His Girl by James Owen Hannay
An Extract from
Our Casualty And Other Stories
There were thirty or forty officers in the lounge of the hotel, all
condemned, as I was, to spend the greater part of the day there. Some
men have better luck. It was the fourth time I had been held up in this
wretched place on my way back to France after leave. Dragged out of our
beds at an unreasonable hour, crammed into a train at Victoria, rushed
down to an embarkation port as if the fate of the empire depended on
our getting there without a minute's delay, we find, when we get out of
the train, that the steamer will not start for three hours, four hours,
on this occasion six hours. We are compelled to sit about in an hotel,
desolate and disgusted, when we might have been comfortable in London.
I looked round to see if there were anyone I wanted to talk to.
There wereI had seen them at Victoriathree or four men whom I knew
slightly, but I had no particular wish to spend hours with any one of
them. I had just decided to go out for a walk by myself when I felt a
slap on my shoulder. I turned and saw Daintree. I was uncommonly glad
to see him. Daintree and I were friends before the war and I have
always found him an amusing companion. He greeted me heartily.
Great luck, he said, running into you like this. I don't see a
single other man I know in the whole crowd. And any way I particularly
wanted to talk to you. I've got a story to tell you.
We secured a corner and two comfortable chairs. I lit a pipe and
waited. Daintree is a wonderful man for picking up stories. The most
unusual things happen to him and he gets mixed up in far more
adventures than anyone else I know. And he likes telling stories.
Usually, the men who have stories to tell will not talk, and the men
who like talking have nothing interesting to tell. Daintree is
What is it this time? I asked. What journalists call a 'sob
story,' or is it meant to be humorous?
I should call it a kind of joke, said Daintree; but my wife says
it's the most pathetic thing she's ever heard. It makes her cry even to
think of it You can take it either way. I'll be interested to see how
you do take it. I was thinking of writing it to you, 'for your
information and necessary action, please.' My wife wanted me to, but
it's too long for a letter. Besides, I don't see what you or anyone
else could possibly do in the matter. You may give advicethat's what
my wife expects of youbut there's really no advice to give. However,
you can tell me how it strikes you. That's what I want to know, whether
you agree with my wife or with me. You know Simcox, don't you, or do
you? I forget.
Simcox? I said. Is that a tall, cadaverous man in the Wessex?
Rather mournful looking?
That's the man. Came home from a remote corner of the Argentine, or
somewhere like that, early in the war, and got a commission. He's a
I met him, I said, down Albert way, shortly before the push last
year. I can't say I knew him. He seemed to me rather a difficult kind
of man to know.
So my wife says, said Daintree. He's older than most of us, for
one thing, and has spent twenty years all by himself herding sheep or
branding bullocks, or whatever it is they do out in those places.
Naturally he'd rather lost touch with life at home and found it
difficult to fit himself in; especially with a lot of boys straight
from the 'Varsities or school. They were mostly boys in his battalion.
Anyhow, he seems to have been a bit morose, but he did his job all
right in the regiment and was recommended for the M.C.. He got knocked
out in the Somme push and jolly nearly lost a leg. They saved it in the
end and sent him down to my place to convalesce.
Daintree owns a very nice place in the Midlands. In the old days it
was one of the pleasantest houses I know to stay in. Daintree himself
was a capital host and his wife is a charming woman. The house is a
convalescent home for officers now, and Mrs. Daintree, with the help of
three nurses, runs it. Daintree pretends to regard this as a grievance,
and says it was all his wife's doing, though he was just as keen on the
place as she was.
Damned nuisance, he said, finding the place full of boys rioting
when I get home on leave. And it's full up nowtwelve of them, no
less. There's hardly a spot in the house I can call my own, and they've
spoiled the little lake I made at the bottom of the lawn. That young
ass Pat Singleton started what he called boat-races on it
Oh, Pat Singleton's there? I said. I knew; he'd been wounded, but
I didn't hear he'd been sent to your place.
Pat Singleton's always everywhere, said Daintree. I've never come
across a place where he wasn't, and he's a devil for mischief. Remind
me afterwards to tell you about the trick he played on the principal
nurse, a Scotchwoman with a perfectly terrific sense of her own
dignity, Daintree chuckled.
If you'd rather tell me that story, I said, instead of the one
about Simcox, I'd just as soon have it. In fact, I'd prefer it. Sob
stories are always trying.
But I'm not sure that the Simcox one is a sob story, though there's
a certain amount of slosh in it. Anyhow, I've got to tell it to you,
for my wife says you're the only man she knows who can advise what
ought to be done.
All right, I said, but Pat Singleton's escapades always amuse me.
I'd like to hear about his making an apple-pie bed for that nurse.
