Shelves: blood-and-morality-tales Reread Dec Wren was a funny guy. Love the humor. Sep 22, Joseph rated it it was amazing This book should be, along with Beau Geste and Beau Ideal, required reading for all boys in every school in the world. This book in particular focuses on duty and morals.
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I would be worthy of this uncle of mine, and I would devote my life to my country. Incidentally I had no objection to being made a Marshal of France, in due course. I regarded myself as a most fortunate young man, for all I had to do was my best. And I was lucky, beyond belief--not only in having such an uncle behind me, but in having an English education and an English training in sports and games.
I had won the Public Schools Championship for boxing Middle-weight and for fencing as well. I was a fine gymnast, I had ridden from childhood, and I possessed perfect health and strength. Being blessed with a cavalry figure, excellent spirits, a perfect digestion, a love of adventure, and an intense zest for Life, I felt that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
As for "riding alone"--excellent. I was not going to be the sort of man that allows his career to be hampered by a woman!
Soon after this, I received a notice directing me to present myself at the cavalry barracks, to be examined in equitation. If I failed in the test, I could not enter a cavalry regiment as a one-year Volontaire. I passed all right, of course, and, a little later, received my feuille de route and notification that I was posted to the Blue Hussars and was to proceed forthwith to their barracks at St.
Denis, and report myself. I had spent the interval, partly with my mother and her people, the Carys; and partly in Paris with a Lieutenant de Lannec, appointed my guide, philosopher and friend by my uncle, under whom de Lannec was then working at the War Office.
To this gentleman I was indebted for much good advice and innumerable hints and tips that proved invaluable. To de Lannec I owed it that if in my raw-recruit days I was a fool, I was not a sanguinary fool; and that I escaped most of the pit-falls digged for the feet of the unwary by those who had themselves only become wary by painful experience therein. Thanks to him, I also knew enough to engage permanently a private room for myself at a hotel in St. Denis, where I could have meals and a bath; to have my cavalry boots and uniform privately made for me; and to equip myself with a spare complete outfit of all those articles of clothing and of use, the loss or lack of which brings the private soldier to so much trouble and punishment.
I beheld an enormous parade ground, about a quarter of a mile square, with the Riding School in the middle of it, and beyond it a huge barracks for men and horses. The horses occupied the ground-floor and the men the floors above--not a nice arrangement I thought. I continued to think it, when I lived just above the horses, in a room that held a hundred and twenty unwashed men, a hundred and twenty pairs of stable-boots, a hundred and twenty pairs of never-cleaned blankets--and windows that had been kept shut for a hundred and twenty years, to exclude the exhalations from the stable because more than enough came up through the floor.
I passed through the gates, and a Sergeant came out from the Guard-Room, which was just beside them. He looked at it.
It is the one thing of his own that the soldier may hold. But a good Sergeant is not to be defeated. Get out of this--go on--before I. Name of an Anointed Poodle, I will! I believe that, for the fraction of a second, I was tempted to seek the train for Calais and England, instead of the Street of the Abandoned Children and the Office of the Paymaster. Alas, I knew not; but feeling something of a poor Abandoned Child myself, I decided that it was the latter.
He asked me which Squadron I would like to join, and I replied that I should like to join any Squadron to which the present Sergeant of the Guard did not belong. I described the Sergeant as a ruffianly brute with a bristly moustache, bristly eyebrows, bristly hair, and bristly manners. A bullying blackguard in fact. Did he swear by the name of an Anointed Poodle, by any chance?
Take this paper and ask for the Sergeant-Major of the Second Squadron. I have a way with aristocrats and Volontaires, and macquereaux. I followed the trooper, a tall fair Norman, across the great parade-ground, now alive with men in stable-kit, carrying brooms or buckets, wheeling barrows, leading horses, pumping water into great drinking-troughs, and generally fulfilling the law of their being, as cavalrymen.
I came along. A dog that never barked, but bit hard, Sergeant-Major Martin was a cold stern man, forceful and fierce, but in manner quiet, distant, and almost polite. One does not like them, but such things must be. He then bade the trooper conduct me to Sergeant de Poncey with the bad news that I was to be in his peloton.
Sergeant de Poncey was discovered in the exercise of his duty, giving painful sword-drill to a punishment-squad, outside the Riding School. He was a handsome man who looked as though life held nothing for him but pain. His voice was that of an educated man. The troopers, clad in canvas uniform and clogs, looked desperately miserable.
They had cause, since they had spent the night in prison, had had no breakfast, and were undergoing a kind of torture. The Sergeant would give an order, the squad would obey it, and there the matter would rest--until some poor devil, sick and half-starved, would be unable to keep his arm, and heavy sword, extended any longer.
