His influence had done more to humanize the men he was associated with than any preachers or teachers could have done. The most savage and obscene brute in the ranks with him caught something gentler and better from the “aristocrat.” His refined habits, his serene temper, his kindly forbearance, his high instinctive honor, made themselves felt imperceptibly, but surely; they knew that he was as fearless in war, as eager for danger as themselves; they knew that he was no saint, but loved the smile of women’s eyes, the flush of wines, and the excitation of gaming hazards as well as they did; and hence his influence had a weight that probably a more strictly virtuous man’s would have strained for and missed forever. The coarsest ruffian felt ashamed to make an utter beast of himself before the calm eyes of the patrician. The most lawless pratique felt a lie halt on his lips when the contemptuous glance of his gentleman-comrade taught him that falsehood was poltroonery. Blasphemous tongues learned to rein in their filthiness when this “beau lion” sauntered away from the picket-fire, on an icy night, to be out of hearing of their witless obscenities. More than once the weight of his arm and the slash of his saber had called them to account in fiery fashion for their brutality to women or their thefts from the country people, till they grew aware that “Bel-a-faire-peur” would risk having all their swords buried in him rather than stand by to see injustice done.
And throughout his corps men became unconsciously gentler, juster; with a finer sense of right and wrong, and less bestial modes of pleasure, of speech, and of habit, because he was among them. Moreover, the keen-eyed desperadoes who made up the chief sum of his comrades saw that he gave unquestioning respect to a chief who made his life a hell; and rendered unquestioning submission under affronts, tyrannies, and insults which, as they also saw, stung him to the quick, and tortured him as no physical torture would have done—and the sight was not without a strong effect for good on them. They could tell that he suffered under these as they never suffered themselves, yet he bore them and did his duty with a self-control and patience they had never attained.
Almost insensibly they grew ashamed to be beaten by him, and strove to grow like him as far as they could. They never knew him drunk, they never heard him swear; they never found him unjust—even to a poverty-stricken indigene; or brutal—even to a fille de joie. Insensibly his presence humanized them. Of a surety, the last part Bertie dreamed of playing was that of a teacher to any mortal thing; yet, here in Africa, it might reasonably be questioned if a second Augustine or Francis Xavier would ever have done half the good among the devil-may-care Roumis that was wrought by the dauntless, listless, reckless soldier who followed instinctively the one religion which has no cant in its brave, simple creed, and binds man to man in links that are true as steel—the religion of a gallant gentleman’s loyalty and honor.