"I couldn't quite follow it, dear," says her neighbour frankly. "Did he marry her after all?"
Lord Poldoodle, looking slightly more cheerful, gets once more on to his legs.
"You will all be very glad to hear—ah—you will all be sorry to hear that we have only one more poet on our list this afternoon. Mr. Cecil Willow, the well-known—er—poet."
Mr. Willow, a well-dressed young man, fair and rather stout, and a credit to any drawing-room, announces the subject of his poem—Liberty.
"Liberty, what crimes have been committed in thy name!" murmurs Lord Poldoodle to himself.
There were two thrushes in a tree, The one was tamed, the other free. Because his wings were clipped so small The tame one did not fly at all, But sang to Heaven all the day— The other (shortly after) flew away.
There were two women in a town, The one was blonde, the other brown. The brown one pleased a Viscount's son (Not Richard, but the other one) He gave her a delightful flat— The blonde one loved a man called Alfred Spratt.
There were two Kings on thrones of gold, The one was young, the other old. The young one's laws were wisely made Till someone took a hand-grenade And threw it, shouting, "Down with Kings!"— The old one laid foundation stones and things.
"How delightful," says everybody. "How very delightful. Thank you, Lady Poldoodle, for such a delightful afternoon."
THE PERILS OF REVIEWING
A most unfortunate thing has happened to a friend of mine called —— to a friend of —— to a ——. Well, I suppose the truth will have to come out. It happened to me. Only don't tell anybody.
I reviewed a book the other day. It is not often I do this, because before one can review a book one has to, or is supposed to, read it, which wastes a good deal of time. Even that isn't an end of the trouble. The article which follows is not really one's own, for the wretched fellow who wrote the book is always trying to push his way in with his views on matrimony, or the Sussex downs, or whatever his ridiculous subject is. He expects one to say, "Mr. Blank's treatment of Hilda's relations with her husband is masterly," whereas what one wants to say is, "Putting Mr. Blank's book on one side, we may consider the larger question, whether—" and so consider it (alone) to the end of the column.
Well, I reviewed Mr. Blank's book, "Rotundity." As I expected, the first draft had to be re-headed "A Corner of old London," and used elsewhere; Mr. Blank didn't get into it at all. I kept promising myself a sentence: "Take 'Rotundity,' for instance, the new novel by William Blank, which, etc." but before I was ready for it the article was finished. In my second draft, realizing the dangers of delay, I began at once, "This remarkable novel," and continued so for a couple of sentences. But on reading it through afterwards I saw at once that the first two sentences were out of place in an article that obviously ought to be called "The Last Swallow"; so I cut them out, sent "The Last Swallow: A Reverie" to another Editor, and began again. The third time I was successful.
Of course in my review I said all the usual things. I said that Mr. Blank's attitude to life was "subjective rather than objective" ... and a little lower down that it was "objective rather than subjective." I pointed out that in his treatment of the major theme he was a neo-romanticist, but I suggested that, on the other hand, he had nothing to learn from the Russians—or the Russians had nothing to learn from him; I forget which. And finally I said (and this is the cause of the whole trouble) that Antoine Vaurelle's world-famous classic—and I looked it up in the encyclopedia—world-renowned classic, "Je Comprends Tout," had been not without its influence on Mr. Blank. It was a good review, and the editor was pleased about it.
A few days later Mr. Blank wrote to say that, curiously enough, he had never read "Je Comprends Tout." It didn't seem to me very curious, because I had never read it either, but I thought it rather odd of him to confess as much to a stranger. The only book of Vaurelle's which I had read was "Consolatrice," in an English translation. However, one doesn't say these things in a review.
Now I have a French friend, Henri, one of those annoying Frenchmen who talk English much better than I do, and Henri, for some extraordinary reason, had seen my review. He has to live in London now, but his heart is in Paris; and I imagine that every word of his beloved language which appears, however casually, in an English paper mysteriously catches his eye and brings the scent and sounds of the boulevards to him across the coffee-cups. So, the next time I met him, he shook me warmly by the hand, and told me how glad he was that I was an admirer of Antoine Vaurelle's novels.
"Who isn't?" I said with a shrug, and, to get the conversation on to safer ground, I added hastily that in some ways I almost liked "Consolatrice" best.
He shook my hand again. So did he. A great book.
"But of course," he said, "one must read it in the original French. It is the book of all others which loses by translation."
"Of course," I agreed. Really, I don't see what else I could have done.
"Do you remember that wonderful phrase—" and he rattled it off. "Magnificent, is it not?"
"Magnificent," I said, remembering an appointment instead. "Well, I must be getting on. Good-bye." And, as I walked off, I patted my forehead with my handkerchief and wondered why the day had grown so warm suddenly.
However the next day was even warmer. Henri came to see me with a book under his arm. We all have one special book of our own which we recommend to our acquaintances, regarding the love of it as perhaps the best passport to our friendship. This was Henri's. He was about to test me. I had read and admired his favourite Vaurelle—in the original French. Would I love his darling Laforgue? My reputation as a man, as a writer, as a critic, depended on it. He handed me the book—in French.
"It is all there," he said reverently, as he gave it to me. "All your English masters, they all come from him. Perhaps, most of all, your —— But you shall tell me when you have read it. You shall tell me whom most you seem to see there. Your Meredith? Your Shaw? Your —— But you shall tell me."
"I will tell you," I said faintly.
And I've got to tell him.
Don't think that I shall have any difficulty in reading the book. Glancing through it just now I came across this:—
"'Kate, avez-vous soupe avant le spectacle?'
'Non, je n'avais guere le coeur a manger.'"
Well, that's easy enough. But I doubt if it is one of the most characteristic passages. It doesn't give you a clue to Laforgue's manner, any more than "'Must I sit here, mother?' 'Yes, without a doubt you must,'" tells you all that you want to know about Meredith. There's more in it than that.
And I've got to tell him.
But fancy holding forth on an author's style after reading him laboriously with a dictionary!
However, I must do my best; and in my more hopeful moments I see the conversation going like this:—
"Oh, wonderful." (With emotion) "Really wonderful."
"You see them all there?"
"Yes, yes. It's really—wonderful. Meredith—I mean—well, it's simply—(after a pause) wonderful."
"You see Meredith there most?"
"Y-yes. Sometimes. And then (with truth) sometimes I—I don't. It's difficult to say. Sometimes I—er—Shaw—er—well, it's—" (with a gesture somewhat Gallic) "How can I put it?"
"Not Thackeray at all?" he says, watching me eagerly.
I decide to risk it.
"Oh, but of course! I mean—Thackeray! When I said Meredith I was thinking of the others. But Thackeray—I mean Thackeray is—er—" (I've forgotten the author's name for the moment and go on hastily) "I mean—er—Thackeray, obviously."
He shakes me by the hand. I am his friend.
But this conversation only takes place in my more hopeful moments. In my less hopeful ones I see myself going into the country for quite a long time.
III. SUMMER DAYS
A SONG FOR THE SUMMER
Is it raining? Never mind— Think how much the birdies love it! See them in their dozens drawn, Dancing, to the croquet lawn— Could our little friends have dined If there'd been no worms above it?
Is it murky? What of that, If the Owls are fairly perky? Just imagine you were one— Wouldn't you detest the sun? I'm pretending I'm a Bat, And I know I like it murky.
Is it chilly? After all, We must not forget the Poodle. If the days were really hot, Could he wear one woolly spot? Could he even keep his shawl? No, he'd shave the whole caboodle.
THE SEASON'S PROSPECTS
The great question in the Mallory family just now is whether Dick will get into the eleven this year. Confident as he is himself, he is taking no risks.
"We're going to put the net up to-morrow," he said to me as soon as I arrived, "and then you'll be able to bowl to me. How long are you staying?"
"Till to-night," I said quickly.
"Rot! You're fixed up here till Tuesday any how."
"My dear Dick, I've come down for a few days' rest. If the weather permits, I may have the croquet things out one afternoon and try a round, or possibly—"
"I don't believe you can bowl," said Bobby rudely. Bobby is twelve—five years younger than Dick. It is not my place to smack Bobby's head, but somebody might do it for him.
"Then that just shows how little you know about it," I retorted. "In a match last September I went on to bowl—"
"I knew the captain," I explained. "Well, as I say, he asked me to go on to bowl, and I took four wickets for thirteen runs. There!"
"Good man," said Dick.
"Was it against a girls' school?" said Bobby. (You know, Bobby is simply asking for it.)
"It was not. Nor were children of twelve allowed in without their perambulators."
"Well, anyhow," said Bobby, "I bet Phyllis can bowl better than you."
"Is this true?" I said to Phyllis. I asked her, because in a general way my bowling is held to be superior to that of girls of fifteen. Of course, she might be something special.
"I can bowl Bobby out," she said modestly.
I looked at Bobby in surprise and then shook my head sadly.
"You jolly well shut up," he said, turning indignantly to his sister. "Just because you did it once when the sun was in my eyes—"
"Bobby, Bobby," I said, "this is painful hearing. Let us be thankful that we don't have to play against girls' schools. Let us—"
But Bobby was gone. Goaded to anger, he had put his hands in his pockets and made the general observation "Rice-pudding"—an observation inoffensive enough to a stranger, but evidently of such deep, private significance to Phyllis that it was necessary for him to head a pursuit into the shrubbery without further delay.
"The children are gone," I said to Dick. "Now we can discuss the prospects for the season in peace." I took up "The Sportsman" again. "I see that Kent is going to—"
"The prospects are all right," said Dick, "if only I can get into form soon enough. Last year I didn't get going till the end of June. By the way, what sort of stuff do you bowl?"
"Ordinary sort of stuff," I said, "with one or two bounces in it. Do you see that Surrey—"
"Fast or slow?"
"Slow—that is, you know, when I do bowl at all. I'm not quite sure this season whether I hadn't better—"
"Slow," said Dick thoughtfully; "that's really what I want. I want lots of that."
"You must get Phyllis to bowl to you," I said with detachment. "You know, I shouldn't be surprised if Lancashire—"
"My dear man, girls can't bowl. She fields jolly well, though."
