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Harper's Egypt


Chapter 2
A hand shaking his shoulder awakened Padrigh. He blinked some sleep from his eyes and peered through the dimness, only slightly lessened by the hearth's lingering embers. It lacked an hour or so until dawn. His father was bending over him.

"Get up and get dressed."

Padraigh sat up, rubbing his face. He spoke quietly; his siblings were still sleeping all around him.

"Are we opening up the smithy so early? What-"

"We're not going to the smithy. Just do as I say."

Shrugging, Harper rose and donned his clothes. He noticed that his father was carrying a rolled up bedroll. Donal gestured towards Padraigh's bedroll on the floor.

"Roll it up, we'll take it with us."

More mystified than ever, Padraigh did as his father commanded. His father held out something dark to him. It was a pair of shoes. Shoes? Padraigh had only worn shoes on Confirmation days and Easter. But his father's expression invited no new inquiry.

"Put these on, and mind what's in them."

Padraigh looked in them, saw what was in the right one, shrugged, and then slipped them on. They were well broken in and did not chafe his feet at all; he would have no trouble doing a day's walking in them. They quietly went out the front door. The sky was just turning oyster gray, tinged with pink in the east. As Padraigh looked at his father's expression, his confusion shifted in the direction of concern.

"Where are we going?"


"Derry! But why-"

"Don't ask any questions, I'll explain all at the proper time. Now come on, it's time to go."

"But Ma-"

"Ma knows we're leaving. I said goodbye for you last night."

Padraigh stood, staring in bewilderment. Derry! It was farther from home than he had ever been in his life. Was he still asleep and dreaming? But his father's firm hand on his arm, propelling him along the road, convinced him he was not. He walked down to the crossroads leading north, the road that would take them to Derry. As they made their way up its gentle slope, dawn poured across the land in a slowly spreading wave of pastel pink and orange. Padraigh looked back at his home, for something told him he wouldn't be seeing it for a while, perhaps a long while. And there, standing before the door, was a slim white shape, his mother.

Her hands were pressed to her breast in anguish. Feeling a like pain in his own heart, Padraigh raised his arm in farewell. She waved vigorously. For a moment, their eyes met across the distance, sending a message of love. Then his father's voice, gentle but firm, pulled him back to the business at hand.

"Come on lad, we've got a long road ahead of us."


From Donegal town to Derry is about sixty miles, four days walk. The weather was fine, the road was straight, and the land was Irish-fair. Moira had packed a loaf of soda bread for each of them, and they ate as they walked. When they were thirsty, they drank at the many cold, clear streams that crossed their path.

Padraigh's youthful spirits soon overcame the momentary trauma of leaving home so suddenly. Although his father steadfastly refused to reveal why they were going to Derry, simply saying he would explain all in time, he was happy to talk on any number of other topics. He told Padraigh stories of his youth in Donegal, of the smithy where he had helped his father, who Padraigh had never known. He told him stories of his soldiering days in America, of battles in places with strange names like Germantown and Brandywine and Guilford Courthouse and Cowpens and Yorktown. He told him of how he had once stood at review while Lord Cornwallis passed him "no farther than I am to you." He told him of how he had once met some Red Indians who served as scouts for the English army. He told him how he had won the great hurling match for his team at the Ballyshannon fair, and there met Padraigh's mother and won her heart. He told him stories of kings and heroes and fairies that Padraigh had never heard, but would never forget.

By night, they enjoyed the hospitality of the cottages that dotted the countryside along their route, for no true Irishman's door is ever closed to a weary pair of travelers. As they approached, they were always greeted with "Cead mile faite!" and no matter how mean and small the farm, an extra potato or two was always found for them, with a warm spot by the hearth. And when it was made known that Padraigh was a storyteller, there was no help for it but that he must tell them the story of Finn mac Cumhal or the Voyage of Maeidun. When they left in the morning, there was fresh soda bread to eat on the road, and the farewell blessing rang in their ears: "Failt romhat! Durid suas chun na tine!"

