"Gorblime! Who would ha' thought it?" Then he spat lustily and sucked at his pipe.
"You've nothing to say against it, have you?"
"All right. And look here, when we're in the army you must chuck calling me Cap'en."
"What shall I have to call yer? Gineral?" Chipmunk asked simply.
"Mate, Bill, Joe—any old name."
"Ker-ist!" said Chipmunk.
"Do you know why we're going to enlist?"
"Can't say as 'ow I does, Cap'en."
"You chuckle-headed swab! Don't you know we're at war?"
"I did 'ear some talk about it in a pub one night," Chipmunk admitted. "'Oo are we fighting? Dutchmen or Dagoes?"
Chipmunk spat in his horny hands, rubbed them together and smiled. As each individual hair on his face seemed to enter into the smile, the result was sinister.
"Do you remember that Dutchman at Samoa, Cap'en?"
Oliver smiled back. He remembered the hulking, truculent German merchant whom Chipmunk, having half strangled, threw into the sea. He also remembered the amount of accomplished lying he had to practise in order to save Chipmunk from the clutches of the law and get away with the schooner.
"We leave here to-morrow," said Oliver. "In the meanwhile you'll have to shave your ugly face."
For the first time Chipmunk was really staggered. He gaped at Oliver's retiring figure. Even his limited and time-worn vocabulary failed him. The desperate meaning of the war has flashed suddenly on millions of men in millions of different ways. This is the way in which it flashed on Chipmunk.
He sat on his bucket pondering over the awfulness of it and sucking his pipe long after it had been smoked out. The Dean's car drove into the yard and the chauffeur, stripping off his coat, prepared to clean it down.
"Say, guv'nor," said Chipmunk hoarsely, "what do you think of this 'ere war?"
"Same as most people," replied the chauffeur tersely. He shared in the general disapproval of Chipmunk.
"But see 'ere. Cap'en he tells me I must shave me face and be a 'oss soldier. I never shaved me face in me life, and I dunno 'ow to do it, just as I dunno 'ow to ride a 'oss. I'm a sailorman, I am, and sailormen don't shave their faces and ride 'osses. That's why I arsked yer what yer thought of this 'ere war."
The chauffeur struggled into his jeans and adjusted them before replying.
"If you're a sailor, the place for you is the navy," he remarked in a superior manner. "As for the cavalry, the Cap'en, as you call him, ought to have more sense——"
Chipmunk rose and swung his long arms threateningly.
"Look 'ere, young feller, do you want to have your blinkin' 'ead knocked orf? Where the Cap'en goes, I goes, and don't you make any mistake about it!"
"I didn't say anything," the chauffeur expostulated.
"Then don't say it. See? Keep your blinkin' 'ead shut and mind your own business."
And, scowling fiercely and thrusting his empty pipe into his trousers pocket, Chipmunk rolled away.
A few hours later Oliver, entering his room to dress for dinner, found him standing in the light of the window laboriously fitting studs into a shirt. The devoted fellow having gone to report to his master, had found Burford engaged in his accustomed task of laying out his master's evening clothes—Oliver during his stay in London had provided himself with these necessaries. A jealous snarl had sent Burford flying. So intent was he on his work, that he did not hear Oliver enter. Oliver stood and watched him. Chipmunk was swearing wholesomely under his breath. Oliver saw him take up the tail of the shirt, spit on it and begin to rub something.
"Ker-ist!" said Chipmunk.
"What in the thundering blazes are you doing there?" cried Oliver.
"Oh, my God!" said Oliver.
Then he sank on a chair and laughed and laughed, and the more he looked at Chipmunk the more he laughed. And Chipmunk stood stolid, holding the shirt of the awful, wet, thumb-marked front. But it was not at the shirt that Oliver laughed.
"Good God!" he cried, "were you born like that?"
For Chipmunk, having gone to the barber's, was clean-shaven, and revealed himself as one of the most comically ugly of the sons of men.
"Never mind," said Oliver, after a while, "you've made the sacrifice for your country."
"And wot if I get the face-ache?"
"I'd get something that looked like a face before I'd talk of it," grinned Oliver.
At the family dinner-table, Doggie being present, he announced his intentions. It was the duty of every able-bodied man to fight for the Empire. Had not half a million just been called for? We should want a jolly sight more than that before we got through with it. Anyway, he was off to-morrow.
"To-morrow?" echoed the Dean.
Burford, who was handing him potatoes, arched his eyebrows in alarm. He was fond of Oliver.
Burford uttered an unheard sigh of relief.
"We're going to enlist in King Edward's Horse. They're our kind. Overseas men. Lots of 'em what you dear good people would call bad eggs. There you make the mistake. Perhaps they mayn't be fresh enough raw for a dainty palate—but for cooking, good hard cooking, by gosh! nothing can touch 'em."
"You talk of enlisting, dear," said Mrs. Conover. "Does that mean as a private soldier?"
"Yes—a trooper. Why not?"
"You're a gentleman, dear. And gentlemen in the Army are officers."
"Not now, my dear Sophia," said the Dean. "Gentlemen are crowding into the ranks. They are setting a noble example."
They argued it out in their gentle old-fashioned way. The Dean quoted examples of sons of family who had served as privates in the South African War.
"And that to this," said he, "is but an eddy to a maelstrom."
"Come and join us, James Marmaduke," said Oliver across the table. "Chipmunk and me. Three 'sworn brothers to France.'"
Doggie smiled easily. "I'm afraid I can't undertake to swear a fraternal affection for Chipmunk. He and I would have neither habits nor ideals in common."
Oliver turned to Peggy. "I wish," said he, with rare restraint, "he wouldn't talk like a book on deportment."
"Marmaduke talks the language of civilization," laughed Peggy. "He's not a savage like you."
"Don't you jolly well wish he was!" said Oliver.
Peggy flushed. "No, I don't!" she declared.
The Dean being called away on business immediately after dinner, the young men were left alone in the dining-room when the ladies had departed. Oliver poured himself out a glass of port and filled his pipe—an inelegant proceeding of which Doggie disapproved. A pipe alone was barbaric, a pipe with old port was criminal. He held his peace however.
"James Marmaduke," said Oliver, after a while, "what are you going to do?" Much as Marmaduke disliked the name of "Doggie," he winced under the irony of the new appellation.
"I don't see that I'm called upon to do anything," he replied.
Oliver smoked and sipped his port. "I don't want to hurt your feelings any more," said he gravely, "though sometimes I'd like to scrag you—I suppose because you're so different from me. It was so when we were children together. Now I've grown very fond of Peggy. Put on the right track, she might turn into a very fine woman."
"I don't think we need discuss Peggy, Oliver," said Marmaduke.
"I do. She is sticking to you very loyally." Oliver was a bit of an idealist. "The time may come when she'll be up the devil's own tree. She'll develop a patriotic conscience. If she sticks to you while you do nothing she'll be miserable. If she chucks you, as she probably will, she'll be no happier. It's all up to you, James Doggie Marmaduke, old son. You'll have to gird up your loins and take sword and buckler and march away like the rest. I don't want Peggy to be unhappy. I want her to marry a man. That's why I proposed to take you out with me to Huaheine and try to make you one. But that's over. Now, here's the real chance. Better take it sooner than later. You'll have to be a soldier, Doggie."
His pipe not drawing, he was preparing to dig it with the point of a dessert-knife, when Doggie interposed hurriedly.
"For goodness' sake, don't do that! It makes cold shivers run down my back!"
Oliver looked at him oddly, put the extinct pipe in his dinner-jacket pocket and rose.
"A flaw in the dainty and divine ordering of things makes you shiver now, old Doggie. What will you do when you see a fellow digging out another fellow's intestines with the point of a bayonet? A bigger flaw there somehow!"
"Don't talk like that. You make me sick," said Doggie.
During the next few months there happened terrible and marvellous things, which are all set down in the myriad chronicles of the time; which shook the world and brought the unknown phenomenon of change into the Close of Durdlebury. Folks of strange habit and speech walked in it, and, gazing at the Gothic splendour of the place, saw through the mist of autumn and the mist of tears not Durdlebury but Louvain. More than one of those grey houses flanking the cathedral and sharing with it the continuity of its venerable life, was a house of mourning; not for loss in the inevitable and not unkindly way of human destiny as understood and accepted with long disciplined resignation—but for loss sudden, awful, devastating; for the gallant lad who had left it but a few weeks before, with a smile on his lips, and a new and dancing light of manhood in his eyes, now with those eyes unclosed and glazed staring at the pitiless Flanders sky. Not one of those houses but was linked with a battlefield. Beyond the memory of man the reader of the Litany had droned the accustomed invocation on behalf of the Sovereign and the Royal Family, the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, the Lords of the Council and all prisoners and captives, and the congregation had lumped them all together in their responses with an undifferentiating convention of fervour. What had prisoners and captives, any more than the Lords of the Council, to do with their lives, their hearts, their personal emotions? But now—Durdlebury men were known to be prisoners in German hands, and after "all prisoners and captives" there was a long and pregnant silence, in which was felt the reverberation of war against pier and vaulted arch and groined roof of the cathedral, which was broken too, now and then, by the stifled sob of a woman, before the choir came in with the response so new and significant in its appeal—"We beseech thee to hear us, O Lord!"
And in every home the knitting-needles of women clicked, as they did throughout the length and breadth of the land. And the young men left shop and trade and counting-house. And young parsons fretted, and some obtained the Bishop's permission to become Army chaplains, and others, snapping their fingers (figuratively) under the Bishop's nose, threw their cassocks to the nettles and put on the full (though in modern times not very splendiferous) panoply of war. And in course of time the brigade of artillery rolled away and new troops took their place; and Marmaduke Trevor, Esquire, of Denby Hall, was called upon to billet a couple of officers and twenty men.
