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Henry Ancrum: A Tale of the Last War in New Zealand, Volume 1

Chapter X

page 161

Chapter X.

Edith and Ancrum had heard a good deal of the conversation recorded in the last chapter, and were very much amused at the rebuffs the poetical Ensign received. The said Ensign, however, was very soon restored to good humour by a small dose of the sentimental dodge which Professor Adelaide administered to him, and finished the quadrille more in love with that young lady than ever. As they strolled away after it was over, Edith said to Ancrum—

"I daresay you will laugh at me, Henry, but I am certain I shall dislike that cousin page 162of yours. When you introduced me to him, I felt a sort of shuddering feeling creep over me which I could not resist, and a dim sense of evil and fear seemed to surround me like a mist, and, strange to say, his face appeared familiar to me, as if I had seen it before, long, long ago, in some shadowy dream. Have you ever had the feeling that, under precisely the same circumstances, precisely the same events have happened to you before? Well, I felt as if at some distant time, in some distant place, I had met him before, and he had looked at me in precisely the same way as he did just now. And I don't like him, Henry; and I am sure I shall not, though I see you're smiling at me; but I will try, for your sake, to be civil to him."

"I did not know my darling was so superstitious," said Henry; "but to tell you the truth, I have experienced the feel-page 163ing you mention myself. I have often been struck with the idea that the same events have occurred to me before, under precisely similar circumstances, at some unremembered period, and I believe that a very great number of persons have felt just the same sensations, in fact I have met with individuals who have asserted that they believed the events thus shadowed forth must have occurred to us in some former state of existence through which we have passed previous to our present one. I, however, do not go so far as this. My idea is that the events have occurred to us before in this present world, but that they did not make much impression on us at the time, and were not stamped on the memory, and therefore when similar events occur, a sort of recollection comes back, but dim, shadowy, and indistinct. How often will a word, a tone, a note of music, bring page 164back memories that were long, long forgotten—dead. But then, these recollections were stamped on the memory, and, though from far far off, they do return to us, whereas the others do not, in any definite shape.

"To a reflective mind what can be more wonderful than the memory? Where is its mighty storehouse? in what part of the brain, or of the person are the millions of recollections of bygone thoughts and actions stored up? Are there not lumber-rooms and garrets for the furniture of the mind as well as for the furniture of the body? Old men of sixty and seventy — aye! and older than that—remember the trifles of their childhood. All these recollections must have a local habitation within the individual, because pages and pages of the dead history may be forgotten, and a word brings back the whole chapter; it must page 165have been laid on some forgotten shelf! A. meets B. after thirty, perhaps forty years; they talk of old times. The furniture of the mind is dusted, the cobwebs are brushed away in the forgotten garrets! A. tells some story B. had forgotten, but, after a few words, B. remembers it all, and tells A. more than he at first recollected. The story was in B.'s head, though he had forgotten it; it must have been printed off at some time, it must have been laid by in the storehouse which exists within us all! I can fancy some person saying, this is only memory! What is all this fuss about? Every person has a memory. Yes, every person has a memory just as every person has that complicated organization of body which is the more wonderful the more you inquire into it, were you to investigate only the marvels contained in the mechanism of the eye or hand. But the wonderful part page 166of the memory is that every day and every hour adds the recollection of some action or thought to the millions and millions of recollections contained there before, all of which we consider that we carry about in that little portion of our person called the brain; but I am afraid, Edith, that I must be tiring you."

"Oh, no, Henry" (they were now sitting on a sofa in a verandah at some distance from the dancers), "oh, no; don't you remember the long conversations we used to have on board of ship, and that I always took an interest in subjects like that of which you have been speaking; in fact, I do not see how a woman can be a companion for a man, unless she can do so. I do not, as Adelaide Brown would say, go in for conic sections, or anything of that kind; but on the other hand, I do not think it would be right to restrict my ideas to dress, page 167dancing, or the other little amusements which seem all the world to some women."

"Dress and dancing are very important matters" said Henry, laughing; "but what are the other little amusements?"

"Oh, Henry, it is very wrong of you to cross-question me so. I am sure you know some of the little amusements, say flirtation and love of admiration. I am sure it is quite wonderful the sacrifices some women will make to obtain admiration."

