― (203) ―


Do you pity him? no, he deserves no pity. Will thou love such a woman? What, to make thee an instrument and play false strains upon thee? Not to be endured! Well, go your way to her, for I see love hath made thee a tame snake, and say this to her: that if she love me, I charge her to love thee; if she will not, I will never have her unless thou entreat for her. If you be a true lover, hence, and not a word; for here comes more company.


“WAS I drunk last night?” Martlow inquired. He threw off his blanket, and, leaning on his left hand, drew up his naked legs so that he could rub them with his right.

“Well, if you can't answer the question for yourself, you must have been,” said Shem, reasonably. “There's some tea there.”

“I've got a bit of a fat 'ead,” said Martlow, taking up the mess-tin; “an' me mouth tastes of the bloody blanket. It's a bon place, this; I could stay 'ere for the duration. Where's ol' Bourne?”

“He's outside, shaving.”

“'e were in a good skin last night. I like ol' Bourne when you get 'im like that, spinnin' out all them little ditties. 'ow did you like that one about the young man courtin' 'is pusher upstairs

  ― (204) ―
with the window open, and Sergeant Thomas knockin' at the front door o' the 'ouse in Mil'arbour, at eleven o'clock one night, an' askin' the old woman to take 'er grandchild off 'is new 'at? Beats me 'ow folk think o' some o' these things.”

“You couldn't have been very drunk if you can remember all that,” said Shem.

“I felt a bit funny when we got into the street,” Martlow admitted, and he turned his head toward the doorway as Bourne came in. “ 'ere, Bourne, was I bloody drunk last night?”

“No,” said Bourne, reviewing the matter in a judicial way. “No, I shouldn't have said you were bloody drunk. You walked better going uphill than going down; and you looked as though you were keeping your mouth shut tight for fear you might spill something; but I don't think you were bloody drunk, Martlow, you just looked as though you had got a comfortable skinful. You did us very well. I felt like enjoying life last night. It was awfully decent of you to take us out.”

“That's all right,” said Martlow. “I don't mind 'avin' a fat 'ead in the morning, if I've 'ad a real good do the night before; on'y I can't stan' the buggers who wake up grousin' about it. You know, me ol' dad at 'ome, 'e's a decent ol' sport, but when 'e gets a skinful sometimes 'e's that surly you wouldn't credit it. 'e's

  ― (205) ―
keeper to Mr. Squele, 'e is; an' one day after a shoot me mother 'ad a good dinner for 'im, a real nice piece o' beef it were, an' 'e went into the Plough at Squelesby wi' some o' the other keepers, an' they all started moppin' up a few drinks there, an' chewin' the fat about what kind o' sport they'd 'ad, an' what bloody poor shots some o' the guns were. Well, me mother didn't want the beef spilin' in the oven; an' at last she cut 'im off some, an' put it on a plate wi' another plate over it, an' put it back in the oven, leavin' the door open, so as it would keep 'ot. An' we all 'ad our own dinners, me mother, an' me sister, who was in gentleman's service, she were with Mr. Squele too, then, an' me two brothers, they're out in Salonika now wi' the Cheshires. An' after we'd all 'ad our dinner, an' it were real nice beef, wi' a bit o' Yorkshire puddin' an' cauliflower and taters, me sister's young man calls to walk back wi' 'er, and me elder brother, Dick, 'e goes off to meet 'is pusher, and then me brother Tom slips out. 'e didn't 'ave a girl then, but 'e used to follow 'em up, and 'ide be'ind a 'edge to 'ear 'em tellin' the tale. 'e got the 'ell of a leatherin' for it one night.

