Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/46

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sidewalk had stopped a little ahead, with the evident intention of taking a good look at the soldiers. Oh! the subtle influence of the sex. Every man in the picket sat a little straighter, and even the horses seemed to curve their necks until their lips kissed the brazen boss of the breastplate.

It was a sweet moment for the sergeant. He leaned forward, taking the reins in his right hand a moment to pat the horse's neck with his left white-gauntleted hand, which was next the sidewalk. Then he sat easily back, right hand on thigh again, and blandly turned to beam on the admiring divinity. Rare moment! Only he who has worn war-paint knows the meaning of it. The foam-fleck on the bit, the shining color of the chain on the horse's neck, the reminding touch of the hilt against the thigh,—all these common, daily things are felt anew, with a fresh significance known to the recruit, when they are mirrored in the admiring, ignorant eyes of womanhood.

The Tenth Hussars were picked men, at least physically. Morally and mentally they were also above the average, which was not high, of the army. A youth like O'Reilly, full of generous impulses and lofty aspirations, would have been strangely out of place among the men whom the latest novelist has given to the world as representative British soldiers. But the troopers of the Tenth were far above such ruthless swashbucklers. Types of the latter were to be met with at the great military musters of Aldershot and the Curragh. "Are Mulvaney and Learoyd and Ortheris fair representatives of the British private?" was a question put to the ex-private of Troop D, of the Tenth Hussars, shortly after the appearance on the literary stage of these Anglo-Indian musketeers. "They are not average soldiers," he replied, "but they are not caricatures. I have seen men fully as depraved as Mr. Kipling's hero, who boasted of having 'put his foot through every one of the Ten Commandments between "reveillé" and "lightsout."' I met one at a review on the Curragh, who told me, without the slightest apparent thought of the atrocity of the deed, how he and his comrades had once roasted a Hindoo gentleman to death, out of pure, wanton savagery. He did not consider it a crime to be ashamed of, nor a feat to boast of. It was simply an incident in his campaign experience."

It would be a gross libel to say that the British army is