"Yes," said Henry, "that is very true. I knew one instance myself, where the love of admiration was quite ridiculous; it was for the admiration of all; all, without exception. The admiration of young men was sweet, oh, how sweet! But that of old men, if they were bachelors, was not despised, and that of boys by no means rejected.

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"It would be 'oh, Mr. Senior, it is so very kind of you to explain all that to such a sadly ignorant creature as I am,' and then the large eyes would look up so thankfully, and the old man would chuckle feebly, and murmur to himself—'Not so old yet, my boy; not so old yet.'

"And if she went into a room where some bashful youth of fourteen had concealed himself in a corner it would be, 'Oh, Mister Arthur' (boys like being called Mister) 'I am so glad to see you; I did not notice you at first, but you'll forgive me, wont you' (and the large eyes dwell appealingly upon him) — 'and you wont be angry with me, will you?'

"Angry with her? the angel! Is she not the very image of the heroine in the Novel he has just been devouring. Angry with her, indeed! So, she becomes his first love ever after.

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"And there was no respect of persons, high and low received their favours alike. The butcher's boy would walk away delighted at the way in which a soft voice said 'Thank you,'— and Congo the grocer — oh, Congo the grocer was a lost man from the day she bought that pound of tea, and gave Mm that glance, and said And you'll send it up soon for me, Mr. Congo, oh, wont you, please, Mr. Congo."

"Oh," said Edith, laughing, "this is too much; no one could be so absurd as that."

"Indeed, I am not exaggerating," said Henry Ancrum; "and I am certain that most people who have moved much about the world, must have met with some persons like the one I have been describing; but I am sorry to say her little follies (for they cannot be called more than follies, as page 170she meant no harm) affected other people besides herself. She and her husband were by no means well off, and the great, big, burly, good-natured fellow had often to dine off tiny mutton chops, or thin tough beef-steaks, in order to save the money required to give that nice little dinner party next week, or that small dance as a return for civilities received."

Our lovers conversed for some time longer, but as their conversation became of a kind much more interesting to themselves than to the world in general, we will not inflict it on our readers. At last, Malcolm Butler came to claim a dance for which Edith Mandeville was engaged to him, and she, casting a rueful glance at Henry Ancrum, was obliged to leave him.

When Henry was left alone, he saw Major page 171Brennan standing near him, and immediately went to speak to the old gentleman.

"Ah," said the Major, "that cousin of yours, Major Malcolm Butler, has been a deuced lucky fellow—a deuced lucky fellow, by Jove, sir! Did you hear that rub I gave him? Janfishan Horse, eh? Great despatch, eh? Janfishan Horse not engaged; but imposing appearance on left of line—ha, ha, ha!—contributed to success of action—ho, ho, ho! Why, some people say they ran away—ran away, sir. But then there was a wood between. Could not see, sir. Old man who signed that despatch dead now, sir. Brave old man, very brave. But perhaps his record in history will be that there never was a general who gained so many victories with so little credit to himself as a general. But let me see, where was I? Oh, Malcolm Butler—ha, ha, ha! Well, sir, got on by interest; Scotchman, page 172sir, Scotchman, and his brigadier a Scotchman, sir, mentioned him in every despatch. Now you listen to a word of truth from an old Company's officer. Never liked Queen's service—ha, ha, ha!—stuck up fellows—ho, ho, ho! When I was at Ghurrumpoor—but never mind, I'll tell you the truth. In the Queen's service there are three things to get a man on: money, interest, and impudence. If a man has all these, he must get on; but if in addition he is a Scotchman, sir—ha, ha, ha!—he must get to the top of the tree, for he will cling on to every other Scotchman, and they will all give him a helping hand, and he will end by being Lord Fitzhaggis at the very least. But, you will say, if he have not all these things, which is the best? Well, sir, money, money is the thing, because you can purchase over other people. Don't believe me, but look at the page 173Army List. Let a child look, and he will see in some regiments majors who have been less time in the service than some of the lieutenants. Purchased over them, sir, purchased over them. Saw a man the other day perfectly bald—ha, ha, ha!—heard that he had been purchased over fourteen times. No wonder fourteen fellows going over his head had taken his hair off—ho, ho, ho! But if you have not got money, sir, the next thing is interest. Get on the staff, sir. Old saying, once on the staff always on the staff. Perfectly true. Some people thought they were very clever in limiting staff-appointments to five years, so as to give more persons a chance of getting them, but this is perfectly evaded—perfectly evaded, sir. A man with interest holds an appointment for five years, and when that is over, has to vacate it; but he immediately gets another for another five page 174years. As I said before, do not believe me, but look in the Army List, and there you will see men who have not served beyond the rank of major in a regiment, but have gone from one staff-appointment to another, getting brevet rank as they went, till they are now generals, and perhaps some day may command a division or an army.

