Read CHAPTER XII of Adventures and Recollections , free online book, by Bill o'th' Hoylus End, on ReadCentral.com.

REDUCED TO THE RANKS

In the meantime I had been tried by Court-martial, and reduced to the ranks. Sergeant Delaney, on entering the barracks, was put under arrest. He, too, had to undergo a second trial, and he, like myself, was relieved of his sergeantcy and put back to a private’s position. To me, however, this was no very great trouble, though to a certain extent it was a mark of disgrace. Dame Fortune soon began to smile upon me. I found a good friend in Captain Clifford Lloyd, the musketry instructor to the regiment. One fine morning, shortly after I was reduced to the ranks, and while I was engaged in preparing myself to mount guard, the Captain passed my room. “Ah!” says he, “you’re brushing up, I see.” “Yes, sir,” I answered; “I’m going to mount guard. This is the first time I have mounted guard since I was reduced to a private.” “Ah! well,” said Captain Clifford Lloyd, “you see what a fool you have been to get intoxicated. But I always said that any man can have a breakdown in his lifetime; and if ever you have another chance you will mind it?” “Yes, sir; I think I shall,” replied I. The Captain then walked away, but he had not gone many paces when he returned and said to me, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. One of my attendants, Johnson, wants a six weeks’ furlough to see his parents in Nottingham. I will let you have his place during his absence if you will take it. You will not have to wait at the mess, but to accompany me at the targets fit up the targets, paint them, signal, and see that all is right for shooting.” “Thank you, sir,” said I, from a heart full of thanks; “I shall be ready when called upon, sir.” The Captain then went away, and I proceeded to complete my equipment for going on guard. I was on the first post of the barrack guard. I had not been walking sentry “go” for many minutes ere a relief man came to take my place, telling me that I was wanted by Captain Lloyd. I promptly repaired to the Captain’s quarters, and Captain Lloyd told me that he had given Johnson permission to take his leave on the next day. “Go,” said he to me, “and tell the sergeant to strike you off the mess, as you are now my fatigue man for two months at least.” I followed out the instructions. My new duties were very agreeable in one sense, for while being engaged only three days per week (that being as much as the regiment could put in at ball-firing practice) I had full pay. The next morning we went to business. I hoisted the danger flags to keep trespassers away from the range, and, with help from another man, I got the targets in working order. The range was on the seaward side of Ayr, and the targets had always to be removed before the tide came in. I used to take my paint cans (the paint was used to “face” the targets), danger flags, &c., at night to a fisherman’s hut at the mouth of the river Doon. The fisherman and his “guid leddy” were a very hospitable couple, and before I completed my visits to their dwelling, I got on very friendly terms with the family. To please the children I gave them coppers occasionally; of a penny the children thought about as much as a child in Keighley thinks of a shilling. Then I made “bargains” with the wife, exchanging money for “pulls” of brandy and “plugs” of tobacco. Her husband, it would seem, when he met with foreign vessels out at sea, would exchange with them fresh-water fish for brandy, tobacco, &c., so that the family had generally a good stock of these commodities on hand. In my new sphere of duty I had plenty of time hanging on my hands, quite ample to enable me to cultivate my muse. One of the pieces which I wrote was my verses commencing:

In a pleasant little valley,
Near the ancient town of Ayr,
Where the laddies they are honest,
And the lassies they are fair;
Where the Doon in all her splendour
Ripples sweetly thro’ the wood,
And on her banks not long ago
A little cottage stood.
’Twas there in all her splendour,
On a January morn,
Appeared old Colia’s genius,
When Robert Burns was born.

BREAKING A FIERY HORSE

With the exception of one rather vivid experience, my career as attendant at the targets was devoid of any particular incident. One afternoon, when I had just finished my preparations for the shooting, Captain Clifford Lloyd came up to me leading an iron-grey horse. “Come here,” says he, “and mount this steed; and take her a mile or two down the beach.” The horse, it appeared, had just come to hand from Bohemia, and was of a very fiery disposition. The captain said she had not received her baptism of fire. I did according to orders, and took the fiery steed along the coast. She proved a very “wicked” animal, and a few yards prancing and capering made me heartily wish that I was safely on terra firma. Suddenly a volley was fired, and as suddenly the horse gave such a lurch that I was within an ace of being pitched where I wanted to get though not quite so precipitately. Volley after volley was fired, and I lost all command over the snorting steed, which was flitting along at the rate of so many miles an hour. Had it not been for a heavy guard-cloak which I was wearing, and which by wrapping itself about the horse’s body assisted me to keep my seat, I should most certainly have been pitched to the ground. In my anxious moments I seriously thought of John Gilpin, and compared his famous ride to my own:

Away went Gilpin, neck or nought;
Away went hat and wig;
He little thought when he set out
Of running such a rig.

“Circumstances alter cases” we are told, and I compared my experience to that of John Gilpin in the following lines:

Away went Hoylus, neck or nought,
In spite of wind or tide;
He little thought, when he set out,
Of having such a ride.
He held the reigns so tight and fast
As ne’er were held before;
He took an oath if he got down
He’d never mount once more.
His cloak was like a parachute;
It kept him on his steed.
For ne’er a horse from here to Hull
Ere ran with such a speed.
He cursed aloud the unlucky star
That tempted him to roam;
And wished the de’il had got his horse,
And he were safe at home.

