"ALL FOR A SCRAP OF PAPER" "DEARER THAN LIFE" ETC.
HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LONDON —— NEW YORK —— TORONTO
TWO GREAT WAR STORIES BY JOSEPH HOCKING
ALL FOR A SCRAP OF PAPER DEARER THAN LIFE
OTHER STORIES BY JOSEPH HOCKING
Facing Fearful Odds O'er Moor and Fen The Wilderness Rosaleen O'Hara The Soul of Dominie Wildthorne Follow the Gleam David Baring The Trampled Cross
My only qualification for writing this simple story of "Tommy" is that I have tried to know him, and that I greatly admire him. I met him before he joined the army, when for more than six months I addressed recruiting meetings. I have also been with him in training camps, and spent many hours talking with him. It was during those hours that he opened his heart to me and showed me the kind of man he is. Since then I have visited him in France and Flanders. I have been with him down near La Bassee, and Neuve Chapelle. I have talked with him while great guns were booming as well as during his hours of well-earned rest, when he was in a garrulous mood, and was glad to crack a joke "wi' a man wearin' a black coat." I have also been with him up at Ypres, when the shells were shrieking over our heads, and the "pep, pep, pep" of machine guns heralded the messengers of death. We stood side by side in the front trenches, less than a hundred yards from the German sand-bags, when to lift one's head meant a Hun's bullet through one's brain, and when "woolly bears" were common. So although I am not a soldier, and have probably fallen into technical errors in telling the story of "Tommy," it is not because he is a stranger to me, or because I have not tried to know him.
Only a small part of this story is imagination. Nearly every incident in the book was told me by "Tommy" himself, and while the setting of my simple tale is fiction, the tale itself is fact.
That is why I hope the story of "Tommy" will not only be read by thousands of men in khaki, but by their fathers and mothers and loved ones who bade them go to the Front, and who earnestly pray for their speedy and victorious return, even as I do.
PRIORS' CORNER, TOTTERIDGE, HERTS, February 1916.
The Brunford Town Hall clock was just chiming half-past three as Tom Pollard left his home in Dixon Street and made his way towards the Thorn and Thistle public-house. It was not Tom's intention to stay long at the Thorn and Thistle, as he had other plans in view, nevertheless something drew him there. He crossed the tram lines in St. George's Street, and, having stopped to exchange some rustic jokes with some lads who stood at the corner of the street, he hurried across the open space and quickly stood on the doorsteps of the public-house.
The weather was gloriously fine, and for a wonder the air in the heart of the town was pure and clear. That was accounted for by the fact that it was Sunday, and the mills were idle. Throughout the week-days, both in summer and in winter, the atmosphere of Brunford is smoke laden, while from a hundred mills steamy vapours are emitted which makes that big manufacturing town anything but a health resort. Tom was making his way up the passage towards the bar, when the door opened and a buxom, bold-eyed, red-cheeked girl of about twenty-four stopped him.
"You're late, Tom," she said.
"Am I?" replied Tom. "I didn't mean to be."
"I was thinking you weren't coming at all. Some young men I know of wouldn't have been late if I'd said to them what I said to you on Friday night." Then she looked at him archly.
"I couldn't get away before," replied Tom. Evidently he was not quite comfortable, and he did not return the girl's glances with the warmth she desired.
"Anyhow I am free till half-past five," she went on. "I don't know what father and mother would say if they knew I was walking out with you; but I don't mind. Do you like my new dress, Tom?"
Tom looked at her admiringly; there was no doubt that, after her own order, she was a striking-looking girl, and her highly coloured attire was quite in accord with her complexion.
"Jim Scott was here half an hour ago," she went on; "he badly wanted me to go with him, but I wouldn't."
Tom looked more uncomfortable than ever; he remembered the purpose for which he had set out, and was sorry that he had called at the Thorn and Thistle at all, even although the girl evidently favoured him more than any of her other admirers.
"I just called to say I couldn't come for a walk with you this afternoon," he said, looking on the ground. "You see I have an appointment."
"Appointment!" cried the girl. "Who with?"
"Oh, with no one in particular; only I must keep it."
The girl's eyes flashed angrily. "Look here," she cried, "you are still sweet on Alice Lister; I thought you had given up all that Sunday-school lot."
"Well, I have noan been to Sunday School," said Tom.
"Ay, but you're going to meet Alice Lister now, and that is why you can't go wi' me." Evidently the girl was very angry, and a look of jealousy flashed from her eyes. Still there could be no doubt that she was very fond of Tom and meant if possible to capture him.
"I can't go out wi' you this afternoon, and—and——but there, I'm off."
For a moment the girl seemed on the point of speaking to him still more angrily, and perhaps of bidding him to leave her for good. She quickly altered her mind, however, and seemed determined to use all her blandishments.
"Ay, Tom," she said. "Tha'rt too good to throw thyself away on the goody-goody Alice Lister sort. Tha'rt too much of a man for that, else I should never have got so fond of thee."
"Art'a really fond of me, Polly?" asked Tom, evidently pleased by Polly's confession.
"I'm not goin' to say any more," replied the girl. And then she laughed. "I was thinkin' that after we'd been to Scott's Park you might come back to tea. I don't believe father and mother would mind. Father wur sayin' only this morning that you'd got brains. You took three prizes at the Mechanics' Institute last winter, and he said that if you got manufacturing on your own, you'd make brass."
"Did he say that?" asked Tom eagerly,
"Ay, he did, only this morning."
"But I have no capital," said Tom rather sadly.
"Father's saved money," replied Polly eagerly. "The Thorn and Thistle's a good house and we have good company; and if father liked a lad, especially if I recommended him, he could easily find money to start a small mill. But there, I suppose you are only thinking of Alice Lister."
The Town Hall clock chimed the three-quarters, and, much as he wanted to stay with Polly, he moved towards the door and said, "Well, I must be goin' now."
Again anger flashed from Polly's eyes, but still controlling her temper she said: "Ay, but you'll come back this evening, won't you, Tom? Jim Dixon's coming to tea, and if you're not here, and he wur to ask me to go out for a walk with him tonight, I shouldn't have any excuse for refusing."
There could be no doubt about it that, to Tom, Polly Powell looked very alluring. She was rather older than he, and her beauty was of a highly coloured order. At that moment Tom's mind was much distracted, nevertheless as the sound of the deep-toned bell in the Town Hall tower died away he determined to take his leave.
"And I thought we might have such a nice time, too," she said, following him. "But never mind, you'll be back this evening. Ay, Tom lad, tha doesn't know when tha'art well off." And she gave him her most bewitching smile.
Tom hurried up Liverpool Road with the sound of Polly's voice in his ears and the memory of the flash in her great black eyes in his mind. "She is a grand lass," he reflected, "and she's fair gone on me too; and what's more she's not so finickin' as some lasses are. After all, why should I be so straitlaced? She's a lass as loves good company, she likes a lark, and—and——" After that Tom became thoughtful.
Tom Pollard was typical of thousands of lads who dwell in the manufacturing districts of Lancashire. His father and mother had been weavers, and while his mother had ceased going to the mill, his father still earned his thirty shillings a week behind the looms. They did not belong to the best class of Lancashire operatives, and Tom's home influence was not all it might have been. That was why, years before, many wondered that Tom promised to turn out so well. He was not particularly clever, but he possessed a large share of the proverbial Lancashire sharpness and common sense; he had an eye to the main chance, and dreamt of becoming something better than an ordinary weaver. For that reason he had attended some technical classes at the Mechanics' Institute, and, as Polly Powell had reminded him, had only a few months before taken prizes there. Young as he was, he had already been promised a Tackler's job, which meant that he would be a kind of foreman, and have the oversight of a small part of a mill. This, Tom was sure, would open the way to a more responsible position, and then if he had good luck he might in a few years start manufacturing for himself. Many of the mill-owners in Brunford were, a few years before, poor men, while now, owing to a great boom in the cotton trade, they were quite wealthy men. During the last few months, however, Tom's best friends had not been quite so hopeful about him. He had been a frequent visitor at the Thorn and Thistle; and he had altogether given up attendance at Sunday School. This was considered a bad sign in Brunford, where the great bulk of the respectable young men attend one of the many Sunday Schools in the town.
As Tom neared the Town Hall his face changed somewhat, and a look of eager expectancy came into his eyes. He noted with satisfaction that the yard outside a big building was empty. "I'm in time after all," he reflected. "They've just sung the last hymn."
A few minutes later several hundred young people came into the street, and Tom was not long in singling out one for whom he had evidently been watching. This was a young girl of about twenty years of age, and it was easy to see at a glance that she was superior to those whom she accompanied. Her face was refined, her eyes large and intelligent; and her neat, well-fitting clothes did not suggest the flamboyancy of Polly Powell's adornments.
"There's Tom Pollard waiting for you, Alice," said one of the girls. Alice Lister flushed as the girl spoke, and the colour which rose to her cheeks told its own tale.
