Private Richard Doubledick began to find a film stealing over the floor at which he looked; also to find the legs of the Captain's breakfast-table turning crooked, as if he saw them through water.
"I am only a common soldier, sir," said he. "It signifies very little what such a poor brute comes to."
"You are a man," returned the Captain, with grave indignation, "of education and superior advantages; and if you say that, meaning what you say, you have sunk lower than I had believed. How low that must be, I leave you to consider, knowing what I know of your disgrace, and seeing what I see."
"I hope to get shot soon, sir," said Private Richard Doubledick; "and then the regiment and the world together will be rid of me."
The legs of the table were becoming very crooked. Doubledick, looking up to steady his vision, met the eyes that had so strong an influence over him. He put his hand before his own eyes, and the breast of his disgrace- jacket swelled as if it would fly asunder.
"I would rather," said the young Captain, "see this in you, Doubledick, than I would see five thousand guineas counted out upon this table for a gift to my good mother. Have you a mother?"
"I am thankful to say she is dead, sir."
"If your praises," returned the Captain, "were sounded from mouth to mouth through the whole regiment, through the whole army, through the whole country, you would wish she had lived to say, with pride and joy, 'He is my son!'"
"Spare me, sir," said Doubledick. "She would never have heard any good of me. She would never have had any pride and joy in owning herself my mother. Love and compassion she might have had, and would have always had, I know but not--Spare me, sir! I am a broken wretch, quite at your mercy!" And he turned his face to the wall, and stretched out his imploring hand.
"My friend--" began the Captain.
"God bless you, sir!" sobbed Private Richard Doubledick.
"You are at the crisis of your fate. Hold your course unchanged a little longer, and you know what must happen. _I_ know even better than you can imagine, that, after that has happened, you are lost. No man who could shed those tears could bear those marks."
"I fully believe it, sir," in a low, shivering voice said Private Richard Doubledick.
"But a man in any station can do his duty," said the young Captain, "and, in doing it, can earn his own respect, even if his case should be so very unfortunate and so very rare that he can earn no other man's. A common soldier, poor brute though you called him just now, has this advantage in the stormy times we live in, that he always does his duty before a host of sympathising witnesses. Do you doubt that he may so do it as to be extolled through a whole regiment, through a whole army, through a whole country? Turn while you may yet retrieve the past, and try."
"I will! I ask for only one witness, sir," cried Richard, with a bursting heart.
"I understand you. I will be a watchful and a faithful one."
I have heard from Private Richard Doubledick's own lips, that he dropped down upon his knee, kissed that officer's hand, arose, and went out of the light of the dark, bright eyes, an altered man.