LEAVES FROM A FIELD NOTE-BOOK
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
LONDON BOMBAY CALCUTTA MELBOURNE
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
NEW YORK BOSTON CHICAGO DALLAS SAN FRANCISCO
THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.
LEAVES FROM A FIELD NOTE-BOOK
LATE HOME OFFICE COMMISSIONER WITH THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
"And my delights were with the sons of men."
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
LIEUT.-GENERAL SIR C.F.N. MACREADY, K.C.B., K.C.M.G.
ADJUTANT-GENERAL TO THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
This book is an unofficial outcome of the writer's experiences during the five months he was attached to the General Headquarters Staff as Home Office Commissioner with the British Expeditionary Force. His official duties during that period involved daily visits to the headquarters of almost every Corps, Division, and Brigade in the Field, and took him on one or two occasions to the batteries and into the trenches. They necessarily involved a familiar and domestic acquaintance with the work of two of the great departments of the Staff at G.H.Q. So much of these experiences of the work of the Staff and of the life of the Army in the field as it appears discreet to record is here set down. The writer desires to express his acknowledgments to his friends, Major E.A. Wallinger, Major F.C.T. Ewald, D.S.O., and Captain W.A. Wallinger, for their kindness in reading the proofs of some one or more of the chapters in this book. Nor would his acknowledgments be complete without some word of thanks to that brilliant soldier, Colonel E.D. Swinton, D.S.O., with whom he was closely associated during the discharge of the official duties at G.H.Q. of which this book is the unofficial outcome. Most of these chapters originally appeared in the pages of the Nineteenth Century and After, under the title to which the book owes its name, and the writer desires to express his obligations to the Editor, Mr. Wray Skilbeck, for his kind permission to republish them. Similar acknowledgments are due to the Editor of Blackwood's Magazine for permission to reprint the short story, "Stokes's Act," and to the Editor of the Westminster Gazette in whose hospitable pages some of the shorter sketches appeared—sometimes anonymously.
The reader will observe that many of these sketches appear in the form of what, to borrow a French term, is called the conte. The writer has adopted that form of literary expression as the most efficacious way of suppressing his own personality; the obtrusion of which, in the form of "Reminiscences," would, he feels, be altogether disproportionate and impertinent in view of the magnitude and poignancy of the great events amid which it was his privilege to live and move. Moreover, his own duties were neither spirited nor glorious. But the characters pourtrayed and the events narrated in these pages are true in substance and in fact. The writer has not had the will, even if he had had the power, to "improve" the occasions; the reality was too poignant for that. "Stokes's Act" and "The Coming of the Hun" are therefore "true" stories—using truth in the sense of veracity not value—and the facts came within the writer's own investigation. The investiture of fiction has been here adopted for the obvious reason that neither of the principal characters in these two stories would desire his name to be known. So, too, in the other sketches, although the characters are "real"—I can only hope that they will be half as real to the reader as they were and are to me—the names are assumed.
It is my privilege to inscribe this little book to Lieut.-General Sir C.F.N. Macready, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., to whose staff I was attached and to whose friendship, encouragement, and hospitality I owe a debt which no words can discharge.
J. H. M.
THE BASE PAGE I. BOBS BAHADUR 3 II. AT THE BASE DEPOT 11 III. THE WILTSHIRES 17 IV. THE BASE 26 V. A COUNCIL OF INDIA 36 VI. THE TROOP TRAIN 45
VII. THE TWO RICHEBOURGS 59 VIII. IDOLS OF THE CAVE 65 IX. STOKES'S ACT 73 X. THE FRONT 92 XI. AT G.H.Q. 103 XII. MORT POUR LA PATRIE 119 XIII. MEAUX AND SOME BRIGANDS 128 XIV. THE CONCIERGE AT SENLIS 134
XV. A "CONSEIL DE LA GUERRE" 143 XVI. PETER 154 XVII. THREE TRAVELLERS 166 XVIII. BARBARA 173 XIX. AN ARMY COUNCIL 178 XX. THE FUGITIVES 189 XXI. A "DUG-OUT" 195 XXII. CHRISTMAS EVE, 1914 202
THE FRONT AGAIN
XXIII. THE COMING OF THE HUN 209 XXIV. THE HILL 226 XXV. THE DAY'S WORK 232 XXVI. FIAT JUSTITIA 244 XXVII. HIGHER EDUCATION 252 XXVIII. THE LITTLE TOWNS OF FLANDERS AND ARTOIS 259 XXIX. THE "FRONT" ONCE MORE 270 XXX. HOME AGAIN 288
It had gone eight bells on the S.S. G——. The decks had been washed down with the hosepipe and the men paraded for the morning's inspection. The O.C. had scanned them with a roving eye, till catching sight of an orderly two files from the left he had begged him, almost as a personal favour, to get his hair cut. To an untutored mind the orderly's hair was about one-eighth of an inch in length, but the O.C. was inflexible. He was a colonel in that smartest of all medical services, the I.M.S., whose members combine the extensive knowledge of the general practitioner with the peculiar secrets of the Army surgeon, and he was fastidious. Then he said "Dismiss," and they went their appointed ways. The Indian cooks were boiling dhal and rice in the galley; the bakers were squatting on their haunches on the lower deck, making chupattis—they were screened against the inclemency of the weather by a tarpaulin—and they patted the leathery cakes with persuasive slaps as a dairymaid pats butter. Low-caste sweepers glided like shadows to and fro. Suddenly some one crossed the gangway and the sentry stiffened and presented arms. The O.C. looked down from the upper deck and saw a lithe, sinewy little figure with white moustaches and "imperial"; the eyes were of a piercing steel-blue. The figure was clad in a general's field-service uniform, and on his shoulder-straps were the insignia of a field-marshal. The colonel stared for a moment, then ran hastily down the ladder and saluted.
* * * * *
Together they passed down the companion-ladder. At the foot of it they encountered a Bengali orderly, who made a profound obeisance.
"Shiva Lal," said the O.C., "I ordered the portholes to be kept unfastened and the doors in the bulkheads left open. This morning I found them shut. Why was this?"
"Sahib, at eight o'clock I found them open."
"It was at eight o'clock," said the colonel sternly, "that I found them shut."
The Bengali spread out his hands in deprecation. "If the sahib says so it must be so," he pleaded, adding with truly Oriental irrelevancy, "I am a poor man and have many children." It is as useless to argue with an Indian orderly as it is to try conclusions with a woman.
"Let it not occur again," said the colonel shortly, and with an apology to his guest they passed on.
They paused in front of a cabin. Over the door was the legend "Pathans, No. 1." The door was shut fast. The colonel was annoyed. He opened the door, and four tall figures, with strongly Semitic features and bearded like the pard, stood up and saluted. The colonel made a mental note of the closed door; he looked at the porthole—it was also closed. The Pathan loves a good "fug," especially in a European winter, and the colonel had had trouble with his patients about ventilation. A kind of guerilla warfare, conducted with much plausibility and perfect politeness, had been going on for some days between him and the Pathans. The Pathans complained of the cold, the colonel of the atmosphere. At last he had met them halfway, or, to be precise, he had met them with a concession of three inches. He had ordered the ship's carpenter to fix a three-inch hook to the jamb and a staple to the door, the terms of the truce being that the door should be kept three inches ajar. And now it was shut. "Why is this?" he expostulated. For answer they pointed to the hook. "Sahib, the hook will not fasten!"
The colonel examined it; it was upside down. The contumacious Pathans had quietly reversed the work of the ship's carpenter, and the hook was now useless without being ornamental. With bland ingenuous faces they stared sadly at the hook, as if deprecating such unintelligent craftsmanship. The Field-Marshal smiled—he knew the Pathan of old; the colonel mentally registered a black mark against the delinquents.
"Whence come you?" said the Field-Marshal.
"From Tirah, Sahib."
"Ah! we have had some little trouble with your folk at Tirah. But all that is now past. Serve the Emperor faithfully and it shall be well with you."
"Ah! Sahib, but I am sorely troubled in my mind."
"My aged father writes that a pig of a thief hath taken our cattle and abducted our women-folk. I would fain have leave to go on furlough and lie in a nullah at Tirah with my rifle and wait for him. Then would I return to France."
"Patience! That can wait. How like you the War?"
"Burra Achha Tamasha, Sahib. But we like not their big guns. We would fain come at them with the bayonet. Why are we kept back in the trenches, Sahib?"
"Peace! It shall come in good time."
They passed into another cabin reserved for native officers. A tall Sikh rose to a half-sitting posture and saluted.
"What is your name?"
"H—— Sing, Sahib."
"There was a H—— Sing with me in '78," said the Field-Marshal meditatively. "With the Kuram Field Force. He was my orderly. He served me afterwards in Burmah and was promoted to subadar."
The aquiline features of the Sikh relaxed, his eyes of lustrous jet gleamed. "Even so, Sahib, he was my father."
"Good! he was a man. Be worthy of him. And you too are a subadar?"
"Yea, Sahib, I have eaten the King's salt these twelve years."
"That is well. Have you children?"
"Yea, Sahib, God has been very good."
"And your lady mother, is she alive?"
"The Lord be praised, she liveth."
"And how is your 'family'?"
"She is well, Sahib."
"And how like you this War?"
"Greatly, Sahib. The Goora-log and ourselves fight like brothers side by side. But we would fain see the fine weather. Then there will be some muzza in it."
The Field-Marshal smiled and passed on.
