"I've been on duty ten hours," he said, "and there's a whole battery of artillery lost somewhere along the line. It never was my fault; but every general in the whole army has been ringing me up about it. The telephone bell hasn't stopped all day. Damn! There it is again."
It was; loud, angry and horribly persistent. Even Thompson felt sorry for the R.T.O.
"Never mind," he said, "you'll get your Military Cross all right in the end. All you fellows do. Now buck up a bit and find our train for us. It's X. we want to get to."
I mention this incident to show the kind of man Thompson is and his way of dealing with difficulties. Under his care I felt that I should travel safely and get to X. in the end. Comfort was not to be expected, but Thompson did all that could be done to mitigate our misery.
We made our start from a platform blocked with piles of officers' luggage and crowded with confused and anxious men. Subalterns in charge of drafts asked other subalterns what they ought to do and received counter inquiries by way of reply. Sergeants stormed blasphemously at men who had disappeared in search of tea. Staff officers, red tabbed and glorious, tried to preserve an appearance of dignity while their own servants staggering under the weight of kit bags, bumped into them. Hilarious men, going home on leave, shouted sudden snatches of song. A decrepit Frenchman, patient in the performance of duty, blew feeble blasts on a small horn. Thompson, alert and competent, found a compartment. He put me in and then he bundled in my valise. After that he found his own luggage, an enormous kit bag, two sacks, a camp bedstead, a hammock chair and a number of small parcels.
"Get them in somehow," he said. "We'll settle down afterwards."
Thompson did the settling afterwards. He so arranged our belongings that we each had a seat The door by which anyone else might have to get in at another station was hopelessly blocked. The small parcels were put on the rack above our heads. Thompson gave me a list of their contents as he put them in their places. They contained bread, butter, meat, biscuits, cheese, a bottle of wine and a flask of brandy.
"We're here till two o'clock to-morrow morning—till two o'clock at best We must have something to eat."
A selfish traveller—I am profoundly selfish—would have been content to keep that compartment secure from intrusion. We had completely barricaded the door and no one could have got in if we had chosen to defend our position. But Thompson was not selfish. The train stopped at a station every quarter of an hour or so, and Thompson climbing up the barricade, opened the window and took a look out every time we stopped. At one station—it was then about 7 p.m. and quite dark—he discovered a forlorn boy—a second-lieutenant—who was trying to find room for himself and his belongings. Thompson hailed him. The next five minutes were passed in fierce toil by all of us. But before the train started Thompson got the boy and his belongings into our compartment. In my opinion no second-lieutenants ought to be allowed to possess a suit-case as well as a valise. This boy also had three top-coats and a Jaeger rug. We spent nearly half an hour settling down again after that. Then we dined, sharing the food—Thompson's food—with the second-lieutenant. He was a nice boy and very grateful. I thought him a little garrulous, but Thompson encouraged him to talk. He told us all about his job. It was his duty to go up in captive balloons and send down messages to the artillery. It was, by his account, a sea-sicky business, worse by several degrees than crossing the Channel in the leave boat. Thompson, who has a thirst for every kind of information, questioned and cross-questioned the boy. After dinner—dinner was Thompson's name for our meal—I prepared to go to sleep. Thompson arranged valises on the floor in such a way that I could stretch my legs. The boy went on talking. He told Thompson that he had dropped out of the ballooning business and that he was going to X. to submit to a special course of training. I forget what it was, bombing probably, or the use of trench mortars, possibly map reading or—a subject part of the school curriculum of our grandmothers—the use of globes. The army has a passion for imparting knowledge of any kind to temporary lieutenants. I went to sleep while Thompson was explaining just where the boy's particular course of instruction was given, a camp some three or four miles out of X. Thompson has an amazing knowledge of what naturalists would call the habitat of the various parts of the army.
At 3 a.m. I was awakened from my sleep. We had reached, an hour late, the junction at which we had to change. Thompson and the boy were both alert and cheerful. They had, I fancy, been talking all the time. Our junction proved to be a desolate, windswept platform, without a sign of shelter of any kind except a bleak-looking cabin, the habitation of the local R.T.O. Thompson roused him ruthlessly and learned that, with luck, we might expect our next train to start at six. I shivered. Three hours, the very coldest in the twenty-four, on that platform, did not strike me as a pleasant prospect Thompson used a favourite phrase of his.
"After all," he said, "it's war; what the French call La Guerre." He professed to have discovered, not from the R.T.O. but from a sleepy French railway official, that the train, our train in which we were to travel, was somewhere in the neighbourhood, waiting for its engine. It did not come to us from anywhere else; but made its start, so to speak took its rise, at that junction. Thompson and our new friend, the boy, proposed to get into the train when they found it.
Thompson can speak French of a sort, but he does not understand the language as spoken by the French people. I did not believe that he had really found out about that train. I declined to join in the search. He and the boy went off together. They came back in about half an hour. They said they had found a train standing by itself in a field and that it must be ours because there was no other. The reasoning did not seen conclusive to me, but I agreed to go and sleep in whatever train they had found. I suggested that we should leave our luggage on the platform and pick it up when the train got there at 6 a.m.
"That," said Thompson, "is just the way luggage gets lost. Suppose—I don't say it's likely or even possible—but suppose the train we get into goes somewhere else. Nice fools we'd look, turning up in Paris or Marseilles without a brush or comb among us. No. Where I go I take my luggage with me."
Thompson was evidently not so sure about that train as he pretended to be. But I had reached a pitch of hopeless misery which left me indifferent about the future. It did not seem to me to matter much just then whether I ever got to X. or not. We had to make three trips, stumbling over railway lines and sleepers, in the dark, falling into wet ditches and slipping on muddy banks; but in the end we got all our luggage, including the boy's top-coats, into a train which lay lifeless and deserted in a siding.
This time Thompson and the boy slept. I sat up stiff with cold. At half-past five a French railway porter opened our door and invited us to descend, alleging that he wanted to clean the carriage. I was quite pleased to wake Thompson who was snoring.
"Get up," I said, "there's a man here who wants to clean the carriage and we've got to get out."
"I'm damned if I get out," said Thompson.
The Frenchman repeated his request most politely. If the gentlemen would be good enough to descend he would at once clean the carriage.
Thompson fumbled in his pocket and got out an electric torch. At first I thought he meant to make sure that the carriage required cleaning. Thinking things over I came to the conclusion that he felt he could talk French better if he could see a little. He turned his ray of light on the Frenchman and said slowly and distinctly:
"Nous sommes officiers anglais, et les officiers anglais ne descendent pas—jamais."
The Frenchman blinked uncertainly. Thompson added:
"Jamais de ma vie."
That settled the French porter. He was face to face with one of the national idiosyncrasies of the English, a new one to him and incomprehensible, but he submitted at once to the inevitable. He gave up all idea of cleaning the carriage and Thompson went to sleep again. The boy slept soundly through the whole business.
At half-past seven—the train had been jogging along since six—Thompson woke and said he thought he'd better shave. The proposal struck me as absurd.
"We can't possibly shave," I said, "without water."
Thompson was quite equal to that difficulty. The next time the train stopped—it stopped every ten minutes or so—he hopped out with a folding drinking cup in his hand. He returned with the cup full of hot water. He had got it from the engine driver. He and I shaved. The boy still slept, but, as Thompson pointed out, that did not matter. He was too young to require much shaving.
"Nice boy that," said Thompson. "Son of an archdeacon; was at Cambridge when the war broke out. Carries a photo of his mother about with him. Only nice boys carry photos of their mothers. He has it in a little khaki-coloured case along with one of the girl he's going to marry—quite a pretty girl with tously hair and large eyes."
"Oh, he's engaged to be married, is he?"
"Of course he is. That sort of boy is sure to be. Just look at him."
As he lay there asleep his face looked extraordinarily young and innocent. I admitted that he was just the sort of boy who would get engaged to the first girl who took him seriously.
"Girl's out here nursing," said Thompson. "V.A.D. Evidently has a strong sense of duty or she wouldn't be doing it V.A.D.-ing isn't precisely a cushy job. He's tremendously in love."
"Seems to have confided most of his affairs in you," I said.
"Told me," said Thompson, "that the girl has just been home on leave. He hoped to get back, too, to meet her, thinks he would have got a week if he hadn't been ordered off on this course, bombing or whatever it is."
Thompson washed while he talked. It could scarcely be called a real wash, but he soaped his face, most of his neck and his ears with his shaving brush and then dipped his handkerchief in the drinking cup and wiped the soap off. He was certainly cleaner afterwards; but I felt that what was left of the water would not clean me.
