“You may spend the three years,” continued the officer, still without looking at the applicant, “which are the best years of a young man’s life, on the sea, visiting foreign ports, or you may spend it marching up and down the Brooklyn Navy-yard and cleaning brass-work. There are some men who are meant to clean brass-work and to march up and down in front of a stone arsenal, and who are fitted for nothing else. But to every man is given something which should tell him that he is put here to make the best of himself. Every man has that, even the men who are only fit to clean brass rods; but some men kill it, or try to kill it, in different ways, generally by rum. And they are as generally successful, if they keep the process up long enough. The government, of which I am a very humble representative, is always glad to get good men to serve her, but it seems to me (and I may be wrong, and I’m quite sure that I am speaking contrary to Regulations) that some of her men can serve her better in other ways than swabbing down decks. Now, you know yourself best. It may be that you are just the sort of man to stand up and salute the ladies when they come on board to see the ship, and to watch them from for’ard as they walk about with the officers. You won’t be allowed to speak to them; you will be number 329 or 328, and whatever benefits a good woman can give a man will be shut off from you, more or less, for three years.
“And, on the other hand, it may be that there are some good women who could keep you on shore, and help you to do something more with yourself than to carry a musket. And, again, it may be that if you stayed on shore you would drink yourself more or less comfortably to death, and break somebody’s heart. I can’t tell. But if I were not a commissioned officer of the United States, and a thing of Rules and Regulations who can dance and wear a uniform, and a youth generally unfit to pose as an example, I would advise you not to sign this, but to go home and brace up and leave whiskey alone.
“Now, what shall we do?” said the young lieutenant, smiling; “shall we tear this up, or will you sign it?”
The applicant’s lips were twitching as well as his hands now, and he rubbed his cuff over his face and smiled back.
“I’m much obliged to you,” he said, nervously. “That sounds a rather flat thing to say, I know, but if you knew all I meant by it, though, it would mean enough. I’ve made a damned fool of myself in this city, but nothing worse. And it was a choice of the navy, where they’d keep me straight, or going to the devil my own way. But it won’t be my own way now, thanks to you. I don’t know how you saw how it was so quickly; but, you see, I have got a home back in Connecticut, and women that can help me there, and I’ll go back to them and ask them to let me start in again where I was when I went away.”
“That’s good,” said the young officer, cheerfully; “that’s the way to talk. Tell me where you live in Connecticut, and I’ll lend you the car-fare to get there. I’ll expect it back with interest, you know,” he said, laughing.