No Man's Land
by H. C. McNeile
NO MAN'S LAND
H. C. McNEILE
Men, Women, and Guns,
Sergeant Michael Cassidy, R.E., and
The Lieutenant and Others
Hodder and Stoughton London New York Toronto MCMXVII
PART I. THE WAY
TO THE LAND
PART II. THE
I. A DAY OF
II. OVER THE TOP
IV. A POINT OF
V. MY LADY OF
VIII. THE SONG
OF THE BAYONET
PART III. SEED
I. THE SEED
II. THE FIRST
V. A PROJECT AND
VI. THE SECOND
LESSON, AND SOME
VII. THE THIRD
LESSON, AND A
VIII. THE THIRD
IX. “AND OTHER
FELL ON GOOD
PART IV. HARVEST
During the first few days of November 1914 Messines was lostin
silence; during the first few days of June 1917 Messines was
regainedand the noise of its capture was heard in London. And during
the two and a half years between these two events the game over the
water has been going on.
It hasn't changed very much in the timethat gameto the player.
To those who look on, doubtless, the difference is enormous. Now they
speak easily of millions where before they thought diffidently of
thousands. But to the individualwell, Messines is lost or Messines is
won; and he is the performer. It is of those performers that I write:
of the hole-and-corner work, of the little thumb-nail sketches which go
to make up the big battle panels so ably depicted over the matutinal
bacon and eggs.
And as one privileged to assist at times in that hole-and-corner
work, I offer these pages as a small tribute to those who have done so
far more than I: to the men who have borne the burden of the days, the
months, the yearsto the men who have saved the worldto the
PART I. THE WAY TO THE LAND
It came suddenly when it did come, it may be remembered. Every one
knew it was coming, and yetit was all so impossible, so incredible. I
remember Clive Draycott looking foolishly at his recall telegram in the
clubhe had just come home on leave from Egyptand then brandishing
it in front of my nose.
My dear old boy, he remarked peevishly, it's out of the question.
I'm shooting on the 12th.
But he crossed the next day to Boulogne.
It was a Sunday morning, and Folkestone looked just the same as it
always did look. Down by the Pavilion Hotel the usual crowd of Knuts in
very tight trousers and very yellow shoes, with suits most obviously
bought off the peg, wandered about with ladies of striking aspect.
Occasional snatches of conversation, stray gems of wit, scintillated
through the tranquil August air, and came familiarly to the ears of a
party of some half-dozen men who stood by a pile of baggage at the
entrance to the hotel.
Go hon, Bill; you hare a caution, not 'arf. A shrill girlish
giggle, a playful jerk of the caution's arm, a deprecating noise from
his manly lips, which may have been caused by bashfulness at the
compliment, or more probably by the unconsumed portion of the morning
Woodbine, and the couple moved out of hearing.
I wonder, said a voice from the group, if we are looking on the
passing of the breed.
He was a tall, thin, spare fellow, the man who spoke; and amongst
other labels on his baggage was one marked Khartoum. His hands were
sinewy and his face was bronzed, while his eyes, brown and deep-set,
held in them the glint of the desert places of the earth: the mark of
the jungle where birds flit through the shadows like bars of glorious
colour; the mark of the swamp where the ague mists lie dank and
stagnant in the rays of the morning sun.
No one answered his remark; it seemed unnecessary, and each was busy
with his own thoughts. What did the next few days hold in store for the
world, for England, for him? The ghastly, haunting fear that possibly
they held nothing for England gnawed at men's hearts. It would be
incredible, inconceivable; but impossible things had happened before.
Many must have felt that fear, but to none can it have been quite so
personal, so hideously personal, as to the officers of the old Army and
the Navy. To them it was as if their own honour were at stake, and I
can see now a man opposite me almost sobbing with the fury and the
shame of it when for a while we thoughtthe worst. But that was later.
Time to go on board, gentlemen.
Almost as beings from another world, they passed through the noisy
throng, so utterly inconsequent, so absolutely ignorant and careless.
One cannot help wondering now just how that throng has answered the
great call; how many lie in nameless graves, with the remnants of Ypres
standing sentinel to their last sleep; how many have fought and cursed
and killed in the mud-holes of the Somme; how many have chosen the
other path, and even though they had no skill and aptitude to recommend
them, are earning now their three and four pounds a week making
munitions. But they have answered the call, that throng and
others like them; they have learned out of the book of life and
death; and perhaps the tall man with the bronzed face might find the
answer to his question could he see England to-day. Only he lies
somewhere between Fletre and Meteren, and beside him are twenty men of
his battalion. He took it in the fighting before the first battle of
Ypres . . .
I call it a bit steep. A man in the Indian Cavalry broke the
silence of the group who were leaning over the side watching the coast
fade away. In England two days after three years of it, and now here
we are again. But the sun being over the yard-armwhat say you?
With one last final look at the blue line astern, with one last
involuntary thoughtIs it au revoir, or is it good-bye?they
went below. The sun was indeed over the yard-arm, and the steward was a
hospitable lad of cosmopolitan instincts. . . .
It is impossible to guarantee a ticket to Marseilles. So
the ticket vendor at Folkestone had informed them, and his pessimism
was justified by future events.
The fun began at the Gare du Nord. From what I have since learned, I
have often wished since that my mission in life had been to drive a
fiacre in Paris during the early days of August '14. A taxi conjures up
visions too wonderful to contemplate; but even with the humble
horse-bus I feel that I should now be able to afford a piano, or
whatever it is the multi-millionaire munition-man buys without a
quiver. I might even get the missus a fur coat.
Every living soul in Paris seemed obsessed with the idea of going
somewhere else; and the chances of the stranger within their gates
approached those of an icicle in Hades, as our friends across the water
would say. Finally, in despair, Draycott rushed into the road and
seized a venerable flea-bitten grey that was ambling along with
Monsieur, Madame, and all the little olive-branches sitting solemnly
inside the cab. He embraced Madame, he embraced the olive-branches;
finallyin despairI believe he embraced Monsieur. He wept, he
entreated, he implored them to take him to the Gare de Lyon. It was
imperative. He would continue to kiss them without cessation and in
turn, if only they would take him and his belongings to the Gare de
Lyon. He murmured: Anglaisofficier anglais; he wailed the mystic
word, Mobilisation. Several people who were watching thought he was
acting for the cinematograph, and applauded loudly; others were
convinced he was mad, and called for the police.
But MonsieurGod bless him!and MadameGod bless her!and all
the little olive-branchesGod bless them!decided in his favour; and
having piled two suit-cases and a portmanteau upon that creaking cab,
he plunged into the family circle.
It was very hot; he was very hot; they were very hot; and though
Draycott confesses that he has done that familiar journey between the
two stations in greater comfort, he affirms that never has he done it
with a greater sense of elation and triumph. The boat train to
Marseilles, he reflected complacently; if possible a bath first;
anyway, a sleeper, a comfortable dinner, and
Parbleu, M'sieur; la Gare de Lyon c'est fermée. Madame's voice cut
into his reflections.
As in a dream he extricated himself from to-night's supper and three
sticky children, and gazed at the station. They were standing six deep
around the stepsa gesticulating, excited mob; while at the top, by
the iron railings, a cordon of soldiers kept them back. Inside, between
the railings and the station, there was no one save an odd officer or
two who strolled about, smoking and talking.
Mechanically he removed his baggage and dumped it in the road;
mechanically he re-kissed the entire party; he says he even kissed the
flea-bitten grey. Then he sat down on a suit-case and thought.
It was perfectly true: the Gare de Lyon was shut to all civilians;
the first shadow of war had come. As if drawn by a magnet the old men
were there, the men who remembered the last time when the Prussian
swine had stamped their way across the fields of France. Their eyes
were bright, their shoulders thrown back as they glanced appraisingly
at the next generationtheir sons who would wipe out Sedan for ever
from the pages of history. There was something grimly pathetic and
grimly inspiring in the presence of those old soldiers: the men who had
failed through no fault of their own.
Not again, they seemed to say; for God's sake, not a second time.
This timeVictory. Wipe it outthat stain.
They had failed, true; but there were others who would succeed; and
it was their presence that made one feel the unconquerable spirit of
The French officer in charge was polite, but firmly non-committal.
There is a train which will leave here about midnight, we hope. If
you can get a seat on itwell and good. If not he shrugged his
shoulders superbly, and the conversation closed.
It was a troop train apparently, and in the course of time it would
arrive at Marseillesperhaps. It would not be comfortable. Mais, que
voulez-vous, M'sieur? c'est la guerre.
At first he had not been genial; but when he had grasped the fact
that mufti invariably cloaked the British officer, en permission, he had become more friendly.
He advised dinner; in these days, as he truly remarked, one never
knows. Also, what was England going to do?
Fight, Draycott answered promptly, with an assurance he did not
feel. Fight, mon Colonel; ça va sans dire.
C'est bien, he murmured, and stood up. Vive l'Angleterre.
Gravely he saluted, and Draycott took off his hat.
Mon Colonel, vive la France. They shook hands; and having once
again solemnly saluted one another, he took the Frenchman's advice and
went in search of dinner.
In the restaurant itself everything seemed normal. To the close
observer there was possibly an undue proportion of women who did not
eat, but who watched with hungry, loving eyes the men who were with
them. Now and again one would look round, and in her face was the
pitiful look of the hunted animal; then he would speak, and with
a smile on her lips and a jest on her tongue she would cover a heart
that seemed like to burst with the agony of it. Inexorably the clock
moved on: the finger of fate that was to take him from her. They had
quarrelled, sans doutewho has not? there had been days when
they had not spoken. He had not been to her all that he might have
been, but . . . Buthe was her man.
And now he was going; in half an hour her Pierre was going to leave
her. For him the bustle and glamour of the unknown; for herthe empty
chair, the lonely house, and her thoughts. Dear God! but war is a bad
thing for the women who stop behind. . . .
And on Draycott's brain a tableau is stamped indelibly, just a
little tableau he saw that night in the restaurant of the Gare de Lyon.
They came, the three of them, up the flight of steps from the seething
station below, into the peace and quiet of the room, and a roar of
sound swept in with them as the doors swung open. Threading their way
between the tables, they stopped just opposite to where he sat, and
instinctively he turned his head away. For her the half-hour was over,
her Pierre had gone; and it is not given to a man to look on a woman's
grief save with a catching in the throat and a pricking in the eyes. It
is so utterly terrible in its overwhelming agony at the moment, so
absolutely final; one feels so helpless.
The little boy clambered on to a chair and sat watching his mother
gravely; a grey-haired woman with anxious eyes held one of her hands
clasped tight. And the girlshe was just a girl, that's allsat
dry-eyed and rigid, staring, staring, while every now and then she
seemed to whisper something through lips that hardly moved.
Maman, a childish voice piped out. Maman. He solemnly extended a
small and grubby hand towards her.
Slowly her head came round, her eyes took him inalmost
uncomprehendingly; she saw the childish face, the little dirty hand,
and suddenly there came to her the great gift of the Healer.
Oh! mon bébé, mon pauv' p'tit bébé! She picked him up off the
chair and, clutching him in her arms, put her face on his head and
sobbed out her heart.
Come on. Draycott got up suddenly and turned to the man he was
dining with. Let's go. They passed close to the table, and the fat
waiter, wiping his eyes on a dinner napkin, and the grey-haired woman
leaning gently over her, were talking in low tones. They seemed
satisfied as they watched the sobbing girl; and they were people of
understanding. Pauvre petite, muttered the waiter as they passed.
Mon Dieu! quelle vâche de guerre.
My God! said Draycott, as they went down the steps. I didn't
realise before what war meant to a woman. And we shall never realise
what it means to our own women. We only see them before we go. Never
Half an hour later he encountered Monsieur le Colonel once again,
and suggested that they should split a bottle of wine together if he
could spare the time. It was then nine o'clock, and the three hours
till midnight loomed uninviting. His only hope, as he told him, was
that the train at present standing at the platform was not going to be
typical of the one he was to embark on. It seemed to be of endless
length, and presented a most enticing spectacle. Four fortunates in
each compartment had got the racks, otherwise the passengers stood: on
the footboards, in the corridors, on the seats. If any one opened a
door the pressure was such that at least six people fell on to the
platform, and in one carriage a small poilu was being squeezed
through the open window. In the end he wentsuddenly like a cork out
of a bottle, and the human mass closed up behind him.
Draycott laughed, the Colonel laughed, and went on laughing. He
laughed unrestrainedly, even as a man who enjoys a secret jest. At
last, with some difficulty, he controlled his mirth.
Monsieur, he remarked gravely, but with twinkling eyes, I fear
your hopes are ill-founded. This is the midnight train.
Under those circumstances, Draycott murmured, with a ghastly
attempt at mirth, the wine is off. I must go and secure my
Have you ever seen a fly-paper which has come to the end of a
perfect day? Lumps of glutinous flies drop off on one's head, and
still it seems as full as ever. It was the same with that train. Lumps
of Frenchmen, permanently welded together, fell out periodically,
unstuck themselves, and departed, only to return in a few moments with
the long thin loaves of France and bottles of wine. Sometimes they got
in again, sometimes they didn'tbut they were happy, those poilus.
What matter anything, bar killing the Boche? And that was the only
thing in the air that night. . . .
In every carriage it was the same, until suddenly there came
salvation. A horse-box, with two horses in it and some grooms singing
the Marseillaise, loomed out of the darkness, and into it the fed-up
wanderer hurled his bag. Yet again did he embrace every one, including
the horses; and then, overcome with his labours, he sank into a corner
and laughed. And it was only when they had been under way for two hours
that he remembered his two other bags, sitting alone and forlorn at the
Gare de Lyon. . . .
It was a great journey that. The heat was sweltering, and they
stopped at every station between Paris and Marseillesgenerally twice,
because the train was too long for the platform. And at every station
the same programme was repeated. Completely regardless of the
infuriated whistles and toots of the French conductors, absolutely
unmindful of the agonised shouts of En voiture, en voiture! Montez,
messieurs, le train part, the human freight unloaded itself and made
merry. As far as they were concerned, let the train part. It never
did, and the immediate necessity was the inner man. But it was all very
At times there were forty Frenchmen in the truck, at others none.
Whether they fell off or were pushed Draycott knew not: they simply
occurredperiodically. One man disappeared for five hours, and then
came back again; possibly he was walking to stretch his legs; there was
plenty of time. But to those who travel in trains de luxe, let me
recommend a journey in a cattle-truck, where, if one is lucky, one gets
a front seat, and sits on the floor with legs dangling over the side; a
bottle of wine in one hand, a loaf of bread in the other, and a song
when the spirit is in one. No breathless rushing through space: just a
gentle amble through the ripening corn, with the poppies glinting red
and the purple mountains in the distance; with a three days' growth on
one's chin and an amalgamation of engine soots and dust on one's face
that would give a dust storm off the desert points and a beating. That
is the way to travel, even if the journey lasts from Sunday night to
Tuesday evening, and a horse occasionally stamps on your face. And even
so did Clive Draycott, Captain of Feet, go to the great war. . . .
Marseilles has always been a town of mysterythe gateway of the
East. Going from it one leaves European civilisationif such a thing
can be said to exist to-dayand steps into the unknown. Coming to it
through that appalling Gulf of Lyons, beside which the dreaded Bay of
Biscay seems like the proverbial duck-pond, Notre Dame de la Garde
holds out a welcoming hand, and breathes of fast trains and restaurant
cars, and London. It is the town of tongues, the city of nations. It is
not French; it is universal.
And never can Marseilles have been so universal as in the early days
of August 1914. Usually a port of call only, then it was a terminus.
The ships came in, but did not leave: there seemed to be a concensus of
opinion amongst skippers that the Goeben was a nasty thing to
meet alone on a dark night. And so the overcrowded docks filled up with
waiting vessels, while Lascars and Levantine Greeks, Cingalese and
Chinamen, jostled one another in the cafés.
The other jostlers were principally Americans of fabulous wealth: at
least as they thronged the shipping offices they said so. Also they
were very angry, which is where they differed from the Cingalese and
Chinamen, who liked Marseilles and prayed to remain for ever. But the
Americans desired to return to God's own countrythey and their wives
and their sons and daughters; moreover, they expressed their desire
fluently and frequently. There is something stupendous about an
American magnate insisting on his rights on a hot day, when he can't
get them. . . . It cheers a man up when he is waiting and
wonderingand England is still silent.
It was just as Draycott had made the unpleasant discovery that no
longer did the weekly boat run from Marseilles to Tunis and thence to
Malta, and was debating on the rival merits of a journey through Italy,
and thence by Syracuse to the island of goats; or a journey through
Spain to Gibraltar, and thence by seawith luck, that a railway
magnate entered and gave his celebrated rendering of a boiler
explosion. It appearedwhen every one had partially recoveredthat he
was the proud possessor of ten francs and three sous. He also admitted
to a wife suffering from something with a name that hurt, and various
young railway magnates of both sexes. It transpired that the ten francs
and three sous had been laboriously collected from his ménage
only that morning; that the youngest hopeful had wept copiously on
losing her life's savings; and further, that it was the limit of his
resources. He had letters of credit, or something dangerous of that
sort, to the extent of a few million; he was prepared to buy the whole
one-donkey country by a stroke of the pen, butin hard cashhe had
ten francs and three sous. . . .
It was pathetic; it was dreadful. An American multi-millionaire, one
of those strange beings of whom one reads, who corner tin-tacks and
things, and ruin or make thousands with a word, reduced to ten francs
and three sous.
For not another cent piece did America's pride obtain; not another
sou to add to the three. Politely, firmly, a harassed clerk shooed him
away. No, he could not tell him when the next boat would sailperhaps
to-morrow, perhaps in a fortnight. He did not know, and he did not care
how he proposed to live during that period, and he had no intention of
furnishing him with any money to do it with. He had definite orders
from his firm: no cheques cashed under any circumstances whatever. He
was sorry the gentleman didn't like Marseilles, or war, or France, or
him personally; he regretted deeply that the gentleman's wife liked
peaches with every meal, and hoped he'd manage all right on his ten
francs; he And then came the interruption.
They crowded to the door, and watched them coming. Occasionally a
cheer rang out, but for the most part they came in silence, passing
through the ranks of people that lined the road each side. Half way
down the column a band blared forth, and every now and then the Colonel
in front lifted his right hand gravely in a salute. They were small
men, the poilus of that regiment; but they marched well, with a swing,
and the glint of white teeth. Sometimes they waved a greeting to a girl
on the footpath, and she would smile back, or throw them a flower or a
kiss. And like a ripple going down the lines of spectators, men took
off their hats suddenly. The Colours were passing. . . .
Almost dazedly the American took off his hat as the ripple reached
him; then he put it on again and turned to Draycott.
Hell! he remarked tersely, and I've been worry in' over a
ten-franc note. I guess I feel a bit small. He turned and followed the
regiment, with his hands deep in his pockets, and his shoulders
It came through the following afternoonthe news they had been
waiting for; and now for a certain period the curtain of discretion
must be drawn. I gather that Draycott has dim recollections of a stout
field officer endeavouring to stand on a small marble-topped table,
with a glass of beer in each hand. He was making a speechchiefly in
Hindustanito the frenzied mob of cheering Frenchmen around him. Then
he came to the point when the best people say Vive la France! He
remembered he had a hat on; he remembered he ought to take it off; he
did. The only thing he forgot was the beer. But as he said later when
they sorted him out, it was an old suit, and England didn't declare war
every day. . . .
The following night they left in an ancient old cargo boat,
skippered by the type of man who has since made our mercantile marine
the glory of the world. His job was to get his peculiarly odoriferous
cargo home to his owners as soon as possible; beyond that he either
failed or refused to look. The entire German Navy might have been
waiting outside for all he cared; he merely consumed a little more
whisky, and conducted morning prayers. He would give them no assurance;
they went at their own risk, but, if the boat got there, he would land
them at Gibraltar. And having thought the matter over, and realised
that firstly a journey through Italy might result in their being kept
as prisoners of war; secondly, that a journey through Spain would
probably take a fortnight at least; and thirdly, that any way they
could do neither as they could get no money, Draycott and his friends
embarked with the patent manure, and watched the lights of Marseilles
growing fainter and fainter till they dropped below the horizon astern.
It was an uneventful voyage, and never for one hour after the first
day were they out of sight of land. It was the only concession the
skipper would make for the safety of his boat; and so they jogged along
at a peaceful ten knots and watched the sun set each evening in a blaze
of golden glory over the rocky coast of Spain. For the first time since
leaving England a week before, they were able to think. In the rush to
Paris, in the horse-box to Marseilles, in Marseilles itself, they had
been too busy. Besides, they were outsiders. . . .
Now, England was in it; the thing which they had known in their
hearts was coming, ever since a kindly senior subaltern had first taken
it upon himself to shape their destinies, had actually come. And
bitterest thought of allthey were not there.
It can't last more than three months. A pessimistic garrison
gunner from Malta, who was playing patience, cheated savagely. I tell
you no European country could stand it. Undoubtedly the fatuous drivel
of certain writers had influenced even the Army itself. Peace will be
declared before Christmas. An' I'll have sat on that cursed island, and
whenever I see a ship I'd like to poop at, the searchlight will go out,
an' I'll be bitten by sand flies. He glared morosely at Draycott;
until, suddenly, a dawning look of joy spread over his face. It's
coming out. I swear it's coming out!
You cheated, remarked an onlooker cruelly. I saw you with my own
It was then that he burst into tears. . . .
Shut off as they were from the outside worldthe old tramp had no
wirelessthey could only wonder, and wait, fuming with impatience.
What had happened? Had the fleets met? Had the wonderful day which the
German Navy was popularly supposed to be living forhad it arrived?
And if it hadwhat had been the result? They could only lean over the
stern and try and grasp the one monumental factwar. And what did it
hold in store? . . .
Visions of forlorn hopes, visions of glory, visions of the glamour
of war rose unbidden in their minds. And then, when they had got as far
as that, the smell of that patent manure obtruded itself once again,
and the dreamers of honours to come passed sadly down the gangway to
the Levantine villain who presided over the vermouth and the gin. Which
might be taken as the text for a sermon on things as they are. In this
war it is the patent manure and the vermouth which dominate the
situation as far as the fighters, at any rate, are concerned. The
talkers may think otherwise, may prate of soul-stirring motives, and
great ideals. But for the soldiers, life is a bit too grim and
overpowering for gloss. After a spell they come for their vermouth, for
something to help nerves a trifle jangled, something to give a contrast
to stark reality, and having had it they go back again to the patent
manure; while the onlookers see visions and dream dreams. I suppose
it's a fair division of labour! . . .
It was the distinguished-looking gentleman in blue who came
alongside just after they dropped anchor at the Rock, who brought the
glorious news. He ascended the gangway with great dignity, and
disappeared into some secret place with the skipper. After some delay
and a slight commotion, various flags were hoisted, and he majestically
appeared again. It seemed that the hoisting of the flags had apparently
been successful. Suspicion had been averted by this simple act; there
was no longer any danger of being made a target for enthusiastic
gunners. And, what was more to the point, the distinguished gentleman
was now free to impart his great tidings.
The German fleet, gentlemen, he remarked genially, has ceased to
Who said so? asked a doubting voice.
It is in all the Spanish papers. The Admiral, or whatever he was,
eyed the speaker compassionately. A great action has taken place in
the North Sea; we have lost nineteen big ships in addition to
destroyers, and the German fleet is wiped out.
It doesn't seem good enough, does it? murmured a graceless member
of the group.
But if it's really authentic? Draycott turned to him doubtfully.
And there must be something in it if it's in all the Spanish papers.
On the contrary, returned the graceless one. It is precisely that
fact that makes me believe there is nothing in it.
The remark seemed conclusive; and yet so detailed was the
information all over Gib, so definite the lists of vessels sunk on each
side, that even intelligent Scorpsas the inhabitants of the place are
knownwere impressed. Strangely enough, exactly the same detailed
lists, with just sufficient difference to make them credible, were in
all the Italian papers at the same timethough this only transpired
At the moment nothing much mattered but the time of the next boat
going East: it was their own little personal future that counted. A
naval battleyes, perhaps; nineteen ships downthe German fleet as
well; fifty or sixty thousand mengone, finished, wiped out. And yet
it was the next boat they wanted to know about.
CallousI think not; merely a total incapability to realise a thing
so stupendous. It has been the same all through the war: the tragedies
have been too big for human minds to grasp. It is the little things
that tell; the isolated thumb-nail impressions that live in one's mind,
and will go with us to the grave. The one huddled form lying motionless
in the shell-hole, with its staring, sightless eyes; the one small, but
supreme sacrifice: that is the thing which hitshits harder than the
Lusitania, or any other of the gigantic panels of the war. The
pin-pricks we feel; the sledge hammer merely stuns. And the danger is
that those who have felt the pin-pricks may confuse them with the
sledge hammer; may lose the right road in the bypaths of personal
emotion. War means so infinitely much to the individual; the individual
means so infinitely little to war. Only it is sometimes hard to
remember that simple fact. . . .
It was from the top of the Rock that they watched their
evil-smelling boat depart, to plug on northward up the home trail,
unperturbed by naval battles or rumours thereof. And it was from the
top of the Rock they first saw the smoke of the P. and O., outward
bound, on which they were destined to complete the journey. Below lay
the bay, dotted with German and Austrian ships caught on the high seas
at the outbreak of war; a destroyer was going half-speed towards the
Atlantic; a cruiser lay in dock, her funnels smoking placidly. Out
towards Algeciras an American battleship, with her peculiar steel
trellis turrets, was weighing anchor; and in the distance, across the
Straits, Africa, rugged and inhospitable, shimmered in the heat haze of
an August day.
So long. The gunner subaltern waved a weary hand from his point of
vantage, where he was inspecting life with a telescope. There's your
barge, but she won't leave till to-morrow. If this goes on for much
longer, my nerves will give way under the strain. The excitement is too
It appears that Draycott had forebodings even before he got on board
that P. and O. Since then she has become almost historic amongst those
of the Regular Army whose abode at the beginning of the war was
overseas. Save for the fact that no one was playing the harmonium, or
any other musical instrument, the appearance of her decks as they came
alongside was reminiscent of one of those delightful pleasure steamers
on which one may journey, at comparatively small cost, up and down the
Thames. A seething mob of people, almost exclusively composed of the
male sex, glared furiously at them and one anotherbut principally at
themas they came up the gangway, and departed in search of the
purser. All the stairs down to the dining saloon were occupied by
morose passengers, and an enlivening altercation was in progress
between two elderly gentlemen of ferocious aspect anent the remnants of
what had once been a cushion. A mild-looking being, closely clutching a
tired deck-chair, was descending to the dining saloon, where infuriated
men were loudly thumping the tables.
Good heavens, gentlemen! what do you want? A haggard purser peered
at them from his office. Berths! He broke into a shout of maniacal
laughter, and then pulled himself together. The fourteenth stair
leading to the engine-room is not taken, but there's an exhaust pipe
passes under it, and it becomes too hot to sit on. There is room for
two in a coal bunker which should be empty by to-night; otherwise, the
hold, if you can find room.
But what's all the trouble, they queried peevishly. Surely
Trouble! The purser swallowed hard. We have on board eighty-four
generals, two hundred and twenty colonels, and one thousand eight
hundred and ninety-one what-nots of junior rank. They have all been
recalled from leave; they have all come by this boat. The eighteenth
breakfast is now being servedperhaps. With a dreadful cry he seized
the brandy bottle, while they faded slowly and sadly away. There are
things too terrible for contemplation. . . .
It was a wonderful tripthat final stage to the Half Way House of
Malta. There was the dreadful incident of the short-sighted subaltern
who got into a full Colonel's bed by mistake, when that worthy officer
had just gone down on four no trumps redoubled. In vain to point out
the similarity of engine-room gratingsin vain to plead short sight.
The subsequent scene lingered in the memory for days.
There was the case of the sleep walker, who got loose in the hold,
and ambled heavily over four hundred infuriated human sardines, till he
finally fell prostrate into what was apparently the abode of spare
Last but not least there was the dreadful Case of the
Major-General's Bath. Of this Draycott speaks first hand; he,
personally, was an awe-struck spectator. Now the question of baths on
that boat was not one to be trifled with. The queue for the pit of a
popular play was as nothing to the procession that advanced to the bath
in the morning. And the least penalty for sharp practice with regard to
one's turn was death.
Into the bathroom, then, prepared for him by a perspiring Lascar,
the Major-General stepped. At the time Draycott did not know he was a
Major-General: he was just a supreme being resplendent in a green silk
dressing-gown. The door closed, only to open again at once.
I have forgotten my sponge, he announced. I shall not be a
moment. He gazed directly at Draycott, who bowed, choking slightly. It
was inconceivable to imagine that the resplendent one thought he
mightto put it in the vulgar tonguepinch his bath. By nature he was
a timorous individual, and that green dressing-gownye gods! perish
It was while he waited humbly that the catastrophe occurred.
Advancing magnificently came a second being, still more resplendent, in
a purple dressing-gown; and he was complete, with towel, sponge, and
soap. His eye would have impaled a London taxi-driver, and, scenting
trouble, the Lascar made himself scarce.
It is preposterous to keep people waiting in this manner, he
boomed; perfectly monstrous. The next moment the door was shut and
bolted, and Draycott followed the Lascar's examplejust in time: green
dressing-gown was returning with his sponge. In official parlance, a
general action seemed imminent. . . .
It opened with the crash of heavy artillery in the shape of strange
and loud expletives of an Indian nature, to be followed immediately by
an attack in force on the hostile position. This resulted in a
sanguinary repulse, and the attacking party hopped round, apparently in
pain, nursing a stubbed toe. The temporary set-back, however, seemed
only to raise the morale of the force; and after a further heavy
bombardment of a similar nature to the one before, a succession of
blows were delivered in rapid succession at all points along the front,
which suddenly gave way and the victor was precipitated in some
confusion, but triumphant, upon the floor of the captured position.
How true it is, that great utterance of our hand-books on war!
Every leader must bear in mind the necessity of immediately
consolidating a newly won position, in order to resist the
counter-attack of the enemy, which sooner or later is bound to be
In this case it was distinctly sooner. With a loud shout the
defending troops arose from a recumbent positionto wit, the bathand
with deadly accuracy launched the contents of a large bucket of hot
water upon the still prostrate foe.
What is the meaning of this monstrous intrusion? The battle cry of
the purples rang through the quivering air.
You s'scoundrel! you impudent s'scoundrel!
With a loud spluttering noise the greens got up and assumed a
belligerent attitude. You m'miserable villain! that is my bath.
How d'dare youhow d'dare youthrow w'water over me. D'do you know
what I am, sir? I am a Major-General, sir, and I shall report your
infamous c'conduct to the captain.
And I, sir, howled his opponent, will have you put in irons; I
will have you chained to the crow's-nest, if they have one on board.
Keel-hauled, sir, amongst the barnacles and things. I, sir, I am a
Draycott was still slightly dazed when he landed in Malta.
Thus did he reach the Half Way House on his journey to the Land; and
at that Half Way House he was destined to remain for a short space. It
may be that there is a harder school than forced inaction; if so, I
have no desire to become a pupil. Those are your orders; there is
nothing more to be said. Only too true; there is nothing more
to be saidbut thinking is a different matter. . . .
And what brush can paint the indescribable longing of those who were
fitted for it, who were trained in its ways, to get to their goalto
get to the Land of Promise. For it was a Land of Promise; it was the
land of the regular soldier's dreams. And in those days there was no
thought of the dream becoming a nightmare. . . .
So Clive Draycott and those with him, in that little rocky outpost
of Empire, carried on as cheerfully as a wet sirocco wind and an
ever-present heart-burning to be in France would allow, and waited for
Perhaps they suffered more acutely than even those who were in the
Great Retreat. Out of it, as they thought, out of it. Would they ever
be able to hold up their heads again?
And then the worst thing of all: that awful day when the news came
throughthe news which England got one Sunday. Fellows kept it from
the men as far as they could; they covered up places on the map with
their hand, unostentatiously; and when they had found Compiègne they
folded the map up, and told the men everything was well. It was that
evening that Draycott and a pal watched the sun go down over Gozo from
St. Paul's Bay, where the statue stands in the sea, and the shallow
blue water ripples against the white sandstone.
My God! it can't be true! His companion turned to him, and his
eyes were tired. It can't be true. We're b And his lips would not
frame the word.
Only, in their hearts they knew it was true; and in their hearts a
dreadful hopelessness wormed its bitter way. But crushing it down there
was another feelingstronger and more powerful. England could
not be beaten, would not be beaten; the thing was impossible,
unbelievable. Triumphant it arose, that great certainty. It arose then,
and has never died since, though at times the sky has been black and
the storm clouds ominous. They knew that all would be well; and
nowafter three yearsall is well. Their faith has been justified,
the faith of the men who waited their call to the work. Only a small
proportion remain to see that justification with their own eyes; the
Land has claimed the rest. Ypres, the Marne, Neuve Chapelle,
Festubertnames well-nigh forgotten in the greater battles of
to-dayin each and all of them the seed of a contemptible little
Army has been sown. Thus it was ordained in the Book of Fate.
But at the moment there were just two men, sick of heart, watching
the sun, in a blaze of golden glory, setting over Gozo. . . .
Draycott's deliverance from the Half Way House came in three or four
weeks. With the men swarming in the rigging, and the Territorials who
had come to replace them cheering from the shore, the transport moved
slowly down the Grand Harbour past the French and British warships that
lay at anchor. It would indeed be pleasing to record the fact that the
departing warriors sang patriotic songs concerning their country's
greatness; and that the officers with a few well-chosen words improved
the shining hour, and pointed the moral of the great Entente with
special reference to the warships around them. But being a
truthfulor, shall we say, comparatively truthfulhistorian, I regret
that it cannot be done.
Such songs as did rise above the medley of catcalls and gibes of a
dark nature which passed in playful badinage between the sister
services were of a nature exclusively frivolous; and the conversation
of such officers as were not consuming the midday cocktail consisted
entirely of a great thankfulness that they had seen the last of an
abominable island, and a fervent prayer that they would never see it
The relief of itthe blessed relief! They would be in time for the
end of the show any way, which was something. They were not going to
miss it all; they would be able to look their pals in the face after it
was over. A few, it is true, shook their heads and communed together in
secret places: a paltry few, who looked serious, and spoke of a long
war and a bloody war such as had never been thought of. Avaunt
pessimism! war was war, and a damned good show at the best of times for
those who were trained to its ways. The Germans had asked for it for
years, and now they had got itand serve 'em right. A good sporting
show, and with any luck they would get the fag end of the hunting at
home after peace was declared.
Thus it was, nearly three years ago; thus it has been, with slight
modifications, ever since. A nation of sportsmen going merrily forth,
with the ideal of sport as their guide, to fight a nation of swine,
with the ideal of fouling as theirs. And so the world wags on in its
funny old way, while the gods laugh, and laugh, and laugh. . . .
On the boat Draycott hardly realised. For the first week of the
three he spent in England he hardly realisedhe was too excited. He
was going out; that was all that mattered; until one morning his eyes
were opened to his personal case. It is easy to see things where others
are concerned; but in one's own case. . . .
He was at home on three days' leave, and the girl was there too.
Good Lord! he remarked at breakfast; Jerry Thornton gone too.
His eye was running down the casualty list. Whole battalion must have
taken it in the neckfive officers killed, fourteen wounded. I wish to
heaven He looked up, and the words died away on his lips.
I didn't realise what war meant to women. His remarks at the Gare
de Lyon hit him like a blow. For he had seen the look in the girl's
eyes; he had seen the look in his mother's. Blotted out at once, it is
true; effaced the instant they had realised he was watching them;
buttoo late. He had seen.
Was that Major Thornton, dear? His mother was speaking. The one
who shot so well? Her voice was casual; her acting superb. And God!
how they can actthese women of ours.
For a moment something stuck in his throat. He saw just such another
breakfast room, with a woman staring with dull eyes at the laconic name
in the paper: a name which so baldly confirmed the wire she had had
three days before. Stunned, still dazed by the shock, she sat silently,
apathetically; as yet she could hardly feel the blow which Fate had
dealt her. In time perhaps; just nowwell, it couldn't be; there must
be some mistake. Other men had diedtrue; butnot hers. He was
different; there must be some mistake. . . .
For each and every name in that list Clive Draycott of a sudden
realised the same thing was occurring. And then he saw itpersonally;
he felt itpersonally; he realised that it concerned himpersonally.
Those other women had looked, just as had his mother and the girl, a
few weeks ago. Those other women had laughed and joked and asked casual
questions to cover their true feelings, just the same. Those other
women had been through it all and We only see them before we
gonever after. In the theatre, at the restaurant, playing the fool
with us, dancing with usthen we see them; afterwardswhen the train
has gone and we are looking out of the window or talking with the man
opposite, then, we do not see them. And it is just as well. Mon Dieu!
Quelle vâche de guerre. . . .
Something of all this did Draycott feel at that moment; something
which caught him and shook him and mocked him. Something which
whispered, You ass, you wretched ass! You think it's you who will
suffer; you think it's you who will be acclaimed a hero. Fool! Your
sufferings, your achievements, whether you live or die, are as nothing
to those of these two women. You may wear the cross for a moment's
heroism: they bear it all the time. And they get no praise; they just
endure. . . .
Yes; something like that struck him for the first time as being
personally applicable to himself. And having looked thoughtfully out of
the window for a moment, he laughed gently, and then he spoke.
That's the fellow, he remarked quietly. An' if the tea ain't cold
I'll take another dish. Three glasses of the old man's port, Dolly, is
enough. I had four last night.
A week later he sat in a mud bath at Havre, which went by the name
of a rest camp; the Way to the Land was nearly trodden. Thousands of
others had sat in that glutinous mud before him; hundreds of thousands
were destined to do so after. And each and all of them were thinking
men; wondering in a greater or less degree according to the size and
activity of their grey matter what it was all about. To some the
Unknown gave the prospect of sport, and they thanked their stars they
were nearly there; to some it gave the prospect of Duty, and they
trusted they would not fail. With some the fear of the future blotted
out their curiosity; with others curiosity left no room for fear. But
in every case they had something to think abouteven if it were only
the intense discomfort of their surroundings. And in every case the
woman over the water hadnothing.
By cattle trucks and carriages, by so-called fast trains and
unabashed troop trains they left in batches big and small; and others
came and filled the gaps. The Land was calling; the Seed must not be
* * * * * *
You'll have to wait till it's dark. A weary Quartermaster,
wandering through Ypres, met Draycott and stopped. Thank God! you've
come. We've got three officers left and a hundred and twenty men.
Where are they? he demanded. How shall I find them?
Very likely you won't. The other laughed mirthlessly. I'll take
you up to-nightwe walk the last bit to the trenches. If a flare goes
upstand still; there's no other rule.
You're about done in, Seymour, said Draycott, watching him keenly.
What's the trouble?
The trouble is Hell. The Quartermaster passed his hand wearily
over his forehead. Utter, absolute, completeHell. The boys have been
in the front line for twenty-one days; andhe spoke with a sudden
dreadful earnestnessthe end is not far off.
My God! muttered Draycott, is it as bad as that?
* * * * * *
No trenches, no dug outs, no reserves. Ceaseless German attacks,
rain, mud, death. And then, three or four days of icy coldness, with
the bitter Arctic wind cutting the sodden, tired, breaking men like a
knife. Fighting every hour, with rifles and bayonets and
fistssleepless, tired out, finished. Only a spirit which made
possible the impossible supported them: only the glory of their
traditions held the breaking line of Old Contemptibles to the end. And
at the endthey died. . . .
But their spirit lives on, undimmed, untarnished. It is the spirit
of the New Armiesthe Civilian Armies of Britain. They were training
back in England when Clive Draycott went to the Land: they were
learning the message of the old Regulars from New Zealand to Yukon. It
is not learned in a daythat message: there is much watering and
weeding to do before the seed can reach perfection, but the Land would
not wait. . . . It was greedy thenas now; the only difference was the
amount of grain available. And when Clive Draycott went to it there was
very little. To God Almighty the praise. What there was, was very good.
PART II. THE LAND
I. A DAY OF PEACE
For the fourteenth morning in succession I rise to a point of
order. Why is there no marmalade? The Doctor glared round the
breakfast table. I perceive a pot of unhealthy-looking damson, and a
tin of golden syrup, the greater part of which now adorns the infant's
face. Why is there no marmalade?
Could I remind you that there is a war on two miles up the road, my
splay-footed bolus-booster? With a grand rolling of his R's, the man
who had driven a railway through the Rocky Mountains, and who now
boasted the badges of a subaltern in His Majesty's Corps of Royal
Engineers, let drive. Ye come to live with us much against our will,
because you're a poor homeless wanderer
All dressed up and nowhere to go, broke in the Doctor mournfully.
You come to live with us, I say, went on the Scotchman, and then
do nothing but criticise our food and our morals.
Heaven knows they both need it. Pass me what's left of the syrup,
little one. Scrape the rest of it off your chin, my cherub, and wrap it
up in a handkerchief and take it up to the trenches with you.
You're vewy wude. The junior subaltern adjusted the balance in the
matter of the letter R with the Scotchman. Two months ago he had been
at homein peace time he would still have been at school. But of such
mixtures is the present British Army made. It's my face.
As a statement of fact the remark left nothing to be desired; as a
statement of expediency, when other infants were present, the same
cannot be said. Words, in fact, were trembling on the tongue of a
veteran of six months when the C.O. came suddenly into the room.
Bring me an egg, he shouted to the mess waiter in the kitchen next
door. Listen to this, my bonnie boys. He produced a paper from his
coat pocket and sat down at the table. Secret. A large object has
fallen beside the sap leading out to Vesuvius crater. It is about the
size of a rum jar, and is thought to be filled with explosive. It has
been covered with sandbags and its early removal would seem desirable,
as the sap is frequently bombardedDamn it, this egg's addled. Take it
away, it's got spots on it. Where did I get to? Oh! yesbombarded with
aerial darts and rifle grenades. He replaced the paper in his pocket
and reached for the teapot.
Thought to be filled with explosive! The Scotchman looked up
sarcastically from the letter he was censoring. What's it likely to be
Marmalade, ducky, remarked the Doctor, still harping on his
In addition to that the Pumpkin desires my presence at the Centre
Battalion Head-quarters at 10 ak emma. The C.O. was prodding his
second egg suspiciously.
The Pumpkin, it may be explained in parenthesis, was the not
unsuitable nickname of the Divisional General.
Is the old man coming round the trenches? Jackson, the subaltern
in whose tender care reposed the crater of Vesuvius and all that
appertained thereto, including rum jars, looked up with mild interest.
The C.O. glanced at the message beside him. 'The G.O.C. wishes to
meet the Engineer Officer in charge of Left Section, at Centre
Battalion Headquarters, at 10 a.m., A.A.A. Message ends.' There in a
nutshell you have the glorious news.
Breakfast is never a loquacious meal, and for a while silence
reigned, broken only by a few desultory remarks as to the vileness of
the food produced by the officer responsible for the mess catering, and
the exorbitant price he demanded for itstatements which had staled
with much vain repetition.
For heaven's sake dry up, he remarked peevishly. You've had
sardines on toast twenty-one nights running; what more do you want?
