was Sarah Horrotian, to whom



622 BETWEEN TWO THIEVES

her kinsman had, some seven years previously, lent cash
upon her freehold of the Upper Clays.

"She's letting the place go to rack and ruin," said the
agent. "For her own good, sir, you ought to foreclose!"

His master pondered, routing in the stiff upright hair
that had perceptibly whitened lately. Then he roused
himself with a snort, and said that as it was a fine morning
after yesterday's rain, and the Clays not two miles distant,
he would walk over there, by Gosh, he would ! and see the
widow himself.



When he set out, a tussle was going on between the
business side of him and the part that was paternal. The
woman owed him money, but her son had saved his son.
. . . One may suppose, that at first he had some vague
idea of appearing before his debtor in the character of
a grateful father. But as exercise quickened Jewell's
brain, he perceived that this would be wrong. People
who had the impudence to borrow money without the means
to pay it back, were presumptuous no less than improvi-
dent. Ergo, to waive his claim to arrears of interest, was
to encourage Sarah Horrotian in presumption and improvi-
dence. Moreover, other people in the same boat as the
widow would hear, and expect Thompson Jowell to ex-
tend to them a similar benevolence. Further, it was the
bounden duty of the trooper to have saved young Mortimer
Jowell from the sea. In common Christianity he couldn't
have done otherwise. He ought to think himself lucky that
he had got the chance.

And to delay foreclosing would be to wrong this same
son Mortimer, who had won distinction as he had promised
his old Governor, and through whom the name of Jowell
was to strike deep root in the County and spread wide
and tower high. Whether the boy wanted it or not, he
should have The Clays for a stud-farm and hunting-box.
Tip-top nobs needed these things. And, by Gosh ! Jowell 's
son was going to be a tip-top nob.

Baron Jowell of Drowsing, K.C.B., Lord-Lieutenant of
Sloughshire. He said the words to himself over and over,
chewing them, ruminating over them, extracting their
juice. And set his face by dint of their constant repeti-
tion into so coarse a cast of greed and mercilessness, that



BETWEEN TWO THIEVES 623

when his squat shadow fell over the half-door of the farm-
kitchen, Sarah Horrotian looked up from the tub of clothes
she was washing, and the feeble spark of hope that had
kindled in her gaunt black eyes at the sight of her great
kinsman died out there and then.

Things had gone ill at The Clays since the Second Exo-
dus of Joshua Horrotian. Betsey Twitch, the half-widow,
having been taken on as dairymaid in place of Nelly, had,
in company with the pigman, Digweed, been detected in
scarlet doings, and, with her fellow sinner, incontinently
cast forth. And without even such clumsy supervision as
the departed Jason's, Sarah's laborers had ceased laboring
and her weeders took their rest.

Stock had to be sold ere long, to pay up interest due on
Jowell's mortgage. The stately hayricks vanished one by
one. After the Declaration of "War, read by the Mayor
from the balcony of the Town Hall in Market Drowsing,
Sarah ceased to sell her eggs, chickens and butter on Thurs-
days in the shadow of the civic edifice. She even left off
attending the local Bethesda, where the Mayor was re-
garded as a shining light.

For the Almighty would judge the man, she prophesied,
for bringing on the War between England and Russia.
If he had set his foot down firmly, the Lord Mayor of Lon-
don and Queen Victoria might have been led to see the
error of their ways.

She preached this belief of hers unceasingly, in tones
that clanged like beaten fire-irons. It was no use to ar-
gue. Sarah knew best. . . . Ere long, when Tudd Dow-
sail and Joe Chinney took the Queen's shilling and trudged
away in the wake of the recruiting sergeant, flying ribbons
of patriotic colors, Sarah made no attempt to fill their
vacant places. The last beast had been sold to pay the
poor-rates. Her purse was as empty as the heart behind
her wedge-shaped apron-bib, when Thompson Jowell threw
open the half-door, and rolled into the kitchen, keeping his
curly-brimmed, low-topped hat upon his pear-shaped head,
and flourishing his gold-mounted cane.

