Waterloo a dead word to you? the name of a plain
of battle, no more? Or do you see, on a space
of rising ground, the little long-coated man with marble
features, and unquenchable eyes that pierce through
rolling smoke to where the relics of the old Guard of
France stagger and rally and reach fiercely again up
the hill of St. Jean toward the squares, set, torn,
red, re-formed, stubborn, mangled, victorious beneath
the unflinching will of him behind there,—the
Iron Duke of England?
Or is your interest in the fight
literary? and do you see in a pause of the conflict
Major O’Dowd sitting on the carcass of Pyramus
refreshing himself from that case-bottle of sound brandy?
George Osborne lying yonder, all his fopperies ended,
with a bullet through his [Page 239]
heart? Rawdon Crawley riding stolidly behind General
Tufto along the front of the shattered regiment where
Captain Dobbin stands heartsick for poor Emily?
Or maybe the struggle arranges
itself in your vision around one figure not named in
history or fiction,—that of your grandfather,
or his father, or some old dead soldier of the great
wars whose blood you exult to inherit, or some grim
veteran whom you saw tottering to the roll-call beyond
when the Queen was young and you were a little boy.
For me the shadows of the battle
are so grouped round old John Locke that the historians,
story-tellers, and painters may never quite persuade
me that he was not the centre and real hero of the action.
The French cuirassiers in my thought-pictures charge
again and again vainly against old John; he it is who
breaks the New Guard; upon the ground that he defends
the Emperor’s eyes are fixed all day long.
It is John who occasionally glances at the sky with
wonder if Blucher has failed them. Upon Shaw the
Lifeguardsman, and John, the Duke plainly most relies,
and the words that Wellington actually speaks when the
time comes for advance are, “Up, John, and at
How fate drifted the old veteran
of Waterloo into our little Canadian Lake Erie village
I never knew. Drifted him? No; he ever marched
as if under the orders of his commander. Tall,
thin, white-haired, close-shaven, and always in knee-breeches
and long stockings, his was antique and martial figure.
“Fresh white-fish” was his cry, which he
delivered as if calling all the village to fall in for
So impressive was his demeanor
that he dignified his occupation. For years after
he disappeared, the peddling of white-fish by horse
and cart was regarded in that district as peculiarly
respectable. It was a glorious trade when old
John Locke held the steelyards and served out the glittering
fish with an air of distributing ammunition for a long
day’s combat. [Page 241]
I believe I noticed, on the
first day I saw him, how he tapped his left breast with
a proud gesture when he had done with a lot of customers
and was about to march again at the head of his horse.
That restored him from trade to his soldiership—he
had saluted his Waterloo medal! There beneath
his threadbare old blue coat it lay, always felt by
the heart of the hero.
“Why doesn’t he
wear it outside?” I once asked.
“He used to,” said
my father, “till Hiram Beaman, the druggist, asked
him what he’d ‘take for the bit of pewter.’”
“What did old John say,
“‘Take for the bit
of pewter!’ said he, looking hard at Beaman with
scorn. ‘I’ve took better men’s
lives nor ever yours was for to get it, and I’d
sell my own for it as quick as ever I offered it before.’
“‘More fool you,’
said old John, very calm and cold, ‘you’re
nowt but walking dirt.’ [Page 242]
From that day forth he would never sell Beaman a fish;
he wouldn’t touch his money.”
It must have been late in 1854
or early in 1855 that I first saw the famous medal.
Going home from school on a bright winter afternoon,
I met old John walking very erect, without his usual
fish-supply. A dull round white spot was clasped
on the left breast of his coat.
“Mr. Locke,” said
the small boy, staring with admiration, “is that
your glorious Waterloo medal?”
“You’re a good little
lad!” He stooped to let me see the noble
pewter. “War’s declared against Rooshia,
and now it’s right to show it. The old regiment’s
sailed, and my only son is with the colors.”
Then he took me by the hand
and led me into the village store, where the lawyer
read aloud the news from the paper that the veteran
gave him. In those days there was no railway within
fifty miles of us. It had chanced that some fisherman
brought old John a later paper than any previously received
in the village. [Page 243]
“Ay, but the Duke is gone,”
said he, shaking his white head, “and it’s
curious to be fighting on the same side with another
All that winter and the next,
all the long summer between, old John displayed his
medal. When the report of Alma came, his remarks
on the French failure to get into the fight were severe.
“What was they ever, at best, without
Boney?” he would inquire. But a letter from
his son after Inkermann changed all that.
“Half of us was killed,
and the rest of us clean tired with fighting,”
wrote Corporal Locke. “What with a bullet
through the flesh of my right leg, and the fatigue of
using the bayonet so long, I was like to drop.
The Russians was coming on again as if there was no
end to them, when strange drums came sounding in the
mist behind us. With that we closed up and faced
half-round, thinking they had outflanked us and the
day was gone, so there was nothing more to do but make
out to die hard, like the sons of Waterloo men.