"What about your father?"
"His bowling days are rather over. He was in the eleven, you know, thirty years ago. So there's really nobody but—"
"One's bowling days soon get over," I hastened to agree.
But I know now exactly what the prospects of the season—or, at any rate, of the first week of it—are.
The prospects here are on the whole encouraging. To dwell upon the bright side first, there will be half-an-hour's casual bowling, and an hour and a half's miscellaneous coaching, every day. On the other hand, some of his best plants will be disturbed, while there is more than a chance that he may lose the services of a library window.
The prospects here are much as last year, except that her youngest born, Joan, is now five, and consequently rather more likely to wander in the way of a cricket ball or fall down in front of the roller than she was twelve months ago. Otherwise Mrs. Mallory faces the approaching season with calm, if not with complete appreciation.
Of Dick's prospects there is no need to speak at length. He will have two hours' batting every day against, from a batsman's point of view, ideal bowling, and in addition the whole-hearted admiration of all of us. In short, the outlook here is distinctly hopeful.
The prospects of this player are, from her own point of view, bright, as she will be allowed to field for two hours a day to the beloved Dick. She is also fully qualified now to help with the heavy roller. A new experiment is to be tried this season, and she will be allowed to bowl for an odd five-minutes at the end of Dick's innings to me.
enters upon the coming season with confidence, as he thinks there is a chance of my bowling to him too; but he is mistaken. As before, he will be in charge of the heavy roller, and he will also be required to slacken the ropes of the net at the end of the day. His prospects, however, are certainly improved this season, as he will be qualified to bowl for the whole two hours, but only on the distinct understanding (with Phyllis) that he does his own fielding for himself.
Of the prospects of
I have already spoken above. There remain only the prospects of
which are frankly rotten. They consist chiefly of two hours' bowling to the batting of Dick (who hits them back very hard), and ten minutes' batting to the bowling of Phyllis (slow, mild) and Bobby (fast wides); for Dick, having been ordered by the captain not to strain himself by trying to bowl, is not going to try. It is extremely doubtful whether Bobby will approve of my action, while if he or Phyllis should, by an unlucky accident, get me out, I should never hear the last of it. In this case, however, there must be added to Bobby's prospects the possibility of getting his head definitely smacked.
Fortunately—it is my only consolation—the season will be a short one. It ends on Tuesday.
THE FIRST GAME
There comes a Day (I can hear it coming), One of those glorious deep blue days, When larks are singing and bees are humming, And Earth gives voice in a thousand ways— Then I, my friends, I too shall sing, And hum a foolish little thing, And whistle like (but not too like) a blackbird in the Spring.
There looms a Day (I can feel it looming; Yes, it will be in a month or less), When all the flowers in the world are blooming And Nature flutters her fairest dress— Then I, my friends, I too shall wear A blazer that will make them stare, And brush—this is official: I shall also brush my hair.
It is the day that I watch for yearly, Never before has it come so late; But now I've only a month—no, merely A couple of fortnights left to wait; And then (to make the matter plain) I hold—at last!—a bat again: Dear Hobbs! the weeks this summer—think! the weeks I've lived in vain!
I see already the first ball twisting Over the green as I take my stand, I hear already long-on insisting It wasn't a chance that came to hand— Or no; I see it miss the bat And strike me on the knee, whereat Some fool, some silly fool at point, says blandly, "How was that?"
Then, scouting later, I hold a hot-un At deep square-leg from the local Fry, And at short mid-on to the village Scotton I snap a skimmer some six foot high— Or else, perhaps, I get the ball, Upon the thumb, or not at all, Or right into the hands, and then, lorblessme, let it fall.
But what care I? It's the game that calls me— Simply to be on the field of play; How can it matter what fate befalls me, With ten good fellows and one good day? ... But still, I rather hope spectators will, Observing any lack or skill, Remark, "This is his first appearance." Yes, I hope they will.
THE COMPETITION SPIRIT
About six weeks ago a Canadian gentleman named Smith arrived in the Old Country (England). He knew a man who knew a man who knew a man ... and so on for a bit ... who knew a man who knew a man who knew me. Letters passed; negotiations ensued; and about a week after he had first set foot in the Mother City (London) Smith and I met at my Club for lunch.
I may confess now that I was nervous. I think I expected a man in a brown shirt and leggings, who would ask me to put it "right there," and tell me I was "some Englishman." However, he turned out to be exactly like anybody else in London. Whether he found me exactly like anybody else in Canada I don't know. Anyway, we had a very pleasant lunch, and arranged to play golf together on the next day.
Whatever else is true of Canada there can be no doubt that it turns out delightful golfers. Smith proved to be just the best golfer I had ever met, being, when at the top of his form, almost exactly as good as I was. Hole after hole we halved in a mechanical eight. If by means of a raking drive and four perfect brassies at the sixth he managed to get one up for a moment, then at the short seventh a screaming iron and three consummate approaches would make me square again. Occasionally he would, by superhuman play, do a hole in bogey; but only to crack at the next, and leave me, at the edge of the green, to play "one off eleven." It was, in fact, a ding-dong struggle all the way; and for his one-hole victory in the morning I had my revenge with a one-hole victory in the afternoon.
By the end of a month we must have played a dozen rounds of this nature. I always had a feeling that I was really a better golfer than he, and this made me friendly towards his game. I would concede him short putts which I should have had no difficulty in missing myself; if he lost his ball I would beg him to drop another and go on with the hole; if he got into a bad place in a bunker I would assure him it was ground under repair. He was just as friendly in refusing to take these advantages, just as pleasant in offering similar indulgences to me. I thought at first it was part of his sporting way, but it turned out that (absurdly enough) he also was convinced that he was really the better golfer of the two, and could afford these amenities.
One day he announced that he was going back to Canada.
"We must have a last game," he said, "and this one must be decisive."
"For the championship of the Empire," I agreed. "Let's buy a little cup and play for it. I've never won anything at golf yet, and I should love to see a little cup on the dinner-table every night."
"You can't come to dinner in Canada every night," he pointed out. "It would be so expensive for you."
Well, the cup was bought, engraved "The Empire Challenge Cup," and played for last Monday.
"This," said Smith, "is a serious game, and we must play all out. No giving away anything, no waiving the rules. The Empire is at stake. The effeteness of the Mother Country is about to be put to the proof. Proceed."
It wasn't the most pleasant of our games. The spirit of the cup hung over it and depressed us. At the third hole I had an eighteen-inch putt for a half. "That's all right," said Smith forgetfully; and then added, "Perhaps you'd better put it in, though." Of course I missed. On the fifth green he was about to brush away a leaf. "That's illegal," I said sharply, "you must pick it up; you mayn't brush it away," and after a fierce argument on the point he putted hastily—and badly. At the eighteenth tee we were all square and hardly on speaking terms. The fate of the Mother Country depended upon the result of this hole.
I drove a long one, the longest of the day, slightly hooked.
"Good shot," said Smith with an effort. He pressed and foozled badly. I tried not to look pleased.
We found his ball in a thick clump of heather. With a grim look on his face, he took out his niblick....
I stayed by him and helped him count up to eight.
"Where's your ball?" he growled.
"A long way on," I said reproachfully. "I wish you'd hurry up. The poor thing will be getting cold."
He got to work again. We had another count together up to fifteen. Sometimes there would be a gleam of white at the top of the heather for a moment and then it would fade away.
"How many?" I asked some minutes later.
"About thirty. But I don't care, I'm going to get the little beast into the hole if it takes me all night." He went on hacking.
I had lost interest in the performance, for the cup was mine, but I did admire his Colonial grit.
"Got it," he cried suddenly, and the ball sailed out on to the pretty. Another shot put him level with me.
"Thirty-two?" I asked.
"About," he said coldly.
I began to look for my ball. It had got tired of waiting and had hidden itself. Smith joined gloomily in the search.
"This is absurd," I said, after three or four minutes.
"By jove!" said Smith, suddenly brightening up. "If your ball's lost I win after all."
"Nonsense; you've given the hole up," I protested. "You don't know how many you've played. According to the rules, if I ask you how many, and you give wrong information—"
"It's thirty-five," he said promptly.
"I don't believe you counted."
"Call it forty-five then. There's nothing to prevent my calling it more than it really is. If it was really only forty, then I'm counting five occasions when the ball rolled over as I was addressing it. That's very generous of me. Actually I'm doubtful if the ball did roll over five times, but I say it did in order to be on the safe side." He looked at his watch. "And if you don't find your ball in thirty seconds, you lose the hole."
It was ingenious, but the Mother Country can be ingenious too.
"How many have you played exactly?" I asked. "Be careful."
"Forty-five," he said. "Exactly."
"Right." I took my niblick and swung at the heather. "Bother," I said. "Missed it. Two."
"Hallo! Have you found it?"
"I have. It's somewhere in this field. There's no rule which insists that you shall hit the ball, or even that you shall hit near the ball, or even that you shall see the ball when you hit at it. Lots of old gentlemen shut their eyes and miss the sphere. I've missed. In five minutes I shall miss again."
"But what's the point?"
"The point, dear friend," I smiled, "is that after each stroke one is allowed five minutes in which to find the ball. I have forty-three strokes in hand; that gives me three hours and thirty-five minutes in which to look for it. At regular intervals of five minutes I shall swing my club and probably miss. It's four-thirty now; at eight o'clock, unless I find my ball before, I shall be playing the like. And if you are a sportsman," I added, "you will bring me out some tea in half an hour."
* * * * *
At six-thirty I was still looking—and swinging. Smith then came to terms and agreed to share the cup with me for the first year. He goes back to Canada to-morrow, and will spread the good news there that the Old Country can still hold its own in resource, determination and staying power. But next year we are going to play friendly golf again.
THE FIRST TEE
It is the place, it is the place, my soul! (Blow, bugle, blow; sing, triangle; toot, fife!) Down to the sea the close-cropped pastures roll, Couches behind yon sandy hill the goal Whereat, it may be, after ceaseless strife The "Colonel" shall find peace, and Henry say, "Your hole" ...