"If I were you, Alice," said another, "I should keep my eye on him. Sin' he give up going to Sunday School he's noan so much of a catch; besides, I saw him with Polly Powell last Sunday evening after he went home with you; and Polly Powell is noan your sort."
Alice did not reply to this, but her lips trembled; evidently the words wounded her. All the time Tom stood smoking a cigarette. Although he had come to meet Alice, he did not like the idea of going up to claim her while so many girls were around.
"Ay, Tom," said one of the girls, shouting to him. "How's Polly Powell?"
Tom did not reply; his ready wit left him for the moment.
"If I were Alice," said another, "I'd give thee the sack. Tha's noan fitted to go with her."
"Ay," said another, "and Polly's only just playing wi' him; she's got more nor one string to her bow, has Polly. And she'd noan look at thee, Tom, if the young landlord at the Bull and Butcher had made up to her."
Lancashire folks are not slow in speaking their minds, and they have no false delicacy about telling people their opinion of them.
"Well," said Tom quietly, "I fly higher game than you, Emily Bilson, anyhow. I have only just got to hold up my finger to the whole lot on you, and you'd come after me. But I'm noan going to do it; I've got too much respect for myself."
Almost as if by arrangement the girls separated, and Tom found himself walking up Liverpool Road by the side of Alice Lister. Neither of them spoke for some minutes. Tom didn't know what to say, while Alice was evidently thinking deeply.
"Have you been to the Young Men's Class this afternoon," she asked presently.
"Why?" asked the girl, looking at him steadily.
"It's noan in my line," replied Tom. "That kind of thing'll do for kids, but when people get grown up they want something better."
"Better and cleverer people than you, Tom, don't give it up," replied the girl.
Tom continued to walk by Alice's side, looking rather sulky.
He and Alice had begun to walk out together a little more than a year before, much to the surprise of their mutual friends. For Alice was not only better educated than Tom, but she moved in rather a better circle. Alice's father was one who, beginning life as a weaver, had by steady perseverance and good common sense become a small manufacturer. He was anything but a rich man, but he was what the people called "Doin' vary weel"—one who with good luck would in about ten years' time "addle a tidy bit of brass." Alice was his only daughter. He had never allowed her to go to the mill, but had sent her to a fairly good school until she was sixteen years of age, since which time she had stayed at home with her mother, and assisted her in the house work. Alice had continued her education, however. She had a natural gift for music and possessed a fine contralto voice. She had quite a local reputation as a pianist and was constantly in demand to sing at concerts. She was more than ordinarily intelligent too, and was a lover of good books. Added to this she attended classes in the town for French and German; and had on more than one occasion been invited to the houses of big manufacturers. That was why people wondered at her walking out with Tom Pollard. He, although looked upon as a sharp lad, was not, as was generally agreed, "up to Alice's mark."
Still facts were facts, and there could be no doubt about it that Alice showed a great preference for Tom, and, in spite of the fact that her father and mother were not at all pleased, had allowed him to accompany her home on several occasions.
"What are you going to do, Tom?" asked the girl.
"What am I going to do?" queried Tom. "I don't know that I am going to do anything. What do you mean, Alice?"
"I mean that you must make your choice."
"Choice? What choice?"
"I should not have met you this afternoon," replied Alice Lister quietly, "but for the fact that I want to come to an understanding. I have not been blind, neither have I been deaf, these last few months; a change has come over you, and—and you will have to choose."
Tom knew what she meant well enough, but he pretended to be ignorant.
"What has come over you, Alice? What do you mean? Surely," he went on, "you are not taking any notice of what Emily Bilson said. Just as though a lad can't speak to any lass but his own!"
"Tom," went on the girl quietly, "you know what you told me twelve months ago; you know, too, what my father and mother said when they saw us together; it has not been pleasant for me to listen to people's gossip, especially when I know that most of it is true. I have been very fond of you and I don't deny it; if I hadn't I should not have walked out with you, but I want to tell you this—you have to make your choice this afternoon; either you are going to give up me, or you are going to give up the Thorn and Thistle and all it means."
"You're jealous of Polly Powell," said Tom, with an uneasy laugh.
"I'm jealous of your good name, Tom, jealous of evil influence."
"Evil influence? What evil influence?"
"Going to the Thorn and Thistle has done you a great deal of harm; it has caused you to give up your Young Men's Class, and—and—but there, I needn't talk any more about it. You understand what I mean. It must be either one or the other, Tom."
"You mean that I must either give up you or Polly Powell?"
"It means more than that," replied the girl, "it means that you must either give up me or give up going to the Thorn and Thistle. You used to be a teetotaler, Tom."
"As though any lad's a teetotaler in these days," laughed the young fellow. "Come now, Alice, you are not so narrow-minded as that. I am nearly twenty-three now, and if I want a glass of beer surely I can have it. You don't mean to say that everybody but teetotalers are going to the bad."
"You know very well what I mean, Tom. You are not the kind of young man you were, and either you give up these things or we part company."
"Nay, Alice, doan't be narrow-minded. I suppose," he added bitterly, "that you are beginning to look higher than me, that you are thinking o' one of the manufacturers. I hear that Harry Briarfield was up at your house to supper the other night."
They had by this time left the Liverpool Road and had entered Scott's Park, which during the last few years had become a rendezvous for the people of the town, especially on Sunday afternoons.
"You know," went on the girl, "that it made no difference to me when people told me that I was choosing a weaver. I didn't think about it, I only thought of you. But, Tom, I shall never marry any one who—who can find his pleasure in such places as the Thorn and Thistle, and who sneers at Sunday School."
"You mean," said Tom, rather angrily, "that if you continue to keep company with me I must feed on your religious lolly-pops."
An angry flush mounted the girl's cheek, but she continued to speak quietly.
"Tom," she said, "will you answer me truly? Do you find anything at the Thorn and Thistle better than you found in the young men's class? You sneer at religion, but religion does no one any harm; rather it always does good; anyhow, it's everything to me, and you have to make your choice."
Tom looked at her steadily. He knew what she meant, knew too that the time had come when he would have to make his choice. At that moment he saw what Polly Powell meant to his life, saw, too, that if he followed the road in which he had been walking during the last few months he would have to give up Alice Lister. He saw more than this, for at that moment Polly Powell's blandishments had no effect on him. She appeared to him in her true light—a coarse, vulgar girl.
"You don't care about me like you did," he said angrily. "You are getting tired of me."
"If that were true I should not speak to you in this way," and her voice became tremulous. "But I am not going to throw away my life, Tom; there's something more in life than—than love."
"What?" he asked.
"Duty, God," was the reply.
Tom again laughed uneasily. Alice Lister lived in a different world from that in which Polly Powell lived; they breathed a different atmosphere; they spoke a different language. Yes, he would have to make his choice.
"I would rather have you than forty Polly Powells," he burst out, "I would really, Alice, but—but——"
"There must be no buts, Tom, if—if you want me. Oh, Tom, can't you see? You know that what I say is right and—and——"
He saw her lips quiver; saw the tears start to her eyes. He knew that his association with the daughter of the landlord of the Thorn and Thistle was coarsening him, making him have lower standards of life, making everything poorer, more sordid. Whenever he was with Alice he wanted to be better and truer, and she always made him ashamed of coarse, base things.
"Alice, do you love me?" and his voice became almost hoarse.
"If I didn't would I talk to you like this?" was her answer.
A crisis had come into Tom's life, and he knew it. Two forces were fighting in his heart, two angels were battling for his soul. At that moment it seemed as though his better angel were going to win the victory; he was on the point of telling Alice that he would never go into the Thorn and Thistle again, never speak to Polly Powell again, when he heard a familiar voice close to him.
"I say, Pollard, you are coming to-night, aren't you?"
Tom turned and saw a well-dressed young fellow close beside him. He had come to Brunford some three years before to learn the cotton trade, and during the last few months he and Tom had been very friendly. Tom was rather proud of this, because young Harry Waterman was his superior, both socially and from an educational standpoint. Waterman claimed to be the son of a squire who lived in Warwickshire, who had sent him to Brunford to learn cotton manufacturing because more money was to be made out of it than by sticking to the land.
Waterman was a tall, handsome young fellow, with a florid complexion and light-brown hair. He had met Tom at the Mechanics' Institute Classes, and the young weaver had been much flattered when the other had at various times discarded all social distinctions and been friendly with him. It was he who had laughed Tom out of going to the Young Men's Classes on Sunday afternoon, and told him that religion was only fit for ignorant people and women. Waterman professed to have travelled a good deal, and had told Tom that after leaving an English Public School he had studied in one of the German Universities and taken his degree there. He had described to the simple Lancashire boy the life of Berlin, and Leipzig, Munich, and other German cities. Tom had been a willing pupil and thought what wonderful people the Germans were. He felt proud too that young Harry Waterman had evidently taken a liking to him. "You will come, won't you?" went on Waterman; "just the same lot, you know."