They entered the great ward in the main hold of the ship. Here were avenues of swinging cots, in double tiers, the enamelled iron white as snow, and on the pillow of each cot lay a dark head, save where some were sitting up—the Sikhs binding their hair as they fingered the kangha and the chakar, the comb and the quoit-shaped hair-ring, which are of the five symbols of their freemasonry. The Field-Marshal stopped to talk to a big sowar. As he did so the men in their cots raised their heads and a sudden whisper ran round the ward. Dogras, Rajputs, Jats, Baluchis, Garhwalis clutched at the little pulleys over their cots, pulled themselves up with painful efforts, and saluted. In a distant corner a Mahratta from the aboriginal plains of the Deccan, his features dark almost to blackness, looked on uncomprehendingly; Ghurkhas stared in silence, their broad Mongolian faces betraying little of the agitation that held them in its spell. From the rest there arose such a conflict of tongues as has not been heard since the Day of Pentecost. From bed to bed passed the magic words, "It is he." Every man uttered a benediction. Many wept tears of joy. A single thought seemed to animate them, and they voiced it in many tongues.
"Ah, now we shall smite the German-log exceedingly. We shall fight even as tigers, for Jarj Panjam. The great Sahib has come to lead us in the field. Praised be his exalted name."
The Field-Marshal's eyes shone.
"No, no," he said, "my time is finished. I am too old."
"Nay, Sahib," said the sowar as he hung on painfully to his pulley, "the body may be old but the brain is young."
The Field-Marshal strove to reply but could not. He suddenly turned on his heel and rushed up the companion-ladder. When halfway up he remembered the O.C. and retraced his steps. The tears were streaming down his face.
"Sir," he said, in a voice the deliberate sternness of which but ill concealed an overmastering emotion, "your hospital arrangements are excellent. I have seen none better. I congratulate you. Good-day." The next moment he was gone.
* * * * *
Five days later the colonel was standing on the upper deck; he gripped the handrail tightly and looked across the harbour basin. Overhead the Red Cross ensign was at half-mast, and at half-mast hung the Union Jack at the stern. And so it was with every ship in port. A great silence lay upon the harbour; even the hydraulic cranes were still, and the winches of the trawlers had ceased their screaming. Not a sound was to be heard save the shrill poignant cry of the gulls and the hissing of an exhaust pipe. As the colonel looked across the still waters of the harbour basin he saw a bier, covered with a Union Jack, being slowly carried across the gangway of the leave-boat; a little group of officers followed it. In a few moments the leave-boat, after a premonitory blast from the siren which woke the sleeping echoes among the cliffs, cast off her moorings and slowly gathered way. Soon she had cleared the harbour mouth and was out upon the open sea. The colonel watched her with straining eyes till she sank beneath the horizon. Then he turned and went below.
 A jolly fine show.
 The English soldiers.
 King George the Fifth.
 The writer can vouch for the truth of this narrative. He owes his knowledge of what passed to the hospitality on board of his friend the O.C. the Indian hospital ship in question.
AT THE BASE DEPOT
Any enunciation by officers responsible for training of principles other than those contained in this Manual or any practice of methods not based on those principles is forbidden.—Infantry Training Manual.
The officers in charge of details at No. 19 Infantry Base Depot had made their morning inspections of the lines. They had seen that blankets were folded and tent flies rolled up, had glanced at rifles, and had inspected the men's kits with the pensive air of an intending purchaser. Having done which, they proceeded to take an unsympathetic farewell of the orderly officer whom they found in the orderly room engaged in reading character by handwriting with the aid of the office stamp.
"I never knew there was so much individuality in the British Army," the orderly officer dolefully exclaimed as he contemplated a pile of letters waiting to be franked and betraying marked originality in their penmanship.
"You're too fond of opening other people's letters," the subaltern remarked pleasantly. "It's a bad habit and will grow on you. When you go home you'll never be able to resist it. You'll be unfit for decent society."
"Go away, War Baby," retorted the orderly officer, as he turned aside from the subaltern, who has a beautiful pink and white complexion, and was at Rugby rather less than a year ago.
The War Baby smiled wearily. "Let's go and see the men at drill," he remarked. "We've got a corporal here who's A1 at instruction." As we passed, the sentry brought his right hand smartly across the small of the butt of his rifle, and, seeing the Major behind us, brought the rifle to the present.
We came out on a field sprinkled with little groups of men in charge of their N.C.O.'s. They were the "details." These were drafts for the Front, and every regiment of the Division had sent a deputation. Two or three hundred yards away a platoon was marching with a short quick trot, carrying their rifles at the trail, and I knew them for Light Infantry, for such are their prerogatives. Concerning Light Infantry much might be written that is not to be found in the regimental records. As, for example, the reason why the whole Army shouts "H.L.I." whenever the ball is kicked into touch; also why the Oxford L.I. always put out their tongues when they meet the Durhams. Some day some one will write the legendary history of the British Army, its myth, custom, and folklore, and will explain how the Welsh Fusiliers got their black "flash" (with a digression on the natural history of antimacassars), why the 7th Hussars are called the "White Shirts," why the old 95th will despitefully use you if you cry, "Who stole the grog?" and what happens on Albuera day in the mess of the Die Hards. But that is by the way.
The drafts at No. 19, having done a route march the day before, had been turned out this morning to do a little musketry drill by way of keeping them fit. A platoon lay flat on their stomachs in the long grass, the burnished nails on the soles of their boots twinkling in the sun like miniature heliographs. From all quarters of the field sharp words of command rang out like pistol shots. "Three hundred. Five rounds. Fire." As the men obeyed the sergeant's word of command, the air resounded with the clicking of bolts like a chorus of grasshoppers. We pursued a section of the Royal Fusiliers in command of a corporal until he halted his men for bayonet exercise. He drew them up in two ranks facing each other, and began very deliberately with an allocution on the art of the bayonet.
"There ain't much drill about the bayonet," he said encouragingly. "What you've got to do is to get the other fellow, and I don't care how you get 'im as long as you knock 'im out of time. On guard!"
The men in each rank brought the butts of their rifles on to their right hips and pointed with their left feet forward at the breasts of the men opposite. "Rest!" The rifles were brought to earth between twelve pairs of feet. "Point! Withdraw! On guard!" They pointed, withdrew, and were on guard again with the precision of piston-rods.
"Now watch me, for your life may depend upon it," and the corporal proceeded to give them the low parry which is useful when you are taking trenches and find a chevaux-de-frise of the enemy's bayonets confronting you. Each rank knocked an imaginary bayonet aside and pointed at invisible feet. The high parry followed. So far the men had been merely nodding at each other across a space of some twelve yards, and it was hot work and tedious. The sweat ran down their faces, which glistened in the sun. "Now I'm going to give you the butt exercises"; they brightened visibly.
"I am pointing—so!—and 'ave been parried. I bring the butt round on 'is shoulder, using my weight on it. I bring my left leg behind 'is left leg. I throw 'im over. Then I give the beggar what for. So!" The words were hardly out of his mouth before he had thrown himself upon the nearest private and laid him prostrate. The others smiled faintly as No. 98678 picked himself up and nonchalantly returned to his old position as if this were a banal compliment. "Now then. First butt exercise." One rank advanced upon the other, and the two ranks were locked in a close embrace. They remained thus with muscles strung like bowstrings, immobile as a group of statuary.
"That'll do. Now I'll give you the second butt exercise. You bring the butt round on 'is jaw—so!—and then kick 'im in the guts with your knee." Perhaps the section, which stood like a wall of masonry, looked surprised; more probably the surprise was mine. But the corporal explained. "Don't think you're Tottenham Hotspur in the Cup Final. Never mind giving 'im a foul. You've got to 'urt 'im or 'e'll 'urt you. Kick 'im anywhere with your knees or your feet. Your ammunition boots will make 'im feel it. No!"—he turned to a young private whose left hand was grasping his rifle high up between the fore-sight and the indicator—"You mustn't do that. Always get your 'and between the back-sight and the breech. So! The back-sight will protect your fingers from being cut by the other fellow. Now the third butt exercise."
As we turned away the Major thoughtfully remarked to me, "There isn't much of that in the Infantry Manual. But the corporal knows his job. When you're in a scrap you haven't time to think about the rules of the game; the automatic movements come all right, but in a clinch you've got to fight like a cat with tooth and claw, use your boots, your knee, or anything that comes handy. Perhaps that's why your lithe little Cockney is such a useful man with the bayonet. Now the Hun is a hefty beggar, and he isn't hampered by any ideas of playing the game, but he's as mechanical as a vacuum brake, and he's no good in a scrap."
We returned to the orderly room. The orderly officer had a pile of letters on his right impressed with a red triangle, and contemplated the completion of his labours with gloomy satisfaction. "But it's very interesting—such a revelation of the emotions of battle and all that," I incautiously remarked. "Oh yes, very revealing," he yawned. "Look at that"; and he held out a letter. It ran:
DEAR MOTHER—I'm reported fit for duty and am going back to the Front with the new drafts. I forgot to tell you we were in a bit of a scrap before I came here. We outed a lot of Huns. How is old Alf?—
Your loving son, JIM.
The "bit of a scrap" was the battle of Neuve Chapelle. The British soldier is an artist with the bayonet. But he is no great man with the pen. Which is as it should be.
"You talk to him, sir. He zeed a lot though he be kind o' mazed like now; he be mortal bad, I do think. But such a cheerful chap he be. I mind he used to say to us in the trenches: 'It bain't no use grousing. What mun be, mun be.' Terrible strong he were, too. One of our officers wur hit in front of the parapet and we coulden get 'n in nohow—'twere too hot; and Hunt, he unrolled his puttees and made a girt rope of 'em and threw 'em over the parapet and draw'd en in. Ah! that a did."
It was in one of the surgical tents of "No. 6 General" at the base. The middle of the ward was illuminated by an oil-lamp, shaped like an hour-glass, which shed a circle of yellow radiance upon the faces of the nurse and the orderly officer, as they stood examining a case-sheet by the light of its rays. Beyond the penumbra were rows of white beds, and in the farthest corner lay the subject of our discourse. "Can I talk to him?" I said to the nurse. "Yes, if you don't stay too long," she replied briskly, "and don't question him too much. He's in a bad way, his wounds are very septic."
