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Mick did a good deal of punishment drill at varying intervals, and his hair was occasionally abnormally short as a result of that species of infliction known
seven days' cells." He had seldom any other crime than "absent without leave," and he had never been tried by court-martial, although more than once he had had a very narrow squeak, especially once when he was brought into barracks by a picket after a three days' absence, with a newspaper round his shoulders instead of stable jacket and shirt. No doubt he had drunk those articles of attire, but the plea that they had been stolen saved him from the charge of making away with "regimental necessaries,” which is a court-martial offence. The 30th Light, just home from the Crimea, were quartered at York; and Mick, after two or three escapades which were the pardonable result of his popularity as one of the heroes of the Light Cavalry charge, had settled down into unwonted steadiness. He went out alone every evening, and at length his chum took him to task for his unsociality, and threatened to “cut the loaf.”
“Arrah now," was Mick's indignant reply, “it's a silly spalpeen ye are to go for to think such a thing. Sure if it hadn't been a great saycret intirely, ye’d have known all about it long ago. I've been coortin', ye divil! Sure an' she's the purtiest crayture that iver ye clapt yer two eyes upon, aye, an'a prudent girl too. So that's the saycret, chum ; an' now come on up to the canteen, an' bedad we'll drink luck an' joy to the wooin'!”
Over their pot of beer Mick told his comrade the simple story of his love. His sweetheart, it seemed, was the daughter of a small shopkeeper in the outskirts of the city, and, as Mick was most emphatic in claiming, a young woman of quite exemplary character. Thus far, then, everything was satisfactory ; but the obvious rock ahead was the all but certainty that Mick would be refused leave to marry. He had not exactly the character entitling him to such a privilege, and the troop already had its full complement of married people. But if the commanding officer should say him nay, then “Sure,” Mick doughtily protested, “I'll marry the darlint widout lave; in spite of the colonel, an' the gineral, and the commander-in-chief himself, bedad !”
Next morning Mick formed up to the adjutant and asked permission to see the colonel. The adjutant, after the manner of his kind, tried to extract from him for what purpose the request was made, but Mick was old soldier enough to know how far an adjutant's ill word carries, and resolutely declined to divulge his intent. After the commanding officer had disposed of what are called at the policecourts the “charges of the night,” Mick was marched into the presence by the regimental sergeant-major ; and as he stood there at rigid attention, the nature of his business was demanded in the curt hard tone which the colonel with a proper sense of the fitness of things uses when addressing the private soldier.
“ Plase yer honour, sor, I want to get—to get married," blurted Mick, for the moment in some confusion now that the crisis had come.
“And, plase yer honour, Mr. Sullivan,” retorted the chief with sour pleasantry, “I'll see you d-d first!”
Och, sor, an' how can ye be so cruel at all, at all ?” pleaded Mick, who had recovered from his confusion, and thought a touch of the blarney might come in useful.
Why, what the deuce do you want with a wife ?” asked the colonel angrily.
“Sure, sor, an' pwhat does any man want wid a wife ?"
The regimental sergeant-major grinned behind his hand, the adjutant burst into a splutter of laughter at the back of the colonel's chair, and that stern officer himself found his gravity severely strained. But he was firm in his refusal to grant the indulgence, and Mick went forth from the presence in a very doleful frame of mind.
At "watch-setting” the same night Mr. Sullivan was reported absent, nor did he come into barracks in the course of the night. The regimental sergeantmajor was a very old bird, and straightway communicated to the adjutant his ideas as to the nature of Mick's little game. Then the pair concerted a scheme whereby they might baulk him at the very moment when his cup of bliss should be at his lips. At nine in the morning about a dozen corporals and as many files of men paraded outside the orderly
To each of the likeliest religious edifices licensed for the celebration of marriages a corporal and a file were told off, with instructions to watch outside, and intercept Sullivan if he should appear in the capacity of a bridegroom. Clever as was the device, it very near failing.
The picket charged with the duty of watching an obscure suburban chapel, regarding it as extremely improbable that such a place would be selected, betook themselves to the taproom of an adjacent public-house, where they chanced on some good company, and had soon all but forgotten the duty to which they had been detailed. It was, however, suddenly recalled to them. A native who dropped in for a pint of half-and-half, casually observed that “a sojer were bein' spliced across the road.” The moment was a critical one, but the corporal rose to the occasion. Hastily leading out his men, he stationed them at the door, while he himself entered, and stealing up to the marriage party unobserved, clapped his hand on Sullivan's shoulder just as the latter was fumbling for the ring. The bride shrieked, the priest talked about sacrilege, and the bride's mother made a gallant assault on the corporal with her umbrella ; but the non-commissioned officer was firm, and Mick, whose sense of discipline was very strong, merely remarked,
Be jabers, corporal, an' in another minute ye would have been too late!”
He was summarily marched off into barracks, looking rather rueful at being thus torn from the
very horns of the altar. Next morning he paid another visit to the orderly-room, this time as a prisoner, when the commanding officer, radiant at the seeming success of the plot to baulk Mr. Sullivan's matrimonial intentions, let him off with fourteen days' pack drill. Having done that punishment, he was again free to go out of barracks, but only in the evening, so that he could not get married unless by special license, a luxury to which a private dragoon's pay does not run. Nevertheless he cherished his design, and presently the old adage, "Where there's a will there's a way," had yet another confirmation.
One fine morning the regiment rode out in watering order." About a mile outside the town, poor Mick was suddenly taken very ill. So serious appeared his condition that the troop sergeant-major directed him to ride straight back into barracks, giving him strict orders to go to hospital the moment he arrived. Presently, Mick's horse, indeed, cantered through the barrack gate, but there was no rider on its back. The sentry gave the alarm, and the guard, imagining Mick to have been thrown, made a search for him along the road outside ; but they did not find him, for the reason that at the time he was being thus searched for he was being married. The ceremony was this time accomplished without interruption; but the hymeneal festivities were rudely broken in upon by a picket from the barracks, who tore the bridegroom ruthlessly from the arms of the bride, and escorted him to durance in the guard-room.