Caddie, give me my driver, caddie, The sun shines hot, but there's half a breeze, Enough to rustle the tree-tops, laddie, Only supposing there were some trees; The year's at the full and the morn's at eleven, It's a wonderful day just straight from Heaven, And this is a hole I can do in seven— Caddie, my driver, please.
Three times a day from now till Monday week (Ten peerless days in all) I take my stand Vested in some degage mode of breek (The chess-board touch, with squares that almost speak), And lightly sketch my Slice into the Sand, As based on bigger men, but much of it unique....
Caddie, give me my driver, caddie, Note my style on the first few tees; Duncan fashioned my wrist-work, laddie, Taylor taught me to twist my knees; I've a beautiful swing that I learnt from Vardon (I practise it sometimes down the garden— "My fault! Sorry! I beg your pardon!")— Caddie, my driver, please.
Only ten little days, in which to do So much! e.g., the twelfth: ah, it was there The Secretary met his Waterloo, But perished gamely, playing twenty-two; His clubs (ten little days!) lie bleaching where Sea-poppies blow (ten days) and wheeling sea-birds mew....
Caddie, give me my driver, caddie, Let us away with thoughts like these; A week and a half is a lifetime, laddie, The day that's here is the day to seize; Carpe diem—yes, that's the motto, "Work be jiggered!" and likewise "What ho!" I'M NOT GOING BACK TILL I'VE JOLLY WELL GOT TO! Caddie, my driver, please.
THE ENCHANTED CASTLE
There are warm days in London when even a window-box fails to charm, and one longs for the more open spaces of the country. Besides, one wants to see how the other flowers are getting on. It is on these days that we travel to our Castle of Stopes; as the crow flies, fifteen miles away. Indeed, that is the way we get to it, for it is a castle in the air. And when we are come to it, Celia is always in a pink sunbonnet gathering roses lovingly, and I, not very far off, am speaking strongly to somebody or other about something I want done. By-and-by I shall go into the library and work ... with an occasional glance through the open window at Celia.
To think that a month ago we were quite happy with a few pink geraniums!
Sunday, a month ago, was hot. "Let's take train somewhere," said Celia, "and have lunch under a hedge."
"I know a lovely place for hedges," I said.
"I know a lovely tin of potted grouse," said Celia, and she went off to cut some sandwiches. By twelve o'clock we were getting out of the train.
The first thing we came to was a golf course, and Celia had to drag me past it. Then we came to a wood, and I had to drag her through it. Another mile along a lane, and then we both stopped together.
"Oh!" we said.
It was a cottage, the cottage of a dream. And by a cottage I mean, not four plain rooms and a kitchen, but one surprising room opening into another; rooms all on different levels and of different shapes, with delightful places to bump your head on; open fireplaces; a large square hall, oak-beamed, where your guests can hang about after breakfast, while deciding whether to play golf or sit in the garden. Yet all so cunningly disposed that from outside it looks only a cottage or, at most, two cottages persuaded into one.
And, of course, we only saw it from outside. The little drive, determined to get there as soon as possible, pushed its way straight through an old barn, and arrived at the door simultaneously with the flagged lavender walk for the humble who came on foot. The rhododendrons were ablaze beneath the south windows; a little orchard was running wild on the west; there was a hint at the back of a clean-cut lawn. Also, you remember, there was a golf course, less than two miles away.
"Oh," said Celia with a deep sigh, "but we must live here."
An Irish terrier ran out to inspect us. I bent down and patted it. "With a dog," I added.
"Isn't it all lovely? I wonder who it belongs to, and if—"
"If he'd like to give it to us."
"Perhaps he would if he saw us and admired us very much," said Celia hopefully.
"I don't think Mr. Barlow is that sort of man," I said. "An excellent fellow, but not one to take these sudden fancies."
"Mr. Barlow? How do you know his name?"
"I have these surprising intuitions," I said modestly. "The way the chimneys stand up—"
"I know," cried Celia. "The dog's collar."
"Right, Watson. And the name of the house is Stopes."
She repeated it to herself with a frown.
"What a disappointing name," she said. "Just Stopes."
"Stopes," I said. "Stopes, Stopes. If you keep on saying it, a certain old-world charm seems to gather round it. Stopes."
"Stopes," said Celia. "It is rather jolly."
We said it ten more times each, and it seemed the only possible name for it. Stopes—of course.
"Well!" I asked.
"We must write to Mr. Barlow," said Celia decisively. "'Dear Mr. Barlow, er—Dear Mr. Barlow—we—' Yes, it will be rather difficult. What do we want to say exactly?"
"'Dear Mr. Barlow—May we have your house?'"
"Yes," smiled Celia, "but I'm afraid we can hardly ask for it. But we might rent it when—when he doesn't want it any more."
"'Dear Mr. Barlow,'" I amended, "'have you any idea when you're going to die?' No, that wouldn't do either. And there's another thing—we don't know his initials, or even if he's a 'Mr.' Perhaps he's a knight or a—a duke. Think how offended Duke Barlow would be if we put '—— Barlow, Esq.' on the envelope."
"We could telegraph. 'Barlow. After you with Stopes.'"
"Perhaps there's a young Barlow, a Barlowette or two with expectations. It may have been in the family for years."
"Then we—Oh, let's have lunch." She sat down and began to undo the sandwiches. "Dear o' Stopes," she said with her mouth full.
We lunched outside Stopes. Surely if Earl Barlow had seen us he would have asked us in. But no doubt his dining-room looked the other way; towards the east and north, as I pointed out to Celia, thus being pleasantly cool at lunch-time.
"Ha, Barlow," I said dramatically, "a time will come when we shall be lunching in there, and you—bah!" And I tossed a potted-grouse sandwich to his dog.
However, that didn't get us any nearer.
"Will you promise," said Celia, "that we shall have lunch in there one day?"
"I promise," I said readily. That gave me about sixty years to do something in.
"I'm like—who was it who saw something of another man's and wouldn't be happy till he got it?"
"The baby in the soap advertisement."
"No, no, some king in history."
"I believe you are thinking of Ahab, but you aren't a bit like him, really. Besides, we're not coveting Stopes. All we want to know is, does Barlow ever let it in the summer?"
"That's it," said Celia eagerly.
"And, if so," I went on, "will he lend us the money to pay the rent with?"
"Er—yes," said Celia. "That's it."
* * * * *
So for a month we have lived in our Castle of Stopes. I see Celia there in her pink sun-bonnet, gathering the flowers lovingly, bringing an armful of them into the hall, disturbing me sometimes in the library with "Aren't they beauties? No, I only just looked in—good luck to you." And she sees me ordering a man about importantly, or waving my hand to her as I ride through the old barn on my road to the golf course.
But this morning she had an idea.
"Suppose," she said timidly, "you wrote about Stopes, and Mr. Barlow happened to see it, and knew how much we wanted it, and—"
"Then," said Celia firmly, "if he were a gentleman he would give it to us."
Very well. Now we shall see if Mr. Barlow is a gentleman.
THE SANDS OF PLEASURE
Ladies first, so we will start with Jenny. Jenny is only nine, but she has been to the seaside before and knows all about it. She wears the fashionable costume de plage, which consists of a white linen hat, a jersey and an overcrowded pair of bathing-drawers, into which not only Jenny, but the rest of her wardrobe, has had to fit itself. Two slim brown legs emerge to bear the burden, and one feels that if she fell over she would have to stay there until somebody picked her up.
She is holding Richard Henry by the hand. Richard Henry is four, and this is the first time he has seen the sea. Jenny is showing it to him. Privately he thinks that it has been over-rated. There was a good deal of talk about it in his suburb (particularly from Jenny, who had been there before) and naturally one expected something rather—well, rather more like what they had been saying it was like. However, perhaps it would be as well to keep in with Jenny and not to let her see that he is disappointed, so every time she says, "Isn't the sea lovely?" he echoes, "Lovely," and now and then he adds (just to humour her), "Is 'at the sea?" and then she has the chance to say again, "Yes, that's the sea, darling. Isn't it lovely?" It is obvious that she is proud of it. Apparently she put it there. Anyway, it seems to be hers now.
Jenny has brought Father and Mother as well as Richard Henry. There they are, over there. When she came before she had to leave them behind, much to their disappointment. Father was saying, "Form fours, left," before going off to France again, and Mother was buying wool to make him some more socks. It was a great relief to them to know that they were being taken this time, and that they would have Jenny to tell them all about it.
Father is lying in a deck-chair, smoking his pipe. There has been an interesting discussion this afternoon as to whether he is a coward or not. Father thought he wasn't, but Mother wasn't quite so sure. Jenny said that of course he couldn't really be, because the King gave him a medal for not being one, but Mother explained that it was only a medal he had over, and Father happened to be passing by the window.
"I don't see what this has to do with it," said Father. "I simply prefer bathing in the morning."
"Oo, you said this morning you preferred bathing in the afternoon," says Jenny like a flash.
"I know; but since then I've had time to think it over, and I see that I was hasty. The morning is the best time."
"I'm afraid he is a coward," said Mother sadly, wondering why she had married him.
"The whole point is, why did Jenny bring me here?"
"To enjoy yourself," said Jenny promptly.
"Well, I am," said Father, closing his eyes.
But we do not feel so sure that Mother is enjoying herself. She has just read in the paper about a mine that floated ashore and exploded. Nobody was near at the time, but supposing one of the children had been playing with it.
"Which one?" said Father lazily.
"Then we should have lost Jenny."
This being so, Jenny promises solemnly not to play with any mine that comes ashore, nor to let Richard Henry play with it, nor to allow it to play with Richard Henry, nor—
"I suppose I may just point it out to him and say, 'Look, that's a mine'?" says Jenny wistfully. If she can't do this, it doesn't seem to be much use coming to the seaside at all.
"I don't think there would be any harm in that," says Father. "But don't engage it in conversation."
"Thank you very much," says Jenny, and she and Richard Henry go off together.
Mother watches them anxiously. Father closes his eyes.
"Now," says Jenny eagerly, "I'm going to show you a darling little crab. Won't that be lovely?"
