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Title: Cupid in Africa
Author: Wren, P. C.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             CUPID IN AFRICA


                                    BY
                                P. C. WREN

                          AUTHOR OF “BEAU GESTE”

                                * * * * *

                    “_Ex Africa semper aliquid novi_”

                                * * * * *

    “And the son shall take his father’s spear
    And he shall avenge his father” . . .

                                                            —_Askari Song_

                                * * * * *

                          HEATH CRANTON LIMITED
                       6 FLEET LANE    LONDON E.C.4

                          _First published 1920_

                               CONTENTS
                                PART I
                        THE MAKING OF BERTRAM
CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
           I  _Major Hugh Walsingham Green_                          7
          II  _Mr. Charles Stayne-Brooker (or Herr Karl             10
              Stein-Brücker)_
         III  _Mrs. Stayne-Brooker—and Her Ex-Stepson_              13
                               PART II
                     THE BAKING OF BERTRAM BY WAR
           I  _Bertram Becomes a Man of War_                        16
          II  _And is Ordered to East Africa_                       28
         III  _Preparations_                                        40
          IV  _Terra Marique Jactatus_                              45
           V  _Mrs. Stayne-Brooker_                                 59
          VI  _Mombasa_                                             61
         VII  _The Mombasa Club_                                    70
        VIII  _Military and Naval Manœuvres_                        78
          IX  _Bertram Invades Africa_                              97
           X  _M’paga_                                             105
          XI  _Food and Feeders_                                   112
         XII  _Reflections_                                        123
        XIII  _Baking_                                             137
         XIV  _The Convoy_                                         146
          XV  _Butindi_                                            154
         XVI  _The Bristol Bar_                                    161
        XVII  _More Baking_                                        171
       XVIII  _Trial_                                              180
         XIX  _Of a Pudding_                                       187
          XX  _Stein-Brücker Meets Bertram Greene—and              195
              Death_
                               PART III
                    THE BAKING OF BERTRAM BY LOVE
           I  _Mrs. Stayne-Brooker Again_                       204
          II  _Love_                                            208
         III  _Love and War_                                    217
          IV  _Baked_                                           226
           V  _Finis_                                           236

PART I
THE MAKING OF BERTRAM


CHAPTER I
_Major Hugh Walsingham Greene_


There never lived a more honourable, upright, scrupulous gentleman than
Major Hugh Walsingham Greene, and there seldom lived a duller, narrower,
more pompous or more irascible one.

Nor, when the Great War broke out, and gave him something fresh to do and
to think about, were there many sadder and unhappier men.  His had been a
luckless and unfortunate life, what with his two wives and his one son;
his excellent intentions and deplorable achievements; his kindly heart
and harsh exterior; his narrow escapes of decoration, recognition and
promotion.

At cards he was _not_ lucky—and in love he . . . well—his first wife,
whom he adored, died after a year of him; and his second ran away after
three months of his society.  She ran away with Mr. Charles
Stayne-Brooker (elsewhere the Herr Doktor Karl Stein-Brücker), the man of
all men, whom he particularly and peculiarly loathed.  And his son, his
only son and heir!  The boy was a bitter disappointment to him, turning
out badly—a poet, an artist, a musician, a wretched student and
“intellectual,” a fellow who won prizes and scholarships and suchlike by
the hatful, and never carried off, or even tried for, a “pot,” in his
life.  Took after his mother, poor boy, and was the first of the family,
since God-knows-when, to grow up a dam’ civilian.  Father fought and bled
in Egypt, South Africa, Burma, China, India; grandfather in the Crimea
and Mutiny, great-grandfather in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, ancestors
with Marlborough, the Stuarts, Drake—scores of them: and this chap, _his_
son, _their_ descendant, a wretched creature of whom you could no more
make a soldier than you could make a service saddle of a sow’s ear!

It was a comfort to the Major that he only saw the nincompoop on the rare
occasions of his visits to England, when he honestly did his best to hide
from the boy (who worshipped him) that he would sooner have seen him win
one cup for boxing, than a hundred prizes for his confounded literature,
art, music, classics, and study generally.  To hide from the boy that the
pæans of praise in his school reports were simply revolting—fit only for
a feller who was going to be a wretched curate or wretcheder
schoolmaster; to hide his distaste for the pale, slim beauty, which was
that of a delicate girl rather than of the son of Major Hugh Walsingham
Greene. . . .  Too like his poor mother by half—and without one quarter
the pluck, nerve, and “go” of young Miranda Walsingham, his kinswoman and
playmate. . . .  Too dam’ virtuous altogether. . . .

Gad!  If this same Miranda had only been a boy, his boy, there would have
been another soldier to carry on the family traditions, if you like!

But this poor Bertram of his . . .

His mother, a Girton girl, and daughter of a Cambridge Don, had prayed
that her child might “take after” _her_ father, for whom she entertained
a feeling of absolute veneration.  She had had her wish indeed—without
living to rejoice in the fact.

                                * * * * *

When it was known in the cantonment of Sitagur that Major Walsingham
Greene was engaged to Prudence Pym, folk were astonished, and a not
uncommon comment was “Poor little girl!” in spite of the fact that the
Major was admitted by all to be a most honourable and scrupulous
gentleman.  Another remark which was frequently made was “Hm! Opposites
attract.  What?”

For Prudence Pym was deeply religious, like her uncle, the Commissioner
of the Sitagur Division; she was something of a blue-stocking as became
her famous father’s daughter; she was a musician of parts, an artist of
more than local note, and was known to be writing a Book.  So that if
“oppositeness” be desirable, there was plenty of it—since the Major
considered attendance at church to be part and parcel of
drill-and-parade; religion to be a thing concerning which no gentleman
speaks and few gentlemen think; music to be a noise to be endured in the
drawing-room after dinner for a little while; art to be the harmless
product of long-haired fellers with shockin’ clothes and dirty
finger-nails; and books something to read when you were absolutely
reduced to doing it—as when travelling. . . .

When Prudence Walsingham Greene knew that she was to have a child, she
strove to steep her soul in Beauty, Sweetness and Light, and to feed it
on the pure ichor of the finest and best in scenery, music, art and
literature. . . .

Entered to her one day—pompous, pleased, and stolid; heavy, dull, and
foolish—the worthy Major as she sat revelling in the (to her) marvellous
beauties of Rosetti’s _Ecce Ancilla Domini_.  As she looked up with the
sad mechanical smile of the disappointed and courageous wife, he screwed
his monocle into his eye and started the old weary laceration of her
feelings, the old weary tramplings and defilements of tastes and
thoughts, as he examined the picture wherewith she was nourishing (she
hoped and believed) the æsthetic side of her unborn child’s mind.

“Picture of a Girl with Grouse, what?” grunted the Major.

“With a . . . ?  There is no bird?  I don’t . . . ?” stammered Prudence
who, like most women of her kind, was devoid of any sense of humour.

“Looks as though she’s got a frightful grouse about somethin’, _I_ should
say.  The young party on the bed, I mean,” continued her spouse.  “‘Girl
with the Hump’ might be a better title p’r’aps—if you say she hasn’t a
grouse,” he added.

“_Hump_?”

“Yes.  Got the hump more frightfully about something or other—p’r’aps
because the other sportsman’s shirt’s caught alight. . . .  Been smokin’,
and dropped his cigar. . . .”

“It is an angel shod with fire,” moaned Prudence as she put the picture
into its portfolio, and felt for her handkerchief. . . .

A little incident, a straw upon the waters, but a straw showing their
steady flow toward distaste, disillusionment, dislike, and hopeless
regret.  The awful and familiar tragedy of “incompatibility of
temperament,” of which law and priests in their wisdom take no count or
cognizance, though counting trifles (by comparison) of infidelity and
violence as all important.

And when her boy was born, and named Bertram after her father, Dr.
Bertram Pym, F.R.S., she was happy and thankful, and happily and
thankfully died.

                                * * * * *

In due course the Major recovered from his grief and sent his son home to
his place, Leighcombe Abbey, where dwelt his elderly spinster relative,
Miss Walsingham, and her niece, Miranda Walsingham, daughter of General
Walsingham, his second cousin.  Here the influence of prim, gentle, and
learned Miss Walsingham was all that his mother would have desired, and
in the direction of all that his father loathed—the boy growing up
bookish, thoughtful, and more like a nice girl than a human boy.  Him
Miranda mothered, petted, and occasionally excoriated, being an Amazonian
young female of his own age, happier on the bare back of a horse than in
the seats of the learned.



CHAPTER II
_Mr. Charles Stayne-Brooker (or Herr Karl Stein-Brücker)_


When it was known in the cantonment of Hazarigurh that Major Hugh
Walsingham Greene was engaged to Dolly Dennison, folk were astonished,
and a not uncommon comment was “Poor old Walsingham Greene,” in spite of
the fact that the young lady was very beautiful, accomplished and
fascinating.

Here also another remark, that was frequently heard, was that opposites
attract, for Dolly was known to be seventeen, and the Major, though not
very much more than twice her age, looked as old as her father, the
Sessions Judge, and _he_ looked more like the girl’s grandfather than her
father.

It was agreed, however, that it was no case of kidnapping, for Dolly knew
her way about, knew precisely how many beans made five, and needed no
teaching from her grandmother as to the sucking of eggs, or anything
else.  For Dolly, poor child, had put her hair up and “come out” at the
age of fifteen—in an Indian cantonment!

Little more need be said to excuse almost anything she might do or be.
Motherless, she had run her father’s hospitable house for the last two
years, as well as her weak and amiable father; and when Major Walsingham
Greene came to Hazarigurh he found this pitiable spoilt child (a child
who had never had any childhood) the _burra mem-sahib_ of the place, in
virtue of her position as the head of the household of the Senior
Civilian.  With the manners, airs, and graces of a woman of thirty, she
was a blasé and world-weary babe—“fed up” with dances, gymkhanas, garden
parties, race meetings and picnics; and as experienced and cool a hand at
a flirtation as any garrison-hack or station-belle in the country.  Dolly
knew the men with whom one flirts but does not marry, and the men one
marries but with whom one does not flirt.

Mr. Charles Stayne-Brooker was the pride of the former; Major Walsingham
Greene _facile princeps_ of the latter.  Charles was the loveliest,
daringest, wickedest flirt you _ever_—and Hugh was a man of means and
position, with an old Tudor “place” in Dorset.  So Charles for fun—and
Hugh for matrimony, just as soon as he suggested it.  She hoped Hugh
would be quick, too, for Charles had a terrible fascination and power
over her.  She had been frightened at herself one moonlight picnic,
frightened at Charles’s power and her own feelings—and she feared the
result if Hugh (who was most obviously of a coming-on disposition),
dallied and doubted.  If Hugh were not quick, Charles would get her—for
she preferred volcanoes to icebergs, and might very easily forget her
worldly wisdom and be carried off her feet some night, as she lurked in a
_kala jugga_ with the daring, darling wicked Charles—whose little finger
was more attractive and mysterious than the Major’s whole body.
Besides—the Major was a grey-haired widower, with a boy at school in
England and _so_ dull and prosperous. . . .

But, ere too late, the Major proposed and was accepted.  Charles was, or
affected to be, ruined and broken-hearted, and the wedding took place.
The Major was like a boy again—for a little while.  And Dolly felt like a
girl taken from an hotel in Mentone and immured in a convent in Siberia.

For Major Hugh Walsingham Greene would have none of the “goings-on” that
had made Dolly’s father’s bungalow the centre of life and gaiety for the
subalterns and civilian youth of Hazarigurh; whilst Mr. Charles
Stayne-Brooker, whom he detested as a flamboyant bounder, he cut dead.
He also bade Dolly remove the gentleman’s name finally and completely
from her visiting-list, and on no account be “at home” when he called.
All of which Dolly quite flatly and finally refused to do.

                                * * * * *

Mr. Charles Stayne-Brooker (or the Herr Doktor Karl Stein-Brücker, as he
was at other times and in other places) was a very popular person
wherever he went—and he went to an astonishing number of places.  It was
wonderful how intimate he became with people, and he became intimate with
an astonishing number and variety of people.  He could sing, play, dance,
ride and take a hand at games above the average, and _talk_—never was
such a chatter-box—on any subject under the sun, especially on himself
and his affairs.  And yet, here again, it was astonishing how little he
said, with all his talk and ingenious chatter.  Everybody knew all about
dear old Charlie—and yet, did they know anything at all when it came to
the point?  In most of the places in which he turned up, he seemed to be
a sort of visiting manager of a business house—generally a famous house
with some such old-fashioned British name as Schneider and Schmidt; Max
Englebaum and Son; Plügge and Schnadhorst; Hans Wincklestein and
Gartenmacher; or Grosskopf and Dümmelmann.  In out-of-the-way places he
seemed to be just a jolly globe-trotter with notions of writing a book on
his jolly trip to India.  Evidently he wanted to know something of the
native of India, too, for when not in large commercial centres like
Calcutta, Madras, Bombay or Colombo, he was to be found in cantonments
where there were Native Troops.  He loved the Native Officer and
cultivated him assiduously.  He also seemed to love the Bengali amateur
politician, more than some people do. . . .  Often a thoughtful and
observant official was pleased to see an Englishman taking such a
friendly interest in the natives, and trying to get to know them well at
first hand—a thing far too rare. . . .

