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The French Prisoners of Norman Cross - A Tale
by Arthur Brown
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Transcribed from the [1895] Hodder Brothers edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org

{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.

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