At the first quiver and sinking down of the blade, the monotonous voice would announce: "Trooper Ponthieu, two more days salle de police, for not keeping still," and a new order would be given for a fresh form of grief, and another punishment to the weakest. Well--they were there for punishment, and they were certainly getting it.
When the squad had been marched back to prison, Sergeant de Poncey attended to me. He looked me over from head to foot. I was one myself, once. Come with me," and he led the way to the quartiers of the Second Squadron, and the part of the room in which his peloton slept. Two partitions, some eight feet in height, divided the room into three, and along partitions and walls were rows of beds.
It was thus that, for a year, I took all meals that I did not have at my hotel. Crowning each edifice was a shako and two pairs of boots. Cavalry carbines stood in racks in the corners of the room. As I stared round, the Sergeant put his hand on my arm. I liked this Sergeant de Poncey from the first. As I told you, I was a gentleman once; and now I am going to ask you to lend me twenty francs, for I am in serious trouble. Will you? And a good friend Sergeant de Poncey proved, and particularly valuable after he became Sergeant-Major; for though a Sergeant-Major may not have power to permit certain doings, he has complete power to prevent Higher Authority from knowing that they have been done.
A Corporal entering the room at that minute, Sergeant de Poncey called him and handed me over to him with the words: "A recruit for your escouade, Lepage. A Volontaire--but a good fellow. Old friend of mine. Cheaply and greasily handsome, the swarthy Corporal Lepage was a very wicked little man indeed, but likeable, by reason of an unfailing sense of humour and a paradoxical trustworthiness.
He had every vice and would do any evil thing--except betray a trust or fail a friend. Half educated, he was a clerk by profession, and an ornament of the city of Paris. Small, dissipated and drunken, he yet had remarkable strength and agility, and was never ill. In the canteen he drank neat cognac at my expense, and frankly said that his goodwill and kind offices could be purchased for ten francs.
I purchased them, and, having pouched the gold piece and swallowed his seventh cognac, the worthy man inquired whether I intended to jabber there the entire day, or go to the medical inspection to which he was endeavouring to conduct me.
Snipe, unless you obey my orders and cease this taverning, chambering and wantonness," replied the good Lepage. Pulling himself together, Corporal Lepage marched me from the canteen to the dispensary near by. The place was empty save for an Orderly. Lepage turned upon me. In the end, I left Corporal Lepage drunk in the canteen, passed the medical examination, and made myself a friend for life by returning and getting the uplifted warrior safely back to the barrack-room and bed.
An amusing morning. Here I was given a pair of red trousers to try on--"for size. They were not riding-breeches, but huge trousers, the legs being each as big round as my waist. As in the case of an axiom of Euclid, no demonstration was needed, but since the Sergeant-Tailor bade me get into them--I got. When the heavy leather ends of them rested on the ground, the top cut me under the arm-pits. The top of that inch-thick, red felt garment, hard and stiff as a board, literally cut me.
I looked over the edge and smiled at the Sergeant-Tailor. I flapped my wings at the Sergeant-Tailor. That there was room for him, as well, did not seem to be of importance. The difficulty now was to move, as the trousers seemed to be like jointless armour, but I struggled across the store to where sat the Sergeant-Bootmaker, with an entire range of boots of all sizes awaiting me.
The "entire range" consisted of four pairs, and of these the smallest was two inches too long, but would not permit the passage of my instep. They were curious leather buildings, these alleged boots. They were as wide as they were long, were perfectly square at both ends, had a leg a foot high, heels two and a half inches thick, and great rusty spurs nailed on to them. The idea was to put them on under the trousers. The likes of you are a curse and an undeserved punishment to good Sergeants, you orphaned Misfortune of God.
Put on the biggest pair. But what of the poor devil who had to accept such things without alternative? When I was standing precariously balanced inside these boots and garments, the Sergent-Fourrier gave me a Hussar shako which my ears insecurely supported; wound a blue scarf round my neck, inside the collar of the tunic, and bade me go and show myself to the Captain of the Week--who was incidentally Capitaine en Second of my Squadron.
Dressed as I was, I would not willingly have shown myself to a mule, lest the poor animal laugh itself into a state of dangerous hysteria. Walking as a diver walks along the deck of a ship, I plunged heavily forward, lifting and dropping a huge boot, that hung at the end of a huge trouser-leg, at each step. It was more like the progression of a hobbled clown-elephant over the tan of a circus, than the marching of a smart Hussar.
I felt very foolish, humiliated and angry. I do not know what I expected him to do. He did not faint, nor call upon Heaven for strength.
Beau Sabreur - Trailer
Percival Christopher Wren