Doggie was both patriotic and polite. Having a fragment of the British Army in his house, he did his best to make them comfortable. By January he had no doubt that the Empire was in peril, that it was every man's duty to do his bit. He welcomed the new-comers with open arms, having unconsciously abandoned his attitude of superiority over mere brawn. Doggie saw the necessity of brawn. The more the better. It was every patriotic Englishman's duty to encourage brawn. If the two officers had allowed him, he would have fed his billeted men every two hours on prime beefsteaks and burgundy. He threw himself heart and soul into the reorganization of his household. Officers and men found themselves in clover. The officers had champagne every night for dinner. They thought Doggie a capital fellow.
"My dear chap," they would say, "you're spoiling us. I don't say we don't like it and aren't grateful. We jolly well are. But we're supposed to rough it—to lead the simple life—what? You're doing us too well."
"Impossible!" Doggie would reply, filling up the speaker's glass. "Don't I know what we owe to you fellows? In what other way can a helpless, delicate crock like myself show his gratitude and in some sort of little way serve his country?"
When the sympathetic and wine-filled guest would ask what was the nature of his malady, he would tap his chest vaguely and reply:
"Constitutional. I've never been able to do things like other fellows. The least thing bowls me out."
"Dam hard lines—especially just now."
"Yes, isn't it?" Doggie would answer. And once he found himself adding, "I'm fed up with doing nothing."
Here can be noted a distinct stage in Doggie's development. He realized the brutality of fact. When great German guns were yawning open-mouthed at you, it was no use saying, "Take the nasty, horrid things away, I don't like them." They wouldn't go unless you took other big guns and fired at them. And more guns were required than could be manned by the peculiarly constituted fellows who made up the artillery of the original British Army. New fellows not at all warlike, peaceful citizens who had never killed a cat in anger, were being driven by patriotism and by conscience to man them. Against Blood and Iron now supreme, the superior, aesthetic and artistic being was of no avail. You might lament the fall in relative values of collections of wall-papers and little china dogs, as much as you liked; but you could not deny the fall; they had gone down with something of an ignoble "wallop." Doggie began to set a high value on guns and rifles and such-like deadly engines, and to inquire petulantly why the Government were not providing them at greater numbers and at greater speed. On his periodic visits to London he wandered round by Trafalgar Square and Whitehall, to see for himself how the recruiting was going on. At the Deanery he joined in ardent discussions of the campaign in Flanders. On the walls of his peacock and ivory room were maps stuck all over with little pins. When he told the young officer that he was wearied of inaction, he spoke the truth. He began to feel mightily aggrieved against Providence for keeping him outside this tremendous national league of youth. He never questioned his physical incapacity. It was as real a fact as the German guns. He went about pitying himself and seeking pity.
The months passed. The regiment moved away from Durdlebury, and Doggie was left alone in Denby Hall.
He felt solitary and restless. News came from Oliver that he had been offered and had accepted an infantry commission, and that Chipmunk, having none of the special qualities of a "'oss soldier," had, by certain skilful wire-pullings, been transferred to his regiment, and had once more become his devoted servant. "A month of this sort of thing," he wrote, "would make our dear old Doggie sit up." Doggie sighed. If only he had been blessed with Oliver's constitution!
One morning Briggins, his chauffeur, announced that he could stick it no longer and was going to join up. Then Doggie remembered a talk he had had with one of the young officers who had expressed astonishment at his not being able to drive a car. "I shouldn't have the nerve," he had replied. "My nerves are all wrong—and I shouldn't have the strength to change tyres and things."... If his chauffeur went, he would find it very difficult to get another. Who would drive the Rolls-Royce?
"Why not learn to drive yourself, sir?" said Briggins. "Not the Rolls-Royce. I would put it up or get rid of it, if I were you. If you engage a second-rate man, as you'll have to, who isn't used to this make of car, he'll do it in for you pretty quick. Get a smaller one in its place and drive it yourself. I'll undertake to teach you enough before I go."
So Doggie, following Briggins' advice, took lessons and, to his amazement, found that he did not die of nervous collapse when a dog crossed the road in front of the car and that the fitting of detachable wheels did not require the strength of a Hercules. The first time he took Peggy out in the two-seater he swelled with pride.
"I'm so glad to see you can do something!" she said.
Although she was kind and as mildly affectionate as ever, he had noticed of late a curious reserve in her manner. Conversation did not flow easily. There seemed to be something at the back of her mind. She had fits of abstraction from which, when rallied, she roused herself with an effort.
"It's the war," she would declare. "It's affecting everybody that way."
Gradually Doggie began to realize that she spoke truly. Most people of his acquaintance, when he was by, seemed to be thus afflicted. The lack of interest they manifested in his delicacy of constitution was almost impolite. At last he received an anonymous letter, "For little Doggie Trevor, from the girls of Durdlebury," enclosing a white feather.
The cruelty of it broke Doggie down. He sat in his peacock and ivory room and nearly wept. Then he plucked up courage and went to Peggy. She was rather white about the lips as she listened.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but I expected something of the sort to happen."
"It's brutal and unjust."
"Yes, it's brutal," she admitted coldly.
"I thought you, at any rate, would sympathize with me," he cried.
She turned on him. "And what about me? Who sympathizes with me? Do you ever give a moment's thought to what I've had to go through the last few months?"
"I don't quite know what you mean," he stammered.
"I should have thought it was obvious. You can't be such an innocent babe as to suppose people don't talk about you. They don't talk to you because they don't like to be rude. They send you white feathers instead. But they talk to me. 'Why isn't Marmaduke in khaki?' 'Why isn't Doggie fighting?' 'I wonder how you can allow him to slack about like that!'—I've had a pretty rough time fighting your battles, I can tell you, and I deserve some credit. I want sympathy just as much as you do."
"My dear," said Doggie, feeling very much humiliated, "I never knew. I never thought. I do see now the unpleasant position you've been in. People are brutes. But," he added eagerly, "you told them the real reason?"
"What's that?" she asked, looking at him with cold eyes.
Then Doggie knew that the wide world was against him. "I'm not fit. I've no constitution. I'm an impossibility."
"You thought you had nerves until you learned to drive the car. Then you discovered that you hadn't. You fancy you've a weak heart. Perhaps if you learned to walk thirty miles a day you would discover you hadn't that either. And so with the rest of it."
"This is very painful," he said, going to the window and staring out. "Very painful. You are of the same opinion as the young women who sent me that abominable thing."
She had been on the strain for a long while and something inside her had snapped. At his woebegone attitude she relented however, and came up and touched his shoulder.
"A girl wants to feel some pride in the man she's going to marry. It's horrible to have to be always defending him—especially when she's not sure she's telling the truth in his defence."
He swung round horrified. "Do you think I'm shamming, so as to get out of serving in the Army?"
"Not consciously. Unconsciously, I think you are. What does your doctor say?"
Doggie was taken aback. He had no doctor. He had not consulted one for years, having no cause for medical advice. The old family physician who had attended his mother in her last illness and had prescribed Gregory powders for him as a child, had retired from Durdlebury long ago. There was only one person living familiar with his constitution, and that was himself. He made confession of the surprising fact. Peggy made a little gesture.
"That proves it. I don't believe you have anything wrong with you. The nerves business made me sceptical. This is straight talking. It's horrid, I know. But it's best to get through with it once and for all."
Some men would have taken deep offence and, consigning Peggy to the devil, have walked out of the room. But Doggie, a conscientious, even though a futile human being, was gnawed for the first time by the suspicion that Peggy might possibly be right. He desired to act honourably.
"I'll do," said he, "whatever you think proper."
Peggy was swift to smite the malleable iron. To use the conventional phrase might give an incorrect impression of red-hot martial ardour on the part of Doggie.
"Good," she said, with the first smile of the day. "I'll hold you to it. But it will be an honourable bargain. Get Dr. Murdoch to overhaul you thoroughly, with a view to the Army. If he passes you, take a commission. Dad says he can easily get you one through his old friend General Gadsby at the War Office. If he doesn't, and you're unfit, I'll stick to you through thick and thin, and make the young women of Durdlebury wish they'd never been born."
She put out her hand. Doggie took it.
"Very well," said he, "I agree."
She laughed, and ran to the door.
"Where are you going?"
"To the telephone—to ring up Dr. Murdoch for an appointment."
"You're flabby," said Dr. Murdoch the next morning to an anxious Doggie in pink pyjamas; "but that's merely a matter of unused muscles. Physical training will set it right in no time. Otherwise, my dear Trevor, you're in splendid health. I was afraid your family history might be against you—the child of elderly parents, and so forth. But nothing of the sort. Not only are you a first-class life for an insurance company, but you're a first-class life for the Army—and that's saying a good deal. There's not a flaw in your whole constitution."
He put away his stethoscope and smiled at Doggie, who regarded him blankly as the pronouncer of a doom. He went on to prescribe a course of physical exercises, so many miles a day walking, such and such back-breaking and contortional performances in his bathroom; if possible, a skilfully graduated career in a gymnasium, but his words fell on the ears of a Doggie in a dream; and when he had ended, Doggie said:
"I'm afraid, Doctor, you'll have to write all that out for me."
"With pleasure," smiled the doctor, and gripped him by the hand. And seeing Doggie wince, he said heartily: "Ah! I'll soon set that right for you. I'll get you something—an india-rubber contrivance to practise with for half an hour a day, and you'll develop a hand like a gorilla's."
