CHARLIE THE DRUMMER BOY
THE battle was over. On meadow and hill
The shadows of evening were dewy and chill;
The sounds of the strife that had raged through the day,
Now far in the distance were dying away.
Beside a green hillock there bubbled a spring,
Whose waters so sparkling were fit for a king,
And though through its windings the brooklet was red,
In spite of the battle ’twas pure at its head.
A poor little drummer had dropped in the fight.
He crept to the spring as well as he might:
To wet his hot lips, and to ease his sore pain,
He tasted the water again and again;
And e’en in his anguish he murmured a prayer,
To thank the kind God who created it there.
Afar from his home, and alone in his need,
The poor little drummer had comfort indeed.
As stretched on the hillock, throughout the long day,
All wounded and weary and helpless he lay,
Sweet verses of Scripture his spirit would cheer,
And whisper of Jesus who ever is near,
With love like a mother’s, but tenderer far
To comfort our sorrows whatever they are.
The twilight was fading o’er forest and field,
The stars in their glory were slowly revealed;
Then upwards he turned to the glittering sky
His pallid young face and beautiful eye.
Those stars were his Father’s, all made by His hand,
The home of His angels, that glorious band;
And soon the poor drummer, in garments of white,
Might tread with those angels their pathway of light.
While smiling with gladness at musings like these,
A creeping dark object he suddenly sees.
It moves and then falters and comes to a stand,
Then seems but a bush or a rise of the land.
For Charlie the drummer ’twas easy to guess,
Some poor wounded comrade was near in distress.
“I’m sorry, dear fellow, you’re suffering so;
A drink of cold water would help you, I know;
Just where I am lying, right under these trees,
Is a capital spring, as cool as you please.
So courage, good comrade; I wish I could stand,
To give you a moment the help of my hand.”
The cheerful child’s voice came out on the gloom
Like blossoms of spring-time that garland the tomb;
It struck on the ear of the soldier distressed,
Like heavenly music from realms of the blest.
“Yes, water I’m wanting, cold water to drink;
I’m wounded and dying, just ready to sink.
O speak once again, boy, to guide me aright;
I’m blinded by weakness, as much as by night.
And tell me, who are you, that lying half dead
Can speak out as cheerful as in a snug bed?”
The tones of the soldier were feeble but gruff;
’Twas plain the poor creature was truly “a rough,”
“I’m Charlie the drummer,” replied the sweet voice;
“Our company’s called the ‘South Ellerton boys.’
You’ve heard of our captain, whoever you are,
The very best captain there is in the war.”
“Who cares for your captain?” he surlily said;
“What’s that to the purpose? I’m more than half dead:
I wouldn’t care now to be General Scott,
To die like a dog in this horrible spot.
Say, where is the spring? Just answer me that.
I’m parching with thirst, and as weak as a cat.”
“Now give me your hand, sir,” the drummer replied;
He knew that the stranger was close at his side.
The small slender fingers were grasped in a trice,
And held by the soldier as if in a vice.
Then Charlie, half rising in spite of his pain,
Assisted his comrade the water to gain.
He lapped, with his tongue like a poor famished beast,
And bathed his hot forehead whenever he ceased.
Refreshed for the moment, he cheerfully said,
“I think I could do, if I had but some bread.”
“I’ve food for both,” little Charlie replied;
“A soldier who saw me sink down at his side,
Just dropping his haversack, hurried away:
‘God help you, poor drummer,’ was all he could say.
God helped me indeed; he has been with me here,
To comfort and strengthen and tenderly cheer.
What friend could be like him, so loving and true?
And now, my good fellow, he’s caring for you.”
While Charlie was speaking, he took out some meat;
The soldier with eagerness hastened to eat.
No thanks did he offer to God or to man,
But like a wild creature his meal he began.
His savage, coarse manners but pity inspired:
“Say, have you a mother?” the drummer inquired.
The kind little fellow in honesty thought
That only an orphan could be so untaught.
A mother! The question was suddenly put.
The rough soldier trembled from head unto foot.
