The French Prisoners of Norman Cross: A Tale

CROSS***

Transcribed from the [1895] Hodder Brothers edition by David Price, email [email protected]

{Yaxley Church from the S.E. From photo. by Rev. E. H. Brown: p0.jpg}

"_Weep sore for him that goeth away_: _for he shall return no more_,
_nor see his native country_."

THE French Prisoners OF Norman Cross.

_A TALE_.

BY THE REV. ARTHUR BROWN, _Rector of Catfield_, _Norfolk_.

London: HODDER BROTHERS, 18 NEW BRIDGE STREET, E.C.

PRINTED BY NOPS & TARRANT, 19, LUDGATE HILL, LONDON, E.C.

CHAPTER I.--THE ARRIVAL.

The tramp of feet was heard one afternoon late in the Autumn of 1808, on the road that leads from Peterborough to Yaxley. A body of men, four abreast, and for the most part in the garb and with the bearing of soldiers, was marching along. But the sight was not exhilarating. The swing and springy step of soldiers on the march is always a pleasant sight; but there was a downcast look on most of these men's faces, and a general shabbiness of appearance that was not attractive. And no wonder: for they had come from the battlefield, and crossed the sea in crowded ships, not too comfortable; and were drawing near, as prisoners of war, to the dreary limbo which, unless they chanced to die, was to be their abode for they knew not how long. To be prisoners of war is an honourable estate, almost the only captivity to which no shame attaches: yet this is but cold comfort to compensate for loss of freedom.

All down the column and on each side of it marched a file of red-coated militia-men with guns loaded and bayonets fixed, not as a complimentary escort, but a stern necessity, a fact that had been proved not an hour before, when some desperate fellow had broken through the guard, and flung himself from the parapet of the bridge over the Nene at Peterborough, and was shot the moment he rose to the surface of the water. Alas! for him, poor fellow, they could aim well in those days with even the old "Brown Bess."

Many a sad procession of unfortunates like these had travelled the same road before, during the last five years, but they had consisted for the most part of prisoners taken in naval engagements, such as the seamen and marines captured from the four Spanish frigates, with a million sterling on board; and the men brought to England from both French and Spanish possessions in the West Indies, besides crews of privateers, floating "Caves of Adullam," where everyone that was in distress, or in debt, or discontented, were gathered together, along with many who had taken to that wild life to escape political troubles. Perhaps, also, there had been some of those twelve thousand prisoners who had been sent after Trafalgar's fight was over in 1805.

It was now, as we have said, the year 1808. The Peninsular war had begun, and the prisoners we are describing were some of those brave Frenchmen who had fought against us in one of the first engagements, the short but incisive battle of Vimiero.

"Why, Tournier, my friend," cried a young fellow, marching with the officers at the head of the column, "how miserable you look! Who would think you were almost at the end of your journey, and about to find repose in the hotel the English have provided for us? I have not seen a smile on your face since the day you left Portugal. Courage, man, or we shall all have the blue-devils!"

Those who heard him seemed amused, but Tournier did not deign to notice the raillery, though it was not meant ill-naturedly.

An English officer, riding at the side a little in advance, and overheard what was said, looked round on Tournier, and, struck with his soldierly figure, said quietly, "Let us hope it will not be for long."

"Long, sir?" exclaimed the other; "long as the grave: we are marching there."

"Mercy on us!" cried the lively Frenchman, "that's a pleasant idea! We are going to that 'undiscovered country,' as your Shakspeare says, 'from whose bourn no traveller returns.' Bah! let us change the subject, and hope for another 'Peace of Amiens,' and as short a one."

And then the light-hearted fellow--for a light heart is often a kind one--seeing that open raillery was powerless, tried gentler means to cheer his companion up.

"Look, Tournier," he whispered, after a pause, "what a charming view is on the left there. We must be on high ground. What a panorama for poor flat England! If we are good boys, we shall be out on parole, and be able to stroll about the country, and chat with the cherry-lipped maidens at the farms, and drink the farm-house milk, and, what is better, their famous English beer. And look, there is a lake, I declare. It seems a good-sized one. We will go fishing."

So he ran on; and though the words pattered down in vain, like rain upon the pavement, yet the evident intention unconsciously pleased, as kind intentions often, if not always, do, however awkward the way in which they are displayed.

And now, as the column passed a clump of trees at a bend in the road, the barracks and their surroundings suddenly came into view. All eyes were directed towards them; and if any of those unhappy sons of France had indulged in fancy on the way, and pictured their future place of confinement as some romantic fortress, with towering walls and gates of iron, they must have been greatly disappointed.

Nothing could be less romantic than the appearance of these Norman Cross Barracks. They looked from outside exactly like a vast congeries of large, high, carpenters' shops, with roofs of glaring red tiles, and surrounded by wooden palisades, very lofty and of prodigious strength. In fact, the place was like an entrenched camp of a rather more permanent type. But if there was no architectural beauty, there was the perfection of security. It looked like business. The prisoners were in no wise to escape:--

"All hope abandon, ye who enter here."

Another regiment of militia, besides the men who formed the prisoners' escort, was quartered in what we call the soldiers' barracks, to distinguish them from those occupied by the prisoners. Of these, a strong body were drawn up right and left of the principal entrance, which was in the Peterborough Road, and as the column passed between them the soldiers were ordered to salute the officers. Major Kelly, the commandant of the troops, and Captain Mortimer, Admiralty agent to the Depot, were there to receive them; and a large number of rustics from Yaxley and Stilton, and other villages, had collected as near as they could get to the entrance, and made their remarks in various sympathetic ways, for the country people, of all classes, were very friendly at all times with the prisoners.

"Poor lad," said one woman, as a very youthful prisoner passed by, "he does look tired. What would his mother say if she saw him now?"

"God help them," said another: "they all seem as if they wanted a good supper, and go to bed."

"No fear of supper, neighbour," replied a man; "you should just see the quarters of beef that go in at t'other gate. It makes me real hungry to think of it."

A big lad, standing close to a gentleman on horseback, who was surveying the scene with evident interest, made an ugly face at one of the prisoners, and said, "Well, mounseer, how do you find yourself?" But a cut from the horseman's whip across his shoulders taught him a sharp lesson of respect for his betters.

A halt was made as soon as the column was well within the outer inclosure of the barracks. Then, in the first place, the officers were marched to one of the barrack-yards that was to be their quarters; and then, with the marvellous promptitude which military pre-arrangement secures, the rest of the prisoners, in batches, were quickly conducted to other barrack-yards appointed for them.

A tremendous cheering at that moment burst forth from the prison: a volcano of huzzas, of somewhat foreign accent, shot up into the air, with shouts of "Vive l'Empereur."

Eager eyes had been watching, and though the palisades surrounding each separate yard were much too lofty for men to climb up and look over, yet the inmates, though bereft of their liberty, were not bereft of their wits, as we shall see in more striking ways as the story proceeds; and some of them, from the topmost berths on the sides of their immensely high dormitories, had taken off the tiles, and from thence saw all that was going on.

We will not attempt to follow the prisoners generally to their quarters, but accompany the officers alone. Enthusiastic were the greetings of their companions in tribulation who had been before them, some as long as five years. The shaking of hands, and the embracing, and the kissing, and the crying, were as if a very large family had met after years of separation. Albeit, not one of the older prisoners had probably ever seen before one of the new arrivals. All honour to such warmth of excitement. None but those who have lived for years far away from their country and home, can understand the intensity of pleasure that is felt in meeting _anybody_, literally _anybody_, who comes from "the old place." It may not last, neither does a flash of lightning, but it is very real while it lasts. And what if foreigners exhibit their emotions in ways that may seem effeminate to our phlegmatic temperaments? Are we always right--ordained by Providence to set the fashion to all the world in everything? How often does Virgil make the brave Trojans and others "weep"? Nevertheless, it would look funny to see a row of stalwart Grenadiers, each one mopping his eyes with a white pocket handkerchief!

The hall of reception was an enormous wooden casern or barn, very long, and, as we have said, extraordinarily high, with berths or hammocks all up the walls. It served as dormitory, common-room, and dining-hall; not by any means a sanitary arrangement, yet far better than that of prisoners of war in some other parts of the country.

Soon after the new-comers had arrived, supper was served, and as the older prisoners had waited for their arrival, they all sat down together. We will not say the tables groaned under the profusion of viands, but there certainly was enough. Every man had half a pound of beef, together with salt and vegetables, and a pound and a half of bread. The cooks were appointed from among the prisoners, and were paid by the English Government, and so we may be sure they were Frenchmen, and that those two grand features of good cookery were manifested--the most was made of what they had, and all was savoury. Being officers, too, some well supplied with money, they had wine on the table, and any other luxury they could meet with.

"To your health, my friends," said a fine-looking Frenchman, who had been longest in prison, and though well-dressed in civilian clothes, bore unmistakable traces of his depressing life. "We drink to your health. We have all heard of your bravery: how you did all that men could do at Vimiero, but were overwhelmed by numbers. Never mind. There are yet more than enough of Frenchmen in the Peninsula to drive the English into the sea. Let me beg a favour of you. We are very dull in this place, and need cheering. Relate to us, if you please, any individual acts of bravery that came to your notice. It will do us good, and perhaps make us dream to-night we are living soldiers again, not dead ones."

At this, a little man from among the new arrivals, with nothing heroic about him, either in face, or mien, or stature, jumped on his legs, and with great volubility and much gesticulation, began as follows:

"You are right, monsieur, that is just what we want. I will tell you now what I myself did.

"My regiment formed part of General Brennier's brigade, and we were ordered to attack the English left, which we did with incredible fury. We had to ascend what we thought was an accessible ridge, but we had not got far when we came to a deep ravine with rocks and water courses all about, and could only get on with extreme difficulty and much delay. From my own experience, I should say the battle ought to have been called the battle of 'Les Sauteurs.' {17} I did never jump so much in my life. Every step was a leap in that terrible ravine. We were just like a brigade of frogs. At last we cleared it, when we suddenly came upon a sight that made my blood boil. Six of our guns were there, captured, and guarded by a very large number. 'Au secours!' I roared. I am not very big, but my voice is loud. We all shouted and rushed upon the enemy. I was the first to cut a man down at the guns, and we retook them all."

"Bravo, bravo!" echoed around.

And then the little man added, in a much more subdued tone, "However, the English--I heard since there were two regiments of them--reformed higher up the hill, and poured a deadly volley into us, and after hard fighting got the guns back from us: and I was taken prisoner. So was also my brave general, and wounded too."

The young officer who had rallied Tournier on the march, rose and, shrugging his shoulders, remarked, "I have read that when the Athenians of old had won some great victory, it was proposed that every general who had had a share in it, should at a public meeting deposit one after the other in an urn the written name of the general who he thought had proved himself the most conspicuous for bravery; and that when the urn was examined, it was found that, lo! each general had put down _his own name_. We will not do so"--with a sly glance at the little man--"and, therefore, let me tell a story of one, here present, who will never utter a word in his own praise, but who richly deserves it. There is a brother sitting amongst us who commanded a troop in as fine a body of cavalry as ever drew sword, and I had the honour of being his subaltern. Thirteen hundred of us took part in the fatal fight of Vimiero, under the command of General Margaron. That fight, so fatal, ought to have been won by us, and would have been won but for the woods and hollows that covered so large a portion of the battle-field, so unfavourable to cavalry. But, nevertheless, from the first commencement of the fight we swept backwards and forwards, so far as the wretched nature of the ground would permit, between the two armies, and wherever we had a chance we struck hard. The English had but, as we say, a mere handful of cavalry, but, all honour to the brave, that handful fought like heroes, and its commander (his name was Taylor) was a paladin among them; yet not more so than my captain. When one of our brigades, having been repulsed by the enemy, was being terribly cut up by their cavalry, a large body of our horse came suddenly up, and a melee ensued of great fierceness. Three of the enemy, one after another, did my captain slay with his own hand; and then came a single combat the like of which few have seen. Some of us left off fighting to witness it. The English commander, seeing half his men cut to pieces, rode furiously upon my captain, and tried to cut him down. It was a beautiful sight. Each was a master of fence, and the horsemanship was as perfect. But all at once the horse of Colonel Taylor reared violently and fell dead. A bullet had struck him, and his master was pitched on the ground under his adversary's stirrup, completely at his mercy. The sword was lifted to strike, but instantly lowered. 'Rise, brave friend!' cried my captain, 'I dare not touch thee!' but as the Englishman rose from the ground, and before he could frame a word of reply, a second bullet laid him prostrate again, never to rise. But we had delayed too long. The English came pouring upon us, and in spite of frantic efforts we were made prisoners." Then pointing to his friend, who was fidgeting and frowning most portentously all the time, he said--"There is the man--my noble Captain Tournier!" And with such like tales the evening passed away.

The curfew bell rang at nine o'clock; the lights were put out; and all had betaken themselves to their hammocks. The sentries (not a few,) passed backwards and forwards outside, or stood at ease in their boxes. The picquets went the rounds every half-hour. Each soldier on guard was on the alert, and had need to be. Silence and slumber fell on all but the many watchers in that large assemblage of unhappy men.

There was, however, one prisoner who could not sleep that night. It was not the roughness of his accommodation that kept him awake. Mere hardship would have been welcome to him, for he was a true soldier. It was the thoughts of his heart that troubled him; and alas! he knew not the soothing power of prayer. Not a thought of prayer, not one paternoster entered his mind. For he had lost his faith in God. We do not mean that faith which no one has till he asks the Spirit of God to give it him, and which then makes him love God in spite of all difficulties; but we mean faith in the existence of God, which all have by nature, and which sin alone can extinguish; not only grosser sin, but sinful vanity of mind.

He thought of his much-loved home, of the mother that was so dear to him, what agony of mind she must be undergoing; of his darling Elise, how her dear heart must be full of him. And then there pierced him, like the sting of an adder, the thought of separation, certainly for years, perhaps for ever, from all that happiness: the hopelessness of his condition as a prisoner of war at a time when war seemed chronic in Europe, without prospect of cessation. And in the abject misery of his soul--misery all the more intense because of his peculiar sensitiveness of nature--he thus bewailed in secret and with rebellious will his fate.

"Cruel, cruel destiny! why did not an English bullet put an end to me at once, instead of my lingering on in this slow torture? Nothing to look forward to, nothing to be done to make one ray of hope possible! _There_ is the horror, _there_ is the cruelty! I would plunge with gaiety into dangers, and endure without a murmur the tortures of the Red Indian, if only there were hope at the end. But here I am--I, who looked forward greedily to a career of honour and distinction--caught like a rat in a trap, and not even dead! Oh, cursed was the day on which I was born!"

CHAPTER II.--FORMATION OF THE BARRACKS.

Some idea has already been given of the formation of the Norman Cross barracks; but a fuller and more detailed account of them may, perhaps, be interesting.

Norman Cross is the name given to that part of the parish of Yaxley, in the county of Huntingdon, where that grand old thoroughfare of England, the Great North Road, along which coaches might drive four abreast, is crossed by the Peterborough Road. In one corner, bounded by these two roads, is a large piece of pasture land, some forty acres in extent, which Government purchased in 1796, for the purpose of erecting barracks on it for prisoners of war, then multiplying fast, and for a large number of soldiers to guard them.

The situation was exceedingly healthy, being at the highest point of the road sloping up for a mile and a half from what was then Whittlesea Mere. It was not too near the sea, to make escape more easy, yet near enough to Yarmouth, King's Lynn and Wisbeach, to facilitate the landing and transport of prisoners to their destination. It was on the Great North Road, only 78 miles from London, and near enough to towns to obtain provisions with ease and in abundance. It was in fact selected by the War Office on all these accounts from amongst several other eligible sites in the kingdom.