Listen to the words of Sapper Mackintoshthe pudding-faced marvel.
Thishe held up a letteris the fifth which he hopes will find the
recipient as it leaves him at presentin the pink, and with the
dreadful pains in his stummik quite gone.
Our Doctor has a wonderful bedside manner, remarked the Scotchman.
Did ye no hear the story of him and the lady way back by Hazebrook?
That'll do, said the Doctor, rising hurriedly. She had very bad
rheumatismthat poor girl.
I know she had, Doc, put in the C.O. heartily. And when I think
of the way you eased her sufferings I became lost in admiration over
the noble nature of your calling. In the meantime I'd be glad if you'd
see one of the men in the Head-quarters Section. From the strange
explosive noises he made when I spoke to him before breakfast I
gathered by the aid of an interpreter that he had somewhat foolishly
placed his complete set of uppers and lowers on a truss of compressed
hay, and one of the mules has eaten them.
He strolled to the door on his way to the kitchen in the next house
that served as his office.
You'd better be careful with that rum jar, Jacko. Unless you're
pretty certain there's no danger, I'd put a slab of gun-cotton against
it where it is, and pop her off. No sense in running any risks carrying
Right-ho! I'll have a look as soon as I go up. Are you coming,
Mac? He turned to the Scotchman.
In five minutes, my boy. I have to perform a few blasting
operations on my pipe before I start, and then I'm with you. He pulled
a battered veteran out of his pocket, and peered into its noisome bowl.
Not indoors, man, for heaven's sake! The Doctor backed hurriedly
out of the room. The last billet you cleaned your pipe in they
complained to the Mayor of the village.
Go away, Doctor, go away. Go and put chloride of lime round the
cook-house, Mac was shouting through the window at the receding
medico. And ask yon woman if she has a hairpin. My pipe. . . . But
the Doctor was out of sight.
Ten minutes later the room was empty save for a batman clearing the
* * * * * *
Now as a general rule the Sappers do not live in the trenches, but
go up there each day and most nights, the remainder of the time being
spent in dwellings of dubious sanitation and indubitable draughtiness a
mile or so in rear. To each company a certain front is allotted, and it
is their joy and pride to maintain this front and the network of
trenches behind it spotless and untarnished, what time they minister
ceaselessly to the lightest whim of its heroic defendersusually known
by the generic term of P.B.I., or poor bally Infantry. Which, of
course, is not what really happens, but one likes to think thus
In addition to the Infantry, other people thrust themselves forward
in a manner which requires firmness and tact to deal with: gunners
require O.P.'s, or observation posts; other gunners require trench
mortar emplacements; dangerous men with machine guns sit up and take
notice, and demand concrete and other abominations; while last, but not
least, the medical profession demand secret and secure places in which
to practise their nefarious trade. Finally, the Ordnance Department is
with one always. It was that branch of the great Machine which caused
the frown on the face of the Sapper Captain, hitherto alluded to as the
O.C., while next door the batman cleared the breakfast table.
We're six bicycles short, you say, Quartermaster-Sergeant? he
exclaimed irritably, gazing at some papers in front of him, while he
filled his pipe.
Yes, sir; and two more with wheels buckled, and three that
free-wheel both ways.
What d'you meanfree-wheel both ways?
The pedals rotate, sir, with great speed, but the bicycle remains
motionless. When a man habitually calls an armchair, A chair,
armOfficers, for the use of, onehis conversation is apt to become
How were the wheels buckled? demanded the Captain when he had
digested this great thought.
Two of the officers, sirplaying what I believe they called
bicycle polo with a brick and two pick-helveshadera slight
When did it happen?
Erafter dinner, sir, one night. The N.C.O. looked tactfully out
of the window.
The officer did not pursue the topic. Well, what about these six
that have been lost?
Completely destroyed by shell-fire, said the C.Q.M.S. firmly. I
have prepared a statement of what happened for your perusal and
signature. He handed the officer a written paper and respectfully
withdrew a few paces to avoid any semblance of coercion.
'The six bicycles were placed on the morning of the 10th ult.
against the entrance to the R.E. Dump at A.21, C.2.4. It would appear
that during the absence of the riders a hostile shell of large calibre
fell on the six said bicycles, completely demolishing them, for when
the riders returned after the day's work merely a few fragments
remained scattered round the shell crater.'
The Captain read it over slowly, and then, in tones of awe, a
murmured Wonderful wafted through the office.
I beg your pardon, sir? The N.C.O. was again at his side.
I said wonderful, Quartermaster-Sergeantquite wonderful. Do you
think they'll swallow it?
It has been done before, sir. The tone was non-committal. And one
of the six was undoubtedly badly punctured by a stray rifle bullet
before we lost iterthat is, before it was finally destroyed by
Right. With the air of a man who communes with great destinies,
the Captain signed his name. Anything more?
Nothing at present, sir. The question of the consumption of
Candles, Tallow dip, Pounds Twenty-four, stolen from our yard by the
940th Tunnelling Company has come back again with remarks from the
Chief Ordnance Officer at the Basebut it will wait until you come
back from the trenches.
I'm glad of that, remarked the Captain, rising. I'm not feeling
very strong this morning, and candles, tallow dipespecially lbs. 24
of themwould cause a relapse. Orderlyhe strolled to the doormy
A few minutes later he was riding slowly down the road towards the
place where there was a war on. A cool mist hung over the fields on
each side of him, and in the early morning stray cobwebs glistening
with moisture brushed lightly across his face.
B'jour, monsieur. A woman standing in the door of a
roadside estaminet greeted him as he passeda woman undisturbed
by the guns that at times roared close by; a woman whose house was one
concentrated draught, which whistled through what had once been walls
and now were holes held together by odd bricks.
He returned the greeting and rode on, while once again the
comparisonnever far absent from those who live within rangecame
into his mind: the comparison between England and Francebetween the
country which has only learned of war through its soldiers, and the
country whose women and children have learned of it first hand, even
unto death. All was absolutely silentthe peace and glory of a
summer's morning hung over everything, while the smell of the wet
clover came faintly to his nostrils. A military policeman at the corner
saluted smartly, while a small boy in a little cart drawn by three
straining dogs raced him blithely up the village street. At the end of
the battered houses still occupied by their owners, and the temporary
abode of half a battalion of infantry resting from a spell in the
trenches, progression by bicycle became a little harder. Great branches
lay across the road, and pits torn out of the pave by bursting shells
made steering a trifle intricate; while occasionally one of the many
signal wires which had slipped during the night and was hanging low
above his head, scraped the top of his steel helmet.
Once more the familiar B'jour, monsieurthis time from an
old dame who sat day in day out in a corner under a wall selling
chocolate. Just above her head, so that by raising her arm she could
have touched it, the nose of a dud German shell poked out from the
Ruin, desolationand shrouding it all the cool damp mist of seven
o'clock in July.
The very man! A voice hailed him from behind, and a gunner
subaltern materialised. Are you going up the line?
I amat once. The Sapper placed his bicycle against a heap of
sandbags. What does my dear one desire?
The accursed Hun placed two large obuses into the Ritz yesterday
afternoon. What do you propose to do about it? They were strolling
slowly through the sopping grass.
Nothingif I can possibly avoid it, answered the Sapper firmly.
You select for an O.P. the most prominent house in the localityput a
signaller on the top of it with a large flagwait till midday, when
the sun is at its brightest, and then send a message back that the
bully beef is bad. You
Laddie, interrupted the gunner, desist. All that you say is true
and morebut we must stick to the Ritz, if we can. It commands a
soul-inspiring view of the trenches behind that new crater in a way we
can't get from anywhere else. What I want you to do is to cover the
cellar with boards. Yesterday the second shell knocked two men
insensible, and they fell backwards into it. As they nearly drowned, it
will be obvious, even to your intelligence, that it containsamongst
other thingswater. Moreover, the water is deep, and stinketh. If,
therefore, my brainy confrère, you will authorise me to draw
planks twelve, I myself will cover yon hole with my own fair hands. The
cadaverous gentleman at your store, whose face has been passed over by
some heavy body, proved both unsympathetic and suspicious this morning
when I asked him for them. Wherefore, if you will sign He held out
a book to the Sapper.
'Please issue bearer with twelve planks 9 inch by 2 inch; length, 6
feet.' The Sapper glanced at the page and signed. There you are,
James. Tell him to get them cut for you.
I was going to, dearie. How marvellously your brain grasps the
importance of these trifling details! Are you passing the Ritz by any
chance? If so, tell my warriors to come down to the Store.
Aren't you coming up?
Noit's too light. I have to be careful whom I'm seen with. He
turned back and was quickly lost in the white mistthough for some
time afterwards the faint strains of musical items selected from The
Bing Boys followed the Sapper as he walked on.
Occasional voices came mysteriously from apparently nowhere, as a
party of men went up one of the deep communication trenches close by
hima trench invisible in summer until you actually stood over it, for
the long rank grass hid everything: grass splashed with the red of
great masses of poppies, and the white of the daisies, with odd little
patches of blue cornflowers and borage, and buttercups glinting yellow.
Just rank luxuriant vegetation, run wilduntouched for more than a
Suddenly out of the mist there loomed the Ritzthe name of the
broken-down, shell-battered house which served his late companion as an
O.P. The Sapper gave the message as requested, and stepped down three
stairs into the communication trench, which passed close under one of
the crumbling walls. There was no necessity, as far as safety was
concerned, to get into the trench for several hundred yardsthe mist
effectually prevented any chance of being seen from the German lines
half a mile farther on.
But he was mindful to see the condition of the trenchwhether the
sides were crumbling, and whether the floor was suitably provided with
trench-boards and bricks. Twisting, winding with the poppies and the
weeds meeting over his head, and the water brushing off them against
his face and coat, he walked slowly on. Seven feet deep, perhaps three
feet wide, it might have been a sunken Devonshire lane in model, and a
faint red tinge in the soil helped the illusion.
Stale as it all was, unprofitable and a weariness to the flesh as it
had all become, the strangeness of it still struck him at times. He
wondered lazily what the people he knew at home would think if they
were following him at that moment on a tour of inspection. Especially
his Uncle John. Uncle John was something in the City, and looked it. He
lived near Ascot, and nightly slept with a gas-mask beside his bed. He
could imagine Uncle John trembling audibly in that quiet model lane,
and assuring his faithful wife of his ability to protect her. He
laughed at the picture in his mind, and then with a slight frown
The trench bent sharply to the right, and almost subconsciously he
noticed a hole framed in thick wood, half filled in, in the wall in
front of him. The top had broken. He bent and peered through it. It
went right through the wall in front, and beyond, the same deep
communication trench could be seen stretching away. Just a loophole
placed in a traverse through which a rifle could be fired along a
straight thirty yards of trench, if the Germans ever got in. But to
fire a rifle to any purpose the loop-hole must not be broken, and so
the Sapper made a note before resuming his stroll.
Rounding a bend, a big white board at a cross-roads confronted him.
It advertised two or three salient facts written in large black
letters. It appeared that by turning to the right one would ultimately
reach Leicester Square and an aid post, to say nothing of the Charing
Cross Road, which was a down trench. By turning to the left, on the
contrary, one would reach Regent Street and a pump. It also stated that
the name of our wanderer's present route was the Haymarket, and further
affirmed that it was an up trench. For it will be plain to all that,
where a trench is but three feet wide, it is essential not to have men
going both ways in itand further, it will also be plain why the aid
posts occur in the down ones.
A further interesting and momentous piece of information was
imparted from another board, to the effect that the name of the trench
by which one could reach the pump on one hand and the aid post on the
other was Piccadilly, and that it constituted the reserve line of the
In other words, it was not merely a communication trench, but was
recessed and traversed like a fire trench. In very fact, it was a fire
trenchthe third of the system. In front was the support line, known
as Pall Mall, and in front of that, again, the firing line, whither
later the Sapper proposed to wend his way. He wanted to gaze on the
rum jar reputed to be filled with explosive. But in the meantime there
was the question of the pumpthe ever-present question which is
associated with all pumps. To work or not to work, and the answer is
generally in the negative.
He turned to the left down Piccadilly, wondering what particular
ailment had attacked this specimen of the breed, and had caused the
Adjutant of the battalion to write winged words anent it. The aspect of
the trench had changed; no longer did the red, white, and blue of the
tangled wild flowers meet over his head, but grey and drab the sandbag
walls rose on each side of him. Occasionally the mouth of a dug-out
yawned in the front of the trench, a dark passage cased in with timber,
sloping steeply down to the cave below. Voices, and sometimes snores,
came drowsily up from the bottom, where odd bunches of the South
Loamshires for a space existed beautifully.
Hullo, old manhow's life? He rounded a traverse to find an
officer of the battalion lathering his chin for his morning shave. A
cracked mirror was scotched up between two sandbags, and a small
indiarubber basin leaked stealthily on the firing step.
So-so! That bally pump of yours won't work again, or so the cook
says. Jenkins, pass the word along for Smithson. He is the cook, and
will tell you the whole sordid story.
Quiet night? The Sapper sat down and refilled his pipe.
Fairly. They caught one of our fellows in the entrance to his
dug-out up in the front line with an aerial dart about seven o'clock.
Landed just at the entrance. Blew the top of his head off. Good boy,
toojust been given his stripe. Oh, Smithson!tell the Engineer
officer about that pump. Confound!I've shaved a mosquito bite!
The cooka veteran of many yearslooked at the placidly smoking
Sapper and cleared his throat. On any subject he was an artist; on
pumps and the deficiencies of Ally Sloper's Cavalryas the A.S.C. is
vulgarly knownhe was a genius.
Well, sir, it's like this 'ere. That there pump is a funny kind o'
pump. Sometimes it gives you water and sometimes it don't.
You surprise me, murmured the Sapper.
Now, if I might be so bold, sir, I would suggest that another well
be sunk, sirstarting fresh-like from the beginning. Then I could keep
my heye on it, and see that no one wasn't a-monkeying with it. As it
is, wot with the stuff we're a-getting and the shortage of tea and the
distance I 'ave to go for water, and
Well, what do you expect? A bitter voice from round the traverse
rudely interrupted the discourse. We make pumps to pump waternot
dead rats. Wasting my time, that's what it is. Where 'ave I put it? In
that there perisher Smithson's dug-out, and 'e can 'ave it for his
dinner. The plumber previously sent up on receipt of the Adjutant's
note came round the corner, and, seeing his officer, stopped and
That there pump's all right, sir. There was a dead rat in it. They
will leave the cover off the well. He perceived the horrified
Smithson, and fixed him with the frozen eye.
Right. Then you can rejoin your section. The Sapper rose, the
plumber departed, the cook faded away, and for a space there was
Damn that fellow Smithsonhe's the limit. The Infantry Officer
laughed. I'll rend him for this.
Sometimes it gives you water, and sometimes it don't, remarked the
Sapper pensively. Last time it was a sock. Bye-bye. I hope he'll enjoy
He followed the plumber back along Piccadilly, composing in his mind
a suitable answer to the message of despair from the Adjutant.
With ref. to your min. of yesterday I would suggest that a larger
flow of somewhat purer water would be available if the practice of
inserting deceased rodents in the delivery pipe was discontinued
forthwith. I am fully alive to the fact that what the eye does not see
the heart does not grieve about, and I realise that, viewed from that
standpoint only, the grave of the little animal in question could not
well be improved on. I also realise that it adds that flavour to the
tea which is so sought after by the true connoisseur. But, desiring to
view the matter from the clearer vantage point of an unbiassed
onlooker, I venture to suggest
His meditations were interrupted by a procession of gunners each
carrying on his shoulder an unpleasant-looking object which resembled a
gigantic dumb-bell with only one blob on the enda huge spherical
cannon-ball on a steel stalk. They were coming from Leicester Square,
and he met them just as they turned up the Haymarket. Waiting until
they had all gone by, he followed on in the rear of the party, which
suddenly turned sharp to the left, and disappeared into the bowels of
No. 7, murmured the Sapper to himself. I wonder if the officer is
new? He turned to a bombardier standing at the entrance to the
passage. Is your officer here?
He's down below, sir. The man drew to one side, and the Sapper
passed up a narrow deep trench and went down below to the
trench-mortar emplacement, a cave hewn out of the ground much on the
principle of an ordinary dug-out. But there were certain great
differences; for half the roof had been removed, and through the hole
thus formed streamed in the early morning sun. A screen of rabbit wire
covered with bits of grass, lying horizontally over the open hole when
the gun was not firing, helped to conceal it from the prying eyes of
Hun aeroplanes. Let into the ground and mounted and clamped to a stand
was the mortar itselfwhile beside it sat a very young gunner officer,
much in the attitude of a mother beside her firstborn. He was obviously
new to the game, and the Sapper surveyed him with indulgent eye.
Good morning. The Gunner looked up quickly. I'm the Sapper
Officer on this bit of line. You've just come in, haven't you?
Yes, early this morning. Everything seems very quiet here.
From four till eight or nine it's always peaceful. But I don't know
that you'll find this spot very quiet once you start pooping off. This
particular emplacement was spotted some two months ago by the wily Hun,
and he got some direct hits on it with small stuff. Since then it
hasn't been used. There are lots of others, you know.
I was ordered to come to this one, answered the boy doubtfully.
Right-oh! my dear fellowit's your funeral. I thought I'd just let
you know. Are you letting drive this morning?
Yesas soon as I get the order to fire.
The boy was keen as mustard, and, as I have said, very youngjust
another infant. He had not long to wait, for hardly were the words out
of his mouth when a sergeant came in.
Captain's compliments, sir, and will you fire two rounds at G. 10
C. 5 4?
Rapidly and without confusion the men did their appointed jobs; the
great stalk slithered down the gun, the bombbig as a footballfilled
with high explosive was fixed with a detonator, the lanyard to fire the
charge was adjusted. Then every one cleared out of the emplacement,
while the Sapper took his stand in the trench outside.
Let her rip. The lanyard was pulled, and with a muffled crack the
huge cannon-ball rose into the air, its steel stalk swaying behind it.
Plainly visible, it reached its highest point, and still wobbling
drunkenly went swishing down on to G. 10 C. 54or thereabouts. A roar
and a great column of black smoke rose from the German lines.
Almost before the report had died away, the gun was sponged out, and
another inebriated monster departed on its mission. But the Sapper was
already some way up the Haymarket. It was not his first view of a
A vicious crack from a rifle now and then broke the stillness, and
proclaimed that the sun was clearing away the morning mist, and that
rest-time was nearly over; while the sudden rattle of a machine gun
close by him, indulging in a little indirect fire at a well-known Hun
gathering place a thousand yards or so behind their lines, disturbed a
covey of partridges, which rose with an angry whirring of wings. Then
came four of those unmistakable faint muffled bursts from high above
his head, which betokened an aeroplane's morning gallop; and even as he
automatically jerked his head skywards, with a swishing noise something
buried itself in the earth not far away. It is well to remember that
even Archibald's offspring obey the laws of gravity, and shells from an
anti-aircraft gun, burst they never so high, descend sooner or later in
the shape of jagged fragmentssomewhere. And if the somewhere is your
face, upturned to see the fun . . . !
The Sapper, with the remembrance fresh in his mind of a pal looking
up in just such a way a week before, quickly presented the top of his
tin hat to the skies, and all that might descend from them. There had
been that same swishing all round them as they stood watching some
close shooting at one of our own planes. He recalled the moment when he
cried suddenlyJove! they've got him! He had turned as he spoke to
see the officer with him, slipping sideways, knees crumpling, body
sagging. Good God! old man, what is it? The question was involuntary,
for as he caught the limp figurehe knew.
The plane was all right: the German shells had not got it; but a
piece of shrapnel, the size of a match-box, had passed through that
officer's eye, and entered his brain. He had laid him on the
firing-step, and covered his heador what was left of it. . . .
He reached Pall Mall, to be once again confronted with a large white
notice board. To the right were Boyaux 93 and 94to the left, 91 and
90. Straight on to the front, 92 led to the firing line. With his
ultimate destination Vesuvius crater and the rum jar in view, he turned
to the right, and walked along the support trench. It was much the same
as Piccadilly: only being one degree nearer the front, it was one
degree more warlike. Boxes of bombs everywhere; stands for rifles on
the firing-step, which held them rigidly when they fired rifle
grenades; and every now and then a row of grey-painted rockets with a
red top, which in case of emergency send up the coloured flares that
give the S.O.S. signals to those behind. Also men: men who slept and
ate and shaved and wrote and got bored. A poor show is trench warfare!
Look out, sir. They've knocked it in just round the corner last
night with trench mortars. A sergeant of the South Loamshires was
speaking. Having a go at Laburnum Cottage, I'm thinking.
What, that sniper's post? Have you been using it?
One of our men in there now, sir. He saw an Allemand go to ground
in his dug-out half an hour ago through the mist, and he reckons he
ought to finish breakfast soon, and come out again.
The Sapper crawled on his stomach over the débris that
blocked the trench, and stopped at the entrance to Laburnum Cottage,
officially known as Sniper's Post No. 4. In a little recess pushed out
to the front of the trench, covered in with corrugated iron and
surrounded by sandbags, sprawled the motionless figure of a
Lance-Corporal. With his eye glued to his telescopic sight and his
finger on the trigger of his rifle, he seemed hardly to be breathing.
Suddenly he gave a slight grunt, and the next instant, with a sharp
crack, the rifle fired.
Get him? asked the Sapper.
Dunno, sir, answered the sniper, his eye still fixed to the
telescope. Three 'undred yards, and 'e ducked like 'ell. It wasn't far
off 'is nibs, but one can't tell for sure. He got down and stretched
himself. I've waited 'alf an 'our for the perisher, too, without no
breakfast. He grinned and scrambled over the broken-down trench to
remedy the latter deficiency, while once more the Sapper walked on. No
need with this particular regiment to suggest rebuilding the broken-in
trench; it would be done automaticallywhich cannot be said of them
At last he reached Boyau 94, and turned up towards the firing-line.
Twenty yards from the turn a mass of barbed wire crossed the trench
above his head, the barbed wire which ran in front of the support line.
For it is not only the fire-trench that is wiredeach line behind is
plentifully supplied with this beautiful vegetable growth.
The mist had cleared away, and the morning sun was blazing down from
a cloudless sky, as he reached the front trench. Just to his left a
monstrous pair of bellows, slowly heaving up and down under the
ministrations of two pessimistic miners, sent a little of God's fresh
air down to the men in the mine-shafts underneath. The moles were
therethe moles who scratched and scraped stolidly, at the end of
their gallery thirty or forty yards in front, deep down under the earth
in No Man's Land.
A steady stream of sandbags filled with the result of their labours
came up the shaft down which the pipe from the bellows stretched into
the darknesssandbags which must be taken somewhere and emptied, or
used to revet a bit of trench which needed repair.
To right and left there stretched the fire-trenchtwisting and
turning, traversed and recessedjust one small bit of the edge of
British land. A hundred yards away, a similar line stretched right and
left, where other pessimistic miners ministered to other monstrous
bellows, and Piccadilly was known as Unter den Linden. The strange
stagnation of it all!
Look through the periscope at the country in front. Not a sign of
life in the torn-up crusted earth; not a movement between the two long
lines of wire. A few poppies here and there, and at one point a
motionless grey-green lump close to the farther wire. Impossible to
tell exactly what it is from the periscopethe range is too far. But,
in No Man's Land, such strange greyand khakilumps may often be
seen. The night, a wiring party, perhaps a little raid or an officer's
patrol, anddiscovery. You cannot always get your dead back to the
trench, and the laws that govern No Man's Land savour of the primitive.
. . .
The Sapper watched the phlegmatic bellows-heaver for a few moments
curiously. His stoical indifference to any one or anything save the job
in hand, the wonderful accuracy with which he spat from time to time,
the appalling fumes from his short clay pipe, all tended to make of him
an interesting study. Supremely apathetic to friend or foe, Generals or
Huns, he did his shift without comment and, as far as could be seen,
Where are you putting the earth? asked the Sapper after watching
for a while.
Round corner, in a 'ole. The speaker pointed with his pipe, and
the subject dropped.
The officer turned away smiling slightly, and decided on the
inspection of the rum jar. The answer was clear and succinct, even if
not couched in the language of the old army discipline. He inspected
the hole, and, finding it was at the back of the trench, in a crater
that was formed nightly by German minenwerfer, and that more
earth there not only would not block the trench but, mirabile dicta, would be an actual advantage, he passed on and shortly came to a
passage leading out of the front of the trench.
The passage was labelled Sap No. 130, and presented exactly the same
appearance as the boyaux which ran out of the support line to the front
trench. Only when one got into it did the difference become apparent,
for whereas the boyaux had continued until finally opening into a new
trench, the sap was a cul-de-sac, and finished abruptly in a little
covered-in recess built into a miniature mountain of newly-thrown-up
earth. And this great, tumbled mass of soil was the near lip of
Vesuvius craterblown up half way between the two front lines.
Over the top of the mountain there was no passage. A man standing or
crawling there in daytime would have been in full view of German
snipers at a range of forty yards; while had he accomplished it in
safety, he would have slithered down the farther side into a great
cavity shaped like an egg-cup, at the bottom of which a pool of dirty,
stagnant water was slowly forming. Moreover, if we imagine the man
continuing his journey and climbing up the other side, he would run the
gauntlet of the English snipers as he topped the farther lip, before
reaching the German sap which ran out in just such a similar cul-de-sac
to the one already described.
Thus are craters consolidated; each side holds the lip nearest to
them, and hurls curses and bombs at his opponents on the other. The
distance between the sapheads is perhaps twenty or twenty-five yards,
instead of the hundred odd of the parent fire-trenches; and any closer
acquaintanceship is barred by the egg-cup crater, which stretches
Keep down, sirwell down. Lot of sniping to-day. A sergeant of
the South Loamshires whispered hoarsely to the Sapper as he reached the
end of the sapit is etiquette to whisper in a sap. Three men inside
the recess were drinking tea with the calmness born of long custom,
while lying on his side, with a periscope to his eye, was Jackson, the
Anything fresh, Jacko? muttered the Sapper, crouching down beside
YesI think they're coming closer with their left sap round the
crater. Their periscope seems to be nearer than it was yesterday.
Let's have a look. The two changed position, and the Captain
turned the periscope gently round until he got the exact direction.
Absolute stillness brooded over the ground he could see; a few rough
strands of wire straggled about, and disappeared into the great mound
of earth that formed the débris of the crater.
There were the enemies' trenchesa railway embankment behind them
with a derelict row of trucksa great chimney, gaunt and desolate,
with the buildings at its foot in ruins. But it was not on these old
friends that he was concentrating; his target was the bit of ground
just in front of him that lay close to the thrown-up earth of Vesuvius,
along which the German sap was reputed to be creeping nearer.
At last he got what he wanted. Close at hand, perhaps twenty yards
away, there stuck up out of the ground a motionless stick with
something on the endthe German's periscope. Now it is reputed to be a
fact by several people of apparent truthfulness that it is possible, in
circumstances such as these, for each watcher to see the other man's
eyes reflected from the mirrors of the periscopes; and it is an
undoubted fact that the laws which govern the refraction of light would
allow of this phenomenon. Personally, I am glad to say I have never
seen a German's eye through a periscope; but then personally I am
inclined to doubt if any one has. It must be quite dreadful to see a
thing like a poached egg regarding you balefully from the top of a
stick a few yards away.
At last the Sapper got up. He's no nearer, Jacko. What do you
I don't think they were working last night, sir, one of the
There was a party of 'em out, and we bunged some bombs. We 'eard
'em padding the 'oof back.
Been pretty quiet, then?
Except for that there rum jar, sir, answered the sergeant. We
thought we was napoo when we 'eard that little bundle of fun
Have you seen it, Jacko?
Yes, it rolled into the sap, and I've had it put into the
fire-trench. I'm taking it back to blow it up. I think it's a
percussion fuse, but it seems fairly safe. I've sent for a stretcher to
carry it on.
Let's go and have a look at it.
The two officers walked down the sap and back into the trench, and
started to investigate with a professional eye the object lying on the
fire-step. Apparently of steel, and painted a dull grey, it looked
harmless enoughbut all those little love offerings of the Hun are
treated with respect. About the size of an ordinary rum jar, with a
fuse of sorts in place of a neck, it was at the time an unknown brand
of abomination, to them at any rate.
It differs only in appearance, I fear, remarked the Captain, after
inspecting it gingerly, from other presents they give us. Its object
is undoubtedly nefarious. Where do you propose to blow it up?
In that little quarry near the Ritz. Will that do all right?
Most excellently. With a smile he looked at his watch. Just set
your watch by mine, Jackoand poop it off at 10.5 ak emma. Do you take
The other looked puzzled for a moment; then his face cleared.
I'd forgotten for the moment that Centre Battalion Head-quarters
was not far from the quarry, he grinned. SirI take you.
My dear boy, the day is hot, and the Pumpkin is fat, and the flies
are glutinous. He doesn't want to see the trenches any more than I
doand one's mission in life is to anticipate the wishes of the
It was just as he finished speaking that from up the line in the
direction of the Haymarket there came four dull, vicious cracks in
succession, and some clouds of black smoke drifted slowly over his
Just about No. 7 T.M. emplacement, he muttered to himself. I hope
to heavens . . .
Put it on the stretcher carefully, boys. His subaltern was
speaking to the two men who had arrived with a stretcher. Have you got
the slab of gun-cotton?
Corporal 'Amick 'as gone to get it at the store, sir. He's a-going
to meet us at the quarry.
Right-ho! Walk march.
The cavalcade departed, and the Captain resumed his morning walk,
while his thoughts wandered to the beer which is cold and light yellow.
For many weary months had he taken a similar constitutional daily; not
always in the same place, true; but variety is hard to find in the
actual trenches themselves. It is the country behind that makes the
Time was when communication trenches existed only in the fertile
brain of those who were never called upon to use them; but that time
has passed long since. Time was when the thin, tired breaking line of
men who fought the Prussian Guard at Ypres in 1914and beat themhad
hard work to find the fire-trenches, let alone the communication ones;
when a daily supervision was a nerve-shattering nightly crawl, and
dug-outs were shell-holes covered with a leaking mackintosh. It was
then that men stood for three weeks on end in an icy composition of
water and slime, and if by chance they did get a relief for a night,
merely clambered out over the back, and squelched wearily over the open
ground with bullets pinging past them from the Germans a few score
But now there are trenches in canal banks where dead things drift
slowly by, and trenches in railway embankments where the rails are red
with rust and the sleepers green with rot; there are trenches in the
chalk, good and deep, which stand well, and trenches in the slush and
slime which never stand at all; there are trenches where the smell of
the long grass comes sweetly on the west wind, and trenches where the
stench of death comes nauseous on the east. And one and all are they
damnable, for ever accursed . . .
But the country behindah! there's where the difference comes. You
may have the dead flat of pastoral Flanders, the little woods, the
plough, the dykes of Ypres and Boesinghe; you may have the slag-heaps
and smoking chimneys of La Bassée and Loos; you may have the gently
undulating country of Albert and the Somme. Each bears the marks of the
German beastand, like their inhabitants, they show those marks
differently. Ypres and the North, apathetic, seemingly lifeless; the
mining districts, grim and dour; the rolling plains still, in spite of
all, cheerful and smiling. But underlying them alldeep implacable
determination, a grand national hatred of the Power who has done this
thing. . . .
He turned out of the Old Kent Road into a siding which harboured the
dug-outs of the Centre Battalion.
Is the General here yet, Murdock? A tall sergeant of the
regimentan old friend of hisflattened himself against the side of
the trench to let him pass.
Yes, sir. The sergeant's face was expressionless, though his eyes
twinkled. I think, sir, as 'ow the General is feeling the 'eat. 'E
seems worried. 'E's been trying to telephone.
The Sapper, with a suppressed chuckle, went down some steps into a
spacious dug-out. The darkness made him temporarily blind, so he
saluted and stood still just inside the doorway.
Damn you, don't blow at me! What's that fool blowin' down the thing
for? I have pressed a buttonconfound you!and rung the bell
twice. NoI didn't ring off; somebody blew at me, and the machine fell
on the floor.
The General is trying to get through to his château. A voice full
of unholy joy whispered in the Sapper's ear, and that worthy, whose
eyes had got accustomed to the gloom, recognised the Adjutant.
I gathered that something of the sort was occurring, he whispered
But the General was at it again. Who are youthe R.T.O.? Well,
ring off. Exchange. Exchange. It is the Divisional General speaking. I
want my head-quarters. I say, I want myoh, don't twitter, and the
bally thing's singin' now! First it blows and then it sings. Good God!
A deafening explosion shook the dug-out, and a shower of earth and
stones rained down in the trench outside.
They're very active this morning, sir, said the Sapper, stepping
forward. Lot of rum jars and things coming over.
Are you the Sapper officer? Good morning. I wish you'd get this
accursed instrument to work.
There may be a line broken, he remarked tactfully.
WellI shall have to go back; I can't hear a word. The thing does
nothin' but squeak. Now it's purring like a cat. I hate cats. Most
annoyin'. I wanted to come round the front line this morning.
In very good condition, sir; I've just been all round it. Mighty
hot up there, Generaland swarms of flies.
And they're puttin' over some stuff, you say?
Yes, sirquite a lot.
Hum! Well, of course, I fully intended to come roundbut, dash it
all, I must get back. Can't hear a word the fellow says. Does nothing
but play tunes. The Pumpkin rose and stalked to the door. Well, I'll
come round another morning, my boy. I wonder, by Jove! if that last one
was meant for this head-quarters? Devilish near, you know. He walked
up the stairs, followed by his staff officer. Good mornin'mind you
see about that telephone. Cursed thing blows.
Dear old Pumpkin, murmured the Adjutant as his steps died away.
He's a topper. His figure's against him, but he's got the heart of a
He has, answered the Sapper, preparing to follow his footsteps.
And the men would do anything for him.
What price that rum jar I sent in a bird about?
That was the last explosion you heard, laughed the Sapper. I
wasn't leaving anything to chance. I am going to go and drink
beericed beer, in long glasses. Toujours à toi.
He was gone, leaving the Adjutant staring. A few moments later he
clambered out of the trench, and struck out for the crumbling church
that betokened a road and the near presence of his bicycle.
* * * * * *
A day of peaceyes, as things go, a day of perfect peace. Away down
South things were moving; this was stagnation. And yetwell, it was at
dinner that night . . .
For the fourteenth night in succession I rise to a point of order.
The Doctor was speaking. Why is the lady with the butterfly on her
back pushed away into one corner, and that horrible woman with the
green wig accorded the place of honour?
I would hurriedly state that the Doctor's remarks were anent two
pictures which are, I believe, occasionally to be found in officers'
messes in the B.E.F.pictures of a Parisian flavour as befits the
Ententepictures whichat any rate they are well known to many, and I
will not specify further.
Yes, the lady with the gween wig is dweadful. The boy sipped his
Infant, I'm shocked at you. The depravity of these children
nowadays . . .
An orderly came into the room with an envelope, which he handed to
The C.O. spread out the flimsy paper and frowned slightly as he read
T.M. Emp. No. 7, completely wrecked by a direct hit 9.30 a.m. this
morning, A.A.A. Please inspect and report, A.A.A., C.R.E., 140th
Delayed as usual, grunted the Scotchman. I was there just after
it happened, and reported it to the O.C. Trench Mortars. Did you not
hear, sir, for it's useless repairing it? That position is too well
Were there any casualties? The Sapper Captain's voice was quiet.
Aye. The poor lad that was crooning over his gun when I saw him
this morning, like a cat over her undrowned kitten, just disappeared.
What d'you mean, Mac?
It was one of the big ones, and it came right through the wire on
top of him. The gruff voice was soft. Poor bairn!
 Special Note to Lovers of Etymology.
Il n'y en a plus. There is no more. French phrase signifying
complete absence of. Largely heard in estaminets near closing time.
Naploo.Original pure English phrase signifying the perisher
has run out of beer.
Napoo.Vulgar and bastardised shortening of original pure
English phrase. Has now been added to B.E.F. dictionary, and is used to
imply that a man, thing, person, animal, or what not, is finished.
II. OVER THE TOP
On the afternoon of the 21st we gained a small local success. Our
line was advanced on a front of six hundred yards, over an average
depth of a quarter of a mile. All the ground gained was successfully
consolidated. Up to date eighty-six unwounded prisoners have passed
through the corps cage, of whom three are officers.
Thus ran the brief official notice so tersely given in the
Intelligence Summary, known to the ribald as Comic Cuts; later it
will appear even more tersely in the daily communiqué which delights
the matutinal kipper and twin eggs of England. It's all so simple; it
all sounds such a ridiculously easy matter to those who read. Map
maniacs stab inaccurate maps with pins; a few amateur strategists
discourse at length, and with incredible ignorance, on the bearing
itand countless other similar operationswill have on the main
issue. And the vast majority remark gloomily to the other members of
the breakfast table that there is nothing in the paper as usual.
Nothing, my friend! I wonder. . . .
This is not a story; there is no plot; it is just what happens every
day somewhere or other in the land of glutinous, stinking mud, where
the soles are pulled off a man's boots when he walks and horses go in
up to their bellies; where one steers a precarious and slippery course
on the narrow necks of earth that separate shell holes, and huddled
things stare up at the sky with unseeing eyes. They went over the top
themselvesten days agoin just such another local success. Nothing,
my friend! Perhaps you're right; it's mainly a sense of proportion that
is needed in war, as in other things. . . .
Good morning, dear old soul. The machine-gun officer emerged from
a watery hole of doubtful aspect, covered with a dented sheet of
corrugated iron and a flattened-out biscuit tinthe hole that is, not
the officer. We have slept well, thank you; and the wife and family
are flourishing. Moreoveryou're late.
The Sapper regarded him pessimistically through the chilly mist of
an October dawn. Entirely owing to my new and expensive waders being
plucked from my feet with a sucking noise. A section of haggard men are
now engaged in salvage operations. Shall we process?
We shallin one sweet moment, not before. Sweet, brave heart,
because He put his head round the corner. Jonesthe raspberry
winetoute suite. Just a hollow tooth full, and we will gambol
like young lambs the whole long weary way.
It is well, remarked the Sapper, returning the empty mug to the
soldier servant. Personally I like it burnt at night, with a noggin of
port. You put it in a mug, add three spoonfuls of sugar, set light to
it, and let it burn for seven minutes. Then add some port, and drink
hot. Man, you can lead an army corps . . . His voice died away as the
two officers departed on their three-mile squelch to the front line,
and the unshaven Jones gazed after them admiringly.
A hartist! he murmured admiringly, a plurry hartist. Personally,
the rasberry juice, any old 'ow for me. He disappeared from view, and
further disclosures would be tactless. . . .
And so we lift the curtain on the dawn of the 21st. Doubtless the
setting is frivolous, but it has served to introduce two of the supers
who go to make up the final scene. In the portion of the front line for
which they were bound there lay the battalion which was cast for the
principal part, and it is the prerogative of stars to have their
entrance led up to. . . .
The mist hung thick over the shell-torn ground as the two officers
walked on. In places stretches of half-demolished wire and blown-in
trenches showed where the Germans had put up a fight. Stray graves,
ours and theirs, were dotted about promiscuously, and little heaps of
dirty and caked equipment showed that salvage work was in progress.
Away to the left a few crumbling walls and shattered trees marked a
one-time prosperous agricultural village, from which with great
regularity there came the sighing drone of a German crump followed by a
column of black smoke and a shower of bricks and débris. But the
place was dead; its inhabitants goneGod knows where. And soldiers:
well, soldiers have a rooted dislike to dead villages near the
A strange squat object loomed suddenly into sighta well-known
landmark to those who wandered daily behind the lines. Derelict,
motionless, it lay on a sunken road, completely blocking it; and the
sunken road was heavy with the stench of death. It is not good for the
Hun to take liberties with a tank, even if it is temporarily
A man limping wearily, his head bandaged, his face unshaved, his
khaki coated with half-dry mud, plodded heavily towards them.
Can you tell me the way to the dressing-station, sir? He had
stopped and, swaying slightly, stood in front of the two officers.
Straight on, lad. You'll find it somewhere back there. The
machine-gun officer pointed vaguely into the mist. About half a mile.
You ain't got a drop of water, 'ave you, sir? The water party got
lost last night, and we've only had about a teacupful this last
But when going up to visit the trenches water-bottles are a useless
encumbrance, and, with a tired sigh, the wounded Tommy resumed his
thirsty way in the direction of the dressing-station.
Cooked, poor devil, remarked the Sapper, as he disappeared.
Pretty nearly finished.
But he'll be his mother's own bright boy again when he gets his
nose inside that aid post. We go left here, I think.
They paused for a moment to get their bearingsa matter of some
importance and no little difficulty.
It may seem an easy thing to walk up to the trenches. One goes on,
and ultimately one arrives, the casual reader will surmise. And with
luck the casual reader will be right. But there are certain small
points which may have escaped his ken and which render the task of
reaching the front line a trifle harder than walking to the club for
In the first place the aspect of the ground is not of that cheerful
and varied type which has inspired so many gifted landscape painters.
No trees and little rivers, no cottages and flowering paths delight
one's eye. It is impossible to say: Take the turn to the left after
passing the cactus bush, and keep straight on till you come to the
asparagus bed; and then you'll see the front trench on your right.
The local cactus bush or its equivalent is hurled into space twice
daily, thereby largely interfering with its use as a landmark. The
local asparagus bed or its equivalent differs only from the remainder
of the ground in the fact that a mule passed peacefully away on it some
weeks previously. And one day even that difference vanished. The mule
passed away againin small fragments.
Even the front trenches where they exist have a variegated career.
At certain periods quite a large proportion of them are in the air at
the same time, in company with the village just behind; and when they
come down again it is more than likely their position will change to
the next row of damp and unpleasant holes.
That is the trouble: the whole ground is one huge hole. Holes are
the only features of the landscape: big holes, little holes, damp ones,
smelly ones; holes occupied and holes to let; holes you fall into and
holes you don'tbut, holes. Everywhere holes. The cactus bush is a
hole; the asparagus bed is a hole; the trenches are holes. The whole
country looks like a disease. A large amount of the wandering must
perforce be done at night; and should the casual reader still doubt the
difficulty of finding one's way, let him imagine three voluntary
descents, and as many compulsory ones, into the wet brand of hole; let
him further imagine a steady downpour of rain, no sign of a star, and a
shrewd suspicion that if he's walked as far as he thinks he has in the
right direction he ought to be in the front line; and then let him
imagineholes. Whenever he moves he either negotiates or fails to
negotiateholes. Having, in scrambling out of holes turned round twice
he doesn't know which way he's facing; he only knows there areholes.