Later on Thompson secured some rolls of bread, two jam pastries and six apples. The bread and pastry I think he bought The apples I am nearly sure he looted. I saw a large basket of apples in one of the waggons of a train which was standing in the station at which Thompson got out to buy our breakfast They were exactly like the apples he brought back.
We woke up the boy then. It did not matter whether he shaved or not; but at his age it is a serious thing to miss a chance of food.
About midday we arrived at a large town. Thompson learned from the R.T.O. who inhabited the railway station there that we could not get a train to take us any further till ten o'clock that night. He said again that was war, what the French call guerre, but he seemed quite pleased at the prospect of the wait He spoke of looking for a proper meal and a Turkish bath. The bath we did not succeed in getting; but we had an excellent luncheon: omelette, fried fish, some kind of stewed meat and a bottle of red wine. The boy stuck to us and told us a lot more about his girl. His great hope, he said, was that he would meet her somewhere in France. I could see that what he really looked forward to was a wound of a moderately painful kind which would necessitate a long residence, as a patient, in her hospital. He was, as Thompson said, a nice boy; but he talked too much about the girl. He was also a well-educated boy and anxious to make the best of any opportunities which came his way. He told us that there was an interesting cathedral in the town and proposed that we should all go and see it after lunch. Thompson is not an irreligious man. Nor am I. We both go to church regularly, though not to excess, but we do not either of us care for spending week day afternoons in a cathedral. Thompson still hankered after a Turkish bath. I had a plan for getting a bedroom somewhere and going to sleep. We sent the boy off to the cathedral by himself.
The Turkish bath, as I said, was unobtainable We walked through most of the streets of that town looking for it. Then Thompson proposed that we should have afternoon tea. That we got in a small room above a pastry cook's shop. The girl who served us brought us tea and a large assortment of sticky pastry. Thompson hates sticky pastry. There is only one kind of cake made in France which he will eat. I knew what it was, for I had often had tea with Thompson before. I should have recognized one if I had seen it; but I could not remember the French name for it Thompson insisted on describing its appearance to the girl. He gave his description in English and the girl looked puzzled. I tried to translate what he said into French and she looked still more puzzled.
Then from the far corner of the room came a pleasant voice.
"I think brioche is the word you want." It was. I recollected it directly I heard it. I turned to thank our interpreter. She was a young woman in the uniform of a V.A.D. She was sitting at a table by herself, was, in fact, the only other occupant of the room. I thanked her. Thompson joined in and thanked her effusively. There was not much light in the room and her corner was decidedly gloomy. Still, it was possible to see that she was a decidedly pretty girl. We both said that if there was anything we could do for her we should be very pleased to do it After the way she helped us out with the brioche we could scarcely say less.
"Perhaps," she said, "you may be able to tell me when I will be able to get a train to——?"
She mentioned one of those towns of which the English have taken temporary possession, turning the hotels into hospitals, to the great profit of the original proprietors.
"Certainly," said Thompson. "There's a train at 9 p.m. But you'll be travelling all night in that. If I were you I'd stay here till to-morrow morning and then——"
"Can't," said the girl. "Properly speaking I'm due back to-day; but I missed the early train this morning and only got here an hour ago. The boat was horribly late."
"Ah," said Thompson, "you're coming back after leave, I suppose."
The girl sighed faintly.
"Yes." she said, "but I've had a fortnight's leave; I can't complain."
"I'll just write down that train for you," said Thompson.
He scribbled 9 p.m. on a piece of paper and carried it over to the girl. It seemed to me an unnecessary thing to do. Nine is a simple number, easy to remember. Some thought of the same kind occurred to the girl. She looked at Thompson, first with some surprise, and then, I thought, rather coldly. She was evidently not inclined to accept any further friendly offers from Thompson. He did not seem in the least abashed even when she turned her shoulder to us and looked the other way.
"Have you seen the cathedral here?" said Thompson.
The girl made no answer.
"I really think," said Thompson, "that you ought to pay a visit to the cathedral. You'll like it, you really will. And you've got hours before you. I don't see how you can fill in the time if you don't go to the cathedral."
"Thank you," said the girl without turning round.
"I'm not going there," said Thompson, "or I'd offer to show you the way. But you can't miss it. You can see the spire from the window. It's the finest specimen of early Gothic in the north of France. The glass is superb. There's an altar piece by Raphael or Botticelli, I forget which. The screen is late Italian Renaissance, and there's a tomb in the west transept which is supposed to be that of the Venerable Bede."
The girl got up and walked out of the room. I was not surprised.
"Thompson," I said, "what do you mean by behaving like a cad? Any one could see that she is a nice girl; a lady, not that sort at all."
"And as for that rigmarole of yours about the cathedral—what the devil do you know about Italian Renaissance, or Botticelli or early Gothic? I never heard such rot in my life. As a matter of fact I've always heard that the glass in this cathedral is poor."
"All the same," said Thompson, "if she goes there she'll be pleased. She'll find something she'll like a great deal better than stained glass."
"As for the Venerable Bede," I said, "he was buried in Oxford if he was buried anywhere, and I don't know that he was. He might have been cremated, or minced up by high explosives so that they couldn't bury him."
"I thought I recognized her," said Thompson, "I went over to her table and had a good look to make sure."
"Don't pretend you know her," I said "She certainly didn't know you."
"I looked at her photograph five times at least last night while you were asleep."
I thought this over for a minute. Then I said:
"You don't mean to tell me that she's the girl that boy is engaged to be married to?"
"The exact same girl," said Thompson. "I couldn't be mistaken."
I meditated on the situation.
"I hope," I said, "that he won't have left the cathedral before she gets there."
"No fear," said Thompson, "he's a most conscientious boy. Having started out to do that cathedral he'll look at every stone of it before he leaves. He'll be there for hours yet. What I'm afraid of is that she won't go there."
"She started in the right direction," I said "I saw her out of the window."
"I did my best anyhow," said Thompson. "I told her I wasn't going there. She didn't like me. I could see that. If I'd let her think I was going to the cathedral she'd have marched straight off to the station and sat in the Ladies' Waiting-room till her train started."
The girl, it appeared, did visit the cathedral and the boy was there. He was waiting for us on the platform at the railway station at half-past nine. He talked half the night to Thompson about his wonderful stroke of luck. Just as I dropped off to sleep I heard Thompson quoting Shakespeare. It was, to the best of my belief, the only time in his life that Thompson ever did quote Shakespeare.
"Journeys end in lovers' meeting, Every wise man's son doth know,"
VII~~ HIS GIRL
There were thirty or forty officers in the lounge of the hotel, all condemned, as I was, to spend the greater part of the day there. Some men have better luck. It was the fourth time I had been held up in this wretched place on my way back to France after leave. Dragged out of our beds at an unreasonable hour, crammed into a train at Victoria, rushed down to an embarkation port as if the fate of the empire depended on our getting there without a minute's delay, we find, when we get out of the train, that the steamer will not start for three hours, four hours, on this occasion six hours. We are compelled to sit about in an hotel, desolate and disgusted, when we might have been comfortable in London.
I looked round to see if there were anyone I wanted to talk to. There were—I had seen them at Victoria—three or four men whom I knew slightly, but I had no particular wish to spend hours with any one of them. I had just decided to go out for a walk by myself when I felt a slap on my shoulder. I turned and saw Daintree. I was uncommonly glad to see him. Daintree and I were friends before the war and I have always found him an amusing companion. He greeted me heartily.
"Great luck," he said, "running into you like this. I don't see a single other man I know in the whole crowd. And any way I particularly wanted to talk to you. I've got a story to tell you."
We secured a corner and two comfortable chairs. I lit a pipe and waited. Daintree is a wonderful man for picking up stories. The most unusual things happen to him and he gets mixed up in far more adventures than anyone else I know. And he likes telling stories. Usually, the men who have stories to tell will not talk, and the men who like talking have nothing interesting to tell. Daintree is exceptional.
"What is it this time?" I asked. "What journalists call a 'sob story,' or is it meant to be humorous?"
"I should call it a kind of joke," said Daintree; "but my wife says it's the most pathetic thing she's ever heard. It makes her cry even to think of it You can take it either way. I'll be interested to see how you do take it. I was thinking of writing it to you, 'for your information and necessary action, please.' My wife wanted me to, but it's too long for a letter. Besides, I don't see what you or anyone else could possibly do in the matter. You may give advice—that's what my wife expects of you—but there's really no advice to give. However, you can tell me how it strikes you. That's what I want to know, whether you agree with my wife or with me. You know Simcox, don't you, or do you? I forget."