Richard Henry, having been deceived, as he feels, about the sea, is not too hopeful about that crab. However, he asks politely, "What's a crab?"
"You'll see directly, darling," says Jenny; and he has to be content with that.
"Crab," he murmurs to himself.
Suddenly an idea occurs to him. He lets go of Jenny's hand and trots up to an old gentleman with white whiskers.
"Going to see a crab," he announces.
"Going to see a crab, are you, my little man?" says the old gentleman kindly.
"Going to see a crab," says Richard Henry, determined to keep up his end of the conversation.
"Well, I never! So you're going to see a crab!" says the old gentleman, doing his best with it.
Richard Henry nods two or three times. "Going to see a crab," he says firmly.
Luckily Jenny comes up and rescues him, otherwise they would still be at it. "Come along, darling, and see the crab," she says, picking up his hand; and Richard Henry looks triumphantly at the old gentleman. There you are. Perhaps he will believe a fellow another time.
Jenny has evidently made an arrangement with a particular crab for this afternoon. It is to be hoped that the appointment will be kept, for she has hurried Richard Henry past all sorts of wonderful things which he wanted to stop with for a little. But the thought of this lovely crab, which Jenny thinks so much of, forbids protest. Quite right not to keep it waiting. What will it be like? Will it be bigger than the sea?
We have reached the rendezvous. We see now that we need not have been in such a hurry.
"There!" says Jenny excitedly. "Isn't he a darling little crab? He's asleep." (That's why we need not have hurried.)
Richard Henry says nothing. He can't think of the words for what he is feeling. What he wants to say is that Jenny has let him down again. They passed a lot of these funny little things on their way here, but Jenny wouldn't stop because she was going to show him a Crab, a great, big, enormous darling little Crab—which might have been anything—and now it's only just this. No wonder the old gentleman didn't believe him.
Swindled—that's the word he wants. However, he can't think of it for the moment, so he tries something else.
"Darling little crab," he says.
They leave the dead crab there and hurry back.
"What shall I show you now?" says Jenny.
When Memory with its scorn of ages, Its predilection for the past, Turns back about a billion pages And lands us by the Cam at last; Is it the thought of "Granta" (once our daughter), The Freshers' Match, the Second in our Mays That makes our mouth, our very soul to water? Ah no! Ah no! It is the Salmon Mayonnaise!
The work we did was rarely reckoned Worthy a tutor's kindly word— (For when I said we got a Second I really meant we got a Third)— The games we played were often tinged with bitter, Amidst the damns no faintest hint of praise Greeted us when we missed the authentic "sitter"— But thou wert always kind, O Salmon Mayonnaise!
Even our nights with "Granta," even The style that, week by blessed week, Mixed Calverley and J.K. Stephen With much that was (I hold) unique, Even our parodies of the Rubaiyat Were disappointing—yes, in certain ways: What genius loves (I mean) the people shy at— Yet no one ever shied at Salmon Mayonnaise!
Alas! no restaurant in London Can make us feel that thrill again; Though what they do or what leave undone I often ask, and ask in vain. Is it the sauce which puts the brand of Cam on Each maddening dish? The egg? The yellow glaze? The cucumber? The special breed of salmon?— I only know we loved, we loved that Mayonnaise!
* * * * *
"Did Beauty," some may ask severely, "Visit him in no other guise? It cannot be that salmon merely Should bring the mist before his eyes! What of the river there where Byron's Pool lay, The warm blue morning shimmering in the haze?" Not this (I say) ... Yet something else ... Creme Brulee! Ye gods! to think of that and Salmon Mayonnaise!
THE PROBLEM OF LIFE
The noise of the retreating sea came pleasantly to us from a distance. Celia was lying on her—I never know how to put this nicely—well, she was lying face downwards on a rock and gazing into a little pool which the tide had forgotten about and left behind. I sat beside her and annoyed a limpet. Three minutes ago I had taken it suddenly by surprise and with an Herculean effort moved it an eighteenth of a millimetre westwards. My silence since then was lulling it into a false security, and in another two minutes I hoped to get a move on it again.
"Do you know," said Celia with a puzzled look on her face, "sometimes I think I'm quite an ordinary person after all."
"You aren't a little bit," I said lazily; "you're just like nobody else in the world."
"Well, of course, you had to say that."
"No, I hadn't. Lots of husbands would merely have yawned." I felt one coming and stopped it just in time. Waiting for limpets to go to sleep is drowsy work. "But why are you so morbid about yourself suddenly?"
"I don't know," she said. "Only every now and then I find myself thinking the most obvious thoughts."
"We all do," I answered, as I stroked my limpet gently. The noise of our conversation had roused it, but a gentle stroking motion (I am told by those to whom it has confided) will frequently cause its muscles to relax. "The great thing is not to speak them. Still, you'd better tell me now. What is it?"
"Well," she said, her cheeks perhaps a little pinker than usual, "I was just thinking that life was very wonderful. But it's a silly thing to say."
"It's holiday time," I reminded her. "The need for sprinkling our remarks with thoughtful words like 'economic' and 'sporadic' is over for a bit. Let us be silly." I scratched in the rock the goal to which I was urging my limpet and took out my watch. "Three thirty-five. I shall get him there by four."
Celia was gazing at two baby fishes who played in and out a bunch of sea-weed. Above the seaweed an anemone sat fatly.
"I suppose they're all just as much alive as we are," she said thoughtfully. "They marry"—I looked at my limpet with a new interest—"and bring up families and go about their business, and it all means just as much to them as it does to us."
"My limpet's business affairs mean nothing to me," I said firmly. "I am only wrapped up in him as a sprinter."
"Aren't you going to try to move him again?"
"He's not quite ready yet. He still has his suspicions."
Celia dropped into silence. Her next question showed that she had left the pool for a moment.
"Are there any people in Mars?" she asked.
"People down here say that there aren't. A man told me the other day that he knew this for a fact. On the other hand, people in Mars know for a fact that there isn't anybody on the Earth. Probably they are both wrong."
"I should like to know a lot about things," sighed Celia. "Do you know anything about limpets?"
"Only that they stick like billy-o."
"I suppose more about them is known than that?"
"I suppose so. By people who have made a specialty of them. For one who has preferred to amass general knowledge rather than to specialize, it is considered enough to know that they stick like billy-o."
"You haven't specialized in anything, have you?"
"Only in wives."
Celia smiled and went on. "How do you make a specialty of limpets?"
"Well, I suppose you—er—study them. You sit down and—and watch them. Probably after dark they get up and do something. And of course, in any case, you can always dissect one and see what he's had for breakfast. One way and another you get to know things about them."
"They must have a lot of time for thinking," said Celia, regarding my limpet with her head on one side. "Tell me, how do they know that there are no men in Mars?"
I sat up with a sigh.
"Celia, you do dodge about so. I have barely brought together and classified my array of facts about things in this world, when you've dashed up to another one. What is the connexion between Mars and limpets? If there are any limpets in Mars they are freshwater ones. In the canals."
"Oh, I just wondered," she said. "I mean"—she wrinkled her forehead in the effort to find words for her thoughts—"I'm wondering what everything means, and why we're all here, and what limpets are for, and, supposing there are people in Mars, if we're the real people whom the world was made for, or if they are." She stopped and added, "One evening after dinner, when we get home, you must tell me all about everything"
Celia has a beautiful idea that I can explain everything to her. I suppose I must have explained a stymie or a no-ball very cleverly once.
"Well," I said, "I can tell you what limpets are for now. They're like sheep and cows and horses and pheasants and—and any other animal. They're just for us. At least so the wise people say."
"But we don't eat limpets."
"No, but they can amuse us. This one"—and with a sudden leap I was behind him as he dozed, and I had dashed him forward another eighteenth of a millimetre—"this one has amused me."
"Perhaps," said Celia thoughtfully, and I don't think it was quite a nice thing for a young woman to say, "perhaps we're only meant to amuse the people in Mars."
"Then," I said lazily, "let's hope that they are amused."
* * * * *
Ten days later the Great War began. Celia said no more on the subject, but she used to look at me curiously sometimes, and I fear that the problem of life left her more puzzled than ever. At the risk of betraying myself to her as "quite an ordinary person after all" I confess that there are times when it leaves me puzzled too.
I know a Captain of Industry, Who made big bombs for the R.F.C., And collared a lot of L s. d.— And he—thank God!—has the O.B.E.
I know a Lady of Pedigree, Who asked some soldiers out to tea, And said "Dear me!" and "Yes, I see"— And she—thank God!—has the O.B.E.
I know a fellow of twenty-three, Who got a job with a fat M.P.— (Not caring much for the Infantry.) And he—thank God!—has the O.B.E.
I had a friend; a friend, and he Just held the line for you and me, And kept the Germans from the sea, And died—without the O.B.E. Thank God! He died without the O.B.E.
The conversation had turned, as it always does in the smoking-rooms of golf clubs, to the state of poor old England, and Porkins had summed the matter up. He had marched round in ninety-seven that morning, followed by a small child with an umbrella and an arsenal of weapons, and he felt in form with himself.
"What England wants," he said, leaning back and puffing at his cigar,—"what England wants is a war. (Another whisky and soda, waiter.) We're getting flabby. All this pampering of the poor is playing the very deuce with the country. A bit of a scrap with a foreign power would do us all the good in the world." He disposed of his whisky at a draught. "We're flabby," he repeated. "The lower classes seem to have no sense of discipline nowadays. We want a war to brace us up."
* * * * *
It is well understood in Olympus that Porkins must not be disappointed. What will happen to him in the next world I do not know, but it will be something extremely humorous; in this world, however, he is to have all that he wants. Accordingly the gods got to work.
In the little village of Ospovat, which is in the southeastern corner of Ruritania, there lived a maiden called Maria Strultz, who was engaged to marry Captain Tomsk.
"I fancy," said one of the gods, "that it might be rather funny if Maria jilted the Captain. I have an idea that it would please Porkins."
"Whatever has Maria—" began a very young god, but he was immediately suppressed.
