« PreviousContinue »
RICHARD DOUBLEDICK'S STORY.-DICKENS.
In the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, a relative of mine came limping down, on foot, to this town of Chatham. I call it this town, because if anybody present knows to a nicety where Rochester ends and Chatham begins, it is more than I do. He was a poor traveller, with not a farthing in his pocket. He sat by the fire in this very room, and he slept one night in a bed that will be occupied to-night by some one here.
My relative came down to Chatham, to enlist in a cavalry regiment, if a cavalry regiment would have him; if not, to take King George's shilling from any corporal or sergeant who would put a bunch of ribbons in his hat. His object was, to but, he thought he might as well ride to death as be at the trouble of walking.
My relative's Christian name was Richard, but he was better known as Dick. He dropped his own surname on the road down, and took up that of Doubledick. He was passed as Richard Doubledick; age, twenty-two; height, five feet ten; native place, Exmouth; which he had never been near in his life. There was no cavalry in Chatham when he limped over the bridge here with half a shoe to his dusty foot, so he enlisted into a regiment of the line, and was glad to get drunk and forget all about it.
You are to know that this relative of mine had gone wrong and run wild. His heart was in the right place, but it was sealed up. He had been betrothed to a good and beautiful girl whom he had loved better than she-or perhaps even hebelieved; but, in an evil hour, he had given her cause to say to him, solemnly, “Richard, I will never marry any other man. I will live single for your sake, but Mary Marshall's lips”-her name was Mary Marshall—“never address another word to you on earth. Go, Richard! Heaven forgive you!" This finished him. This brought him down to Chatham. This made him Private Richard Doubledick, a deep determination to be shot.
There was not a more dissipated and reckless soldier in Chatham barracks, in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, than Private Richard Doubledick. He associated with the dregs of every regiment, he was as seldom sober as he could be, and was constantly under punishment. "It became clear to the whole barracks, that Private Richard Doubledick would very soon be flogged.
Now, the Captain of Richard Doubledick's company was a young gentleman not above five years his senior, whose eyes had an expression in them which affected Private Richard Doubledick in a very remarkable way. They were bright, handsome, dark eyes—what are called laughing eyes, generally, and, when serious, rather steady than severe—but, they were the only eyes now left in his narrowed world that Private Richard Doubledick could not stand. Unabashed by evil report and punishment, defiant of everything else and everybody else, he had but to know that those eyes looked at him for a moment, and he felt ashamed. He could not so much as salute Captain Taunton in the street, like any other officer. He was reproached and confused-troubled by the mere possibility of the captain's looking at him. In his worst moments he would rather turn back and go any distance out of his way, than encounter those two handsome, dark, bright eyes.
One day, when Private Richard Doubledick came out of the Black Hole, where he had been passing the last eight-and-forty hours, and in which retreat he spent a good deal of his time, he was ordered to betake himself to Captain Taunton's quarters. In the stale and squalid state of a man just out of the black hole, he had less fancy than ever for being seen by the captain; but, he was not so mad yet as to disobey orders, and consequently went up to the terrace overlooking the parade-ground, where the officers' quarters were; twisting and breaking in his hands, as he went along, a bit of the straw that had formed the decorative furniture of the black hole.
“Come in!” cried the Captain, when he knocked with his knuckles at the door. Private Richard Doubledick pulled off his
cap, took a stride forward, and felt very conscious that he stood in the light of the dark bright eyes.
There was a silent pause. Private Richard Doubledick had put the straw in his mouth, and was gradually doubling it up into his windpipe and choking himself.
“Doubledick," said the Captain, “Do you know where you are going to ???
"To ruin, sir ?" faltered Doubledick.
Yes,” returned the Captain. “And very fast.” Private Richard Doubledick turned the straw of the black hole in his mouth, and made a miserable salute of acquiescence.
“Doubledick," said the Captain, “since I entered his Majesty's service, a boy of seventeen, I have been pained to see many men of promise going that road; but, I have never been so pained to see a man determined to make the shameful journey, as I have been, ever since you joined the regiment, to see you."
Private Richard Doubledick began to find a film stealing over the floor at which he looked ; also to find the legs of the Captain's breakfast-table turning crooked, as if he saw them through water.
“I am only a common soldier, sir,” said he. “It signifies very little what such a poor brute comes to."
"You are a man,” returned the Captain with grave indignation, “ of education and superior advantages; and if you say that, meaning what you say, you have sunk lower than I had believed. How low that must be, I leave you to consider; knowing what I know of your disgrace, and seeing what I see.”
“I hope to get shot soon, sir,” said Private Richard Doubledick; “ and then the regiment, and the world together, will be rid of me."
The legs of the table were becoming very crooked. Doubledick, looking up to steady his vision, met the eyes that had so strong an influence over him. He put his hand before his own eyes, and the breast of his disgrace-jacket swelled as if it would fly asunder.