"Ay, I think so," said Tom.
"That's all right, then; we'll look out for you about seven."
"Where are you going to-night?" asked Alice.
"Only with Mr. Waterman," replied Tom.
"To a kind of club we have at the Rose and Crown. Come now, Alice, it's no use looking like that; you can't expect me to be a ninny. Besides, Waterman's a swell, he is the son of a squire."
"That is how you are going to spend your Sunday evening, then?" said the girl.
"Certainly," replied Tom. He felt angry that Alice should interfere with his pleasures. Besides, he remembered that Waterman had once said to him that any fellow was a fool who allowed a woman to interfere with his pleasures.
"I see you have made your choice," said Alice.
"Look here, Alice," said Tom angrily, "if you mean that you expect me to behave like a Methody parson, I have. I mean to get on, and Waterman can help me; and—and—— I say, Alice, don't look like that!" for the look in the girl's eyes had almost destroyed the influence which Waterman had over him.
"I am going home now," said the girl.
"May I come with you?" asked Tom.
"That depends," replied the girl; "either you must be as you were when I first walked out with you, or we must part."
"You mean good-bye for ever?"
"Just that," she replied. "Oh, Tom, can't you see! Can't you see! Won't you promise, Tom? I don't know anything about young Waterman; but I know he is not having a good influence on you, and, Tom, why do you want to break my heart?"
Still Tom was undecided. He wanted Alice more than words could say; he felt there was no girl like her in all the wide world, and he knew that the last few months had not done him any good. But there was another side. He was only a weaver, and he had been proud to associate with Waterman, who was friendly with big manufacturers. But to give up Alice? No, he could not do that. He heard a loud laugh close by his side, and walking towards the Band-stand he saw Polly Powell with Jim Dixon.
Yes, Alice looked pale and bloodless beside Polly Powell. Polly had no squeamish narrow-minded notions. Polly loved a good joke and a laugh, and was not tied down to Sunday-school rule. The daughter of the landlord of the Thorn and Thistle caught Tom's eye.
"I shall see you to-night, shan't I, Tom?" she said, looking at him languishingly, and then passed on.
Alice had become pale almost to the lips, and there was a look of steady resolution in her eyes. "You must make your choice, Tom," she said.
Tom looked at her for a second, then cast his eyes towards the spot where Polly Powell stood. He felt madly jealous of Jim Dixon at that moment. What right had he to be with such a girl as Polly? Besides, why should he give up all the fun of life? Why should he become strait-laced and silly?
Alice Lister held out her hand. "Good-bye, Tom," she said, "I see that your choice is made." And then she walked away.
Tom stood gazing after her for a few seconds, undecided what to do. Something, he could not tell what, urged him to run after her; to promise her what she wanted him to promise; to renounce the life which, although it might not be very bad, was still not good for him. He knew what she meant, knew too that she was in the right. No, he could not, would not give her up; he loved her too much. Then he felt a hand upon his arm.
"Ay, so you have got rid of her, have you? You must come back wi' me to tea." Polly's hand was caressing, and her eyes burnt brightly; evidently she had been watching him, and had left Jim Dixon for him. He turned and walked by Polly's side.
That night as Tom walked back to Dixon Street his feet were unsteady and his voice was husky and uncertain.
"What's matter with thee?" said his mother as he entered the house.
"Nowt's matter wi' me."
"Ay, but there is. Thou'st bin' drinkin' agean."
"Weel, and what if I have? It's cost me nowt."
"Ay, I know: thou'st been to the Thorn and Thistle after that Polly Powell lass. Ay, you ninny. I thought you looked higher nor that. What about Alice Lister?"
"She's got too much pie-jaw for me," said Tom sulkily. "I'm noan goin' to be a Methody parson."
"Thou'st goin' to be a bigger fool than I thought tha ever could be," retorted his mother angrily.
"That tak's a bit o' doin'," replied Tom as he fumbled with his boot laces.
"Thou'st gi'en up a nice lass for a brazen-faaced 'uzzy; thou'rt an addle-'eaded ninny. Can'st'a see?"
"Ay, I tak' after my mother," was Tom's reply as he made his way upstairs. "Bein' fools runs in the family."
"It must or I should never 'a' reared thee," shouted his mother after him.
What I have related took place on the first Sunday in June in the year 1914. Brunford, a large manufacturing town which stood well-nigh in the centre of the cotton district of Lancashire, had enjoyed what was called "a great boom in trade." Mills had been working overtime, and money had been earned freely. During the last five years poor men had become rich, while the operatives had had their share in the general prosperity. This fact was manifest in the general life of the town. The sober and thrifty part of the population had increased their savings. Hundreds of people had bought their own cottages, and had laid by for a rainy day. The thriftless were none the better for the prosperity which abounded, rather they were the worse. Big wages had only meant increased drunkenness and increased misery. Still all the people hoped that good trade would continue and that there would be plenty of work.
On the following day Tom went to work as usual, but he felt that a new element had come into his life. He was not given to self-analysis, but while on the one hand he felt suddenly free, he knew on the other that he had sacrificed something which meant a great deal to him. Still he would not think about it. After all, all the time he had been keeping company with Alice he felt like a man tied to the end of a rope. He would now have his liberty. He was glad to be free from a girl who made him uncomfortable when he drank a glass of beer or went out to enjoy himself.
Tom was by no means a hero. There was a great deal of good in his nature, but there were coarse elements which affected him strongly. If Polly Powell had not appeared, it is possible, such was Alice's influence over him, that he would have remained true to his former ambitions, and probably have risen in the social scale. He was intelligent, and possessed a large degree of what the Lancashire people called gumption. On the other hand he was the child of his surroundings and of his order. The coarse life of the town had gripped him, and his home influences had not helped him toward the ideal which Alice Lister had helped him to strive after.
"Ay, Tom, I 'ear as Alice Lister has give thee the sack," said a youth a few days after Tom had parted from Alice.
"Maybe 'twas t'other way around," replied Tom.
"Why, yo doan't main that you chucked 'er?"
"She wur too goody-goody for me," replied Tom. "I am noan baan to be a saint, I am going to enjoy mysen."
"Weel, tha' won't be a saint if tha' has much to do with Polly Powell. She's noan a saint," and the lad laughed meaningly. "Still her feyther's got a bit of brass. I reckon he will have all thine, Tom; Jim Parkin told me that tha' spent four shillings at the Thorn and Thistle last night."
"Well, what if I did?" asked Tom.
"Ay, it's noan my business, but I think thee'rt a fool. If a lass like Alice Lister took up wi' me, I would not throw myself away on Polly Powell. Thou'lt ne'er mak' much on 'er. She'll lead thee a dog's life, Tom, and tak' all tha' brass."
"Well, I reckon it's my business," retorted Tom.
"Then it's a fool's business," replied the other.
This kind of thing made Tom uncomfortable, but it didn't turn him aside from the path on which he was walking. There could be no doubt about it, Tom's character was deteriorating, and during the next two months he not only declared that he had chucked religion altogether, but that he meant to enjoy life. Tom spent most of his evenings at the Thorn and Thistle, and as a consequence his studies were neglected. Not that there was much outward difference in him; he still remained fairly sober, although on more than one occasion he was seen leaving the Thorn and Thistle at closing time with staggering footsteps; it never caused him to lose any work, however.
Meanwhile dark clouds began to arise in the nation's sky. People had given only a passing thought to the news of the murder of the Crown Prince of Austria, but presently when Austria sent her outrageous ultimatum to Serbia, and the people read what Sir Edward Grey said about it, they began to talk seriously. For there is no part in England where politics have such a keen interest for the working-classes as they have in Lancashire. Almost every man there is a politician, and there are but few, especially among the older men, who have not an intelligent grasp not only of home, but of international affairs.
"I'll tell you what," said one manufacturer to another as they stood on the steps of the Mechanics' Institute, "those Germans mean war; they have been preparing for it for years, and they are trying to force it."
"Nay," replied the other, "but I doan't see how it can affect us, except"—and he laughed meaningly—"except for our benefit."
"How can it be for our benefit?"
"Why, can't you see? If the Germans join Austria against Russia and France, we shall be able to steal the German trade;—and we can do with it," was the reply.
"Ay, we can."
"Just see how Manchester is riddled with Germans. They have been robbing our trade right and left, and even here in Brunford Germans are poking their noses. I am about sick of them. Thirty years ago we hardly ever saw a German, and now they have nobbled our best-paying lines. If I had my way, all Germans should be driven out of the country; they are a bad lot to deal with; they have no business honour, and they don't play the game."
"Come now, it's not so bad as that."
"Ay, but it is. For years they have been sending their lads over here on the pretence of learning the language. They take jobs in our offices for hardly any wage, and then when they have learned our secrets, and the names of our customers, they just play against us."
