Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/169

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157
FIRST ACTIONS OF WOUNDED SOLDIERS.

what are the symptoms, what the actions, above all, what the conscious feelings of the victim himself, or, as poetical fancy insists he shall be named, the hero? How wide or how narrow to his vision is the interval between the hard reality and the sentimental ideal? Flesh and bone of themselves can not be expected to rise to the height of the strained occasion. Torn and broken, glory never heals the one or sets the other; and so men's bodies will not forever remain insensible to the claims of Nature, even though in the excitement of war the mind may be superior to every consideration less than heroic. Yes, there must be a time when the will of the soldier is at odds with the forces that normally rule the sinews and tendons of his frame—a time, dear poet, when the hero proves to be only a man a creature inspired after the flesh as well as after the spirit.

And now, looking at the soldier as a warring machine, does a missile fired into the delicate apparatus bring the whole engine quickly to a dead halt? The world hears so much about the Light Brigade at Balaklava that it should be familiar with the tragic story of the most noted victim of that affair, Captain Nolan. Nolan, as aide-de-camp of the division general, assumed to guide the Light Brigade in its awful charge, and, with frantic exclamation and vehement gestures with his uplifted sword, he rode to the right oblique beyond the head of the reckless column, in order to draw the six hundred out of the valley of death, which lay directly in their course, off toward a line of flanking redoubts which they had been ordered to attack, and where victory and not disaster doubtless awaited them. When he was a few paces to the right of the leading ranks a piece of shell struck him on the chest, tearing into the heart.

"The sword dropped from his hand," says the minute chronicle of Kinglake, "but the arm with which he was waving it the moment before still remained high uplifted in the air, and the grip of the practiced horseman, remaining as yet unrelaxed, still held him firm in his saddle. Missing the perfect hand of his master, and finding the accustomed governance now succeeded by the dangling reins, the horse all at once wheeled about and began to gallop back upon the front of the advancing brigade. Then, from what had been Nolan—and his form was still erect in the saddle, his sword-arm still high in the air—there burst forth a cry so strange and appalling that the hearer who rode nearest him called it unearthly. And in truth, I imagine," continues the historian, "the sound resulted from no human will, but rather from those spasmodic forces which may act upon the bodily frame when life as a power has ceased. The firm-seated rider, with arm uplifted and stiff, could hardly be ranked with the living. The shriek men heard rending the air was scarce