He nodded to me as I approached. At the head of the bed hung a case-sheet and temperature-chart, and I saw at a glance the superscription—
Hunt, George, Private, No. 1578936 B Co. —— Wiltshires.
I noticed that the temperature-line ran sharply upwards on the chart.
"So you're a Wiltshireman?" I said. "So am I." And I held out my hand. He drew his own from beneath the bedclothes and held mine in an iron grip.
"What might be your parts, sir?"
His eyes lighted up with pleasure. "Why, zur, it be nex' parish; I come from B——. I be main pleased to zee ye, zur."
"The pleasure is mine," I said. "When did you join?"
"I jined in July last year, zur. I be a resarvist."
"You have been out a long time, then?"
"Yes, though it do seem but yesterday, and I han't seen B—— since. I mind how parson, 'e came to me and axed, 'What! bist gwine to fight for King and Country, Jarge?' And I zed, 'Yes, sur, that I be—for King and Country and ould Wiltshire. I guess we Wiltshiremen be worth two Gloster men any day though they do call us 'Moon-rakers.' Not but what the Glosters ain't very good fellers," he added indulgently. "Parson, he be mortal good to I; 'e gied I his blessing and 'e write and give I all the news of the parish. He warnt much of a preacher though a did say 'Dearly beloved' in church in a very taking way as though he were a-courting."
"What was I a-doin', zur? Oh, I wur with Varmer Twine, head labr'er I was. Strong? Oh yes, zur, pretty fair. I mind I could throw a zack o' vlour ower my shoulder when I wur a boy o' vourteen. Why! I wur stronger then than I be now. 'Twas India that done me."
"Is it a large farm?" I asked, seeking to beguile him with homely thoughts.
"Six 'undred yackers. Oh yes, I'd plenty to do, and I could turn me hands to most things, though I do say it. There weren't a man in the parish as could beat I at mowing or putting a hackle on a rick, though I do say it. And I could drive a straight furrow too. Heavy work it were. The soil be stiff clay, as ye knows, zur. This Vlemish clay be very loike it. Lord, what a mint o' diggin' we 'ave done in they trenches to be sure. And bullets vlying like wopses zumtimes."
"Are your parents alive?" I asked.
"No, zur, they be both gone to Kingdom come. Poor old feyther," he said after a pause. "I mind 'un now in his white smock all plaited in vront and mother in her cotton bonnet—you never zee 'em in Wiltshire now. They brought us all up on nine shillin' a week—ten on us we was."
"I suppose you sometimes wish you were back in Wiltshire now?" I said.
"Zumtimes, sir," he said wistfully. "It'll be about over with lambing season, now," he added reflectively. "Many's the tiddling lamb I've a-brought up wi' my own hands. Aye, and the may'll soon be out in blossom. And the childern makin' daisy-chains."
"Yes," I said. "And think of the woods—the bluebells and anemones! You remember Folly Wood?"
He smiled. "Ah, that I do: I mind digging out an old vixen up there, when 'er 'ad gone to earth, and the 'ounds with their tails up a-hollering like music. The Badminton was out that day. I were allus very fond o' thuck wood. My brother be squire's keeper there. Many a toime we childern went moochin' in thuck wood—nutting and bird-nesting. Though I never did hold wi' taking more'n one egg out of a nest, and I allus did wet my vinger avore I touched the moss on a wren's nest. They do say as the little bird 'ull never go back if ye doant."
His mind went roaming among childhood's memories and his eyes took on a dreaming look.
"Mother, she were a good woman—no better woman in the parish, parson did say. She taught us to say every night, 'Our Father, which art in heaven'—I often used to think on it at night in the trenches. Them nights—they do make you think a lot. It be mortal queer up there—you veels as if you were on the edge of the world. I used to look up at the sky and mind me o' them words in the Bible, 'When I conzider the heavens, the work o' Thy vingers and the stars which Thou hast made, what is man that Thou art mindful of him?' One do feel oncommon small in them trenches at night."
"I suppose you've had a hot time up there?"
"Ah that I have. And I zeed some bad things."
"Cruel, sir, mortal cruel, I be maning. 'Twur dree weeks come Monday. We wur in an advance near Wypers—'bout as far as 'tis from our village to Wootton Bassett. My platoon had to take a house. We knowed 'twould be hot work, and Jacob Scaplehorn and I did shake hands. 'Jarge,' 'e zed, 'if I be took write to my wife and tell 'er it be the Lard's will and she be not to grieve.' And I zed, 'So be, Jacob, and you'll do the same for I.' Our Officer, Capt'n S—— T——, d'you know 'en, sir? No? 'E com from Devizes way, he wur a grand man, never thinking of hisself but only of us humble chaps—he said, 'Now for it, lads,' and we advances in 'stended order. We wur several yards apart, just loike we was when a section of us recruits wur put through platoon drill, when I fust jined the Army an' sergeant made us drill with skipping-ropes a-stretched out so as to get the spaces. And there wur a machine-gun in that there house—you know how they sputters. It cut down us poor chaps loike a reaper. Jacob Scaplehorn wur nex' me and I 'eerd 'un say 'O Christ Jesus' as 'e went over like a rabbit and 'e never said no more. 'E wur a good man, wur Scaplehorn"—he added musingly—"and 'e did good things. And some chaps wur down and dragging their legs as if they did'n b'long to 'em. I sort o' saw all that wi'out seeing it, in a manner o' spaking; 'twere only arterwards it did come back to me. There warn't no time to think. And by the toime we got to thic house there were only 'bout vifteen on us left. We had to scrouge our way in through the buttry winder and we 'eerd a girt caddle inside, sort o' scuffling; 'twere the Germans makin' for the cellar. And our Capt'n posted some on us at top of cellar steps and led the rest on us up the stairs to a kind o' tallet where thuck machine-gun was. And what d'ye think we found, sir?" he said, raising himself on his elbow.
"There was a poor girl there—half daft she wur—wi' nothing on but a man's overcoat. And she rushed out avore us on the landing and began hammering with her hands against a bedroom door and it wur locked. We smashed 'en in wi' our rifle-butts, and God's mercy! we found a poor woman there, her mother seemingly, with her breast all bloody an' her clothes torn. I could'n mak' out what 'er wur saying but Capt'n 'e told us as the Germans 'ad ravished her. We used our field-dressings and tried to make the poor soul comfortable and Capt'n 'e sent a volunteer back for stretcher-bearers."
"And what about the Germans?" I asked.
"Ah, I be coming to that, zur. Capt'n says, 'Now, men, we're going to reckon with those devils down below.' And we went downstairs and he stood at top of cellar-steps, 'twere mortal dark, an' says, 'Come on up out o' that there.' And they never answered a word, but we could 'ear 'em breathing hard. We did'n know how many there were and the cellar steps were main narrow, as narrow as th' opening in that tent over there. So Capt'n 'e says, 'Fetch me some straw, Hunt.' 'Twere a kind o' farmhouse and I went out into the backside and vetched some. And Capt'n and us put a lot of it at top of steps and pushed a lot more vurther down, using our rifles like pitchforks and then 'e blew on his tinder and set it alight. 'Stand back, men,' he says, 'and be ready for 'em with the bay'net.' 'Tweren't no manner o' use shooting; 'twere too close in there and our bullets might ha' ricochayed. We soon 'eerd 'em a-coughing. There wur a terrible deal o' smoke, and there wur we a-waiting at top of them stairs for 'em to come up like rats out of a hole. And two on 'em made a rush for it and we caught 'em just like's we was terriers by an oat-rick; we had to be main quick. 'Twere like pitching hay. And then three more, and then more. And none on us uttered a word.
"An' when it wur done and we had claned our bay'nets in the straw, Capt'n 'e said, 'Men, you ha' done your work as you ought to ha' done.'"
He paused for a moment. "They be bad fellows," he mused. "O Christ! they be rotten bad. Twoads they be! I never reckon no good 'ull come to men what abuses wimmen and childern. But I'm afeard they be nation strong—there be so many on 'em."
His tale had the simplicity of an epic. But the telling of it had been too much for him. Beads of perspiration glistened on his brow. I felt it was time for me to go. I sought first to draw his mind away from the contemplation of these tragic things.
"Are you married?" I asked. The eyes brightened in the flushed face. "Yes, that I be, and I 'ave a little boy, he be a sprack little chap."
"And what are you going to make of him?"
"I'm gwine to bring un up to be a soldjer," he said solemnly. "To fight them Germans," he added. He saw the great War in an endless perspective of time; for him it had no end. "You will soon be home in Wiltshire again," I said encouragingly. He mused. "Reckon the Sweet Williams 'ull be out in the garden now; they do smell oncommon sweet. And mother-o'-thousands on the wall. Oh-h-h." A spasm of pain contracted his face. The nurse was hovering near and I saw my time was up. "My dear fellow," I said lamely, "I fear you are in great pain."
"Ah!" he said, "but it wur worth it."
* * * * *
The next day I called to have news of him. The bed was empty. He was dead.
 This story is here given as nearly as possible in the exact words of the narrator.—J.H.M.
If G.H.Q. is the brain of the Army, the Base is as certainly its heart. For hence all the arteries of that organism draw their life, and on the systole and diastole of the Base, on the contractions and dilatations of its auricles and ventricles, the Army depends for its circulation. To and from the Base come and go in endless tributaries men, horses, supplies, and ordnance.