"Well, more fools we for letting 'em."
But it is not my purpose to deal with the talk which was so prevalent towards the close of July 1914. Neither am I going to try to trace the history of the events which led up to the war which has staggered humanity. We all know now what Germany had in her mind: how by pretence, and deceit, and fraud she worked her will; how she thought that England would allow her to crush France and Russia without moving a finger. Germany thought that the English were blind, and that for the sake of gain we should remain neutral and never lift a finger while she swept over Belgium to crush France; thought, too, that we should be supine while she violated treaties and committed the most fiendish deeds ever committed in the history of the world. But it is not my purpose to speak of these things; I have to tell the story of a commonplace lad in a workaday town, and what influence the great world convulsion had upon his life.
At first Tom was not much moved by the danger of war. For one thing he had given but little attention to public affairs, and for another thing he was enamoured with Polly Powell. Still he could not help being influenced by what every one was talking about. Local strikes, the rate of wages, and the quality of beer ceased to be the general subjects of conversation in the Thorn and Thistle. Every one was talking about a possible war. And when finally early in August the news came to Brunford that England had decided to take her part in the great struggle, Tom found himself greatly interested.
"I'll tell you what," said Enoch Powell, the landlord of the Thorn and Thistle, "the Germans have bitten off a bigger piece than they can chew. I give them about six weeks. What can they do with Russia on the one side and France and England on the other? Besides, the German people don't want war. It's that blooming Kaiser. In about six weeks' time they will be on their knees crying for mercy."
That was the general feeling of the town during the first fortnight of the War, and when as day after day the brave little Belgian army at Liege held out against the advancing Huns there was great confidence. "They have had their time-table smashed to smithereens at the first go," was the joyful comment. "Wait till our lads get across, they'll let 'em know."
In these days there was very little bitterness against the Germans. The terror of war had scarcely been felt. People talked about the untold millions of Russian soldiers who would be in Berlin by the following October. They boasted confidently about the armies of France, and the unconquerable power of the British Navy. It is true that at the first news of the War many of the employers of labour were staggered; but presently as, when day followed day, they saw that trade would not be destroyed, but that possibly new avenues of wealth would be opened, they became more cheerful. Besides, England was rising nobly to her responsibilities. Lord Kitchener's call for half a million men was answered in a few days. "Think on it," the people said one to another, "half a million men in a week! Why, we'll smash 'em afore they know where they are!"
Tom never thought of joining the army. The idea of being a soldier was utterly strange to him. The soldiers whom he knew were mostly of the lower orders; fellows who had got into trouble, or had taken the "King's shilling" while they were drunk. He had looked down upon them as being lower in social scale than himself, and he would never be seen walking with a soldier. When he saw lads of his own class enlisting, he shrugged his shoulders with a laugh. "Let 'em join if they want to," he said, "but it's noan in my line." In fact, after the first three weeks of the War, although terrible stories were reaching England about the ghastly atrocities in Belgium, and about the Germans nearing Paris, the manufacturing parts of Lancashire were largely unmoved. The terrible harvest of war which was to come later was not yet realised. It is true that thousands of young fellows responded to the call of duty. Young men of the better-educated class obtained commissions and were working at the local barracks; while here and there the more adventurous of the operatives found their way to recruiting stations. But the response was not large; partly for the reason that the reality of their country's call had not come to them with its full meaning.
One evening Tom found himself talking with young Waterman, who had been away from Brunford for some weeks.
"Hullo, Pollard," said Waterman, "I see you have not enlisted."
"Nay, I am not bound to enlist; there's enough gone to lick the Germans already. Don't you think so?" asked Tom.
A bright light came into Waterman's eyes. "I am going to enlist," he said—"that is, my people are getting me a commission. I have had some training, you know."
"But we shall quickly lick them, don't you think so?" asked Tom. "You've been in Germany a goodish bit. You went to school and college there, so you ought to know."
Waterman laughed. "We English are fools," he said.
"Of course I am going to do my bit," said Waterman. "As an Englishman I must; but we shall never lick the Germans."
"Why? Think of the millions the Russians have got; think of the French; think of our Navy."
"Ay, think of it all," replied Waterman, "but you don't know what the Germans are. I do. In that country every man is a soldier. Look at Brunford; here are thousands upon thousands of fellows who are hanging back, and who are worth nothing in a time of war. If this had been a German town every man you see would be a soldier. Then see how much in advance of us the Germans are in scientific matters. They have got mountains of guns and ammunition. Besides, they have made a science of war, while Englishmen are only amateurs. Think of what they have done already; nearly the whole of Belgium belongs to them, and a great slice of France."
"But do you mean to say," cried Tom, "that they will lick us? Why, think of our Navy; think of——"
Waterman did not wait to hear the end of Tom's sentence; he crossed the road and was lost to sight.
One event took place, however, which somewhat opened the people's eyes, and is talked of even to-day. A young German who had come to Brunford a few years before, and who had succeeded in amassing a fortune, was called home by his Government. So popular had he become in the town, and so little had the realities of the war laid hold of the people, that some of the leading townsmen decided to give him a dinner. This dinner was arranged to take place in the large dining-room of the Bull and Butcher, the largest hotel in the town. Although some people were anything but pleased at the arrangement, so little ill-feeling was felt towards the Germans that a good number of the townspeople gathered. When the dinner had been eaten the chairman rose to propose the toast of the evening. He said that although Mr. Shweitzer was called upon to fight against the English people, the town had no ill-will against him personally; they all knew him as a good fellow, a good sportsman, and an honourable business man. During the time he had been in Brunford they had opened their doors to him and received him as an honoured guest, and although the unfortunate war had taken place, they had nothing but good feeling towards Mr. Shweitzer. That was why they had invited him as their guest that night, and he, the chairman, expressed the hope that the war would soon be over and that Mr. Shweitzer would return and take up the position which he had so long occupied amongst them. The toast to his health was heartily cheered; good feeling abounded, and all waited for the response of the German guest.
As Mr. Shweitzer rose to respond he received quite an ovation; the diners even went so far as to give him musical honours. Mr. Shweitzer's reply was in fairly good English. He thanked his friends for their good-fellowship, and for the kind things they had said about him.
"As to my coming back to Brunford again," he concluded, "I have but little doubt that I shall return, but when I do, the Kaiser, and not the man you now own as king, will rule over England. For the Germans are going to lick your country, and Wilhelm II will be your future king."
For a few seconds those who had gathered were so much astonished that there was a dead silence. Meanwhile the German looked around the room with a supercilious smile.
Then an Englishman who had been sitting close by came up to the German. He was a brawny, stalwart fellow. "Do you mean that?" he asked the German.
"Yes, I do," was the reply.
The Englishman without another word struck him a mighty blow on the jaw. "That for you and your Kaiser!" he exclaimed amidst the shouts of those present.
The blow was so heavy and so well aimed that the German's jaw was broken. He was taken to the hospital, where he remained for some months, and he has not yet returned to Germany.
During the next day Brunford was excited beyond measure. The story was told in a hundred mills by thousands of operatives; it was discussed in the public places, in every inn and tavern, and throughout the whole district. It did more to enlighten the minds of the people as to the real hopes and aims of the Germans than all the newspaper articles which had appeared. It revealed to the people, too, the real character of the Germans. Here was one of the best of them who had acted like a cad, and who in the face of good-fellowship had haughtily flaunted the superiority of the German people. The incident also gave point to the story of the ghastly atrocities which were taking place in Belgium. People were excited beyond measure; the War was becoming real to them.
All this had its effect upon Tom. Not that even yet he realised the full significance of what was taking place. Hundreds of young fellows were enlisting, but Tom held back. September, October, November passed away, and still Tom failed to respond to his country's call. He quite agreed with his friends, and said that of course England must lick the Germans; but he never admitted that the War had anything to do with him.
"I am earning good brass," said Tom, "and if I hold on I shall make more still. Let those as wants to fight the Germans fight 'em, I'm noan going to get killed." This he said to Polly Powell one night as he sat in the private sitting-room of the Thorn and Thistle.
"And quite right too, Tom," said Polly—"tha'rt too good a lad to be killed by the Germans. Besides, enough'll go without thee. If th' other chaps like to be fools, let 'em."
Still Tom did not feel altogether comfortable. At the back of his mind was the vague thought that he ought to do his bit, but his natural selfishness, added to Polly Powell's influence, kept him at home.
Besides, by this time winter had laid its icy grip upon the earth. News came of soldiers being crippled for life by frost-bite; stories were told of men standing up to the waist in icy slush; wounded men came back from the front telling stories about the terrible power of the Germans; newspapers were obliged to admit that we seemed to be powerless in the face of the enemy.
All this made Tom somewhat afraid; he was not cast in an heroic mould; the spirit of adventure was not strong within him.
"I say, Tom," said a man whose three sons were in the army, "are you going to stay home like a coward?"
