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Held Fast For England - A Tale of the Siege of Gibraltar (1779-83)
by G. A. Henty
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"Your uncle will be delighted to see you back," he said. "He is for ever talking about you; and there wasn't a prouder man in the city of London than he was, when the despatches were published and your name appeared, twice, as having rendered great service. He became a little afraid, at one time, that you might take to soldiering, altogether. But I told him that I thought there was no fear of that. After you had once refused to take a midshipman's berth—with its prospect of getting away from school—I did not think it likely that you would be tempted, now."

"No; the General told Captain O'Halloran that he would get me a commission, if I liked; but I had not the least ambition that way. I have had a fine opportunity of seeing war, and have had a jolly time of it; and now I am quite ready to settle down, here."

Mr. Bale was delighted, on his return, to find Bob. It was just the hour for closing, and he insisted upon Mr. Medlin stopping to take supper with him. Bob had written, whenever there was an opportunity of sending letters; but many of these had never come to hand, and there was much to tell, and talk about.

"Well, I am thoroughly satisfied with the success of our experiment, Mr. Medlin," Mr. Bale said, next day. "Bob has turned out exactly what I hoped he would—a fine young fellow, and a gentleman. He has excellent manners, and yet there is nothing foppish, or affected about him."

"I had no fear of that, with Bob, Mr. Bale; and indeed, Gibraltar during the siege must have been a bad school for anyone to learn that sort of thing. Military men may amuse themselves with follies of that kind, when they have nothing better to do; but it is thrown aside, and their best qualities come out, when they have such work to do as they have had there.

"Yes, I agree with you, sir. The experiment has turned out capitally; and your nephew is, in every respect, a far better man than he would have been, if he had been kept mewed up here these three years. He is a young fellow that anyone—I don't care who he is—might feel proud of."

So Bob took up his duties in the office, and his only complaint there was that he could hardly find enough to do. Mr. Bale had relaxed his close attention to the business, since he had taken Mr. Medlin into the firm; but as that gentleman was perfectly capable of carrying it on, single handed, Bob's share of it was easy enough. It was not long before he complained to his uncle that he really did not find enough to do.

"Well, Bob, you shall come down with me to a place I have bought, out by Chislehurst. It is a tidy little estate. I bought it a year ago. It is a nice distance from town—just a pleasant ride, or drive, up. I am thinking of moving my establishment down there, altogether; and as you will have it some day, I should like your opinion of it. It isn't quite ready, yet. I have been having it thoroughly done up, but the men will be out in a week or two."

Bob was greatly pleased with the house, which was a fine one, and very pleasantly situated, in large grounds.

"There are seventy or eighty acres of land," Mr. Bale said. "They are let to a farmer, at present. He only has them by the year; and I think it will be an amusement to you to take them in hand, and look after them yourself. I know a good many people living about here, and I have no doubt we shall have quite as much society as we care for."

Another month and they were established at Chislehurst, and Bob found the life there very pleasant. He generally drove his uncle up to town in the morning; getting to the office at ten o'clock, and leaving it at five in the afternoon. On his return home there was the garden to see about, and the stables. Very often his uncle brought a city friend or two home with him, for the night; and they soon had a large circle of acquaintances in the neighbourhood.

"I should like you to marry young, Bob," Mr. Bale said to him one day. "I did not marry young; and so, you see, I have never married at all; and have wasted my life shockingly, in consequence. When you are ready to marry, I am ready to give you the means. Don't forget that."

"I won't forget it, sir," Bob said, smiling; "and I will try to meet your wishes."

Mr. Bale looked at him sharply. Carrie's letters were long and chatty; and it may be that Mr. Bale had gleaned, from them, some notion of an idea that Carrie and Mrs. Harcourt had in their heads.

Three years later Mr. Bale remarked, as they were driving home:

"By the way, Bob, I was glad to see, in the paper today, that the 58th is ordered home."

"Is it, sir?" Bob asked, eagerly. "I have not looked at the paper today. I am glad to hear that. I thought it wouldn't be long. But there is never any saying—they might have been sent somewhere else, instead of being sent home."

"I hope they will be quartered somewhere within reach," Mr. Bale said. "If they are stationed at Cork, or some outlandish place in Ireland, they might almost as well be at Gibraltar, for anything we shall see of them."

"Oh, we can manage to run over to Cork, uncle."

"There will be no occasion to do that, Bob. Captain O'Halloran will be getting leave, soon after he comes over, and then he can bring Carrie here."

And he smiled slily to himself.

"He mayn't be able to get leave for some time," Bob said. "I think, uncle, I shall run over, directly they arrive."

"Perhaps the firm won't be able to spare you," Mr. Bale remarked.

"It is my opinion the firm would get on just as well, without me, or an indefinite time, uncle."

