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LITTLE WALTER AND THE
1. What is it, father? Has Private Wilkinson gone away? I know where you'll find him!'
Little Walter Gerard, in saying this, clapped his hands gleefully. He did not stop the clapping when the group of officers, who were holding a sort of council in the barrack orderly-room,' turned in surprise to look at him. He had just overheard what they were speaking about.
2. “Oh, that will be fun! I know where he is,' repeated Walter, in high delight.
Colonel Gerard, the little fellow's father, was seated in a chair at the table. He leaned forward, beckoning to him. Come here,' he said. What do you mean? Be serious, Walter.'
3. Walter had been riding about the orderlyroom on an old bayonet sheath, making believe it was a galloping horse. Seeing the look now upon his father's face, he let the sheath fall, and stood upright, with his tiny hands put down close to his sides in the way soldiers place them.
'Do you say,' asked the Colonel in surprise, • that
you know where Private Wilkinson is to be found?'
Yes, father,' answered Walter.
Orderly-room, the room whence orders are issued
4. The other officers, standing in a half-ring about the small speaker, joined in a chorus of laughter. They knew better than Walter did (he was only about five years old) that Yorkshire was a very large place.
But Colonel Gerard kept looking fixedly in his son's face. He saw that a flush of colour had risen into Walter's cheeks.
Why,' the Colonel asked, did you say Yorkshire ?'
'A boy,' answered Walter, lives there, whom Private Wilkinson loves better than all there is in the world.' 5. The listeners looked graver.
In answer to further questions put to him, Walter said that Wilkinson had told him all about his little nephew. His name was Mark, he was a cripple, and his father was dead. His mother was Private Wilkinson's sister. Colonel Gerard spoke again :
But why must he go to see this boy?'
* Because he loves him so,' was Walter's prompt reply. “On Monday, when I was going across the parade-ground, he called to me, “ I hear little Mark is ill.")
6. There was silence for a moment in the orderly-room. One of the oldest of the officers then patted Walter on the head, saying, ' I think you
had better now go and play again.'
Walter, as he went towards the door, plainly heard his father's words, 'I almost wish the child had not told us this. He was a great friend of
Wilkinson's. Why did not the foolish fellow ask for leave ?'
7. All this greatly puzzled Walter. Instead of playing, he went straight across to his mother at the officers' quarters. Standing before her, and looking up with an anxious face, which had grown very pale, he said :
'Mamma, they say Private Wilkinson has gone away-is that the same as deserting?'
It is if he had no leave,' answered Mrs. Gerard. * Then, if they find him, he will be punished ?'
•No doubt. Mrs. Gerard was going on to say that she was sorry to hear the news, but Walter's behaviour startled her.
He threw up his arms wildly, crying, 'Oh! I didn't mean to do it. I have told them where he is, and they will punish him.'
8. The thought that he had been the means of bringing this on Private Wilkinson, who had been so good to him, and whom he loved better than any man in the regiment, was too much for Walter. He burst into tears and sobs. His mother could not quiet his grief, say or do what she would : poor Walter was in perfect misery. He remained so as the time went on.
9. When Colonel Gerard came home to his quarters, Walter's mother hastened to meet him with the news of Walter's state. The Colonel shook his head, saying, “The information has to be acted upon, no matter how it is got. Men started for Yorkshire nearly an hour ago.'
Walter could do nothing but cry.
His father tried to cheer him, but his grief had quite overmastered him.
10. Private Wilkinson's arrest was very soon made. The address of his sister had somehow been got from the post office, Wilkinson having sent her, out of his pay, some money orders. He was brought up by railway, from one station to another, having to stand on platforms with his hands tied, waiting for trains, with a soldier on each side of him, people gazing at him and putting questions, Before noon the next day he was marched into the barrack-yard by his guard. He hardly looked like the same man in the loose ill-fitting civilian clothes he had on, instead of his smart soldier's dress. No time was lost he was tried before a court-martial in the afternoon.
II. The trial had scarcely begun when faint tapping sounds, like military drumming, were heard to strike up just outside the entrance of the room. The instant the door was opened from the inside, the officers sitting solemnly at the table were much astonished at the sight of Walter Gerard marching in, carrying a small drum before him. There was a joke, understood by everybody in the regiment, that Walter was a kind of honorary’ drummer-boy. Quick as light, he kept on moving the drum-sticks in regular time, beating a rat-a-plan, rat-a-plan.
Civilian clothes, the clothes of a person who is not a soldier.
? Honorary, acting for honour and not for pay.