The home of his childhood before him appears,
Awake are its memories, silent for years;
He sees the fond face that once bent o’er his bed,
The hands that in blessing were laid on his head;
Remembers the prayers that he said at her side,
The kiss that she gave him the morning she died.
How good and how loving he promised to be;
How broken that promise—how altered was he!
“O yes, I’d a mother,” he gloomily said;
“Thank God, she is sleeping the rest of the dead.
She knows not the sins of her wandering son,
She cannot be mourning her lost little one
I promised to meet her in heaven above;
I promised to pray and to labor and love.
With angels in glory her spirit will dwell,
While I must sink down to the nethermost hell.
I’m wounded and weak; I must die, I suppose,
And leave this vile body as food for the crows.
Ah, that were a trifle. Too surely I know
The fiery tortures to which I must go.”
“Stop, stop, my dear fellow,” the drummer replied;
“No sinner need perish, since Jesus has died:
He’s waiting beside us to listen to prayer;
Oh ask his forgiveness, and trust to his care.”
“He would not forgive me, I’ve wallowed in sin.
And as to repentance, how could I begin?
At curses and oaths I’ve been ready enough;
I’m not used to praying,” returned the poor “rough.”
“It’s not for the words that our Savior will care;
He’ll see in your spirit the wish that is there.
If while I am speaking you join with me too,
I think, my dear fellow, such praying will do.”
Then Charlie’s sweet accents arose on the air:
The soldier, in whispers, repeated the prayer.
“O blessed Lord Jesus, for me thou hast died;
I know of thy cross, and the wound in thy side.
Thou lovest poor sinners, and therefore I dare
To offer before thee my penitent prayer:
“Almighty Father, I have sinned
Against thy just commands.
My heart is full of wickedness,
And guilty are my hands.
Almighty Son, thy sufferings
With coldness I have viewed;
I have repaid thy wondrous love
With base ingratitude.
Almighty Spirit, I have oft
Despised thy voice within:
When thou hast warned and plead with me,
I would not turn from sin.
Thou art my Father, though I am
A wicked, wandering child.
Forgive me, Lord, for Jesus’ sake
With me be reconciled.
O gentle Savior, let me share
The pardon thou hast brought;
Help me to serve thee evermore,
And love thee as I ought.
O Holy Spirit, make me pure
In thought and word and deed:
Teach me to pray, to strive with sin,
And in thy strength succeed.
And when I die, O may this soul
Which thou hast now forgiven,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Eternally in heaven.”
The drummer had ceased. There was silence a space.
A wonderful beauty came over his face—
A light and a loveliness caught from above,
A look of serenity, gladness, and love;
The dimness of evening enshrouded the spot,
But darkness or dimness to God there was not.
He saw little Charlie. We feebly can guess,
How bended our Jesus that dear one to bless.
No eye but the Savior’s beheld, mid hot tears,
The soldier repenting his prodigal years;
No ear but the One that is watching for prayer,
Could catch the petitions he breathed on the air.
O’er Charlie the drummer a faintness now creeps,
And weak and exhausted, he heavily sleeps.
But ere he has sunk into silent repose,
He marks that his eyelids are drooping to close;
Begins “Now I lay me,” and ends in his dreams;
Then tranquil and breathless the slumberer seems.
Not so with the soldier who tossed at his side,
Now moaning with pain, and now inwardly tried
With anguish of spirit, as thoughts of the past
The clouds of despair o’er his future would cast.
But sleep with its balm overcame him at length,
And robbed his tormentors of half of their strength;
At first in his vision his tortures arose,
But yielded at last to a deathlike repose.
THE sunrise with beauty had tinted the east,
And roused from their slumbers the bird and the beast.
The robin and thrush, with their musical lay,
Had cheerily welcomed the opening day.
The fierceness of war was dispelled with the night,
And mercy and love were abroad with the light.
A party of soldiers were scouring the plain.
Not now were they striving a battle to gain,
But tenderly caring for wounded and dead,
On errands of mercy they busily sped.
They found little Charlie, his hand o’er his head,
As quietly sleeping as if in his bed;
While, writhing beside him, the soldier was grim
With anguish which tortured his quivering limb.
