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The Courtship of Honor Brown
by Colonel Edward H. Joy

This is a selection from the unpublished manuscript,
'Our Fathers Have Told Us',
some early-day stories from The Salvation Army

chapter 1

“The young Captain was very young, and the small Corps was very hard; the Soldiers were slow of spirit and stolid of temperament; the Captain was quick to jump to conclusions – he was very young – and nothing seemed easy.  The little town was flat, with a deadly monoto-level that irked the lad’s soul beyond words.  He came from the free, rolling wolds of East Yorkshire, and longed for the sight of the hills and fells of his native country.  At home the beck went gurgling by his mother’s front door in desperate haste; here the stream moved to the neighbouring sea in a placid, peace-like-a-river meandering.  The people among whom he had been sent to start his career as a notable soul-winner were as slow and as placid as their river, while he was eager to move with all the alertness which was his family inheritance.

“Even his lieutenant took things as if any old day would serve the immediate purpose, and, to make matters worse, there was a disparity in their ages, the balance of youth being in the Captain’s favour.  He did not feel free to urge the elder man to a hastier speed, although the Lieutenant would not have resented such a suggestion, even if he had been physically incapable of any prolonged effort. 

“The Captain had not been in charge of the Corps many days, not even a Sunday in the town had yet passed over his head, but the deadly dullness of the first two or three days was fast driving him to the yelling stage, especially after the rough and tumble experiences of life as a Cadet at Clapton. 

“He had hopes that Saturday evening would have provided some extra excitement, but, no, every everybody who was everybody, including the handful of his Soldiery, had gone for the weekly expedition to the neighbouring market town, leaving him and the Lieutenant to hold forth with cornet and drum to a street audience of a few children, two men gaping over the red curtain of the ‘Blue Anchor’ window, and some stray dogs – the howls of these mingling with the strains of the cornet.

“The thought that a succession of such episodes lay ahead of him kept him tossing all Saturday night on the hard straw pallet which was the only resting-place the barely furnished Quarters could offer him.  With the first rays of the morning sun he was on his knees pouring out his soul in an agony of mingled home-sickness and fear that the loneliness might send him back of his hard-fought dedication, and, too, on to his dear old mother’s giving of him to Officership in The Army.

“In the adjoining room the Lieutenant stirred heavily, until, at last, awakened by the Captain’s audible wrestling with God, he joined him in prayer that ‘something might be done today’.  The prayer seemed in no way answered by the fact that they were the only individuals in attendance at the ‘kneedrill’ in the little Army Hall.

“By ‘Open-air’ time a mist had come up from the sea, and when the two lads took their stand at the usual spot at the end of the long, rambling main street, it had enshrouded the town that only the dim outline of the few scattered cottages in the vicinity could be discerned.  The Soldiers stood around deeply disconsolate, and the music of the three or four instruments sounded dismally through the fog.  There was only other figure which seemed to be taking the slightest interest in the proceedings, and that was an individual very fittingly garbed in a thick monkey-jacket of the seaman type, and wearing an old battered sou-wester hat. 

“The Captain could just discern this solitary listener leaning against a fence, and in spurt of brotherly enthusiasm called out as they moved off to the Hall, “And you can come, my brother, we’ll be glad to see you!”  The slow-spreading grins on the faces of his comrades rather disconcerted him, but he called again, “Come on, now, everybody for The Army!”  But the invited one did not stir. 

“By the afternoon the fog had lifted, and so had our young hero’s spirits.  Soldiers, wives, prams, and babies had joined up, and quite a brave showing made its way to the barn which did duty for The Army Hall.  He was really cheerful as he welcomes all and sundry, and began to have the stirrings of a belief that Chapel-In-the-Marsh had in it the makings of an Army Corps.

“But his sense of order and dignity was shocked when he espied at the back of the Hall the same queerly garbed figure that had failed to respond to his morning invitation.  Pleased and shocked.  Pleased to see a very obvious non-Salvationist in the meeting, and shocked because the newcomer had failed to remove the battered, old sou-wester.