Dr. Murdoch grinned his way, in his little car, to his next patient. Here was this young slacker, coddled from birth, absolutely horse-strong and utterly confounded at being told so. He grinned and chuckled so much that he nearly killed his most valuable old lady patient, who was crossing the High Street.
But Doggie crept out of bed and put on a violet dressing-gown that clashed horribly with his pink pyjamas, and wandered like a man in a nightmare to his breakfast. But he could not eat. He swallowed a cup of coffee and sought refuge in his own room. He was frightened. Horribly frightened, caught in a net from which there was no escape—not the tiniest break of a mesh. He had given his word—and in justice to Doggie, be it said that he held his word sacred—he had given his word to join the Army if he should be passed by Murdoch. He had been passed—more than passed. He would have to join. He would have to fight. He would have to live in a muddy trench, sleep in mud, eat in mud, plough through mud, in the midst of falling shells and other instruments of death. And he would be an officer, with all kinds of strange and vulgar men under him, men like Chipmunk, for instance, whom he would never understand. He was almost physically sick with apprehension. He realized that he had never commanded a man in his life. He had been mortally afraid of Briggins, his late chauffeur. He had heard that men at the front lived on some solid horror called bully-beef dug out of tins, and some liquid horror called cocoa, also drunk out of tins; that men kept on their clothes, even their boots, for weeks at a time; that rats ran over them while they tried to sleep; that lice, hitherto associated in his mind with the most revolting type of tramp, out there made no distinction of persons. They were the common lot of the lowest Tommy and the finest gentleman. And then the fighting. The noise of the horrid guns. The disgusting sights of men shattered to bloody bits. The horrible stench. The terror of having one's face shot half away and being an object of revolt and horror to all beholders for the rest of life. Death. Feverishly he ruffled his comely hair. Death. He was surprised that the contemplation of it did not freeze the blood in his veins. Yes. He put it clearly before him. He had given his word to Peggy that he would go and expose himself to Death. Death. What did it mean? He had been brought up in orthodox Church of England Christianity. His flaccid mind had never questioned the truth of its dogmas. He believed, in a general sort of way, that good people went to Heaven and bad people went to Hell. His conscience was clear. He had never done any harm to anybody. As far as he knew, he had broken none of the Ten Commandments. In a technical sense he was a miserable sinner, and so proclaimed himself once a week. But though, perhaps, he had done nothing in his life to merit eternal bliss in Paradise, yet, on the other hand, he had committed no action which would justify a kindly and just Creator in consigning him to the eternal flames of Hell. Somehow the thought of Death did not worry him. It faded from his mind, being far less terrible than life under prospective conditions. Discomfort, hunger, thirst, cold, fatigue, pain; above all the terror of his fellows—these were the soul-racking anticipations of this new life into which it was a matter of honour for him to plunge. And to an essential gentleman like Doggie a matter of honour was a matter of life. And so, dressed in his pink pyjamas and violet dressing-gown, amid the peacock-blue and ivory hangings of his boudoir room, and stared at by the countless unsympathetic eyes of his little china dogs, Doggie Trevor passed through his first Gethsemane.
* * * * *
His decision was greeted with joy at the Deanery. Peggy threw her arms round his neck and gave him the very first real kiss he had ever received. It revived him considerably. His Aunt Sophia also embraced him. The Dean shook him warmly by the hand, and talked eloquent patriotism. Doggie already felt a hero. He left the house in a glow, but the drive home in the two-seater was cold and the pitch-dark night presaged other nights of mercilessness in the future; and when Doggie sat alone by his fire, sipping the hot milk which Peddle presented him on a silver tray, the doubts and fears of the morning racked him again. An ignoble possibility occurred to him. Murdoch might be wrong. Murdoch might be prejudiced by local gossip. Would it not be better to go up to London and obtain the opinion of a first-class man to whom he was unknown? There was also another alternative. Flight. He might go to America, and do nothing. To the South of France, and help in some sort of way with hospitals for French wounded. He caught himself up short as these thoughts passed through his mind, and he shuddered. He took up the glass of hot milk and put it down again. Milk? He needed something stronger. A glance in a mirror showed him his sleek hair tousled into an upstanding wig. In a kind of horror of himself he went to the dining-room and for the first time in his life drank a stiff whisky and soda for the sake of the stimulant. Reaction came. He felt a man once more. Rather suicide at once than such damnable dishonour. According to the directions which the Dean, a man of affairs, had given him, he sat down and wrote his application to the War Office for a commission. Then—unique adventure!—he stole out of the barred and bolted house, without thought of hat and overcoat (let the traducers of alcohol mark it well), ran down the drive and posted the letter in the box some few yards beyond his entrance gates.
The Dean had already posted his letter to his old friend General Gadsby at the War Office.
So the die was cast. The Rubicon was crossed. The bridges were burnt. The irrevocable step was taken. Dr. Murdoch turned up the next morning with his prescription for physical training. And then Doggie trained assiduously, monotonously, wearily. He grew appalled by the senselessness of this apparently unnecessary exertion. Now and then Peggy accompanied him on his prescribed walks; but the charm of her company was discounted by the glaring superiority of her powers of endurance. While he ached with fatigue, she pressed along as fresh as Atalanta at the beginning of her race. When they parted by the Deanery door, she would stand flushed, radiant in her youth and health, and say:
"We've had a topping walk, old dear. Now isn't it a glorious thing to feel oneself alive?"
But poor Doggie of the flabby muscles felt half dead.
* * * * *
The fateful letter burdening Doggie with the King's commission arrived a few weeks later: a second lieutenancy in a Fusilier battalion of the New Army. Dates and instructions were given. The impress of the Royal Arms at the head of the paper, with its grotesque perky lion and unicorn, conveyed to Doggie a sense of the grip of some uncanny power. The typewritten words scarcely mattered. The impress fascinated him. There was no getting away from it. Those two pawing beasts held him in their clutch. They headed a Death Warrant, from which there was no appeal.
Doggie put his house in order, dismissed with bounty those of his servants who would be no longer needed, and kept the Peddles, husband and wife, to look after his interests. On his last night at home he went wistfully through the familiar place, the drawing-room sacred to his mother's memory, the dining-room so solid in its half-century of comfort, his own peacock and ivory room so intensely himself, so expressive of his every taste, every mood, every emotion. Those strange old-world musical instruments—he could play them all with the touch or breath of a master and a lover. The old Italian theorbo. He took it up. How few to-day knew its melodious secret! He looked around. All these daintinesses and prettinesses had a meaning. They signified the magical little beauties of life—things which asserted a range of spiritual truths, none the less real and consolatory because vice and crime and ugliness and misery and war co-existed in ghastly fact on other facets of the planet Earth. The sweetness here expressed was as essential to the world's spiritual life as the sweet elements of foodstuffs to its physical life. To the getting together of all these articles of beauty he had devoted the years of his youth.... And—another point of view—was he not the guardian by inheritance—in other words, by Divine Providence—of this beautiful English home, the trustee of English comfort, of the sacred traditions of sweet English life that had made England the only country, the only country, he thought, that could call itself a Country and not a Compromise, in the world?
And he was going to leave it all. All that it meant in beauty and dignity and ease of life. For what?
For horror and filthiness and ugliness, for everything against which his beautiful peacock and ivory room protested. Doggie's last night at Denby Hall was a troubled one.
Aunt Sophia and Peggy accompanied him to London and stayed with him at his stuffy little hotel off Bond Street, while Doggie got his kit together. They bought everything in every West End shop that any salesman assured them was essential for active service. Swords, revolvers, field-glasses, pocket-knives (for gigantic pockets), compasses, mess-tins, cooking-batteries, sleeping-bags, waterproofs, boots innumerable, toilet accessories, drinking-cups, thermos flasks, field stationery cases, periscopes, tinted glasses, Gieve waistcoats, cholera belts, portable medicine cases, earplugs, tin-openers, corkscrews, notebooks, pencils, luminous watches, electric torches, pins, housewives, patent seat walking-sticks—everything that the man of commercial instincts had devised for the prosecution of the war.
The amount of warlike equipment with which Doggie, with the aid of his Aunt Sophia and Peggy, encumbered the narrow little passages of Sturrocks's Hotel, must have weighed about a ton.
At last Doggie's uniforms—several suits—came home. He had devoted enormous care to their fit. Attired in one he looked beautiful. Peggy decreed a dinner at the Carlton. She and Doggie alone. Her mother could get some stuffy old relation to spend the evening with her at Sturrocks's. She wanted Doggie all to herself, so as to realize the dream of many disgusting and humiliating months. And as she swept through the palm court and up the broad stairs and wound through the crowded tables of the restaurant with the khaki-clad Doggie by her side, she felt proud and uplifted. Here was her soldier whom she had made. Her very own man in khaki.
"Dear old thing," she whispered, pressing his arm as they trekked to their table. "Don't you feel glorious? Don't you feel as if you could face the universe?"
Peggy drank one glass of the quart of champagne. Doggie drank the rest.
On getting into bed he wondered why this unprecedented quantity of wine had not affected his sobriety. Its only effect had been to stifle thought. He went to bed and slept happily, for Peggy's parting kiss had been such as would conduce to any young man's felicity.
The next morning Aunt Sophia and Peggy saw him off to his depot, with his ton of luggage. He leaned out of the carriage window and exchanged hand kisses with Peggy until the curve of the line cut her off. Then he settled down in his corner with the Morning Post. But he could not concentrate his attention on the morning news. This strange costume in which he was clothed seemed unreal, monstrous; no longer the natty dress in which he had been proud to prink the night before, but a nightmare, Nessus-like investiture, signifying some abominable burning doom.