There were people, however—such as Major Walsingham Greene—who affected
to detect something of a “foreign” flavour about him, and wrote him down
as a flashy and bounderish outsider.

Certainly he was a great contrast to the Major, whose clipped moustache,
bleak blue eye, hard bronzed face and close-cut hair were as different as
possible from Mr. Stayne-Brooker’s waxed and curled moustache over the
ripe red mouth; huge hypnotic and strange black eyes; pink and white
puffy face, and long dark locks.  And then again, as has been said, Mr.
Stayne-Brooker was only happy when talking, and the Major only happy (if
then) when silent.

On sight, on principle, and on all grounds, the latter gentleman detested
the jabbering, affected, over-familiar, foreign-like fellow, and took
great pleasure in ordering his bride, on their return from the
ten-days-leave honeymoon, to cut him dead and cut him out—of her life.

And, alas, his bride seemed to take an even greater pleasure in defying
her husband on this, and certain other, points; in making it clear to him
that she fully and firmly intended “to live her own life” and go her own
way; and in giving copious and convincing proof of the fact that she had
never known “discipline” yet, and did not intend to make its acquaintance
now.

Whereupon poor Major Walsingham Greene, while remaining the honourable,
upright and scrupulous gentleman that he was, exhibited himself the
irascible, pompous fool that he also was, and by his stupid and
overbearing conduct, his “_That’s enough_!  _Those are my orders_,” and
his hopeless mishandling of the situation, drove her literally into the
arms of Mr. Charles Stayne-Brooker, with whom the poor little fool
disappeared like a beautiful dream.

                                * * * * *

When his kind heart got the better of his savage wrath and scourged
pride, the Major divorced her, and the Herr Doktor (who particularly
needed an English wife in his profession of Secret Agent especially
commissioned for work in the British Empire) married her, broke her
heart, dragged her down into the moral slime in which he wallowed, and,
on the rare occasions of her revolt and threat to leave him, pointed out
that ladies who were divorced once for leaving their husbands _might_
conceivably have some excuse, but that the world had a very hard name for
those who made a habit of it. . . .  And then there was her daughter to
consider, too.  _His_ daughter, alas! but also hers.



CHAPTER III
_Mrs. Stayne-Brooker—and Her Ex-Stepson_


From Hazarigurh Mr. Charles Stayne-Brooker went straight to Berlin,
became the Herr Doktor Stein-Brücker once more, and saw much of another
and more famous Herr Doktor of the name of Solf.  He then went to South
Africa and thence to England, where his daughter was born.  Having placed
her with the family of an English clergyman whose wife “accepted” a few
children of Anglo-Indians, he proceeded to America and Canada, and thence
to Vladivostok, Kïaou-Chiaou, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore; then to
the Transvaal by way of Lourenzo Marques and to German East Africa.  And
every step of the way his wife went with him—and who so English, among
Englishmen, as jolly Charlie Stayne-Brooker, with his beautiful English
wife? . . .  What he did, save interviewing stout gentlemen (whose necks
bulged over their collars, whose accents were guttural, and whose
table-manners were unpleasant) and writing long letters, she did not
know.  What she did know was that she was a lost and broken woman, tied
for life to a base and loathsome scoundrel, by her yearning for
“respectability,” her love for her daughter, and her utter dependence for
food, clothing and shelter upon the man whom, in her mad folly, she had
trusted.  By the time they returned to England _via_ Berlin, the child,
Eva, was old enough to go to an expensive boarding-school at Cheltenham,
and here Mrs. Stayne-Brooker had to leave her when her husband’s “duties”
took him, from the detailed study of the Eastern Counties of England, to
Africa again.  Here he seemed likely to settle at last, interesting
himself in coffee and rubber, and spending much of his time in Mombasa
and Nairobi, as well as in Dar-es-Salaam, Tabora, Lindi and Zanzibar.

                                * * * * *

Meanwhile, Major Hugh Walsingham Greene, an embittered and disappointed
man, withdrew more and more into his shell, and, on each successive visit
to Leighcombe Priory, more and more abandoned hope of his son’s “doing
any good” in life.  He was the true grandson of that most distinguished
scholar, Dr. Bertram Pym, F.R.S., of Cambridge University, and the true
son of his mother. . . .  What a joy the lad would have been to these
two, with his love of books and his unbroken career of academic
successes, and what a grief he was to his soldier father, with his utter
distaste for games and sports and his dislike of all things military.

Useless it was for sweet and gentle Miss Walsingham to point to his
cleverness and wisdom, or for Amazonian and sporting Miranda Walsingham
hotly to defend him and rail against the Major’s “unfairness” and “stupid
prejudice.”  Equally useless for the boy to do his utmost to please the
man who was to him as a god. . . .

When the Major learned that his son had produced the Newdigate Prize
Poem, won the Craven and the Ireland Scholarships, and taken his Double
First—he groaned. . . .

Brilliant success at Oxford?  What is _Oxford_?  He would sooner have
seen him miserably fail at Sandhurst and enlist for his commission. . . .

Finally the disappointing youth went to India as private secretary and
travelling companion to the great scientist, Sir Ramsey Wister, his
father being stationed at Aden.

                                * * * * *

Then came the Great War.



PART II
THE BAKING OF BERTRAM BY WAR


CHAPTER I
_Bertram Becomes a Man of War_


Mr. Bertram Greene, emerging from the King Edward Terminus of the Great
Indian Railway at Madrutta, squared his shoulders, threw out his chest,
and, so far as he understood the process and could apply it, strode along
with the martial tread and military swagger of all the Best Conquerors.

From khaki helmet to spurred brown heel, he was in full panoply of war,
and wore a dangerous-looking sword.  At least, to the ignorant passer-by,
it appeared that its owner was in constant danger of being tripped up by
it.  Bertram, however, could have told him that he was really in no peril
from the beastly thing, since a slight pressure on the hilt from his left
elbow kept the southern end clear of his feet.

What troubled him more than the sword was the feeling of constriction and
suffocation due to the tightness of the belts and straps that encompassed
him about, and the extreme heat of the morning.  Also he felt terribly
nervous and unaccustomed, very anxious as to his ability to support the
weight of his coming responsibility, very self-distrustful, and very
certain that, in the full active-service kit of a British Officer of the
Indian Army, he looked a most frightful ass.

For Mr. Bertram Greene had never before appeared on this, or any other
stage, in such a part; and the change—from a quiet modest civilian,
“bashful, diffident and shy,” to what his friends at dinner last night
had variously called a thin red hero, a licentious soldiery, a brutal
mercenary, a hired assassin, a saviour of his Motherland, a wisp of
cannon-fodder, a pup of the bull-dog breed, a curly-headed hero, a
bloody-minded butcher, and one who would show his sword to be as mighty
as his pen—was overwhelmingly great and sudden.  When any of the hundreds
of hurrying men who passed him looked at him with incurious eyes, he felt
uncomfortable, and blushed.  He knew he looked an ass, and, far worse,
that whatever he might look, he actually was—a fraud, and a humbug.
Fancy him, Bertram Greene, familiarly known as “Cupid,” the pale-faced
“intellectual,” the highbrowed hero of the class-room and
examination-hall, the winner of scholarships and the double-first, guilty
of a thin volume of essays and a thinner one of verse—just fancy him, the
studious, bookish sedentary, disguised as a soldier, as a leader of men
in the day of battle, a professional warrior! . . .  He who had never
played games was actually proposing to play the greatest Game of all: he
who had never killed an animal in his life was going to learn to kill
men: he who had always been so lacking in self-reliance was going to ask
others to rely on him!

And, as his spirits sank lower, Bertram held his head higher, threw back
his shoulders further, protruded his chest more, and proceeded with so
firm a tread, and so martial a demeanour, that he burst into profuse and
violent perspiration.

He wished he could take a taxi, but even had there been one available, he
knew that the Native Infantry Lines almost adjoined the railway terminus,
and that he had to cross a grass _maidan_ {17a} on foot.

Thank heaven it was not far, or he would arrive looking as though he had
come by sea—swimming.  A few more steps would take him out of this crowd
of students, clerks, artisans, and business-men thronging to their
schools, colleges, offices, shops, mills, and works in Madrutta. . . .
What did they talk about, these queer “city men” who went daily from the
suburbs to “the office,” clad in turbans, sandals, _dhoties_, {17b} and
cotton coats?  Any one of these bare-legged, collarless, not _very_
clean-looking worthies might be a millionaire; and any one of them might
be supporting a wife and large family on a couple of pounds a month.  The
vast majority of them were doing so, of course. . . .  Anyhow, none of
them seemed to smile derisively when looking at him, so perhaps his
general appearance was more convincing than he thought.

But then, short as had been his sojourn in India, he had been in the
country long enough to know that the native does not look with obvious
derision upon the European, whatever may be the real views and sentiments
of his private mind—so there was no comfort in that. . . .  Doubtless the
Colonel and British officers of the regiment he was about to join would
not put themselves to the trouble of concealing their opinions as to his
merits, or lack of them, as soon as those opinions were conceived. . . .
Well, there was one thing Bertram Greene could do, and would do, while
breath was in his body—and that was his very best.  No one can do more.
He might be as ignorant of all things military as a babe unborn: he might
be a simple, nervous, inexperienced sort of youth with more culture and
refinement than strength of character and decision of mind: he might be a
bit of an ass, whom other fellows were always ragging and calling
“Cupid”—but, when the end came, none should be able to say that he had
failed for want of doing his utmost, and for lack of striving, with might
and main, to learn _how_ to do his duty, and then to do it to the limit
of his ability.

A couple of British soldiers, privates of the Royal Engineers, came
towards him on their way to the station.  Bertram attempted the
impossible in endeavouring to look still more inflexibly and inexorably
martial, as he eyed them hardily.  Would they look at him and smile
amusedly?  If so, what should he do?  He might be a fool himself,
but—however farcically—he bore the King’s Commission, and it had got to
be respected and saluted by all soldiers.  The men simultaneously placed
their swagger-sticks beneath their left arms, and, at three paces’
distance, saluting smartly and as one man, maintained the salute until
they were three paces beyond him.

Bertram’s heart beat high with pride and thankfulness.  He would have
liked to stop and shake hands with the men, thanking them most sincerely.
As it was, he added a charming and friendly smile to the salute which he
gave in acknowledgment of theirs.

He passed on, feeling as though he had drunk some most stimulating and
exhilarating draught.  He had received his first salute!  Moreover, the
men had looked most respectfully, nay, almost reverentially, if with a
certain stereotyped and bovine rigidity of stare, toward the officer they
so promptly and smartly honoured.  He would have given a great deal to
know whether they passed any contemptuous or derisive comment upon his
appearance and bearing. . . .  In point of fact, Scrounger Evans had
remarked to Fatty Wilkes, upon abandoning the military position of the
salute: “Horgustus appears to ’ave ’ad a good night at bridge, and took a
few ’undreds orf Marmadook an’ Reginald.  Wot?”

Whereunto Fatty had murmured:

“Jedgin’ by ’is ’appy liddle smile,” as he sought the smelly stump of a
cigarette in its lair behind his spreading shady ear.

Enheartened, but perspiring, Bertram strode on, and crossed the broad
grass _maidan_, at the far side of which he could see the parallel
streets of the Native Infantry Lines, where lay the One Hundred and
Ninety-Ninth Regiment, to which he had been ordered to report himself
“forthwith.”  Yesterday was but crowded, excited yesterday, terminating
in a wild farewell dinner and an all-night journey.  _To-day_ was
“forthwith.” . . .  What would to-morrow be?  Perhaps the date of the
termination of his career in the Indian Army—if the Colonel looked him
over, asked him a few questions, and then said: “Take away this bauble!”
or “Sweep this up!” or words to that effect.  He had heard that Colonels
were brief, rude, and arbitrary persons, sometimes very terrible. . . .
Approaching the end of the first long row of the mud buildings of the
Native Infantry Lines, Bertram beheld a sentry standing outside his
sentry-box, in the shade of a great banyan tree.  The man was clad in
khaki tunic, shorts and puttees, with a huge khaki turban, from which
protruded a fringed scrap of blue and gold; hob-nailed black boots, and
brown belt and bandolier.  His bare knees, his hands and face were very
far from being black; in fact, were not even brown, but of a pale
wheat-colour.