"Well, sir, if you have not money or interest, try impudence. I know a man, sir, whose regiment was all through the Crimean war.

"Well, sir, he stayed at home very comfortably, timed it very well, sir, arrived out just after the fall of Sebastopol, profited by all the promotion, now commands his regiment—ha, ha, ha!—and talks of his second winter in the Crimea—there's impudence, ho, ho, ho!

"Now, sir, to prove what I say, let any page 175gentleman, civil or military, dine at a mess and listen to the conversation, and he will hear of large sums paid for promotion. What Jack Forsythe paid for his troop, and the large amount over regulation which Colonel Smithers received when he sold out; or he will be told what interest that fellow Brown has, by Jove, sir! and how he has held one staff-appointment after another for years; but let him mention the word merit, and ask if any man has a chance of getting on in the British Army by merit, and he will be told, sir! that—with some exceptions—brilliant exceptions, sir! such as Napier, Clyde, and others, interest has hitherto had much more to do with promotion to high rank than merit. But we may see all this changed, sir!—ha, ha, ha!—if they do away with purchase, sir!—ho, ho, ho!

"But here comes the Doctor. I went page 176out on board of ship with that fellow, sir, and we used to have such arguments, but I always had the best of them—always beat him—knocked him into a cocked hat, sir. My wife called him one day the 'dirty doctor,' and he has never lost the name since. Did you ever hear anything so ridiculous as his French? Most ridiculous! I hate a man to be ridiculous—ha, ha, ha! ho, ho, ho!"

"Well, Doctor, what do you think of the ball?"

"Oh," replied the Doctor, pompously, "the ball is well enough. I was looking at the dancers, and the tout and sample was good; yes, I should say, tres bang, tres bang."

"I don't agree with you," said the Major; and Henry Ancrum left them on the verge of a hot argument, and went in search of Edith, whom he found with page 177her mother, Mrs. Smith, and a Mrs. Singleton, the wife of an officer, all engaged in an animated discussion on the subject of the last picnic to the north shore. Henry was anxious that Edith should dance a waltz just commencing, with him; but she pleaded fatigue, and said she wished to sit out that dance, and when he had sat down beside her whispered, "Do you know Mrs. Singleton? She appears to be a wonderful woman, to be connected with all the nobility, to be immensely rich, and to be able to do everything."

"Oh yes," replied Henry Ancrum, "I know her—she is great fun;" then turning to Mrs. Singleton, he said aloud, "Oh, Mrs. Singleton, I hear you steered that large boat splendidly for them at the picnic the other day. I did not know you were accustomed to steer."

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Mrs. Singleton, a tall woman, with large grey eyes a big mouth, and an extensive person, which she displayed with great liberality, placed herself in her most fascinating attitude, and replied—

"Accustomed to steering? oh, indeed I am; my father's estates extend for an immense distance along the west coast of Ireland, and often and often have I steered on the undulating waters of the broad Atlantic."

"Oh, indeed."

"Yes," continued Mrs. Singleton, half shutting her eyes as if the better to realize the pleasant remembrance; "how delicious it used to be to go sailing along in that splendid well-appointed yacht, filled with every comfort, and crowded with those dear sailors in straw hats and big blue shirt collars, and to visit distant places, and see new and strange scenes, and then to return page 179after all the excitement to the quiet of the dear old castle."

"But," said Mrs. Smith, slowly recovering from the stunning effect of all this greatness (why is it that women cannot bear to hear of one another's prosperity?) and trying to speak very slowly, calmly, and, as she herself would have called it, "genteelly" — "But what part of the west of Ireland are your father's estates in?"

"Oh," replied Mrs. Singleton, with a wave of her hand, as if to some distant horizon, "everywhere; scattered about, you know."

"But are they near any particular towns?"

"No, chiefly in the country in different counties, you know. Irish gentlemen's estates are seldom together, they have land in one county and land in another."

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"But what are the names of the estates?" persisted Mrs. Smith.