"I'm noan a coward," replied Tom.
"Then what do you mean by not doing your duty?"
"I have my own views," replied Tom. "Look here, Elijah, I'm not such a fool as to go over there and get killed; th' other chaps'll lick the Germans all right."
"That's the answer of a coward," replied Elijah Butterworth; "if everybody said that, the country would be robbed from us, and we should have those German devils ruling over us."
"No fear of that," laughed Tom, and yet he felt uncomfortable.
"Aren't you an Englishman?" cried Elijah, "and don't you care for the old country?"
"Ay, I don't know," replied Tom, "the Germans are just as well off as we are."
Meanwhile the real facts of the situation became more apparent. The Germans were not to be beaten easily. Russia, in spite of all that had been said about her power as a great steam-roller, could make no real headway; while France and England combined could not drive the Huns from the line they occupied. People tried to explain the situation, but the dreadful logic still remained: the country we had sworn to protect and save was in the hands of the enemy. The industrial part of France was held in a grip of iron; while Russia was powerless against the hosts of Germany.
First there were talks about the war being over by Christmas, but that delusion quickly vanished, and when a member of the Cabinet came to Manchester, and said that it might take years to drive the enemy from his position, people stared in bewilderment. More and more men were asked for, while some of the newspapers began to talk about conscription.
As Christmas drew near, Tom became more and more uncomfortable, even although the blandishments of Polly Powell grew more powerful. He had attended two recruiting meetings, but they seemed to him half-hearted and unconvincing. He still saw no reason why he should "do his bit." When he was asked why he didn't join, he mentioned the names of several young fellows who also held back.
"Why should I go," he would say, "when so-and-so and so-and-so stay at home? They are manufacturers' sons, and they are no better nor me. Let them enlist as privates, and then I'll see about it."
When the New Year came a big recruiting meeting was announced at the great hall of the Mechanics' Institute. It was advertised that a man who had been to Belgium, and had witnessed what had taken place, was to be the chief speaker. At first Polly Powell tried to persuade Tom not to go, and would probably have been successful had there not been a dance that night to which Polly had been invited. Tom, not being a dancer, was not eligible for the occasion, so he made his way to the meeting.
That meeting marked an era in Tom's life. Little by little the speaker gripped the attention of the audience until the interest became intense and almost painful. He described what he had seen, he gave terrible proofs of the ghastly butchery, and worse than butchery, that had taken place. He made it clear to the audience what the war really meant. He showed that not only was the power of England at stake, but the welfare of humanity trembled in the balance. He related authenticated stories of what the Germans said they would do when they came to England. As Tom listened he heard the sound of the advancing Huns, saw towns and villages laid waste, saw the women of England debauched and outraged, saw the reign of devilry.
"By God!" he exclaimed aloud, "I can't stand this!"
His words reached the speaker, who made the most of them.
"Yes," he cried, "if the young men of England hang back, if they fail to love their country, if they care nothing about the honour or sacredness of womanhood, if they prefer their own ease, their own paltry pleasures, before duty; if they would rather go to cinema shows, or hang around public-house doors than play the game like Englishmen, this, and more than this, will take place. The England that we own and love will be lost for ever. Liberty will be gone, we shall be a nation in chains, while our women will be the playthings of inhuman devils. That is the problem which every man has to consider.
"What are you going to do? Let me put it another way. If we win this war, if the glory of England is maintained, and if she remains as she has always been—
"The home of the brave and free, The land of liberty,
to whom shall we owe it? Who will have been our saviours? It will be the lads who have sacrificed everything to do their duty."
A great cheer arose from the audience, and Tom, scarcely realising what he was doing, shouted and cheered with the rest.
"But if we lose," continued the speaker, "if the Germans break our lines and come to England, if we are beaten, to whom shall we owe it? Who will be responsible? It will be the shirkers, the cowards! Look, you young men!" he cried passionately. "Thousands and tens of thousands of our brave fellows are at this time in the trenches; fighting, suffering, dying. What for? For England, for England's honour, for the safety of her women, for the sacredness of our lives, for you: while you, you skulk at home smoking your cigarettes, go to your places of amusement, and drink your beer. Don't you realise that you are playing the coward?"
Then the speaker made his last appeal, clear, impassioned, convincing.
"What are you going to do, young men?" he cried. "We don't want conscripts, but free men who come out cheerfully, willingly, gladly to do their duty to their King, Country, and God. Who will be the first?"
He stood on the platform waiting amidst breathless silence.
"Will you wait until you are forced?"
"No! By God, no!" said Tom, and starting to his feet he walked to the platform and gave his name.
Thus Tom became a soldier.
"Tha doesn't say so?" said Tom's mother when, that night, he told her what he had done.
"Ay, I have."
"Then thou'st goin' for a sodger."
Mrs. Martha Pollard looked at him for a few seconds without speaking. Evidently she found it difficult to find words to express her thoughts.
"Weel, Tom," she said presently, "I thought thee't got low eno' when thee got drinkin' and picked up wi' that peacock-bedecked Polly Powell; but I ne'er thought a bairn o' mine would sink as low as that. Wer't'a baan now?"
"I'm goin' to tell Polly," said Tom.
"Ay, tha mun be sent to Lancaster asylum," said Mrs. Pollard.
 The above incident actually took place in a Lancashire city at the beginning of the War.
Tom made his way to the Thorn and Thistle, but was informed that Polly would not be home until eleven o'clock. He therefore wandered about the town until that time, and again appeared at the public-house door. But it was not until twelve o'clock that Polly made her appearance.
"Anything the matter, Tom?" she asked.
"Ay, I have joined the Army."
"Thou'st noan been such a fool?"
"I have noan been a fool," said Tom, "I couldn't help it."
Polly Powell looked at him rather angrily, then she said: "If you have done it, what do you want to speak to me about it for?"
"I shall be off to-morrow," replied Tom. "The recruiting officer told me I must report at the Town Hall to-morrow morning at ten o'clock."
"Where will you go?" she asked.
"I don't know," said Tom.
"Well, what are you waiting for?"
"I thought," said Tom, "that is—I thought as I was going away I'd—I'd—— Look here, Polly, you are going to keep true to me while I'm away, aren't you?"
"I never thought much of soldiers," said Polly. "Besides——"
"Besides what?" asked Tom. "Look here, Polly, I gave up Alice Lister for you, and if you had been at that meeting you would see as how I couldn't do anything else."
"Do you think you might get a commission and be an officer?" asked the girl.
"I never thought about that," said Tom.
Polly hesitated a second, then she said: "Of course I'll be true to you, Tom. There, good night, I must go in."
The next morning as Tom was making his way towards the Town Hall he met Alice Lister. At first he was going to pass her by without notice, but when he saw the look on her face he stopped. She came towards him with outstretched hand.
"Tom," she said, "I've heard about last night, and it was splendid of you. I am glad you were the first. I am told that your going up in that way led scores of others to go."
"Have you heard that?" said Tom. "I never thought of it."
"I am sure you will be a good soldier, Tom. We are all proud of you, and—and we shall be thinking about you, and praying for you."
Tom laughed uneasily. "I thought you had forgotten all about me, Alice," he said.
"Why should you think so?"
"I have heard there is a young parson going after you. Are you going to make a match of it, Alice?" And again he laughed.
"Good-bye, Tom, I hope you will do well." And Alice left him with a strange fluttering in his heart.
Tom joined the Loyal North Lancashires. I will not say which battalion, as the mention of it might cause some of my readers to identify the lad whose story I am telling. His unit was located at a large Lancashire town some thirty miles from Brunford. Here he was initiated into the secrets of a soldier's life. At first everything was a drudgery to him; he could not see the meaning of what he was doing, could not understand how "forming fours" and other parts of his drill could help him to be a soldier. Still, being a fairly sharp, common-sense lad, he picked up his work quickly, and in the course of a few weeks was physically much better for his training. At the end of three months he was nearly two inches taller, and more than three inches bigger around the chest than at the time he joined. He began to enjoy his work, too. The young subaltern whose duty it was to train the company had more than once singled him out as a capable fellow, and as the cold winter days passed away and spring began to advance Tom could undergo a twenty- or thirty-mile march without weariness. He was well fed, well housed, and well clothed, and while his pocket money was not extravagant, he had enough for his needs.
Indeed in many respects it would have been better for Tom if he had had less money. The influence of the Thorn and Thistle was still strong upon him, and I have to relate with sadness that on more than one occasion Tom barely escaped punishment for being drunk and disorderly. Most of the lads with whom he was brought into contact were, on the whole, steady and well-behaved. On the other hand, however, there were a number of them who had a bad influence upon him. In fact, while he narrowly escaped being brought before his superiors for his various misdemeanours, Tom's character was steadily deteriorating. The first flush of enthusiasm, and loyalty, and even something nobler than loyalty, which had been aroused in him by the speaker who had caused him to join the army, slowly faded away. The men with whom he associated did not help him to be on the side of the angels, rather they appealed to what was coarse and debased in his nature.
