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The Middle Parts of Fortune: Volume I




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I

“By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death … and let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the next.”

Shakespeare

THE darkness was increasing rapidly, as the whole sky had clouded, and threatened thunder. There was still some desultory shelling. When the relief had taken over from them, they set off to return to their original line as best they could. Bourne, who was beaten to the wide, gradually dropped behind, and in trying to keep the others in sight missed his footing and fell into a shell-hole. By the time he had picked himself up again the rest of the party had vanished; and, uncertain of his direction, he stumbled on alone. He neither hurried nor slackened his pace; he was light-headed, almost exalted, and driven only by the desire to find an end. Somewhere, eventually, he would sleep. He almost fell into the wrecked trench, and after a moment's hesitation turned left, caring little where it led him. The world seemed extraordinarily empty of men, though he knew the ground was alive with them. He was breathing with difficulty, his mouth and throat seemed to be cracking with


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dryness, and his water-bottle was empty. Coming to a dug-out, he groped his way down, feeling for the steps with his feet; a piece of Wilson canvas, hung across the passage but twisted aside, rasped his cheek; and a few steps lower his face was enveloped suddenly in the musty folds of a blanket. The dug-out was empty. For the moment he collapsed there, indifferent to everything. Then with shaking hands he felt for his cigarettes, and putting one between his lips struck a match. The light revealed a candle-end stuck by its own grease to the oval lid of a tobacco-tin, and he lit it; it was scarcely thicker than a shilling, but it would last his time. He would finish his cigarette, and then move on to find his company.

There was a kind of bank or seat excavated in the wall of the dug-out, and he noticed first the tattered remains of a blanket lying on it, and then, gleaming faintly in its folds a small metal disk reflecting the light. It was the cap on the cork of a water-bottle. Sprawling sideways he reached it, the feel of the bottle told him it was full, and uncorking it he put it to his lips and took a great gulp before discovering that he was swallowing neat whiskey. The fiery spirit almost choked him for the moment, in his surprise he even spat some of it out; then recovering, he drank again, discreetly but sufficiently, and was meditating a more prolonged appreciation when


  ― (3) ―
he heard men groping their way down the steps. He recorked the bottle, hid it quickly under the blanket, and removed himself to what might seem an innocent distance from temptation.

Three Scotsmen came in; they were almost as spent and broken as he was, that he knew by their uneven voices; but they put up a show of indifference, and were able to tell him that some of his mob were on the left, in a dug-out about fifty yards away. They, too, had lost their way, and asked him questions in their turn; but he could not help them, and they developed among themselves an incoherent debate, on the question of what was the best thing for them to do in the circumstances. Their dialect only allowed him to follow their arguments imperfectly, but under the talk it was easy enough to see the irresolution of weary men seeking in their difficulties some reasonable pretext for doing nothing. It touched his own conscience, and throwing away the butt of his cigarette he decided to go. The candle was flickering feebly on the verge of extinction, and presently the dug-out would be in darkness again. Prudence stifled in him an impulse to tell them of the whiskey; perhaps they would find it for themselves; it was a matter which might be left for providence or chance to decide. He was moving towards the stairs, when a voice, muffled by the blanket, came from outside.




  ― (4) ―

“Who are down there?”

There was no mistaking the note of authority and Bourne answered promptly. There was a pause, and then the blanket was waved aside, and an officer entered. He was Mr. Clinton, with whom Bourne had fired his course at Tregelly.

“Hullo, Bourne,” he began, and then seeing the other men he turned and questioned them in his soft kindly voice. His face had the greenish pallor of crude beeswax, his eyes were red and tired, his hands were as nervous as theirs, and his voice had the same note of over-excitement, but he listened to them without a sign of impatience.

“Well, I don't want to hurry you men off,” he said at last, “but your battalion will be moving out before we do. The best thing you can do is to cut along to it. They're only about a hundred yards further down the trench. You don't want to straggle back to camp by yourselves; it doesn't look well either. So you had better get moving right away. What you really want is twelve hours solid sleep, and I am only telling you the shortest road to it.”

They accepted his view of the matter quietly, they were willing enough; but, like all tired men in similar conditions, they were glad to have their action determined for them; so they thanked him and wished him good-night, if not cheerfully, at least with the air of being reasonable men, who


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appreciated his kindliness. Bourne made as though to follow them out, but Mr. Clinton stopped him.

“Wait a minute, Bourne, and we shall go together,” he said as the last Scotsman groped his way up the steeply-pitched stairs. “It is indecent to follow a kilted Highlander too closely out of a dug-out. Besides I left something here.”

He looked about him, went straight to the blanket, and took up the water-bottle. It must have seemed lighter than he expected, for he shook it a little suspiciously before uncorking it. He took a long steady drink and paused.

“I left this bottle full of whiskey,” he said, “but those bloody Jocks must have smelt it. You know, Bourne, I don't go over with a skinful, as some of them do; but, by God, when I come back I want it. Here, take a pull yourself; you look as though you could do with one.”

Bourne took the bottle without any hesitation; his case was much the same. One had lived instantaneously during that timeless interval, for in the shock and violence of the attack, the perilous instant, on which he stood perched so precariously, was all that the half-stunned consciousness of man could grasp; and, if he lost his grip on it, he fell back among the grotesque terrors and nightmare creatures of his own mind. Afterwards, when the strain had been finally released,


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in the physical exhaustion which followed, there was a collapse, in which one's emotional nature was no longer under control.

“We're in the next dug-out, those who are left of us,” Mr. Clinton continued. “I am glad you came through all right, Bourne. You were in the last show, weren't you? It seems to me the old Hun has brought up a lot more stuff, and doesn't mean to shift, if he can help it. Anyway we should get a spell out of the line now. I don't believe there are more than a hundred of us left.”

A quickening in his speech showed that the whiskey was beginning to play on frayed nerves: it had steadied Bourne for the time being. The flame of the candle gave one leap and went out. Mr. Clinton switched on his torch, and shoved the water-bottle into the pocket of his raincoat.

“Come on,” he said, making for the steps, “you and I are two of the lucky ones, Bourne; we've come through without a scratch; and if our luck holds we'll keep moving out of one bloody misery into another, until we break, see, until we break.”

Bourne felt a kind of suffocation in his throat: there was nothing weak or complaining in Mr. Clinton's voice, it was full of angry soreness. He switched off the light as he came to the Wilson canvas.

“Don't talk so bloody wet,” Bourne said to


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him through the darkness. “You'll never break.”

The officer gave no sign of having heard the sympathetic but indecorous rebuke. They moved along the battered trench silently. The sky flickered with the flash of guns, and an occasional star-shell flooded their path with light. As one fell slowly, Bourne saw a dead man in field gray propped up in a corner of a traverse; probably he had surrendered, wounded, and reached the trench only to die there. He looked indifferently at this piece of wreckage. The gray face was senseless and empty. As they turned the corner they were challenged by a sentry over the dug-out.

“Good-night, Bourne,” said Mr. Clinton quietly.

“Good-night, sir,” said Bourne, saluting; and he exchanged a few words with the sentry.

“Wish to Christ they'd get a move on,” said the sentry, as Bourne turned to go down.

The dug-out was full of men, and all the drawn, pitiless faces turned to see who it was as he entered, and after that flicker of interest relapsed into apathy and stupor again. The air was thick with smoke and the reek of guttering candles. He saw Shem lift a hand to attract his attention, and he managed to squeeze in beside him. They didn't speak after each had asked the other if he were all right; some kind of oppression weighed


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on them all, they sat like men condemned to death.

“Wonder if they'll keep us up in support?” whispered Shem.

Probably that was the question they were all asking, as they sat there in their bitter resignation, with brooding enigmatic faces, hopeless, but undefeated; even the faces of boys seeming curiously old; and then it changed suddenly: there were quick hurried movements, belts were buckled, rifles taken up, and stooping, they crawled up into the air. Shem and Bourne were among the first out. They moved off at once. Shells travelled overhead; they heard one or two bump fairly close, but they saw nothing except the sides of the trench, whitish with chalk in places, and the steel helmet and lifting swaying shoulders of the man in front, or the frantic up-lifted arms of shattered trees, and the sky with the clouds broken in places, through which opened the inaccessible peace of the stars. They seemed to hurry, as though the sense of escape filled them. The walls of the communication trench became gradually lower, the track sloping upward to the surface of the ground, and at last they emerged, the officer standing aside, to watch what was left of his men file out, and form up in two ranks before him. There was little light, but under the brims of the helmets one could see living eyes moving restlessly in blank faces. His face, too,


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was a blank from weariness, but he stood erect, an ash-stick under his arm, as the dun-coloured shadows shuffled into some sort of order. The words of command that came from him were no more than whispers, his voice was cracked and not quite under control, though there was still some harshness in it. Then they moved off in fours, away from the crest of the ridge, towards the place they called Happy Valley.

They had not far to go. As they were approaching the tents a crump dropped by the mule-lines, and that set them swaying a little, but not much. Captain Malet called them to attention a little later; and from the tents, camp-details, cooks, snobs, and a few unfit men, gathered in groups to watch them, with a sympathy genuine enough, but tactfully aloof; for there is a gulf between men just returned from action, and those who have not been in the show as unbridgeable as that between the sober and the drunk. Captain Malet halted his men by the orderly-room tent. There was even a pretence to dress ranks. Then he looked at them, and they at him for a few seconds which seemed long. They were only shadows in the darkness.

“Dismiss!”

His voice was still pitched low, but they turned almost with the precision of troops on the square, each rifle was struck smartly, the officer saluting; and then the will which bound them together


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dissolved, the enervated muscles relaxed, and they lurched off to their tents as silent and as dispirited as beaten men. One of the tailors took his pipe out of his mouth and spat on the ground.

“They can say what they bloody well like,” he said appreciatively, “but we're a fuckin' fine mob.”

ONCE during the night Bourne started up in an access of inexplicable horror, and after a moment of bewildered recollection, turned over and tried to sleep again. He remembered nothing of the nightmare which had roused him, if it were a nightmare, but gradually his awakened sense felt a vague restlessness troubling equally the other men. He noticed it first in Shem, whose body, almost touching his own, gave a quick, convulsive jump, and continued twitching for a moment, while he muttered unintelligibly, and worked his lips as though he were trying to moisten them. The obscure disquiet passed fitfully from one to another, lips parted with the sound of a bubble bursting, teeth met grinding as the jaws worked, there were little whimperings which quickened into sobs, passed into long shuddering moans, or culminated in angry, half-articulate obscenities, and then relapsed, with fretful, uneasy movements and heavy breathing, into a more profound sleep. Even though Bourne tried to persuade


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himself that these convulsive agonies were merely reflex actions, part of an unconscious physical process, through which the disordered nerves sought to readjust themselves, or to perform belatedly some instinctive movement which an over-riding will had thwarted at its original inception, his own conscious mind now filled itself with the passions, of which the mutterings and twitchings heard in the darkness were only the unconscious mimicry. The senses certainly have, in some measure, an independent activity of their own, and remain vigilant even in the mind's eclipse. The darkness seemed to him to be filled with the shudderings of tormented flesh, as though something diabolically evil probed curiously to find a quick sensitive nerve and wring from it a reluctant cry of pain. At last, unable to ignore the sense of misery which filled him, he sat up and lit the inevitable cigarette. The formless terrors haunting their sleep took shape for him. His mind reached back into the past day, groping among obscure and broken memories, for it seemed to him now that for the greater part of the time he had been stunned and blinded, and that what he had seen, he had seen in sudden, vivid flashes, instantaneously: he felt again the tension of waiting, that became impatience, and then the immense effort to move, and the momentary relief which came with movement, the sense of unreality and dread which descended on one,


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and some restoration of balance as one saw other men moving forward in a way that seemed commonplace, mechanical, as though at some moment of ordinary routine; the restraint, and the haste that fought against it with every voice in one's being crying out to hurry. Hurry? One cannot hurry, alone, into nowhere, into nothing. Every impulse created immediately its own violent contradiction. The confusion and tumult in his own mind was inseparable from the senseless fury about him, each reinforcing the other. He saw great chunks of the German line blown up, as the artillery blasted a way for them; clouds of dust and smoke screened their advance, but the Hun searched for them scrupulously; the air was alive with the rush and flutter of wings; it was ripped by screaming shells, hissing like tons of molten metal plunging suddenly into water, there was the blast and concussion of their explosion, men smashed, obliterated in sudden eruptions of earth, rent and strewn in bloody fragments, shells that were like hell-cats humped and spitting, little sounds, unpleasantly close, like the plucking of tense strings, and something tangling his feet, tearing at his trousers and puttees as he stumbled over it, and then a face suddenly, an inconceivably distorted face, which raved and sobbed at him as he fell with it into a shell-hole. He saw with astonishment the bare arse of a Scotsman who had gone


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into action wearing only a kilt-apron; and then they righted themselves and looked at each other, bewildered and humiliated. There followed a moment of perfect lucidity, while they took a breather; and he found himself, though unwounded, wondering with an insane prudence where the nearest dressing-station was. Other men came up; two more Gordons joined them, and then Mr. Halliday, who flung himself on top of them and, keeping his head well down, called them a lot of bloody skulkers. He had a slight wound in the fore-arm. They made a rush forward again, the dust and smoke clearing a little, and they heard the elastic twang of Mills bombs as they reached an empty trench, very narrow where shelling had not wrecked or levelled it. Mr. Halliday was hit again, in the knee, before they reached the trench, and Bourne felt something pluck the front of his tunic at the same time. They pulled Mr. Halliday into the trench, and left him with one of the Gordons who had also been hit. Men were converging there, and he went forward with some of his own company again. From the moment he had thrown himself into the shell-hole with the Scotsman something had changed in him; the conflict and tumult of his mind had gone, his mind itself seemed to have gone, to have contracted and hardened within him; fear remained, an implacable and restless fear, but that, too, seemed to


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have been beaten and forged into a point of exquisite sensibility and to have become indistinguishable from hate. Only the instincts of the beast survived in him, every sense was alert and in that tension was some poignancy. He neither knew where he was, nor whither he was going, he could have no plan because he could foresee nothing, everything happening was inevitable and unexpected, he was an act in a whole chain of acts; and, though his movements had to conform to those of others, spontaneously, as part of some infinitely flexible plan, which he could not comprehend very clearly even in regard to its immediate object, he could rely on no one but himself. They worked round a point still held by machine-guns, through a rather intricate system of trenches linking up shell-craters. The trenches were little more than bolt-holes, through which the machine-gunners, after they had held up the advancing infantry as long as possible, might hope to escape to some other appointed position further back, and resume their work, thus gaining time for the troops behind to recover from the effect of the bombardment, and emerge from their hiding-places. They were singularly brave men, these Prussian machine-gunners, but the extreme of heroism, alike in foe or friend, is indistinguishable from despair. Bourne found himself playing again a game of his childhood, though not now among


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rocks from which reverberated heat quivered in wavy films, but in made fissures too chalky and unweathered for adequate concealment. One has not, perhaps, at thirty years the same zest in the game as one had at thirteen, but the sense of danger brought into play a latent experience which had become a kind of instinct with him, and he moved in those tortuous ways with the furtive cunning of a stoat or weasel. Stooping low at an angle in the trench he saw the next comparatively straight length empty, and when the man behind was close to him, ran forward still stooping. The advancing line, hung up at one point, inevitably tended to surround it, and it was suddenly abandoned by the few men holding it. Bourne, running, checked as a running Hun rounded the further angle precipitately, saw him prop, shrink back into a defensive posture, and fired without lifting the butt of his rifle quite level with his right breast. The man fell shot in the face, and someone screamed at Bourne to go on; the body choked the narrow angle, and when he put his foot on it squirmed or moved, making him check again, fortunately, as a bomb exploded a couple of yards round the corner. He turned, dismayed, on the man behind him, but behind the bomber he saw the grim bulk of Captain Malet, and his strangely exultant face; and Bourne, incapable of articulate speech, could only wave a hand to indicate


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the way he divined the Huns to have gone. Captain Malet swung himself above ground, and the men, following, overflowed the narrow channel of the trench; but the two waves, which had swept round the machine-gun post, were now on the point of meeting; men bunched together, and there were some casualties among them before they went to ground again. Captain Malet gave him a word in passing, and Bourne, looking at him with dull uncomprehending eyes, lagged a little to let others intervene between them. He had found himself immediately afterwards next to Company-Sergeant-Major Glasspool, who nodded to him swiftly and appreciatively; and then Bourne understood. He was doing the right thing. In that last rush he had gone on and got into the lead, somehow, for a brief moment; but he realised himself that he had only gone on because he had been unable to stand still. The sense of being one in a crowd did not give him the same confidence as at the start, the present stage seemed to call for a little more personal freedom. Presently, just because they were together, they would rush something in a hurry instead of stalking it. Two men of another regiment, who had presumably got lost, broke back momentarily demoralised, and Sergeant-Major Glasspool confronted them.

“Where the bloody hell do you reckon you're going?”




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He rapped out the question with the staccato of a machine-gun; facing their hysterical disorder, he was the living embodiment of a threat.

“We were ordered back,” one said, shamefaced and fearful.

“Yes. You take your fuckin' orders from Fritz,” Glasspool, white-lipped and with heaving chest, shot sneeringly at them. They came to heel quietly enough, but all the rage and hatred in their hearts found an object in him, now. He forgot them as soon as he found them in hand.

“You're all right, chum,” whispered Bourne, to the one who had spoken. “Get among your own mob again as soon as there's a chance.”

The man only looked at him stonily. In the next rush forward something struck Bourne's helmet, knocking it back over the nape of his neck so that the chin-strap tore his ears. For the moment he thought he had been knocked out, he had bitten his tongue, too, and his mouth was salt with blood. The blow had left a deep dent in the helmet, just fracturing the steel. He was still dazed and shaken when they reached some building-ruins, which he seemed to remember. They were near the railway-station.

HE WISHED he could sleep, he was heavy with it; but his restless memory made sleep seem something to be resisted as too like death. He closed


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his eyes and had a vision of men advancing under a rain of shells. They had seemed so toy-like, so trivial and ineffective when opposed to that overwhelming wrath, and yet they had moved forward mechanically as though they were hypnotised or fascinated by some superior will. That had been one of Bourne's most vivid impressions in action, a man close to him moving forward with the jerky motion a clockwork toy has when it is running down; and it had been vivid to him because of the relief with which he had turned to it and away from the confusion and tumult of his own mind. It had seemed impossible to relate that petty, commonplace, unheroic figure, in ill-fitting khaki and a helmet like the barber's basin with which Don Quixote made shift on his adventures, to the moral and spiritual conflict, almost superhuman in its agony, within him. Power is measured by the amount of resistance which it overcomes, and, in the last resort, the moral power of men was greater than any purely material force, which could be brought to bear on it. It took the chance of death, as one of the chances it was bound to take; though, paradoxically enough, the function of our moral nature consists solely in the assertion of one's own individual will against anything which may be opposed to it, and death, therefore, would imply its extinction in the particular and individual case. The true inwardness of tragedy lies in the


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fact that its failure is only apparent, and as in the case of the martyr also, the moral conscience of man has made its own deliberate choice, and asserted the freedom of its being. The sense of wasted effort is only true for meaner and more material natures. It took the more horrible chance of mutilation. But as far as Bourne himself, and probably also, since the moral impulse is not necessarily an intellectual act, as far as the majority of his comrades were concerned, its strength and its weakness were inseparably entangled in each other. Whether a man be killed by a rifle-bullet through the brain, or blown into fragments by a high-explosive shell, may seem a matter of indifference to the conscientious objector, or to any other equally well-placed observer, who in point of fact is probably right; but to the poor fool who is a candidate for post-humous honours, and necessarily takes a more directly interested view, it is a question of importance. He is, perhaps, the victim of an illusion, like all who, in the words of Paul, are fools for Christ's sake; but he has seen one man shot cleanly in his tracks and left face downwards, dead, and he has seen another torn into bloody tatters as by some invisible beast, and these experiences had nothing illusory about them: they were actual facts. Death, of course, like chastity, admits of no degree; a man is dead or not dead, and a man is just as dead by one means as by


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another; but it is infinitely more horrible and revolting to see a man shattered and eviscerated, than to see him shot. And one sees such things; and one suffers vicariously, with the inalienable sympathy of man for man. One forgets quickly. The mind is averted as well as the eyes. It reassures itself after that first despairing cry: “It is I!”

“No, it is not I. I shall not be like that.”

And one moves on, leaving the mauled and bloody thing behind: gambling, in fact, on that implicit assurance each one of us has of his own immortality. One forgets, but he will remember again later, if only in his sleep.

After all, the dead are quiet. Nothing in the world is more still than a dead man. One sees men living, living, as it were, desperately, and then suddenly emptied of life. A man dies and stiffens into something like a wooden dummy, at which one glances for a second with a furtive curiosity. Suddenly he remembered the dead in Trones Wood, the unburied dead with whom one lived, he might say, cheek by jowl, Briton and Hun impartially confounded, festering, fly-blown corruption, the pasture of rats, blackening in the heat, swollen with distended bellies, or shrivelling away within their mouldering rags; and even when night covered them, one vented in the wind the stench of death. Out of one bloody misery into another, until we break. One must


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not break. He took in his breath suddenly in a shaken sob, and the mind relinquished its hopeless business. The warm smelly darkness of the tent seemed almost luxurious ease. He drowsed heavily; dreaming of womanly softness, sweetness; but their faces slipped away from him like the reflections in water when the wind shakes it, and his soul sank deeply and more deeply into the healing of oblivion.




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II

“But I had not so much of man in me
And all my mother came into mine eyes
And gave me up to tears.”

Shakespeare

IT was late when they woke, but they were reluctant to move. Their tent gave them the only privacy they knew, and they wanted to lie hidden until they had recovered their nerve. Among themselves they were unselfish, even gentle; instinctively helping each other, for, having shared the same experience, there was a tacit understanding between them. They knew each other, and their rival egoisms had already established among them a balance and discipline of their own. They kept their feelings very much to themselves. No one troubled them, and they might have lain there for hours, preoccupied with their own formless and intangible reveries, or merely brooding vacantly; but whatever remote and inaccessible world the mind may elect to inhabit, the body has its own inexorable routine. It drove them out in the end to the open, unscreened trench which served as a latrine. This was furnished with a pole, closer to one side than to the other, and resting at either end on piled-up sods, and on this insecure perch they sat, and


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while they sat there they hunted and killed the lice on their bodies. There was something insolent even in the way they tightened their belts, hawked, and spat in the dust. They had been through it, and having been through it, they had lapsed a little lower than savages, into the mere brute. Life for them held nothing new in the matter of humiliation. Men of the new drafts wondered foolishly at their haggard and filthy appearance. Even the details kept a little aloof from them, as from men with whom it might be dangerous to meddle, and perhaps there was something in their sad, pitiless faces to evoke in others a kind of primitive awe. They for their part went silently about the camp, carrying themselves, in their stained and tattered uniforms, with scornful indifference. They may have glanced casually at the new-comers, still trim and neat from the bull-ring at Rouen, who were to fill the place of the dead now lying out in all weathers on the down-land between Delville Wood, Trones, and Guillemont; but if one of the new men spoke to them he was met with unrecognising eyes and curt monosyllables.

Outside the tents two or three men would come together and ask after their friends.

“Where's Dixon?”

“Gone west. Blown to fuckin' bits as soon as we got out of the trench, poor bugger. Young


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Williams was 'it same time, 'ad most of an arm blown off, but 'e got back into the trench. Same shell, I think. Anyway, it were the first thing I see.”

They spoke with anxious, low voices, still unsteady and inclined to break; but control was gradually returning; and all that pity carried with it a sense of relief that the speaker, somehow, but quite incredibly, had himself managed to survive.

When breakfast came they seemed at first to have no appetite, but once they had started, they ate like famishing wolves, mopping up the last smear of bacon fat and charred fragments from the bottom of the pan with their bread. When they returned to camp on the previous night, there had been tea waiting for them, a rum issue left very largely to the indiscretion of the storekeeper, and sandwiches of cold boiled bacon. Bourne had drunk all he could get; but on biting into a sandwich it had seemed to chew up into so much dry putty in his mouth, and he had stuffed the rest of his ration away in his haversack. The other men had been much the same, none of them had had any stomach for food then, though the sandwiches were freshly cut with liberal mustard on them; now, though they had turned dry and hard, and the bread had soured, they were disinterred from dirty haversacks and eaten ravenously. Gradually their apathy


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cleared and lifted, as first their bodily functions, and then their habits of life asserted themselves. One after another they started shaving. Bourne and Shem had an arrangement by which they fetched and carried for each other alternately, and it was Bourne's job to-day. There was a shortage of water, and rather stringent regulations concerning its use. Bourne had long ago come to the conclusion that there was too much bloody discipline in the British Army, and he managed to procure, on loan, a large tin, which had been converted into a bucket by the addition of a wire handle. He got this more than half full of water, as well as a mess-tin full of hot water from one of the cooks, and going and coming he worked round behind the officers' tents, so as to avoid other companies' lines, and sergeants or sergeant-majors, who, zealous in the matter of discipline, might have hypothecated both the bucket and water for their own personal use. Then, out of sight behind their own tent, he and Shem washed and shaved. They had not had a bath for five weeks, but curiously enough, their skins, under their shirts, were like satin, supple and lustrous; the sweat washed out the dirt, and was absorbed with it into their clothing which had a sour, stale, and rather saline smell. They were not very lousy.