“My man,” he called, as he mounted the little platform, “don’t you know that you are in the House of God?  Remove your hat!”  Never was command more authoritatively delivered.  The individual thus addressed stared at him with lack-lustre eyes looking out of a brown, seamed, gnarled weather-beaten face; shaggy grey eye-brown accentuated the stare; a tight-lipped and determined chin added a fierceness to the look that it might otherwise have lacked; the closely buttoned coat, right up to the chin, covered a stolid figure.  Never a sign that the Captain’s rebuke had been personally addressed.

“Take off your hat, my man!”  Any further adjuration on the part of the Captain was checked by the hasty rising of one of the Soldiers, and by his half-scared whisper, ‘Don’t say any more, Captain; she’s woman.  ‘Tis Honor Brown, and if you once get her on the wrong side, there’ll be no holding her.”

The young Captain was very young, and his dignity was easily assailable; to find himself so nearly involved, gave him a jolt, as the modern saying goes.  He retired from the argument as gracefully as possible, and went on with the meeting.

But, try as he would, he could not avoid the steady gaze of the weird, old creature, - it haunted him.  He basilisk-like stare hindered him in all his movements, and confused him beyond all bearing.  Try as he would, he caught himself again and again looking at her.  Presently the short prayer-meeting began, and the Captain suggested to the Lieutenant that he might go down and ‘have a few words with the old woman’.  As new to the situation as his Commanding Officer, but much less perturbed, the Lieutenant made his way to the rear of the room, and, bending over the upright, still staring individual, said, in an attempt to establish friendly relationships, “Well, mother, and how are you today?”

In a hoarse, gruff voice, heard distinctly all over the place, came the quick, almost snarling reply: “Don’t you call me ’mother’, my lad.  I’d have you learn I’m a respectable, single woman, and that everybody knows.”

Abashed, not to say alarmed, for there was fierce anger in the old body’s tones, the Lieutenant essayed another tack.  “Well, sister, ….”  “I’m not sister of yours, my lad, and you’d best be careful!” 

In desperation the Lieutenant put the question he had really come to ask, “Have you found Jesus?”  There was neither fun nor mockery in the responding question: “Is He lost?  I didn’t know.”

And you may know something of the awe in which the old woman was held by the rest of the congregation in that none of them so much as smiled, let alone laughed.

The Captain and Lieutenant soon became acquainted with the fact that ‘Old Honor’ was regarded as the witch of the countryside; the ‘go-you-to-sleep’ terror of the children; the bait of any unfeeling louts who might venture to taunt her – from a safe distance.  During the next few days, as the young fellows made their way about the town, they had to take a good deal of chaff because of their mistake of the Sunday afternoon.  It became evident that while everybody was ready to tell of probably ills and crimes attributed to ‘Old Honor’, there was none to pity the lonely, fearsome, old woman as she made her way about the streets, selling fish from the great basket she carried on her strong, muscular arm.

As she passed along calling her wares in her coarse, husky voice, none thought her an object for love or prayer.  Any such idea had long since faded out.  Striding along in her heavy, hob-nailed boots, her short skirt, and her mannish coat and sou-wester, she made her way about the town and the neighbouring countryside, avoided by most and sought be none, - except for her always dependable wares.  If ever she received a kindly word it was given in a not always successful effort to avoid a snarling remark, or the ‘evil eye’ with which she was credited.

It had been years and years since anyone did or said a really kindly thing for or to Honor Brown until the boy Captain did so, and his cheerily, gentlemanly, polite, ‘God bless you, Honor!” that one day pierced the old heart of stone, flooded the fierce grey eyes with a gush of tears, made a stern, old heart quiver with emotion, and called forth a “Why do you say that, Captain?”  No one had said such a thing to her for over sixty years, not since she was a girl in her ‘teens, and had seen her mother’s rough coffin carried to the village churchyard from the cottage by the wood in which she had lived her solitary life ever since.  “God bless you!  Eh!”

