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    Ch. 7: The Deer Stealers

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    Chapter 7
    Previous Chapter
    Deer-stealing on Salisbury Plain--The head-keeper Harbutt--Strange
    story of a baby--Found as a surname--John Barter the village
    carpenter--How the keeper was fooled--A poaching attack planned--The
    fight--Head-keeper and carpenter--The carpenter hides his son--The
    arrest--Barter's sons forsake the village

    There were other memories of deer-taking handed down to Caleb by his
    parents, and the one best worth preserving relates to the head-keeper of
    the preserves, or chase, and to a great fight in which he was engaged
    with two brothers of the girl who was afterwards to be Isaac's wife.

    Here it may be necessary to explain that formerly the owner of
    Cranbourne Chase, at that time Lord Rivers, claimed the deer and the
    right to preserve and hunt deer over a considerable extent of country
    outside of his own lands. On the Wiltshire side these rights extended
    from Cranbourne Chase over the South Wiltshire Downs to Salisbury, and
    the whole territory, about thirty miles broad, was divided into beats or
    walks, six or eight in number, each beat provided with a keeper's lodge.
    This state of things continued to the year 1834, when the chase was
    "disfranchised" by Act of Parliament.

    The incident I am going to relate occurred about 1815 or perhaps two or
    three years later. The border of one of the deer walks was at a spot
    known as Three Downs Place, two miles and a half from Winterbourne
    Bishop. Here in a hollow of the downs there was an extensive wood, and
    just within the wood a large stone house, said to be centuries old but
    long pulled down, called Rollston House, in which the head-keeper lived
    with two under-keepers. He had a wife but no children, and was a
    middle-aged, thick-set, very dark man, powerful and vigilant, a
    "tarrable" hater and persecutor of poachers, feared and hated by them in
    turn, and his name was Harbutt.

    It happened that one morning, when he had unbarred the front door to go
    out, he found a great difficulty in opening it, caused by a heavy object
    having been fastened to the door-handle. It proved to be a basket or
    box, in which a well-nourished, nice-looking boy baby was sleeping, well
    wrapped up and covered with a cloth. On the cloth a scrap of paper was
    pinned with the following lines written on it:

    Take me in and treat me well,
    For in this house my father dwell.

    Harbutt read the lines and didn't even smile at the grammar; on the
    contrary, he appeared very much upset, and was still standing holding
    the paper, staring stupidly at it, when his wife came on the scene.
    "What be this?" she exclaimed, and looked first at the paper, then at
    him, then at the rosy child fast asleep in its cradle; and instantly,
    with a great cry, she fell on it and snatched it up in her arms, and
    holding it clasped to her bosom, began lavishing caresses and endearing
    expressions on it, tears of rapture in her eyes! Not one word of inquiry
    or bitter, jealous reproach--all that part of her was swallowed up and
    annihilated in the joy of a woman who had been denied a child of her own
    to love and nourish and worship. And now one had come to her and it
    mattered little how. Two or three days later the infant was baptized at
    the village church with the quaint name of Moses Found.

    Caleb was a little surprised at my thinking it a laughable name. It was
    to his mind a singularly appropriate one; he assured me it was not the
    only case he knew of in which the surname Found had been bestowed on a
    child of unknown parentage, and he told me the story of one of the
    Founds who had gone to Salisbury as a boy and worked and saved and
    eventually become quite a prosperous and important person. There was
    really nothing funny in it.

    The story of Moses Found had been told him by his old mother; she, he
    remarked significantly, had good cause to remember it. She was herself a
    native of the village, born two or three years later than the mysterious
    Moses; her father, John Barter by name was a carpenter and lived in an
    old, thatched house which still exists and is very familiar to me. He
    had five sons; then, after an interval of some years, a daughter was
    born, who in due time was to be Isaac's wife. When she was a little girl
    her brothers were all grown up or on the verge of manhood, and Moses,
    too, was a young man--"the spit of his father" people said, meaning the
    head-keeper--and he was now one of Harbutt's under-keepers.

    About this time some of the more ardent spirits in the village, not
    satisfied with an occasional hunt when a deer broke out and roamed over
    the downs, took to poaching them in the woods. One night, a hunt having
    been arranged, one of the most daring of the men secreted himself close
    to the keeper's house, and having watched the keepers go in and the
    lights put out, he actually succeeded in fastening up the doors from the
    outside with screws and pieces of wood without creating an alarm. He
    then met his confederates at an agreed spot and the hunting began,
    during which one deer was chased to the house and actually pulled down
    and killed on the lawn.

    Meanwhile the inmates were in a state of great excitement; the
    under-keepers feared that a force it would be dangerous to oppose had
    taken possession of the woods, while Harbutt raved and roared like a
    maddened wild beast in a cage, and put forth all his strength to pull
    the doors open. Finally he smashed a window and leaped out, gun in hand,
    and calling the others to follow rushed into the wood. But he was too
    late; the hunt was over and the poachers had made good their escape,
    taking the carcasses of two or three deer they had succeeded in killing.

    The keeper was not to be fooled in the same way a second time, and
    before very long he had his revenge. A fresh raid was planned, and on
    this occasion two of the five brothers were in it, and there were four
    more, the blacksmith of Winterbourne Bishop, their best man, two famous
    shearers, father and son, from a neighbouring village, and a young farm
    labourer.

