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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter II. Fireman or Soldier

HALIFAX has already been mentioned as a particularly pleasant place for a boy to be born in ; and so indeed it is. Every schoolboy knows, or ought to know, that it is the capital of Acadia, one of the Maritime Provinces of the Dominion of Canada. It has a great many advantages, some of which are not shared by any other city on the continent. Situated right on the sea coast, it boasts a magnificent harbour, in which all the war vessels of the world, from the mightiest iron-clad to the tiniest torpedo boat, might lie at anchor. Beyond the harbour, separated from it by only a short strait, well-named the “Narrows,” is an immense basin that seems just designed for yachting and excursions; while branching out from the harbour in different directions are two lovely fiords, one called the Eastern Passage, leading out to the ocean again, and the other running away up into the land, so that there is no lack of salt water from which cool breezes may blow on the torrid days.

The city itself is built upon the peninsula that divides the harbour from the north-west arm, and beginning about half-a-mile from the point of the peninsula, runs northward almost to the Narrows, and spreads out westward until its farthest edge touches the shore of the arm. The “Point” has been wisely set aside for a public park, and except where a fort or two, built to command the entrance to the harbour, intrudes upon it, the forest of spruce and fir with its labyrinth of roads and paths and frequent glades of soft waving grass, extends from shore to shore, making a wilderness that a boy’s imagination may easily people with Indians brandishing tomahawk and scalping knife, or bears and wolves seeking whom they may devour.

Halifax being the chief military and naval station for the British Colonies in America, its forts and barracks are filled with red-coated infantry or blue-coated artillery the whole year round. All summer long great iron-clads bring their imposing bulks to anchor off the Dockyard, and Jack Tars in foolish, merry, and alas! too often vicious companies, swagger through the streets in noisy enjoyment of their day on shore.

On either side of the harbour, on the little island which rests like an emerald brooch upon its bosom, and high above the city on the crown of the hill up which it wearily climbs, street beyond street, stand frowning fortresses with mighty guns thrusting their black muzzles through the granite embrasures. In fact, the whole place is pervaded by the influences of military life; and Cuthbert, whose home overlooked a disused fort, now serving the rather ignoble purpose of a dwelling-place for married soldiers, was at first fully persuaded in his mind that the desire of his life was to be a soldier ; and it was not until he went to a military review, and realised that the soldiers had to stand up awfully stiff and straight, and dare not open their mouths for the world, that he dismissed the idea of being a soldier, and adopted that of being a fireman.

Yet there were times when he rather regretted his decision, and inclined to waver in his allegiance. His going to the Sunday school with his sister had something to do with this. A favourite hymn with the superintendent—who, by the way, was a retired officer—was—

“Onward, Christian soldiers.”

The bright stirring tune, and the tremendous vigour with which the scholars sang it, quite took Cuthbert’s heart. He listened eagerly, but the only words he caught were the first, which they repeated so often:

“Onward, Christian soldiers.”

Walking home with his sister, they met a small detachment of soldiers, looking very fine in their Sunday uniforms:

“Are those Christian soldiers, Mary?” he asked, looking eagerly up into her face.

“Perhaps so, Bert, I don’t know,” Mary replied. “What makes you ask?”

“Because we were singing about Christian soldiers, weren’t we?” answered Bert.

“Oh! is that what you mean, Bert? They may be, for all I know. Would you like to be a Christian soldier?”

“Yes,” doubtfully; then, brightening up—“but couldn’t I be a Christian fireman, too?”

“Of course you could, Bert, but I’d much rather see you a Christian soldier. Mr. Hamilton is a Christian soldier, you know.”

This reply of his sister’s set Bert’s little brain at work. Mr. Hamilton, the superintendent of the Sunday school, was a tall, erect handsome man, with fine .grey hair and whiskers, altogether an impressive gentleman; yet he had a most winning manner, and Bert was won to him at once when he was welcomed by him warmly to the school. Bert could not imagine anything grander than to be a Christian soldier, if it meant being like Mr. Hamilton. Still the fireman notion had too many attractions to be lightly thrown aside, and consequently for some time to come he could hardly be said to know his own mind as to his future.

The presence of the military in Halifax was far from being an unmixed good. Of course, it helped business, gave employment to many hands, imparted peculiar life and colour to society, and added many excellent citizens to the population. At the same time it had very marked drawbacks. There was always a great deal of drunkenness and other dissipation among the soldiers and sailors. The officers were not the most improving of companions and models for the young men of the place, and in other ways the city was the worse for their presence.

Mrs. Lloyd presently found the soldiers a source of danger to her boy. Just around the corner at the entrance to the old fort, already mentioned, was a guardhouse, and here some half-dozen soldiers were stationed day and night. They were usually jolly fellows, who were glad to get hold of little boys to play with, and thereby help to while away the time in their monotonous life. Cuthbert soon discovered the attractions of this guardhouse, and, in spite of commands to the contrary, which he seemed unable to remember, wandered off thither very often. All the other little boys in the neighbourhood went there whenever they liked, and he could not understand why he should not do so too. He did not really mean to defy his parents. He was too young for that, being only six years old. But the force of the example of his playmates seemed stronger than the known wishes of his parents, and so he disobeyed them again and again.

Mrs. Lloyd might, of course, have carried her point by shutting Bert up in the yard, and not allowing him out at all except in charge of somebody. But that was precisely what she did not wish to do. She knew well enough that her son could not have a locked-up world to live in. He must learn to live in this world, full of temptations as it is, and so her idea was not so much to put him out of the way of temptation, as to teach him how to withstand it. Consequently, she was somewhat at a loss just what to do in the matter of the guardhouse, when a letter that came from the country offered a very timely and acceptable solution of the difficulty.

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