The accounts given of the plan on which these barracks were constructed do not altogether agree in particulars. There is a plan of them still in existence which has received the imprimatur of Major Kelly the Commandant, his signature being on the back of it in testimony of its correctness. We shall not therefore be very far wrong in making that our main guide in the description of them.

The part where the prisoners were confined consisted of sixteen large buildings of wood, very long and lofty, each two stories high, placed at the end of four rectangular pieces of land (four in each), nearly in the centre of the forty acre field, and occupying altogether some fifteen acres. Each rectangle was separated from the others, and was surrounded by very high and strong palisades. They were placed symmetrically round a circular block-house, mounted with cannon, which commanded every one of the sixteen buildings, as well as the ground attached to them. There were therefore four of these huge buildings, side by side at intervals, at one end of each quadrangle, which was again sub-divided so that every building had an equal portion of ground belonging to it.

A wall of similar palisading (some say it was of brick, but this is more than doubtful,) surrounded the whole of the quadrangles at some distance.

{Norman Cross Prison. From the original plan: p27.jpg}

The prison was constructed to contain 5,000 prisoners, and compared with some other places of confinement in England for a similar purpose must have been tolerably comfortable.

Besides these central buildings, which may be called the prison proper, there were a great many others scattered about, intended for various purposes, such as kitchens, bakehouses, guard-rooms, turnkeys' lodges, and, more important than all to the safe custody of the prisoners, two large wooden barracks like each other, one at the east and the other at the west of the whole enclosure, for the accommodation of two regiments of infantry that formed the garrison.

The English officers were quartered in a large wooden house close to the road towards the south-east corner of the enclosure, and close to the house of the Commandant. This last was the only building of brick in the whole place, and remains to this day, together with the officers' mess- room, and the house where they were quartered, now cased with brick.

It is said that 500 hands were employed in the construction of these works, and it is not surprising, considering their extent, and the fact that the War Office was urgent in pressing them to completion, as the prisoners multiplied so fast. Amongst other things, they had to sink some thirty wells in the prisoners' enclosures and other parts. They were of considerable depth, and yielded excellent water, so that the large population of this singular place had two of the great necessaries of life--good air and good water. In passing along the Peterborough Road, some of these wells may be recognised by the boards placed over them, they being still in use for the cattle grazing peacefully on the old site, where once so many victims of war had been collected.

The barracks had been erected barely six years when they were put up to let by the Government, all the prisoners having been discharged at the Peace of Amiens in 1802. The advertisement is to be seen in the columns of the local paper of that date. Whether any application was made for the hire of the whole or any part of the premises in consequence, is not known. He must, at all events, have been an enterprising man who could aspire to be tenant of the whole of such an incongruous collection of buildings, which, however admirably adapted to the object for which they were erected, could only suit the purpose of some local "Barnum" of those days. However, the Government evidently feared they might be wanted again, though not so soon as was actually the case: for the Peace of Amiens came to an untimely end the following year.

With regard to the internal administration of the Norman Cross barracks, very copious particulars are to be found in the Government Record Office. Indeed, they are so copious as to be wearisome. Regulations are varied, or new ones added every year. Thus, at first, there was no _parole_ at Norman Cross, or any of the other prisons. Officers on parole had to live at certain places in Great Britain, of which a list is given, under the eye of an agent. But this regulation must afterwards have been modified, for it is certain that, as prisoners multiplied, one of the large buildings at Norman Cross was allotted to the officers, and that it was no uncommon thing for some of them to be allowed, under strict rules, to go out on parole. The mile-stone is still pointed out, which was the ordinary limit of the distance the poor fellows might go. And a very old man is still living at Yaxley, who remembers, as a boy, having often seen them on the road, some very well dressed, others in tatters, few in uniform.

The daily ration of the prisoners was as follows: Five days in the week each had a pound or pound-and-a-half of bread, half-a-pound of beef, with vegetables, or pease, or oatmeal, with a small quantity of salt. But on Wednesday and Friday, instead of beef, one pound of codfish or herrings. No ale or beer was allowed, but it could be procured at the prison canteen.

Besides this, there was a special marketplace in the prison grounds, and the market hours were from ten to twelve every morning. Persons were searched at the gate before entering, to prevent the introduction of liquors, knives, or weapons; and, after entering, they were allowed no private communication with prisoners. King's stores were not allowed to be bought from them, but straw hats might be purchased. Persons of credit and respectability might at any time, when visiting the prison, purchase such trinkets as the prisoners had to dispose of, being their own handiwork.

Complaints were made at one time in Parliament, and in the papers, and abroad, of the food and clothing supplied to the prisoners, but they were proved to be without foundation. Two Commissioners were appointed by the Government to investigate the matter, and they reported that the health of the prisoners was excellent, and that the food was good. As to the clothing, they said that many of the prisoners had such a propensity for gaming that, notwithstanding every precaution, they sold their clothes, bedding, and even their food before it was due, to raise a trifle to gamble with.

But of all who slandered the Government for their treatment of the prisoners, no one was worse than that most amiable and pleasant writer, George Borrow. In his book called _Lavengro_, with much picturesqueness, but little truth, he thus describes the prison itself:--"What a strange appearance had those mighty caserns (five or six of them, he says, but there were sixteen) with their blank, blind walls, without windows or gratings, and their slanting roofs, out of which, through orifices where the tiles had been removed, would be protruded dozens of grim heads, feasting their prison-sick eyes on the wide expanse of country unfolded from that airy height."

Then again, in his account of the food supplied to the prisoners, he thus grossly libels the Government, and indeed the English nation:--"Much had the poor inmates to endure, and much to complain of, to the disgrace of England be it said--of England, in general so kind and bountiful:--rations of carrion meat and bread, from which I have seen the very hounds occasionally turn away, were unworthy entertainment even for the most ruffian enemy, when helpless and a captive. And such, alas! was the fare in those caserns."

What could have been the matter with the man to write such stuff as this!

One other instance of the reckless way in which he writes about Norman Cross. Speaking of the manner in which a good many of the prisoners employed themselves in straw-plaiting of a very superior description, and how in course of time they thus competed in what was an employment of the English in certain neighbourhoods, Borrow gives the following ridiculous account of the manner in which the aid of British soldiery was invoked, to put a stop to the manufacture on the part of the poor prisoners:--"Then those ruthless inroads, called in the story of the place _straw plait hunts_, when in pursuit of a contraband article, which the prisoners, in order to procure themselves a few of the necessaries of life, were in the habit of making, red-coat battalions were marched into the prison, who, with the bayonet's point, carried havoc and ruin into every convenience which ingenious wretchedness had been endeavouring to raise around it: and the triumphant exit with the miserable booty: and, worst of all, the accursed bonfire on the barrack parade of the plaited contrabands beneath the view of the glaring eye-balls from their lofty roofs, amidst the hurrahs of the troops, frequently drowned in the curses poured down from above like a tempest shower, or in the terrific whoop of 'Vive l'Empereur.'"

Very rhetorical, but altogether improbable and utterly nonsensical!

The explanation of these exaggerations and misstatements on the part of Borrow is to be found in the fact that, as he admits, he was quite a boy when he saw Norman Cross barracks. His father was an officer in one of the regiments on guard there (and they were constantly changing), and his account was written years afterwards, when it was not likely he would remember accurately what he had heard and seen so long ago. Indeed, he acknowledges as much when he begins his account by the ominous words, "If I remember right,"--which he certainly did not.

No. The unfortunate prisoners of Norman Cross were not petted, neither were they uncared for. They were treated as prisoners of war, not as criminals; and were not employed (as English prisoners were in France,) in public and other works. They had, poor fellows, a heavy lot to bear, but it is an abominable falsehood to say that it was aggravated by any needless severity on the part of the English Government.

CHAPTER III.--A FRIEND IN NEED.

It was not long before Captain Tournier was allowed to go out on parole, and that too with considerable latitude both as to distance and length of absence. Major Kelly, the Commandant, and Captain Mortimer, the Admiralty agent, had had some talk together about the matter, and were not quite in agreement on the subject.

"We shall have some trouble with that fellow Tournier. He keeps himself aloof from the others, and takes no part in their amusements, and goes mooning about as if he had got mischief brewing."

"Have you ever found him uncivil or disobedient to orders?" enquired the major.

"Oh, not in the least; he conducts himself quite like a gentleman. But I have always found your silent, moody man the most likely one to try and blow up the ship."

Captain Mortimer was an honest, open-hearted sailor, inclined to be a martinet, but with very little power to discriminate character and (like a great many other people in the world,) without painstaking sympathy, as the prisoners found to their cost in many ways, though they did not know exactly how it was. Major Kelly, on the contrary, did not judge after the outward appearance, but detected something in Tournier's profound melancholy which he could not understand indeed, but which his heart revolted from setting down uncharitably to evil.

So as his authority was supreme in such a matter as granting parole to a prisoner, the agent having charge only (but it was a most important one,) of the Commissariat and Transport service, Tournier soon obtained his parole.

"You will be disappointed some day about him I fear, major."

"Well, it may be; perhaps so--yes;" which may be regarded as an expression of no very great confidence in the prophecy.

One day, Tournier was walking down the hill leading to Yaxley with his now customary gloom over-shadowing his face, when he saw a horseman approaching. The rider had been watching him for some little distance as he came up, and just before they met pulled up his horse, and bowing, said with a pleasant smile, "Good morning, Captain Tournier, I hope I see you well."

"Thank you, sir," said the other politely, but with some little surprise, "I am very well; but pardon me for asking who it is I have the pleasure of speaking to?"

"My name is Cosin, and I live at the old house facing the church close by where we are. So we are fellow-parishioners, _habitants de la meme commune_, as you would say in France, I think."

Again a polite bow. "But will you excuse me for asking how you know _me_?"

"Oh, I have heard of you from my friend, Major Kelly. I will not tell you what he said when he described you to me, but I knew you at once from his description; and I am very pleased to have met you."

Another bow. "He told you, I suppose, that you would know me by my sour looks. They all tell me that, or something very similar."

"Far from it. But you would not like me to repeat compliments. Yet the major did tell me you took your captivity too much to heart."

"That is true, I daresay. But I cannot help it."

"Then, if you will allow me, let me try and act the part of a friend and neighbour. We are close by each other, as you see. If you will do me the favour of calling on me at the Manor Farm whenever you may in course of time feel disposed, I shall be delighted: only the sooner the better."

"A thousand thanks," said the captain with a faint smile, but with no intention then of availing himself of the kind offer.

Friendship is not often formed on the instant, as Jonathan's for David, when the soul of Jonathan was knit in a moment with the soul of David, and "Jonathan loved him as his own soul." Albeit the two _had_ met before.

They shook hands heartily and went their ways.

Mr. Cosin was the gentleman who had laid his whip across the saucy lout's back at the time the French prisoners were marching into the barracks. He was possessed of a fair competence; but loving a country life and something to do, had hired the Manor Farm in Yaxley. The house was of no great size, but built of stone, picturesque, and of considerable antiquity; and it stood, as we have already said, on the opposite side of the road to the church, looking towards the west end, where its handsome tower stands, with lofty well-proportioned spire, a conspicuous object to all the fen country for miles around. It was about a mile from the Norman Cross barracks.

About two years before this Mr. Cosin had met with the greatest loss that can befall a man. He had lost his wife. It changed the whole complexion of his future. He was like a traveller who had come to the crest of a ridge from which he could look back on the road he had traversed, and the unknown future was spread before him, sharply separated from all the past. In his case that had been a happy past--a very happy past. But the future, whatever it might be, must at least be without _her_. He was still a young man, and without a family; but he determined to have a sister for his companion, and a sweet memory for his wife.

What a strange idea! many may say, or something stronger.

Well. It may be so. But he did it.

When Tournier returned to the barracks after his meeting with Cosin, he fell in with his young friend, who has already been alluded to, and whose name was Villemet.

"Somebody has been asking after you, Tournier."

"Who was he?" but not the slightest curiosity was in the tone of enquiry.

"Our bishop."

The interest fell lower, if possible.

"You mean the chaplain. What does he want?"

"To see you."

Tournier was a gentleman, and therefore repressed the exclamation that was rising to his lips, and simply said, "Oh!" in a very languid sort of way.

But it was true. The chaplain to the prisoners had been asking after Tournier, expressing a very great desire to see him; and the Chaplain was none other than the Bishop of Moulines. He had voluntarily come to England, out of pure compassion for his imprisoned countrymen; and with true missionary zeal was giving himself up to their spiritual welfare. He was a venerable-looking man, much respected by the prisoners generally. It was a noble act of self-sacrifice. {44}

But his work among the prisoners was no sinecure. Many of them were deeply tainted with the foul atheism engendered by the Revolution; many more with the practical atheism that comes of reckless living. Scenes of cruelty and depravity would occasionally take place, only too likely where a large number of men were left so much to themselves. Yet there were doubtless hundreds among them who, but for the demands of a most cruel war, would have been living the lives of peaceful, useful citizens. It may be, moreover, that among the officers there was infidelity behind the outward decorum of gentlemen.

So the good bishop had plenty on his hands, and he did his best patiently and perseveringly, though by no means always with success (as is the case still with good efforts, under much more favourable circumstances); and all but the vilest respected him, and many paid at least outward attention to his ministrations: and for this reason--because they felt there could not be the slightest doubt that his kind intentions were altogether sincere.

A few days afterwards, the bishop came up to Tournier as he was taking exercise in the paved portion of the yard, and shaking him with gentle courtesy by the hand, said, "Captain Tournier, will you oblige me by letting us have a short walk together?" Then turning to others who were near, he added, with a pleasant smile, "Gentlemen, I hope you are all well this morning," and putting his arm in Tournier's went to the gate. There was a guard-room and a turnkey's lodge outside. A glance through the grating of the heavy door, and the wicket was instantly unlocked.

They proceeded together along the Peterborough road towards Yaxley. The day was bright, and the broad distant view from the high ground they trod was very pretty, with comfortable-looking homesteads dotted about, the very picture of freedom and peace.

"The English have chosen an agreeable and healthy spot for us poor prisoners, Captain Tournier."

He called himself a "prisoner," but he was not. And yet he was--a prisoner to sympathy with the unhappy.

"May I hope that you are becoming more reconciled with your lot, my friend," he said, in a soft persuasive tone, as if he feared to seem intrusive.

"Not in the slightest degree, Monseigneur," was the answer. "Why should I? Yet, believe me, I am exceedingly touched by your interesting yourself in me."

"You say _why_ should you become more reconciled with your lot. My simple reply is, because it is God's will."

"I do not wish to shock you--you who are so good and true, and who hold so high a position in the church: but I will not deceive you, nor will I play the hypocrite even to gain your better opinion of me. I will be plain and honest from the first; and, therefore, I tell you, I do not believe there is a God."

The bishop did not withdraw his arm, nor start with horror, nor call him a fool (though he _was_ one). On the contrary, he pressed Tournier's arm a little closer, and said, very softly, as a kind doctor might say when he finds a patient's symptoms more serious than he thought, but does not therefore give him up, "I am so sorry."

There was a pause for a minute or two, and they went on walking together.

Tournier was the first to speak.

"I cannot believe that a good God (and I do not care to believe in an evil one--a devil, as the heathen do, so at least I have heard), but I cannot believe that a good God would blast my hopes as they have been blasted: and, therefore, I believe in none. I cannot. Excuse me, Monseigneur, but my reason refuses to let me do so. I can only believe in fate."