The thoughts of Private Ilderim Yakub were far away, and his eyes beheld
a little _sungar_-enclosed watch-tower that looked across a barren and
arid valley of solid rock.  In the low, small doorway sat a fair-faced
woman with long plaits of black hair, and, at her feet, crawled a tiny
naked boy . . . and then the eyes of Private Ilderim Yakub beheld a
British officer, in full war-paint and wearing his sword, bearing down
upon him.  By Allah the Compassionate and the Beard of the Prophet!  He
had been practically asleep at his post, and this must certainly be the
Orderly Officer Sahib or the Adjutant Sahib, if not the Colonel Sahib
himself!  Possibly even the “Gineraal” Sahib (from the neighbouring
Brigade Headquarters) having a quiet prowl round.  It must be _somebody_,
or he wouldn’t be “in drill order with sword,” and marching straight for
the guard-room.

Private Ilderim Yakub (in the days when he had been a—well—a scoundrelly
border-thief and raider) had very frequently been in situations demanding
great promptitude of thought and action; and now, although at one moment
he had been practically asleep and his wits wool-gathering in the Khost
Valley, the next moment he had sprung from his box, yelled “_Guard turn
out_!” with all the strength of his leathern lungs and brazen throat, and
had then frozen to the immobility of a bronze statue in the attitude of
the salute.

In response to his shout, certain similarly clad men arose from a bench
that stood outside a large thatched, mud-built hut, another, wearing a
red sash and three white stripes on the sleeve of his tunic, came
hurrying from within it, and the party, with promptitude and dispatch,
“fell in,” the Sergeant (or Havildar) beside them.

“Guard!” roared that bearded worthy, “_’Shun_!  _Present_ arms!” and,
like the sentry, the Sergeant and the Guard stood as bronze statues to
the honour and glory of Second-Lieutenant Bertram Greene—the while that
gentleman longed for nothing more than that the ground might open and
swallow him up.

What on earth ought he to do?  Had he not read in his newly purchased
drill-book that the Guard only turned out for Emperors or Field-Marshals,
or Field Officers or something?  Or was it only for the Colonel or the
Officer of the Day?  It most certainly was not for stray
Second-Lieutenants of the Indian Army Reserve.  Should he try to explain
to the Sergeant that he had made a mistake, and that the Guard was
presenting arms to the humblest of God’s creatures that wore officer’s
uniform?  Should he “put on dog” heavily and “inspect” the Guard?  Should
he pretend to find fault?  No!  For one thing he had not enough
Hindustani to make himself intelligible.  (But it was a sign that a
change was already coming over Bertram, when he could even conceive such
a notion, and only dismiss it for such a reason.)

What _should_ he do, in these distressingly painful circumstances?

Should he absolutely ignore the whole lot of them, and swagger past with
a contemptuous glance at the fool Sergeant who had turned the Guard out?
. . .  It wasn’t _his_ fault that the wretched incident had occurred. . . .
_He_ hadn’t made the mistake, so why should he be made to look a fool?
It would be the others who’d look the fools, if he took not the slightest
notice of their silly antics and attitude-striking. . .  (Heavens!  How
they’d made the perspiration trickle again, by putting him in this absurd
and false position.) . . .  Yes—he’d just go straight past the lot of
them as if they didn’t exist. . . .  No—that would be horribly rude, to
say the least of it.  They were paying him a military compliment, however
mistakenly, and he must return it.  Moreover—it wasn’t the
Sergeant-fellow’s fault.  The sentry had shouted to the Guard, and the
Sergeant had naturally supposed that one of those Great Ones, for whom
Guards turn out, was upon them.

Should he march past with a salute, as though he were perfectly
accustomed to such honours, and rather bored with them?  Unless he were
near enough for them to see the single “pip” on his shoulder-strap, they
would never know they had made a mistake.  (He would hate them to feel as
horribly uncomfortable as he did.)

And if he did, where should he go?  He must find the Officers’ Lines, and
go to the Officers’ Mess and inquire for the Colonel.  Besides, this was
_his_ regiment; he was attached to it, and these men would all see him
again and know who and what he was. . . .

Of course—he would do the correct and natural thing, and behave as though
he were merely slightly amused at the sentry’s not unnatural mistake and
its results. . . .  With a smart salute to the Guard, Bertram smiled upon
the puzzled, imperturbable and immobile Havildar, with the remark:

“_Achcha_, {21a} Sergeant.  Guard, dismiss _karo_” {21b}—upon hearing
which barbarous polyglot of English and Hindustani, the Non-Commissioned
Officer abandoned his rigid pose and roared, with extreme ferocity, in
the very ears of the Sepoys:

“Guard! _Or_der-r _ar-r-rms_.  Stannat _eashe_.  Dees_mees_!” and with
another salute, again turned to Bertram to await his further pleasure.

“_Ham Colonel Sahib mangta_.  _Kither hai_?” {21c} said that gentleman,
and the intelligent Havildar gathered that this young and strange Sahib
“wanted” the Colonel.  He smiled behind his vast and bushy beard at the
idea of sending a message of the “Hi! you—come here!  You’re wanted”
description to that Great One, and pictured the meeting that would ensue
if the Colonel Sahib came hastily, expecting to find the
Commander-in-Chief-in-India awaiting him.

No—since the young Sahib wanted the Colonel, he had better go and find
him.  Calling to a young Sepoy who was passing on some fatigue duty, he
bade him haste away, put on his tunic, tuck his long khaki shirt inside
his shorts, and conduct the Sahib to the Adjutant Sahib’s office.  (That
would be quite in order; the Adjutant Sahib could decide as to the wisdom
of “wanting” the Colonel Sahib at this—or any other—hour of the day; and
responsibility would be taken from the broad, unwilling shoulders of
Havildar Afzul Khan Ishak.)

An uncomfortable five minutes followed.  Bertram, longing with all his
soul to say something correct, natural, and pleasant, could only stand
dumb and unhappy, while the perspiration trickled; the Havildar stood
stiffly at attention and wondered whether the Sahib were as old as his
son, Private Mahommed Afzul Khan, new recruit of the One Hundred and
Ninety-Ninth; and the Guard, though dismissed, stood motionless in solemn
row beside the bench (on which they would sit as soon as the Sahib turned
his back), and, being Indian Sepoys, emptied their minds of all thought,
fixed their unseeing gaze upon Immensity and the Transcendental
Nothingness-of-Non-existent-Non-entity-in-Oblivion, and tried to look
virtuous.

Returning and saluting, the young Sepoy wheeled about and plodded heavily
down the road, walking as though each hob-nailed boat weighed a ton.  But
pride must suffer pain, and not for worlds would this young man (who had,
until a few months ago, never worn anything heavier than a straw-plaited
sandal as he “skipped like a young ram” about his native hill-tops) have
been without these tokens of wealth and dignity.  What he would have
liked, had the Authorities been less touchy about it, would have been to
wear them slung about his neck, plain for all to admire, and causing
their owner no inconvenience.

Following his guide through the lines of mud huts, saluted every few
yards by passing Sepoys and by groups who sat about doorways and
scrambled to their feet as he passed, Bertram found himself in a broad
sandy road, lined by large stone European bungalows, which ran at
right-angles across the ends of the Sepoys’ lines.  Each bungalow stood
in a large compound, had a big lawn and flower-gardens in front of it,
and was embowered in palm-trees.  Turning into the garden of the largest
of these, the young Sepoy pointed to the big house, ejaculated:
“Arfeecers’ Mess, Sahib,” saluted, performed a meticulously careful
“about turn,” the while his lips moved as though he were silently giving
himself the necessary orders for each movement, and solemnly marched
away.

A pair of large old-fashioned cannon and a white flagstaff gave the place
an important and official appearance.  Beyond the big porch stretched to
left and right a broad and deep verandah, in the shady recesses of which
Bertram could see a row of chairs wherein lay khaki-clad figures, their
feet, raised upon the long leg-rests, presented unitedly and unanimously
towards him.  Indeed, as he advanced with beating heart and sense of shy
discomfort, all that he could see of the half-dozen gentlemen was one
dozen boot-soles backed by a blur of khaki.  Up to the time he had
reached the flight of steps, leading up from the drive to the verandah,
no one had moved.  Mounting the steps, and coming to the level of the
recumbent figures, ranged along the rear wall of the verandah and on each
side of an open door, the unhappy Bertram, from this new standpoint, saw
that the face of each officer was hidden behind a newspaper or a
magazine. . . .  Profound silence reigned as he regarded the twelve
boot-soles, each crossed by a spur-chain, and the six newspapers.

Another embarrassing and discomfortable situation.  What should he do?
Should he cough—as the native does when he wishes to attract your
attention, or to re-affirm his forgotten presence?  It seemed a rather
feeble and banal idea.  Should he pretend he had not seen the six
stalwart men lying there in front of his nose, and shout: “_Qui hai_!” as
one does to call an invisible servant?  And suppose none of them moved,
and a Mess servant came—he had no card to send in.  He couldn’t very well
tell the man to announce in stentorian voice and the manner of a herald:
“Behold!  Second-Lieutenant Bertram Greene, of the Indian Army Reserve,
standeth on the threshold!”  And supposing the man did precisely this and
_still_ nobody moved, _what_ a superlative ass the said Second-Lieutenant
Bertram Greene would feel! . . .  But could he feel a bigger ass than he
did already—standing there in awkward silence beneath the stony regard,
or disregard, of the twelve contemptuous boot-soles? . . .

Should he walk along the row of them, giving each alternate foot a heavy
blow?  That would make them look up all right. . . .  Or should he seize
a couple of them and operate them in the manner of the young lady in the
Railway Refreshment Rooms or the Village Inn, as she manipulates the
handles of the beer-engine?  The owners of the two he grabbed and pulled
would come from behind their papers fast enough. . . .  Bertram moved,
and his sword clanked sharply against a pillar.  None of the readers had
looked up at the sound of footsteps—they were resting from the labours of
breakfast, and footsteps, as such, are of no interest.  But, strange to
say, at the sound of a sword clanking, they moved as one man; six papers
were lowered and six pairs of eyes stared at the unhappy Bertram.  After
three seconds of penetrating scrutiny, the six papers rose again as one,
as though at the sound of the ancient and useful military order, “_As you
were_.”

Major Fordinghame beheld a very good-looking boy, who appeared to be
taking his new sword and revolver for a walk in the nice sunshine and
giving the public a treat.  He’d hardly be calling on the Mess dressed up
in lethal weapons.  Probably wanted the Adjutant or somebody.  He was
quite welcome to ’em. . . .  These “planter” cheroots were
extraordinarily good at the price. . . .  Lieutenant and Quartermaster
Macteith wondered who the devil _this_ was.  Why did he stick there like
a stuck pig and a dying cod-fish?  Still—if he wanted to stick, let him
stick, by all means.  Free country. . . .  Captain Brylle only vaguely
realised that he was staring hard at some bloke or other—he was bringing
all the great resources of his brain to bear upon a joke in the pink
paper he affected.  It was so deep, dark and subtle a joke that he had
not yet “got” it.  Bloke on the door-mat.  What of it? . . .  Captain
Tavner had received a good fat cheque that morning; he was going on ten
days’ leave to-morrow; he had done for to-day; and he had had a bottle of
beer for breakfast.  _He_ didn’t mind if there were a rhinoceros on the
doorstep.  Doubtless someone would take it into the Mess and give it a
drink. . . .  Cove had got his sword on—or was it two swords?  Didn’t
matter to him, anyway. . . .

Captain Melhuish idly speculated as to whether the chap would be
“calling” at so early an hour of the morning.  It was the Mess
President’s business, anyhow. . . .  Why the sword and revolver?  And
mentally murmuring: “Enter—one in armour,” Captain Melhuish, the _doyen_
of the famous Madrutta Amateur Dramatic Society, returned to his perusal
of _The Era_. . .  Lieutenant Bludyer didn’t give a damn, anyhow. . . .
And so none of these gentlemen, any one of whom would have arisen, had he
been sitting there alone, and welcomed Bertram hospitably, felt it
incumbent upon him to move, and the situation resumed what Bertram
privately termed its formerness.

Just as he had decided to go to the nearest reader and flatly request him
to arise and direct him to the Colonel, another officer came rushing from
the room whose open doorway faced the porch.  In his mouth was a quill
pen, and in his hands were papers.

“Lazy perishers!” he remarked as he saw the others, and added: “Come
along, young Macteith,” and was turning to hurry down the verandah when
Bertram stepped forward.

“Excuse me,” he said, “d’you think I could see the Colonel?  I have been
ordered to report to this regiment.”

“You _could_ see the Colonel,” replied this officer, “but I shouldn’t, if
I were you.  I’d see the Adjutant.  Much pleasanter sight.  I’m the
Adjutant.  Come along to my office,” and he led the way down the
verandah, across a big whitewashed room, simply furnished with a table, a
chair, and a punkah, to a smaller room, furnished with two of each of the
above-mentioned articles.