"What's this I hear?" he said blusteringly. "Now
what does this mean, Mrs. Horrotian? Here have I come
marching up your muddy lane to know! You're a reli-
gious woman and you don't pay your debts! Do you call



that a-keeping up of your profession? Four hundred
pounds of my money has gone to bolster up this here farm-
ing-business of yours, and two years' interest will be due
in a week. You may tell me that Juffkins has taken stock
and what-not from time to time, on account of my Twenty-
five per cent. Ay! and he may have but Cash Payments
should be made in cash. Those cows and pigs and that
hay of yours fetched nothing I'm a loser by the sum I
allowed you for 'em. I am, and by Gosh! ma'am, what
have you got to say?"

"It is the will of the Lord," returned Sarah Horrotian,
returning Jewell's stare unflinchingly, though her thin
face was as white as chalk between her graying hair-loops,
and her heart beat in sickening thumps. "Though, if my
son were here he would find a word to say for the mother
that suckled him, and the farm be his, take it how you like
it. He have been of age these ten years, and ought to ha'
been considered. There would be lawyers should say as I
ought never to ha' borrowed money on th' property wi'out
his written name!"

She had put her bony finger on the weak place in Thomp-
son Jo well's mortgage. If he had for a moment intended
to spare her, the flicker of pity died out in him as he stood
rolling his moist eyes and blowing at her in his walrus-
style. His mind was made up. He would foreclose at
once, in case the bumptious ne'er-do-well of a son should
live to come home, and taking dishonest advantage of the
flaw rob his son Mortimer of his hunting-box. There
should be no delay.

Meaning to turn the widow out, without fail, upon the
morrow, he spoke of time to pay, even hinted at a further
loan. Then Sarah broke down and wept with loud hard
sobs. This brought the ready tears into the eyes of Thomp-
son Jowell. He called her his dear Cousin Sarah, quoted
the adage about blood being thicker than water, even made
an uncertain dab with his pursed-up mouth at the knobby
forehead between the black-gray hair-loops, as though to
plant a cousinly kiss there thought better of it, took
leave, and went upon his way.

Fate, the grim executioner, walked behind Thompson
Jowell as he waddled across the Upper Clays farmyard,
sloppy as of yore, but populous no longer with squattering
ducks, musing pigs reclining on moist litter, and hairy



BETWEEN TWO THIEVES 625

faces of cows and plow-horses contemplating their world
across the half-doors of stables and sheds.

The white gate clashed behind Fate as well as the Con-
tractor; and, when he struck into the narrow hedgerow-
bordered lane dividing the westerly slope of the claylands.
whose deep, sticky mire had made havoc of his brown cloth
spatterdashes on the way up, Fate followed at his heels.

He was portentously cheerful at dinner that evening.
Fate stood behind his chair as he gobbled, and cracked his
bottle of Port. When he pulled his tasseled nightcap down
to his great mottled ears and flounced into bed after his
aggressive fashion, Fate snuffed the candle and drew the
brocaded bed-curtains close. And when the meek, dowdy
woman, lying sleepless beside him, wondered why he
groaned and snorted ? he was having his Fate-sent dream.

You are to know that it seemed to Thompson Jowell that
he arose from bed, and without even waiting to throw on
his Oriental dressing-gown over the brief and airy gar-
ment of slumber, straightway flew to the Seat of "War.
And presently, with a sound in his ears as though two
prehistoric beasts of inconceivable size were roaring at
each other, he found himself hanging over the Advanced
Line of Siege Works, scanning three finger-shaped pla-
teaus, powdered with snow, and divided from each other
by deep ravines.

