Edward Marston

Soldier of Fortune


Saturday, July 4, 1685

Daniel Rawson saw him at once. The boy was walking across a field with his dog, Tinker, at his heels when he caught sight of a lone horseman coming over the brow of the hill. He sensed that it must be his father and broke into a spontaneous run. Thinking that they were playing a game, Tinker chased after him, shooting past him then zigzagging crazily in his path. Daniel did not even notice the animal. His gaze was fixed on the rider and his mind was racing. It was almost three weeks since Nathan Rawson had left home to join the Duke of Monmouth and it had been the longest and most agonising time of the boy's life. Desperate to know how his father was faring with the rebel army, he had been fed on nothing but rumour, lies and tittle-tattle. At last, he would learn the truth.

Recognising his son, Nathan kicked his horse into a gallop then raised an arm in greeting. Daniel replied by waving both of his hands in the air and Tinker barked excitedly. By the time that father and son finally met, the boy was panting for breath but nevertheless able to blurt out a few words.

'Welcome back, Father!'

'How are you, lad?' said Nathan, reining in his horse and dismounting to embrace him. 'Is all well here?'

'What news?' Daniel gasped. 'Have the royal forces been put to flight? Has the King been deposed? Have we won yet?'

Nathan shook his head sadly. 'No, Dan. Not yet.'

'But we will win — you promised me that we will.'

'And we may still do so in time.'

'Where's the army now?' asked Daniel.

'No more questions until we get home,' said the other, holding him by the shoulders to appraise him. 'Let me take a good look at you. I've missed you and your mother so much.' Tinker barked in protest and Nathan smiled wearily. 'Yes, I missed you as well, Tinker,' he added, patting the dog's head. 'I've missed you all.'

Thrilled to see his father once more, Daniel was at the same time distressed by his appearance. Nathan Rawson was a big, broad-shouldered man in his late thirties with the boundless energy that his son had inherited from him. There was no sign of that energy now. He looked tired, dispirited and much older than when he had left the farm to join a cause in which he fervently believed. In the eyes of a ten-year old boy who worshipped him, his father had shrunk in size and lost all of his buoyant self-confidence.

'Come on,' said Nathan, trying to conceal his anxieties behind a warm grin. 'Let's ride home together.'

'How long will you be staying?'

'Only until tomorrow — we've been granted furlough.'

'Mother will be so pleased,' said Daniel.

'Then let's not keep her waiting.'

Foot in the stirrup, Nathan mounted the horse then offered his hand to his son. Daniel was a sturdy boy but he was hauled up effortlessly to sit behind his father. With the dog scampering beside them, they began to trot across the fields in the afternoon sunshine, Daniel holding tightly on to his father with a fierce pride that was tempered by desperation.

Edward Marston

Soldier of Fortune

Juliana Rawson was so delighted to see her husband return that she burst into tears and lapsed back into her native language. Since he could speak Dutch more fluently than his father, Daniel had a much clearer idea of what his mother was saying. As his parents threw their arms around each other, the boy realised that they needed some privacy. The most useful thing he could do was to stable the horse. It was only when he was unsaddling the animal that he noticed the ugly gash down one flank and the dried blood on its withers. His father had clearly seen action.

Set in the heart of Somerset, the farm was large enough to give them a comfortable living yet small enough to employ a mere five labourers and two domestic servants. Unlike some in the county, it had not been requisitioned by the rebel army nor had its livestock plundered to feed hungry soldiers. It was ironic. Nathan Rawson had abandoned his military career to get married and take up farming. In the hope of putting the Duke of Monmouth on the throne, he had now given up farming to follow the drum once more.

When he got back to the house, Daniel found his parents in the kitchen, sitting side by side at the table. The boy took a chair opposite them and hung on his father's words. Because of his experience in combat, Nathan had been promoted to the rank of captain and he was impressed by the men who served under him.

'They lack nothing in courage,' he told them, 'and they come from all parts of the West Country. We have miners from the Mendips, fishermen from the south, wool-workers from Devon, mountain men from the Quantocks, graziers from Bampton, wild marsh-men from Axbridge and hundreds of other stout-hearted fellows ready to take up arms to rid the country of a Catholic tyrant.'

'There's talk of deserters,' Daniel chipped in.

'Every army has a few cowards who turn tail when the first shot is fired. We're better off without them. Besides,' Nathan went on airily, 'we've recruited some deserters ourselves from the royal ranks. They'd much rather serve King Monmouth than labour under the yoke of King James.'

'But where will it all end, Nathan?' asked Juliana worriedly.

'That's in the laps of the gods, my love.'

'What will happen to you?'

'I'll give a good account of myself in battle, have no fear.'

'What about us?'

'You and Dan must pray for our success.'

It was not the reassuring answer that she needed and her face clouded. Juliana was a comely woman in her thirties with vestiges of the youthful prettiness that had first attracted Nathan Rawson. He had been fighting in the Netherlands at the time and they had been on opposite sides. It was different now. Their respective countries were at peace with each other and their marriage symbolised the fact. She did not want her happiness to be shattered by warfare.

'Have you killed anyone?' asked the boy, wide-eyed..

'Daniel!' scolded his mother.

'I want to know.'

'The lad has the right to be told,' said Nathan, subduing his wife with a hand on her arm. 'Yes, Dan,' he added, turning to his son. 'I killed a man during a skirmish at Norton St Philip and wounded two others. They attacked us hard that day but we repulsed them in fine style. It was an important victory.'

'Ralph Huckvale's father died at Norton St Philip.'

'We were bound to suffer losses.'

'Ralph went off to serve in his place,' said Daniel. 'He's only a few years older than me. Why can't I join in the fight?'

'No!' cried Juliana. 'I couldn't bear that.'

'You must stay here, Dan,' said his father.

'But you were a drummer boy at my age,' argued Daniel.

'That was different.'

'I need you here,' said Juliana. 'You must stay with me, Dan.'

'Listen to your mother,' advised Nathan. 'Your job is to look after her and the farm. When I go away, you're the man of the house. Always remember that.'

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