Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Colonel’s Word will Stand -By Colonel Hardress

During my military service in India, in those stirring times of mutiny and murder, I had in my regiment a little bugler. I had often noticed him as being too fragile and delicate for the life he had to lead; but he was born in the regiment, and we were bound to make the best of him. His father, as brave a man as ever lived, had been killed in action; his mother, broken-hearted, had just drooped, and died six months after.

About two years later, when Willie Holt was fourteen, the regiment was bivouacking some miles from the camp. Before we had been out a fortnight several acts of insubordination had been brought to my notice, and I had pledged to make an example of the very next offense by having the culprit flogged. One night the targets were thrown down and otherwise mutilated. On investigation, the rascally act was traced to the men in the very tent were Willie Holt was billeted, two of them being the worst characters in the regiment. The whole lot were instantly put under arrest, and tried by court martial, when enough evidence was produced that one of the prisoners was guilty of the crime. None would own up to being the guilty one and at last I spoke: “If any one of you who slept in No.4 tent last night will come forward and take his punishment like a man, the rest will get off free; but if not, there remains no other alternative but to punish you all – each man in turn to receive ten strokes of the cat.

For the space of a couple of minutes, dead silence followed then, from the midst of the prisoners, where his slight form had been almost hidden, Willie Holt came forward. He advanced to within a couple of yards from where I sat; his face was pale, a fixed intensity of purpose stamped on every line of it, and his steadfast eyes met mine. “Colonel,” said he, “you have passed your word that if any one of those who slept in No. 4 tent last night comes forward to take the punishment the rest shall get off Scot-free. I am ready, sir; and May I take it now?

For a moment I was speechless, so utterly was I taken by surprise; then, in a fury of anger and disgust, I turned upon the prisoners. “Is there no man among you worthy of the name? Are you all cowards enough to let this lad suffer for your wrong acts? For that he is guiltless you must know as well as I.” But sullen and silent they stood.

Then I turned to the boy, whose patient, pleading eyes were fixed on my face, and never in all my life have I found myself so painfully situated. I knew my word must stand, and the lad knew it, too, as he repeated once more, “I am ready, sir.” Sick at heart, I gave the order, and he was led away for punishment.

Bravely he stood, with back bared, as one- two-three- strokes descended. At the fourth, a faint moan escaped his white lips, and ere the fifth fell a hoarse cry burst from the group of prisoners who had been forced to witness the scene, and
with one bound, Jim Sykes, the black sheep of the regiment, seized the cat, as with choking, gasping utterance, he shouted, “Stop it, Colonel, stop it, and tie me up instead. He didn’t do it, I did!” With convulsed and anguished face he flung his arms round the boy.

Fainting and almost speechless, Willie lifted his eyes to the man’s face and smiled – such a smile! “No, Jim,” he whispered, “you are safe now; the Colonel’s word will stand.” His head fell forward – he had fainted.

The next day as I was making for the hospital tent where the boy lay, I met the doctor. “How is the lad?” I asked. “Sinking, Colonel,” he said quickly.

“What!” I ejaculated, horrified beyond words.

“Yes, the shock of yesterday has been too much for his strength.”

The sight that met my eyes I shall never forget. The dying lad lay propped up on pillows, and half-kneeling, half-crouching, at his side was Jim Sykes. The change in the boys face startled me; it was deathly white, but his great eyes were shining with a wonderful light.

At that moment the kneeling man lifted his head, and I saw the drops of sweat standing on his brow as he muttered brokenly, “Why did you do it, lad? Why did you?”

“Because I wanted to take it for you, Jim,” the weak voice answered. “I thought if I did, it might help you to understand a little bit why Christ died for you.”

“Why Christ died for me?” the man repeated slowly.

“Yes, He died for you because He loved you. I love you, Jim, but Christ loves you much more. I suffered for only one sin, but the Lord Jesus Christ took the punishment of all the sins you have ever committed. The punishment of all yours sins was death, Jim, and He died for you.”

Christ has naught to do with such as me, lad. I’m one of the bad ‘uns; you ought to know that.”

“But He died to save the bad ones’ – just them. He said, ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Jim,” the voice pleaded, “shall He have died in vain? He poured out His precious life-blood for you. He is knocking at the door of your heart; won’t you let Him in?” The lad’s voice failed him, but he laid his hand gently on the man’s bowed head. A choking sob was the only answer, and then for several minutes there was silence.

I felt stirred. I had heard such things once – long ago. Thoughts of the mother I had idolized came floating back out of the dead past, and the words seemed a feint echo of hers. How long I stood there I know not, but I was roused by a hoarse cry from the man, and then I saw the boy had fallen back on his pillow, faint. Soon he opened his eyes, but they were dim, almost sightless. Then, softly, dreamily, he repeated:

“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
Oh Lamb, of God, I come.”

Sykes came; I came; will you Come My Beloved Reader.

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