"Simcox?" I said. "Is that a tall, cadaverous man in the Wessex? Rather mournful looking?"
"That's the man. Came home from a remote corner of the Argentine, or somewhere like that, early in the war, and got a commission. He's a captain now."
"I met him," I said, "down Albert way, shortly before the push last year. I can't say I knew him. He seemed to me rather a difficult kind of man to know."
"So my wife says," said Daintree. "He's older than most of us, for one thing, and has spent twenty years all by himself herding sheep or branding bullocks, or whatever it is they do out in those places. Naturally he'd rather lost touch with life at home and found it difficult to fit himself in; especially with a lot of boys straight from the 'Varsities or school. They were mostly boys in his battalion. Anyhow, he seems to have been a bit morose, but he did his job all right in the regiment and was recommended for the M.C.. He got knocked out in the Somme push and jolly nearly lost a leg. They saved it in the end and sent him down to my place to convalesce."
Daintree owns a very nice place in the Midlands. In the old days it was one of the pleasantest houses I know to stay in. Daintree himself was a capital host and his wife is a charming woman. The house is a convalescent home for officers now, and Mrs. Daintree, with the help of three nurses, runs it. Daintree pretends to regard this as a grievance, and says it was all his wife's doing, though he was just as keen on the place as she was.
"Damned nuisance," he said, "finding the place full of boys rioting when I get home on leave. And it's full up now—twelve of them, no less. There's hardly a spot in the house I can call my own, and they've spoiled the little lake I made at the bottom of the lawn. That young ass Pat Singleton started what he called boat-races on it——"
"Oh, Pat Singleton's there?" I said. "I knew; he'd been wounded, but I didn't hear he'd been sent to your place."
"Pat Singleton's always everywhere," said Daintree. "I've never come across a place where he wasn't, and he's a devil for mischief. Remind me afterwards to tell you about the trick he played on the principal nurse, a Scotchwoman with a perfectly terrific sense of her own dignity," Daintree chuckled.
"If you'd rather tell me that story," I said, "instead of the one about Simcox, I'd just as soon have it. In fact, I'd prefer it. Sob stories are always trying."
"But I'm not sure that the Simcox one is a sob story, though there's a certain amount of slosh in it. Anyhow, I've got to tell it to you, for my wife says you're the only man she knows who can advise what ought to be done."
"All right," I said, "but Pat Singleton's escapades always amuse me. I'd like to hear about his making an apple-pie bed for that nurse."
Daintree chuckled again, and I gathered from the expression of his face that the nurse had endured something worse than an apple-pie bed.
"Or about the boat-races," I said. "I didn't know you had anything which floated on that lake of yours."
"I haven't," said Daintree, "except the kind of wooden box in which the gardener goes out to clear away the duck-weed. However, Pat Singleton comes into the Simcox story in the end. It's really about him that my wife wants your advice."
"No one," I said, "can give advice about Pat Singleton."
"Knowing the sort of man Simcox is," said Daintree, "you'll understand that he was rather out of it at first in a-house full of boys just out of hospital and jolly glad to have a chance of running about a bit. Pat Singleton wasn't there when Simcox arrived. But the others were nearly as bad; silly jokes from morning to night and an infernal row always going on. My wife likes that sort of thing, fortunately."
"Simcox, I suppose, just sat by himself in a corner of the veranda and glowered?"
"Exactly. And at first my wife could do nothing with him. In the end, of course——"
"In the end," I said, "she persuaded him to tell her his inmost secrets and to confide to her the tragedy of his soul. That's just what she would do."
Mrs. Daintree is a very kind and sympathetic lady. When she talks to me I feel ready to tell her anything. A man like Simcox, shy, reserved, and wholly unaccustomed to charming ladies, would succumb to her easily and pour out a love story or anything else he happened to have on his chest at the time.
"You see," said Daintree, "his leg was pretty stiff and he couldn't get about much, even if he'd wanted to. There was nothing for him to do except sit in a deck-chair. My wife felt it her duty to talk to him a good deal."
Daintree seemed to be making excuses for Mrs. Daintree and Simcox. They were unnecessary. Mrs. Daintree would have got his story out of him if she thought he was really in need of sympathy, whether he sat in a chair all day or was able to row races in the lake in the gardener's punt.
"Anyhow," said Daintree, "what he told her—he told it to me afterwards, so there's no secret about it—was this: He got hit in the leg during an advance through one of those woods north of the Somme, Mametz, I think. It was a beastly place. Our fellows had been in there two days before and had to clear out again. Then Simcox's lot went in—you know the sort of thing it was?"
"Shell holes, and splintered tree trunks," I said. "Machine-guns enfilading you, and H.E. bursting promiscuous. I know."
"Well, Sirmcox' fellows went in all right, and stayed there for a while. Simcox says he remembers noticing that the ground was strewed with debris left by the Germans when they cleared out, and by our fellows afterwards. Equipment, rifles and all the rest of it lying about, as well as other things—pretty ghastly things."
"You needn't go into details," I said. "I can guess."
"I'm only telling you this," said Daintree, "because all the stuff lying about seems to have interested Simcox. It's odd the feelings men have at these times. Simcox says the thing he chiefly wanted to do was to tidy up. He had a kind of strong desire to pick things up and put them away somewhere. Of course he couldn't; but he did pick up one thing, a cigarette case. He showed it to me. It was one of those long-shaped, flat white metal cases which fellows carry because they hold about thirty cigarettes. Simcox says he doesn't know why he picked it up. He didn't want it in the least. He just saw it lying there on the ground and stuffed it into his pocket Almost immediately after that he was hit. Bit of shrapnel under the knee."
"I remember hearing about that business," I said. "We were driven out again, weren't we?"
"Exactly. And Simcox was left behind. He couldn't walk, of course. But he crawled into a shell hole, and there he lay. Well, for the next two days that wood wasn't healthy for either side. The Germans couldn't get back, because we were sprinkling the whole place with shrapnel. We couldn't advance for similar reasons. Simcox just lay in his shell hole. He tied up his leg somehow. He had some brandy in a flask as well as his iron rations. But he hadn't much tobacco. There were only two cigarettes in his own case. However, he had the other case, the one he picked up. There were nearly twenty in it Also there was—I say, at this point the story gets sloppy."
"Never mind," I said. "Go on. What else was in the cigarette case? A farewell letter to a loving wife? Love to little Willie and a text of Scripture?"
"Not so bad as that. A photo of a girl. He showed it to me when he told me the story."
"Good looking girl?"
"Very. Large eyes—sort of tender, you know, and appealing; and a gentle, innocent face, and a mouth——"
"I suppose," I said, "that these raptures are necessary if I'm to understand the story. Otherwise, you may skip them."
"Can't possibly skip them," said Daintree. "The whole point of the story depends on your realizing the sort of girl she was. Pathetic—that's the word I want. Looked at you out of the photo as if she was a poor, lonely, but uncommonly fetching little thing, who wanted a strong, true man to shelter her from the evil world. She was got up in some sort of fancy dress which kind of heightened the effect. I don't altogether profess to understand what happened, though my wife says she does. But Simcox in a sort of way fell in love with her. That's not the way he put it He didn't feel that she was just an ordinary girl—the sort one falls in love with. She was—well, he didn't think of her as flesh and blood—more a kind of vision—spiritual, you know."
"Angel?" I said.
"That sort of thing. You know. That was the idea that gripped Simcox while he lay there in the shell hole. Stars came out at night and Simcox felt that she was looking down at him. In the day he used to lie and gaze at her. When he thought it was all up with him and that he couldn't live, he seemed to hear her voice—I say, you ought to hear my wife telling this part of the story. Simcox wouldn't tell it to me, naturally; but he seems to have enlarged on it a good deal to her. He says that only for that photo he'd have given in and just died. I daresay he wouldn't really, but he thinks he would. Anyhow, he didn't He stuck it out and his leg didn't hurt nearly as much as he expected. He attributes that to the influence of this—this——"
"Angel visitant?" I said.
"You can call her an angel if you like," said Daintree.
"This," I said, "seems to me a pure sob story. If there's any other part less harrowing, I wish you'd hurry up and get to it."
"All right," said Daintree. "I'll cut out the rest of his experiences in that shell hole, though, mind you, they're rather interesting and frightfully poetic the way my wife tells them. After two days our fellows got back into the wood and kept it. The stretcher-bearers found Simcox in his hole and they lugged him down to a Casualty Clearing Station. From that he went to a hospital—the usual round, He had a pretty bad time, first over there, and then, when they could move him, in London. By degrees he got more sane about the photo. He stopped thinking she was any kind of spirit and took to regarding her just as a girl, though a very exceptional kind of girl, of course. He was hopelessly in love with her. Do you think a man really could fall in love with a photo?"