After that it was not great wonder that the Officers found many a gift of fish waiting for them in the back-place of the Quarters, or that other contributions, whose source they well knew, came their way.  And, if you believe in the power of a kind word to prepare and make straight the way of the Lord, you will not be surprised to know that one day Officers and Soldiers alike joyed with an exceeding joy to see Honor Brown at the rough Penitent-Form in The Army Hall, seeking and finding the Saviour who had hitherto been such a Stranger to her. 

 

chapter 2

It was a greatly delighted band of Army folk and a much excited company of villagers who saw Honor standing with The Army in the open-air the next Sunday.  The interest reached even to the squire, who was also a banker in the neighbouring town, and the good work of her conversion was still more enlarged when he suggested that the Corps should henceforth hold its meetings in a standing-empty chapel which was on his property.  “As for any rent, Captain, that’s a trifle so long as Honor stands true.”  Even the Vicar showed a friendliness in inviting her to church, though Honor’s rebuff somewhat chilled it; “Thank you, Vicar, but I likes my prayers said and not read!”

It was evident, however, that in spite of her new-found religion and its very evident effect upon her hitherto witchlike demeanour, there was something troubling the new convert.  The young Captain could not fathom it, and although he and the Lieutenant had many discussions on the matter, and even though the Captain, greatly daring, made some timid advances to her, the mystery remained.  Now, in the meetings, instead of her former fixed stare, she would be looking at the young man with and eager, querying gaze, apparent to all, to change to a smile of almost maternal tenderness for the lad, for sheer relief from the strain of it, would return the look with a bright smile and a mod.  Never for a moment did he conceive of the crazy notion taking slow shape in the long atrophied old brain.

As far back as anything in the memory of the oldest inhabitant of Chapel-in-the-Marsh Honor Brown had lived in one of two cottages standing on the fringe of the wood at the far outskirts of the little community.  Once on a time the other cottage, said to be the property of Honor, had been inhabited, but her unneighbourliness and persistent bad temper, streams of oaths and bad language at the slightest provocation, had long since caused her to live in solitary plight, and the other house to fall into a state of disrepair only a little worse than the one which Honor used.  It must have been years since anyone dared to call there, and after night-fall none even ventured down the little lane by which it stood.  With greater ease did King Saul visit the Witch of Endor than the good folks of Chapel-in-the-Marsh ventured to ‘old Honor’s Cottage’.

However, the Salvationised demeanour of the old woman was an invitation to the Officers, in spite of the memory of their first attempt.  On more than one occasion they had filled her heart with delight, that prayer and praise should be offered within its bare and dismal walls, its gloom made all the deeper by reason of the over-hanging trees.  A marvel of delight!  The first such visit was nearly as exciting, indeed, as the time when she knelt at the Penitent-Form.

It happened that one day the Captain came by himself.  Visiting in the neighbourhood he had a message that Honor wanted him especially, that he must come at once, and alone.  Hastily he made his way to the cottage, thinking very little about the strangeness of the message, for in his heart there had grown a deep affection for the old soul, so obviously struggling a path so very new to her.

It was the old lady’s opportunity to put into effect a strange plan her queer mind had conceived; a plot partly born of the filial attention which the lad, in his concern for her soul, had paid to the hitherto neglected woman.  As he hurried along the lane, he saw her waiting for him, and it was with some anxiety he followed her into her cottage.

“Sit down, lad, and read yerself a minute.  I’m none so keen to see ye, but that I can wait for a bit.  Don’t tire yerself, my bonny boy, rest now.”  And she pulled forward the solitary chair of the house.

“But they told me you wanted me urgently, and that I was to come at once; not even wait for the Lieutenant!”