Daintree chuckled again, and I gathered from the expression of his
face that the nurse had endured something worse than an apple-pie bed.
Or about the boat-races, I said. I didn't know you had anything
which floated on that lake of yours.
I haven't, said Daintree, except the kind of wooden box in which
the gardener goes out to clear away the duck-weed. However, Pat
Singleton comes into the Simcox story in the end. It's really about him
that my wife wants your advice.
No one, I said, can give advice about Pat Singleton.
Knowing the sort of man Simcox is, said Daintree, you'll
understand that he was rather out of it at first in a-house full of
boys just out of hospital and jolly glad to have a chance of running
about a bit. Pat Singleton wasn't there when Simcox arrived. But the
others were nearly as bad; silly jokes from morning to night and an
infernal row always going on. My wife likes that sort of thing,
Simcox, I suppose, just sat by himself in a corner of the veranda
Exactly. And at first my wife could do nothing with him. In the
end, of course
In the end, I said, she persuaded him to tell her his inmost
secrets and to confide to her the tragedy of his soul. That's just what
she would do.
Mrs. Daintree is a very kind and sympathetic lady. When she talks to
me I feel ready to tell her anything. A man like Simcox, shy, reserved,
and wholly unaccustomed to charming ladies, would succumb to her easily
and pour out a love story or anything else he happened to have on his
chest at the time.
You see, said Daintree, his leg was pretty stiff and he couldn't
get about much, even if he'd wanted to. There was nothing for him to do
except sit in a deck-chair. My wife felt it her duty to talk to him a
Daintree seemed to be making excuses for Mrs. Daintree and Simcox.
They were unnecessary. Mrs. Daintree would have got his story out of
him if she thought he was really in need of sympathy, whether he sat in
a chair all day or was able to row races in the lake in the gardener's
Anyhow, said Daintree, what he told herhe told it to me
afterwards, so there's no secret about itwas this: He got hit in the
leg during an advance through one of those woods north of the Somme,
Mametz, I think. It was a beastly place. Our fellows had been in there
two days before and had to clear out again. Then Simcox's lot went
inyou know the sort of thing it was?
Shell holes, and splintered tree trunks, I said. Machine-guns
enfilading you, and H.E. bursting promiscuous. I know.
Well, Sirmcox' fellows went in all right, and stayed there for a
while. Simcox says he remembers noticing that the ground was strewed
with débris left by the Germans when they cleared out, and by our
fellows afterwards. Equipment, rifles and all the rest of it lying
about, as well as other thingspretty ghastly things.
You needn't go into details, I said. I can guess.
I'm only telling you this, said Daintree, because all the stuff
lying about seems to have interested Simcox. It's odd the feelings men
have at these times. Simcox says the thing he chiefly wanted to do was
to tidy up. He had a kind of strong desire to pick things up and put
them away somewhere. Of course he couldn't; but he did pick up one
thing, a cigarette case. He showed it to me. It was one of those
long-shaped, flat white metal cases which fellows carry because they
hold about thirty cigarettes. Simcox says he doesn't know why he picked
it up. He didn't want it in the least. He just saw it lying there on
the ground and stuffed it into his pocket Almost immediately after that
he was hit. Bit of shrapnel under the knee.
I remember hearing about that business, I said. We were driven
out again, weren't we?
Exactly. And Simcox was left behind. He couldn't walk, of course.
But he crawled into a shell hole, and there he lay. Well, for the next
two days that wood wasn't healthy for either side. The Germans couldn't
get back, because we were sprinkling the whole place with shrapnel. We
couldn't advance for similar reasons. Simcox just lay in his shell
hole. He tied up his leg somehow. He had some brandy in a flask as well
as his iron rations. But he hadn't much tobacco. There were only two
cigarettes in his own case. However, he had the other case, the one he
picked up. There were nearly twenty in it Also there wasI say, at
this point the story gets sloppy.
Never mind, I said. Go on. What else was in the cigarette case? A
farewell letter to a loving wife? Love to little Willie and a text of
Not so bad as that. A photo of a girl. He showed it to me when he
told me the story.
Good looking girl?
Very. Large eyessort of tender, you know, and appealing; and a
gentle, innocent face, and a mouth
I suppose, I said, that these raptures are necessary if I'm to
understand the story. Otherwise, you may skip them.
Can't possibly skip them, said Daintree. The whole point of the
story depends on your realizing the sort of girl she was.
Patheticthat's the word I want. Looked at you out of the photo as if
she was a poor, lonely, but uncommonly fetching little thing, who
wanted a strong, true man to shelter her from the evil world. She was
got up in some sort of fancy dress which kind of heightened the effect.
I don't altogether profess to understand what happened, though my wife
says she does. But Simcox in a sort of way fell in love with her.