"And who regulates fate?" asked the bishop.

"Oh, I know not. It regulates itself, I suppose."

"And therefore is God," said the bishop, as if he were musing. "But tell me, my friend, how it is you take to heart so keenly the unkindness of fate (as you call it) to yourself, while thousands are buffeted by misfortunes, perhaps as great as your own, and yet maintain equanimity of mind, and even enjoy some pleasure in life?"

"They are not sensitive as I am."

"And who makes the difference?"

"Fate--Chance--Destiny."

"How miserable a notion! However, I should be wanting in my duty to Holy Church, of which I am an unworthy minister," and here he disengaged his arm from Tournier's, and looking him steadily in the face, with an expression, not of severity, but of yearning tenderness, that pierced the manly fellow's heart more than a hundred anathemas would have done, "if I did not most solemnly warn thee that these notions of thine are damnable heresy, and that it behoves thee therefore to repent of this thy wickedness, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee."

And then the good bishop took him by the hand and added, "Still look on me as a would-be friend, and whenever you want me seek me, and better far, whenever you want God seek Him, and you shall surely find Him."

He turned away and went to his lodging, not in the barracks, but in the village of Stilton, about a mile off.

Captain Tournier soon lost the impression made by the solemn words, but he never to his dying day forgot the compassionate look that accompanied them. The old priest left his mark.

Winter had passed, and Spring was far advanced before Tournier paid his first visit to Mr. Cosin. It was not want of sociability or indifference to the friendship of such a very genial man that made him delay. He himself was naturally a very jolly sort of fellow, so that his friend, Villemet, could not in the least make out the transformation. In fact, he began to think him _un peu timbre_. However, at last, he made up his mind to call at the Manor Farm; and one sunny day he appeared at the door, somewhat like a martyr tied to the stake, but without his cheerfulness of resignation. He had not long to wait. The door was opened with a will, and Cosin himself stood before him with welcome beaming in his face. There could be no doubt of it. His friend, whom he had treated so coldly, was heartily glad to see him, and said as much.

"Can you forgive me, Mr. Cosin, for being so long in accepting your kind invitation?"

"Not a word about it. I am delighted to have you under my roof," and he led him into a cosy sitting-room, where a young lady was sitting at work.

"Let me introduce you to my sister, Captain Tournier. Oh, but you must not be so formal, dear Alice, in your welcome to my friend. I have been expecting him too long for that. Give him your hand."

And she did so in the prettiest way imaginable, with all the simple grace of true kindness of heart.

The effect on Tournier was reviving. It reminded him of happy days gone by, which he never thought to see again.

Alice Cosin was a girl worth looking at. And the gallant captain could not refrain from doing so whenever it was possible without rudeness. And if his true love, in France, had been watching him, she would have found no fault, if her love were as true as his. A jealous woman is a distrustful one; and a man who makes his own love first will always keep her first, however he may admire another. So it was, at all events, with Tournier.

And how shall we describe the young lady? It shall be done briefly. She was not what connoisseurs would call a beauty. Her features were not altogether regular enough for that, and _very_ regular features are rather of the dutch-doll type of beauty. But her open brow looked honesty itself, while a slightly aquiline nose betokened force of character of the true feminine type. The eyes, however, formed the great attraction in her face. You were struck by them at once. True blue eyes, not washed out, not milk and water, but grey-blue eyes, like "the body of heaven in its clearness:" yet with a glint in them, as if they could flash under just provocation.

They spent a pleasant afternoon together, Cosin doing all he could to divert and amuse his friend, and his sister helping him: for they were cheerful souls, though Tournier thought he saw at times a vein of sadness in his host, amid all his cheerfulness, which, they say, and say truly, always adds piquancy to mirth.

A message was brought to Cosin that required him to quit the room, and Alice and Tournier were left alone.

"Do you know, Miss Cosin, what it was that forced me at last to come and see your brother?"

"Indeed, I do not," she replied, a little surprised at the earnestness with which he so abruptly asked the question.

"It was misery. For months I have kept it to myself, and at last I could bear it no longer. I must have gone mad if I could not have spoken to some one outside that wretched prison house."

"I am very glad you have taken the first step towards making my brother your confidant. You will find him a very sensible and sympathizing friend."

"Oh, but I want you, Miss Cosin, to give me the first encouragement."

She was inclined at first to laugh, but seeing how serious, and even solemn, his manner was, she said, rather severely, "And do you think, sir, after so very short an acquaintance, you have any right to expect such a thing of me?"

He saw instantly what a mistake he had made, and how naturally she had misunderstood his meaning.

"Oh, pardon me, Miss Cosin; my eagerness to know something made me frame my words awkwardly. Let me explain. I have a dear mother in my home in France, and, if possible, a still dearer friend to whom I am engaged, and I love her with my whole heart and soul. I cannot tell you how I love her."

"Well, Captain Tournier," said Alice, relaxing her severity of manner, though it was not very severe.

"Separation, and hopelessness of ever seeing them again, are a torment I find unendurable."

"Well, sir," she repeated, but this time with more softness, and with sympathy in the true blue eyes.

"Did not your brother lose his wife some two years ago? I was told he did."

"He did. But I do not see the relevancy of that to what you have just been saying."

"Then your brother has actually suffered what I am only _dreading_ I may have to suffer. He can never, by any possibility, see his wife again."

Poor Alice was sorely puzzled. She could only wonder what he was coming to, and acquiesce.

"But was he really fond of her?"

"I cannot imagine, Captain Tournier, why you should ask such a question. I am glad you did not ask _him_."

"Oh, but I have a reason for asking. Of your charity, bear with me a little longer. But you say he really did love his wife passionately?"

"Beyond all doubt. His life was bound up in hers. When he lost her, he lost his best. He tells me he will never marry again, and has asked me to be his companion."

There was a tone of impatience in her voice, which Tournier, however, noticed not, but passed from his former eagerness of manner into a sort of dreamy abstraction, as if talking to himself.

"And yet the man seems happy--_is_ happy; goes about as cheerful as the day; laughs and jokes, and enjoys his life. I cannot comprehend it!"

Alice was indeed in "Wonderland."

He seemed lost in thought.

At length he changed back to his eager manner again.

"And now, Miss Cosin, comes the question: I want you, of your great kindness, to answer, and to lead up to which I have given you so much trouble. Pardon, pardon an unhappy man. Tell me, what is the secret of your brother's power to bear his trouble, and even triumph over it. I want, _myself_, to learn it."

"I can only say," replied Alice, with all simplicity, but looking with her clear blue eyes into his face, "I know God helped him, as no one else could, and was very kind to him, as He is to all who want Him."

She was only just in time, for, as she finished, her brother came back again.

Soon after they took leave of each other, and the captain returned to his quarters. And as he went along this thought kept coming into his mind, like the flash of a revolving light--"Cosin not only believes in God, but has found Him a help in time of greatest trouble!"

CHAPTER IV.--MUTINY OF THE PRISONERS.

In the course of the following year, the prisoners of Norman Cross began to show a spirit of general insubordination. There had been from time to time individual cases of attempted outbreak, some few successful, but for the most part ending in recapture. No one can wonder that, among so many men, in the full vigour of life, there should be not a few who, sick at heart of their rigorous captivity, one day succeeding another with cheerless monotony, the shadows settling deeper and deeper upon their distant homes, should listen by degrees to any scheme that the more desperate around them might propose in order to regain their liberty. The growing agitation was almost entirely among the lower ranks of soldiers and sailors, although the officers, in their separate quarters, knew what was going on, and more or less sympathized with it.

There was, however, a particular reason for this state of things. It did not originate it, but had a great deal to do with aggravating it. The prisoners, especially the rank and file, were not in the hands of a sympathetic controller. It was with them, as it sometimes is now, with large institutions where numbers are collected. The governor may be an excellent disciplinarian, and do his duty admirably; but the inmates never feel, consciously or unconsciously, that there is one over them who takes an _interest_ in their welfare. They are in the cold, and, like plants, no one is likely to grow better in the cold. Such was the character of the administration of Captain Mortimer, the Admiralty agent. He had charge of the comforts of the prisoners; he treated them well according to the letter of his duty; but it was with coldness and want of sympathy. And what he did, as is always the case, his subordinates did likewise. And there can be little doubt that this coldness of treatment had much to do with the increase of insubordination in the prison.

Victor Malin was a ringleader from the first in this matter. He was about forty years old; and, as a young man, had taken an active part in all the diabolical horrors of the streets of Paris during the reign of terror. He had seen Louis XVI. guillotined, and a few months later the poor Queen, and had screamed with joy over it. He had seen heads cut off by the score, and enjoyed his dinner all the more for the sight. He was therefore a brute, a great big brute, with plenty of animal courage; and there was no wickedness under the sun that he had not practised in his time. He was also one of the very few among the prisoners who insulted the venerable chaplain when he could, though all the notice the good man took of it was to mutter to himself, "N'importe."

The days were getting short and the nights long when, one evening, a council of war was being held in one of the barrack rooms. Not all the inmates were engaged in it, but only a select few, round one of the tables at the end of the huge caserne. By far the greater part (and there must have been over two hundred crowded together in it,) were amusing themselves in various ways, so far as a very limited choice would allow. But a Frenchman will beat an Englishman hollow in finding amusement out of little or nothing; aye, and enjoying it too with lively satisfaction. Some were busy at work over the manufacture of those singularly ingenious models, toys, boxes, and other articles, for sale, which are so well known and so justly admired all round the neighbourhood, and found in almost every house to this day. These were the quiet and sensible men, who made the best of their misfortunes. Others were playing dominoes, draughts, backgammon, and cribbage, the boards and appliances all their own work. Some sang songs to a small admiring audience. All talked and at the same time, and nowhere more than where card-playing was going on, which was all over the room, and the more vociferously because, if they could, they played for money or money's worth, from a penny to an old shirt, or blanket, or even the next day's rations.

The noise was deafening. Yet amidst it all the council of war went on deliberating as calmly as if they were chatting together in some peaceful meadow, with only the chirping of birds to disturb them. They literally put their heads together, as, figuratively, conspirators always do, and so made one another hear.

They were a sorry lot, both in face and clothing. Not one had a decent set of garments on him. The only difference between the soldiers and the sailors who composed the council was--the soldiers' clothes were in rags, while the sailors mended theirs. In face they were all alike unsavoury, but Victor Malin "took the cake."

"Comrades," he was saying, leaning forward and speaking with a harsh powerful voice into the space between the bowed heads of the others, where, by the way, there must have been some blue fire playing: "Comrades, we must not follow the advice of our brother Poivre there. Delay with us is dangerous. Every day makes it more likely that these soldiers,"--there was an adjective prefixed, a favourite one, applied by him to almost everything--"will find out what we are planning. The dark nights, now there is no moon, will favour us when once we get away. Now or never is the word. The men in all the other yards are waiting for the red flag to be hoisted over our prison. To-morrow morning, at daybreak, let us begin."

Marc Poivre, the man he had alluded to, was a tall, lank fellow, with muscles of iron, and sunken fiery eyes, that betokened a fierce temper which would not brook much contradiction.

"I say, wait!" was his sententious reply.

"What for?" said Malin.

"Till the days get shorter still. Till we know more for certain that the others are ready. Till the soldiers have lost the suspicions they certainly have, that something is up. Only to-day I heard one of the red- coats say to his fellow, 'When are they going to kick up a row?' You know, yourself, Malin, they have doubled the guard all round."

"Are you afraid?" sneered Malin.

The sunken eyes burned. But it was not the time for quarrelling: so Poivre restrained himself, and only said, "I will answer you another time. Begin to-morrow if you will. Have your own way. I am content."

All the others agreed to this, for Poivre was not popular among them. He was too fond of brawling; and most councils, especially small ones, are ruled by personal prejudices of some sort, rather than by honest, independent opinion.

Then all the councillors got on their legs, and shouted, "Silence! Silence!"

It took some little time to get it owing to the babel that was going on. At last they prevailed, and then Malin addressed those present in his stentorian voice:

"Brothers! Our captivity will end to-morrow. It will be our own fault if we are not all free men before another sun sets. Then many hours of darkness will befriend us. Hide by day and hurry on by night. Make for the sea, but not all in the same direction. With the first light of day, our companions, all over the prison, will see the red flag flying. Then shout! Shout every one of you. Keep on shouting! and the walls of our jail will fall down flat."

"Like the walls of Jericho," cried a derisive voice. Some said Poivre's. Malin knew it was, and did not forget it. But it damped his ardour for a moment, though the prisoners were too numerous to hear, or too interested to heed it.

"To-morrow! Liberty!" was all the mighty voice of Malin could add; and then an outburst of cheers followed that made the red tiles of the long roof rattle.

The morning broke; and then, sure enough, the guards observed the red flag waving in the breeze. They had not long to wait before the meaning of it was made plain. A tremendous shout arose from the yard where the flag was hoisted, and then an answering shout from each of the other yards in succession, till they all blended in one continuous roar from more than three thousand throats. If it subsided in part, or altogether, for a few moments, it quickly broke out again. The turnkeys, looking through the gratings of the wickets, saw the prisoners leaping and jumping about in the greatest state of excitement (and when a Frenchman is excited, he is excited indeed); and in some of the yards they had evidently got tools and implements which must have been brought in by outsiders.

Major Kelly was promptly on the spot, and at once saw that the situation was threatening. It was not the uproar that alarmed him. That, alone, could do no harm, except to the throats of the shouters, though it betrayed the fact that the whole of the prisoners were taking part in the rising. What he feared most was the possession of tools by the prisoners, and the consequent danger that, if any sufficient opening were made in one or more of the outer palisades, a considerable number of prisoners might get out, and much bloodshed take place. This his humane nature shrank from.

The force under his command consisted, at that particular time, of only a regiment of militia, and a battalion of the army reserve, about eleven hundred bayonets. The whole of these were immediately under arms, and ordered to surround the enclosure in detachments, with instructions to combine at any point where there seemed any signs of an opening being made by the prisoners.

Major Kelly then proceeded to consult with his senior officers and Captain Mortimer. The question was not whether he had force enough to put down the mutiny by violent measures, but whether there were men enough to do it without considerable effusion of blood.

Captain Mortimer at once shewed his quality when asked for his opinion. "Put it down, major," he said, "with a strong hand, and lose no time about it. What I venture to recommend is, first of all send a shot from the block-house into one of the prison yards by way of warning; then march two or three hundred men right into the yard; draw them up, and let them shoot every rascal that does not take shelter in the barrack-room. Give them time. Then let an officer go to the door with a bugler, and tell the _canaille_, if they don't at once leave off their infernal noise and keep quietly inside, they will be shot down like rats: then fasten up the door. Depend on it, this will soon settle the other yards. One example will be enough. A rough beginning will make a speedy ending."

"But these men," said Major Kelly sternly, and with evident disgust, "are not rascals, they are not to be treated as _canaille_. The only crime they are guilty of is fighting for their country. That they want to escape, however foolish, is only natural. Of course they must be put down, even if it should cost some lives: but I should prefer trying milder measures first. What do you say, gentlemen?"

The other officers all fell in with their commander's idea: for, as a rule, the majority of officers partake of the spirit of their chief without any subserviency; and thus, as we so often find, a Colonel makes or mars his regiment.

"Then we must have help from Peterborough," said the Major. "Take a message from me, Captain Martin, to the officer in command there. Say that I want all the men he can spare, and specially every troop of yeomanry he can muster, for we may have to scour the country. My horse shall be at the main gate in ten minutes--you know he is a good one; and you, Captain, like a fair pace."

