08 January 2011

Death Disk

Another small tryant...

            It was in Oliver Cromwell’s time. Colonel Mayfair, the youngest officer in the armies of the commonwealth, and his young wife, sat hand in hand gazing into the fire. Their child, Abby, seven years old, glided in at the door and ran to the father.
            “Why papa, you mustn’t kiss me like that, you’ll rumple my hair!”
            “Oh, I am so sorry; do you forgive me, dear?”
            “Why, of course. Papa, please don’t cry.”
            Her father wound his arms about her. “Papa was naughty. What must he do for punishment?”
            “A story! Papa, a story! A dreadful one, papa, so that we’ll shiver. Mama, you snuggle up close and hold one of Abby’s hands, so that if it’s too dreadful, it’ll be easier for us to bear it. Now begin, Papa.”
            “And in a battle they committed a breach of discipline. They were ordered to feign an attack on a strong position in a losing fight, in order to draw the enemy about and give the Commonwealth’s forces a chance to retreat; but in their enthusiasm they turned the feign into a fact, carried the position by storm, and won the day and the battle. The Lord General was very angry at their disobedience; praised them highly, and ordered them to London to be tried for their lives.”
            “Is it the great General Cromwell, Papa?”
            “Oh, I’ve seen him. When he goes by so grand on his big horse the people are afraid of him, but I’m not afraid of him.”
            “Well, the colonels came prisoners to London, and were allowed to go and see their families for the last -----“
            Hark! Footsteps: but they passed by.
            “They arrived this morning.”
            “Why Papa, it’s a true story, isn’t it! Oh, how good. Go on. Why, Mama, you’re crying.”
            “Never mind me, dear. I was thinking of the—the poor families.”
            “Don’t cry, Mama. It’ll come out right—you’ll see; stories always do. Go on, Papa, to where they lived happy ever after, then she won’t cry anymore. Go on.”
            “They took them to the Tower before they let them go home.”
            “Oh, I know where the Tower is—go on.”
            “In the Tower the military court found them guilty, and condemned them to be shot. The three colonels—“
            “Do you know them, papa? I love colonels. Would they let me kiss them, do you think, Papa?”
            “One of them would, my dear. There, kiss me for him.”
            “Then the military court went to the Lord General and said they had done their duty—and now they begged that two of the Colonels might be spared, and only one shot. One would be sufficient for an example for the army, they thought. Presently the Lord General said: ‘They shall cast lots. They said they were all ready to die.’”
            Hark! Tramp-tramp-tramp!
            “Open in the Lord General’s name!”
The child jumped down, scampered to the door and pulled it open.
            “Come in! Come in! Here are the soldiers, Papa. I know them.”
            The file marched in; its officer saluted the doomed Colonel. The soldier’s wife was standing at his side with features drawn with pain. –One long embrace—Then—“To the Tower—forward!” The Colonel marched forward with military step, the file following; then the door closed.
            “Oh, Mama, didn’t it come out beautiful! I told you it would; and they are going to the tower, and he’ll see them!”
            The next morning Abby was told to run and play—her mamma was very ill. The child went out. It struck her as wrong that her papa should be allowed to stay at the Tower at such a time as this.
            An hour later the military court were ushered into the presence of the Lord General. The spokesman said: “We have implored them to reconsider, but they persist. They will not cast lots. They are willing to die, but not to defile their religion.”
            The Lord General said: “They shall not all die. The lots shall be cast for them. Send for them. Place them in that room side by side with their faces to the wall and their wrists crossed behind them, and go, bring me the first little child that passes by.”
            The man returned leading Abby by the hand. She went straight to the Head of the State, and climbed up into his lap.
            “I know you, sir, you are the Lord General. I have seen you when you went by my house. I had on my red frock. Don’t you remember?”
            “Why, I am ashamed, but I will never forget you again, dear. You remind me of my own little girl. She had your charm—your all-conquering sweet confidence in friend and stranger alike. She used to sit on my lap, just as you are doing now.”
            “Did you love her very much?”
            “When she commanded I obeyed!”
            “I think you are lovely. Will you kiss me?”
            “Thankfully. There! What you command I must obey. And now I have a commission for you.”
            The Head of the Nation gave Abby three little disks of sealing wax, two white, and one ruddy red. The red was to deliver death to the Colonel who should get it.
            “And now, dear, lift the corner of that curtain, there; pass through and you will see three men standing in a row. Into the open hands drop one of those things, then come back to me.”
            Abby dropped the curtain behind her, then her face lighted merrily as she saw that one of them was her papa. She dropped the disks into the open hands, then peeped around under her father’s arm and cried out:
            “Papa, Papa! Look what you’ve got. I gave you the pretty one.”
            He glanced at the fatal gift, then gathered his innocent little executioner to his breast in an agony of love and pity. There was deep silence during some minutes, then the officer of the guard moved reluctantly forward.
            “It grieves me sir, but my duty commands. I must take you away!”
            “Indeed you can’t. My mama is sick, and I’m going to take him home.”
            “My poor child, he must go with me!” said the Colonel.
            “I told you my mama is sick. Let him go—you must!”
            Abby was gone like a flash if light. In a moment she was back, dragging the Lord General by the hand.
            “Stop them, Sir! I told them my mama is sick, and wants my papa.”
            “Your papa, child! Is he your papa?”
            “Why, of course. Could I give the pretty red one to any other when I love him so?”
            “Ah, God help me! I have done the cruelest thing that ever man did! What can I do now?
            “Why, you can make them let him go,” and she began to sob. “Tell them to do it! You told me to command, and now the very first time I tell you to do a thing you don’t do it!”
             A tender light dawned in the rugged old face, and the Lord General laid his hand upon the small tyrant’s head and said:
            “God be thanked for the saving accident of that unthinking promise, and you, inspired by Him, for reminding me of my forgotten pledge. Officer, obey her command—she speaks by my mouth. The prisoner is pardoned; set him free!”


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