There were soldiers riding down the road, on horses, two and two. That is the horses were two and two, and the men not. Because each man was riding one horse and leading another. To exercise them. They came from Chatham Barracks. We all drew up in a line outside the church-yard wall, and saluted as they went by, though we had not read Toady Lion then. We have since. It is the only decent book I have ever read written by Toady Lion’s author. The others are mere piffle. But many people like them.
In Sir Toady Lion the officer salutes the child.
There was only a lieutenant with those soldiers, and he did not salute me. He kissed his hand to the girls; and a lot of the soldiers behind kissed theirs too. We waved ours back.
Next day we made a Union Jack out of pocket-handkerchiefs and part of a red flannel petticoat of the White Mouse’s, which she did not want just then, and some blue ribbon we got at the village shop.
Then we watched for the soldiers, and after three days they went by again, by twos and twos as before. It was A1.
We waved our flag, and we shouted. We gave them three cheers. Oswald can shout loudest. So as soon as the first man was level with us (not the advance guard, but the first of the battery)–he shouted:
“Three cheers for the Queen and the British Army!”
And then we waved the flag, and bellowed. Oswald stood on the wall to bellow better, and Denny waved the flag because he was a visitor, and so politeness made us let him enjoy the fat of whatever there was going.
The soldiers did not cheer that day; they only grinned and kissed their hands.
The next day we all got up as much like soldiers as we could. H. O. and Noel had tin swords, and we asked Albert’s uncle to let us wear some of the real arms that are on the wall in the dining-room. And he said, “Yes,” if we would clean them up afterwards. But we jolly well cleaned them up first with Brooke’s soap and brick dust and vinegar, and the knife polish (invented by the great and immortal Duke of Wellington in his spare time when he was not conquering Napoleon. Three cheers for our Iron Duke!), and with emery paper and wash leather and whitening. Oswald wore a cavalry sabre in its sheath. Alice and the Mouse had pistols in their belts, large old flint-locks, with bits of red flannel behind the flints. Denny had a naval cutlass, a very beautiful blade, and old enough to have been at Trafalgar. I hope it was. The others had French sword-bayonets that were used in the Franco-German War. They are very bright, when you get them bright, but the sheaths are hard to polish. Each sword-bayonet has the name on the blade of the warrior who once wielded it. I wonder where they are now. Perhaps some of them died in the war. Poor chaps! But it is a very long time ago.
I should like to be a soldier. It is better than going to the best schools, and to Oxford afterwards, even if it is Balliol you go to. Oswald wanted to go to South Africa for a bugler, but father would not let him. And it is true that Oswald does not yet know how to bugle, though he can play the infantry “advance,” and the “charge” and the “halt” on a penny whistle. Alice taught them to him with the piano, out of the red book father’s cousin had when he was in the Fighting Fifth. Oswald cannot play the “retire,” and he would scorn to do so. But I suppose a bugler has to play what he is told, no matter how galling to the young boy’s proud spirit.