Toctoctoc; the slow tapping of a German machine-gun sounds from the
direction he had fondly imagined Battalion Head-quarters to be; the
swish of bullets come nearer as the Hun sweeps the ground; a flare goes
up, showingholes. Another compulsory descent; a phut! as a bullet
passes over his head, and the swishing passes on. Shortly that swishing
will come back, and in the meantime are there notholes? But as for
the front trench, whither he is bound, the contest is unequal. No man
A further point which is worthy of remark en passant may
possibly escape the notice of the uninitiated. It is a well-known fact,
and will be vouched for by all who have experienced the Somme, that
that part of the ground which is not hole is carried, like the
unexpended portion of the day's rations, on the person. Acres of soil
have been removed from their original abode and have been carried
laboriously to other acres. They have then been brought back again; not
by boot only, but by hand, and face, by hair and teeth. It is
reportedthough I will not vouch for the accuracy of the
statementthat on one occasion a relieving battalion completely
defeated a small German counter-attack by standing on the parapet and
kicking viciously towards the advancing Huns. The enormous mass of soil
thus propelled not only crushed the hated foe but effectually buried
him. However, that is by the way. We are digressing far from the Sapper
and the machine-gun officer who stood by a derelict tank in the damp
mist of an October dawn and cogitated on the direction of their
particular piece of front line.
It is amazing, said a voice behind them, that man can have
descended to such a state of congenital idiocy as to do all this to an
inoffensive carrot field.
The Brigade-Major, followed by the Brigadier, joined the two
officers. Behind them the signal officer plucked France from his face.
And then of a sudden five officers disappeared. A droning roar rose
with extreme rapidity to that pitch of loudness that denotes
undesirable closeness; a mass of black fumes and flying mud shot up
twenty odd yards away; a flight of cockchafers seemed to pass into the
distance as the jagged fragments whizzed overheadand five faces
appeared as suddenly from the ground. Holes have their uses at times.
This sunken road is always hairy, remarked the signal
officerknown to his intimates as Sigsgiving the General a hand-up
from his particular lair. It were unwise to linger, sir.
Another quarter-mile and we hit Essex Trench, remarked the
Brigade-Major. Sally's head-quarters are there. The five officers
passed on, squelching loudly, and once again peace and silence reigned
in the sunken road. . . .
And now we come to the principal actors in the drama. Crowded in
Essex Trench, damp with mist, were the men of the South Loamshires. A
few were scribbling notes, and an all-pervading smell of frying bacon
permeated the air. One or two, wrapped in great-coats, with a
mackintosh sheet over them, still slept peacefullybut the whole
regiment was stirring into life. The morning of the day had come. To
many it was a new experience; to others it was stalegoing over the
top. But, new or old, not a man but realised that by evening the roll
of the regiment would have many gaps; new or old, not a man but
realised that his name might be one of those gaps. Just the luck of the
game; perhaps nothing, perhaps a Blighty, perhaps . . .
It is well without doubt that the lower the intelligence the less
the imagination. To ninety per cent. of these men the situation lost
much of its edge; to the remaining ten the edge was sharpened. What is
to be is to be, in war as elsewhere. Fatalism as regards one's own
prospects is inevitable; essential. But fatalism is an unsatisfying
creed; the word Why? is apt to creep into the back of a man's mind,
and the word Why? when the intelligence is low, is a dangerous one.
For the word Why? can only be satisfactorily answered by the
realisation of the bigness of the issue; by the knowledge that
individual effort is imperative if collective success is to be
obtained; by the absolute conviction that no man can be a law unto
himself. To the ten per cent. these facts were clear; but then, to the
ten per cent. the Why? was louder. The factor of their composition
which said to them Why?clearly and insistentlyeven as they lay
motionless under their coats or outwardly wrangled for bacon and
teathat very factor supplied the answer.
To the thinkers and dreamers there comes at such times the greater
knowledge: the knowledge which lifts them above self and the
trivialities of their own lives; the knowledge that is almost Divine.
They appreciate the futilitybut they realise the necessity. And in
their hearts they laugh sardonically as the shadow of Dream's End
clouds the sky. The utter futility of it allthe utter necessity now
that futility has caught the world. Then they realise the bacon is
To the ninety per cent. it is not so. Not theirs to reason so
acutely, not theirs to care so much; to them the two dominant features
of this wardeath and boredomappeal with far less force. For both
depend so utterly on imagination in their effect on the individual.
Death is only awful in anticipation; boredom only an affliction to the
keen-witted. So to the ninety, perhaps, the Why? does not sound
insistently. It is as well, for if the answer is not forthcoming there
is danger, as I have said. And one wonders sometimes which class
produces the best results for the business in handthe business of
slaughtering Huns. . . . The small one that rises to great heights and
sinks to great depths, or the big one, the plodders.
But I have digressed again. It is easy to wander into by-paths when
the main road is prosaic, and the study of a body of men before an
attackthe men who fear and don't show it, the men who fear and try
not to show it, the men who don't care a hang what happenscannot but
grip the observer who has eyes to see. Almost does he forget his own
allotted part in the drama; the psychology of the thing is too
absorbing. And it can only be realised when seen first hand.
Let us leave them there for the timethat battalion of the South
Loamshires. Sallyas the C.O. is generally knownhas talked with the
Brigadier and the Brigade-Major. He knows that zero hour is 11.30 a.m.;
he knows his objectiveSuffolk Trench; he knows the strong point at
its northern end which the sappers are going to consolidate. The Sapper
has found his section subaltern and his section nursing coils of barbed
wire and shovels, and has been informed with much blasphemy that the
guide had lost his way, and the party had been wandering all night. The
machine-gun officer has delivered words of wisdom to various guns'
crewsboth Lewis and otherwisewho came under his eagle eye at
intervals along the trench. Just the prosaic main road; the details are
tedious; the actual orders uninteresting. The attack would either
succeed or it would fail; the strong point would either be consolidated
or it would not. The ordersthe detailsare necessary adjuncts to the
operation; of no more interest than the arrangements for pulling up the
fire curtain. Only if the fire curtain sticks, the play is robbed of
much of its natural charm to the onlooker.
Bring me some more breakfast. That walk gives one the devil of a
hunger. The Brigadier was back once more in his dug-out, while,
outside, the mist had lifted and the autumn sun shone down on a world
The Brigade-Major was shaving; the Staff Captaina non-starter in
the morning's walkwas demanding corrugated iron from the unmoved
I tell you this roof is a disgrace. Cascades of water pour through
into the soup at dinner. Why don't you do something?
What do you propose I should do, brave heart? Sit on the roof and
The subject was a complicated one, touching deep problems of supply
and demand, to say nothing of carrying parties; so let us leave them to
The signal officer was looking wise over something that boomed and
buzzed alternately; the machine-gun officer may, or may not, have been
enjoying another toothful.
In short, the supers, the stage-managers had departed. The last
directions had been given, and the play was due to start in an hour and
a quarter. All that could be done for its success had been done by
those who were behind; now it was up to the men who sat and sprawled in
the mud-holes in front, with the blue smoke of their cigarettes curling
upwards and their equipment and rifles stacked beside them.
A desultory bombardment on each side droned stolidly on, while away
to the front three British aeroplanes, seemingly come from nowhere,
tumbled and looped round two Germans like mosquitoes over a pool. A row
of sausage balloons like a barber's rash adorned the sky as far as the
eye could see. Just an everyday scene on the Somme, and meanwhile the
Come up to the top. There's ten minutes to go. The Staff Captain
and the Sappertheir dispute settledstrolled amicably to the top of
the hill behind the dug-out and produced their field-glasses. Away in
front Essex Trench could be seen, and the men inside it, standing to.
For them the period of suspense was nearly overthe curtain was just
One minute. The Sapper snapped his watch to and focussed his
glasses. They're on.
Suddenly from all around, as if touched by a spring, an
ear-splitting din leaped into life. In the valley behind them it seemed
as if hundreds of tongues of flame were darting and quivering,
sprouting from what a moment before was barren ground. The acrid smell
of cordite drifted over them, while without cessation there came the
solemn boomboomboom of the heavier guns way back. Like the motif
of an opera, the field-guns and light howitzers cracked and snorted,
permeating everything with one continuous blast of sound; while the
sonorous roar and rumble of the giant pieces behindslower, as
befitted themcompleted the mighty orchestra. Neither man could hear
the other speak; but then, they were both watching too intently for
Hardly had hell been let loose when a line of men arose from Essex
Trench and walked steadily to their front. Just ahead of them great
clouds of smoke rose belching from the ground: clouds into which they
vanished at times, only to reappear a moment later. They were advancing
behind a creeping barrage, and advancing with the steadiness of
Good lads! Good lads! The Staff Captain's lips framed the words;
his voice was inaudible.
Every now and then a man pitched forward and lay still; or muttered
a curse as he felt the sting of something in his arm. A section on the
left dropped suddenly, only to worm on again by ones and twos, trying
to avoid the dreaded toc-tocslow and menacingof a German
machine-gun. Then the bombers were there. Crouching back, a man would
pull the pin out of his bomb, run forward, and hurl it into the trench
where the Germans were huddled in groups. And away behind the South
Loamshires, on the shell-pocked ground that now boiled and heaved like
some monstrous sulphur spring, with thick black and yellow fumes
drifting slowly across it, there lay the first fruits of the harvest: a
few of the gaps in the evening's roll-call.
On the flank a machine-gun was going, taking them in enfilade. In
front, Germansnumbers of Germansglared snarling at them out of the
trench, or whimpered in a corner with arms upraised, as was the nature
of the beasts. A non-commissioned officer picked up a bomb and hurled
it at the advancing platoon sergeant; only to cry Kamerad when
it failed to explode. . . .
And so the South Loamshires, or such as were left of them, came to
their objective; the first part of the play was over. The
machine-gunner who had enfiladed them passed in his checks, fighting to
the end, brained with the butt of a rifle.
Occasionally a wounded man crawled into the trench; a German officer
sat sullenly in a corner stanching a gaping hole in his leg. Behind
them, towards the Essex Trench, the air was now clearer; the
bombardment had moved over the line they had won, and thundered down on
the German communications.
Runner! A Company Commander stood shakily trying to patch up a
wound in his arm. As far as he could tell from a hasty reconnaissance,
he was the senior officer present. Give this to the C.O.: 'Objectives
won. Situation on right doubtful. Estimated casualties two hundred.'
He handed the man a slip of paper.
At a steady lope the runner went over the back of the trench, into
the barrage of German shrapnel and high explosive. They saw him reach
it, stop suddenly, twist round, and slither slowly forward.
Runner down, sir. A sergeant standing by spoke almost casually.
Runner! Once again the officer called; once again a man went off
at a jog-trot. They saw him reach his predecessor; stop a moment and
bend down. He looked round and shook his head and went steadily on. The
luck of the gamethat's all. And it's only when one's sitting
stillwaiting, that one asks Why? Ten minutes later he was with the
C.O., waiting for the answer to take back.
And so the drama is over; the play has been a success. From the
wings the Staff Captain and the Sapper have returned to Brigade
Saw 'em getting over the top, sir. Then they got into the smoke and
we lost 'em. Like a witches' cauldron.
We shan't hear anything for two hours. The General thoughtfully
knocked the ashes out of his pipe. They were his men who had gone into
that witches' cauldron; with them daily he lived and daily died. Their
Dream's End was his too. Buta sense of proportion, always. We might
as well have lunch, he remarked casually.
Gradually the bombardment died away, though from time to time the
guns burst into sullen mutterings, as though hungry at being baulked of
The same old aeroplanesor different onesbuzzed busily about; the
same old stoical balloons looked more rash-like than ever.
And then suddenly outside the brigade office there was a stir.
A runner had hove in sight, and the signal officer emerged to get
Good, he muttered to himself; the old man will be pleased. He
went into the General's dug-out.
Message just through, sir, from C.O. South Loamshires: 'Objectives
obtained. A.A.A. Situation on right somewhere obscure. A.A.A. Estimated
casualties 200 all ranks. A.A.A. Will be consolidated to-night.
The old man was pleased.
And so, on the afternoon of the 21st, we gained a small local
success. We advanced our line on a front of six hundred yards over an
average depth of a quarter of a mile, etc., etc.
It wasn't much, my friends at home; butthat runner will run no
more, and some eighty odd of that odd two hundred have cooked their
last ration of bacon. Their Why? is answered.
No, it wasn't much; but it wasn'tnothing.
III. THE MAN-TRAP
Should you, in the course of your wanderings, ever run across
Brigadier-General Herbert Firebrace, do not ask him if he knows Percy
FitzPercy. The warning is probably quite unnecessary: not knowing
FitzP. yourself, the question is hardly likely to occur to you. But I
mention it in case. One never knows, and Herbert will not be prejudiced
in your favour if you do.
As far as I know, the story of their firstand lastmeeting has
never yet been told to the world at large. It is a harrowing tale, and
it found no place in official communiqués. Just one of those
regrettable incidents that fade into the limbo of forgotten things, it
served as a topic of conversation to certain ribald subalterns, and
then it gradually disappeared into obscurity along with Percy
FitzPercy. Only it took several months for the topic to fade; Percy
beat it in about ten seconds.
Before the war Percy had been, amongst other things, an actor of
indifferent calibre; he had helped a barman in Canada, carried a chain
for a railroad survey, done a bit of rubber-planting, and written
poetry. He was, in fact, a man of many parts, and cultivated a
frivolous demeanour and an eyeglass. Unkind acquaintances described him
as the most monumental ass that has yet been produced by a painstaking
world; personally, I think the picture a trifle harsh. Percy meant
well; and it wasn't really his fault that the events I am about to
chronicle ended so disastrously. Unfortunately, however, he was unable
to get the General to see eye to eye with him in this trifling matter;
and so, as I have already said, Percy beat it in about ten seconds.
The whole trouble started over the question of man-traps. If,
remarked a Sapper subaltern one night after the port had been round
more than onceIf one could construct a large conical hole like an
inverted funnel in the front-line trench, so that the small opening was
in the trench itself, and the bottom of the funnel fifteen or twenty
feet below in the ground, and if the Huns came over and raided us one
night, one might catch one or two. He dreamily emptied and refilled
By Jove, dear old boyPercy fixed his eye-glass and gazed
admiringly at the speakerthat's a splendid idea! Sort of glorified
man-trapwhat!dear old thing.
That's it, Percy, old lad. Why don't you make one next time you're
in the trenches? The speaker winked at the remainder of the party.
'Pon my soul, dear old man, I think I will. Percy was clearly
struck with the idea. Cover the hole, don't you know, with
trench-boards by day, and have it open at night. Great idea, old sport,
You could go and fish for them in the morning with a sausage on the
end of a string, murmured some one. Get 'em to sing the 'Hymn of
Hate' before they got any breakfast.
Or even place large spikes at the bottom on which they would fall
and become impaled. The first speaker was becoming bloodthirsty.
Oh, no, dear old chap! I don't think an impaled Hun would look very
nice. It would be quite horrible in the morning, when one started to
count up the bag, to find them all impaled. Besides, there might be two
on one stake. Exactly the objection to the last contingency was not
clear; but after dinner attention to such trifles is of secondary
Percy inaugurates new form of frightfulness, laughed the Major.
May I be there when you catch your first!
The conversation dropped; other and more intimate topics anent the
fair ones at home took its place; but in the mind of Percy FitzPercy
the germ of invention was sown. When he went back to his battalion that
night, in their so-called rest-billets, he was thinking. Which was
always a perilous proceeding for Percy.
Now it so happened that his part of the line at the moment had
originally belonged to the Hun. It was a confused bit of trench, in
which miners carried on extensively their reprehensible trade. And
where there are miners there is also spoil. Spoil, for the benefit of
the uninitiated, is the technical name given to the material they
remove from the centre of the earth during the process of driving their
galleries. It is brought up to the surface in sandbags, and is then
carried away and dumped somewhere out of harm's way. In reality it is
generally stacked carefully in the trenches themselves, thereby
completely blocking all traffic; which is by the way.
But after mining has been in progress for some time, and various
craters have been blown and sapped out to, and after trench mortars
have strafed consistently for many months and torn the original
surface of the ground to pieces, the actual position of the trenches
themselves becomes haphazard. They cease in many cases to bear the
slightest likeness to the ordinary trenches of commerce; they become
deep gorges in mountains of sandbags. I have sometimes wished that
those officers who apparently write home to devoted bands of female
workers asking for more sandbags would get in touch with me instead. I
shall be delighted to let them have anything up to five million, all
filled, by return; which is again by the way.
To return to Percy. In his part of the front sandbags grew like
pebbles on a shingly beach; and from time to time fresh cuts off the
trenches were opened to allow for further expansion in the sandbag
family. The existing front line in one place had started life as a cut
off the old trench, and had gradually been taken into use as a
permanency, and it was at this point that he stumbled on the great
discovery which was destined to cause all the trouble. How he first
stumbled is not recorded; but early one morning Percy FitzPercy could
have been seen like a terrier with his nose down a rabbit-hole, lying
flat at the bottom of the trench, peering into a noisome and
foul-smelling cavity underneath him.
My dear old boy, he remarked, enthusiastically, to a brother
subaltern, who was watching the proceeding coldly, it's an old German
dug-out; I'm certain it's an old German dug-out.
I don't care a damn if it is, answered the other, without
enthusiasm. It stinks like a polecat, and is undoubtedly full of all
creeping things. For heaven's sake, let's go and get something to eat.
Slowly and reluctantly Percy allowed himself to be led away,
thinking deeply. Only the week before had the Hun attempted a raid and
actually entered the trench close to the spot in question, and here was
apparently a ready-made man-trap should he do so again. After breakfast
he would explore his find; after breakfast he would himself set to work
and labour unceasingly. As I have said, Percy FitzPercy meant well.
It is possible that lesser men might have been deterred by the
unpromising results of that exploration. Descending gingerly through
the hole, which had been widened sufficiently to allow of the passage,
Percy switched his torch around the cavity he found himself in. Above
his head long rounded timbers, side by side and touching one another,
formed the roof, which was in good condition, save in the centre, where
the blue sky shone through the hole he had entered by. In one corner
stood a bedstead covered by a moth-eaten blanket, while all over the
floor crumbling sandbags and old clothes and equipment gave it the
appearance of a rag-and-bone shop. In one place the wall had fallen in,
a mound of chalk filled the corner, and from a score of vantage points
elderly rodents watched with increasing disfavour this unexpected human
Up above in the trench the disfavour was repeated in that
picturesque phraseology for which Thomas is famous.
Wot are you a-doing 'ere? An incensed sergeant rounded a corner,
and gazed wrathfully at three privates, each armed with a spade and
wearing gas helmets. Wot 'ave you got them 'elmets on for? He
approached the fatal hole, and recoiled slightly. Gaw-lumme! Wot's
Percy, answered a sepulchral voice. Our little Perce.
Wot yer meanPercy? Wot's that 'ole? A cloud of dust at that
moment rose through it, and he recoiled still farther. Oo's down
Percy, answered the same sepulchral voice. Percy FitzP. carrying
hout a reconaysance in force. 'E's found a 'Un smell factory, and 'e's
fair wallowing in it.
At that moment a voice came gently through the opening. I say, you
fellahs, just come down here a moment, and bring your shovelswhat?
A face, covered with a fine coating of blackish-grey dust, popped up
out of the bottom of the trench. We're fairly going to catch the old
Hun before we've finished.
With a choking gasp the sergeant lost all self-control and faded
rapidly away, while the three privates slowly and reluctantly followed
the face through the hole.
It was fortunateor possibly, in view of future events,
unfortunatethat during the next two hours no responsible individual
came along that particular piece of front line. Incidentally there was
nothing surprising in the fact. In most places, especially during the
day, the front line is held but lightly by isolated posts, which are
visited from time to time by the company or platoon commander, and more
rarely by the Colonel. On this particular occasion the C.O. had already
paid his visit to the scene of activity. The company commander was
wrestling with returns, and Percy himself led the long-suffering
platoon. And so without hindrance from any outsiders the fell business
Volumes of evil-smelling dust poured out into the trench, punctuated
from time to time with boots, a few rats who had met with an untimely
end, some unrecognisable garments, and large numbers of empty bottles.
An early investigation had shown the indomitable leader that the old
shaft which had led down to the dug-out in the days when it was used
was completely blocked up, and so the hole through the roof was the
only means of entrance or exit. Moreover, the hole being in the centre
of the roof, and the dug-out being a high one, there was no method of
reaching it other than by standing on the bed or the decomposing chair.
Once the bird was in there, granted the bed had been removed, there was
therefore no way by which he could get out without being helped from
above. And so with joy in his heart the indefatigable Percy laboured
on, what time three sweating privates consigned him to the uttermost
depths of the pit.
Now one may say at once that Percy had all the makings in him of the
true artist. Having decided to stage his performance, he had no
intention of letting it fail through lack of attention to detail. Life
in the front trenches is not at any time an enlivening proceeding; the
days drag wearily by, the nights are full of noises and Verey
lightsand this particular part of the line was no exception to the
general rule. So our hero was not distracted by mundane influences or
stress of work from elaborating his scheme. In addition, once the
miasma had subsided, and the idea had been explained to them, the three
supers became quite keen themselves. It was one of them, in fact, who
suggested the first detail.
'Ow are we to know, sir, he remarked, as they sat resting on an
adjacent fire-step after three hours' strenuous exhuming, that
supposing two of the perishers fall through the 'ole they won't escape?
Two men could get out of that there place without no bed to 'elp 'em.
By Jove, yes! Percy scratched his forehead and left furrows of
white in the general darkness. By Jove, yes; you're quite rightwhat?
Break one's heart to lose the blighters, don't you know. You're a
doocid clever fellow to think of that, Jenkins.
Tomkins, sir, murmured the originator of the brain-wave, slightly
abashed by the unexpected praise.
We might, remarked another of the world's workers, thoughtfully
sucking his teethwe might 'ave a trap-door, a 'eavy one, to let down
over the 'ole once they was in.
Yusand 'ow are we to know when they is in? The third member of
the party proceeded to justify his existence. They won't come over
'ere and fall into the 'ole and then shout to us to let down the trap.
He thoughtfully lit a Woodbine. The 'Un will be strafing if there's a
raid on, and there'll be the 'ell of a beano going on, and no one won't
never 'ear nothing.
With which sage aphorism he relapsed into silence, and a gloom
settled on the meeting.
By Jove, you fellows, we must think of something! We must pull up
our socks and thinkwhat? After we've spent all this time clearing the
bally place out we must really think of somethingby Jove! Percy
gazed hopefully at his three supers, but it seemed that their
contributions to the conversation were at an end, and for a space
silence reigned, broken only by the gentle lullaby of the tooth-sucker.
We might, remarked Tomkins at length, after a period of profound
thought, 'ave a trip-wire, wot would ring a gong.
That's itthat's it! 'Pon my word, you're a doocid clever fellow,
Thomson, doocid clever fellowwhat? Percy became enthusiastic. Ring
the gong where the fellah is who lets down the door. He lets down the
door, and we bag the Hun. Dam good idea!
I don't believe in no gongs, remarked the musical one scornfully.
Nonor trip-wires neither. He eyed his audience pugnaciously.
But, my good fellaherwhat do you believe in? Percy's spirits
Tins, china, cups and saucers, plates, old saucepansanything and
everything wot will make a noise when the 'Un falls on it. That's the
ticket, sir, he continued, with gathering emphasis as he noted the
impression he was causing. Lummea trip-wire: it might break, or the
gong mightn't ring, or the blighter mightn't 'ear it. Wiv chinaevery
step he took 'e'd smash anuvver pot. Drahn a rum jar 'e would. Buta
trip-wire! He spat impartially and resumed his tune.
By Jove, that's a splendid idea! The mercurial Percy's face shone
again. Splendid idea! Fill it full of old tins and chinawhat? And
when we hear the second fellah hit the floor and start breakin' up the
home we can pull the string and let down the trap-door. Splendid idea!
Doocid clever of you, 'pon my soul it is!
And where do you think of getting the china from? Tomkins, fearing
that his mantle of doocid cleverness was descending upon the
tooth-sucker, eyed him unconvinced. I wasn't aware as 'ow there was a
penny bazaar in the neighbourhood, nor yet a William Whiteley's.
Yes, by Jove, chirped Percy, where do we get it all from? We
shall want lots of it, too, don't you knowwhat?
Get it? The suggester of the idea looked scornful and addressed
himself to Tomkins. There ain't no bully tins in the perishing
trenches, are there? Ho no! An' there hain't no china an' bits of glass
and old cups and things in that there village about 'alf a mile down
the road? Ho no! I reckon there's enough to fill twenty 'oles like that
there. Once again the oracle resumed his hobby.
Splendid! Percy jumped to his feet. The very thing! We'll do it
this next company relief, by Jove! Now, boys, two more hours. We just
want to get the bedstead out and straighten things up, and we'll be all
ready for the dinner-servicewhat?
Now there was another thing in which Percy FitzPercy showed that he
had the makings of a true artist. He fully appreciated the value of
secrecy in presenting his performances to the public at large. True,
all his platoon were bound to find out, and the remainder of the
company had a shrewd idea that something was afoot. But one does not
walk along trenchesespecially in the front linefor pleasure; and
beyond a casual inquiry as to what new form of insanity he was up to
now, the company commander was not interested in Percy's doings. Now
that the place had been cleared out, the opening was covered during the
day by a trench-board carefully stolen from the nearest R.E. dump;
while the members of the platoon assiduously collected old tin and
china utensils, both great and small, which were thrown into the cavity
and arranged tastefully by the stage-manager.
At night the trench-board was removed, and after careful weighting
with two dud shells, a piece of rail, and the stalk of a sixty-pound
trench-mortar bomb, it was placed on edge beside the hole. It was so
arranged that it leaned slightly inwards, and was only kept from
falling by a cord which passed in front of it and which was attached to
two screw picketsone on each side. The hole itself was covered with a
sack. So much for the scenery.
The stage directions were equally simple. The curtain rises on a
German raid. Noises off, etc.; the flashes of guns, the bursting of rum
jars, the dazzling brilliance of flares lighting up the lowering night.
On the entrance of the Hun into the trench (if he did), a watch would
be kept on the hole (if any one was there to watch). On the sound of
the first crash of breaking china, no action. On the sound of the
second crash of breaking china, Percy himself (if alive) or a
substitute (if not), would dash forward and cut the string. The
trap-door would fall; and then, having repelled the Hun, they could
return and examine the bag at their leisure. So much for the plot. Now
for the action.
It has always been my contention that Brigadier-General Herbert
Firebrace rather brought it on himself. There are things which generals
may do, and there are things which they may not; or shall we say, lest
I be deemed guilty of lèse majesté, things it were better they
did not? All things to them are lawful, but all things most undoubtedly
are not expedient. And no onenot even his most fervent admirercould
say that the General's action was a wise one. Let it be understood that
when the more exalted ones of the earth desire to make a tour of
trenches, there is a recognised procedure for doing it. First comes the
sergeant of the platoon occupying the portion of the line under
inspectionexperience has shown the wisdom of having the only
trustworthy guide in front. Then comes the company commander, followed
by the Colonel, the Staff officer and the Great One. Immediately
behind, the Adjutant (taking notes), the platoon commander (partially
dazed), the machine-gun officer (not essential), and the Sapper (if
he's been caught by the human avalanche) advance in echelon. At
intervals the procession halts, and the same religious rite takes
SERGEANT (peering round the next traverse, in voice of fury):
Don't drink tea out of yer tin 'at, yer perisher! 'Ere's the General
COLONEL (prompted by company commander): Now from here, sir,
we get a most magnificent field of fire behindahthose craters
there. I thought thatwhere was it we decided?oh, yes,
byahputting a Lewis gun here . . . er, well, perhaps you'd like to
look yourself, sir.
GREAT ONE: Yes, very much. Have you got my periscope? (Staff
officer produces, and Great One peers through it.) I quite agree
with you. (After long inspection) You might make a note of
STAFF OFFICER: Just make a note of that, will you?
ADJUTANT (makes note): Make a note of it, Bill, will you?
PLATOON COMMANDER (recovering slightly from stupor): Make a
note of what?
MACHINE-GUN OFFICER: All right, old boy. It's my pidgeon. (
Sotto voce to SAPPER) I've had a gun there for the last two
nights. (Aloud to OMNES) An excellent place, sir. I'll see to
SAPPER (to M.G.O., with seeming irrelevance): Well, when he
got to the house he was told she was having a bath, and Procession
moves on, while infuriated sentry on sap duty misses the point of the
story. And that is the right way of touring the trenches.
Unfortunately General Firebrace was a new broom. It was quite
permissible for him to do what he did, but, as I said before, I am
doubtful if it was altogether wise. In a moment of rashness he decided
to go round the trenches alone. As a matter of fact, at the moment of
this resolve the Brigade-Major was out, the evening was fine, and the
General was energetic. Perfect peace reigned over that portion of the
battle area which concerned him, and he was anxious to see that the
arrangement of sentry groups in the various sap-heads met with his
approval. His predecessor, he recalled, had had words with the still
greater ones of the earth anent a couple of small, but nevertheless
regrettable, incidents when men had been removed somewhat forcibly by
the wily Hun from out those same sap-heads. So he settled his steel
helmet firmly on his head, and stepped out of his dug-out into the
Now in that particular part of the line the communication trenches
were long ones, and by the time he reached the front line it was
getting dark. A man of small stature, but withal fiery appearance,
General Herbert Firebrace strode along through the deepening gloom,
humming gently to himself. At first the trenches were fairly
populoushe was in a part of the front line between two groups of
cratersand he found it necessary to bark Gangway! continuously.
Then he reached his goal, the saps behind one of the groupsshort
trenches which stretch out from the fire trench into No Man's Land and
finish on the near lips of the craters. He grunted with satisfaction as
he found the first of the saps held to his satisfaction. The sentry
group were quietly smoking; the sentry up at the head of the sap was
watching fixedly through his periscope. The rifles and bayonets of the
men rested close at hand, the Mills bombs were conveniently placed on a
narrow ledge under cover.
Ha, good! All quiet here, my lads?
All quiet, sir, answered the corporal, scrambling up.
That's all right. Good night, corporal. And the martial little
figure disappeared round the corner.
Now the corporal was new in that bit of the line; to be exact, he
had just returned from leave. That was one cause.
Look outoil-can! The sentry gave a hail, and every one ducked.
That was the other cause.
For at the precise moment that an oil-can exploded with a thunderous
crump twenty yards or so beyond the trench, there was a sudden noise of
ripping canvas, an agonised shout, and the heavy crash of a body
encountering china. Thensilence. The sap parties heard only the
oil-can; Percy FitzPercy for a wonder was not brooding over his
invention, and there was no one who knew that close beside them in an
odoriferous underground abode the Brigadier-General lay completely
stunned, with his head in a metal soup tureen and his rather extensive
set of uppers in a disused tin hitherto devoted to that painstaking
gentleman, Mr. Maconochie.
Up to this point it will be willingly conceded, I think, by any one
acquainted with trench etiquette that the unfortunate predicament of
Herbert Firebrace, General and Great One, was only what he deserved. To
depart so flagrantly from the spirit of the rules as to wander round
front-line trenches alone and in the falling shades of night is asking
for trouble; and if the matter had ended there I have no doubtknowing
the strict sense of justice which is one of the praiseworthy features
of the house of FirebraceI have no doubt that he would have sent for
Percy FitzPercy and apologised handsomely for the inconvenience he had
so unwittingly caused. But the matter did not end there; it only began.
And the finale, reviewed dispassionately, undoubtedly gives one to
thinkone might even say think furiously.
A quarter of an hour after the regrettable occurrence just described
Percy stood chatting lightly and inconsequently with his company
commander in the support line. At the moment he was expatiating on the
merits of a new pipe of his own invention designed for use in No Man's
Land on a dark night. Its exact beauties escape my memory; as far as I
can remember one put the bowl in one's mouth and the tobacco in the
stem and blew. It was an invention typical of Percyutterly futile. He
had just called the company commander dear old soul for the tenth
time, and was explaining how no sparks or glowing ash could be seen if
you made use of this patent atrocity, when a Lewis gun started rattling
away in front. Half a dozen Verey lights shot up, there was a sudden
brisk burst of firing, with the explosion of a number of bombs.
By Jove! cried Percy, pipe and all else forgotten. By Jove, dear
old mana raidwhat? A Hun raidnow for the man-trap! He departed
at speed up the nearest boyau, leaving a trail of sparks behind him
like a catherine-wheel that has been out in the rain; to be followed by
his Captain, who had first taken the precaution of loading his
The first man Percy met was the tooth-sucker, who was shaking with
There's a perisher fell in the 'ole, sir! Three of 'em come in, and
we killed two an' the other fell in the 'ole.
I am given to understand that on receipt of the news what little
intellect our pipe-inventor ever possessed completely deserted him.
Uttering hoarse cries, he dashed down the trench, and, unmindful of his
own orders to wait on the chance of catching a second, he feverishly
slashed at the string, and with an ominous clang and a squelch of mud
the trap-door descended into its appointed position. Certain it is,
when the company commander came in sight, he was standing upon it, in
an attitude strongly reminiscent of the heavy tragedianout of a
shopholding forth in his favourite Bodega.
What the blazes are you doing there? howled his infuriated
Captain. Why aren't you in number eight sap, instead of doing a
The raid is over, sir, answered Percy, majestically. The raider
What the began the frenzied senior. And then he paused. Great
Scott! What's that infernal shindy?
From below their feet there rose a perfect orgy of breaking china
and rattling tins, with ever and anon a loud musical note as of a
bucket being belaboured with a stick. Grunts and guttural curses,
followed by strange hollow noises indicative of pain, for a while
drowned all attempts at conversation. Finally there was a grand finale
of crashing cups and tinkling tins, the sound of a heavy blow, a grunt
of muffled agony andsilence. The lights still hissed up into the
night, stray rifles still cracked at intervals, but otherwisesilence.
At last Percy spoke. Do you know, dear old boy, I believe there are
two of them down there; 'pon my soul, I dowhat? He spoke with
deliberation, as befits an inventor. It seemed to me that the one who
swore and the one who grunted were different people.
The tooth-sucker opined likewise; also Tomkins, who had arrived on
What is this dam foolishness? said the Captain irritably. Am I to
understand there are two Germans inside there, under the trench?
One for certain; two possiblyor even three, dear old boy. At the
thought of three, he of the teeth played a tune in his excitement.
Then for heaven's sake get the top off and let's get them out!
It was then that the last cruel blow of Fate was dealt to the
hapless Herbert. For after a brief period of feverish pulling, during
which the company commander broke his nails and Percy fell over
backwards, the trap-door remained in statu quo.
What the devil's the matter with the beastly thing? muttered the
Captain, savagely. It's your fool-trick, FitzPercy! Can't you open
My dear old boy, remarked the proud inventor vaguely, it
generally opens'pon my soul, it does. He turned his torch on to the
reluctant trench-board and examined it through his eyeglass. By Jove!
that's it, dear old son, there's the trouble. The dud shell has slipped
forward and got wedged in the rafters. How doocid funnywhat?
What is doocid funny, you blithering ass?
Why, if we'd gone on, dear old sport, the shell might have gone
off. By Jove, that's good, that is! Percy chuckled immoderately. If
we go on, the shell goes off!
You're the type of man who ought to be in a home, remarked his
senior officer dispassionately. Get a saw as soon as you can, and cut
through the board. And if the bally shell goes off and kills you, it'll
serve you right. You're a disease, FitzPercy, that's what you are. A
walking microbe; an example of atavism; a throw-back to the tail
period. Still muttering, his company commander passed out of sight,
leaving the triumphant Percy completely unabashed and glowing with
Now, in the trenches saws do not grow freely. You cannot wander
round a corner and pick one up; in fact, a saw that will saw is an
exceeding precious thing. Moreover, they are closely guarded by their
rightful owners, who show great reluctance in parting with them. It
therefore was not surprising that over an hour elapsed before a
perspiring messenger returned with one and operations commenced. And
during that hour Percy lived.
It is given to few to see their hopes and aspirations realised so
beautifully and quickly; as in a dream he listened to the hideous
cachinnations that floated up through the slabs of the trench-board. A
continuous booming noise as of a bittern calling to its young was
varied with heavy grunts and occasional blows of a heavy bludgeon on
metal. And throughout it all there ran a delicate motif of crashing
cups and tinkling tins.
We have them, dear old soul, murmured Percy ecstatically to
himself; we have them simply wallowing in the mulligatawny!
But there is an end of everythingeven of getting a saw out of an
R.E. store. A glorious full moon shone down upon the scene as, an hour
afterwards, the trench-board was removed and the entrance opened. An
up-and-overor trench-ladderwas lowered into the dug-out, and the
excited onlookers waited to vet the catch. At last the ladder shook, as
the first of the prisoners prepared to ascend.
Entrance, dear old man, cried the stage-manager, majestically, of
what we have hitherto described as 'male voices off.'
Get up, you swine, and get a move on! rasped a voice in perfect
English from the depths of the hole; while a palsied silence settled on
The ladder shook again, and at last there emerged from the bottom of
the trench a large round tin which completely encased the head of its
wearer, who slowly followed, maintaining a continuous booming roar.
Immediately behind him came the owner of the voice, severely chipped
about the face, but with the light of battle in his eyes.
Now, you The words died away in his mouth. Great heavens! The
General! And as the frozen eye of the speaker, who had been the other
occupant of the hole, wandered round the stricken onlookers, even
Percy's nerve broke. It was the Colonel.
I will draw the veil of reticence over the remainder of this
harrowing narrative. The procession back to Brigade Head-quarters has
become historic. The attempt to remove the soup tureen on the spot
caused its unhappy possessor such agony, and gave rise to so much
unseemly and ill-repressed mirth on the part of the audience, that it
was hastily abandoned, and the wretched man was led gently back to his
The Brigade-Major, who had been notified over the telephone, met him
at the entrance with a handkerchief suspiciously near his mouth.
How dreadful, sir! he murmured, in a voice that shook a little. I
haveersent for a tin-opener.
The General was led to a chair, into which he sank wearily, while in
hushed tones the Colonel explained what had happened to the shaking
I was told that the General had been seen going down to the front
line alone, he remarked in a low tone, and so I at once followed him.
Just as I got to the craters there was a small Hun raid. I let drive at
one of them with my revolver, and the next instant I fell through a
hole, full on top of some one's back. He let out a roar of pain and
scrambled up. Of course I thought it was a Hun, and proceeded to beat
him over the head with my stick. Great Scott, what a show!
The Colonel mopped his brow, and the Staff shook still more.
I'd dropped my revolver, or I'd probably have shot him. Then
suddenly there was a clang, and the hole was closed up, while at the
same moment something charged past me, head down, and hit the wall.
There was a roar of pain, and the tin became a fixture. The poor old
boy had rammed the wall with the soup tureen.
A gurgling noise from the chair interrupted him.
What is it, sir? cried the Staff Captain, solicitously.
The General hooted mournfully.
Yes, sir. He'll be here very soon, sir. Not much longer now. We've
sent for a tinsmith from one of the Engineer companies.
But the booming cantata continued.
What does he want? whispered the Staff Captain. A drink?
The Brigade-Major looked hopeful.
Yes; get a whisky and soda and a straw, if there's one left.
The booming died away.
A few minutes later the Staff, ably assisted by the General's
batman, got one end of the straw into the worthy Brigadier's mouth. The
Colonel closed those holes he could see with his fingers, and the
signalling officer held the drink.
Now, are we ready? cried the Brigade-Major anxiously. All right,
The experiment was not a success. Jets of liquid spurted in all
directions, an explosion like a geyser shook the tin, and the Staff
recoiled a pace. In fact, I am given to understand that the chief
clerk, an intensely interested spectator, so far forgot himself as to
counsel the Staff Captain to sit on 'is 'ead.
Do you think we could do anything with one of those instruments for
opening tongues? hazarded the Staff Captain, when the silence had
become oppressive and the outbursts of fire extinguished.
We might try. The signalling officer was doubtful, but sallied
forth, and after some delay returned with one. Where shall we start?
Any old place. The Staff Captain gripped the implement and stepped
manfully forward. We're going to try something else, sira
The General hooted apathetically; the onlookers looked anxious, and
the Staff Captain got his first grip on the tin.
Hold the General's head, Bill, he cried to the Brigade-Major, so
that I can get a purchase. Now, thenonetwo
A howl of agony rent the air, and even the chief clerk looked
It's his ear, you fool! The Colonel dodged rapidly out of the door
to evade the human tornado within, and the situation became crucial.
Even the tinsmith, who arrived at that moment, a man of phlegmatic
disposition, was moved out of his habitual calm and applauded loudly.
Thank heavens you've come! gasped the Brigade-Major, keeping a
wary eye fixed on his frenzied senior, who, surrounded with débris
and red ink, was now endeavouring to pull the tin off with his hands.
The General has had a slight mishap. Can you remove that tin from his
The expert contemplated his victim in silence for a few moments.
Yus, he remarked at length, I can, sir, if 'e keeps quite still.
But I won't be answerable for the consequences if 'e don't.
No more will I. The Brigade-Major mopped his brow. For heaven's
sake get on with it.
Thus ended the episode of Percy FitzPercyhis man-trap.
It might have happened to any one, but only FitzPercy would have
searched carefully amongst the crockery, and having found what he was
looking for made a point of bringing it to head-quarters just as the
tin was finally removed.
To emerge into the light of two candles and an electric torch with a
bit of one ear and half a face deficient, and realise that the man
responsible for it is offering you your uppers in three parts and some
fragments, is a situation too dreadful to contemplate.
As I said before, Percy gave up trying after about ten seconds.
IV. A POINT OF DETAIL
Hist! The officer gripped the sergeant's arm just above the elbow,
bringing his mouth close up to his ear. Don't move. The words were
hardly breathed, so low was the tense, sudden whisper, and the two men
crouched motionless, peering into the darkness which enveloped them.
Where, sir? The sergeant slowly twisted his head till it was
almost touching that of the man beside him; and he too, whose normal
voice resembled a human fog horn, scarcely did more than frame the
words with his lips.
Behind that mound of chalk. Several of them. The sergeant's eyes
followed the line of the outstretched hand until they picked up the
dark menacing lump in the ground twenty feet away. Sombre, grim,
apparently lifeless, outlined against the night skyit appeared almost
monstrous in size to the men who lay on the edge of a shell hole, with
every nerve alert. A bullet spat over them viciously, but they did not
alter their positionthey knew they were not the target; and from
their own lines came the sudden clang of a shovel. All around them the
night was full of vague, indefinable noises; instinctively a man,
brought suddenly into such a place and ignorant of his whereabouts,
would have known that there were men all around him: men whom he could
not see, men who flitted through the shadows bent on mysterious tasks,
men who moved silently, with eyes strained to pierce the darkness.
Behind the German lines a trench tramway was in use; the metallic
rumble of the trolleys on the iron rails came continuously from the
distance. And suddenly from close at hand a man laughed. . . .
Do you see them? Once again the officer was whispering, while he
still grasped, almost unconsciously, the sergeant's arm. Therethere!
Two or three shadowy blobs seemed to move uncertainly above the edge
of the chalk mound and then disappear again; and a moment afterwards,
from almost on top of them, came a hoarse guttural whisper. The
officer's grip tightened convulsively; the night of a sudden seemed
alive with men close to thempressing around them. Almost
involuntarily he got up and moved back a few steps, still peering,
straining to see in the inky blackness. Something loomed up and bumped
into him, only to recoil with a muttered oath; and even as he realised
it was a German he heard his sergeant's low voice from a few feet away.
Where are you, sir? Where are you? The next moment he was back at his
Get back your own way, he whispered; we've bumped a big patrol.