The gallant Captain smiled as he saluted, and in less than ten minutes he was in the saddle and flying like a meteor along the road, for he was a very Jehu.

The stone steps by which the officers mounted are still to be seen where the main entrance was.

And what were the French and other officers doing all this time?

They had all along known of the intended outbreak, and urgent requests had in some way been made to them that they would take part in it. But with some few exceptions, they had positively refused. Not, however, without much acrimonious debate. Those who were in favour of joining in the mutiny were some captains of privateers, whose sense of honour was not rendered more acute by their manner of life, and two or three army officers of indifferent character, who had either abused their parole, or never obtained it.

A night or two before the crisis, the dispute became very violent.

"What a shame," cried one of the malcontents, "that we, who are ready for anything to get free, should be hindered by you careful and very scrupulous gentlemen!"

"We are not hindering you," replied Villemet: "get out if you can whenever you like. We heartily wish all the prisoners may get out. None of us will interfere."

"But you will not help us: and not to help is to hinder."

"And we have told you why a score of times," put in Tournier in the quietest possible way. "The English have deprived us of liberty, but they shall never deprive us of honour. We are on parole, and we are bound in honour, therefore, not to try and escape even if we could."

"Honour!" said a privateer captain, turning up his nose in a very pronounced manner.

"Yes, sir, honour! Perhaps you do not know the meaning of the word."

The nose went down, and the temper went up. "I do, sir, quite as much as you. But I don't call truckling to the enemy honour."

"Nor do I," said Tournier.

The perfect quietness of his manner provoked the other more than any angry words would have done.

"But that's what you are doing--truckling to the English."

The malcontents applauded.

This emboldened him to go on. "You are traitors to your own countrymen."

"You know," said Tournier calmly, "I cannot treat you for that insult as I would if free--that is, if it were not beneath me to notice it from one like you."

He sprung up and struck Tournier.

They all sprung up. Tournier himself sprung up. A general fight seemed imminent. But the greater part were gentlemen, and Tournier, still calm, said with a smile, "Take no notice of it, my friends. Let us withdraw. At least we will bear away the palm of victory over our tempers."

The malcontents were disconcerted at this magnanimity.

Only Villemet would have a parting shot, and as he retired, said, "If ever I meet that _coquin_ outside these cursed walls, I'll horsewhip him black and blue."

The man was making for Villemet, but his companions pulled him back.

Within an hour Captain Martin had returned with a troop of yeomanry. They had just had a field-day, and for some reason, one of the troops had not been dismissed like the rest. So, without waiting a moment, officers and men galloped off to Norman Cross. The other troops of yeomanry were to follow as soon as they could be got together, along with three or four companies of volunteers and militia.

The tumult was still continuing among the prisoners, though with more frequent spells of comparative quiet: symptoms, perhaps, of exhaustion. No opening had yet been discovered in the palisades, though the soldiers thought they sometimes heard, when a lull in the uproar occurred, the sound of heavy blows against them, which almost directly ceased when the uproar abated. And it made some entertain the idea, that the otherwise childish shouting was not without a rational object, namely, to drown the noise of blows.

At length darkness came on. It promised to be an intensely dark night--one of those nights, of which there are only a few in every year, when you cannot, as we say, see your own hand.

Watch-fires were kindled at every station where a detachment was posted round the prison enclosure. All the troops were under arms through the night; the gunners in the block-house ready for action; and the yeomanry patrolling the Peterborough and Great North roads. At about three in the morning a sentinel fired his piece, and the nearest detachment fell in, and hurried at the double to the spot. The prisoners were escaping through an opening in one of the palisades, but the prompt arrival of the soldiers quickly stopped the exodus. Some were thrust back again, and an array of bayonets at the charge, together with a volley from the rear ranks, fired, at first, by the commandant's express orders, into the air, effectually prevented all further attempt. Nine prisoners escaped, and got clear away, surmounting the difficulty of the last palisading of all by friendly help from outside, as it was supposed, a rope with a hook at the end being found next morning at a certain spot. In all probability it was a sweet-heart's act, some acquaintance formed at the barrack market.

Several other openings were made, but the soldiers, after the first alarm, were so much on the alert, that hardly any more escaped. Altogether less than a score got clear away, besides the nine already mentioned; but how they managed to get over the last palisade was a mystery, except there were, as in the other case, assistance from without, though no trace of it was discovered. Sad to relate, however, more than half of those who obtained their freedom were recaptured after a few days, some of them a long way off from Norman Cross.

One other attempt at escape deserves to be recorded, because it was planned with skill and daring worthy of a better result. In the barrack- yard where Malin was confined, there happened to be several sappers, and they had dug a mine, with very imperfect tools, some thirty-four feet in length, towards the Great North Road, but unfortunately it fell short of the required distance, and the men were found when daylight broke still within the outer wall of the prison.

So ended the only general outbreak that was ever made by the prisoners of Norman Cross; and Major Kelly could ever after enjoy the immense satisfaction of reflecting that the suppression of so serious an attempt was brought about without a drop of blood.

As an instance of the extreme peril they ran who contrived to escape, it is recorded on a tombstone in the Churchyard of East Dereham, how Jean de Narde, son of a Notary Public of St. Malo, a French prisoner of war (most likely from Norman Cross), escaped from the Bell Tower of the Church (where he had been confined temporarily on his re-capture), and was pursued and shot by a soldier on duty October 6th, 1799, aged 28 years. Oh, why did not that stupid fool of a soldier miss him!

But it is pleasant to add that, in the year 1857, when French and English were fighting side by side in the Crimea, the then Vicar and two friends erected a tombstone as a memorial of poor de Narde's untimely fate, and "as a tribute of respect to that brave and generous Nation, once our foes, but now our allies and brethren." And they add the words which all but those who make profit out of war will heartily echo and re-echo, "Ainsi soit il."

CHAPTER V.--NEARLY A SUICIDE.

An important change took place in the management of the barracks at Norman Cross a few months after the event narrated in the preceding chapter. Captain Mortimer, the admiralty agent, resigned his position there on promotion to another charge. Whether the relations between him and Major Kelly became rather strained, or whether he himself was a little ashamed of the violent measures he had recommended to suppress the mutiny, and which certainly had made him more unpopular than ever, cannot be determined. But resign he did in the month of August, 1811, and was succeeded by Captain John Draper, R.N. The exchange was a blessed one for the prisoners: not because the important duties were done more punctually and exactly, but because the one was a sympathising man, and the other a mere machine. There was all the difference between the two men that there is between the music of a street piano that rattles through long runs with provoking correctness, and a sweet air played by the fair hands of one whose soul is in her music.

The prisoners felt the relief before they knew whence it came, as men breathing the close atmosphere of a crowded room may feel invigorated before they know that a supply of pure oxygen has been introduced therein. It was not that they fared any better than before. They had the same rations, though the new agent saw with his own eyes that they were good and sufficient. They had the same cramped-up sleeping bunks, only he never let a man be without proper covering, even if he punished him afterwards if he gambled it away. They were still prisoners, hard and fast; yet, somehow, the bondage was not so galling as it used to be. The agent's manner was kind and friendly. He spoke cheerily to the prisoners. He asked questions. He took notice of the desponding, and there were many such. The sick he tenderly cared for. This was to the ordinary rank and file. To the officers he was all this and more. Not because he cared more for them, but because, as a rule, he could unbend to them more than to the others without risk of lowering his position. He frequently visited their quarters, chatted freely with them, played billiards with them, was pleased to see the English officers mix at proper times with them, admired heartily the beautiful handiwork of the common men. The only man he could not abide was the one who, whether officer or private, was a fraud or a sham.

And in this treatment of his unfortunate charge the Commandant entirely went along with him.

War was still raging. That in the Peninsula--which so many now-a-days know nothing about, but prefer "Tit-Bits," or the writings of sceptical ladies, but in which the most splendid generalship and indomitable bravery were displayed on _both_ sides as in no other country, and which formed one of the hinges on which the fortune of Napoleon turned, the other being the ice-bound plains of Russia--was pouring fresh prisoners into England (20,000 in ten months is the number once mentioned in a despatch of Wellington's), and no doubt Norman Cross had its share. But for all who arrived there Captain Draper had a friendly look, and for many a word of kindness.

He had not been long at his post before he became acquainted with Captain Tournier; and his sympathy for him, quickly awakened, was all the more increased by what he heard from Major Kelly. They both soon had more reason than ever to be drawn to him.

There was a French agency in London, sanctioned by the English government, through which prisoners of war had under certain restrictions the means of communication with their friends abroad. Tournier had from the first, as we may be sure, availed himself of this privilege. From his mother's letters he could not hide from himself the fact that his absence from her, under such melancholy circumstances, was prejudicially affecting her health. The dear old soul always tried to make the best of it, but nature would out, although it was more from indirect remarks than from any positive complaints, that Tournier gathered the true state of the case. Of course it grieved him exceedingly, and added fresh poignancy to his unhappiness. But there was one thing that, for the first two years, her letters always contained in one form or another, that made some sweet amends, and that was that she invariably added how his dear Elise soothed and comforted her. "Whenever I see her," his mother would write, "I seem to see you; and she says the same of me."

For the last few months, however, Tournier could not but observe, but most unwillingly, there had been a gradual cessation of these fond remarks in his mother's letters, and, worse still, a corresponding chilliness in those of his Elise. At first, it was "How weary it is without you!" then, "How can I go on living without you?" then, "How long will it be before I shall see you?" This is not a romantic way of putting it; but the downward progress of a woman's heart that is not true, does not deserve romantic description. The auctioneer's formula is quite good enough, "Going--going--gone."

Still the man who loved her with true and generous affection could not, and would not, believe evil. "Poor dear heart," he would say; "she is indeed to be pitied! How can she help being weary of my absence so long?"

And here it must not fail to be recorded, that Tournier was no longer the same man that he had been when first he arrived at Norman Cross--a proud, bitterly disappointed, sensitive, angry man, who had lost what little faith he ever had in God. He was still a faulty character, no doubt. Poor erring men do not leap into perfection at a bound. But the revolving light that first sent forth its rays into his mind, some two years ago, in Cosin's house, had gone on revolving till it became a settled and influential conviction--that God is good, and will help all who want Him, even in their direst need. _How_ good and _how_ mighty to save God was, he had yet to learn: but that He _was_ good, and that He would help _him_, that he firmly believed. And who had done it for him--this miracle, if you like to call it?--God. By weak human instrumentality, by degrees: but yet God: for none else could have done it.

It made him stronger, much stronger, to bear the bitter trouble that yet oppressed him day by day. It made him hope on, even in the dark. It gave him an object in life, when all he once had lived for seemed swept away.

The reality of his belief was before long put to a very severe test. A letter from his mother arrived one day. The unusually shaky hand-writing of the address instantly struck him, and a horrible dread that something was wrong seized him. It might have turned out nothing after all, for where we remember one presentiment that turns out true, we forget twenty that turn out false. But in this case it possessed him. He had been very far from well for some time past. In fact, the three years of prison life, and its attendant anxieties, were telling on him. He was lying on a sofa, which his friend at the farm had sent to the prison for him, when the letter was put in his hand. "I cannot read this here," he muttered, and hurried out of the room, and thence into the road. Taking the way towards Yaxley, he almost ran down a lane that turned towards Whittlesea mere to a favourite spot by the water, where he had often gone fishing with Cosin (for it was deep there), and was very secluded. He called it his _sanctuaire_. Flinging himself down, he tore open the letter with trembling hands, and began to read:--

"Oh, my dear, dear son! How can I write what I have to say to you? The good God give you strength to bear it like a man. Elise has run away from her home. Your friend, Colonel Fontenoy, has been staying in our neighbourhood, having recovered from his wounds: and made love to her in spite of the opposition of her family (you know what a handsome man he is), and by this time they are married in Paris . . ."

Whether Tournier got as far as this, no one could say. He was found some hours after with the letter crumpled up in his hand, lying lifeless on the green turf.

But what had been going on during the interval between his beginning the letter and his swooning away? One thing was most certain: The footsteps leading to the brink of the water, again and again repeated, were signs of an awful struggle between the impulse to get free from the troubles of this life (though not of the next), and the determination to trust in God and do the right.

His fellow-prisoners had noticed his agitated manner and hasty departure after receiving the letter, and when he did not return to the barracks for some hours, they communicated with the officer of the guard, who lost no time in informing the Commandant. Major Kelly fancied Tournier might be with his friend at the Manor Farm, but, not being quite easy about it, he went there himself.

"Oh," said Cosin, "I'll be bound he is at his favourite haunt. The prison is not the place to read love-letters in. He always goes there when he wants to be alone. Shall we go and see, major?"

There, as has been said, they found him. The first impression was that he was dead. And no wonder: he looked so like it. But closer examination shewed that life was still in him. As quickly as possible they obtained a light cart, and tenderly placed the body in it--Cosin supporting the head--and gently drove away.

"I wish you would allow me to take him to my house," said Cosin: "it is nearer than the barracks; and by the look of the poor, dear fellow, he will not bear much shaking, and--I should so like to have him."

The major thought a minute, and said, "Perhaps you are right. It is nearer and quieter than the barracks. I can authorise you to take charge of him, though Draper may be jealous of you."

So they brought him to the Manor House, and carried him upstairs with utmost care, and placed him in Cosin's own room, for none other was ready, and put him to bed.

He was still unconscious, and no restoratives they applied to the best of their ability had any effect. Would he ever wake up again?

Meanwhile, a doctor was sent for post-haste. Those at the barracks were all English, of whom Mr. Vise, of Stilton, was chief; and he, happening to be there at the time, instantly drove to the Manor House.

"Brain fever," said the doctor, after careful examination of the patient: "and a very bad case too I fear. It is of course too early to speak positively as yet: but so far as I see at present, I should say it is extremely improbable that he will ever regain consciousness. Perfect quietude is all-essential to him. His life depends on it. He must have had intense irritation of the brain, and some shock must have supervened to bring him to the state in which I find him. What is that paper clutched so tightly in his hand?" he added. "It may explain something." And then, with a doctor's skill, he succeeded in disengaging from his grasp the fatal letter, and read it.

"There is the explanation, at least in part."

Each of the others read the letter so far as was needful, but, like gentlemen, no further. And Cosin understood it all better than the others could.

Full directions were given by the doctor as to treatment, and his last words were, "You must never leave him for a minute night nor day; and if he wake--_if_ he wake--let nothing on any account excite him."

No doubt the doctor was right in theory, but medical directions are sometimes more easy to give than to carry out.

The doctor then drove away with Major Kelly, having first ascertained that Alice Cosin had sent for the best nurse in the village, who, wonderful to say, was a very good one.

Soon after they had left, Villemet came hurrying to the house, having obtained leave from the major. He seemed to have run all the way.

"You are the very man I want," said Cosin.

"Do let me see him," cried the other, all out of breath.

"You shall directly, only you must restrain your feelings, and on no account disturb him. He is so ill, it would kill him outright if you did."

And he told him why it was he was so glad he had come: because, if their friend chanced to arouse, it would not excite him so much to see Villemet, as it would to see any one else. "I only wish you could stop all night," he added.

"So I can. The major said I might if you wanted me; but I did not like to intrude myself upon you."

And they two kept watch all through the night, hearing the church-clock, close by, strike every hour; Cosin keeping out of sight, and Villemet sitting where the eyes of the patient might more easily see him, should they ever open again.