They had achieved more of the semblance than the reality of cleanliness, and were drying themselves


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when Corporal Tozer, who knew their value, came round to the back of the tent and looked at the water, already grey and curdled with dirt and soap.

“You two are the champion bloody scroungers in the battalion,” he said; and it was impossible to know whether he were more moved by admiration or by disgust. Shem, whose eyes were like the fish-pools of Heshbon, turned on him an expression of mingled innocence and apprehension; but Bourne only looked on indifferently as the Corporal, making a cup of his hand, skimmed off the curdled scum before dashing the dirty water over his own head and neck. Bourne had no modesty in the demands he made on his friends, and he had got the water from Abbot, the company cook, by asking for it casually, while discussing the possibility of procuring, illegally, a grilled steak for his dinner, preferably with fried onions, which for the time being proved unobtainable.

“Tell me when you've finished with the bucket, will you, Corporal?” he said quietly, as he turned to go back to the tent with Shem. Before putting on his tunic, after taking it outside to brush rather perfunctorily, he looked at the pockets which the machine-gun bullet had torn. The pull of his belt had caused them to project a little, and the bullet had entered one pocket and passed out through the other, after


  ― (27) ―
denting the metal case of his shaving-stick, which he had forgotten to put into his pack, but had pocketed at the last moment. His haversack had been hit too, probably by a spent fragment of a shell; but the most impressive damage was the dent, with a ragged fissure in it, in his tin-hat. His pulse quickened slightly as he considered it, for it had been a pretty near thing for him. Then he heard Pritchard talking to little Martlow on the other side of the tent.

“… both 'is legs 'ad bin blown off, pore bugger; an’ 'e were dyin’ so quick you could see it. But 'e tried to stand up on 'is feet. ‘ 'elp me up,’ 'e sez, ‘ 'elp me up.’—‘You lie still, chum,’ I sez to 'im, ‘you'll be all right presently.’ An’ 'e jes give me one look, like 'e were puzzled, an’ 'e died.”

Bourne felt all his muscles tighten. Tears were running down Pritchard's inflexible face, like rain-drops down a window-pane; but there was not a quaver in his voice, only that high unnatural note which a boy's has when it is breaking; and then for the first time Bourne noticed that Swale, Pritchard's bed-chum, was not there; he had not missed him before. He could only stare at Pritchard, while his own sight blurred in sympathy.

“Well, anyway,” said Martlow, desperately comforting; “ 'e couldn't 'ave felt much, could 'e, if 'e said that?”




  ― (28) ―

“I don't know what 'e felt,” said Pritchard, with slowly-filling bitterness, “I know what I felt.”

“Bourne, you can take that bloody bucket back to where you pinched it from,” said Corporal Tozer, as he came into the tent, wiping the soap out of his ears with a wet and dirty towel, and Bourne slipped out as inconspicuously as a cat. Still rubbing his neck and ears Corporal Tozer caught sight of Pritchard's face, and noticed the constraint of the others. Then he remembered Swale.

“Get those blankets folded and put the tent to rights,” he said quietly. “You'd better open it up all round and let some air in; it stinks a bit in here.”

He picked up his tunic, put it on, and buttoned it slowly.

“Swale was a townie of yours, wasn't he, Pritchard?” he said suddenly. “A bloody plucky chap, an' only a kid, too. I'm damned sorry about him.”

“That's all right, corporal,” answered Pritchard evenly. “Bein' sorry ain't goin' to do us 'ns no manner o' good. We've all the sorrow we can bear of our own, wi'out troublin' ourselves wi' that o' other folk. We 'elp each other all we can, an' when we can't 'elp the other man no more, we must jes 'elp ourselves. But I tell thee, corporal, if I thought life was never goin'


  ― (29) ―
to be no different, I'd as lief be bloody well dead myself.”

He folded up his blanket neatly, as though he were folding up something he had finished with and would never use again. Then he looked up.

“I took 'is pay-book an' some letters out o' 'is tunic pocket, but I left 'is identity-disc for them as finds 'im. If our chaps hang on to what we got, there'll be some buryin' parties out. There's 'is pack, next mine. I suppose I'd better 'and them letters in at th' orderly-room. There were a couple o' smutty French photographs, which I tore up. 'e were a decent enough lad, but boys are curious about such things; don't mean no 'arm, but think 'em funny. 'Tis all in human nature. An' I'll write a letter to 'is mother. Swales is decent folk, farmin' a bit o' land, an' I'm only a labourin' man, but they always treated me fair when I worked for 'em.”

“I suppose Captain Malet will write to her,” said Corporal Tozer.

“Cap'n 'll write, surely,” said Pritchard. “ 'e's a gentleman is Cap'n Malet an' not one to neglect any little duties. We all knew Cap'n Malet before the war started, an' before 'e were a cap'n. But I'll write Mrs. Swale a letter myself. Cap'n Malet, 'e mus' write 'undreds o' them letters, all the same way; 'cause there ain't no difference really, 'cept tha know'st the mother, same as I do.”




  ― (30) ―

“Have you a wife and children of your own?” Corporal Tozer inquired, breaking away a little.

“'ad a little girl. She died when she were four, th' year before th' war. The wife can look after 'erself,” he added vindictively. “I'm not worryin' about 'er. Th' bugger were never any bloody good to me.”

He lapsed into a resentful silence, and the corporal was satisfied that his emotion had been diverted into other channels. The other men grinned a little as they shook the dried grass-stems and dust off the ground-sheets. When they had finished tidying the tent, they sat about smoking, without their tunics, for the day was hot and airless. The corporal stood outside, with his eye on the officers' tents watching for the appearance of Captain Malet. Then by chance he saw Bourne talking to Evans, who had been the Colonel's servant, and had been taken over in that capacity by the officer commanding them temporarily, who was a major from another regiment. Evans, who never in private referred to his new master otherwise than as “that Scotch bastard,” though he had nothing Scots about him but a kilt, was now idly swinging the bucket, into which Bourne, Shem and the Corporal himself, had washed more than the dust of battle.

“'e 'as some bloody 'ide, pinchin' the commandin' officer's bucket,” was the corporal's only comment, turning his gaze towards the


  ― (31) ―
officers' tents again. Presently Bourne stood beside him.

“We're on the move, Corporal,” he announced.

“Who says we're on the move? Evans?” he added the name as an after-thought so that 'Bourne might guess he knew where the bucket came from, and not underrate either his powers of observation and inference, or his more valuable quality of discretion.

“Evans!” exclaimed Bourne indifferently; “oh, no! I was only giving him back his bucket. Evans never hears anything except the dirty stories the Doctor tells the Major in the mess. Abbot told me. He said the cookers were to be ready to move off to Sand-pits at two o'clock. We're on the move all right.”

“Them bloody cooks know what we're doing before the orderly-room does,” said Corporal Tozer drily. “Well, if it's good-bye to the fuckin' Somme, I won't 'arf 'ave a time puttin' the wind up some o' these bloody conscripts. Seen 'em yet? Buggered-up by a joy-ride in the train from Rouen to Méricourt, so they kept 'em fuckin' about the camp, while they sent us over the bloody top; you an' I, old son; in it up to the fuckin' neck, we was! When they've 'ad me at 'em for a fortnight, they'll be anxious to meet Fritz, they will. They'll be just about ready to kiss 'im.”

Suddenly he shed his easy confidence, as Captain


  ― (32) ―
Malet emerged from one of the tents, on the other side of the extemporised road, looking up at the sky, as though he were chiefly concerned in estimating the weather prospects for the day. Then, rapidly surveying his company-lines, he saw Sergeant Robinson and Corporal Tozer; and waved them to him with a lift of his stick. Bourne turned, and going into the tent sat down beside Shem. When he told them what he had heard from Abbot there was a flicker of interest, though they were not surprised, for the fighting-strength of the whole battalion was by now little more than that of a single company. They were to be taken out of the line, fed with new drafts, and then thrown in again, that was all, except that whenever the new drafts were mentioned, a certain amount of feeling was shown against them. Bourne began to be a little sorry for the new men, though some malicious imp in his mind was amused by the resentment they aroused. A draft had arrived the night before the attack, consisting of men enlisted under the Derby scheme, the first of that class to join the battalion; and there was some uncertainty concerning their temper and quality. The question had been, whether it were better to distribute the men among the different companies immediately on the eve of the attack; or to leave them out, and absorb them more slowly afterwards. Probably the commanding-officer had preferred to


  ― (33) ―
rely entirely on men already experienced in battle, even though their numbers were rather depleted, and it might be argued very reasonably that his decision was right. At the same time, the new men suffered by it. They were friendless among strangers, without having been long enough together to form a coherent unit to themselves; being rather soft, thirty hours in a troop train, tightly packed in sweltering heat, and then a longish march from Méricourt, the rail-head, had left them dead-beat; not being borne on the ration-strength, they had at first to make shift for their provisions as best they could; and because there was nothing for them to do, all sorts of futile and unnecessary fatigues were invented by those in authority for their especial benefit. They were bullied even by the details, and stood at the beck of any store-keeper. All this, of course, was in the best tradition of the British Army; but after swanking in a service company at some training-camp in Blighty, cheek by jowl with some of the slightly obsolete heroes from Mons, it was a little disheartening to find themselves suddenly precipitated again to the level of a recruit. After all, Bourne reflected, when he had come as one of a draft, he had been made to suffer similarly: but he had gone immediately into a show and that had made some difference. Presently these men would be indistinguishable from the others, and share their common experience.




  ― (34) ―

Corporal Tozer reappeared in the tent.

“Parade for roll-call at eleven o'clock: fatigue order.”

There was just a trace more importance than usual in his manner, and though it was barely discernible Bourne noticed it, and looked up with his incorrigible smile.

“Got an extra stripe, Corporal?” he inquired.

“Don't you worry about what I've got,” said the corporal. “You be bloody careful what you get.”




  ― (35) ―

III

“Is your Englishman so expert in his drinking?”

“Why, he drinks you with facility your Dane dead drunk; he sweats not to overthrow your Almain; he gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled.”

Shakespeare

AFTER dinner, they moved back about two miles to another camp at Sand-pits. The invaluable and long-suffering draft had preceded them there, to make straight the ways; but the men who composed it were ill-rewarded, as there was not enough tent-room for their own shelter, and they paired off, each pair trying to make a bivvy out of a couple of ground-sheets fastened together by string passed through the eyelets, and then slung on a horizontal pole suspended between two uprights. Their efforts might have been more successful if it had not been for a shortage of string and wood. There was more bustle and life in the new camp, and the men who had been in action moved about more freely. After roll-call a change had worked in them, the parade had brought them together again; and, somehow, in talking of their common experience they had mastered it; it ceased to be an obsession, it was something they realized as past and


  ― (36) ―
irrevocable; and the move to Sand-pits marked a new beginning.

They were still on a shoulder of the downs; and beneath them they could see Albert, and the gilt Virgin, head downwards, poised imminent above the shattered city, like an avenging wrath. Clouds, apparently of hewn marble, piled up for a storm, and already, over the distant flats, there were skirts of rain drifting across the sunlight. An observation balloon, sausage-shaped and thickened at one end by small subsidiary ballonets, lifted itself, almost as though it were being hoisted by a series of pulls, out of one of the hollows beneath them: and then hungswaying in the air, much as a buoy heaves in a tide-way. High above it some silvery gleams circled, seen fugitively and lost again, and occasionally one of these gleams would detach itself from the group and make off, leaving a little trail of vapour behind it. The men watched the balloon idly, since there were interesting possibilities in that direction: it might be shelled, or attacked by hostile aircraft and set alight, in which case the occupants would have to jump for it; and then perhaps their parachutes would not open. They were rather disappointed as it continued to swing there undisturbed. Now and again, however, an aeroplane would become too inquisitive concerning other people's business, and then, suddenly, miraculously it seemed, puff after puff of


  ― (37) ―
white smoke appeared in its immediate neighbourhood; it would ignore these attentions contemptuously for a time, and then turn away, apparently satisfied with the result of its inquiries. There was very little excitement to be found in that quarter either, unless it were by the pilot and his observer.

“Them bloody chaps 'ave a cushy job,” said little Martlow with resentful envy. “Just fly over the line, take a peek at ol' Fritz, and as soon as a bit o' shrapnel comes their way, fuck off 'ome jildy, toot sweet.”

He was sprawling beside Shem and Bourne, to whom he had attached himself for the moment. Having no particular chum, he was everybody's friend; and being full of pluck, cheekiness, and gaiety, he made his way very cheerfully in a somewhat hazardous world. Shem was talking to him; but Bourne was occupied with other matters, and seemed to be interested in the movements of Regimental-sergeant-major Hope, who was at the other end of the camp.

He was interested for many reasons. At roll-call it was found that there were thirty-three men left in the company, but probably many of those absent were not severely wounded. Bourne only knew a few of the men outside his own section by name; and the only two men belonging to it whom he had actually seen wounded were Caswell and Orgee, during the last stage of the


  ― (38) ―
attack near the station, when they had been brought down by a machine-gun. They had crawled into shelter, and eventually a stretcher-bearer had helped them. Caswell had been hit in the upper part of the chest; and Orgee in the cheek, the bullet knocking out some teeth and breaking part of the lower jaw. Some men by him had been hurt by splinters before they went over the top. One of them, Bridgenorth, had only been slightly hurt, and had subsequently gone over the top with them, but later in the day, having been hit again, went back with some walking wounded.

It was a long business. They had gauged the extent of the losses suffered by the company as soon as they went on parade. Name after name was called, and in many cases no particulars were available. Then for a moment the general sense of loss would become focussed on one individual name, while some meagre details would be given by witnesses of the man's fate; and after that he, too, faded into the past. Behind Bourne was a big stevedore from Liverpool, though he was of Cockney origin; a man called Pike, a rough, hard-bitten character, with a good heart.

“Redmain” was the name called out; and as at first there was no reply, it was repeated. “Has anyone seen anything of Redmain?”

“Yes, sir,” cried Pike, with sullen anger in his voice. “The poor bastard's dead, sir.”




  ― (39) ―

“Are you sure of that, Pike?” Captain Malet asked him quietly, ignoring everything but the question of fact. “I mean are you sure the man you saw was Redmain?”

“I saw 'im, sir; 'e were just blown to buggery,” said Pike, with a feeling that was almost brutal in its directness. “'e were a chum o' mine, sir, an' I seen 'im blown into fuckin' bits. 'e got it just before we got to their first line, sir.”

After a few more questions, Sergeant Robinson, calling the roll in place of Sergeant-major Glass-pool, who had been rather seriously wounded soon after Bourne had seen him in the German front line, passed to another name.

“Rideout.”

Even though they could not always hear what he said, the other men would crane their heads out to watch any man giving information, and the officers questioning him. Officers and men alike seemed anxious to restrain their feelings. The bare details in themselves were impressive enough. But under that restraint one could feel the emotional stress, as when Pritchard told of Swale's end. It was only after the roll of the men had been called, that the men were asked if they could give any information about Mr. Watkins, or Mr. Halliday.

Of those on parade Bourne, apparently, was the only one to have seen Mr. Halliday after he had been wounded, and Captain Malet had questioned


  ― (40) ―
him very closely. Bourne, like every man who came in touch with Captain Malet, had a great admiration for him. He was about twenty-four years of age, with a sanguine complexion, blue eyes, and fair, rather curly hair. He stood about six feet four, and was proportionately bulky, so that his mere physical presence was remarkable; at the same time, the impression he left on the mind was not one of mass, but of force, and speed. It was his expression, his manner, something in the way he moved and spoke, which made one feel that only an enormous effort enabled him to bridle the insubordinate and destructive energy within him. Perhaps in battle it broke loose and gratified its indomitable appetites. This is not to say that he was fearless: no man is fearless, fear is one of the necessary springs of human action; but he took pleasure in daring, and the pleasures of men are probably incomplete, unless some poignancy accompanies them. Just before the attack was launched, he had climbed out of the trench and walked along the parapet, less as though he were encouraging the men, than as though he were taunting them; and after they were back in their original position that night, he had found that he had forgotten his ash-stick, and had returned to the captured trenches to get it. There was nothing deliberate in either of these actions, they were purely spontaneous. He would not have gone into an attack with a


  ― (41) ―
hunting-horn, or dribbled a football across no-man's-land: probably he would have thought anything of the kind a piece of sentimental levity. All that he did was improvised, and perhaps he had more than his fair share of luck.

Evidently he was very much troubled about Mr. Halliday; and whenever he was troubled, he became impatient and angry, not with any particular individual, but with the nature of things, and the order of the universe. Mr. Watkins had been killed outright, and there was no more to be said on that point, except that he was one of many good fellows. There was nothing perfunctory in that summary regret; it was keen and deep, but one could not pause on it. The case of Mr. Halliday was different. Bourne had seen him first with a slight wound in the arm, and had then seen him wounded again in the knee. Probably the bone was broken. That was in the German out-post line, and he had been left there in comparative shelter with other wounded who were helping each other. After that moment, nothing further was known of him, as they had no information of him having passed through any dressing-station. Moreover, the medical officer, after working all day, had taken the first opportunity to explore a great part of the ground, and to make sure, as far as that were possible, that no wounded had been left uncollected. Of course night and the shell-holes may not have yielded


  ― (42) ―
up all their secrets. The problem of Mr. Halliday's fate seemed insoluble. At last Captain Malet ceased to probe the mystery. He dropped it abruptly, and asked Bourne about himself, with a half humorous kindliness; then, the men having been dismissed, he walked off towards the orderly-room looking preoccupied and tired.

Shortly afterwards Captain Malet saw Corporal Tozer and asked him a good many questions about Bourne; and then a little later the corporal met the regimental, who also asked about Bourne, and added that he wished to see him when they had moved to Sand-pits. Corporal Tozer, finding that two separate lines of inquiry were converging on Bourne's somewhat insignificant person, concluded that he was to be given a stripe, and he told him so, as they sat smoking together after dinner, giving him besides a full account of everything that had been said. Bourne had no ambition to become an acting lance-corporal, unpaid. He preferred the anonymity of the ranks. He wished that he had not taken down his crossed guns on coming overseas, for if Mr. Manson had seen them on his sleeve, he would have been put in the snipers' section, and whatever the trials and perils of a sniper's life might be, it was solitary and, up to a point, inconspicuous. Bourne's preferences were irrelevant to Corporal Tozer, who gave him good advice, which Bourne hoped was premature.


  ― (43) ―
The conversation flagged for a moment, and then Corporal Tozer took it up again.

“Captain Malet's not in a very good skin today,” he said; “'e 'as to take over as adjutant, temp'ry; and there ain't no bloody love lost between 'im an' the O.C., I can tell you. An' then, there's another thing: that bloody old colour-sergeant in the orderly-room, if 'e got 'arf a chance o' puttin' a knife into the regimental 'e'd take it, dam' quick, see? Well, you know what Captain Malet's like. Oh, I'm not sayin' anything against 'im; 'e knows a good man from a bad un, an' you couldn't wish for a better officer. But 'e doesn't know 'ow bloody bad some o' the bad uns can be. When you come to think of it in that way, Captain Malet ain't got no more sense than a kid at school.”

“He's all right,” said Bourne dispassionately; “anyway, he will always take his own line.”

“Would 'e take 'is own line wi' the O.C.? Yes, 'e would too; an' a nice bloody mess 'e'd make of it. The Major's only temp'ry 'imself. An' what's a man like who's only temp'ry, an' wants 'is job pukka? Why a bloody guardsman couldn't please the bugger. You take a corp'ral comin' from the first battalion, or from the second, same as I did, an' what's 'e think o' this fuckin' mob, eh? Well, it's a dam' sight worse when you get an officer from another regiment takin' command o' the battalion. 'e's been


  ― (44) ―
cribbin' everything. 'e's asked Brigade already to send 'im an officer competent to take over the duties of adjutant. Captain Malet don't want the adjutant's job; but 'e don't want Brigade to think he'll never make anything better'n a good company officer, does 'e? The colour-sergeant's just goin' to sit back, an' let 'im get on with it. 'e's due for 'is pension, an' 'e's tryin' to work 'is ticket. Then there's the regimental.”

“Well, nobody can teach the regimental his job,” said Bourne, decisively.

“I'm not sayin' anything against 'im,” said the corporal. “'e's a friend o' yours, though I can't say I'm sweet on 'im myself. I don't mind a man bein' regimental, but 'e gives 'imself too many bloody airs, thinks 'imself more class than most of us, an' tries to talk familiar to officers as don't know enough to keep 'im in 'is place. I'm not worryin' about 'im. But what's goin' to 'appen if 'e an' the colour-sergeant start scrappin' in the orderly-room?”

The thought of a scrap in the orderly-room gladdened Bourne's jaded soul, and he had laughed softly to himself. The corporal got up, dusted bits of dead grass from his trousers, and they put their kit together for the move.

Now, listening a little distractedly to Shem and Martlow, while watching the approach of the


  ― (45) ―
regimental-sergeant-major, Bourne turned over these matters in his mind. He did not doubt for a moment that Tozer had told him all this so that he could drop a hint to the regimental if he thought fit; and Tozer was a decent man, who wasn't trying to work off a grudge, or make mischief. The position of affairs was very much as the corporal had described it, but Bourne saw it from a slightly different angle. He had had it on the tip of his tongue, more than once in the course of the conversation, to tell the corporal that Major Blessington was a gentleman, and, whatever his private feelings for Captain Malet might be, would do nothing that was not honourable; but he had wisely refrained, for fear of seeming to imply that the corporal's standard of conduct in these matters was necessarily inferior because it was different. After all, honour, in that connection, is only an elaborate refinement of what are the decent instincts of the average man, and in the process of its refinement, perhaps there is a corresponding finesse thrown into the other scale as an off-set. War, which tested and had wrecked already so many conventions, tested not so much the general truth of a proposition, as its truth in relation to each and every individual case; and Bourne thought of many men, even men of rank, with military antecedents, whose honour, as the war increased its scope, had become a fugitive and cloistered virtue, though


  ― (46) ―
it would probably renew its lustre again in more costermonger times.

He did not blame them; only after considering all possible grounds for their absence, it left him perplexed. What he did blame in them was their readiness to judge others, who had at least submitted to the test. It was rather as though they wished to make some vicarious atonement for their own lapse; but a man who has forgotten the obligations of loyalty should not set up as a judge. If this conventional notion of honour would not fit into the corporal's scheme of things, he himself could safely discard it. It may have been very well so long as it had been possible to consider the army as a class or a profession, but the war had made it a world. It was full of a diversity of God's creatures: honour, with some, might be a grace, and with others duty an obligation, but self-interest, perhaps in varying measure, was common to them all. Even in the actual ecstasy of battle, when a man's soul might be torn suddenly from its scabbard to flash in an instant's brightness, it was absent not for long. When one returned to the routine of camp and billets, one had to take the practical and more selfish view; and if a nice sense of honour were unable to restrain the antipathy which the Major and Captain Malet felt for each other, their own interests might be expected to provide an efficient check. It


  ― (47) ―
operated equally, where there were none of these niceties, with the regimental and the colour-sergeant, but here the interests did not follow the same direction. As the colour-sergeant was quite openly working his ticket, incompetence, if calculated, might even help to procure his end, and would be charitably condoned as only another symptom of his pensionable years. If he were out to satisfy some old grudge, he had his opportunity in the present condition of affairs, and the corporal was right; but after all it was none of Bourne's business, apart from the fact that the regimental, when a sergeant-instructor at a training-camp, had been decent to him. Anyway, he had to go and see him now; and telling Shem he would be back in a minute, he moved off to intercept his man before he should reach the sergeant-majors' tent.

“Corporal Tozer told me you wished to see me, sir.”

“Hullo, Bourne, your bloody luck has brought you through again, has it? Captain Malet has been talking to me about you. I think he means to tackle you about going in for a commission when we get behind the line. We are going back for a rest. It won't be any bloody rest for me, though. I have to do the work of the whole battalion. I thought you might come along to my tent to-night, though as a matter of fact I haven't a tent to myself, in this bloody camp.


  ― (48) ―
Have to muck-in with the company sergeant-majors. However, you come along about nine o'clock. There's some buckshee rum. There'll be a rum ration in any case at nine o'clock, so perhaps you had better come a bit later.”

“I rather wanted to see you alone, sir. I don't like butting in, where there are a lot of sergeant-majors. They probably won't like it either, and to tell you the truth I don't much care about leaving Corporal Tozer sitting in the tent. After all I shall have to tell him where I'm going.”