“Oh, yes, I know.  I told ‘em to say so.  I knew you’d be calling at Mrs. White’s, and I have ‘er the word to tell ye to call.  I didn’t tell ‘er why, oh, No.  It’s best not to let everybody know everybody’s business.  There’s a sight too many want to know that.  Sit down, lad, and I’ll make ye a cup of tea, and then we’ll talk.  It’s a ‘portant matter I have on my mind, and I won’t be rushed.”

And, so, knowing by now that his people would not be ‘rushed’, and Honor Brown least of all, the young Captain submitted to the inevitable, and watched the old lady hang the kettle over the fire, and set the cups and saucers in scattered array for a frugal refreshment.

“Yes,” she said, “tis a ‘portant matter, and we’re not to be ‘rupted” – the Captain thought he would not mind if they were – “and so I’ll shut the door,” and suiting the action to the word, the old crone not only shut but bolted the door.  The lad began to have some qualms at to what all this portended.

“Tis like this, Captain,” she proceeded, as they were sitting over the tea-cups.  ‘Tis like this.  I’m an old, old woman, and I’ve lived along in this ‘ere cottage for many and many a year, and but for you and t’other lad, I’ve no friends at all.  ‘Tis a lonely life, and it’s made me a bad-tempered woman.  Why, Captain,” – and she leaned over to the lad, “my tempter’s got so bad that one day when I came in and found the cat eating the fish, I caught ‘old of him ,and laid ‘im right across the chopping-block, and chopped ‘is ‘ead off, Yes, I did, and this is the very knife what I did it with,” holding up the knife with which she had cut the thick slices of bread and butter for the meal.

“Ah, but Honor, those days are gone; old things have passed away.  Isn’t that so?

“I’m none so sure, lad.  I can get into a wholly bad go now, if I let myself.  But ‘tis not that I’m wanting to speak about this afternoon.”  With this she launched into  a tale which it is beyond me to set forth in her own words, but which must have been seething in her brain for days. 

She told the Captain how, as a young girl of fifteen, she had seen her father and mother die, and had followed them to their resting-places in the churchyard, and how just before their death her mother had told her of a small legacy which they were leaving to her, beside the two cottages.  “’T’was a ‘undred pounds, you’ll understand, Captain, and ‘t’was not to be mine ‘till I was married; I couldn’t touch it, my lad, ‘til I had a ‘usband of my own.  I knot ath ‘t’was.  My dea, old mother didn’t think it ‘ud send all the lads of the village running after me and my ‘undred pounds, but they did.  And when they’d come, I had the world’s work sending them about their business.  They didn’t want me; all they wanted was my money, and I wanted none like that. 

“And so ‘t has been all these years, and I’ve never been able to get at it, cos’ I wouldn’t marry the first man that came along.  I went in once or twice and see old Doddard, him what was the banker, but they’d always wanted to see my marriage lines, and I ‘adn’t any.”

The Captain would well visualize the scenes thus conjured up by the old woman’s words.  The men hanging around the young girl of the woods for the sake of her little fortune, and how she would send them away, and gradually develop into the hard creature of the present.  It was an additional reason for pity.  He listened as she went on talking, now with her arm resting on the table and looking at him with her set face, - a grim object.

“And, now, Captain, I’ll tell you what’s in my mind.  I want ye to marry me!”

The Captain gave a start, and looked round for a way of escape.  “Yes, lad, I want ye to marry me,” – and with a smack of her fist on the table – “and I’m not letting you out o’ ‘ere ‘til you promise me!  I’m not unlocking that there door ‘till you say the word I want!”

She had her scheme all cut and dried, and went on in detail to the startled Officer.  “Yes, I’ve worked it all out.  ‘Tis like this.  I’m an old woman, just gone seventy, and you’re a young feller with lots o’ life in front o’ you; ‘tis not likely I’ll be living much longer, and I means to ‘andle that ‘undred  pounds afore I die.”

