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VI

So! in the name of Cheshu Christ speak lower. It is the greatest admiration in the universal world when the true and aunchent prerogatifes and laws of the wars is not kept … there is no tiddle-taddle nor pibble-pabble in Pompey's camp. I warrant you, you shall find the ceremonies of the wars, and the cares of it, and the forms of it, and the sobriety of it, and the modesty of it, to be otherwise.

Shakespeare

LANCE-CORPORAL JOHNSON went off to the quartermaster by himself next morning, telling Bourne that there was no need for him to come; but to be ready to start for battalion headquarters at noon. Bourne went out to buy some food to take back to Shem and Martlow. He found a decent-looking shop in the main street, but the first thing to take his eye in the window was a notice in English saying that the sale of bread to troops was prohibited until after midday. He went in, and was allowed to buy a small cake, a couple of tins of sardines, and a jar of cherry jam. The difficulty was to find something which would make a change for them, and was easily carried. He couldn't very well buy a ham, or a tin of biscuits. Since leaving the Somme even fresh meat was scarce, and their dinner was almost invariably a stew composed


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of bully-beef, some patent soup-powders, dried or tinned vegetables, and potatoes. There were some pastries in the shop, but these could not be stowed in his pack like the cake and the cherry jam. The tins of sardines he could carry in the side pockets of his tunic.

Johnson returned a few minutes before twelve with the news that the battalion had been moved back to Mazingarbe, and were in huts by the cemetery; and that there was a big working-party going up the line that night. He and Bourne would pick up the box at the quartermaster's stores. They would get back to Mazingarbe too late for any dinner; but Madame had given them a good bowl of café au lait, with about a foot of bread each, fresh butter, and boiled eggs for breakfast. As she went off to work early, Bourne had paid her, and said good-bye, in case they should have left before she returned at midday. For all that look of long-suffering on her face, she was a bracing and indomitable soul. He folded her blankets up and left them neatly in a pile, as they had received them; and then they left the empty house, closing the door behind them.

They had the same trouble as before with the box, and though they had not so far to go it was heavier. Bourne was relieved when it was placed finally in a corner of the hut which was now the orderly-room. He looked about him,


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and the first thing he saw was a notice, printed in large capitals: Mind what you say, the Hun has listening apparatus, and can hear you. It was a disturbing statement, and he concluded that it was intended only for the signaller; but he saw it later posted up on the outside of some huts. The colour-sergeant, greeting him affably, administered a more serious shock.

“Bourne, you will sleep in the orderly-room in future.”

“Yes, sir,” he said, amazed, but with the mechanical obedience required of him. He didn't want them to see and covet the food he had brought back with him, so after a pause he said:

“I shall go for my blankets, sir; and for some things I left with one of my chums.”

The colour-sergeant nodded, and he went out with his pack still on his shoulders, and talked to Shem and Martlow for a little while before they went on parade.

“You'll never come back,” said Shem in a matter-of-fact way. “You've got a cushy job; an' if they didn't want you, they'd have sent you back before now. You'd better keep one tin o' sardines, an' take half the cake with you.”

“I don't want it. I had a good feed in the town.”

The division of the food proposed by Shem's practical mind seemed to him too like a formal


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act dissolving their partnership. He went back to the orderly-room in a mood of apathy, and copied orders into the book. The adjutant had complained that his handwriting was too small; and he tried to write large, with the result that his script became uneven and stiff, like that of a child, who is thinking in letters, instead of in words or in phrases. It seemed to him, somehow, symbolical of the loss of balance which he had detected in himself in the last few days. He heard the colour-sergeant speaking in his usual tone of affected diffidence, the sharp, business-like whisper of the corporal, and Johnson's, an empty echo. Occasionally Reynolds or Johnson would give him a paper to type, and for the moment he was busy with the clicking keys. The thing finished, he would sink again into apathy, thinking, with a singular intensity, about nothing, his consciousness not submerged or inhibited, but so dilated that it became too tenuous to hold any reality.