The Base feeds the Army, binds up its wounds, and repairs its wastage. If you would get a glimpse of the feverish activities of the Base and understand what it means to the Army, you should take up your position on the bridge by the sluices that break the fall of the river into the harbour, close to the quay, where the trawlers are nudging each other at their moorings and the fishermen are shouting in the patois of the littoral amid the creaking of blocks, the screaming of winches, and the shrill challenge of the gulls. Stand where the Military Police are on point duty and you will see a stream of Red Cross motor ambulances, a trickle of base details, a string of invalided horses in charge of an A.V.C. corporal, and a khaki-painted motor-bus crowded with drafts for the Front. Big ocean liners, flying the Red Cross, lie at their moorings, and lofty electric cranes gyrate noiselessly over supply ships unloading their stores, while animated swarms of dockers in khaki pile up a great ant-heap of sacks in the sheds with a passionless concentration that seems like the workings of blind instinct. And here are warehouses whose potentialities of wealth are like Mr. Thrale's brewery—wheat, beef, fodder, and the four spices dear to the delicate palates of the Indian contingent. Somewhere behind there is a park of ammunition guarded like a harem. In the railway sidings are duplicate supply trains, steam up, trucks sealed, and the A.S.C. officer on board ready to start for rail-head with twenty-four hours' supplies. Beyond the maze of "points" is moored the strangest of all rolling-stock, the grey-coated armoured-train, within whose iron walls are domesticated two amphibious petty officers darning their socks.
In huge offices improvised out of deal boarding Army Service Corps officers are docketing stupendous files of way-bills, loading-tables, and indents, what time the Railway Transport Officer is making up his train of trucks for the corresponding supplies. The A.S.C. uses up more stationery than all the departments in Whitehall, and its motto is litera scripta manet—which has been explained by an A.S.C. sergeant, instructing a class of potential officers, as meaning "Never do anything without a written order, but, whatever you do, never write one." For an A.S.C. court of inquiry has as impassioned a preference for written over oral evidence as the old Court of Chancery. So that if your way-bill testifies:
Truck No. Contents 19414 Jam 36 x 50
and from the thirty-six cases of fifty pots one pot of jam is missing on arrival at rail-head, then, though truck 19414 arrived sealed and your labels undefaced, it will go hard with you as Train Officer unless you can produce that pot.
For the feeding of the Army is a delicate business and complicated. It is not enough to secure that there be sufficient "caloric units" in the men's rations; there are questions of taste. The Brahmin will not touch beef; the Mahomedan turns up his nose at pork; the Jain is a vegetarian; the Ghurkha loves the flesh of the goat. And every Indian must have his ginger, garlic, red chilli, and turmeric, and his chupattis of unleavened bread. One such warehouse we entered and beheld with stupefaction mountainous boxes of ghee and hogsheads of goor, rice, dried apricots, date-palms, and sultanas. Storekeepers in turbans stood round us, who, being asked whether it was well with the Indian and his food, answered us with a great shout, like the Ephesians, "Yea, the exalted Government hath done great things and praised be its name." To which we replied "Victory to the Holy Ganges water." Their lustrous eyes beamed at the salutation.
Great, indeed, is the Q.M.G. He supplies manna in the wilderness, and like the manna of the Israelites it has never been known to fail. It is of him that the soldier in the trenches says, in the words of the prophet, "He hath filled my belly with his delicates." And his caravans cover the face of the earth. You meet them everywhere, each Supply Column a self-contained unit like a fleet. It has its O.C., its cooks, its seventy-two motor lorries, with three men to each, and its "mobiles" or travelling workshops with dynamo, lathe, drilling machine, and a crew of skilled artificers, ready to tackle any motor-lorry that is put out of action. I take off my hat to those handy-men; many times have they helped me out of a tight place and performed delicate operations on the internal organs of my military car in the inhospitable night. It is a brave sight and fortifying to see a Supply Column winding in and out between the poplars on the perilously arched pave of the long sinuous roads, each wagon keeping its distance, like battleships in line, and every one of them boasting a good Christian name chalked up on the tail-board. For what his horses are to a driver and his eighteen-pounder to a gunner, such is his wagon to the A.S.C. man who is detailed to it. It is his caravan. Many a time, on long and lonely journeys from the Base to the Front, have I been cheered to find a Supply Column drawn up on the roadside in a wooded valley, on a bare undulating down, or in a chalk quarry, while the men were making tea over a blue wood fire. If you love a gipsy life join the A.S.C.
Within this one-mile radius of the A.S.C. headquarters at the Base are some twenty military hospitals improvised out of hotels, gaming-houses, and railway waiting-rooms. For the Base is the great Clearing House for the sick and wounded, and its register of patients is a kind of barometer of the state of affairs at the Front. When that register sinks very low, it means that the atmospheric conditions at the Front are getting stormy, and that an order has come down to evacuate and prepare four thousand beds. Then you watch the newspapers, for you know something is going to happen up there. And in those same hospitals men are working night and day; the bacteriologists studying "smears" under microscopes, while the surgeons are classifying, operating, "dressing," marking temperature-charts, and annotating case-sheets. And in every hospital there is a faint mysterious incense, compounded not disagreeably of chloride of sodium and iodised catgut, which intensifies the dim religious atmosphere of the shaded wards. If G.H.Q. is the greatest of military academies, the Base hospitals are indubitably the wisest of medical schools. Never have the sciences of bacteriology and surgery been studied with such devotion as under these urgent clinical impulses. Here are men of European reputation who have left their laboratories and consulting-rooms at home to wage a never-ending scientific contest with death and corruption. They have slain "frostbite" with lanoline, turpentine, and a change of socks; they have fought septic wounds with chloride of sodium and the ministries of unlimited oxygen; they have defied "shock" after amputation by "blocking" the nerves of the limb by spinal injection, as a signalman blocks traffic. They have called in Nature to the aid of science and have summoned the oxygen of the air and the lymph of the body to the self-help of wounds.
High up on the downs is the Convalescent Camp. Here the O.C. has turned what was a swamp last December into a Garden City, draining, planting, building, installing drying-rooms of asbestos, disinfectors, laundries, and shower-baths, constructing turf incinerators and laying down pavements of brick and slag. Borders have been planted, grass sown, and shrubs and trees put up—all this with the labour of the convalescents. There is a football ground, of which recreation is not the only purpose, for the O.C. has original ideas about distinguishing between "shock," or neurasthenia, and malingering by other methods than testing a man's reflexes. He just walks abstractedly round that football ground of an afternoon and studies the form of the players. In this self-contained community is a barber's shop, a cobbler's, a library, a theatre. In two neighbouring paddocks are the isolation camps for scarlet fever and cerebro-meningitis, and as soon as a man complains of headache and temperature he is segregated there, preparatory to being sent down to No. 14 Stationary to have his spinal fluid examined by the bacteriologists. Here, in fact, the man and his kit, instead of being thrown on the scrap-heap, are renewed and made whole, restored in mind, body, and estate, his clothes disinfected and mended, the "snipers" treated to a hot iron, and his razor and tooth-brush replaced.
For true it is that at the Base they study loving-kindness, and chaplains and doctors and nurses are busy with delicate ministries seeking to cure, to assuage, and to console. Alas! on what tragic errands do so many come and go; parents like Joseph and Mary seeking their child, and wives their husbands, in hope, in fear, in joy, in anguish, too often finding that the bright spirit has returned to God Who gave it, and that nothing is left but to follow him behind the bier draped with the Union Jack to the little cemetery on the hill.... But for one that is buried here a thousand lie where they fell. Those stricken fields of Flanders! nevermore will they be for us the scene of an idle holiday; they will be a place of pilgrimage and a shrine of prayer. I well remember—I can never forget—a journey I made in the company of a French staff officer over the country that lies between Paris and the river Aisne. We came out on a wide rolling plain, and in the waning light of a winter's day we suddenly saw among the stubble and between the oat-ricks, far as the eye could reach, thousands of little tricolour flags fluttering in the breeze. By each flag was a wooden cross. By each cross was a soldier's kepi, and sometimes a coat, bleached by the sun and rain. Instinctively we bared our heads, and as we walked from one grave to another I could hear the orderly behind us muttering words of prayer. That lonely oratory was the battlefield of the Marne. Seasons will come and go, man will plough and sow, the earth will yield her increase, but those graves will never be disturbed by share or sickle. They are holy ground.
So it is with the fields of Flanders. In those fields our gallant dead lie where they fell, and where they lie the earth is dedicated to them for ever. Of the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France in August 1914 perhaps not 10 per cent remain. Like the dead heroes whose ghostly voices whispered in the ears of L'Aiglon on the field of Wagram, they haunt the plains of France. But their voices are the voices of exhortation, and their breath and finer spirit have passed into the drafts that have taken their place. Their successors greet Death like a friend and go into battle as to a festival, counting no price—youth, health, life—too high to pay for the country of their birth and their devotion. The nation that can nurture men such as these can calmly meet her enemy in the gate. Verily she shall not pass away.
* * * * *
The moon was at the full as I climbed the down where the shepherd was guarding his flock behind the hurdles on the short turf and creeping cinque-foil. Far below, whence you could faintly catch the altercation of the pebbles on the beach under the importunities of the tide, I saw an oily sea heaving like shot silk in the moonlight, the lonely beacon was winking across the waste of waters, strange signals were flashing from the pier, and merchantmen were coming up Channel plaintively protesting their neutrality with such a garish display of coloured lights as to suggest a midnight regatta of all the neutral nations. A troop train was speeding north and a hospital train crawling south, their coming and going betrayed only to the ear, for they showed no lights. The one was freighted with youth, health, life; the other with pain, wounds, death. It was the systole and diastole of the Base.
A COUNCIL OF INDIA
"And I said, 'Nay, I who have eaten the King's salt cannot do this thing.' And the German-log said to me, 'But we will give you both money and land.' And I said, 'Wherefore should I do this thing, and bring sorrow and shame upon my people?'"
It was a Sepoy in the 9th who spake, and his words were exceeding clear as Holy Writ.
"And what did they do then?"
"They took my chupattis, sahib, and offered me of their bread in return. But I said, 'Nay, I am a Brahmin, and cannot touch it.' And they said thrice unto me, 'We will give you money and land.' And I thrice said, 'Nay.' Then said they, 'Thou art a fool. Go to, but if thou comest against us again we will kill thee.' And I got back to my comrades."