“Well, I stayed be'ind to 'elp me mother wash up, and put the things away; an' she were gettin' a bit up the pole then, an' she'd go to the oven, an' take the plate out an' look at it, an' put it back again, an' she'd give me a clout over the

  ― (206) ―
'ead for summat I 'adn't done; an' at last she looked at the plate, an' the meat were all gettin' dried up, so she put it on the rack, an' said she wouldn't give a damn if 'e never came back. She left the cloth on the table, an' 'is knife an' fork, an' she got the lamp, an' sat down to darn stockin's by the fire. She 'ad one o' them china eggs for darnin', an' I used to think that if you tied it up in the toe of a stockin' what a bloody great crack on the 'ead you could give someone wi' it. She wouldn't let me go out, made me get a book an' sit opposite 'er. I on'y wanted to get out o' the way, I did.

“Then 'e comes in, an’ chucks 'is 'at down on a chair, an’ tries to stan’ 'is stick up in a corner where it won't stan’ up, an’ then 'e 'as got to pick it up again, an’ 'e starts blastin’ an’ buggerin’ an’ all, an’ she says nowt. She goes on wi’ 'er darnin’, an’ on'y cocks an eye at 'im over 'er specs, an’ 'e goes out into the scullery an’ washes 'isself, an’ then, when 'e's sat down at the table, she gets up an’ puts the plate in front of 'im, an’ says nowt, but just sits down an’ goes on darnin’; an’ you 'ear 'im cuttin’ up the meat, an’ then suddenly 'e chucks 'is knife an’ fork on the table an’ says: ‘This meat's neither 'ot nor cold.’ An’ then she gets up, an’ goes roun’ to 'im wi’ 'er 'ands on 'er 'ips. ‘If you 'ad come in sooner,’ she says, ‘it would 'a’ bin 'ot; an’ if you'd stayed out later, it would 'a’ bin cold;

  ― (207) ―
an’ such as it is, you can take it or leave it. I don't care if it's your last.’ So 'e gets up then, 'e a'n't got no more to say; an’ she goes back to 'er darnin’; and 'e goes outside to look at the new moon, from the corner o’ the 'ouse, and see if it were goin’ to be a wet month or a dry. 'e were wunnerful good really at foretellin’ weather. Some folk 'ave a gif’ that way.”

Bourne was rolling his puttees on by this time.

“I should say, Martlow, that your father had been crossed in love,” he said gently.

“Well, me mother were,” said Martlow, grinning. “They get on well enough together, because they're accustomed to each other's ways. Me mother always says you've got to be patient wi’ folk, an’ folk ain't got no patience now. If any o’ us said anything about me father she'd gi'e us a clout on the side o’ the 'ead, quick too. But she 'ad to be father an’ mother, both, to us. Keeperin's a funny sort o’ game; but my dad's a good ol’ sport. 'e'd give you anything 'e'd got. An’ 'e's a lot better nor 'e were. That's because she wouldn't give in to 'im. ‘Charlie,’ she'd say to me, ‘you do what's right, an’ don't let no man get master on you.’ That's my motter in life, an’ another is if you've got a fat 'ead you've earned it. That's what I say.”

“Quite a cheerful philosophy,” said Bourne, who had a great admiration for the impartial candour with which Martlow looked back on

  ― (208) ―
family life. Probably he took after his mother; in any case he would seem to have been nurtured in a stern school.

“Some o' these buggers what come out 'ere now,” observed Martlow, “ 'ave never done anythin' they didn't want to do in their lives before, and now they're up against somethin' real nasty, they don't 'arf make a song about it. They think they're fuckin' 'eroes just because they're 'ere.”

He had shifted his blue-grey shirt round to one side, and with his legs apart was searching the lower part of his belly for lice, when Corporal Marshall came into the room.

“ 'ere! Why don't you get dressed?” the corporal asked him. “Time you was up, me lad. You don't want to sit there showin' the 'ole bloody world all you've got.”

“All right, corporal,” said Martlow cheerfully. “I'm just 'untin' up a few o' me bosom friends, you know. Wish I could see all I've got, meself; they take a 'ell of a lot o' findin'. Wonder what all the buggers will do when peace comes?”