    They knew very well that with the head-keeper in his present frame of
    mind it was a risky affair, and they made a solemn compact that if
    caught they would stand by one another to the end. And caught they were,
    and on this occasion the keepers were four.

    At the very beginning the blacksmith, their ablest man and virtual
    leader, was knocked down senseless with a blow on his head with the butt
    end of a gun. Immediately on seeing this the two famous shearers took to
    their heels and the young labourer followed their example. The brothers
    were left but refused to be taken, although Harbutt roared at them in
    his bull's voice that he would shoot them unless they surrendered. They
    made light of his threats and fought against the four, and eventually
    were separated. By and by the younger of the two was driven into a
    brambly thicket where his opponents imagined that it would be impossible
    for him to escape. But he was a youth of indomitable spirit, strong and
    agile as a wild cat; and returning blow for blow he succeeded in tearing
    himself from them, then after a running fight through the darkest part
    of the wood for a distance of two or three hundred yards they at length
    lost him or gave him up and went back to assist Harbutt and Moses
    against the other man. Left to himself he got out of the wood and made
    his way back to the village. It was long past midnight when he turned up
    at his father's cottage, a pitiable object covered with mud and blood,
    hatless, his clothes torn to shreds, his face and whole body covered
    with bruises and bleeding wounds.

    The old man was in a great state of distress about his other son, and
    early in the morning went to examine the ground where the fight had
    been. It was only too easily found; the sod was trampled down and
    branches broken as though a score of men had been engaged. Then he found
    his eldest son's cap, and a little farther away a sleeve of his coat;
    shreds and rags were numerous on the bramble bushes, and by and by he
    came on a pool of blood. "They've kill 'n!" he cried in despair,
    "they've killed my poor boy!" and straight to Rollston House he went to
    inquire, and was met by Harbutt himself, who came out limping, one boot
    on, the other foot bound up with rags, one arm in a sling and a cloth
    tied round his head. He was told that his son was alive and safe indoors
    and that he would be taken to Salisbury later in the day. "His clothes
    be all torn to pieces," added the keeper. "You can just go home at once
    and git him others before the constable comes to take him."

    "You've tored them to pieces yourself and you can git him others,"
    retorted the old man in a rage.

    "Very well," said the keeper. "But bide a moment--I've something more
    to say to you. When your son comes out of jail in a year or so you tell
    him from me that if he'll just step up this way I'll give him five
    shillings and as much beer as he likes to drink. I never see'd a better
    fighter!"

    It was a great compliment to his son, but the old men was troubled in
    his mind. "What dost mean, keeper, by a year or so?" he asked.

    "When I said that," returned the other, with a grin, "I was just
    thinking what 'twould be he deserves to git."

    "And you'd agot your deserts, by God," cried the angry father, "if that
    boy of mine hadn't a-been left alone to fight ye!"

    Harbutt regarded him with a smile of gratified malice.

    "You can go home now," he said. "If you'd see your son you'll find'n in
    Salisbury jail. Maybe you'll be wanting new locks on your doors; you can
    git they in Salisbury too--you've no blacksmith in your village now. No,
    your boy weren't alone and you know that damned well."

    "I know naught about that," he returned, and started to walk home with a
    heavy heart. Until now he had been clinging to the hope that the other
    son had not been identified in the dark wood. And now what could he do
    to save one of the two from hateful imprisonment? The boy was not in a
    fit condition to make his escape; he could hardly get across the room
    and could not sit or lie down without groaning. He could only try to
    hide him in the cottage and pray that they would not discover him. The
    cottage was in the middle of the village and had but little ground to
    it, but there was a small, boarded-up cavity or cell at one end of an
    attic, and it might be possible to save him by putting him in there.
    Here, then, in a bed placed for him on the floor, his bruised son was
    obliged to lie, in the close, dark hole, for some days.

    One day, about a week later, when he was recovering from his hurts, he
    crawled out of his box and climbed down the narrow stairs to the ground
    floor to see the light and breathe a better air for a short time, and
    while down he was tempted to take a peep at the street through the
    small, latticed window. But he quickly withdrew his head and by and by
    said to his father, "I'm feared Moses has seen me. Just now when I was
    at the window he came by and looked up and see'd me with my head all
    tied up, and I'm feared he knew 'twas I."

    After that they could only wait in fear and trembling, and on the next
    day quite early there came a loud rap at the door, and on its being
    opened by the old man the constable and two keepers appeared standing
    before him.

    "I've come to take your son," said the constable.

    The old man stepped back without a word and took down his gun from its
    place on the wall, then spoke: "It you've got a search-warrant you may
    come in; if you haven't got 'n I'll blow the brains out of the first man
    that puts a foot inside my door."

    They hesitated a few moments then silently withdrew. After consulting
    together the constable went off to the nearest magistrate, leaving the
    two keepers to keep watch on the house: Moses Found was one of them.
    Later in the day the constable returned armed with a warrant and was
    thereupon admitted, with the result that the poor youth was soon
    discovered in his hiding-place and carried off. And that was the last he
    saw of his home, his young sister crying bitterly and his old father
    white and trembling with grief and impotent rage.

    A month or two later the two brothers were tried and sentenced each to
    six months' imprisonment. They never came home. On their release they
    went to Woolwich, where men were wanted and the pay was good. And by and
    by the accounts they sent home induced first one then the other brother
    to go and join them, and the poor old father, who had been very proud of
    his five sons, was left alone with his young daughter--Isaac's destined
    wife.
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