Beyond a strip of plain, tufted with scrub, and humped
with the crumbling ruins of Greek churches that had
been reared above the tombs and temples of ancient
Scythian Kings lay the proud fortress-city of Tsar Nich-
olas, in the crook of an arm of glittering blue-black sea.
And from the marvelous array of Defense-works that
had sprung up since the Army of the South had rolled
away towards Simferopol, puffs of white smoke accompa-
nied the ringing crash of brazen 64-pounders, and the dull
boom of the mortar-firing answered similar puffs, booms,
and crashes, hailing from the French and British bat-
teries.

Even as Jowell gazed hanging suspended under a
leaden sky-arch in which pale, luminous meteors crossed
and recrossed, whistling like curlews, and sometimes burst-
ing in mid-air, a tremendous explosion not far beneath.



626 BETWEEN TWO THIEVES

his naked feet, accompanied by a sound as though an
express train, loaded with scrap-iron, had passed upon its
journey to Sevastopol, warned him that the Lancaster
batteries were upon the cliffs immediately behind him, and
that his position had its risks.

"This is all very well," said the Contractor, "and un-
common like what I have a-read of in the newspapers,
proving that the blackguards who write for 'em tell the
truth once in a way. But what I have come here for is
to see my son, Ensign Mortimer Jowell, Second Battalion
Cut Bed Feathers. And I'll give anybody a sovereign
who'll take me to their Lines."

With the words, Jowell began to sink; and firmly con-
vinced that he was being taken in the wrong direction
presently found himself standing in a slushy alley-way.

Upon his right was a ten-foot parapet of yellow clay,
strengthened with sandbags and earth-filled gabions.
Upon his left was a low cliff, in which caves that were
magazines for ammunition, and magnified rabbit-holes
that made bomb-proof shelters for human beings, had been
delved and burrowed out. There were embrasures in the
right-hand parapet, and a row of thirty-two pounders
was mounted on the platforms facing the embrasures ; and
haggard, hairy-faced sentries in tattered great-coats, wear-
ing leg-bandages of sacking and canvas, were placed at
intervals on mounds of clay, so that their eyes were raised
above the level of the parapet.

The men who worked the guns were Royal Artillery,
but the sentries, and two of a group of haggard men who
sat with their backs against the parapet were Guards,
wearing the forage-cap badge of the Garter Star, pecul-
iarly distinctive of the Cut Red Feathers. Save for those
shabby tarnished badges, and the stained and ragged silk
sashes the two men wore over clumsy coats of rabbit-skin,
there was nothing to distinguish them as officers, except an
authoritative manner. Not even the fact that he knew
himself to be in his nightshirt would have kept Jowell
from breaking in upon their conversation. But even as he
opened his mouth, there was a cry of ' ' Shot ! ' ' followed by
a crash; and earth and stones flew in showers, mingled
with clouds of yellow dust.

A solid projectile from one of the Barbarians' big brass
sixty-two pounders had struck the parapet, knocking a



BETWEEN TWO THIEVES 627

good-sized piece away. One of the look-out men had top-
pled off his earth-mound, and lay sprawling in the shin-
deep icy slush that was all stained with red about him.
Men with gabions and shovels hastened to make good the
damage to the epaulement. One of the seated officers got
up, strode over, stooped down and examined the fallen
private. Even to Thompson Jo well's unskilled eyes there
was no repairing him.

But something in the gait of the tall, broad-shouldered,
weather-beaten young officer quickened the beating of the
Contractor's heart, and brought the tears into his eyes. It
was his son, bronzed and whiskered, hard-bitten and lean,
who said, ' ' Gaw ! Poor beggar ! " as he rose up and turned
away from the headless private. Regardless of his naked
legs, and the freezing blasts that sported with his single
garment, Thompson Jowell ran forwards, with hands out-
stretched, crying, in a gush of tenderness :

"Morty! My own boy!"