Dropping the pen and papers upon the table, the Adjutant wheeled round
upon Bertram, and, transfixing him with a cold grey eye, said, in hollow
voice and tragic tones:

“Do not trifle with me, Unhappy Boy!  Say those blessed words again—or at
once declare them false. . . .  _Did_ I hear you state that you have been
ordered to join this corps—or did I not?”

“You did, sir,” smiled Bertram.

“Shake,” replied the Adjutant.  “God bless you, gentle child.  For two
damns, I’d fall on your neck.  I love you.  Tell me your honoured name
and I’ll send for my will. . . .”

“I’m glad I’m welcome,” said the puzzled and astonished Bertram; “but I’m
afraid I shan’t be very useful.  I am absolutely ignorant—you see, I’ve
not been a soldier for twenty-four hours yet. . . .  Here’s the telegram
I got yesterday,” and he produced that document.

“Good youth,” replied Captain Murray.  “I don’t give a tinker’s curse if
you’re deaf, dumb, blind and silly.  You are my deliverer.  I love you
more and more.  I’ve been awaiting you with beating heart—lying awake for
you, listening for your footprints.  Now you come—_I_ go.”

“What—to the Front?” said Bertram.

“You’ve guessed it in once, fair youth.  East Africa for little Jock
Murray.  We are sending a draft of a hundred men to our link battalion
there—awfully knocked about they’ve been—and I have it, straight from the
stable, that I’m the lad that takes them. . . .  They go in a day or two.
. . .  I was getting a bit anxious, I can tell you—but my pal in the
Brigade Office said they were certain to send a Reserve man here and
relieve me. . . .  Colonel _will_ be pleased—he never _says_ anything but
‘_H’m_!’ but he’ll bite your ear if you don’t dodge.”

“I suppose he’ll simply hate losing an experienced officer and getting
me,” said Bertram, apprehensively.

“He’ll make himself perfectly miserable,” was the reply, “but nothing to
what he’ll make you.  I’m the Adjutant, you see, and there’ll be a bit of
a muddle until my successor has picked up all the threads, and a bit of
extra bother for the Colonel. . . .  Young Macteith’ll have to take it
on, I expect. . . .  He’ll bite your other ear for that. . .” and Murray
executed a few simple steps of the _can-can_, in the joy of his heart
that the chance of his life had come.  No one but himself knew the
agonies of mind that he had suffered, as he lay awake at night realising
that the war might he a short one, time was rushing on, and hundreds of
thousands of men had gone to fight—while he still sat in an office and
played C.O.’s lightning conductor.  A usually undemonstrative Scot, he
was slightly excited and uplifted by this splendid turn of Fortune’s
wheel.  Falling into a chair, he read the telegram:

_To Second-Lieutenant Bertram Greene_, _A.A.A._

_You have been appointed to Indian Army Reserve of Officers with rank of
Second-Lieutenant_, _and are ordered to report forthwith to O.C. One
Hundred and Ninety-Ninth Regiment_, _Madrutta_.  _A.A.A._  _Military
Secretary_.

“Any relation to Major Walsingham Greene?” enquired Murray.

“Son,” replied Bertram, “and nephew of General Walsingham.”

“Not your fault, of course,” observed Murray.  “Best to make a clean
breast of these things, though. . . .  Had any sort of military
training?” he added.

“Absolutely none whatever.  Soon after war broke out I felt I was a
disgrace to my family—they are all soldiers—and I thought of going home
and enlisting. . . .  Then I thought it was a pity if nearly twenty years
of expensive education had fitted me for nothing more useful than what
any labourer or stable-boy can do—and I realised that I’m hardly strong
enough to be of much good in the trenches during a Belgian winter—I’ve
been there—so I wrote to my father and my uncle and told them I’d like to
get into the Indian Army Reserve of Officers.  I thought I might soon
learn enough to be able to set free a better man, and, in time, I might
possibly be of some good—and perhaps go to the Frontier or something. . . .”

“Goo’ _boy_,” said the merry Murray.  “I could strain you to my bosom.”

“Then I received some papers from the Military Secretary, filled them up,
and returned them with a medical certificate.  I bought some kit and
ordered a uniform, and studied the drill-book night and day. . . .  I got
that wire yesterday—and here I am.”

“I love you, Bertram,” repeated the Adjutant.

“I feel a dreadful fraud, though,” continued the boy, “and I am afraid my
uncle, General Walsingham, thinks I am ‘one of the Greenes’ in every way,
whereas I’m a most degenerate and unworthy member of the clan.  Commonly
called ‘Cupid’ and ‘Blameless Bertram,’ laughed at . . . .  Really he is
my father’s cousin—but I’ve always called him ‘Uncle,’” he added
ingenuously.

“Well—sit you there awhile and I’ll be free in a bit.  Then I’ll take you
round the Lines and put you up to a few things. . . .”

“I should be most grateful,” replied Bertram.

Macteith entered and sat him down at the other desk, and for half an hour
there was a _va et vient_ of orderlies, clerks, Sepoys and messengers,
with much ringing of the telephone bell.

When he had finished his work, Murray kept his promise, gave Bertram good
advice and useful information, and, before tiffin, introduced him to the
other officers—who treated him with cordial friendliness.  The Colonel
did not appear at lunch, but Bertram’s satisfaction at the postponement
of his interview was somewhat marred by a feeling that Lieutenant
Macteith eyed him malevolently and regarded his advent with disapproval.



CHAPTER II
_And is Ordered to East Africa_


That afternoon the Adjutant very good-naturedly devoted to assisting
Bertram to remedy his utter nakedness and ashamedness in the matter of
necessary campaigning kit.  Taking him in his dog-cart to the great
Madrutta Emporium, he showed him what to buy, and, still better, what not
to buy, that he might be fully equipped, armed and well prepared, as a
self-supporting and self-dependent unit, provided with all he needed and
nothing he did not need, that he might go with equal mind wheresoever
Fate—or the Military Secretary—might suddenly send him.

After all, it was not very much—a very collapsible camp-bed of green
canvas, hardwood and steel; a collapsible canvas washstand to match; a
collapsible canvas bath (which was destined to endanger the blamelessness
of Blameless Bertram’s language by providing more collapses than baths);
a canteen of cooking utensils; a green canvas valise which contained
bedding, and professed to be in itself a warm and happy home from home,
even upon the cold hard ground; and a sack of similar material, provided
with a padlock, and suitable as a receptacle for such odds and ends of
clothing and kit as you might choose to throw in it.

“Got to remember that, if you go on active service, your stuff may have
to be carried by coolies,” said the Adjutant.  “About forty pounds to a
man.  No good trying to make one big package of your kit.  Say, one sack
of spare clothing and things; one bundle of your bed, bath, and washing
kit; and the strapped-up valise and bedding.  If you had to abandon one
of the three, you’d let the camp-bed, bath and wash-stand go, and hang on
to the sleeping-valise and sack of underclothes, socks, boots, spare
uniform and sundries,” and much other good advice.

To festoon about Cupid’s person, in addition to his sword, revolver,
water-bottle and haversack, he selected a suitable compass, map-case,
field-glasses, ammunition-pouch, whistle and lanyards, since his earnest
and anxious protégé desired to be fitted out fully and properly for
manœuvres, and as though for actual active service.

Assurance being received that his purchases would be forthwith dispatched
to the Adjutant’s bungalow, Bertram drove back to the Mess with that
kindly officer, and gratefully accepted his invitation to dine with him,
that night, at the famous Madrutta Club.

“What about kit, though?” enquired Bertram.  “I’ve only got what I stand
up in.  I left all my—”

“That’s all right,” was the reply.  “Everybody’s in khaki, now we’re
mobilised—except the miserable civilians,” he added with a grin, whereat
Bertram, the belted man of blood, blushed and smiled.

At dinner Bertram sat respectfully silent, collecting the pearls of
wisdom that fell from the lips of his seniors, fellow-guests of the
Adjutant.  And his demeanour was of a gravity weighty and serious even
beyond his wont, for was he not now a soldier among soldiers, a
uniformed, commissioned, employed officer of His Majesty the King
Emperor, and attached to a famous fighting regiment?  Yes—a King’s
Officer, and one who might conceivably be called upon to fight, and
perhaps to die, for his country and for those simple Principles for which
his country stood.

He was a little sorry when some of his bemedalled fellow-guests joked on
solemn and sacred subjects, and spoke a little slightingly of persons and
principles venerable to him; but he comforted and consoled himself with
the recollection and reflection that this type of man so loathed any
display, or even mention, of sentiment and feeling, that it went to the
opposite extreme, and spoke lightly of things weighty, talked ribaldly of
dignitaries, and gave a quite wrong impression as to its burning
earnestness and enthusiasm.

After dinner, when the party broke up for bridge, billiards or the bar,
he sat on, listening with all his ears to the conversation of the
Adjutant and an officer, who seemed exceedingly well informed on the
subject of the battle of Tanga, in German East Africa, concerning which
the general public knew nothing at all.

Murray noticed his intelligent and attentive silence, and counted it for
righteousness unto the boy, that he could “keep his head shut,” at any
rate. . . .

And next day The Blow fell!

For poor Captain and Adjutant Murray, of the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth
Infantry, it dawned like any ordinary day, and devoid of baleful omens.

There was nothing ominous about the coming of the tea, toast, and oranges
that “Abdul the Damned,” his bearer, brought into the big, bare and
comfortless room (furnished with two camp-beds, one long chair, one
_almirah_ {30} and a litter on the floor) in which he and Bertram slept.

Early morning parade passed off without unusual or untoward event.

Breakfast was quite without portent, omen, or foreshadow of disaster.
The Colonel’s silence was no more eloquent than usual, the Major’s
remarks were no ruder, the Junior Subaltern’s no sillier, and those of
the other fellows were no more uninteresting than upon other days; and
all unconscious of his fate the hapless victim strayed into his office,
followed by his faithful and devoted admirer, Second-Lieutenant Bertram
Greene, who desired nothing better than to sit at his feet and learn. . . .

And then it came!

It came in the shape of a telegram from the Military Secretary, and, on
the third reading of the fair-writ type, Murray had to realise that the
words undoubtedly and unmistakably were:

_To O.C. 199th Infantry_, _A.A.A._

_Second-Lieutenant Greene_, _I.A.R._, _to proceed to Mombasa forthwith in
charge of your draft of one hundred P.M.’s and one Native Officer_, _by
s.s. Elymas to-morrow and report to O.C._, _One Hundred and Ninety-Eighth
immediately_.  _A.A.A._  _Military Secretary_, _Delhi_.

He read it through once again and then laid it on his table, leant his
head on his hand and felt physically faint and sick for a moment.  He had
not felt quite as he did then more than three or four times in the whole
of his life.  It was like the feeling he had when he received the news of
his mother’s death; when his proposal of marriage to the one-and-only
girl had been rejected; when he had been bowled first ball in the
Presidency Match, and when he had taken a toss from his horse at the
Birthday Parade, as the beast, scared at the _feu-de-joie_, had suddenly
bucked and bounced like an india-rubber ball. . . .  He handed the
telegram to Bertram without comment.

That young gentleman read it through, and again.  He swallowed hard and
read it once more.  His hand shook.  He looked at the Adjutant, who
noticed that he had turned quite pale.

“Got it?” enquired Murray.  “Here, sit down.”  He thought the boy was
going to faint.

“Ye-e-s.  I—er—think so,” was the reply.  “_I_ am to take the draft from
the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth to the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth in East
Africa! . . .  Oh, Murray, I _am_ sorry—for you. . . .  And I am so
utterly inadequate and incompetent. . . .  It is cruel hard luck for you.
. . .”

The Adjutant, a really keen, good soldier, said nothing.  There was
nothing to say.  He felt that his life lay about him in ruins.  At the
end of the war—which might come anywhen now that Russia had “got
going”—he would be one of the few professional soldiers without active
service experience, without a medal or decoration of any sort
whatever. . . .  Children who had gone straight from Sandhurst to the Front
would join this very battalion, after the war, with their honours thick upon
them—and when he, the Adjutant, tried to teach them things, they’d smile
and say: “We—ah!—didn’t do it like that at the Marne and Ypres. . . .”
He could go straight away and shoot himself then and there. . . .  And
this pink civilian baby!  This “Cupid”!  No, there was nothing to
say—apart from the fact that he could not trust himself to speak.

For minutes there was complete silence in the little office.  Bertram was
as one in a dream—a dream which was partly sweet and partly a nightmare.
_He_ to go to the Front to-morrow?  To go on Active Service?  He whom
fellows always ragged, laughed at, and called Cupid and Blameless Bertram
and Innocent Ernest?  To go off from here in sole charge of a hundred of
these magnificent fighting-men, and then to be an officer in a regiment
that had been fighting for weeks and had already lost a third of its men
and a half of its officers, in battle?  He, who had never fired a gun in
his life; never killed so much as a pheasant, a partridge, a grouse or a
rabbit; never suffered so much as a tooth-extraction—to shoot at his
fellow-men, to risk being horribly mangled and torn! . . .  Yes—but what
was that last compared with the infinitely greater horror, the
unspeakable ghastliness of being _inadequate_, of being too incapable and
inexperienced to do his duty to the splendid fellows who would look to
him, the White Man, their Officer, for proper leadership and handling?

