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Mabel Thomson: A child’s ideal of soldiering

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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Mabel Thomson
A Child’s Ideal

He was a shock-headed urchin, as rosy, as chubby, as ragged as a boy could be, but I am glad to remember that his face was clean.

I was coming home from town, my arms full of various little parcels accumulated in the course of an after noon’s shopping expedition. He was also coming home from the town, and he caught up with me at the end of the street from whence a crowd of children pouring told of the afternoon’s work in a board school being finished. He ran alongside for a few steps, and then commenced to slide with much vigor upon the pavement.

The sliding was an artistic and finished performance. His hob-nailed shoes – I am glad to remember that, in spite of the rags, he was well shod – made a most excruciating and ear-splitting screak on the flags. It was not until the third or fourth repetition of this display that I realized by the upturned, roguish glance of the merry dark eyes, that it was intended for my especial amusement, and that I was obviously expected to comment upon it. So I said the first thing that came into my head, ” That’s not very good for your boots!”

For answer, he edged a little nearer to the wall, and silently displayed the sole of first one boot and then the other. They were studded with nails, long and heavy, but worn shiny by much athletic exercise of the kind described. I walked on somewhat abashed. But though the little Arab had finished his sliding, I was not yet to be rid of his attentions, for he walked by my side, keeping step, for all the world as if we were coming back from that shopping expedition together.

Now I had passed that street end scores of times just when the board school was emptying its crowd of noisy, shouting youngsters into the road, but never before had one of them detached himself from the rest with the obvious intention of making my acquaintance. There are board schools in the city where more than a score of lusty young voices would claim hearty good fellowship if I happened to pass at closing time; but among the scholars in this particular school I had no acquaintances. I felt there was more than chance in the encounter. Perhaps my Master had sent him to me. If it was so, I should soon find out the reason. I would talk to him.

“Had he been to school?”- “Yes.” “Did he learn to read and write and spell?” “Yes.” “Could he do sums – addition, subtraction, multiplication?” “More’n them,” he answered indignantly, “I’m in fractions!” “Where did he live?” The answer showed that our way lay together for more than half a mile yet. Inquiries as to his home and relations elicited the fact that his father was dead, that he lived with his mother and several little brothers and sisters, the home being provided for by a brother of the dead father, who lived with them. A poor enough home, as the words and rags showed, but not afflicted with that dire need of food that would send a child to a stranger’s side in hope of a meal. I would question him further.

“And what do you intend to be when you grow to be a man?” I asked.

“A soldier!”

The answer came so promptly and with such evident relish that I almost forgot that it showed me the reason for our sudden acquaintance and absorbing conversation. I looked down at him – he had nearly forgotten the strange lady who asked so many questions. In his eyes were visions of scarlet-coated regiments, in his ears the sound of horses’ feet, led by noise of bugle and band. I brought him back to realities.

“Why do you choose to be a soldier?”

He hesitated – “O, soldiers are strong and big; I want to be strong and big.”

“It is not the soldiering that makes men big and strong,” I said. “Is there any other reason for your choice?”

“It’s grand to be a soldier,” he said, looking down at his rags; “look at their clothes!”

“Is it grand,” I asked him, ” when the regiments are ordered out to battle, and hundreds of men on both sides are killed who have boys at home like you, needing food and clothes? Is it grand when mothers are left alone to bring up the boys and girls because the fathers have been killed by dreadful wounds in a war?”

This was an argument he could understand, and he looked uncertain. But our ways were soon to separate, and I hastened to bring him to higher ground. In a very few words and very simply I told him of One who came to earth as a little child, and whose blessed name was “Prince of Peace.” He, this Prince of Peace, was captain of an army whose watchword was Love, and whose battles were fought without bloodshed, but with every noble quality of bravery and courage that boy hood most admires. Our Father in Heaven had sent his own Son to teach us to be good, and to love everybody, even our enemies, – would it not be better to enlist under his banner? Would it not be better to be a railway man as his father had been, and fight life’s battles for mother and the baby?

It was a good deal for the little Arab to take in during the course of one short walk, – I am not quite sure that he understood it all, – but he nodded his head silently, and I thought I saw a tear. We had walked very slowly, but had come to the parting of the ways at last. What had I among my little parcels to bestow as a parting gift? Alas, my shopping was of a very grown-up nature, but I remembered the purchase of a small india-rubber pig that squeaked when you blew it up. Well that might serve, and the more favored child for whom it was in tended might wait.

I handed it over and walked away, pondering on the strange ways in which a servant of the King may be called upon to speak for Him, and as I gave one backward look, I saw my little Arab standing where I had left him, with the india-rubber pig clasped tightly to his breast. I hoped he was pondering too.

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