“Here’s another poor fellow, not dead, I declare
We’ll save him,” one said, “by immediate care.”
“Don’t touch me,” he faltered, “it’s no use to try
Just leave me, I tell you, just leave me to die.
I’m not worth the saving—a wretched old scamp,
A stain and a blot on the Federal camp.
But here’s little Charlie, in need of your aid;
I tell you that drummer is worth a brigade.
So take him up gently; he’s wounded, I fear;
God’s blessing go with him, the kind little dear.”
“And you are worth saving; you must not despair;
For every brave soldier we lovingly care.
We’ll nurse you, poor fellow, whatever you’ve been;
And you may get well, a new life to begin.”
The voice was a lady’s. She stooped at his side;
To bathe his hot temples she tenderly tried.
Then sweet words of pity she breathed in his ear,
And whispered of Jesus, his spirit to cheer.
The hardened old soldier was softened at last;
His hand o’er his eyes he impulsively passed,
Then answered in accents half-broken and low,
“I’m willing to mind you, I’m ready to go;
And if I get well, I’m resolved what to do:
I’ll be a true Christian, like Charlie and you.
And Charlie, you’ll take him? the drummer I mean;
I would not forsake him to follow the queen.
“Yes, surely we’ll take him,” the lady replied,
And Charlie the drummer was soon at their side,
As in a light wagon, o’er hillock and plain,
They moved at the head of the hospital train.
O’ER months in our story we easily glide,
And jump over States in a minute beside.
A neat little cottage ’tis pleasant to see,
A home in the country though humble it be—
Its few modest flowers in “borders” so trim,
Its fences all white-washed, its hedges so prim;
Some drooping old elm-trees are grouped round the cot,
And fleck with their shadows the little grass-plot;
A porch at the door-way of course you will find,
With roses, or hops, or clematis entwined;
Between the low windows the lilacs will grow,
While pansies or poppies are springing below.
In just such a home, on a midsummer-day,
A mother was sitting and sewing away.
That needle of hers was a busy wee sprite;
It worked in all weathers, from morning to night.
No wonder at that; there was plenty to do,
For Willie and Jamie, and Mary and Sue.
Those four little bodies were all to be dressed,
With garments for “week-days,” and garments for “best.”
The patches and darns must be counted beside;
No wonder the needle was steadily plied.
And where were the children that midsummer-day?
Not picking the currants, not tossing the hay,
Not ranged in the school-room with primer and slate,
Not feeding the chickens, but all at the gate;
Yes, all at the gate, at the end of the walk,
All watching and waiting. Just list to their talk.
“I’ll see him the first, I’ll warrant,” said Sue;
“My eyes are the brightest, because they are blue.”
The children all laughed; but as Sue was the pet,
The beauty and darling, the least of the set,
Sue said what she chose, with a pout or a kiss,
And brothers and sisters took nothing amiss.
“I’ll run in for mother; as soon as we see
The stage in the valley, clear down by the tree,
I’ll call her,” said Mary; and smoothing her hair,
She leaned o’er the gate with a womanly air.
“We’ll run out to meet him,” said Will in a heat;
“I know, master Jamie, who’ll certainly beat.”
Thus challenged, from Jamie no answer was heard;
He could not, that minute, have spoken a word:
His loving young bosom was full to the brim;
What others were saying was nothing to him.
The thought of his brother was filling his heart,
And prompting the tears that were ready to start.
E’en now in his gladness he could not forget
What Charlie had suffered since last they had met.
Yes, Charlie the drummer was coming indeed;
For him little Willie was boasting his speed;
For him all the children were thronging the gate;
For him the fond mother was striving to wait,
And ply the swift needle till sunset should come
To bring her poor darling again to his home.
They told her the nurses had tended him well,
But Charlie had written of “news yet to tell;”
And though he had said he was sturdy and strong,
Her heart ever whispered that something was wrong.
She would not, she dared not give reins to her joy,
Till once she had looked on her dear drummer-boy.
The stage-coach was coming, she knew by the shout;
She met little Mary while hurrying out.