To fail them in their hour of need. . . .  He tried to moisten dry lips
with a dry tongue.

Oh, if only he had the knowledge and experience of the Adjutant—he would
then change places with no man in the world.  Why had the England that
had educated him so expensively, allowed him to grow up so hopelessly
ignorant of the real elemental essentials of life in the World-As-It-Is?
He had been brought up as though the World were one vast Examination
Hall, and nothing else.  Yes—he had been prepared for examinations all
his life, not prepared for the World at all.  Oh, had he but Murray’s
knowledge and experience, or one-tenth part of it—he would find the
ability, courage, enthusiasm and willingness all right.

But, as it was, who was _he_, Bertram Greene, the soft-handed sedentary,
the denizen of libraries and lecture-rooms, the pale student, to dare to
offer to command, control and guide trained and hardy men of war?  What
had he (brought up by a maiden “aunt”!) to do with arms and blood, with
stratagems and ambuscades, with gory struggles in unknown holes and
corners of the Dark Continent?  Why, he had never shouted an order in his
life; never done a long march; never administered a harsh reprimand;
never fired a revolver nor made a pass with a sword.  (If only he _had_
had more to do with such “passes” and less with his confounded
examination passes—he might feel less of an utter fraud now.)  At school
and at Oxford he had been too delicate for games, and in India, too busy,
and too interested in more intellectual matters, for shikar, sport and
hunting.  He had just been “good old Blameless Bertram” and “our valued
and respected Innocent Ernest,” and “our pretty pink Cupid”—more at home
with antiquarians, ethnologists, Orientalists and scientists than with
sportsmen and soldiers. . . .

The fact was that Civilisation led to far too much specialisation and
division of labour.  Why shouldn’t fellows be definitely trained and
taught, physically as well as mentally?  Why shouldn’t every man be a bit
of an artisan, an agriculturalist, a doctor, and a soldier, as well as a
mere wretched book-student?  Life is not a thing of books. . . .

Anyhow, in the light of this telegram, it was pretty clear that his
uncle, General Sir Hugh Walsingham, K.C.S.I., had described him more
optimistically than accurately when forwarding his application for
admission to the Indian Army Reserve of Officers, to the Military
Secretary. . . .  Another awful thought—suppose he let Uncle Hugh down
badly. . . .  And what of his father? . . .

Well—there was one thing, he would do his absolute utmost, his really
ultimate best; and no one could do more.  But, oh, the fathomless
profundity of his ignorance and inexperience!  Quite apart from any
question of leading men in battle, how could he hope to avoid incurring
their contempt on the parade-ground?  They’d see he was an Ass, and a
very ignorant one to boot, before he had been in front of them for five
minutes. . . .  One thing—he’d know that drill-book absolutely by heart
before long.  His wretched examination training would stand him in good
stead there, at any rate. . . .

“Must tell the Colonel,” said Murray suddenly, and he arose and left the
office.

A few minutes later the Quartermaster, Lieutenant Macteith, entered.
Instead of going to his desk and settling down to work, he took a
powerful pair of field-glasses from their case on Murray’s table and
carefully examined Bertram through them.

Bertram coloured, and felt quite certain that he did not like Macteith at
all.

Reversing the glasses, that gentleman then examined him through the
larger end.

“Oh, my God!” he ejaculated at last, and then feigned unconquerable
nausea.

He had heard the news, and felt personally injured and insulted that this
miserable half-baked rabbit should be going on Active Service while
Lieutenant and Quartermaster Macteith was not.

An orderly entered, saluted, and spoke to him in Hindustani.

“Colonel wants you,” he said, turning to Bertram, as the orderly again
saluted, wheeled about, and departed.  “He wants to strain you to his
breast, to clasp your red right hand, to give you his photograph and beg
for yours—or else to wring your neck!”  And as Bertram rose to go, he
added: “Here—take this pen with you.”

“What for?” asked Bertram.

“To write something in his autograph-album and birthday-book—he’s sure to
ask you to,” was the reply.

Bertram turned and departed, depressed in spirit.  He hated anyone to
hate him, and he had done Macteith no harm.  But in spite of his
depression, he was aware of a wild little devil of elation who capered
madly at the back of his brain.  This exuberant little devil appeared to
be screaming joyous war-whoops and yelling: “_Active Service_! . . .
_You are going to see service and to fight_! . . .  _You will have a
war-medal and clasps_! . . .  _You are going to be a real war-hardened
and experienced soldier_! . . .  _You are going to be a devil of a
fellow_! . . .  _Whoop and dance_, _you Ass_! . . .  _Wave your arms
about_, _and caper_! . . .  _Let out a loud yell_, _and do a fandango_!
. . .”  But in the Presence of the Colonel, Bertram declined to entertain
the little devil’s suggestions, and he neither whooped nor capered.  He
wondered, nevertheless, what this cold monument of imperturbability would
do if he suddenly did commence to whoop, to caper and to dance before
him.  Probably say “H’m!”—since that was generally reported to be the
only thing he ever said. . . .

Marching into the room in which the Colonel sat at his desk, Bertram
halted abruptly, stood at attention stiffly, and saluted smartly.  Then
he blushed from head to foot as he realised that he had committed the
ghastly _faux pas_, the horrible military crime, of saluting bare-headed.
He could have wept with vexation.  To enter so smartly, hearing himself
like a trained soldier—and then to make such a Scarlet Ass of himself!
. . .  The Colonel gazed at him as at some very repulsive and
indescribable, but very novel insect.

“. . .  And I’ll make a list of the cooking-pots and other kit that
they’ll have to take for use on board, sir, and give it to Greene with a
letter to Colonel Rock asking him to have them returned here,” the
Adjutant was saying, as he laid papers before the Colonel for signature.

“H’m!” said the Colonel.

“I have ordered the draft to parade at seven to-morrow, sir,” he
continued, “and told the Bandmaster they will be played down to the
Docks. . . .  Greene can take them over from me at seven and march them
off.  I have arranged for the kits to go down in bullock-carts
beforehand. . . .”

“H’m!” said the Colonel.

“I’ll put Greene in the way of things as much as possible to-day,” went
on the Adjutant.  “I’ll go with him and get hold of the cooking-pots
he’ll take for the draft to use on board—and then I’d better run down and
see the Staff Embarkation Officer with him, about his cabin and the men’s
quarters on the _Elymas_, and. . .”

“H’m!” said the Colonel, and taking up his cane and helmet, departed
thence without further remark.

“. . .  And—I hope you’ll profit by every word you’ve heard from the
Colonel, my lad,” the Adjutant concluded, turning ferociously upon
Bertram.  “Don’t stand there giggling, flippant and indifferent—a perfect
picture of the Idle Apprentice, I say,” and he burst into a peal of
laughter at the solemn, anxious, tragic mask which was Bertram’s face.

“No,” he added, as they left the room.  “Let the Colonel’s wise and
pregnant observations sink into your mind and bring forth fruit. . . .
Such blossoming, blooming flowers of rhetoric _oughter_ bring forth fruit
in due season, anyhow. . . .  Come along o’ me.”

Leaving the big Mess bungalow, the two crossed the _maidan_, wherein
numerous small squads of white-clad recruits were receiving
musketry-instruction beneath the shady spread of gigantic banyans.  The
quickly signalled approach of the dread Adjutant-Sahib galvanised the
Havildar and Naik instructors to a fearful activity and zeal, which waned
not until he had passed from sight.  In one large patch of shade the
Bandmaster—an ancient Pathan, whose huge iron-rimmed spectacles accorded
but incongruously with his fierce hawk face, ferocious curling white
moustache and beard, and bemedalled uniform—was conducting the band’s
tentative rendering of “My Bonnie is over the Ocean,” to Bertram’s
wide-eyed surprise and interest.  Through the Lines the two officers made
a kind of Triumphal Progress, men on all sides stiffening to “attention”
and saluting as they passed, to where, behind a cook-house, lay nine
large smoke-blackened cooking-pots under a strong guard.

“There they are, my lad,” quoth the hitherto silent Adjutant.  “Regard
them closely, and consider them well.  Familiarise yourself with them,
and ponder.”

“Why?” asked Bertram.

“For in that it is likely that they, or their astral forms, will haunt
your thoughts by day, your dreams by night.  Your every path through life
will lead to them,” answered the Adjutant.

“What have I got to do with them?” enquired Bertram, with uncomfortable
visions of adding the nine big black cauldrons to his kit.

“Write about them,” was the succinct reply.

“To whom?” was the next query.

“Child,” said the Adjutant solemnly, “you are young and ignorant, though
earnest.  To you, in your simplicity and innocence—

    ‘A black cooking-pot by a cook-house door
    A black cooking-pot is, and nothing more,’

as dear William Wordsworth so truly says in his _Ode on the Imitations of
Immorality_, is it—or is it in ‘_Hark how the Shylock at Heaven’s gate
sings_’?  I forget. . . .  But these are _much_ more.  Oh, very much.”

“How?” asked the puzzled but earnest one.

“_How_? . . .  Why they are the subject-matter, from this moment, of a
Correspondence which will be still going on when your children’s
grandchildren are doddering grey-beards, and you and I are long since
swept into the gulf of well-deserved oblivion.  _Babus_ yet unborn will
batten on that Correspondence and provide posts for their relatives
unnumbered as the sands of the seashore, that it may be carried on
unfailing and unflagging.  As the pen drops from their senile palsied
hands they will see the Correspondence take new lease of life, and they
will turn their faces to the wall, smile, and die happy.”

“I am afraid I don’t really understand,” admitted Bertram.

“_Do_ you think Colonel Rock will return these pots?  Believe me, he will
not.  He will say, ‘_A pot in the hand is worth two in the
bush-country_,’ or else ‘_What I have I hold_,’ or ‘_Ils suis_, _ils
reste_’—being a bit of a scholar like—or perhaps he’ll just swear he
bought ’em off a man he went to see about a dog, just round the corner,
at the pub.  I don’t know about _that_—but return them he will not. . . .”

“But if I say they belong to Colonel Frost and that he wants them
back—and that I promised to make it clear to him that Colonel Frost
desires their immediate return,” protested Bertram, who visualised
himself between the anvil of Colonel Rock and the hammer of Colonel
Frost.

“Why then he’ll probably say they now ‘belong to Colonel Rock and that he
_doesn’t_ want them to go back, and that you must promise to make it
clear to Colonel Frost that he desires _his_ immediate return’—to the
devil,” replied the Adjutant.

“Yes—every time,” he continued.  “He will pretend that fighting Germans
is a more urgent and important matter than returning pots.  He will lay
aside no plans of battle and schemes of strategy to attend to the pots.
He will detail no force of trusty soldiers to convoy them to the coast. . . .
He will refuse to keep them prominently before his vision. . . .  In
short, he will hang on to the damn things. . . .  And when the war is
o’er and he returns, he’ll swear he never had a single cooking-pot in
Africa, and in any case they are his own private property, and always
were. . . .”

“I shall have to keep on reminding him about them,” observed Bertram,
endeavouring to separate the grain of truth from the literal “chaff” of
the Adjutant—who seemed to be talking rapidly and with bitter humour, to
keep himself from thinking of his cruel and crushing disappointment, or
to hide his real feelings.

“If you go nightly to his tent, and, throwing yourself prostrate at his
feet, clasp him around the knees, and say: ‘_Oh_, _sir_, _think of poor
pot-less Colonel Frost_,’ he will reply: ‘_To hell with Colonel Frost_!
. . .’  Yes—every time. . . .  Until, getting impatient of your reproachful
presence, he will say: ‘_You mention pots again and I’ll fill you with
despondency and alarm_. . .’  He’ll do it, too—he’s quite good at it.”

“Rather an awkward position for me,” ventured Bertram.

“Oh, quite, quite,” agreed Murray.  “Colonel Frost will wire that unless
you return his pots, he’ll break you—and Colonel Rock will state that if
you so much as hint at pots, _he’ll_ break you. . . .  But that’s neither
here nor there—the Correspondence is the thing.  It will begin when you
are broke by one of the two—and it will be but waxing in volume to its
grand climacteric when the war is forgotten, and the pots are but the
dust of rust. . . .  A great thought.  . .  Yes. . .”

Bertram stared at the Adjutant.  Had he gone mad?  Fever?  A touch of the
sun?  It was none of these things, but a rather terrible blow, a
blighting and a shattering of his almost-realised hopes—and he must
either talk or throw things about, if he were not to sit down and
blaspheme while he drank himself into oblivion. . . .