When they were not talking, Padraigh watched the birds, the honey buzzards and golden plovers, the lapwings and redwing thrush, the rare corncrake and the Irish jays, and in the many pools and marshes they skirted, the shoveler duck with its red head, and the wigeon duck and the hen harrier, and the red shank and the snipe and the reed warbler. Padraigh was always ready to pursue some wonder, whether a ring of stones left by the Elder People, or a cave in the hills that might lead to some fairy treasure. Always, Donal would have to hasten him on.

It was late afternoon of the fourth day when they came to the river Foyle. Across the water was Derry town, secure behind its solid wall that had defeated King James I a hundred and fifty years gone. Padraigh looked at his father expectantly. Donal seemed reluctant to speak. He sighed, bit his lip, and then began in a low voice.

"You've been a good son, Padraigh, and I've always tried to do right by you. Now what I've got to tell you to do goes down hard, but I want you to obey me. I know best in these things."

Padraigh was really feeling scared now. What could it be that his father found so hard to say? He nodded that he understood. Donal drew a deep breath and then spat it out.

"I want you to go into Derry and join the English army."

Of all the things his father could have told him to do, this was the one he could never have seen coming. Murder the Sheriff? Why not? Go to England and kidnap Lord Glenthorne? Perhaps. But join the English -

"Da! What are you saying?"

"I want you to get as far from Ireland as you can, for at least a year, better two or three. There'll be no arguing over this, my decision is firm."

"But why?"

"Because all hell is about to break loose in Donegal, and I'll be right in the middle of it. There's no help for it. But if you stay, you'll be in the middle of it too, and there is help for that."

"Da, my place is with you-"

"Don't talk lad, listen! You've been treating the uprising like it'll be some great game of hurling, a few cuts and bruises here or there, then everyone goes to the pub and has a drink, and all's well again. That's not how it's going to be. I've heard the news from down south, and grim news it is."

"In the first place, the English and the bloody yeomenry know that rebellion's coming, there's more spies in the United Irishmen than there are true members. Sheriff Bastard Browne's just waiting for it to break out in Donegal so he can smash it. His troops are on high alert day and night. There'll be no taking him by surprise."

"Second, whatever fine ideals Mr. High-and-Mighty Wolfe Tone and his friends have for the rebellion won't last past the first day of fighting. The uprising will turn into an excuse for every man with a grudge to pay back his neighbor and then some. Makes me ashamed to be named with them, it does. Murder, plundering, burning, and rape will be the rule of the day, oftentimes of folk's houses who never took food out of an Irish mouth a day of their lives, but just got on the wrong side of some lout with a bunch of drunken pikemen at his back. I don't want you having any part in such doings."

"Third, the English can ship over fresh troops every day, they can replace ten soldiers for every one we kill. And every time I've seen armed countryfolk up against trained troops, deployed and ready for them, they've died. Oh they've died bravely enough, making pike charges against batteries of nine-pounders. But in the end, brave or no, they were just as dead. And Cornwallis, lad, Lord Cornwallis will be leading them. Even if he could be grandfather to most of them, he's still their best. We just can't win. Our only hope is that the French will land an army to help us, but if there was one lesson I learned in the army, it's "never trust the French." They didn't even come to help the Americans until they had the war nine-tenths won."

"And I'm stuck, lad. The folk in Donegal town look to me as a leader, seeing as I'm the smith and I did my time with Brown Bess. I didn't ask for it, I don't want it, but there it is. I can't run out on them, I've got to do what I can to see that most of them come out of this alive. I can't leave. And when the uprising comes to Donegal, it's my hide the English will be after. Even if I don't lead the uprising, they'll think I did. And they'll be after any of my family of age to fight. Owen's safe away in Trinity, saints be praised. Your brothers are too young to be noticed. But you would be, especially since you're a head taller than almost any man in Donegal. That's why I've got to get you away from here before it's too late."

"So you're going to go into Derry. You're going to find a regiment that will do it's fighting somewhere else, far away from these doings. They'll give you a fine uniform lad, and you'll eat well, more than you ever got in our house. You might even happen upon some rich plunder and come home with money. It's happened before. And you're going to stay in the army until Donegal is a fit place for an Irishman once again."

