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SERVANT MAN TURNED SOLDIER;
THE FAIR-WEATHER CHRISTIAN.
William was a lively young servant, who lived in a great, but very irregular, family. His place was, on the whole, agreeable to him, and suited to his gay, thoughtless temper. He found a plentiful table and a good cellar. There was, indeed, a good deal of work to be done, though it was performed with much disorder and confusion. The family in the main were not unkind to him, though they often contradicted and crossed him, especially when things went ill with themselves. This, William never much liked, for he was always fond of having his own way. There was a merry, or rather a noisy and riotous servants' hall; for disorder and quarrels are indeed the usual effects of plenty and unrestrained indulgence. The men were smart, but idle; the maids were showy, but licentious; and all did pretty much as they liked for a time, but the time was commonly short. The wages were reckoned high, but they were seldom paid; and it was even said by sober people, that the family was insolvent, and never fulfilled any of their flattering engagements, or their most positive promises; but still, notwithstanding their real poverty, things went on with just the same thoughtlessness and splendor, and neither masters nor servants looked beyond the jollity of the present hour.
In this unruly family there was little church-going, and still less praying at home. They pretended, indeed, in a general way, to believe in the Bible, but it was only an outward profession; few of them read it at all, and, even of those who did read it, still fewer were governed by it. There was, indeed, a Bible lying on the table in the great hall, which was kept for the purpose of administering an oath, but was seldom used on any other occasion; and some of the heads of the family were of opinion that this was its only real use, as it might serve to keep the lower parts of it in order.
William, who was fond of novelty and pleasure, was apt to be negligent of the duties of the house. He used to stay out on his errands, and one of his favorite amusements was, going to the parade to see the soldiers exercise. He saw with envy how smartly they were dressed; listened with rapture to the music, and fancied that a soldier had nothing to do but to walk to and fro in a certain regular order, to go through a little easy exercise; in short, to live without fighting, fatigue, or danger.
"O," said he, whenever he was affronted at home, " what a fine thing it must be to be a soldier! to be so well dressed, to have nothing to do but to move to the pleasant sound of fife and drum, and to have so many people come to look at one, and admire one! O, it must be a fine thing to be a soldier!"
Yet, when the vexation of the moment was over, he found so much ease and diversion in the great family, it was so suited to his low taste and sensual appetites, that he thought no more of the matter. He forgot the glories of a soldier, and eagerly returned to all the mean gratifications of the kitchen. His evil habits were but little attended to by those with whom he lived; his faults, among which were lying and swearing, were not often corrected by the family, who had little objection to those sins which only offended God, and did not much affect their own interest or property. And, except that William was obliged to work rather more than he liked, he found little, while he was young and healthy, that was very disagreeable in this service. So he went on, still thinking, however, when things went a little cross, what a fine thing it was to be a soldier! At last, one day, as he was waiting at dinner, he had the misfortune to let fall a china dish, and broke it all to pieces. It was a curious dish, much valued by the family, as they pretended; this family were indeed apt to set a false, fantastic value on things, and not to estimate them by their real worth. The heads of the family, who had generally been rather patient and good-humored with William, as I said before, for those vices, which, though offensive to God, did not touch their own pocket, now flew out into a violent passion with him, called him a thousand hard names, and even threatened to horsewhip him for his shameful negligence.
William, in a great fright,—for he was a sad coward at bottom,—ran directly out of the house, to avoid the threatened -punishment; and happening, just at that very time, to pass by the parade where the soldiers chanced to be then exercising, his resolution was taken in a moment. He instantly determined to be no more a slave, as he called it; he would return no more to be subject to the humors of a tyrannical family; no, he 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 man, 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; 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.
All seemed to go on swimmingly, 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! Vol. i. 14
"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 field-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 those 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 on the slightest attack; while those who had put on the armor of the king's providing, the sword, and the shield, and the helmet, and the breastplate, and whose feet were shod according to order, now endured hardship 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 desert. 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 once. 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 leg. As he fell, the first words which broke from him were, "While I was in my 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 soon over. The greater part of the regiment escaped in safety. 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. "O," 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? O, 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 gray 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 stfety. I would not fight then, I cannot pray now. O, why would I ever think of being a soldier?" 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 inquired, 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."