To tell the truth, there was very little in Tom's life which tended to ennoble him. It is true there was a service for soldiers every Sunday morning in one of the big buildings in the town, and while Tom, lover of music as he had always been, was somewhat influenced by the singing of the men, and while the hymns reminded him of his Sunday-school days, they did not move him very deeply. He paid little or no attention to the ministrations of the chaplain. Neither did he avail himself of the many meetings which were held for soldiers by the various churches in the town. Indeed, up to this point Tom was not the better, but the worse, for joining the Army.
There was in Tom's company a young fellow much superior to the rank and file of the soldiers. He was a young Cornish lad, the son of a well-to-do father who had sent him to a good public school, and from thence to Lancashire to learn the manufacturing business. This young fellow, Robert Penrose by name, although belonging socially to a different class from that in which Tom moved, took a liking to him. He was amused at his good humour, and seemed to be grieved at seeing him drifting with the dregs of the battalion.
"I say, Pollard," he said to him on one occasion, "do you know you are making an ass of yourself? You have the makings of a man in you, and yet you mix with that lot."
"Why shouldn't I?" said Tom.
"Because you have more brains than they have, are better educated, and are capable of better things."
"Why shouldn't I have a lark while I can?" replied Tom. "I shall have to go to the front in a month or two, so I will just make hay while the sun shines."
"Make hay!" replied Penrose, "make a fool of yourself, you mean. I hear that years ago you were on the way to becoming an educated chap, and now everybody's looking upon you as one of the drinking fellows."
"It's all very well for you to talk," said Tom, "you're a swell."
"I am a private just as you are," replied Penrose.
"Ay, but you will be getting a commission soon, and there's no chance of that for me. I don't belong to your sort. Besides, what can I do? There's no places but the theatre, the cinema show, and the public-house when the day's work is over."
"That's all nonsense," replied Penrose.
"Well, what is there?" asked Tom.
"There's the Y.M.C.A."
"Y.M.C.A.!" laughed Tom, "none o' that for me! I know some of the fools who go to the Y.M.C.A. meetings."
"Why are they fools?"
"Because they go and hear a lot of pie-jaw; they are a lot of ninnies, that's what they are."
"They don't get hauled over the coals for misbehaviour, anyhow."
"No, they haven't got pluck enough. I didn't come into the Army to become religious; I joined to fight the blooming Germans, and what's fighting got to do with religion?"
"Maybe it has a good deal if you feel you are fighting for a good cause," replied Penrose; "besides, the Y.M.C.A. chaps are not ninnies, as you call them. Some of them are the best fellows we have."
"No religious lolly-pops for me," said Tom, "I had enough of that when I lived i' Brunford."
"Of course you can go your own way," said Penrose. "I suppose you will spend your evening in the public-house, or at some cinema show, or perhaps you will be larking around with some silly girls; but I am going to the Y.M.C.A."
"Do you go there?" cried Tom in astonishment. For Penrose was looked upon as anything but goody-goody, and he was generally admired. He was the best boxer in the company, was smart in drill, could do long marches with the best of them, and was always ready to do a kindly action. Besides all that, his evident education and social superiority made him a marked man. It was rumoured, too, that he had refused a commission.
"Of course I go," replied Penrose.
"What, and listen to their pie-jaw?"
"There is precious little pie-jaw, as you call it," was Penrose's response. "We have jolly good entertainments almost every night, and some of the fellows who come to talk to us are not half bad, I can tell you! Besides, I go there to rub up my conversational French."
"Conversational French!" said Tom, only dimly understanding what he meant. "Dost 'a mean to say that they learn you French there?"
"There's a Frenchman who gives his services free," replied Penrose. "It's jolly good of him too, for the poor wretch has hardly a sixpence to his name; still he does it. In his way he's quite a French scholar, and he has helped me no end."
"Ay, but you learnt French at school," said Tom; "he would have nowt to do wi' a chap like me."
"Don't be an ass. Why, dozens of fellows go to him every night. A few weeks ago they didn't know a word of French, and now they are picking it up like mad. Besides all that, the Y.M.C.A. rooms are open every night, they have all sorts of games there, lots of newspapers, and they give you every facility for writing letters and that sort of thing."
"By gum!" said Tom, "I didn't know that."
"That's because you have been making an ass of yourself. While the other fellows have been improving themselves you have been loafing around public-houses. Good night," and Penrose left him alone.
Tom felt rather miserable; he was somewhat angered too. He didn't like the way Penrose had spoken to him. In the old days he had been proud of his respectability, and before he had made Polly Powell's acquaintance, and when Alice Lister had shown a preference for him, Tom was very ambitious. Now he knew he had not only sunk in the social scale, but he had less self-respect than formerly. "After all," he argued to himself presently, "I didn't join the Army to go to Sunday School, I joined to lick the blooming Germans."
Still he could not help recalling the feelings which possessed him on the night he came out of the great hall at the Mechanics' Institute. He had felt stirred then; felt indeed as though he had heard the call of some higher power. Hitherto he had looked upon wearing the King's uniform as something ignoble; then it had appeared to him almost as a religious act. The speaker had called upon him to fight against brutality, butchery, devilry, and his heart had burned at the thought of it. Something which he felt was holy made him leap to his feet and give his name, yet now he found his chief delights in coarse associations and debasing habits.
He was still fond of Polly Powell. The girl's coarse beauty made a strong appeal to him, but he remembered Alice Lister; remembered the things which she had said to him, and he could not help sighing.
"Eh, Tom, is that you?"
Tom turned and saw a tall raw-boned fellow in kilts.
"Ay, Alec; wher't' baan?"
"There's a wee lassie I promised to meet to-nicht," replied the other.
Alec McPhail belonged to the Black Watch, a battalion of which was stationed in the town, and Tom and Alec had become friends.
"What's thy lass's name?" asked Tom.
"I dinna ken reightly, except that they ca' her Alice. Come wi' me, Tom; mebbe she has a friend."
"Nay," replied Tom, "I doan't feel like skylarking with the lasses to-night."
"Weel, I'm not ower particular mysel', but I have not much siller. Three bawbees will have to last me till Saturday, otherwise I'd be asking ye to come and have a drop of whisky wi' me."
"I am stony-broke too," said Tom. "I expect I have been a fool."
"Nay, man, nae man's a fool who spends his siller on good whisky."
By this time they were walking together towards the outskirts of the town.
"What is this lass o' yourn?" asked Tom after a silence.
"I think she's a wee bit servant lassie," replied the Scotchman; "she's a bonny wee thing too, and fairly enamoured wi' a kilt."
Tom still walked on aimlessly; the thought of going to meet a girl who might never come did not have much attraction for him; still he didn't know where to go.
"I don't think I'll come any further," he said presently.
"Nay, what makes ye alter your mind, Tom?"
"I think I'll go back to the Black Cow," replied Tom, "'appen there's some chaps there who'll stand a treat. After all, Penrose wur right when he called me an ass."
"Penrose is what you call a gentleman ranker, I'm thinking."
"Summat o' that sort," replied Tom,
"What did he call you an ass for?"
"Well, you see I've been a bit of a fool; I've spent all my brass, and I've took up wi' a lot o' lads as is no use to me. Penrose is gone to the Y.M.C.A. You wouldn't think it perhaps, McPhail, but I wur a bit in the religious line myself once. I wur educating myself too, and I had as nice a lass as there was i' Brunford, but I took up wi' the daughter of a man as kept a public-house, and—well, there you are."
"And you have chucked releegion?" asked McPhail.
"Ay, there's nowt in it, and it keeps a chap from having a good time—but I doan't know," and Tom sighed.
"I am a wee bit of a philosopher mysel'," replied McPhail, "and I have reasoned it all out very carefully. My mither, now, is what you might call a godly woman; my father was an elder in the old U. P. Kirk, and I was brought up in a godly fashion. But, as I said, I reasoned it out. I read Colonel Ingersoll's Lectures, and he proved to me that Moses made a lot of mistakes. So, weel, presently I got fond of whisky, and I came to the conclusion that releegion was not logical."
"I reckon as you're none too logical," replied Tom.
"Ay, man, but I was well groonded in the fundamentals! I could say the Shorter Catechism when I was a wee kiddie of seven years old! How am I no logical?"
"After all," replied Tom, "it's noan logical to give up religion because of Colonel Ingersoll's Lectures. The religion my Alice had went deeper nor that. Ay, but there, I am a fool to be talking about it. Good night, McPhail, I will go back now." And Tom went back towards the town alone.