"Really," said the other, "I should have thought it was sufficiently obvious. You know what these mortals are." He looked round to them all. "Is it agreed then?"
It was agreed.
So Maria Strultz jilted the Captain.
Now this, as you may imagine, annoyed Captain Tomsk. He commanded a frontier fort on the boundary between Ruritania and Essenland, and his chief amusement in a dull life was to play cards with the Essenland captain, who commanded the fort on the other side of the river. When Maria's letter came, he felt that the only thing to do was to drown himself; on second thoughts he decided to drown his sorrows first. He did this so successfully that at the end of the evening he was convinced that it was not Maria who had jilted him, but the Essenland captain who had jilted Maria; whereupon he rowed across the river and poured his revolver into the Essenland flag which was flying over the fort. Maria thus revenged, he went home to bed, and woke next morning with a bad headache.
("Now we're off," said the gods in Olympus.)
In Diedeldorf, the capital of Essenland, the leader-writers proceeded to remove their coats.
"The blood of every true Essenlander," said the leader-writer of the "Diedeldorf Patriot", after sending out for another pot of beer, "will boil when it hears of this fresh insult to our beloved flag, an insult which can only be wiped out with blood." Then seeing that he had two "bloods" in one sentence, he crossed the second One out, substituted "the sword," and lit a fresh cigarette. "For years Essenland has writhed under the provocations of Ruritania, but has preserved a dignified silence; this last insult is more than flesh and blood can stand." Another "blood" had got in, but it was a new sentence and he thought it might be allowed to remain. "We shall not be accused of exaggeration if we say that Essenland would lose, and rightly lose, her prestige in the eyes of Europe if she let this affront pass unnoticed. In a day she would sink from a first-rate to a fifth-rate power." But he didn't say how.
The Chancellor of Essenland, in a speech gravely applauded by both sides of the House, announced the steps he had taken. An ultimatum had been sent to Ruritania demanding an apology, an indemnity of a hundred thousand marks, and the public degradation of Captain Tomsk, whose epaulettes were to be torn off by the Commander-in-Chief of the Essenland Army in the presence of a full corps of cinematograph artists. Failing this, war would be declared.
Ruritania offered the apology, the indemnity, and the public degradation of Captain Tomsk, but urged that this last ceremony would be better performed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Ruritanian Army; otherwise Ruritania might as well cease to be a sovereign state, for she would lose her prestige in the eyes of Europe, and sink to the level of a fifth-rate power.
There was only one possible reply to this, and Essenland made it. She invaded Ruritania.
("Aren't they wonderful?" said the gods in Olympus to each other.
"But haven't you made a mistake?" asked the very young god. "Porkins lives in England, not Essenland."
"Wait a moment," said the others.)
* * * * *
In the capital of Borovia the leader-writer of the "Borovian Patriot" got to work. "How does Borovia stand?" he asked. "If Essenland occupies Ruritania, can any thinking man in Borovia feel safe with the enemy at his gates?" (The Borovian peasant, earning five marks a week, would have felt no less safe than usual, but then he could hardly be described as a thinking man.) "It is vital to the prestige of Borovia that the integrity of Ruritania should be preserved. Otherwise we may resign ourselves at once to the prospect of becoming a fifth-rate power in the eyes of Europe." And in a speech, gravely applauded by all parties, the Borovian Chancellor said the same thing. So the Imperial Army was mobilized and, amidst a wonderful display of patriotic enthusiasm by those who were remaining behind, the Borovian troops marched to the front....
_("And there you are," said the gods in Olympus.
"But even now—" began the very young god doubtfully.
"Silly, isn't Felicia the ally of Essenland; isn't Marksland the ally of Borovia; isn't England the ally of the ally of the ally of the Country which holds the balance of power between Marksland and Felicia?"
"But if any of them thought the whole thing stupid or unjust or—"
"Their prestige," said the gods gravely, trying not to laugh.
"Oh, I see," said the very young god.)_
* * * * *
And when a year later the hundred-thousandth English mother woke up to read that her boy had been shot, I am afraid she shed foolish tears and thought that the world had come to an end.
Poor short-sighted creature! She didn't realize that Porkins, who had marched round in ninety-six the day before, was now thoroughly braced up.
("What babies they all are," said the very young god.)
Same old crossing, same old boat, Same old dust round Rouen way, Same old narsty one-franc note, Same old "Mercy, sivvoo play"; Same old scramble up the line, Same old 'orse-box, same old stror, Same old weather, wet or fine, Same old blooming War.
Ho Lor, it isn't a dream, It's just as it used to be, every bit; Same old whistle and same old bang, And me out again to be 'it.
'Twas up by Loos I got me first; I just dropped gently, crawled a yard And rested sickish, with a thirst— The 'eat, I thought, and smoking 'ard.... Then someone 'ands me out a drink, What poets call "the cooling draft," And seeing 'im I done a think: "Blighty," I thinks—and laughed.
I'm not a soldier nacheral, No more than most of us to-day; I runs a business with a pal (Meaning the Missis) Fulham way; Greengrocery—the cabbages And fruit and things I take meself, And she has dafts and crocuses A-smiling on a shelf.
"Blighty," I thinks. The doctor knows; 'E talks of punctured damn-the-things. It's me for Blighty. Down I goes; I ain't a singer, but I sings. "Oh, 'oo goes 'ome?" I sort of 'ums; "Oh, 'oo's for dear old England's shores?" And by-and-by Southampton comes— "Blighty!" I says, and roars.
I s'pose I thort I done my bit; I s'pose I thort the War would stop; I saw meself a-getting fit With Missis at the little shop; The same like as it used to be, The same old markets, same old crowd, The same old marrers, same old me, But 'er as proud as proud....
* * * * *
The regiment is where it was, I'm in the same old ninth platoon; New faces most, and keen becos They thinks the thing is ending soon; I ain't complaining, mind, but still, When later on some newish bloke Stops one and laughs, "A blighty, Bill," I'll wonder, "Where's the joke?"
Same old trenches, same old view, Same old rats as blooming tame, Same old dug-outs, nothing new, Same old smell, the very same, Same old bodies out in front, Same old strafe from 2 till 4, Same old scratching, same old 'unt. Same old bloody War.
Ho Lor, it isn't a dream, It's just as it used to be, every bit; Same old whistle and same old bang. And me to stay 'ere till I'm 'it.
It will save trouble if I say at once that I know nothing about horses. This will be quite apparent to you, of course, before I have finished, but I don't want you to suppose that it is not also quite apparent to me. I have no illusions on the subject; neither, I imagine, has Toby.
To me there are only two kinds of horse. Chestnuts, roans, bay rums—I know nothing of all these; I can only describe a horse simply as a nice horse or a nasty horse. Toby is a nice horse.
Toby, of course, knows much more about men than I do about horses, and no doubt he describes me professionally to his colleagues as a "flea-bitten fellow standing about eighteen hoofs"; but when he is not being technical I like to think that he sums me up to himself as a nice man. At any rate I am not allowed to wear spurs, and that must weigh with a horse a good deal.
I have no real right to Toby. The Signalling Officer's official mount is a bicycle, but a bicycle in this weather—! And there is Toby, and somebody must ride him, and, as I point out to the other subalterns, it would only cause jealousy if one of them rode him, and—"
"Why would it create more jealousy than if you do?" asked one of them.
"Well," I said, "you're the officer commanding platoon number—"
"Fifteen. Now, why should the officer commanding the fifteenth platoon ride a horse when the officer commanding the nineteenth—"
He reminded me that there were only sixteen platoons in a battalion. It's such a long time since I had anything to do with platoons that I forget.
"All right, we'll say the sixteenth. Why shouldn't he have a horse? Of all the unjust—Well, you see what recriminations it would lead to. Now I don't say I'm more valuable than a platoon-commander or more effective on a horse, but, at any rate, there aren't sixteen of me. There's only one Signalling Officer, and if there is a spare horse over—"
"What about the Bombing Officer?" said O.C. Platoon 15 carelessly.
I had quite forgotten the Bombing Officer. Of course he is a specialist too.
"Yes, quite so, but if you would only think a little," I said, thinking hard all the time, "you would—well, put it this way. The range of a Mills bomb is about fifty yards; the range of a field telephone is several miles. Which of us is more likely to require a horse?"
"And the Sniping officer?" he went on dreamily.
This annoyed me.
"You don't shoot snipe from horseback," I said sharply. "You're mixing up shooting and hunting, my lad. And in any case there are reasons, special reasons, why I ride Toby—reasons of which you know nothing."
Here are the reasons:—
1. I think I have more claim to a horse called Toby than has a contributor to "Our Feathered Friends" or whatever paper the Sniping Officer writes for.
2. When I joined the Army, Celia was inconsolable. I begged her to keep a stiff upper lip, to which she replied that she could do it better if I promised not to keep a bristly one. I pointed out that the country wanted bristles; and though, between ourselves, we might regard it as a promising face spoilt for a tradition, still discipline was discipline. And so the bristles came, and remained until the happy day when the War Office, at the risk of losing the war, made them optional. Immediately they were uprooted.
Now the Colonel has only one fault (I have been definitely promised my second star in 1927, so he won't think I am flattering him with a purpose): he likes moustaches. His own is admirable, and I have no wish for him to remove it, but I think he should be equally broad-minded about mine.
"You aren't really more beautiful without it," he said. "A moustache suits you."
"My wife doesn't think so," I said firmly. I had the War Office on my side, so I could afford to be firm.
The Colonel looked at me, and then he looked out of the window, and made the following remarkable statement.
"Toby," he said gently to himself, "doesn't like clean-shaven officers."
This hadn't occurred to me; I let it sink in.
"Of course," I said at last, "one must consider one's horse. I quite see that."
"With a bicycle," he said, "it's different."
And so there you have the second reason. If the Bombing Officer rode Toby, I should shave again to-morrow, and then where would the Battalion be? Ruined.
So Toby and I go off together. Up till now he has been good to me. He has bitten one Company Commander, removed another, and led the Colonel a three-mile chase across country after him, so if any misunderstanding occurs between us there will be good precedent for it. So far my only real trouble has been once when billeting.
