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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


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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


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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


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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.”




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“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


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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


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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


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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.


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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.


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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


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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.




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“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


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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


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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


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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


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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,”


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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


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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


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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.

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