The train swept him into a world that was upside down.
Those were proud days for Peggy. She went about Durdlebury with her head in the air, and her step was as martial as though she herself wore the King's uniform, and she regarded the other girls of the town with a defiant eye. If only she could discover, she thought, the sender of the abominable feather! In Timpany's drapery establishment she raked the girls at the counter with a searching glance. At the cathedral services she studied the demure faces of her contemporaries. Now that Doggie was a soldier she held the anonymous exploit to be cowardly and brutal. What did people know of the thousand and one reasons that kept eligible young men out of the Army? What had they known of Marmaduke? As soon as the illusion of his life had been dispelled, he had marched away with as gallant a tread as anybody; and though Doggie had kept to himself his shrinkings and his terrors, she knew that what to the average hardily bred young man was a gay adventure, was to him an ordeal of considerable difficulty. She longed for his first leave, so that she could parade him before the town, in the event of there being a lurking sceptic who still refused to believe that he had joined the Army.
Conspicuous in the drawing-room, framed in silver, stood a large full-length photograph of Doggie in his new uniform.
She wrote to him daily, chronicling the little doings of the town, at times reviling it for its dullness. Dad, on numberless committees, was scarcely ever in the house, except for hurried meals. Most of the pleasant young clergy had gone. Many of the girls had gone too: Dorothy Bruce to be a probationer in a V.A.D. hospital. If Durdlebury were not such a rotten out-of-the-world place, the infirmary would be full of wounded soldiers, and she could do her turn at nursing. As things were, she could only knit socks for Tommies and a silk khaki tie for her own boy. But when everybody was doing their bit, these occupations were not enough to prevent her feeling a little slacker. He would have to do the patriotic work for both of them, tell her all about himself, and let her share everything with him in imagination. She also expressed her affection for him in shy and slangy terms.
Doggie wrote regularly. His letters were as shy and conveyed less information. The work was hard, the hours long, his accommodation Spartan. They were in huts on Salisbury Plain. Sometimes he confessed himself too tired to write more than a few lines. He had a bad cold in the head. He was better. They had inoculated him against typhoid and had allowed him two or three slack days. The first time he had unaccountably fainted; but he had seen some of the men do the same, and the doctor had assured him that it had nothing to do with cowardice. He had gone for a route march and had returned a dusty lump of fatigue. But after having shaken the dust out of his moustache—Doggie had a playful turn of phrase now and then—and drunk a quart of shandy-gaff, he had felt refreshed. Then it rained hard, and they were all but washed out of the huts. It was a very strange life—one which he never dreamed could have existed. "Fancy me," he wrote, "glad to sleep on a drenched bed!" There was the riding-school. Why hadn't he learned to ride as a boy? He had been told that the horse was a noble animal and the friend of man. He was afraid he would return to his dear Peggy with many of his young illusions shattered. The horse was the most ignoble, malevolent beast that ever walked, except the sergeant-major in the riding-school. Peggy was filled with admiration for his philosophic endurance of hardships. It was real courage. His letters contained simple statements of fact, but not a word of complaint. On the other hand, they were not ebullient with joy; but then, Peggy reflected, there was not much to be joyous about in a ramshackle hut on Salisbury Plain. "Dear old thing," she would write, "although you don't grouse, I know you must be having a pretty thin time. But you're bucking up splendidly, and when you get your leave I'll do a girl's very d——dest (don't be shocked; but I'm sure you're learning far worse language in the Army) to make it up to you." Her heart was very full of him.
Then there came a time when his letters grew rarer and shorter. At last they ceased altogether. After a week's waiting she sent an anxious telegram. The answer came back. "Quite well. Will write soon." She waited. He did not write. One evening an unstamped envelope, addressed to her in a feminine hand, which she recognized as that of Marmaduke's anonymous correspondent, was found in the Deanery letter-box. The envelope enclosed a copy of a cutting from the "Gazette" of the morning paper, and a sentence was underlined and adorned with exclamation marks at the sides.
"R. Fusiliers. Tempy. 2nd Lieutenant J. Trevor resigns his commission."
The Colonel dealt with him as gently as he could in that final interview. He put his hand in a fatherly way on Doggie's shoulder and bade him not take it too much to heart. He had done his best; but he was not cut out for an officer. These were merciless times. In matters of life and death we could not afford weak links in the chain. Soldiers in high command, with great reputations, had already been scrapped. In Doggie's case there was no personal discredit. He had always conducted himself like a gentleman and a man of honour, but he had not the qualities necessary for the commanding of men. He must send in his resignation.
"But what can I do, sir?" asked Doggie in a choking voice. "I am disgraced for ever."
The Colonel reflected for a moment. He knew that Doggie's life had been a little hell on earth from the first day he had joined. He was very sorry for the poor little toy Pom in his pack of hounds. It was scarcely the toy Pom's fault that he had failed. But the Great Hunt could have no use for toy Poms. At last he took a sheet of regimental notepaper and wrote:
"I am full of admiration for the plucky way in which you have striven to overcome your physical disabilities, and I am only too sorry that they should have compelled the resignation of your commission and your severance from the regiment.
"Yours sincerely, "L. G. CAIRD, "Lt-Col."
He handed it to Doggie.
"That's all I can do for you, my poor boy," said he.
"Thank you, sir," said Doggie.
* * * * *
Doggie took a room at the Savoy Hotel, and sat there most of the day, the pulp of a man. He had gone to the Savoy, not daring to show his face at the familiar Sturrocks's. At the Savoy he was but a number unknown, unquestioned. He wore civilian clothes. Such of his uniforms and martial paraphernalia as he had been allowed to retain in camp—for one can't house a ton of kit in a hut—he had given to his batman. His one desire now was to escape from the eyes of his fellow-men. He felt that he bore upon him the stigma of his disgrace, obvious to any casual glance. He was the man who had been turned out of the army as a hopeless incompetent. Even worse than the slacker—for the slacker might have latent the qualities that he lacked. Even at the best and brightest, he could only be mistaken for a slacker, once more the likely recipient of white feathers from any damsel patriotically indiscreet. The Colonel's letter brought him little consolation. It is true that he carried it about with him in his pocket-book; but the gibing eyes of observers had not the X-ray power to read it there. And he could not pin it on his hat. Besides, he knew that the kindly Colonel had stretched a point of veracity. No longer could he take refuge in his cherished delicacy of constitution. It would be a lie.
Peggy, in her softest and most pitying mood, never guessed the nature of Doggie's ordeal. Those letters so brave, sometimes so playful, had been written with shaky hand, misty eyes, throbbing head, despairing heart. Looking back, it seemed to him one blurred dream of pain. His brother officers were no worse than those in any other Kitchener regiment. Indeed, the Colonel was immensely proud of them and sang their praises to any fellow-dugout who would listen to him at the Naval and Military Club. But how were a crowd of young men, trained in the rough and tumble of public schools, universities and sport, and now throbbing under the stress of the new deadly game, to understand poor Doggie Trevor? They had no time to take him seriously, save to curse him when he did wrong, and in their leisure time he became naturally a butt for their amusement.
"Surely I don't have to sleep in there?" he asked the subaltern who was taking him round on the day of his arrival in camp, and showed him his squalid little cubby-hole of a hut with its dirty boards, its cheap table and chair, its narrow sleep-dispelling little bedstead.
"Yes, it's a beastly hole, isn't it? Until last month we were under canvas."
"Sleeping on the bare ground?"
"Wallowing in the mud like pigs. Not one of us without a cold. Never had a such filthy time in my life."
Doggie looked about him helplessly, while the comforter smiled grimly. Already his disconsolate attitude towards the dingy hutments of the camp and the layer of thick mud on his beautiful new boots had diverted his companion.
"Couldn't I have this furnished at my own expense? A carpet and a proper bed, and a few pictures——"
"I wouldn't try."
"Some of it might get broken—not quite accidentally."
"But surely," gasped Doggie, "the soldiers would not be allowed to come in here and touch my furniture?"
"It seems," said the subaltern, after a bewildered stare, "that you have quite a lot to learn."
Doggie had. The subaltern reported a new kind of animal to the mess. The mess saw to it that Doggie should be crammed with information—but information wholly incorrect and misleading, which added to his many difficulties. When his ton of kit arrived he held an unwilling reception in the hut and found himself obliged to explain to gravely curious men the use for which the various articles were designed.
"This, I suppose, is a new type of gas-mask?"
No. It was a patent cooker. Doggie politely showed how it worked. He also demonstrated that a sleeping-bag was not a kit-sack of a size unauthorized by the regulations, and that a huge steel-pointed walking-stick had nothing to do with agriculture.
He was very weary of his visitors by the time they had gone. The next day the Adjutant advised him to scrap the lot. So sorrowfully he sent back most of his purchases to London.
Then the Imp of Mischance brought as a visitor to the mess, a subaltern from another regiment who belonged to Doggie's part of the country.
"Why—I'm blowed if it isn't Doggie Trevor!" he exclaimed carelessly. "How d'ye do, Doggie?"
So thenceforward he was known in the regiment by the hated name.
There were rags in which, as he was often the victim, he was forced to join. His fastidiousness loathed the coarse personal contact of arms and legs and bodies. His undeveloped strength could not cope with the muscle of his young brother barbarians. Aching with the day's fatigue, he would plead, to no avail, to be left alone. Compared with these feared and detested scraps, he considered, in after-times, battles to be agreeable recreations.
