Page images
PDF
EPUB

family; no, he was resolved to be free, or, at least, if he must serve, he would serve no master but the King.

William, who had now and then happened to hear, from the accidental talk of the soldiers, that those who served the great family he had lived with, were slaves to their tyranny and vices, had also heard, in the same casual manner, that the service of the King was perfect freedom. Now he had taken it into his head to hope that this might be a freedom to do evil, or at least to do nothing, so he thought it was the only place in the world to suit him.

A fine likely young fellow as William was, had no great difficulty to get enlisted. The few forms were soon settled, he received the bounty-money* as eagerly as it was offered, took the oaths of allegiance, and was joined to the regiment, and heartily welcomed by his new comrades. He was the happiest fellow alive. All was smooth and calm. The day happened to be very fine, and therefore William always reckoned upon a fine day. The scene was gay and lively, the music cheerful, he found the exercise very easy, and he thought there was little more expected from him.

He soon began to flourish away in his talk; and when he met with any one of his old fellow-servants, he fell a prating about marches and counter-marches, and blockades, and battles, and sieges, and blood, and death, and triumphs, and victories, all at random; for these were words and phrases he had picked up, without at all understanding what he said. He had no knowledge, and therefore he had no modesty; he had no experience, and therefore he had no fears.

* Money paid in advance to a soldier when he enlists.

All seemed to go on swimingly, for he had as yet no trial. He began to think with triumph what a mean life he had escaped from in the old quarrelsome family, and what a happy honorable life he should have in the army. O, there was no life like the life of a soldier.

In a short time, however, war broke out, his regiment was one of the first which was called out to actual and hard service. As William was the most raw of all the recruits, he was the first to murmur at the difficulties and hardships, the cold and hunger, the fatigue and danger, of being a soldier. O what watchings, and perils, and trials, and hardships, and difficulties, he now thought attended a military life ! Surely,"

,” said he, “ I could never have suspected all this misery when I used to see the men on the parade in our town.”

He now found, when it was too late, that all the fieid-days he used to attend, all the evolutions and exercises which he had observed the soldiers to go through, in the calm times of peace and safety, were only meant to fit, train, and qualify them for the actual service, which they were now sent out to perform by the command of the King.

The truth is, William often complained when there was no real hardship to complain of; for the common troubles of life fell out pretty much alike to the great family which William had left, and to the soldiers in the King's army. But the spirit of obedience, discipline, and self-denial of the latter, seemed hardships to one of William's loose turn of mind. When he began to murmur, some good old soldier clapped him on the back, saying, - Cheer up, lad, it is a kingdom you are to strive for; if we faint not, henceforth there is laid up for us a great reward; we have the King's word for it, man.”_William observed that to those who truly believed this, their labors were as nothing; but he himself did not at the bottom believe it; and it was observed of all the soldiers who failed, the true cause was, that they did not really believe the King's promise. He was surprised to see that the soldiers, who used to bluster, and boast, and deride the assaults of the enemy, now began to fall away; while such as had faithfully obeyed the King's orders, and believed in his word, were sustained in the hour of trial. Those who had trusted in their own strength, all fainted in the slightest attack, while those who had put on the armour of the King's providing, the sword, and the shield, and the helmet, and the breast-plate, and whose feet were shod according to order, now endured hardships as good soldiers, and were enabled to fight the good fight.

An engagement was expected immediately. The men were ordered to prepare for battle. While the rest of the corps were so preparing, William's whole thoughts were bent on contriving how he might de

But, alas ! he was watched on all sides; he could not possibly devise any means to escape. The danger increased every moment—the battle came on. William, who had been so sure and confident before he entered, flinched in the moment of trial; while his more quiet and less boastful comrades, prepared boldly to do their duty. William looked about on all sides, and saw that there was no eye upon him, for he did not know that the King's eye was every where at

He at last thought he spied a chance of escaping, not from the enemy, but from his own army. While he was endeavoring to escape, a ball from the opposite camp took off his

sert.

once.

soon

over.

[ocr errors]

leg. As he fell, the first words which broke from him were, " while I was in duty I was preserved; in the very act of deserting I am wounded.” He lay expecting every moment to be trampled to death, but as soon as the confusion was a little over, he was taken off the field by some of his own party, laid in a place of safety, and left to himself, after his wound was dressed. The skirmish, for it proved nothing more, was

The greater part of the regiment escaped in safety, while the few who fell, rejoiced that they fell in their duty. William, in the mean time, suffered cruelly both in mind and body. To the pains of a wounded soldier, he added the disgrace of a coward, and the infamy of a deserter. “0,” cried he, why was I such a fool as to leave the great family I lived in, where there was meat and drink enough and to spare, only on account of a little quarrel ? I might have made up that with them as we had done our former quarrels. Why did I leave a life of ease and pleasure, where I had only a little rub now and then, for a life of daily discipline, and constant danger ? Why did I turn soldier ? 0, what a miserable animal is a soldier !"

As he was sitting in this weak and disabled condition, uttering the above complaints, he observed a venerable old officer, with thin grey locks on his head, and on his face deep wrinkles engraved by time, and many an honest scar inflicted by war. William had heard this old officer highly commended for his extraordinary courage and conduct in battle, and in peace he used to see him cool and collected, devoutly employed in reading and praying, in the interval of more active duties. He could not help comparing this officer with himself, “ I,” said he, “flinched and drew back, and would even have deserted in the moment of peril; and now, in return, I have no consolation in the hour of repose and safety. I would not fight then, I cannot pray now. O, why did I ever think of being a soldier po He then began afresh to weep and lament, and he groaned so loud, that he drew the notice of the officer, who came up to him, kindly sat down by him, took him by the hand, and enquired with as much affection as if he had been his brother, what was the matter with him, and what particular distress, more than the common fortune of war, it was which drew from him such bitter groans ? “I know something of surgery,” added he, “ let me examine your wound, and assist you with such little comforts as I

can."

William at once saw the difference between the soldiers in the King's army, and the people in the great family; the latter commonly withdrew their kindness in sickness and trouble, when most wanted, which was just the very time when the others came forward to assist. He told the officer his little history, the manner of his living in the great family, the trifling cause of his quarrelling with it, the slight ground of his entering into the King's service. “ Sir,” said he, “ I quarrelled with the family, and I thought I was at once fit for the army: I did not know the qualifications it required.--I had not reckoned on discipline, hardships, and self-denial. I liked well enough to sing a loyal song, or drink the King's health, but I find I do not relish working and fighting for him, though I rashly promised even to lay down my life for his service if called upon, when I took the bounty money and the oath of allegiance.In short, Sir, I find that I long for the ease and sloth,

« PreviousContinue »