He rapidly assumed his trousers and socks, and then, after lacing up his boots, took up his towel and went out to wash, leaving even Shem laughing.

“That was a bloody good supper we 'ad las' night, Bourne,” said the corporal. “Sergeant-major

  ― (209) ―
Robinson came in in the middle of it, and you've never seen a man look more surprised in your natural. 'e was quite wild about it; said the bloody corporals did 'emselves better'n the officers' mess. 'e did, straight! An' it were true, too. We were real sorry you weren't there; if you 'ave all the trouble you might as well 'ave some o' the fun. You'll come in to-night, won't you?”

“Oh, that's all right, corporal,” said Bourne. “I went into the house last night when I got back, just to ask Madame how you had liked it. She's a nice woman; and she had all the trouble. I shall see if there's anything extra wanted for to-night; but I don't think I had better go in. I shall have a glass of wine with you after you have eaten. Madame had all the trouble; you might put a bit extra in the kitty for her just before we go. What time do we parade?”

“Nine o'clock. Just muck about a bit in the street to keep the men together. There's a rumour we may pack up again to-day, but I 'aven't rumbled anything yet. I've got a sort o' feelin' we shall stay 'ere to-night anyway; from what I 'eard, the officers are bein' told what the plans are about the next show. Then we go off to practise the attack, an' I suppose in a fortnight or so we'll all be for the 'igh jump again.”

“What hopes we've got!” said Shem softly.

  ― (210) ―

“We've got nothin' to grouse about,” said the corporal evenly. “That bloody man Miller's to be court-martialled to-morrow or the nex' day, chap as 'opped it in July. I expect 'e's for the electric chair all right. Bloody, ain't it?”

A silence fell on them for a moment.

“Well, I must get a move on: the bloody orderly-corporal's always on the run. See you later.”

“Corporal, you might take me off on an imaginary fatigue at about half-past eleven. That's if there's nothing much doing. You can work it with Sergeant Tozer. I thought I might go in about that time and see if Madame wanted anything.”

“All right. I'll see if I can work it.”

They heard him, heavy on the stairs, going down, and Shem looked up at Bourne with a curious grin.

“Seems to me you're getting a bit cuntstruck.”

Bourne only turned away disdainfully, and Martlow coming back and putting on his tunic, the three of them went off for breakfast.

The morning wore on very slowly: parades should never be perfunctory, and these seemed to be merely devised to kill time in a back street. The bayonet fighting was useful; and they were doing arms drill when Corporal Marshall, passing down the street, stopped and spoke to Sergeant

  ― (211) ―
Tozer. It was about twenty past eleven. Ten minutes later the sergeant called out Bourne, and told him to go down to the corporals' billets. He found nobody in the house but the girl, who was in the kitchen; and he told her that now he was at her service, if she wished to write her letter. She hesitated, embarrassed for a moment, and made her decision. He drew up a chair to the table, and bringing her pen, paper, and ink, she came and sat beside him. He had his own fountain-pen, into which, after filling it with water, he had only to drop a pellet of ink; and then he started to translate her phrases into English, writing them so that she could copy them in her own script. It was a somewhat mechanical business. There was nothing determinate in his mind, there was only the proximity of this girl, and some aching sensibilities. He saw the man's name again: Lance-corporal Hemmings, written with his address at the top of the paper. He might be anything, there were all sorts in the army; anyway he was in the line, and what were the odds against him ever coming back? She kept his letter tucked away in there between her breasts. What had he seen in her? She was not even pretty; and yet Bourne himself had found his curiosity awakening almost as soon as he had seen her. It had been no more, after all, than a casual interest, until she had brought in this unknown man, and it was he,

  ― (212) ―
curiously enough, who provided the focus for Bourne's own rather diffuse desires. He seemed to see the other man caressing her, and the girl yielding, no, not reluctantly, but with that passive acquiescence characteristic of her; and then, imaginatively, his own desires became involved with those of the other man, even as a sense of antagonism increased in him. She possessed herself of this other man so completely, and to Bourne he was only a shadow. The fact that he was only a shadow made an enormous difference: if he had been Corporal Greenstreet, or indeed anyone actually present there, then his value, and the value of their several relations to each other, and to her, would have dropped perceptibly in the scale.