“Oh, that's all rot. I'll make it right with the sergeant-majors, after all I'm running this show, and I don't see why I shouldn't please myself once in a bloody while. You weren't so particular at Tregelly, when you pinched a sergeant's great-coat and came into the sergeant's mess of the fifth-sixth with us that Sunday. Where's the difference? Bring Tozer along with you, he's in orders for an extra stripe, and we can make the excuse that he has only come along to wet it. Sergeant Robinson is to be company-sergeant-major. Poor Glasspool was pretty badly damaged, I hear. Tell Sergeant Tozer I told you to bring him.”

“You tell him, sir, and tell him to bring me. It will look much better that way; and he's an awfully decent chap. I don't want a commission. But I wanted to give you a tip on the quiet. I don't know yet whether it is worth bothering


  ― (49) ―
about, but has that old colour-sergeant in the orderly-room got any grudge against you?”

“My good bloody man, every incompetent ass in the battalion has got a grudge against me. What's his trouble?”

“Oh, I don't know enough to say; I have just put one or two things together. Probably I hear a good many things you don't; but if he hasn't any motive, then it is not worth while giving a thought to the matter.”

“You leave the motive to me. What's the game?”

“Well, they say that with the Colonel and the Adjutant both gone, and with the Major not entirely pleased with Captain Malet as adjutant, he may be able to find or make an opportunity. If I were in your place. …”

“Well, I don't mind hearing your advice, even if I shouldn't take it.”

“Don't anticipate him, and don't try to get in first. Let the orderly-room do its own work, instead of trying to run the whole show yourself. And if you must quarrel with him quarrel on a point of your own choosing, not on one of his. He's pretty cunning, and he has got you weighed up.”

“So have you, apparently. I thought the bugger was being a little more oily than usual. Anyway, thanks for the tip. I shall tell Sergeant Tozer to bring you along with him.”




  ― (50) ―

He walked off, and Bourne went back to Shem and Martlow.

SEVERAL of the company-sergeant-majors and quartermaster-sergeants were with the regimental when Sergeant Tozer, whose new rank sat a little stiffly on him as yet, came up on some routine duty; and the regimental used the opportunity to make them consenting parties to his invitation.

“I'm damned glad your promotion has gone through, Sergeant. Come along to us after the rum issue to-night and wet the stripe for luck. Bring Bourne with you, if you like. None of you fellows mind if Sergeant Tozer brings Bourne along, do you? He's quite a decent chap. Plays the game you know, so it won't matter for once in a way. That's all right, then; bring him along, Sergeant. Bourne and I became rather pally at Tregelly; of course at a musketry camp you all muck in together more or less. I was his instructor, and when he came out here and found I was regimental, you might have thought he'd never seen me before in his life. You may tell him privately, if you like, Sergeant, that Captain Malet wants him to go for a commission. Said he was a damned useful man.”

A little to his surprise, Sergeant-Major Robinson indirectly supported him.




  ― (51) ―

“I was goin' to ask you about Bourne, Major,” he said. “Thought there might be a chance to shift 'im into the signals section, where 'e'd find things a bit easier. 'e's pretty well buggered-up, an' it's not as though 'e were a slacker. 'owever, if 'e's goin' in for a commission ….”

“That's just the bloody difficulty,” said the regimental. “I'd bet a level dollar that, when the captain asks him, Bourne will say he would rather stay as he is. Of course if he did, one could shove him into sigs. Whether he liked it or not; that's if we don't get enough trained signallers in the new drafts. You can't put an untrained man in, if there are trained men waiting. After all, we don't get much chance of training men ourselves.”

“Well, if I'd my way,” said Sergeant-Major Robinson obstinately, “I'd let them bloody conscripts sweat a bit first.”

“It's no damned good talking,” answered the regimental. “We've got to make the best of 'em. Once they're here you can't make any difference between them and the older men. They've got to shake down together, and you know it as well as I do. A good many of them are boys, too, who couldn't have come sooner.”

Considering little Martlow and Evans, neither of whom were seventeen, the sergeant-major remained unconvinced; but he recognized the expediency of the argument, and no more was


  ― (52) ―
said. Sergeant Tozer walked off, surprised and flattered, both by the invitation and the manner of it. His importance showed a definite increase.

“I don't want to go and butt in among a lot of sergeant-majors,” said Bourne petulantly; and his manner by no means implied that he considered sergeant-majors to be the salt of the earth. Then, with apparent reluctance, he allowed himself to be persuaded, Shem intervening effectively.

“Take your cooker,” said that astute counsellor. “It'll do as a mug; and then if you can scrounge any buckshee rum for tea in the morning the cover will keep it good. See, it fits quite tight.”

ARMY rum is potent stuff, especially when the supplies of tea and water have run out, and one drinks it neat out of a dixie. They had just settled down comfortably, and the regimental was telling them some of his experiences with Bourne at Tregelly, when Major Blessington returned from visiting friends in the neighbourhood, and was heard shouting outside the tent. The regimental buttoned himself into his tunic hurriedly, shoved on a cap, and went out. The others in the tent heard the commanding officer say:

“Sergeant-Major, don't you think there's


  ― (53) ―
rather a lot of light showing from the camp? Oh, I don't mean from your tent.”

Then they heard the regimental, full of zeal, and bursting with suppressed blasphemy.

“Put that light out! Put that light out!” His voice showed he was moving about the camp. “Put that bloody light out!”

“Put two o' them fuckin' candles out, Thompson, and please the bugger,” said Hales, quarter-master-sergeant of B Company, who was one of the party in the sergeant-majors' tent, to the store-keeper. “ 'e's as fussy as five folks, now 'e's out o' the bloody line again. 'e don't stir up there no more'n a mouse. It don't make no differ to us; we can find the way to our mouths in the dark. 'ave you got a bit o' cheese there 'andy? I could fancy a bit o' cheese.”

Major Blessington had retired to his tent, determined in his mind that now they were going behind the line he would lick this sloppy mob into something like shape.

“That bugger takes me for a bloody lance-jack,” said the regimental, hot and indignant, on his return. “Who put out those candles?”

“I told Thompson to put two of 'em out,” said Hales; “just to please the bastard. 'e can light 'em again now, if you like.”

“He expects me to go to kip in the fuckin’ dark, I suppose? Give me some more of that bloody rum, Thompson. I've been shouting myself


  ― (54) ―
self hoarse. What was I saying? Oh, yes! About how Bourne and I palled up at Tregelly. Well, there were these two bloody great Lancashire laddies firing their course there, and they were so thick you could never separate the buggers; but on the Saturday they went into Sandby for a spree, and got properly pissed-up there. They picked up with some woman or other, and she walked part of the way back with them over the golf-links. I don't know exactly what happened, but when they came back into camp they started out to call each other everything they could get their bloody tongues round, and things went from bad to worse until one of 'em fetched the other an almighty clout on the jaw, which toppled the bugger over. When he got on his feet again, he went abso-bloody-lutely fanti; picked up a bayonet, and wounded his best pal in the arse. Of course he bled all over the fuckin’ hut, and that sobered him up a bit; but by that time every bugger there was trying to get the bayonet away from the other artist. Old Teddy Coombes got it. Do you remember old Teddy? Well, when the wounded man saw his best pal in the centre of what looked like a Rugby scrum: you know how all Lancashire men fight with their feet, it comes o’ wearing clogs, I suppose: he sailed in again from behind shouting out: ‘I'm comin’ Bill; give the buggers hell.’ Bill was biting one of the recruits


  ― (55) ―
in the calf of the leg at that particular moment, so he didn't really need any bloody encouragement.

“Just at that moment I got back from the sergeants' mess, so I began to take a lively interest in the proceedings myself, and the next minute there were two bloody scrums where there'd only been one before. However, at the end of the discussion, and it was a first-class scrap I can tell you, there was Teddy Coombes with about ten recruits sitting on one of the fuckin' heroes, and there was I with another ten sitting on the other; and when you couldn't hear anything else but loud breathing, two of the military police came in and wanted to know in a superior way what the fuckin' hell all the noise was about. Would you credit it? Those two buggers had been at the door the whole time, and had been in too big a bloody funk to come in, until it was all over and they knew they weren't wanted. Of course it was all up then; but it took a small army to march those two Lancashire laddies down to the clink all the same. They were a bonny pair all right. When I'd wiped the sweat from my face, and was taking stock of the situation, the first thing I noticed was Bourne, sitting up in his bed quite quietly, smoking a fag; and looking as though he thought the whole thing in very poor taste.”

“I wasn't taking any fortresses that night,”


  ― (56) ―
said Bourne contentedly. He was drinking rum out of an enamelled mug; and the cooker with cover complete had passed, quite openly, so as to escape remark, into the hands of the storekeeper.

“It made me bloody wild to see him sitting there like that. It didn't seem to me that there was any esprit de corps about it. All right, you bugger, I said to myself, meaning him of course, I'll get you yet. I didn't know him then. Do you know Sergeant Trent? A first battalion man. I had been up at the mess with him, but he didn't know anything about the scrap, as he'd gone straight down to the big barrack-room. He was going to put in for a pass until midnight on Monday, and make an excuse that he wanted to see his wife. Well, our two sportsmen from Lancashire, one of whom was suffering from what the M.O. described as a superficial flesh wound, though it would have been a damned sight more serious if he'd had it himself; they spent all Sunday recovering in the clink, and on Monday, after we got back from the range, they were up before the Camp Commandant. Bourne was escort; and you never, in all your life, saw anything so bloody funny as Bourne leading in my two Lancashire lads, either of whom could have put him in one of their pockets and kept him there. They'd nothing to say, very wisely, except that they really loved each other like brothers, and that the whole episode had been a


  ― (57) ―
pure accident. The Commandant was unsympathetic, and asked them whether they would take his punishment or go before a court-martial; and again very wisely they left it to him. You couldn't have met a nicer pair of lads on the whole, except for their bad habits. He gave them all he could give them, which was a hundred and sixty-eight hours' cells.

“Well, they had to have an escort to Milharbour, and I arranged with the officer that Bourne and I should be the escort, the general idea being, of course, that if there were any more bloody trouble lying about he could help himself to all he wanted and a bit more as well; or if the lambs went quietly, then Bourne and Sergeant Trent and myself could have a merry party in Milharbour after we had handed them over, Bourne to be in the chair. We tried to put wind up him by telling him they were pretty hard-bitten offenders, and he seemed to mop it up. We got to the station, and then Sergeant Trent and I saw two pushers we knew from Sandby on the train, and Trent was pretty keen on one of them. …”

“Thought you said 'e 'ad a wife in Milharbour?” interrupted Company-quartermaster-sergeant Hales, with the solemnity of a man who is a little drunk but still unsatisfied.

“Well, she was no fuckin' use to him when he was at Tregelly, was she? She didn't live at Milharbour, either; and he wasn't going to see


  ― (58) ―
her anyway. He was very fond of her really, and wouldn't have done anything to hurt her feelings for a lot. Would he, Bourne?”

“They were a most devoted couple, sir,” said Bourne tersely.

“Well, Sergeant Trent and I got in with the two pushers, and left Bourne with the two prisoners. How did you get on with them, Bourne?”

“Oh, we hit it off all right, sir,” said Bourne indifferently. “Of course, you had given me orders to treat them strictly. They were two able-bodied six-footers, accustomed to chucking tons of coal about, and I stood a pretty poor chance if they chose to make a rough house of it. Besides they had their kit-bags with them, as well as their rifles: and they could have brained me with either. Of course I may have looked very pretty in belt and bayonet, but I was not exactly filled with confidence. My business was to establish a moral superiority over two members of the criminal classes. One of them turned to me as soon as the train started, and said: ‘Can we smoke, chum?’ I said no, like a fool; and they turned away quietly and looked out of the windows at the sea. Well, I was sorry for them and I wanted to smoke myself; and if they couldn't smoke because they were prisoners, I couldn't either, because I was on duty. You had told me I was to treat them strictly, but after all, sir, you had deserted from duty ….”




  ― (59) ―

“I like your blasted cheek,” exclaimed the regimental, surprised; but there was a general appreciation of the point, and Bourne continued tranquilly:

“… so I had to take such practical measures as I thought best, and I took out my cigarette case, and handed it to them. The man who had been wounded was not too well. I expect his behind was sore. I carried his kit-bag for him when we changed trains at Pembroke; and then again up the hill to the gate. You and Sergeant Trent didn't come on the scene again until I had landed my prisoners in the guard-room, and the sergeant wouldn't take them over from me because you had the ticket. In the interval the prisoners and I had all become quite friendly.”

“I wonder you didn't tell them to cut and run for it,” said the regimental ironically. “After I handed over the prisoners, Sergeant Trent and I went into the mess and had a bottle of Bass each, and gave Bourne one at the back door. Then the three of us went up to Sergeant Willis's bunk; we had some tea there, and passed the time until the boozers had opened. We thought we had got Bourne weighed up, and he was only a bloody fool. He was a bloody masterpiece. As soon as we got into a boozer we started mopping up the beer, and he had drink for drink with us, beer or stout; but then he said he was tired of long drinks, and suggested that we had better


  ― (60) ―
have some gin and bitters. We improved quite a lot on that, but it didn't seem to make any difference to Bourne, who said we ought to have a meal. We were down in The Hare and Hounds then, in the back parlour. He ordered some steak and onions, but we couldn't eat much, though he seemed pretty hungry; and when we sat down to the table he said we had better make a party of it, and he ordered some champagne. Oh, he took charge all right, and did the thing properly; said he wanted a sweet, and as they didn't have anything but tinned peaches, ordered those, and told us liqueur brandy was the proper stuff to drink with tinned peaches. There were two girls there, Sergeant Trent was a bit sweet on …”

“Sergeant Trent be blowed, sir,” interrupted Bourne. “I don't know anything about the two girls in the train, but the girl at the pub was your affair; only you didn't want it known because your affections were ostensibly engaged in another part of the town. After all, Sergeant Trent was a good friend of mine, and I can't …”

‘Have it your own way, then; it didn't matter a damn anyway; because as soon as they heard Bourne had been standing us gin and bitters, and champagne, and liqueur brandy, they were all over him. One sat on one arm of his chair, and one on the other, and he fed them bits of peaches stuck on the end of a fork, treating


  ― (61) ―
them just as though they were a pair of pet dogs or two bloody parrots; and then he said in an absent-minded way that he didn't want to break up the party, but the last train went at eight-thirty, and it was a quarter past already, so that there was just time for a stirrup-cup, as he called it, before we left. If any of you chaps go on the piss with Bourne, and he offers you a stirrup-cup, you can take it from me he has got you beat. He ordered brandy and soda for five, and that made the girls lively too, as they had had a few before they came in. And now, he says, we really must say good-bye. It was bloody easy to say good-bye, but Sergeant Trent tried to get up, and then he sat down again, laughing in a silly way: we were both just silly drunk, and there was Bourne as smart and quick as Sergeant Chorley on parade, except that his cap was off and one of the girls had ruffled his hair a bit. We heard the bloody engine whistle and the train go, and there we were, with ten or eleven bloody miles to walk back to Tregelly before rouse parade. Bourne was quite philosophic about it; said it would sober us all up, there was nothing like a good long walk to sweat it out of you, only we ought to allow plenty of time. Whenever I thought of it I got wind up, and then I'd pretend it was a joke and laugh like hell. Sergeant Trent was the same: we were both just silly drunk.




  ― (62) ―

“Well, Bourne said he must get a little air, he would go out for ten minutes, and in the meantime we were not to have anything to drink. Those two bitches didn't pay any attention to us, said we'd insulted them, and were no gentlemen; but Bourne could do anything he liked with them, and he was just as polite as he could be. Well, he went out after whispering something to the two girls, who stayed with us, and in about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour he was back again. We had a few more drinks, but he didn't press us; only he drank drink for drink with us, that I'll swear. I seemed to see him sitting there, looking as though he doubted our ability to walk, and the next thing I knew was that I woke up, in bed with my boots on, in the big barrack-room at Tregelly; and there was Sergeant Trent looking bloody awful in the next bed. We had moved down out of the hut on Monday morning before leaving for Milharbour, as another party left the camp that day. I didn't know how we had got back; but Corporal Burns told me that at about half-past twelve Bourne had come in, and asked him to come down to the wall and help carry us up. When the corporal came down he saw, on the other side of the wall, a car, and the driver, and the two girls. They had butted us over the wall, because one of the other regiments furnished the guard that night, so Bourne had stopped the car and made the driver


  ― (63) ―
switch off the lights some way back. Corporal Burns told me that he sat by the fire talking to him a bit, and then got into kip much as usual.”

“Corporal Burns was an odd chap,” said Bourne in a disinterested way. “Sometimes he would sit up most of the night, looking into the fire and brooding. I never knew why, but somebody said that he had deserted from another regiment because of some trouble, and that the authorities knew about it, but sympathised with him, and wouldn't take action. He had a proper guardsman's word of command. He was a nice chap. I remember he was sitting over the fire when I came in; and after we had put you on your bed I said to him that he looked as though he could do with a drink. He had some sugar, so we boiled some water and had a glass of hot rum before we turned in.”

“Yes,” said the regimental; “there was this bugger recommending plenty of hot tea in the morning, to flush out our kidneys, and he had the greater part of a bottle of rum hidden in his kit. Sergeant Trent and I both drank tea, and we were both bloody sick; but about ten minutes before rouse parade he gave us each a bottle of beer, which he had brought back from Milharbour, and that just got us through. He told us sweetly he was orderly man, and was not going on rouse parade. Mr. Clinton took us out for a run, and when we came back we were sick again.


  ― (64) ―
Bourne always knew someone likely to be useful in emergencies, and we asked him to go up to the canteen-manager and try and scrounge some more beer; but he said we must eat something first; he would see what could be done after breakfast. Well, we went across to the cook-house, and tried to ram food down, but it didn't do; and then Bourne, he always came into the cook-house instead of the mess-room too, appeared behind us suddenly, with a medicine bottle, and poured a good double tot of rum into our tea. I couldn't speak; but Trent looked up at him with tears of gratitude and said under his breath: ‘You're a bloody miracle.’ He didn't have any himself.”

“I was firing at four hundred, five hundred, and six hundred yards that morning,” Bourne explained. “I took the same bottle down to the range with me, and when the detail before mine was firing I got behind a sand-hill to take a small swig to steady myself. Just as I got the bottle out, Mr. Clinton came round, and saw it; he was firing too, you remember. ‘Bourne, what have you got in that bottle?’ he said. ‘Oil, sir,’ I replied. ‘That's the very thing I want,’ he said. ‘Well, sir,’ I said, ‘here's a piece of four by two ready, and, wait a bit, sir, here's a clean piece, as well.’—‘Thanks awfully, Bourne,’ he said; and when he had sauntered off I drank that rum so quickly I nearly swallowed the bottle with it. I


  ― (65) ―
fired quite well: got seventeen at four hundred, eighteen at five hundred, and seventeen at six: top scores at each range, and I got my crossed guns with a couple of points to spare. Well, sir, I think I had better go to kip.”

“We had all better go to kip, but you can have another tot of rum before you go. Now you all know what I think about Bourne. He has never asked a favour of me, and when Sergeant Trent and I took him out meaning to get him canned up and generally make a fool of him, he drank us both to a standstill. You didn't leave us there, Bourne, to get out of the mess we had made for ourselves as best we could, while you went back by train. You got us back with considerable difficulty, and you put us safely into kip, and you had the laugh on us, and you forgot it. Well, I think you are a bloody good sport. Good-night, Bourne; good-night, Sergeant.”

“Thanks awfully, sir,” said the embarrassed Bourne. “Good-night, sir. Good-night, all.”

As he was going, the storekeeper handed him his cooker casually.

“Thanks, good-night, Thompson; see you to-morrow, at Méaulte. Mind that tent-rope, Sergeant. Here, give me your arm.”

“You know, Bourne, ol' chap,” said the Sergeant, who was a little unsteady in speech as well as in gait, but very solemn. “That wash a lie you tol' that offisher.”




  ― (66) ―

“I'm afraid it was, Sergeant. It touches my conscience sometimes; and I pinched some of his whiskey, too, up the line the other night.”

“I wouldn't 'a' believed it of you, Bourne. I really wouldn't 'a' believed it o' you if you 'adn't tol' me yo'sel'.”

Bourne managed to deposit the sergeant in his place without making any undue disturbance in the tent. Then he undressed, pulled up his blanket, and smoked another cigarette. It was a lie, he admitted cynically to himself; but not being exactly a free agent in the Army, he wondered how far the moral problem was involved. Every man had a minimum of self-will, and when an external discipline encroached on it, there was no saying what might happen as a result. When he had finished his cigarette he turned over and slept without a dream.




  ― (67) ―

IV

And now their pride and mettle is asleep.

Shakespeare

THE next day they moved back to the sordid squalor of Méaulte, where they spent two nights housed in stables, and the draft ceased to have a separate existence, being absorbed by the various companies. There was a kit inspection, at which Bourne's tin hat was condemned, the fact being entered in a notebook by Sergeant-Major Robinson; and that piece of ritual concluded the matter for the time being, the company-quartermaster-sergeant having no surplus tin hats at his disposal. At Méaulte they were still within the battle-area, and there was nothing for them to do. Shem, Bourne, and Martlow idled about, looking at the interminable train of motor lorries, which passed through, day and night, without ceasing, and so densely packed that it was difficult to cross the narrow street between them. Little Martlow had a grievance. In the attack he had annexed the field-glasses of two German officers, who being dead had no further use for them. At Happy Valley, seeing him needlessly decorated with the loot of battle, the commanding-officer had said to him peremptorily: “Hand over those glasses to


  ― (68) ―
me, my boy. I shall see that they are forwarded to the proper quarter.” His action may have been correct, from the official point of view, but to little Martlow it was an unjustifiable interference with the rights of private ownership.

“And now the bastard's wearin' the bes' pair slung round 'is own bloody neck. Wouldn't you've thought the cunt would 'a' give me vingt frong for 'em anyway?”

“Your language is deplorable, Martlow,” said Bourne in ironical reproof; “quite apart from the fact that you are speaking of your commanding officer. Did you learn all these choice phrases in the army?”

“Not much,” said little Martlow derisively; “all I learnt in the army was me drill an' care o' bloody arms. I knew all the fuckin' patter before I joined.”

Shem grinned maliciously at Bourne, who could never offer any serious resistance to Martlow's rosy-cheeked impudence. Bourne had seen the boy blubbering like the child he really was, as they went over the top a couple of days earlier, but unaware that he was blubbering, and possessed at the same time by a more primitive fury than filled the souls of grown men. It was unsafe to give oneself the airs of riper experience with a boy of Martlow's breed. Probably life to him had always been a kind of warfare; and his precocity at times could be disconcerting.




  ― (69) ―

“Voulez-vous m'embrasser, mademoiselle?” he cried provocatively to a bovine female who replied only with a look of virtuous indignation. “Well, thank Gawd we're going back to decent billets where there'll be some chance of a bon time.”

They marched from Méaulte to Méricourt, and on the way an enemy plane swooped out of the blue and dropped two bombs, which exploding on the hard macadam sent gravel and road metal flying in all directions. In spite of their casualties the men were very steady, and though there was no cover, they moved quietly off the unenclosed road on to soft wet turf, which would stifle to some extent the effect of any more bombs. Some of our own planes at once attacked the Hun, and drove him off; a running fight ensued, but it was apparently indecisive. Evidently the enemy was challenging our temporary supremacy in the air with a new type of machine, for in the earlier stages of the battle he had not been very troublesome.

Bourne had been set to pulling a Lewis-gun cart, a job which he liked because it enabled him to get rid of his pack, which was carried on the cart itself. There were a couple of men behind, to hold the cart back with a length of rope when going downhill. Passing through Ville the men behind, in fooling with the rope, let the cart run forward, and one of the iron rests in front tore


  ― (70) ―
open the back of Bourne's left boot, and the flesh of his heel as well. It was a trivial thing, but painful, though he did not trouble about it. They had dinner just outside Méricourt, and then entrained; but the van in which Bourne found himself had nearer fifty than the forty men it was supposed to hold, packed into it. He contrived to keep by the door, sitting there with his feet on the footboard outside, so that he got the air, though he had no shade and the sun was fierce. The men at the back suffered considerably: they were both stifled and cramped: and, unable to sit, in standing with nothing to steady them, when the train swayed and jolted they fell and jostled against each other. A kind of impersonal bad temper, which could not find any very definite object, developed among them; there was some abuse, there were even threats and counter-threats, but no actual quarrelling. The general effect was one of a recalcitrant acquiescence in the dispensations of an inscrutable providence.

In the last couple of days their whole psychological condition had changed: they had behind them no longer the moral impetus which thrust them into action, which carried them forward on a wave of emotional excitement, transfiguring all the circumstances of their life so that these could only be expressed in the terms of heroic tragedy, of some superhuman or even divine conflict with the powers of evil; all that tempest of excitement


  ― (71) ―
was spent, and they were now mere derelicts in a wrecked and dilapidated world, with sore and angry nerves sharpening their tempers, or shutting them up in a morose and sullen humour from which it was difficult to move them.

