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With Rifle and Bayonet A Story of the Boer War

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Chapter One. A Sad Mistake.

The last few rays of a cold September sunset were streaming through the High Street of a large and populous village called Redford, in the county of Surrey, lighting up the pretty red-brick cottages and casting a deep shadow beyond the quaint and tumble-down old porch which led to the church. A few mellow shafts had slipped by it, and, struggling through the iron bars of a massive gate, travelled up a long gravel drive and cast a ruddy glow on the windows of a fine country mansion.

In one of the rooms facing the sunset, a man and a woman were standing opposite one another, engaged in angry conversation, while outside, on the great staircase, the subject of their dispute, a boy of about eleven, was slowly making his way upward, stopping now and again to let his head drop upon his folded arms against the banisters, and sob as if his heart would break. At last, after many stops, he reached a landing midway up, and was just in the act of succumbing once more to his grief when a jeering and unsympathetic laugh from above caught his ear, and caused him to give a violent start. Instantly the lad dried his eyes, and choked back his sobs. Then, with a sudden gesture, as if of determination to forget his sorrow, he crossed the landing, and with his head now held proudly erect in the air, ran up the remaining stairs and was quickly out of sight.

Meanwhile, in the room below, the man and woman faced one another in the gathering gloom, while angry words passed between them.

The former, Captain Charles Somerton by name and title, a lithe and active man of middle age, was evidently ill at ease. He stood close beside his writing-desk, shuffling restlessly from one foot to another, and toying with a paper-knife. His wife, on the other hand, was apparently calm and self-contained, though a careful scrutiny of her features would have shown that passion had almost mastered her. She was a proud, haughty-looking woman, and now that her temper had almost got the better of her there was a decidedly evil look upon her face. She listened impatiently to what her husband was saying, glaring spitefully at him, and occasionally opening her lips as if on the point of interrupting.

“My dear,” the captain was saying, somewhat nervously, “you really must be more kind to the poor little chap. Scold him if you wish to, for I have no doubt that, like all boys, he is constantly up to some kind of mischief; but if you have occasion to correct him, do so in a more gentle manner. He is quite a young lad, you must remember, and I am sure that his worst deeds cannot merit such punishment. You frighten him out of his life, and you do what I consider an extremely unkind thing—you constantly hurt his feelings, well knowing him to be a thin-skinned boy. Poor little chap! If you are not more careful he will detest you. You say that he and Frank together smashed a piece of valuable china in your boudoir? How then is it that Frank is forgiven, while Jack, who is the younger by more than a year, has his ears boxed and is spoken to so harshly?”

“There you are again, Charles!” was Mrs Somerton’s angry answer....