The fever increased. Restlessness began. Then a murmur, very faint, startled them; but it was nothing. Louder and articulate words came next; and delirium set in, lasting many weary hours. He was in France--always in France. He spoke of his mother; was talking to her: called her by name. But he never once mentioned the name Elise.

A tear came into Villemet's eye when he heard his poor friend express his joy at seeing his mother--he thought of his own--but he dashed it away. Why be ashamed, strong man? It becomes the brave to weep sometimes. Only noodles never do so. There must be brains to produce tears, and a heart too: and noodles have neither.

This went on for many hours. They wanted Villemet to take some rest, but he refused. He dosed in his chair, but the slightest sound awoke him: a sentinel at the shrine of friendship. At length, on the third day in the early morning, the eyes of the sick man opened, and fully rested on the familiar face of his friend. Instantly, but without any startling haste, Villemet was on his knee beside him, looking at him with a placid smile, as if nothing had happened.

"I have been so happy. I have been to France, and seen the old place--and my mother. But is it not strange? I never saw her, E--." And the eyes closed again, and the voice sank out.

Some hours of unconsciousness followed, but with decreasing restlessness. The doctor gave hope. Only he again warned them that the next waking would be the critical one. "Whatever you do," he said, "keep him, if you can, from reverting to the past as long as possible."

Yet it so happened that the next time Tournier aroused, Villemet was out of the room, and Cosin had taken his place. The afternoon sun was lighting up his face with a slanting ray as he sat by the bedside and looked toward the window; and when he turned his eyes again on his friend, he could hardly refrain from starting. Tournier was gazing on him with a look of intense earnestness.

"Where am I?"

"You are on a visit to me, and have been very ill, and I want you to go to sleep again, and not think about anything."

"But do you know," said Tournier, making a feeble effort to put out his hand, which his friend gently took, "that when I first woke up, such horrid thoughts came into my mind! but I caught sight of your face, and they went away."

"That's right. Now take this nourishment, and try to sleep again. We shall have plenty of time to talk when you are stronger, and I shall be always close by."

It would be wearisome to describe at any length the various stages of recovery: for recover he did, and became as strong and vigorous as ever. No little share had Alice Cosin in bringing this about, though in that unobtrusive, and often unknown, way in which dear, kind women work, for she was one of those who had the mark of the true lady in her household duties. She knew everything, and saw to everything, and did anything that would make the household comfortable.

And when Tournier got strong enough to think and converse without restraint, he told Cosin, with great emotion, the terrible nature of that struggle he had had beside the water of the mere before they found him, and what it was God had made use of to save him.

"I cannot describe," he said, "the hell that rose up within me when I read that she was married. I rushed to the water (I knew it was deep there,) in furious passion, to fling myself in. It was not fear that stopped me--never in my life was I afraid of anything--it was a voice, not outside me, but within: a voice that was more distinct to me than a bell tolled close to my ear, and all the more because it never reached me through the ear; it reached my brain though, aye, and my heart. And it said, 'God is good. God can help.' Over and over again I rushed to the water to drown myself, and over and over again that voice within stopped me at the brink. Oh, it was frightful! but God _was_ good, and God _did_ help me."

Many a time after this did the friends converse together, in their walks, when they rode out, and as they sat at the fire-side; and without any affectation of superior wisdom, yet, when Tournier at any time appeared to flag or grow weary in bearing up under his still severe trials, Cosin would cheer him by telling him, out of the fulness of his own heart, that all hopeless trouble came from trying to live without God, and that no one is really wise who thinks he knows better than He.

And when, on one occasion, Tournier was much depressed, because he had asked himself a question which every man must one day ask, if he means to be truly happy, though some, by God's grace, learn the answer before they know the immensity of it.

"I cannot understand how it is that God can be so good to such imperfect, nay, I will out with the word, sinful creatures as we are? I am afraid I have made use of religious jargon, like many others."

"My dear fellow," replied Cosin, "God is good to all; but we have no right to _claim_ any share in His goodness except through _Christ_. If we left that out it would be jargon indeed."

CHAPTER VI.--A DUEL AND TWO DEATHS.

Victor Malin and Marc Poivre hated each other with perfect hatred. But there was this peculiarity in their mutual animosity: it was intermittent. One day they would be glaring at each other like wild beasts; the next, they would be walking in the prison-yard arm in arm, singing bacchanalian songs, as inseparable chums. Their relations had not improved since the riot, for Malin had lost credit with the other prisoners since the failure of it, and laid the blame on Poivre for making fun of him, while there rankled, deep in Poivre's breast, the recollection that Malin had as good as called him a coward.

It was in one of the intermittent periods, when they were bosom friends again, that, on a certain evening, they were playing cards together. The stakes were high for them, for each had a little money just then, the result of the sale of some fancy work of theirs, at which they were very clever, though they did not often condescend to take the trouble. Malin had made the model of a guillotine out of a beef bone, and Poivre some dominoes, dice, and box of similar material.

The luck, as we say, had run all along in favour of Poivre. Malin was becoming savage. He lost all his money, then his next day's rations, then his shirt (not worth much). Poivre was one of those gamblers who take infernal delight in heaping on the agony when their opponent loses his temper badly. He made the other furious by pretending to pity him for his ill-fortune; and when he got down to the shirt, calmly suggested whether there was not something else he had that he might stake in order to regain his luck.

"You'd take my soul," cried Malin, with an oath so loud and frightful, or rather such a volley of them, that the other men in the room came crowding around them.

"Not worth anything," replied Poivre; "can't see it."

"It's worth as much as yours."

"That's not saying much."

The atmosphere was thick with oaths, and as oaths and devils go together, the atmosphere must have been of a sulphureous nature, as it always is at such times, though we may not notice it.

"Don't talk to me, _poltron_!" cried Malin.

"That's the second time you have called me so," said Poivre, starting up, his temper rising at a bound to "stormy," and shaking his fist at the other.

"And not the last!" shouted Malin, glad to find the other as angry as himself. "I tell you, you are a _poltron_, before all these gentlemen. You have no more courage than a rabbit, and no more spirit than an old woman. You ran away at Talavera. You did all you could to make us afraid the night before we struck for liberty. You--"

"Liar!" screamed Poivre: "to-morrow I will prove it on your great big carcase. Valentin, my friend, come with me."

A gentleman of not very prepossessing appearance responded to the call.

Most of the prisoners were delighted. It was the prospect of a little amusement, of which they did not enjoy much.

The formalities of a duel were gone through with the utmost possible punctilio. The seconds arranged that, as there were no swords to be had, the principals should fight with knives fastened to short sticks, with guards and handles. And as this took up time, it was agreed to put off the duel to sunrise on the second day. So all the next they were shaping and sharpening the knives with the best tools they had; and some armourers, who happened to belong to their yard, helped them.

Warning was given in the common room that night that there should be as little noise and talking as possible on the part of the prisoners, lest the soldiers on guard should hear it, and be led to interfere.

So, as soon as it was light, the two men, Malin and Poivre, were standing, like two fools, in due position, and in that part of the yard which was furthest from the gates, ready, as soon as the signal was given, to try and cut each other to pieces.

Yet, were they greater fools than they who fight with better weapons? We may admire their pluck, but we cannot admire their sense. A duel proves nothing but that each is a brave man, except it be the duel between French political adversaries in these days, when one pricks the other, and both are satisfied!

But they have saluted and begun. At first they eyed each other steadily, and made feints, and changed their ground. And this went on so long that at last some irreverent bystander, longing to see business done, cried out, "Allons, mes amis, avancez." And at that moment a skilful thrust from Malin wounded Poivre in the face, and the first blood was drawn. But Malin received it back with interest, for Poivre, who was a tall and very muscular man, beat down the other's guard, and laid open his bare head. And then both slashed and gashed away without any attempt at guarding, till the disgusting spectacle was ended by Malin dropping down, like a fat pig cut up before he was killed.

The guards came up, and the doctor was sent for. They were both removed to the prison hospital. But there was nothing to be done for Malin. His gross habit of body, from years of dissipation, made his many wounds fatal. He died the next day. The good chaplain visited him--but he was insensible.

Poivre remained some time in hospital, and listened respectfully to the bishop; but when he came out he was received as a hero, and that soon drowned reflection. So hard is it to turn to God one who has for years forsaken Him. It is not impossible, and there is good reason for saying so; but it is not probable, for experience teaches us that such is the case.

* * * * *

There was a young man in hospital at the same time as Poivre, in an advanced stage of consumption. Nature had never intended him to be a soldier. He was a sturdy, well-made, good-looking young fellow, but with the hidden seeds of that fell disease in his constitution which only waited development. Had he been let alone in his little heritage in the sunny south of France, he might have lived happily to at least a fair age: but conscription, mercilessly enforced, not for defence of country, but to gratify the satanic ambition of one man, seized upon him, and he became a soldier, sorely against his will, in one of the armies of the Peninsula.

It is always a marvel how men could stand the wear and tear of those seven years of incessant warfare in that country. Yet the veteran soldiers of France and England did stand it, and many lived to tell the tale in after years to their children in quiet resting-places. But how many, who survived, came home when all was over to suffer to their dying day the effects of over-taxed energies?

Such was the case, though taken prisoner some time before all was over, with Gaspard Berthier, who now lay broken-down in the prison hospital at Norman Cross.

Marc Poivre was a rough comforter to him. Their berths were near each other, and as Poivre was somewhat softened at first, he deigned to notice the poor young fellow.

"That cough of yours, Gaspard," said he, "is very bad."

"I fear it annoys you," replied the other. "I am very sorry, but I cannot help it. I wish I could, for my sake as well as others!"

"I think you might stop it more than you do," said a gruff voice from a face of vinegar close by: "specially of nights."

"Don't vex the poor lad," said Poivre; "he won't be here long; his time is very short."

"I am not so sure of that," replied Gaspard, with some animation. "I thought your time was short, when they brought you in the other day in such a pickle: but I was wrong, you see."

Poivre laughed; but added with more feeling than he usually shewed, "I fear not, Gaspard; your last campaign is over, depend upon it."

A bright answer came to this doleful prophecy. "I am glad of it, for then they will discharge me, and let me go home."

"He never ought to have been a soldier," growled the man of vinegar.

This remark was not relished by those of the patients who belonged to the same yard as Gaspard--there were from thirty to forty in hospital all told--for he was a kind-hearted fellow, ready to do anyone a good turn, and, though quiet, by no means a fool, as rowdies always are. So the man of vinegar was hushed down.

The truth was that, as is sometimes the case with consumptive patients, Gaspard was so sanguine about himself, that he never thought he was going to die. To the last he believed he would recover. And, happily, his was not that painful form of the disease where there is a great deal of suffering, and a literal dying by inches, so that the poor sick one longs to be released.

The good chaplain noticed this feature of his complaint, but instead of continually insisting on the fact that he was a dying man, he took the poor fellow, as it were, on his own ground, and treated him as if he were going to live.

"Gaspard, my son," the old man would say, "we must all die, and they live the happiest who are best prepared for it. Religion is not for dying people only: it is for those who have years before them in this world, for those who are the busiest of the busy, for strong men as well as more feeble women, for old and young, for rich and poor alike, for those in the midst of temptation as well as for men shut up in convents, for the soldier amidst the excitements of war, and for the husbandman plying his peaceful occupations. Therefore, Gaspard, let us all have religion."

It would not be becoming to attempt to narrate all that was said in the intercourse between the minister and his charge. There are many religions in the world, but only one way in which we can find peace with God. No mere form will save anybody; and to whatever communion we belong, there is but one essential mark that distinguishes in God's sight all who are of the one true spiritual Church--and we have it on the highest authority--"They shall be all taught of _God_." And for want of that teaching men go wrong in a thousand different ways!

Gaspard died, and they buried him. The place of interment for the prisoners of Norman Cross was a large field of several acres about a quarter of a mile from the corner where the Peterborough and Great North Roads meet, and on the west side of the latter. It was therefore a very short distance from the barracks. Why the Government purchased so large a field for the purpose it is impossible to say, unless they anticipated a very indefinite duration of the war. Not more than a small quarter of it has apparently been consecrated by the presence of the dead.

Here they brought poor Gaspard's emaciated body, and laid the child of sunny France in England's colder soil. The prison officials carried him, but no mourners followed, save Poivre, who got leave for that purpose. The chaplain at the head, and a sergeant's guard bringing up the rear, completed the procession. It has been said that the same coffin was used over and over again, and that each body was taken out of it at the grave and lowered without one; but it is impossible to credit it for a moment. Such a man as the Bishop of Moulines would never have suffered such barbarism, and the country that spent 300,000 pounds a year on this one prison, would never have grudged a coffin apiece to each poor fellow's body that required one. The libel must have originated with somebody (not an undertaker,) who thought in his poor heart that one was good enough for all. "It was only a prisoner."

There, without attracting the notice of the others, and so depressing them, but with decency and reverence, they laid the dead to rest.

It is a sacred spot still. How many have been laid there of those exiles from their fatherland, no record shows, and no one knows their names save He who is the common Father of us all, and before whom not one of them is forgotten. No prisoner was buried in the church or churchyard; nor did such exclusion arise from any want of respect, but from necessity; though it would be pleasant to have had to relate that some notice was in some way taken in the _parish books_ of Yaxley of these interesting parishioners, who were fellow-men, and who had done no wrong but die for their country. But not one word is written about them, nor one allusion made to them.

Much more to be regretted, however, is the fact that, in the portion of the pasture field where the dust of these poor fellows awaits the day of resurrection, not one single thing of any the slightest sort is to be seen to indicate the solemn use to which it has been put. The soil, more sympathetic than man, still points by its depression to the spot where each grave has been, but no other record, no token whatever, not even an enclosure. So that when the authorities sold back the field, they sold it along with all the dead that lay in part of it.

Cui bono?

The answer is--in the words of the "Stranger"--

"Give something to the dead.

"Give what?

Respect."

CHAPTER VII.--ATTEMPTED ESCAPE.

It must have been a great aggravation of the trials of a prisoner of war that, from first to last, he was uncertain as to the duration of his captivity. Had it not been for the sham peace of Amiens, some of the prisoners would have been in confinement seventeen years, while others were set at liberty after only one or two. It may be said, Yes, but then they might always hope. But hope, like other things, wants something to feed upon. It cannot bring much consolation, when it lives upon fluctuation and uncertainty. And so a criminal, who knows how long exactly his term will last, is in this respect better off than a prisoner of war, for he escapes the agitation of uncertainty; just as it has been known that a person threatened with blindness, has become much less irritable when he knew for certain he could never see again, than he was when recovery was doubtful.

{Robert Lewin, aged 94. The only Yaxley Man who remembers Norman Cross Barracks. From a photograph taken by Rev. E. H. Brown: p113.jpg}

The scales of hope went up and down continually at Norman Cross, according to the intelligence that reached the prisoners from each seat of war. The triumphs of Napoleon on the Continent, and the victories of Wellington in the Peninsula, were pondered over with deepest interest by both officers and men. But no prophet was there among them, or anywhere else, who could forecast the issue that was swiftly coming on. At the commencement of the year 1812, all was still uncertain. In the Eastern provinces of Spain the French were almost everywhere triumphant. Napoleon was beginning his grand preparation for the invasion of Russia. Our cousins in America were displaying their brotherly instincts by declaring war against us in our trouble. Peace seemed as far off as ever.

Captain Tournier did not return to the barracks until his health was completely re-established, and Major Kelly was very liberal in his allowance of time. He quitted the hospitable roof of his friend with much regret, but with a heart full of gratitude, and went back to his discomforts as a man returning to his duty, not what he liked, but his duty, and what he meant to make the best of.

