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XVII WAR
Every boy who is good for anything is a natural savage. The scientists who want to study the primitive man, and have so much difficulty in finding one anywhere in this sophisticated age, couldn't do better than to devote their attention to the common country boy. He has the primal, vigorous instincts and impulses of the African savage, without any of the vices inherited from a civilization long ago decayed, or developed in an unrestrained barbaric society. You want to catch your boy young, and study him before he has either virtues or vices, in order to understand the primitive man.

Every New England boy desires (or did desire a generation ago, before children were born sophisticated, with a large library, and with the word "culture" written on [Pg 151] their brows) to live by hunting, fishing, and war. The military instinct, which is the special mark of barbarism, is strong in him. It arises not alone from his love of fighting, for the boy is naturally as cowardly as the savage, but from his fondness for display,—the same that a corporal or a general feels in decking himself in tinsel and tawdry colors and strutting about in view of the female sex. Half the pleasure in going out to murder another man with a gun would be wanting if one did not wear feathers and gold lace and stripes on his pantaloons. The law also takes this view of it, and will not permit men to shoot each other in plain clothes. And the world also makes some curious distinctions in the art of killing. To kill people with arrows is barbarous; to kill them with smooth-bores and flintlock muskets is semi-civilized; to kill them with breech-loading rifles is civilized. That nation is the most civilized which has the appliances to kill the most of another nation in the shortest time. This is the result of six thousand years of constant civilization. By and by, when the nations [Pg 152] cease to be boys, perhaps they will not want to kill each other at all. Some people think the world is very old; but here is an evidence that it is very young, and, in fact, has scarcely yet begun to be a world. When the volcanoes have done spouting, and the earthquakes are quaked out, and you can tell what land is going to be solid and keep its level twenty-four hours, and the swamps are filled up, and the deltas of the great rivers, like the Mississippi and the Nile, become terra firma, and men stop killing their fellows in order to get their land and other property, then perhaps there will be a world that an angel wouldn't weep over. Now one half the world are employed in getting ready to kill the other half, some of them by marching about in uniform, and the others by hard work to earn money to pay taxes to buy uniforms and guns.

John was not naturally very cruel, and it was probably the love of display quite as much as of fighting that led him into a military life; for he in common with all his comrades had other traits of the savage. [Pg 153] One of them was the same passion for ornament that induces the African to wear anklets and bracelets of hide and of metal, and to decorate himself with tufts of hair, and to tattoo his body. In John's day there was a rage at school among the boys for wearing bracelets woven of the hair of the little girls. Some of them were wonderful specimens of braiding and twist. These were not captured in war, but were sentimental tokens of friendship given by the young maidens themselves. John's own hair was kept so short (as became a warrior) that you couldn't have made a bracelet out of it, or anything except a paint-brush; but the little girls were not under military law, and they willingly sacrificed their tresses to decorate the soldiers they esteemed. As the Indian is honored in proportion to the scalps he can display, the boy at John's school was held in highest respect who could show the most hair trophies on his wrist. John himself had a variety that would have pleased a Mohawk, fine and coarse and of all colors. There were the flaxen, the faded straw, the glossy black, [Pg 154] the lustrous brown, the dirty yellow, the undecided auburn, and the fiery red. Perhaps his pulse beat more quickly under the red hair of Cynthia Rudd than on account of all the other wristlets put together; it was a sort of gold-tried-in-the-fire color to John, and burned there with a steady flame. Now that Cynthia had become a Christian, this band of hair seemed a more sacred if less glowing possession (for all detached hair will fade in time), and if he had known anything about saints he would have imagined that it was a part of the aureole that always goes with a saint. But I am bound to say that, while John had a tender feeling for this red string, his sentiment was not that of the man who becomes entangled in the meshes of a woman's hair; and he valued rather the number than the quality of these elastic wristlets.

John burned with as real a military ardor as ever inflamed the breast of any slaughterer of his fellows. He liked to read of war, of encounters with the Indians, of any kind of wholesale killing in glittering uniform, to the noise of the terribly exciting [Pg 155] fife and drum, which maddened the combatants and drowned the cries of the wounded. In his future he saw himself a soldier with plume and sword and snug-fitting, decorated clothes,—very different from his somewhat roomy trousers and country-cut roundabout, made by Aunt Ellis, the village tailoress, who cut out clothes, not according to the shape of the boy, but to what he was expected to grow to,—going where glory awaited him. In his observation of pictures, it was the common soldier who was always falling and dying, while the officer stood unharmed in the storm of bullets and waved his sword in a heroic attitude. John determined to be an officer.

It is needless to say that he was an ardent member of the military company of his village. He had risen from the grade of corporal to that of first lieutenant; the captain was a boy whose father was captain of the grown militia company, and consequently had inherited military aptness and knowledge. The old captain was a flaming son of Mars, whose nose militia war, [Pg 156] general training, and New England rum had painted with the color of glory and disaster. He was one of the gallant old soldiers of the peaceful days of our country, splendid in uniform, a martinet in drill, terrible in oaths, a glorious object when he marched at the head of his company of flintlock muskets, with the American banner full high advanced, and the clamorous drum defying the world. In this he fulfilled his duties of citizen, faithfully teaching his uniformed companions how to march by the left leg, and to get reeling drunk by sundown; otherwise he didn't amount to much in the community; his house was unpainted, his fences were tumbled down, his farm was a waste, his wife wore an old gown to meeting, to which the captain never went; but he was a good trout-fisher, and there w............
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