Don't fire. And as he spoke, with a slight hiss a flare shot up into
Now had it not been for that one untimely flare this story would
never have been written. Indecent curiosity in other wanderers' doings
in No Man's Land is an unprofitable amusement; while the sound of
strafing, to say nothing of revolver shots, is calculated to produce a
tornado of fire from all directions, administered impartially by friend
and foe alike. Wherefore it is more than likely that but for the sudden
ghostly light both the Englishmen would have got away. As it was, John
Brinton, M.C., Lieutenant in His Majesty's Regiment of the Royal
Loamshires, found himself crouching in a slight dip in the ground and
contemplating from a range of four feet no less than six Huns similarly
engaged. There was the sharp crack of a revolver, a struggle, a muffled
cry; then silence. Half a dozen more flares went up from each line;
everywhere sentries peered earnestly towards the sound of the shot; a
few desultory rifles cracked, and then the night resumed its whispering
mystery. But at the bottom of the dip five Huns lay on the top of a
stunned English officer; while the sixth lay still and twisted, with a
revolver bullet in his brain.
Twenty minutes afterwards the sergeant, crawling warily on his
belly, approached a saphead and after a brief word or two dropped in.
'Ave you seen Mr. Brinton, sir, he asked anxiously of an officer
whom he found in the sap, pessimistically smoking a cigarettesaps are
No. The officer looked up quickly. He was out with you, wasn't
he, Sergeant Dawson?
Yes, siron patrol. We'd just a-got to that there chalk 'ummock,
when we ran into some of 'em. 'E said to me'Get back,' 'e said, 'your
own way,' and then they put up a flare. I couldn't see 'im as I was
lying doggo in a 'ole, but I 'eard a revolver shot about ten yards
away. I looked round when the flare was out, but couldn't see him, nor
'ear him. So I thought 'e might 'ave got back.
Pass the word along for Mr. Brinton. The officer went out of the
sap into the fire trench. And get a move on with it. He stood for a
few moments, looking thoughtful. I hope, he muttered to himself, I
hope the old boy hasn't been scuppered.
Butthe old boy had been scuppered. A runner failed to
discover him in the trench; two strong patrols scoured the ground
around the chalk 'ummock and drew blank. And so, in the fullness of
time there appeared in the Roll of Honour the name of Lieut. John
Brinton, of the Royal Loamshires, under the laconic heading of Missing,
believed Prisoner of War, which is the prologue of this tale of the
coalfields of France.
The part of the line in which the Royal Loamshires found themselves
at the time of the unfortunate matter of John Brinton, M.C., was
somewhere south of La Bassée and somewhere north of Looscloser
identification is undesirable. It is not a pleasant part of the line,
though there are many worse. The principal bugbears of one's existence
are the tunnelling companies, who without cessation practise their
nefarious trade, thereby causing alarm and despondency to all
concerned. Doubtless they mean well, but their habit of exploding large
quantities of ammonal at uncertain hours and places does not endear
them to the frenzied onlookers, who spend the next hour plucking
boulders from their eyes. In addition, there is the matter of sandbags.
The proximity of a mine shaft is invariably indicated by a young
mountain of these useful and hygienic articles, which tower and spread
and expand in every direction where they are most inconvenient. I admit
that, having placed half the interior of France in bags, the disposal
of the same on arriving in the light of day presents difficulties. I
admit that the fault lies entirely with the harassed and long-suffering
gentleman who boasts the proud title of spoil's officer. I admit
But I grow warm, in addition to digressing unpardonably. The trouble is
that I always do grow warm, and digress at the mention of sandbags.
In part of the Loamshires' front line, mining activity was great. A
continuous group of craters stretched along No Man's Land, separating
them from the wily Hun, for half the battalion fronta group which we
will call Outpost. The name is wrong, but it will serve. To the near
lips of each crater a sap ran out from the front line, so that merely
the great yawning hole lay between the saphead and the corresponding
abode of the Germans on the other lip. Each night these sapheads were
held by a small group of men armed with Verey lights, bombs,
bowie-knives, and other impedimenta of destruction; while between the
saps the trench was held but lightlyin some cases, not at all. The
idea of concentrating men in the front line has long been given up by
If therefore one strolls along the firing linea tedious amusement
at all timesit is more than likely that one will find long stretches
completely deserted. The scene is desolate; the walk is strangely
eerie. Walls of sandbags tower on each side, in some cases two or three
feet above one's head; the clouds go scudding by, while the shadows of
a traverse dance fantastically as a flare comes hissing down. The Hun
is thirty yards away; the silence is absolute; the place is ghostly
with the phantoms of forgotten men. And sometimes, as one walks,
strange fancies creep into one's brain. Relics of childish fears,
memories of the bogey man who waited round the end of the dark passage
at home, come faintly from the past. And foolish though it be, one
wonders sometimes with a sharp, clutching pang of nervous fearWhat is
round the next corner?
Nothingof course not. What should there be? The night is quiet;
the trench is English. The next party is forty yards farther on; the
voices of the last still come softly through the air. And yetand
yet! But I digress again.
Now not one of the least of all the crimes of those responsible for
the disposal of the underworld of France, when it comes to the surface
in sandbags, is the following. (Lest any one may think that I am
writing a text-book, I would crave patience.) Be it known, then, that
to keep out a bullet some four feet of earth are necessary. Less than
that and the bullet will come through and impinge with great violence
on the warrior behind. This fact is well known to all whose path in
life leads them to the trenches; but for all that Tommy is a feckless
lad. In some ways he bears a marked resemblance to that sagacious bird,
the ostrich; and because of that resemblance, I have remarked on this
question of disposing sandbags in terms of pain and grief. The easiest
thing to do with a sandbag in a trench, if you don't want it, is to
chuck it out. Human nature being what it is, the distance chucked is
reduced to a minimumin other words, it is placed on the edge of the
parapet. More followand they are placed beside it on the edge of the
parapet; which causes the inside edge of the parapet to increase in
height, but not in thickness. In other words, after a while the top two
or three layers of bags, though looking perfectly safe from the inside,
are not bullet proof. Which Tommy knowsbut . . . well, I have
mentioned the ostrich.
Now this state of affairs existed in one or two places behind
Outpost craters. There were spots where the top of the parapet was not
of sufficient thickness to keep out a rifle bullet. And it was just by
one of these spots that the Company Commander, going round one night,
suddenly stumbled on something that lay sprawling at the bottom of the
trenchan unmistakable something. It lay half on the fire step and
half off, midway between two saps, and the head sagged back helplessly.
He switched on his torch, and having looked at the huddled form, cursed
softly under his breath. For it was his senior subaltern, and a bullet
had entered his head from behind just above the neck. It had come out
at his forehead, and we will not specify further.
Stretcher bearers at once. He went back to the group he had just
left. Mr. Dixon has been shot through the parapet, farther up.
Killed, sir? The N.C.O. in charge was in Dixon's platoon.
Yes. The Company Officer was laconic. Brains blown out. It's that
damned parapetone sandbag thick. What the hell's the use of my
He had had a trying day, and his tone may be excused. You sit here
and you do nothing. The whole company are a set of cursed lazy
Seeing that the men were getting an average of six hours' sleep the
remark was hardly fair, but, as I said, the day had been a trying one
and this had been the last straw. He strode back again to the dead
subaltern, muttering angrily.
Poor old man, he whispered gently, lifting the legs on to the fire
step and bending over the still form. Poor old man; you've solved the
Big Mystery by now, anyway. The light of his torch fell on the dead
man's face, and he shuddered slightly: a bullet can do a lot of damage.
Then he climbed on the fire step and looked over the parapet. It was a
place where the spoils party had been particularly busy; and though the
Company Officer was full six foot, he could only just see over the top;
as a fire step it was useless to any one but a giant from a freak show.
Hullo! what's happened? A voice behind him made him turn round.
That you, Dick? Poor little Jerry Dixon been shot through the
parapetthat's what's happened. He got down and stood at the bottom
of the trench beside the second-in-command. The three top layers there
are only one bag thick. Once again his language became heated.
Steady, old man, Dick Staunton puffed steadily at his pipe, and
looked at the body lying beside them. Were you with him when he was
No. Came round visiting the sentries and found him lying there
Oh! He switched on his torch and continued smoking in silence.
Suddenly he bent forward and peered closely at the shattered head.
Give me a hand for a minute. I want to turn the boy over.
Faintly surprised, he did as he was bid.
In silence they turned the body over, and again there was silence
while Staunton carefully examined the spot where the bullet had
Strange, he muttered to himself after a few moments, very
strange. Tell me, Joehis voice was normal againexactly how did
you find him? What position was he in?
He was half sitting on the fire step; with his head in the corner
and his legs sprawling in the bottom of the trench.
Sitting? Then his face was towards you.
Why, yes. Is there anything peculiar in the fact? He'd probably
just been having a look over the top, and as he turned away to get down
he was hit through the sandbags in the back of the neck. His head was a
bit forward as he was getting down, so the bullet passed through his
head and out of his forehead.
In silence they turned the boy over again and covered his face with
You're too much of a blooming detective, you know, old man. Much
police work has made thee mad, laughed the Company Commander. What
else can have happened?
I'm no detective, Joe. The other man smiled slightly. But there
are one or two small points of detail which strike me, though I can
make nothing out of them, I admit. Firsthis height. He's six inches
shorter than you, and yet you could barely see over the top. Therefore,
what was he doing trying to look over the parapet here of all places?
Secondly, the way he fell. A man killed instantaneously, and shot
through the back of his head, would in all probability pitch forward on
his face. You say his face was towards you, and that he was sitting in
the corner of the traverse. He paused to fill his pipe.
Go on, said the Company Commander curiously. You interest me.
The third point is one on which I admit that I am doubtful. The
bullet wound is clean. Now I am inclined to thinkthough I don't
knowthat a bullet passing through a chalk bag would become jagged,
and would not be travelling straight when it continued its flight.
However, I don't attach much importance to that. And the fourth and
last point is almost too trifling to mention. Do you notice anything
peculiar about his uniform?
The listener flashed his torch over the dead officer, No, he said
at length. I can't say that I do. Except that one of his regimental
badges is missing. I suppose you don't mean that, do you? The Company
Officer laughed irritably.
I do, returned the other quietly. It's a point of detail, even if
a little one. He looked thoughtfully at the man in front of him. Do I
strike you as a callous sort of devil, old man?
You seem to be treating the boy rather on the line of a specimen
for improving your deductive powers.
Perhaps you're right. Staunton turned away. But I didn't mean it
that wayquite. Sorry, Joe; the boy was a pal of yours?
God rest his soul! The second-in-command spoke low. Then, with a
final salute to the youngster whose soul had gone to the haven of
fighting men, he turned away and vanished into the night.
* * * * * *
The next day the Company Commander came round to Battalion
My two best subalterns, grunted the Colonel in disgust, within
two days. Very annoying. Good boystoppers both of them. You'd go
quite a way, Dick, before you bettered Brinton and Dixon.
You would, affirmed the second-in-command. Quite a way.
And with all your theorising last night, old man, remarked the
Captain slyly, we both forgot the obvious solution. He got on the fire
step, found he couldn't see overso he clambered up on top. Then, when
he was getting down, he was hit, and slithered into the position I
found him in.
Staunton regarded the speaker through a haze of tobacco smoke. I
wonder, he murmured at length. I wonder.
He did not state that during the morning he had made a point of
interrogating Jerry Dixon's servant. And that worthyan old and
trusted soldierhad very positively denied that either of the Pelicans
Rampant, which formed the regimental badge, had been missing from his
master's coat the previous evening.
Now Mr. Brinton's coat, sir, he remarked thoughtfully, that did
'ave a badge off, that did. But 'is servant! He snorted, and dismissed
the subject scornfully.
As I say, the Major did not mention this fact. After all, it was
such a very small point of detail.
To the frivolous-minded, Dick Staunton was at times the cause of a
certain amount of amusement. Originally in the Army, he had left it
when a junior captain, and had settled down to the normal life of a
country gentleman. By nature of a silent disposition, he abominated
social functions of all sorts. He hunted, he fished, and he shot, and
spent the rest of his time studying the habits of the wild. And as
always happens to a man who lives much with nature, his mind gradually
got skilled in the noticing of little things. Small signs, invisible to
the casual observer, he noticed automatically; and without being in any
sense a Sherlock Holmes, he had acquired the habit of putting two and
two together in a manner that was, at times, disconcertingly correct.
Points of detail, he remarked one evening in the dug-out after
dinner, are very easy to see if you have eyes to see them with. One is
nothing; two are a coincidence; three are a moral certainty. A really
trained man can see a molehill; I can see a mountain; most of you
fellows couldn't see the Himalayas. With which sage remark he
thoughtfully lit his pipe and relapsed into silence. And silence being
his usual characteristic he came into the Battalion Head-quarters
dug-out one evening and dropped quietly into a seat, almost unnoticed
by the somewhat noisy group around the table.
Afternoon, Dickie. The Sapper officer looked up and saw him.
D'you hear we're pinching your last recruit? Jessonthis is Major
Staunton. He turned to a second lieutenant in the Royal Loamshires
beside him as he made the introduction.
How d'you do, sir. Jesson got up and saluted. I've only just got
over from England; and now apparently they're attaching me to the R.E.,
as I'm a miner.
He sat down again, and once more turned his attention to that
excellent French illustrated weekly without which no officers' mess in
France is complete. Lest I be run in for libel, I will refrain from
further information as to its title and general effect on officers
For a few moments Staunton sat watching the group and listening with
some amusement to the criticisms on those lovely members of the fair
sex so ably portrayed in its pages, and then his attention centred on
the revolver he was cleaning. Jesson, a good-looking, clean-cut man of
about twenty-nine or thirty was holding forth on an experience he had
had in Alaska, which concerned a woman, a team of dogs, and a gentleman
known as One-eyed Pete, and as he spoke Staunton watched him idly. It
struck him that he seemed a promising type, and that it was a pity the
Tunnellers were getting him.
Haven't you got enough disturbers of the peace already, he
remarked to the Tunnelling officer, without snatching our ewe lamb?
We are at full strength as a matter of fact, Major, answered an
officer covered with chalk; but they do some funny things in the
palaces of the great. We often get odd birds blowing in. I've been
initiating him all this morning into the joys of Outpost.
And how is jolly old Blighty? remarked the Adjutant. Thank
Heaven! leave approaches.
About the same. Jesson helped himself to a whisky-and-soda.
Darker than ever, and taxis an impossibility. Still I dare say I shall
be glad enough to go back when my first leave comes due, he added with
Is this your first time out? asked Staunton.
Yes. Jesson unbuttoned his burberry and took out his cigarette
case. Outside the dusk was falling, and he bent forward to get a light
from the candle flickering on the table in front of him. The very
first time. I've been on Government work up to now.
It was at that moment that a very close observer might have noticed
that Dick Staunton's pipe ceased to draw with monotonous regularity: he
might even have heard a quick intake of breath. But he would have had
to be a very close onevery close indeed; for the next instant he was
again speaking and his voice was normal.
I suppose you've been at the depot, he hazarded. Who are there
Oh, the usual old crowd, answered Jesson I don't expect you know
many of them though, do you, Major? Ginger Stretton in the 14th
Battaliondo you know him by any chance?
No, I don't think I do. His face was in the shadow, but had it
been visible a slightly puzzled frown might have been seen on his
forehead. I suppose they still make all you fellows on joining go to
the regimental tailor, don't they?
Jesson looked a trifle surprised at the question. I don't think
they are as particular as they were, he returned after a moment.
Personally I went to Jones &Jones. He casually buttoned up his
mackintosh and turned to the Tunneller. If you're ready I think we
might be going. I want to see about my kit. He got up as he spoke and
turned towards the entrance, while at the same moment the Sapper rose
too. I'd like to drop in again, sir, sometimes if I may. He spoke to
the shadow where Staunton had been sitting.
Do. Jesson gave a violent start, for the voice came from just
behind his shoulder. Like the hunter he was, Dick Staunton had moved
without a sound, and now stood directly between Jesson and the door.
But don't go yet. I want to tell you a story that may amuse you. Have
Erwon't it keep till some other time, Major? I'm rather anxious
to see about my kit.
Let the kit keep. Sit down and have some tea.
What the devil has come over you, Dickie? The Adjutant was looking
frankly amazed. You aren't generally so loquacious.
That's why to-night my little whim must be humoured, answered
Staunton with a slight smile. Sit down, please, Jesson. It's quite an
amusing little yarn, and I would like your opinion on it.
No hope for you, old boy. Dickie has turned into a social success.
The Adjutant laughed and lit a cigarette, and once again became
immersed in his paper.
To the casual observer the scene was a very normal one. Four men in
a dug-out, yarning and reading; while outside the occasional whine of a
shell, the dirty deeds of a Stokes gun, the noises of the trenches
filled the air. Nothing unusual, nothing out of the way
exceptsomething, an indefinable something. As the Sapper said
afterwards there must have been something tangible in the
atmosphereelse why did his pulses quicken. He glanced at the Adjutant
sitting opposite him engrossed in his book; he looked at Staunton
across the tableStaunton, with a slight smile on his lipsand his
eyes fixed on Jesson. He looked at Jesson beside himJesson, whom he
had met that morning for the first time. And all he noticed about
Jesson was that his left knee twitched ceaselessly. . . .
He ran over in his mind the day's work. He had met him at about
eleven that morning, wandering along the support line with an officer
in the Loamshires whom he knew well, who had hailed him and introduced
A recruita new recruit, he had said, for your atrocious trade.
He's just left old pimple-faced Charlie, who was writing returns in
triplicate as usual.
Now pimple-faced Charlie was his own Major, who habitually did write
returns in triplicate; wherefore, after a few remarks of a casual
nature in which he elicited the fact that Jesson was a mining engineer
and had suddenly been ordered while waiting at the base to join the
940th Tunnelling Company, he took him in tow and showed him round the
Mining work was very active in the sector. Four or five small mines
and one big one were going up in the near future, so the tour of
inspection had been a long one. That his companion was not new to the
game was obvious from the outset; and his pertinent inquiries anent
cross-cuts, listening galleries, and the whole of the work in hand had
shown that he was keen as well. Altogether a promising recruit, he had
mused: quite a findkeen and able, two qualities which unfortunately
do not go hand in hand quite as often as one would like. And now
Staunton and this find of his were facing one another in silence across
the plank table of the dug-out; Jesson, with an expression of polite
indifference as befitted a subaltern compelled to listen to a senior
officer's story which he didn't want to hear; Staunton, with an
enigmatic smile. Then of a sudden Staunton spoke.
Have you ever studied the question of the importance of matters of
detail, Jesson? he remarked quietly to the impassive figure facing him
across the table.
I can't say that I have, sir, answered the other, politely
stifling a yawn.
You should. A most interesting study. My story concerns points of
detail. The imperative thing is to be able to sort out the vital points
from all the others; then piece them together, and arrive at the right
It must be very easy to be led astray, I should imagine; and arrive
at theerwrong one. Jesson concealed a smile, and waited for the
Major to continue.
Yes and no. It's all a matter of practice. Staunton's
imperturbable voice was as quiet as ever. And anyway, it's only in
peace time that it matters very much whether one is right or wrong.
Nowadays! Wellà la guerre comme à la guerre. He smiled
gently. But my story. I want you, as an impartial observer, just
arrived, with an unbiassed mind, to tell me if you think my joining up
of two or three points of detail is a sound one. Both these officers
know the points of detail, so your opinion will be more valuable than
A few nights ago our battalion had one of those unfortunate little
contretemps that so often happen in war. A subaltern of ours, John
Brinton by name, went out on patrol, and never returned. An exhaustive
search in No Man's Land failed to discover his body; so we were
reluctantly compelled to conclude that he was in German hands; whether
alive or dead we don't know. There we have the first fact in my case.
Now for the second.
Two nights after that another of our subalterns was killed in a way
which struck me as peculiar. I will not weary you with all the various
little points that led me to believe that the bullet which killed him
did not come from the trenches opposite; I will merely say that his
position, his height, and the depth of the trench were the most
obvious. And granted that my conclusions were correct, strange as it
might appear at first sight, his death must have been caused at close
quarters, possibly in the trench itself.
Good Lord! muttered the Adjutant, who was now listening with
interest. What do you mean?
Two facts, you see, went on Staunton quietly. And they would have
remained unconnected in my mindBrinton's capture and Dixon's
deathbut for a small point of detail. Dixon's jacket was without the
left regimental badge when his body was found. His servant knows he had
them both earlier in the day. On the contrary, Brinton had lost his
left regimental badge for some time. Am I interesting you?
Profoundly, thank you, sir. The man opposite smiled amiably.
I'm glad of that; it's an interesting problem. You see the
significance of that small point about the badge, the way in which it
connects very intimately Brinton's capture and Dixon's death. So
intimately, in fact, does it connect them, that one is almost tempted
to assume that the man who killed Dixon was the man in possession of
Brinton's uniform. Are you with me so far?
The evidence seems a trifle slight, remarked Jesson.
Quite true; the evidence is very slight. But then, it often is.
Everything up to date turns on the question of the badge. Let me
reconstruct a possibleonly possible, mark youstory, based on the
supposition that my badge theory is correct. A German who speaks
English perfectly is given a nice warm uniform taken from a captured
British officer. Then he is told to go over to the British lines and
see what he can find out. He comes one night; perfectly easy; no
trouble; until walking along the front line he meets another
officeralone: an officer of the same regiment as that whose uniform
he is wearing. Unavoidable; in fact, less likely to raise suspicion
with the frequent changes that occur if he goes to the same regiment
than if he went to another. But something happens: either the other
officer's suspicions are aroused, or the German does not wish to be
recognised again by him. The trench is quiet; an occasional rifle is
going off, so he does the bold thing. He shoots him from point-blank
rangeprobably with a Colt. As he stands there with the dead officer
in front of him, waiting, listening hard, wondering if he has been
heard, he sees the two badges on the officer's coat. So, being a cool
hand, he takes off the left one, puts it on his own coat, and
disappears for a time. Quite easy; especially when the trenches are old
Really, Major, you seem to have made a speciality of detective
fiction. As you said, I suppose your theory is possible.
Jesson spoke casually, but his eyes for the first time left the face
of the man opposite him and roved towards the door. For the first time
a sudden ghastly suspicion of the truth entered the Sapper's brain; and
even as it did so he noticed that Staunton's revolverthe cleansing
finishedpointed steadily at Jesson's chest.
I am glad you think it possible. To render it probable we must go a
bit farther. The essence of all detective stories is the final clue
that catches the criminal, isn't it? The revolver moved an inch or two
farther into prominence.
Good Lord, Dickie? Is that gun of yours loaded? cried the Adjutant
in alarm. For the first time he also seemed to become aware that
something unusual was happening, and he suddenly stood up. What the
devil is it, Major? What have you got that gun on him for?
For fun, dear boy, for fun. It's part of the atmosphere. We've got
to the point haven't we, wherein my story, of coursethe German
dressed in Brinton's uniform comes into the English lines. Now what
sort of a man would they send in this part of the line, where mining
activity is great? I continue the theory, you see; that's all.
He looked at Jesson, who made no reply; though without cessation he
moistened his lips with his tongue.
A miner. The Adjutant's voice cut in. Go on, for God's sake.
Preciselya miner. The second point of detail; and two points of
detail are a strange coincidencenothing more. Onlythere is a
And three are a moral certainty, as you've often said. The
Adjutant once again bent across the table and spoke softly. Are you
fooling, Dickieare you fooling? If so, the joke has gone far enough.
But the Sapper's eyes were fixed on a leg that twitched, and they
wandered now and then to a neck whereeven in the dim light of a
candlehe could see a pulse throbbingthrobbing.
It's not a joke, he said, and his mouth was dry. What is the
third point of detail, Dickie?
Yes, what is the third point of detail, sir? Jesson's voice was
steady as a rock. I am very interested in your problem. He raised his
hands from the table and stretched them in front of him. Not a finger
quivered, and with a sublime insolence he examined his nails.
To the Sapper there occurred suddenly those lines of Kipling,
For there is neither East nor West, border nor breed nor birth,
When two strong men come face to face though they come from
the ends of the earth.
He knew now; he realised the man beside him was a German; he
knew that the sentence of death was very near. What the clue was that
had given the man away he hardly thought aboutin fact, he hardly
cared. All he knew was that death was waiting for the man beside him,
and that his hands were steady as a rock.
Quietly Staunton leant forward and undid Jesson's mackintosh. Then
he sat back and with his finger he pointed at a spot above his left
breast-pocket. You have never been out to the front, you say; your
coat is a new one by Jones &Jones; and yetuntil recentlyyou have
been wearing the ribbon of a medal. What medal, Jesson, what medal? It
shows up, that clean patch in the light. John Brinton went to Jones
&Jones; and John Brinton had a Military Cross.
For a full minute the two men looked into one another's eyesdeep
down, and read the things that are written underneath, be a man English
or German. Then suddenly Jesson smiled slightly and spoke.
You are a clever man, Major Staunton. When will the rifle practice
* * * * * *
Thus it ended, the play of which John Brinton's disappearance formed
the prologue. But before the curtain rang down on the epilogue the
German told them one or two little things: that John Brinton was alive
and well; that the existence of Ginger Stretton, to whom he had alluded
so glibly, had only become known to him from a letter in Brinton's
coat; that the peculiarities of pimple-faced Charlie had been forced on
him by his guide before they met the Sapper.
In fact, as the Adjutant remarked, the fellow was almost too good
a sportsman to But that's the epilogue.
A file of men; a watery sun just starting its day's work; a raw,
chilly morning. In fronta man: a man with a white disc of paper
pinned over the heart.
A word of command; a pushing forward of safety catches; a volley; a
V. MY LADY OF THE JASMINE
The Kid staggered wearily along the road through the blinding rain.
Dodging between the endless streams of traffic, which moved slowly in
both directions, now stopping for ten minutes, now jolting forward
again for a couple of hundred yards, he walked on towards where he
thought his battalion was. The last Staff officer he had seen had told
him that, as far as he knew, they had pulled out to rest in some
dug-outs about four miles farther ondug-outs which had only recently
been taken from the Germans. To start with he had got on to a lorry,
but when darkness fell, and the total progression had been one mile, he
decided to walk and save time. Occasionally the lights of a car shone
in his face, as its infuriated occupant broke every rule of the Somme
roads by double banking; that is, trying to pass the vehicles in front.
But at last the traffic wore thinner as the road approached the front
line, and an hour and a half after he had left the lorry, it stopped
altogether, save for pack-mules and squelching men. The rain still
sogged down, andye gods! the Kid was tired. Away into the night there
stretched a path of slippery duck-boards, threading its way between
shell holes half filled with water. Men loomed up out of the darkness
and went past him, slipping and sliding, cursing below their breath. A
shower of sparks shot up into the air from a dug-out on his right, and
a great lobbing flare away in the distance lit up the scene for a
second or two with a ghostly radiance. It showed the Kid the only other
near occupant of the reclaimed territory at the moment: a mule, whose
four hoofs stuck stiffly out of a shell holepointing at him,
motionless. With a shudder he moved on along the duck-walk. After all
he was but a kid, and he was almighty tired.
For three days he seemed to have been on the run without closing his
eyes. First the battalion had gone over the top; then they had worked
like slaves consolidating what they'd won; afterwards he had been sent
for because of his knowledge of French and German to go back to
Divisional Head-quarters; and then he had come back to find the
battalion had moved. And any who may have tried walking five or six
miles by night in heavy rain to an unknown destination along some of
the roads east of Albert, will bear out that it is a wearisome
performance. When to these facts is added the further information that
the age of the boy was only eighteen, it will be conceded that the
breaking-point was not far off.
Now I have emphasised the physical condition of the Kid, as he was
known to all and sundry, because I think it may have a bearing on the
story I am going to relate. I am no expert in ologies and other
things dealing with so-called spiritualistic revelations. I might even
say, in fact, that I am profoundly sceptical of them all, though to say
so may reveal my abysmal ignorance. So be it; my thumbs are crossed.
This is not a controversial treatise on spiritualism, and all that
appertains thereto. One thing, however, I will sayin my ignorance, of
course. Until some of the great thinkers of the world have beaten down
the jungle of facts beyond our ken, and made a trackbe it never so
narrowfree from knaves and charlatans, it is ill-advised for Mrs.
Smith or Lady de Smythe to believe that Signer Macaroniné
Joneswill reveal to them the secrets of the infinite for two pounds.
He may; on the other hand, he may not. That the secrets are there, who
but a fool can doubt; it is only Signer Macaroni's power of
disinterested revelation that causes my unworthy scepticism.
And so let us come back to the Kid, and the strange thing that
happened in a recently captured German dug-out on the night of which I
have been writing. It was just as he had decidedrain or no rainto
lie down and sleep in the mud and filthanywhere, anything, as long as
he could sleepthat suddenly out of the darkness ahead he heard the
Adjutant's voice, and knew that he had found the battalion. With almost
a sob of thankfulness at the unexpected finish to his worries, he
Hullo! is that you, Kid? The Adjutant loomed out of the darkness.
We thought you were lost for good. Are you cooked?
I'm just about done in, answered the boy. Where is B Company?
I'll show you. It's the hell of a place to find even by day; but
you've got 'some' dug-out. Beer, and tables, and beds; in fact, it's
the first dug-out I've seen that in any way resembles the descriptions
one reads in the papers.
Well, as long as I can get to sleep, old man, I don't care a damn
if it's the Ritz or a pigsty. The Kid plucked his foot from a
mud-hole, and squelched on behind the Adjutant.
Now much has been written about German dug-outstheir size, their
comfort, the revolving book-cases, the four-poster beds. Special
mention has frequently been made of cellars full of rare old vintages,
and of concreted buttery hatches; of lifts to take stout officers to
the ground, and of portable derricks to sling even stouter ones into
their scented valises. In fact, such stress has been laid upon these
things by people of great knowledge, that I understand an opinion is
prevalent amongst some earnest thinkers at home that when a high German
officer wishes to surrender he first sends up two dozen of light beer
on the lift to placate his capturers, rapidly following himself with a
corkscrew. This may or may not be so; personally, I have had no such
gratifying experience. But then, personally, I have generally been hard
put to it to recognise the dug-outs of reality from the dug-outs of the
daily papers. Most of them are much the same as any ordinary, vulgar
English dug-out; many are worse; but one or two undoubtedly are very
good. In places where the nature of the ground has lent itself to deep
work, and the lines have been stagnant for many moons, the Huns have
carried out excellent work for the suitable housing of their officers.
And it was down the entrance of one of these few and far between abodes
that the Kid ultimately staggered, with the blessed feeling in his mind
of rest at last. Round a table in the centre sat the other officers of
B Company, discussing the remains of a very excellent German repast. As
he came in they all looked up.
The lost sheep, sang out the Captain cheerfully. Come on, my
kidlet, draw up, and put your nose inside some beer.
Not a bad place, is it? chimed in the Doctor, puffing at a large
and fat cigar of Hun extraction. Excellent cellar of rare old ale,
cigars of great potencyreal genuine Flor de Bochea picture gallery
ofera pleasing description, and a bed. What more can man desire?
Private MacPherson does not approve, I fear me, of the pictures,
chuckled the senior subaltern. I heard him muttering dark things about
'painted Jezebels,' and 'yon scarlet women of Babylon.'
It must be very dreadful for all concerned to go through life with
a mind like MacPherson's. The Doctor was examining his cigar
doubtfully. There is an obstruction in this. It's either going to
explode with great force in a minute, or else I'm coming to the motto.
Hi! you blighter he jumped up hurriedly to avoid the stream of
beer that shot across the table from the Kid's overturned glass.
Idiot child. The Company Commander roused himself from his gentle
doze to contemplate the delinquent. Then he smiled. Man, he's asleep;
the boy's beat to a frazzle.
Aye, you're right. Tim, come off that bed; the Kid is fair cooked.
Wake up, infant. The Doctor shook him by the shoulder. Wake up. Take
off your boots, and then get down to it on the bed.
The Kid sat up blinking. I'm very sorry, he said after a moment.
Did I upset the beer?
You didall over me, laughed the Doctor. Get your boots off and
I'm so cursed sleepy. The Kid was removing his sodden puttees.
I've walked, and walked, and I'm just about He straightened
himself in his chair, and as he did so the words died away on his lips.
With a peculiar fixed look he stared past the Doctor into the corner of
the dug-out. My God! he whispered at last, what are you doing here?
A sudden silence settled on the mess, and instinctively everybody,
including the Doctor, glanced towards the corner. Then the Doctor
turned once more to the boy, and his glance was the glance of his
What's the matter, Kid? His tone was abrupt, even to curtness.
Did you think you saw something?
I thoughtI thought The boy passed his hand over his
forehead. I'm sorryI must have been dreaming. It's gone now. I
suppose I'm tired. But his eyes still searched the dug-out fearfully.
What did you think you saw? asked the Doctor shortly.
I thought I saw Once again he stopped; then he laughed a
little shakily. Oh! it doesn't matter what I thought I saw. Damn it!
I'm tired; let me turn in.
The Doctor's eye met the Company Commander's over the table, and he
shrugged his shoulders slightly. Dead beat. His lips framed the
words, and he returned to the contemplation of his cigar, which was not
doing all that a well-trained cigar should.
The Kid stood up and glanced round the mess at his brother officers
a little shamefacedly; only to find them engrosseda trifle
ostentatiouslyin their own business. I'm sorry, you fellows, he
blurted out suddenly. Forgive me being such a fool; I suppose I'm a
The Doctor took him firmly by the arm, and led him towards the bed.
Look here, old soul, he remarked, if you wish to avoid the wrath of
my displeasure, you will cease talking and go to bed. Every one knows
what it is to be weary; and there's only one curesleep.
The Kid laughed and threw himself on the bed. Jove! he muttered
sleepily; then it's a pleasant medicine, Doctor dear. He pulled a
blanket over his shoulders; his head touched the pillow; his eyes
closed; and before the Doctor had resumed his seat the Kid was asleep.
* * * * * *
It seemed only a minute afterwards that he was awake again, staring
into the dim-lit dug-out with every sense alert. He was conscious first
of a faint elusive scenta scent which was new to him. His mind
wandered to the scents he knewChaminade, Mystérieuse, Trèfle
Incarnatbut this was different. Delicate, sensuous, with the
slightest suggestion of jasmine about it, it seemed to permeate every
part of him. Vaguely expectant, he waited for something that he knew
must happen. What it would be, he had no idea; he felt like a man
waiting for the curtain to rise on a first night, when the music of the
overture is dying away to a finish. He experienced no fear: merely an
overwhelming curiosity to witness the drama, and to confirm his
certainty about the owner of the scent. In his mind there was no doubt
as to who she was. It was the girl he had seen in the corner as he was
taking off his puttees: the girl who had looked at him with eyes that
held the sadness of the world and its despair in them; the girl who had
vanished so quickly. Her disappearance did not strike him as peculiar;
she would explain when she came. And so the Kid waited for the
drop-scene to lift.
It struck him as he glanced round the dug-out that the furniture had
been moved. The table seemed nearer the wall; the chairs were
differently arranged. Instead of the remnants of a finished meal,
papers arranged in neat piles met his eye. The place looked more like
an office than a mess. Suddenly he stiffened into attention; steps were
coming down the entrance to the dug-out. A man came in, and with a gasp
the Kid recognised a German soldier. He strove to shoutto warn his
brother officers who he knew were peacefully sleeping in valises on the
floor; but no sound came. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth; he
could only watch, rigid and motionless.
The German moved to the hanging lamp, and turned it up till a bright
light flooded the dug-out.
Now, the Kid's brain was racing, he must see them. My God! they
must have got back during the night.
But no. The German servant moved towards the cupboard which
contained the food, brushing so close to the bed that the Kid could
have touched him with ease as he passed. Very cautiously he raised his
head as he saw the man, his back turned, fumbling on the shelves, and
looked round the room. Then with the icy hand of terror clutching at
his heart he lay back again. The room was empty; his brother officers
had gonemurdered probablyand with him it could only be a question
of moments before he too was discovered.
For an instant he had a wild idea of hurling himself upon the
German: of taking him unawaresof trying to escape. Then the soldier
turned: the opportunity had passed, and once again the silent spectator
on the bed lay rigid. The servant, stolid and unemotional, moved
heavily about the dug-out, laying the table for a meal. Once it seemed
to the Kid that he looked straight at him; he could have sworn that he
must have been seen; and yetapparently not. The man gave no sign, and
it occurred to the Kid that perhaps he was lying in the shadow.
Stealthily he wormed himself even nearer the wall: impelled by the
instinct of self-preservation that would put off to the last possible
moment the inevitable discovery. And hardly had he edged himself in
against the wall, when with a sinking heart he heard voices outside:
voices which spoke in German. With only the servant to tackle, somehow
he had not felt so hopeless; now he knew the end had come.
Two officers entered, wiping the perspiration from their foreheads.
One from his badges of rank he recognised as a Colonelthe other was a
Lieutenant; and the discussion wasas far as their difference of rank
allowedobviously of an acrimonious nature. The Kid listened intently;
thanking Heaven, not for the first time in his life, that some one with
a grain of common sense had had him taught French and German by a
method other than the Public School one. The predilection of his aunt's
gardener for pens, ink, and paper would not have helped him much in
Beer, you fool, grunted the Colonel to the stolid servant. Then,
Impatiently he waited till the orderly's footsteps died away, and
then he turned savagely on the other officer.
I tell you, Lieutenant Rutter, we must know, he snarled. A
girlwhat is a girl, when big issues are at stake? There are many more
girls, Lieutenant Rutter; many more girls. Be very careful lest not
only does this one die, but you also meet with an accident. Dead men
cannot make love to those other girls. He banged his fist on the table
and glared at the Lieutenant, who was staring moodily in front of him.
I know that, Excellency, he returned after a moment. But there is
a proverb about bringing a horse to the water and not being able to
make him drink.
Bah! There are methods, my friend, of drowning the brute with
water, if it won't drink willingly. And those methods will have to be
adopted in this case.
They are doubtless effective in killing the horse; but they will
not lead us very much farther in our inquiries.
Which is the reason why I have allowed you so much rope. I know as
well as you do that willing information is worth ten times as much as
when it is forced. You have made love to the girl, you have been
playing the fool for six weeks with her, and we are no nearer than when
we started. He sneered openly. Since when have we become so dilatory,
my friend? You seem to have lost your form with the fair sex.
The Lieutenant flushed, and his fist clenched. Don't mention those
others. I love this girl.
No doubt thinking of marriage? The sneer was even more in
Yes, Excellency, I am thinking of marriage. His voice was
I am afraid, Lieutenant Rutter, it will remain in the beautiful and
nebulous realms of thought, unless He paused and drained his beer
ostentatiously, though all the while his eyes never left his
Unless, repeated the Lieutenant drearily, she agrees to do some
charming and honourable spying work for us on the other side of the
You speak very strangely, Lieutenant Rutter. The little pig eyes
of the senior officer glinted menacingly. Have a care.
Pardon, Excellency. For the moment I forgot. With a weary gesture
he got up. I will ask her this morning. He looked at his watch. She
should be here very soon.
Then I will await the result of your interview through here. The
Colonel moved to a door half concealed by a curtain. You shall have
your turtle dove, Rutter, in peace and quiet. He chuckled harshly.
You know what we want?
By heart, Excellency.
And you remember that her brother the Comte is not really dead. For
our purposes he is a prisoner.
I am not likely to forget; but I warn you, Excellency, I have but
little hope of succeeding.
The Colonel's jaw shut like a vice. Then God help you both, my
friend; God help you both. His voice was soft, but horribly menacing;
and as the curtain dropped behind him, the Kid, who had been listening
spellbound, understood for the first time the type of man who
represented Prussian militarism.
Instinctively his heart warmed towards the Lieutenant, who with a
weary gesture of despair was resting his head on his arms. He was
young, clean cut, almost an Englishman to look at, save for his
close-cropped bristling hair; and, moreover, he was up against it. All
the Kid's sporting instincts rose within him. Boche or no Boche this
was not the type of swine who launched gas and liquid fire on a
horror-struck world. Forgetful of everything he was on the point of
going over to him and telling him to stick it out, when his eyes rested
on the entrance. And there was the girl: the girl he had seen in the
corner, the girl of the jasmine scent. For a while she stood watching
the bowed figure at the table, and then she tip-toed across to him and
laid her hand on his head.
With a quick start he looked up, and into his face there came the
light of all the ages, the light of the man for the woman he loves.
Marie, he whispered hoarsely. Marieque je t'adore. He
caught her to him and kissed her on the lips. Then, with a bitter
groan, he pushed her away and sat down again.
Fritz, what is it? she cried in wondering tones. You sent for me,
my dear. Why? I came; but it is not right for me to come to you
herein your dug-out.
I was ordered to send for you, my Marie. His French was pure if
Ordered! An adorable look of amazement came on her face. And you
liked not this order, my Fritz. But why? It is not right for me to be
here, I know; but now that I have come, it is very nice, mon ami. Why do you look so glum?
For a while he did not reply, but paced the dug-out with long,
uneven steps. And the Kid, watching his lady of the jasmine, saw her
bite her lips, as a look of puzzled fear came into her great round
eyes. At last the man paused in front of her and took her roughly by
the arms, so that she cried out.
You love me, Marie? he demanded hoarsely. You love me enough to
marry me when this accursed war is over? His voice sank over the last
few words, and he glanced, half fearfully, at the curtained door.
But of course, my Fritz, she answered softly. You have been good
to me, and you are different to these others. Mon Dieu! they frighten
methose harsh, brutal men; but they have been good to me and the
little mother for your sake. It is terrible, I supposea French girl
and a German officer; but the little god Love, mon ami, he
laughs at the great god Marssometimes. Poor little meI cannot help
myself. She laughed adorably, and the Kid laughed with her. She seemed
to him like the spirit of the Spring, when the bluebells are flowering
and the world is young. But on the German's face there was no answering
smile. It was set and stern, and imprinted with a look of such utter
hopelessness that the Kid, who saw it over the girl's shoulder, almost
cried out with the pain of it.
Do you love me enough, Marie, he went on at length, to do a big
thing for mea very big thing?
That depends on what it is. She spoke gaily, but the Kid could see
her body stiffen slightly. I'm no good at big things.
Will you go to Paris for me? His voice was dull and jerky.
Paris! She gazed at him in amazement. But how, and why?
It will be easy to get you there. He seized on the part of her
question which postponed for a few seconds the hideous thing he was to
ask her. We can arrange all that quite easily. You see He rambled
on with the method of making plans for the journey, until he caught her
eyes, and the look in them made his faltering words die away to a
And why do you want me to go to Paris, Fritz? Her voice was hardly
above a whisper.
Twice he essayed to speak; twice he failed to do more than falter
her name. Then with a gasping cry he took her in his arms and kissed
her passionately. They shan't, he muttered; by God! they shan't.
And it was as the Kid watched the scene, with parted lips and quickened
breath, that the curtain moved aside, and he saw the Colonel, like an
evil spirit, regarding the pair with cold malevolence.
