BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois


The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour


Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe


Barracks, bivouacs, and battles

by Archibald Forbes

Excerpt:

While he was skulking into the privacy of his "den," an extremely pretty girl was sobbing convulsively on the breast of a stalwart fair-haired young fellow, whose eyes were flashing wrath, whose face still had an angry flush, and the knuckles of whose right hand were cut open, the blood trickling unheeded down the weeping girl's white dress. She, Mary Fraser, was the daughter of the clergyman of the parish; the young man, by name Sholto Mackenzie, was the orphan nephew of the old laird of Kinspiel, a small hill-property on the mountain slope. The two were sweethearts, and small chance was there of their ever being anything more. For Kinspiel was strictly entailed, and the old laird, who was so ill that he might die any day, had a son who had sons of his own, and was in no position, if he had the will, to help on his dead sister's manchild. Mary Fraser and Sholto Mackenzie had trysted to meet this evening in the accustomed pine glade on the edge of the heather. The girl was there before the time. Young Mr. Kidson, listlessly smoking as he lounged on a turf bank, caught a glimpse of her dress through the trees, and promptly bore down on her. There was a slight acquaintance, and she returned his greeting, supposing that he would pass on. But he did not—on the contrary, he waxed fluent in coarse flatteries, and suddenly grasping the girl in his arms was making strenuous efforts to snatch kisses from her, undeterred by her struggles and shrieks. At this crisis Sholto Mackenzie, hearing the cries, came running up at the top of his speed. Young Mr. Kidson, fancying himself a bit as a man who could use his fists, had not the poor grace to run away. While the girl leant half fainting against a tree there was a brief

D

pugilistic encounter between the young men, as the issue of which Mr. Kidson was disabused of a misconception, and presented the aspect which a few minutes later brought tribulation to his mother. As he carried himself and his damages off, he muttered through his pulped lips with a fierce oath that the day would come when his antagonist should rue the evening's work. Whereat the antagonist laughed contemptuously, and addressed himself to the pleasant task of calming and consoling his agitated sweetheart.

Before the grouse season closed the old laird of Kinspiel was a dead man, and there was no longer a home for Sholto Mackenzie in the quaint old crowstepped house in the upland glen among the bracken. What career was open to the penniless young fellow? He had no interest for a cadetship, and that Indian service in which so many men of his race have earned name and fame was not for him. In those days there was no Manitoba, no ranching in Texas or Wyoming; the Cape gave no opportunities, the Argentine was not yet a resort for English youth of enterprise, and he had not money enough to take him to the Australian gold-diggings or to the sheepruns of New Zealand. He saw no resource but to offer himself to the Queen's service in the capacity of a private soldier, in the hope that education, good conduct, and fervent zeal would bring him promotion and perhaps distinction. By the advice of a local pensioner he journeyed to London and betook him

self to the metropolitan recruiting centre in Charles Street, Westminster. No Sergeants Kite now patrol that thoroughfare in quest of lawful prey; nay, the little street with its twin public-house headquarters is itself a thing of the past. About the centre of the long wooden shanty recently built for the purposes of the census, stood the old " Hampshire Hog," with its villainous rendezvous in the rear; nearer the Park on the opposite side, just where is now the door of the India Office, the " Cheshire Cheese" reared its frowsy front. In the days I am writing of, recruits accepted or had foisted on them the "Queen's Shilling," received a bounty, gave themselves for twenty-four years' service, and were escorted by a staff-sergeant to their respective regiments. Now there is neither Queen's shilling nor bounty, and the recruit, furnished with a travelling warrant, is his own escort to Ballincollig or Fort George. What scenes had dingy Charles Street witnessed in its day! How much sin and sorrow; too late remorse, too late forgiveness! In many a British household has Charles Street been cursed with bitter curses; yet has it not been, in a sense, the cradle of heroes? It sent to battle the men whose blood dyed the sward of the Balaclava valley; it fed the trenches of Sebastopol; it was the sieve through whose meshes passed the staunch warriors who stormed Delhi and who defended Lucknow, who bled and conquered at Sobraon and Goojerat.

Sholto Mackenzie had eaten Queen Victoria's rations for some six months, had been dismissed recruits' drill, and become a duty soldier, when the order was issued that the "30th Light," the regiment into which he had enlisted, was to go out for its turn of service in India, and of course the young soldier went with his regiment. Those were the days before big Indian troopships and the Suez Canal; reinforcements for India went out round the Cape. Sholto's troop was accompanied by two married women who were on the strength of the regiment. Nowadays the soldier's wife adorns her room in the married quarters with cheap Liberty hangings, and walks out in French boots and kid gloves. Mrs. Macgregor and Mrs. Malony lived each her married life and reared her family in a bunk in the corner of the troop-room of which she had the "looking after." Such a life seems one of sheer abomination and barbarism, does it not? Yet the arrangement had the surprising effect, in most instances, of bringing about a certain decency, self-restraint, and genuinely human feeling alike in the men and the married woman of the room. Neither Mrs. Macgregor nor Mrs. Malony had ever been abroad before; and both evinced a strong propensity to take with them copious mementoes of their native land. Mrs. Macgregor, honest woman, had manifested that concentrativeness which is a feature in the character of the nation to which, as her name indicated, she belonged. She had packed into a great piece of canvas sheeting a certain feather-bed, which, as an heirloom from her remote ancestors, she was fond of boasting of when the other matrons were fain to sew together a couple of regimental palliasse covers, and stuff the same with straw. In the capacious bosom of this family relic she had stowed a variety of minor articles, among which were a wash-hand jug of some primeval earthenware, a hoary whisky decanter —which, trust Mrs. Macgregor, was quite empty— a cradle, sundry volumes of Gaelic literature, and a small assortment of cooking utensils. Over those collected properties stood grimly watchful the tall, gaunt woman with the gray eye, the Roman nose, and the cautious taciturnity. Of another stamp was Mrs. Malony, a little, slatternly, pock-marked Irishwoman. Her normal condition was that of a nursingmother— nobody could remember the time when Biddy Malony had not a brat hanging at that bosom of hers which she was wont partially to conceal by an old red woollen kerchief. Biddy was a merry soul, spite of many a trial and many a cross—always ready with a flash of Irish humour, just as ready as she always was for a glass of gin. She had not attempted the methodical packing of her goods and chattels, but had bundled them together anyhow in a chaotic state. Her great difficulty was her inability to perform the difficult operation of carrying her belongings "in her head," and after she had pitchforked into the baggagevan a quantity of incongruous dSris, she was still in a bewildered way questing after a wicker bird-cage and "a few other little throifles."

Embarking along with his comrades and reaching the main deck of the troopship, Sholto found the two ladies already there—Mrs. Macgregor grimly defiant, not to say fierce, in consequence of a request just made to her by a sailor for a glass of grog; Mrs. Malony in a semi-hysterical state, having lost a shoe, a wash-tub, and, she much feared, one of the young Malonys. Matters were improved, however, when Sholto found the young bog-trotter snugly squatted in the cows' manger. The shoe was gone hopelessly, having fallen into the water when its wearer was mounting the gangway; and Mrs. Malony happily remembered that she had made a present of the missing wash-tub to a "green-grosher's lady" in the town of embarkation.


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