The face of the young officer had not previously been
turned towards the visitor in the nightshirt. But now it
met his fully, and the heart of Jowell stopped beating with
a jolt. For that cold, ignoring look disowned him and
unfathered him. It told him that he had been warned,
and had ignored the warning; and that henceforth, of his
own act, he must be a stranger to his only son.

In the horror of this revelation he screamed out, and
awakened. He leaped out of bed and floundered to the
window, pulled aside the blind, and looked upon a calm,
bright dawn. Not a breath of wind creaked his elms, but
far away in the Bay of Balaklava, Fate was brewing that
Black Sea gale The Realm had waited for so long.



XCVI

SHE had got into harbor on the previous evening. Some
of the troops on board a draft of the 146th had already
been landed. The others came ashore after the ship broke
up

Fate sent young Mortimer Jowell down from the
Front that morning, in charge of a fatigue-party, detailed
to draw rations of hard biscuit, salt-pork, and the green



628 BETWEEN TWO THIEVES

coffee-berries supplied by a maternal Government to men
who had no fires to roast or mills to grind them with.

The tramp of eight miles through knee-deep, sometimes
waist-deep slough would have been no joke to men full-fed
and in hard condition. They were muddy to the hair,
weary and sore-footed, when they passed the camps of the
Four British Divisions lying under the Argus-eyes and
iron mouths of the French Artillery, whose breastworks
crowned the line of cliffs along their rear and flank. For
the Red Snake lay coiled about the grim fortress-city of
Tsar Nicholas, and the Blue Snakes had lapped themselves
between the Red Snake and retreat.

To the eye of Hector Dunoisse that disposition of the
Allied Forces would have spoken volumes. To the un-
instructed glance of young Mortimer Jowell it merely sug-
gested a barely-possible contingency. He said to himself:

"My eye! Suppose the Emperor of the French and
that pasty chap, the Sultan, were to turn those whacking
big guns on us one of these fine mornin's! Gaw! I won-
der where we should all be then?"

It was the most brilliant thing the Ensign had ever said
in the whole of his life, but he was not conscious that he
was being clever. He was only glad that he had got his
draggled party of muddy scarecrows safely into Balaklava.
He was inhaling almost with relief the smells of that ram-
shackle, rag-and-bone town.

They went down into her by the Kadikoi Road that
skirts the top of the retort-shaped, jug-mouthed harbor,
presided over by the Star Fort and the Mortar Batteries.
Stacks of sleepers and rusty lengths of rail marked the
site of the proposed railway between the Front and Bala-
klava. A living-wagon, reversed upon the summit of a
mountain of mud, bore upon its canvas tilt the pithy in-
scription :

"NO PAI FOR 6 MONTHS AND HARDLY ENNY
VITTALS.

PRESHUS SIK OF THE HOLE JOBB."

A forest of masts fringed the harbor. You saw vessels
of every imaginable class, from the stately Indiaman to
the paddle-wheeled gunboat, tied up in tiers like the mack-



BETWEEN TWO THIEVES 629

erel-boats of a Cornish fishing-village. Upon the oily
pewter-colored waters bobbed and wallowed innumerable
carcasses canine, porcine, equine, and bovine.

"Hair-trunks" the sailors called these unpleasantly-
inflated objects; and as every ship was supposed to tow
those in her immediate vicinity, she naturally left her
neighbors to carry the business out.

One bottle-nosed Commander of a screw line-of-battle-
ship, putting by the desire for promotion, earned the grat-
itude of his fellow-men, and a deathless name in History,
by an appreciation of the peculiar sanitary demands of
the situation, that was at least sixty years in advance of
the age.

Said he, in effect: "These carcasses, ignored by the
Executive Heads of the Army, the Harbor-Master and
the Port Captains, are as perilous to the life of man as
effective shelling. . . . Let others serve their country
after their own fashion. I tow dead cows henceforth."

So his boats were sent regularly to collect the bobbing



Online LibraryRichard DehanBetween two thieves → online text (page 57 of 63)