Delightful! he remarked after a few moments of cynical
observation; delightful! Lieutenant Rutter, you are to be
congratulated. Mademoiselleyou are charming; all that my young friend
has said, and more.
He moved forward and stood by the table, while Marieher face as
white as deathclung to her lover. Who is he, Fritz, this ugly old
man? she whispered terrified.
Permit me to introduce to you . . . Fritz forced the words from
his dry lips, only to stop at the upraised hand of the other.
My name, dear young lady, is immaterial, he remarked genially.
Just an ugly old man, who has had no time to bask in the sunshine of
the smiles of your charming sex. He sat down and lit a cigar. So you
are going to become a German's wife! Ah, Fritz, my boy, you're a lucky
dog! You'll have to guard your Marie carefully from the rest of the
garrison, when we have finally won and the war is over. He gave a
grating laugh, and blew out a cloud of smoke.
What do you want of me? asked Marie, in a terrified whisper,
looking at him like a bird at a snake.
A little service, my dear young Fräulein to bea little service to
the Fatherland. You must not forget that Germany is now your country in
spirit, if not in actual truth. You are pledged to her just as you are
pledged to your Fritzin fact, he being an officer, the two are one
and the same thing. He smiled again, and waved his cigar gently in the
air. And not only will your service benefit the country that you have
chosen as your own, but it will benefit you, because it will bring the
end of the war, and with it your marriage, closer.
He paused to let the words sink in, but she still watched him
One thing more. His eyes gleamed dully through the haze of smoke
as he fixed them on her. Unless this little service is fulfilled,
though it won't make any difference to the ultimate result as far as
Germany is concerned, it will make a very considerable difference as
far as you anderFritz are concerned.
What do you mean? The girl hardly breathed the words.
I mean that there will be no marriage. Painfulbut true.
The Kid watched the young officer's arm tighten convulsively round
her waistand began to see red. Then the harsh guttural voice
continued. Well, now, without wasting any more time, let us come to
the point. I had proposed to let Lieutenant Rutter explain things to
you; buterfrom one or two things I overheard, it struck me he might
not make them clear. The beady eyes came slowly round to the
Lieutenant. That is why I interrupted. Once again he stared at the
trembling girl. To be brief, Mademoiselle Marie, we anticipate an
attacka big attackby the English. We have good information that it
is coming in this neighbourhood.
The Kid pricked up his ears; what the devil was the man talking
about? We have every reason to hope that Ovillers, Fricourt, Thiepval
are impregnable; at the same timein warone never leaves things to
chance. The Kid's astonishment turned to stupefaction; he himself had
been in the storming of Ovillers. And the chance, continued the
imperturbable voice, in this matter is the probable action of the
Frenchyour charming compatriotsercompatriots, that were,
Fräulein. We anticipate this offensive in about a month or six weeks;
and the matter on which we require all the confirmation we can is
whether the French, after their hideous losses at Verdun, can play any
important part in this operation of the enemy. That is where you can
For a moment there was dead silence, and then the girl turned her
stricken face to the man beside her. Dear God! she muttered, is this
why you made love to me? To make me a spy?
Marieno, on my honour; I swear it! Forgetful of the man sitting
at the table Fritz stretched out his hand in an agony of supplication.
Lieutenant Rutter. With a snarl the Colonel stood up. You forget
yourself. I am speaking. A truce to this fooling. Mademoisellehe
turned again on the girlwe have other things to do beside babble of
love. Call it spying if you will, but we want information, and you can
help us to get itmust help us to get it.
And what if I refuse? Superbly she confronted him; her voice had
come back; her head was thrown up.
In the first place you will not marry Lieutenant Rutter; and in the
second placehave you heard that the Comte de St. Jean was taken
prisoner at Verdun?
Philippe. Oh, monsieur, where is he? The girl threw herself on her
knees before him. I implore youhe is my only brother.
Indeed. Well, if you ever desire to see him again you will carry
out my suggestion. Otherwise he paused significantly.
Oh, you could not! You could not be so cruel, so vile as to harm
him if he is a prisoner. It would break my mother's heart.
Mademoiselle, there is nothing which I would scruple to
donothingif by so doing I advanced the glorious cause of our
Fatherland. The man's small eyes gleamed with the fire of a fanatic;
revolting though he was, yet was there an element of grandeur about
him. Even the Kid, watching silently from the bed, felt conscious of
the power which seemed to spring from him as he stood there, squat and
repulsive, with the lovely French girl kneeling at his feet. He saw her
throw her arms around his knees, and turn up her face to his in an
agony of pleading; and then of a sudden came the tragedy.
Discipline or no discipline, a man is a man, and Fritz Rutter had
reached the breaking-point. Perhaps it was the sight of the woman he
loved kneeling at the feet of one of the grossest sensualists in
Europe, perhaps But who knows?
Marie, he cried hoarsely, it's not true. Philippe is dead; they
cannot hurt him now. Get up, my dear, get up. With folded arms he
faced the other man as the girl staggered to her feet. Heedless of the
blazing passion on the Colonel's face, she crept to Fritz and hid her
face against his chest. And as she stood there she heard the voice of
her tormentor, thick and twisted with hate.
For that, Lieutenant Rutter, I will have you disgraced. And then I
will look after your Marie. Orderly! His voice rose to a shout as he
strode to the door.
Good-bye, my love. Fritz strained her to him, and the Kid saw her
kiss him once on the lips. Then she disengaged herself from his arms,
and walked steadily to where the Colonel still shouted up the entrance.
Outside there was the sound of many footsteps, and the girl paused just
behind the cursing maniac in the door.
So you will look after me, will you, monsieur? Her voice rose
clear above the noise, and the man turned round, his malignant face
quivering. The Kid watched it fascinated, and suddenly he saw it
change. I think not, went on the same clear voice; and the guttural
cry of fear rang out simultaneously with the sharp crack of a revolver.
My God! Rutter stood watching the crumpling figure as it slipped
to the ground in front of the girl; and then with a great cry he sprang
forward. And with that cry, which seemed to ring through his brain,
there came the power of movement to the Kid. He hurled himself off the
bed towards the girlhis girlhis lady of the jasmine. But he was too
late. The second shot was even truer than the first, and as her head
hit the floor she was dead.
Regardless of Rutter the Kid knelt down beside her, and as he did
so, he got itin the face.
What the blazes are you doing? roared an infuriated voice. Damn
you! you young foolyou've nearly killed me.
Stupefied the boy looked around. The same dug-out; the same officers
of B company; the same beer bottles; but where was the lady of the
jasmine? Where was the man who lay dead in the doorway? Where was
He blinked foolishly, and looked round to find the lamp still
burning and his brother officers roaring with laughter. All, that is,
except the Doctor on whose stomach he had apparently landed.
But the Kid was not to be put off by laughter. I tell you it
happened in this very dug-out, he cried excitedly. She killed the
swine in the doorway there, and then she killed herself. This is where
she fell, Doc, just where you're lying, and her head hit the wall
there. Look, there's a board there, nailed over the wallwhere her
head went. Don't laugh, you fool! don't laughit happened. I dreamed
it. I know that now; but it happened for all thatbefore the big
advance. I tell you she had light golden hairah! look. The Doctor
had prised off the board, and there on the wall an ominous red stain
showed dull in the candlelight. Slowly the Doctor bent down and picked
up something with his fingers. Getting up he laid it on the table. And
when the officers of B Company had looked at it, the laughter ceased.
It was a little wisp of light golden hairand the end was thick and
To-morrow, Kid, you can tell us the yarn, said the Doctor quietly.
Just now you're going to have a quarter-grain of sleep dope and go to
* * * * * *
The following evening the officers of B Company, less the Kid, who
was out, sat round the table and talked.
What do you make of it, Doc? asked the Company Commander. Do you
really think there is anything in the Kid's yarn? I mean, we know he
dreamed itbut do you think it's true? I suppose that tired as he was
he would be in a receptive mood for his imagination to run riot.
For a long while the Doctor puffed stolidly at his pipe without
answering. Then he leaned forward and put his hand in his pocket.
Imagination, you say. Do you call that imagination? He produced
the lock of hair from a matchbox. Further, do you call that
imagination? I found it under the pillow this morning. On the table
beside the match-box he placed a small pocket handkerchief, and from it
there came the faint, elusive scent of jasmine. And last of all, do
you call that imagination? I found it in one of the books yonder. He
placed an old envelope in front of him, and the others crowded round.
It was addressed to Ober-Lieutenant Fritz Rutter.
The man stirred uneasily, and a faint moan came from his lips. A
numbness seemed to envelop his body from the waist downwards, and in
the intervals of a stabbing pain in his head, he seemed to hear people
whispering near by. A figure passed close to him, the figure of a girl
with fair hair, in a grey dressthe figure of a girl like Molly. A
red-hot iron stabbed his brain; his teeth clenched on his lips; he
fought with all his will, but once again he moaned; he couldn't help
itit was involuntary. The girl stopped and came towards him; she was
speaking to him, for he heard her voice. But what was she saying? Why
did she speak so indistinctly? Whyah, but her hand on his forehead
was cool. It seemed to quiet those raging devils in his head; it helped
him, as Molly always helped him. It seemed towhy, surely, it must be
Molly herself, with her dear, soft touch, and her lips ready to kiss,
and the sweet smell of her hair mounting to his brain like wine.
Something pricked his arm: something that felt like the needle of a
syringe; something that . . . But anyway, what the deuce was she doing?
Then suddenly he recalled that pin at the back of her dress, where he'd
pricked his wrist so badly the first time he'd kissed her.
He laughed gently at the remembrance; and the hand on his forehead
trembled. For laughter to be a pleasant thing to hear it is essential
that the person who laughs should be in full possession ofwell, it is
better, at any rate, that his head should not have been hit by a bomb,
especially if it was his lower jaw that bore the brunt.
What are you trembling for, Molly? The voice was tender. The pain
has quite goneI must have had a touch of the sun.
But for a question to be answered it must be audible; and the girl
whose hand was on his forehead heard no words. Merely was there a great
and wonderful pity in her eyes, for the remnantthe torn-up
remnantwho had fought and suffered for her. And the remnant, well, he
was way back in the Land of Has-been. Did I not say that the pin was at
the back of Molly's waist?
The woods were just at their best, with the glorious yellow and
brown of early autumn, touched with the gold of the setting sun. In a
clearing a boy was sitting on a fallen tree-trunk, puffing furiously at
a cigarette. Twice had the smoke gone the wrong way, and once had it
got into his eyes; but when one is aged sixteen such trifles are merely
there to be overcome. The annoying thing was that he was still engaged
in absorbing the overflowing moisture from his eyes, with a
handkerchief of doubtful cleanliness, when a girl came into the glade
and started to laugh.
There's no good pretending, Billy. The smoke has got into your
eyes, and your handkerchief is dirty, and you aren't impressing me in
Hallo, Molly! I wasn't expecting you so soon. The smoker looked a
Indeed! Then if I'm not wanted, I'll go away again.
No, no, Mollydon't do that. The boy rose eagerly, and went
towards her. Then he stopped awkwardly, and putting his hands in his
pocket, fidgeted with his feet.
Wellwhy not? The girl smiled provokingly. And what are you
hopping about for? Are you going to try to learn to dance, as I
I will if you will teach me, Mollydear. He took a step forward
eagerlyand then paused again, aghast at the audacity of that dear.
Something in the cool, fresh young girl standing so easily in front of
him, smiling with faint derision, seemed to knock on the head all that
carefully thought out plan which had matured in his mind during the
silent watches of the previous night. It had all seemed so easy then.
Johnson major's philosophy on life in general and girls in particular
was one thing in the abstract, and quite another when viewed in the
concrete, with a real, live specimen to practice on. And yet Johnson
major was a man of much experienceand a prefect of some standing at
My dear fellows, he had said on one occasion when holding the
floor in his study, I don't want to brag, and we do not speak
about these things. The accent on the we had been wonderful. It
implied membership of that great body of youthful dare-devils to whom
the wiles of women present no terrors. But women, my dear fellows,
whygood lord, there's nothing in it when one knows the way to manage
them. They adore being kissedprovided it's done the right way. And if
you don't know the right way instinctively, it comes with practice, old
boy, it comes with practice. Billy had listened in awe, though
preserving sufficient presence of mind to agree with the speaker in
words of suitable nonchalance.
Of course, Johnson major must have been right; but, devil take it,
there seemed remarkably little instinct available at the present
moment; and up to date in Billy's career, practice in the proper
procedure had been conspicuous by its absence.
I think you're rather dull to-day. The girl was speaking again,
and there was more than a hint of laughter in her voice. What's the
matter with you? Has that cigarette made you feel sick?
Certainly not. Ieroh, Molly, I
The desperate words trembled on his lipstrembled and died away
under the laughter in her eyes.
Yes? she murmured inquiringly. What is it, Billy?
Oh, woman, woman! Just sixteen, but at two you have learned the
beginnings of the book of Eve.
IerIoh, dash it, let's go for a walk! With a gasp of relief
he swung on his heel; the fatal plunge had been put off for a little;
he hadn't made a fool of himselfyet, at any rate. Do you mind if I
Not if you don't. The girl was walking demurely beside him, down
the narrow lane carpeted with its first layers of auburn brown. Are
you sure it's wise? Two so close together might not be good for you.
Two close togethernot good for him! Absurd; it was nothing to what
he was accustomed to, and yetwhy, his head was throbbing, throbbing
as he looked at the girl beside him? What was that distant noise like
the slow beating of a mighty drum, that seemed to quiver and vibrate in
the air till it filled his brain with a great rush of sound, and then
sobbed away into silence? What was the matter with his right hand that
it burned and twitched so ceaselessly? Surely he hadn't burnt himself
with the cigarette! He looked down to see, but somehow things were
indistinct. It almost seemed as if he hadn't got a hand; the woods were
hazyMolly seemed far away. In her place was a man, a man with a
stubby growth on his chin, a man who bent over him and muttered
Gawd, Ginger, the poor devil ain't dead neither! Lift him up
carefully. There's his right arm over there, and his back Oh, my
gawd! Poor devil!
Thus had the battalion stretcher-bearers found him the day before. .
The man became irritable.
Go away at once! Can't you see I'm with a lady. Molly, dear, where
are you? What is this dirty-looking fellow doing here at all?
But Molly for the moment seemed aloof. He saw her there, standing in
the path in front of himso close and yet somehow so curiously far
Molly, do you hear that noisethat strange beating in the air? I
think I'm going to be ill. Perhaps two close together are too much.
But noapparently not. Suddenly everything was clear again, and
there was Molly with the autumn wind blowing the soft tendrils of hair
back from the nape of her neck; Molly, with the skirt that betokens the
half-way period between flapperhood and coming out; Molly, with her
lithe young figure half turned from him as she watched the sun sinking
over the distant hills.
They adore being kissed. The words of the wonderful Johnson major
were ringing in his brain as he watched her, and suddenly something
surged up within him. What matter rules and theories? What matter
practice? There is only one way to kiss a girl, and rules and theories
avail not one jot. With a quick step he had her in his arms, and, with
his pulses hammering with the wonder of it, he watched her face come
round to his. He kissed her cheek, her eyes, her mouthshyly at first,
and then with gathering confidence as a boy should kiss a girl.
The sweetness of it, the newness of it, the eternal joy of a woman
in a man's arms for the first time! Surely it had never been quite like
that with any one else before. Of course, other people kissed,
butthis was different. Suddenly the girl disengaged her arms and
wound them gently round his neck. She pulled his head towards her, and
kissed him again and again, while he felt her heart beating against his
Billy, my dear!
Almost he missed the whispered words coming faintly from somewhere
in the neighbourhood of his tie.
MollyMolly, darlingI love you!
The boy's voice was shaky, his grip almost crushed her.
Do you, Billy? I'm so glad! I want you to love me,
She looked at him shyly.
Say it, sweetheart, say it. He held her at arm's-lengthno longer
bashful, no longer wondering whether he dared; but insistent,
imperious, a young god for the moment. Because what?
Because I love you too, you darling!
Once again she was in his arms, once again did time cease, while the
lengthening shadows stole softly towards them; and a squirrel,
emboldened by their stillness, watched for a while with indulgent eyes.
At last the girl gently turned away, and the boy's arms fell to his
Molly, you've got a pin in your waistband. Look, you've pricked my
Billy, my dear, let me do it up. Why didn't you tell me, you poor
I didn't notice it, I didn't even feel it, you darling.
The boy laughed gladly as she bound his handkerchief round the
wounded arm; and, bending forward, kissed her neck, just where the hair
left it, just wherebut what had happened? Where was she? She had
gone, the trees had gone, the sun had set, and it was dark, terribly
Once again that mighty drum beat close by, and voices came dimly
through a haze to the man's brain. Some one was touching him, a finger
was probing gently over his head, a sentence came to him as if from a
Good God! Poor devil! If we have to go we must leave him. Any
movement would kill him at once.
I won't have you touching the bandage that Molly has put on! said
the man angrily. My wrist will be quite all right; it's absurd to make
a fuss about a pin-prick.
And perhaps because there are sounds to which no man can listen
unmoved, the quiet-faced doctor drew out his hypodermic syringe. The
girl with the grey dress, her steps lagging a little with utter
physical weariness, paused at the foot of his bed, and waited with an
Molly, he cried eagerly, come and talk to me! I've been dreaming
But she merely continued to smile at him, though in her eyes there
was the sadness of a divine pity. Then once again something pricked his
arm. A great silence seemed to come down on him like a pall, a silence
that was tangible, in which strange faces passed before him in a
jumbled procession. They seemed to swing past like fishes drifting
across the glass window of an aquariumghostly, mysterious, and yet
very real. A man in a dirty grey uniform, with a bloodstained bandage
round his forehead, who leered at him; Chilcote, his company commander,
who seemed to be shouting and cheering and waving his arm; a sergeant
of his platoon, with a grim smile on his face, who held a rifle with a
fixed bayonet that dripped.
All right, Chilcote, he shouted, we'll have the swine out in a
But Chilcote had gone, and through the silence came a muffled roar.
The drum again! he muttered irritably. What the devil is the good
of trying to surprise the Huns if we have the band with us! You don't
want a band when you're attacking a village! A band is for marching to,
and dancing, not for fighting. Of course, if it was going to continue
playing, they might just as well have a dance, and be done with it. He
laughed a little. You've had too much champagne for supper, my boy,
he soliloquised. What do you mean by 'might as well have a dance'?
Can't you see that awe-inspiring gentleman in the red coat is on the
point of striking up now? He looked across the room, a room that
seemed a trifle hazy, and thought hard. Surely he hadn't had too much
to drink, and yet the people were so vague and unreal? And why the
deuce did a ballroom band have a big drum? He gave it up after a
moment, and silently watched the scene.
He remembered now quite clearly, and with an amused laugh at his
momentary forgetfulness, he looked at his programme. The third supper
extra was just beginning, and two dances after that he had four in
succession with Mollythe fateful hour when he had determined to try
At present she was having supper with a nasty-looking man, with long
hair and an eyeglass, who was reputed to be a rising politician, in the
running for an under-secretaryship, and was also reputed to be in love
with Molly. He looked savagely round the room, and, having failed to
discover them, he strolled to the bar to get a drink.
Hallo, Billy; not dancing? She loves me; she loves me not! Cheer
An inane-looking ass raised his whisky-and-soda to his lips with a
I wonder they don't have a home for people like you, Jackson,
remarked Billy curtly. Whisky-and-soda, please.
He gave his order to the waiter and lit a cigarette. He hardly heard
what the irrepressible Jackson was saying, but allowed him to babble on
in peace while his thoughts centred on Molly. How absolutely sweet she
was looking in that shimmering, gauzy stuff that just went with her
hair, and showed off her figure to perfection! If only she said yes,
he'd arrange the party going back in the cars so that he got her alone
in the two-seater. If onlygood lord, would the dance never come?
He looked up, and saw her passing into the ball-room with her supper
partner; and, as he did so, she looked half round and caught his eye.
Just a second, no more; but on her lips had trembled the faintest
suspicion of a smilea smile that caused his heart to beat madly with
hope, a smile that said things. He sat back in his chair and the hand
that held his glass trembled a little.
I don't believe you've been listening to me, Billy. The egregious
Jackson emitted a plaintive wail. I don't believe you've heard a word
Perfectly correct in both statements, dear boy! Billy rose
abruptly to his feet and smacked him on the back. One must give up
something in Lent, you know.
But it isn't Lent. Jackson looked aggrieved. And you've made me
spill my drink.
But he spoke to the empty air and a melancholy waiter, for Billy was
back in the ballroom, waiting. . . .
You smiled at me, lady, a while ago, he said softly in her ear, as
they swung gently through the crowded room. I thought it was a smile
that said things. Was thy servant very presumptuous in thus reading his
queen's glance? Confound you, sir; that's my back!
He glared furiously at a bull-necked thruster in a pink coat.
Hush, Billy! laughed the girl, as they lost him in the crowd.
That's our master!
I don't care a hang who he is, but he's rammed one of my
brace-buttons into my spine! He's the sort of man who knocks you down
and tramples on your face, after supper!
For a few moments they continued in silence, perhaps the two best
dancers in the room, and gradually she seemed to come closer to him, to
give herself up entirely to him, until, as in a dream, they moved like
one being and the music softly died away. For a moment the man stood
still, pressing the girl close to him, and then, with a slight sigh
that was almost one of pain, he let her go.
Are you glad I taught you to dance? she asked laughingly; while
the room shouted for an encore.
Glad, he whispered, glad! Ah! my lady, my lady, to dance with you
is the nearest approach to heaven that we poor mortals may have. For
all thathe steered her swiftly through the expectant couples towards
a door covered with a curtainI want an answer to a question I asked
you just before my spine was broken! He held up the curtain for her to
pass through, and piloted her to an easy-chair hidden behind some
screens in a discreetly lighted room. Did your smile say things, my
lady? Did you tell me something as you went into the ballroom with that
My dear boy, I wasn't smiling at you! I was smiling at that nice
Mr. Jackson man.
Molly, you're a liar! You know you hate that ass; you told me so
All the more reason to smile at him. Billy, give me a cigarette.
She leaned towards him slightly as he offered her his case, and their
eyes met. Her breath came a little quicker as she read the message
blazing out of his, and then she looked away again. And a match,
please, she continued quietly.
Confound the match and the cigarette, too! His voice was shaking.
Molly, Molly, I know I'm mad! I know it's just the height of idiocy
from a so-called worldly point of view, but I can't help it. I've tried
and struggled; I've been away for two years and haven't seen you. But,
oh! my dear, the kisses you gave me when you were a flapper, before you
came out, before your mother got this bee in her bonnet about some big
marriage for youthose kisses are still burning my lips. I can feel
them now, princess, and the remembrance of 'em drives me mad! I know
I'm asking you to chuck your mother's ambitions; I know I've got
nothing to offer you, except the old name, which doesn't count for much
these days. But, oh! my lady, I just worship the very ground you walk
on. Is there just a chance for me? I'd simply slave for you, if you'd
Through the closed door came stealing the soft music of a waltz,
while from another corner came the sound of a whispered tête-à-tête.
Very still was the girl as she sat in the big arm-chair, with the man
pleading passionately at her side. Once she caught her breath quickly
when he recalled the time gone bythe time before her mother's
political ambitions had ruthlessly waged war on her, and done their
best to drive Nature out of her outlook on life; and, when he had
finished speaking, she gave a little tired smile.
Billy boy, she whispered, is that how you've felt about it all
He made no answer, but, stretching out his hands, he took hold of
her two wrists.
You've really remembered those kisses when we were kids? she went
Remembered them? Dear heavens, my lady, I wouldn't lose that
remembrance for untold wealth! It's been with me in Alaska; it's been
with me in Hong Kong. I've woken up at nights with the feel of your
lips on mine, and all the glory of you, and the sweetness; and it's
helped me on when everything was black, and made things bright when the
world was rotten! With a bitter sigh he took his hands away and sat
back in his chair. And I've failed! Jove! the wild schemes and the
plans, the golden visions and the Eldoradosall failed. Just a little
money, just enough to have a burst in England, just enough to be able
to see you. And then it slipped out. Lady, dear, I never meant to
before I came to the Towers. I knew you were there, but I never meant
to ask you. Wash it out, my princess; wash it out! I haven't said a
word. You've been teaching me a new step; let's go back and dance. I've
been mad this evening, and, unless we go back and dance, I can't
guarantee remaining sane!
But the girl made no move. With parted lips she swayed towards him,
while he watched her, with the veins standing out on his forehead.
BillyI don't care; I'm mad, too! The scent she used was mounting to
his brainthe nearness of her was driving him mad.
Molly, get back to that ballroom; get back quick, or He spoke
through his clenched teeth.
Or what, Billy boy? She smiled deliciously.
And then he kissed her: a kiss that seemed to draw her soul to her
lips: a kiss that lifted him until he travelled through endless spaces
in a great aching void where time and distance ceased, and nothing
happened save a wonderful ecstasy, and ever and anon the mighty booming
of a giant drum.
He seemed to be treading on air, and though the ballroom had
vanished, and the discreet apartment with shaded lights had faded away,
yet he was very conscious of the nearness of his girl. But just now, he
could not see hershe eluded him, leaving an ever-present feeling that
she would be waiting for him round the next of those intangible masses
he seemed to be drifting through.
You don't mind waiting, my princess? he murmured ceaselessly.
After this war it will all come right. Just now I've got to goI must
go out there; but afterwards, it will all come rightand we'll live in
a house in the country and grow cabbages and pigs. You'll wait, you
say? Ah! my dear, my dear; it's sweet of you; but perhaps you ought to
have married the lawyer man. You might have been Mrs. Prime Minister
one of these days.
For a while the tired brain refused to act; the man felt himself
falling into unplumbed depthsdepths which echoed with monstrous
Molly, where are you, dear? It's cold, and my head is throbbing to
beat the band. If only that cursed drum would stop! Do you hear it
echoing through the air? And the noise hurtshurts like hell, Molly.
Ah! Heaven, but it's cold; and I can't see you, my lady; I don't know
where you are.
Once again he became conscious of figures moving around him. They
seemed to be carrying motionless men past his feetmen on stretchers
covered with blankets. With staring eyes he watched the proceeding,
trying to understand what was happening. In front of him was a window
in which the glass had been smashed, leaving great jagged pieces
sticking out from the sides of the frame. He wondered vaguely why it
had been left in such a dangerous condition; when he and Molly had
their house such a thing would never be allowed to happenif it did it
would be mended at once. He asked one of the passing figures what had
caused the damage, and when he got no answer he angrily repeated the
He fretted irritably because no one seemed to take any notice of
him, and suddenly his head began throbbing worse than ever. But the
hazy indistinctness was gone; the man was acutely conscious of
everything around him. Memory had come back, and he knew where he was
and why he was there. He remembered the fierce artillery bombardment;
he recalled getting over the parapet, out on to the brown shell-pocked
earth, sodden and heavy with the drenching rain; he recalled the steady
shamble over the ground with boots so coated with wet mud that they
seemed to drag him back. Then clear in his mind came the picture of
Chilcote cheering, shouting, lifting them on to the ruins of what once
had been a village; he saw Chilcote falter, stop, and, with a curious
spinning movement, crash forward on to his face; he saw the Germanshe
saw fierce-faced men like animals at bay, snarling, fighting; he heard
once again that trembling cry of Kamerade; and thena blank.
The amazing thing was that it was all jumbled up with Molly. He seemed
to have been with her latelyand yet she couldn't have been out there
with him. He puzzled a bit, and then gave it up: it hurt his head so
terribly to think. He just lay still, gazing fixedly at the jagged,
torn pane of glass. . . .
They are all out, Doctor, except this one.
A woman was speaking close beside him, and his eyes slowly travelled
round in the direction of the voice. It was another womana woman he
hadn't seen beforeswaying slightly as if she would drop.
Good heavens! it's Billy Saunders!
A man in khaki was bending over hima man whom he recognised as a
civilian doctor he'd known at homea man, moreover, who knew Molly.
Do you know me, old chap?
Of course, answered the man. What's all the trouble?
The doctor bit his lip, and the man noticed his hand clench hard.
Then there started a low-voiced conversation, a conversation to which
he listened attentivelyhis hearing seemed abnormally acute.
Has he spoken since he's been in, sister?
Noonly those dreadful moans. The whole of his faceabsolutely
The man lying motionless caught the disjointed words. What did they
mean? They were madinsane. Dying? HeBilly Saunders! What about
Mollyhis Molly? What about. . . . Gentle fingers once again touched
his head, and, looking up, he saw the doctor's eyes fixed on his.
They're shelling the hospital, dear old man; we've got to get
Great Scott, look out!
Like the moan of a giant insect, the shrill whine came through the
air, rising to an overwhelming scream. There was a deafening crasha
great hole was torn in the wall just by the window with the jagged
pane, and the room filled with stifling black fumes. A sudden agonising
stab, and the man, looking up, saw Molly in front of him. She was
standing in the acrid smokebeckoning.
I'm coming, dear, I'm coming! he cried; it's good of you to have
waited, girl of mineso good.
* * * * * *
Are you hurt, sister? The doctor, who had been crouching by the
bed, stood up.
Not touched, thank you. She was white and shaking. Did you hear
the bits whizzing through the room?
I did, remarked the doctor grimly, holding out an arm from which
the blood already dripped. And I felt one of them too. But there's no
time to loseI don't know what to do about him, poor old chap.
He turned once again to the bed, and even as he turned he knew that
the decision had been made for him: and he thanked the Maker. Billy
Saunders had also felt a bita jagged bitthrough the heart.
VII. BENDIGO JONESHIS TREE
My storysuch as it isconcerns a camouflage tree and Bendigo
Jones: both of whichor whomwill require a little more introduction.
That Bendigo would indignantly repudiate any such necessity, I am fully
aware; nevertheless, even at the risk of offending him, I propose to
outline briefly his claims to greatness, before embarking on the
incident in his military career which forms the subject of these pages.
First howeverthe camouflage tree. It is only meet that the
material and sordid details of the stage properties should be given,
before branching into any discussion of the capabilities of the actor.
The phrase, then, does not implyas the ignorant might possibly be led
to believea new type of tree. It does not grow in the tropics amongst
a riotous tangle of pungent undergrowth; it does not creak sadly in the
north wind on the open hill. It shelters not the hibiscus anthropoid,
it gives not lodging to the two-tailed newt. From a botanical point of
view, the tree is a complete and utter frost. It is, in point of hard
and bitter fact, not a tree at all.
Camouflage is that which conceals: it is a fraud, and speaketh not
the truth. I am not even certain whether it is a noun or a preposition,
but the point is immaterial. Along with other canons of military
matters, its virtue lies in its application rather than in its
etymology. What the eye doth not see the trench mortars do not trouble
is as true to-day as when Noah first mentioned the fact; and camouflage
is the application of this mighty dictum.
The value of any particular piece of camouflage depends entirely on
its capability for deceit; but to the youthful enthusiast I would speak
a word of warning. I have in mind the particular case of young Angus
MacTaggart, a lad from Glasgow, with freckles and a sunny disposition.
He was a sapper by trade, and on his shoulders there devolved, on one
occasion, the job of covering a trench mortar emplacement with a
camouflage of wire and grass which would screen the hole in which sat
the mortar from the prying gaze of Hun aeroplanes. It was a deep hole,
for the mortar was large; and the screen of wire was fastened to a
framework of wood. When the gun wished to do its morning hate, a
pessimistic individual first scoured the heavens with his glasses in
search of Hun planes. If the scouring revealed nothing, the screen was
lowered, and the gun was made ready. Then the detachment faded away,
and the gun was fired by a man of great personal bravery by means of a
long string. Ever since the first trench mortars, which consisted of a
piece of piping down which a jam-tin bomb was dropped, in the hopes
that when the charge at the bottom was lighted, the bomb would again
emerge, I have regarded trench mortars as dangerous and unpleasant
objects, and the people who deal with them as persons of a high order
of courage. One remembers the times when the bomb did not emerge, but
stuck half way and exploded violently; one remembers when the entire
gun fell over and propelled the bomb in the direction of battalion
headquarters; above all, one remembers the loathing and contumely with
which the mere arrival of the trench mortar in any part of the trenches
was greeted. Then there was no attempt at camouflage; one's sole
endeavour was to avoid being killed by the beastly thing.
To return, however, to Angus. Though of a sunny disposition, as I
have said, he was a somewhat earnest individualand thorough withal.
He determined that as a camouflage, his should stand
pre-eminent; it should be the model and pattern of all camouflages. He
Labouring at nightlargely with his own fair handshe produced a
screen cunningly woven with grasses and weeds which he swore would defy
the most lynx-eyed pilot. He even went so far as to place in the centre
of it a large bunch of nettles, which he contended gave it an air of
insouciance and lightheartedness that had been lacking before.
Now, as I mentioned above, the value of camouflage depends on its
capability for deceit; and it is by this criterion that I claim his
work as a success. It should be added, however, in no uncertain tones,
that it is the Germans whom one is desirous of deceiving, and that is
where my warning to the youthful enthusiast comes in.
The thing came too quickly for warning. Suddenly from above the
inhabitants of the hole, with whom Angus was consuming a midday glass
of port, was heard the voice: It must be somewhere about here, sir, I
think. The voice was rightit was.
They came through in a phalanx of fire, and descended abruptly on
the detachment below. It was a magnificent compliment to the work, but
it was unfortunate that the General should have been the one to consume
the nettles. However, I have always thought that Angus's voice of
disgust as he contemplated the wreckage of his screen did not improve
The door, he remarked, with painful distinctness, is full of
possibilities. With that he left.
I trust the moral of my digression is obvious. . . . Having then, in
a few well-chosen phrases, discussed one type of camouflage, I would
pass on and lead the thirster for information still farther into the
by-paths of knowledge. Just as there are many and divers types of
deceit, varying from that which conceals what is, to that which exposes
what is notinvolved that last, but think it outso are there many
types of camouflage. And the particular one with which I am concerned,
deals with a tree.
On a certain slight eminence in what was otherwise a flat and dreary
outlook, there stood the stump of a tree. It was a tired stump,
strongly reminiscent of the morning after. It had had a hard life, and
much of its pristine glory had faded. No longer did the sprightly
sparrow chirrup cheerfully to its young from leafy branches; no longer
did cattle recline in its shade during the heat of the day. It was just
a stumpa stump complete with splinters.
Its sole claim to notoriety lay in its position. It commanded a view
of the German lines which was not to be had elsewhere; in fact, from
the eminence on which it stood you could obtain the only good
observation of the opposite trenches in that particular sector of the
It was the Brigade Major who first suggested the idea in the fertile
brain of the C.R.E. of the Division, who happened to be talking to him
at the moment. They were in the support line trenches, and close to
where they stood, the treegaunt, repulsive and toothpickyraised its
stunted head to heaven.
What a pity that tree ain't hollow! ruminated the Staff officer
thoughtfully. Splendid view from it of the Huns. Can't do anything in
that line, can you, Colonel?
The C.R.E. thoughtfully considered the proposition. Afraid not, old
boy, he answered after a few moments' deliberation. Bit of a job
hollowing out a tree. All the same, you're quite right. It would make a
Why not make another down in your yard, and put it up instead? The
Brigadier joined in the discussion. We must have better observation in
this sector if we possibly can.
Cut this one down one night and put up a dummy in its place. The
C.R.E once again considered the wretched stump. Not a bad idea,
General; the only question is who is to do it. It will have to be a
good model, or the Huns will spot the difference; and . . . Suddenly
his face cleared. By Jove! I've got itBendigo Jones. He's the man
for the job.
And who the deuce is Bendigo Jones? asked the General, as the
Sapper rapidly jotted down something in his note-book. He sounds like
a prize fighter or the inventor of a patent medicine.
Bendigo Jones, General, is my latest acquisition. I have it on no
less an authority than his own that he is a very remarkable man. I
gather that he is futurist by inclination, and dyspeptic by nature,
which I take to be a more or less natural sequence of events. At
present he adorns my office, and looks intense.
He sounds rather like a disease, murmured the Brigade Major. From
what you say, I gather he considers himself an artist.
He sculpts, or whatever a sculptor does when he gets busy. The
Colonel smiled gently. How he ever blew out here I cannot imagine, but
these things will occur. I offended him mortally, I regret to say, the
first day he arrived, by confessing that I had never even heard his
name, much less seen his work, but I think he's forgiven me. I allowed
him to arrange the timber yard to-day more aesthetically, and the
Sergeant-major thinks he is soft in the head, so Bendigo is supremely
He sounds a perfect treasure, remarked the Brigadier drily.
However, as long as he models that tree and we get it up somehow, and
I never see him, I shall be quite happy, old boy.
It shall be done, answered the C.R.E., by our little Bendy
himself. A life-size, hollow camouflage stump shall replace the
original, complete with peephole and seat.
Thus lightly was settled the immediate future of one of the world's
great ones. In view, however, of the fact that the world is so often
lamentably ignorant of greatness, it now becomes necessary for me to
carry out my second introduction and enlighten the Philistines as to
what they have missed by their miserable and sordid materialism.
Be it known then that for several years Bendigo Jones had been in
the habit of inflicting upon a long-suffering and inoffensive public a
series of lumps of material. What these lumps were supposed to
represent no one has yet discovered; and I am given to understand that
unless the proud perpetrator noted it himself on completion, he too was
usually unable to elucidate the mystery. It was not of great account,
as he ran not the slightest risk of contradiction whatever he said; and
as no person ever willingly went twice to his exhibitions, he could
vary the title daily without fear of discovery. Another great point
about his work was its many-sidedness. A lump looked at from one side
would perhaps represent Pelican with young, while on the other The
Children's Hour, or six o'clock at Mud View Villa, would be depicted.
This, needless to say, economised greatly in space and matter; and in
case any special exhibit failed to arrive in time, or was thrown away
by mistake, an old one turned upside down at once remedied the defect.
His nearest approach to fame occurred during the period which
followed the perpetration of his celebrated Mother with her Child. It
was announced that the gifted sculptor had worked on it for five years;
and a certain amount of light was thrown on his methods by an interview
he managed to get published in some obscure journal.
Rising with a hoarse cry, ran this effusion, Mr. Bendigo Jones
hurled himself at his work. With a single blow he removed a
protuberance, and then sank back exhausted.
'You see the difference,' he cried, 'you see how I have altered her
'Whose?' I murmured dazedly.
'Why, the face of the woman. Ah! dolt, blockhead, have you no
eyeshave you no soul?'
'But you told me that was a church at sunset,' I remonstrated
'What has that to do with it?' he shouted. 'It is what I like to
make it, fool. What is a name? Nothinga bagatelle. I have changed my
mind every day for the last five years, and now my life's work is
Mr. Bendigo Jones sobbed quietly, and I stole away. It was not for
me to gaze on such grief. And as I went through the open window I heard
his final whisper.
'It shall be none of these things. I will pander to vile
utilitarianism. It shall beA City Magnate at Lunch.'
It may be remembered that when it was finally put on view in London,
enormous interest was aroused by an enterprising weekly paper offering
prizes to the extent of a thousand pounds to any one who could guess
what it was; and though Bendigo Jones's pocket was helped considerably
by his percentage of the gate money, his pride suffered considerably
when the answers were made public. They ranged from, Model of the
first steam engine when out of control, to An explosion of a ship at
sea, both of which happy efforts gained a bag of nuts. The answer
adjudged most nearly correct was sent in by a Fulham butcher, who
banked on Angry gentleman quarrelling with his landlord on
quarter-day: which at any rate had the merit of making it human.
But I have digressed enough; I will return to my sad story. How our
friend ever did arrive in France is as much of a mystery to me as it
was to the Colonel; presumably a ruthless government, having decided it
required men, roped him in along with the other lesser lights. The fiat
went forth, and so did Bendigomildly protesting: to adorn in the
fullness of time the office of the C.R.E. of whom I have spoken. And he
was sitting there exhausted by his labours in helping the
Sergeant-major rearrange the timber yard aesthetically, when a message
arrived that the Colonel wished to speak to him.
I understand, Jones, that you are a sculptor, remarked that
officer genially, as our hero entered the office. Now, can you model a
Bendigo gazed dreamily out of the window. A tree, he murmured at
length. A little, beautiful tree. Green with the verdant loveliness of
youth . . . green . . . green.
It isn't, snapped the Colonel. It's brown, and damned hideous,
and full of splinters.
Only to the eye of unbelief, sir. The sculptor regarded him
compassionately. To usto those who can see things as they ought to
bemore, as they spiritually are . . . it is different.
A door closed somewhat hastily, and the sounds from the next room
seemed to indicate that the Adjutant's cough was again troubling him.
The Colonel however remained calm.
I have no doubt, Jones, he remarked dispassionately, that what
you have just said has some meaning. It is even remotely possible that
you know what it means yourself. I don't; and I do not propose to try.
I propose, on the other hand, to descend to the sordid details of what
I wish you to do. You will commence without delay. He leaned back in
his chair, and proceeded to fill his pipe.
Up the line there is a tree stump standing on rising ground, which
I wish you to copy. The model must be sufficiently good to deceive the
Germans. It will be hollow, and of such a size as will accommodate an
observer. The back will be hinged. When your model is made, the real
tree stump will be removed one night and the sham one substituted. Do
you follow me?
It is more than doubtful if he even heard. A slight attack of
dyspepsia shook him as the Colonel finished speaking, and he passed his
hands twice through his hair. The thoughtthe future vistais
beautiful, he murmured. And think; think of the advertisement.
To-morrow, sir, I will gaze upon it, and fashion it in clay. Then I
will return and commence the great work.
He faded slowly through the door; and after a long pause the Colonel
spoke. I wonder, he remarked thoughtfully to the Adjutant who had
returned: I wonder why such things are. . . .
* * * * * *
I am given to understand that the arrival of Bendigo Jones at the
scene of his labours the next morning caused such a sensation amongst
those privileged to witness the spectacle that the entire trench was
blocked for two hours. To only a chosen band was vouchsafed the actual
sight of the genius at work; the remainder had to be content with
absorbing his remarks as they were passed down the expectant line. And
it was doubtless unfortunate that the Divisional General should have
chosen the particular moment when the divine fire of genius was at its
brightest to visit the support line in company with his G.S.O.I. and a
galaxy of other bright and shining luminaries of the military world.
What is the meaning of this extraordinary crush in the trench this
morning? he remarked irritably to his Staff officer, as the procession
was again held up by a knot of interested men.
I really don't know, sir, murmured that worthy. It's most
unusual; it's . . .
His words were drowned by howls of delighted laughter from round the
traverse in front, and the next moment a perspiring soldier forced his
way into the bay where the great ones were temporarily wedged. It was
the special runner who was carrying the latest gem from the lips of
Bendigoat work a little farther upto the expectant and breathless
Hay! little sandbag! Ho! little sandbag! 'Ow beautiful hart thou in
Go on, Bill. Did the perisher say that? An incredulous member of
the group looked doubtful.
Did 'e say it? The carrier of news looked scornfully at the
doubter. Did 'e say it? Lumme! 'E said it twice, and then he buried
'is mug in its loverly fragrant surface, and pricked his nose on
Ginger's bayonet. 'E's mad, boys; 'e's as mad as a plurry 'atter; 'e's
got bats in 'is belfry.