"Simcox did," I said, "so we needn't discuss that point."
"The chances were, of course," said Daintree, "that she was some other fellow's girl, possibly some other fellow's wife. But Simcox didn't care. He was too far gone to care for anything except to get that girl. Those morose, shy men are frightfully hard hit in that sort of way, I'm told. That's what my wife says, anyhow. They get it much worse than we do when they do get it. Simcox would have dragged that girl out of the arms of an archbishop if that was where he found her. Of course he couldn't go hunting her over England while he was in hospital with a bad leg; but he made up his mind to find out who she was and where she lived as soon as he was well enough to go about He'd very little to go on—practically nothing. The photo had been cut down so as to fit into the cigarette case, so that there wasn't even a photographer's name on it."
"He might have advertised," I said. "There are papers which go in for that sort of thing, publish rows of reproductions of photographs 'Found on the battle-field,'with requests for identification."
"My wife thought of that," said Daintree, "but Simcox didn't seem to take to the idea. He said the photo was too sacred a thing to be reproduced in a paper. My own idea is that he was afraid of any kind of publicity. You see, the other fellow might turn up—the fellow who really had a right to the girl."
"How the deuce did he propose to find her?"
"I don't know. He told my wife some rotten yarn about instinct guiding him to her; said he felt sure that the strength of his great love would somehow lead him to her side. He didn't say that to me, couldn't, you know. But it's wonderful what a fellow will say to a woman, if she's sympathetic, and my wife is. Still, even so, he must be more or less mad to think a thing like that. Mad about the girl. He's sane enough in every other way."
"He can't be so mad as that," I said. "Just fancy going out into a field—I suppose that's the way you'd do it—and hanging about until your great love set you strolling off either to the right or to the left. No man, however mad, could expect to come on a girl that way—no one particular girl, I mean. Of course you'd meet several girls whichever way you went. Couldn't help it. The world's full of girls."
"I don't know what he meant," said Daintree, "but my wife sympathized with him and seemed to think he'd pull it off in the end. At first he was a bit shy of letting her see the photo; but when he saw she was as sympathetic as all that he showed it to her. Well, the moment she saw it, she felt that she knew the face."
"That was a stroke of luck for Simcox."
"No it wasn't," said Daintree, "for my wife couldn't put a name to the girl. She was sure she had seen her somewhere, knew her quite well, in fact, but simply couldn't fix her. Funny thing, but it was exactly the same when they showed me the photo. At the first glance I said right away that I knew her. Then I found I couldn't say exactly who she was. The more I looked the more certain I was that I'd seen her somewhere, her or someone very like her. And it wasn't a commonplace face by any means. Poor Simcox kept begging us to think. My wife went over our visitors' book—we've kept one of those silly things for years—but there wasn't a name in it which we couldn't account for. I got out all the old albums of snapshots and amateur photos in the house. You know the way those things accumulate; groups of all sorts. But we couldn't find the girl. And yet both my wife and I were sure we'd met her. Then one morning Simcox burst into my wife's little sitting-room—a place none of the convalescents have any right to go. He was in a fierce state of excitement. Said that an officer who'd arrived the night before was exactly like the photo and that the girl must be his sister or cousin, or something. The only officer who came that night was—you'd never guess!—Pat Singleton."
"Pat," I said, "though a young devil, is cheerful, and I never saw him anything but self-confident I can't imagine a girl such as you described bearing the faintest resemblance to that boy. You said that she was a kind of die-away, pathetic, appealing angel. Now Pat——"
"I know," said Daintree. "All the same, the likeness was there. The moment I looked at the photo with Pat in my mind I knew why I thought I recognized it My wife said the same thing."
"But Pat Singleton hasn't any sisters," I said.
"No, he hasn't He hasn't even a first cousin anything like the age of the girl in the photo. I knew all the Singletons well, have for years. But Simcox insisted his girl must be some relation of Pat's, and in the end I promised to ask the boy. In the first place, if she was a relation, it seemed an impudent sort of thing to do, and if she wasn't, Pat would be sure to make up some infernal story about me and a girl and tell it all over the place. However, my wife egged me on and poor Simcox was so frightfully keen that I promised.
"Well, I sent for Pat Singleton next morning. He was a little subdued at first, as much subdued as I've ever seen him. He thought I was going to rag him about the spoof he'd played off on the nurse. He did that before he was twelve hours in the house. Remind me to tell you about it afterwards. I don't wonder he looked piano. She'd been going for him herself and that woman is a real terror. However, he cheered up the moment I showed him the photo of the girl. He asked me first of all where the devil I'd got it. Said he'd lost it somewhere before he was wounded."
"Oh, it was his, then?" I said.
"Yes," said Daintree, grinning, "it was his. He was particularly anxious to know how I came by it. I didn't tell him, of course. Couldn't give Simcox away, you know. Then Pat began to cheek me. Asked if I'd fallen in love with the girl and what my wife would say when he told her. Said he carried the photo about with him and showed it to fellows just to watch them falling in love with her. It seems that nine men out of ten admired her greatly. He asked me if I didn't think she was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen, and that I wasn't the first man by any means who wanted her name and address. He grinned in a most offensive way and said that he never gave away that girl's name to anyone; that I ought to know better than to go running after a nice, innocent little thing like that who wouldn't know how to take care of herself. I wasn't going to stand much of that sort of talk from Pat Singleton. I told him straight that if he didn't tell me that girl's name and where she lived I'd make things hot for him. I threatened to report the little game he'd had with the nurse and that if I did he'd be court-martialled. I don't know whether a man could be court-martialled for cheeking a nurse, but the threat had a good effect on Pat He really was a bit afraid of that woman. I don't wonder, though it's the first time I've ever known him afraid of anyone."
Daintree paused and chuckled horribly.
"Well," I said, "who was the girl?"
"Haven't you tumbled to it yet?" said Daintree.
"No. Do I know her?"
"I can't say you exactly know her," said Daintree. "You know him. It was a photo of Pat himself dressed up as the Sleeping Beauty, or Fatima, or some such person in a pantomime they did down at the base last Christmas when he was there. The young devil carried the thing about with him so as to play off his silly spoof on every fellow he met I must say he made a damned pretty girl."
"Good Lord!" I said. "And how did Simcox take it?"
"Simcox hasn't been told—yet," said Daintree. "That's just what my wife wants your advice about You see it's an awkward situation."
"Very," I said.
"If we tell him," said Daintree, "he'll probably try to kill Pat Singleton, and that would lead to a lot of trouble. On the other hand, if we don't tell him he'll spend the rest of his life roaming about the world looking for a girl who doesn't exist, and never did. It seems a pity to let that happen."
"My idea," I said, "would be to get another girl, not necessarily like the photo, but the same type, appealing and pathetic and all that. He'd probably take to her after a time."
"I suggested that," said Daintree, "but my wife simply won't hear of it. She says the story as it stands is a great romance and that it would be utterly spoiled if Simcox switched off after another girl. I can't see that, can you?"
"In a case like this," I said, "when the original girl wasn't a girl at all——"
"Exactly," said Daintree, "but when I say that my wife brings up the Angel in the Shell Hole part of the story and says that a great romance is its own reward."
"I don't know what to advise," I said.
"I didn't think you would," said Daintree, "though my wife insisted that you'd be able to suggest something. But you can tell me what you think of the story. That's what I really want to get out of you. Is it a Sob Story or just a rather unusual spoof?"
"That," I said, "depends entirely whether you look at it from Simcox' point of view or Pat Singleton's."
VIII ~~ SIR GALAHAD
The order, long expected and eagerly desired, came at last. The battalion moved out from dusty and crowded barracks to a camp in the wilderness. Lieutenant Dalton, a cheerful boy who had been taught Holy Scripture in his childhood, wrote to his mother that the new camp was "Somewhere in the wilderness beyond Jordan between the river of Egypt and the great sea." This description of the situation was so entirely inaccurate that the Censor allowed it to pass without complaint. Old Mrs. Dalton told her friends that her son was living under the shadow of Mount Sinai. He was, in fact, nowhere near either Jordan or Sinai. He was some miles east of the Suez Canal. For a week or so officers and men rejoiced in their new quarters. There was plenty of elbow room; no more of the overcrowding they had suffered since they landed. They had, indeed, miles of totally unoccupied desert at their disposal. Each tent might have stood in its own private grounds, three acres or so in extent, if that had not been felt by the colonel to be an inconvenient arrangement. There was also—and this particularly pleased the battalion—the prospect of a fight with the Turks. Everyone believed when the move was made that a battle was imminent, and the battalion, which had no experience of fighting, was most anxious to show what it could do.