“I would rather,” said the young Captain, "see this in you, Doubledick, than I would see five thousand guineas counted out upon this table for a gift to my good mother. Have you a mother?"
“I am thankful to say she is dead, sir.”
“ If your praise," returned the Captain, “were sounded from mouth to mouth through the whole regiment, through the whole army, through the whole country, you would wish she had lived, to say with pride and joy, 'He is my son !'”
“Spare me, sir;" said Doubledick. “She would never have heard any good of me.
She would never have had any pride and joy in owning herself my mother. Love and compassion she might have had, and would have always had, I know; but not
Spare me, sir! I am a broken wretch, quite at your mercy !” And he turned his face to the wall, and stretched out his imploring hand.
“My friend began the Captain. “God bless you, sir!" sobbed Private Richard Doubledick.
“You are at the crisis of your fate. Hold your course unchanged, a little longer, and you know what must happen. I know even better than you can imagine, that after that has happened, you are lost. No man who could shed those tears could bear those marks.”
"I fully believe it, sir," in a low, shivering voice, said Private Richard Doubledick.
“But a man in any station can do his duty,” said the young Captain," and, in doing it, can earn his own respect, even if his case should be so very unfortunate and so very rare, that he can earn no other man's. A common soldier, poor brute though you called him just now, has this advantage in the stormy times we live in, that he always does his duty before a host of sympathising witnesses. Do
doubt that he may so do it as to be extolled through a whole regiment, through a whole army, through a whole country? Turn while you may yet retrieve the past, and try.”
“ I will! I ask for only one witness, sir,” cried Richard, with a bursting heart. “I understand you.
I will be a watchful and a faithful one.”
I have heard from Private Richard Doubledick's own lips, that he dropped down upon his knee, kissed that officer's hand, arose, and went out of the light of the dark bright eyes, an altered man.
In that year, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, the French were in Egypt, in Italy, in Germany, where not ? Napoleon Buonaparte had likewise begun to stir against us in India, and most men could read the signs of the great troubles that were coming on. In the very next year, when we formed an alliance with Austria against him, Captain Taunton's regiment was on service in India. And there was not a finer noncommissioned officer in it-no, nor in the whole line-than Corporal Richard Doubledick.
In eighteen hundred and one, the Indian army were on the coast of Egypt. Next year was the year of the proclamation of the short peace, and they were recalled. had then become well known to thousands of men, that wherever Captain Taunton, with the dark bright eyes, led, there, close to him, ever at his side, firm as a rock, true as the sun, and brave as Mars, would be certain to be found, while life beat in their hearts, that famous soldier, Sergeant Richard Doubledick.
Eighteen hundred and five, besides being the great year of Trafalgar, was a year of hard fighting in India. That year saw such wonders done by a Sergeant-Major, who cut his way, single-handed, through a solid mass of men, recovered the colors of his regiment which had been seized from the hand of a poor boy shot through the heart, and rescued his wounded captain, who was down, and in a very jungle of horses' hoofs and sabres—saw such wonders done, I say, by this brave SergeantMajor, that he was specially made the bearer of the colors he had won; and Ensign Richard Doubledick had risen from the ranks.
Sorely cut up in every battle, but always reinforced by the bravest of men—for, the fame of following the old colors, shot through and through, which Ensign Richard Doubledick had saved, inspired all breasts-this regiment fought its way through the Peninsular war, up to the investment of Badajos in eighteen hundred and twelve. Again and again it had been cheered through the British ranks until the tears had sprung into men's eyes at the mere hearing of the mighty British voice so exultant in their valor; and there was not a drummer-boy but knew the legend, that wherever the two friends, Major Taunton, with the dark bright eyes, and Ensign Richard Doubledick, who was devoted to him, were seen to go, there the boldest spirits in the English army became wild to follow.
One day, at Badajos--not in the great storming, but in repelling a hot sally of the besieged upon our men at work in the trenches, who had given way, the two officers found themselves hurrying forward, face
to face, against a party of French infantry who made a stand. There was an officer at their head, encouraging his men—a courageous, handsome, gallant officer of fiveand-thirty-whom Doubledick saw hurriedly, almost momentarily, but saw well. He particularly noticed this officer waving his sword, and rallying his men with an eager and excited cry, when they fired in obedience to his gesture, and Major Taunton dropped.
It was over in ten minutes more, and Doubledick returned to the spot where he had laid the best friend man ever had, on a coat spread upon the wet clay. Major Taunton's uniform was opened at the breast, and on his shirt were three little spots of blood.
“Dear Doubledick,” said he, “ I am dying.”
“For the love of Heaven, no !” exclaimed the other, kneeling down beside him, and passing his arm round his neck to raise his head. “ Taunton! My preserver, my guardian angel, my