Billeting is delightful fun. You start three hours in advance of the battalion, which means that if the battalion leaves at eight in the morning, you are up in the fresh of the day, when the birds are singing. You arrive at the village and get from the Mayor or the Town Major a list of possible hostesses. Entering the first house (labeled "Officers 5") you say, "Vous avez un lit pour un Officier ici, n'est-ce pas? Vive la France!" She answers, "Pas un lit," and you go to the next house. "Vous avez place pour cent hommes—oui?" "Non," says she—and so on. By-and-by the battalion arrives, and everybody surrounds you. "Where are my men going?" "Where is my billet?" "Where's 'C' Company's mess?" "Have you found anything for the Pioneers?" And so one knows what it is to be popular.
Well, the other day the Major thought he'd come with me, just to give me an idea how it ought to be done. I say nothing of the result; but for reasons connected with Toby I hope he won't come again. For in the middle of a narrow street crowded with lorries, he jumped off his horse, flung (I think that's the expression)—flung me the reins and said, "Just wait here while I see the Mayor a moment."
The Major's horse I can describe quite shortly—a nasty big black horse.
Toby I have already described as a nice horse, but he had been knee-deep in mud, inspecting huts, for nearly half an hour, and was sick of billeting.
I need not describe two-hundred-lorries-on-a-dark-evening to you.
And so, seeing that you know the constituents, I must let you imagine how they all mixed....
* * * * *
This is a beastly war. But it has its times; and when our own particular bit of the battle is over, and what is left of the battalion is marching back to rest, I doubt if, even in England (which seems very far off), you will find two people more contented with the morning than Toby and I, as we jog along together.
Seated in your comfortable club, my very dear sir, or in your delightful drawing-room, madam, you may smile pityingly at the idea of a mascot saving anybody's life. "What will be, will be," you say to yourself (or in Italian to your friends), "and to suppose that a charm round the neck of a soldier will divert a German shell is ridiculous." But out there, through the crumps, things look otherwise.
Common had sat on the mantelpiece at home. An ugly little ginger dog, with a bit of red tape for his tongue and two black beads for his eyes, he viewed his limited world with an air of innocent impertinence very attractive to visitors. Common he looked and Common he was called, with a Christian name of Howard for registration. For six months he sat there, and no doubt he thought that he had seen all that there was to see of the world when the summons came which was to give him so different an outlook on life.
For that summons meant the breaking up of his home. Master was going wandering from trench to trench, Mistress from one person's house to another person's house. She no doubt would take Common with her; or perhaps she couldn't be bothered with an ugly little ginger dog, and he would be stored in some repository, boarded out in some Olympic kennel. "Or do you possibly think Master might—"
He looked very wistful that last morning, so wistful that Mistress couldn't bear it, and she slipped him in hastily between the revolver and the boracic powder, "Just to look after you," she said. So Common came with me to France.
His first view of the country was at Rouen, when he sat at the entrance to my tent and hooshed the early morning flies away. His next at a village behind the lines, where he met stout fellows of "D" Company and took the centre of the table at mess in the apple orchard; and moreover was introduced to a French maiden of two, with whom, at the instigation of the seconds in the business—her mother and myself—a prolonged but monotonous conversation in the French tongue ensued, Common, under suitable pressure, barking idiomatically, and the maiden, carefully prompted, replying with the native for "Bow-wow." A pretty greenwood scene beneath the apple-trees, and in any decent civilization the great adventure would have ended there. But Common knew that it was not only for this that he had been brought out, and that there was more arduous work to come.
Once more he retired to the valise, for we were making now for a vill—for a heap of bricks near the river; you may guess the river. It was about this time that I made a little rhyme for him:
There was a young puppy called Howard, Who at fighting was rather a coward; He never quite ran When the battle began, But he started at once to bow-wow hard.
A good poet is supposed to be superior to the exigencies of rhyme, but I am afraid that in any case Common's reputation had to be sacrificed to them. To be lyrical over anybody called Howard Common without hinting that he—well, try for yourself. Anyhow it was a lie, as so much good poetry is.
There came a time when valises were left behind and life for a fortnight had to be sustained on a pack. One seems to want very many things, but there was no hesitation about Common's right to a place. So he came to see his first German dug-out, and to get a proper understanding of this dead bleached land and the great work which awaited him there. It was to blow away shells and bullets when they came too near the master in whose pocket he sat.
In this he was successful; but I think that the feat in which he takes most pride was performed one very early summer morning. A telephone line had to be laid, and, for reasons obvious to Common, rather rapidly. It was laid safely—a mere nothing to him by this time. But when it was joined up to the telephone in the front line, then he realized that he was called upon to be not only a personal mascot, but a mascot to the battalion, and he sat himself upon the telephone and called down a blessing on that cable, so that it remained whole for two days and a night when by all the rules it should have been in a thousand pieces. "And even if I didn't really do it all myself," he said, "anyhow I did make some of the men in the trench smile a little that morning, and there wasn't so very much smiling going on just then, you know."
After that morning he lived in my pocket, sometimes sniffing at an empty pipe, sometimes trying to read letters from Mistress which joined him every day. We had gone North to a more gentlemanly part of the line, and his duties took but little of his time, so that anything novel, like a pair of pliers or an order from the Director of Army Signals, was always welcome. To begin with he took up rather more than his fair share of the pocket, but he rapidly thinned down. Alas! in the rigours of the campaign he also lost his voice; and his little black collar, his only kit, disappeared.
Then, just when we seemed settled for the winter, we were ordered South again. Common knew what that meant, a busy time for him. We moved down slowly, and he sampled billet after billet, but we arrived at last and sat down to wait for the day.
And then he began to get nervous. Always he was present when the operations were discussed; he had seen all the maps; he knew exactly what was expected of us. And he didn't like it.
"It's more than a fellow can do," he said; "at least to be certain of. I can blow away the shells in front and the shells from the right, but if Master's map is correct we're going to get enfiladed from the left as well, and one can't be everywhere. This wants thinking about."
So he dived head downwards into the deepest recesses of my pocket and abandoned himself to thought. A little later he came up with a smile....
Next morning I stayed in bed and the doctor came. Common looked over his shoulder as he read the thermometer.
"A hundred and four," said Common. "Golly! I hope I haven't over-done it."
He came with me to the clearing station.
"I only just blowed a germ at him," he said wistfully—"one I found in his pocket. I only just blowed it at him."
We went down to the base hospital together; we went back to England. And in the hospital in England Common suddenly saw his mistress again.
"I've brought him back, Missis," he said. "Here he is. Have I done well?"
* * * * *
He sits now in a little basket lined with flannel, a hero returned from the War. Round his neck he wears the regimental colours, and on his chest will be sewn whatever medal is given to those who have served faithfully on the Western Front. Seated in your comfortable club, my very dear sir, or in your delightful drawing-room, madam, you smile pityingly....
Or perhaps you don't.
(THE LAST OF THE WAR STORIES)
The Colonel of the Nth Blankshires was seated in his office. It was not an imposing room to look at. Furnished simply but tastefully with a table, officers, for use of, one, and a chair, ditto, one, it gave little evidence of the distressing scenes which had been enacted in it, and still less evidence of the terrible scene which was to come. Within these walls the Colonel was accustomed to deal out stern justice to offenders, and many a hardened criminal had been carried out fainting upon hearing the terrible verdict, "One day's C.B."
But the Colonel was not holding the scales of justice now, for it was late afternoon. With an expression of the utmost anxiety upon his face he read and re-read the official-looking document which he held in his hand. Even the photograph of the Sergeant-Major (signed, "Yours ever, Henry"), which stood upon his desk, brought him no comfort.
The door opened and Major Murgatroyd, second in command of the famous Blankshires, came in.
"Come in," said Colonel Blowhard.
The Major saluted impressively, and the Colonel rose and returned his salute with the politeness typical of the British Army.
"You wished to see me, Colonel?"
"I did, Major." They saluted each other again. "A secret document of enormous importance," went on the Colonel, "has just reached me from the War Office. It concerns the Regiment, the dear old Regiment." Both men saluted, and the Colonel went on hoarsely, "Were the news in this document to become public property before its time, nothing could avert the defeat of England in the present world-wide cataclysm."
"Is it as important as that, Colonel?" said the Major, even more hoarsely if anything.
"It is, Major."
The Major's voice sank to a whisper.
"What would not Hindenburg give to see it," he muttered.
"Ay," said the Colonel. "I say that to myself day and night: 'What not what—what would what—' Well, I say it to myself day and night. For this reason, Major, I have decided to entrust the news to no one but yourself. Our Officers are good lads and a credit to the dear old Regiment"—they saluted as before—"but in a matter of this sort one cannot be too discreet."
"You are right, Colonel."
The Colonel looked round the room apprehensively and brought his chair a little closer to the Major.
"The secret contained in this document—Are we alone?"
"Except for each other, Colonel."
"The secret," went on the Colonel, "is this: that, on and after the 23rd of the month, men in category X3 are to be included in category X2."
"My God," gasped the Major, "if Hindenburg knew!"
"He must not know, Major," said the Colonel simply. "I can trust you not to disclose this until the time is ripe?"
"You can trust me, Colonel."
They grasped hands and saluted.
At this moment the door opened and an orderly came in.
"You're wanted by the Sergeant-Major, sir," he told the Colonel.
"Ah, excuse me a moment," said the latter to his second in command, knowing how much it annoys a sergeant-major to be kept waiting. He saluted and hurried out.
"Just a moment, orderly," said the Major.
The orderly came back. "Yes, sir," he said.
"Did you give that message to Miss Blowhard?"
"Yes, sir. She says she cannot play golf with you to-morrow because she is playing with Second-Lieutenant Lord Smith." He saluted and withdrew.
Left alone the Major gave vent to his rage. "Lord Smith!" he stormed. "Curse him! What can she see in that puppy? Thrice have I used my influence to send him away on a musketry course, and thrice has he returned. Could I but turn him out of the Regiment for good, I might win the love of the fair Miss Blowhard, the Colonel's daughter." In a sudden passion he picked up the "Manual of Military Law" and flung it to the ground.