After awhile the enthusiasm for the new camp began to fade. The Turks did not put in an appearance, and life was as peaceful as it had been in the English camp where the battalion was trained. The situation of the camp, though roomy, was not exciting. Both officers and men began to find existence exceedingly dull. Lieutenant Dalton, who at this time wrote long letters to his mother, told her that he understood at last why the Children of Israel were so desperately anxious to get back to Egypt and were inclined to rag Moses about the want of melons and cucumbers. At the end of the month the whole battalion was bored to exasperation.
The desert which stretched in front of the camp was intolerably flat The sun rose with pitiless regularity, shone with a steady glare for a great many hours, and then set. That was all that ever happened. The coming of a cloud into the sky would have been greeted with cheers. No cloud appeared A sandstorm, however disagreeable, would have been welcomed as a change. The sand stayed quietly where it was. The men tried football, and gave it up because of the blistering heat. They played "House" until even the excitement of that mild gamble exhausted itself. No other form of amusement suggested itself. There was not even any work to do. Had the battalion belonged to the Brigade of Guards it would no doubt have gone on doing barrack-square drill every day and all day long until the men learned to move like parts of a machine. But this was a Territorial battalion, and the colonel held reasonable views about modern warfare. The value of drill, a mechanical business, was in his opinion easily exaggerated. Had the battalion belonged to an Irish regiment there would probably have been several interesting fights and some means of obtaining whisky would have been devised. In such ways the men would have escaped the curse of monotony, and the officers would have been kept busy in the orderly room. But this battalion came from the English Midlands. The men did not want to fight each other, and had no overpowering desire to get drunk. When the morning parades were over they lay in their tents and grumbled peacefully. Under such circumstances tempers often wear thin, and a habit of bickering takes possession of a mess. It is greatly to the credit of everyone concerned that there was no sign of bad temper among the officers of the battalion. The colonel lived a good deal by himself in his tent, but was always quietly good-humoured. Lieutenant Dalton, an incurably merry boy, kept the other subalterns cheerful. Only Captain Maitland was inclined to complain a little, and he had a special grievance, an excuse which justified a certain amount of grumbling. He slept badly at night, and liked to read a book of some sort after he went to bed. The mess had originally possessed an excellent supply of books, some hundred volumes of the most varied kind supplied by the Camps Libraries' Association at home. Unfortunately, almost all the books were left behind when the move was made. Only three volumes were to be found in the new camp—one novel, a treatise on the culture of apple trees, and Mallory's "Morte D'Arthur."
Captain Maitland blamed the chaplain for the loss.
"You ought to have looked after those books, padre," he said. "It's a padre's business to look after books."
The Rev. John Haddingly, C.F., was a gentle little man, liked by the officers because he was entirely unassuming, and popular with the men because he was always ready to help them. He accepted the whole blame for the loss of the books without an attempt to defend himself.
"I'm awfully sorry, Maitland," he said. "I ought to have seen to those books. I did look after the Prayer Books. They're here all right; at least most of them are."
"Prayer Books!" said Maitland. "If they were even whole Prayer Books! But those little yellow tracts of yours! They haven't even got the Thirty-Nine Articles in them. If they were pukka Prayer Books I'd borrow one and try to read it. I expect there are lots of interesting things in the small print parts of the Prayer Book, the parts you padres never read out. But what's the good of the books you have? Nothing in them but what we all know off by heart."
Haddingly sighed. He was painfully conscious of the shortcomings of the Field Service Books supplied for the use of the troops. Dalton came to his defence.
"Don't strafe the padre," he said. "He brought along a church, an entire church. Is there another padre in the whole Army who could have got a church to a place like this?"
Dalton's almost incredible statement was literally true. Haddingly had succeeded, contrary to all regulations, in bringing with him from England a corrugated iron church. It was quite a small one, it folded up and could be packed flat When unpacked and erected it was undeniably a church. It had a large cross at one end of it outside. Inside it was furnished with an altar, complete with cross and candlesticks, a collapsible harmonium and a number of benches. Chaplains have certainly no right to load up troopships with churches, but Haddingly had somehow got his to Egypt. By what blandishments the transport officer had been induced to drag the thing out into the desert beyond the canal no one knew. Haddingly was one of those uncomplainingly meek men who never stand up for themselves. It is a curious fact, but it is a fact, that a really helpless person gets things done for him which the most aggressive and masterful men cannot accomplish. The success in life of women of the "clinging" kind is an illustration of this law.
Haddingly smiled with joy at the mention of his church. It stood, securely bolted together, a little outside the camp. No one, the cross being disproportionately large, could possibly mistake it for anything but a church. In front of it was a notice board, a nice black notice board with a suggestion of Gothic architecture about it. On the board, in bright white letters, was a list of services and the name of the church—St John in the Wilderness.
Originally, before the move into the desert, it had been simply St John the Evangelist, but Haddingly felt that the new circumstances demanded a change of dedication. Everyone, from the colonel down to the humblest private, was secretly proud of the church. The possession of such a thing gave a certain distinction to the battalion. Haddingly was a good deal chaffed about it; but the building was in a fair way to become a regimental mascot "I'm not strafing the padre," said Captain Maitland, "but I wish we had a few of the books we left behind."
"To listen to you talking," said Dalton, "anyone would think you were some kind of literary swell—Hall Came and Wordsworth rolled into one, whereas we all know that the only thing you take an interest in is horses." Captain Maitland was very far from being a literary swell or claiming any such title. The books he really liked, the only books he read when he had a free choice, were sporting stories with a strong racing and betting interest But in camp in the wilderness no sporting stories were obtainable. The one novel which remained to the mess dealt with the sex problem, a subject originally profoundly uninteresting to Maitland, who had a healthy mind He read it, however, as a remedy for insomnia. It proved effective. A couple of chapters sent him to sleep every night, so the book lasted a good while.
Every morning at breakfast Maitland used to propound the problems raised by the chapters which he had read the night before. The mess got into the way of holding informal debates on the divorce laws. When he finished the book, Maitland declared that he intended to devote himself to Eugenics and the more enlightened kind of social reform as soon as the war was over.
"I never thought of it before," he said, "but I can see now that the future of the Empire really depends on the proper legislation for child welfare, on ante-natal clinic, and the abolition of the old empiric methods of marriage."
"Wait till after I'm married before you begin," said Dalton.
Haddingly was a little pained. He said things about the sanctity of marriage and the family as a divine institution. No one else took Maitland seriously. It was felt that when the war came to an end—if it ever did—he would go back to horse-racing and leave the scientific aspects of marriage in decent obscurity.
When he had finished the novel he took the book on apple trees to bed with him. He became, after a short time, interested in that subject. He announced that when the war was over he intended to buy a small place in Devonshire and go in for orchards.
"Apple growing," he said, "is just exactly the peaceable, shady kind of life a man wants after being stuck down in a desert like this."
"With your taste for the turf," said Dalton, "you'll get into a shady kind of life all right, whether you plant apple trees or not."
Dalton was an irreverent boy. Haddingly was greatly pleased at the thought of Maitland sitting innocently under an apple tree.
The turn of Mallory came next Maitland left it for the last because the print was very small and the only light in his tent was a feeble candle. When he got fairly started in the book he became profoundly interested, and the other members of the mess were treated at breakfast time to a good deal of information about medieval warfare.
"As far as I can make out," Maitland said, "every officer in those days was knighted as soon as he got his commission."
"Jolly good idea," said Dalton. "I should buck about like anything if they made me a K.C.B."
"You wouldn't have been an officer or a knight," said Maitland. "You'd have been the court fool. You've no idea whatever of chivalry."
Like most simple men who read very little, Maitland took the books he did read seriously and was greatly influenced by them. The apple tree treatise made him want to be a gardener. A slow and careful study of Mallory filled him with a profound admiration for medieval romance.
"The reason modern war is such a sordid business," he said, "is that we've lost the idea of chivalry."
"Chivalry is all very well," said Dalton, "if there's anyone to chival about. I haven't read much about those old knights of yours, Maitland; but so far as I can make out from what you tell us they were always coming across damsels, fair, distressed, and otherwise fetching. Now, I haven't seen a damsel since I left England. How the deuce can I be chivalrous? I defy anyone, even that Lancelot blighter of yours, to go into raptures about the old hag you turned out of the camp yesterday for selling rotten dates to the men."