The adjutant came in, and after sitting at his table for a little while with his accustomed air of patient perplexity, went to the field-telephone. To overhear one-half of a conversation is always a little mystifying, but the adjutant's part of it seemed idiotic. Yes, he was pepper; and apparently he received, and in some cases repeated, instructions concerning a rat-hunt, and these were all about rats, and poles,


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which would be found at Potsdam Dump, and salt. Bourne came back from the emptiness of his interior conscience to take a little interest in the matter. Pepper and salt were code words for two battalions in the Brigade; and when the adjutant went back to his place Bourne scribbled on a scrap of paper the question, “What are rats?” and passed it to the signaller, who wrote underneath, “gas-cylinders,” and pushed it back to him. If the Hun continued to develop his inventive faculty at this alarming rate, they would soon all be using the deaf and dumb language.

Then a pugnacious little officer with two pips up, called Wirral, who was a newcomer unknown to Bourne, entered, and politely but firmly asked the adjutant whether he, Wirral, was expected to do not only all the work of his own company, but apparently also the combined work of every other company in the battalion. The adjutant seemed to be impressed, or at least embarrassed, by the magnitude of the issues involved in these questions; but having a pathetic faith in the fallacy that man is a reasonable animal, he pointed out to Mr. Wirral all the difficulties in which he found himself owing to the momentary shortage of officers, Captain Malet being on leave, Mr. Clinton being in the hands of the dentist, and a few other officers being absent on one pretext or another. Mr. Wirral was not


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at all moved by the difficulties of the adjutant; in fact he seemed disposed to increase them by every means available to him, unless he were treated with a minimum of consideration; if Mr. Clinton happened to be suffering from a decayed tooth, he himself was at present a martyr to an ingrowing toe-nail. The adjutant held that these rival disabilities fell within different categories, the care of the feet, with all ranks, being an entirely personal responsibility. Mr. Wirral's sense of injustice only became more acute at this complete lack of sympathy, while the adjutant stiffened in his chair.

The malicious imp in Bourne's heart laughed again for a moment. If Captain Malet had been in the adjutant's place, the interview might have lasted a minute, but scarcely longer, and under the gaze of his intolerant eyes Mr. Wirral would not have proceeded to argument, for with Captain Malet the immediate necessity was all that counted, and if he were ever driven to repeat an order, his voice and expression almost converted it into a threat of personal violence. Bourne had no feeling against the adjutant, he rather admired the conscientious and painstaking way in which he stuck to his work; but his manner was more likely to gain the approval of his superiors, than to comman the obedience of those who worked under him. Mr. Wirral was told in the end that as he had but lately returned from England to the


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front, it was only right that he should take some of the burden from the shoulders of officers who had been overworked for months. That closed the discussion, and he retired, after saluting the adjutant with an air of marked hostility. Then the colour-sergeant went over to the adjutant's table, and bending down had a few minutes' whispered conversation with him.

Scenes of this kind always interested Bourne, the tension excited him; but he thought it rather humiliating that they should occur in the presence of the orderly-room staff. Old Tomlinson, Reynolds, and even Lance-Corporal Johnson knew all that there was to know about every officer in the battalion. He and the signaller knew too much. Except on one or two occasions Bourne always left the room during orders-hour, but the others remained, and after the delinquencies of the men had been dealt with, an officer was occasionally sent for and asked to explain his conduct in certain circumstances. This should have been done quite privately. If an officer wished to complain to the adjutant, as in the case of Mr. Wirral, there was no reason why the orderly-room staff should have witnessed the incident. The army organization is supposed to work with the impersonal and remorseless action of a machine, but this action is not single and indivisible, a human agency is always intervening, so that sometimes what is only the inexorable


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functioning of the machine, takes on the character of a duel between opposed personalities; and while the mechanical action, having attained its object, ends, the other is more lasting. Under all this monotonous routine of duty, which made war seem a dull and sordid business, there was the sense of encompassing danger, a sense which perhaps grew stronger under the efforts of the will to subdue it. Men acting together in constant peril of their lives demand at least that the chances shall be evenly divided among them. They could be generous and accept additional burdens without complaint, if there were real need; but in moments of bitterness it seemed to them that duty and honour were merely the pretexts on which they were being deprived of their most elementary rights. Even on carrying parties and in the mere routine work of ordinary trench life in quiet sectors, men were killed in rather a casual and indiscriminate way. Though he was by no means inclined to help carry a gas-cylinder on a pole, while watching the working-party fall in on the road that night, Bourne felt rather out of it; he felt as though he were swinging the lead.

For his breakfast now he went straight to the cookers, and unless it were raining, he ate it there, talking to Abbot, while sitting in the shelter of a thin straggling hedge. He had in his pocket a small tin of toffee which had


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come in a parcel from England. He offered some to Abbot.