That's not the way he put it He didn't feel that she was just an
ordinary girlthe sort one falls in love with. She waswell, he
didn't think of her as flesh and bloodmore a kind of
visionspiritual, you know.
Angel? I said.
That sort of thing. You know. That was the idea that gripped Simcox
while he lay there in the shell hole. Stars came out at night and
Simcox felt that she was looking down at him. In the day he used to lie
and gaze at her. When he thought it was all up with him and that he
couldn't live, he seemed to hear her voiceI say, you ought to hear my
wife telling this part of the story. Simcox wouldn't tell it to me,
naturally; but he seems to have enlarged on it a good deal to her. He
says that only for that photo he'd have given in and just died. I
daresay he wouldn't really, but he thinks he would. Anyhow, he didn't
He stuck it out and his leg didn't hurt nearly as much as he expected.
He attributes that to the influence of thisthis
Angel visitant? I said.
You can call her an angel if you like, said Daintree.
This, I said, seems to me a pure sob story. If there's any other
part less harrowing, I wish you'd hurry up and get to it.
All right, said Daintree. I'll cut out the rest of his
experiences in that shell hole, though, mind you, they're rather
interesting and frightfully poetic the way my wife tells them. After
two days our fellows got back into the wood and kept it. The
stretcher-bearers found Simcox in his hole and they lugged him down to
a Casualty Clearing Station. From that he went to a hospitalthe usual
round, He had a pretty bad time, first over there, and then, when they
could move him, in London. By degrees he got more sane about the photo.
He stopped thinking she was any kind of spirit and took to regarding
her just as a girl, though a very exceptional kind of girl, of course.
He was hopelessly in love with her. Do you think a man really could
fall in love with a photo?
Simcox did, I said, so we needn't discuss that point.
The chances were, of course, said Daintree, that she was some
other fellow's girl, possibly some other fellow's wife. But Simcox
didn't care. He was too far gone to care for anything except to get
that girl. Those morose, shy men are frightfully hard hit in that sort
of way, I'm told. That's what my wife says, anyhow. They get it much
worse than we do when they do get it. Simcox would have dragged that
girl out of the arms of an archbishop if that was where he found her.
Of course he couldn't go hunting her over England while he was in
hospital with a bad leg; but he made up his mind to find out who she
was and where she lived as soon as he was well enough to go about He'd
very little to go onpractically nothing. The photo had been cut down
so as to fit into the cigarette case, so that there wasn't even a
photographer's name on it.
He might have advertised, I said. There are papers which go in
for that sort of thing, publish rows of reproductions of photographs
'Found on the battle-field,'with requests for identification.
My wife thought of that, said Daintree, but Simcox didn't seem to
take to the idea. He said the photo was too sacred a thing to be
reproduced in a paper. My own idea is that he was afraid of any kind of
publicity. You see, the other fellow might turn upthe fellow who
really had a right to the girl.
How the deuce did he propose to find her?
I don't know. He told my wife some rotten yarn about instinct
guiding him to her; said he felt sure that the strength of his great
love would somehow lead him to her side. He didn't say that to me,
couldn't, you know. But it's wonderful what a fellow will say to a
woman, if she's sympathetic, and my wife is. Still, even so, he must be
more or less mad to think a thing like that. Mad about the girl. He's
sane enough in every other way.
He can't be so mad as that, I said. Just fancy going out into a
fieldI suppose that's the way you'd do itand hanging about until
your great love set you strolling off either to the right or to the
left. No man, however mad, could expect to come on a girl that wayno
one particular girl, I mean. Of course you'd meet several girls
whichever way you went. Couldn't help it. The world's full of girls.
I don't know what he meant, said Daintree, but my wife
sympathized with him and seemed to think he'd pull it off in the end.
At first he was a bit shy of letting her see the photo; but when he saw
she was as sympathetic as all that he showed it to her. Well, the
moment she saw it, she felt that she knew the face.
That was a stroke of luck for Simcox.
No it wasn't, said Daintree, for my wife couldn't put a name to
the girl. She was sure she had seen her somewhere, knew her quite well,
in fact, but simply couldn't fix her. Funny thing, but it was exactly
the same when they showed me the photo. At the first glance I said
right away that I knew her. Then I found I couldn't say exactly who she
was. The more I looked the more certain I was that I'd seen her
somewhere, her or someone very like her. And it wasn't a commonplace
face by any means. Poor Simcox kept begging us to think. My wife went
over our visitors' bookwe've kept one of those silly things for
yearsbut there wasn't a name in it which we couldn't account for. I
got out all the old albums of snapshots and amateur photos in the
house. You know the way those things accumulate; groups of all sorts.