For a time they regarded the pots in awed contemplative silence and felt
themselves but ephemeral in their presence, as they thought of the Great
Correspondence, but yet with just a tinge of that comforting and
sustaining _quorum pais magna fui_ feeling, to which Man, the Mighty
Atom, the little devil of restless interference with the Great Forces, is
ever prone.

In chastened silence they returned to the Adjutant’s office, and Bertram
sat by his desk and watched and wondered, while that official got through
the rest of his morning’s work and dealt faithfully with many—chiefly
sinners.

He then asked the Native Adjutant, who had been assisting him, to send
for Jemadar Hassan Ali, who was to accompany Bertram and the draft on the
morrow, and on that officer’s arrival he presented him to the young
gentleman.

As he bowed and shook hands with the tall, handsome Native Officer,
Bertram repressed a tendency to enquire after Mrs. Ali and all the little
Allies, remembering in time that to allude directly to a native
gentleman’s wife is the grossest discourtesy and gravest immorality.  All
he could find to say was: “_Salaam_, _Jemadar Sahib_!  _Sub achcha hai_?”
{38a} which at any rate appeared to serve, as the Native Officer gave
every demonstration of cordiality and pleasure.  What he said in reply,
Bertram did not in the least understand, so he endeavoured to put on a
look combining pleasure, comprehension, friendliness and agreement—which
he found a slight strain—and remarked: “_Béshak_!  _Béshak_!” {38b} as he
nodded his head. . . .

The Jemadar later reported to his colleagues that the new Sahib, albeit
thrust in over the heads of tried and experienced Native Officers,
appeared to _be_ a Sahib, a gentleman of birth, breeding, and good
manners; and evidently possessed of far more than such slight perception
and understanding as was necessary for proper appreciation of the worth
and virtues of Jemadar Hassan Ali.  Also that he was but a hairless-faced
babe—but doubtless the Sircar knew what it was about, and was quite right
in considering that a young boy of the Indian Army Reserve was fitter to
be a Second-Lieutenant in the _pultan_, than was a Jemadar of fifteen
years’ approved service and three medals.  One of his hearers laughed
sarcastically, and another grunted approval, but the Subedar-Major
remarked that certain opinions, however tenable, were, perhaps, better
left unvoiced by those who had accepted service under the Sircar on
perfectly clear and definite terms and conditions.

When the Jemadar had saluted and left the office, Murray turned upon
Bertram suddenly, and, with a concentrated glare of cold ferocity,
delivered himself.

“Young Greene,” quoth he, “yesterday I said you were a Good Egg and a
desirable.  I called you Brother, and fell upon your neck, and I welcomed
you to my hearth.  I overlooked your being the son of a beknighted
General.  I looked upon you and found you fair and good—as a ‘relief.’
You were a stranger, and I took you in. . . .  Now you have taken _me_
in—and I say you are a cuckoo in the nest, a viper in the back-parlour, a
worm in the bud, a microbe in the milk, and an elephant in the ointment.
. . .  You are a—a—”.

“I’m _awfully_ sorry, Murray,” interrupted the unhappy Bertram.  “I’d do
_anything_—”

“Yes—and any _body_,” continued the Adjutant.  “I say you are a pillar of
the pot-houses of Gomorrah, a fly-blown turnip and a great mistake.
Though of apparently most harmless exterior and of engaging manners, you
are an orange filled with ink, an addled egg of old, and an Utter
Improbability.  I took you up and you have done me down.  I took you out
and you have done me in.  I took you in and you have done me out—of my
chance in life. . . .  Your name is now as a revolting noise in my ears,
and your face a repulsive sight, a thing to break plates on . . . and
they ‘call you _Cupid_’!”

“I can’t tell you how distressed I am about it, Murray,” broke in the
suffering youth.  “If only there were anything I could do so that you
could go, and not I—”

“You can do nothing,” was the cold reply.  “You can not even, in mere
decency, die this night like a gentleman. . . .  And if you did, they’d
only send some other pale Pimple to take the bread out of a fellow’s
mouth. . . .  This is a civilians’ war, mark you; they don’t want
professional soldiers for a little job like this. . . .”

“It wasn’t _my_ fault, Murray,” protested Bertram, reduced almost to
tears by his sense of wicked unworthiness and the injustice to his kind
mentor of yesterday.

“Perhaps not,” was the answer, “but why were you ever _born_, Cupid
Greene, that’s what I ask?  You say it isn’t your fault—but if you’d
never been born . . .  Still, though I can never forget, I forgive you,
and would share my last pot of rat-poison with you cheerfully. . . .
Here—get out your note-book,” and he proceeded to give the boy every
“tip” and piece of useful advice and information that he could think of
as likely to be beneficial to him, to the men, to the regiment, and to
the Cause.



CHAPTER III
_Preparations_


That night Bertram could not sleep.  The excitement of that wonderful day
had been too much for his nerves, and he lay alternating between the
depths of utter black despair, fear, self-distrust and anxiety on the one
hand, and the heights of exultation, hope, pride, and joy on the other.

At one moment he saw himself the butt of his colleagues, the contempt of
his men, the _bête noir_ of his Colonel, the shame of his Service, and
the disgrace of his family.

At another, he saw himself winning the approval of his brother officers
by his modesty and sporting spirit, the affection and admiration of his
men by his kindness and firmness, the good-will of his Colonel by his
obvious desire to learn and his keen enthusiasm in his duty, the respect
of his Service for winning a decoration, and the loving regard of the
whole clan of Greene for his general success as a soldier.

But these latter moments were, alas, far less realistic and convincing
than the others.  In them he merely hoped and imagined—while in the black
ones he felt and _knew_.  He could not do otherwise than realise that he
was utterly inexperienced, ignorant, untried and incompetent, for it was
the simple fact.  If _he_ could be of much use, then what is the good of
training men for years in colleges, in regiments, and in the field, to
prepare them to take their part in war?

He knew nothing of either the art or the science of that great and
terrible business.  He had neither the officer’s trained brain nor the
private soldier’s trained body; neither the theory of the one nor the
practice of the other.  Even if, instead of going to the Front to-morrow
as an officer, he had been going in a British regiment as a private, he
would have been equally useless.  He had never been drilled, and he had
never used a weapon of any kind.  All he had got was a burning desire to
be of use, a fair amount of intelligence, and, he hoped, the average
endowment of courage.  Even as to this last, he could not be really
certain, as he had never yet been tried—but he was very strongly of
opinion that the dread of showing himself a coward would always be far
stronger than the dread of anything that the enemy could do to his vile
body.  His real fear was that he should prove incompetent, be unequal to
emergency, and fail those who relied upon him or trusted in him.  When he
thought of that, he knew Fear, the cold terror that causes a fluttering
of the heart, a dryness of the mouth, a weakness of the knees, and a
sinking of the stomach.

That was the real dread, that and the fear of illness which would further
decrease capacity and usefulness.  What were mere bullets and bayonets,
wounds and death, beside revealed incompetence and failure in duty?

Oh, that he might have luck in his job, and also keep in sufficient
health to be capable of his best—such as it was.

When Hope was in the ascendant, he assured himself that the greatest work
and highest duty of a British officer in a Native regiment was to
encourage and enhearten his men; to set them a splendid example of
courage and coolness; to hearten them up when getting depressed; to win
their confidence, affection and respect, so that they would cheerfully
follow him anywhere and “stick it” as long as he did, no matter what the
hardship, danger, or misery.  These things were obviously a thousand
times more important than parade-ground knowledge and such details as
correct alignment, keeping step, polishing buttons, and so
forth—important as these might be in their proper place and season.  And
one did not learn those greater things from books, nor on parade, nor at
colleges.  A man as ignorant as even he of drill, internal economy,
tactics and strategy, might yet be worth his rations in the trenches, on
the march, yes, or in the wild, fierce bayonet-charge itself, if he had
the attributes that enable him to encourage, uplift, enhearten and give
confidence.

And then his soaring spirit would swiftly stoop again, as he asked
himself: “And have _I_ those qualities and attributes?” and sadly
replied: “Probably not—but what is, at any rate, certain, is the fact
that I have no knowledge, no experience, no understanding of the very
alphabet of military lore, no slightest grasp of the routine details of
regimental life, discipline, drill, regulations, internal economy,
customs, and so forth—the things that are the elementary essentials of
success to a body of armed men proceeding to fight.” . . .  And in black
misery and blank despair he would groan aloud: “_I cannot go_.  _I cannot
do it_.” . . .  He was very young, very much a product of modern
civilisation, and a highly specialised victim of a system and a
generation that had taken too little account of naked fact and elemental
basic tendency—a system and a generation that pretended to believe that
human nature had changed with human conditions.  As he realised, he had,
like a few million others, been educated not for Life and the
World-As-It-Is, but for examinations and the world as it is not, and
never will be. . . .

He tossed and turned through the long hot night on the little hard
camp-bed, listening to Murray’s regular breathing and the scampering of
the rats as they disported themselves on the other side of the canvas
ceiling cloth and went about their unlawful occasions.  .  .  .

He reviewed the events of that epoch-making day from the arrival of the
telegram to his getting into bed. . . .  A memorable morning, a busy
afternoon and evening, a rotten night—with a beastly climax—or
anti-climax. . . .  Would he never get to sleep on this hard, narrow bed?
. . .  What would he be fit for on the dreadful morrow if he slept not at
all? . . .  What a day it had been!  Rather amusing about those
cooking-pots.  It wouldn’t be very amusing for _him_ if the situation
developed as Murray had prophesied. . . .  Rather a good bit of work that
he had put in between lunch and dinner with the drill-book and a box of
matches.  Matches made good sections, companies, and battalions for
practising drill-manœuvres on a desk—but it would he a different thing to
give the orders correctly and audibly to hundreds of men who watched one
with inscrutable eyes. . . .  How he wished he had declined the
invitation of Bludyer to accompany him and Macteith to the theatre. . . .
They had proceeded in a car to the Club and there picked up some other
fellows.  The play was _The Girl in the Taxi_, and Bertram sat ashamed,
humiliated and angry, as a third-rate company of English actors and
actresses performed their sorry parts in a travesty of European life and
manners, before the avid eyes of hundreds of natives.  There they sat,
with faces contemptuous, sensual, blank, eager, gleeful or disgusted,
according to their respective conditions and temperaments—the while they
gathered from the play that English life is a medley of infidelity,
dissipation, intrigue and vulgarity.

And, after the play, Macteith had said: “Let’s go to the Home-from-Home
for a ‘drink-and-a-little-music—what—what’?”

Bertram had thought it a somewhat strange proceeding to go to a Home, at
eleven o’clock at night, for music, and he would greatly have preferred
to go to bed.  However, he could not very well say that they must take
him back to bed first, nor announce his intention of leaving the party
and walking home. . . .

. . .  Macteith having given instructions to the Eurasian chauffeur, the
taxi sped away and, skirting the sea-shore, turned off into a quiet
avenue of giant palms, in which stood detached bungalows of retiring and
unobtrusive mien.  Into the compound of one of these the taxi turned, and
a bell rang loudly, apparently of its own volition.  As they got out of
the car, a lady came out to the brilliantly lighted verandah from the
drawing-room which opened on to it.  Bertram did not like the look of
this lady at all.  Her face reminded him of that of a predatory animal or
bird, with its fierce eyes, thin, hard lips and aquiline nose.  Nor, in
his estimation, did the obvious paint and powder, the extreme-fashioned
satin gown, and the profusion of jewellery which she wore, do anything to
mitigate the unfavourable impression received at first sight of her face.
. . .  Really the last person one would have expected to find in charge
of a Home. . . .  Nor was Macteith’s greeting of “Hullo, Fifi, my dear!
Brought some of the Boys along,” calculated to allay a growing suspicion
that this was not really a Home at all.

Entering the drawing-room with the rest, Bertram beheld a bevy of ladies
sitting in an almost perfect circle, each with a vacant chair beside her.
Some of them were young, and some of them presumably had been.  All were
in evening dress and in the exaggerated extreme of fashion.  All seemed
to be painted and powdered, and all looked tired and haggard.  Another
attribute common to the whole party was that they all seemed to be
foreigners—judging by their accents as they welcomed Macteith and some of
the others as old acquaintances.

Bertram liked the look of these ladies as little as he did that of the
person addressed as “Fifi,” and he hoped that the party would not remain
at the house long.  He was tired, and he felt thoroughly uncomfortable,
as noisy horse-play and badinage began, and waxed in volume and pungency.
A servant, unbidden, entered with a tray on which stood three bottles of
champagne and a number of glasses.  He noticed that the bottles had been
opened, that the corks and gold-foil looked weary and experienced, and
that the wine, when poured out, was singularly devoid of bubbles and
froth.  He wished he had not come.  .  .  .  He did not want to drink
alleged champagne at midnight. . . .  There was no music, and the people
were of more than doubtful breeding, taste and manners. . . .  Macteith
had actually got his arm round the waist of one woman, and she was
patting his cheek as she gazed into his eyes.  Another pair exchanged a
kiss before his astonished gaze.  He decided to walk out of the house,
and was about to do so when the girl nearest to him seized his hand and
said: “You seet daown ’ere an’ spik to me, sare,” as she pulled him
towards the chair that stood vacant beside her.  In an agony of
embarrassment born of a great desire to refuse to stay another minute,
and a somewhat unnecessary horror of hurting the young lady’s feelings by
a refusal, he seated himself with the remark: “Merci, mam’selle—mais il
se fait tard.  Il est sur les une heure . . .” as she appeared to be a
French woman.