"Yea, to me also they said these things." It was a jemindar of the 129th who spoke. "Yes, a German sahib called to me in Hindustani, 'Ham dost hein—Hamari pas ao—Ham tum Ko Nahn Marenge.'" Which being translated is, "We are friends, come to us, we won't kill you."
"And you, Mula Sing, what think you of this war?"
The Woordie-Major replied: "Sahib, never was there a war like this war, since the world began. No, not even the Mahabharata when Kouro fought Pandu."
Then spoke up a subadar of the Pioneers, a tall Sikh with his beard curled like the ancient Assyrians. He had shown me the five symbols of the Sikh freemasonry—nay, he had taken the kangha out of his hair and shown me the two little knives, also the hair-ring and the bracelet, and had unwound the spirals of his unshaven locks. Therefore we were friends. "All wars are but shikkar to this war, sahib." "Shikkar?" "Yea, even as a tiger-hunt. But this, this is an exceeding great war."
"Nay, this is a fine war—a hell of a fine war." The speaker was an Afridi from Tirah, whose strongly marked aquiline features reminded me of nothing so much as a Jewish pawnbroker in Whitechapel. He lacks every virtue except courage, and his one regret is that he has missed the family blood-feud. There have been great doings in his family on the frontier in his absence—two abductions and one homicide. "If I had not come home," his brother has written reproachfully to him from Tirah, "things had gone ill with us. But never mind about all this now. Do your duty well." And even so has he done.
"And how like you this war?"
"Sahib, it is a fine war, a hell of a fine war, but for the great guns."
"Because we cannot come nigh unto them. But I, I have slain many men."
"And what is your village?" asks my friend, Major D——, of the I.M.S.
"Why, I was there in the Tirah campaign."
"Even so, sahib."
The Ghurkhas looked on in silence at our symposium, their broad Mongolian faces inscrutable. But Shiva Lal, a Brahmin surgeon, who all this while has been eager to speak, for he is a pundit, and loves the sound of his own voice, here thrust forward his quaint countenance, whose walrus-like moustache conceals a row of teeth projecting like the spokes of a wicker-basket. Softly he rubs his hands and thus he speaks in English: "Sahib, I had charge of a German sahib—wounded. And I said unto him, 'How is it that you, who are Christians, treat the Tommies so? We' (Major D—— looks at me with the hint of a twinkle in his eye—for has he not told me at mess of that surprising change in the Indian vernacular whereby their speech is no longer of "Goora-log" and "Sahib-log" but of "We," which fraternal pronoun is significant of much)—'we shave you and feed you, we wash you and dress your wounds, even as one of ourselves, and you kill our wounded Tommies, yea, and do these things and worse even unto women. Are you not Christians? We' (there is a return to old habits of speech)—'we are only Indians, but I have read in your Bible that if one smite on the one cheek'"—here Shiva Lal, who has now what he loves most in the world, an audience, and is easily histrionic, smites his face mightily on the right side—"'one should turn to him the other. Why is this?'"
"And what said the German officer, Shiva Lal?"
"Nay, sahib, he said nothing." We also say nothing. For Shiva Lal needs but little encouragement to talk from sunset to cock-crow. Perhaps the unfortunate German officer divined as much. But the spell of Shiva Lal's eloquence is rudely broken by Major D——, who takes me by the arm to go elsewhere. And the little group squatting on their haunches at their mid-day meal cease listening and dip their chupattis in the aromatic dhal, in that slow, ruminant, ritualistic way in which the Indian always eats his food.
"Ram, Ram! Tumhi kothun alle?" said my friend Smith, turning aside to a lonely figure on my right. A cry of joy escapes a dark-featured Mahratta who has been looking mournfully on from his bed of pain, comprehending nothing of these dialogues. We have, indeed, been talking in every language except Mahrathi. And he, poor soul, has lost both feet—they were frostbitten—and will never answer the music of the charge again. But at the sound of his own tongue he raises his body by the pulley hanging at the head of his cot, and gravely salutes the sahib. Like Ruth amid the alien corn, his heart is sad with thoughts of home, and he has been dreaming between these iron walls of the wide, sunlit spaces of the Deccan. As his feverish brain counts and re-counts the rivets on the ship-plates, ever and anon they part before his wistful eyes, and he sees again the little village with its grove of mangoes and its sacred banyan on the inviolable otla; he hears once again the animated chatter of the wayfarers in the chowdi.
"Where is thy home?"
"Sahib, it is at Pirgaon."
"I know it—is not Turkaran Patal the head-man?"
The dark face gleams with pleasure. "Even so, sahib."
"Shall I write to thy people?"
"The sahib is very kind."
"So will I do, and, perhaps, prepare thy people for thy homecoming. I will tell them that thou hast lost thy feet with the frostbite, but art otherwise well."
"Nay, sahib, tell them everything but that, for if my people hear that they will neither eat nor drink—nay, nor sleep, for sorrow."
"Then will I not. But I will tell them that thou art a brave man."
The Mahratta smiles mournfully.
"And have you heard from your folk at home?" I ask of the others, leaving Smith and the Mahratta together.
"Yea, sahib, the exalted Government is very good to us. We get letters often." It is a sepoy in the 107th who speaks. "My brother writes even thus," and he reads with tears in his eyes: "'We miss you terribly, but such is the will of God. I have been daily to Haji Baba Ziarat' (it is a famous shrine in India), 'and day and night I pray for you, and am very distressed. I am writing to tell you to have no anxiety about us at home, but do your duty cheerfully and say your prayers. Repeat the beginning with the word "Kor" and breathe forty times on your body. Your father is well, but is very anxious for you, and weeps day and night.'"
"I also have received a letter." The speaker is a Bengali, and, though a surgeon and non-combatant, must have his say. "My brother writes that I am to enlight the names of my ancestors, who were tiger-like warriors, and were called Bahadurs, by performing my duties to utmost satisfaction." This is truly Babu English.
"And you will do the same?"
"Yea, I must do likewise. My brother writes to me, 'If you want to face this side again, face as Bahadur.' And he saith, 'Long live King George, and may he rule on the whole world.' And so say we all, sahib."
"And you?" This to a Shia Mahomedan whose right hand is bandaged.
"Ah, sahib, my people can write to me, but write to them I cannot. Will the honourable sahib send a word for me who am thus crippled?"
"Yea, gladly; what shall the words be?"
"Say, then, oh sahib, these words: 'Your servant is well and happy here. You should pray the God of Mercy that the victory may be to our King, Jarj Panjam. And to my lady mother and my lady the sister of my father, and to my brother, and to my dear ones the greetings of peace and prayer. And the sum of fifty rupees which I arranged for my family' (his wife) 'will be paid to you every month.' The sahib is very kind."
"The sahib would like to hear a story?" The speaker is a jemadar of the 59th. "So be it. Know then, sahib, that I and twelve men of my company were cut off by the German-log, and I, even I only, am left. It was in this wise. My comrades advanced too far beyond the trenches, and we lost our way. And the German-log make signs to us to surrender, but it is not our way and we still advance. And they open fire with a machine-gun—so!" The speaker makes sounds as a man who stutters. "And we are all hit—killed and wounded, and fall like ripe corn to the sickle. And I am wounded in the leg and I fall. And the German officer, he come up and hitted me in the buttock to see if I were dead. But I lay exceeding still and hold my breath. And they pull me by the leg" (can it be that the jemadar is pulling mine?), "a long way they pull me but still I am as one dead. And so I escaped." He looks round for approval.
"That was well done, jemadar." His lustrous eyes flash with pleasure. "And how is it with your food?"
"Good" ("Bahout accha"), comes a chorus of voices. "The exalted Government has done great things. We have ghee"—a clarified butter made of buffalo or cow's milk—"and goor"—unrefined sugar. "And we have spices for our dhal—ginger and garlic and chilli and turmeric. Yea, and fruits also—apricots, date-palms, and sultanas. What more can man want?"
"It is well." But it is time for me to go. Smith is still talking to the Mahratta, whose eyes never leave his face. "Come on, old man," I say, "it is time to go." Smith turns reluctantly away. As I looked over my shoulder the Mahratta was weeping softly.
THE TROOP TRAIN
We were standing in the lounge of the Hotel M—— at the Base. "I'll introduce you to young C—— of the Guards when he comes in," the Major was saying to me. "He is going up to the Front with me to-night by the troop train. You don't mind if I rag a bit, do you, old chap? You see he's only just gazetted from Sandhurst, a mere infant, in fact, and he's a bit in the blues, I fancy, at having to say good-bye to his mother. He's her only child, and she's a widow. The father was an old friend of mine. Hulloa, C——, my boy. Allow me to introduce you."
A youth with the milk and roses complexion of a girl, blue eyes, and fair hair, well-built, but somewhat under the middle height—such was C——, and he was good to look upon.
Introductions being made, we filed into the salle a manger.
"Chambertin, Julie, s'il vous plait," said the Major. "There's nothing like a good burgundy to warm the cockles of your heart." He had the radiant eye of an Irishman, and smiled on Julie as he gave the order.
"So you're leaving your hospital to go up and join a Field Ambulance?" I said.
"That's so, old man. There was a chance of my being made A.D.M.S. at the Base some day if I'd stayed on, but I wanted to get up to the Front, and I've worked it at last. Besides I'm not too fond of playing Bo-peep with my pals in the R.A.M.C. Beastly job, always worrying the O.C.'s. Talking about A.D.M.S.'s, did I ever tell you the story of how I pulled the leg of old Macassey in South Africa?"
"No," I said, although B—— had a way of telling the same stories twice over occasionally. The one story he never told, not even once, was how he got the D.S.O. at Spion Kop. I had heard it often enough from other men in the service, and could never hear it too often. And let me tell you that to know B—— and have the privilege of his friendship, is to be admitted to the largest freemasonry of officers in the British Army.
