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Mick had seven days' cells for this escapade, and when he next saw his bride, he had not a hair on his head a quarter of an inch long, the provostsergeant's shears having gone very close to the scalp. He had a wife, it was true; but matrimonial felicity seemed a far-off dream. Mick had married without leave, and there was no place in barracks for his little wife. Indeed, in further punishment of Mick, her name was "put upon the gate,” which means that the sentry was charged to prohibit her entrance. Mick could get no leave; so he could enjoy the society of his spouse only between evening stables and watch-setting; and on the whole he might just as well have been single_indeed better, if the wife's welfare be taken into consideration. Only neither husband nor wife was of this opinion, and hoped cheerily for better things.
But worse, not better, was to befall the pair. That cruellest of all blows which can befall the couple married without leave, suddenly struck them; the regiment was ordered on foreign service. to march to the south of England, give over its horses at Canterbury, Christchurch, and elsewhere, and then embark at Southampton for India.
Next to a campaign, the brightest joy in the life of the cavalry soldier is going on the line of march," from one home station to another. For him it is a glorious interlude to the dull restrained monotony of his barrack-room life, and the weary routine of mounted and dismounted drill. Boots and saddles"
sounds early on the line of march.
The troopers from their scattered billets concentrate in front of the principal hotel of the town where the detachment quarters for the night, and form up in the street or the market-place, while as yet the shutters are fast on the front of the earliest-opening shop. The officers emerge from the hotel, mount, and inspect the parade; the order “Threes right !” is given, and the day's march has begun. The morning sun flashes on the sword-scabbards and accoutrements, as the quiet street echoes to the clink of the horse-hoofs on the cobblestones. Presently the town is left behind, and the detachment is out into the country. There had been a shower as the sun rose -the “pride of the morning” the soldiers call the sprinkle—just sufficient to lay the dust, and evoke from every growing thing its sweetest scent. The fresh crisp morning air is laden with perfume; the wild rose, the jessamine, the eglantine, and the
morning glory" entwine themselves about the gnarled thorn of the hedgerows, and send their tangled feelers straggling up the ivy-clad trunks of the great elms and oaks, through whose foliage the sunbeams are shooting. From the valley rises a feathery haze broken into gossamer-like patches of diverse hues; and here and there the blue smoke of some early-lit cottage fire ascends in a languid straightness through the still atmosphere. The hind yoking his plough in the adjacent field chants a rude ditty, while his driver is blowing his first
cloud, the scent of which comes sluggishly drifting across the road with that peculiarly fresh odour only belonging to tobacco-smoke in the early morning. As the rise is crowned, a fair and fertile expanse of country lies stretched out below—shaggy woods and cornfields, and red-roofed homesteads, and long reaches of still water, and the square tower of the venerable church showing over the foliage that overhangs the hamlet and the graveyard. Then the command "Trot!” is passed along from the front, and away go the troopers bumping merrily, their accoutrements jingling and clanking, their horses feeling the bit lightly, tossing their heads, arching their necks, and stepping out gallantly, in token that they too take delight in being on the road. Three miles of a steady trot; then a five minutes' halt to tighten girths and “look round” equipments; then up into the saddle again. The word comes back along the files, “Singers to the front !” whereupon every fellow who has, or thinks he has, a voice, presses forward till the two front ranks are some six abreast across the road. Now the premier vocalist-self-constituted or acclaimed-strikes up a solo whose principal attribute is unlimited chorus ; and so to the lusty strain the detachment marches through the next village, bringing all the natives to their doors, and attracting much attention and commendation, especially from the fair sex.
The day's march half over, there is a longer halt; and the kindly officers send on a corporal to the little way
side beerhouse just ahead, whence he speedily returns, accompanied by the landlord, stepping carefully between a couple of pailsful of foaming beer. Each man receives his pint, the officers'" treat"; and then, all hands in the highest spirits, the journey is resumed ; trot and walk alternate, the men riding “at ease," until the verge is reached of the town in which the detachment is to be billeted for the night. Then “ Attention !” is called, swords are drawn, the files close up, and the little array marches right gallantly through the streets to the principal hotel. Here the billeting sergeant," who is always a day's march ahead, distributes the billets, each for a couple of troopers, and chums are allowed to share the same billet. A willing urchin shows the way to the Wheatsheaf, whose hearty landlord forthwith comes out with a frank welcome, and a brown jug in hand. Horses cleaned and bedded down, accoutrements freed from the soil of the road, dinner—and a right good dinner -is served, the troopers sitting down to table with their host and hostess. The worthy Boniface and his genial spouse have none of your cockney contempt for the soldier, but consider him not only their equal, but a welcome guest; and the soldier, if he is worth his salt, does his best to conduct himself so as not to tarnish the credit of his cloth.
Than Mick Sullivan no soldier of the gay 30th Light Dragoons was wont to enjoy himself more on the line of march. But now the honest Irishman was silent and depressed.
He was a married man,
go thus far.
That of itself did not sadden him; he did not repent his act, rash as it had been. But he had married without leave, and his little wife was entitled to no privileges—she was not “on the strength.” Mick had prayed her to remain at home with her father, for he could not afford her travelling expenses, and even if he could, he knew, and he had to tell her, that they must part at the port of embarkation. But “the Crayture," as Mick called her, was resolute to
Poll Tudor and Bess Bowles, accredited spouses,“ married women on the strength," took train at Government expense, and knew their berths on the troopship were assured. But for “the Crayture" there was no railway warrant, far less any berth aboard. March for march, with weary feet and swelling heart, the poor little woman made with the detachment, tramping the long miles between York and Southampton. Mostly the kind souls where
. Mick was billeted gave her bite and sup and her bed; now and then the hayloft was her portion. Ah me! in the old days such woful journeys were often made; I believe that nowadays the canteen fund helps on their way soldiers' wives married without leave.
The troopship, with her steam up, was lying alongside the jetty in Southampton Dock, and troop by troop as they quitted the train, the men of the 30th Light were being marched aboard. Mick had bidden “the Crayture” farewell, and had drowned his grief in drink; as they marched toward the jetty, his chum