Had he been otherwise competent, he might have won through the teasing and the ragging of the mess. No one disliked him. He was pleasant-mannered, good-natured, and appeared to bear no malice. True, his ignorance not only of the ways of the army but of the ways of their old hearty world, was colossal, his mode of expression rather that of a precise old church dignitary than of a subaltern in a regiment of Fusiliers, his habits, including a nervous shrinking from untidiness and dirt, those of a dear old maid; but the mess thought, honestly, that he could be knocked into their own social shape, and in the process of knocking carried out their own traditions. They might have succeeded if Doggie had discovered any reserve source of pride from which to draw. But Doggie was hopeless at his work. The mechanism of a rifle filled him with dismay. He could not help shutting his eyes before he pulled the trigger. Inured all his life to lethargic action, he found the smart crisp movements of drill almost impossible to attain. The riding-school was a terror and a torture. Every second he deemed himself in imminent peril of death. Said the sergeant-major:
"Now, Mr. Trevor, you're sitting on a 'orse and not a 'olly-bush."
And Doggie would wish the horse and the sergeant-major in hell.
Again, what notion could poor Doggie have of command? He had never raised his mild tenor voice to damn anybody in his life. At first the tone in which the officers ordered the men about shocked him. So rough, so unmannerly, so unkind. He could not understand the cheery lack of resentment with which the men obeyed. He could not get into the way of military directness, could never check the polite "Do you mind" that came instinctively to his lips. Now if you ask a private soldier whether he minds doing a thing instead of telling him to do it, his brain begins to get confused. As one defaulter, whose confusion of brain had led him into trouble, observed to his mates: "What can you do with a blighter who's a cross between a blinking Archbishop and a ruddy dicky-bird?" What else, save show in divers and ingenious ways that you mocked at his authority? Doggie had the nervous dread of the men that he had anticipated. During his training on parade, words of command stuck in his throat. When forced out, they grotesquely mixed themselves together.
The Adjutant gave advice.
"Speak out, man. Bawl. You're dealing with soldiers at drill, not saying sweet nothings to old ladies in a drawing-room."
And Doggie tried. Doggie tried very hard. He was mortified by his own stupidity. Little points of drill and duty that the others of his own standing seemed to pick up at once, almost by instinct, he could only grasp after long and tedious toil. No one realized that his brain was stupefied by the awful and unaccustomed physical fatigue.
And then came the inevitable end.
* * * * *
So Doggie crept into the Savoy Hotel and hid himself there, wishing he were dead. It was some time before he could write the terrible letter to Peggy. He did so on the day when he saw that his resignation was gazetted. He wrote after many anguished attempts:
"I haven't written before about the dreadful thing that has happened, because I simply couldn't. I have resigned my commission. Not of my own free will, for, believe me, I would have gone through anything for your sake, to say nothing of the country and my own self-respect. To put it brutally, I have been thrown out for sheer incompetence.
"I neither hope nor expect nor want you to continue your engagement to a disgraced man. I release you from every obligation your pity and generosity may think binding. I want you to forget me and marry a man who can do the work of this new world.
"What I shall do I don't know. I have scarcely yet been able to think. Possibly I shall go abroad. At any rate I shan't return to Durdlebury. If women sent me white feathers before I joined, what would they send me now? It will always be my consolation to know that you once gave me your love, in spite of the pain of realizing that I have forfeited it by my unworthiness.
"Please tell Uncle Edward that I feel keenly his position, for he was responsible for getting me the commission through General Gadsby. Give my love to my Aunt, if she will have it.
"Yours always affectionately, J. MARMADUKE TREVOR."
By return of post came the answer:
"We are all desperately disappointed. Perhaps we hurried on things too quickly and tried you too high all at once. I ought to have known. Oh, my poor dear boy, you must have had a dreadful time. Why didn't you tell me? The news in the 'Gazette' came upon me like a thunderbolt. I didn't know what to think. I'm afraid I thought the worst, the very horrid worst—that you had got tired of it and resigned of your own accord. How was one to know? Your letter was almost a relief.
"In offering to release me from my engagement you are acting like the honourable gentleman you are. Of course, I can understand your feelings. But I should be a little beast to accept right away like that. If there are any feathers about, I should deserve to have them stuck on to me with tar. Don't think of going abroad or doing anything foolish, dear, like that, till you have seen me—that is to say, us, for Dad is bringing Mother and me up to town by the first train to-morrow. Dad feels sure that everything is not lost. He'll dig out General Gadsby and fix up something for you. In the meantime, get us rooms at the Savoy, though Mother is worried as to whether it's a respectable place for Deans to stay at. But I know you wouldn't like to meet us at Sturrocks's—otherwise you would have been there yourself. Meet our train. All love from
Doggie engaged the rooms, but he did not meet the train. He did not even stay in the hotel to meet his relations. He could not meet them. He could not meet the pity in their eyes. He read in Peggy's note a desire to pet and soothe him and call him "Poor little Doggie," and he writhed. He could not even take up an heroic attitude, and say to Peggy: "When I have retrieved the past and can bring you an unsullied reputation, I will return and claim you. Till then farewell." There was no retrieving the past. Other men might fail at first, and then make good; but he was not like them. His was the fall of Humpty Dumpty. Final—irretrievable.
He packed up his things in a fright and, leaving no address at the Savoy, drove to the Russell Hotel in Bloomsbury. But he wrote Peggy a letter "to await arrival." If time had permitted he would have sent a telegram, stating that he was off for Tobolsk or Tierra del Fuego, and thereby prevented their useless journey; but they had already started when he received Peggy's message.
Nothing could be done, he wrote, in effect, to her, nothing in the way of redemption. He would not put her father to the risk of any other such humiliation. He had learned, by the most bitter experience, that the men who counted now in the world's respect and in woman's love were men of a type to which, with all the goodwill in the world, he could not make himself belong—he did not say to which he wished he could belong with all the agony and yearning of his soul. Peggy must forget him. The only thing he could do was to act up to her generous estimate of him as an honourable gentleman. As such it was his duty to withdraw for ever from her life. His exact words, however, were: "You know how I have always hated slang, how it has jarred upon me, often to your amusement, when you have used it. But I have learned in the past months how expressive it may be. Through slang I've learned what I am. I am a born 'rotter.' A girl like you can't possibly love and marry a rotter. So the rotter, having a lingering sense of decency, makes his bow and exits—God knows where."
Peggy, red-eyed, adrift, rudderless on a frightening sea, called her father into her bedroom at the Savoy and showed him the letter. He drew out and adjusted his round tortoise-shell-rimmed reading-glasses and read it.
"That's a miraculously new Doggie," said he.
Peggy clutched the edges of his coat.
"I've never heard you call him that before."
"It has never been worth while," said the Dean.
At the Savoy, during the first stupefaction of his misery, Doggie had not noticed particularly the prevalence of khaki. At the Russell it dwelt insistent, like the mud on Salisbury Plain. Men that might have been the twin brethren of his late brother officers were everywhere, free, careless, efficient. The sight of them added the gnaw of envy to his heartache. Even in his bedroom he could hear the jingle of their spurs and their cheery voices as they clanked along the corridor. On the third day after his migration he took a bold step and moved into lodgings in Woburn Place. Here at least he could find quiet, untroubled by heart-rending sights and sounds. He spent most of his time in dull reading and dispirited walking. For he could walk now—so much had his training done for him—and walk for many miles without fatigue. For all the enjoyment he got out of it, he might as well have marched round a prison yard. Indeed there were some who tramped the prison yards with keener zest. They were buoyed up with the hope of freedom, they could look forward to the ever-approaching day when they should be thrown once more into the glad whirl of life. But the miraculously new Doggie had no hope. He felt for ever imprisoned in his shame. His failure preyed on his mind.
He dallied with thoughts of suicide. Why hadn't he salved, at any rate, his service revolver? Then he remembered the ugly habits of the unmanageable thing—how it always kicked its muzzle up in the air. Would he have been able even to shoot himself with it? And he smiled in self-derision. Drowning was not so difficult. Any fool could throw himself into the water. With a view to the inspection of a suitable spot, Doggie wandered, idly, in the dusk of one evening, to Waterloo Bridge, and turning his back to the ceaseless traffic, leaned his elbows on the parapet and stared in front of him. A few lights already gleamed from Somerset House and the more dimly seen buildings of the Temple. The dome of St. Paul's loomed a dark shadow through the mist. The river stretched below very peaceful, very inviting. The parapet would be easy to climb. He did not know whether he could dive in the approved manner—hands joined over head. He had never learned to swim, let alone dive. At any rate, he could fall off. In that art the riding-school had proved him a past master. But the spot had its disadvantages. It was too public. Perhaps other bridges might afford more privacy. He would inspect them all. It would be something to do. There was no hurry. As he was not wanted in this world, so he had no assurance of being welcome in the next. He had a morbid vision of avatar after avatar being kicked from sphere to sphere.
At this point of his reflections he became aware of a presence by his side. He turned his head and found a soldier, an ordinary private, very close to him, also leaning on the parapet.
"I thought I wasn't mistaken in Mr. Marmaduke Trevor."
Doggie started away, on the point of flight, dreading the possible insolence of one of the men of his late regiment. But the voice of the speaker rang in his ears with a strange familiarity, and the great fleshy nose, the high cheek-bones, and the little grey eyes in the weather-beaten face suggested vaguely some one of the long ago. His dawning recognition amused the soldier.
"Yes, laddie. Ye're right. It's your old Phineas—Phineas McPhail, Esq., M.A., defunct. Now 33702 Private P. McPhail redivivus."
He warmly wrung the hand of the semi-bewildered Doggie, who murmured: "Very glad to meet you, I'm sure."
Phineas, gaunt and bony, took his arm.