All at once an idea struck him and a crafty look came into his eyes.
"By jove," he cried, "the secret document! The very thing."
To put the document into an envelope was the work of a moment. Taking up a pen he printed on the outside in large capitals these words:
FOR HINDENBURG, GERMANY
With a diabolical smile he sealed the envelope up, rang the bell, and ordered Second-Lieutenant Lord Smith to be brought before him.
"You wanted me, sir?" said Lord Smith on his arrival.
Of all the distinguished officers in the Nth Battalion, Lord Smith was perhaps the most brilliant. Although he had held his commission for three years he had only been arrested twice by the Provost-Marshal—the first time for wearing a soft cap when, as an officer and gentleman, he should have worn a hard one, and the second time, three months later, for wearing a hard cap when, as an officer and gentleman, he should have worn a soft one. Nobody can deny that these were serious blots on his career, but it was felt in the trenches that his skill with the rifle partially atoned for them.
"Ah, Smith, my boy," said the Major genially, "I just wanted to know the address of your tailor. Wonderfully well-cut tunic this of yours." He went over to him and, under pretence of examining the cut of his tunic, dropped the envelope cautiously into one of the pockets.
Somewhat surprised at the compliment paid to his tailor, but entirely unsuspicious, Lord Smith gave him the required address.
"Thanks," said the Major. "By the way, I've got to go out now; would you mind waiting here till the Colonel comes back? He has left an extremely important document on his table and I do not like to leave the room unoccupied."
"Certainly, sir," said Lord Smith.
Left alone, our hero gave himself up to thought. For some reason he distrusted the Major; he felt that they were rivals for the hand of Rosamund Blowhard. On ten Sundays in succession he had been forced to attend Church Parade, what time the Major and Rosamund were disporting themselves on the golf links. It was only on Saturday afternoons that he had a chance of seeing her alone, and yet he felt somehow that she loved him.
"Ah, Smith, my boy," said the Colonel as he bustled in. "Always glad to see you. My favourite subaltern," he went on, with his hand on the young man's shoulder; "the best officer who ever formed a four at bridge—I mean, who ever formed fours; and a holder of no fewer than three musketry certificates."
Lord Smith smiled modestly.
"There, I must get on with my work," went on the Colonel, sitting down at his table and turning over his papers. "You find me very—you find me—you find—good Heavens!"
"What is it, sir?"
"I don't find it—I've lost it; the secret document!"
"Was it very important, sir?"
"Important!" cried the Colonel. "If Hindenburg—but we must get to work. Summon the guard, blow the fire-alarm, send for the Orderly Sergeant."
In less than a minute the room was full of armed men, including the Major.
"Men of the Nth Blankshires," said the Colonel, addressing them, "a document of enormous importance has been stolen from this room. Unless that document is recovered the fair name of the Regiment will be irretrievably tarnished."
"Never!" cried a Corporal of the Signalling Section, and there was a deep murmur of applause.
"May I suggest, sir," said the Major, "that the pockets of all should be searched? I myself am quite ready to set the example," and as he spoke he drew out three receipted bills and a price list of tomatoes, and placed them before the Colonel.
One by one they followed his example.
Suddenly all eyes were fixed on Second-Lieutenant Lord Smith, as with horror and amazement upon his face he drew from his pocket the official-looking envelope.
"I swear I never put it there, sir," he gasped.
"Perhaps I ought to tell you, sir," said the Major, "that I asked Lord Smith to keep an eye upon the document during my absence. No doubt he placed it in his pocket for safety."
Several men applauded this suggestion, for Lord Smith was a general favourite.
The Colonel gave one glance at the envelope, and then, with fire flashing from his eyes, held it up for all to see.
"How do you account for this?" he cried in a voice of thunder, and with a gasp of horror they read the fatal words:
FOR HINDENBURG, GERMANY
The Colonel and the other officers drew their swords, the rank and file fixed bayonets; they hacked the buttons off Lord Smith's tunic, they dug the stars out of his sleeves, they tore the regimental badge from his cap; they tore his collar, they tore his tie, they took his gold cigarette-case; and still he stood there, saying proudly, "I am innocent."
"Go!" said the Colonel, pointing with his sword to the door.
Suddenly there was a commotion outside and a breathless figure pushed its way into the room.
"Father," cried Rosamund Blowhard, "spare him. He is innocent."
"Rosamund," said George, for so we must call him now, "I am innocent. Some day the truth will be known." Then he took a tender farewell of her and, casting a glance of mingled suspicion and hatred at the Major, he strode from the room.
The patient in the Xth bed at the Yth Base Hospital stirred restlessly.
"Water," he murmured, "water."
A soft-footed nurse rose and poured some over him. "Rosamund," he breathed, and with a smile of content dropped peacefully asleep again.
Who was he, this mysterious patient in Number X bed? Obviously a gentleman from the colour of his pyjamas, his identity disc proclaimed him to be Private Smithlord of the Qth Blankshires. There was something strange about him. Only that morning he had received the V.C. from Sir Douglas Haig, the R.S.V.P. from General Petain, the Order of the Golden Elephant from our Japanese Allies, the Order of the Split Haddock from the President of Nicaragua, and the Order of the Neutral Nut from Brazil. Yet he cared for none of these things; he only murmured, "Rosamund!" Who was Private Smithlord?
Though so little was known of him, the story of his prowess was on every lip. An officer from his regiment who had gone out alone to an observation post had been surrounded and cut off by the enemy. Threatened on all sides by guns and bombs of every calibre, he had prepared to sell his life dearly. To attempt a rescue would have been madness; even the most reckless Town Major would have blenched at the idea; and the Regiment, in the comparative safety of their trench, could only look on helplessly.
All but Private Smithlord. Hastily borrowing the Colonel's horse, he urged the gallant animal up the trench and away over the top. And then began a race such as had never been seen at Epsom or Melton Mowbray.
"Gad," said a sporting subaltern, who in peace days had frequently entered for a Derby sweepstake at the National Liberal Club, "the beggar can ride—what?"
An answering cheer rang out from all ranks.
Over wire entanglements and across shell holes dashed Private Smithlord, firing rapidly with his revolver all the while. Nearer to the ill-fated officer he drew, and then suddenly he was in the midst of the enemy. Lashing out right and left, he fought his way to the man he had come to rescue, pulled him up behind him and, amidst a hurricane of bullets, charged back to the British lines. Nor did he pause till he arrived at the Colonel's dug-out.
"I have brought him back, sir," he said, and fainted. When he awoke it was to find himself in the Xth bed of the Yth Base Hospital.
And who is it in the next bed? It is the officer whom he rescued. Do we recognize him? Alas, no. Although unwounded by the enemy, the exposure of that terrible day had brought on a severe attack of mumps. We cannot recognize him. But the nurse assures us that it is our old friend, Major Murgatroyd.
"A visitor to see you," said the nurse, coming in and waking Private Smithlord up.
"Can't you say I'm out?" said Smithlord, expecting it was another foreign decoration and wondering what language he would have to speak this time.
"It's an English Colonel," said the nurse.
Smithlord saluted and begged the nurse to show him up at once. In another minute Colonel Blowhard had entered.
"I want to thank you," said the Colonel, "for so gallantly rescuing an old friend of mine—Major Murgatroyd, belonging to the Nth Battalion Blankshires, but now attached to the Qth."
Smithlord could hardly repress a start. In the excitement of the moment he had not recognized the features of the man he had saved. It was his old rival.
"It is curious," went on the Colonel, "that in features you resemble another old friend of mine, Lord Smith."
"My name is Smithlord, sir."
"Ah! Any relation?"
"None," said Smithlord, crossing his thumbs under the bedclothes.
"Do you mind ringing the bell?" he went on, feeling that at all costs he must turn the conversation. "I think it is time for my medicine."
In answer to the Colonel's ring a nurse appeared.
"Nurse Brown has just gone out," she said. "Can I do anything for you?"
"Good Heavens! Rosamund!" cried the Colonel.
"Yes, father, it is I," she replied simply. "I have come to France to find the man I love."
"Murgatroyd?" said the Colonel. "But this gallant fellow was the man who—By the way, let me introduce you. Private Smithlord, my daughter, Rosamund."
The two looked at each other face to face. The intuition and ready wit of the woman pierced the disguise which had baffled the soldier.
"Father," she cried, "it's not Smithlord, it's Lord Smith. George!"
"Rosamund!" cried George. We cannot keep the secret any longer from our readers; it was Lord Smith.
"Tut, tut, sir, what is this?" said the Colonel. "I turned you out of the Regiment three weeks ago. What the deuce," he said, for, like all military men, he was addicted to strong language—"what the deuce does this mean?"
"I was innocent, sir."
"Father, he was innocent."
"He was innocent," said a hollow voice from the next bed.
In amazement they all looked at the officer lying there.
"Rosamund," he cried, "am I so greatly changed?"
The Colonel handed him his pocket mirror.
"Yes," sighed the Major, "I understand. But I am Major Murgatroyd."
"Major Murgatroyd!" they all cried.
"This gallant fellow here, whom I now know to be Lord Smith, saved my life; I cannot let him suffer any longer. It was I who hid the secret document in his pocket. I did it for love of you, Rosamund." He held out his hand. "Say you forgive me, my dear Lord Smith."
Lord Smith shook his hand warmly.
But little more remains to tell. A month later our hero was back in England. Fortunately the Quartermaster had kept his buttons; and in a very short time he was back in the dear old uniform, and the wedding of Second-Lieutenant Lord Smith to Rosamund Blowhard was one of the events of the season.
And what of Major Murgatroyd? He has learnt his lesson; and as commandant of a rest camp on the French coast he is the soul of geniality to all who meet him.
THE BALLAD OF PRIVATE CHADD
I sing of George Augustus Chadd, Who'd always from a baby had A deep affection for his Dad— In other words, his Father; Contrariwise, the father's one And only treasure was his son, Yes, even when he'd gone and done Things which annoyed him rather.