Padraigh had been listening to all of this with a breaking heart. Two tracks of tears cut a trail through the dirt underneath his brimming eyes.

"But Da, I can't go off and leave you to face this alone. You might -"

Donal tried hard to make light of it.

"Ah, don't worry about me, lad. I've taken care of myself for thrice as many years as you've lived. And I'll see to the family, too, trust me on that. The old Harper luck will hold true, you'll see, and before you know it, you'll be back with us."

"But Da, how can I fight for the English? I thought I was going to fight against them."

Donal nodded.

"I fought alongside the English for five years, lad, and even then, I hated what they'd done to us. But in the army, I found that you could put such things aside. When a man's sharing a line with you, loading and firing as the enemy comes down on you, when you have to trust him to save your hide because he trusts you to do as much for him, he becomes your brother as sure as if your mother bore him. It's happened to me more times than I can name."

Padraigh shook his head violently. "No Da! If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that I'll never call any Englishman my friend!"

Donal nodded again.

"We'll see, lad. Just promise me one thing. Promise me that you'll never, never fight your own countrymen. If, by some misfortune, you find yourself deployed against Irishmen, do what you have to, even if it means deserting. You don't want that weighing down your conscience."

Padraigh nodded, and more tears spilled down his face.

"I promise, Da."

"Now be a good lad and take your father's blessing."

Donal hugged Padrigh to him, and began to recite the blessing that they both knew well.

"May the blessing of Light be on you,
Light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you
And warm your heart till it glows like a great peat fire,
So that the stranger may come and warm himself at it,
And also a friend.
And may the light shine out of the two eyes of you,
Like a candle set in two windows of a house,
Bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm."

As Donal began to recite the second part, Padrigh hugged his father tighter through his tears.

"And may the blessing of the Rain be on you,
The soft, sweet rain. May it fall upon your spirit,
So that all the little flowers may spring up,
And shed their sweetness on the air.
And may the blessings of the Great Rains be on you,
May they beat upon your spirit and wash it fair and clean,
And leave there many a shining pool where the blue of heaven shines,
And sometimes a star."

Donal recited with the third part. He almost couldn't finish.
"And may the blessing of the Earth be on you,
The great, round earth; may you ever have a kindly greeting
For them you pass as you're going along the roads.
May the earth be soft under you when you rest upon it,
Tired at the end of the day,
And may it rest easy over you when, at the last,
You lay out under it.
May it rest so lightly over you,
That your soul may be out from under it quickly,
And up, and off, and on its way to God."

For a moment, they bear-hugged fiercely. Then Donal broke the grip and stepped back. He placed his big paws on Padraigh's shoulders and looked him solemnly in the eye.

"Give no man insult, but neither accept insult from any man, officers excepted of course. Begin no fights, but always finish the ones you find yourself in. Never boast, but always defend your honor and the honor of Eire, officers excepted. That's enough. Now off with you."

Padraigh nodded. All tears were gone; he was determined to obey his Da's wishes. He turned towards the bridge over the Foyle to the Bishop's gates of Derry. His father called after him.

"One more thing!"

Padraigh turned around.

"You're not Padraigh anymore. You're Patrick! Remember it. And remember about your shoe!"

His son nodded, and resolutely turned again to the bridge. Donal watched him go, and it was an effort of will to make himself turn away at last.

Sweet Mary, Mother of Jesus, I pray that he'll be all right.

Donal Harper turned for the long trip home alone.


And so Patrick Harper crossed over into Derry.

He had never seen such wonders. It was market day in Derry, and he saw shops stocked with lace, gloves, and other trinkets. In every lane, there were rows of canvas-covered stalls. White sheets were spread over counters containing apples, gooseberries, plums, sea grass, meat pies, oysters, boiled periwinkles, and orange cockles. Other tents sold hot tea. In others, buyers and sellers haggled over the price per head of cattle or horses. Harper saw a magician performing his conjuring tricks for enthusiastic children. Nearby, ladies called out to one and all to come and have their fortune read.