Dalton was not the only member of the mess who made jokes about the knights of King Arthur's fellowship. But Maitland went on reading out selected passages from Mallory, and there is no doubt that everyone, even Dalton, became interested. Haddingly, the padre, made no attempt to conceal the fact that he was profoundly influenced.
He had always been proud of his church, but had hitherto been content to use it in the normal way for parade services on Sunday morning. The services were undeniably popular. The men enjoyed singing hymns, and they listened patiently to the sermons because they liked Haddingly. The officers, who also liked Haddingly, attended the Sunday morning services with great regularity. Dalton, though he preferred playing rag-time on the piano, accompanied the hymns on the harmonium.
Haddingly was greatly moved by Maitland's account of the medieval spirit. He took to spending half an hour in the church every morning before breakfast Nobody knew what he did there. The officers, through feelings of delicacy, never asked him questions about these new devotions. The men, who were getting to know and like Haddingly better and better as time went on, regarded his daily visits to the church as proof that their padre was one who knew his job and did it thoroughly.
One morning—the mess had then been discussing medieval chivalry for about a fortnight—Maitland read out a passage from Mallory about a visit paid by Sir Galahad to a lonely chapel among the mountains, "where he found nobody at all for all was desolate." Haddingly had just spent his lonely half hour in the church of St John in the Wilderness. He sighed. He found nobody there in the mornings, and could not help wishing that the battalion contained a Galahad. Dalton felt that something must be done to preserve the credit of the mess and the dignity of English manhood. He felt sure that sentiment about desolate chapels was an unwholesome thing. He scoffed:
"All very well for Gallipot," he said, "but——"
"Galahad," said Maitland.
"Galahad, or Gallipot, or Golly-wog," said Dalton. "If a man has a silly name like that, it doesn't matter how you spell it. The point is that it would be simply ridiculous to attempt that sort of thing now. Suppose, for instance—— I put it to you, padre. Suppose you saw Maitland mounted on one of the transport gee-gees trotting tap to that tin cathedral of yours—on a week-day, mind! I'm not talking about Sundays. Suppose he got down and went inside all by himself, what would you think, padre? There's only one thing you could think, that Maitland had been drinking."
"Sir Galahad," said Maitland, "went in to say his prayers. He was on his way to a battle. They didn't have to wait months and months for a battle in those days. They had a scrap of some sort about once a week."
He sighed. The Turks had failed to do what was expected of them, and life in the camp was intolerably dull.
He looked at Haddingly. It was plainly a padre's duty to support a spiritual and romantic view of life against the profane jibes of Dalton. Haddingly spoke judicially.
"The general tone of society in those days," he said, "seems to have been very different from what it is now. Men had much less difficulty in giving expression to their emotions. No doubt we still feel much as they did, but——"
Haddingly became aware that no one was listening to him. The attention of everyone at the table was attracted by something else. The men sat stiffly, listening intently. Haddingly heard a faint, distant humming sound. It grew louder.
"Jiminy!" said Dalton, "an aeroplane!"
The breakfast table was laid in the open air outside the mess tent The men rose from their seats and stared in the direction of the coming sound. It was the first time that an aeroplane had approached the camp in the desert. Its coming was an intensely exciting event, an unmistakable evidence of activity somewhere; surely a sign that activity everywhere might be expected.
The sound increased in volume. The machine appeared, a distant speck in the clear sky. It grew rapidly larger, flying fast. It was seen to be a biplane. It passed directly over the camp, flying so low that the head of the pilot was plainly visible. In a few minutes it passed from sight. The hum of its engines grew fainter. But till the sound became inaudible no one spoke.
Then a babble of inquiry and speculation broke out Where was the thing going? What was it doing? What did its sudden swift voyage mean? For the rest of the day the camp was less sleepy than usual. Men everywhere discussed the aeroplane. Dalton was not the only one who envied the members of the Flying Corps. It seemed a very desirable thing to be able to rush through the air over unknown deserts; to have the chance of seeing strange and thrilling things, Arab encampments, green oases, mirages, caravans and camels; to drop bombs perhaps on Syrian fortresses; to estimate the numbers of Turkish columns on the march, to reckon their strength in artillery; to take desperate risks; to swerve and dart amid clouds of bursting shrapnel. How much more gloriously exciting such a life than that of men baking slowly in the monotony of a desert camp.
Maitland, stimulated by his reading to an unnatural effort of imagination, recognized in the men of the Flying Corps the true successors of Mallory's adventurous knight-errants. For them war still contained romance. Chivalry was still possible. Haddingly caught the thought and expanded it Knights of old had this wonderful spirit, because to them the forests through which they roamed were unknown wastes, where all strange things might be expected. Then when all the land became familiar, mapped, intersected with roads, covered thick with towns, sailors inherited the spirit of romance. Afterwards all the seas were charted, policed, and ships went to and fro on ocean highways. The romance of adventure was lost to seamen, lost to the world, until the airmen came and found it again by venturing on new ways.
In the evening the aeroplane returned. Once more its engines were heard. Once more it appeared, a speck, a shape, a recognizable thing. But this time it did not pass away. On reaching camp it circled twice, and then, with a long swift glide, took the ground outside the camp a few yards beyond Haddingly's church of St. John in the Wilderness. The pilot stepped out of the machine.
"Good man," said Dalton. "Friendly of him dropping in on us like this. Must want a drink after that fly. Eight hours at least. I'll go and bring him along to the mess. Hope he'll tell us what he's been doing. Wonder if the Turks potted at him."
The pilot left his machine. He walked stiffly, like a man with cramped limbs, towards the camp.
"Something wrong with the engine, perhaps," said Dalton. "Or he's short of petrol. I'll fetch him along. A whisky and soda in a big tumbler is the thing for him. I dare say he'll stay for dinner."
He started and walked quickly towards the machine. The airman, approaching the camp, reached the church. Instead of passing it he stopped, opened the door, and went in. Dalton paused and looked back.
"Must have mistaken your tin cathedral for the mess, padre," he said. "I'll run on and fetch him out."
"If he's made a mistake," said Haddingly, "he'll find it out for himself and come out without your fetching him."
Dalton stood still. His eyes were on the door of the church. Maitland and Haddingly were gazing at it too. The other officers, gathered in a group outside the mess tent, stood in silence, staring at the church. It seemed as if hours passed. In fact, nearly half an hour went by before the door of the church opened and the airman came out. He turned his back on the camp and went towards his machine. Neither Dalton nor anyone else made an attempt to overtake him. The noise of the engine was heard again. The machine raced a few yards along the ground and then rose in steep flight. It passed across the camp and sped westwards, its shape sharply outlined for a minute against the light of the setting sun. Then it disappeared.
Maitland took Haddingly by the arm and led him to his tent The two men sat down together on the camp bedstead. Maitland opened Mallory's "Morte d'Arthur," and read aloud:
"Then Sir Galahad came unto a mountain, where he found an old chapel, and found there nobody, for all was desolate, and there he kneeled before the altar and besought of God wholesome counsel."
"I suppose it was just that," said Haddingly.
Dalton put his head into the tent.
"I thought I'd find you here," he said. "I just wanted to ask the padre something. Was that Sir Golliwog come to life again or just some ordinary blighter like me suffering from nerve strain?"
Haddingly had no answer to give for a moment.
"He can't have really wanted to sit in that church for half an hour," said Dalton. "What the dickens would he do it for?"
"He might have wanted to pray," said Haddingly.
Not even his profession justified the saying of such a thing as that outside church. But every excuse must be made for him. He had been soaked in Mallory for a fortnight Deserts, even when there are camps in them, are queer places, liable to upset men's minds, and the conduct of the airman was certainly peculiar.
"Of course, if you put it that way," said Dalton, "I've nothing more to say. All the same, he might have come into the mess for a drink. I'm not complaining of his doing anything he liked in the way of going to church; but I don't see that a whisky and soda would have hurt him afterwards. He must have wanted it."
IX ~~ A GUN-RUNNING EPISODE
Sam McAlister walked into my office yesterday and laid down a handful of silver on my desk.
"There you are," he said, "and I am very much obliged to you for the loan."
For the moment I could not recollect having lent Sam any money; though I should be glad to do so at any time if I thought he wanted it. Sam is a boy I like. He is an undergraduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and has the makings of a man in him, though he is not good at passing examinations and has never figured in an honours list. Some day, when he takes his degree, he is to come into my office and be made into a lawyer. His father, the Dean, is an old friend of mine.
I looked at the money lying before me, and then doubtfully at Sam.
"If you've forgotten all about it," he said, "it's rather a pity I paid. But I always was honest. That's one of my misfortunes. If I wasn't—— That's the fine you paid for me."