“Laissez donc!” was the reply.  “Il est l’heure du berger,” a remark the
point of which he missed entirely.  Finding that he knew French, she
rattled on gaily in that tongue, until Bertram asked her from what part
of France she came.  On learning that she was from Alais in Provence, he
talked of Arles, Nismes, Beaucaire, Tarascon, Avignon and the
neighbourhood, thinking to please her, until, to his utter amazement and
horror, she turned upon him with a vile, spitting oath, bade him be
silent, and then burst into tears.  Feeling more shocked, unhappy and
miserable than he had ever felt before, he begged the girl to accept his
regrets and apologies—as well as his farewell—and to tell him if he could
in any way compensate her for the unintentional hurt he had somehow
inflicted.

On her sullen reply of “Argent comptant porte médecine,” Bertram dropped
a fifty rupee note into her lap and literally fled from the house. . . .

. . .  Yes—a rotten night with a beastly anti-climax to the wonderful day
on which he had received . . . _he_, of all people in the world! . . .
had received orders to proceed to the Front. . . .  Bertram Greene on
Active Service!  How could he have the impudence—and it all began again
and was revolved once more in his weary mind. . . .

Dawn brought something of hope and a little peace to the perturbed soul
of the over-anxious boy.



CHAPTER IV
_Terra Marique Jactatus_


As he arrayed himself in all his war-paint, after his sleepless and
unhappy night, Bertram felt feverish, and afraid.  His head throbbed
violently, and he had that distressing sensation of being remorselessly
urged on, fatedly fury-driven and compelled to do all things with
terrible haste and hurry.

Excitement, anxiety, sleeplessness and the conflicting emotions of hope
and fear, were taking their toll of the nervous energy and vitality of
the over-civilised youth.

He felt alarmed at his own alarm, and anxious about his own anxiety—and
feared that, at this rate, he would be worn out before he began, a
physical and mental wreck, fitter for a hospital-ship than a troop-ship,
before ever he started.

“The lad’s over-engined for his beam,” observed Murray to himself, as he
lay on his camp cot, drinking his _choti hazri_ tea, and watching
Bertram, who, with white face and trembling fingers, stood making more
haste than speed, as he fumbled with straps and buckles.  “Take it easy,
my son,” he said kindly.  “There’s tons of time, and then some.  I’ll see
you’re not late. . . .”

“Thanks, Murray,” replied Bertram, “but—”

“Here—take those belts off at once,” interrupted the Adjutant.  “Take the
lot off and lie down again—and smoke this cigarette. . . .  _At once_,
d’ye hear?” and the tone was such that Bertram complied without comment.
He sank on to the camp-bed, swung up his long legs, with their heavy
boots, shorts, and puttees and puffed luxuriously.  He had intended to be
a non-smoker as well as a teetotaller, now that he was “mobilised,” but
it would be as well to obey Murray now and begin his abstinence from
tobacco when he got on board.  He lay and smoked obediently, and soon
felt, if not better, at least calmer, cooler and quieter.

“Blooming old tub won’t start till to-night—you see’f she does,” said
Murray.  “Sort of thing we always do in the Army. . . .  _Always_. . . .
Harry and hurry everybody on parade at seven, to catch a boat that
doesn’t profess to sail till two, and probably won’t actually do it till
midnight.”

“I should die of shame if I were late for my first parade,” said Bertram
anxiously.

“You’d die of the Colonel, if you didn’t of shame,” was the reply. . . .
“I’ll see you’re not late.  You take things a bit easier, my son.  Your
King and Country want you in East Africa, not in a lunatic asylum—”

“_Pappa_!  _What part did you take in the Great War_?” squeaked a
falsetto voice from the door, and looking up, Bertram beheld Lieutenant
Bludyer, always merry and bright, arrayed in crimson, scarlet-frogged
pyjama coat, and pink pyjama trousers.  On his feet were vermilion velvet
slippers.

“I’ll take a leading part in your dirty death,” said the Adjutant,
turning to the speaker, or squeaker.

“Thought this might be useful, Greene,” continued Bludyer in his natural
voice, as he handed Bertram a slab of thin khaki linen and a conical cap
of a kind of gilded corduroy.  “Make yourself a regimental _puggri_ in
the day of battle.  Put the cap on your nut and wind the turban over it.
. . .  Bloke with a helmet and a white face hasn’t an earthly, advancing
with a line of Sepoys in _puggris_.  The enemy give him their united
attention until he is outed. . . .”

“Oh, thanks, awfully, Bludyer,” began Bertram.

“So go dirty till your face is like Murray’s, grow a hoary, hairy beard,
an’ wear a turban on your fat head,” continued Bludyer.  “Your orderly
could do it on for you, so that it wouldn’t all come down when you
waggled. . . .”

“Thanks, most awfully.  It’s exceedingly kind of you, Bludyer,”
acknowledged Bertram, and proceeded to stuff the things into his
haversack.

“Wow!  Wow!” ejaculated Bludyer.  “Nice-mannered lad and well brought up,
ain’t he, Randolph Murray?” and seating himself on that officer’s bed, he
proceeded to use the tea-cosy as a foot-warmer, the morning being chilly.

The Adjutant arose and proceeded to dress.

“Devil admire me!” he suddenly shouted, pointing at Bertram.  “Look at
that infernal lazy swine! Did you ever see anything like it, Bludyer?
Lying hogging there, lolling and loafing in bed, as if he had all day to
finish nothing in! . . .  Here, get up, you idle hound, and earn your
living.  Dress for parade, if you can do nothing else.”

And Bertram gathered that he might now get on with his preparations.

“Yes,” added Bludyer, “you really ought to get on with the war, Greene.
_Isn’t_ he a devil-may-care fellow, Murray?  He don’t give a damn if it
snows,” and adding that it was his flute-night at the Mission, and he now
must go, the young gentleman remained seated where he was.

“You aren’t hurrying a bit, Greene,” he remarked, after eyeing Bertram
critically for a few minutes.  “He won’t prosper and grow rich like that,
will he, Randolph Murray?  That is not how the Virtuous Apprentice got on
so nicely, and married his master’s aunt. . . .  No. . . .  And Samuel
Smiles was never late for parade—of that I’m quite certain.  No.
‘_Self_-help’ was _his_ motto, and the devil take the other fellow. . . .
Let me fasten that for you.  This strap goes under not over. . . .”  And,
with his experienced assistance, Bertram was soon ready, and feeling like
a trussed fowl and a Christmas-tree combined, by the time he had
festooned about him his sword, revolver, full ammunition-pouches,
field-glasses, water-bottle, belt-haversack, large haversack, map-case,
compass-pouch, whistle-lanyard, revolver-lanyard, rolled cape, and the
various belts, straps and braces connected with these articles.

By the time the last buckle was fastened, he longed to take the whole lot
off again for a few minutes, and have a really comfortable breathe.  (But
he _did_ wish Miranda Walsingham could see him.)

                                * * * * *

In a corner of the parade-ground stood the Hundred, the selected draft
which was to proceed to Africa to fill the gaps that war had torn in the
ranks of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth.  On their flank the regimental
band was drawn up in readiness to play them to the docks.  The men wore
khaki turbans, tunics, shorts, puttees and hob-nailed boots, and carried
only haversacks, water-bottles, bandoliers, rifles and bayonets.  The
rest of their kit, each man’s done up in a neat bundle inside his
waterproof ground-sheet and striped cotton sleeping-_dhurrie_, had gone
on in bullock-carts to await them at the wharf.

Around the Hundred stood or squatted the remainder of the battalion, in
every kind and degree of dress and undress.  Occasionally one of these
would arise and go unto his pal in the ranks, fall upon his neck, embrace
him once again, shake both his hands alternately, and then return to the
eligible site whence, squatting on his heels, he could feast his eyes
upon his _bhai_, his brother, his friend, so soon to be torn from him. . . .
As the officers approached, these spectators fell back.  Bertram’s
heart beat so violently that he feared the others would hear it.  Was he
going to have “palpitations” and faint, or throw a fit or something?  He
was very white, and felt very ill.  Was his ignorance and incompetence to
be exposed and manifested now? . . .

“Look fierce and take over charge, my son,” said the Adjutant, as the
small party of officers came in front of the draft.

“Company!” shouted Bertram, “Shun!”

That was all right.  He had hit the note nicely, and his voice had fairly
boomed.  He had heard that men judge a new officer by his voice, more
than anything.

The Hundred sprang to attention, and Bertram, accompanied by the Adjutant
and Macteith, walked slowly down the front rank and up the rear, doing
his best to look as though he were critically and carefully noting
certain points, and assuring himself that certain essentials were in
order.  He was glad that he had not suddenly to answer such a question as
“_What_ exactly are you peering at and looking for?”  He wished he had
sufficient Hindustani to ask a stern but not unkindly question here and
there, or to make an occasional comment in the manner of one from whom no
military thing is hid.  He suddenly remembered that he knew the
Hindustani for “How old are you?” so he asked this question of a man
whose orange-coloured beard would obviously have been white but for henna
dye.  Not in the least understanding the man’s reply, he remarked “H’m!”
in excellent imitation of the Colonel, and passed on.

“Not the absolute pick of the regiment, I should think, are they?” he
remarked to Murray, as they returned to the front of the company.

“They are not,” he said.

“Pretty old, some of them,” added Bertram, who was privately hoping that
he did not look such a fraudulent Ass as he felt.

Major Fordinghame strolled up and returned the salutes of the group of
officers.

“This experienced officer thinks the draft is not the pure cream of the
regiment, Major,” said Murray, indicating Bertram.

“Fancy that, now,” replied Major Fordinghame, and Bertram blushed hotly.

“I thought some of them seemed rather old, sir,” he said, “but—er—perhaps
old soldiers are better than young ones?”

“It’s a matter of taste—as the monkey said when he chewed his father’s
ear,” murmured Bludyer.

Silence fell upon the little group.

“And both have their draw-backs—as the monkey said when she pulled her
twins’ tails,” he added pensively.

Bertram wondered what he had better do next.

The Native Officer of the draft came hurrying up, and saluted.  Another
Hindustani sentence floated into Bertram’s mind.  “You are late, Jemadar
Sahib,” said he, severely.

Jemadar Hassan Ali poured forth a torrent of excuse or explanation which
Bertram could not follow.

“What do you do if a Havildar or Naik or Sepoy is late for parade?” he
asked, or attempted to ask, in slow and barbarous Hindustani.

Another torrent of verbiage, scarcely a word of which was intelligible to
him.

He put on a hard, cold and haughty look, or attempted to do so, and kept,
perforce, an eloquent but chilling silence.  Murray and the Major
exchanged glances.

“Greene Sahib is _very_ particular and _very_ strict, Jemadar Sahib,”
said the Major.  “You had better bear it in mind, and tell the men too.
He’ll stand no sort of nonsense from anybody.  You’ll find him very kind
so long as he is satisfied, but if he isn’t—well!” and the Major shrugged
his shoulders expressively.

Bertram looked gratefully at the Major (for he understood “Englishman’s
Hindustani”), and as sternly as he could at the Jemadar, who saluted
again and retired.

The Colonel rode up, and the officers sprang to attention.

“Everything ready, sir,” said the Adjutant.  “They can march off when you
like.”

“H’m!” said the Colonel, and stared at Bertram as though he honestly and
unaffectedly did wonder why God made such things.  He then wheeled his
horse towards the waiting Hundred.  “Men of the Hundred and
Ninety-Ninth,” said he in faultless Hindustani, “you are now going across
the Black Water to fight the enemies of the King Emperor, and of
yourselves.  They would like to conquer your country and oppress you.
You go to fight for your own homes and children, as well as for your
Emperor.  Bring honour to your regiment and yourselves.  Show the
_Germanis_ and their _Hubshis _{50} what Indian Sepoys can do—both in
time of battle and in time of hunger, thirst, and hardship.  Before God I
say I would give anything to come with you, but I have to do my duty
here—for the present.  We may meet again in Africa.  Good-bye.  Good
luck. . . .  Good-bye. . . .”  The Jemadar called for three cheers for
the Colonel, and the Hundred lustily cried: “_’Eep_, _’Eep_, _’Oorayee_.”
The remainder of the regiment joined in, and then cheered the Hundred.
Meanwhile, the Colonel turned to Bertram.