You [Page 244] would have been pleased
to see the looks of what was left of the old regiment,
father. Then all of a sudden a French column came
up the rise out of the mist, screaming, ‘Vive
l’Empereur!’ their drums beating the
charge. We gave them room, for we were too dead
tired to go first. On they went like mad at the
Russians, so that was the end of a hard morning’s
work. I was down,— fainted with loss of
blood,—but I will soon be fit for duty again.
When I came to myself there was a Frenchman pouring
brandy down my throat, and talking in his gibberish
as kind as any Christian. Never a word will I
say agin them red-legged French again.”
“Show me the man that
would!” growled old John. “It was
never in them French to act cowardly. Didn’t
they beat all the world, and even stand up many’s
the day agen ourselves and the Duke? They didn’t
beat,—it wouldn’t be in reason,—but
they tried brave enough, and what more’d you ask
of mortal men?” [Page 245]
With the ending of the Crimean
War our village was illuminated. Rows of tallow
candles in every window, fireworks in a vacant field,
and a torchlight procession! Old John marched
at its head in full regimentals, straight as a ramrod,
the hero of the night. His son had been promoted
for bravery on the field. After John came a dozen
gray militiamen of Queenston Heights, Lundy’s
Lane, and Chippewa; next some forty volunteers of ’37.
And we boys of the U. E. Loyalist settlement cheered
and cheered, thrilled with an intense vague knowledge
that the old army of Wellington kept ghostly step with
John, while aerial trumpets and drums pealed and beat
with rejoicing at the fresh glory of the race and the
union of English-speaking men unconsciously celebrated
and symbolized by the little rustic parade.
After that the old man again
wore his medal concealed. The Chinese War of 1857
was too contemptible to celebrate by displaying his
badge of Waterloo. [Page 246]
Then came the dreadful tale
of the Sepoy mutiny—Meerut, Delhi, Cawnpore!
After the tale of Nana Sahib’s massacre of women
and children was read to old John he never smiled, I
think. Week after week, month after month, as
hideous tidings poured steadily in, his face became
more haggard, gray, and dreadful. The feeling
that he was too old for use seemed to shame him.
He no longer carried his head high, as of yore.
That his son was not marching behind Havelock with the
avenging army seemed to cut our veteran sorely.
Sergeant Locke had sailed with the old regiment to join
Outram in Persia before the Sepoys broke loose.
It was at this time that old John was first heard to
say, “I’m ’feared something’s
gone wrong with my heart.”
Months went by before we learned
that the troops for Persia had been stopped on their
way and thrown into India against the mutineers.
At that news old John marched into the village with
a prouder air than he had worn for many a day.
His medal was again on his breast. [Page 247]
It was but the next month, I
think, that the village lawyer stood reading aloud the
account of the capture of a great Sepoy fort.
The veteran entered the post-office, and all made way
for him. The reading went on:—
“The blowing open of the
Northern Gate was the grandest personal exploit of the
attack. It was performed by native sappers, covered
by the fire of two regiments, and headed by Lieutenants
Holder and Dacre, Sergeants Green, Carmody, Macpherson,
The lawyer paused. Every
eye turned to the face of the old Waterloo soldier.
He straightened up to keener attention, threw out his
chest, and tapped the glorious medal in salute of the
names of the brave.
“God be praised, my son
was there!” he said. “Read on.”
“Sergeant Carmody, while
laying the powder, was killed, and the native havildar
wounded. The powder having been laid, the advance
party slipped down into the ditch to allow the [Page
248] firing party, under Lieutenant Dacre,
to do its duty. While trying to fire the charge
he was shot through one arm and leg. He sank,
but handed the match to Sergeant Macpherson, who was
at once shot dead. Sergeant Locke, already wounded
severely in the shoulder, then seized the match, and
succeeded in firing the train. He fell at that
moment, literally riddled with bullets.”
“Read on,” said
old John, in a deeper voice. All forbore to look
twice upon his face.
“Others of the party were
falling, when the mighty gate was blown to fragments,
and the waiting regiments of infantry, under Colonel
Campbell, rushed into the breach.”
There was a long silence in
the post-office, till old John spoke once more.
“The Lord God be thanked
for all his dealings with us! My son, Sergeant
Locke, died well for England, Queen, and Duty.”
Nervously fingering the treasure
on his breast, the old soldier wheeled about, and marched
[Page 249] proudly down the middle
of the village street to his lonely cabin.
The villagers never saw him
in life again. Next day he did not appear.
All refrained from intruding on his mourning.
But in the evening, when the Episcopalian minister heard
of his parishioner’s loss, he walked to old John’s
There, stretched upon his straw
bed, he lay in his antique regimentals, stiffer than
At Attention, all his medals fastened below that of
Waterloo above his quiet heart. His right hand
lay on an open Bible, and his face wore an expression
as of looking for ever and ever upon Sergeant Locke
and the Great Commander who takes back unto Him the
heroes He fashions to sweeten the world. [Page