“You poor boob in uniform!” rapped the sergeant. “Whatever made you think of taking up soldiering. And what made you think yourself fit to be in a regiment of Regulars? Do you know your left foot from your right? You know as much about the manual of arms as I do about Hebrew verbs. When you salute an officer you’re a standing disgrace to the service! Do you know what you ought to be doing in life?”
His face growing violently red, Barrow soon forgot to be indignant in the excess of his wonder.
“Meaning—–what?” he demanded, thickly, his lower jaw sagging in bewilderment.
“How do you like the way I’m talking to you?” asked Sergeant Kelly, his own strong jaw thrust out as though he were seeking to provoke a quarrel.
“Why do you ask?” demanded the corporal, with some show of spirit. “Does any man enjoy being spoken to like a thieving dog?”
Instantly Kelly dropped back into a placid tone.
“How do you think the men of that squad like hearing you talk to them as I’ve just talked to you?”
“But they’re such numbskulls!” declared Barrow.
“You won’t improve their intelligence by turning the hot water on them all the time,” Sergeant Kelly continued. “Could I make a better corporal of you by scorching you every time I saw you?”
“You know you couldn’t.”
“No more can you turn those rookies into soldiers by raging at them every time you speak. Take it from me, Corporal Barrow, the wise drill-master doesn’t use any rough talk once a week, and not even then unless nothing else will answer. Talk to the men right along as I heard you doing, and they won’t have a particle of respect for you. That being the case, you cannot teach them anything that it will be worth their while to know. If the captain had heard what I heard you saying to those men he’d put you back in the awkward squad yourself. Patience is the first thing a drill-master needs. Whom do you call the smartest corporal in the company?”
“Corporal Smedley,” Barrow answered, without hesitation.
“Right, and he’s going to be the next new sergeant. But Smedley is the most patient drill-master in the company. Shall I send him over to show you how to handle a green squad?”
“All right, then; I won’t—–unless you give me new reason to think it necessary,” smiled Kelly. Then his hand, still resting on the younger man’s shoulder, he walked back to where the squad waited.
“I’ll tell you more about it any time you want to know,” was Kelly’s last statement before he turned away.
“Attention!” called Corporal Barrow briskly. “Saluting is one of the things a new soldier is likely to do badly at first. I’m going to put you through a few minutes of it.”
This time Barrow patiently singled out the soldier giving the poorest salute.