These were not merely sentimental considerations: they corresponded to an actual reality which weighed in varying measure on all of them. He was in the line, and within another few days Bourne himself would be in the line too. Perhaps neither of them would ever come back. Bourne could realize completely the other man's present misery; could see him living, breathing, moving in that state of semi-somnambulism, which to each of them equally was their only refuge from the desolation and hopelessness of that lunatic world. In fact, the relation in which he stood to this unknown man was in some ways closer and more

  ― (213) ―
direct than that in which he stood to the girl beside him. She knew nothing of their subterranean, furtive, twilight life, the limbo through which, with their obliterated humanity, they moved as so many unhouseled ghosts, or the aching hunger in those hands that reached, groping tentatively out of their emptiness, to seek some hope or stay.

Yesterday or to-morrow might hold it for them, for men hope for things remembered, for a past irrevocably lost. Why did she talk to him of this other man? He knew; he knew so much better than she did; he realized him now so completely in his own mind, that they might be one and the same man. She spoke softly, without raising her voice: but the need she felt to make him understand, to find expression for her desire, gave it apparently an infinite flexibility; and from time to time he felt again on his sleeve the touch of that disturbing hand. The dead words there on the paper before him, those graven and rigid symbols, could never again kindle with the movement and persuasion of her living voice. They too, were the mere traces of something that had passed. Some kind of warmth seemed to come from her, and flow over the surface of his skin with little pricklings of fire, and to lay hold of his veins, glowing there, until the lit blood rose and sang in his head.

  ― (214) ―

“Je t'aime, chéri! Je t'aime éperdument! Je n'aime que toi;” she almost chanted it; and suddenly his arm was round her shoulder, and his mouth was shut fast down there behind her ear, where the hair swept upwards from the firm white neck. She collapsed astonishingly under his touch; neither towards him nor away from him; she seemed to go to nothing in her chair. She pushed him away with her right hand, firmly, quickly. He shifted, shifting his chair away, too, and then put up a hand to his brow. He was sweating lightly. The other hand went into his pocket. He stood up, feeling criminal, and looked at her.

“Vous m'aimez?” There was a kind of rage in his suffocated voice, and she turned her face to him, looking at him with eyes in which was neither anger nor fear, but only the surprise of recognition. It was as though she had not known him before, but now she remembered. He sat again, turned sideways toward her; and put his hands over her hands lying clasped in front of her on the table. They remained still, impassive.

“Vous m'aimez? C'est vrai?”

There were light steps in the hall; they heard someone heave a sigh of relief. Oh, là! là! And Madame came from the passage into the kitchen. She put her basket on the dresser, and turned to them.

“Bon jour, monsieur!” she said almost gaily.

  ― (215) ―

“Bon jour, madame!”

She looked at the paper, pens, and ink on the table, and a smile of amused comprehension came into her eyes. She lifted her hands and let them fall again with a gesture of despairing humour.

“C'est fini, maintenant?”

“Oui, madame,” said Bourne tranquilly; “c'est fini.”

He did not rise from his chair immediately: a point of some delicacy restrained him.

“WHAT'S 'e want to go back an' 'ave a glass o' wine wi' the corporals for?” Martlow asked. “Why don't 'e stay an' 'ave another bon night with us? You can get all the bloody wine you want 'ere.”

Shem laughed.

“You've got quite a lot o' sense for a kid, you know, Martlow; but a man wouldn't want to ask so many questions.”

Martlow grunted resentfully.

“Some o' these mademoiselles are too bloody artful for anyone. You want to watch your step wi' 'em, I can tell you.”