Bourne often found himself looking at his companions as it were from a remote distance, and then it sometimes seemed to him that they had very little reason or sense of responsibility, apart from that which the business imposed on them. He was not supercilious in this; he was merely wondering how far what he felt himself was similar or equivalent to what they felt. It is a little curious to reflect that while each man is a mystery to himself, he is an open book to others; the reason being, perhaps, that he sees in himself the perplexities and torment of the mental processes out of which action issues, and they see in him only the simple and indivisible act itself. While he imagined that the other men were probably a little less reflective and less reasonable than he was himself, he frankly envied them the wanton and violent instincts, which seemed to guide them, or at least carry them, so successfully through this hazardous adventure. It was a piece of naivety on his part. They had accepted him, and he had mucked in with them quite satisfactorily. But there was a question which every man put to another at their first acquaintance: What did you do in civil life?




  ― (72) ―

It was a question full of significance, not only because it recognized implicitly the endless variety of types to which military discipline had given an apparent uniformity; but because it implied also that, for the time being, civil life had been obliterated, at least as far as they were concerned: it existed only precariously, and in a very attenuated form, somewhere in the rear of the embattled armies, but for all practical purposes it was not worth a moment's consideration. Men had reverted to a more primitive stage in their development, and had become nocturnal beasts of prey, hunting each other in packs: this was the uniformity, quite distinct from the effect of military discipline, which their own nature had imposed on them. There is an extraordinary veracity in war, which strips man of every conventional covering he has, and leaves him to face a fact as naked and as inexorable as himself. But when a battalion has been so thinned that it becomes negligible as a fighting unit, and it is withdrawn from the line to refit, there is a tendency for individual characteristics to reassert themselves; the pressure of the opposed force is removed, and discipline, until the establishment has been reorganized, is necessarily relaxed. The bad temper which steamed or exploded ineffectively among this van-load of angry men, childish as it was, was symptomatic. Bourne, who had scored in so far as he had air and could


  ― (73) ―
sit on the floor, nursed his sore heel and was as hot and as angry as the rest of them.

It was already dusk when they detrained, and Bourne did not notice the name of the station, though he imagined they were somewhere in the neighbourhood of St. Pol. They had a march of nine or ten miles in front of them; and another man having taken his place with the Lewis-gun cart, Bourne fell in between Shem and Martlow, and marched with his company again; but he was now quite lame, and tired easily. He was pretty well dead-beat before they came to the end, otherwise the march through the cool dusk was pleasant; a few scurrying rainstorms crossed their line, and evidently, from the state of the road, it had rained heavily there; but now the sky was mainly clear, with stars and a half-moon, which looked up at them again from the puddles, and there were long, straight lines of poplars which stood on either side of them, erect, like notes of exclamation. Bourne was a little indignant when Shem, a tough, sturdy and generous person, seeing him limping, offered to take his rifle. It was after eleven o'clock when they came to Beaumetz. As soon as they entered the village the battalion split itself up into several detachments, and Mr. Sothern, in charge of the party in which Bourne was included, was not quite sure whether he had found the right billets; but he told the men to fall out while he


  ― (74) ―
went in search of information, and they sat in the kennel of the muddy street. Except for lights in one or two windows there was not a sign of life. The men sat there quietly, tired enough, but with not a trace of bad temper left in them; a kind of contentment seemed to soak into them from the stillness of the place.

When they had found their stables for the night, Bourne took his boot off and examined his heel; his sock was hard with dried blood, and the wound itself looked dirty, so as there was a light showing in the house, he thought he would try for some hot water to bathe it, and he knocked persuasively at the door. It was opened by an old man with a patient, enquiring expression on his face. When Bourne, speaking lamentable French, explained his need, he was invited to enter, and then made to sit on a chair, while his host brought some hot water in a basin and insisted on bathing the wound himself. When it was clean he went to a sideboard, the room was a kind of kitchen-parlour, and brought out a bottle of brandy, pouring some into a cup so that Bourne's heart rejoiced in him; but the old man only took a strip of clean linen, which he folded into a pad, and after saturating it with brandy, he once again took up Bourne's foot in his capable hand, and squeezed the linen, so that the brandy fell drop by drop on to the broken flesh. It stung a little, and Bourne, rather


  ― (75) ―
sceptical of its healing power, would have preferred to take it internally; but against the old man's voluble assurances that it was bon, très bon pour les plaies he could find nothing to say. Finally, his host took up what was left on the linen pad and placed it on the wound, and Bourne drew a clean sock over it. He always carried an extra pair in his kit, but it was a mere chance that they were clean. Like most of the men he had dumped everything that was not necessary, even his spare shirt and underpants; for when a man has to carry nearly three stone of kit and equipment on the march, he becomes disinclined to take much heed for the morrow, and prefers to rely on the clean change provided at the divisional baths, in spite of the uncertain interval.

By the time the treatment was complete, Bourne's gratitude had almost left him bankrupt in the French language; but the old man increased his obligations by giving him a cup of steaming coffee, well laced with that sovran remedy for a torn and swollen heel, and they talked a little while. He could not persuade his host to take any payment, but he accepted a few cigarettes, which he broke up and smoked in his pipe. He was alone in the house, Bourne gathered, and he had a son who was at the front. His only other relation was a brother who was a professor of English at a provincial university. These two facts seemed to establish a degree of


  ― (76) ―
kindred and affinity between them, and when Bourne left to sleep in his stable he was invited to come in again in the morning.

He woke early, and not knowing where the cookers were, he took advantage of the invitation, so that he could beg some hot water for shaving. He was surprised by the effect of the brandy on his heel, as all the swelling had disappeared and the pain was no more than a slight discomfort when he flexed his foot. He found the old man ill, and brewing himself some tea, which he took only as a kind of physic, somewhat reluctantly. Bourne looked at his newspaper, in the hope of learning something about the war, but apart from a few colourless details from the French front there was nothing; no one knew anything about it; it was like one of the blind forces of nature; one could not control it, one could not comprehend it, and one could not predict its course from hour to hour. The spirit of the troops was excellent, the possibility of defeat was incredible; but to calculate the duration of the conflict was quite beyond the resources of the human mind: it was necessary to look at these matters from a scientific stand-point, and the scientific method was that of trial and error. Bourne only glanced hastily at all the solemn empty phrases, and was wondering whether he could get a new pair of boots from the shoemakers, unofficially to save time, before they paraded; and when the old man had at


  ― (77) ―
last brewed his tea, he got a little hot water and departed to shave. The snobs were also kind to him, and gave him a pair of boots which they assured him were of a type and quality reserved entirely for officers, being of the best Indian roan, a kind of leather of which Bourne had never heard.

“Strictly speakin',” said his friend Snobby Hines, “it's an officer's boot, but it's a very small size, so you may 'ave that pair, as they fit you. 'ope we stay 'ere a bit. It's quite a bon place, two decent estaminets an' some mad'-moiselles, not that I see anything much in these French girls, you know: my ol' curiosity at 'ome would make most of 'em look silly. Well, you can't 'ave everythink, so you've got to be content with what you git.”

Bourne did not trouble about the cryptic significance of these words, he agreed with everything unreservedly, this being one of the secrets of a happy life. He liked his new boots because the leather was strong but soft and pliable, and if they were a bit oily, well, that would keep the wet out, and one did not have to polish boots on active service. They paraded at ten o'clock, for a little extended order drill; but when they had fallen in Sergeant Tozer asked if there was any man capable of working a typewriter. There was no reply from the ranks, though Bourne had played about a little with a Blick. They moved


  ― (78) ―
out into the fields to drill. But at eleven o'clock the regimental appeared on the scene; and once again a typist was demanded, and as there was no reply, the regimental singled out Bourne, and cross-questioned him. He knew very well that Bourne was the most likely man, and when the latter admitted under pressure that he could use the machine, he was told to report at the orderly-room at one o'clock.

He was very unwilling to take the job. He was by no means an expert with a typewriter, but that did not trouble him; what he disliked was the fact that he would be sitting, for the greater part of the day, under the eyes of authority. He had no personal experience of the orderly-room staff, but, from hearsay alone, he had a very definite prejudice against the men composing it, and it was almost a relief to him to find from the very first moment that there were good grounds for it, because he was spared the trouble of attempting to adjust himself to these new conditions. His job was a temporary one, and it was his object to see that it didn't become permanent; with which end in view, obedience, and a certain amount of innocent stupidity, seemed the proper tactics to adopt. He had made his own place in the company, and he was quite willing to go back to it, that very night if they should think fit; and to find an ample compensation for the apparent


  ― (79) ―
set-back in the rowdy good-humour of his comrades.

The lance-corporal received him, with a suspicious air, and passed him on to the corporal, who wore a more truculent expression, and presented him to the colour-sergeant. He was a cat-like individual, who showed all his false teeth in a deprecating smile, and seemed to consider Bourne as only the latest of those many tribulations, with which God, in his inscrutable wisdom, had chosen to afflict a faithful servant. While this little ceremony was in progress, Captain Malet, upon whom the adjutant's duties had temporarily devolved, entered the orderly-room; and as they stood to attention, he acknowledged their existence coldly with a brusque salute; but when he sat at his table and turned over some papers, Bourne caught his eye, and a quick ripple of impish schoolboy humour flickered for an instant on the officer's face. He seemed always to find in Bourne some stimulus to mirth. Of course the others noticed it, with the air of not noticing it, with an almost ostentatious indifference, and wondered what this indecorous recognition might imply.

“Show Bourne what he is supposed to do,” said the colour-sergeant to the lance-corporal with an almost ingratiating benevolence, but with a slight stress on the word “supposed” that gave a sub-acid flavour to his oiliness; and Bourne sat down before a small Corona to learn


  ― (80) ―
his way about on it. It did not occupy his whole attention; he was aware that the others were scrutinizing him carefully, and his own rather delicate sensibility put out little groping feelers in an attempt to apprehend some of the realities of the situation. The colour-sergeant was of course the dominating factor, and the other two did not count, though in the rude phrase of better men, they should have chalked their bloody boots. When Captain Malet, who spent as little time as possible in that uncongenial atmosphere, went out again, they talked among themselves; and if the matter of their conversation was difficult for an outsider to follow, its manner was sufficiently illuminating. Bourne saw at once that his own particular job was a myth; even the lance-corporal, Johnson, was not overburdened with work, and all the typing done in the course of a day would not have taken up twenty minutes of his time. What these luxurious creatures really wanted was a man to skivvy for them; and, though Bourne as a rule avoided the use of coarse language, he knew precisely what he would be before he acted as a kind of general batman to the orderly-room; so when tea-time came, he did not enter into any unseemly competition with the lance-corporal for the honour of fetching the colour-sergeant's; but, taking his mess-tin, went off and sat with his own friends for half an hour.




  ― (81) ―

“ 'ow do you like it?” inquired Sergeant Tozer.

“Oh, it's cushy enough,” Bourne answered indifferently. “I don't mind it for a week or so; but it is not a job I want for keeps. I would rather be with the company.”

“Some people don't know their bloody luck,” said the sergeant tersely.

“I don't know. Your section were always fairly contented, except when Fritz strafed them unnecessarily.”

“Sergeant-Major Robinson wanted to know whether you would pinch 'im some notebooks from the orderly-room, an' a few pencils? 'e an' the quarter-bloke can't get anything out o' them buggers.”

“I'll pinch anything the sergeant-major wants,” said Bourne recklessly; “only he will have to give me time to learn my way about.”

He went back to the orderly-room, and was released from his arduous labours a little after half-past five; then, picking up Shem and Martlow, he went off to an estaminet, determined to have as bon a time as the place and their purses afforded. The battalion had been paid out at twelve o'clock, and the place was crowded with uproarious men, stamping time with their feet on the floor as they sang at the top of their voices:




  ― (82) ―
‘Mademoiselle, she bought a cow, Parley-voo,
To milk the brute, she didn't know how, Parley-voo,
She pulled the tail instead of the tit,
And covered herself all over with—MILK.…'

A storm of loud cheers and laughter at this unwonted delicacy of phrase drowned the concluding gibberish of the chorus. Bourne ordered a bottle of some poison concocted out of apples and potatoes labelled champagne, which had a little more kick in it than the vin rouge or French beer. Then the three of them crowded in among the men playing “crown and anchor,” with Snobby Hines rattling the dice-box.

“ 'oo's goin' to 'ave somethin' on the old mud-'ook? Come on, me lucky lads, if yer don't speckyerlate yer can't accumyerlate. Somethin' on the ol' mud-'ook jest to try yer luck. Y'all finished, then? Right! There y'are. It's the sergeant-major. I tol' yer so. An' off we go again, an' off we go again.”

Bourne struck a vein of luck, and as he had crushed in next to Thompson, the storekeeper, he gave him ten francs for services rendered at Sand-pits. He lost that in a few minutes, and Bourne gave him another ten, which went the same way. As Bourne's generosity seemed to dry up, Thompson asked him for the loan of five, and that vanished with an equal rapidity. Shem won a little, and Martlow lost, but lost cannily, buttoning up his purse when he found the dice running


  ― (83) ―
against him. But Bourne had a bit more than his share of luck, and as the disconsolate Thompson still hung about the altars of fortune, on which he had sacrificed already more than double his pay, Bourne gave him five francs, and told him to go and try his luck with wine or women, as he might do better at another game. Thompson took his advice, and turned away disillusioned from an unsympathetic world; and then, oddly enough, for a little while Bourne lost; but he played on, and his luck turned again. He got up having won about seventy-five francs, and they had another bottle of champagne before setting off through the darkness to their billets.

The old man still had a light in his kitchen, and Bourne decided to pay him a visit and inquire after his health. Bourne had a briar pipe in a leather purse, which a friend in England had sent him, though he never smoked a pipe; and he took it with him, and presented it to his host as a tribute of gratitude. The old man was surprised and delighted. He was quite well again, and offered Bourne some café-cognac; but Bourne refused, explaining that they would march away in the morning; though, if monsieur were agreeable, he would come in early and have some coffee. Monsieur professed himself enchanted.




  ― (84) ―

V

I begin to find an idle and fond bondage in the oppression of aged tyranny, who sways not as it hath power but as it is suffered.

Shakespeare

FOR the next few days they were continually on the move, and Bourne did nothing for the orderly-room but help to stow and unstow a few tin deed-boxes, eating, marching, and sleeping with his company. Captain Malet had gone on leave unexpectedly, and Captain Havelock became adjutant in his place. The roads were dusty, a lot of the route pavé, hot and unyielding to the feet, and the flat stones worn or shifted to an uneven surface; while the sycamores or poplars bordering the sides were not close enough to give much shelter from a pitiless sun. At the end of the second day's march after leaving Beaumetz, they halted under a stone wall which must have been about fifteen feet high, with a single arched gate-way opening in it. On the other side of the road pollarded willows leaned away from them to over-hang a quick-flowing little river, full of bright water. Several of the new men had fallen out, and would be on the mat for it in the morning, and they were all tired enough, the sweat having soaked through their shirts and tunics to show in


  ― (85) ―
dark patches on the khaki where the equipment pressed on it.

On the other side of the archway was a wide courtyard, with the usual midden in the centre of it; at the back, a large house, half-farm, half-chateau, with a huge stone-built barn on one side, flanking the yard, and on the other almost equally substantial stables and out-buildings. It was conventual in appearance, with a prosperous air. When they pushed open the great doors of the barn, and entered into that cool empty space, which would have held two companies at a pinch, it had seemed to offer them the pleasantest lodging they had known for months: it was as lofty as a church, the roof upheld by unwrought beams and rafters, the walls pierced with narrow slits for light and air, and the floor thick-littered with fine, dry straw. Some panicky fowls flew up into their faces, and then fled precipitately as they took possession. They slipped off their equipment and wet tunics, and unrolled their puttees before sprawling at ease.

“Cushy place, this,” said Shem contentedly. “Wonder what the village is like, it would be all right if we were billeted here for a week; that is, unless we're going on to some decent town.”

“Some bloody thing's bitin' my legs,” said Martlow after a few minutes.




  ― (86) ―

“Mine, too,” said Bourne. “What the hell …?”

“I'm alive with the buggers,” said Pritchard angrily.

Men were scratching and cursing furiously, for the straw swarmed with hen-fleas, which seemed to bite them in a hundred different places at one and the same time. Compared with these minute black insects of a lively and vindictive disposition, lice were merely caressing in their attentions; and the amount of profane blasphemy which broke from the surprised and discomfited men was of an unusual fervour. For the moment they were routed, scratching themselves savagely with dirty finger-nails; and then gradually the bites decreased, and they seemed, with the exception of an occasional nip, to have become immune, hen-fleas apparently preferring a more delicate pasture. They caught one or two with considerable difficulty, and examined them curiously: after all, they were not so repulsive as the crawling, white, crab-like lice, which lived and bred, hatching in swarms, on the hairy parts of one's body. These were mere raiding pleasure-seekers, and when the first onset had spent its force, the fitful skirmishes which succeeded it were endurable.

Old soldiers say that one should never take off boots and socks, after a march, until one has cooled down, and the swelling in legs and feet has


  ― (87) ―
vanished; bathing hot swollen feet only makes them tender. They rested until tea was ready, and in the distribution of rations they were lucky; a loaf of bread among four, and a tin of butter and a pot of jam among six. Shem, Bourne, and Martlow ate, smoked and then, taking towels and soap, followed the river until they found some seclusion, and there they stripped and bathed. They did not know that bathing had been forbidden, and even after they had dressed themselves partly again they sat on the bank with their feet on the gravel bottom, letting the water ripple over them. One of the regimental police found them there, and rapped out an adjectival comment on their personal characters, antecedents, and future prospects, which left nothing for the imagination to complete. As they showed an admirable restraint under the point and emphasis of his remarks, he contented himself with heading them back to billets, with a warning that the village was out of bounds, and then took his own way along the forbidden road in search of pleasure, like a man privileged above his kind.

“They don't care a fuck 'ow us'ns live,” said little Martlow bitterly. “We're just 'umped an' bumped an' buggered about all over fuckin' France, while them as made the war sit at 'ome waggin' their bloody chins, an' sayin' what they'd 'ave done if they was twenty years


  ― (88) ―
younger. Wish to Christ they was, an' us'ns might get some leaf an' go 'ome an' see our own folk once in a while.”

“Too bloody true,” Shem agreed. “Five bloody weeks on the Somme without a bath, and thirteen men to a loaf; and when they take you back for a rest you can't wash your feet in a river, or go into a village to buy bread. They like rubbing it in all right.”

“What are you chewing the fat about?” asked Bourne. “You've had a bathe, and you're not paying for it. Can't you take an ordinary telling-off without starting to grouse about it? You don't want to drink someone else's bathwater in your morning-tea, do you? I'm going over to the house to inspect the inhabitants. There's a mad'moiselle there, Martlow; just about your mark.”

“You please yourself,” said Martlow. “I'm not goin'; I don't like the look of the fam'ly.”

Bourne found the womenfolk hospitable enough, and pleased himself enormously. He bought a couple of glasses of wine from Madame, who asked him not to tell the other men, as there were too many of them. Snatches of soldiers' choruses came from the barn across the yard, and Madame was full of praise of the English, their courage, their contentment. She asked Bourne if he sang, and he laughed, lifting up his voice:

‘Dans le jardin de mon père, les lilas sont fleuris. …’




  ― (89) ―

She seemed astonished by that, and beamed at him, her red face bright with sweat.

‘Auprès de ma blonde, qu'il fait bon, fait bon, fait bon,
Auprès de ma blonde, qu'il fait bon dormir. …’

but he knew no more than a few lines of it. She knew it well enough, and told him it was not proper, at which he cocked his head aside and looked at her knowingly; and then, satisfied that he had turned that flank, gave his attention to the girl, who ignored it discreetly. She was not really pretty, but she had all the bloom and venusty of youth, with those hazel eyes which seem almost golden when they take the light under dark lashes. Two oldish men came in, and looked at Bourne with grave suspicion, while Madame and the girl bustled to get their evening meal. Every time either of these ladies approached him, Bourne, with an excessive politeness, rose from his chair, and this seemed to increase the suspicion of the younger man.

“Asseyez-vous, monsieur,” he said with a tranquil sarcasm. “Elles ne sont pas immortelles.”

“C'est dommage, monsieur,” Bourne replied, apt enough for all his clumsy French, and Madame beamed at him again; but the discouragement the men offered to his presence there was too strong for him, and he took up his cap,


  ― (90) ―
thanking her for her kindness, bowing respectfully to Mademoiselle, and finally saluting the two hobereaux so punctiliously that they were constrained to rise and acknowledge his elaborate courtesy. As he crossed the courtyard in the half-dark he laughed softly to himself, and then whistled the air of Auprès de ma blonde loudly enough for them to hear in the lighted room. No one could tell what luck to-morrow might bring.

The girl had moved him a little. She had awakened in him that sense of privation, which affected more or less consciously all these segregated males, so that they swung between the extremes of a sticky sentimentalism and a rank obscenity, the same mind warping as it were both ways in the attempt to throw off the obsession, which was less desire than a sheer physical hunger, and could not feed itself on dreams. In the shuddering revulsion from death one turns instinctively to love as an act which seems to affirm the completeness of being. In the trenches, the sense of this privation vanished; but it pressed on men whenever they moved back again to the borders of civilised life, which is after all only the organization of man's appetites, for food or for women, the two fundamental necessities of his nature. In the trenches his efforts were directed to securing an end, which perhaps has a prior claim on his attention, for in comparison with the business of keeping himself alive,


  ― (91) ―
the pursuit of women, or even of food, may seem to rank only as the rather trivial diversion of a man's leisure moments; and in the actual agony of battle, these lesser cupidities have no place at all, and women cease to exist so completely that they are not even irrelevant. Afterwards, yes. Afterwards all the insubordinate passions released by battle, and that assertion of the supremacy of one's own particular and individual will, though these may be momentarily quiescent from exhaustion, renew themselves and find no adequate object, unless in the physical ecstasy of love, which is less poignant.

Unfortunately they moved off again next morning, and the girl, standing with her own people in the yard, watched them go, as though she regretted vaguely the waste of good men. About the middle of the day something in the character of the countryside seemed familiar, and the reminiscence teased their memory to make it more definite, until they came upon a signpost which told them they were marching in the direction of Noeux-les-Mines, and reminiscence became anticipation. The thought of a town where decent conditions still prevailed, and where they might have a bon time, put new heart into them, and the marching column broke into cheerful song. They had put, at least partially, their own words to the air of a song sufficiently sentimental:




  ― (92) ―
‘Oh, they've called them up from Weschurch,
And they've called them up from Wen,
And they'll call up all the women,
When they've fucked up all the men.”

After which the adjuration to keep the home-fires burning seemed rather banal. Entering Noeux-les-Mines they were exuberant; but after they had passed the lane leading from the main street to the camp, the chorus of song became less confident. When the great slag-heap and the level-crossing had been left behind them, they reconciled themselves to the less joyful, but still tolerable prospect of Mazingarbe. Then Mazingarbe, with its brick-built brewery, fell behind them too.

“We're goin' into the bloody line again,” shouted Minton, who was marching just ahead of Bourne.

“Well, it's cushy enough up this part o' the line now,” said Pritchard resignedly.

“Cushy be buggered,” said Minton angrily.

They continued a little way along the road to Vermelles, and halted finally in Philosophe, a mining village, brick-built and grimy, from which the inhabitants had been evacuated. There they fell out and went to billets in sullen silence. Almost immediately Shem and Martlow were posted with fieldglasses and whistles to give warning of the approach of enemy aircraft. The troops were ordered to keep close in to the houses


  ― (93) ―
when moving about the village, and to take cover when the whistles were blown.

Bourne went off to the orderly-room. The main street of Philosophe was at right angles to the road from Mazingarbe to Vermelles, and at the end of it was another street, roughly parallel to the road, the orderly-room being in the third house down on the left. The village was practically undamaged by shellfire, but it was a dour, unlovely place. One or two families remained there, and children either belonging to them, or to Mazingarbe, which was not far away, passed up and down the street with large baskets on their arms at intervals through the day, shouting, “Engleesh pancakes, Engleesh pancakes,” with a curious note of melancholy or boredom in their high-pitched voices.

Bourne, quite inadvertently, had improved his position in the orderly-room. The colour-sergeant, with his usual irony, had referred to the possibility of making him a permanent member of the orderly-room staff, and Bourne had replied with great firmness that he would prefer to go back to his company. As they saw at once that he really meant it, they became more friendly. While he and the lance-corporal unpacked the boxes, he asked for the notebooks and pencils which Sergeant-Major Robinson wanted, and got them without any difficulty. When he and the lance-corporal went for their dinners, he took


  ― (94) ―
them to the sergeant-major, with whom were Sergeant Tozer and the quarter-bloke.