Alice Cosin was much struck with the alteration in him, so much so indeed that she did not quite like it. "He seems so cheerful," she remarked to her brother, "going back to that horrid place after all the comforts he has enjoyed with us."

"Ah, dear Alice," he replied, "Tournier always was a man, but he is more a man than ever now, and is going to play the man with his troubles, which is far harder work than fighting with sword and pistol."

Villemet, however, had been ordered back some time before, and returned to prison, it must be owned, with very bad grace.

That nice little bedroom, so sweet and clean, with creepers peeping in at him through the window, and reminding him of home; and those blue eyes, that always looked so true, made it hard work to leave. He went off with a heavy heart and the gloominess of a mute; and as he shook hands with his friends, he made the most profound bow to Alice, and said, "Miss Cosin, I am going from paradise to I'll not say what. You cannot imagine how awful the change will be."

A shower of good wishes refreshed him for the moment, but they did not prevent his entering the hated prison like a bear with a scalded head.

This amiable mood, not altogether to be wondered at, was not improved by the atmosphere of the prison, which he found more than ever charged with the depressing opinion among the prisoners that there was less likelihood than ever of the war coming to an end. Villemet, as we have seen, was a light-hearted fellow, even to a fault; but his light-heartedness was simply nature's good gift to him, it was not the fruit of principle, like the newly-found cheerfulness of his friend Tournier, and could not, or at least did not, stand the strain of long continued uncertainty.

"I will stand this vile bondage no longer," he said to himself one day. "Better be shot in trying to escape than stay longer in this foul den, and lose all my best days of manhood, buried before my time. Honour! What's honour among thieves? The English have robbed me of my liberty, and I will rob them of my presence. So we shall be quits. If they catch me, I will pay the penalty with my life. Is that not a fair bargain?"

It was bad logic. But when passion urges a man, good-bye to his logic!

Villemet said nothing to Tournier about it. He knew it would be of no use. Nor did he say anything to anybody. He had no wish to incur the responsibility of involving others in the rash attempt.

There was an inn called the "Wheat Sheaf" in the parish of Stibbington, about five miles from the barracks. It was a favourite rendezvous of the officers on parole, not for the sake of tippling, the chief attraction of such places in these more enlightened days, but because they could get a recherche dinner there, the mother of the highly respectable landlord being a singularly good cook. Villemet knew the place well, and had been often there. Thither he proceeded one afternoon on a day when he knew few, if any, from the barracks would be there, and had some dinner all by himself in the familiar parlour. Then he sat down in the well-worn arm- chair, and rang for a cigar. "If anybody calls to see me," he said to the waiting-maid, "shew him in here, and mind you don't let anyone disturb me while he is here. Now don't you forget," he added with a severe look the girl had never seen before in the merry fellow's face; "nobody whatever is to come in while we are talking."

In the evening of the same day, as it began to get dark, Tournier, who had been spending the day with Cosin, was on the point of getting up to return to the barracks, when the landlord of the "Wheat Sheaf" was announced. He had asked to see Tournier.

"Tell him to come in here," said Cosin, "and I will leave you to yourselves."

"Pray don't," said the other laughing; "I have no secrets with the worthy host of the 'Wheat Sheaf.'"

"I have brought bad news, gentlemen," said the man hurriedly; "your friend, Mr. Villemet, has made away with himself--"

"What! killed himself?" both exclaimed in horror.

"Not quite so bad as that, though it may end in something quite as bad. He has bolted, and never means to come back alive."

"How do you know?"

"My servant girl took it into her head to listen at the door, while a stranger, who had called upon the gentleman, was talking with him in the parlour; and she heard him mention something about a brace of pistols he had brought; and also, which was the best way to the Lincolnshire coast; and whether he could find him up a horse somewhere, she couldn't catch the name of the place. My wife and I were out at the time, but when we came home she let out all about it."

Well might they both look grave.

"How long ago did you first hear about this?"

"Less than two hours. I started directly. If the girl had only repeated some tittle-tattle I should have taken no notice of course, but as it was, I felt bound to let you know."

"Had Mr. Villemet left before you came away?"

"Oh, certainly: full an hour before."

"Don't let anyone know about it. It will be better for _you_ not to mention it. It might spoil your custom."

Thus cautioned, the worthy landlord went away.

"Can you lend me a horse, Cosin?"

"Yes, and go with you myself."

He ordered two horses to be ready in half-an-hour, and himself went round to three or four neighbours, and invited them to join the party, telling them, of course, the object of their sudden departure. Not one of them hesitated a moment, for Villemet was popular among them; and the farmers of Yaxley were, at that time, manly, steady, and obliging fellows, in no wise ashamed to be seen in their place in the house of God. And the race is happily not extinct.

"Shall we take pistols?"

"Yes. But don't use them if you can possibly help it."

They cantered off, a party of six, all firm in the saddle, and passed the barracks without attracting much attention, as it was dark.

The difficulty was to know what road Villemet had taken, but they all agreed they must chance it, and go straight away to Spalding. Thither they galloped as fast as horses' legs could carry them, arriving there soon after midnight.

A belated hostler at one of the inns was asked whether he had seen a horseman, or horsemen, pass through the town lately. He scratched his head and meditated.

"Aye, to be sure I have. Leastways, one. What a memory I have! Why I had my lantern with me, and took a good look at him. By George, his horse was steaming. But it was a poor creature, and would sweat, I should think, if he only whisked his tail twice, only he'd got none."

"What a picture of a screw!" said one of the party, laughing heartily with the rest.

"Just what we wanted," said Tournier; and giving the man a tip, they all went off again.

They had gone but a few miles when they heard the sound of horse's feet in front of them. They halted and listened. It was only one horse, and they could distinguish the voice of the rider urging the poor beast along, with not very gentle thuds of a whip.

"It is Villemet's voice," said Tournier: "and he evidently hears us coming."

And now was the critical time. They wanted to secure without hurting him; and they also wanted to save him from the after misery of having hurt, or perhaps killed, one of them. So they broke into a canter, and, as they had arranged beforehand, began to sing at the top of their voices a jolly uproarious huntman's song; and passing Villemet (who took them for roysterers going home,) on the right and left, reined up their horses, the foremost riders seizing the bridle, and the next two pointing their pistols at the runaway, and cried, "Stand and deliver in the king's name," and then all burst out laughing.

Bewildered by this, Villemet's hand yet sought his pistol, but Tournier grasped his wrist and held it as in a vice, saying, "Don't you know me, old friend?"

"I don't call you a friend," said Villemet, "to put a pistol at my head, and stop me from escaping!"

"My dear man," answered one of the party, "none of our pistols are cocked."

At this, Villemet made a frantic effort to disengage his hand, but he was overpowered, and both his pistols taken from him.

"Remember, sir," the other said, "we can cock our pistols in a moment, and use them too: they are all loaded."

"Look here, my friend," said Tournier, calmly, "we have no wish to attend your funeral at Yaxley, or to have you shut up in the barracks all the rest of your time. So, if you will pass your word of honour to _me_ that you will not again attempt to escape, and come back with us, no one shall know anything about this matter; and, as you will remember, your parole from the major extends over to-morrow, so you will be all right in that quarter."

Villemet made no reply. The proposal was hard of digestion in his very ruffled state, but there was certainly gilt on the gingerbread.

"And what if I refuse your gracious offer?" at last he said.

"Then, in that case," replied Tournier, "we shall tie your feet under the belly of this noble steed, with our pistols at full cock, lest he should run away, and take you back in triumph to Norman Cross to meet the fate you deserve."

The compact was made, and faithfully adhered to.

All parties concerned kept the secret well, and happily the air of Yaxley was unfavourable to idle gossip.

* * * * *

The overpowering sense of weariness and impatience which must have afflicted the prisoners, as in the case of Villemet, had its simplest and most direct antidote in _occupation_. A well known German poet has said, that occupation and sympathy are the two great remedies for grief of all sorts. Happily there were a great many of the prisoners who tried the first of these specifics. They spent a considerable portion of their time in making a variety of articles of more or less elaborate workmanship, and in many cases of great artistic beauty. Indeed, it is difficult which to admire most, the skill displayed in their work, or the dexterity with which they turned to account the very limited material that was within their reach--for the most part wood, straw, and beef-bones. It is surprising what delicate things they produced out of the last, which the kitchen supplied them with in abundance.

Some of them (no doubt sailors,) made models of ships, exact in the minutest details. Others, of the same material, made work-boxes, watch- stands, statuettes (one of the crucifixion and madonna), boxes of dominoes, a carved spinning-jenny, the figures representing the costumes of the period, guillotines, models of the block-house (partly wood), and many more articles of all descriptions.

Besides these really wonderful survivals of the soup-caldron (which by the way was five feet across, and more than three feet deep), the straw work of the prisoners was equally beautiful. There was a model of the noble west front of Peterborough Cathedral in straw marqueterie (and another in _grass_); also a picture representing a church, with mill and bridge, and a barge on the river; with all kinds of boxes, fire-screens, dressing-cases, tea-caddies, etc. These are given simply as specimens of the really skilled work they did, and which must have cost them much patience, and an infinite amount of care and trouble.

It is said that some of the prisoners made a good deal of money by the sale of these articles to visitors at the prison, and that when their liberation came at last, they had amassed fabulous little fortunes. At all events, their industry was rewarded. They obtained the means of adding to their comforts; and much better than this, whether they gained much or little in money, busy employment saved them from that greatest of all evils, the curse of even enforced idleness.

And so the handiwork of the prisoners of Norman Cross, who wisely chose to work, instead of idly repining in their trouble, is a useful lesson to all--to make the best of our circumstances, however trying and forlorn, by doing with our might the work we _can_ do, even if it be not the work we _like_ the best.

CHAPTER VIII.--AN ENEMY TURNS UP.

Captain Draper had only been eighteen months at Norman Cross when, to the great regret of all--prisoners, officials, and soldiers, he was seized with sudden illness and died. He was admirably fitted for the position he held there, but, like many a man engaged in much higher and more important work than his, and for which far greater qualifications are required, he was cut off in the midst of his usefulness.

That we cannot understand why such things happen is only to confess how limited is our knowledge; to complain of them, is to doubt the goodness and wisdom of the Almighty. Perhaps it is not a bad guess to suppose they are intended to teach us that most wholesome lesson--that few in this world are important, none _necessary_.

Every possible token of respect was shewed to his memory. With the prisoners themselves it was more than respect. Rough as many of them were, demoralized by severance from family ties, soured by hopelessness, they had found a man, to use an expression of holy writ, who had showed them "the kindness of God" in their affliction: and now he was gone from them for ever.

They addressed a petition to the commandant that some of them might be allowed to attend the funeral at Yaxley Church, a request which Major Kelly granted with the greatest readiness, and was much touched by the concluding words of the petition, that he need not be afraid of incurring any risk by letting them come out for the occasion, because, wild as many of them were, there was not a single man amongst them that was such a _mauvais sujet_ as to take advantage of the opportunity to attempt his escape.

Both officers and men were represented, as well as a considerable number of the regiments on guard, though Major Kelly was too sound a soldier to detach too many, knowing that it was right to provide against not only what was likely, but also what was possible to happen.

It was a touching sight, as a military funeral always is, even when the departed one is an ordinary and undistinguished man. How much more when he has taken an honourable part in many a glorious field of battle! And how much more yet, when, as in this case, he has fallen on the field of unromantic duty, done with faithfulness, and with kindness, and with humanity.

His record still exists, and may be seen to this day on the north wall of the Lady-chapel of the grand old church of Yaxley, honouring alike the good man whose remains lie there, and the "poor prisoners," whose friend he was.

The tablet has the following words on it:

"Inscribed at the desire and at the sole expense of the French
prisoners of war at Norman Cross, to the memory of Captain John
Draper, R.N., who for the last 18 months of his life was agent to the
depot; in testimony of their esteem and gratitude for his humane
attention to their comforts during that too short period. He died
Feb. 23, 1813, aged 53 years."

When all was over, Tournier remained behind to view the sacred edifice with his friend Cosin.

"What a magnificent church," he exclaimed, after he had looked round. "Why, it is a small cathedral! Are all your parish churches like this?"

"No," said Cosin, smiling, "this is the finest in the neighbourhood."

"But what is the meaning of those wooden boxes all about?" asked Tournier: "they look like (forgive me for saying so,) what we call '_stalles pour les bestiaux_,' but there are seats in them"--peeping into one of the square pews.

"Oh, that is where we sit and worship."

"How droll!"

So it strikes a stranger! Taste in such matters had not yet come into fashion, or rather, it had gone away, and not yet come back.

"Well," said Tournier, greatly interested, and looking round with admiration on the noble building, with its beautiful windows and four fine chapels, "if my village church in France were anything like this, I would take a pride in doing my utmost to preserve and beautify it. It is a glorious gift. But, excuse me, my dear friend, it does not look _cared for_."

Then he asked about its age, and Cosin shewed him a place in the wall of one of the chapels where two hands are supporting a heart in some sort of relief. No inscription whatever accompanies the simple representation. "There," he told Tournier, "is said to be deposited the heart of William of Yaxley, a native of the place, who was Abbot of Thorney, near Peterborough, and who built, or enlarged this church. He was a true Yaxley man, and directed that his body should be buried in Thorney Abbey, and his heart in the wall of Yaxley Church. I have often thought how I should like to make a hole {133} in that wall, and search for that heart, but to my mind it would be nothing less than sacrilege to do such a thing merely to gratify curiosity. No! Let William of Yaxley's heart rest where he wished it to be. Yaxley was the home of his heart; Yaxley Church is the gift of his heart, and there should his heart rest in peace."

* * * * *

On the 21st of June, 1813, the battle of Vittoria was fought. The French, under Marshal Jourdan, took up a strong position before the town, but after obstinate resistance were beaten and driven through the place. The whole of their artillery, baggage, and ammunition, together with property valued at a million sterling, was captured; and they fled in the greatest disorder, never rallying till they reached the Pyrenees. It was the last great battle on the soil of Spain, but it was not the first time the pass of Roncesvalles had witnessed a French disaster.

The consequence was--a fresh batch of prisoners arrived at Norman Cross, and it was probably the last.

Captain Tournier was standing talking with a number of other officers, both English and French, near the entrance gate of the barracks, when they saw them approaching along the road.

As the new comers passed by, their reception, as always, was respectful and sympathetic. The Frenchmen scrutinized their fellows with friendly eyes to see if they could detect among them some former comrade, and when they happened to do so, which of course was not often, gave lively tokens of recognition. Tournier was not in the front part of the group of officers, but nevertheless could see fairly well.

And he _did_ see! He saw a face he had not looked on for years, and which he had hoped never to see again: a face that he had tried, oh, so hard, to forget: a face that haunted him in his dreams: the face of the man he hated more than anybody in the world! and there he was walking along (even in this his humiliation,) with his old air of a man for whom all the world was made; handsome as ever, but with those same cold eyes that looked on everything as a joke, whether it were a man's life or a woman's honour!

"What's the matter with Tournier?" said one of the officers; "he has broken through like a madman and gone after someone yonder, as if he meant to do him grievous bodily harm!"

It was true. Tournier had uttered a strong exclamation, and broken through those in front of him with almost violence, and gone after somebody. He made for his man, and got up to him near enough to touch him, when he stopped short. "Fool that I am!" he thought; "I shall save his life by exposing him now! No! I will wait till I can make sure of him!"

And he turned away in terrible agitation.

