I slept one night in a large dry-goods box on one of the docks, and, in searching for a place in the box to lay my head, I laid my hand on another human, and at daylight discovered him to be a youth of about my own age. We exchanged experiences, and in a few minutes he outlined a programme; and, having none of my own, I dropped naturally into his. He conducted me to a quarter of the city where the recruiting officers parade the streets, gayly attired in their attractive uniforms. We accosted one man, who had the special attraction of a large bunch of gay ribbons flying from his Glengarry cap. We passed the physical examination, “took the shilling,” and were drafted, first to London, then to a training depot in the south of Kent.
THE BEGINNING OF AN EDUCATION
The first discovery I made in the training depot was that I had not, as I supposed, joined the army at all, but the navy. I was a marine. But there was no disappointment in the discovery, for I saw in the marine service a better opportunity to see the world. Here at last was my school, and schooling was a part of the daily routine. In the daily exercises of the gymnasium, I was made to feel very keenly by the instructors the awkwardness of my body; but I was so thrilled with the joy of the class-room, that it took a good deal of forcing to interest me in the handling of guns, bayonets, the swinging of clubs, vaulting of horses, and other gymnasium exercises. I could think only in the terms of the education I most keenly desired. This was my first source of trouble. Whatever else a soldier may be, he is a soldier first. His chief business in life is to be a killer—a strong, intelligent, professional killer; and nearly all energies of instruction are bent to give him that kind of power.
The depot is on the edge of the sea, and the sea breezes with six hours a day of drill, gave me, as it gives all recruits at that stage, an abnormal appetite, so that the most of the Queen’s pay went for additional rations. I made rapid progress in school, and I attended all lectures, prayer meetings, religious assemblies and social gatherings, to exercise a talent which I already possessed, of giving voice to my religious beliefs. But my Irish dialect was badly out of place, and it took a good deal of courage to take part in these things.
But more embarrassing than my attempts at public speech were my attempts to keep up with my squad in the gymnasium and on the parade ground. My fellow recruits were thinking in the terms of drill only, and I was thinking in the terms of my new-found opportunity for an education. My awkwardness made me the subject of much ridicule and good-natured jest. It also earned for me a brief sojourn in the awkward squad. The gymnasium was open every evening for exercise and amusement. The first time I ventured in to get a little extra drill on my own account, I had an experience