Then I remembered. Sam got into trouble with the police a few weeks ago. He and a dozen or so of his fellow-students broke loose and ran riot through the streets of Dublin. All high-spirited boys do this sort of thing occasionally, whether they are junior army officers, lawyers' clerks, or university undergraduates. Trinity College boys, being Irish and having a large city at their gates, riot more picturesquely than anyone else. Sam had captured the flag which the Lord Mayor flies outside his house, had pushed a horse upstairs into the office of a respectable stockbroker, and had driven a motor-car, borrowed from an unwilling owner, down a narrow and congested street at twenty-five or thirty miles an hour. He was captured in the end by eight policemen, and was very nearly sent to gaol with hard labour. I got him off by paying a fine of one pound, together with L2 4s. 6d. for the damage done by the horse to the stockbroker's staircase and office furniture. The motorcar, fortunately, had neither injured itself nor anyone else.
"I hope," I said, pocketing the money, "that this will be a lesson to you, Sam."
"It won't," he said. "At least, not in the way you mean. It'll encourage me to go into another rag the very first time I get the chance. As a matter of fact, being arrested was the luckiest thing ever happened to me, though I didn't think so at the time."
"Well," I said, "if you like paying up these large sums it's your own affair. I should have thought you could have got better value for your money by spending it on something you wanted."
"Money isn't everything in the world," said Sam. "There is such a thing as having a good time, a rattling good time, even if you don't make money out of it and run a chance of being arrested. I daresay you'd like to hear what I've been at."
"If you've committed any kind of crime," I said, "I'd rather you didn't tell me. It might be awkward for me afterwards when you are tried."
"I don't think it's exactly a crime," said Sam, "anyhow, it isn't anything wrong, though, of course, it may be slightly illegal. I'd rather like to have your opinion about that."
"Is it a long story? I'm rather busy to-day."
"Not very long," said Sam, "but I daresay it would sound better after dinner. What would you say now to asking me to dine to-night at your club? We could go up to that library place afterwards. There's never anybody there, and I could tell you the whole thing."
Sam knows the ways of my club nearly as well as I do myself. There is never anyone in the library in the evening. I gave the required invitation.
We dined comfortably, and I got a good cigar for Sam afterwards. When the waiter had left the room he plunged into his story.
"You remember the day I was hauled up before that old ass of a magistrate. He jawed a lot and then fined me L3 4s. 6d., which you paid. Jolly decent of you. I hadn't a shilling in the world, being absolutely stony broke at the time; so if you hadn't paid—and lots of fellows wouldn't—I should have had to go to gaol."
"Never mind about that," I said. "You've paid me back."
"Still, I'm grateful, especially as I should have missed the spree of my life if I'd been locked up. As it was, thanks to you, I walked out of the court without a stain on my character."
"Well, hardly that. You were found guilty of riotous behaviour, you know."
"Anyhow, I walked out," said Sam, "and that's the main point."
It was, of course, the point which mattered most; and, after all, the stain on Sam's character was not indelible. Lots of young fellows behave riotously and turn out excellent men afterwards. I was an undergraduate myself once, and there is a story about Sam's father, now a dean, which is still told occasionally. When he was an undergraduate a cow was found tied up in the big examination hall.
Sam's father, who was very far from being a dean then, had borrowed the cow from a milkman.
"There were a lot of men waiting outside," said Sam. "They wanted to stand me a lunch in honour of my escape."
"Your fellow-rioters, I suppose?"
"Well, most of them had been in the rag, and, of course, they were sorry for me, being the only one actually caught. However, the lunch never came off. There was a queer old fellow standing on the steps of the court who got me by the arm as I came out. Said he wanted to speak to me on important business, and would I lunch with him. I didn't know what he could possibly have to say to me, for I had never seen him before; but he looked—it's rather hard to describe how he looked. He wasn't exactly what you'd call a gentleman, in the way of clothes, I mean; but he struck me as being a sportsman."
"Not the least. More like one's idea of some kind of modern pirate, though not exactly. He talked like an American. I went with him, of course."
"Of course," I said, "anyone with an adventurous spirit would prefer lunching with an unknown American buccaneer to sharing a commonplace feast with a mob of boys. Did you happen to hear his name?"
"He said it was Hazlewood, but——"
"But it may not have been?"
"One of the other fellows called him Cassidy later on."
"Oh," I said, "there were other fellows?"
"There were afterwards," said Sam, "not at first. He and I lunched alone. He did me well. A bottle of champagne for the two of us and offered me a second bottle. I refused that."
"He came to business after the champagne, I suppose?"
"He more or less talked business the whole time, though at first I didn't know quite what he was at. He gassed a lot about my having knocked down those two policemen. You remember that I knocked down two, don't you? I would have got a third only that they collared me from behind. Well, Hazlewood, or Cassidy, or whatever his name was, had seen the scrap, and seemed to think no end of a lot of me for the fight I put up."
"The magistrate took a serious view of it, too," I said.
"There wasn't much in it," said Sam modestly. "As I told Hazlewood, any fool can knock down a policeman. They're so darned fat. He asked me if I liked fighting policemen. I said I did."
Sam caught some note of sarcasm in my voice. He felt it necessary to modify his statement.
"Well, not policemen in particular. I haven't a special down on policemen. I like a scrap with anyone. Then he said—Harlewood, that is—that he admired the way I drove that car down Grafton Street. He said he liked a man who wasn't afraid to take risks; which was rot. There wasn't any real risk."
"The police swore that you went at thirty miles an hour," I said. "And that street is simply crowded in the middle of the day."
"I don't believe I was doing anything like thirty miles an hour," said Sam. "I should say twenty-seven at the outside. And there was no risk because everybody cleared out of my way. I had the street practically to myself. It was rather fun seeing all the other cars and carts and things piled up upon the footpaths at either side and the people bolting into the shops like rabbits. But there wasn't any risk. However, old Hazlewood evidently thought there was, and seemed frightfully pleased about it He said he had a car of his own, a sixty h.p. Daimler, and that he'd like to see me drive it. I said I'd take him for a spin any time he liked. I gave him a hint that we might start immediately after lunch and run up to Belfast in time for dinner. With a car like that I could have done it easy. However, he wasn't on."
"Do you think he really had the car?"
"Oh, he had her all right I drove her afterwards. Great Scott, such a drive! The next thing he said was that he believed I was a pretty good man in a boat. I said I knew something about boats, though not much."
Modesty is one of Sam's virtues. He is, I believe, an excellent hand in a small yacht, and does a good deal of racing.
"I asked him what put it into his head that I could sail a boat, and he said O'Meara told him. O'Meara is a man I sail with occasionally, and I thought it nice of him to mention my name to this old boy. I can hoist a spinnaker all right and shift a jib, but I'm no good at navigation. Always did hate sums and always will. I told him that, and he said he could do the navigation himself. All he wanted was a good amateur crew for a thirty-ton yawl with a motor auxiliary. He had four men, and he asked me to make a fifth. I said I'd go like a shot. Strictly speaking, I ought to have been attending lectures; but what good are lectures?" "Very little," I said. "In fact, hardly any." "I wasn't going to lose a cruise for the sake of any amount of lectures," said Sam, "particularly with the chance of a tour on that sixty h.p. car thrown in."
Sam paused at this point. It seemed to me that he wanted encouragement.
"You'd have been a fool if you had," I said.
"Up to that time," said Sam thoughtfully, "I hadn't tumbled to what he was at. I give you my word of honour I hadn't the dimmest idea that he was after anything in particular. I thought he was simply a good old sport with lots of money, which he knew how to spend in sensible ways."
"The criminal part of the business was mentioned later on, I suppose?"
"I don't know that there's anything criminal about it," said Sam. "I'm jolly well sure it wasn't wrong, under the circumstances. But it may have been criminal. That's just what I want you to tell me.
"I'll give you my opinion," I said, "when I hear what it was."
"Gun-running," said Sam.
Gun-running has for some time been a popular sport in Ireland, and I find it very difficult to say whether it is against the law or not. The Government goes in for trying to stop it, which looks as if a gun-runner might be prosecuted when caught. On the other hand, the Government never prosecutes gun-runners, even those who openly boast of their exploits, and that looks as if it were quite a legal amusement. I promised Sam that I would consider the point, and I asked him to tell me exactly what he did.
"Well," he said, "when I heard it was gunrunning I simply jumped at the chance. Any fellow would. I said I'd start right away, if he liked As a matter of fact, we didn't start for nearly a fortnight The boat turned out to be the Pegeen. You know the Pegeen, don't you?"