THE battalion was to move from Bruay at two o'clock, and about midday Bourne went to find Corporal Greenstreet at his billet. He wanted

  ― (216) ―
the corporal to pay Madame and the girl for their services. He had an absurd scruple about doing it himself. Altogether the corporals had given him a hundred and twenty francs, and their expenses, with some extra wine the night before, had been just under ninety.

“Give her the bloody lot,” said the corporal; “she did us all well.”

“You give it to her,” said Bourne; “give her twenty, and give the girl ten.”

“It's all in the family,” said the corporal.

“Yes, but some families like to be considered as a group of individuals,” said Bourne, “and the individuals like to be distinguished separately.”

He sent the corporal in by himself, and waited until he returned.

“That's all right,” said Corporal Greenstreet, with the air of a man who has brought a difficult business to a successful issue. “I believe you're a bit sweet on that girl, Bourne.”

“How did you get on with your cook-house-keeper?” Bourne asked him irrelevantly, and Greenstreet's ruddy face became scarlet.

“She never said nothin' more,” he stammered precipitately. “She give me a cup o' coffee that night, an' Mademoiselle come out an' said a few kin' words. It were bloody funny, weren't it?”

“It's funnier when you look back on it than when you're in the middle of it,” said Bourne

  ― (217) ―
drily. “It's curious how events seem to change their character when one looks back on them.”

“ 'e 'as gone potty,” said the corporal to himself, as he walked away and Bourne turned to go into the house.

When Bourne entered the kitchen, the girl took up a basket, and went into the garden. Madame looked from her to the corporal a little anxiously.

“Je viens faire mes adieux, madame,” he said, ignoring the girl's flight, and he thanked her warmly on behalf of himself and of the corporals. He hoped that they had not caused her any inconvenience. She was perfectly satisfied, but when he asked if he might go and say good-bye to mademoiselle, she looked at him again with that expression of droll despair which she had shown when interrupting them yesterday. Then she decided the question once and for all.

“Thérèse!” she called from the doorway, and when the girl came reluctantly, she added: “Monsieur veut faire ses adieux.”

And they said good-bye, with that slight air of formality which Madame's presence imposed on them, their eyes searching through it to try and read each other's thought, and each warding off the other. Madame might have her suspicions, but she evidently could restrain an unprofitable curiosity; and part of their secret was even a secret to themselves. In all action a man seeks to realize himself, and the act once complete,

  ― (218) ―
it is no longer a part of him, it escapes from his control and has an independent objective existence. It is the fruit of his marriage to a moment, but it is not the divine moment itself, nor even the meaning which the moment held for him, for that too has flown feather-footed down the wind. Bourne had a positive hatred of the excuse that “it does not matter” being given as a reason for any action: if something does not matter, why do it? It does matter. It matters enormously, but not necessarily to others, and the reasons why it matters to you are probably inexplicable even to yourself. One need not confuse them with the consequences which one has to shoulder as a result, and one cannot shift the burden with a whimper for sympathy.

He fell in with his pack slung, and with Martlow and a couple of others, helped to pull the Lewis gun cart; as usual the old grey mare, Rosinante, as he called her, was just ahead, and they took the road towards Béthune. At about half-past four, clouds that had been piling up all day became leaden, and trees and fields stood out under them for a little while curiously transparent in a livid golden light: then that vanished, and it became almost dark. Storm burst on them, shattering the stillness with vivid lightning and crash upon crash of thunder; trees creaked and wailed, bending under a sudden onset of wind, lashing them with heavy rain and

  ― (219) ―
hail, and tossing away small branches and leaves not yet yellow. They were all drenched to the skin before they could get their overcoats out of their packs, and it was not until the storm had practically passed that they were given an opportunity. Then, being all wet, it was not worth while, and no order was given.