All was brought back to his mind, and yet more to his heart. The man that had wronged him, that had caused him such anguish, that had well- nigh destroyed his life as he had his happiness, was brought close to him, at his very elbow, by this strange chance. And what for? Was it not that he might take vengeance on the scoundrel? He had forgiven her, but he never could forgive him. It was not meant that he should. So he thought.

And up and down the road he walked for hours, still thinking, till the stars came out in their glory, and looked down on him like pitying eyes. And once he looked up and noticed them, and they seemed to repeat the sweet refrain, "God is good, and can help." But he thrust it from him, and said aloud, "Then why did God _send_ him to me."

"How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds,
"Makes deeds ill done!"

Wearied with walking, he bethought himself where he should go for the night. Not to the barracks. How could he sleep under the same roof with that villain? The very sight of him would goad him on to commit some indecorum before the others. Should he go to his friend Cosin's? No! Something within made him shrink from encountering, in his present temper, that tranquil eye. He would be all for peace; and what had he to do with peace while her dishonour (as he put it) was unavenged, as well as his own.

However, to walk about all night, especially when by yourself, is not pleasant. Alas, for those who have to do it, and with no relief to come its rounds! So Tournier determined to get quarters at the "Wheat Sheaf," and knocked the landlord up, as it was past midnight.

Next morning he went to the barracks, and sent in his name to the commandant, asking for an interview. Major Kelly looked surprised; it was not the usual way of approach.

"I am very sorry, sir," said Tournier, "to trouble you in this irregular way; but the fact is, I am in great perplexity as to what I ought to do, and could not explain myself first to anyone else."

"What is your difficulty, Captain Tournier?" said the major, rather coldly.

"Among the prisoners who arrived yesterday was a certain Colonel Fontenoy, who is my bitterest enemy, having wronged me past all endurance. I cannot be in the same quarters with him. Could you do me the very great kindness of putting me into one of the other wards, even though it be that of common men?"

Major Kelly paused awhile, as if thinking. "Is this Colonel Fontenoy," he said, at length, "the same man as he who did indeed wrong you so shamefully, and drove you to desperation?"

"The very same."

"When you first spoke," said the major, "I was going to say that it was quite out of my power to arrange the prisoners with exact regard, or even any regard, to their private quarrels; but then yours is no common case, and I may add, your sensitiveness of no ordinary kind, I will see to the matter. But not to put you among the common men. You can stay in your old quarters, and I will put the colonel into other, and perhaps better ones. Of course I am bound to act justly towards him; and if he behaves himself, he will be out on parole; but I will confine him to the road in the west direction, so that you can keep out of his way."

Major Kelly was as good as his word. But Tournier had no intention of keeping out of the colonel's way, whenever he should get out on parole. The old feelings, natural but not Christian, had revived in him with a sudden rush at the sight of the man, and he was completely carried away by them. His only fear was lest, through precipitancy, or the interference of others, he should be hindered from obtaining from Fontenoy the satisfaction he demanded, if that be rightly satisfaction which consists in killing or wounding another, or in being killed or wounded oneself.

He never left the barracks for many days after this, but relapsed into his old moody ways. Villemet could not make out what was the matter with him.

One day they were walking together in the yard, when Tournier suddenly said, "Villemet, I want you to do something for me. It will, perhaps, be the last favour you will ever show me."

"Then I would rather not do it."

"But you must. Who do you think is in the prison at this present moment?--Fontenoy. He came with the others some days ago."

"Is it possible?" cried Villemet, almost jumping with astonishment.

"And I want you to be my second: for as soon as ever he gets out on parole, I mean to challenge him, and the duel must be _a l'ontrance_."

"With the greatest possible pleasure," said his friend.

But they had to wait. It was some time before Fontenoy was out on parole. The major was in no hurry about it, out of consideration probably for Tournier.

At last, one day, Villemet, who kept up a sharp enquiry, announced the good news that the colonel was to be out next day. Both of them accordingly were on the watch for him in the road; and, sure enough, saw him coming along towards them, snuffing the air with great delight, and looking about him with evident satisfaction. The satisfaction, however, was not of long duration.

As the colonel's eye caught the first glimpse of two gentlemen approaching him, he seemed to smell, as it were, something wrong, for

"Conscience does make cowards of us all";

and when he came near enough to distinguish features as well as figure, he turned pale, and his effrontery for the moment left him. But it soon came back, and he met Tournier's cruelly stern gaze with a look of careless defiance. Tournier stopped in front of him.

"Colonel Fontenoy," he said, with the coldness of the grave: "my friend here has something to say to you on my behalf."

The colonel began to speak; but Tournier at once silenced him.

"_I_ have nothing to say to you, sir," and passed on.

Then Villemet proceeded to execute his commission with all frigid politeness and particularity. It is not worth while to relate what such a man as Fontenoy said on the occasion. But the challenge was accepted. The seconds were to arrange all the rest.

As the day drew near when, as Tournier learned, the colonel would again be out on parole, he felt a strong desire to make his confession to the bishop. There might be but a step between him and death. Besides, he was not easy in his mind. He was not quite sure he was doing right in thus seeking the life of his enemy.

So he sought and, as always, found a ready hearer in the chaplain. But when he came to tell him what he contemplated doing, the good man looked pained and surprised.

"And do you really think, my son, that the minister of God can forgive a sin before it is committed? and that sin wilful murder?"

"Murder?"

"Yes, murder!"

"How can that be, when each has an equal chance?"

"Of committing murder!"

"There are many who fight duels."

"There are many who do wrong, my son."

"Then is killing in battle murder?"

"No, for it is not done in revenge. It is the motive that makes killing murder. Your motive is revenge."

And then he went on to urge Tournier, for whom he had entertained the tenderest regard, that he would give up his bloody intention, and leave his enemy to God. He expostulated with him, used the most affectionate entreaties, appealed to the authority of his holy office.

But all in vain. Tournier stoutly, but in the most respectful language, refused to comply, and the bishop refused to grant him absolution.

But Tournier was most unhappy. Let those who remonstrate with another, apparently in vain, remember to their comfort, that oftentimes the remonstrance has not been entirely thrown away. The first blow of the hammer does not drive home the nail, but it begins to do so.

One more evening before the fatal day: That evening he would spend with his friends at the Manor House. He had treated them badly for several weeks, and never gone near them; but they received him just as cordially as ever, and took no notice of his absence, only expressed their pleasure at seeing him, which touched him all the more; and then the thought caused a lump in his throat that, perhaps, he might never see them again. He did not like to speak of what he was about to do before Alice, because it was an unpleasant subject for ladies' ears, but when she went out of the room, he began at once to tell her brother all, from first to last.

Never had he seen Cosin so greatly disturbed. He listened with open mouth and staring eyes to all that Tournier said without uttering a word. Not a remark did he make: not a question did he ask. Then, when the tale was told, and Tournier was waiting for some reply, Cosin started from his chair, and began to pace up and down the room in extreme agitation. At length he stopped in front of the other, and said, sternly but sorrowfully,--

"Then, after all, you have given up God."

"I hope not."

"But you have, on your own shewing: and taken up with the devil."

Tournier writhed under this, and was about to say something sharp, but Cosin went on,--

"I will prove it to you. God says, 'Vengeance is mine: I will repay'; and you say, 'Not so, I will avenge myself.' And whenever we contradict God, we take up with the devil."

Then Cosin sat down again, and in his old gentle tone of voice, said,--

"Which do you think has sinned most against the other: Fontenoy against you, or you against God?"

Tournier was silent. He was thinking of all the misery _that_ man had brought upon him. How happy he might have been, if he had not come between him and his love. He thought of his future, and how, even if ever he were set at liberty again, life would be a blank to him. And he ground his teeth with rage.

And then he heard his friend Cosin saying with quiet voice, like the voice of conscience,--

"When once you had given up God, in years gone by, and you scouted Him who had given you every comfort and blessing you possessed, who had preserved you every day and night, so that you would have dropped down dead had He withheld His hand any moment, and who had covered your head in the day of battle--did He take vengeance on you? or did He open your eyes and make you see some glimpse of His goodness?"

Then, after a pause, he went on in the same quiet way,--

"And when, in the madness of your distress, you tried again and again to drown yourself, as if there were no God, no life after death, no power to help in the Almighty; whose voice was it in your heart that bade you stop each time, and bade you hope?

"And, as you lay on that sick bed, and your life trembled in the balance, whose power was it that gave the turn to your distempered mind, instead of dealing with you after your sin, and rewarding you after your iniquity?"

Once more he paused. Then said in a yet lower tone of voice, almost in a whisper, but with perfect naturalness, "And far, far above all, when we were yet without strength, ungodly sinners, who was it signalized His love towards us by dying for us on the cross?"

More passed between the two friends that night. But Cosin could elicit no definite promise from the other. He only said, with great emotion, as they parted,--

"Truest and best of friends, I shall think all night of these things."

And he did turn and twist about for hours in his berth, so that more than once his fellow prisoners cried out angrily, "What _is_ the matter with you, Tournier?" But he fell asleep towards morning, as soon as he had at last made up his mind that Fontenoy might kill _him_ if he could, but he himself would fire into the ground.

As he went out in the morning he met the chaplain. He stopped him and said, "You are going, I see, to keep your appointment. Spare yourself the trouble. Your enemy has been struck down by another hand than yours. The Almighty has smitten him with paralysis. He is never likely to recover."

But he _did_ recover; and so we take our leave of him with the greatest possible pleasure.

CHAPTER IX.--PRISONERS EMANCIPATED.

The retreat of Napoleon, after the battle of Leipsic, was as disastrous to him as his retreat from Moscow. On the 9th of November, 1813, he reached Paris, and on the 21st of the following month the allied armies crossed the Rhine, and carried the war into France. Soon after, the English, under Wellington, defeated the French, under Soult--"the bravest of the brave," in several engagements in the South of France, until the knell of Napoleon's arms was sounded in the bloody battle of Toulouse, fought on Easter Sunday, the 11th of April, 1814. Six days before the battle, Napoleon had abdicated at Fontainebleau. If the electric telegraph had been known in those days, all the lives lost in that fearful fight might have been saved. But that would have been a small matter to Napoleon.

The war was ended. That long, weary war--so wanton, so unnecessary, save for Europe's liberty, and England's existence--that had left its trail of blood almost everywhere, and desolated so many thousands of homes, was ended.

To many and many a poor prisoner, the year 1814 must have been like the blessed year of jubilee. Two hundred thousand Frenchmen were set free in Russia alone: but they had not been in confinement for very long. In continental countries there must have been many more. Some fifty thousand were located in various parts of England and Scotland, of whom a large number had been imprisoned for several years, and they were no doubt the most joyous of all.

But it must have been anything but an easy matter even to get rid of such numbers of men, all in a state of more or less excitement, intoxicated with a sense of newly gained liberty. Without proper precautions an emancipation on so large a scale would have led to much disorder, at least in the neighbourhood where prisoners had been confined. To avoid this they were marched off in detachments to the sea-coast, where ships were ordered to attend and embark them for conveyance to their own dear France.

Such necessary arrangements of course took time, and it was not until August that the last batch of prisoners left Norman Cross.

Of course, the poor fellows were aware of the great change in their condition that was coming by what they gathered from the current news of the day; yet, whenever the actual proclamation of liberty reached them, we can but faintly imagine the delirium of excitement that followed. Then, in the place where for so many years the sighing of the prisoners had been heard, mingled, it might be, with the sound of revelry, in which the wretched tried to drown their misery, pealed forth the shouts of those who sang for very joy and gladness of heart.

Poivre was still among them. That man of the revolution, like many others of the older prisoners, had learned something by his captivity. He used to think, and with too much reason, that the rich and high-born were the vultures that preyed on the poor; but now he had discovered that one risen from the ranks might be as heartless and oppressive as "Monsieur" of old, and be utterly indifferent how many lives were lost, and how many imprisoned for years, to gain his own selfish ends.

They were sitting together at supper, some of them, a few evenings before their turn came to leave, when the remark was made that "the little corporal" would never have another chance, but was driven into a hole at last.

"Think you so?" replied Poivre; "I am not so sure of that. It must be a curious hole that man cannot get out of sooner or later. He has the cleverness of the devil, if there be one."

"Would you fight again for him, Poivre, if he did come out of his hole?"

"Not I," said he, "if I could help it. Some of us have had enough of him. We begin to think we have not been fighting for "France and glory," but for him, and he does not care two pins for us. But there are thousands of fellows who are such fools that, if the emperor were only able to shew himself again, they would flock to him, and be ready to become food for powder the next moment. I am going to prophecy, my friends. Mark what I say. When all our countrymen have been set free, Napoleon will have an army, a grand army, ready to hand. Depend on it, he has his eye on this, and will make use of the opportunity; but he will not find Marc Poivre in the ranks!"

Human prophecies are acute guesses, and when they come true, correct guesses. Such was Poivre's prophecy. But was it not a fatal mistake, though, perhaps, one that could not be avoided, to place an army within Napoleon's grasp, even as we had given him back the sailors that manned his navy by the bogus peace of Amiens?

This at least is certain, that the volcano which had desolated Europe for so many years but had become quiescent when Napoleon abdicated at Fontainebleau, burst forth again with an awful blaze in 1815, and was only extinguished for ever at Waterloo. So, some at least of the prisoners at Norman Cross may again have fought gallantly against us.

Captain Tournier, like the rest, was longing to see once more his old home, but had first to pay a farewell visit to his friends at the Manor House. He was with them only a couple of nights, and Villemet was invited to stay also. The meeting could not be otherwise than mingled with sadness to each of them. They had known each other now for nearly six years, and those years had been made interesting by intercourse of no ordinary kind.

At dinner, Cosin was the most cheerful of them all. He was really very sorry to part with his friends, especially with Tournier, whom he loved as a brother; but he could not for the life of him make out why two men who had just obtained the freedom they had so long pined for, and were on the point of starting for the homes they had dreamt of every night for years, should be so awfully down. And least of all, like a stupid fellow that he was, and as most men are in such matters, could he imagine why Alice should take upon herself to look so supremely wretched, and hardly open her mouth all dinner time.

Nothing could exceed the minute attention which Villemet paid to her, though all in good taste, but with an anxious, if not mournful air, as if he were appointed to watch over her health, and was not quite happy about it.

Alice received his attentions with perfect politeness, but her ears were evidently occupied with something else.

Tournier took no more notice of her than any gentleman would naturally do to the lady of the house at a party of four. Almost all his conversation was addressed to Cosin, and consisted chiefly of references to happy days gone by, during their intercourse with each other. Each allusion ended with a sort of sigh, as if to say, "Ah, there will be no more of that now!"

"Upon my word, Cosin," he cried, "if it were not for my sweet old mother, I would almost be a prisoner again to live near you."

The blue eyes brightened a little. And there was someone who noticed it, and, oh! how he wished he had made the same remark.

To understand Tournier's enthusiasm, we must know something of how a deeply sensitive nature is drawn toward the one who has saved his soul from death.

"Come, my friends," said Cosin, "let us be merry while we can, which to my thinking is always, if we cast our future upon God. There is no happiness unalloyed with sorrow in this world. We must wait for that. I drink to the perpetual amity of our two countries. God has made us neighbours: why should we quarrel? We have been fighting, but we have not been quarrelling. Let French and English be better friends than ever. And when the devil of ambition next arises in either country, and tempts us to disagree, let us bid him leave his foul work alone, for we, the people, are fast friends for ever."

Next morning, the four went out for their last ride together. Alice and Villemet went first, and the others followed. As they passed the familiar spot where Villemet had spent so many weary days and nights, Alice remarked, how glad he must be that he was a free man once more.