"Would it not just be possible," he said, in his old half-pedantic, half-ironic intonation, "to find a locality less exposed to the roar of traffic and the rude jostling of pedestrians and the inclemency of the elements, in which we can enjoy the amenities of a little refined conversation?"
It was like a breath from the past. Doggie smiled.
"Which way are you going?"
"Your way, my dear Marmaduke, was ever mine, until I was swept, I thought for ever, out of your path by a torrential spate of whisky."
He laughed, as though it had been a playful freak of destiny. Doggie laughed, too. But for the words he had addressed to hotel and lodging-house folk, he had spoken to no one for over a fortnight. The instinctive craving for companionship made Phineas suddenly welcome.
"Yes. Let us have a talk," said he. "Come to my rooms, if you have the time. There'll be some dinner."
"Will I come? Will I have dinner? Will I re-enter once more the paradise of the affluent? Laddie, I will."
In the Strand they hailed a taxi and drove to Bloomsbury. On the way Phineas asked:
"You mentioned your rooms. Are you residing permanently in London?"
"Yes," said Doggie.
"I'm not going back."
"London's a place full of temptations for those without experience," Phineas observed sagely.
"I've not noticed any," Doggie replied. On which Phineas laughed and slapped him on the knee.
"Man," said he, "when I first saw you I thought you had changed into a disillusioned misanthropist. But I'm wrong. You haven't changed a bit."
A few minutes later they reached Woburn Place. Doggie showed him into the sitting-room on the drawing-room floor. A fire was burning in the grate, for though it was only early autumn, the evening was cold. The table was set for Doggie's dinner. Phineas looked round him in surprise. The heterogeneous and tasteless furniture, the dreadful Mid-Victorian prints on the walls—one was the "Return of the Guards from the Crimea," representing the landing from the troop-ship, repellent in its smug unreality, the coarse glass and well-used plate on the table, the crumpled napkin in a ring (for Marmaduke who in his mother's house had never been taught to dream that a napkin could possibly be used for two consecutive meals!), the general air of slipshod Philistinism—all came as a shock to Phineas, who had expected to find in Marmaduke's "rooms" a replica of the fastidious prettiness of the peacock and ivory room at Denby Hall. He scratched his head, covered with a thick brown thatch.
"Laddie," said he gravely, "you must excuse me if I take a liberty; but I canna fit you into this environment."
Doggie looked about him also. "Seems funny, doesn't it?"
"It cannot be that you've come down in the world?"
"To bed-rock," said Doggie.
"No?" said Phineas, with an air of concern. "Man, I'm awful sorry. I know what the coming down feels like. And I, finding it not abhorrent to a sophisticated and well-trained conscience, and thinking you could well afford it, extracted a thousand pounds from your fortune. My dear lad, if Phineas McPhail could return the money——"
Doggie broke in with a laugh. "Pray don't distress yourself, Phineas. It's not a question of money. I've as much as ever I had. The last thing in the world I've had to think of has been money."
"Then what in the holy names of Thunder and Beauty," cried Phineas, throwing out one hand to an ancient saddle-bag sofa whose ends were covered by flimsy rags, and the other to the decayed ormolu clock on the mantelpiece, "what in the name of common sense are you doing in this awful inelegant lodging-house?"
"I don't know," replied Doggie. "It's a fact," he continued after a pause. "The scheme of decoration is revolting to every aesthetic sense which I've spent my life in cultivating. Its futile pretentiousness is the rasping irritation of every hour. Yet here I am. Quite comfortable. And here I propose to stay."
Phineas McPhail, M.A., late of Glasgow and Cambridge, looked at Doggie with his keen little grey eyes beneath bent and bristling eyebrows. In the language of 33702 Private McPhail, he asked:
"What the blazes is it all about?"
"That's a long story," said Doggie, looking at his watch. "In the meantime, I had better give some orders about dinner. And you would like to wash."
He threw open a wing of the folding-doors, once in Georgian times separating drawing-room from withdrawing-room, and now separating living-room from bedroom, and switching on the light, invited McPhail to follow.
"I think you'll find everything you want," said he.
Phineas McPhail, left alone to his ablutions, again looked round, and he had more reason than ever to ask what it was all about. Marmaduke's bedroom at Denby Hall had been a dream of satinwood and dull blue silk. The furniture and hangings had been Mrs. Trevor's present to Marmaduke on his sixteenth birthday. He remembered how he had been bored to death by that stupendous ass of an old woman—for so he had characterized her—during the process of selection and installation. The present room, although far more luxurious than any that Phineas McPhail had slept in for years, formed a striking contrast with that remembered nest of effeminacy.
"I'll have to give it up," he said to himself. But just as he had put the finishing touches to his hair an idea occurred to him. He flung open the door.
"Laddie, I've got it. It's a woman."
But Doggie laughed and shook his head, and leaving McPhail, took his turn in the bedroom. For the first time since his return to civil life he ceased for a few moments to brood over his troubles. McPhail's mystification amused him. McPhail's personality and address, viewed in the light of the past, were full of interest. Obviously he was a man who lived unashamed on low levels. Doggie wondered how he could have regarded him for years with a respect almost amounting to veneration. In a curious unformulated way Doggie felt that he had authority over this man so much older than himself, who had once been his master. It tickled into some kind of life his deadened self-esteem. Here at last was a man with whom he could converse on sure ground. The khaki uniform caused him no envy.
"The poet is not altogether incorrect," said McPhail, when they sat down to dinner, "in pointing out the sweet uses of adversity. If it had not been for the adversity of a wee bit operation, I should not now be on sick furlough. And if I had not been on furlough I shouldn't have the pleasure of this agreeable reconciliation. Here's to you, laddie, and to our lasting friendship." He sipped his claret. "It's not like the Lafitte in the old cellar—Eheu fugaces anni et—what the plague is the Latin for vintages? But 'twill serve." He drank again and smacked his lips. "It will even serve very satisfactorily. Good wine at a perfect temperature is not the daily drink of the British soldier."
"By the way," said Doggie, "you haven't told me why you became a soldier."
"A series of vicissitudes dating from the hour I left your house," said Phineas, "vicissitudes the recital of which would wring your heart, laddie, and make angels weep if their lachrymal glands were not too busily engaged by the horrors of war, culminated four months ago in an attack of fervid and penniless patriotism. No one seemed to want me except my country. She clamoured for me on every hoarding and every omnibus. A recruiting-sergeant in Trafalgar Square tapped me on the arm, and said: 'Young man, your country wants you.' Said I with my Scottish caution, 'Can you take your affidavit that you got the information straight from the War Office?' 'I can,' said he. Then I threw myself on his bosom and bade him take me to her. That's how I became 33702 Private Phineas McPhail, A Company, 10th Wessex Rangers, at the remuneration of one shilling and twopence per diem."
"Do you like it?" asked Doggie.
Phineas rubbed the side of his thick nose thoughtfully.
"There you come to the metaphysical conception of human happiness," he replied. "In itself it is a vile life. To a man of thirty-five——"
"Good lord!" cried Doggie, "I always thought you were about fifty!"
"Your mother caught me young, laddie. To a man of thirty-five, a graduate of ancient and honourable universities and a whilom candidate for holy orders, it is a life that would seem to have no attraction whatever. The hours are absurd, the work distasteful, and the mode of living repulsive. But strange to say, it fully contents me. The secret of happiness lies in the supple adaptability to conditions. When I found that it was necessary to perform ridiculous antics with my legs and arms, I entered into the comicality of the idea and performed them with an indulgent zest which soon won me the precious encomiums of my superiors in rank. When I found that the language of the canteen was not that of the pulpit or the drawing-room, I quickly acquired the new vocabulary and won the pleasant esteem of my equals. By means of this faculty of adaptability I can suck enjoyment out of everything. But, at the same time, mind you, keeping in reserve a little secret fount of pleasure."
"What do you call a little secret fount of pleasure?" asked Doggie.
"I'll give you an illustration—and, if you're the man I consider you to be, you'll take a humorous view of my frankness. At present I adapt myself to a rough atmosphere of coarseness and lustiness, in which nothing coarse or lusty I could do would produce the slightest ripple of a convulsion: but I have my store of a cultivated mind and cheap editions of the classics, my little secret fount of Castaly to drink from whenever I so please. On the other hand, when I had the honour of being responsible for your education, I adapted myself to a hot-house atmosphere in which Respectability and the concomitant virtues of Supineness and Sloth were cultivated like rare orchids; but in my bedroom I kept a secret fount which had its source in some good Scots distillery."
Whereupon he attacked his plateful of chicken with vehement gusto.
"You're a hedonist, Phineas," said Doggie, after a thoughtful pause.
"Man," said Phineas, laying down his knife and fork, "you've just hit it. I am. I'm an accomplished hedonist. An early recognition of the fact saved me from the Church."
"And the Church from you," said Doggie quietly.
Phineas shot a swift glance at him beneath his shaggy brown eyebrows.
"Ay," said he. "Though, mark you, if I had followed my original vocation, the Bench of Bishops could not have surpassed me in the unction in which I would have wallowed. If I had been born a bee in a desert, laddie, I would have sucked honey out of a dead camel."
With easy and picturesque cynicism, and in a Glasgow accent which had curiously broadened since his spell of Oriental ease at Denby Hall, he developed his philosophy, illustrating it by incidents more or less reputable in his later career. At first, possessor of the ill-gotten thousand pounds and of considerable savings from a substantial salary, he had enjoyed the short wild riot of the Prodigal's life. Paris saw most of his money—the Paris which, under his auspices, Doggie never knew. Plentiful claret set his tongue wagging in Rabelaisian reminiscence. After Paris came husks. Not bad husks if you knew how to cook them. Borrowed salt and pepper and a little stolen butter worked wonders. But they were irritating to the stomach. He lay on the floor, said he, and yelled for fatted calf; but there was no soft-headed parent to supply it. Phineas McPhail must be a slave again and work for his living. Then came private coaching, freelance journalism, hunting for secretaryships: the commonplace story humorously told of the wastrel's decline; then a gorgeous efflorescence in light green and gold as the man outside a picture palace in Camberwell—and lastly, the penniless patriot throwing himself into the arms of his desirous country.