"Well, it was like this," continued B——. "The A.D.M.S. was a thorn in the side of every O.C. at the Base, walking up and down like the very devil, seeking whose reputation he might devour, and ordering every O.C. to turn his hospital upside down. He took a positive delight in breaking men. You know the type, the kind of man who breaks his wife's heart not because he's bad, but because he's querulous. The nagging type. Nothing could please him. So one day he came to Simpson's show, where I was second in command. "How many patients have you got accommodation for here?" he asked me, Simpson being laid up with a recurrence of his malaria. "Four hundred and fifty, sir," I said. "Very good, have accommodation for a thousand to-morrow night," said Macassey with a cock of his eye that I knew only too well. We were not full up, as it was, although pretty hard-worked, being short-handed and with a devil of a lot of enteric, and there wasn't the remotest likelihood of any more patients arriving, as they were switching them off to Durban. However, it was no use grousing, that only made old Macassey more wicked than ever, but I thought I'd have it in black and white; so I saluted and said, 'Bad memory, sir, my old wound in India, d'you mind writing the order down?'"
"My dear B——," I interrupted, "you know you've the memory of a Recording Angel."
"So I do, my son, and so I did. Also I knew that Macassey's memory, like that of most fussy men, was as bad as mine was good. I thought I'd catch him out sooner or later. He and I went round the camp, and, after about half-an-hour of the most putrid crabbing, he suddenly caught sight of some double-roofed Indian tents that Simpson had got together with great difficulty for the worst cases. You see we'd mostly tin huts, and in the African heat they're beastly. 'Ah, I see,' said Macassey wickedly. 'I see you have some good double-roofed tents here; let me have eight of them sent to me to-morrow night.' That left us with four, and how we were to shift the patients was a problem. 'Very good, sir,' I said, 'but I may forget the number. D'you mind?' And I held out my Field Note-book, having turned over the page." (There are not many people who can say 'No' to B——.) "He didn't mind, So he wrote it down. Naturally I took care of those pages. Next day old Macassey must have remembered that he had issued two contradictory orders in the same day. Ordered me to expand and contract at the same time, like the third ventricle. And he knew that I had first-class documentary evidence, and that I guarded his autographs as though I were going to put 'em up for sale at Sotheby's. He never troubled us any more."
"That was unkind of you, Major," I said insincerely.
"Not so, my son. You see, I knew he'd been worrying old Simpson, and he wasn't fit to undo the latchet of Simpson's shoes. Why! have you never heard the story of Simpson and the giddy goat?"
"The goat?" said the sub.
"Yes, the goat. Useful animal the goat, if a trifle capricious. It was like this. Old Simpson, who's got a head on his shoulders big enough to do all the thinking for the Royal College of Physicians, and ditto of Surgeons, with a good few ideas left over for the R.A.M.C., determined to get to the bottom of Mediterranean Fever—a nasty complaint, which had worried the Malta garrison considerably. Now the first thing to do when you are on the track of a fever is, as they say in the children's picture-books, 'Puzzle: Find the Microbe.' It occurred to Simpson to suspect the goat. Why? Well, because he'd noticed that goat's milk was drunk in Malta and Egypt. So he began to study the geographical distribution of the goat with the zeal of an anthropologist localising dolicocephalic and brachycephalic races. He found eventually that wherever you could 'place' a goat you would find the fever. Wherefore he took some goat's milk and cultivated it assiduously in an alluring medium of Glucose-nutrose-peptone-litmus."
"Dot and carry one. Please repeat," I interjected.
"Glucose-nutrose-peptone-litmus," repeated the Major.
"Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief," soliloquised the subaltern, who was brightening up.
"Quite so," said the Major with a benignant glance. "Well, he then got a culture."
"Culture. Poisonous growth; hence German 'Kultur,'" said the Major etymologically. "To proceed. He then inoculated some guinea-pigs. No! I don't mean directors in the City, though he might have done worse. And lo! and behold! he found the fever. You know the four canons of the bacteriologist? One, 'get'; two, 'cultivate'; three, 'inoculate'; four, 'recover.'"
"Well done, Simpson," I said.
"You may say that, my friend. And now there's old Simpson down at the Base in charge of No. 12 General saving lives by hundreds and thousands. You know while the bullet slew its thousands, septicaemia has slain its tens of thousands. How did he stop it? Why, by doing the obvious, which, you may have observed, no one ever does till a wise man comes along. He got wounds to heal themselves. He promoted a lymphatic flow from the rest of the body by putting suppositories of chloride of sodium inside drainage-tubes in the wound. The heat of the body melts them, you see. There are three great medical heroes of this war—Almroth Wright, Martin-Leake, and Simpson."
I could have named a fourth, but I held my tongue.
"Time to get on our hind legs," the Major now said monitorily. "Julie, l'addition s'il vous plait."
"Bien, monsieur," said Julie, who had been watching the Major admiringly without comprehending a word of what he said. Women have a way of falling in love with the Major at first sight.
We stumbled along between the rails and over the sleepers, led by the Major, who carried a hurricane lamp, and by the help of its fitful rays we leapt across the pools of water left in every hollow. We passed some cattle-trucks. The Major held up the lamp and scrutinised a legend in white letters—
Hommes 40. Chevaux 12.
"Reminds me of the Rule of Three," said the Major meditatively. "If one Frenchman is equal to three and one-third horses, how many Huns are equal to one British soldier?"
"They are never equal to him," said the subaltern brightly. "If it wasn't for machinery we'd have crumpled them up long ago."
"True, my son," said the Major, "and well spoken."
The men were grouped round the cattle-trucks, each man with his kit and 120 rounds of ammunition. They had just been through a kit inspection, and the O.C. in charge of details had audited and found it correct by entering up a memorandum to that effect in each man's pay-book. Though how the O.C. completes his inventory of a whole draft, and certifies that nothing from a housewife to thirty pairs of laces per man is missing, is one of those things that no one has ever been able to understand. Perhaps he has radiographic eyes, and sees through the opaque integument of a ground-sheet at one glance. Also the Medical Officer at the Base Depot had endorsed the "Marching Out States," after scrutinising, more or less intimately, each man's naked body, with the aid of a tallow candle stuck in an empty bottle. A medical inspection of three hundred men with their shirts up in a dark shed is a weird and bashful spectacle. An N.C.O. was supervising the entraining at each truck; the escort was marching up and down the permanent way on the off-side. The R.T.O. handed the movement orders to the senior officer in command of drafts, and I saw that they were going to get a move on very soon.
We were now opposite a first-class compartment, and a slim figure loomed up out of the darkness.
"Halloa! is that you, C——? I thought you were gone on ahead of us, my boy."
"So I was, sir, but some of my men are missing, and I'm sending a corporal to hunt them up. We're off in a few minutes. I met young T—— just now. I've been trying to cheer him up," he added. It was evident that the subaltern was now understudying the Major in his star part of cheering other fellows up. "He's feeling rather blue," he continued. "Depressed at saying good-bye to his friends, you know."
"Oh, that's no good. Tell him I've got a plum-pudding and a bottle of whisky among my kit. Yes, and a topping liqueur."
I looked at B——'s compartment. His servant, a sapper, was stowing the kit in the racks and under the seat, with the help of a portable acetylene lamp which burnt with a hard white light in the darkness, a darkness which you could almost feel with your hand.
"I say, B——," I asked as I contemplated a hay-stack of things, "what's the regulation allowance for an officer's luggage? I forget."
"One hundred pounds. Oh yes, you may laugh, old chap, but I got round the R.T. officer. Christmas! you know. And I can stow it in my billet. Cheers the other fellows up, you know."
B——'s kit weighed, at a moderate computation, about a quarter of a ton, and included many things not to be found in the field-service regulations. But it would never surprise me if I found a performing elephant or a litter of life-size Teddy Bears in his baggage. He would gravely explain that it cheered the fellows up, you know.
"Major," I said, "you are a 'carrier'!"
"Carter Paterson?" said the Major, with a glance at his luggage.
"No, I didn't mean that. You are not as quick in the uptake as usual, especially considering your medical qualifications. What I meant was that you remind me, only rather differently, of the people who get typhoid and recover, but continue to propagate the germs long after they become immune from them themselves. You're diffusing a gaiety which you no longer feel."
It was a bold shot, and if we hadn't been pretty old friends it would have been an impertinence. The Major put his arm in mine and took me aside, so that the subaltern should not hear. "You've hit the bull's-eye, old chap," he said, in a low voice. "But don't give me away. Come into the carriage."
He was strangely silent as we sat facing each other in the compartment, each of us conscious of a hundred things to say, and saying none of them. The train might start at any moment, and such things as we did say were trivial irrelevancies. Suddenly he pulled out a pocket-book, and showed me a photograph.
"My wife and Pat—you've never seen Pat, I think? We christened her Patricia, you know?"
It was the photograph of a laughing child, with an aureole of curls, aged, I should say, about two.
"Pat sent me this," the Major said, producing a large woollen comforter. She had sent it for Daddy to wear during the cold nights with the Field Ambulance. I handed back the photograph, and B—— studied it intently for some minutes before replacing it in his pocket-book. Suddenly he leaned forward in a rather shamefaced way. "I say, old chap, write to my wife!"
"But, my dear fellow, I've never met her except once. She must have quite forgotten who I am."
"I know. But write and tell her you saw me off, and that I was at the top of my form. Merry and bright, you know."
We looked at each other for a moment; and I promised.
There was the loud hoot of a horn and a lurch of the couplings, as C—— sprang in. I grasped B——'s hand, and jumped on to the footboard of the moving train.
"Good-bye, old chap."
"Good-bye, old man."
B—— had gone to the front. I never saw him again.
* * * * *
Three weeks later I was sitting at dejeuner in the Metropole, when a ragamuffin came in with the London papers, which had just arrived by the leave-boat. I took up the Times and looked, as one always looks nowadays, at the obituary column. I looked again. In the same column, one succeeding the other, I read the following:
Killed in action on 8th inst., near Givenchy, Arthur Hamilton C—— of the —— Guards, 3rd Battalion, only child of the late Arthur C. and of Mrs. C. of the Red House, Little Twickenham, aged 19.
