Read CHAPTER XXIV. - I EXCHANGE THE LAUREL FOR THE OLIVE. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

Thus, in hospital in Ciudad Rodrigo, ended my first campaign; and here in a few words may end my story.  The surgeons, having their hands full, and detecting no opportunities of credit in a small bugler with a splintered ankle, sent me down to Belem, splinters and splints and all, to recover:  and at Belem hospital, just as the surgeons were beginning to congratulate themselves that, although never likely to be fit again for active service, I might in time make a fairly active hospital orderly, the splinters began to work through the flesh; and for two months I lay on my back in bed and suffered more pain than has been packed into the rest of my life.

The curious part of it was that, having extracted the final splinter, they promptly invalided me home.  From the day I limped on board the Cumberland transport in the Tagus, leaning on two crutches, I began to mend:  and within twelve months ­as may hereafter be recounted ­I was back again, hale and hearty, marching with no perceptible limp, on the soil of Spain.

But I must not, after all, conclude in this summary fashion.  And why?  Because scarcely had I set foot in the Cumberland when a voice from somewhere amidships exclaimed: 

“My blessed Parliament!”

I looked up and found myself face to face with ­Ben Jope!

“And you’ve grown!” he added, as we shook hands.

“But Ben, I thought you were married and settled?”

He turned his eyes away uneasily.

“Whoever said so told you a thundering lie.”

“Nobody told me,” said I; “but when you left me, I understood ­”

“My lad,” he interrupted hoarsely, “I couldn’t do it.  I went straight back, same as you saw me start ­now don’t say a word till you’ve heard the end o’t! ­I went straight back, and up to door without once looking back.  There was a nice brass knocker to the door (I never denied the woman had some good qualities); so I fixed my eyes hard on it and said to myself, if there’s peace to be found in this world ­which was a Bible text that came into my head ­the heart that is humble, which is the case with me, may look for it here.  And with that I shut my eyes and let fly at it, though every knock brought my heart into my mouth.  Now guess:  who d’ye think answered the door?  Why, that ghastly boy of hers!  There he stood, all freckles and pimples; and says he, grinning:” 

     ’Mr. Benjamin Jope
      Moderately well, I hope.’

“I couldn’t stand it.  I turned tail and ran for my life.”

“But was that quite honourable?” I asked.

“Ain’t I tellin’ you to wait till I’ve done?  You don’t suppose as it ended there, do you?  No; I passed my word to that sister of mine, and my word I must keep.  So I went back to Symonds’s ­who was that pleased to see me again you’d have thought I’d been half round the world ­and I ordered up three-pennorth of rum, and pens and ink to the same amount:  and this is what I wrote, and I hope you’ll get it by heart before you’re in a hurry again to accuse Ben Jope of dishonourable conduct ­’Respected Madam,’ I wrote, ’this is to enquire if you’ll marry me.  Better late than never, and please don’t trouble to reply.  I’ll call for an answer when I wants it.  Yours to command, B. Jope.  N.B.:  We might board the boy out.’  Symonds found a messenger, and I told him on no account to wait for an answer.  Now, I hope you call that acting straight?”

“Well, but what was the answer?” I asked.

He hung his head.  “To tell you the truth, I ha’n’t called for it yet.  You notice I didn’t specify no time; and being inclined for a v’yage just then, I tramped it down to Falmouth and shipped aboard the Marlborough, Post Office Packet, for Lisbon.”

“And you’ve been dodging at sea ever since,” said I severely.

“If you’d only seen that boy!” protested Mr. Jope.

“I’ll call with you and see him as soon as ever we reach Plymouth,” I said; “but you passed your word, and your word you must keep.”

“You’re sure ’twill be safe for you at Plymouth?” he asked, and (as I thought) a trifle mischievously.  “How about that Jew?”

“Oh, that’s all cleared up!”

He sighed.  “Some folks has luck.  To be sure, he may be dead,” he added, with an attempt at cheerfulness.

“The Jew?”

“No, the boy.”

I could hold out no hope of this, and he consoled himself with anticipating the time we would spend together at Symonds’s.  “For if you’re invalided home, they’ll discharge you on leave as soon as we reach port.”

“Unless they keep me in hospital,” said I.

“Then you’ll have to make a cure of it on the voyage.”

“I feel like that, already.  But the mischief is I’ve no home to go to.”

“There’s Symonds’s.”

“I might give that as an address, to be sure.”

“Damme!” cried Ben, as a bright thought struck him, “why couldn’t I adopt you?”

“The lady might find that an inducement,” said I modestly.

“I wasn’t exactly seeing it in that light,” he confessed.  “But, with a boy apiece, she and I might start fair.  You could punch his head, brother like.”

