Further on lay, sleeping fitfully, a boy of scarcely more than seventeen, with rounded cheeks and fair, white brow like a child’s, whose uncovered chest was delicate as a girl’s, and through whose long, brown lashes tears in his slumber were stealing as his rosy mouth murmured, “Mere! Mere! Pauvre mere!” He was a young conscript taken from the glad vine-country of the Loire, and from the little dwelling up in the rock beside the sunny, brimming river, and half-buried under its grape leaves and coils, that was dearer to him than is the palace to its heir. There were many others beside these; and Cecil looked at them with those weary, speculative, meditative fancies which, very alien to his temperament, stole on him occasionally in the privations and loneliness of his existence here—loneliness in the midst of numbers, the most painful of all solitude.
Life was bearable enough to him in the activity of campaigning, in the excitement of warfare; there were times even when it yielded him absolute enjoyment, and brought him interests more genuine and vivid than any he had known in his former world. But, in the monotony and the confinement of the barrack routine, his days were often intolerable to him. Morning after morning he rose to the same weary round of duty, the same series of petty irritations, of physical privations, of irksome repetitions, to take a toss of black, rough coffee, and begin the day knowing it would bring with it endless annoyances without one gleam of hope. Rose to spend hours on the exercise-ground in the glare of a burning sun, railed at if a trooper’s accouterments were awry, or an insubordinate scoundrel had pawned his regulation shirt; to be incessantly witness of tyrannies and cruelties he was powerless to prevent, and which he continually saw undo all he had done, and render men desperate whom he had spent months in endeavoring to make contented; to have as the only diversions for his few instants of leisure loathsome pleasures that disgusted the senses they were meant to indulge, and that brought him to scenes of low debauchery from which all the old, fastidious instincts of his delicate, luxurious taste recoiled. With such a life as this, he often wondered regretfully why, out of the many Arab swords that had crossed his own, none had gone straight to his heart; why, out of the many wounds that had kept him hovering on the confines of the grave, none had ever brought him the end and the oblivion of death.