"Not at all, Bob. Mr. Medlin was saying, only a few days ago, that you do quite your share of the work; and that he generally leaves it to you, now, to see country customers when I am out, and thinks the change has been an advantage to the business. However, if the regiment does go to Ireland—as is likely enough—I suppose we must manage to spare you."

It was indeed soon known that the 58th were, in the first place, to be disembarked at Cork and, one day, Mr. Bale came into the office.

"I have just seen your friend Lockett, Bob; I mean the younger one. He commands the Antelope now, you know. His uncle has retired, and bought a place near Southampton, and settled down there. Young Lockett came up from Portsmouth by the night coach. He put in at Gibraltar on his way home, and the 58th were to embark three days after he left. So if you want to meet them when they arrive at Cork, you had better lose no time; but start by the night coach for Bristol, and cross in the packet from there."

It was a month before Bob returned. The evening that he did so, he said to his uncle:

"I think, uncle, you said that you were anxious that I should marry young."

"That is so, Bob," Mr. Bale said, gravely.

"Well, uncle, I have been doing my best to carry out your wishes."

"You don't mean to say, Bob," Mr. Bale said, in affected alarm, "that you are going to marry a soldier's daughter?"

"Well, yes, sir," Bob said, a little taken aback; "but I don't know how you guessed it. It is a young lady I knew in Gibraltar."

"What, Bob! Not that girl who went running about with you, dressed up as a boy?"

As this was a portion of his adventures upon which Bob had been altogether reticent, he sat for a moment, confounded.

"Don't be ashamed of it, Bob," Mr. Bale said, with a smile, laying his hand kindly on his shoulder. "Your sister Carrie is an excellent young woman, and it is not difficult to read her thoughts in her letters. Of course, she told me about your adventure with Miss Harcourt, and she has mentioned her a good many times, since; and it did not need a great deal of discernment to see what Carrie's opinion was regarding the young lady. Carrie has her weak points—as, for example, when she took up with that wild Irishman—but she has plenty of good sense; and I am sure, by the way she wrote about this Miss Harcourt, that she must be a very charming girl; and I think, Bob, I have been looking forward almost as much, to the regiment coming home, as you have.

"Regarding you as I do, as my son, there is nothing I should like so much as having a bright, pretty daughter-in-law; so you have my hearty consent and approval, even before you ask for it.

"And you found her very nice, Bob—eh?"

"Very nice, sir," Bob said, smiling.

"And very pretty, Bob?"

"Very pretty, sir. I never thought that she would have grown up so pretty."

"And her head has not been turned by the compliments that she has, of course, received?"

"I don't think so, sir. She said her mind has been made up, ever since I brought her back to Gibraltar; so you see, the compliments did not go for much."

"Well, Bob, I will write to Major Harcourt. I shall hand you over this place, altogether, and settle down in my old quarters in Philpot Lane."

"No, no, sir," Bob said.

"But I say yes, Bob. I shall keep a room here, and I dare say I shall often use it. But I have been rather like a fish out of water, since I came here, and shall be well content to fall into my old ways again; knowing that, if I want any change, and bright society, I can come down here. If I find I am restless there—which is not likely—I can buy a little place, and settle down beside you. As I told you long ago, I am a rich man—I have been doing nothing but save money, all my life—and though, as I then said, I should like you to carry on the firm, after I am gone; there will, as far as money goes, be no occasion for you to do so."

Two months later the three members of the firm went over to Cork, and there a gay wedding was celebrated; and when, at the termination of the honeymoon, Bob returned to Chislehurst, he found Captain O'Halloran and Carrie established there on a month's leave and, a day or two later, the party was increased by the arrival of Doctor Burke.

Mr. Bale lived for twenty years after Bob's marriage; the last fifteen of which were passed in a little place he bought, adjoining that of the Reptons and, before he died, he saw four grandchildren—as he called them—fast growing up.

General and Mrs. Harcourt also settled down in the neighbourhood, to be near their only daughter, a few years before Mr. Bale's death.

Doctor Burke remained with the regiment for some years, and then bought a practice in Dublin but, to the end of his life, he paid a visit every three or four years to his former pupil.

Captain O'Halloran obtained the rank of colonel but, losing an arm at the capture of Martinique, in 1794, he retired from the army and settled at Woolwich—where Carrie was within easy reach of Chislehurst—having his pension, and a comfortable income which Mr. Bale settled upon Carrie. At Mr. Bale's death, it was found that he had left his house at Chislehurst to Carrie; and she and her husband accordingly established themselves there.

Bob, to the end of his life, declared that—although in all things he had been an exceptionally happy, and fortunate man—the most fortunate occurrence that ever happened to him was that he should have taken part in the famous Siege of Gibraltar.

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