"Have you any whisky in the house, laddie?" he asked, after the dinner things had been taken away.
"No," said Doggie, "but I could easily get you some."
"Pray don't," said McPhail. "If you had, I was going to ask you to be kind enough not to let your excellent landlord, whom I recognize as a butler of the old school, produce it. Butlers of the old school are apt, like Peddle, to bring in a maddening tray of decanters, syphons, and glasses. You may not believe me, but I haven't touched a drop of whisky since I joined the army."
"Why?" asked Doggie.
McPhail looked at the long carefully preserved ash of one of Doggie's excellent cigars.
"It's all a part of the doctrine of adaptability. In order to attain happiness in the army, the first step is to avoid differences of opinion with the civil and military police and non-commissioned officers, and such-like sycophantic myrmidons of authority. Being a man of academic education, it is with difficulty that I agree with them when I'm sober. If I were drunk, my bonnie laddie"—he waved a hand—"well—I don't get drunk. And as I have no use for whisky, as merely an agreeable beverage, I have struck whisky out of my hedonistic scheme of existence. But if you have any more of that pleasant claret——"
Doggie rang the bell and gave the order. The landlord brought in bottle and glasses.
"And now, my dear Marmaduke," said Phineas after an appreciative sip, "now that I have told you the story of my life, may I, without impertinent curiosity, again ask you what you meant when you said you had come down to bed-rock?"
The sight of the man, smug, cynical, shameless, sprawling luxuriously on the sofa, with his tunic unbuttoned, filled him with sudden fury: such fury as Oliver's insult had aroused, such as had impelled him during a vicious rag in the mess to clutch a man's hair and almost pull it out by the roots.
"Yes, you may; and I'll tell you," he cried, starting to his feet. "I've reached the bed-rock of myself—the bed-rock of humiliation and disgrace. And it's all your fault. Instead of training me to be a man, you pandered to my poor mother's weaknesses and brought me up like a little toy dog—the infernal name still sticks to me wherever I go. You made a helpless fool of me, and let me go out a helpless fool into the world. And when you came across me I was thinking whether it wouldn't be best to throw myself over the parapet. A month ago you would have saluted me in the street and stood before me at attention when I spoke to you——"
"Eh? What's that, laddie?" interrupted Phineas, sitting up. "You've held a commission in the army?"
"Yes," said Doggie fiercely, "and I've been chucked. I've been thrown out as a hopeless rotter. And who is most to blame—you or I? It's you. You've brought me to this infernal place. I'm here in hiding—hiding from my family and the decent folk I'm ashamed to meet. And it's all your fault, and now you have it!"
"Laddie, laddie," said Phineas reproachfully, "the facts of my being a guest beneath your roof and my humble military rank, render it difficult for me to make an appropriate reply."
Doggie's rage had spent itself. These rare fits were short-lived and left him somewhat unnerved.
"I'm sorry, Phineas. As you say, you're my guest. And as to your uniform, God knows I honour every man who wears it."
"That's taking things in the right spirit," Phineas conceded graciously, helping himself to another glass of wine. "And the right spirit is a great healer of differences. I'll not go so far as to deny that there is an element of justice in your apportionment of blame. There may, on various occasions, have been some small dereliction of duty. But you'll have been observing that in the recent exposition of my philosophy I have not laboured the point of duty to disproportionate exaggeration."
Doggie lit a cigarette. His fingers were still shaking. "I'm glad you own up. It's a sign of grace."
"Ay," said Phineas, "no man is altogether bad. In spite of everything, I've always entertained a warm affection for you, laddie, and when I saw you staring at bogies round about the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral my heart went out to you. You didn't look over-happy."
Doggie, always responsive to human kindness, was touched. He felt a note of sincerity in McPhail's tone. Perhaps he had judged him harshly, overlooking the plea in extenuation which Phineas had set up—that in every man there must be some saving remnant of goodness.
"I wasn't happy, Phineas," he said; "I was as miserable an outcast as could be found in London, and when a fellow's down and out, you must forgive him for speaking more bitterly than he ought."
"Don't I know, laddie? Don't I know?" said Phineas sympathetically. He reached for the cigar-box. "Do you mind if I take another? Perhaps two—one to smoke afterwards, in memory of this meeting. It is a long time since my lips touched a thing so gracious as a real Havana."
"Take a lot," said Doggie generously, "I don't really like cigars. I only bought them because I thought they might be stronger than cigarettes."
Phineas filled his pockets. "You can pay no greater compliment to a man's honesty of purpose," said he, "than by taking him at his word. And now," he continued, when he had carefully lit the cigar he had first chosen, "let us review the entire situation. What about our good friends at Durdlebury? What about your uncle, the Very Reverend the Dean, against whom I bear no ill-will, though I do not say that his ultimate treatment of me was not over-hasty—what about him? If you call upon me to put my almost fantastically variegated experience of life at your disposal, and advise you in this crisis, so I must ask you to let me know the exact conditions in which you find yourself."
Doggie smiled once again, finding something diverting and yet stimulating in the calm assurance of Private McPhail.
"I'm not aware that I've asked you for advice, Phineas."
"The fact that you're not aware of many things that you do is no proof that you don't do them—and do them in a manner perfectly obvious to another party," replied Phineas sententiously. "You're asking for advice and consolation from any friendly human creature to whom you're not ashamed to speak. You've had an awful sorrowful time, laddie."
Doggie roamed about the room, with McPhail's little grey eyes fixed on him. Yes, Phineas was right. He would have given most of his possessions to be able, these later days, to pour out his tortured soul into sympathetic ears. But shame had kept him, still kept him, would always keep him, from the ears of those he loved. Yes, Phineas had said the diabolically right thing. He could not be ashamed to speak to Phineas. And there was something good in Phineas which he had noticed with surprise. How easy for him, in response to bitter accusation, to cast the blame on his mother? He himself had given the opening. How easy for him to point to his predecessor's short tenure of office and plead the alternative of carrying out Mrs. Trevor's theory of education or of resigning his position in favour of some sycophant even more time-serving? But he had kept silent.... Doggie stopped short and looked at Phineas with eyes dumbly questioning and quivering lips.
Phineas rose and put his hands on the boy's shoulders, and said very gently:
"Tell me all about it, laddie."
Then Doggie broke down, and with a gush of unminded tears found expression for his stony despair. His story took a long time in the telling; and Phineas interjecting an occasional sympathetic "Ay, ay," and a delicately hinted question, extracted from Doggie all there was to tell, from the outbreak of war to their meeting on Waterloo Bridge.
"And now," cried he at last, a dismally tragic figure, his young face distorted and reddened, his sleek hair ruffled from the back into unsightly perpendicularities (an invariable sign of distracted emotion) and his hands appealingly outstretched—"what the hell am I going to do?"
"Laddie," said Phineas, standing on the hearthrug, his hands on his hips, "if you had posed the question in the polite language of the precincts of Durdlebury Cathedral, I might have been at a loss to reply. But the manly invocation of hell shows me that your foot is already on the upward path. If you had prefaced it by the adjective that gives colour to all the aspirations of the British Army, it would have been better. But I'm not reproaching you, laddie. Poco a poco. It is enough. It shows me you are not going to run away to a neutral country and present the unedifying spectacle of a mangy little British lion at the mercy of a menagerie of healthy hyenas and such-like inferior though truculent beasties."
"My God!" cried Doggie, "haven't I thought of it till I'm half mad? It would be just as you say—unendurable." He began to pace the room again. "And I can't go to France. It would be just the same as England. Every one would be looking white feathers at me. The only thing I can do is to go out of the world. I'm not fit for it. Oh, I don't mean suicide. I've not enough pluck. That's off. But I could go and bury myself in the wilderness somewhere where no one would ever find me."
"Laddie," said McPhail, "I misdoubt that you're going to settle down in any wilderness. You haven't the faculty of adaptability of which I have spoken to-night at some length. And your heart is young and not coated with the holy varnish of callousness, which is a secret preparation known only to those who have served a long apprenticeship in a severe school of egotism."
"That's all very well," cried Doggie, "but what the——"
Phineas waved an interrupting hand. "You've got to go back, laddie. You've got to whip all the moral courage in you and go back to Durdlebury. The Dean, with his influence, and the letter you have shown me from your Colonel, can easily get you some honourable employment in either Service not so exacting as the one which you have recently found yourself unable to perform."
Doggie threw a newly-lighted cigarette into the fire and turned passionately on McPhail.
"I won't. You're talking drivelling rot. I can't. I'd sooner die than go back there with my tail between my legs. I'd sooner enlist as a private soldier."
"Enlist?" said Phineas, and he drew himself up straight and gaunt. "Well, why not?"
"Enlist?" echoed Doggie in a dull tone.
"Have you never contemplated such a possibility?"
"Good God, no!" said Doggie.
"I have enlisted. And I am a man of ancient lineage as honourable, so as not to enter into unproductive argument, as yours. And I am a Master of Arts of the two Universities of Glasgow and Cambridge. Yet I fail to find anything dishonourable in my present estate as 33702 Private Phineas McPhail in the British Army."