"Yes, Miss Cosin," he replied in a very dissatisfied tone; "yet I am not free altogether, my body is, but I shall leave my heart behind me."

"Oh, that will never do," said Alice, with more vivacity than he quite liked: "you will want your heart. You could never be a heartless man I am quite sure," and she looked archly at the handsome young fellow as she said it, and smiled so provokingly.

"It is true however," he said, but in such a melancholy way, that Alice felt sure something serious was coming.

"If I might only leave my heart with you," he added, "I should be quite content to go away without it."

"But what on earth should I do with it?" she said, purposely disregarding the sentimental, and sticking to the literal meaning of his words.

"Keep it close to your own," was his reply.

"Then should I be queen of hearts indeed!"

"You are that already to me."

It was time, she thought, to put a stop to this; so, after riding on a little further, Alice said very demurely, "I thought, sir, you were more in jest than earnest, but, at all events, I am altogether in earnest when I say, that you must never repeat to me what you uttered just now. I wish always to regard you as a friend--a friend found under circumstances of deep interest to my brother and myself--but nothing more; never anything more! Let us join the others."

And she turned her horse's head, and met her brother and Tournier, her face slightly flushed; while Villemet rode after her much more disturbed than ever he had been when charging a whole battery of guns.

They too had been talking together as they followed the others along the familiar road that passed by the barracks. It was on the old subject that Tournier seemed never to weary of.

"There," he said, pointing to the spot where he had first met Cosin, "that is where I first set eyes on your sunny English face. I remember it by that blighted tree in the hedge-row. I often thought, when I passed it afterwards, that it was exactly like me at that time--half-dead for want of God--fungus everywhere."

Then, as they passed the barracks, he said, "Stop a moment, Cosin. Look at that gate yonder. How well I remember coming out of that gate in an awful state of mind--nearly mad--determined, as a last resource, to see if you, or anybody, really believed in God; and I found you did, for you lived as if you did. And then began those blessed years of teaching, not so much by words as by example, which have made me a happy man, though, God knows, and you know too well, a very faulty one."

"Say no more, my good friend," replied Cosin; "only let not our separation now be an end to our intercourse. You shall ever be to us a welcome visitor."

"And I, for my part, shall ever be delighted to renew my acquaintance with the place which has been at once, the saddest and the happiest in my life."

The others had now joined them.

"Tournier will soon be here again!" cried Cosin to his sister, unable to repress the pleasure that he felt, but entirely, dull fellow that he was, on his own account.

And all, saving Villemet, finished their ride in the best of spirits.

Next day came the parting.

CHAPTER X.--ENGLAND AND FRANCE UNITED.

Who could describe the pleasure felt by the Frenchmen as they gazed once more on the shores of their own dear country after so long an absence! Even Villemet lost his lugubrious looks, while his friend, brimming over with joy, seemed almost ready to leap into the sea to get there. He sprung about the deck, sang snatches of songs, laughed at every remark Villemet made even when there was nothing to laugh at, in fact, made himself somewhat ridiculous.

As soon as they landed, they instantly made arrangements to post straight away to their homes, which were not far apart from each other. Villemet's came first; and there, as they drove up, a perfect swarm of younger brothers and sisters came out to devour him; his old father and mother looking on behind with calmer but not less real delight. It was a pretty sight, and as Tournier drove away amid their joyful greetings, he could not help for the moment envying him, and contrasting the scene with that which was awaiting himself, with only one welcome--only one--but then that was the welcome of a mother!

He had to pass a well-known house; but as he drew near, he dashed down the blind, and turned away fiercely, till it was passed. "Dead!" he muttered.

The nearer he drew to his old home the more familiar were the objects that met his eye, till at last he spun through the gates, and up the drive, and almost leaping into the house, cried to the smiling servants, "Is she in her old room?"

And there he found her. She was pretty as ever, prettier than ever, as _he_ thought.

"Mother, I have come to take care of you at last," he said; "and _to_ the last, thank God."

"Thank God," she murmured in reply.

But though his mother seemed almost like her old self under the exhilaration of that happy meeting, Tournier could not but observe how feeble she was in every way. And when the first gush of joy was over, he saw it more plainly; and every day he noticed it increasingly. Where some stamina is left, a sudden stimulus may lead to permanent improvement, but when there is none, excitement only revives for the moment, and leaves the patient weaker than ever. So was it with the dear old lady. Those years of lonely sorrow, aggravated by uncertainty and bitter disappointment, had killed her; and Tournier had only come in time to make the last few months of her life her happiest ones for many a day past.

One evening, as the end was drawing near, she suddenly said, "My son, what will you do when I am gone?"

"Sweet mother," was his reply, "I shall trust in God to help me bear my sorrow patiently. I know He will."

"Why not marry a wife? It is God's own remedy for man's loneliness."

"Where shall I find one? I know no woman that I could trust _now_." Then, after a pause, he added, "And yet there is one I could trust. Yes, those blue eyes could be trusted. I would spurn the man who dared to say they could not."

Then he told his mother all about Alice; and she listened with deepest interest, and a little flush came over her delicate pale face. But it became pale as before when he said, "Ah! mother mine, Alice Cosin is not for me, nor for anyone: she is bound for life to her good brother, and I would not break that lovely bond even if I could."

In the autumn of 1815 she died, her eyes fixed to the last on her son. And when they closed for ever, it seemed to him that love unutterable was extinguished. But he took refuge in his God.

It was hard work, however, to keep on living in the old place where everything reminded him so much of the past, both of joy and pain. He would have asked his friend, Villemet, to take compassion on his loneliness, and come and stay with him awhile; but the irrepressible fellow had gone off to the wars some time ago, and joined the army of Napoleon, distinguishing himself greatly at Waterloo. Again and again had Tournier's thoughts reverted to Alice Cosin, but each time he had repelled the pleasing idea as an impossibility. "How could I," he repeated, as the fair vision floated away, "for my selfish ends spoil the happiness of a friend like him?"

Fortified by this resolution, he determined at length to find consolation in fulfilling his promise of a visit to England. There was no reason why he should not enjoy the immense pleasure of seeing his friend again, and of course his sister. It would do him all the good in the world.

So he started with gladness to visit once more the land to which he had been unwillingly conveyed as a prisoner some seven years before. The old welcome was renewed with yet greater heartiness, and Tournier felt for the first time at home since his mother's death. Only, at their first greeting, he thought it proper to shew a little sort of restraint in addressing Alice, and he could not but notice that this assumed restraint made her beaming face look rather grave.

{The House of the Commandant. New the residence of J. A. Herbert, Esq., J.P. From photo. by Rev. E. H. Brown: p168.jpg}

One of the first things Tournier said he must see was the barracks.

"They have just finished pulling them all down," said Cosin. "Every building except Major Kelly's house, and the officers' quarters has been removed and the material sold by auction. However, you would like to see the old spot. I am sorry I cannot go with you to-morrow, but Alice can shew you the way if you have forgotten it!"

So they rode there the next morning.

"It seems like a dream," said Tournier, as he gazed for a long while upon the site where, as he too well knew, so many hearts had ached for years. "Who is going to live in the house of Major Kelly?"

"He has bought it for himself, but he is not there now."

"How I should have liked to see him. He was a fine officer and an excellent man. And now, Miss Cosin, will you mind going with me to another spot more interesting to me than even this, I mean the prisoners' burial ground, where my body would now have been laid but for your dear brother and you?"

That last word would have made Alice willing to go anywhere, and she cheerfully consented to pay the rather doleful visit.

When they reached the portion of the field where the interments had taken place, they let their horses nibble the grass, and silently surveyed the scanty mounds.

Tournier was lost in thought, and Alice watched him.

"Poor fellows, poor fellows," he said at length: "how many of them I have known! Some of them were in my squadron. Nearly all young, or in the prime of life--all dead before their time, worn out or broken-hearted."

"How many, do you think, are buried here?" asked Alice.

"Roughly speaking, I should say at least three or four hundred."

"Will not the Government mark the spot, or at least raise some memorial to these brave men?"

"I should think so," replied Tournier; "or if the English Government failed to do so, ours will not forget them. And yet, the shameful butchery of Marshal Ney does not favour the idea. They may look on them, as they did him, as soldiers of Napoleon, not of France."

Then they slowly wended their way homeward, Tournier turning round on his saddle to take a last look at the place that interested him so deeply, and again exclaiming, "There should I be lying now, in a dishonoured grave, but for God's great mercy."

That night, poor Alice could not sleep, but watered her pillow with tears.

"He does not care for me a bit," she said; "he is just the same as he used to be, only stiffer in his manner. But what does it matter? I could never leave my darling brother; and what is more, I never will. But he is so nice, nicer than ever." And the tears came again, with a wee bit of vexation in them, and kept on at intervals, till kindly sleep at length fell on those dear blue eyes, and dried them up.

And while this was going on, her brother and his friend were smoking and talking together below.

"You must find it very wearysome, Tournier, to live by yourself now. You are not the man to like that sort of thing. You are too unselfish to be a confirmed bachelor. Excuse me for touching on a painful subject, I use the privilege of a friend."

"I thank you for doing so. But the fact is, and _you_ cannot be surprised at it, I have lost all faith in a woman's constancy. No doubt there are many of my countrywomen who would make me a happy man, but I don't know them, and do not mean to search them out."

Cosin was silent.

What good angel put it into Tournier's mind to come out with it? but he _did_ burst forth, after a pause, with the imprudent assertion, "The only woman in the world I know in whom anybody might place entire reliance is your sister. Sure am I that the blue sky of Heaven does not more truly reflect the love of God than her blue eyes reflect constancy and truth!"

Tournier felt he had betrayed himself, and was vexed.

As to Cosin, he opened his eyes with amazement at the other's vehemence of manner. Then a bright smile of surprise lighted up his face, and he said, "Why on earth then do you not ask her to be your wife?"

"My dear fellow," replied Tournier, in his turn amazed, "you surely know why. Did you not tell me years ago that she would always be your companion through life? and do you think I could be such a base scoundrel as to breathe one single syllable to her that might tempt her for even a moment to think of leaving you?"

Cosin seemed really angry instead of pleased at this, and said severely, "And so _you_ thought _me_ such a selfish brute, that I would rather keep her sweet companionship to myself, and be her gaoler more than her brother, than give her a free woman's choice to marry anyone that was worthy of her, and on whom (lucky dog!) she had set her dear heart? I do not thank you for the compliment."

Tournier looked on his irritated friend with admiring surprise. It was like the harsh grating of a heavy door that had hitherto barred his way to happiness, but was now opening.

"The thing is," said Cosin in a milder tone, "does Alice like _you_?"

"I cannot say. She never did anything to make me suppose it. But I was not observant, for I did not think about it."

"And yet, silly fellow that I am," said Cosin, "I now remember how her face always lighted up when she heard about you, or we talked of your coming. What a blind bat I have been! Oh, how I hope she does like you. I am sure she must. But you must find it out, and if she has any scruples left, tell her to come to me and I will satisfy her."

And Tournier, nothing loth, did find it out next day. The interview shall not be described, for such things are sometimes related with admirable taste and effect, but much more often are made ridiculous; and as this was pre-eminently sensible, natural and real, it shall not run the risk of being spoilt by any attempt of the kind. It must be sufficient to say that the interview was perfectly successful, only Alice persisted in saying that, although she entirely and joyfully believed what Tournier told her about her brother, yet she must speak to him herself, and hear from his own lips that he gave a willing consent. And Tournier only admired her the more for it.

Away, therefore, she went with radiant face to seek her brother; nor did it take long to get his consent. As she came into the room he forestalled her object, and folding her to his breast said, "Dear Alice, I know what you are going to say. Your face tells the tale. You have fulfilled, more than fulfilled, your loving duty to me. Do one thing more to make me happy--go and make that dear good _fellow_ happy all the rest of his days. And remember," he added, as he held her a little from him, and looked into her blushing face with pretended severity, "you shall never come under my roof again if you disobey me! Come, I will give you to him myself."

And they found Tournier awaiting the verdict without the slightest degree of suspense.

"I have brought you your wife," Cosin cried.

What followed may well be imagined by all but ill-natured people, who see no chance of their ever being placed in a similar predicament themselves.

In the course of the evening, Cosin suddenly said with great gravity, amounting almost to solemnity, and looking first at Tournier, and then at Alice: "There is a matter that still remains to be settled. You have run away, Tournier, with my wife, and it is only fit and right that you should make what compensation is in your power."

Both the others were taken rather aback, especially as Cosin continued to seem very much in earnest.

"There must be a marriage-settlement of some sort."

"Assuredly," Tournier replied, relieved, but still somewhat puzzled.

"Whatever you think right, I shall be delighted to do."

"Do you really mean that?" said Cosin, still very seriously.

"Indeed I do. Everything I possess I would joyfully give to my sweet love," looking at her with intense affection. "She is worth more than all I have beside."

"But I want more than money and lands," persisted Cosin. "Mind, you have agreed to do whatever I may propose."

"Yes. Anything you require. I trust you as my own soul."

"Then the marriage-settlement must be this: That so long as we all three live, you two shall come and spend a good part of the summer with me every year, and that you will let me spend a good part of every winter with you in your sunny home. Provided always--here comes the lawyer--that if we do at any time wish to turn summer into winter, or winter into summer, we may do so by mutual agreement."

"Could anything be better!" cried the others in great delight. "Agreed, agreed."

Then Cosin, no longer able to look grave, laughingly exclaimed, "Signed, sealed, and delivered."

A few weeks after, Captain Tournier went over to France to prepare his house for the reception of his bride. He did not stop long, but returned with a heart full of gratitude to God, and joyful expectation of a happy future.

They were married in Yaxley Church in the presence of a crowded congregation. More than half the people who attended could see nothing because of the bullock-boxes: but they were there, and their hearts too. And when the grand old bells pealed forth a joyous welcome, the bridegroom could hardly repress a tear (only one!) for they reminded him how often the merry sound that now so truly harmonized with his over-brimming joy, had seemed of old to mock his misery as he listened to them from within his prison walls.

* * * * *

Their happy union, to compare small things with great, may be taken as an emblem of the _entente cordiale_ that ought ever to subsist between the two countries of France and England, and which can only be jeopardized by that rabid journalism which, with slight occasion, or none at all, seems always to take delight in doing its utmost to "let loose the dogs of war."

One word more.

The two stone bosses which for many years have capped the piers of the west gateway of Yaxley Churchyard, formerly occupied the same position on the piers of the principal entrance to the Norman Cross Barracks. And when the poor prisoners of old passed between them, they were entering the place of captivity and grief and hopelessness. But now, as the good Yaxley people pass between the same bosses to go into their noble House of Prayer, they may rejoice in the thought that they are entering the place where liberty and peace and everlasting hope await them as the gift of God, through Jesus Christ their Saviour.

THE END.

Footnotes:

{17} See account of the battle of Vimiero in Napier's History of the Peninsular War, Book II, Chapter V.

{44} This is fact, not fiction. It would be interesting to know the history of this good man after the prisoners were discharged in 1814. One thing is certain, that he must ever have enjoyed a feast of memory to his dying day in having been a shepherd and bishop of souls to these poor prisoners.

{133} It is much to be regretted that the ravenous curiosity of a former vicar has since made this very hole. A wooden box was found with a heart inside in perfect form, but which instantly crumbled to dust when exposed to the air. The dust was returned to the cavity, and the box is kept at the Vicarage; but an aromatic odour still impregnates the box, just as the church William of Yaxley built still preserves the holy use to which it was devoted.

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