“You're bloody lucky to be in the orderly-room for a spell,” the sergeant-major told him. “The C.O. thinks the men have got slack, and says that all time available must be spent in drill. Company-guards as well as headquarter-guard are to parade outside the orderly-room for inspection at eleven o'clock every morning; an' I suppose there'll be working-parties up the line every bloody night. How do you like Captain Havelock in th' orderly-room? The men call him Janey. Saw him walking over to Brigade with the C.O. a few minutes ago. Brigade's at Le Brèbis. Captain Malet's coming back to the company in a few days. We're going to spend most of our time carrying bloody gas-cylinders up Potsdam Alley: that's what I heard anyway.”

The prospect of carrying gas-cylinders, which weighed about a hundred and eighty pounds apiece, and were slung on a pole carried on the shoulders of two men, proved conclusively to Bourne that the orderly-room had its uses. The work was made more difficult by the fact that the men had to wear their P.H. gas helmets, which were hot and suffocating. He went back to the orderly-room in a somewhat chastened frame of mind.

The next day each company in turn marched back to the brewery in Mazingarbe for baths.


  ― (95) ―
They stripped to the buff in one room, handing over towel, socks, shirt, and underpants to the men in charge, who gave them clean things in exchange: these were rolled up in a bundle, ready, and a man took what he was given without question, except in the case of an impossible misfit or a garment utterly useless, in which case he might ask his sergeant-major to intervene, though even his intervention was not always effective. It was invariably the same at casualty-clearing-stations or divisional baths, the lead-swingers in charge and their chums took the best of the stuff they handled, and the fighting-men had to make shift as best they could with their leavings. The men left their clean change with their boots and khaki, and passed naked into one large room in which casks, sawn in two and standing in rows, did duty for baths. There were a few improvised showers. Here they splashed and soaped themselves, with a riotous noisiness and a good deal of indecent horseplay.

“Dost turn thysen to t' wall, lad, so's us 'ns sha'n't see tha dick?” one man shouted at a shy young newcomer; and when the boy turned a red and indignant face over his shoulder, he was met with derision, and another man pulled him out of the tub, and wrestled with him, slippery as they both were with soap. They were distinctly fresh. Rude and brutal as it was, there was a boisterous good-humour about it; and laughing


  ― (96) ―
at his show of temper and humiliation, some other men intervened, and they let him slip out of their hands back to his tub, where he continued the washing of himself as modestly as he could. Finally, after fighting for the showers, they dried, dressed themselves and marched away, another company taking their place.

IN the orderly-room Bourne sat next to the signaller, at a long table which was pushed in to the wall under two windows. He sat with his back to the room, looking out into the street, down which a few soldiers passed occasionally. During the few days they had been at Philosophe he had sunk into a fit of depression, which was not usual with him. He did not understand the reason for it himself. He told himself he was only one of thousands whose life, when they were out of the line, was blank emptiness: men who were moved about France and saw nothing but the roads they travelled and the byres in which they slept. They were mere automatons, whose only conscious life was still in England. He felt curiously isolated even from them. He was not of their county, he was not even of their country, or their religion, and he was only partially of their race. When they spoke of their remote villages and hamlets, or sleepy market-towns in which nothing happened except the church clock


  ― (97) ―
chiming the hour, he felt like an alien among them; and in the vague kind of home-sickness which troubled him he did not seek company, but solitude.

The day after they went to the baths he was entering orders in the book, when the commanding-officer came in, and asked brusquely for a sheet of foolscap and a pencil. Bourne got what was wanted and returned to his place, completing the entry and closing the book softly. He never did any typewriting while the commanding-officer was in the room or during orders-hour. So he looked out of the window as the various guards fell in for inspection. The orderly officer, Mr. Sothern, and the regimental were on parade, and made a preliminary inspection of the men. Then the regimental came over to the orderly-room, entered it, and saluted. The adjutant put on his cap, and went out of the room, and the regimental followed him. They were in the passage leading to the front-door, when Bourne, looking out of the window, saw a blinding flash followed instantly by an explosion, and a shower of glass fell on the table in front of him. For an instant the street was a blur; but he saw the regimental rush out, evidently shouting orders to the men, who took cover. Nine were left lying on the paving-stones. Then there was a second explosion, evidently in the other street. Bourne's first instinct was to rush out and try to help. He


  ― (98) ―
flung a foot over the form on which he sat, and turning, saw the commanding-officer shrinking in his chair, eyes staring out of a blank face, and teeth bared in a curious snarl, the old colour-sergeant with his finger-tips on the floor in the posture of an ape walking, and Johnson cowering against the wall. Reynolds was standing up to it, cool, still, as though he listened.

“Sit still,” whispered the signaller to Bourne warningly; but as the corporal went to the door, Bourne followed him.

“Can we help?” he said quietly.

“No,” said the corporal sternly. “The stretcher-bearers are there already. You shouldn't have left your place. Come outside with me, now.”

They went into the street, and the adjutant and orderly-officer brushed by them into the orderly-room. It was extraordinarily still again, and the last of the wounded was being carried away by the stretcher-bearers. The C.O., with Captain Havelock and the orderly-officer, came out again and disappeared round the corner into the main street, so that Bourne and the corporal were the only two left on the scene. They looked at the blood on the paved roadway, and then up to the sky, where a few puffs of white smoke showed still against the blue, but, as they watched them, drifted and faded gradually from sight.




  ― (99) ―

“So much for their bloody parades,” said Bourne bitterly to the corporal.

“I suppose it's war,” answered Reynolds with a touch of fatalism.

“War,” exclaimed Bourne. “They post men with fieldglasses and whistles to give warning of enemy aircraft; the troops are ordered to show themselves as little as possible in the streets, and to keep close to the houses, and the police are told to make themselves a nuisance to any thoughtless kid who forgets; and then, having taken all these precautions, fifty men are paraded in the middle of the street opposite the orderly-room, as a target, I suppose, and are kept standing there for twenty minutes or half-an-hour. It's a bloody nice kind of war.”

“What's the use of talking about it? If Jerry hadn't taken all his stuff down to the Somme, we'd be shelled to shit in half-an-hour. Come inside and get on with it.”

The colour-sergeant glanced at them enigmatically as they came into the room, and Bourne, without speaking, began to clear away the litter of broken glass from the table and floor, stacking the larger pieces in a heap. The lance-corporal came to his help, and when they had taken up all they could manage with their hands, Bourne swept up the splinters. Then he sat down to his typing. Every now and again the instrument in front of the signaller would tick


  ― (100) ―
out a message in Morse, and the signaller would take it down on a slip, which he passed to Johnson, who handed it to the colour-sergeant. Bourne, typing orders, heard broken fragments of conversation behind him, and sometimes the signaller speaking softly with a hand up to his mouth into the transmitter. It was meaningless to him, for he was not thinking of it.

“… surprise … quiet place, not a sound … artillery on the Somme … all so quiet and still … swank, that's what it is … I'm too old for this … not a bomb … anti-aircraft battery … it was a bomb all right … says two shells didn't explode … major … what … yes … thought he'd get under the table … does put wind up … quite a cushy part … aeroplanes …”

It was all so much senseless babble to him. When he had finished typing orders, he put in a clean sheet, and typed whatever came into his head, to practise speed; odd bits of verse, Latin tags, Aequam memento rebus in arduis Servare mentem. He had a text of Horace with Conington's translation in his pocket. “And richer spilth the pavement stain,” that was pavimentum mero; why did that come into his head now? “Richer spilth” was ill-sounding anyway, and “stain” on top of it made an ugly line. Well, it didn't matter, it was all experience, and gave him some mechanical occupation to fill in time.


  ― (101) ―
He kept on striking the keys: “Than e'er at pontiff's supper ran.” What he needed was to go on a big drunk somewhere, and break this bloody monotony. When he had filled up the sheet he took it out to turn, so that he could use the other side; but first he looked at it, to see how many mistakes he had made, and then through the window he saw two men swilling and sweeping the street. Yes; Fritz is mighty careless where he drops a dixie. He rested his chin on clasped hands and watched them in a kind of reverie. Men were cheap in these days, that is to say men who were not coalminers or ship's rivetters, to whom war only meant higher wages. Officers were scarce, but they might be scarcer by one or two, without much harm being done. They had a good lot of officers on the whole. Major Shadwell and Captain Malet, who took the last ounce out of you, but anyway pulled their own weight as well, and poor Mr. Clinton, who was plucky but played out, and Mr. Sothern, who was a bit of an ass, but a very decent chap. There was that old brigadier, who had spoken to him in Trones Wood: he must have been sixty, but he wasn't too old to come and do his bit, and stuck it too. But there were some who could be quite easily spared. It would soon be time for dinner.

“Bourne,” said the colour-sergeant, suddenly; “Lance-Corporal Johnson is taking some books to the quartermaster in Noeux-les-Mines. You


  ― (102) ―
will help him carry them in; and I dare say he will find you useful while he's there. You will stay there to-night, and come back to-morrow afternoon. Be ready to start at three o'clock. You had better bring your pack here after dinner, and go straight away.”

“Very good, sir,” said Bourne quietly, with none of the surprise he felt. He didn't anticipate any particular liveliness in the company of Lance-corporal Johnson, but he might come upon some unpremeditated pleasure. Putting his things together, and covering up his typewriter, he considered his financial position; and though it was satisfactory, he wondered whether he could get a cheque cashed through the chaplain, or Mr. White, the transport-officer, who would probably be seeing the field-cashier shortly, as another pay-day was approaching. He had to look ahead, and either of them would manage a fiver for him. At last the colour-sergeant told him he might go; he took up his mess-tin and haversack, in which he carried a knife and fork, a notebook and pencils, so that he could put his equipment together after he had eaten, and started off with the lance-corporal, but they went to different cookers. Sergeant Tozer was getting his own dinner at the cooker, and he and Abbot looked at him, but Bourne only nodded to them and went over to where Lance-Corporal Jakes was superintending the dishing out of dinners.




  ― (103) ―

“Was you in the orderly-room when that bloody bomb dropped?” inquired Corporal Jakes.

“Yes. I was looking out of the window.”

“Knock some of the swank out of that bloody regimental you're so pally with,” said one of the men angrily, and Bourne looked at him quietly: he was a pretty tough proposition from Lancashire, called Chapman.

“I expect he will carry out his orders as usual,” Bourne said, stooping to get his food. “What the hell has it got to do with you who my pals are?”

“Well, that one will get a bit of extra weight if 'e's not careful.”

“When you talk silly, you ought to talk under your breath,” said Bourne, leaning forward a little, so that his face was about a foot away from Chapman's. “Anyone who didn't know you as well as I do might think you meant it.”

“We don't want any of that talk 'ere,” said Jakes, positive and solemn.

“Not when there are two poor buggers dead, and five more not much better.”

“Well, we don't want any more talk about it. It don't do no good; an' you've got no call to butt in; nobody said anythink to you. If you can't talk reas'nable you can keep your bloody mouth shut.”

“What did they think about it in th' orderly-room?” Martlow asked him.




  ― (104) ―

“What does everybody think about it?” replied Bourne. “They think it was damned silly to have a parade there. You can't think anything else. What they are saying now is that it was not a bomb at all, but a shell, or rather two shells from one of our own anti-aircraft batteries. Were you on aeroplane guard, Martlow?”

“No bloody fear,” said Martlow hastily. “I 'ad enough t'day before yesterday. You can't see nowt, an' you get a crick in your bloody neck; an' them field-glasses is not 'arf as good as what the C.O. pinched off me.”

“I didn't hear any whistles, not till t'boomb burst,” said Chapman, somewhat mollified by food. “You ask Bill. 'e was on airyplane guard.”

“First thing I see was a shell burstin', an' then another,” said Bill Bates nervously; “an' I blew me whistle as soon as I see the first shell. T' sun was in me eyes. What d'you want to bring me into 't for?”

“You've got no call to worry, kid,” said Jakes. “You was on the other side o' the town.”

“Well, then, what's 'e want to bring me into 't for?” asked Bates, with indignation.

The sight of Bourne putting his equipment together created a diversion, and when he explained the reason they looked at him as though he were one of those who had all the luck.

“I think we must be going to move somewhere


  ― (105) ―
else,” said Bourne to Shem, “or Lance-Corporal Johnson wouldn't go in full pack. We shall have to carry a lot of stuff. Do you or Martlow want me to bring anything back?”

“Bring what you like,” said Shem smiling. “Martlow and I have mucked in together, since you've been in the orderly-room.”

“Well, the three of us can muck in together now,” said Bourne.

“When you come back to the company, you mean,” said Martlow.

BOURNE showed no curiosity concerning the business which had brought them into Noeuxles-Mines. He was glad to dump the box which he and Lance-Corporal Johnson had carried the three miles from Philosophe on the floor of the quartermaster's office. They had carried it between them. It had those handles which hang down when not in use, but turn over and force one's knuckles against the ends of the box when it is lifted. By reversing the grip, one may save one's knuckles, but only at the expense of twisting one's elbow, and the muscles of the forearm. Having tried both ways, they passed their handkerchiefs through the handles, and knotted the corners, so that it was slung between them, but the handkerchiefs being of different sizes, the weight was not equally distributed. The quartermaster's


  ― (106) ―
store was a large shed of galvanised iron, which may have been a garage originally. He was not there, but the carpenter, who was making wooden crosses, of which a pile stood in one corner, thought he might be at the transport lines; on the other hand, he might be back at any moment, so they waited for as long as it took to smoke a cigarette, watching the carpenter, who, having finished putting a cross together, was painting it with a cheap-looking white paint.

“That's the motto of the regiment,” said the carpenter, taking up one on which their badge and motto had been painted carefully. “It's in Latin, but it means ‘Where glory leads.”’

Bourne looked at it with a sardonic grin.

“You're a bit of an artist with the paint-brush, Hemmings,” he said, to cover up his thought.

“Well, I take a bit o' pride in me work. It don't last, o' course, the paint's poor stuff, and that wood's too soft; but you might just as well try to make a good job of it.”

“What about going down to the transport-lines?” asked Johnson.

“I'm ready, corporal,” said Bourne, and they left Hemmings to his work.

“Not very cheerful, sitting there with a lot of wooden crosses,” said Johnson, as they turned into the street.

“Why not?” Bourne asked him callously. “Would you like stone ones any better?”




  ― (107) ―

“As soon as we see the quartermaster, we shall be able to look for our billets,” said Johnson, not wishing to pursue the subject. “Then we can dump our packs and look round the town. He won't want me until the morning.”

“I hope we find some place where we can get a decent drink,” said Bourne. “Why don't we get a rum issue every night, or a bottle of beer with dinner? The French get their wine. Did you see that shop as we came through Mazingarbe, with bottles of Clicquot and Perrier Jouet in the window, and a label on them, Réservée pour les officiers? Bloody cheek. Half of them don't know whether they are drinking champagne or cider. And we have to be content with that filthy stuff they sell us in the estaminets.”

“I don't know anything about wine,” said Johnson primly. “Sometimes when I took my girl out in Blighty we would go into a hotel, a respectable house, you know, and have a glass of port wine and a biscuit. And port wine and brandy is good for colic, it's binding. I've got a photo of my girl in my pocket-book. Here it it. It's only a snap, of course, not very good; and the sun was in her eyes. Do you think she's nice looking?”

“Awfully pretty,” said Bourne, who could be a fluent liar on occasion. He really thought that she looked rather binding, too; but they were turning into the transport-lines, and Johnson


  ― (108) ―
buttoned the photograph into his pocket again. The quartermaster was not there, nor was the transport officer, so they inspected the houses, and Bourne stroked the nose of the old grey mare, who drew the Maltese cart for the officers' mess. His conscience was a little sensitive on her account. The officers' mess-cart generally preceded the Lewis gun cart which Bourne helped to pull on the march; and whenever they came to a hill, if the officer were preoccupied with other matters, Bourne would hitch his rope to the mess-cart and leave it to the mare. She bore no malice, the old lady, as though she knew we had a pretty thin time. The mules did not move him to any sentiment; to him they seemed symbolical of modern war, grotesque, stubborn, vindictive animals. There was nothing for it but to trudge back to the quartermaster's stores again; and they found him this time. He talked to the lance-corporal and gave them a chit for the Town-major, so they went off to look for him; he was out too, but a corporal in the office took matters into his own hands, and showed them to some billets in a back street, on the way to get his own tea. They would have to go to the Town-major's office again, to make sure that it was all right. A thin woman of about forty, with a long-suffering expression on her face, was the only occupant of the house; and she left her work in the kitchen to show them into an empty


  ― (109) ―
room. Bourne noticed that the floor-boards were clean.

Mais c'est tout ce qu'il y a de plus commode, madame,” said Bourne, and he began to tackle her at once on the prospect of getting a more or less civilized meal.

Mais, monsieur, l'enchérissement est tel …”

But he would not be denied, insinuating himself into her good graces with the flexibility of an eel in a bundle of grass; but after making a number of suggestions, he had to leave it to her, only he insisted on her getting him a bottle of good wine, Barsac for choice; and he gave her some notes with which to do her marketing.

O, là, là!” she cried amusedly.

“What does she say?” inquired Johnson.

“That's the French for ‘Good God,’ ” said Bourne, laughing. They followed her out into the kitchen, where she collected her shawl and basket, her sleek head needing no hat, while they went on into the yard, and surveyed the vegetables which she grew in a little garden at the end of it. Then they heard a familiar sound, though it seemed strange there: the long whine of a shell through the air, and its explosion on the outskirts of the town. She had come out with her basket, and looked up at the sky very much as though she were wondering whether it would rain. Then again came the whining sound.




  ― (110) ―

Ah, des obus!” she said in a tranquil tone, and set off on her errands.

“You'd think these Frenchies had lived in a war for years, and years, and years,” said Johnson.

“Well, you do get accustomed to it, don't you?” replied Bourne. “It seems to me sometimes as though we had never known anything different. It doesn't seem real, somehow; and yet it has wiped out everything that came before it. We sit here and think of England, as a lot of men might sit and think of their childhood. It is all past and irrecoverable, but we sit and think of it to forget the present. There were nine of us practically wiped out by a bomb this morning, just outside our window, and we have already forgotten it.”

“It wasn't a bomb, it was an anti-aircraft shell.”

“Was it?” Bourne asked indifferently. “What really happened?”

“An anti-aircraft battery reported in answer to inquiries by Brigade that they had fired nine rounds on an enemy plane, and the fifth and sixth failed to explode.”

That would give an accidental colour to the incident. One might anticipate an attack by enemy aircraft and avoid unreasonable exposure to it; but one could not anticipate a defective shell, which failed of its object and then exploded


  ― (111) ―
on striking the hard pavement of a street. Bourne kept what he thought to himself; but the men had said that no whistles were blown until after the first explosion, and the men on aeroplane guard had said that they did not actually see the plane, but blew their whistles when puffs of smoke appeared from the first couple of shells. If they were right, the official version was untrue, for the explosion which had killed two men in the street must have occurred before the shelling began. The practical futility of an aeroplane guard chosen at random from among the men was not a relevant consideration: they had not been trained to that particular work. It was also irrelevant to say that the bomb found its target by the merest chance. Bourne took the men's point of view that these parades were silly and useless; and then he reflected, with a certain acidity of thought, that there was a war on, and that men were liable to be killed rather cursorily in a war.

They waited until Madame returned from her shopping; and she exhibited a bottle of Barsac in triumph to Bourne. She was giving them an omelette, a fillet of beef, and what Johnson called “chips,” with a salad and cream cheese, and Bourne became eloquent in the appreciation of her zeal. They left her to prepare it, and went off to the Town-major's office, when the same corporal whom they had seen in the afternoon


  ― (112) ―
told them that they might have the billets they were in for that night. They asked him to meet them at an estaminet and have a drink, and he told them of one at which he might look in later. Then they went for half an hour to sit in a room full of noise and smoke, where they drank vin blanc.

Back at their billets they had a satisfactory wash in a bucket with plenty of clean water; and then Madame gave them their meal. Bourne tried to persuade her to eat with them; she declined firmly but amiably, only relenting so far as to drink a glass of wine. She didn't give very much attention to the lance-corporal, but she talked readily enough to Bourne. Her husband was at the front, and her daughter, who was to marry a man also with the colours, had gone to some relations to be out of the battle zone. She would marry when the war finished. When the war finished! When would it finish? She gave a low, curious laugh that expressed the significance of the tragedy more closely than any tears could do. She was extraordinarily tranquil in her pessimism: it was not so much as though she despaired, but as though she suppressed hope in herself for fear it would cheat her in the end. But all this pessimism was apparently for the course which the war was taking: she was perfectly clear that the Hun had to be defeated. The world for her was ruined, and


  ― (113) ―
that was irreparable; but justice must be done; and for her justice was apparently some divine law, working slowly and inexorably through all the confused bickerings of men. She interested him, because though she was a comparatively uneducated woman, her thought was clear, logical, and hard.

He tried to speak hopefully to her, wondering whether he were not only trying to speak hopefully to himself. She admitted that the Hun was stopped; and England's strength was increasing: “Maintenant elle est très bien montée,” as she put it; though perhaps her manner implied that it was a tardy atonement for years of culpable negligence. There was in her some trace of that spirit which he had noticed among the older men in the ranks, a spirit which had ceased to hope for itself and yet was undefeated.

He finished the wine, of which Johnson had only drunk a couple of glasses, while she cleared away the plates and dishes. Then she called him into the room in which he and the lance-corporal were to sleep; and he found she had left there a pile of eight blankets, which were legally, perhaps, the property of the French Republic, as they were all horizon blue in colour. One apiece was enough to cover them, and by folding three for each bed they could sleep on softness. Bourne had long ago ceased to trouble about where or when he slept; but her kindness


  ― (114) ―
touched him, and he thanked her so warmly that perhaps she was touched too. A little thing meant a lot in these days. He no longer wanted to go out on the spree; he had had a decent meal and some good wine, and he would have been quite content to sit where he was until it were time to sleep; but Johnson had arranged to meet the corporal, and he had better go; after all there was little chance of any indecorous behaviour with Johnson.

They found the estaminet full of troops, and the corporal, who had been talking to a few men, came across to them. He was evidently at home in the place, for as soon as they had taken possession of a table, one of the two girls who were serving drinks came for their order, and he pulled her towards him familiarly, seating her on his knee, slipping his hand round her waist upwards under her arm so that he could feel her left breast, caressing it with inquisitive fingers, while she squealed and wriggled to make him more adventurous. Bourne felt the contagion of the place take hold of him, and course in his veins like a subtle flame; it was as though there were some enormous carnal appetite loose among them, feeding on them as fire on its fuel; from all sides came the noise of loud unsteady talk, senseless arguments suddenly uplifted to the pitch of quarrelling, and swept aside again by a torrent of hard, almost mirthless laughter,


  ― (115) ―
while through it all drifted irrelevantly the sound of raucous voices, with the quality of a hand-saw, singing:

‘And the old folks at home, they will sit all night and listen,
In the eve'ning,
By the moon'light,
By the moon'light.’

There was just that waft of nostalgia through the riot of beastly noise, which rose to drown it; and Bourne found the girl looking at him, as the corporal fondled her, with her insolent and furtive eyes. She exasperated him, so that he almost felt the lust of cruelty which such women provoke in some men, and she saw it.

“What the hell are we going to drink?” he asked with abrupt impatience; and the corporal shifting in his chair, the girl rose, straightened her skirts, and then, lifting both arms to smoothe her hair with her hands, came round the table, and stood beside Bourne, purring, with the composed perversity of a cat. He did not want the bloody woman, he said angrily to himself: and ignoring her, he discussed drinks with the corporal, who had no ideas beyond the cheap champagne which Bourne only drank when he could get nothing else. They would not give him any café-cognac there, but she suggested the privacy of an adjoining apartment.




  ― (116) ―

“Very well. You drink the champagne, if you like it,” said Bourne, sending the girl away with the order. He got up and pushed his way over to the bar, from where Madame, hot and tightly buttoned, and Monsieur, surveyed their barbaric customers as from a position of legal, if not moral superiority. Bourne tackled Monsieur, and after some hesitation the man left the bar and returned with a half-bottle of white wine and the assurance that it was good. He paid for it, they drew the cork for him, gave him a clean glass; and he took it back to the table with him.

“I don't want to go into any back parlours for the sake of some cognac in my coffee. If you would rather have some of this, corporal .…”

But the corporal preferred the champagne which the girl brought; and Bourne paid for it, throwing in a small tip. He did not drink much of his wine, though it was tolerable; he did not want to drink; and he knew that the place would soon close for the night. Johnson and the corporal had plenty to say to each other, and he only needed to join in the conversation out of civility now and again. So he sat there quietly smoking, and drinking a little wine, until it was time to leave. The girl looked at him sulkily, when they said good-night.




