Chapter 2 | Our Soldier Boy

Chapter Two.

The 200th was in high glee to a man, which is including about twenty men who were wounded not so badly but that they could shout “Hurrah!” For there was a brush with the retreating French, who were driven from the strong camp they had formed, and the little patient had, to use Mrs Beane’s words, “begun to pick up a bit.”

During the next week of marching and counter-marching the wounded boy began to pick up a good many bits, for the doctor had rejoined the regiment, and he did something to the little fellow’s head where beneath the cruel cut he had received the bone was dinted in, and from that hour the change was wonderful. In another week he delighted Mrs Corporal Beane by watching her constantly with wondering eyes, and suddenly asking her who she was.

In her motherly delight she told him “Mother Beane,” and he began calling her mother directly, while in another week Corporal Joe had taught the patient to call him Dad, and wondering began.

“Haven’t you asked him?” said Joe.

“Yes, as much as I dared, old man, but I’m afraid to do much, because it seems to muddle his poor dear head, and he wrinkles up and tries to think, but he can’t.”

“But don’t he remember who cut him down?” said Joe.


“Nor yet about the house bein’ set a-fire?”


“Well, did you ask him his name?”

“Yes, and he only shook his head.”

“Did you ask him who his father and mother was?”

“Yes, but he didn’t know.”

“Well, it’s ama-a-azin’,” said Joe.

But it was true. The boy’s life had been saved just when it had been ebbing away, but that was all. With the cruel blow which struck him down all recollection of the past was cut away, and the boy had, as it were, to begin life all over again, not as a little child, for he could talk and chat merrily; but the dark cloud which came down so suddenly had shut everything else away.

“Well, it’s ama-a-azin’,” said Joe to his wife, “and it seems to me as we found him and saved him alive and all as belonged to him was killed dead, why, he must belong to us. What do you say to keeping him?”

“Oh, Joe, if we only could!” cried his wife.

“Ah, if we on’y could,” said Joe thoughtfully.

“I know,” cried Mrs Corporal; “I’ll ask the Colonel next time I take him his washing back.”

“You just don’t,” said Joe; “because if you do he’ll say as you mustn’t.”

“Oh!” sighed Mrs Corporal; “that’s just what I’m ’fraid of.”

They were very silent as they sat by the camp-fire that night in an orange-grove, with the big stars peeping down at them, and Tom Jones, who took a great interest in what was said, sat and waited for ever so long, and then being tired out with the long day’s tramp, lay down to listen, and dropped off fast asleep, just as Joe Beane said thoughtfully:—

“Look here, missus, if I was on’y a private instead of being an officer I should say something, but as I am full corporal, why, I can’t.”

“Just think you are a private, Joe, and say it,” whispered his wife.

“Shall I?” he said slowly.

“Yes, Joe, dear, do. He’s such a nice boy.”

“Ay, he is, missus.”

“And I love him a’ready.”

“Well, I won’t go so far as love him, ’cause I don’t like boys, but I like him because he’s such a good, happy-looking little chap, and how anyone as calls himself a man could have—”

“Yes, yes, you’ve said that before, Joe,” whispered his wife pettishly. “Tell me what you’d say if you warn’t a corporal.”

“Why, I’d say nothing,” said Joe.

“Oh, how can you be so stupid as to go on like that! I thought you’d got something sensible in your head.”

“So I have,” said Joe gruffly, “on’y you’re in such a hurry. I should say nothing to nobody, and go on just as if he warn’t here.”

“Oh, Joe, dear, would you?”

“Yes, that’s what I should say. We could manage right enough, and if at last the Colonel should come with: ‘Hallo there! What boy’s that?’—why, we could tell him then, and if he said: ‘Send him away’—”

“Yes, and what then, Joe?” cried Mrs Corporal excitedly.

“Why then,” said Joe, “we should have to obey orders.”

“Ah, and he mightn’t say that, Joe, as he’s such a nice little fellow.”

“Course, he mightn’t,” replied Joe.

“Hah!” ejaculated Mrs Corporal Beane, and she said no more. But at the next halting-place she began to think: and the result of her thinking was that she got hold of an old uniform suit and by working very hard every time the regiment halted she contrived to cut the suit down till it roughly fitted the little invalid, braiding it like the drum and bugle boys’, and making a little military cap as well, so that by the time he was able to trot along in the rear of the regiment he did not seem out of place.

“Joe,” said Mrs Corporal one morning, “look at him; don’t he look splendid? He’s our soldier boy now, and I shall call him Dick.”

“All right,” said the corporal; “Dick ain’t bad, but you might ha’ called him Joe the second.”