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Page 219

PART III - THE PAST
CHAPTER VIII - TROOPER SILAS TOMKYN - COMBERBACKE

THE workhouse at Henley-on-Thames has, or rather had, a garden attached to it, in the midst of which stood a solitary hut, reserved for inmates who were suffering from infectious diseases. At the moment our eyes rest upon this hut-that is to say at a moment during the February of 1794-it was occupied by two troopers of the King's Light Dragoons. One of them was sick of the confluent smallpox ; he raved in delirium, and the other, who held him down, was covered with ominous spots. The unfortunate men had been left behind by their regiment to look after themselves as best they could, and their situation was appalling, for the weather was bitter, the hut possessed four windows and little else, and though the paupers in the main building were sympathetic they approached with circumspection. We do not know the name of the trooper who had the smallpox, but the one covered with spots was called Comberbacke.
Comberbacke was a clumsy young man, with a drooping lower lip and aspiring eyes, and somewhat of a puzzle to his mates. They saw easily enough that he was a` natural,' but he was a talking natural, a rare and rather agreeable species ; he could speak and even write upon a variety of topics with a fluency they felt bound to admire. Although he could neither mount his horse nor groom it, he was grand when he came to the wars of the past, and he was always willing to describe them in an interminable and interesting way. There was an expedition entailing the Hellespont-probably the mouth of the Thames being a broad space of water-leading to Thermopple (sic) a place up north, and General Alexander-no doubt from Truro, where it is a well-known name. He talked and laughed, didn't mind being teased, changed from subject to subject ; he was superb ; nothing could stop him when once he had started, and if asked to write a letter for you it was the same : the ink poured out in a torrent,

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