The old war horse has come off active service. It is now confined to a lovely croft, surrounded by beautiful trees, pleasant grounds, good water, plenty of provisions, and a warm shelter against adverse winds. The numerous battles in which he has been engaged through a long life have scarred and wounded the old campaigner; the shells have so shattered the knees that they knuckle down, and are no longer to be relied upon. Besides the eyesight is somewhat dim with the flashes of powder exploded in many a fierce battle; the hair, once raven black, has turned white and straggling; and the slender and graceful form of youth is somewhat shoddy.
Whoever could have thought that this fine old gentleman, would ever have grown old, or that this strong character would ever have succumbed to physical weaknesses? So strong in individuality, so determined in principle, so forcible in character was he, that he seemed like Ajax, able to defy the gods.
What a fighter! — never sheathing his sword so long as a challenger came forward, giving and accepting no quarter. Up to old age, he was always the victor, if not by entirely destroying his opponent, then by cleverly knocking him out of the arena.
He had nursed himself to believe that he was always in the right, a dangerous thing to do; he had no pity for those who opposed him, nor any patience with their arguments, but steadily went on to exterminate the enemy, and all for what he called the good of the country and the happiness of mankind.
With this story picture before him, the gentle reader will be surprised that underneath all this haughty exterior there was as gentle a heart as that of a woman’s, full of as much sympathy, and as warm as a summer’s sun. I freely admit that he had a strange way of hiding this better side, and did much at times to make this better nature look cold, cruel, and insolent; and yet nothing could be farther from the mark. The moment the strong warrior gave up the fight you had a man capable of the highest sentiment.
He started in youth as a comparatively poor dyer, a lad of a large family. He had to do a man’s work when totally unfit; in fact, he was more like going off in a consumption than living, as he has done, to build up a reputation and a great business.
He was always so busy; one could hardly think him capable of a romance, which was all the more beautiful because he was despised, and the girl was one of the most beautiful at the head of the valley. But, what was more, she was one of the best in disposition and the kindest in heart. Wealth and position did not turn her head. Virtue was all her own, and kindness her constant companion.
Her father was a rich, stately man. He had no dealings with the lower order of things. Church and King were his motto, and he vowed destruction to all and sundry who opposed. Not that he was a bad fellow. Oh, no! The unfortunate training and the bad methods they adopted in those days were responsible for those mistakes. A good Tory to-day has the best of it because he has not promised too much, and has fulfilled more than was ever expected of him. He is a sort of persona grata to every class in society. Not so then. If this poor villager ventured to oppose the proud father in Church and State, however could he expect to gain his lovely daughter?
Hence comes the romance and the struggle. Our hero was determined and resolute.
When a dispute arose about the burial ground, without one moment’s hesitation he called the people to the churchyard, mounted a tombstone, and warmly denounced the powers that were, of which the father of his beloved sweetheart was one. He moved a trenchant resolution against them, and, what is more, carried it with a large majority.
At Easter it was just the same, and the fight for the people’s warden was prodigious. But it was at Parliamentary elections that the great tug of war came. The Tory party was then the stronger, and the odds were great against the Progressives, or anything this young enthusiast could do. And what injured his chance of winning the fair young bride did not put him any forrader with the popular cause. When he could steal a clandestine interview in the lovely grounds above the murmuring stream that ground the corn for a starving people, he in such a moment told of his attachment to listening ears. “But,” said she, “why do you torment my dear father on questions which need not come between you and I? If you would only let him alone our union would present no difficulties, but would be as sweet and pleasant as the flowers which adorn these pleasant gardens where we sit. Only the other day he told me never should I have his consent to marry the bitter enemy of his life”; and she whispered with tears, “If I do marry you, I shall have to be cut off from a fond mother and home. Why should you make my young life so full of sorrow, when it might be brimming over with sweetness, joy, and bliss?” Then he answered that all the world was nothing to him. Life would be of no use without the dear object of his heart. He would welcome death rather than her loss. Anything, everything, would he give up to her but his liberty, which must remain, and his principles must prevail. Ask anything but these, and he would strive with all his might to grant, and with all his fervour pray and work for. With these fears and doubts they tore themselves asunder, pledging to meet again, with fond hopes of not always being kept apart.
With many strong resolves the young man vowed to take his bride. The proud father determined that his daughter should never be handed over to the enemy. On this the gentleman felt safe, and here on his own grounds he would triumph. Wait a bit — not so certain, my dear sir! When the warm affection of a. young heart has been given over into the safe keeping of a reciprocal bosom, it is not so easily withdrawn. The resourcefulness that came to hand in such an emergency never fails true and faithful lovers, so these two solemnly pledged themselves (no matter what the consequence) to marry on the first occasion which presented itself, and in such cases Providence invariably comes to the rescue. Early one day the two were united in what was a most happy marriage, for which the father never forgave the son-in-law. In after life he would never go to the house if it were possible for the husband to be there, and I don’t believe the old gentleman ever spoke to him again.
What queer things in life! How curiously sums work out; and what events follow each other in quick succession!
In this case the lady left the hall, and with it greatness and wealth, for honour and the cottage; but the owner of the latter ultimately made it into a mansion for the comfort of his graceful wife and happy children. They lived a charmed life, until death took the dear one away, leaving a vacant spot never to be filled; but the sacred memory of a sainted mother is ever cherished by the son, her girls, and the disconsolate husband.
Where is the romance? Alas! the wealth, hall, lands, mills, and business have all gone from the rich father’s family — not one left to tell the tale; and if it had not been for the despised and rejected son-in-law there would not have been a gleaning left to keep up a remnant of the race.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden