Waterloo by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Summary

There are four characters in this play. Corporal Brewster aged ninety-six, Norah Brewster, his grandniece, Sergeant McDonald and Colonel Midwinter. In a front room in a small country house there is a roughly made painting of Corporal Brewster in a red coat with a bearskin. On one side of the portrait, there is a cutting from a newspaper framed, and on the other, there is a medal also within a frame.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Norah Brewster comes in with a bundle of her luggage. She finds nobody at home. She is impressed with her grand-uncle's portrait and medal. Her granduncle seems to have been neglected, so she has come to look after him. The housekeeper seems to have gone after lighting the fire. Norah waxes to prepare food for her granduncle. She thinks only a brave man dared to fight against him.

Just then Sergeant McDonald has come to see Corporal Gregory Brewster, who was in the Scots Guards and who fought in the battle of Waterloo. Then the Sergeant goes out wishing to come again in an hour or two when he comes back from the butts. Then Norah asks who she will say came for him. He returns and says that he is Sergeant McDonald of Artillery. He has heard that the old gentleman was not properly looked after. Norah says that that is why her father sent her to do what she could. She is preparing tea for the old man. McDonald says that there is not many living now who can say that they fought against Napoleon Bonaparte. He reads the slip of paper beside the medal. There is the date, August 1815: He also reads the cutting of the newspaper. There's the heading "Heroic Deed" and the following report: "On Tuesday an interesting ceremony was performed at the barracks of the third regiment of the Guards and a special meal was presented to Corporal Gregory Brewster in recognition of his bravery in the recent great battle. On the 18th of June four companies of the Third Guards held the important farmhouse of Hougoumont. At a critical period of the action the troops found themselves short of powder, and Corporal Brewster was sent to bring the reserve ammunition. The Corporal returned with two carts, but he found that in his absence the French had ignited the hedge around the farm and the passage of the carts had become almost impossibility. The first cart exploded, killing the driver and his comrade turned his horses, but Corporal Brewster jumped into his seat, threw the driver down and drove the cart through the flames and rejoined his comrades and the battle was bravely won." He hands back the frame and Norah says that they are all proud of her uncle.

Taking his carbine, the Sergeant goes and Norah thinks that he kindly reads to her all about her uncle. Her uncle calls Mary, the housekeeper, to give him his food. Corporal Brewster enters. He is walking unsteadily. He's very thin, bent and his hair is white and his face is wrinkled. When he walks across the room, Norah looks at the man first and then at his picture on the wall. The old man is dissatisfied and asks for food because the cold has injured him without food. He wants to have tea. Then Norah introduces her as his brother, George's granddaughter and he is surprised at his little George having a girl. He remembers that he gave a pup to his brother and asks her if he did not give it to her to bring. And Norah replies that her grandfather died twenty years before. He drinks tea with loud supping. She gives him butter and egg and he eats voraciously. He asks her if she came by coach yesterday. Then she replies that she came by the morning train. But the old man is afraid of the new things. He wonders how she travelled more than twenty miles in the morning. He is surprised at the rapid progress in the world. He says that he gets energy from food. Life does not seem very long to him. He is over ninety, but he thinks that he got his bounty only yesterday and he still feels the smell of the burned powder on his nose. He is proud of the day when he was given the medal. He coughs and drinks medicine out of the bottle.

A regiment of soldiers is coming down the street. Norah is quite excited. The old man wants his glasses and complains that bands don't seem to play as loud nowadays as they used to. He wants to know their number, but Norah says they have no numbers, but names. He is not very happy with this change. He enjoys watching them march and swing. He feels pain in his chest and his skin also causes him pain.

The Sergeant appears again in the room. He wants to see the old man. He says that he is proud and glad to see the old man. He salutes him. Norah is half frightened and half attracted to see the young man. The old man asks him to sit down. When he sees the three stripes, he says that it is three times easier to these days. The Sergeant introduces himself and says that all his mates are proud to have the old man in the town. He also invites the old man to the non-commissioned mess to have a pipe and a glass of rum. The Corporal says that he will go there in fine weather. He is happy to hear about the non-commissioned mess. When the Sergeant asks him if he was in the Guards, he replies that he was in the Scots Guards. He adds that all the Guardsmen from the Colonel Byng to the drummer boys have marched away and that he is still here as a loafer. He thinks that it is not his fault because he can't leave his post without being called. The Sergeant gives him a pouch of tobacco. He tries to fill his clay pipe, but drops it. It breaks and he begins to sob like a child. The Sergeant soothes him by giving him his wooden pipe and he smiles instantly bursting through his tears. He says that it's a fine pipe, and that his brother, George, never had pipes like this. He also wants to have the feel of the carbine and is surprised at it. Then the Sergeant goes out. Norah thinks that he will be like her granduncle in sixty years and that her granduncle was once like him. The old man asks her to move his chair to the door. It will be warm there and the flies won't disturb him.

The old man then asks Norah to read to him from the Bible. He wants her to read about the wars and soldiers. When Norah says that it's all peace in the next world, he replies that there will be the final battle of Armageddon. He wants to go back to the corner. When he is rising, Colonel Midwinter comes in civilian costume. He has come to see the Corporal (the old man). When he introduces himself as the Colonel of the Scots Guards, the Corporal jumps to his feet and salutes Then he staggers and is about to fall. The Colonel and Norah support him. He feels very happy that the colonel has come to visit him. The Colonel also says that they are proud of the Corporal in London. He tells the Colonel about his health. But his memory is excellent. He remembers the names of every person in the company and every detail of the battle. The most impressive thing of his life was that he lost three half-crowns that he lent to Jabes Smith at Brussels. The Colonel says that the officers of the Guards want him to buy him some little present which may add to his comfort. Then the Corporal requests the Colonel to do him a favor He wishes to have a flag and a firing party when he dies because he is not a civilian and he also wants two lines of the bearskins after his coffin The Colonel says that he will see to it but hopes that they may have nothing but good news from him. And he goes out.

Norah supposes that the old man is asleep. But he is so grey and thin that he frightens her. She wishes she had someone to advise her when he is ill and when he is not. Suddenly the Sergeant enters and asks how he is. But she feels quite frightened about him. He hopes that the sleep will bring strength to him. He has collected a pound of fine tobacco for the old man. He asks her if she has been to the barrack and requests her to come with her granduncle. The old man, in a loud voice says that the Guards need powder and struggles to rise. Norah is frightened. He again says that the Guards need powder and falls back into the chair. Norah and the Sergeant rush to him. Norah starts to sob and asks what he thinks of the old man. The Sergeant seriously replies that the corporal is dead and with his old companions.