“Thank 'ee,” said Abbot: “but I ain't very partial to sweet-stuff. There's Williams there. 'e's always hungry for toffees. 'e don't drink, an' 'e don't smoke, an' unless 'e goes after the women I don't know what 'e does do. You might give 'im a few. 'ere, Williams, 'ere's some toffee for you.”

Williams was a little Welshman, Headquarter-company cook, with a face like a Phoenician, etched all over with fine lines, but with none of the deeper wrinkles, a curiously impassive face, which had aged early, as he could not have been fifty. He came at once, in his greasy smoke-blackened suit, wiping his hands on a cloth.

“It's a long time since I 'ad any decent toffee,” he said, with a curious hunger in his black eyes.

“I believe 'e'd sell 'imself for a tin o' toffee,” said Abbot with a grin.

“Here you are, then; take the lot,” said Bourne. “I have some more inside, and I don't care about them, but some friends of mine are always sending out a tin. I shall bring you out some.”

“I'd be glad of them,” said Williams simply; he was a man of few words, a rare quality in a Welshman.

“How did the carrying-party get on last night?” Bourne inquired. “You know, as each


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party get back the officer in charge comes into the orderly-room, with a slip of paper, I think. I was half-asleep and didn't pay much attention. And sometimes a runner comes in, too, and leaves a paper on the table; and the old colour-sergeant is cribbing like hell this morning about it. They disturb the sleep of a hard-working man.”

“'e were a colour-sergeant when 'e went on reserve,” said Abbot. “You knew 'im, didn't you, Williams? The men were pretty tired when they got back at about two this morning, after the move, an' parades an' one thing an' another, an' wearin' them bloody gas-'elmets the 'ole time. Parade again at ten to-day, an' another big carryin'-party to-night. No sense workin' men day an' night.”

“Well, they'll have to send us back into trenches for a rest soon, I suppose,” said Bourne, and asked Abbot for some hot water to rinse out his mess-tin, polished his knife and fork by rubbing them in the earth, and went back to the orderly-room. He arrived at the crisis of a scene; the adjutant, Captain Havelock, was at his table, looking irritable and rather nervous; at one side was the colour-sergeant, shaking with fury as he spoke, and opposite the adjutant was the regimental, perfectly cool and with a slightly supercilious smile on his face. Corporal Reynolds impatiently waved Bourne out of the room again. He didn't hear what the adjutant said, but he


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heard the regimental's voice, rather cool, almost insolent, in reply:

“Of course, sir, if you will not support your regimental sergeant-major there is nothing more to be said.”

Bourne went right down the steps into the road, so as to be out of earshot; and he remembered Tozer's words about the regimental and the colour-sergeant scrapping in the orderly-room. The regimental came out almost immediately after him, smiling superciliously and carrying his head high as he walked away. He didn't see Bourne, who decided to wait a few minutes, and give things time to settle down again, before going back to his work.

The row seemed to have been quite unpremeditated, and anyway Captain Malet was out of it. He was due back to-day, but he was going to carry on as company-commander. Major Blessington seemed to like Captain Havelock; it was true he treated him in rather a casual way, but it was all to the good that he should like him. It was a pity Major Shadwell and Captain Malet could not run the battalion between them. Bourne had never seen much of Major Shadwell, but he was the same type as Captain Malet, only older, quieter, with more of iron and less of fire in his nature. Men said that he had changed a lot since coming out to France: he had been lively and full of


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humour, now he was rather taciturn, with a severe and inflexible expression. The men liked him: Captain Malet appealed more to their imagination, but they had more trust in Major Shadwell. He knew it too, apparently, because Bourne remembered talking to the Padre, who told him how the Major had said to him immediately after a show on the Somme, with a great effort to restrain himself: “It's bloody murder, Padre, but by God there's nothing like commanding men.”