“There’s old Passun Moore in the next parish.  He’s older nor I am, and he ain’t got no memory, and couldn’t ‘member to-morrer what he done today.  We’ll go over and get ‘im to marry us, and nobody in this village ‘ull know.  Then I’ll get the marriage-lines, go into Doddard’s Bank, draw the money; we’ll share it ‘atween us, and go our different ways, and nobody ‘ull know nothing.” 

“But I can’t do that!” ejaculated the Captain.  “I can’t do that; I can’t get married without telling Headquarters!”

“I don’t know nothing ‘bout no ‘eadquarters; all I know is, ye’ll promise to marry me, same’s I said, and then you can keep on being a Captain, and then when I dies, which won’t be long now, you’ll be all right, and nobody ‘ull every know.”

And the old woman planked down her arms once more on the table, having delivered her ultimatum, and sat there, on the old chopping-block, awaiting his reply.

 

chapter three

Perhaps I have over-emphasised the youth of the Captain, but that fact may account for another, - that this was his first proposal of marriage, and one the idea of which had never  entered his head.  What was he to do?  A furtive glance at the old lady only showed her determined mien, and another furtive glance at the barred door showed no way of escape.  He pondered over the situation; it was one for which the Clapton curriculum had made no provision.  At last a thought struck him.  “We’ll pray about it, Honor,” he said.  “I can’t decide on such an important matter without asking God for His advice.”

Honor was quite prepared for such a move, and so both the courtier and the courted knelt.  The Captain was always unable to tell me what he prayed, but he did tell me, years after the event, that, as he prayed, a way of escape presented itself.  He rose from his knees.

“Look here, Honor; I’m only a lad yet.  I’m not twenty-one, and if I was to get married now without my mother’s consent, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be legal, and you’d get no marriage-lines; then you’d be worse off than before.  I’ll tell you what I’ll do.  I’ll write to my mother, and tell her all about it, and then, if she gives her consent, I’ll marry you, and we’ll divide the money as you say.”

Honor was not quite sure about such an arrangement, but, as the Captain presented his case, she came slowly to a point of agreement, and a few minutes after he was released from the cottage, and was trudging down the lane back to the village, breathing hearty sighs of relief, and hearing the old woman’s cry; “Now, don’t ye forget, lad.  Write tonight, and I’ll be waiting to ‘ear what your mother has to say about it.”

Unlike some other young fellows might have done, the Captain kept the story of his ‘courtship’ to himself, save in the promised letter to his mother, and in a conversation with his superior officer who lived in the neighbouring market town.  Naturally, that worth had a hearty laugh at the lad’s expense, thereby cheering the Captain not a little.  He promised to keep the story to himself, so that no hint of the Officer’s dilemma should become known among his Soldiery.  Old Honor, in the meantime, waited more or less patiently for the letter which was to seal her fate.

Then somebody, either the Major or the Captain, began to wonder if Honor’s story were really true.  Had she the money deposited in Doddard’s Bank, or was it a mere imagination?  So, one day, the two men repaired to the house of the village squire, who was also the proprietor of the bank, and, in confidence, told him the tale.  The squire looked at them in laughing amazement, and then called for records.  If such an account was in existence it had long since escaped his notice.  All the interest he had ever had in Honor Brown was as a village character, not as a client.

But there, certain and sure enough, was the record of the deposit, made in his father’s time, and carried on, year after year in the perfunctory and official way which was all the land demanded of the Bank.  His clerks had never associated ‘Honor Brown’ with the queer-looking creature they sometimes saw in the town on market days. 

“But,” he exclaimed in some excitement, “hasn’t it occurred to any of you to make some enquiries?  It is your job to keep me up to date in such matters.”  He subordinates took his implied rebukes meekly enough, thinking, and perhaps rightly, that responsibility lay more upon him than them.