  ― (117) ―

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


  ― (118) ―
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,


  ― (119) ―
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


  ― (120) ―
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,


  ― (121) ―
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


  ― (122) ―
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


  ― (123) ―
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


  ― (124) ―
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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VII

'Tis no matter if I do halt; I have the wars for my colour, and my pension shall seem the more reasonable.

Shakespeare

THE colour-sergeant had succeeded in working his ticket, it had gone through, as they phrased it, and he was leaving for home that night. He enhanced his own pleasure by expatiating on the many years of usefulness which still lay in front of his subordinates, a prospect which did not move them in the same way: and his purring satisfaction seemed to make it more difficult for them to find suitable words in which to express their regret at his departure. Congratulations on his release came more readily from their tongues. Bourne said nothing at all; as far as he was concerned in the matter, he was glad the old hypocrite was going; but he couldn't think of anything except the fate of poor Clinton, who had always been so decent to him. He wanted to see Sergeant Tozer and hear what had happened.

“I hoped that before I left,” said the colour-sergeant, dripping with the unction of benevolence, “I should see Johnson a corporal, and Bourne with a stripe.”




  ― (134) ―

Bourne, who never believed a word the old man said, looked up at him with startled surprise, which the other probably mistook for credulity, as he continued to purr pleasantly while lacing up his boots. Bourne, having made up his own bed and swept the floor, went outside to wash and shave, and after coming back for his tunic, crossed the road and found Sergeant Tozer.

“I'm damned sorry about it myself,” said the sergeant. “It was one o’ them sausages; they put wind up me, them things do. You can see the buggers in the air, but you can't always tell where they're going to land. All our stuff 'ad to be carried up to the fire-trench, you see, and put in position there, ready. After each pair o’ men 'ad dumped their load, they turned down a short bit of slit trench an’ waited in the trench be'ind where I was. Well, the 'un isn't much more'n fifty yards away just there, an’ 'e can 'ear a good deal of what's goin’ on in our trenches, same as we can 'ear a good deal of what's goin’ on in 'is. We 'eard this bloody thing go up. Two o’ our chaps 'ad just dumped their load an’ turned into the slit, an’ the officer who was takin’ over the stuff went into a small dug-out then to get a chit. We could see the dam’ thing comin’. Mr. Clinton an’ a couple o’ their sentries were the only people in the bay, an’ 'e got it proper, 'e did. Fair made me sick when we was puttin’ 'im on a stretcher; an’ all 'e said before they gave 'im


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morphia an’ took 'im away was: ‘I knew I'd get it 'ere, I knew.’ 'e kep’ on sayin’ it. One o’ the men on the firestep was 'urt too, but they said it was only a nice blighty one. Funny thing, don't you think, 'im sayin’ 'e knew 'e'd get it 'ere?”

“I don't know,” answered Bourne; “most of us have premonitions of the kind now and again, but they don't always prove right.”

“I've got a kind of fancy I'm goin' to come through it all,” said the sergeant. “D'you know what I couldn't 'elp thinkin' about Mr. Clinton? Well, 'e looked as though, now 'e knew, it didn't matter, it was all right. Of course, you could see 'e was in pain, until they gave 'im the morphia; an' 'e moaned a bit, an' you could see 'e was tryin' not to moan. I don't know what it was, but 'is face 'ad changed some'ow; it didn't 'ave that kind of sulky worried look any more. 'e knew 'is number was up all right.”

“It was rotten bad luck, after coming through the Somme without a scratch,” said Bourne. “I'm awfully sorry about him. Every time I was with him something funny would happen, and he was such a good sort. And he was always decent to the men, didn't lose his temper because he had got wind up or was beaten to the wide; he seemed to humour them and master them at the same time. He had such a clear low voice, did you ever notice


  ― (136) ―
it? He didn't have to shout to make himself heard.”

“Oh, the men all liked 'im,” agreed the sergeant. “You can't fool the men. You will get an officer sometimes full of shout an' swank, an' 'e'll put 'em through it, an' strafe 'em, an' then walk off parade feelin' that 'e 'as put the fear o' God into 'em. Well, 'e 'asn't. 'e thinks they respect 'im, an' all they think is that 'e wears a Sam Browne belt, and they wear one waist, web, ditto. Men don't mind a bit o' chatter. 'e were a nice chap, were Mr. Clinton, an' we all liked 'im.

“You know, to my way o' thinkin' some of us 'ns 'ave a dam' sight more religion than some o' the parsons who preach at us. We're willin' to take a chance, we are. 'uman nature's 'uman nature, an' you may be right or you may be wrong, but if you bloody well think you're right, you may as well get on with it. What does it matter if y'are killed? You've got to die some day. You've got to chance your arm in this life, an' a dam' sight more 'n your arm too sometimes. Some folk talk a lot about war bein' such a bloody waste; but I'm not so sure it's such a bloody waste after all. They think it's all about nothin', I suppose. Take some o' the men comin' out now. I don't mean the kids, but some o' the older men, who wouldn't join up till they was pushed. Those


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are the kind o' chaps who talk about what a bloody waste of life war is. They say there oughtn't to be no war, as though that 'elped matters. But when you send 'em over the top with a rifle, an' a bayonet, an' a few bombs, an' they find a big buck 'un in front o' them, they don't care a fuck about wastin' the other bugger's life, do they? Not a bit of it; it's their own bloody skins they think about, then. That's what they call their principle. 'arf o' them snivellin' conshies at 'ome 'd fight like rats if they was cornered. It's 'uman nature. You can make nearly any bloody coward fight if you tease 'im into the right 'umour. But what about us? Who 'as the better principle? Do they think we came out for seven bloody bob a week? I'm not troublin' about my bloody conscience. I've got some self-respect, I 'ave.”

Bourne appreciated Sergeant Tozer's point of view, because he understood the implications his words were intended to convey, even when he seemed to wander from the point. Life was a hazard enveloped in mystery, and war quickened the sense of both in men: the soldier also, as well as the saint, might write his tractate de contemptu mundi, and differ from him only in the angle and spirit from which he surveyed the same bleak reality.

He could not stay any longer, but went back to the orderly-room until within a few minutes of


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commanding-officer's orders, when as usual he went out, and finding a cool place sat by himself and smoked. He spoke scarcely a word to anyone except the signaller, who would whisper occasionally, or scribble something on a piece of paper, and push it along the table for him to read. The only person in whom he took any interest was the adjutant. When he had come in for the first time that day, Bourne had been going out with forms for one of the company-offices, and they had met in the doorway. Bourne stood to attention on one side of the door, as he passed in, and he noticed the look of weariness and anxiety on the officer's face. He felt a great deal of sympathy for him. Now and again through the day he glanced in his direction, to find him sitting there in his place, doing nothing, his chin in his left hand, his eyes fixed, and his young, rather handsome face filled with the trouble and perplexity of his thoughts. They all knew what his thoughts were. The colour-sergeant would interrupt him occasionally, on some matter of routine; and he would turn to it with a look of wearied resignation, and having settled it, fall to fidgetting with his papers for a few moments, and then relapse again into his melancholy brooding. It is so easy to settle these questions of routine. He was even oblivious of the fact that the colour-sergeant had made a separate peace with the enemy, and when reminded


  ― (139) ―
with modest delicacy of the fact, he had only looked at him with some embarrassment and said:

“Oh, yes, sergeant-major”—for that was Tomlinson's present rank, the old “colour-sergeant” being merely reminiscent of the rank, abolished earlier, with which he had retired from the pre-war army—“what time do you leave?”

“I relinquish my duties at six o'clock to-night, sir.”

“Well,” said the adjutant desperately, “you will be glad to have a rest, won't you?”

Bourne, typing orders, was just ticking off on the typewriter the statement “18075 Cpl. T.S. Reynolds to be sergeant,” and the date; and then a little later the notice of Sergeant Reynolds' appointment as orderly-room sergeant. He felt the hurt which the adjutant's preoccupation had given to the old man's vanity. Presently the chaplain came in, and immediately Captain Havelock got up and went out with him. Bourne remembered he wanted to ask the Padre to cash a cheque. And then quite suddenly he heard that curiously tinny old voice, which always reminded him of an emasculated tom-cat, behind him.

“Bourne, you will cease from duty here tonight at six o'clock.”

“Very good, sergeant-major,” said Bourne briefly; though the dismissal, which he had expected,


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took him by surprise at that particular moment. Evidently the sergeant-major thought there was some disappointment in his voice, and it roused in him the appetite to rub it in.

“You are not quite the man for the job,” he said, with satisfaction.

“No, sergeant-major,” said Bourne indifferently, and then added, simply as a matter of casual interest: “I shall be glad to go back to soldiering again.”

Nothing could have flicked them more acutely on the raw, than the implied distinction between their job and his; and, satisfied with the effect of this counter-thrust, he continued his typing. He had become almost an expert. A moment later the signaller looked up at him, and solemnly winked.

“ 'OW D'YOU feel?” said Sergeant-major Robinson when he presented himself at a few minutes after six, pack, rifle and bedding complete.

“Fat and idle, sergeant-major,” replied Bourne, smiling.

“We can cure that. You may go to Sergeant Tozer's 'ut: dare say 'e can make room for you.”

“ 'eard you was coming back, at tea-time,” said little Martlow, as Bourne dumped all his stuff on the ground beside him. “We're not goin' up the line to-night. First night off we've 'ad since we've been in this fuckin' 'ole. What are we goin' to do about it?”




  ― (141) ―

“Where's Shem?” Bourne asked him.

“Washin' 'isself. Let's go into bloody Mazingarbe an' 'ave a bon time, the three on us. I've got vingt frong an' a ten-bob note me mother sent me.”

Shem appeared in the doorway.

“Do you know where the Padre is billetted, Shem? Come and show me the way; and then I want to find Evans. You had better come along, too, Martlow, and we shall make a night of it.”

“What d'you want Evans for?” asked Martlow jealously.

“I want him to buy me some of that champagne, which is ‘réservée pour les officiers’; as he is the commanding-officer's servant, they'll sell it to him without fuss.”

“Ask Sergeant Tozer to come,” said Shem. “He has been pretty well fed-up lately.”

“All right, but I must find the Padre first. We shall have plenty of time to look for the sergeant later; or you may go and look for him, while I'm waiting for the Padre.”

They took a short cut behind Headquarter Company's huts and the orderly-room, coming out in a side street, or rather lane, in which some of the better houses had secluded themselves. Bourne knocked at a door, and Shem and Martlow, having told him they would meet him at an estaminet in the main street a couple of doors away from the corner, went off to look for Sergeant


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Tozer. No one answered his knock. Then an old woman crossing the yard told him the chaplain was not in, but he would be back later; she was vague when asked how much later. Bourne idled up and down the street, waiting. Presently out of one of the houses came the adjutant. He looked at Bourne as he acknowledged the salute.

“Are you waiting for anyone?” he asked.

“I am waiting to see the chaplain, sir.”

“He is with the commanding-officer. I do not think he will be long.”

That was encouraging. At last the tall lean figure of the Padre came out. He did not notice Bourne coming down the street, but turned away to go to his own billet, and Bourne followed him, overtaking him before he got to the door. He was surprised when Bourne told him that he was no longer in the orderly-room. There was no difficulty about the cheque, as he had plenty of money, which he needed for the use of the mess, and he was going into Noeux-les-Mines in the morning.

“Mr. Clinton died of wounds this afternoon. Do you know, he told me some days ago he had a feeling that he would be killed if he went into the line here? I think he told me, because in a way he was rather ashamed of it: when he did go up, he went quite cheerfully, as though he had put it out of his mind.”

Bourne shrank from talking about the incident


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with the Padre, even though the Padre was one of the best. He could only say, in some confusion, how sorry he was: it was odd to think he could speak more frankly about the matter with Sergeant Tozer.

“I don't know how you can go on as you are, Bourne,” said the chaplain, abruptly changing the subject. “I suppose even the luckiest of us have a pretty rough time of it out here; but if you were an officer, you might at least have what comfort there is to be found, and you would have a little privacy, and friends of your own kind. I wonder how you stick it. You haven't anyone whom you could call a friend among these men, have you?”

Bourne paused for quite an appreciable time.

“No,” he said, finally. “I don't suppose I have anyone, whom I can call a friend. I like the men, on the whole, and I think they like me. They're a very decent generous lot, and they have helped me a great deal. I have one or two particular chums, of course; and in some ways, you know, good comradeship takes the place of friendship. It is different: it has its own loyalties and affections; and I am not so sure that it does not rise on occasion to an intensity of feeling which friendship never touches. It may be less in itself, I don't know, but its opportunity is greater. Friendship implies rather more stable conditions, don't you think? You have time


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to choose. Here you can't choose, or only to a very limited extent. I didn't think heroism was such a common thing. Oh, it has its degrees, of course. When young Evans heard the Colonel had been left on the wire, he ran back into hell to do what he could for him. Of course he owed a good deal to the Colonel, who thought it a shame to send out a mere boy, and took him on as servant to try and give him a chance. That is rather a special case, but I have seen a man risking himself for another more than once: I don't say that they would all do it. It seems to be a spontaneous and irreflective action, like the kind of start forward you make instinctively when you see a child playing in a street turn and run suddenly almost under a car. At one moment a particular man may be nothing at all to you, and the next minute you will go through hell for him. No, it is not friendship. The man doesn't matter so much, it's a kind of impersonal emotion, a kind of enthusiasm, in the old sense of the word. Of course one is keyed-up, a bit overwrought. We help each other. What is one man's fate to-day, may be another's to-morrow. We are all in it up to the neck together, and we know it.”

“Yes, but you know, Bourne, you get the same feeling between officers, and between officers and men. Look at Captain Malet and the men, for instance.”




  ― (145) ―

“I don't know about officers, sir,” said Bourne, suddenly reticent. “The men think a great deal of Captain Malet. I am only talking about my own experience in the ranks. It is a hard life, but it has its compensations, the other men have been awfully decent to me; as they say, we all muck in together. You know, Padre, I am becoming demoralized. I begin to look on all officers, N.C.O.s, the military police, and brass-hats, as the natural enemies of deserving men like myself. Captain Malet is not an exception, he comes down on us occasionally, and disturbs the even tenor of our existence.”

“I don't doubt you deserve it. Were you fired from the orderly-room?”

“Yes. I should think that is the right term to use, sir. I was taken into the orderly-room on the understanding that I should be there for ten days, while Grace was undergoing medical treatment. I have completed my ten days, and Grace is still swinging the lead. The post is now vacant. It was not really my milieu. Between ourselves, Padre, there's not enough work in the orderly-room for three men, let alone four. Three are necessary when we are in the line; but they are now doing the sensible thing, and running it with two, until they can pick up a properly qualified clerk.”

“Well, I don't think you ought to stay as you are. I don't think it is the right place for you.


  ― (146) ―
You might be more useful in some other way. However, I have got to do some work now. Come in and see me again some night, though I think we shall be on the move again very soon. Do you know that man Miller?”

“Miller, who deserted just before the July show, sir? I don't know him. I know of him.”

“Well, he has been arrested down at Rouen. How he ever got so far I can't imagine. He found a woman there who sheltered him until his money was finished, and then handed him over to the police. I can't help wishing either that he had got clean away, or that something had happened to him. It's a beastly business. Good-night.”

“I am awfully sorry that you should be troubled about it, sir; it won't be very pleasant for any of us. I hope I haven't kept you, and I am really very much obliged about the cheque. Good-night, sir.”

“Good-night, Bourne; and look me up again some time. Good-night.”

As he hurried down the twilit street, Bourne thought it certainly seemed more than likely that a firing-party would be detailed for the purpose of ending the career of Lance-corporal Miller; and on the whole he was more sorry for the firing-party than for the prisoner. He had always thought that Miller should have spelt his name Müller, because he had a high square


  ― (147) ―
head like a Hun. It was a beastly business all right. When Miller disappeared just before the attack, many of the men said he must have gone over to the Hun lines and given himself up to the enemy. They were bitter and summary in their judgment on him. The fact that he had deserted his commanding-officer, which would be the phrase used to describe his offence on the charge-sheet, was as nothing compared to the fact that he had deserted them. They were to go through it while he saved his skin. It was about as bad as it could be, and if one were to ask any man who had been through that spell of fighting what ought to be done in the case of Miller, there could only have been one answer. Shoot the bugger. But if that same man were detailed as one of the firing-party, his feelings would be modified considerably.

Suddenly Bourne wondered what he himself would do, if he were detailed for the job. He tried to put that involuntary question he had asked himself aside, and he found it was impossible: he was one of those men who must try to cross a bridge before coming to it. It would be his duty; his conscience would not be too nice when there was a collective responsibility, but these justifications seemed unreal. The interval between the actual cowardice of Miller, and the suppressed fear which even brave men felt before a battle, seemed


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rather a short one, at first sight; but after all, the others went into action; if they broke down under the test, at least they had tried, and one might have some sympathy for them; others broke momentarily and recovered again, like the two men whom Sergeant-major Glasspool had brought to their senses. It might even be necessary to shoot fugitives for the sake of preventing panic. All these cases were in a different class, and might be considered with sympathy. If he were on the firing-party he would have to make the best of it; he took the same chance as the rest of them, none of whom would care for the job of an executioner.

He had forgotten to see Evans: but it would have been too late even if he had remembered, for Evans would be occupied in attending to the wants of the Major. He found Shem and Martlow at the corner, but no Sergeant Tozer, they had not been able to find him; so he told them to wait where they were, while he went into a small restaurant, where he had eaten once before. Presently he emerged again with a girl of about seventeen; and, to the astonishment of Shem and Martlow, turned with her away from them, up the street. He was walking quite affectionately, his hand on her arm.

“It's a bugger, ain't it?” exclaimed Martlow. “Wish I knew some bloody French.”

“Well, I'm not going to wait here for him,”


  ― (149) ―
said Shem a little sulkily. “Let's go into the estaminet and get a drink.”

They waited until he was out of sight round the bend in the street, and noticed that an older woman came to the restaurant door, and looked after the couple a little anxiously.

“'e 'asn't been the same, not since 'e 'as been in the orderly-room,” said Martlow. “All right, let's go in an' get a drink.”

They went into the estaminet and drank some vin rouge and grenadine, while they told each other what they really thought about Bourne, and the defects in his character, defects which had recently become more marked. In about twenty minutes Bourne reappeared, smiling, and asked if they were ready.

“Where 'ave you been?” they both asked him in one indignant breath.

“What is the matter with you?” said Bourne, surprised. “I have been to get Sergeant Tozer, of course. He is waiting in the restaurant.”

“We though you had cleared off with the girl,” said Shem, a little awkwardly; “and left us on our own.”

“Evidently your ideas want bucking up again,” said Bourne. “It was about time I came back. I didn't think you would become soft-witted in ten days.”

He was not offended by their sulkiness: if he were a little hurt at first, he put it aside and


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ragged them into a good humour. Sergeant Tozer was glad he was back again, and liked the quiet little eating-house, one could scarcely call it a restaurant, better than the big noisy room in the estaminet. They could only get an omelette and pommes frites in the way of food; but presently Madame and her daughter, who both waited on them, crowned the table with a couple of bottles of Clicquot. Madame went straight back to her kitchen, but Bourne started to protest to the girl. She tried to reason with him, apparently, but he would not listen to her, and at length, a little reluctantly, she went to a drawer in a dresser and brought out a card with a piece of faded green cord, by which he suspended it on the corks of the two bottles. On it was printed boldly, in letters all the same size, “Réservée pour les officiers.” Madame, returning with the food, promptly removed it: some one might see it, she protested. The military police were very troublesome. At last, to pacify her, Bourne put the card in his pocket, saying he would keep it as a souvenir of the war.

They ate and drank in great good humour after that, and little Martlow followed the movements of the girl, who waited on them, with round eyes of admiration. No one else came in that night, they had the room to themselves, and they finished their wine at their leisure. Then Bourne crossed to the kitchen door and asked for


  ― (151) ―
the bill, which brought forth Madame and the daughter to him; he laughed as he went into their minute and detailed statements, and gave them money. Then quite impudently he kissed them both, the old woman first, and the daughter afterwards.

“What did you want to kiss the old woman for?” said Martlow as soon as they were in the street.

“So that I could kiss the girl afterwards,” said Bourne, laughing in the darkness.

They turned the corner and came again to the huts. As Sergeant Tozer wanted to go into the company office for a minute, Bourne waited for him outside, and the other two went on by themselves.

“Don't let us go back to kip yet, sergeant,” said Bourne when the other returned. “Let us go a little way behind the huts, and sit down, and smoke and talk. It is such a ripping night. Look at that slag-heap over there, cutting the sky-line like the rock of Gibraltar. There's another towards Sains. The wine has enlivened without exciting me.…”

“It 'as gone a bit to my 'ead, too,” said the sergeant.

“To say it has gone to my head would be incorrect,” observed Bourne. “It has set my blood alight, it has warmed all my five senses simultaneously. I feel like a human being


  ― (152) ―
again. To tell you the plain, honest truth, sergeant, though I didn't want to stay in the orderly-room, when old Tomlinson came up to me in his cat-like way and told me to go back to my company, I felt a bit hipped by it. My vanity was hurt, and he seemed to get a kind of satisfaction out of it. But as you would put it, I have been in a bad skin ever since we left Sandpits.”

“You could 'ave worked it so that they'd 'ave let you stay in the orderly-room, if you 'ad wanted to stay there,” said the sergeant.

“I didn't want to stay there,” answered Bourne impatiently. “It bored me stiff, and I would rather be dog-tired than bored. I like being with the company. I like the swank of it, even if it's as empty as a drum. I like the swank of a drum. But if I had stayed in the orderly-room much longer, I should have become a lead-swinger too. I might have asked the colour-sergeant or the adjutant to send me back; but I didn't because I wanted to dodge carrying gas-cylinders. I was swinging the lead as it was. Of course, I don't mind swinging the lead a bit in the company, especially when I think I have earned a bit of a rest. It's a game, as they say.”

“Well, don't you come any o' those games on me,” said the sergeant with a note of warning in his voice. “That young Shem is the most artful bugger I know. 'e got off a workin'-party 'ere,


  ― (153) ―
when we wanted every man we could get. 'e got off with 'is boots, I think. They was worn-out, an' we didn't 'ave another pair to fit the bugger, 'e 'as got such short broad feet.”

“He got off with his eyes,” said Bourne laughing. “When an officer looks up and meets Shem's eyes, he always thinks he may conceivably be telling the truth. I can't work it like Shem. Anyway that is all in the game, so long as you don't overdo it. Do you think I'm windy?”

“You're not any more windy than the next man,” said the sergeant with a judicial air in answer to the abrupt question. “Sergeant-major Glasspool said you were all right, an' you've always been all right with me. Besides, if 'e thought you was shirkin' it, the Cap'n would be down on you. What do you want to ask me for; don't you know yourself?”

“I wanted another opinion,” said Bourne. “I don't think I'm windy. I am in the hell of a bloody funk, sometimes, but then everybody is. At first it seems to push me right over. I get a bit dazed; but when that has passed, funk only makes me think a damned sight quicker than usual. When I went to see the Padre to-night, he asked me why I wanted to stay with the company, and I said I liked the men. Well, you and I know that there are all sorts among the men. You know more than I do, because you


  ― (154) ―
have got to keep them together, and push them into it sometimes. What I said to him sounded rather silly after I had said it, but I suppose it was true all the same. I like the life better when I'm with the men. When I was in the orderly-room, and saw the men fall in on the road to go up the line, I felt out of it. Now that I'm back again I feel better.”

“Well, we'd better go to kip,” said the sergeant. “I'm glad you're back, if that's what you want. All the same you was dam' lucky. I 'aven't 'ad enough sleep for a week. It's cloudin' over now. We'll get some rain before mornin'.”




  ― (155) ―

VIII

… ambition,
The soldier's virtue, rather makes choice of loss
Than gain which darkens him.

Shakespeare

CAPTAIN MALET watched Sergeant Tozer drilling his section on some of the waste land beyond the huts. It had rained a little in the night, and there was no dust. They had been doing some rapid wiring with screw-pickets, but there was not enough material for the work done to provide any test of efficiency. Afterwards, to wake them up, the sergeant gave them a little extended order drill, and Bourne being the last man on the right, the sergeant amused himself by giving the order left wheel repeatedly, so that Bourne sweated at the double for the greater part of that hour. Almost as soon as he dropped into quick march, on coming into line with the pivotal man again, there would be a shrill whistle from the sergeant, who, standing very erect, would sweep his outstretched arm round a quarter of the horizon, and Bourne was at the double again, saying, under his breath and while he had any breath, things that were more sincere than complimentary. Captain Malet completely misunderstood the sergeant's motives. He had


  ― (156) ―
believed him to be a strict, efficient, but kindly instructor, and yet this looked very much like a kind of punishment drill. He struck at a few clods of earth irritably with his great ash stick. He did not like this kind of thing. He waved to the innocent sergeant to halt his men, and advanced on him.