Doggie seemed not to hear him. He stared at him wildly.
"Enlist?" he repeated. "As a Tommy?"
"Even as a Tommy," said Phineas. He glanced at the ormolu clock. "It is past one. The respectable widow woman near the Elephant and Castle who has let me a bedroom will be worn by anxiety as to my non-return. Marmaduke, my dear, dear laddie, I must leave you. If you will be lunching here twelve hours hence, nothing will give me greater pleasure than to join you. Laddie, do you think you could manage a fried sole and a sweetbread?"
"Enlist?" said Doggie, following him out to the front door in a dream.
He opened the door. Phineas shook hands.
"Fried sole and a sweetbread at one-thirty?"
"Of course, with pleasure," said Doggie.
Phineas fumbled in his pockets.
"It's a long cry at this time of night from Bloomsbury to the Elephant and Castle. You haven't the price of a taxi fare about you, laddie—two or three pounds——?"
Doggie drew from his patent note-case a sheaf of one-pound and ten-shilling treasury notes and handed them over to McPhail's vulture clutch.
"Good night, laddie!"
Phineas strode away into the blackness. Doggie shut the front door and put up the chain and went back into his sitting-room. He wound his fingers in his hair.
"Enlist? My God!"
He lit a cigarette and after a few puffs flung it into the grate. He stared at the alternatives.
Flight, which was craven—a lifetime of self-contempt. Durdlebury, which was impossible. Enlistment——?
Yet what was a man incapable yet able-bodied, honourable though disgraced, to do?
His landlord found him at seven o'clock in the morning asleep in an arm-chair.
After a bath and a change and breakfast, Doggie went out for one of his solitary walks. At Durdlebury such a night as the last would have kept him in bed in a darkened room for most of the following day. But he had spent many far, far worse on Salisbury Plain, and the inexorable reveille had dragged him out into the raw dreadful morning, heedless of his headache and yearning for slumber, until at last the process of hardening had begun. To-day Doggie was as unfatigued a young man as walked the streets of London, a fact which his mind was too confusedly occupied to appreciate. Once more was he beset less by the perplexities of the future than by a sense of certain impending doom. For to Phineas McPhail's "Why not?" he had been able to give no answer. He could give no answer now, as he marched with swinging step, automatically, down Oxford Street and the Bayswater Road in the direction of Kensington Gardens. He could give no answer as he stood sightlessly staring at the Peter Pan statue.
A one-armed man in a khaki cap and hospital blue came and stood by his side and looked in a pleased yet puzzled way at the exquisite poem in marble. At last he spoke—in a rich Irish accent.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but could you be telling me the meaning of it, at all?"
Doggie awoke and smiled.
"Do you like it?"
"I do," said the soldier.
"It is about Peter Pan. A kind of Fairy Tale. You can see the 'little people' peeping out—I think you call them so in Ireland."
"We do that," said the soldier.
So Doggie sketched the outline of the immortal story of the Boy Who Will Never Grow Old, and the Irishman listened with deep interest.
"Indeed," said he after a time, "it is good to come back to the true things after the things out there." He waved his one arm in the vague direction of the war.
"Why do you call them true things?" Doggie asked quickly.
They turned away, and Doggie found himself sitting on a bench by the man's side.
"It's not me that can tell you that," said he, "and my wife and children in Galway."
"Were you there at the outbreak of war?"
He was. A reservist called back to the colours after some years of retirement from the army. He had served in India and South Africa, a hard-bitten soldier, proud of the traditions of his old regiment. There were scarcely any of them left—and that was all that was left of him. He smiled cheerily. Doggie condoled with him on the loss of his arm.
"Ah sure," he replied, "and it might keep me out of a fight when I go into Ballinasloe."
"Who would you want to fight?" asked Doggie.
"The dirty Sinn Feiners that do be always shouting 'Freedom for Ireland and to hell with freedom for the rest of the world.' If I haven't lost my arm in a glorious cause, what have I lost it for? Can you tell me that?"
Doggie agreed that he had fought for the greater freedom of humanity and gave him a cigarette, and they went on talking. The Irishman had been in the retreat from Mons, the first battle of Ypres, and he had lost his arm in no battle at all; just a stray shell over the road as they were marching back to billets. They discussed the war, the ethics of it. Doggie still wanted to know why the realities of blood and mud and destruction were not the true things. Gradually he found that the Irishman meant that the true things were the spiritual, undying things; that the grim realities would pass away; that from these dead realities would arise the noble ideals of the future, which would be symbolized in song and marble; that all he had endured and sacrificed was but a part of the Great Sacrifice we were making for the Freedom of the World. Being a man roughly educated on a Galway farm and in an infantry regiment, he had great difficulty in co-ordinating his ideas; but he had a curious power of vision that enabled him to pierce to the heart of things, which he interpreted according to his untrained sense of beauty.
They parted with expressions of mutual esteem. Doggie struck across the Gardens with a view to returning home by Knightsbridge, Piccadilly and Shaftesbury Avenue. He strode along, his thoughts filled with the Irish soldier. Here was a man, maimed for life and quite content that it should be so, who had reckoned all the horrors through which he had passed as externals unworthy of the consideration of his unconquerable soul; a man simple, unassuming, expansive only through his Celtic temperament, which allowed him to talk easily to a stranger before whom his English or Scotch comrade would have been dumb and gaping as an oyster; obviously brave, sincere and loyal. Perhaps something even higher. Perhaps, in essence, the very highest. The Poet-Warrior. The term struck Doggie's brain with a thud, like the explosive fusion of two elements.
During his walk to Kensington Gardens a poisonous current had run at the back of his mind. Drifting on it, might he not escape? Was he not of too fine a porcelain to mingle with the coarse and common pottery of the ranks? Was it necessary to go into the thick of the coarse clay vessels, just to be shattered? It was easy for Phineas to proclaim that he found no derogation to his dignity as a man of birth and a university graduate in identifying himself with his fellow privates. Phineas had systematically brutalized himself into fitness for the position. He had armed himself in brass—aes triplex. He smiled at his own wit. But he, James Marmaduke Trevor, who had lived his life as a clean gentleman, was in a category apart.
Now, he found that his talk with the Irishman had been an antidote to the poison. He felt ashamed. Did he dare set himself up to be finer clay than that common soldier? Spiritually, was he even of clay as fine? In a Great Judgment of Souls which of the twain would be among the Elect? The ultra-refined Mr. Marmaduke Trevor of Denby Hall, or the ignorant poet-warrior of Ballinasloe? "Not Doggie Trevor," he said between his teeth. And he went home in a chastened spirit.
Phineas McPhail appeared punctually at half-past one, and feasted succulently on fried sole and sweetbread.
"Laddie," said he, "the man that can provide such viands is a Thing of Beauty which, as the poet says, is a Joy for Ever. The light in his window is a beacon to the hungry Tommy dragging himself through the viscous wilderness of regulation stew."
"I'm afraid it won't be a beacon for very long," said Doggie.
"Eh?" queried Phineas sharply. "You'd surely not be thinking of refusing an old friend a stray meal?"
Doggie coloured at the coarseness of the misunderstanding.
"How could I be such a brute? There won't be a light in the window because I shan't be there. I'm going to enlist."
Phineas put his elbows on the table and regarded him earnestly.
"I would not take too seriously words spoken in the heat of midnight revelry, even though the revel was conducted on the genteelest principles. Have you thought of the matter in the cool and sober hours of the morning?"
"It's an unco' hard life, laddie."
"The one I'm leading is a harder," said Doggie. "I've made up my mind."
"Then I've one piece of advice to give you," said McPhail. "Sink the name of Marmaduke, which would only stimulate the ignorant ribaldry of the canteen, and adopt the name of James, which your godfathers and godmothers, with miraculous foresight, considering their limitations in the matter of common sense, have given you."
"That's a good idea," said Doggie.
"Also it would tend to the obliteration of class prejudices if you gave up smoking Turkish cigarettes at ten shillings a hundred and arrived in your platoon as an amateur of 'fags.'"
"I can't stand 'fags,'" said Doggie.
"You can. The human organism is so constituted that it can stand the sweepings of the elephants' house in the Zoological Gardens. Try. This time it's only 'fags.'"
Doggie took one from the crumpled paper packet which was handed to him, and lit it. He made a wry face, never before having smoked American tobacco.
"How do you like the flavour?" asked Phineas.
"I think I'd prefer the elephants' house," said Doggie, eyeing the thing with disgust.
"You'll find it the flavour of the whole British Army," said McPhail.
* * * * *
A few days later the Dean received a letter bearing the pencilled address of a camp on the south coast, and written by 35792 Pvte. James M. Trevor, A Company, 2-10th Wessex Rangers. It ran:
"I hope you won't think me heartless for having left you so long without news of me; but until lately I had the same reasons for remaining in seclusion as when I last wrote. Even now I'm not asking for sympathy or reconsideration of my failure or desire in any way to take advantage of the generosity of you all.
"I have enlisted in the 10th Wessex. Phineas McPhail, whom I met in London and whose character for good or evil I can better gauge now than formerly, is a private in the same battalion. I don't pretend to enjoy the life any more than I could enjoy living in a kraal of savages in Central Africa. But that is a matter of no account. I don't propose to return to Durdlebury till the end of the war. I left it as an officer and I'm not coming back as a private soldier. I enclose a cheque for L500. Perhaps Aunt Sophia will be so kind as to use the money—it ought to last some time—for the general upkeep, wages, etc., of Denby Hall. I feel sure she will not refuse me this favour. Give Peggy my love and tell her I hope she will accept the two-seater as a parting gift. It will make me happier to know that she is driving it.