The following Saturday night Tom was again drunk and disorderly. This time he did not escape punishment. Tom never felt so degraded in his life as when he was undergoing that punishment. He had joined the Army under the influence of a noble impulse. He had felt that he was doing a noble thing. Not that he was proud of it, because in reality he could do nothing else; when he came to think of it afterwards he knew that he was doing nothing but his duty. All the same he was elated by his action. It had made him hold his head higher, and made his heart beat fast; now, after a little more than three months' training, he had actually been called before his officers for being a disgrace to his company. The colonel, who was a stern soldier, was also a kindly gentleman. He recognised at a glance that Tom was not a gutter lad; saw, too, that he had the making of a man in him. That was the reason perhaps why he used stronger language than usual, and for meting out a heavier punishment.
"What excuse have you for yourself?" asked the colonel. "You have evidently had some education and were meant for better things. Why did you make a beast of yourself?" His words cut Tom like a knife. "Make a beast of myself," he thought, "has Tom Pollard come to that?"
"Where is there to go, sir, when one's day's work is over?" he asked almost sulkily.
"Go?" replied the colonel, a little nonplussed, "go?" And then remembering a visitor who came to him the previous day, he said: "There's the Y.M.C.A. hall; they teach you something useful there."
After his punishment was over Tom could not help seeing that the better class of fellows somewhat shunned him. He could not say he was boycotted, but they showed no inclination to be in his company. This touched his pride. "I am as good as they are," he said to himself, "and a bit better nor some on 'em." He was delighted, however, to notice that Penrose acted differently from the rest, although he was by no means flattering.
"I told you you were an ass," he said. "If you go on in this way, you'll end by being kicked out of the Army."
Again Tom was wounded deeply. "Kicked out of the Army!" He had never dreamed of that. What! he, Tom Pollard, who had won prizes at the Mechanics' Institute, and who had ambition of one day becoming a manufacturer on his own account, kicked out of the Army!
"Come now, Tom," said Penrose, who almost repented of having spoken so sharply, "it is not too late to turn over a new leaf, and you have the makings of a fine fellow in you."
"I'd rather be kicked out of the Army as a straight chap than to be a blooming white-livered hypocrite."
"And do you think I'm a white-livered hypocrite?"
"A sort of plaster saint, anyhow," retorted Tom.
"Anything but that, Tom," replied Penrose; "all the same I've taken a liking to you."
"You have a nice way of showing it," replied Tom.
His anger was all gone now, for he instinctively felt that Penrose meant to be friendly.
"Come with me to the Y.M.C.A. hall to-night," urged Penrose.
"Ay, and be preached to," said Tom, yielding rapidly to the other.
"I promise you there will be no preaching," said Penrose, with a laugh, "unless you like to wait for it. Come now."
"All right, then," said Tom still sulkily, but glad that he had yielded. A few minutes later they entered a large hall where perhaps six or seven hundred soldiers had gathered.
There are few counties in England where music is more cultivated than in Lancashire, and that night Tom listened almost spellbound. Songs that he knew and loved were sung; songs which he had heard Alice Lister sing. Recitations were given in broad Lancashire dialect which gave him keen enjoyment. More than all this there was a feeling of good-fellowship; the Y.M.C.A. workers were evidently on the friendliest of terms with the men, while there was no suggestion of goody-goodyism.
"This is a special occasion, I suppose," said Tom to Penrose.
"Oh no, they have entertainments like this almost every night. All the musical people in the district give their services."
"What for?" asked Tom.
"Just to give us soldiers a good time; but we must be going now."
"Why?" asked Tom, "it's not late."
"But there's a fellow just going to speak, and as you object to being preached to we had better go."
Tom rose almost reluctantly. He was not sure that he didn't want to hear what the man had to say.
"Besides," went on Penrose, "I haven't shown you over the place yet. I want to take you into the rooms which are provided for writing letters, and playing games; there are the French classes too, and I should like you to see what they are like."
That night at eleven o'clock, as Tom went back to the house where he had been billeted, he felt that he had indeed made a fool of himself. The Y.M.C.A. rooms had the feeling of home; none of the people there wanted his money, and he was the better, not the worse, for going.
"Of course," said Tom to himself as he went to bed, "religious lolly-pops are not fit for a grown-up man, but it wur a grand evening; I am sure I could pick up that French, too. Let's see, how did it go?
"Je suis I am. Vous etes you are. Nous sommes we are. Ils sont they are.
"Why, it's easy enough," thought Tom, "I could pick it up, and then when I go over to France I shall be able to speak their lingo."
"Where have you been lately, Tom?" asked Alec McPhail when he met him some time later. "I have been to all the public-houses where we used to meet and have not set my eyes on you."
"Nay," replied Tom, "I have been to the Y.M.C.A."
"Nay, Tom, a man like you, with your power of reasoning an' a', are surely not turning releegious?"
"Nay, I am noan turning religious," replied Tom, "but I tell you, man, the entertainments are fair grand; champion, in fact! I am learning French too."
"I suppose the entertainments are sandwiched between the dry bread of releegion?" replied the Scotchman.
"Nay, I have nowt to do wi' religion," replied Tom. "I have just listened to the singing and the recitations, and then when the chap has got up to talk I've gone into the writing-room or to the French class."
"Will you tell me about it?" asked the Scotchman.
Tom gave him a full description.
"You see," he said, "it's not like Sunday School, or anything of that sort. There's lots of folks what can sing, and play the piano very well, and can recite champion. And they give us a good concert every night. Then there's a room where we can go in and read papers, write letters, or play draughts or bagatelle and all that sort of thing. Then there's a good library where you can get any book for the asking. Ay, those religious folks have been kind; they have sent hundreds of books for us chaps to read, good books and all. Then there's a class-room where you can learn French."
"And will there be a bar where you can get some whisky?" asked the Scotchman.
"Nay," replied Tom, "there's no whisky or owt o' that sort, but there's a refreshment bar where you can get tea and coffee, and tarts, and sandwiches."
"For nothing?" asked the Scotchman eagerly.
"Nay, not for nothing, but cheaper than you can buy it at any shop. From what I can hear they sell it at just cost price."
"And," said the Scotchman, "do you mean, Tom, that you will give up the evenings we used to have, for that sort of thing?"
"I don't say I've turned teetotaler," replied Tom, "although I have took nothing sin'—sin' I were—disgraced, and I doan't mean to for a bit. You see, the chaps at the Y.M.C.A. doan't tell you not to go to the public-houses and then provide nothing better for you. Anyhow, I've been to the Y.M.C.A. every night sin' I had my punishment, and what's more, I'm going again."
A week later there was great excitement amongst the soldiers. They had now been nearly four months in this Lancashire town, and orders came for the Loyal North Lancashires and the Black Watch to move south. They heard that they were going to Surrey, and were to be situated at a camp in the most beautiful part of that county. Tom was delighted, for although he had made many friends at the Y.M.C.A and grown to know many people in this Lancashire town, the thought of a change appealed to him strongly. He was young, and longed for new associations and new surroundings. Besides, it meant a step nearer towards his desires. He was told that his battalion was to be moved to Surrey preparatory to orders for the Front. Possibly they might be moved to Salisbury Plain or Shoreham afterwards, but it was quite on the cards that they would go straight from the Surrey camp to France or Flanders.
As soon as Tom heard this, he applied for leave, and, the young lieutenant having reported that Tom had behaved very well since his punishment, and had apparently turned over a new leaf, it was granted.
He did not spend much of his time with his father and mother, but as soon as possible made his way to the Thorn and Thistle. He had saved practically all his last four weeks' regimental pay, a great part of which he spent on a present for Polly Powell. On the whole he was satisfied with Polly's reception, although he felt that she was not quite so affectionate towards him as she had been during the days when she was trying to win him away from Alice Lister. It was during his stay in Brunford, too, that Tom gave way to the temptation of drink.
"Nay, Tom," said Polly when he said he would only take a bottle of ginger ale, "I never heard of a soldier who was worth his salt but would not take his beer like a man." And Tom, who could not bear to be laughed at, yielded to Polly's persuasions.
"Ay, she's a grand lass," he said to himself, "and a rare beauty too; she's got eyes like black diamonds, and a face like a June rose." All the same he remembered some of the ladies who had come to the Y.M.C.A. to sing to the soldiers, and he had a feeling, which he could not put into words, that Polly was a little bit loud. Her dresses were always highly coloured, while her hats were bedecked with big feathers. Of course these things suited her to perfection, and although he did not raise the slightest objection to them there were doubts at the back of his mind. Neither did he altogether like the way in which she bandied jokes, which were not always of the best taste, with the young fellows who came to the Thorn and Thistle. Altogether it was not an unmixed sorrow to him when his leave was up and he returned to his regiment.
He did not see Alice Lister during his visit, and if the truth must be told he was glad of it. Polly Powell's spell was strong upon him, and he said repeatedly that Alice Lister was not his sort.
A week after this Tom's battalion was ordered south, and amidst much excitement the men boarded the train which took them there. He had hoped they would stay in London for at least one night, but only two hours were allowed between the time they reached Euston from the time the train was due to leave Waterloo. Discipline was somewhat relaxed during the journey, and when at length Tom entered the train at Waterloo he noticed that many of the men were the worse for drink.