“It’s Charlie, dear mother; I know it is he:
He waved something white as he passed by the tree.”
The mother in silence took Jamie’s fond hand,
And tearful she stood in the midst of her band.
A pale little face from the window appeared:
“I knew they’d be waiting;” then feebly he cheered.
“Now stop, Mr. Coachman; there’s waiting enough;
Just let us get down, sir;” ’twas surely the “rough.”
Yes; in his arms little Charlie he caught,
And at the gate as quick as a thought.
“I’ve brought him home madam, sound as a top.”
But here the old soldier was brought to a stop;
A chocking so took him he couldn’t say more,
But silently dropped the dear burden he bore.
When once on his feet little Charlie was freed,
What kissing and hugging! what kissing indeed!
One thing in a moment the mother had spied,
How Charlie’s left, coat-sleeve hung loose at his side.
A pang smote her bosom the secret was told,
Not scatheless the lamb had returned to the fold.
Hot tears from her eyelids came sweeping like rain;
She kissed little Charlie again and again.
“Thank God, I’m at home, my dear mother,” he said;
“It might have been worse too—the right arm instead.
I’m glad for my country I’ve suffered and fought;
I’ll try to be brave now, and bear as I ought
This little misfortune that Providence sent.
You will not mind, mother, if I am content?”
“God bless you, my darling;” she wept as she spoke.
Then in on their converse the rough soldier broke:
“No wonder you cry ma’am; the surgeon did too,
To think for poor Charlie the thing he must do.
And when the dear boy, in the midst of his pain,
Was brave as a lion, he blubbered again;
The surgeon did that ma’am, and more of us too,
It’s kind o’ heart-breakin’, but wait till I’m through.
It isn’t for nothing he’s been to the war—
The very best Christian that ever I saw.
He’s taught us poor soldiers the thing that we need.
God bless the dear fellow; God bless him indeed!
He’s been all among us the good seed to sow;
Some fruit of his planting the Judgment will show.
I once was a rascal, too worthless to live,
But Charlie has taught me that God can forgive.
In place of the arm that has suffered and gone,
A sinner forgiven is still living on.
Perhaps it will comfort you, madam, to know
The wound that has altered your drummer-boy so
Alone was the cause of our meeting that night,
When out of the darkness be led me to light.
The choicest of blessings I owe to your boy;
May heaven reward him with ages of joy.”
The mother was calm when the soldier had done.
She clasped to her bosom her own little one.
“Thank God for my Charlie,” she earnestly said:
“All blessings will surely descend on his head.
With brothers and sisters as loving as his,
His absent five fingers he never will miss.”
“I’ll put on his stockings and tie up his shoe;
I’ll do every thing for him,” said dear little Sue.
“Not every thing, Susy, pet,” Charlie replies;
I cannot have all from my ‘little blue eyes;’
But Susy shall help me, and Mary and Will,
And Jamie’ll be Jamie, my dear brother still.”
They gathered around him, all eager to prove
How gladly they’d show him the depth of their love,
And onward they led him the flowers between,
The soldier enjoying the beautiful scene.
Then Jamie stepped backward and said to the “rough,”
“I’m sure brother Charlie’ll have comfort enough.
He’d rather lose both arms, I’m certain he would,
Than miss the great pleasure of doing you good.”
Around on the porch soon the family sat;
Then up started Willie, and waving his hat,
Be said that some singing he thought would be “pat,”
The Star-spangled Banner, or something like that.
The mother was absent a moment to see
If cook was preparing to give them their tea;
As ended the stanza, she stood on the sill,
And joined in the chorus with hearty good-will.
“And now something better,” she pleasantly says;
“A hymn of thanksgiving we’ll gratefully raise.”
Ah, sweet was the music that burst from them then,
And sweeter to angels than even to men.
And so we leave Charlie, the drummer no more,
So peacefully singing beside his own door.
The soldier must go and new warfare begin,
And Charlie through life must be battling with sin;
But they have one Master, one Captain above,
His home is all gladness and beauty and love;
And soon He will call them, in glory to sing
The praise of their Captain, their Savior and King.