The horse wheeled, and gradually made towards the starting-point. As I drew within sight of the captain, he evidently comprehended my dangerous position, and came to my aid, shouting as he ran along, “Hold on; halt, if you can.” But I could not halt, and it took me all my time to hold on. The animal was about at the fag end, and allowed the captain to take the bridle. When Captain Lloyd told me to dismount, I can truly say that I obeyed his injunction more readily than I did the one to mount. I thanked my stars that I had come off as fortunately as I did. The captain took my place in the saddle. He had had a good deal of experience in horse-riding. Setting his spurs into the animal’s sides, he was instantly off like the wind. He went miles on the beach, and when he returned the horse was foaming at the mouth and trembling like an aspen leaf. To be sure, the “wicked” steed had had a successful breaking in if she had never had one before, and, when I ventured to hold the bridle, was as quiet as a lamb.

BACK TO ENGLAND

I acted as attendant at the targets about six months, and at the end of that time the regiment received orders to leave Ayr, and proceed to England. The day came for our departure, and there were the usual handshakings and embraces at the parting places. Our destination was Pontefract. Half of the number of the regiment accomplished the journey by boat, while the other half among which was your humble servant went by rail. As is usual in the circumstances, some of the men had taken unto themselves wives during their residence in Scotland. This they had done in an illegitimate or unsanctioned way, not having sought the sanction of the Colonel of the regiment; so that there was some difficulty in smuggling the Scotch lasses with the regiment. As we were leaving Ayr there was, I remember, a young fellow a wild, uncouth youth who came to me and begged me to get him over to England with the regiment. I told him that if he would get his hair cut and tidy himself I would provide him with a soldier’s uniform; if he donned himself in that there would be a possibility of getting him over. He accordingly got his hair cut, and when he had put himself into a spare uniform which I had got out, he looked quite a different individual. We all went to the station, and the train started. At Carlisle we were allowed a “hot dinner;” this is usually provided for soldiers when travelling at the end of every hundred miles. But instead of a hot dinner, it turned out this time to be a cold one sandwiches, &c. In the compartment in which I was riding there were several petticoat followers, and, of course, the commissariat did not provide for their wants. Therefore we set ourselves planning and scheming in order to obtain some dinner for them. When we got to the refreshment room, a few of us went in at the usual entrance, obtained our regular allowance, and retired through the back door. We then went round to the front again, and succeeded in getting a second allowance, thus providing for the wives of the soldiers. One of the women was the Scotch lassie I mentioned previously, and who inquired so anxiously about me as I was showing a policeman the way to the Ayr Town Hall one evening. The journey was resumed, and Pontefract safely reached early next morning. After a few days waiting the remainder of the regiment, who had come over by boat, arrived. They had had a very rough time of it on the sea, and several of them told me they never expected to reach England. The sea was very rough, and during one part of the passage Captain Selborne (of N Company) was heard shouting to the soldiers to kneel down and pray as the vessel was going to be wrecked. The regiment spent a few days in Pontefract and was then disbanded. I had begun to be rather homesick, and as a favour Captain Clifford Lloyd allowed me to have my pay (which amounted to a nice sum, as, having lived with Captain Lloyd, I had been able to save practically the whole of my allowance) early, and I started for home a day or two in advance of the rest. Wearing my uniform I walked on to Featherstone, where I got into a train, as I thought, bound for Keighley. I happened to get into the compartment where Mr Ripley, of Ripley’s dyeworks, Bradford, was riding. We entered into conversation, and when I told him that I belonged to Keighley, he surprised me by saying I had got into the wrong train. The train, as I found, went no further than Bradford, and there was not one forward to Keighley at that late hour. Mr Ripley, however, took me to the Great Northern Hotel, and introduced me to the landlady, telling her that I was a young soldier, and ordering her to provide a bed for me for the night, and to let me have anything I might ask for in the way of food. Next morning I buckled myself up for going forward to Keighley. But, thought I, I must not go home in my regimentals. So I went to a clothier’s shop, and exchanged my uniform for a fashionable suit of brown, and then I looked like a thorough foreigner. I have hitherto forgot to mention a Scotch cap which I bought in Edinburgh to serve as a memento of my visit to “Auld Reekie.” Up to now I had not worn the cap, but I now put it on, and continued to wear it for a long while. “My old Scotch cap” led me to pen the following verses:

MY OLD SCOTCH CAP

I met thee first in happy days,
When youthful fire was all ablaze,
When lovely sun spread forth its rays
On bud and sap.
And now with pride I on thee gaze,
My old Scotch cap.

Were ever I ashamed at all,
In church or chapel, feast or ball,
In cottage, park, or famous hall,
O’ thee, old chap?
’Mongst rich or poor, or great or small,
My old Scotch cap?

I still remember with a smile
When we sailed from the coast o’ Kyle,
And took a boat for Erin’s Isle
I took a nap
Thou wert my pillow all the while,
My brave Scotch cap.

I mind the night we came across
That dreadful common, called the Moss,
’Midst wind and rain, and tempest tossed
And thunderclap
I did begin to fear thy loss,
My old Scotch cap.

And like Ajax, in ancient days,
When he defied the lightning’s rays,
I sought thee, ’midst the glowing blaze,
And found thy trap;
And caught thee in my fond embrace
My old Scotch cap.

On terra firma or on sea,
Old cap I ken thy pedigree;
And if we separated be
Death’s cord shall snap
For I will ne’er abandon thee,
My old Scotch cap.

I reached Keighley safely; my parents again killed the fatted calf, and right loyally did they welcome their prodigal son. I kept from the fact that I had been a soldier while I had been away, and for a long time very few people knew what I had really been doing during my three years’ absence from my native town. Everybody complimented me on my sleek and robust appearance. In due course I applied to Mr Edwin Hattersley, manufacturer, North Brook Works, for a job at warp-dressing, and he readily provided me with one. For a few weeks I was made a sort of god of among my friends.