Before the storm had quite passed, they came to a ford, where a brook, swollen considerably by rain, crossed the road; and here Rosinante avenged herself for all the past injustice she had suffered at their hands. After hesitating for a moment, she suddenly charged across it, her nerves shattered by the storm. They couldn't see the ford until they were in it, and then they couldn't free the Lewis gun-cart from the messcart in time; Martlow and a man on the other side jumped clear, but Bourne and another man could not extricate themselves from the ropes, and while Rosinante, in her impetuous rush, carried the Lewis gun-cart with her, the water over their knees in the middle impeded them. They were both swept off their feet. Bourne, clutching the rope, was dragged through and out; the other man was knocked down and run over by the Lewis gun-cart, which represented a fairly heavy weight. His knees were cut and his legs bruised from the wheels.

“Serves you all bloody well right,” cried an exultant chorus.

  ― (220) ―

Bourne, whose face had expressed every kind of comic anxiety during his accelerated passage of the ford, had to laugh at himself.

“I've never seen anybody,” said the delighted Martlow, “look 'arf so bloody funny as you looked, Bourne.”

They freed the ropes rapidly, in case anyone having authority should come to enqure into the cause of the sensation. They had left Béthune on their left and were now heading for Noeux-les-Mines again, and marched to the huts there, rain still falling steadily. Before they were dismissed, they were ordered to strip to the buff immediately afterwards and take their clothes to the drying-room, keeping only their overcoats and their boots. Overcoats are scarcely a sufficient covering for man's nakedness. The cloth caps had to be dried, though the capbadges were distrustfully removed by their owners first; and for a time one saw men wearing nothing but an overcoat, a tin-hat and boots, moving about fetching wood and coal to make fires in the huts. They were given, perhaps as an additional aid to warmth, cocoa instead of tea. After an hour or so their clothes were returned to them dry, and then, during a lull in the rain, Bourne, Shem, and Martlow went to the nearest estaminet for a drink, but were only out for twenty minutes, returning glad to go to bed. The next day it rained, except

  ― (221) ―
for a slight intermission after their dinner, all day.

The rain cleared away that night, and they marched all the following day, and the day after, chasing sky-lines. There were occasional showers, but only enough to lay the dust a little. On the evening of the second day the company were billeted in a village apart from the rest of the battalion, which was at Reclinghem: Vincly, Bourne thought, was the name. He was at a farm on the outskirts of the village, where there were only two old men, a thin bent old woman whom life had long since ceased to surprise, and a boy. When they had settled in, Corporal Marshall came up to Bourne, and said, anxiously, but unofficially, that he wanted his help.

“That Lance-corporal Miller is my prisoner, an' I'm responsible for 'im. 'e's not to be shot anyway, Captain Malet an' the chaplain worked tooth an' nail to get him off, an' the sentence will be promulgated later; so they've given the bugger to me to mind. 'e ought to be wi' the police; but 'e's under a kind of open arrest, on parole you might say. I don't trust 'im.”

Bourne gave the other man, standing a few yards away, a brief glance, and decided he didn't trust him either. He had a weak, mean, and cunning face; but there was something so abject in his humiliation, that one felt for him the kind of pity which can scarcely tolerate its own object.

  ― (222) ―
It might be I, one felt involuntarily, and the thought made one almost merciless towards the man who carried with him the contagion of fear.

“What will you do if he tries to do a bunk again?” Bourne asked.

“Shoot the bugger,” said Marshall, whitening to the lips. “By God, if he tries that game on me I won't give 'im a dog's chance.”

“All right,” said Bourne, in a quiet matter-of-fact voice. “Don't get windy. I can't take any of your responsibility, but I shall see he doesn't let you down if I can help it, corporal. He had better sleep between us, because I wake easily. Only I shall have to explain to Shem and Martlow. I'll shift my corner, and then we shall not have to shift them.”

“Jakes will be sleepin' 'ere too, but 'e sleeps like a log,” said Marshall, partly reassured. “I'll be bloody glad when they sentence 'im, I can tell you. Why the 'ell can't they do the thing quick, instead of puttin' it all on us? You 'elp me, an' I won't forget it, see.”