For instance, if at Christmas (say) Or on his parent's natal day The thoughtless lad forgot to pay The customary greeting, His father's visage only took That dignified reproachful look Which dying beetles give the cook Above the clouds of Keating.
As years went on such looks were rare; The younger Chadd was always there To greet his father and to share His father's birthday party; The pink "For auld acquaintance sake" Engraved in sugar on the cake Was his. The speech he used to make Was reverent but hearty.
The younger Chadd was twentyish When War broke out, but did not wish To get an A.S.C. commish Or be a rag-time sailor; Just Private Chadd he was, and went To join his Dad's old regiment, While Dad (the dear old dug-out) sent For red tabs from the tailor.
To those inured to war's alarms I need not dwell upon the charms Of raw recruits when sloping arms, Nor tell why Chadd was hoping That, if his sloping-powers increased, They'd give him two days' leave at least To join his Father's birthday feast ... And so resumed his sloping.
One morning on the training ground, When fixing bayonets, he found The fatal day already round, And, even as he fixed, he Decided then and there to state To Sergeant Brown (at any rate) His longing to congratulate His sire on being sixty.
"Sergeant," he said, "we're on the eve Of Father's birthday; grant me leave" (And here his bosom gave a heave) "To offer him my blessing; And, if a Private's tender thanks— Nay, do not blank my blanky blanks! I could not help but leave the ranks; Birthdays are more than dressing."
The Sergeant was a kindly soul, He loved his men upon the whole, He'd also had a father's role Pressed on him fairly lately. "Brave Chadd," he said, "thou speakest sooth! O happy day! O pious youth! Great," he extemporized, "is Truth, And it shall flourish greatly."
The Sergeant took him by the hand And led him to the Captain, and The Captain tried to understand, And (more or less) succeeded; "Correct me if you don't agree, But one of you wants what?" said he, And George Augustus Chadd said, "Me!" Meaning of course that he did.
The Captain took him by the ear And gradually brought him near The Colonel, who was far from clear, But heard it all politely, And asked him twice, "You want a what?" The Captain said that he did not, And Chadd saluted quite a lot And put the matter rightly.
The Colonel took him by the hair And furtively conveyed him where The General inhaled the air, Immaculately booted; Then said, "Unless I greatly err This Private wishes to prefer A small petition to you, Sir," And so again saluted.
The General inclined his head Towards the two of them and said, "Speak slowly, please, or shout instead; I'm hard of hearing, rather." So Chadd, that promising recruit, Stood to attention, clicked his boot, And bellowed, with his best salute, "A happy birthday, Father!"
THE VISITORS' BOOK
"As man of the world," said Blake, stretching himself to his full height of five foot three, and speaking with the wisdom of nineteen years, "I say that it can't be done. In any other company, certainly; at headquarters, possibly; but not in D Company. D Company has a reputation."
"All I say," said Rogers, "is that, if you can't run any mess in the trenches on four francs a day, you're a rotten mess president."
Blake turned dramatically to his company commander.
"Did you hear that, Billy?" he asked.
"Yes," said Billy. "I was just going to say it myself."
"Then, in that case, I have the honour to resign the mess presidency."
"Nothing doing, old boy. You're detailed."
"You can't be detailed to be a president. Presidents are elected by popular acclamation. They resign—they resign—"
"To avoid being shot."
"Well, anyhow, they resign. I shall send my resignation in to the Army Council to-night. It will appear in 'The Gazette' in due course. '2nd Lieut. Blake resigns his mess presidency owing to the enormous price of sardines per thousand and the amount of lime juice consumed by casual visitors.' I'll tell you what—I'll run the mess on four francs, if you'll bar guests."
"Rot, it's nothing to do with guests. We never have any."
"Never have any!" said Blake indignantly. "Then I shall keep a visitors' book just to show you."
So that was how the D Company Visitors' Book was inaugurated. I had the honour of opening it. I happened to be mending a telephone line in this particular trench one thirsty day, and there was the dug-out, and—well, there was I. I dropped in.
"Hallo," said Blake, "have a drink."
I had a lime juice. Then I had another. And then, very reluctantly, I got up to go. Army Form Book 136 was handed to me.
"The visitors' book," said Blake. "You can just write your name in it, or you can be funny, whichever you like."
"What do they usually do?" I asked.
"Well, you're the first, so you'll set the tone. For God's sake don't be too funny."
It was an alarming responsibility. However, as it happened, I had something which I wanted to say.
"Thursday, 12.45 p.m.," I wrote. "Pleasantly entertained as usual by D Company. Refused a pressing invitation to stay to lunch, although it was a hot day and I had a long walk back to my own mess."
I handed the book back to Blake. He read it; and with one foot on the bottom step of the dugout I waited anxiously.
"Oh, I say, do stay to lunch," he said.
I gave a start of surprise.
"Oh, thanks very much," I said, and I took my foot off the step. "It would be rather—I think, perhaps—well, thanks very much."
Once begun, the book filled up rapidly. Subalterns from other companies used to call round for the purpose of being funny; I suppose that unconsciously I had been too humorous—anyway, the tone had been set. The bombing officer, I remember, vowed that Mrs. Blake's hospitality was so charming that he would bring his wife and family next time. A gunner officer broke into verse—a painful business. One way and another it was not long before the last page was reached.
"We must get the General for the last page," said Blake.
"Don't be an ass," said Rogers.
"Whatever's the matter? Don't you think he'd do it?"
"You wouldn't have the cheek to ask him."
"Good lord, you don't stop being a human being, because you command a brigade. Why on earth shouldn't I ask him?"
I happened to turn up just then. The telephone line from headquarters to D Company always seemed to want attention, whatever part of the line we were in.
"Hallo," said Blake, "have a drink."
"Well, I am rather thirsty," I said, and I took out a pencil. "Pass the visitors' book and let's get it over."
"No, you don't," said Blake, snatching it away from me, "that's for the General."
"This way, sir," said a voice above, and down came Billy, followed by the Brigadier. We jumped up.
"You'll have a drink, sir?" said Billy.
"Oh, thanks very much."
"What will you have, sir?" asked Blake, looking round wildly. "Lime juice or—or lime juice?"
"I'll have lime juice, thank you," said the General after consideration.
Blake produced the book nervously.
"I wonder if you'd mind," he began.
The General looked inquiring, and started feeling for his glasses. He was just feeling in his fifth pocket when Billy came to the rescue.
"It's only some nonsense of Blake's, sir," he said. "He keeps a visitors' book."
"Ah, well," said the General, getting up, "another day, perhaps."
When we were alone again Blake turned on Billy.
"You are a silly ass," he said. "If you hadn't interfered, he'd have done it. Well, I shall fill it in myself now."
He took a pencil and wrote:
"Monday—Hospitably received by 'D' Company and much enjoyed the mess president's amusing conversation. The company commander and a subaltern named Rogers struck me as rather lacking in intelligence. R. Blake, D.S.O., Brig.-Gen."
* * * * *
I had been out of it for a long time, and when quite accidentally I met an officer of the battalion in London I was nearly a year behind the news.
"And Blake," I said, after he'd told me some of it, "that nice child in 'D' Company; what happened to him?"
"Didn't you hear? He had rather a funny experience. He went into that last show as senior subaltern of 'D.' Billy was knocked out pretty early and Blake took on. After that we had a lot of casualties, and finally we were cut off from headquarters altogether and had to carry on on our own. Billy was the senior company commander and took charge of the battalion. I don't quite know how it happened after that. We all got rather mixed up, I suppose. Anyway, at one time Blake was actually commanding the brigade. He was splendid; simply all over the place. He got the D.S.O. He's rather bucked with himself. Young Blake as a Brigadier—funny, isn't it?"
"Not so very," I said.
FROM A FULL HEART
In days of peace my fellow-men Rightly regarded me as more like A Bishop than a Major-Gen., And nothing since has made me warlike; But when this age-long struggle ends And I have seen the Allies dish up The goose of Hindenburg—oh, friends! I shall out-bish the mildest Bishop.
When the War is over and the Kaiser's out of print, I'm going to buy some tortoises and watch the beggars sprint; When the War is over and the sword at last we sheathe, I'm going to keep a jelly-fish and listen to it breathe.
I never really longed for gore, And any taste for red corpuscles That lingered with me left before The German troops had entered Brussels. In early days the Colonel's "Shun!" Froze me; and, as the War grew older, The noise of someone else's gun Left me considerably colder.
When the War is over and the battle has been won, I'm going to buy a barnacle and take it for a run; When the War is over and the German Fleet we sink, I'm going to keep a silk-worm's egg and listen to it think.
The Captains and the Kings depart— It may be so, but not lieutenants; Dawn after weary dawn I start The never-ending round of penance; One rock amid the welter stands On which my gaze is fixed intently— An after-life in quiet lands Lived very lazily and gently.
When the War is over and we've done the Belgians proud, I'm going to keep a chrysalis and read to it aloud; When the War is over and we've finished up the show, I'm going to plant a lemon-pip and listen to it grow.
Oh, I'm tired of the noise and the turmoil of battle, And I'm even upset by the lowing of cattle, And the clang of the bluebells is death to my liver, And the roar of the dandelion gives me a shiver, And a glacier, in movement, is much too exciting, And I'm nervous, when standing on one, of alighting— Give me Peace; that is all, that is all that I seek ... Say, starting on Saturday week.
Occasionally I receive letters from friends, whom I have not seen lately, addressed to Lieutenant M —— and apologizing prettily inside in case I am by now a colonel; in drawing-rooms I am sometimes called "Captain-er"; and up at the Fort the other day a sentry of the Royal Defence Corps, wearing the Crecy medal, mistook me for a Major, and presented crossbows to me. This is all wrong. As Mr. Garvin well points out, it is important that we should not have a false perspective of the War. Let me, then, make it perfectly plain—I am a Second Lieutenant.
When I first became a Second Lieutenant I was rather proud. I was a Second Lieutenant "on probation." On my right sleeve I wore a single star. So:
(on probation, of course). On my left sleeve I wore another star. So: