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Charles Reade: War is sweet to those who have never experienced it

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Charles Reade: To God? Rather to war and his sister and to the god of lies

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Charles Reade
From The Cloister and the Hearth (1861)

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“Burrow in the straw, then. You must be very new to the world, to grumble at this. How would you bear to lie on the field of battle on a frosty night, as I did t’other day, stark naked, with nothing to keep me warm but the carcass of a fellow I had been and helped kill?”

“Horrible! horrible! Tell me all about it! Oh, but this is sweet.”

“Well, we had a little battle in Brabant, and won a little victory, but it cost us dear; several arbalestriers turned their toes up, and I among them.”

“Killed, Denys? come now!”

“Dead as mutton. Stuck full of pike-holes till the blood ran out of me, like the good wine of Mâcon from the trodden grapes. It is right bounteous in me to pour the tale in minstrel phrase, for – augh – I am sleepy. Augh – now where was I?”

“Left dead on the field of battle, bleeding like a pig; that is to say, like grapes, or something; go on, prithee go on, ’tis a sin to sleep in the midst of a good story.”

“Granted. Well, some of those vagabonds, that strip the dead soldier on the field of glory, came and took every rag off me; they wrought me no further ill, because there was no need.”

“No; you were dead.”

“C’est convenu. This must have been at sundown; and with the night came a shrewd frost that barkened the blood on my wounds, and stopped all the rivulets that were running from my heart, and about midnight I awoke as from a trance.’

“And thought you were in heaven?” asked Gerard eagerly, being a youth inoculated with monkish tales.

“Too frost-bitten for that, mon gars; besides, I heard the wounded groaning on all sides, so I knew I was in the old place. I saw I could not live the night through without cover. I groped about shivering and shivering; at last one did suddenly leave groaning. ‘You are sped,’ said I, so made up to him, and true enough he was dead, but warm, you know. I took my lord in my arms, but was too weak to carry him, so rolled with him into a ditch hard by; and there my comrades found me in the morning properly stung with nettles, and hugging a dead Fleming for the bare life.”

Gerard shuddered. “And this is war; this is the chosen theme of poets and troubadours, and Reden Ryckers. Truly was it said by the men of old, dulce bellum inexpertis.”

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