"Oh," said Mrs. Singleton, laughing, "you would never remember all the names, there is Ballymore and Ballybeg, and Kill this and Kill that; and, oh, thousands of them."

"But the castle, your father's castle; what was the name of the castle, dear?" (Mrs. Smith always said "dear" when she was getting rather angry with any of her female friends), "you surely will tell us the name of the castle?"

"Oh, the castle," said Mrs. Singleton, throwing her eyes up to the ceiling; "the dear castle! how I wish I was back there, out of this horrid country, where one suffers every kind of inconvenience, and where my poor husband is liable to be shot at any moment. Oh, Mrs. Smith, how I do envy you; you can never feel the anxiety I do, because page 181your husband, being a doctor, is never exposed to any danger."

"Not exposed to any danger?" cried Mrs. Smith, in intense excitement; "why, my husband says the doctors always attend the wounded under fire; and that there are so many, oh ever so many of them shot; and that then they have not got the excitement that makes it feel like nothing to the other people, you know. And I am surprised you can say such dreadful things, dear."

"Quite a mistake," replied Mrs. Singleton, coolly; "the doctors are always at the hospital, far in the rear; and my husband says—you know what a funny man my husband is—that if one of them does get behind a hill, and hear a few bullets whistle over him, he is sure to get the Victoria Cross."

"Oh, I never heard such wicked things!" page 182screamed Mrs. Smith. "Your husband, indeed! if he was so fond of fighting, why did he leave his regiment and go into the commissariat, where he is in no danger at all?"

"Oh, indeed he is," said Mrs. Singleton; "he has to go all about the country with provisions, and supplies, and all that sort of thing; and the other day, when these horrid Maories shot those two men in that dreadful swamp, you know, why he—he slept in the same swamp. Yes, actually in the same swamp—the night after."

"Well, I hope he did not catch cold, dear," retorted Mrs. Smith, sarcastically.

"Oh, no," replied Mrs, Singleton. "My dear husband is such a young man, you know, he is not likely to suffer so much as old people would. And, talking of that, I declare here comes Dr. Smith. I am sure page 183he thinks it time for you to go home; mind you wrap yourself up well, dear," she added, slightly imitating Mrs. Smith's voice.

And so it was; the Doctor had had quite enough of what he called the "sorry dansent," and insisted on the partner of his joys and sorrows going home with him; and that fair lady was obliged to leave the ballroom, just at the moment when she thought she was gaining an advantage over her adversary.

"Ah!" said Mrs. Singleton, turning to Mrs. Mandeville, after Mrs. Smith's departure, "you don't know, my dear Mrs. Mandeville, what a thing it is in the army to be rich, or to have a rich young husband; because the other ladies do get—I'm sure I don't know why it is—but they do get so envious, and so jealous—and, so, all that sort of thing. Oh, it's dreadful—dreadful page 184Now when the regiment returns to England, I'm sure I don't know what we shall do, because my husband and I have so much money, and we shall be able to keep so many carriages, and so many horses, and so many—so many everythings, you know—that the other officers' wives in the regiment, who can't do these things—poor creatures!—will be frantic, and, in fact, I think we shall be obliged to leave the regiment; indeed I have often thought of it, and I believe we must go, and that I must use my interest to get my husband an appointment at the Horse Guards,—not Adjutant-General, or Quartermaster-General, you know, because he might be thought too young for that—for he is so young, the poor dear fellow, only a few years older than myself—but Deputy or Assistant-Adjutant-General, or that sort of thing; and then we should live in dear page 185London, and have a house in Belgravia, and be among our own set, you know, and it would be so nice."

"You would not like to live in Ireland, then?" said Mrs. Mandeville, quietly.

"Ireland! oh, no," said Mrs. Singleton, languidly turning up her eyes, "not in Ireland—not to settle there, you know. My father goes there occasionally, just to look after his estates, but he generally lives in London or Paris."

"Come," said Ancrum to Edith, in a whisper, "let us go and dance; I can assure you it will take several turns round the room to get that woman's nonsense out of my head. Did you ever hear such rubbish? Why, I know her and her husband well, and I can tell you that when they return to England, if they are able to keep a one-horse chaise, or a vehicle like a page 186Brighton fly, it will be the utmost they can do, and that only by scraping and paring, and living on bread and cheese at home."