But we couldn't find the girl. And yet both my wife and I were sure
we'd met her. Then one morning Simcox burst into my wife's little
sitting-rooma place none of the convalescents have any right to go.
He was in a fierce state of excitement. Said that an officer who'd
arrived the night before was exactly like the photo and that the girl
must be his sister or cousin, or something. The only officer who came
that night wasyou'd never guess!Pat Singleton.
Pat, I said, though a young devil, is cheerful, and I never saw
him anything but self-confident I can't imagine a girl such as you
described bearing the faintest resemblance to that boy. You said that
she was a kind of die-away, pathetic, appealing angel. Now Pat
I know, said Daintree. All the same, the likeness was there. The
moment I looked at the photo with Pat in my mind I knew why I thought I
recognized it My wife said the same thing.
But Pat Singleton hasn't any sisters, I said.
No, he hasn't He hasn't even a first cousin anything like the age
of the girl in the photo. I knew all the Singletons well, have for
years. But Simcox insisted his girl must be some relation of Pat's, and
in the end I promised to ask the boy. In the first place, if she was a
relation, it seemed an impudent sort of thing to do, and if she wasn't,
Pat would be sure to make up some infernal story about me and a girl
and tell it all over the place. However, my wife egged me on and poor
Simcox was so frightfully keen that I promised.
Well, I sent for Pat Singleton next morning. He was a little
subdued at first, as much subdued as I've ever seen him. He thought I
was going to rag him about the spoof he'd played off on the nurse. He
did that before he was twelve hours in the house. Remind me to tell you
about it afterwards. I don't wonder he looked piano. She'd been going
for him herself and that woman is a real terror. However, he cheered up
the moment I showed him the photo of the girl. He asked me first of all
where the devil I'd got it. Said he'd lost it somewhere before he was
Oh, it was his, then? I said.
Yes, said Daintree, grinning, it was his. He was particularly
anxious to know how I came by it. I didn't tell him, of course.
Couldn't give Simcox away, you know. Then Pat began to cheek me. Asked
if I'd fallen in love with the girl and what my wife would say when he
told her. Said he carried the photo about with him and showed it to
fellows just to watch them falling in love with her. It seems that nine
men out of ten admired her greatly. He asked me if I didn't think she
was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen, and that I wasn't the first man
by any means who wanted her name and address. He grinned in a most
offensive way and said that he never gave away that girl's name to
anyone; that I ought to know better than to go running after a nice,
innocent little thing like that who wouldn't know how to take care of
herself. I wasn't going to stand much of that sort of talk from Pat
Singleton. I told him straight that if he didn't tell me that girl's
name and where she lived I'd make things hot for him. I threatened to
report the little game he'd had with the nurse and that if I did he'd
be court-martialled. I don't know whether a man could be
court-martialled for cheeking a nurse, but the threat had a good effect
on Pat He really was a bit afraid of that woman. I don't wonder, though
it's the first time I've ever known him afraid of anyone.
Daintree paused and chuckled horribly.
Well, I said, who was the girl?
Haven't you tumbled to it yet? said Daintree.
No. Do I know her?
I can't say you exactly know her, said Daintree. You know him. It was a photo of Pat himself dressed up as the Sleeping Beauty, or
Fatima, or some such person in a pantomime they did down at the base
last Christmas when he was there. The young devil carried the thing
about with him so as to play off his silly spoof on every fellow he met
I must say he made a damned pretty girl.
Good Lord! I said. And how did Simcox take it?
Simcox hasn't been toldyet, said Daintree. That's just what my
wife wants your advice about You see it's an awkward situation.
Very, I said.
If we tell him, said Daintree, he'll probably try to kill Pat
Singleton, and that would lead to a lot of trouble. On the other hand,
if we don't tell him he'll spend the rest of his life roaming about the
world looking for a girl who doesn't exist, and never did. It seems a
pity to let that happen.
My idea, I said, would be to get another girl, not necessarily
like the photo, but the same type, appealing and pathetic and all that.
He'd probably take to her after a time.
I suggested that, said Daintree, but my wife simply won't hear of
it. She says the story as it stands is a great romance and that it
would be utterly spoiled if Simcox switched off after another girl. I
can't see that, can you?
In a case like this, I said, when the original girl wasn't a girl
Exactly, said Daintree, but when I say that my wife brings up the
Angel in the Shell Hole part of the story and says that a great romance
is its own reward.
I don't know what to advise, I said.
I didn't think you would, said Daintree, though my wife insisted
that you'd be able to suggest something. But you can tell me what you
think of the story. That's what I really want to get out of you. Is it
a Sob Story or just a rather unusual spoof?
That, I said, depends entirely whether you look at it from
Simcox' point of view or Pat Singleton's.