"What blithering fools they are!" said Penrose to him, as seated in their carriage they saw many of their companions staggering along the platform. Tom was silent at this, nevertheless he thought a great deal.
It was now the beginning of May, and the Surrey meadows were bedecked with glory. Tom, who had never been out of Lancashire before, could not help being impressed with the beauty he saw everywhere. It was altogether different from the hard bare hills which he had been accustomed to in the manufacturing districts of Lancashire. The air was sweet and pure too. Here all nature seemed generous with her gifts; great trees abounded, flowers grew everywhere, while fields were covered with such a glory of green as he had never seen before. By and by the train stopped at a little station, and then commenced the march to the camp for which they were bound. Penrose and Tom walked side by side.
"This is not new to you, I suppose?" Tom queried.
"No," said Penrose, "I know almost every inch round here."
"I saw you looking out of the train at a place we passed what they call Godalming; you were looking at a big building on the top of a hill there. What was it?"
"It was my old school," said Penrose, "Charterhouse; the best school in the world."
"Ay, did you go there?" asked Tom. "Why, it was fair grand. How long were you there?"
"Five years," said Penrose.
"And to think of your becoming a Tommy like me!" Tom almost gasped.
"Well, what of that?"
"You might have been an officer if you had liked, I suppose?"
"It wur just grand of you."
"Nothing grand at all," said Penrose. "A chap who doesn't do his bit at a time like this is just a skunk, that's all; and I made up my mind that I would learn what a private soldier's life was like before I took a commission."
"Well, you know now," said Tom, "and you will be an officer soon, I expect."
"My uniform's ordered," said Penrose.
Tom was silent for some time.
"I suppose you won't be friends with me any more, and I shall have to salute you," he remarked presently.
"Discipline is discipline," replied Penrose. "As to friendship, I am not given to change."
The battalion, eleven hundred strong, climbed a steep hill, under great overshadowing trees. Birds were singing gaily; May blossom was blooming everywhere; the green of the trees was wonderful to behold. Presently they came to a great clearing in a pine forest. The life of the country seemed suddenly to end, and they arrived at a newly improvised town. There were simply miles of wooden huts, while the sound of men's voices, the neighing of horses, and the rolling of wheels were heard on every hand. These huts, from what Tom could see, were nearly all of them about two hundred feet long, while around them were great open spaces where all vegetation had been worn away by the tramp of thousands of feet. The men, who had been singing all the way during their march, became silent; the scene was so utterly different from what they had left. That morning they had left a grim, grey, smoky manufacturing town; in the evening they had entered a clearing surrounded by sylvan beauty.
"I feel as though I could stay here for ever," said Tom. "But look at yon'," and he pointed to a long, low hut, at the door of which the letters "Y.M.C.A." were painted. "Why, they're here too!"
"Yes," said Penrose, "there's not a camp in the country where you don't find the Y.M.C.A. huts; for that matter they are on the Continent too."
"But yon' place must have cost a lot of money," said Tom, "you can't build shanties like that without a lot of brass. Where did they get the brass from?"
"I expect the people who believe in religious lolly-pops gave it to them," replied Penrose.
It took Tom two or three days before he became accustomed to his new surroundings. He found that in this camp nearly thirty thousand men had gathered; men who had come from every corner of the country—Cameronians, Durhams, Devons, Welsh, Duke of Cornwalls, they were all here. Tom had rather expected that the advent of a new battalion would have caused some excitement, but scarcely any notice seemed to be taken; their coming was a matter of course. Three days before a battalion had left for the Front, and they had come to take their place, that was all. Instead of being billeted at various houses, as they had been in Lancashire, they had now to sleep sixty in a hut. Tom laughed as he saw the sleeping arrangements. Beds were placed close together all around the building; these beds were of the most primitive nature, and consisted of a sack of straw, a couple of rugs, and what might be called a pillow. These sacks of straw were raised some three or four inches from the floor by means of boarding, and had only the suggestion of a spring. No privacy was possible, but everything was clean and well-kept. In a few days Tom got to like it. The weather was beautiful, the country was lovely, and the air was pure. Tom had a good appetite in Lancashire, now he felt ravenous. The work was hard, harder than he had had in Lancashire, but he enjoyed it; on the whole, too, he could not help noticing that many of the men seemed of a better type than those which made up his own battalion With the exception of Penrose, nearly all his company were drafted from coal pits and cotton mills. Here were numbers of university men, public-school men, and the like. Truly the Army was a great democracy.
One thing made Tom feel very sad, and that was the loss of Penrose. He had been in Surrey only a few days when he was gazetted and was removed to another camp about four miles away. Still he made new friends and was on the whole happy. He found, too, that even the men, whose conduct was anything but praiseworthy in Lancashire, were sober here. Only a dozen public-houses existed, within the radius of almost as many miles; and as the rules of the canteen were very strict, there were few temptations to drink. Discipline was far easier, and on the whole the men were better looked after.
At the end of the second day in this Surrey camp, he was going with a message to the officers' quarters, when he stopped suddenly.
"Ay, can that be you?" he said aloud.
"What do you mean, my man?" And then Tom saw that the person whom he recognised wore a lieutenant's uniform.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Tom, saluting, "but—but—yes, sir, it is you."
"Oh, is that you, Pollard? I see you have enlisted, then; that's all right. You'll know me another time, won't you?"
"Yes, Mr. Waterman. That is, yes, sir. I hope you are well, sir."
"Yes, I'm all right. Good night," and the officer passed on.
"By George!" said Tom to himself, "I didn't expect to meet Waterman here, but there's nothing to wonder about, after all."
It is not my purpose to give a lengthy account of Tom Pollard's stay in the Surrey training camp, although much of interest took place, and his daily life there would, if truly reported, gladden the hearts of thousands of fathers and mothers who have given their boys to their country at this time. I, who have been to this particular camp, and have talked with the lads there, can testify to this by personal experience. As I have before stated, Tom found the work hard, the discipline strict, and the duties many; at the same time everything was so well arranged and the spirit of such good-fellowship prevailed that thousands of young men were under much more healthy conditions, both physically and morally, than they were at home. Indeed, many told me that they would never care for the cramped life of the office, the workshop, and the factory again, after the free open-air life of a soldier.
Tom, who had been quick to learn his duties and to master his drill, especially after he had—as he termed it to me—"been disgraced, and turned over a new leaf," found the work easy and pleasant.
"Ay," said Tom to me, "it's very funny."
"What?" I asked.
"The way these greenhorns try to learn their drill."
"How's that?" I asked.
"Why, yesterday a chap came up to me wi' tears in his eyes. I asked him what wur the matter, and he said, 'Ay, I have not got brains for it.' 'Brains for what?' I asked. 'Brains for this 'ere drill: a man needs to have a head like Shakespeare to get hold on it. That there formin' fours now: I have tried, and I have tried, and I have better tried, but I can't get a fair grip on it. Ay, I shall have to write a letter to the Colonel and tell him I shall have to give it up.'"
Tom laughed gleefully as he spoke. "Why, it's as easy as winking, sir," he said; "but some chaps are thick-headed, you know—in fact they have no heads at all, they've just got turnips stuck on top of their shoulders. I fair pity the young officers sometimes when they are trying to knock these chaps into shape. But they are doing it fine; and fellows who came a few weeks ago, slack and shuffling, are now straight and smart. It's wonderful what a bit of drilling does."
"And do you find the Y.M.C.A. helpful down here, Tom?" I asked.
"Helpful, sir! I don't know what we should do without it. You see it's different here from what it is in big towns where the men are in billets. We're away, as you may say, from any town that's sizeable, and there's no place to go to of an evening, except the public-house; and if the Y.M.C.A. hadn't been here we should have nothing to do but fool around. But the work they're doing here is just champion. They have entertainments every night, and if you don't feel like going to them, there's a room where you can read the papers, and write your letters or play games; then they have all sorts of good books for us to read."
"And how are you getting on with your French?" I asked.
Tom blushed as he replied, "Would you like to see my report, sir?" and he took it from his tunic proudly.
"Why, Tom, this is splendid!" I said, after reading it.
"Ay, I have worked fair hard at it," said Tom; "but my difficulty is getting my tongue round the words. You see, they don't know how to pronounce, these French people, and you have to pronounce their way else they wouldn't understand what you wur saying, and you have to get a grip on it or you can't understand what they are saying. I can conjugate the verbs," added Tom proudly, "but when they speak to me in French, that's anything like a long sentence, I get mixed up. While I'm getting hold of the first part of what they're saying, I forget the rest; but I will master it. What a French chap can learn a Lancashire chap can.
"Do you know, sir," went on Tom, "that the Y.M.C.A. has got no less than six huts here; each of them will hold a thousand men, and they are jam-full every night. And all the workers are so friendly too."