Now, in spite of what I know of Bendigo Jones, I must admit that
this reputed remark taxes even my credulity. Mad he undoubtedly was
when viewed by the sordid standards of the vandals around him, but this
inspiring ode to a sandbag grew somewhat, I cannot but help thinking,
in the transmission. The regrettable thing was that it should have
reached this stage when it was unwittingly presented to the Divisional
Gangway! he roared, as the hilarity remained unabated: gangway!
He elbowed his way through the suddenly silent throng and confronted
the special runner. Now, my man, tell mewhat is all this tommy rot
Bloke farther up the trenches, sir, wot don't seem quite right in
the 'ead. Somewhat confused at the sudden appearance of the powers
that be, the perspiring harbinger of bons mots relapsed into an
uncomfortable and depressing silence.
Not right in the head, barked the General. God bless my soul! It
must be the heat. Dreadful. What shall we do, Curtis? He appealed for
support to his Staff officer.
I think, sir, the Doctor might precede us, answered the other
resourcefully, and see if the man is dangerous. If so, no doubt he
will arrange for his removal before he does any harm.
The A.D.M.S., or Assistant Director of Medical Servicesthe
official title of the principal bolus booster in a Divisionemerged
with a sickly smile from behind a corner, and advanced unwillingly to
the head of the procession.
Excellent idea, remarked the General affably. You can prescribe
for him when you see the symptoms, old boy. Probably a most interesting
caseprovided he doesn't stab you on sight.
Sit on his head, Doc., if he comes for you, remarked the Staff
officer, gracefully handing over the position of leader, and, above
all, dear old thing, don't let him bite you. Give him a Number Nine to
chew, and we'll bind him when he becomes unconscious.
It's all jolly fine for you to laugh, said the Doctor peevishly.
I'm fat and you're thin, and you can hide behind me.
They reached the bay of the trench next to Bendigo, just as a
further great utterance was starting on its way. In the excitement of
the moment, caused by the General's sudden appearance, much of this gem
What was heard, however, did not diminish the Doctor's alarm.
Howls in the leafy verdure, he remarked anxiously. Good Heavens,
General, he must be up the tree stump!
That's all right, sir! remarked a sergeant reassuringly. 'E's
quite 'armless. It's his spirit mind, 'e says. He thinks the tree is
full of leaves.
Yesbut who is howling in it, asked the General irritably. I
don't hear a sound.
It's his spirit mind again, sir, answered the sergeant
respectfully. There ain't no one 'owling really; 'e means howls wot
The procession paused awhile to digest this momentous fact, and the
Staff officer seized the opportunity to again comfort the Doctor.
Get him at once, old sport, before he becomes homicidal. You never
know when the phase will change. He may fish in his tin hat with a bent
pin first or he may shoot you on sight, but I'd go at once if I were
you. You stand more chance.
Undoubtedly the sight which confronted them on rounding the traverse
justified their worst fears. The Doctor recoiled with a choking noise
and endeavoured to wave the Staff officer forward.
Not on your life, Doc., remarked that worthy grimlynot on your
life. Go right in; and with your bulk you oughtn't to feel it much,
wherever he kicks you.
Personally, I maintain the whole thing was rather hard on Bendigo.
Before sending him up the line he should have been labelled; some
warning as to his habits should have been noised abroad by the town
crier. Then the unfortunate episode with the General would never have
occurred. He would have made allowances, and withdrawn early for light
But when a man whose face is of the type peculiarthe sort that you
give the baby to play withpractises the habits of fourteen years
unsuccessful dyspeptic futurism in a support line trench on a hot day,
the result is likely to be full of incident. Truethe wretched Bendigo
knew no better; but no more did the General. And life is made of these
trifling misunderstandings. . . .
The entranced spectators stiffened to attention as the procession of
great onespartially hidden behind the Doctoradvanced with due
military precautions. Even the phlegmatic and weary Sapper who was
assisting the genius, with base utilitarian details, such as the size
of the trap door at the back of the proposed model, showed signs of
animation. Not so Bendigo. With an expression on his face suggestive of
great internal pain, he remained seated on the fire-step muttering
softly to himself and clasping to his bosom a large lump of what
appeared to be mud.
Suddenly he placed it on the step beside him and rose with an air of
determination. The staff performed two or three nimble steps of the
foxtrot variety to the rear, and as they did so Bendigo sprang to the
assault. With a sweeping half-arm blow he struck the mud and the mud
retaliated. While it lasted the action was brisk, but the issue was
never in doubt. After two minutes in fighting, Bendigo withdrew
exhausted, and most of the mud went with him. What was left looked
A clear case of shell shock, muttered the Staff officer nervously
in the Doctor's ear. For Heaven's sake do something!
Yes, but what the deuce am I to do? Perspiring freely the gallant
officer advanced slowly in the direction of Bendigo, who suddenly
The sculptor smiled wearily and pointed a languid hand at the result
of his labours. A great work, my friend, he murmured. One of my most
Doubtless, remarked the Doctor cautiously. Don't you
thinkeryou'd better lie down?
The leafy foliage; the wonderful green effect; the treeas I see
it. Fresh, fragrant, superb. Bendigo burbled on, heedless of his
What is the fool talkin' about? howled the General, who was
standing on tip toe trying to see what was happening.
Hush, sir, I beg of you! The Doctor looked round nervously. A
I won't hush, roared his irascible senior. Why should I hush?
Some idiot is standing on my feet; and I'm wedged in here like a
sardine. Let me speak to him. The General forced his way forward.
Now, youmy man, what the devil are you doing? And what's that damned
lump of mud on the fire-step?
I am Bendigo Jones, returned the other dreamily.
I didn't ask who you were, barked the now infuriated General. I
asked you what that thing that looks like an inebriated blancmange is
meant to be.
That model? Bendigo bent forward and gazed at it lovingly. That
is yonder tree as I see it. The base materialist with the foot rule
will inform you of the mundane details.
The Sapper alluded to scowled heavily at the unconscious Bendigo.
Somewhat uncertain as to what a base materialist might be, he felt
dimly that it was a term to be resented.
I was sent up 'ere, sir, with 'im to help 'im make a model of that
there stump, he remarked morosely. That's the fifteenth mess 'e's
made this morning; and 'e's carried on 'orrible over the 'ole lot. If I
might say so, sir, 'e don't seem quite right in his 'ead.
I am inclined to agree with you, answered the General grimly. He
must be swept up and . . .
Exactly what fate was in store for Bendigo will never be known. One
of those visitations of fate which occur periodically in the trenches
interrupted the General's words, and ended the situation in more ways
Look out, sir, cried a sergeant, with a sudden shout. Rum jar
It came: wobbling, turning, and twisting, the little black object
descended from the skies towards them, and the crouching occupants of
the trench heard it hit the ground a few yards away. Then it burst with
a deafening roar: a roar which was followed by an ominous creaking.
It was the phlegmatic Sapperthe base materialistwho broke the
With an expression of great relief on his face he gazed over the top
of the trench. Thank 'Eavens! you can't make a sixteenth, mate. The
whole plurry tree's nah poo.
Nah poo, murmured Bendigo Jones. Nah poo. What is nah poo? He
stood up and peered over the top also. I see no change. To some eyes
it might seem that the tree had fallen; to mine it lives for
everfragrant and cool. He descended and trod heavily on the
General's toe. To you, sir, as a man of understanding, I give my
morning's labours. I have rechristened it. It symbolises 'Children at
play in Epping Forest.'
Magnificently he thrust the lump of disintegrating dirt into the
arms of his outraged superior. It is yours, sir; I, Bendigo Jones,
have given you my masterpiece.
Then he departed.
* * * * * *
The only man who really suffered was the base materialist. Two hours
later he rolled up for his dinner, in a mood even more uncommunicative
'Ullo, Nobby, remarked the cook affably, you don't seem yer usual
chatty self this morning. An' wot 'ave you got on your neck?
Less of it, returned the other morosely. It's Hepping Forest. And
thathe plucked a fragment from his hairthat is the bally twins
playin' ''Unt the slipper.'
Even the cook was stirred out of his usual air of superiority by
this assertion, and contemplated the speaker with interest. You don't
say. He inspected the phenomenon more closely. I thought as 'ow it
It is. Nobby was even more morose. It belonged to that 'orror
Bendigo Jones, and 'e went and give it to the General. The speaker
swallowed once or twice. Then the General, 'e gives it back, in a
manner of speaking. Only Bendy had gone by the time it come, andI
'adn't. Lumme! wot a life.
VIII. THE SONG OF THE BAYONET
Two men were seated at a table in a restaurant. Dinner was over, and
from all around them came the murmur of complacent and well-fed London.
A string band of just sufficient strength gave forth a ragtime effort;
a supreme being hovered near to ensure that the '65 brandy was all it
should be. Of the men themselves little need be said: my story is not
of them. Only their conversation, half serious, half joking, brought
back the picture of Jimmy O'SheaIrishman, cowpuncher, general
scallywag, and his doctrines of war and the way of his death. As I sat
at the next table lazily watching pictures in the haze of tobacco
smoke, their words conjured up the vision of that incomparable fighter
who paid the great price a year ago, and now lies somewhere near Le
Rutoire in the plains beyond Loos. For their talk was of a strange
thing: the bayonet and the psychology of killing. . . .
Have you ever killed a man, Joe? that is, killed him with a
bayonet? It was the man in mufti who was speaking; and his
companiona Major in khakilaughed shortly.
I can't say that I have. I've shot one or two Huns, but I've never
put a bayonet into one.
The other grunted. They were teaching me to use a bayonet this
morning. It's rather fun. An intensely pugilistic little man stamped
his foot at me, and brandished a ball on the end of a stick in front of
my face. One's aim and object, as far as I could tell from the book of
the words, was to stab the ball with the point of one's bayonet, and at
the same time grunt in a manner calculated to cause alarm and
despondency to every one within earshot. At times you hit the ball with
the butt of the rifle; at others you kick it, endeavouring if possible
not to stub your toe. Everything depends on what part of the German's
anatomy it is supposed to represent at the moment. He paused and relit
his cigar; then he smiled slightly. I rather enjoyed it. The
pugilistic warrior was quite pleased with me. He barked 'stomach' at me
out of my turn, and there was the dam ball about a yard away. I stabbed
it, kicked it, hit it with my butt, and fell down, all in the course of
two seconds. But you know, Joe,again he paused slightlyit's one
thing to joke and talk about it here. I can't help thinking it's going
to be a very different matter when one gets to the real goods. Fancy
putting a foot of cold steel into a man's body.
A woman paused by their table on the way out.
So you've actually joined up, you poor dear. Your wife told me you
quite liked it.
Yes, dear lady. He stood up and bowed. After refusing me a
commission for two years they've pushed me into what I believe they
call the Feet. It's rather jolly. I haven't felt so well for years.
And what do you do? She adjusted her wrap to pass on.
Oh! learn to stab people, and kick them in the tummy; and all sorts
of little parlour tricks like that.
You dreadful man! I don't believe you're a bit bloodthirsty
really. She shook a reproving finger at him and laughed. But I shan't
mind a bit if you kill a lot of those nasty Germans.
She drifted away, and the man in mufti sat down again. The last
time I saw her she had a concert for the wounded at her house. A
slightly bow-legged woman of great bulk was singing about her soldier
lover, who saved her icckle bruvver. My hostess criedshe's that type.
Only a little of course; but one tear somehow arrived.
The soldier laughed. There are a few like that; thank heaven! not
many. They've learned, Dick; they're learning every day.
Up to a point. I am learning to stab people; a thing which, when
you actually come down to it, is beyond her comprehension. She vaguely
knows that that is a soldier's jobor one of them; but it means
nothing to her. And I don't know that it means very much more to me.
You'll find it will, my dear fellow, when the moment comes, and
you've got your rag out and are seeing red. Let's go.
The two men got up; waiters hastened forward; and in a few moments
their table was empty. For a brief space the curtain of imagination had
been lifted; the drama of grim stark death had flashed into a setting
of luxury and life. . . .
And with the rise of the curtain Jimmy O'Shea had stepped on to the
boards; for no man who knew him could ever hear the word bayonet
without recalling him, if only for a second.
He was a mixture was Jimmyone of those strange jumbles of
character in which no country is more rich than Ireland. He would not
take a commission, though times and again he was offered one by his
I can teach the boys more as a sergeant, sir, he would answer;
teach them better how to score the points that win.
You bloodthirsty ruffian, laughed the Colonel. Your old doctrine,
I suppose, of close-quarter work.
You have it, sir, answered O'Shea quietly. Every dead German is
one point up to us; every dead Englishman is a point down. I am
teaching the boys how to kill, and not be killed themselves.
But what the devil do you suppose they have been taught? The C.O.
would lean back and light a cigarette. To sit and pick buttercups, and
ask the Huns to shoot 'em?
Shooting, is it? Jimmy's tone expressed immeasurable scorn. The
shooting will look after itself. It's the bayonet I talk to them about,
and where to put it, and how to use it. As you know yourself, sir, a
man will shoot to kill, where he'll hesitate to use his bayonetif
That's so. It's instinctive at times.
Bedad, sir, they have no instinct when I've finished with
themsave one. Kill clean and kill fast; and God help you if you slip.
. . .
It is possible that when a person has given no thought to war, and
the objects of war, this distinction may seem strange. Death is a big
matter to the average being, and one of some finality; and the manner
of one's going may strike him as of little account. In which assumption
he is perfectly rightif he is the member of the party who is going to
be killed. But that is not the idea which a man going into a scrap
should hold for a moment. A man goes into a scrap to killnot to be
killed. To die for one's country may be glorious; to kill for one's
country is very much more so, and a deuced sight less uncomfortable.
Wherefore, as Jimmy O'Shea would have said, if you'd asked him, It's
outing the other swine you're after, me bucko; not being outed
yourself. Once you've got your manicured lunch hooks (as a phrase for
hands I liked that sentence) on the blighter's throat, it's up to you
to kill him before he kills you. And don't forget it's no dress
rehearsal show. You won't fail twice.
Now I do not wish to appear over-bloodthirsty, or to pretend for one
moment that war is a gigantic and continuous shambles. It is not. But
the essence of war is man power, and the points are scored by putting
men out of action, without being put out of action yourself. The idea
may not be nicebut war is not nice: one may not approve of the sea
being salt, but disapproval does not alter hard truth. And having once
granted that factand surely none can deny itit is the different
methods of scoring points which must be discussed. Some are
impersonalsome are not: some are done in cold bloodsome in hot. The
whole thing is just a question of human nature; and in war, above every
other known thing in this world, it is human nature that tells: it is
human nature that is the great deciding factor. A man throws a bomb
into a saphead full of Huns. He lies there covered by the darkness,
crouching, waiting One, two, threeand the sharp roar of the
explosion shatters the peace of the night. Guttural cursings and a
dreadful agonised moaning follow in the silence that seems the more
intense through the contrast. And with a smile of great content
wreathing his face, the bomber creeps stealthily away to avoid
intrusive flares. The matter was impersonal, the groaning Hun was a
Hun, not an individuality. . . .
A couple of men, mud-caked and weary, with a Lewis gun between them,
are peering over the top in an early light of dawn. Beside them there
are others: tense, with every nerve alert, looking fixedly into the
grey shadows, wondering, a little jumpy.
Wot is it, Bill? A man at the bottom of the trench is fixing a
rifle grenade in his rifle. Shall I put this one over?
Gawd knows. Bill is craning his head from side to side, standing
on the fire-step. Lumme! there they are. Let 'em 'ave it, Joe. It's a
ruddy working party. Drawing a steady hand he fires, only to eject his
spent cartridge at once and fire again. With a sudden phlop the rifle
grenade goes drunkenly up into the mist; with a grunt of joy the Lewis
gun and its warrior discharge a magazine at the dim-seen figures. And
later, with intense eagerness, the ground in front will be searched
with periscopes for the discovering and counting of the bag. The matter
is impersonal; the dead are Huns, not individuals. . . .
But with a bayonet the matter is different. No longer is the man you
fight an unknown impersonality. He stands before you, an individual
whose face you can see, whose eyes you can read. He has taken unto
himself the guise of a man; he has dropped the disguise of an
automaton. In those eyes you may read the redness of fury or the
greyness of terror; in either case it is you or him. And a soldier's
job is to kill. . . .
In nine cases out of ten he has forfeited the right to surrender,
for as Jimmy used to say, There's only one method of surrendering, and
that's by long-distance running. When the blackguards come out of their
trenches fifty yards away and walk towards you bleating, 'Yes, sare;
coming at once, sare, thick or clear, sare;' you may take 'em
Thus the doctrine in brief of Jimmy O'Shea, sergeant and cowpuncher,
scallywag and sahib, devil and tender-hearted gentleman. I lifted my
glass in a silent toast. The music was sobbing gently; the voices of
women came stealing into my reverie; the smell of the brandy in my
glass brought back a memory of other women, other brandy. . . .
The square in the old French town was alive with market carts, which
lumbered noisily over the cobble stones, while around the pavements,
stalls and barrows did a roaring trade. It was market-day, and the hot
summer sun shone down on the busy crowds. Soldiers and civilians, women
and small children bargained and laughed and squabbled over the prices
of oofs and other delicacies for the inner man. Except for the khaki
and the ever present ambulance which threaded its way through the
creaking country carts, it might have been peace time again in Northern
France. Yet eight or nine miles away were the trenches.
Facing the square was an open-air café, where a procession of large
light beers was pursuing its way down various dry throats, belonging to
officers both French and British: beer that was iced, and beautiful to
behold. Away down a little farther on sat Jimmy O'Shea; not admitted
into the sacred portals marked Officers only, but none the less happy
for that. In front of him was a small glass of cognac. . . .
It was just as a stout and somewhat heated Frenchman in civilian
clothes got up from the little table next to mine that it happened.
There was no sound of warningit just occurred. The house by the clock
was there one moment; the next moment it was not. A roar filled the
air, drowning the clattering carts; bricks, tables, beds went hurtling
up into space; walls collapsed and crashed on to the cobbles. A great
cloud of stifling dust rose swiftly and blotted out the scene. Then
silencethe silence of stupefaction settled for a while on the
watching hundreds, while bricks and stones rained down on them from the
It was the little Frenchman who spoke first. Mon Dieu! une bombe.
Et moi je suis le Maire. He walked unsteadily towards the cloud of
dust, and with his going pandemonium broke loose. Mechanically the beer
went down our throats, while in all directions carts bumped and jolted,
wheels got locked, barrows overturned. Still the same blue sky; still
the same serene sun; but in the place of a quiet grey housewreckage,
dust, death. And around us the first frenzy of panic.
Do you put that down to an aeroplane? I looked up to see Jimmy
O'Shea beside me. All right, mother. He was patting an excited woman
on her back. I'll help you. He started to pick up the contents of her
barrow, which reposed principally in the gutter, having been knocked
off by a bolting horse. No need to get your wind up. You're cutting no
ice in this show; you're only on as a super.
The woman somewhat naturally did not understand a word; but O'Shea
had a way with women and children, wherein lay the charm of his strange
mixture of character.
Now these eggs, mother dear, these eggs. Bedad! they've gone to
their last long rest. We can't even scramble them. Oofs, dear heart,
C'est tout napoo. She even laughed as she looked at the
concentrated essence of yellow and white flowing slowly down the
gutter. Mon Dieu! voilà une autre. Another thunderous roar;
another belching, choking cloud of dust and death, and a house on the
other side of the square collapsed.
It's no aeroplane, sir, said Jimmy, with his eyes on the sky.
It's a long-range gun, or I'm a Dutchman. He looked down to find a
little girl clasping his knee and whimpering. And phwat is it, me
angel? He caught her up in his arms and laughed. Shure! and I've
forgotten me little glass of stuff. Come along with me and find it.
He strode away, only to return with her in a second or two, laughing
all over her face. Yeshe had a way with him, had Jimmy O'Shea.
But it was in the final tableau of that morning's work that I
remember him best. It was a long-range gun as he said; and they put in
fifteen twelve-inch shells in an hour, round about the square. Two got
the hospital, and one hit a barber's shop where an officer was being
shaved. I remember we saw him with half his face lathered, and later on
we found his hand still gripping the arm of the chair. As for the
We sorted out the remnants of some children from the débris of one
house; and I left O'Shea after a while with a little kid of eight or
nine in his arms. She was booked for God's nursery, and the passing was
not going to be easy, for she was hitnastily. And it was while Jimmy
was nursing the poor torn atom with the tenderness of a woman that
another sergeant of his battalion came on the scene to see if he could
God! Jimmy, I heard him say, this makes one sick.
Sick! O'Shea's voice was quiet. Sick! I've stuck many of them,
thank the powers, but never againnever again, my buckowill it be
anywhere save in the stomach. Anything else is too quick.
I looked at his face; and I understood. . . .
YesI understood because I had seen: otherwise, I should not. He
would have been talking another languageone to which I was a
stranger: even as were those around me, in that London restaurant,
strangerseven as the men, when they first come to France, are
strangers. That is the point which is in danger at times of being
overlooked, especially by those who remain behind. The men are not
changed in nature because they don a khaki coat, or even because they
go into the trenches. They have gone to a new school, that is all; and
if they would do well they must learn all the lessonsthe many and
very divergent lessonsthey are taught. For in the hotch-potch of war
there is a strange mixture of the material and the spiritual; and
though at present I am concerned with the former, the latter is just as
important. It is the material side of which the men such as Jimmy
O'Shea are the teachers. Unless the pupils learn from the O'Sheas, they
will have to do so from the Hun. And the process may not be pleasant. .
There are many branches of the main lesson: the counters in the game
may be shells or bombs or rifle bullets or bayonets. But the method of
scoring is the same in each caseone down or one up. And of them all
the bayonet is the counter which is at once the most deadly and the
most intolerant of mistakes. A good friend, a hard taskmaster is the
bayonet, and O'Shea was the greatest of all its prophets. . . . The
main object of his life was to imbue his men, and any one else he could
persuade to listen, with its song. His practical teaching was sound,
very sound; his verbal lashings were wonderful, unique. He'd talk and
talk, and one's joy was to watch his audience. A sudden twitch, a snap
of the jaw, and a bovine face would light up with unholy joy. The squad
drawn up ready for practice, with the straw-filled sacks in front of
them, would mutter ominously, and teeth would show in a snarl. Absurd,
you say; not a bit; just a magnetic personality, and men of the right
stuff. Dash it! I've seen even the Quartermaster, whose ways do not lie
near such matters, hopping about from one leg to the other when Jimmy's
peroration rose to its height.
Have you a child, MacNab, a little wee kid? he would begin.
I have, sargint, MacNab would answer.
Then can you imagine that wee kid with his little hands cut off? Is
it a boy, MacNab?
It is, sargint.
It is. That's good. But they preferred doing it to boys, MacNab.
Listen to me, the lot of you. Don't mind the aeroplane. Number Two in
the rear rank. They're like gooseberries out here. Number Two's eyes
would abruptly come to earth again and focus themselves on the man in
front. I want you to think, Jimmy would go on quietly, of the dirty,
lousy crowd of German waiters you remember at home in the days before
the war. Do you remember their greasy-looking clothes, and their
greasy-looking faces, and the way you used to treat 'em as the scum of
the world? Would you have one of them, MacNab, cut the hands off your
kid; would you, me bucko?
I would not, sargint. MacNab's slow brain was working; his eyes
were beginning to glint.
Then come out here. Jimmy's voice rose to a shout. Come out and
move. Do you see that sack? do you see that white disc? Run at it, you
blighter; run, snarl, spit. That's the German who has killed your kid.
The white paper is his heart; run, man, run. Stab him, kill him; stuff
your bayonet in him, and scream with rage.
The bewildered MacNab, on the conclusion of this tirade, would amble
up to the sack, push his gun feebly in its direction, completely miss
itand look sheepishly into space.
Mother of heaven! The first competitor in Nuts and May. Did you
hear me tell you to hit the sack, MacNab? For God's sake, man, stick
your bayonet in; hit it with your butt; kick it; tear it in pieces with
your teeth; worry it; do anythingbut don't stand there looking like a
Scotchman on Sunday. The dam thing's laughing at you.
And so at last MacNab would begin. Bits of sacking would fly in all
directions, streams of straw and sawdust would exude. He's kicked it
twice, and hit it an appalling welt with the butt of his gun. The sweat
pours from his face; but his eyes are gleaming, as he stops at last
from sheer exhaustion.
Splendid, MacNab; you're a credit to Glasgow, me boy. Are you
beginning to feel what it's like to stick your point into something,
even though it's only a sack?
But MacNab is already more than half ashamed of his little outburst;
he is unable to understand what made him see redand somewhat
uncomfortably he returns to his place in the squad. Only, if you look
at Jimmy, you will see the glint of a smile in his eyes: the squad is
newthe beginning has not been bad. He knows what made MacNab see red;
by the time he has finished with him, the pride of Glasgow will never
see anything else. . . .
And yet what do they know of seeing red, these diners of London? It
is just as well, I grant, that they should know nothing; but sometimes
one wonders, when they talk so glibly of the trenches, when they
dismiss with a casual word the many months of hideous boredom, the few
moments of blood-red passion of the overseas life, what would they
thinkhow would they lookif they did know.
Would they look as did O'Neil's bride, when the robber chief's head
arrived at the breakfast table? Lest there be any unfortunates who know
not Kipling let me quote:
As a derelict ship drifts away with the tide
The Captain went out on the Past from his Bride,
Back, back, through the springs to the chill of the year,
When he hunted the Boh from Maloon to Tsaleer.
As the shape of a corpse dimmers up through deep water,
In his eye lit the passionless passion of slaughter,
And men who had fought with O'Neil for the life
Had gazed on his face with less dread than his wife. . . .
Perhapswho knows? It is difficult to imagine the results of an
impossibilityand knowledge in this case is an impossibility. Still at
times the grim cynicism of the whole thing comes over one with a rush,
and onelaughs. It is the only solutionlaughter. Let us blot it out,
all this strange performance in France: let us eat, drink and be merry.
But some quotations are better not finished. . . .
Come and join us at our table. A girl was speaking, an awfully
dear girl, one to whom I had been among the many also rans. Her
husbandan officer in the infantrygrinned affably from another
In a moment, I answered her, I will come, and you won't like me
at all when I do. Then I remembered something. Why do you dine with
Who?My funny old Dick? A dreadful sight, isn't he, but quite
Is he? You ask him about the German at Les Boeufs whom he met
unexpectedly, and see what he says.
The Ballad of Boh da Thone came backthe humour of it. Dickthe
old blackguarda rifle butt, and a German's head after he'd hit
itone side; a boiled shirt, dress clothes, and a general air of
complacent peacefulnessthe other. And the girl: it is always the girl
who points the contrast. . . .
I laughed. Go away, and talk to your harmless husband. I am wrapped
in thought, or was, till you disturbed me.
What did she knowGod bless herof the details, the filthy,
necessary details of war. To her it was just a parting from one man,
who went into an unknown land where there was dangerhideous,
But of the reality. . . .
It is all contained in the one axiomKill, and kill at once, so as
to have a maximum of time to kill more. And with the bayonet, do not
let it be imagined for a moment that the work is easy. Bayonet fighting
requires perfect condition, a fair share of strength, and a quick eye.
Mistakes, when a man comes to the real thing, are not likely to occur
twice, and there are many things which a man must learn who aspires to
become even as Jimmy O'Shea.
How to go round a traverse when a Boche is on the other side, and
it's him or you; how to take on three men in succession, when the last
one throws his arms round your neck, and burbles, Ve vos
friendsnein? Jimmy was great on that point: with the bayonet jabbed
upwards into the chin, and the sapient remark, Ve vos, ma
tear. But enough; this is not a treatise on bayonet fighting, and I
have in mind to tell of O'Shea's last fight.
There is just one more scene which comes back vividly before I reach
the end, and that is the final exercise he gave his men in their
training. When they'd thrust and parried and stabbed; when they'd
jumped trenches and thrust their bayonets into sacks on the other side;
when they'd been confronted with strange balls of straw in unexpected
places, and kicked them or jabbed them or bit them as the case might
bethen came the gem, the bonne bouche.
These preliminary practices were only one stroke, one thrust; the
last was a fight to the death in a manner of speaking, and it was
generally preceded by one of Jimmy's better stories. The best he kept
for recital just before going over the top; so as to send 'em along
frothing at the mouth, as he put it.
You don't remember Captain Trent, do you, boys? he'd begin. Just
stand easy a while, and I'll tell you about him. After that you've got
to fight a bit. He was a great officer, boys, a grand officerone of
the best. Did you ever hear how he was killed? Come out here, Malvaney;
we'll just start the scrapping while I tell you. Do you see this straw
ball on the top of the stick? As long as it's off the ground, it's a
German. Hit it, stick it, bite it, kick it, and go on till I put it on
the ground again. And curse, you blighter, curse. Just think it's the
German who stuck his bayonet into Captain Trentone of your
officerswhile he was lying on the ground wounded in the head.
The ball began to dance. Go on, Malvaney. Kill it, man, kill it;
grunt, snarl; think of the swine and what they've done. Jab, jabup in
his throat. I'll get you a live one to practise on one day. At last
the ball would come to rest, and Malvaneyhis teeth bared,
snarlingwould face Jimmy, who stood there smiling grimly. And in a
few seconds Malvaney would grin too, and the blood lust would die out
of his eyes. . . .
Good boynot half bad! O'Shea would nod approvingly. The worst
of it is the swine will never stand up to youbayonet to bayonet. They
prefer women and wounded menlike the Captain. Come here, MacNab, and
get an appetite for your dinner. You can just rest a whileI'll get on
a bit with that story. It was way back in the Spring, down south a bit;
and we went over the top. Have you been over the top, MacNab?
I have that, answered the Scotchman in a reminiscent tone.
How many did you kill?
Four-rah'm thinking; but ah'm no certain aboot one of them.
Four! And none too dusty. Hit it, MacNab, me boythe ball would
dance in his facehit it, as if 'twas the one of which you are not
certain. Listen here, boysonce again the ball was at rest on the
groundI was behind Captain Trent when we went overin the third
wave; and when I got to the Germans I was just in time to see it.
Jimmy's pauses were always dramatic.
See wot, sargint? An interested and comparatively new arrival to
the battalion would lean forward.
Captain Trent lying at the bottom of the trenchhe'd gone over
with the first waveand a Hun pulling a bayonet out of him. Moreover,
Captain Trent was wounded in the head. His voice gathered in fury.
Think of it, me bohunks; then think of a conscientious objector; and
then come and kill this ruddy ball. A dirty filthy scut of a German
waiter murdering a wounded Englishman. Hit it, MacNab; hit it; stab it,
kick it; think you're scrambling for whisky in a prohibited area.
Wot did you do, sargint? The new arrival was still interested.
What would you have done, Marmaduke? Come here, my boy; come here
and breathe blood.
The new arrivala little bashful at his sudden notorietystepped
forward. I'd have killed him, sargint.
Then kill this ball; go onkill it. Damme, boy; you're jumping
about like an old woman looking for a flea in a bed. Move, boy, move;
the ball's the flea, and you're the old trout. Bite it, boy, bite it;
stamp on it; take out your fork and stick it with that. The ball came
to rest; the new arrival mopped his brow. Did I ever tell you how to
kill a man with your dinner fork, by sticking it into his neck? I will
some day; it's a good death for a Hun.
Did you catch that there swine, sergeant? Another voice from the
squad took up the tale.
Did I catch him? Did I catch him? If I hadn't caught him, Percival,
I wouldn't be here now. I wouldn't dare look an exempted indispensable
in the facelet alone you. And for a fat man he ran well.
Didn't 'e fight? Marmaduke had more or less recovered his breath.
Fight! O'Shea grinned at the recollection. He looked up; he saw
me about five yards away; he gave one squawk like the female
ducked-billed platypus calling to her young, and he faded round the
traverse like the family do when the landlord comes for the rent. Come
here, O'Sullivanand break up the home.
Marmaduke retired, to be replaced by a brawny Irishman.
I caught him, O'Sullivanhit, man, hitjust as he reached his
dug-out. Kick it, man; you can't use your butt from there. Jab,
jabyou blighter; for God's sake use your gun as if you loved it. He
stuck in the door, O'Sullivan, for half a second. There's the
ballthat's his back. Go on. Good, good. With an awful curse the
Irishman lunged and the ball dropped to the ground.
Dead, O'Shea grinned. That's what I did; through the back. But
the blamed thing stuck; I couldn't get it out. What do you do then,
Put a round in, sargint, and blow it out.
Good boy, Marmaduke. You'll be a Field-Marshal before you've done.
That's what I did too; and I blew the swine down the entrance. Now
then, half with sticks and half with rifles; go onfight
This, as I said, was one of Jimmy's better stories. Incidentally it
had the merit of being true. . . .
But one could continue indefinitely. Some one will write a book one
day about Jimmy O'Shea, and the manner of his life. If so, order an
advance copy; it will be the goods. Just at the moment it was the
manner of his death that had me. I was back again in derelict
Vermelles, with its spattered water tower, and the flat desolate plain
in front. Loos is out of sight over the hill; only the great slag heap
lies squat and menacing on one's left, with the remnants of Big Willie
and Little Willie near to its base in the old blood-soaked Hohenzollern
redoubt. Cambrin, Guinchy, La Basséesilent and haunted, teeming with
ghosts, lie stagnant in the morning sun. The cobwebs drift across the
Hulluch road, and in the distance, by the first bend, a man pushing a
wheeled stretcher comes slowly walking back to the dressing station.
It's still going on: nothing much has changed; and yetthe cigar is
good; the brandy superb: the brandy Jimmy preferred. He only spent one
leave in England; as a sergeant he couldn't get more; but I dined with
him one night, dress clothes and all complete, and we drank that
brandy. One need hardly say, perhaps, that the writing on the register
of his birth would have been hard put to it to spell O'Shea. There have
been many like him this war, from the legions of the lost ones and the
cohorts of the damned; and they've come to us out of the waste places,
out of the lands that lie beyond the mountains. Unhonoured, unknown,
they've finished the game; and having finished, they lie at peace.
Britain called them; they camethose so-called wasters; look to it,
you overmuch righteous ones, who have had to be dragged by the hairs of
your headsbleating of home ties and consciences. . . .
I forget which of the stories I heard him telling the men that
morning before they went over. He read one lot a thing he swore he'd
got out of a German paperHeaven knows if it was true. I remember it
ended up: Above all things show no mercy to the accursed English. They
are the starters of this war; so spit on them, kick them, use them as
the swine they are.
There you are, boys, cried Jimmy cheerily, listen to what the
pretties say about you. You'll be into 'em in a minute; and don't
forget what I've told you about the way to use your gun. Kill fast and
kill clean. Don't you put up with any back lash from a sausage-eating
waiter. Remember you're English, me boys; and remember the
Regimentthe Regiment that's never yet failed.
And so he went on; worth a hundred times his weight in gold to men
going in for the first time.
Your point is at his throat, boy, don't forget it. You ain't
playing the goat with a dam lump of straw now; you're going to get a
bit of your own back with a real live Fritz. And if you make a mistake
you may not have a chance of making another. Go there steady; don't get
blown, or you'll find you won't be able to do what you'd like when you
bump Master Boche.
He passed me with a salute and a wink.
Coming over? he asked me.
I am, Jimmy, with some wire and other atrocities.
Good, he said. The boys are simply frothing blood.
He went on; and that was the last time I saw Jimmy O'Shea alive.
Ye Gods! My Lord , some day I'll tell you of your son's end. You
kicked him outperhaps rightly; though mercy was never your strong
point. But if any of the belted ancestors in that gallery of yours did
as much for England as Jimmy did, or died as gloriously as Jimmy died,
well, you should be a proud man, prouder even than you are. He sent the
boys over raving mad with blood, and they struck Bavariansand good
Bavarians: men who could fight, and men who did fight. They were at it,
teeth, feet, and steel for ten minutes: primitive, lustful fighting;
and then the Bavarians broke; with the boys after them, stabbing and
cursing. One or two were left, though they wouldn't surrender, more
power to them. A Bavarian officer, in fact, concluded the eventful
career of Sapper O'Toole, the company rum-swallowing champion. True he
brained that officer with a coil of barbed wire on the end of a pick
helve, even as the bullet entered his heart; but he was a great loss to
us. And it was just as we surged over their bodies that we came to the
Jimmy lay round the traverse. We found him at the bottom when we'd
sorted out the litter. There were six of them he'd done in in all; you
could trace what had happened. They'd been lining the trench, and he'd
taken them in order. It was in the fifth that his bayonet stuck. He
couldn't get it out. It was still there. At that moment, evidently,
Number Six had come at him, and he'd had no time. So they closed; and,
my God! they'd fought.
I think they both must have gone out about the same time. Jimmy was
shot through the heart by the Bavarian's revolver; the Bavarian's
throat was cut with Jimmy's clasp knife.
No bad end, my lord; what say you? I will show you the exact spot
some day, and your son's grave near by. I'd have his picture in the
gallery if I were you. . . . I've got a snapshot I can let you have,
taken in France. But I treasure it; and unless you hang it in the place
of honour, amongst the RaeburnsI keep it. Mark you, he deserves that
place of honour. . . .
* * * * * *
Captain Johnson's compliments, sir, and are you coming over to have
a liqueur at his table?
The waiter's voice cut in on my thoughts. The band was hitting a
ragtime stunt; London had dined and was pleased with itself; Dick and
his lady were beckoning. For the moment it felt like coming to from an
I shook myself and got up. Of course I was drinking a liqueur with
them: another glass of brandyJimmy O'Shea's brandy.
Are you in love? queried the girl anxiously as I sat down. You've
been muttering to yourself and squinting and Dickie got worried about
Not more than usualthough I'm glad to learn the symptoms. Then I
looked at her, and the wonder of a girl in love hit me almost like a
blow. In it lay the answer to my thoughts. No longer a cynical
amusement in their failure to realise the contrast, but rather a mighty
thankfulness. For it is they, in their blessed ignorance, who keep us
I raised my glass. To things as they are, my lady, I murmured. And
from the land of shadows Jimmy drank with me.
PART III. SEED TIME
I. THE SEED
I have in my mind the tale of a superior young mana very superior
young man, genteel, and thoroughly versed in the intricacies of
etiquette. The majority of the human race was, without any loss to
itself, unaware that he existed; but the ladies and gentlemen on
the staff of Mogg's Mammoth Emporium viewed him as the supreme arbiter
of elegance. And just because the average human being would have
assertedand asserted correctlythat for such as him there is no hope
save drowning in puppyhood, I would tell his story. It is the exception
which proves the rule. It is the proof that we are the slaves of custom
and environment; and that, given something as the bed-rock, much may be
done by a good teacher. There was something in this very superior young
man as it turned out, though few would have suspected it, had they seen
him before the war. But then, no one can ever listen to a person of the
male sex proffering a good line of stockings in Lisle thread at one and
eleven-three without experiencing a strong desire to be sick. Which
goes back to what I said before: the whole thing is one of environment.
The stocking vendors knew no better; for want of the necessary teaching
they took to their nauseating trade. It's all in the Old Bookhow
shall they learn, unless they be taught? Had they had the
teachingwell, listen to the story of this very superior young
gentleman, one time deputy chief stomach bender of Mogg's Mammoth
Millinery Emporiumterms. Strictly Cash. What the sub deputy chief
waistcoat creaser will say if he reads these words I shudder to think.
You see, the very superior young gentleman was so genteel.
A hot morning sun shone down on the outskirts of the town. Nothing
moved, nothing stirred; utter silence brooded over the houses that once
had been buzzing with peoplethe people of Arras. Now their only
occupants were rats. The little gardens at the back were dank with
unchecked weeds, save where a great conical hole showed the clean brown
earth. And at the bottom of each of these holes lay a pool of foetid
green water. The walls were crumbling, decay was rampant, the place
breathed corruption. Occasionally the silence would be broken by a
crash, and a little heap of brick rubble would subside into the road,
raising a cloud of thick choking dust. Occasionally there would be
another sound, like the drone of a great beetle, followed by a dull
echoing roar and a bigger cloud of dust. Occasionally would come the
ping-phut of a stray bullet; but of human life there was no sign.
Not, that is to say, to the casual observer; but to the man who
looked out of the aeroplane circling above much was visible which you
or I would not see. To him there came the vision of an occasional move
behind some mouldering wall: sometimes an upturned face, sometimes the
glint of steel. In one garden by a broken cucumber frame a man was
polishing his bayonet, and the flash from it caught the observer's eye.
Just oppositethirty yards awaytwo or three men were sitting round a
fire from which the smoke curled slowly up. And the bayonet cleaner was
clothed in khaki, while the cookers had on a dirty field grey; between
them lay No Man's Land. But to the casual observersilence: silence
and death and the dreadful stink of corruption. Many others had cleaned
bayonets and cooked stews under these same conditions, and many in the
doing thereof had gone suddenly, and without warning, into the great
Silence. For it was a sniper's paradise, as the victimscould they
have spokenwould have testified. As it was they lay there lightly
buried, and the same fool men made the same fool mistakes and came and
joined them. As I say, it was a sniper's paradise. . . .
Into this abode of joy, then, came the very superior young
gentleman. It was principally owing to the fact that Miss
Belsizethe lady who dispensed camisoles, or some equally seductive
garmentshad flatly refused to accompany him any longer to the High
Street Picture Palace if he remained in his frock coat, that our friend
had donned khaki. For a long while he had stoutly affirmed that he was
indispensable; then the transfer of affection on the part of camisoles
to a dangerous-looking corporal from the wild and woolly West decided
him. He did not like that corporal. No man who, meeting a comparative
stranger, beat him on the back painfully, and, having looked his latest
glad rags up and down, remarked with painful distinctness, Lumme! is
it real? could possibly be considered a gentleman. But Miss Belsize
had laughed long and laughed loud; andwell, I will not labour the
point. In due course our superior one found himself in the haunt of
death I have briefly described above, still full of self-importance and
as inconceivably ignorant as the majority are who come for the first
time to the game across the water.
Recently arrived with a draft it was his initial experience of war
in France, in contrast with training in England; in fact, the morning
in question was his first visit to the trenches. And because many
better men than he have endeavoured to conceal a peculiar sinking of
the stomach by an assumed bravado, let us not blame him for the
attitude he endeavoured to take up.
Pretty quiet, isn't it, corporal? he remarked airily, as his
section came to rest in a trench behind a mass of broken brick and
cobble stones. Lor', look at that glass up there, hidden in the
stones. For a moment curiosity mastered him, and he reached up towards
it with his hand. The next instant he gave a cry of anger, as a jolt in
his ribs with a rifle doubled him up. What the deuce he began
Don't you deuce me, my lad, said the corporal dispassionately, or
you and me will quarrel. Just you do what you're told, and I'll write
and tell your ma you're a good little boy. The corporala man of few
wordswent on his way, leaving our herowhose name by the way was
If that blighter hits me again, he remarked when the N.C.O. was
out of hearing, I'll
You'll what? An old soldier looked at him scornfully. He goes an'
saves yer mouldy life and then yer bleats. Got yer bib, Reggie
Not so much of your row. The corporal had come back again. This
ain't a ruddy colony of rooks in the nesting season. Now, Simpkins, you
and Gingerfirst relief. There's your periscopeyou can relieve them
Where's the periscope? asked Reginald of his companion in a
The glass up there, you flat-faced perisherhidden in the stones.