Behold! I take away the desire of thine eyes with a stroke.
Killed in action on the 8th inst., while dressing a wounded soldier under fire, Major Ronald B——, D.S.O., of the Royal Army Medical Corps, aged 42.
Greater love hath no man than this.
THE TWO RICHEBOURGS
We had business with the maire of the commune of Richebourg St. Vaast. Any one who looks at a staff map of North-West France will see that there are two Richebourgs; there is Richebourg St. Vaast, but there is also Richebourg l'Avoue, and although those two communes are separated by a bare three or four kilometres there was in point of climate a considerable difference between the two. In those days we had not yet taken Neuve Chapelle, and Richebourg l'Avoue, which was in front of our lines, was considered "unhealthy." Richebourg St. Vaast, on the other hand, was well behind our lines and was considered by our billeting officers quite a good residential neighbourhood.
We had left G.H.Q., and after a journey of two hours or so passed through Laventie, which had been rather badly mauled by shell-fire, and began to thread our way through the skein of roads and by-roads that enmeshes the two Richebourgs. The natural features of the country were inscrutable, and landmarks there were none. The countryside grew absolutely deserted and the solitary farms were roofless and untenanted. Eventually we found our road blocked by a barricade of fallen masonry in front of a village which was as inhospitable as the Cities of the Plain.
A vast silence brooded over the landscape, broken now and again by a noise like the crackling of thorns under a pot. As we took cover behind a wall of ruined houses we heard a sinister hiss, but whence it came or what invisible trajectory it traced through the leaden skies overhead neither of us could tell. Silence again fell like a mist upon the land; not a bird sang, not a twig moved. The winter sun was sinking in the west behind a pall of purple cloud in a lacquered sky—the one touch of colour in the sombre greyness. The land was flat as the palm of one's hand, its monotony relieved only by lines of pollarded willows on which some sappers had strung a field telephone. Raindrops hung on the copper wire like a string of pearls, and the heavy clay of the fields was scooped and moulded by the rain into little saucer-like depressions as if by a potter's thumb. Behind us lay the reserve trenches, their clay walls shored up with wickerwork, and their outskirts fringed with barbed wire whose intricate and volatile coils looked like thistledown. The village behind whose walls we now sheltered lay in a No Man's Land between the enemy's lines and our own, and the sodden fields were not more desolate.
A tornado of artillery fire had swept over it, and of the houses nothing was left but indecencies, shattered walls and naked rafters, beneath which were choked heaps of household furniture, broken beds, battered lamps, and a wicker-chair overturned as in a drunken brawl. What had once been the street was now a quarry of broken bricks, with here and there vast circular craters as though a gigantic oak-tree had been torn out of the earth by the roots. And now the weird silence was broken by sounds as of some one playing a lonely tattoo with his fingers upon a hollow wooden board, but the player was invisible, and as we looked at each other the sound ceased as suddenly as it began. Our practised ear told us that somewhere near us a machine-gun was concealed, but these furtive sounds were so homeless, so impersonal, that they eluded us like an echo.
It was this complete absence of visible human agency that impressed us most disagreeably, as with a sense of being utterly forlorn amid a play of the elements, like Lear upon the heath. There came into my mind, as our eyes groped for some human sign in the brooding landscape, the thought of the prophet upon the mount amid the wind and the earthquake and the fire seeking the presence of his God and finding it not. And here too all these assaults upon our senses were fugitive and ghostly, and we felt ourselves encompassed about as by some great conspiracy. We walked curiously up the little street until we reached the last house in the village, and came out beyond the screen of its wall. At the same instant something sang past my ear like the twang of a Jew's harp, my foot caught in a coil of wire, and I fell headlong. My companion, lagging behind and not yet clear of the friendly wall, stopped dead and cried to me not to stand up. I crawled back among the rubbish to the cover of the house. We took counsel together. To retreat were perilous, but to advance might be fatal. We lowered our voices as, cowering behind walls, and picking our way delicately among the debris, we crept back to our car behind the entrance to the village. The driver started the engine and we moved forlornly along the narrow causeway, skirting the unfathomable mud that lay on either side, until we spied a ruined farmhouse where a company had made its billet and mud-coloured knots of soldiers stood round braziers of glowing coals. We had some parley with the company commander, who was of the earth earthy. His words were few and discouraging. As we crawled on, darkness enveloped us, but we dared not light our head-lamps. Suddenly the car slipped on the greasy road, staggered, and lurched over into the morass, hurling us violently upon our sides. We clambered out and contemplated it solemnly as we saw our right wheels over the axles in mud. No friendly billet was now in sight, and as we stood profanely considering our plight the darkness behind us was split by a long shaft of greenish light, and the whole landscape was illuminated with a pallid glow, as the German star-shells discharged themselves over the fan-like tops of the elms silhouetted against the sky. The jack was useless in the soft mud, it sank like a stone, and as we shoved and cursed we awaited each fresh discharge of the star-shells with increasing apprehension, for we presented an obvious target to the enemy's snipers. On the seat of the car was my despatch-box, and in that box was a little dossier of papers marked "O.H.M.S. German Atrocities. Secret and Confidential." "If the Germans catch us there'll be one atrocity the more," remarked my Staff Officer grimly, "but they'll spare us the labour of recording it."
Our futile efforts were interrupted by the sound of feet upon the causeway as a column of reliefs loomed up out of the darkness. A hurried altercation in low tones, a subdued word of command, and a dozen men, their rifles and entrenching tools slung over their shoulders, applied themselves to the back of our car, and slowly it slithered out of the mud. The column broke into file to allow us to pass, my companion went on ahead with a tiny electric torch to show the way, and with infinite caution we nudged slowly along the rank, the faint light of the torch bringing face after face out of the darkness into chiaroscuro, faces young and fresh and ruddy. Not a word was spoken save a whispered command carried down the rank, mouth to ear, "No smoking, no talking "—"No smoking, no talking "—"No talking, no smoking." Mules, carrying sections of machine-guns and packs of straw, loomed up out of the darkness as we passed, until the last of the column was reached and the frieze of ghostly figures was swallowed up into the night. We drew a long breath, for we knew now from the colonel of the battalion whose men had delivered us from that Slough of Despond that we had been within 150 yards of the German lines. We had mistaken Richebourg l'Avoue for Richebourg St. Vaast.
IDOLS OF THE CAVE
Like the Cyclopes they dwelt in hollow caves, and each Colonel uttered the law to his children and recked not of the others except when the Brigadier came round. True there were two and a half battalions in their line of 2700 yards, but all they knew was that the next battalion to their own was the Highlanders; it was only when the five days were up and they were marched back to billets that they were able to cultivate that somewhat exclusive society. Their trenches were like the suburbs, they were faintly conscious that people lived in the next street, but they never saw them. Their neighbours were as self-contained and silent as themselves, except when their look-outs or machine-guns became loquacious. Then they too became eloquent, and the whole line talked freely at the Germans 200 yards away. By day the men slept heavily on straw in hollows under the parapet, supported with crates and sprinkled with chloride of lime; by night they were out at the listening posts, in the sap-heads, or behind the parapet, with their eyes glued to the field of yellow mustard in front of us. They had watched that field for three months. They knew every blade of grass therein. No experimental agriculturist ever studied his lucerne and sainfoin as they have studied the grasses of that field. They have watched it from winter to spring; they have seen the lesser celandine give way to pink clover and sorrel, and the grass shoot up from an inch to a foot. They have, indeed, been studying not botany but ethnology, searching for traces of that species of primitive man known to anthropologists as the Hun. They have never found him except once, when one of our look-outs saw something crawling across that field about midnight and promptly emptied his magazine. In the morning they saw a grey figure lying out in the open; the days passed and the long grass sprang up and concealed it till nothing was left to attest its obscene presence except a little cloud of black flies. Their horizon is bounded by rows of sand-bags, and their interest in those sand-bags is only equalled by their interest in the field in front of them. Occasionally one of our men finds them more than usually interesting. There is a loud report, the click of a bolt, and the pungent smell of burnt cordite. Then all is still again.
The tangent-sight on the standard of their machine-gun is always at 200, and they have not altered the range for three months. Occasionally at night the N.C.O. seizes the traversing-handles, and with his thumb on the button slowly sweeps that range of sand-bags, till the feed-block sucks up the cartridge-belt like a chaff-cutter and the empty cartridge-cases lie as thick round the tripod as acorns under an oak. The Huns reply by taking a flashlight photograph of us with a calcium flare, and then all is still again. In such excursions and alarms do they pass the long night.
Though five-sixths of them slept stertorously in their holes by day, by night they were as wakeful as owls, and not less predatory. Life in the trenches is one long struggle for existence, and in the course of it they developed those acquired characteristics whereby the birds of the air and the beasts of the field maintain themselves in a world of carnage. They learnt to walk delicately on the balls of their feet as silently as hares, to see in the dark like foxes, to wriggle like the creeping things of the field, to lower their voices with the direction of the wind, to select a background with the moonlight, and to stand motionless on patrol with muscles rigid like a pointer when the star-shells dissolved the security of the night. They studied to dissemble with their lips and to imitate the vocabulary of nature. They grew more and more chary of human speech, and listening posts talked with the trenches by pulls on a fishing-reel. They never sheathed their claws, and working-parties wore their equipment as though it were the integument of nature. Bayonets were never unfixed unless the moon were very bright. At night they scraped out their earths like a badger, and, like the badger's, those earths were exceeding clean. The men were numbered off by threes from the flank, and one in three watched for two hours while the other two worked, repairing parapets, strengthening entanglements, and filling sand-bags. Every half-hour the N.C.O. on duty crept round to report, or to post and relieve, while now and again a patrol went out to observe. All this was done stealthily and with an amazing economy of speech. Night was also the time of their foraging, when the company's rations were brought up the communication trench and handed over by the C.Q.M.S. to each platoon sergeant, who passed them on to the section commander, and he in turn distributed them among his men in such silence and with such little traffic that it seemed like the provision of manna in the wilderness. At dawn pick-axe and spade were laid aside, the rum ration was served out, and all men stood to, for dawn was the hour of their apprehension.