Probably the unfortunate man knew they were speaking of him, for Bourne, glancing once again in his direction, saw him looking at them narrowly, his mouth half-open with a foolish grin. After Bourne had recovered from that instant wave of pity and repulsion, he became more and more indifferent to him. Miller would have been completely irrelevant, but for the fact that

  ― (223) ―
he was a nuisance. He would be better dead, and then a man's riddling conscience would ask no more questions about him: one felt even a little impatient at the thought of a court-martial and a firing-party, senseless parades clothed in the forms of law. To keep him like this, exhibiting him to the battalion, was not a warning or a deterrent to other men: it merely vexed them. He should have been killed cursorily: but as they evidently did not intend to kill him, he should have been sent away. He was no longer a man to them: he was a ghost who unfortunately hadn't died.

It might be true, as the men believed, that Captain Malet and the chaplain had been able to intervene in his favour; and that would seem to imply that there were some extenuating circumstances. There was no one who grudged him a reprieve; but naturally enough they were reserved about him. A man who had deserted on the Somme, and had got as far as Rouen, and had eluded the military police for six months, could not be entirely a fool; and after one glance at that weak mouth and the furtive cunning of those eyes, Bourne distrusted him. The men were right, too, about his physical characteristics; he had the look of a Hun. One turned away from the question. Bourne, lying next to him that night, and tired after the long day, fell asleep almost at once. When he

  ― (224) ―
woke a few hours later the prisoner was sleeping quietly beside him, and then Bourne himself slept again. In the morning the prisoner was still there.

Bourne did not watch him the following night. At two o'clock, when they paraded in the open space in front of the village inn, Bourne, Shem, and Martlow were told to fall out; and when the rest of the Company moved off, Sergeant-major Robinson told them that they were to go to the Signals Section for instruction. He talked to Bourne alone, sending the other two to get their equipment.

“I'm rather sorry you're goin', but they're short of signallers. You made me wild the other day, talkin' like that to an officer. I knew you couldn't 'elp not 'avin' a proper 'at; but you shouldn't 'ave said anything. You ought to put in for a commission, as Captain Malet told you.”

“Well, I'm going to put in for one. Why do they want to send me to the sigs.? It seems to be the principle of the army, to find out something you can't do, and make you do it.”

“I 'eard the adjutant said you seemed to 'ave some sense. 'e mentioned you, an' as they wanted three men, I told the captain Shem were pretty quick-witted, an' Martlow young enough to learn.”

“That was decent of you, sergeant-major.

  ― (225) ―
I'm sorry I made you wild the other day. I didn't have any intention of making you wild. I thought it time I kicked a bit.”

“You ought to 'ave shown more sense. I know you don't want to leave the company.”

“I don't mind now, sergeant-major. I'm sorry to go, for many reasons, but I don't feel the same way about it now. I decided the other day that I should take Captain Malet's advice. I haven't any wish to be an officer, but if I were to stay any longer in the ranks I should become a slacker. He's quite right.”

“Well, you had better buzz off an' get your pack,” said the sergeant-major. “I suppose as soon as you put in for a commission you will come back for a bit as a lance-corporal. Did you know Major Blessington was leaving to go to his own battalion to-night? Major Shadwell will be in command until the new Colonel comes tomorrow or the nex' day.”

“No, I didn't know.”

“Well, good-bye for the present, Bourne.”

“Good-bye, sergeant-major; and thank you.”

But he did not go immediately, for the quarter-master-sergeant told him there were some letters and a parcel for him, and the parcel looked a promising one. He got them.

“Which is the way to Reclinghem, sergeant-major?”

“Up the 'ill past the church, an' then turn

  ― (226) ―
down'ill to your right. It's a mile an' a 'arf. Just the other side o' the valley.”

He went back to his billet for his pack, and then with Shem and Martlow set off on their new career.