Wot d'you think it is? A noyster laying eggs!
The trench settled down to silence as the company relief was
completed, and Reginald morosely nursed his grievance. Much of the
gentle flattery to which he had been accustomed at Mogg's Mammoth
Emporium seemed conspicuous by its absence in this new sphere in which
he found himself. Not to put too fine a point on it, people seemed
positively rude at times, even ruder than they had been at home. He
confided as much in an aggrieved whisper to the unsympathetic Ginger.
Rude! That worthy spat with violence and accuracy. You wait till
you bump into Shorty Bill. Rude! Gawd! 'E's a 'oly terror.
Who is Shorty Bill? queried Reggie, his eyes fixed on the glass
whose mysteries he was beginning to understand.
But Ginger was in no mood for further confidences. You'll find out
fast enough 'oo Shorty is. 'E's down 'ere to-day. You watch that there
periscope. This ain't no rest curethis bit 'ere. It's 'ell.
It seems pretty quiet, ventured the watcher after a short silence.
Yus! That's wot the last man said wot I was with behind this wall.
There's 'is brains on that stone behind you.
With an involuntary shudder Reginald looked round at the stone, on
which the grim stains still remained. What did it? he asked, barely
above a whisper.
Black Fritz, answered the other. 'E's a sniper, what lives
opposite; and 'e's paid for 'is keep that swine 'aspaid for 'is keep.
Charlie Turner, an' 'Arry, an' Ginger Woodward, an' Nobby Clark, an'
the sergeant-major, an' two orficers. Yus'e's paid for 'is keep, 'e
'as'as Master Black Fritz.
And he's over there, said Reggie, a little breathlessly.
Yus. Where the 'ell do you think 'e is? In an aeryplane? Once
again Ginger spat dispassionately, and then relapsed into a silence
from which he refused to be drawn until the presence of two more men
beside him indicated that the hour of relief had come.
Now look here, Simpkins, said the corporal when the relief was
completed, this is your first visit to the trenches, isn't it? Well,
you can sit down now and have a sleep, or you can write or read if you
like. But, whatever you do, don't go showing your ugly face over the
top; because this place ain't healthy. He turned away, and Reggie was
left to his own resources.
Come round the corner, said Ginger in his ear. I'll show you a
spot to sleep. I know this 'ere bit like me own back parlour.
And sohad any one been sufficiently interested in his doings to
report the factit might have been noted that ten minutes later our
friend was sitting on the fire step writing a lurid epistle to Miss
Belsize, while Ginger lay peacefully asleep beside him, breaking the
complete silence with his snores.
At last the letter was finished, and Reggie gave way to meditation.
Everything was so utterly different to what he had anticipated that he
could hardly believe he was actually in that mystic place the trenches.
To his left a crumbling wall ran along until it bent out of sight, a
wall which in most places was three or four feet high, but which at one
spot had been broken down until it was almost flush with the ground,
and the bricks and rubble littered the weeds. In front of him lay the
town, desolate, appalling, with a few rooks cawing discordantly round
the windowless houses. And over everything brooded an oppressive hot
stinking stillness that almost terrified him. . . .
After a while his gaze settled on the place where the wall was
broken down, and his imagination began to play. If he went thereit
was only about ten yards awayhe would be able to look straight at the
Germans. So obsessed did he become with this wonderful idea that he
woke up the sleeping Ginger and confided it to him. There being a
censor of public morals I will refrain from giving that worthy
warrior's reply when he had digested this astounding piece of
information; it is sufficient to say that it did not encourage further
conversation, nor did it soothe our hero's nerves. He was getting
jangledjangled over nothing. It was probably because there was such a
complete nothing happening that the jangling process occurred. A shell,
a noise, anything; but not this awful, silent stagnation. He bent down
mechanically and picked up half a brick; then just as mechanically he
bowled the half-brick at the lump of débris behind the broken bit of
the wall. And it was that simple action which changed our very superior
young gentleman into a man: on such slender threads hang the
destinies even of nations.
He watched the brick idly as it went through space; he watched it
idly as it hit the ground just by a clump of dock leaves; and from that
moment idly ceases to be the correct adverb. Five seconds later, with a
pricking sensation in his scalp and a mouth oddly dry, he was muttering
excitedly into the ear of the now infuriated Ginger.
A man where, you ruddy perisher? he grunted savagely. Fust yer
tells me if you goes and looks at the 'Uns you can see 'em; and then
you says there's a man in the nettles. You ought to be locked up.
There is, I tell you. I heaved a brick at that bunch of leaves, and
it hit something that grunted. Reginald was still clutching his
Un'and me, Clara, said the other peevishly, this ain't a sixpenny
He got upimpressed in spite of himself by the other's mannerand
peered at the mass of débris. Wot d'yer want with 'eaving bricks for,
anyway, he continued irately after a long inspection which revealed
nothing. This 'ere ain't a bean-feast where you gets the bag of nuts.
Watch this time, Ginger. Once again a large fragment came down in
the neighbourhood of the dock leavesfollowed by an unmistakable
Lumme, mate, said Ginger hoarsely, wot is it? The two men stood
peering at the rubbish, not ten yards away. I'll go and get the
corporal. You . . . But he didn't finish his sentence.
Two shots rang out almost simultaneously. One was from the German
lines, and there was a short stifled scream from the other side of the
traverse. The other was from the rubbish heap ten yards away, and the
blast made a piece of hemlock rock violently. Otherwise the rubbish
heap was lifelesssave for a sepulchral voiceGot him. There was a
crash of falling bricks from a house oppositethe sound of what seemed
to be a body slithering downand then silence.
Ginger's grip relaxed, and he grinned gently. Gawd 'elp you,
Reginald; you 'ave my blessing. You've been dropping the brickyard on
Shorty Bill's back. He faded rapidly away, and our friend was left
alone, gazing with fascinated eyes at the miraculous phenomenon which
was occurring under his very nose. Suddenly and with incredible
swiftness a portion of the rubbish heap, with dock leaves, nettles, old
cans, and bricks adhering to it, detached itself from the main pile and
hurled itself into the trench. With a peculiar sliding movement it
advanced along the bottom, and then it stopped and stood upright.
Speechless with amazement, Reginald found himself gazing into the eyes
of a man which were glaring at him out of a small slit in the sacking
which completely covered him. A pair of dirty earth-stained hands
gently laid down a rifle on the fire-stepa rifle with a telescopic
sight. Then from the apparition came a voice.
Say, kid, are you the son of a , who has been practising
putting the weight in my back? Don't speak, son, don't speak, or I
might forget my manners. Once in the ribsand once in the small of the
back. God above, my lad, if I'd missed Black Fritz, after lying up
there for him for eight hours as part of the scenery, I'd have
'Ullo, Shorty. The corporal rounded the traverse. Fritz has got
another. Poor old Bill Trent. Copped clean through the 'ead.
The corporal, followed by the strange uncouth being in sacking, with
his leaves and bricks hanging about him, moved away, and Reginald
followed. With his heart thumping within him he looked at the dreadful
thing that ten minutes before had been a speaking, seeing, man; and as
he looked something seemed to be born in his soul. With a sudden
lightning flash of insight he saw himself in a frock coat behind the
counter; then he looked at the silent object on the step, and his jaw
set. He turned to Shorty Bill.
I'm dam sorry about that brick; but I'm new to the game, and I had
no idea you were there. Didn't you say you'd got Black Fritz?
'Ave you, Shorty'ave you got the swine? An eager chorus assailed
him, but the man in the sack had his eyes fixed on the very superior
young gentleman. At length he turned to the men around.
YepI got him. Half leftby the base of that red house. He came
out of the top window. You can see a black thing there through a
periscope. The men thronged to have a look, and Shorty Bill turned to
the stone thrower.
Can you shoot?
A little; not much I'm afraid.
Like to learn the game? Yep?Right. I'll teach you. It's great.
He moved slowly away and turned up a communication trench, while into
the eyes of Mogg's pride there came a peculiar look quite foreign to
his general disposition. A gamea great game! He looked again at the
poor still thing on the step, and his teeth clenched. Thus began his
fall from gentility! . . .
II. THE FIRST LESSON
It was not a very rapid descent. The art of sniping and its
attendant pastime scouting is not learned in a day. Moreover, in
company with the other games that are played in the trenches, it has
the one dominant feature about it. One mistake made in the rules is one
too many; there is no chance of making a second. True, the player will
have taught the man who takes his place yet another of the things not
to do; but personallyeven at the risk of being dubbed a
pessimistthe method of teaching is one I would prefer to see others
employ, sentiments which were shared to the full by Shorty Bill.
Therefore our superior young friend, having gazed upon the result of a
sniper's bullet, and in the gazing remoulded his frock-coated
existence, could not have come under a better master.
Shorty Bill was a bit of a character. Poacher and trapper, with an
eye like a lynx and a fore-arm like a bullock's leg, he was undoubtedly
a tough proposition. What should have made him take a liking to
Reginald is one of those things which passes understanding, for two
more totally dissimilar characters can hardly be imagined. Our
friendat the time of the shooting of Black Fritzwas essentially of
that type of town-bred youth who sneers at authority behind its back
and cringes to its face. Such a description may sound worse than the
type deserves; for all that, it is a true one of the street-bred
crowdthey've been reared on the doctrine. Shorty was exactly the
reverse. Shorty, on one occasion, having blocked six miles of traffic
with a fractious mule, and being confronted suddenly by an infuriated
Staff officer who howled at him, smiled genially and electrified the
onlookers by remarking pleasantly, Dry up, little man; this is my
show. That was Shorty in front of authority. Behind its backwell,
his methods may not have commended themselves to purists in etiquette,
but I have known officers sigh with relief when they have found out
unofficially that Shorty had taken some little job or other into his
own personal care. There are many little matterswhich need not be
gone into, and which are bound to crop up when a thousand men are
trying to live as a happy familywhere the unofficial ministrations of
our Shorty Billsand they are a glorious if somewhat unholy
companyare worth the regimental sergeant-major, the officers, and all
the N.C.O.'s put together. ButI digress; sufficient has been said to
show that the two characters were hardly what one would have expected
to form an alliance.
The gentle art of sniping in the battalion when Bill joined with a
draft had been woefully neglected. In fact, it was practically
non-existent. It is not necessary to give any account of how Bill got
the ear of his platoon commander, how he interested him in the
possibilities of sniping in trench warfare, or any other kind of
warfare for that matter, and how ultimately his platoon officer became
mad keen, and with the consent of his C.O. was made Battalion sniping
officer. Though interesting possibly to students of the gun and other
subjects intimately connected with sniping, I have not the time to
describe the growth of the battalion scouts from a name only to the
period when they became a holy terror to the Hun. I am chiefly
concerned with the development of our frock-coated friend into a night
prowler in holes full of death and corruption, and one or two sage
aphorisms from the lips of Shorty Bill which helped that development.
They were nothing new or original, those remarks of his teacher, and
yet they brought home to him for the first time in his life the
enormous gulf which separated him from the men who live with nature.
Say, kid, do you ever read poetry? remarked Bill to him one night
soon after the episode of the brick-bats as they sat in an estaminet.
I guess your average love tosh leaves me like a one-eyed codfish; but
there's a bit I've got in me head writ by some joker who knows me and
the likes o' me.
'There's a whisper on the night wind, there's a star
agleam to guide us,
And the wild is calling, calling . . . let us go.'
Shorty contemplatively finished his beer. 'The wild is calling.'
Ever felt that call, kid?
Can't say I have, Shorty. His tone was humble; gone was the
pathetic arrogance that had been the pride of Mogg's; in its place the
beginnings of the realisation of his utter futility had come, coupled
with a profound hero worship for the man who had condescended to notice
him. When are you going to teach me that sniping game?
The real sniping commander of the battalionI mean no disrespect to
the worthy young officer who officially filled that positionlooked at
the eager face opposite him and laughed.
You'd better quit it, son. Why, to start with, you're frightened of
I'm damned if I am. The aggrieved Percy waxed indignant.
Oh, cut it out! I don't mean you're frightened of going to bed in
the dark, or that you want a nightlight or a nurse. But yours is a town
dark: standing under lamps gettin' the glad from a passing skirt. But
in the real dark, when it's pressing round you like a blanket, and
there are things moving, and people breathing near by, and you don't
know whether it's a German or a pal, or where the wire is, or which way
your own trenches arewhat then, son, what then? Why, I reckon you
don't even know which the Pole Star is, or what it's there for?
I guess not, Shorty, remarked the other, abashed; but I'd soon
learn, if you'd teach me.
Well, I'll see. An' there's that blamed old woman with a face like
a wet street tryin' to shut up the shop. Give me another, mother
darling; no good your na-poohing meI'm going to have it if I takes
Being what he was he got it, and that evening the lessons began.
Going back to their billet, they had to cross a field. It was a
pitch-black night, and before they had proceeded twenty yards Reggie
could hardly see his hand in front of his face.
Dark, Shorty, ain't it? he remarked.
There was no answer, and he stopped and repeated the question. Still
no answer, though he seemed to feel some one close by. Something
brushed his face, and then silence. With a short laugh he walked ona
laugh which had just the faintest touch of bravado in it. Four times in
the distance to the billet did that something brush his face again, and
though each time he felt that there was some one near him, yet he heard
nothing. The fourth time he stopped and spoke.
Is that you, Shorty? The next instant he gave a jump of pure
nervous fright. From within six inches of his ear came the single word
Jove! You did give me a start. He laughed a little shakily. Where
have you been?
Circling round you, son, dusting your face with my glove.
Understand now what I meant by helpless in the dark?
Thus ended the first lesson. . . .
The others followed in due course. The correct way to crawl through
grass so as to avoid being mistaken for a rhinoceros going to water;
the power of observation so as to be able to spot a change in the
German trenchesmaybe, only a few sand bags moved, but just enough to
place the position of a machine gun; the value of disguise to defeat
the curious on the other side; patience, the way to fire a rifle, the
use of his eyes. All these and certain other things was he taught.
And the certain other things were mysterious and secret. They
occurred at odd times and in odd places, and the instructor was always
Shorty Bill personally.
Some men, he would say, like killing with a rifle; I do for one.
Some like killing with a revolver; not bad either, and essential, son,
when you're out on the tiles by night and can't carry a rifle. A rifle
is a dam nuisance at night if one's on patrol, whatever any one says to
the contrary. An' if you don't carry a gun you can't use a bayonet,
which is a beautiful method of sticking 'em. Shorty thoughtfully
removed his pipe. I was almost converted to the bayonet one day by a
pal of mine. He's dead now, poor devil, but he lived well. He was
givin' tongue over the beauties of picking Huns out of dug-out
entrances with the bayonet like winkles out of their shells with a pin.
Gosh! it was greatthat boy's palaver. He almost converted me, an'
then I showed him a couple o' little stunts of mine. Shorty put his
pipe in his pocket. Come here, son, an' pay attention. It was through
forgetting in the excitement of the moment and not payin' attention
that my pal the winkle plucker went west.
Thus the mysterious lesson would start. There'll come a time one
night, boy, when you're out in the dark, an' you're crawling near the
wire, when you'll feel on a sudden there's some one near you. Maybe, by
the smell of him, you'll know it's a Boche. Wellthen it's up to you
to make good. You can plug him with your hand gun when you've got his
dirty face dead set; but if you start shooting practice in No Man's
Land, the audience join in. So I'll just show you a couple o' little
trickssilent tricks, which you can use when you get your hands on
him. They kill just as clean if not cleaner than a gun, and no one's
the wiser. Now come at me as if you meant to hurt me. No; not as if you
were out pushing the baby in the pram, but just as if you was goin' all
out to kill me. That's better, son; an' where are you now?
To be correct our one and only Reginald was lying on his face with
the unpleasant knowledge in his brain that if he moved an inch his left
arm would snap at the elbow; and that kneeling above him Shorty held,
in the neighbourhood of his ear, a villainous weapon of his own
invention, which resembled a cross between a bill-hook and a kukri.
You see the idea, boy, don't you? Now, you ask him if he'd like to
surrender, and if you don't understand what he says or he seems
doubtful like, put your clasp knife in there. Reginald felt a prick
under his right ear. Right inyou take me. Get up, and we'll do it
Where did you learn that, Shorty? asked our pupil as he got up.
A Jap taught me that an' a good few more in Los Angeles. Jujitsu,
he said it was; dam good sense I call it. Come onit takes practice.
And Reginald Simpkins practised. With growing confidence he
practised day in, day out. Mogg's had faded into the limbo of forgotten
things; his horizon consisted of a foetid shell hole, a panting,
writhing Hun fighting for his life in the darkness of the night, a
cracking arm and then . . . His imagination never took him beyond that
point. Sufficient of the old Adam of gentility still remained to
prevent him picturing the final tableau. You see, Reginald Simpkins had
not as yet killed anything larger than a rat, and even then he had
bungled. . . .
III. AN IMPERSONAL DEMONSTRATION
As was proper and fitting his first head was gained cold-bloodedly
and from a distance. It was his blooding into the ranks of the snipers.
His probationary period was over; Shorty Bill had professed himself
satisfied. The battalion had moved from the place in which we found
them, and had gone farther north. The country was flat and desolate;
periodically the ground would shake and tremble, and in No Man's Land
chalk and rubble and the salmon-pink fumes of ammonal would shoot
upwards, showing that the men of the underworld still carried on.
Slag-heaps, sandbags, and desolate mounds of earth formed the scenery
for his debut, while the orchestra consisted of rum jars and rifle
D Company it was who had lost a sergeant through a German sniper;
and the fact was duly reported. Now when a German sniper takes the life
of a man in a battalion which goes in for the art itself, it is an
unwritten law that from that moment a blood feud exists between the
German and English snipers opposite. Though it takes a fortnight to
carry out, yet death is the only finish.
Wherefore, one morning, just as the first pale glints of dawn came
stealing over the silent land, Reginald Simpkins climbed carefully into
a great mound of sandbags which had conveniently been deposited just
behind the front line by the miners. But it is doubtful if Miss Belsize
of the camisole department would have recognised him. No longer the
frock coat and pearl tie, no longer the patent-leather boots and
immaculate trousers. In their place a dirty-faced man in khaki,
tastefully draped in flapping sandbagshis boots covered, his hands
stained. Very cautiously he made himself comfortable; with immense care
he laid his riflealso covered with sackingin the direction he
required; and then he covered his front and sides with filled bags.
Through a holealso carefully arrangedhis screened telescope covered
the bit of German trench where the day before the German sniper had
lain. Then he waited.
The mists cleared away; the morning sun shone down. From his point
of vantagefor he was seven or eight feet above the trenches belowhe
watched the German lines. His fingers itched to pull the trigger two or
three times; and once when he saw a German officer come out of his
dug-out in the second line and lean against the back of the trench,
smoking a fat cigar, he almost yielded to the temptation. But the
splintering of a periscope glass below him, as a German bullet hit it,
told him that the sniper was therehidden somewhere, and watching too;
and he knew that, perfect though his position was for one shot, that
one shot would probably give him away. And that one shot was for
the sniper, and not to be wasted on a fat Ober Lieutenant. . . .
Three or four hours passed, and the silence was complete. The
perspiration trickled down his neck as he lay there motionless and
clouded the eyepiece of his telescope. Then suddenly he saw a little
black object shoot up into the air from the junction of two trenches
near the German support linean object which turned over and over in
the air, and fell with a soft thud fifty yards to his right. A
roarand some sandbags and lumps of chalk flew in all directions,
while fragments pattered down on Reginald out of the sky.
Hope to God they don't come any closer, he muttered, watching the
next rum jar shoot up. Anyway, I've marked the place they're coming
from. Then his eyes came back to the sniper's locality, and as they
did so a quiver of excitement ran through him. Utterly regardless of
the second rum jar which burst with a crack behind him, he knew for the
first time the feeling of the big game man who has stalked his quarry
successfully. There, five yards to the left of where he had been
looking, a little stunted bush was movingand there was no wind. Trembling with excitement he focussed his telescope on the bush, and
even as he did so, he knew his vigil was over. The thing which up to
that moment he had taken for a log was a manthe man, the
sniper. He could see the faint outline of his face, now that his
attention was drawn to it, and with infinite care he drew a bead on the
centre of it. Then suddenly he started shaking with nervous keenness;
his left hand wobbled like a jelly through sheer excitement until he
almost sobbed with rage. The German moved again as another rum jar
burst, confident that the English would have gone to ground to escape
the trench mortaring. It was that arrogant movement that infuriated our
friend. It struck him as a deliberate challenge. And for just a moment
the German's face and the crossed hairs of his telescopic sight
coincided, and coincided steadily.
It seemed to Reginald that his pressing the trigger and the wild
convulsive lurch of the man opposite were simultaneous. With his eye to
the telescope he watched the log that writhed and squirmed; then it
grew still, and the disguise had gone. No more a log: just a motionless
twisted form; while something that showed dark and ominous through the
telescope spread round its head. The sergeant of D Company was avenged.
. . .
With a feeling rather as if he personally had won the war, our hero
slipped backwards into the boyau beside him, and went in search of
Shorty Bill. Two hours later he found him and poured out the story.
Shorty listened in silence; then he spoke.
I've heard men talk like you, son, when they've kissed their first
woman. Have you reported where that trench mortar is?
God! Shorty, I clean forgot. I'll go and do it now, remarked
Reggie, his ardour somewhat damped.
I should dam well think you'd better. Shorty relit his pipe, and
grinned amiably. Well done, kid; but for Holy Mike's sake don't crow
over one plurry Boche. When you've touched three figures we'll
celebrate. . . .
He may have been right; but even on his own showing, is there any
kiss which is quite like the first? Is there any Hun, who? Still,
possibly the analogy is unfortunate. Anyway, I have given the account
of his first cold-blooded victim; I will follow with his first
IV. SOMEWHAT MORE PERSONAL
It occurred about six weeks later in the same part of the line; and
as a mark of special favour he had been allowed to accompany Shorty on
one of his nightly prowls. That worthy was wont to remark that two men
on a joy ride in No Man's Land was one too many; wherefore it must be
assumed that Reginald had grown in wisdom and cunning, and found favour
in the sight of his taskmaster.
They slipped over the top about ten p.m. Shorty was armed as usual
merely with the villainous billhook-kukri of his own design, while
Reggie carried a revolver and a clasp knife which resembled a young
bayonet. It was not a reconnoitring patrol as laid down in the book of
the words; it was merely a pleasure ramble, so Shorty said, as they
passed silently out of a sap and disappeared in the darkness.
The first thing Reggie did was to kick a tin and fall into a shell
hole, where he was joined by Shorty.
Frightening rooks, son, he remarked kindly, or rehearsing as a
knockabout comedian? About twenty-five yards from here on our left is
the German sap party that I am visiting to-night. I like 'em to know
Sorry, Shorty, muttered the delinquent. I never saw the ruddy
You don't say. I thought you'd a-done it on purpose, returned the
other with ponderous sarcasm. Now you stop here; I'm goin' to that
sapan' I'll come back for you.
Like a wraith Shorty faded into the night, leaving our friend alone
with his thoughts. A Lewis gun was firing away down the line in short
bursts, while Verey lights and flares went up every now and then with a
faint hiss. Above, the low-flying clouds scudded over the sky, and our
friend lay back in his shell hole and pondered. With an inward chuckle
he wondered what the beautiful Miss Belsize and the other fair ones of
Mogg's would say if they could see him at that moment. A sense of
physical well-being was on him, and he stretched himself luxuriously.
The next instant he was struggling impotently in a grip that throttled
Quite so, remarked a voice as the grip relaxed, and by the light
of a flare he found Shorty occupying the shell hole once again. A
ruddy lot o' good you are. Killed and dead as mutton by now, if I'd
been a Boche.
Reggie reddened in the darkness with shame. I wasn't thinking,
Shorty. Ier . . . His words died away.
Thinking! You flat-footed clamthis show ain't a debating society,
nor yet a penny reading. Shorty snorted with rage. Go over to that
saphead thered'you see itan' see what thinking does. His hand
pointed to a low hummock of chalk behind a crater. Go an' look in, I
tell you; an' if ever you sit out here again dreaming like a love-sick
poet, I hope to God it happens to you. You'll deserve it.
With a push like the kick of an elephant's hind leg he propelled the
wretched Reggie in the required direction. Puzzled and surprised, but
feeling very ashamed of himself, he moved cautiously towards the low
mound that stood up dimly outlined against the night sky. Once on the
short journey he crouched motionless while a flare burnt itself out
twenty yards away, only to move forward immediately the darkness
settled again with quickened step. There is no time so good to movement
as the few seconds after the eyes of possible watchers have been
dazzled. . . .
And so he came to the saphead, and cautiously peered in. Under
ordinary circumstances his action was that of a fool; but Shorty had
ordered, and those who knew Shorty got in the habit of carrying out his
instructions. For a while in the blackness he could see nothing. He
noted the sap running back towards the German lines; but at the head of
it there was no sign of life. He carefully stretched farther over, and
as he looked at the bottom of the trench he made out a dark, huddled
figure. Then the next flare went up, and Reginald Simpkins got the
shock of his life.
The green ghostly light came flooding in, and then went out as
abruptly as it had come. But the moment was enough. Clear stamped on
his brain, like a photographic exposure, was the image of two men. One
lay at the bottom of the trench and grinned at the sky with his throat
cut from ear to ear; the otherhuddled in a corner with his hand still
clutching a bombwas even as he looked turning on his head and his
knees, only to subside with a squelch in the mud, kick spasmodically,
and lie still.
Right inyou take me?with your clasp knife. Shorty's words came
back to him and he gasped. So this was what his teacher had meant, when
he'd sent him to see the dangers of thinking.
It was just as he was visualising the scene: the sudden ghostly
appearance of Shorty on top of the unsuspecting Germans; the sudden
stroke of that awful weapon; the feeble attempt to get the bomb;
thewell, it was just then that Reggie found himself contemplating
from about six inches range the glaring face of a Prussian N.C.O. who
had suddenly materialised. By the light of a flare down the line he
watched, as he lay on top of the ground, with his head over the edge of
the sap, the ring of the Prussian's revolver as it moved up towards his
What happened, happened quickly: most of these things are touch and
go. The bullet whizzed past his face into the nighthis left hand hit
the revolver just in time; and even as the bullet went wide his right
hand struck sideways with the knife. It sank into the Prussian's neck;
he felt a rush of something warm and sticky, and then he was grabbed
Quick, muttered Shorty in his ear, hop it; hop it like hell. I'll
Blinded and dazed by the blast of the revolver, he stumbled
mechanically after his leader. Into this shell hole for a moment,
whispered Bill imperatively, as a machine gun let drive with a few
rounds which passed over them like a flight of cockchafers. Now come
on. Home this trip, my boyI didn't know that swab was there. . . .
I killed him, Bill, said Reginald, half an hour later, as he sat
rubbing his eyes on the fire step of their own trenches to get the
stinging of the cordite out.
You done well, son, said Bill; an' if any one doubts itshow 'em
By the light of a match Reggie looked at it, and he shuddered. It
bore, as Bill implied, the proof of death.
He was silent too awhile; the first hot-blooded one is more rattling
to the nerves than a stranger three hundred yards away. Then a great
thought struck him, and he cursed.
I've left my knife in his neck, Bill. What a blasted idiot!
V. A PROJECT AND SOME SIDE-ISSUES
It is quite possible that there are some who, having read thus far,
will consider that the education of Reginald Simpkins as a soldier was
now complete. Transformed from a dreadful being who cut up silks and
things and discoursed on the merits of what I understand is known as
lingerie, he had become a man: a man with a quick hand and a sure eye,
a man who had met one of his kind in fair fight and killed him. In his
mind there had been born pridethe right sort of pride. Not the
spurious article which had passed for it at Mogg'sthat unpleasant
type of conceit of which pimples and a high collar are the outward and
visible sign. No, not that at all. He had cast that off with his frock
coat, and in its place had grown the inherent pride which is the
birthright of a man.
It was just because the metamorphosis had been so complete, and the
growth had been so rapid, that his education was by no means finished.
It had only just begun.
So far I have dealt principally with one phase in the gentle game of
war: the phase that concerns itself with outing the wily Hun by means
of a rifle bullet. True, Reginald had tasted of other pleasant methods
under the kindly guidance of Shorty Bill; he had even gone so far as to
enter into wordy warfare with the battalion exponent of bayonet
fighting with regard to the relative merits of the bayonet G.S. and the
weapon that he had presented to the Huns on his night prowl. In fact,
our friend was beginning to hold opinionsand quite decided
opinionsof his own. He was still in his infancy, I admit; but to
those who were privileged to watch his growth he seemed a hopeful
specimen. The seed appeared to be falling on good soil.
But it may be remembered that with regard to the question of the
sower, the seed which fell on stony ground appeared good for a time,
until it was found that there was nothing behind it. Precocity is a
dangerous thing, and in his new school Reginald was certainly
precocious. Nowadays it is necessary to form judgments quickly in the
Army: the game is being played at such high pressure. And so mistakes
are bound to occur, though the Honourable James Lascelles disliked
making them now, just as much as he did in the days when he could take
The thing in question at the moment was the fitness of our friend
for the stripe when a vacancy occurred; and the Honourable Jimmy, being
the Adjutant of the South Devons, and having the headquarter
specialists under his eye, was somewhat intimately concerned with the
solution of the question. I think I have failed to mention previously
that it was the South Devons that Reginald adornedthat celebrated
regiment known to the Army and the world at large by the more familiar
soubriquet of the Stick 'em and be damned.
So when the edict of Toby Seymour, the C.O., went forth, the
Adjutant seized the opportunity of trying to find out a little more
fully whether it really was good soil in Reginald's case, or whether it
was stony. To-day the edict would seem almost a matter of routine; at
that time things were different. Toby ordered a raid, and it was so.
It was to be a raid on a large scale: no isolated affair like the
pilgrimages of Shorty Bill, but an affair where the enemy's trenches
were to be entered by a large party. No silent, stealthy work, but a
thorough good jolly, with bombs and noises complete.
To-day raids are stale, and things of but little account. Sometimes
the bag is large, and sometimes the bag is small; but the performance
occurs twice nightly, with frequently a matinee thrown in. Then they
were something new, and enterprises to be talked about.
The project first took concrete form in the back room of a certain
estaminet which served as the Headquarters mess when the battalion was
resting after a spell in the trenches. The omelette had been
successful, the port had recently arrived, and that pleasing, though
somewhat selfish, glow which comes even to the best of us when we
realise that it is the other fellow who is out in the cold wet night
permeated the room.
Sarah Jane, remarked Toby to his second-in-command, as he
thoughtfully sipped his port, I have been thinking.
Have you, dear old soul? That's very jolly.
I have been thinking, went on the C.O., that the boys require
waking up. There is a danger of their degenerating into trench
machines. They want ginger.
The second-in-command looked at his Colonel keenly. I agree with
you, he returned after a short silence. But it's rather hard to give
'em anything to ginger with in the middle of winter and in this
locality. The division will probably be pulling out to train shortly,
Nothat won't do, Toby interrupted him. I don't mean that sort
of ginger. How many men of this battalion feel instinctively, and know
as a positive fact, thatman for manthey are better than the Huns?
That's the point, and training behind won't help that; at least, it
won't start it. Once give it to them as a foundation, and the training
will gain five hundred per cent. in its value.
True, O king, but how?
They must fight the Germans, and find out for themselves. We've got
some new drafts, Sarahquite a number of new drafts who not only have
never fought the Hun, but who have never even seen him. Their horizon
is bounded by a dirty sandbag and a smell; and I maintain that their
value as fighting troops is not one quarter what it might be.
He carefully lit his pipe while the rest of the mess watched him
curiouslywondering what was in his mind.
Listen to me, you fellows. Toby leant forward in his chair and
emphasised his remarks with his ancient and powerful briar. Every one
in this room isfor want of a better wordblooded. We have all, thank
Heavens! had the unforgettable pleasure of killing Huns at close
quarters, with our own hands. Now that broadens one's horizon at once.
We are not bounded by sandbags and stinks; when we are in the trenches,
we knowour imagination tells usthat over the way are men whom we
can visualise: living, actual beings whose ideal and object in life is
to kill us. Not so, I regret to say, with a new draft: how can you
expect it? To them the Hun is a strange something living in a trench,
whom they never see, and whom they don't particularly want to. One
might almost say that 'live and let live' is bound to be the way they
look at life at present. Until the terrier sees the rat he has no wish
to kill it; and until he has killed it he has no idea what a delightful
occupation it is. Same with the men; and we've got to alter it.
Bravely spoken, sir, as the poets would say, remarked the
Honourable James. The only point is how to do it.
Easy as falling off a log. One night we will pay the Huns a visit
and kill 'em. Cheery amusement, charming hobby. The terriers will get
bitten on the nose, and as soon as that happens they'll see red. Then
they'll start to kill; and once they've done that there will be no
holding them. Their tails will be stickin' up above their heads.
It was done a few weeks ago up the line, wasn't it? The
second-in-command thoughtfully replenished his glass.
I believe it wasbut what matter? The Stick'ems don't require any
damned pilot for their fences. The C.O. brought a fist like a leg of
mutton down on the table. Before the division leaves the line, we are
going to visit the Hun; we are going to kill the Hun; we are going to
capture the swab, to wound him, to out him; and when we've done it and
got him as wild as a civet cat in the nesting season, we'll laugh at
him by platoons.
Prolonged applause from a breathless audience, laughed the
Adjutant. We can merely murmur a Benedictined Bismillah. . . .
Now it is possible that to those who sit at home, and regard war
from arm-chairs as a movement of little flags on a large-scale map, the
words of Toby Seymour may come in the nature of a surprise. It is
possible that they have never really thought about the human side of
killing: of killing as a hobbyas a trade. Vaguely they realise that a
soldier does not go into the army to pick buttercups; vaguely they
understand that men die and are killed in war, and that soldiers are
the people who kill and are killed. But I venture to think that they do
not realise the intense importance of inculcating in every private
soldier the necessity and the desire of outing the other fellow.
Horrible, you say; revolting. Of course it's horrible, my good man; of
course it's revolting; but what the devil do you think this war
isminding a crèche for imbecile children? You bring in a crowd
of men whose sole qualification in August 1914 to be considered
soldiers was an intense and national love of games. You pit them
against a machine perfect in technique, in which every part had been
trained from earliest infancy in the trade of soldiering, and the trade
of ruthless killing.
You ask them to go across the water and beat this machine for
you. And so, if I harry you at times with details of the type
blood-curdling, it is only that you may understand something of the
nature of the task: the task which your brothers and sons and
partners and clerks are carrying to a successful issue.
Has it occurred to you why they are succeeding?
You say that right is triumphing over might; that a good cause must
win. It is beautiful, it is magnificent your contention; but it is not
war. History does not support you; common sense does not bear you out.
We are beating them because as a nation of sportsmen the men have taken
to the new sport as a duck takes to water; and the new sport is to
kill, capture, wound, or out the Boche before he kills, captures,
wounds, or outs you. And having taken to it as a sport, now that the
technique and other things are equal, we are better at it than the Hun
who views it as a business.
Which recalls to mind the celebrated utterance of a celebrated
officer. Should he read these lines, I trust he will pardon the
plagiarism; but the utterance was so wonderful that it should be
perpetuated, even thus modestly. He spoke lightly; but if I may be
forgiven the platitude, there is many a true word spoken in jest.
Why not institute, he suggested, a list of battalion averages? Just
as the relative position of Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield Wednesday
in the Football League is the subject of frenzied back chat; just as
the defeat of Yorkshire by Kent causes head shakings in the
public-houses of the North towards the end of August, why not have a
league of battalions?
A wonderful idea if one thinks into it. A dead'un two points, a
prisoner one; the Ober-lieutenant five points and a Colonel
twentywith other grades according to fancy. Think of the frantic
excitement in the London clubs and the quiet villages when the relative
scoring merits of a Jaeger sharpshooter and a one-eyed Landsturmer were
sized up. Think of the Putney Peashooters' ladies meeting those of the
Shoreditch Snipers at a small and early, and counting up the bag: five
Saxons and a stretcher-bearer against four prisoners and a carrier
One might almost wind up with England versus Scotland, the winner to
play Australia on a percentage basis. In fact, there is no limit to it;
and I will cease, lest I get lost in a maze of wonderful developments.
I will cease, and return to the Stick'ems; but as a last word I
would say, in all seriousness, that wildly farcical though that
celebrated utterance may be, there underlies it an absolutely true
valuation of the fundamental bed-rock of war. To emulate the deeds of
others and go one better, to put the men in good heart with their tails
up, that is the secret of winning. And the best way of doing it is to
treat the matter as a sport: the Englishman understands it that way
best. . . .
VI. THE SECOND LESSON, AND SOME
No Man's Land in that part of the line where the South Devons
resided was widewell over a quarter of a mile to be exact. Across
their front, about a hundred and fifty yards from the German lines,
there ran a small bank two or three feet high, with its right resting
on a main road which crossed No Man's Land, and its left gradually
falling away till it came level with the ground. The remnants of a
hedge and two or three forlorn tree stumps still remained on the bank,
over the top of which could be seen the German wirerunning round a
small orchard in which lay their front line trenches. The locality was
peaceful; the Hun was quiet, asking for nothing more than that he
should be left alone, which undoubtedly made Toby Seymour's breach of
the rules the more reprehensible from the exclusively Teuton point of
view. They were extremely angry; in fact, one large prisoner went so
far as to state that it was a barbarous method of fighting, and unheard
of in civilised warfare. The suggestion that he should be kept as the
battalion mascot and supply the comic relief at all subsequent smoking
concerts, unfortunately fell through. Other non-barbarians who
escaped joining him in captivity emulated his altruistic spirit by
informing the South Devons daily from a position where the lines ran
close together, that they were looking forward to crucifying the next
Englishman they caught, which again was an immense success, and was
greeted invariably by a specially selected choir chanting the Hymn of
Hate. And yet the damage done was not very great from the material
point of view. It was the mental jolt, the jar to their spiritual
loftiness, that tickled the dear souls up. . . .
Now primarily my story concerns Reginald Simpkins and his
transformation to manhood. And therefore, before I tell of the raid
itself, I will touch on one or two matters concerning that
transformation, and the methods of the Honourable James.
D Company won the toss, so to speak, and was deputed to perform; and
Reginald Simpkins was not in D Company. Being a sniper, he was attached
to that mystic band of specialists who adorn battalion headquarters.
And so, one morning, the snipers were assembled and the Adjutant gazed
at them benignly through his eyeglass.
D Company are going to raid the Huns, he remarked. I want six
volunteers to go with them. The result was as he anticipated. I said
six, not the whole bunch, he continued genially, so I'll have to draw
Now nothing would induce me to hint that everything was not
perfectly square in that drawing, butReginald Simpkins was one of the
six. In due course his part in the programme was explained to him, and
during the explanation his face became more and more suggestive of a
street corner on a rainy day.
You understand what you have to do, Simpkins? The Honourable James
looked at him keenly.
Yes, sir, I understand; butbutain't I to have a go at the swine
at all? Our friend's grievance boiled over. Can't I just go into the
trench once and have a go at them? It'll be a bit hard sitting by the
tree stump, and hearing the boys at it, and having to . . . . His
words died away under the steady glance of the man opposite.
And because it's a bit hard, you don't want to do it?
It ain't that, sir, it'sit's
Well, what is it? Not the showy part of the performance, eh? Not
the part where the fun comessitting by a bank and taking the roll as
they come back. But some one has to do itwhy not you?
The second lesson in the making of a soldiersubordination of self.
. . . As a matter of fact there was no reason why Reginald should have
been deputed to the job: there were many others who could have done it
equally well if not better. But the Honourable Jimmy had his own
methods. . . .
The desire for the game was there in the pupil: that he knew: the
point was whether the character which would suppress and master that
desire when necessary was there too. Could reliability be added to
. . .
That was what the Adjutant wished to find out. He knew that our
friend wasin the vernacularthrowing a chest. He knew that lately,
well, Reginald Simpkins had been rather full ofReginald Simpkins.
Adjutantsgood Adjutantsdo know these things. Which was all to the
goodwithin certain limits. . . .
An unpromising subject had learned the first lesson of the soldier:
would he be able to learn the second, without which the third and
greatest would be impossible? All soldiers must learn the first lesson;
only a limited number can learn the second and third.
So it came about that for the good of his soul Reginald played a
very minor part in this raid, and my information on the doings that
occurred in the Hun lines was obtained from the lips of one Samuel
Pipston, sometime auctioneer's assistant, who had joined the battalion
with the last draft. He was just a second Reginaldone stage behind
him in development, that's allan apathetic lad, finding war a tedious
It was not until ten o'clock on the night, as he lay with his party
behind the bank of which I have spoken, that a pleasurable thrill of
anticipation began to take hold of Samuel. A slight frost nip was in
the air, and in the sky there shone a myriad stars. Away behind him lay
the trenches he had just quitted, peaceful and still in the faint
moonlight; and looking to his front he could see the German lines, just
as still, only much closer. He tried to realise that he was shortly
going to be inside those trenches, and that when he got there he would
meet real live men, who would endeavour to killhim, Samuel Pipston.
He thought of Mary Johnston, the daughter of the leading grocer, and
wondered what she was doing at the moment, and what she would think
Don't shootfor God's sakenot a sound.
With a start Samuel heard the hoarse whisper of a subaltern beside
him, and became suddenly aware that a struggle was going on two or
three yards away. He peered eagerly in the direction of the noise, and
saw three men in a confused mass heaving on the ground behind the bank.
What the devil he muttered, and then the heaving ceased. In
the dim light he saw a still figure lying on the ground, and two men
crouching over him. Someone 'ad a fit, I reckons, he whispered to the
man next him, an old hand at the game.
Fit be blowed. It's a 'Un, yer foolor was before he 'opped it.
A 'Un! Samuel gazed stupidly at the speaker, and then peered at
the motionless figure. Wot's the sargint a-doin' of.
A low question came from the officer. Have you killed him,
I have that, sir; but I can't get my perishing bayonet out. Put
your foot on his chest, Charlie, and heave. Again, so, heave. The
sergeant sat down suddenly as the bayonet came out, and immediately
crawled to the subaltern. There'll be another with him, sir, for a
cert. The two peered over the bank towards the German lines, while
drawn by an irresistible impulse Samuel crept towards the dead man. He
peered into the distorted face, he looked at the still twitching body,
and an uncontrollable fit of shuddering took him and gripped him. His
knees knocked together; his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth; and
only one coherent thought hammered at his brain.
Lemme get away; it's awful. Gawd! it's awful. Lemme go. He was
whispering and muttering to himself, and Heaven knows what might have
happened, because there are moments when a man is not responsible for
his actions, when a large body hit him on the head, and he found
himself at the bottom of a mass of struggling, kicking men.
As a matter of fact it was merely the expected arrival of number two
of the German patrol, and he could not have selected a better place to
come to as far as Samuel was concerned. There is no better banisher of
knocking knees than a heavy kick in the ribs from a German boot, and in
an instant our friend was fighting like a tiger cat.