That was after Colonel Woodcote had been wounded: since he had gone, and the old adjutant, Captain Everall, things had not been the same. The old lot had all kept together, and the men knew them, or knew of them, even before the war: but Major Shadwell and Captain Malet were the only two left of the old lot. Regular officers as a rule didn't understand the new armies, they had the model of the old professional army always in their mind's eye, and they talked of the fire-discipline of the old army, and the rate of fire they were able to maintain in repelling counter-attacks, saying that reliance on bombs had ruined musketry. They forgot how the war had changed since 1915, ignoring artillery developments: and it never occurred to them that if one Lewis gun could do the work of ten men, it was rather foolish not to prefer it, since it offered a smaller target. The majority


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of them, though there were brilliant exceptions, did not understand that the kind of discipline they wished to apply to these improvised armies was only a brake on their impetus. Then again, as a rule the regular officers did not get on with the temporary officers of the new army; but the regular army, perfect as it was, was a very small affair: things were now on a different scale, and in these new conditions the regular officer was as much an amateur as his temporary comrades. After a few minutes, Bourne went back to his place, and the orderly-room was calm again.

Captain Malet returned to duty that afternoon, and on the following day he was one of the principals in another scene. When Brigade ordered the battalion to provide a working-party for that night, it was discovered that in the state supplied to Brigade by the orderly-room, the strength of companies returned was not the fighting-strength but the ration-strength, and the demands made by Brigade, on the basis of the figures supplied, could only be met by taking every available man, even to the companies' cooks. The M.O. was one of the first to complain, with regard to his orderlies, and various specialist officers followed him. One of the penalties of infallibility is that it cannot remedy its mistakes, because it cannot admit having made them; and Captain Havelock was embarrassed but inflexible. Then Captain Malet


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arrived on the scene, quite ready to fight anything and principle be damned.

“Do you intend, sir, to take my cooks?”

The adjutant saw no other way.

“I am not going to allow my men to suffer because of some damned incompetence in the orderly-room. Do you understand that if the cooks go up the line on this working-party, the men will not even have any hot tea when they come back, at about three in the morning, exhausted?”

The adjutant tried to assert himself, but the angry officer would not let him speak.

“You haven't got the moral courage to stand up for your own men, or to admit your silly blunder. Well, I shall tell you what I shall do. I shall order my horse, and take two orderlies and go up to inspect trenches. I shall see you are two men short anyway, and fuck Brigade!”

He brought his fist down on the table, turned on his heel without saluting and went out. The adjutant and the colour-sergeant looked at each other, as though they thought this kind of behaviour was not quite nice, and then there was a hurried consultation. There was never any doubt that Captain Malet would be as good as his word, and the outcome of this incident was that two cooks were left behind to make tea for the whole battalion. On the following day the M.O. saw the commanding officer in the orderly-room,


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and said the men did not have enough rest: they should not be expected to parade all day and to work all night as well. He put the matter very quietly, but Major Blessington treated him in an off-hand way.

“Very well, sir, if any man reports sick to me I shall excuse him duty,” said the M.O.; and he saluted, leaving Major Blessington to the contemplation of his finger-nails.

Nobody had much sympathy for the adjutant; but he was bound by the nature of his office to be the mere reflection and echo of the commanding-officer, and with all his faults and defects of manner he was doing his best to master his job. His duties were often unpleasant. A couple of days later he sent for Mr. Clinton, who so far had not gone up the line once since they had been in this sector. The adjutant had to tell him that he would not accept any further excuses, and that he had been detailed to take up a party that night. Mr. Clinton took what amounted to a telling-off very well, and the adjutant had said what he had to say, quite definitely, but in a friendly and reasonable way. There was nothing in the interview at all, it was a mere matter of routine; but as Mr. Clinton went out, Bourne noticed an acid smile on the colour-sergeant's face, and he experienced a feeling of humiliation in himself. Clinton was such a good fellow; he had been through some of the worst


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shows on the Somme, and he had never spared himself; and there was that swine grinning at him.

He heard the working-party come back in the small hours of the morning, and as usual there were slips to be left on the table, people came in and went out again, and the only light was from the moon shining through the windows. They woke the lance-corporal, and eventually he sat up, as another man entered, and Bourne heard a whispered conversation.

“They got Mr. Clinton all right. One of them sausages came over and blew most of 'is guts out. No, 'e's not dead, they gave 'im morphia, and took 'im away on a stretcher. Well, if 'e's not dead yet, 'e pretty soon will be.”

“Who's that?” said Corporal Reynolds, sitting up.

“Mr. Clinton, corporal; 'is number's up all right. It fair made me sick to see 'im. 'e was conscious, too. 'e said 'e knew 'e was goin' to get it up 'ere. 'e knew it.”

Bourne did not move, he lay absolutely still in his blankets, with an emotion so tense that he thought something would snap in him.

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