The Cumberland weighed anchor on the 2nd of May, and dropped it again under Staddon Heights on the 29th of that month.  To my delight, the garrison surgeon at Plymouth pronounced me fit to travel:  my foot only needed rest, he said; and he asked me where my home lay.

I had anticipated this, and answered that a letter addressed to me under care Miss Amelia Plinlimmon, at the Genevan Foundling Hospital, would certainly find me.  And so I was granted two months’ leave of absence to recover from my wound.

“But you don’t mean to tell me,” said Mr. Jope as we strolled down Union Street together, “that you haven’t a home or relations in this world?”

“Neither one nor the other,” said I; “but I have picked up a few friends.”

As he drew westward I noticed that he sensibly retarded his pace:  but he had forsworn visiting Symonds’s until, as he put it, we knew the worst; and I marched him relentlessly up to the door of doom with its immaculate brass knocker.  And when, facing it, he shut his eyes, I put out a hand and knocked for him.

But it was I who shrank back when the door opened:  for the person who opened it was ­Mr. George! ­in pigtail and wooden leg unchanged, but in demeanour (so far as agitation allowed me to remark it) more saturnine than ever.

“Do the Widow Babbage live here?” stammered Mr. Jope.

“She do not,” answered Mr. George slowly, and added, “worse luck!”

“Is ­is she dead?”

“No, she ain’t,” answered Mr. George, and pulled himself up.

“Then what’s the matter with her?”

“There ain’t nothing the matter with her, as I know by,” answered Mr. George once more, in a non-committal tone.  “But I’m her ’usband.”

“You ­Mr. George?” I gasped.

Thereupon he recognised me, and his eyes grew round, yet expressed no immoderate surprise.

“A nice dance you’ve led everybody!” he said slowly:  “but I was never hopeful about you, I’m thankful to say.”

“Where is Miss Plinlimmon living?” I asked.  “Has she left the Hospital too?”

“She didn’t leave it,” he answered.  “It left her.  The Hospital’s scat.”

“Eh?”

“Bust ­sold up ­come to an end.  Scougall’s retired on the donations.  He feathered his nest.  And Miss Plinlimmon’s gone down into Cornwall to live with a Major Brooks ­a kind of relation of hers, so far as I can make out.  They tell me she’ve come into money.”

I had a question on my lips, but Mr. Jope interrupted.

“I haven’t the pleasure of your acquaintance, sir,” he began politely, addressing Mr. George, “and by the look of ’ee, you must date from before my time.  But speakin’ as one man to another, how do you get along with that boy?”

The door was slammed in our faces.

Mr. Jope and I regarded one another.  “Ben,” said I, “it’s urgent, or
I wouldn’t leave you.  I must start at once for Minden Cottage.”

His face fell.  “And I was planning a little kick-up at Symonds’s,” he said ruefully; “a fiddle or two ­to celebrate the occasion; nothing out o’ the way.  The first time you dropped on us, if you remember, we was not quite ourselves, owing to poor dear Bill:  and I’d ha’ liked you to form a cheerfuller idea of the place.  But if ’tis duty, my lad, England expec’s and I’m not gainsaying.  Duty, is it?”

“Duty it is,” said I.  “You walked up to yours nobly, and I must walk on to mine.”

So we shook hands, and I turned my face westward for the ferry.

I had over-calculated my strength, and limped sorely the last mile or two before reaching Minden Cottage.  Miss Plinlimmon opened the door to me, and I forgot my pain for an instant and ran into her arms.  But behind her lay an empty house.

“The Major is in the garden,” she said.  “You will find him greatly changed, I expect.  Even since my coming I have noticed the alteration.”

I walked through to the summer-house.  The Major was fingering his Virgil, but laid it down and shook hands gravely.  I had much to tell him, and he seemed to listen; but I do not think that he heard.

Miss Plinlimmon ­dear soul, unknowingly ­had prepared for me the very room to which Isabel had led me on the night of my first arrival, and in which she had knelt beside me.  Miss Plinlimmon had scarcely known Isabel, and I found her cheerfulness almost distressing when she came to wish me good night.

“And I have composed a stanza upon you,” she whispered, “if you care for such things any longer.  But you must understand that it has been, so to speak, improvised, and ­what with the supper and one thing and another ­I have had no time to polish it.”

I said sleepily that, unpolished though it were, I wished to hear it thus; and here it is: 

    “Wounded hero, you were shattered
        In the ankle ­do not start! 
     Much, much more it would have mattered
        In the immediate neighbourhood of the heart. 
     The bullet sped comparatively wide;
     And you survive, to be Old England’s pride.”