Quietly, quietly, for the love of Heaven. The officer's insistent
voice reached him, and he felt for the German's mouth with his hands.
He was lying on his back, and the Hun was on top of him; but beyond
that, the only other clear remembrance of the episode he has is of a
fine and complete set of teeth nearly meeting in his hand. That was
enough; one new terrier at any rate was blooded. He don't quite know
how he killed him; in fact, it is quite on the cards that it wasn't he
who killed him at all. The fact remains that the German died; and
whether it was the sergeant, or whether it was the subaltern, or
whether it was Samuel, is immaterial. All that matters is that as far
as motive and endeavour went Samuel Pipston killed his first rat, and
gloried in the operation. Such is the effect of mistaking the thumb of
even our nearest and dearest for a ration biscuit. . . .
Thus ended the little episode of the German patrol. For months
previously those two men, or others like them, had wandered over No
Man's Land, and returned in due course to their sausage and their beer,
with nothing of interest to report. Then, as the invariable rule of
war, there came the hundredth time when the unexpected happened.
Shells, bombs, bulletsthey take the others and pass you by. But
sooner or later, it will be nah-poo. You can only pray Heaven it's a
Blighty. With the German patrol, it was not.
A whispered word came down the waiting line. Get ready. All along
the bank men tightened their belts and took a last look at their bombs
and rifles. Two partieseach under a subalternwere going to enter
the German lines, while, as a reserve, the Company Commander, with a
machine gun and some rifle grenadiers, and Reginald Simpkins
were remaining at the bank. The two parties were going to enter at
different points and move towards one another, the leading men of each
ceaselessly calling out, 'Ow's yer father? Then when the mystic
answer came, Merry and bright, they would know they were meeting one
another and be careful with their bombs. En passant, it is not
too easy to recognise who's who at night in a strange trench when every
one is somewhat excited.
Are you all ready, 'A' party? Then come on. Worming over the bank
Samuel followed his subaltern into the darkness, and the raid had
begun. Without a sound they approached the wire through which they had
to cut, crawling as they had practised. Timed to a nicety they reached
it and lay still, just as a couple of flashes from the rear proclaimed
the gunners were beginning. Fivesixseven seconds, and with a shrill
scream two shells whistled over their heads and burst fifty yards in
front of them.
Come on. The whisper was hardly audible, and quite unnecessary:
they had all been too well drilled. Snipsnip; the wire strands parted
as they forced their way through to the silent lines, while the shells
still moaned over their heads; and the German sentries, who had heard
shells before and liked them no more than any one else, kept their
heads down till the English swine should have concluded their nightly
hate. Three minutes later the party dropped into a deserted bit of
trench and the fun commenced. . . .
Samuel was a bomber, and he carried twenty of these pleasant little
instruments as his stock in trade. With every nerve tingling with
excitement he followed the officer in front of him, who with a couple
of bayonet men headed the party. The first man they met was the sentry,
who was crouching on the fire-step to avoid the shelling, and from that
moment onwell, things hummed.
The subalternan excitable youthsmiled genially at the dazed
Bavarian, who was regarding the sudden invasion of his privacy as if it
was a bad dream; and having shot him in the stomach, passed breezily on
round the traverse, followed by his surging mob.
Picket the other entrance, he roared to those behind, as he
stepped by the first shaft of a dug out, up which a man was rushing.
Come on, my pet, come onroll, bowl, or pitch, it's a cocoa-nut to a
berlud orange. . . . The man fell back with a bullet through his
brain, and slid head down to the bottom of the shaft. Bomb 'em, boys;
With a roar the bombs went off in the confined space below the
ground; the lights went out, and a confused medley of shouts and groans
followed them up the trench as they sought pastures new. Control was
impossible: it was every man for himself, and to hell with everything
he could see. Each man fought his own little battle, in his own little
way, against one or two or three of the bewildered men who appeared
suddenly from odd places. And though they were bewildered, they
foughtthose Huns: fought like good 'uns. In one corner a great burly
miner grappled with a Bavarian N.C.O. who had suddenly dropped over the
back of the trench armed only with a pickstraight from a working
party. Farther on, the subaltern and a bayonet man carried on the good
work with howls of joy, while a small party of bombers, having found a
large sump pit covered by boards in a communication trench, removed the
boards just in time to catch a relief party of six who came rushing up
the trench. With a resounding splash they went through the ice several
feet below the top of the hole, and were immediately joined by two
As the corporal in charge of that party put it afterwards: It was a
good idea that sump 'ole; because them that wern't killed by the bombs
was drowned, and the only one wot was neither, I 'it over the 'ead with
me gun; and 'ere he is. Ain't 'e a little dear? The little dear with a
cracked jaw, and a face reminiscent of Hindenburg on the morning after,
looked the part. . . .
But I have neglected Samuel Pipston. As I mentioned, he was a
bomber, and he was also excited. In the general confusion and darkness
he got parted from the rest of the gallant band, and found himself in a
bit of trench alone save for a large and morose sapper who was tenderly
nursing a mobile charge of several pounds of ammonal. Away in front the
noise and shouting and the crack of bursting bombs was getting fainter,
and Samuel was undecided. He had explored a little cul-de-sac on
his own, and had drawn blank; and at the moment he was in the
unfortunate predicament of thirsting for blood and being unable to get
any. In front the trench was being cleared up; behind it had been
cleared up; wherefore Samuel stood undecided, and cursed fluently.
Shut yer mouththe morose sapper gripped his arman' listen. I
heard some of the swine, I reckons.
Silently the two men stood in the trench, and suddenly from close at
hand there came the noise of a man climbing a dug-out shaft. It was
exactly as a faint cry of 'Ow's yer father? came from a long way off
that a curtain just beside them moved, and a man, crouching slightly,
came out of a screened dug-out shaft into the trench. It must be
remembered that neither of our warriors had a rifle, and that bombs and
ammonal charges are not weapons with which to tackle a man you can
touch. They are apt to be impartial to friend and foe alike. . . .
Resource was necessary, and it is at moments such as these that the
national instinct for games is so invaluable. There was a psychological
moment as the crouching man came up into the trench with his rifle and
bayonet, when his chin was in the perfect position: moreover, the
sapper was a full back of merit. He kicked hard and true, and if any
one doubts the effect of a service boot on the point of the jaw, no
doubt he can experiment with the matterat a small cost. The Bavarian
fell forward as if he had been pole-axed, and having relieved him of
his rifle the sapper held forth.
There's a ruddy dug-out full of 'em, mate, wot was missed. They
peered down the opening, where a faint light showed. They think we've
gone on, and they're coming up to see. Look, there's one.
The shadow of a man showed grotesquely in the flickering light, and
Samuel quivered with excitement.
I'm a-going down the plurry steps, he affirmed, an' I'll bomb 'em
from the bottom.
The next instant he was down the shaft and peering cautiously round
the corner; and having peered he let out one wild whoop and gently
lobbed his first bomb into the far corner. It was a bomber's paradise.
All round the walls in bunks were Bavariansstout ones, thin ones,
drunk ones, sober onesand the bunks were arranged in tiers one above
the other. Two men were up, getting on their equipment, and evidently
preparing to sally forth after the gentleman upstairs; but after the
first bomb burst the fog of war descended on that Hun hostel. Samuel
had just time to see the fearful mess up in the far corner before the
light went out, and then things moved. Shots came whizzing past his
head into the woodwork of the shaft, but Samuel didn't care a damn for
shots; had he not been bitten in the hand less than an hour previously?
Methodically he pulled out pins, and impartially he distributed his
favours in every direction, what time he softly sang a song that had
long been one of his favourites, and which dealt with the singer's
overmastering predilection for fish and chips.
Suddenly he found the sapper behind him. Stand by to 'op it like a
ruddy 'are, remarked that worthy tersely. I'm a going to give 'em my
little present from Brighton, and it won't be 'ealthy when it goes
There was a sudden sizzle as he lit the fuze, and he saw a stream of
smoky light fly through the darkness and fall on to the ground in the
centre of the dug-out. Then Samuel 'opped it, the sapper just behind
him, up the shaft and into the trench. The sapper rushed him round a
bend, and then crouched down.
Twenty seconds, he gasped, an' me out of training. Lumme! wot a
The next instant the ground quivered as if an earthquake had
occurred; a thunderous roar shook the air, while the blast of the
explosion nearly knocked them down.
Nothin' wrong with that there ammonal, remarked the Sapper
professionally. 'Andy stuff it is too. Let's go and see what's
But that they will never know. From the dug-out shaft a volume of
smoke and dust was belching out, while from inside there came a medley
of noises and grunts indicative of annoyance and pain.
Sounds like one of them there gramophone records, don't it?
murmured Samuel. A summer morning, or the departure of a troop ship.
Ain't it lovely? 'Ullo, wot's that?
Clear above the din and the moaning, and the spasmodic fighting
which they could still hear going on up the trench, there sounded the
officers' dinner call. Twice it blared forth from the British lines,
and every man knew what it meant: Come back, at once. The raid was
over. . . .
And so by ones and two and threes D Company returned to the fold,
where hot tea and a noggin of rum awaited them, giving their names to
Reginald on the way. To the casual observer it might have seemed that D
Company were drunkone and all. They werebut not with wine. They
were drunk with excitement, and with the knowledge just acquired that
they could beat the Germans, man-to-man. They were blooded.
The lies they toldthose cheery lads! Not a man had done in less
than forty Boches, which rose to eighty when they wrote their girls.
What matter? D Company of the Stick'em and be damned was made for life.
The men walked three inches higher; the men, as men, had come into
their own. Every new draft that came heard the story; every new draft
realised it had got something to live up to. No longer sand bags and
smells their horizon, but the memory of one glorious half-hour.
And when he thought over it afterwards, there was only one small
thing that struck Samuel Pipston as peculiar. He was just retailing to
Reginald Simpkinswith some wealth of detailhis experiences in the
German dug-out, when he became aware of the Honourable James beside
him, who listened for a while until he had finished.
So you had a good time did you, Pipston? he remarked. Splendid!
Then he turned to Simpkins. The Company Commander tells me you were a
great help to him, checking the men as they came back. Well done.
It struck Samuel that he might have had a Well done.
But then, he didn't know the Honourable Jimmy's methods; nor did he
know that while he and those with him had merely learned the first and
easiest lesson that night, Reginald Simpkins had learned the second.
VII. THE THIRD LESSON, AND A
And so, with two of the lessons learned, we come to the third and
greatest. The first was basely material, and was taught by Shorty Bill;
the second was a little nearer the heart of things, and was taught by
the Honourable James; the third is the heart of things, and can be
taught by no one. The rulesvague rulesmay be given by men who have
learned it to those who have not; but its true meaning, its real
significance, can only be reached by the pupil for himself. And there
are many who fall by the way. . . .
It arises out of the second: it must be preceded by subordination of
self. For until a man can subordinate himself, he cannot take on his
shoulders the cares of others; he cannot put those others first, And
until he can put others before him, he cannot be put in a position of
responsibility: he is not fitted to fill it. And it is the principle of
responsibility on which the British Army is built up: another thing
about which I am very doubtful as to the knowledge of those whose paths
have not led them near things military. . . .
I have touched on things material; let me hold forth awhile on
What think you, my masters, is the driving force of a regiment in
the field? The answer is in one wordLeadership. Quite so, you say;
the remark seems to have been made before. It has, which makes it all
the stranger that it is so little understood.
What does the word mean to you? Prancing in front of the men with a
drawn sword, shouting, For King and Country? They'd laugh at you, and
follow aleader: one of their own. Ruling by fear, ruthlessly without
thought of human weakness, without tinge of mercy? They'd hate you, and
you would have to drive them like the Prussians do. Ruling by
pusillanimous kindness, by currying favour, by seeking to be a
popularity Jack? They'd despise youand rightly.
The quality of leadership is none of these things: it is something
much more simple, much more homely, if I may use the word. To lead men
a man must first of all understand men, understand human nature; he
must know his job, and know it better than his men; he must possess
intensity of purpose.
Human nature! What the men like and what they dislike; the little
fetishes they put up, the little gods; the few words of praise when
they have done well, of disappointment when they have not;
consideration for them, giving them beer and concerts; being with them
in the trenches when the weather is bad, and not in a dug-out. Little
points perhaps, but it's the little points that are so important.
Human sympathythe appealing to the spark of better things that
lies in the worst; the inculcation of an ideal to live up tothe ideal
of the regiment. All the hundred and one things that go to make up a
man's life and not an automaton's; all the things that make for the
affection and love of those under you. It is a very great thing for an
officer to be loved by his men. . . .
Knowledge! The capability of doing yourself anything you call on
those under you to do; of showing them when they are right and when
they are wrong; of making them trust your ability. It is a very great
thing for an officer to be trusted by his men.
Intensity of purpose! The driving force that gives enthusiasm, that
causes the hand on the plough to remain there until the job is done;
the quality that abhors vacillation, that prevents a man taking a thing
up one moment with red-hot eagerness and dropping it the next because
he's tired of it. The men despise vacillation and chopping and
changing. Being messed about, they call it; only the word is not
messed. And it is a terrible thing for an officer to be despised by his
men. . . .
From good leadership there springs good discipline, that other word
so little understood by those who have not met it in the flesh. Not,
believe me, the rigorous punishment for breaking certain arbitrary
rules, enforced by an autocrat on men placed temporarily under him by a
whim of fate; far from it. Discipline is merely the doctrine which
teaches of the subordination of self for the whole; it teaches the
doctrine of playing the game; it teaches the all-important fact that
the fear of being found out and punished should not be the chief
force in a man's life, but rather that the realisation of his
responsibility should be the guiding factor.
Such is the ideal aimed at in a good regiment. That there are some
who miss that aim none but a fool would deny; the same may be said of
most professions, even, I suppose, of bishops. That there are some
officers who go the wrong way to work, who nag and bully and generally
turn themselves into something even worse than nature intended is an
undoubted fact. That there are some men who are wasters; who were born
wasters and will die as such is also quite true. But I maintain that
the training, the ideals, the traditions, the morale of the good
British regiment does produce, and has produced, a growth of character
and a condition of mind in the men who belong to it which was largely
conspicuous by its absence in civil life.
Why, I do not profess to say. Why the great thinkers and the
vaporising burblers between them should not have hit on some method of
training character which would have produced equally good results to
those produced by what they are still pleased to call militarism, I
do not know. All that I do know is that they did not. Let us leave it
I have digressed; our Reginald is calling. For weeks his battalion
was destined to remain in peace trenches, to live that dreary life of
monotony which tests the capabilities of the leader as no big push can
do. The excitement is absent, there is plenty of timetoo much
timefor thought. And boredom is of all things one of the hardest to
combat. It calls for leadership of the highest type. There is many a
man capable of supreme devotion in a crisis who is incapable of the
steady, unseen strain, day in, day out, of keeping up his men's
spiritsin fact, of appreciating human nature in one of its many
The men feel that dull routine on which the lime-light does not
shine, and only the leader can help them. It claims its victims, just
as do the big offensive, that trench life, when the flares lob up
ceaselessly and the bursts of machine-gun fire come swishing over the
ground. Here men are wiring; there is a party digging a new bit of
trench; and out beyondin No Man's Landan officer and three scouts
are creeping about examining the enemy's wire. So it goes on throughout
the night, until as the first streaks of dawn show faintly in the east
it ceases. The men come in, back to the dreary mud holes; and next
night there is the same damned thing to be done all over again
somewhere else. . . .
Only, Ginger won't be there any more; he has put up his last bit of
wire. He started on the last journey unnoticed save by the man standing
next him; andGawd above!what's the use? They'd been together for
two years, share and share alike; and now the end. Putting up a bit of
rusty wire round a sap. . . .
Easy, boy, easy. 'Ere, cut them ruddy braces away. 'Orl rite, old
son, you've copped a Blighty. Thro' yer stummikGor luv yerno. Get
that dressing on, Bill; turn over, matewe'll give yer a drink in a
minute; but one thing at a time, old pal, that's my motto. Always merry
and bright, as the perisher said in the play. Back in the trench,
pulled in from the wire where the work goes on, an officer's electric
torch shines on the stretcher bearers working with clumsy gentleness on
the quivering body. Now, then, mate, we can't get the blinking
stretcher along this 'ere trench, so we'll 'ave to carry you.
Copped it? asks an N.C.O. in a whisper.
Gawd! a fair crumpler, mutters the other. Come on, Ginger, let's
get off on the first stage for Blighty. On me back, we does iton me
back. 'Ere, boylumme! turn 'im over, Bill. The torch shines down on
the face upturned to the stars; the stretcher bearers bend down and
suddenly straighten up again. For Ginger is even now passing along the
last great road: he has copped it. The group disperse; the officer goes
back to his job; the stretcher bearers do their work; and soon nothing
remains save the stain on the dirty sandbags. Just another letter to a
woman at home; just war.
Only to his pal, it's Ginger: Ginger whom he'd joined up with;
Gingerkilled putting up a bit of rusty wire. Not doing anything
brilliant, not in a charge or going over the top, but putting up a bit
of ruddy wire. What is the use of it all, what? . . .
Come on, my leader; come on, you platoon commander; the soul of
Ginger's pal is in the melting-pot, though he doesn't know it, and
would curse in your face if you told him so. A quiet hand on the back,
a laugh perhaps, just a word to show him that you feel with him. His
outlook on life is not as big as yours; help himfor Heaven's sake,
help him. Thus is it done if the leader of the regiment is a man of
understanding; for each of his assistants, right down the long chain to
the junior lance-corporal, have been imbued with their responsibility
to those under them. They are there to help them, to lighten their
burdens, to sink self for the men they lead. The strong must help the
weakthat is the principle; and every one must pull his weight for the
good of the team.
But I have got off the rails again; I apologise.
During those weeks of boredom, Reginald, though he knew it not, was
being watched, still watched, by the Honourable James. And it seemed to
that judge of character that the soil was good.
The Adjutant asked me if I'd like to take the stripe this morning,
Shorty. Reginald and his pal were watching an inter-company football
match on the ground by the Lens main road, near the little village of
Noyelles-les-Vermelles. It is on the borders of the coal countrythat
village, and all around it rise the great pyramidical slag heaps of the
Did 'e now? Shorty contemplated with interest a shell bursting on
the derelict fosse in the next village of Annequin, and turned
thoughtfully to the speaker. An' what did you say to him?
I said I didn't want to. Why the devil should I? I don't want a
stripe, BillI'm happier as I am. It means a lot of extra work an'
Did you tell him that, son? Shorty Bill hooked himself over on his
arm and proceeded to fill his pipe.
Yes, I told him that: and he
He did not finish his sentence for a moment or two; he seemed to be
turning something over in his mind. Then he burst out: He talked a lot
of rot about responsibility.
Cut it out. It's you that is coughing up the rot. Listen here a
moment, an' I'll tell you what the Honourable James said. Got a match?
He took the proffered box and carefully lit up. He first-ways told you
that he'd had his eye on you for some time, an' he was pleased with 'ow
you was doing. That may have been a lie or it may not, but the
Honourable Jimmy knows more'n one cottons to. Then he told you what a
gran' thing it was to be in this regiment, and that to be in a position
of responsibility was grander still. Then he told you that no man
worthy of the name of a man ought to be afraid of shouldering
responsibility. An' lastly he said: 'Will you take the stripe?'
Reggie was staring at the speaker amazed. Lumme! you might have
been there, Shorty. How did you know?
Because he offered the same thing to me six months ago, returned
the other shortly. Now see here, boy: that there aristocratic Johnny
is the goods. It don't matter a damn to me if a man's a duke or a
coal-heaver as long as he's the goods, and the Honourable Jimmy is.
So's the ole man. An' what he saysgoes. He's right d'you see, son;
he's right. Shorty brought his fist down into his open palm. I've
been watching you lately, an' you're worth teachingyou've shown that.
But now you've begun to feel your legs, you're inclined to think you're
a bit bigger cheese-mite than you really are. You want a bit o'
sobering up; an' there's nothing like taking on responsibility to sober
up a man. As soon as you start looking after other fellows, you begin
to realise you ain't the Lord High Emperor of the whole outfit.
But I don't want to look after other fellows, Shorty. Our friend's
tone was dubious. Why, good Lord! I'd be bossing it over you if I took
An enigmatic smile wreathed gently over Shorty's face. Don't you
worry about that; I'll chance it. Then he turned suddenly on the man
lying beside him. You've got to take itthis bally little stripe in
this funny old army. Otherwise you're a quittersee? a quitter. You'd
not be pullin' your weight. Do you get me?
Right ho! Bill; I'll tell him I will. Reginald Simpkins stared
silently at the football match for a while, and then a sudden thought
struck him. Say, why didn't you take it, Shorty?
Never you mind; there are things as you can't get a hold of as yet.
I pull more weight where I am, my son, than I would if I was the ruddy
With which sage utterance our friend had to rest content. But while
we are on the question, it is passing strange that, in a community such
as a regiment, the power of the old soldier should be as great as it
is. There was but little exaggeration in Shorty's last remark. In his
present position he exercised a far greater influence on the men around
him than if he had been a sergeant. It was his individualityan
individuality which made him an oracle whom all approached with their
little grievances and their little troubles. Had he been a senior
N.C.O. there would have been the bar of rank; and though his influence
would have been very great, now it was even greater. But with our
friend the case was different. He had no such individuality developed
as yet which marked him out at once as a man among men; and before he
could become an oracle to whom others would turn in their troubles, he
must first be given a helping handshown a short cut, so to speakto
the character on which men lean instinctively.
And there is only one way to produce that characteronly one. It
may succeed and it may fail; the shrewdest judges of human character
make mistakes, the best leaders err sometimes. Butgive him
responsibility, and help him to understand that responsibility, with
the help that only a good leader can give. Help him to grasp that
phraseMy men; help him to realise that their worries are his
worries, their amusements his amusements; help him to understand the
value of cheerfulness when everything is damnableutterly damnable.
Then watch him. He may fail; well, you've made a mistake; but he may
succeed, and then you've made a man. Which is always a thing worth
doing. . . .
VIII. THE THIRD LESSON IS LEARNED
And so it came about that three months later Reginald
Simpkinslance-corporaland Shorty Billprivatewere seated on the
fire-step of a trench side by side. With one continuous droning roar
the shells passed over their heads and crumped into the German lines
opposite. The days of peace for the battalion were over; in a quarter
of an hour they were going over the top. Thousands like them sat on
similar fire-steps and realised that same fact, for it was no little
show this time: it was one where divisions and corps were involved. But
to the pawns in the game, the horizon is limited: it is just their own
destination, their own life, their own fate that looms up big and blots
out the rest. It's not the other hundred thousand who matter at the
momentit's the pawn himself who wonders, and laughs, and sings, and
prays. . . .
Shorty, smoking his pipe imperturbably, was feeling the edge of his
own particular weapon, with critical finger, and every now and then
stealing a look at the boy beside him. Apparently satisfied at last
with its sharpness he laid it down on the step and turned to our
You done well, son, he remarked at length, thoughtfully removing
his pipe. I'm pleased with you. I was afraid at one timejust after
you took the stripewhen some of 'em was ragging you, as you would
turn out a quitter. But you got guts. You're twice the man you was when
you took it; and as for what you was when you joined us, you wasn't
nothing at all save a walking disease.
I'm glad you think I've made good, Shorty. Reginald was swallowing
a little hard. IerIGood God! Shorty, I'm just sick with
funkthat's straight. It was out at last, and Shorty Bill smiled
gently and nodded his head.
Son, he remarked, it's one good sign that you ain't afraid o'
saying so. Now personally I'm notthough it ain't no credit to me.
It's how we're made, I reckon. When my time comes, it comes, and
there's no blamed use worrying.
I know all that, butsomehowit ain't much comfort that idea,
when it comes to the point. I tell you, Shorty, I don't want to be
killed; I His voice died away, and he looked shamefacedly at the
sandbags in front of him.
No more don't I, son; no more don't I. An' no more don't your
menyour six boys you are responsible for. They're your men, that
little bunch: they're looking to you, they're relying on you. He put
his hand on the other's knee. Are you a'-goin' to let 'em down, that
Once again the great doctrinethe third great lessonthe doctrine
that laughs at life and death, the doctrine of thinking for othersof
It's better, I reckon, to die a man than live a worm. So long, son;
The last words were shouted, and even then they could not be heard.
Five minutes previously it would have seemed impossible that there
could have been more noise; then suddenly it seemed to double and
treble in intensity. The ground shook; and over the German trenches
there hung a choking cloud of fumes which drifted slowly across the
front with the wind. As if by clockwork, the men got out of their
trenches and walked slowly over No Man's Land behind the creeping
barrage towards the reeking caldron. A great long line of
menthousands and thousands of men; but do not think of them as the
men of some of our county regiments who did well, whom we are now
allowed to mention; as some kilted battalions and Canadians who
greatly distinguished themselves; do not think of them in the mass,
rather think of the individual.
The farm-hand, until two years ago just a clod-hopping countryman,
was there; and the local lawyer's articled clerk. The gillie from a
Scotch stream, and the bar-tender from a Yukon saloon walked side by
side; and close to them a High Church curate in a captain's uniform
grinned pleasantly and strolled on. The sheep-rancher, the poacher, the
fifth son of an impecunious earl, and the man from the chorus were all
thereleaving their respective lives behind them, the things which
they had done, good and bad, the successes and the failures. For the
moment nothing mattered save that seething volcano in front: it might
be the endit might not.
And some were quiet, and some were green; some were shouting, and
some were red; some laughed, and some cursed. But whatever they did,
however they took it, the leaders of whom I have spoken, each in his
own sphere, big or little as the case might be, kept 'em, held 'em,
looked after 'em, cheered 'em. Though their own stomachs were turning,
though their own throats were dry, they had a job to do: a
responsibility rested on their shoulders. And until death relieved them
of that responsibility they could not lay it down. They were the
leaders; to them much had been given; of them much was expected. . . .
But in this great advance, which has already been ably portrayed by
the powers of the journalistic world, we are only concerned with the
fortunes of two individuals. To them those flowery phrases, those
magnificent dashes carried out in faultless style, those wonderful
lines which went into the jaws of hell as if on parade, would have
conveyed a peculiarly inept description of their feelings. Not that the
descriptions in many cases are not wonderfully good! They arebut they
represent the point of view of the spectator in a pageant; not the
point of view of one of the actors. To him they are meaningless: he
only knows the intense vital part he plays himself. The shell that
burst next door to him and killed his sergeant is only one of similar
thousands to the looker-on behind. . . .
And so, in a dazed world of his own, Reginald Simpkins,
Lance-Corporal and sometime pride of Mogg's, walked over No Man's Land.
Every now and then he looked mechanically to his left and right, and
grinned. At least he made a contortion with his facial muscles, which
experience told him used to produce a grin. He did it to encourage the
six. Whether he succeeded or not is immaterial: the intention was good,
even if the peculiar tightness of his skin spoiled the result.
Occasionally he spoke. No one could have heard what he said, but once
again the intention was good.
Steady, boyscome on. He said it four or five times and
punctuated it with grins. Then he tripped over a body and cursed.
He wondered if he was doing all right; he wondered if Shorty was
pleased with him. The funk seemed to have gone: in its place had come a
kind of dazed doggedness, while a fury of impatience to justify himself
and his powers of leadership shook him at times. Surely to God they
could go faster than this cursed crawl. Why was the barrage lifting so
slowly? It seemed interminable that walk over the torn-up earth; and
yet the German trenches were still some way off.
He grinned again, and turned round just in time to see the garage
assistant next to him fall forward into a shell hole, and lie with his
head stuck in the slimy ooze at the bottom. He frowned, and then almost
uncomprehendingly he saw the back of the fallen man's head. Of
coursehe was shot, that's what it was: his six were reduced to five.
Steady, boyscome on. As he spoke he felt something catch his
coat, and he looked down irritably on feeling the material tear. It was
a strand of barbed wire that stuck up from the ground, with its free
end loose. They had come to the wire. . . .
In all directionstwisted and torn, with ends that stuck up, and
stray strands uncutwas wire: thick and rusty it coiled in and out
between the screw picketscut to pieces, but still there. Men picked
their way over it gingerly, stepping with care and walking round the
little ridges that separated the shell holes. Festoons of it lay in
these holes, and in one large crater a dead Hun lay sprawled on a
mattress of it. To the spectator behind, it was one dead Hunone of
thousands. To the man who happened to see him as he passed, it was an
individual whose chalky face had been ripped by one of the barbs as he
And there is a difference. . . .
Then they came to the trenchesthe front line, or what was left of
it. Just facing them a man with his hands above his head opened and
shut his mouth. He appeared to be saying something, but no voice could
be heard above the din. Reginald grinned again: the Hun who was trying
to imitate a fish struck him as a humorous spectacle; moreover, in a
flash of memory, he reminded him very much of Mr. Mogg's ample wife. He
grinned again as he thought of Mogg's.
Once more they were advancing again over the other side of the
trench: the moppers-up would attend to the piscatorial gentleman. Our
friend was better nowvery much better; he felt more sure of himself;
in fact, absolutely sure of himself. In addition he was beginning to
get excited. And then a machine gun opened fire.
Hundreds of other machine guns opened fire too; but this one was
Reginald's machine gunthe one that concerned his limited horizon. For
a moment it did not strike him that way, though he saw the gun quite
clearly. He looked round for help, and in looking round for help, he
found that his five and three others who were close to him were looking
to him for help. And he realised his responsibility: he had learned the
lesson. . . .
It was a masterly little piece of work: an excellent piece of
subordinate leadership. With his arm he directed those eighthe had
not been trained as a scout in vainand with the loss of only two he
got them out of the direct zone of fire. A few minutes later he, with
the six remaining, fell upon that gun's team from a flank. In five
seconds it was over, and the little group passed on.
It was just after this that he saw Shorty. At the moment that worthy
was lying in a shell hole drawing a bead on some target with the utmost
care. Reggie saw the kick of the gun, but failed to see what he had
been firing at until the firer stood up and screamed in his ear.
Machine gunnernest of them over there. Hanging up the ruddy
We're doing well, Shorty. He howled back the answer.
I reckon so. The swine are running all along the line; only one or
two of 'em holdin' us up. Look out. He pulled Reginald to one side,
and pointed behind him.
Majestically, squelching through the mud, came Tiny Tim, or the
Tired Tank. It was pitching and rolling like a squat old tramp making
heavy weather beating up Channel. They waved at it as it passed by,
lurching ominously but going straight for the machine-gun nest. Once it
almost seemed to disappear as it waddled down an extra large hole with
its two stern wheels waving foolishly in the air; but a moment later it
squirmed solemnly up the far side, and rolled on to its chosen target.
The wire was uncut; but it trod on the wire, and the wire was not.
Look at the perishers running, howled Shorty, as he watched some
men doubling back from the death-trap. Their arms were waving
foolishly: one could imagine their faces grey-green with terror, their
hoarse shouts of fear, their desperate hurry to avoid the thing that
was coming. Lumme! I must draw a bead on that bunch, muttered Shorty
eagerly. Now then, son, you can hit one of that lot. He turned from
the scene in front, and the next instant he was down on his knees.
What is it, boy, what is it?
The man lying stiffly on the ground grinned yet once again, and
shook his head. Thus does it comesuddenly, in a second. To the
spectator behindour losses were not as great as had been
anticipated. To the manjourney's end.
I've got it this time, Shorty, he remarked, and he seemed to speak
with difficulty. The roar of the guns was passing onwards, the din was
not quite so deafening. My bally old back seems all numb.
Just a stray bullet; just a broken back; just a finish. With the eye
of knowledge Shorty looked at the grey tinge already spreading over the
boy's face, and the mystery of death struck him forcibly: something of
the strangeness of it all. In five minutesfourtenwhat
matter?the lips now capable of speech would close for ever: the man
whom he had known and lived alongside of for months would be gone for
good. The desperate finality of it; the utter futility of the onlooker.
. . .
Is the Tank clearing 'em out, Shorty? The dying man interrupted
his thoughts, and he looked up to see what was happening.
It is that, son; it's doing fine. The old thing is sittin' there
like a broody hen spittin' at 'em, and the swine are running like
God! Shorty, could one hit 'em with a gun? The glazing eyes
brightened; the lolling head straightened with a jerk.
Sure thing. Shorty looked at him, and understood. Like to try,
boy; you'd get the cocoa-nut, I'll bet.
That's it, Shorty; that's it. Turn me over, an' prop me up. I'd
like to. . . . Lord! man, I can see 'em there, hundreds of 'em running
to beat the band. Give me the gun, Bill, quick; I must just get one; I.
. . .
With powerless hands he took the rifle for the last time, and looked
along the sights. God! he whimpered, I can't hold it steadyI
can't. . . . Shorty, Shorty, I'm wobbling all over the target.
But Shorty did not come to him. He was lying on the ground two or
three feet away, with his own rifle hugged to his shoulder. If there
be anything in religion, he muttered fiercely, let me shoot straight
this time, God.
That's all right, he shouted; you've got him covered fine. Fire,
son, firean' hit the perisher. You ain't wobbling.
And so Reginald Simpkins, lance-corporal and man, fired his last
shot. Heaven knows where it went; all that matters is that a running
grey-green figure two hundred yards away suddenly threw his hands above
his head and pitched forward on his face.
Great shooting, son, great shooting. Shorty Bill was beside him,
turning him over once again on his back. You plugged him clean as a
whistle. Good boy.
The grey had spread; the end was very near. I thought I
heardanother shotclose by. The tired eyelids closed. I've made
good, Shorty, ain't I? . . . Honourable Jimmy . . . Regiment great
thing . . . responsibility . . . greater. . . . And so he died.
IX. AND OTHER FELL ON GOOD GROUND
Shorty Bill thoughtfully ejected a spent cartridge case from his
magazine and pulled back the safety catch. I'm glad I hit him. It'll
be something for the boy to take away with him. I suppose he'll
remember it. Shorty's brow wrinkled with the strain of this abstruse
theological problem. Then he shrugged his shoulders and gave it up. So
long, son; you made goodyou did well. But the old Tank has cleared
'em out, an' I must be toddling on. Then he remembered something, and
produced his own patent weapon. It was only as he actually started to
cut another nick in the long row which adorned the stock of his rifle
that he paused: paused and looked up.
Lumme! I'd better wait a bit; it wouldn't never do for the boy to
know it was me what hit that Hun. I'll just go on a little, I'll . . .
Good-bye, boy; I'm sorrydam sorry.
With his strange, loping walk the poacher and jailbird walked off in
the wake of the Tank, which was now ploughing merrily forward again.
Fifty yards away he stopped, and cut another nick. Ninety-three, he
muttered; not bad. But it wouldn't never have done for the boy to have
known. Undoubtedly theology was not his strong point.
Slowly, an inch or two at a time, Reginald Simpkins slithered down
the sloping side of the shell hole till he reached the bottom. To the
batches of prisoners coming backjust a casualty; to the
reinforcements coming upjust a casualty. To the boy himselfthe
And so, in the shell-ploughed, gun-furrowed No Man's Land is the
seed of Britain sown. And the harvest?
PART IV. HARVEST
Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to
burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
MATTHEW xiii. 30.
For shoulders curved with the counter stoop will be carried
erect and square;
And faces white from the office light will be bronzed by the
And we'll walk with the stride of a new-born pride, with a
new-found joy in our eyes;
Scornful men who have diced with death under the naked skies.
For some of us smirk in a chiffon shop, and some of us teach
in a school;
Some of us help with the seat of our pants to polish an
The merits of somebody's soap or jam some of us seek to explain;
But all of us wonder what we'll do when we have to go back
again.R. W. SERVICE.
What of the harvest? It is coming, perhaps sooner than we expect,
perhaps not for many weary months. But the reaper is even now
sharpening his sickle in readiness, andwhat of the crops?
Into No Man's Land have gone alike, the wheat of honest endeavour
and hardship well borne, and the tares of class hatred and selfishness.
Had ever reaper nobler task in front of him than the burning of those
tares and the gathering of that wheat into the nation's barn? . . .
In the Château at Boesinghe, where the moss is growing round the
broken doors and the rank weeds fill the garden, with the stagnant Yser
hard by; in Ypres, where the rooks nest in the crumbling Cloth Hall and
a man's footsteps ring loud and hollow on the silent square; in
Vermelles, where the chalky plains stretch bare towards the east, and
the bloody Hohenzollern redoubt, with the great squat slag heap beside
it, lies silent and ominous; in Guillemont and Guinchy, where the
sunken road was stiff with German dead and no two bricks remain on top
of one another; on Vimy Ridge, in Bullecourt and Croisilles, in all
these places, in all the hundred others, the seed has been sown. What
of the harvest?
If I have made of war a hideous thingunredeemed, repulsivethe
picture is not consciously exaggerated. As far as in me lies I have
drawn the thing as I have seen it.
But after the lean years, the fat; after the hideous sowing, the
The more one thinks of it, the more amazing does the paradox
becomethe paradox of cause and effect. To fit these civilians of
Britain for all the dirty details which go to make winning or losing,
to fit them for the business of killing in the most efficient manner,
the tuition must include the inculcation of idealsmore, the
assimilation of idealswhich are immeasurably superior to any they
learned in their civilian life. At least so it seems to one who makes
their acquaintance when they first join up. In their civilian life self
ruled; there, each individual pawn scrambled and snarled as he pushed
the next pawn to him underor went under himself as the case might
bein his frenzied endeavour to better himself, to win a little brief
authority! The community was composed of a mass of struggling, fighting
units, each one all out for himself and only himself.
But from the tuition which the manhood of Britain is now undergoing,
there must surely be a very different result. Self no longer rules;
self is sunk for the good of the causefor the good of the community.
And the community, realising that fact, endeavours, by every means in
its power, to develop that self to the very maximum of which it is
capable, knowing that, in due course, it will reap the benefit. No
longer do individual pawns struggle one against the other, but
eachdeveloping his own particular gift to the maximumplaces it at
the disposal of the community who helped him in his development. And
that is the result of so-called militarismBritish militarism.
Surely what has been accomplished in the Army can be carried into
other matters in the fullness of time. I am no prophet; I am no social
reformer to speak of ways and means. All I can say with certainty is
that I have seen them come in by hundreds, by thousandsthese men of
our country now fighting in every corner of the globeresentful,
suspicious, intolerant of authority. I have seen them in training; I
have seen the finished article. And the result is good: the change for
the better wonderful.
It cannot be that one must presuppose such a hideous thing as this
war to be necessary, in order to attain such results. I cannot believe
it. There must be some other method of teaching the lessons of playing
for the side and unselfishness. The spurred culprits of Mr. Wells'
imagination have given a lead over the fence; surely all the rest of
the field is not going to jib.
And when the harvest does come in, when the sickle is finally put to
the crop, there will be such an opportunity for statesmanship as the
world has never before seen.
Winnowed by the fan of suffering and death, the wheat of the harvest
will shed its tares of discord and suspicion. The duke and the labourer
will have stood side by side, and will have found one anothermen. No
longer self the only thing; no longer a ceaseless growse against
everybody and everything; no longer an instinctive suspicion of the man
one rung higher up the ladder. But more self-reliant and cheery;
stronger in character and bigger in outlook; with a newly acquired
sense of self-control and understanding; in short, grown a little
nearer to its maximum development, the manhood of the nation will be
ripe for the moulder's hand. It has tasted of discipline; it has
realised that only by discipline for the individual can there be true
freedom for the community; and that without that discipline, chaos is
inevitable. Pray heavens there be a mouldera moulder worthy of the
Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make
one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
He will have grand claythat moulder: clay such as has never been
known before. Its God will be the God of Reality, its devil the Devil
of Pretence. Just as it has ceased to look at Death through a haze of
drawn window-blinds and frock-coats redolent of moth-balls, so it will
cease with scorn to look at some of the clumsy sophistries of modern
life through the rose-tinted spectacles so kindly provided for the
purpose by men of great vocal, and correspondingly small mental, power.
Out of the evil, good will come: surely it must be so. In the wisdom
of the Infinite Power, madness has been let loose on the world. The
madness was not of our seeking. It was hurled upon us by a race whose
standards are based on bombing or crucifying their prisoners, and
eating their own dead; on sinking unarmed liners and murdering an odd
woman or two to fill in time; and finallythough perhaps last on the
list of witticisms from a material point of view, almost first from
that of contemptof crucifying an emaciated cat and stuffing a cigar
in its mouth. A race without an instinct of sport, without an idea of
playing the game. Gross and contemptible they bluster first, and then
they whine; and the rare exceptions only make the great drab mass seem
even more nauseating. . . .
But the crushing of that race will have been hard, the sacrifices
great. And even so will the results of those sacrifices be great. Of
social problems I am, as I have said, not qualified to speak; indeed of
any of the great problems of reconstruction it would be presumption on
my part to hold forth.
It is not for the soldier to see visions and dream dreams: there are
others more fitted, more suited to the task. It is of the individual I
have written; it is to the individual I dedicate the result of my
I remember meeting a Padre one day several months ago. He was
conjuring at a concert for an Infantry Battalion that eveningbetween
the forefinger and thumb of the right hand you now perceive a baby
giraffe sort of businessand I told him I thought it was very good of
him to take the immense amount of trouble he always did to amuse the
Good! His face expressed genuine amazement. Good! To these boys!
I tell you, when I think of what the ordinary private soldier is doing
for meaye! and for all of us who are not in the InfantryI just
stand quite still and take off my hat.
And so I have written of the individual. Inadequately it is true,
and with a due sense of my short-comings in attempting the task, I have
written of the men I have met and lived with across the narrow sea. Not
of armies and army corps, not of divisions and brigades, but of the
unitsthe individual menwho form them. For it is the man we know. It
is the man who has suffered and endured, the man who touches our
laughter and our tears. He has given his all, unstintingly,
unsparingly; and now, perchance, he lies peaceful and at rest in the
land where the seed has been sown; perchance he will come back to the
country he has fought for when the final reckoning is over. And
whichever it isthe quiet, solitary grave with the cross above it and
the wild flowers blooming freshly underneath the crumbling walls of a
town that was; or the taking up again of the work so long
neglectedthe office or the ranch, the railway in Yukon or the rubber
in Malaywhichever it is, he has played the great game well. To him
the great reward. . . .
And the women? the women who have suffered and endured with their
menmore than their men. To some the great reunion, the blessed
feeling that it is over. Never again will he go into the great unknown;
never again that clutching terror of the telegraph boy. He has come
back, and there shall be no more parting. The joy bells will be ringing
out: the war will be overwon.
Thus shall it be for some.
And for the others. . . .
It is not for me to comfort: there are things too deep for the
written word. Only one thing I say, and I say it with a full sense of
its pitiful inadequacy. When the joy bells do ring out, and in the
ringing seem to mock so hideously the empty chair, the voice for ever
silent, then in that bitter moment, remember one thing. Somewhere or
other, in the Soldier's Valhalla, he is waiting for youwaiting with a
trusty band of friends, happy, contented, proud. He was glad to pay
that final price; he knows now, where all is clear, that it was
necessary. He would have you know it too. . . .
For except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die. . . .