“The men don't seem to be working very well this morning, sergeant,” he said with ominous amiability. “They don't keep a proper interval, and they don't wheel round evenly. I shall take them myself for a few minutes. You get on the left flank, will you, and let us see if we can't improve matters a bit.”

Sergeant Tozer was disturbed. He was not quite sure from the start that Captain Malet's method was the right one, and he became convinced before two minutes had elapsed that it was entirely wrong. Captain Malet gave the order right wheel repeatedly, and Sergeant Tozer was doubling over clods and stubble for all he was worth, while Bourne merely made a right turn, and continued at a leisurely pace in the direction indicated. Bourne realised the significance of the matter immediately, and could with difficulty restrain his laughter. He wished he were on the other flank, and next to the sergeant: it would be worth while doubling if he could only hear what the sergeant must be saying to the circumambient air. The sergeant


  ― (157) ―
would see the point, too, and was certainly bursting with a sense of injustice. Probably the men thought nothing more about the matter than that it was rather good fun to see Sergeant Tozer taking quite a lot of unnecessary exercise. At last Captain Malet signalled to retire, thus bringing the men back towards himself; and having halted them, he called up a hot and indignant sergeant to listen to his views on the performance.

“Sergeant, these men all seem inclined to slow down to an infantryman's pace, and I think that on parade, at any rate, they might keep to our own quick, short step. Of course, one can't expect to get quite the same pace out of them under these conditions: they carry a bit more weight out here, than they do at home. And it's very hot to-day, isn't it? That man on the right there; no, he's on the left now, he seems to be a bit slow. He shouldn't think about the other men. He seemed inclined to check his pace a little, as though to give 'em time to swing round into the new alignment.”

He spoke slowly, giving the sergeant time to recover from his exertions.

“That man 'as been in the orderly-room the last ten days, sir. 'e may be a bit slack, an' out o' condition for the moment; but as a rule 'e's not bad at 'is drill. I thought 'e wanted a bit of extra work to get fit, sir, that's why I put 'im out on a flank.”




  ― (158) ―

“Oh, that was it, was it?” said Captain Malet, enlightened. “What do you think of your men, sergeant? Let me have your own opinion.”

“I don't think they're a bad lot o' men, sir,” replied Sergeant Tozer, secretly indignant that there could be any question on the subject.

“No. I don't think they're a bad lot at all,” Captain Malet agreed. “When I come along with a few criticisms, I don't want you to think I am dissatisfied. I think you always keep to a high standard, and that gives me the impression that you handle your men well. Get 'em into extended order again, and double 'em down the field and back again. Then they may fall out for ten minutes and smoke.”

Sergeant Tozer struck his rifle in salute, and turned to the men. Calling them to attention, standing them at ease again, and then calling them up with a bark, he told them off with considerable vigour and snap. He not only, by this means, did something to restore his prestige; but he also managed to convey the impression, that his own contempt, for their utter lack of all soldierly qualities, was only an ineffectual echo of Captain Malet's opinion; and, in that way, he got home as well on his company officer, who quite appreciated the fact. Then, as he had been ordered, he extended the men, and sent them about a hundred and fifty yards and back again


  ― (159) ―
at the double. When he halted them they looked at him indignantly, panting like blown cattle. He considered them for a little while with an air of patient disparagement, and telling them to fall out for ten minutes returned to Captain Malet.

“Fuckin' slave drivers, that's what they are!” said Minton, flinging himself on the ground. “What's the cunt want to come down 'ere buggerin' us about for, 'aven't we done enough bloody work in th' week?”

Captain Malet talked to the sergeant for a few minutes on matters of casual interest, glancing occasionally in the direction of the resting men.

“Sergeant, I want to speak to Bourne; not yet, let him cool off and finish his cigarette. I think he might go for a commission. There's a great wastage in officers, and they seem to be running short. They are always pressing us to recommend likely men. I think he might do, don't you? What's your own opinion of him?”

“I don't know what to think of 'im, sir. 'e's a queer chap. When 'e first came to us we all took 'im for a dud, but after a few days 'e seemed quite able to take care of 'imself; fact I thought 'e was gettin' a little too much of 'is own way; thought 'e might be gettin' a bit fresh, an' decided to keep an eye on 'im. I couldn't find any fault with 'im, 'e could take a


  ― (160) ―
tellin' off without showin' temper. 'e was a well-disciplined man. 'e didn't try to make friends with anyone, but 'e was quite friendly, if anyone wanted to talk to 'im. 'e wouldn't be put upon, either. All the men got to like 'im. 'e's a gentleman all right, an' better educated than we are, but 'e never talks of 'imself. 'e seems out o' place in the ranks some'ow.”

“You seem rather doubtful about him,” Captain Malet observed.

“It isn't that, sir,” said the sergeant. “I think 'e might make a very good officer. 'e's not quite the build of a soldier; bit light, sir; but he's pretty smart. Only 'e says 'e don't want to leave the comp'ny, sir.”

“Well, a man can't shirk his responsibilities in that way. He might have stayed in the orderly-room if he had liked. I was rather interested to see what he would do, and I was rather glad he didn't stay there. Did he say anything to you about it?”

“Well, only between ourselves, sir,” said the sergeant, discreetly.

“Not for the use of the young, eh? I see. Well, bring him up to me, and I shall have a talk with him.”

The sergeant saluted, took a few steps towards the men, and then shouted Bourne's name. Captain Malet saw his man get up, after the momentary hesitation of surprise, dust the grass


  ― (161) ―
and dry earth from his trousers, pick up his rifle and double towards them. Yes, he was a bit light; pity he hadn't a bit more stamina; it counts for such a lot; and he acknowledged Bourne's salute.

“So you've given up the crown and the glory, Bourne,” he said, humouring him with an easy smile.

“I don't know about the crown and the glory, sir. I was dumped.”

“I am under the impression that you probably asked for it. You didn't go out of your way to make friends, did you? Why did you stay there so long, if you didn't like it?”

“I wanted to dodge work for a bit, sir.”

“I don't think that is a very creditable proceeding,” said Captain Malet, and noticed the uneasy resentment flickering in Bourne's face. “I like to get out of a man all he is worth. I work 'em until they drop, isn't that what they say? Then if the medical officer thinks they're past work, they can get a slacker's job among the details: it's usually rather a dirty, greasy, lousy kind of job, but I suppose they do some necessary work. Anyway they have done some, by the time I have finished with them, if they never do any more. Of course, I do my best to find out in what way a man can be most useful, but it's often a case of hit or miss, one hasn't time.”




  ― (162) ―

He paused and looked at Bourne, who remained quite impassive under his gaze.

“As a matter of fact,” continued Captain Malet, “I thought you deserved a bit of a rest. I think you do pretty well as a rule; as far as your work with the company is concerned I haven't any fault to find with you. You're not windy, at least you keep your head. But you haven't the build.”

“Sir, after all I am a good deal heftier than some of the boys.…”

“Now, you know I'm right,” said Captain Malet firmly. “These boys, as you call them, train on, most of them will fill out and make two of you. You are as fit as you ever will be, and you're quite fit now, in the pink, I should say. But all these men are hardened to all kinds of manual labour, which you can't do. I bet you were never in proper training until you joined the army. You won't train on, you're much more likely to train off. If you crock up, you will only be a damned nuisance. You are out of place where you are. I believe you have a certain amount of influence over the men about you; I don't mean that you try to influence them, but quite naturally they think you know a bit more than they do, and they are likely to be swayed by your opinion. Well, that's all wrong: you've no business in your position to have any influence over the men. Oh, yes, you


  ― (163) ―
get some stout fellow with bags of courage, and the other men look up to him. That is different. I don't say they don't admire your pluck, in fact I believe they do, but that isn't what influences them. It is something else. You ought to go in for a commission.”

“I would much rather stay with the company, sir.”

“It isn't a question of what you would much rather do,” said Captain Malet, a little irritably. “It is a question of what you ought to do. You have no right to shirk your responsibilities in the matter. I said that to Sergeant Tozer, when he said he thought you would rather stay with the company. Well, I say it to you, too, and I mean it.”

“Well, sir,” said Bourne, firmly, “may I say what I think?”

“What is it?” asked Captain Malet, looking at his boot, and hitting it impatiently with his ash-stick.

“I was asked if I would take a commission when I first enlisted; that was at Milharbour, sir; and when the adjutant spoke to me I told him that I had absolutely no experience of men, not even the kind of experience that a public-school boy gets from being one of a large community. I didn't want to shirk my responsibilities, but I told him I thought it would be better if I got a little experience of men and of


  ― (164) ―
soldiering before trying for a commission. He hadn't thought of it in that way, but he agreed immediately he saw the point. Well, now, I think we were both wrong. Experience in the ranks doesn't help one a bit. I have only taken on the colour of the ranks. It would be very difficult for me now to look at war or to consider the men from the point of view which an officer is bound to take.”

“Oh, you can forget all that,” said Captain Malet cheerfully. “If you take my advice I shall get the matter under way at once; but I won't press you for an answer to-day, in case you want time to think things over. I am sure it is the wisest thing you can do in the circumstances.”

“There's only one other thing, sir. I don't want to be a trouble to you, but it looks as though they were getting us ready for another show. I don't want to slip away before the show. I would rather take my chance and go afterwards.”

“Very well, Bourne,” said Captain Malet after hesitating, perplexed, for a second or two. “Have it your own way. Only I can't promise you that you will remain in the company the whole time. It won't make much difference: you won't miss the show. You may go now.”

He looked after him curiously as he went back to the men, and then he turned to Sergeant Tozer.




  ― (165) ―

“You're right, sergeant, he's a queer chap. You can carry on with some drill now; but I shouldn't bustle the men any more. They have had a fairly hard time the last few days, and we move away to-morrow. You needn't make things easy for Bourne, you know; in fact it would be better if you put him through it a bit. He looks at a question upside down and inside out, and then in the long run he does just what an ordinary sensible man would do. Keep him at it.”

The other men were rather curious to know why Bourne had been sent for, and Martlow, with his irrepressible curiosity, asked him; but Bourne refused to say anything, and the sergeant's order to fall in again prevented further questions. They had an easy hour. When they went back to the huts, for their midday meal, he was still silent and preoccupied. The men took it that he had been told off for something, very likely for his failure to give satisfaction in the orderly-room; and a martyr to authority always moved their profounder sympathies, though when he was out of hearing they agreed, that if a man tried to be too clever he was bound to come a mucker. Shem, who knew him, after a suspicious and furtive scrutiny, left him alone; and Sergeant Tozer also held aloof, somewhat reluctantly, as the interview at which he had assisted in the morning had embarrassed him a little. However,


  ― (166) ―
he was quite clear in his own mind on one point: he wasn't going to bustle Bourne about just to please the company commander, so long as he went on quietly with his work. If a man thought he were being treated unjustly, it made him restive, then he became really troublesome and ended on the mat. There was no sense in it.

Bourne ate very little, and then went off to smoke alone. He had the faculty of withdrawing right into himself, his consciousness shrinking into its inmost recesses, contracting to a mere point, while the bodily part of him followed its ordinary train of habit unconsciously, like an automaton. He did not resent anything that Captain Malet had said to him. He felt a kind of vague impersonal resentment against enveloping circumstances, that was all. When one was in the ranks, one lived in a world of men, full of flexible movement and human interest: when one became an officer, one became part of an inflexible and inhuman machine; and though he thought that the war as a moral effort was magnificent, he felt that as a mechanical operation it left a great deal to be desired.

They paraded again at two, and at three there was a kit-inspection, during which Bourne's tinhat was condemned for the second time. Mr. Marsden, who had come back to them after having been slightly wounded on the Somme, was the first to examine the hat, and then Mr.


  ― (167) ―
Sothern remembered that it had been condemned at Méaulte. He reminded the sergeant-major of the fact, and turned to Bourne again.

“Did you see the quartermaster-sergeant about it?” he asked Bourne.

Bourne had a very vivid recollection of his interview with the quartermaster-sergeant, a bad old devil like the colour-sergeant, only violent as well because he drank. He had gone, too, pensioned-off, and had reached by this time the summit of his ambition in the proprietorship of a pub.

“Yes, sir,” Bourne replied mechanically.

“What did he say?” continued Mr. Sothern inquisitively.

“He told me to go to buggery, sir,” replied Bourne very quietly.

Sergeant-major Robinson, and Sergeant Tozer as well, were scandalized that Bourne should divulge even part of a conversation so obviously intended to be confidential. The officers seemed to be only a little surprised by his candour.

“What d'you mean, talkin' like that?” said the sergeant-major severely. “ 'e only meant 'e didn't 'ave any.”

Bourne thought that the quartermaster-sergeant's words might be interpreted in various ways; but in the face of the sergeant-major's righteous indignation, he didn't feel called on to supply any alternative glosses; so he stood to


  ― (168) ―
attention rigidly while he was told off by Mr. Marsden, Mr. Sothern, and the sergeant-major in succession. The sergeant-major thought it necessary to say to Mr. Marsden that Quartermaster-sergeant Leak had gone home.

“ 'e was no good, sir. 'e was too old, an' it made 'im irritable-like,” he remarked with reasonable indulgence.

“See that this man has a new steel-helmet by to-night,” said Mr. Marsden imperiously.

“There are none here, sir,” protested the sergeant-major. “There may be a few at the quartermaster's stores in Noeux-les-Mines; but even there, they've probably got all their stuff packed ready for the move.”

“Then see that he gets one at the first possible opportunity,” said Mr. Marsden; and with this indefinite extension of the original time-limit he passed, somewhat hastily, to a detailed criticism of the next man's deficiencies.

All the men had pricked up their ears to hear Bourne being told off for the second time that day. Bloody shame, wasn't it? Once the buggers get their knives into you, you can't go right. No pleasin' 'em. Well, you've got to tell the truth, haven't you? But the sergeant-major's inadvertent reference to the prospect of a move effectively routed these desultory sympathies with a stronger interest, and as soon as they went for their tea they heard it was in orders: breakfast


  ― (169) ―
at eight, all huts to be cleaned up and ready for inspection by company officers at nine, and the battalion to be on parade, ready to move off, at nine-thirty. Bourne drank his tea alone, but Martlow invaded his solitude.

“Look 'ere, Bourne, you're comin' out wi' me, to-night, an' I'm goin' to pay, see? I've got plenty money; an' I'm not always goin' out with you, an' let you stan' treat. So you come along with Shem an' me, an' we'll 'ave a little bit of a beano on our own. An' you don't want to mind what any bloody off'cer says to you, see? You want to take it the right way. It don't do no 'arm.”

It was the solemnity of Martlow's expression which overcame Bourne's already diminishing reserve. The notion that he couldn't take an ordinary telling-off made him inclined to laugh, but he restrained himself.

“All right, kid,” he said gratefully. “We shall go out and have a beano together.”

“An' I stan' treat,” said Martlow, immensely pleased; but then a sudden doubt clouded the youthful brow.

“I won't 'ave enough money to get real champagne,” he said, facing the difficulty frankly: “but the other stuff's just as good, only it don't make you so drunk; an' after all we don't want to get pissed-up with a long day's march in front of us to-morrow, do we?”




  ― (170) ―

“Oh, I only like champagne occasionally,” said Bourne in a casual way; “as a rule I like beer or vin blanc better.”

“Beer here's bloody,” said Martlow. “All right, I'll go an' tell Shem, 'e's lyin' down outside.”

Bourne wasn't alone for long in the hut; he was putting away his mess-tin and knife, when Sergeant Tozer came in, and noted the symptoms of recovery.

“Comin' down the village with me to-night?” he inquired briefly.

“Martlow has just asked me to go out with him, sergeant. Otherwise I should. I think he wants to return the compliment, you know; but thanks all the same.”

“ 'e's a decent kid,” said the sergeant. “I was goin' to ask 'im an' Shem to come too. But I'll leave it to some other night. It might look as though I were buttin' in. 'ave you told 'em anything about what Cap'n Malet said to you?”

“No, I'm not going to say anything about it, until it's more or less settled.”

“Quite right. They think Cap'n Malet gave you a tellin'-off.”

“Well? How would you describe it?”

“ 'e's a good officer, is Cap'n Malet; an' 'e's a nice gentleman too, but 'e may be wrong in a lot o' things. I thought there was a lot in what 'e said to you, because I've often thought like


  ― (171) ―
that about you myself. You've got a pull over us in some ways.…”

“Well, you've got a pull over me in other ways.”

“Yes, but that don't even things out, it makes 'em worse. I thought there was something in what you said to the Cap'n. Only you didn't say all that you was thinkin'.…”

“How the hell can you ever say all that you are thinking to an officer, without being bloody rude?” said Bourne indignantly.

The sergeant enjoyed the humour of it.

“You weren't polite about the quarter-bloke to Mr. Marsden.”

“That was a different thing. It's so damned silly. A private is ordered to complete some deficiency in his kit, and he goes to the quarter-bloke for it and gets nothing but abuse for his trouble. What can he say to the quarter-bloke? At the next kit inspection, he gets ticked off by the officer for not doing something, that the officer knows bloody well he can't do. You have never heard me grouse about anything to the men, have you? Very well. I may tell you, that there are precious few mistakes made in the army, that are not ultimately laid on the shoulders of the men. A fool of a clerk in the orderly-room sends in the wrong state to Brigade, and the men can do without their tea when they come back from a working-party, wet and tired at four


  ― (172) ―
o'clock in the morning, having had nothing since five. Yes, Captain Malet put that right, and he was the only company officer I know with guts enough to do it. Some general streaks off in a car, at about forty miles an hour, to go on a binge in Amiens; an unfortunate sentry spots his pennon, just in time to turn out the guard to present arms to a cloud of dust. The general comes back with a fat head next morning, and reports them for slackness, with the result that there's a parade of guard-mounting, and Jerry comes over and bombs the lot. They're not exceptional cases, and you know as well as I do, the same sort of stupidities happen every day. I only hope to God Jerry salutes the swine some day with a 5·9 or something equally effective. The war might be a damned sight more tolerable if it weren't for the bloody army. I shall get another tin-hat, when I can find one for myself in the trenches, I suppose, because I'm pretty sure I will not get one through the official channels. What do I do, when I want anything now? I go to the snobs for it. But they don't happen to have a tin-hat, at the moment. I don't know whether Mr. Marsden, and Mr. Sothern, think they look impressive when they're ticking me off; but what I do know is, that a storekeeper, with a lance stripe up, has much more say, in the matter of getting me a tin-hat, than either of them.”




  ― (173) ―

“Well, there's something in that,” said Sergeant Tozer, feeling for his tobacco. “But it were silly to repeat what the quarter-bloke said. It didn't matter, as far as the officers were concerned; but it got up the sergeant-major's back. If Mr. Marsden can't alter things, do you think you can?”

“I know perfectly well they can't be altered. They have got to run the machine more or less as it has been handed over to them; and because I know that, I have never groused to anyone, until I started grousing to you a few minutes ago. If the sergeant-major has got his back up with me, I dare say I can stick it. The last time I heard from him, was when he asked me to pinch him some notebooks and pencils, out of the orderly-room. But don't worry, I shall forget it. I have given you a rough notion of my reason for not wanting to take a commission; but if it's up to me to take one, there's no option, is there? I mustn't shirk my responsibilities.”

“You're all right,” said Sergeant Tozer, and paused to light his pipe very deliberately. “Only you'll have to watch your step, you know. There are too many people interested in you, at present, for you to play the fool in safety.”

Bourne said nothing, but lit another cigarette, and they smoked in quiet. Then little Martlow came back and sat quietly beside them. He looked at the sergeant a little dubiously, and


  ― (174) ―
Bourne knew that he was telling himself that his money wouldn't run to the entertainment of three people beside himself. He could see Martlow determining firmly not to ask the sergeant; and then quite suddenly Corporal Greenstreet put his head in the hut.

“Bourne here?”

“Yes, corporal.”

“Company guard to-night, six o'clock.”

“Very good, corporal. Just gives me time to get ready. I'm sorry, Martlow, but we'll go on a binge together some other night. I dare say the sergeant-major thinks I have had too cushy a time lately.”

“It's a bloody army!” said Martlow in disappointed tones, and he sat there looking at Bourne with his under lip thrust out in temper.

“Oh, I don't know,” said Bourne cheerfully. “It's all right in peace time, as the old sweats say.”

He looked at Sergeant Tozer with an almost laughing face, and the sergeant took his pipe out of his mouth.

“You an' Shem 'ad better come out with me to-night then, Martlow; it's about up to me. We can 'ave some eggs and chips, and then go and take a peek at a couple of estaminets. It'll pass the time. You might be able to bring Bourne back some vin blanc.”




  ― (175) ―

“That's a damned good plan, Martlow. Cut along and tell Shem.”

“e' don't seem keen on it,” said the sergeant, as Martlow went reluctantly.

“He's disappointed about his own show, otherwise he would be bucked by it. It is awfully decent of you, sergeant.”




  ― (176) ―

IX

But thy speaking of my tongue, and I thine, most truly-falsely, must needs be granted to be much at one.

Shakespeare

BOURNE never slept much: as soon as he put out his cigarette and rolled himself up in his blankets, he would sleep like a log for an hour or two perhaps, and then so lightly that the least sound would wake him. It was a legend among the other men, that nobody ever woke, during the night, without finding Bourne sitting up and smoking a cigarette. Company guard didn't bother him in the least. It was a cushy guard, without formality; and he liked the solitude and emptiness of the night. One bathed one's soul in that silence, as in a deep, cold pool. Earth seemed to breathe, even if it were only with his own breathing, giving consciousness a kind of rhythm, which was neither of sound nor of motion, but might become either at any moment. The slag-heaps, huge against the luminous sky, might have been watch-towers in Babylon, or pyramids in Egypt; night with its enchantments, changing even this flat and unlovely land, into a place haunted by fantastic imaginings. Morning gave again to life, its sordid realities.


  ― (177) ―
He got himself some tea at the cooker, yarned to Abbot while he drank it, and was washed and shaved before the rest of his hut were fully awake.

The battalion fell in on the road, at about twenty minutes past nine; and five minutes later the commanding officer, and the adjutant, rode down the line of men; perhaps less with the object of making a cursory inspection, than for the purpose of advertising the fact, that they had both been awarded the Military Cross, for their services on the Somme.

“Wonder they 'ave the front to put 'em up,” said Martlow, unimpressed.

Major Shadwell and Captain Malet had no distinctions.

“I don't want no medals meself,” added Martlow, disinterestedly.

Bourne was struck by the adjutant's horsemanship; when the grey he rode trotted, you saw plenty of daylight, between his seat and the saddle; and the exaggerated action made it seem as if, instead of the horse carrying the adjutant, the adjutant were really propelling the horse. However, he brought to the business the same serious attention, which he gave to less arduous duties, at other times. The men were forbidden to drink from their water-bottles on the march until permission were given. They moved off, and, by ten o'clock, were marching through


  ― (178) ―
Noeux-les-Mines again; and presently word was passed along that they were going to Bruay. There was no doubt about it this time: Captain Malet had told Sergeant-major Robinson, and the men swung forward cheerfully, in spite of dust and heat, opening out a bit, so that the air could move freely between them. On the whole their march discipline was pretty good. They arrived at their new billets at about one o'clock.

Bruay was built on two sides of a valley, and their billets were naturally in the poorer part of the town; in one of the uniform streets which always seem to lay stress on the monotony of modern industrial life. It was a quarter given up to miners. The street, in which A Company had billets, was only about a hundred yards long, led nowhere, and ended abruptly, as though the builders had suddenly tired of their senseless repetition. But it was all very clean; dull and dingy, but clean. Some of the houses were empty, and Bourne, Shem, and Martlow, with the rest of their section, were in one of these empty houses. The town, however, was for the most part earlier than the days when towns came to be planned. You could see that the wisdom of cattle, which in such matters is greater than the wisdom of man, had determined the course of many of its sinuous streets, as they picked their way to and from their grazing, guided only by the feel of the ground beneath them, and the


  ― (179) ―
gradients with which they were confronted. So the town still possessed a little charm and character. It had its Place, its sides all very unequal, and all of it on the slope. Even the direction of the slope was diagonally across it, and not merely from side to side or end to end. Perhaps the cattle had determined that too, for the poor fool man has long since lost his nature. Houses in the older parts of the town, though modest and discreet, still contrived to have a little air of distinction and individuality. They refused to be confounded with each other. They ignored that silly assumption that men are equal. They believed in private property.

It was obviously the intention of authority that the men should be given an opportunity to have a bon time. They were to be paid at two o'clock, and then were free to amuse themselves.

“You're comin' out with me to-night,” said Martlow to Bourne decisively.

“Very well,” said Bourne, dumping his pack on the floor of the room they occupied, and opening the window. They were upstairs; and he looked out and down, into the street. There were five or six corporals, and lance-corporals, standing just outside; and both Corporal Greenstreet and Lance-corporal Jakes spotted him immediately, and shouted for him to come. He went, a little reluctantly, wondering what they wanted.