And it seemed there was a regimental recruiter on every corner, before every pub. No sooner had Harper passed through the Bishop's gate than he heard a tall, splendid looking light cavalryman in a dolman and furred pelisse standing before the Shantallow House and crying out:

"Young fellows whose hearts beat high to tread the paths of glory could not have a better opportunity than now offers, to serve with the 7th, the Queen's Own Regiment of Light Dragoons. Come forward then, and enroll yourselves in a regiment that stands unrivaled, and where the kind treatment the men experience is known throughout the whole kingdom. One note, this regiment is mounted on fine young Irish hunters, and the men will not be allowed the chase above once a week during the next season-"

And beside the Bellaghy Bawn Tower, in front of McGilloway's, a tall, thin infantry sergeant bawled out in a loud voice:

"The 69th foot, whose distinguished merit no language can do justice, has vacancies for a few dashing, high spirited young men, whose hearts beat high to tread the patch of glory. Young men of this description know the opportunity offered to them, which may never occur again, of enlisting in one of the finest regiments in the service-"

Beside St. Columba's Well, still another light cavalrymen pitched his case:

"Should there still be a few young men of high character who have somehow remained civilians in the hour of their country's need, then the 14th Light Dragoons will consider them. You will have the exclusive right of wearing the Prussian black eagle; your horses are of matchless beauty, your clothing and accoutrements of highest quality, and smart young Britons inspired with military ardour, whose noble and warlike minds are repugnant to the control of unfeeling relatives and friends, have now the glorious prospect of speedy preferment, and two additional troops are to be raised."

Taking a look at Harper's towering height, he quickly added:

"And smart young Irishmen will also be taken."

And so it had gone throughout the day, as Harper went from one recruiter to the next, the 60th Foot, the 52nd Light, the 9th East Norfolk, the 57th Foot, the 18th Royal Irish, the 28th North Gloucester, each one claiming at the top of his lungs that his regiment was the finest in all the British Isles.

One however, stood out. Standing in front of the Clarendon Arms was a man who might have been John Bull himself, turned soldier. He was short and broad, all of it muscle, with a wide red face between his powdered hair and the black leather stock that constricted his neck. He wore a black bicorn hat laced with silver, with a black cockade, a red coat with white facings, lace, and pewter buttons, and a white waistcoat and breeches. A white knot on his right shoulder and a crimson sash around his waist identified him as a sergeant. A single broad belt, pipe clayed white, ran from his right shoulder to his left hip, with a brass medallion on it, centered on his chest. The belt held an infantryman's sword, short, single edged, slightly curved, with a brass hilt and a black leather scabbard. His black, pewter-buttoned gaiters rose to just above the knee, and encased black shoes. He looked every inch the fighting man he was, and Harper reflected that his father must have looked much the same in his days of soldiering in America.

The man was speaking in a deep, rumbling voice that carried through the crowd; he had no need to shout.

"The great encouragement of war in the Mediterranean sea does hold out a brilliant prospect to every lad of spirit, who is inclined to try his fortune in the highly renowned Corp of Marines, when everything that swims the sea must be a prize."

"Lads and gentlemen, thousands are at this moment endeavoring to get on board privateers, where they serve without pay or reward of any kind whatsoever, so certain does their chance seem of enriching themselves by prize money! What an enviable station then must the Corp of Marines hold-who with far superior advantages to these, has the additional benefits of liberal pay and plenty of the best provisions, with a good and well-appointed ship under him, the pride and glory of Old England; surely every man of spirit must blush to remain at home in inactivity and indolence, when his country and the best of Kings needs his assistance."

"Where then can he have such a fair opportunity of reaping glory and riches, as in the Corps of Marines, a corps daily acquiring new honors, and there, when once embarked in a British fleet, he finds himself in the midst of honor and glory, surrounded by a set of fine fellows, strangers to fear, and who strike terror through the hearts of their enemies wherever they go!"