He was no less excited when he once more faced the Major and the Captain.  “You see, her original hundred pounds has been carrying interest all these years, and, men alive, Honor Brown’s worth at least six hundred points by our computation.  But that stupid Will of her parents won’t allow her to touch the capital.  The dear, dried-up old soul would have all the bachelors and widowers of Chapel-in-the-Marsh after her if they did but know.  Send for her, and I’ll have a talk with her.

The message the Captain had thus to convey to her was beyond the powers of his unsupported diplomacy, and so, the next morning, he was accompanied by the Major to the cottage by the wood.  When Honor saw the pair of them her new-found Salvation had to stand a test, for she not unnaturally thought the younger man had disclosed her plot.

“Honor,” began the Captain, “I’ve had a letter from my mother, and she won’t hear of my getting married; says I’m much too young, and she doesn’t know you.  But wait a moment” – as the old woman began to interrupt, - “I’ve something else to tell you, or rather the Major has.”

Whereupon into the ears of the astonished dame the Major proceeded to pour the story of the wonder fortune that was really hers.  It was far, far more than her feeble intellect could at first understand, but gradually, slowly came the knowledge that she was rich beyond all she ever dreamed.  There were not difficulty in getting her ready to make the journey into the market-town.

It was not an easy customer, though, that Banker Doddard had before him when the three visitors were seated before him in his private room.  “And ye mean ter say ye’ve been keepin’ me out o’ my money all these years; thing shame o’ yerself, and ye makin’ me tramp up to yer house to sell you a bit of fish.  Ye and yer lady partonising me!”

However, tact and kindliness,  - and a little remorse for not having looked into the affair sooner – had their effect, and it was a mollified Honor who left the Bank shortly afterwards, and, also, as it might be expected, a woman who walked with a lighter step, a more dignified mien, than the woman who we saw at the beginning of our story.  (and, incidentally, a young man who felt less in danger of matrimony than a few days earlier)

There is not much left for me to tell, except that the Major, the Squire, and the Captain between them made an arrangement with Honor’s finances resulting in comfort for her remaining years, even though the dead hand of her parents’ Will still kept its hold on the nucleus of her long-hidden fortune.

She no longer tramped the countryside in all weathers, but kept a cosy comfortable cottage in the lane in the shelter of the wood, and had a young girl to look after her, who became as a daughter.  Those upon whom she had waited with her fish-basket found it necessary to go elsewhere for their provender, though Honor often admitted that she missed the bits of gossip she used to pick up and dispense among them.  The little house became a rendezvous for Salvationist cottage-meetings, and when she became too enfeebled to make her way down to the Hall in the village, the cottage by the Wood had become a Bethel to many wearied souls. 

She, who for years had been the poverty-stricken witch of the countryside, was now a generous, kindly old Christian.  And when the end came, as it did five or six years after her strange proposal of marriage, there was a mighty concourse around her grave.

Her best-beloved Officer, the lad who had first led her to Christ, and by whose agency so much happiness came into her later years, was present to conduct the funeral.  There was a catch in his voice as he read the words finally committing her to her resting-place beside the remains of her parents.  As he pronounced the benediction there was an ‘amen’ from the lips and hearts of the crowd that spoke volumes for ‘the sure and certain hope of seeing her again on the resurrection morning’.

The little Corps at Chapel-in-the-Marsh still has occasion to hold Honor’s name in reverence, for the original legacy and the balance of the accumulated interest went by her express desire towards the erection of what might well have been called ‘The Honor Brown Memorial Hall’.  I supposed, after these many years, there are not many who remember the old soul shoes last gift made it possible, but there it stands, a place where such as she may seek and find the Saviour, - even as she did. 

As for the Captain, he went a-warring in the service of The Army in many lands, accomplishing a good warfare, saw wonderful things happen before he was promoted to Glory.  He had amazing adventures during his time, but I warrant none of them caused him so much astonishment or perplexity as did The Courtship Of Honor Brown.

 

  

 

 

   

 

 

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