  ― (180) ―

“You're the man we was lookin' for,” said Corporal Greenstreet. “The sergeants are runnin' a sergeants' mess for the couple of days we'll be 'ere; an' we don't see why we can't run a corporals' mess.”

“Well, run one, corporal,” said Bourne disinterestedly. “There's nothing in King's Regs. against it, so far as I know.”

“Well, we can't run it ourselves. That's where you come in, you know the lingo a bit, an' you always seem able to get round the old women. A corporal don't get a sergeant's pay, you know, but we want to do it as well as we can. There'll be eight of us; Jakes, Evans, an' Marshall are in billets 'ere, an' we could 'ave the mess 'ere, if she'd do the cookin'. You 'ave a talk to 'er.”

“This is all very well,” said Bourne reasonably; “but now we're in a decent town I want to have a good time myself. I've just told Martlow I should go out with him to-night.”

“Well, I've got 'im down for company guard to-night.”

“Have you, corporal? Well, you just take him off company guard, or there's absolutely nothing doing. Every time we arrange to go out on a bit of a spree together, he, or Shem, or myself are put on company guard. I was on last night.”

“Well, Sergeant-major Robinson told me to


  ― (181) ―
put you on guard last night. 'e said it would do you good, you were gettin' a bit fresh.”

“I guessed that,” said Bourne. “He didn't want to be nasty, of course, but he thought he would give me a reminder. I don't mind taking my share of guards. But, if you put one of us on, you might just as well put us all on together, and make a family party of it. I don't mind helping you to run a mess, but I want to have a good time, too.”

“Well, you muck in with us,” said Corporal Greenstreet.

“An' you needn't put anythin' in the kitty,” added Lance-corporal Jakes.

“Oh, thanks all the same, but I like to pay my own way,” said Bourne coolly. “I don't mind going in and asking madame what can be done in the matter; and then, if we can come to some arrangement, I shall see about buying the grub; but before things go any further, it has got to be clearly understood that neither Shem, nor Martlow, is on any guard to-night. We three are going out on a spree together. I shall muck in with you to-morrow night.”

“That's all right,” said Corporal Greenstreet hastily. “I'll get some other bugger for the bloody guard, if there is a guard. I've 'ad no orders yet.”

“It's just as well to take the possibility into consideration,” said Bourne; “but mind you,


  ― (182) ―
you would do it just as well on your own, without me.”

“Come on. You parlez-vous to the old woman,” said Corporal Greenstreet, and hurried him through the house into the forefront of the battle, which was the kitchen. Madame was a very neat and competent-looking woman, and she faced Bourne with her two daughters acting as supports immediately behind her. Bourne got through the preliminary politesses with a certain amount of credit. She had already understood that the corporals required her assistance in some way, but they had failed apparently to make matters clear.

“Qu'est-ce que ces messieurs désirent?” she inquired of Bourne, coming to the point with admirable promptitude, and when he explained matters they launched into a discussion on ways and means. Then Bourne turned to Corporal Greenstreet.

“I suppose it is pukka that we stay here two nights, is it?”

“That's accordin' to present plans. Of course you can't be certain of anything in the bloody army. Does it make any differ to 'er?”

“Not much,” said Bourne. “You can have grilled fillet of steak with fried onions, and chips and beans, or you can have a couple of chickens. I am wondering what sort of sweet you can have.”




  ― (183) ―

“Could we 'ave a suet puddin' wi' treacle?”

“No, I don't think so,” said Bourne reflectively. “I don't think the French use suet much in cooking, and anyway I don't know the French for suet, if they do. Suif is lard, I think. Could you pinch a tin of pozzy out of stores? Then you might have a sweet omelette with jam in it. Perhaps it would be better to buy some decent jam, you don't want plum and apple, do you? Only I want to make the money go as far as possible. I like those little red currants in syrup which used to come from Bar-le-Duc.”

“Get 'em. I don't care a fuck where they come from. We don't want any bloody plum an' apple when we can get better. An' don't you worry about the money, not in reason anyway. They've only let us come 'ere for a couple of days to 'ave a bon time before they send us up into the shit again. Might just as well get all we can, while we can.”

Bourne turned to Madame again, and asked her if she would do the marketing for them, and the upshot of it was that they both agreed to go together. Bourne turned to Corporal Greenstreet and asked him about money.

“Will it do if we all put twenty francs into the kitty to start with?”

“I don't think I shall want so much: give me ten each, and if that isn't enough, then you can each give me up to another ten. I am going


  ― (184) ―
to let her buy the wine because she knows somebody in the trade, and says she can get us good sound wine, which you don't get in estaminets, fairly cheap.”

“Dinner's up, corporal,” said Corporal Marshall, putting his head in the door; and thanking Madame, they left to get their meal rather hurriedly.

“Where've you bin?” said Martlow indignantly to Bourne, and Shem burst out laughing at the way in which the question was put.

“What the bloody 'ell is 'e laughin' at?” said Martlow, his face all in a pucker.

“I have been doing my best to get you off company guard to-night.”

“Me!” exclaimed Martlow. “Me, on bloody company guard to-night, an' the only cushy town we've been in! It's a bugger, ain't it? D'you mean to say they 'ad me on bloody guard?”

“Well, I have taken on the job of rationing officer to the corporals' mess, on condition they find someone else in your place: that is if they should mount a guard to-night; they may give it a miss. It isn't a bad stew to-day, is it? Seems to me a long time since we had any fresh meat, except for a few weevils in the biscuits. As soon as I have had dinner, I shall go off with Corporal Greenstreet, and make the other corporals ante up. Then I shall be back in time to


  ― (185) ―
get my pay; and afterwards I shall go out and do the marketing with Madame. When we have had tea, the three of us had better hop it to the other side of the town right away, in case they come along and pinch us for any fatigues. There's a cinema, up there. And look here, Martlow, you're not going to pay for everything to-night, see? We shall have to make the most of our opportunity to have a bon time, as it may be our last chance. I hate the thought of dying young.”

“Well, I'll stan' the supper,” said Martlow reasonably. “I've got about three weeks' pay, an' me mother sent me a ten-bob note. I wish she wouldn't send me any money, as she wants all she gets, but there's no stoppin' 'er.”

“Shem can pay for the drinks afterwards. Of course, he has got money. To be a Jew and not to have money would be an unmitigated misfortune. Enough to make one deny the existence of Providence. He never will offer to pay unless you make him. He wouldn't think it prudent. But all the same, if you are broke to the wide, Shem will come down quite handsomely; he doesn't mind making a big splash then, as it looks like a justification of his past thrift. Shem and I understand each other pretty well, only he thinks I'm a bloody fool.”

“I don't think you're a bloody fool,” said Shem indulgently; “but I think I could make


  ― (186) ―
a great deal more use of your brains than you do.”

“Shem thinks he is a practical man,” said Bourne, “and a cynic, and a materialist; and would you believe it, Martlow, he had a cushy job in the Pay Office, to which all his racial talent gave him every claim, and he was wearing khaki, and he had learnt how to present arms with a fountain-pen: the most perfect funkhole in Blighty, and he chucks the whole bloody show to come soldiering! Here you are, clean out my dixie, like a good kid, and my knife and fork. I must chase after these corporals. I wouldn't trust any of them round the corner with a threepenny bit; not unless I were a sergeant.”

He found Corporal Greenstreet ready, and they set off together; the corporal had collected all the money except from Corporal Farman and Lance-corporal Eames.

“What about Corporal Whitfield?” Bourne asked him.

“ 'e's no bloody good,” said Greenstreet. “ 'e never will join in with us in anything. Do you know, 'e gets at least one big parcel out from 'ome every week, an' I've never seen 'im give away a bite yet. In any case, 'e's no good to us. 'e's a Rechabite.”

“What the hell is that?” inquired Bourne, somewhat startled.




  ― (187) ―

“I don't know. It's some kind o' sex or other, I think. They don't drink, an' they don't smoke either; but you ought to see the bugger eat. 'e's no bloody good to us.”

“I don't know anything about him,” Bourne explained.

“No, an' you don't want to,” said Greenstreet earnestly. “I'm in the same billets as I was last time, but I 'aven't 'ad time to look in on 'em yet. An old maid owns the 'ouse, an' she 'as an 'ousekeeper: cook-'ousekeeper, I should say. They're very decent to all us. Respectable people, you know; I should say the old girl 'ad quite a bit o' rattle to 'er. Lives comfortable anyway. Likes you to be quiet an' wipe your feet on the mat. You know.”

The house was in one of the streets leading off the Place; and it had a gate at the side giving access to a small yard, with a garden, half flowers, half vegetables; there was a tree bright with early red apples, and a pollarded plane with marvellously contorted branches and leaves already yellowing. Corporal Farman was just coming out of the door, as they entered the gate, and he handed over his ten francs cheerfully. He and Corporal Greenstreet were perhaps the two best-looking men in the battalion, fairhaired, blue-eyed and gay-complexioned. The ménagère, recognising the latter, waved a welcome to him from the doorway.




  ― (188) ―

“She's been askin' about you, corporal.”

“Bonjour, Monsieur Greenstreet,” she cried, rolling each ‘r’ in her throat.

“Bongjour, madame, be there in 'arf a tick. I'll meet you up at the company office, corporal, and show you the billets. Bourne's runnin' the show.”

Farman waved a hand, and departed on his own business. Corporal Greenstreet and Bourne went into the house, after using the door-mat rather ostentatiously; but even so the ménagère looked a little suspiciously at Bourne.

“Vous n'avez pas un logement chez nous, monsieur,” she said firmly.

“C'est vrai, madame; mais j'attends les ordres de monsieur le caporal.”

He spoke deliberately, with a little coldness in his manner, de haut en bas, as it were, and after a further penetrating glance in his direction, she ignored him for the moment. Corporal Greenstreet left his pack in a room off the kitchen, but one step higher and with a wooden floor instead of tiled; then he returned, and the woman opened on him rapidly, expressing her pleasure at seeing him, and her further gratification at seeing him so obviously in good health. He did not understand one word of what she said. but the pleasure and recognition in her face flattered him agreeably.

“Ah, oui, madame,” he said with a gallant effort.




  ― (189) ―

“Mais vous n'avez pas compris, monsieur.”

“Ah, oui, compris, madame. Glad to be back, compris? Cushy avec mademoiselle.”

The expression on the face of the ménagère passed very rapidly from astonishment to indignation, and from indignation to wrath. Before Corporal Greenstreet realised what was about to happen, she had swung a muscular arm, and landed a terrific box on his ear, almost knocking him into a scuttle containing split wood and briquettes for the stove. Bourne, thinking with a rapidity only outstripped by her precipitate action, decided that the Hindustani “cushy” and the French “coucher” must have been derived from the same root in Sanskrit. He interposed heroically between the fury and her victim, who without any hesitation had adopted the role of a non-combatant in trying circumstances.

“Mais madame, madame,” he protested, struggling to overcome his mirth. “Vous vous méprenez. ‘Cushy’ est un mot d'argot militaire qui veut dire doux, confortable, tout ce qu'il y a de plus commode. Monsieur le caporal ne veut pas dire autre chose. Il veut vous faire un petit compliment. Calmez-vous. Rassurez-vous, madame. Je vous assure que monsieur a des manières très correctes, très convenables. Il est un jeune homme bien élevé. Il n'a pour vous, ainsi que pour mademoiselle, que des sentiments très respectueux.”




  ― (190) ―

Bourne's French was only sufficient, when circumstances allowed him an economical use of it; and these were enough to make him a bankrupt even in English. Madame was now moving about her kitchen with the fine frenzy of a prima donna, in one of the more ecstatic moments of grand opera. Every emotion has its appropriate rhythm, and she achieved what was proper to her own spontaneously, through sheer natural genius. Perhaps she was too great an artist, to allow Bourne's words to have their full effect at once. She could not plunge from this sublimity to an immediate bathos. Innocence in adversity was the expression patent on the corporal's face, and perhaps the sight of it brought into her mind some mitigating element of doubt; which she resisted at first as though it were a mere feminine weakness.

“Nous nous retirons, madame, pour vous donner le temps de calmer vos nerfs,” said Bourne, with some severity. “Nous regrettons infiniment ce malentendu. Monsieur le caporal vous fera ses excuses quand vous serez plus à même d'accepter ses explications. Permettez, madame. Je suis vraiment désolé.”

He swept the corporal out of the house, and into the street, and finding a secluded corner, collapsed.

“What the fuckin' 'ell is't all about?” the awed but exasperated corporal inquired. “I go into


  ― (191) ―
th' 'ouse, an' only get as far as 'ow d'you do, when she 'ands me out this bloody packet. You'll get a thick ear yourself, if you don't stop laffin'.”

Bourne, when he had recovered sufficiently, explained that the housekeeper had understood him to express his intention of going to bed with her mistress.

“What! D'you mean it? Why, the old girl's about sixty!”

Bourne whistled the air of Mademoiselle from Armentieres, leaving the corporal to draw his own conclusions from it.

“Look 'ere,” said Corporal Greenstreet, with sudden ferocity. “If you tell any o' them other buggers what 'as 'appened I'll …”

“Oh, don't be a bloody fool,” said Bourne, suddenly firing up too. “If there's one thing that fills me with contempt, it is being asked not to tell. Do you think I have got no more sense than a kid or an old woman? You would look well with that tin can tied to your tail, wouldn't you? We had better get moving. They will have started to pay out by now.”

“Wish to God I knew a bit o' French,” said the corporal earnestly.

“I wish to God you wouldn't mix the little you do know with Hindustani,” said Bourne.

THE whole company were in the street, waiting


  ― (192) ―
to be paid: they formed in little groups, and men would pass from one group to another, or two groups would merge together, or one would suddenly split up completely, distributing its members among the others. Their movements were restless, impatient, and apparently without object. Corporal Greenstreet, finding Lance-corporal Eames, collected his subscription to the mess, and then handed over the whole eighty francs to Bourne. Presently a couple of men brought a table and an army blanket out of one of the houses. The table was placed on the foot-path parallel to the street, and the blanket was spread over it. One of the men went back into the house and returned with two chairs, followed by Quartermaster-sergeant James, who detailed the same two men as witnesses. Almost immediately afterwards Captain Malet appeared with a new subaltern, a Mr. Finch, who was not yet twenty, though he had already been in action with another battalion, and had been slightly wounded. The quartermaster-sergeant called the company, now grouped in a semi-circle in front of the table, to attention, saluted, and Captain Malet, acknowledging the salute, told them to stand easy.

There was a moment's pause; and then one of the witnesses brought a third chair for the quartermaster-sergeant, who sat on Captain Malet's left. The three then proceeded to


  ― (193) ―
count the notes and arrange them in bundles, while the men in front shifted from one foot to another, and whispered to each other. The sergeant-major, who had been to the orderly-room, returned and saluted Captain Malet. He was the first man to be paid, and then the quarter-master-sergeant, and Sergeant Gallion and Sergeant Tozer. The others were paid in alphabetical order; and as each man's name was called he came forward, saluted, and was ordered to take off his cap, so that the officer could see whether his hair had been properly cut. Men had a strong objection to their hair being cropped close. They had been inclined to compromise by having it machined at the back and sides, and leaving on the crown of the head a growth like Absalom's, concealing it under the cap. In the case of a head wound, this thick hair, matted with dried blood, which always became gluey, made the dressing of the wound much more difficult for the doctor and his orderlies, delaying other equally urgent cases. In consequence, all men were ordered to remove their caps before receiving their pay, and if a man's hair were not cropped it was only credited to him; and there were formal difficulties in the way of any attempt to recover arrears.

Bourne had always liked his hair very short. He objected to growing a moustache, which collected bits of carrot and meat from the


  ― (194) ―
eternal stew. He thought it inconsistent in the Army Council to make men grow hair in one place and shave it in another, as though they were French poodles. He had once, when they were discussing the matter in the tent, told the men that they should be made to shave all over, as then they would not provide so many nurseries for lice. They thought the suggestion indecent.

“Don't be a bloody fool,” Minton had objected. “Fancy a man 'avin' to let 'is trousers down before 'e gets 'is pay!”

“But the commanding-officer wants to put us all in kilts,” Bourne had replied in a reasonable tone; and Major Blessington's avowed preference for a kilted regiment had always been a ground of resentment.

His name being early on the list, and his head almost shaven, he was soon free; and he left immediately to take Madame marketing. She had insisted that he should be present, so that he would know exactly how much everything cost. After Corporal Greenstreet's involuntary collision with the housekeeper, Bourne had become a little anxious as to the possibility of any misunderstanding with this other, more tractable but equally muscular, lady with whom he had to deal. However, when he presented himself in her kitchen, he found that she had changed her mind, and had decided that the elder of her two


  ― (195) ―
daughters should take her place. She explained that she had other work to do in the house.

The daughter was waiting, demurely clothed in black, which perhaps enhanced her complexion, but seemed in any case to be the uniform dress of nubile maidens in France. She carried a large basket, but wore no hat, content with the incomparable sleekness of her black hair, which was rolled up just above the nape of her neck. It was something about her neck, the back of her small head, and the way her little ears were set, flat against her bright hair, which attracted Bourne's appraising eyes. She knew, because she put up a hand, to smoothe or to caress it; and a question came into her eyes quickly, and was gone again, like a rabbit appearing and disappearing in the mouth of a burrow. Apart from the firm but delicate modelling of the back of her head and neck, and her rather large eyes, at once curious and timid, she had little beauty. Her forehead was low and rather narrow, her nose flattish, and her mouth too large, with broad lips, scarcely curving even when she smiled. She had good small teeth.

Bourne had always treated women with a little air of ceremony, whatever kind of women they might be. The case of the girl at Noeux-les-Mines was exceptional, but she was of the type who try to stimulate desire as by an irritant, and he had too sensitive a skin. All the same he had


  ― (196) ―
reproached himself a little on her account, for after all it was her vocation in life. Now, he professed that he was entirely in the hands of Madame; he did not think it necessary that he should go, but if she wished it, it would be a great pleasure to accompany Mademoiselle. Madame was flattered by his confidence, but thought it right that he should go; perhaps she had less confidence in him than he in her; or was it only that she was interested where he was indifferent? He followed the girl out into the street. The greater part of the company were still waiting to draw their pay; and, as Bourne and the girl passed behind them, the men turned curiously to look at the pair.

“ 'ullo, Bourne! Goin' square-pushin'?” one of his acquaintances asked him with a grin.

Bourne only looked at him, and moved a little closer to the girl, a combative feeling rising in him. After all, if the girl were not beautiful, she had poise and character. She ignored all those eyes, which were filled with desire, and furtive innuendo, and provocative challenge; as though indifferent to the tribute which all men pay, one way or another, to the mystery she embodied. With women of her race, it was still a mystery. It gave her the air of saying that she could choose for herself as she pleased, her own will being all that mattered. Even Captain Malet, as Bourne passed on the other side of the street with a


  ― (197) ―
correct if perfunctory salute, glanced up at them with a fleeting interest.

“So that's the way he spends his money, is it?” he murmured, half to himself and half to the quartermaster-sergeant; though the two witnesses, all ears and attention, naturally overheard him.

As soon as they had turned the corner she spoke to Bourne, opening out quite frankly. She had two brothers, who had been at the front, but were now working in a mine. They were apparently on a kind of indefinite leave, but were liable to be recalled at any moment to the colours. Then, others, who had also earned a rest from trench life, would take their place. C'est dure, la guerre. But all the same she felt about it as did so many of them, to whom war seemed as natural and as inevitable as a flood or an earth-quake. Bourne had noticed very much the same feeling among peasants close to the line. They would plough, sow, and wait for their harvest, taking the chance that battle might flow like lava over their fields, very much as they took the chance of a wet season or of a drought. If the worst happened, then the ruin of their crops might seem mere wanton mischief on the part of a few irresponsible generals; and whether it were a German or a British Army which ravaged their fields and shattered their homesteads, did not affect their point of view very materially. On


  ― (198) ―
the whole, however, their pessimism was equal to the occasion.

“C'est la guerre,” they would say, with resignation that was almost apathy: for all sensible people know that war is one of the blind forces of nature, which can neither be foreseen nor controlled. Their attitude, in all its simplicity, was sane. There is nothing in war which is not in human nature; but the violence and passions of men become, in the aggregate, an impersonal and incalculable force, a blind and irrational movement of the collective will, which one cannot control, which one cannot understand, which one can only endure as these peasants, in their bitterness and resignation, endured it. C'est la guerre.

The demure little person hurrying beside him with her basket realized that the war made life more precarious, chiefly because it resulted in a scarcity of provisions, and a rise, if only a restricted rise, in prices. There was something always a little disconcerting to the soldier in the prudence, foresight, and practical sense of the civilian mind. It is impossible to reconcile the point of view, which argues that everything is so scarce, with that opposed point of view, which argues that time is so short. She was amazed at his extravagance, as she bought under his supervision chickens and beef and eggs and potatoes and onions, and then four bottles of wine. Salad


  ― (199) ―
and beans her mother's garden could provide; but as an afterthought, when buying the red currants in syrup, he bought some cream cheese. Then, their shopping completed, they turned back. She touched him lightly on the arm once, and asked him why he had no stripes on his sleeve.

“Je suis simple soldat, moi,” he explained awkwardly.

“Mais pourquoi …?” And then, noticing his expression, she turned away from the subject with what was no more than the shadow of a shrug. Women must be always stimulating some man's ambition. He followed her movement, as she half turned away from him, almost with suffering in his eyes. He wanted to kiss that adorable neck, just where the black hair was lifted from it, leaving uncaught a frail mesh that was almost golden in the light. Then that pathetic face, almost monkey-like, with its lustrous velvet eyes, turned to him; and touching his sleeve again, she told him that he could, if he would, do her a great service, but it must be kept a profound secret. He asked her what it was, startled a little by her manner. She had a friend, an English soldier who had been billeted on them for ten days, not very long ago, and she gave the name of his regiment. He had written to her three letters, and she had written to him, but he knew no French, and she only knew a few


  ― (200) ―
words of English. She had promised him that she would learn, so that she might write to him in his own language. Would Bourne help her? The hand, a little red and shiny from work, fluttered on his sleeve. Would Bourne translate his letters to her, and help her to write him a letter in English? Bourne, amazed, tried to picture the man to himself, as though his mind were a kind of crystal in which he might expect to see visions, as a moment before he had been dreaming dreams. It baffled him.

“Restez, monsieur, restez un moment,” she said, placing her basket on the footpath; and then, putting a hand into her blouse, and hunching her shoulders a little as she forced it slightly but perceptibly between her breasts and corset, she drew out a letter, an authentic letter stamped with the postmark of the field service post-office B.E.F., and with the name of the officer who had censored it scrawled across the lower left-hand corner of the envelope She gave it to him.

“Lisez, monsieur. Je serai très contente si vous voulez bien la lire. Vous êtes si gentil, et je n'aime que lui.”

It was a simple letter. There was no self-consciousness intervening between the writer and the emotion which he tried to put into words, though he had been conscious enough of the censorship, and perhaps of other things intervening


  ― (201) ―
between them. Her hand fluttered again on Bourne's sleeve, as she coaxed him to translate it for her; and he did his best, his French halting more than ever, as he studied the handwriting, thinking it might give him some notion of the writer. The script was clear, rather large, commonplace enough: one might say that he was possibly a clerk. Everything was well, that went without saying; they were having a quiet spell; the village where they had their rest-billets had been evacuated by its inhabitants, except for a few old people; the war could not last much longer, for the Hun must know that he could not win now; and then came the three sentences which said all he could say: “I shall go back and find you some day. I wish we were together again so that I could smell your hair. I love you always, my dearest.” There were signs of haste in the handwriting, as though he had found some difficulty at that point in opening his heart.

“C'est tout?”

“Je ne puis pas traduire ce qu'il y a de plus important, mademoiselle: les choses qu'il n'a pas voulu écrire.”

“Comme vous avez le cœur bon, monsieur! Mais vraiment, il était comme ça. Il aimait flairer dans mes cheveux tout comme un petit chien.”

She tucked the letter away into that place of


  ― (202) ―
secrets, and lifted her hand again, to caress the beloved hair. Suddenly he became acutely jealous of this other man. He stooped, and picked up her basket.

“Ah, mais non, monsieur!” she protested. “C'est pas permis qu'un soldat anglais porte un panier dans les rues. C'est absolument défendu. Je le sais bien. Il m'a dit toujours, que c'était défendu.”

“Had he?” thought Bourne, and tightened his grip on the handle of it.

“Je porterai le panier, mademoiselle,” he said quietly.

“Mais pourquoi …?” she asked anxiously.

“Parcequ'apparemment, mademoiselle, c'est mon métier,” he said with an ironic appreciation of the fact. She looked at him with troubled eyes.

“Vous voulez bien m'aider à écrire cette petite lettre, monsieur?”

“Mademoiselle, je ferai tout ce que je puis pour vous servir.”

She suddenly relapsed into anxious silence.




  ― (203) ―

X

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.

Shakespeare

“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


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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.

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