I did not I am not a sailor, and except that I cannot help seeing paragraphs about Shamrock IV. in the daily papers I do not think I know the name of a single yacht.
"Well," said Sam, "she's O'Meara's boat I've sailed in her sometimes in cruiser races. She's slow and never does any good, but she's a fine sea boat. My idea was that Hazlewood had hired her, and I didn't find out till after we had started that O'Meara was on board. That surprised me a bit, for O'Meara goes in for being rather an extreme kind of Nationalist—not the sort of fellow you'd expect to be running guns for Carson and the Ulster Volunteers. However, I was jolly glad to see him. He crawled out of the cabin when we were a couple of miles out of the harbour, and by that time I'd have been glad to see anyone who knew one end of the boat from the other. Old Hazlewood was all right; but the other three men were simply rotters, the sort of fellows who'd be just as likely as not to take a pull on a topsail halyard when told to slack away the lee runner. I was just making up my mind to work the boat single-handed when O'Meara turned up. There was a middling fresh breeze from the west, and we were going south on a reach. I didn't get much chance of a talk with O'Meara because he was in one watch and I in the other—had to be, of course, on account of being the only two who knew anything about working the boat. I did notice, though, that when he spoke to Hazlewood he called him Cassidy. However, that was no business of mine. We sailed pretty nearly due south that day and the next, and the next after that. Then we hove to."
"Where?" I asked.
"Ask me another," said Sam. "I told you I couldn't navigate. I hadn't an idea within a hundred miles where we were. What's more, I didn't care. I was having a splendid time, and had succeeded in knocking some sort of sense into the other fellow in my watch. Hazlewood steered, and barring that he was sea-sick for eight hours, my man turned out to be a decent sort, and fairly intelligent. He said his name was Temple, but Hazlewood called him O'Reilly as often as not."
"You seem to have gone in for a nice variety of names," I said. "What did you call yourself?"
"I stuck to my own name, of course. I wasn't doing anything to be ashamed of. If we'd been caught and the thing had turned out to be a crime—I don't know whether it was or not, but if it was, I suppose———"
"I suppose I should have paid your fine," I said.
"Thanks," said Sam. "Thanks, awfully. I rather expected you would whenever I thought about that part of it, but I very seldom did."
"What happened when you lay to?"
"Nothing at first. We bumped about a bit for five or six hours, and Temple got frightfully sick again. I never saw a man sicker. Harlewood kept on muddling about with charts, and doing sums on sheets of paper, and consulting with O'Meara. I suppose they wanted to make sure that they'd got to the right place. At last, just about sunset, a small steamer turned up. She hung about all night, and next day we started early, about four o'clock, and got the guns out of her, or some of them. We couldn't take the whole cargo, of course, in a 30-ton yacht I don't know how many more guns she had. Perhaps she hadn't any more. Only our little lot Anyhow, I was jolly glad when the job was over. There was a bit of a roll—nothing much, you know, but quite enough to make it pretty awkward. Temple got over his sea-sickness, which was a comfort. I suppose the excitement cured him. The way we worked was this—but I daresay you wouldn't understand, even if I told you."
"Is it very technical? I mean, must you use many sea words?"
"Must," said Sam. "We were at sea, you know."
"Well," I said, "perhaps you'd better leave that part out. Tell me what you did with the guns when you'd got them."
"Right It was there the fun really came in. Not that I'm complaining about the other part. It was sport all right, but the funny part, the part you'll like, came later. What about another cigar?"
I rang the bell, and got two more cigars for Sam.
"We had rather a tiresome passage home," he said. "It kept on falling calm, and O'Meara's motor isn't very powerful. It took us a clear week to work our way up to the County Down coast It was there we landed, in a poky little harbour. We went in at night, and had to wait for a full tide to get in at all. We got the sails of the boat outside, and just strolled in, so to speak, with the wretched little engine doing about half it could. Hazlewood told me that he expected four motor-cars to meet us, and that I was to take one of them, and drive like hell into County Armagh. There I was to call at a house belonging to O'Meara, and hand over my share of the guns. He said he hoped I knew my way about those parts, because it would be awkward for me trying to work with road maps when I ought to drive fast. I said I knew that country like the palm of my hand. The governor's parish is up there, you know."
Sam certainly ought to know County Down. He was brought up there, and must have walked, cycled, and driven over most of the roads.
"The only thing I didn't know," said Sam, "was O'Meara's house. I'd never heard of his having a house in that part of the country. However, he said he'd only taken it lately, and that when I got over the border into Armagh there'd be a man waiting to show me where to go. He told me the road I was to take and I knew every turn of the way, so I felt pretty sure of getting there. It was about two in the morning when we got alongside the pier. The four motors were there all right, but there wasn't a soul about except the men in charge of them. We got out the guns. They were done up in small bundles and the cartridges in handy little cases; but it took us till half-past four o'clock to get them ashore. By that time there were a few people knocking about; but they didn't seem to want to interfere with us. In fact, some of them came and helped us to pack the stuff into the cars. They were perfectly friendly."
"That doesn't surprise me in the least," I said "The people up there are nearly all Protestants. Most of them were probably Volunteers themselves. I daresay it wasn't the first cargo they'd helped to land."
"It was the first cargo they ever helped to land for the National Volunteers," said Sam with a grin.
"The National Volunteers!"
I admit that Sam startled me. I do not suppose that he has any political convictions. At the age of twenty a man has a few prejudices but no convictions. If he is a young fellow who goes in for being intellectual they are prejudices against the party his father belonged to. If—and this is Sam's case—he is a healthy-minded young man, who enjoys sport, he takes over his father's opinions as they stand, and regards everybody who does not accept them as an irredeemable blackguard. The Dean is a very strong loyalist. He is the chaplain of an Orange Lodge, and has told me more than once that he hopes to march to battle at the head of his regiment of Volunteers.
"Smuggling arms for the Nationalists!" I said.
"That's what I did," said Sam, grinning broadly. "But I thought all the time that I was working for the other side. I didn't know the Nationalists went in for guns; thought they only talked. In fact, to tell you the truth, I forgot all about them. Otherwise I wouldn't have done it At least I mightn't. But I had a great time."
"Of course," I said, "I don't mind. So far as I am concerned personally I'd rather neither side had any guns. But if your father finds out, Sam, there'll be a frightful row. He'll disown you."
"The governor knows all about it," said Sam, "and he doesn't mind one bit. Just wait till you hear the end of the story. You'll be as surprised as I was."
"I certainly shall," I said, "if the story ends in your father's approving of your smuggling guns for rebels. He'd call them rebels, you know."
"Oh," said Sam, "as far as rebellion goes I don't see that there's much to choose between them. However, that doesn't matter. What happened was this. I got off with my load about five o'clock, and I had a gorgeous spin. There wasn't a cart or a thing on the roads, and I just let the car rip. I touched sixty miles an hour, and hardly ever dropped below forty. Best run I ever had. Almost the only thing I passed was a motor lorry, going the same way I was. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but it turned out to be important afterwards. It was about seven o'clock when I got out of County Down into Armagh. I began looking out for the fellow who was to meet me. It wasn't long before I spotted him, standing at a corner, trying to look as if he were a military sentry. You know the sort of thing I mean. Bandolier, belt, and frightfully stiff about the back. He held up his hand and I stopped. 'A loyal man,' he said. Well, I was, so far as I knew at that time, so I said 'You bet.' 'That's not right,' said he. 'Give the countersign.' I hadn't heard anything about a countersign, so I told him not to be a damned fool, and that I'd break his head if he said I wasn't a loyal man. That seemed to puzzle him a bit He got out a notebook and read a page or two, looking at me and the car every now and then as if he wasn't quite satisfied. I felt pretty sure, of course, that he was the man I wanted. He couldn't very well be anyone else. So by way of cutting the business short I told him I was loaded up with guns and cartridges, and that I wished he'd hop in and show me where to go. 'That's all very fine,' he said, 'but you oughtn't to be in a car like that' I told him there was no use arguing about the car. I wasn't going back to change it to please him. He asked me who I was, and I told him, mentioning that I was the governor's son. I thought that might help him to make up his mind, and it did. The governor is middling well known up in those parts, and the mention of his name was enough. The fellow climbed in beside me. We hadn't very far to go, as it turned out, and in the inside of twenty minutes I was driving up the avenue of a big house. The size of it rather surprised me, for I didn't think O'Meara was well enough off to keep up a place of the kind. However, I was evidently expected, for I was shown into the dining-room by a footman. There were three men at breakfast, my old dad, Dopping—you know Dopping, don't you?"