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In the Track of the Troops   By: (1825-1894)

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IN THE TRACK OF THE TROOPS, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.

CHAPTER ONE.

A TALE OF MODERN WAR.

REVEALS THE EXPLOSIVE NATURE OF MY EARLY CAREER.

The remarkable I might even say amazing personal adventures which I am about to relate occurred quite recently.

They are so full of interest to myself and to my old mother, that I hasten to write them down while yet vivid and fresh in my memory, in the hope that they may prove interesting, to say nothing of elevating and instructive to the English speaking portions of the human race throughout the world.

The dear old lady to whom I have just referred my mother is one of the gentlest, meekest, tenderest beings of my acquaintance. Her regard for me is almost idolatrous. My feelings towards her are tinged with adoration.

From my earliest years I have been addicted to analysis.

Some of my younger readers may not perhaps know that by analysis is meant the reduction of compound things to their elements the turning of things, as it were, inside out and tearing them to pieces. All the complex toys of infancy I was wont to reduce to their elements; I turned them inside out to see what they were made of, and how they worked. A doll, not my own, but my sister Bella's, which had moveable eyelids and a musical stomach, was treated by me in this manner, the result being that I learned little, while my poor sister suffered much. Everything in my father's house suffered more or less from this inquiring tendency of my mind.

Time, however, while it did not abate my thirst for knowledge, developed my constructive powers. I became a mechanician and an inventor. Perpetual motion was my first hobby. Six times during the course of boyhood did I burst into my mother's presence with the astounding news that I had "discovered it at last!" The mild and trustful being believed me. Six times also was I compelled to acknowledge to her that I had been mistaken, and again she believed me, more thoroughly, perhaps, than at first. No one, I think, can form the least idea of the delight with which I pursued this mechanical will o' the wisp.

Growing older, I took to chemistry, and here my love for research and analysis found ample scope, while the sufferings of my father's household were intensified. I am not naturally cruel far from it. They little knew how much pain their sufferings caused me; how earnestly I endeavoured to lessen or neutralise the nuisances which the pursuit of science entailed. But I could not consume my own smoke, or prevent explosions, or convert bad and suffocating odours into sweet smells.

Settling down to this new pursuit with intense enthusiasm, I soon began to flow in my natural course, and sought to extend the bounds of chemical knowledge. I could not help it. The particular direction in which my interest ultimately became concentrated was that of explosives.

After becoming acquainted with gun cotton, nitro glycerine, dynamite, lithofracteur, and other combinations of powerfully explosive agents, I took to searching for and inventing methods by which these might be utilised. To turn everything to good account, is a desire which I cannot resist.

Explosives naturally drew my attention to mines tin mines, coal mines, and other commercial enterprises. They also suggested war and torpedoes.

At that time I had not reflected on the nature of war. I merely knew it to be a science, cultivated chiefly by the human race, and that in its practice explosives are largely used. To "blow up" effectively, whether in a literal or figurative sense, is difficult. To improve this power in war, and in the literal sense, I set myself to work. I invented a torpedo, which seemed to me better than any that had yet been brought out. To test its powers, I made a miniature fortification, and blew it up. I also blew up our groom, Jacob Lancey.

It happened thus:

The miniature fortress, which was made of cardboard, earth, and bricks, was erected in a yard near our stables. Under its walls the torpedo was placed, and the match lighted... Continue reading book >>




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