Harper had to admit; the man knew his pitch and gave it with considerable zeal. The sergeant continued. He reflected that, as ship-borne soldiers, the Marines would mostly be fighting enemy ships. And the last time he checked, Ireland had no navy. The danger of someday being forced to fire on fellow Irishmen was appreciably less in the Marines .

"He has likewise the inspiring idea to know, that while he scours the ocean to protect the liberty of Old England, that the hearts and wishes of the whole British nation attend him; Pray for his success, and participate in his glory! Lose no time then, my fine fellows, in embracing the glorious opportunity that awaits you. You will receive sixteen guineas bounty, and on your arrival at Headquarters, be comfortably and genteelly clothed-and spirited young boys of a promising appearance who are five feet high, will receive twelve pounds, one shilling and sixpence bounty, and equal advantages of provisions and clothing with the men. And those who wish to enlist only for a limited service shall receive a bounty of eleven guineas, and boys eight."

Harper sucked in his breath. Sixteen, twelve, even eleven, it was as much money as his family saw in half a year. If he could send some of it home - The sergeant continued:

"The daily allowance of a marine when embarked is - one pound of beef or pork, --one pound of bread, flour, raisins, butter, cheese, oatmeal, molasses, tea, sugar, etc. etc. And a pint of the best wine or half a pint of the best rum or brandy; together with a pint of lemonade. They have likewise in warm countries a plentiful allowance of the choicest fruit."

Harper was just about sold. He could count on one hand the times he had even tasted beef or pork, but a pound a day! Overall, this was more food in a day than he got at home in a week. The sergeant went on:

"And what can be more handsome than the Corps of Marines proportion of prize money, where a sergeant shares equal with the First Class of Petty officers, such as Midshipmen, Assistant Surgeons, etc., which is five shares each; a corporal with the Second class, which is three shares each, and a Private with the Able Seamen, one share and a half each. In fact, the advantages which the Corps of Marines possesses are too numerous to mention here, but among the many, it may not be amiss to state - that if he has a wife or aged parent, he can make them an allotment of half his pay, which will be regularly paid without trouble to them, or to whomsoever he may direct; that being well clothed and fed aboard ship, the remainder of his pay and prize money will be clear in reserve for the relief of his family or his own private purposes. The single young man, on his return to port, finds himself enabled to cut a draft on shore with his girl and his class that might be the envy of a nobleman."

That did it for Harper. The prospect of sending home money (perhaps a great deal of money if his ship took a prize) on a regular basis to help his family in the coming crisis clinched the deal in his mind. He stepped forward as the sergeant finished.

"Take courage then, seize the fortune that awaits you, and repair to the Corps of Marines rendezvous at the Clarendon Arms, where, in a flowing bowl of punch, in three times three, you shall drink 'Long life to the King, and success to his Corps of Marines!'"

"For further particulars, and a more full account of the many advantages of this invaluable corps, apply to Sergeant Fulcher, at the Clarendon Arms, where the bringer of a recruit will receive three guineas."

Harper caught his arm as he turned towards the pub.

"Sergeant, I'm your man!"

Sergeant Fulcher looked him up and down appraisingly.

"Well, you're a likely looking lad, and tall enough. A bit smooth about the face though. How old?"

Harper smiled.

"On my honor, Sergeant, I am over eighteen."

Silently, Harper blessed his father for knowing to place a piece of paper with '18' written on it into his shoe. The sergeant nodded.

"Then it's the full man's bounty for you, lad. Come in and have a bowl of punch."

Harper entered the Clarendon Arms. It was low ceilinged, dark wood, full of pipe smoke, and crowded with more marines who enthusiastically greeted Harper and the three and four other prospective recruits. A bowl of heady punch was thrust into is hand, and raising it he drank: "Long life to the King, and success to his Corps of Marines!"

An Irishman can drink to anything, if the need is great enough. As his bowl was refilled, he reflected on what odd paths his life had taken. But four days before, all he could think about was being a blacksmith like his father, and fighting in the great uprising to come. But all that was changed now.

He would be a marine.

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