Two miles behind them is a battery of our field guns, and they have with them an observing officer who talks intimately to his battery on the field telephone in that laconic language of which gunners are so fond, such as "One hundred. Twenty minutes to the left." Then the shells sing over their heads with a pretty low trajectory, and the Huns, beginning to get annoyed, reply with their heavy guns. There is a low whistle up aloft, a noise like the fluttering of invisible wings, and the next moment a cloud of black smoke rises over the village of X—— Y——, behind the trenches. The Smoke Prevention Society ought to turn their attention to "Jack Johnsons"; their habits are positively filthy.
These things, however, disturbed them but little and bored them a great deal. So they set to work to make their particular rabbit-warren into a Garden City. They held it on a repairing lease, and were constantly filling sand-bags, but that was merely to prevent depreciation, and didn't count. They first of all paved their trenches with bricks; there was no difficulty about the supply, as the "Jack Johnsons" obligingly acted as house-breakers in the village behind our lines, and bricks could be had for the fetching. Then the orderly transplanted some pansies and forget-me-nots from the garden of a ruined house, and made a border in front of the company commander's dug-out. The communication trench had been carried across a stream with some planks, and one day a man with a gift for carpentry fixed up a balustrade out of the arms of an apple-tree, which had been lopped off by shell, and we had a rustic bridge. When May came, water anemones opened their star-like petals on the surface of the clear amber stream, the orchard through which the communication trench had been cut burst into blossom, the sticky clay walls of the trench became hard as masonry in the sun, and one morning a board appeared with the legend "Hyde Park. Keep off the grass."
With these amenities their manners grew more and more refined. I have read somewhere, in one of those dull collections of sweeping generalisations that are called sociology, that each species of the genus homo has to go through a normal sequence of stages from barbarism to civilisation, and that we were once what the South Sea Islanders are now. Which may be very true, but as regards that particular primitive community I can testify that their social evolution has in three months gone through all the stages that occupy other communities three thousand years. They began as cave-dwellers and they end by occupying suburban villas—the captain's dug-out has a roof of corrugated iron, a window, a book-shelf, a table, and even chairs, and his table manners have vastly improved. They have progressed from candles stuck in bully-beef tins to electric reading-lamps. Three months ago they were hairy men whose beards did grow beneath their shoulders, and their puttees were cemented with wet clay; to-day they are clean-shaven and their Burberrys might be worn in Piccadilly. They slept with nothing between them and the earth but a ground sheet what time they were not, like the elephant, sleeping on their feet and propped against a trench wall. Now they sleep on a bed with a wooden frame. I have read somewhere that for a thousand years Europe was unwashed. It may be so, but I know that this particular tribal community progressed rapidly through all such stages, from a bucket to a shower-bath in billets, in about six weeks, and you can see their men any day washing themselves to the waist near the support trenches—men who a month or two ago had forgotten how to take their clothes off. They are, in fact, a highly civilised community. Some traces of their aboriginal state they still retain, and they cherish their totem, which is a bundle of black ribbons, rather like the flattened leaves of an artichoke, attached to the back of their collars. It is the badge of their tribe. Also at night some of them develop the most primitive of all instincts and crawl out on their stomachs with a hand-grenade to get as near as may be to the enemy's listening posts and taste the joy of killing. But by day they are as demure and sleepy as the tortoiseshell cat which has taken up its quarters in the dug-out.
Such is their life. But they are quietly preparing to get a move on. Some R.G.A. men have arrived with four pretty toys from Vickers's, and one fine morning they are going to disturb those sand-bags opposite them with a battery of trench mortars; our field guns will draw a curtain of shrapnel in front of the German support trenches, and then they will satisfy their curiosity as to what is behind those inscrutable sand-bags.
An offender when in arrest is not to bear arms except by order of his C.O. or in an emergency.—The King's Regulations.
The President of the Court and the Judge-Advocate stood in private colloquy in one of the deep traverse-like windows of the Hotel de Ville over-looking the Place. A heavy rain was falling from a sullen sky, and the deserted square was a dancing sea of agitation as the raindrops smote the little pools between the cobbles and ricochetted with a multitudinous hiss. Now and again a gust of wind swept across, and the rain rattled against the windows. On the opposite side of the square one of the houses gaped curiously, with bedroom and parlour exposed to view, as though some one had snatched away the walls and laid the scene for one of those Palais Royal farces in which the characters pursue a complicated domestic intrigue on two floors at once. That house, with its bed exposed to the rain dripping from the open rafters, was indeed both farcical and indecent; it stood among its unscathed neighbours like a pariah. The rain was loud and insistent, but not so loud as to dull the distant thunder of the guns. The intermittent gusts of wind now and again interrupted its monotonous theme, but the intervals were as brief as they were violent, and in this polyphonic composition of rain, wind, and guns, the hissing of the raindrops came and went as in a fugue and with an inexpressible mournfulness.
Inside the room was a table covered with green baize, on which were methodically arranged in extended order a Bible, an inkstand, a sheaf of paper, and a copy of the Manual of Military Law. Behind the table were seven chairs, and to the right and left of them stood two others. The seven chairs were for the members of the court; the chair on the extreme right was for the "prisoner's friend," that on the left awaited the Judge-Advocate. About five yards in front of the table, in the centre of an empty space, stood two more chairs turned towards it. Otherwise the room was as bare as a guard-room. And this austere meagreness gave it a certain dignity of its own as of a place where nothing was allowed to distract the mind from the serious business in hand. At the door stood an orderly with a red armlet bearing the imprint of the letters "M.P." in black.
"I have read the summary pretty carefully," the Judge-Advocate was saying, "and it seems to me a clear case. The charge is fully made out. And yet the curious thing is, the fellow has an excellent record, I believe."
"That proves nothing," said the Colonel; "I've had a fellow in my battalion found sleeping at his post on sentry-go, a fellow I could have sworn by. And you know what the punishment for that is. It's these night attacks; the men must not sleep by night and some of them cannot sleep by day, and there are limits to human nature. We've no reserves to speak of as yet, and the men are only relieved once in three weeks. Their feet are always wet, and their circulation goes all wrong. It's the puttees perhaps. And if your circulation goes wrong you can't sleep when you want to, till at last you sleep when you don't want to. Or else your nerves go wrong. I've seen a man jump like a rabbit when I've come up behind him."
"Yes," mused the Judge-Advocate, "I know. But hard cases make bad law."
"Yes, and bad law makes hard cases. Between you and me, our military law is a bit prehistoric. You're a lawyer and know more about it than I do. But isn't there something for civilians called a First Offenders Act? Bind 'em over to come up for judgment if called on—that kind of thing. Gives a man another chance. Why not the soldier too?"
"Yes," replied the Judge-Advocate, "there is. I believe the War Office have been talking about adopting it for years. But this is not the time of day to make changes of that kind. Everybody's worked off his head."
Eight officers had entered the room at intervals, the subalterns a little ahead of their seniors in point of time, as is the first duty of a subaltern whether on parade or at a "general," and, having saluted the President in the window, they stood conversing in low tones.
The Colonel suddenly glanced at his left wrist, walked to the middle chair behind the table, and taking his seat said, "Now, gentlemen, carry on, please!" As they took their places the Colonel, as President of the Court, ordered the prisoner to be brought in. There was a shuffle of feet outside, and a soldier without cap or belt or arms, and with a sergeant's stripes upon his sleeve, was marched in under a sergeant's escort. His face was not unpleasing—the eyes well apart and direct in their gaze, the forehead square, and the contours of the mouth firm and well-cut. The two took their places in front of the chair, and stood to attention. The prisoner gazed fixedly at the letters "R.F.," which flanked the arms of the Republic on the wall above the President's head, and stood as motionless as on parade. A close observer, however, would have noticed that his thumb and forefinger plucked nervously at the seam of his trousers, and that his hands, though held at attention, were never quite still. The escort kept his head covered.
At the President's order to "bring in the evidence," the soldier on duty at the door vanished to return with a squad of seven soldiers in charge of a sergeant, who formed them up in two ranks behind the prisoner and his escort. And they also stood exceeding still.
The President read the order convening the court, and, as he recited each officer's name and regiment, the owner acknowledged it with "Here, sir." When he came to the prisoner's name he looked up and said, "Is that your name and number?" The escort nudged the prisoner, who recalled his attention from the wall with an immense effort and said "Yes, sir."
"Captain Herbert appears as prosecutor and takes his place." As the ritual prescribed by the Red Book was religiously gone through, the prisoner continued to stare at the wall above the President's head, and the rain rattled against the window-panes with intermittent violence. Having finished his recital, the President rose, and with him all the members of the court rose also. He took a Bible in his hand and faced the Judge-Advocate, who exhorted him that he should "well and truly try the accused before the court according to the evidence," and that he would duly administer justice according to the Army Act now in force, without partiality, favour, or affection.... "So help you God." As the colonel raised the book to his lips he chanted the antiphon "So help me God." And the Judge-Advocate proceeded to swear the other members of the court, individually or collectively, three subalterns who were jointly and severally sworn holding the book together with a quaint solemnity, as though they were singing hymns at church out of a common hymn-book. Then the Judge-Advocate was in turn sworn by the President with his own peculiar oath of office, and did faithfully and with great earnestness promise that he would neither divulge the sentence, nor disclose nor discover any votes or opinions as to the same. Which being done, and the President having ordered the military policeman to march out the evidence, the sergeant in charge cried "Left turn. Quick march. Left wheel," and the little cloud of witnesses vanished through the doorway.