“Good-by, young Greene.  Good luck,” he said, and leaning from his horse,
wrung Bertram’s hand as though it had been that of his only son.

Similarly did the others, with minor differences.

“Well—it’s useless to weep these unavailing tears,” sobbed Bludyer.
“There’s an end to everything, as the monkey said when he seized the tip
of his mother’s nose. . . .”

“Farewell, my blue-nosed, golden-eyed, curly-eared Mother’s Darling,”
said Macteith.

“Good luck, sonny.  Write and let me know how you get on,” said Murray.
“You’ll do.  You’ve got the guts all right, and you’ll very soon get the
hang of things. . . .”

“March ’em off, now,” he added.  “Chuck a chest, and don’t give a damn
for anybody,” and Bertram carefully collected his voice, swallowed a kind
of lump in his throat, bade his wildly beating heart be still, gave
thought to the drill-book, and roared:

“Company! . . .  _’Shun_! . . .  Slope _Arms_! . . .  Form _fours_! . . .
_Right_! . . .  Quick _march_!”—the band struck up—and they were off.

Yes, he, Bertram Greene, pale clerkly person, poet and æsthete, was
marching proudly, in full military attire, at the head of a hundred
fighting-men—marching to the inspiring strains of the regimental band, to
where the trooper waited on the tide!  If his father could only see him!
He was happy as he had never been before in his life, and he was proud as
he never had been before. . .  .  If Miranda could only see him!  He,
Bertram Greene, was actually marching to war, with sword on thigh, and
head held high, in sole command of a hundred trained fighting-men!

His heart beat very fast, but without pain now, and he was, for the
moment, free of his crushing sense of inadequacy, inexperience and
unworthiness.  He was only conscious of a great pride, a great hope, and
a great determination to be worthy, so far as in him lay the power, of
his high fate. . . .

No man forgets his first march at the head of his own force, if he
forgets his first march in uniform.  For Bertram this was both.  It was
his first march in uniform, and he was in whole and sole control of this
party—like a Centurion of old tramping the Roman Road at the head of his
hundred Legionaries—and Bertram felt he would not forget it if he lived
till his years equalled the number of his men.

It was not a very long march, and it was certainly not a very picturesque
one—along the cobbled Dock Road, with its almost innumerable cotton-laden
bullock-carts—but Bertram trod on air through a golden dream city and was
exalted, brother to the Knights of Arthur who quested for the Grail and
went about to right the wrong and to succour the oppressed. . . .

Arrived at the dock-gates, he was met and guided aright, by a brassarded
myrmidon of the Embarkation Staff Officer, to where His Majesty’s
Transport _Elymas_ lay in her basin beside a vast shed-covered wharf.

Beneath this shed, Bertram halted his men, turned them into line, and
bade them pile arms, fall out, and sit them down in close proximity to
their rifles.

Leaving the Jemadar in charge, he then went up the gangway of the
_Elymas_ in search of the said Embarkation Staff Officer, who, he had
been told, would allot him and his men their quarters on the ship.  As he
gazed around the deserted forward well-deck, he saw an officer, who wore
a lettered red band round his arm, hurrying towards him along the
promenade deck, his hands full of papers, a pencil in his mouth, and a
careworn, worried look upon his face.

“You Greene, by any chance?” he called, as he ran sideway down the narrow
ladder from the upper deck.

“Yes, sir,” replied Bertram, saluting as he perceived that the officer
was a captain.  “Just arrived with a draft of a hundred men from the
Hundred and Ninety-Ninth,” he added proudly.

“Good dog,” was the reply, “keep the perishers out of it for a bit till
I’m ready. . . .  Better come with me now though, and I’ll show you,
_one_, where they’re to put their rifles; _two_, where they’re to put
themselves; _three_, where they will do their beastly cooking; and
_four_, where you will doss down yourself. . . .  Don’t let there be any
mistakes, because there are simply millions more coming,” and he led the
way to a companion hatch in the after well-deck, and clattered down a
ladder into the bowels of the ship, Bertram following him in his twists
and turns with a growing sense of bewilderment.

He was very glad to hear that he and his merry men were not to have the
ship to themselves, for there were a thousand and one points that he
would be very glad to be able to refer to the decision of Authority, or
the advice of Experience.

The Embarkation Officer, dripping and soaked and sodden with
perspiration, as was Bertram himself, wound his devious way, along narrow
passages, ladders and tunnels, to a kind of cage-like cloak-room fitted
with racks.

“Your men’ll come here in single file, by the way we have come,” said he,
“enter this armoury one by one, leave their rifles on these racks, and go
up that ladder to the deck above, and round to the ladder leading out on
the forward well-deck.  You’ll have to explain it carefully, and shepherd
’m along too, or there’ll be a jam and loss of life and—worse—loss of
time. . . .  In the early days we managed badly on one occasion and got a
crowd of Sikhs pushing against a crowd of Pathans. . . .”  He then led
the disintegrating Bertram by devious paths to a dark oven-like and
smelly place (which Bertram mentally labelled “the horizontal section of
the fo’c’sle, three storeys down”) in which the Hundred were to live, or
to die—poor devils!  There would hardly be standing room—and thence to
the scene of their culinary labours.  Lastly, when the bewildered youth
was again feeling very ill, the Embarkation Officer retraced his steps,
showed him certain water-taps for the use of his men, and led the way up
and out to the blessed light of day, fresh air, and the comparative
coolness of the deck.  “Your cabin’s along here,” said he, entering a
long corridor that debouched on to the well-deck.  “Let’s see, Number 43,
I think.  Yes.  A two-berth cabin to yourself—and last trip we had three
generals in a one-berth cabin, four colonels in a bath at once, and five
common officers on top of one another in each chair at table. . . .
Fact—I assure you. . . .  Go in and chuck away all that upholstery—you
can run about in your shirt-sleeves now, or naked if you like, so long as
you wear a helmet to show you are in uniform. . . .  Bye-bye—be a good
boy,” and he bustled away.

Bertram thankfully took the Embarkation Officer’s advice, and cast off
all impedimenta until he was clad only in khaki shirt, shorts, puttees
and boots.  He thought he could enter into the feelings of a butterfly as
it emerges from the constricting folds of its cocoon.

He sat down for a minute on the white bed prepared for his occupation.
The other was cumbered with his valise, sack, and strapped bundle, which
had come down on the first of the bullock-carts and been brought on board
at once.  He looked round the well-appointed, spotless cabin, with its
white paint and mahogany fittings, electric fans and lights.  That one
just beside his pillow would be jolly for reading in bed.  Anyhow, he’d
have a comfortable and restful voyage.  What a blessing that he had a
cabin to himself, and what a pity that the voyage took only about ten
days. . . .  Would life on a troop-ship be a thing of disciplined
strenuousness, or would it be just a perfectly slack time for everybody?
. . .  It should be easy for him to hide his ignorance while on
board—there couldn’t be very much in the way of drill. . . .  How his
head throbbed, and how seedy and tired he felt! . . .  He lay back on his
bed and then sprang up in alarm and horror at what he had done.  A pretty
way to commence his Active Service!—and, putting on his heavy and
uncomfortable helmet, he hurried to the wharf.

Going down the gangway, he again encountered the Embarkation Officer.

“Better let your men file on board with their rifles first, and then off
again for their kits and bedding, and then back again to the quarters I
showed you.  Having pegged out their claims there, and each man hung his
traps on the peg above his sleeping-mat, they can go up on the after
well-deck and absolutely nowhere else.  See?  And no man to leave the
ship again, on any pretence whatever.  Got it?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Bertram, and privately wondered if he would even find
his way again to that cage-like cloak-room in the hold, and that
“horizontal section of the fo’c’sle three storeys down.”

But he _must_ do this, his very first job, absolutely correctly, and
without any bungling and footling.  He must imagine that he was going in
for an examination again—an examination this time in quite a new subject,
“The art of getting men on board a ship, bedding them down, each with his
own bundle of kit, in one place, and storing their rifles in another,
without confusion or loss of time.”  _Quite_ a new subject, and one in
which previous studies, Classics, Literature, Philosophy, Art, were not
going to be of any great value.

Perhaps it would be as well to take the Jemadar, Havildars and Naiks on a
personally conducted tour to the armoury, quarters, cooking-places and
taps, and explain the _modus operandi_ to them as well as he could.  One
can do a good deal to eke out a scanty knowledge of the vernacular by
means of signs and wonders—though sometimes one makes the signs and the
other person wonders. . . .

Returning to the oven-like shed, resonant with the piercing howls of
_byle-ghari-wallas_, {54} coolies, Lascars and overseers; the racking
rattle and clang and clatter of chains, cranes, derricks and
donkey-engines; the crashing of iron-bound wheels over cobble-stones, and
the general pandemonium of a busy wharf, he beckoned the Jemadar to him
and made him understand that he wanted a couple of Havildars and four
Naiks to accompany him on board.

Suddenly he had a bright idea.  (Good old drill-book and retentive memory
of things read, heard, or seen!) . . .  “Why have you set no sentry over
the arms, Jemadar Sahib?  It should not be necessary for me to have to
give the order,” he said as well as he could in his halting Hindustani.

The Jemadar looked annoyed—and distinctly felt as he looked.  Half the
men had heard the reproof.  He, an old soldier of fifteen years’ service,
to be set right by a child like this!  And the annoying part of it was
that the amateur was right!  Of course he should have put a sentry over
the arms.  It was probably the first time he had omitted to do so, when
necessary, since he had first held authority . . . and he raged inwardly.
There are few things that annoy an Indian more than to be “told off”
before subordinates, particularly when he is obviously in the wrong.  Was
this youthful Greene Sahib a person of more knowledge and experience than
had been reported by the Adjutant’s Office _babu_?  The _babu_ had
certainly described him as one whom the other officers laughed at for his
ignorance and inexperience.  Had not the worthy Chatterji Chuckerbutti
related in detail how Macteith Sahib had called upon his gods and feigned
great sickness after offensively examining Greene Sahib through his
field-glasses?  Strange and unfathomable are the ways of Sahibs, and
perhaps the true inwardness of the incident had been quite otherwise?  It
might have been an honorific ceremony, in fact, and Macteith Sahib might
have feigned sickness at his own unworthiness, according to etiquette?
. . .  After all, the military salute itself is only a motion simulating
the shading of one’s eyes from the effulgent glory of the person one
salutes; and the Oriental bowing and touching the forehead is only a
motion simulating taking up dust and putting it on one’s head. . . .
Yes—the _babu_ may have been wrong, and Macteith Sahib may really have
been acclaiming Greene Sahib his superior, and declaring his own
miserable unworthiness. . . .  One never knew with Sahibs.  Their minds
are unreadable, and one can never get at what they are thinking, or grasp
their point of view.  One could only rest assured that there is always
method in their madness—that they are clever as devils, brave as lions,
and—averse from giving commissions as lieutenants, captains, majors, and
colonels to Indian Native Officers. . .

“Get a move on, Jemadar Sahib,” said the voice of Greene Sahib curtly, in
English, and the Jemadar bustled off to set the sentry and call the
Havildars and Naiks—rage in his heart. . . .

More easily than he had expected, Bertram found his way, at the head of
the party, to the required places, and showed the Jemadar and
Non-commissioned Officers how the men should come and depart, in such
manner as to avoid hindering each other and to obviate the possibility of
a jam.

The Jemadar began to ask questions, and Bertram began to dislike the
Jemadar.  He was a talker, and appeared to be what schoolboys call
“tricky.”  He knew that Bertram had very little Hindustani, and seemed
anxious to increase the obviousness of the fact.

Bertram felt unhappy and uncomfortable.  He wished to be perfectly
courteous to him as a Native Officer, but it would not do to let the man
mistake politeness for weakness, and inexperience for inefficiency. . . .
Was there a faint gleam of a grin on the fellow’s face as he said: “I do
not understand,” at the end of Bertram’s attempt at explanation?

“Do _you_ understand?” the latter said, suddenly, turning to the senior
Havildar, the man who had turned out the Guard for him on his first
approach to the Lines on that recent day that seemed so long ago.

“_Han_, {56a} _Sahib_,” replied the man instantly and readily.
“_Béshak_!” {56b}

“Then you’d better explain to the Jemadar Sahib, who does not,” said
Bertram with a click of his jaw, as he turned to depart.

The Jemadar hastened to explain that he _fully_ understood, as Bertram
strode off.  Apparently complete apprehension had come as soon as he
realised that his dullness was to be enlightened by the explanation of
the quicker-witted Havildar.  He gave that innocent and unfortunate man a
look of bitter hatred, and, as he followed Bertram, he ground his teeth.
Havildar Afzul Khan Ishak should live to learn the extreme unwisdom of
understanding things that Jemadar Hassan Ali professed not to understand.
As for Second-Lieutenant Greene—perhaps he should live to learn the
unwisdom of quarrelling with an experienced Native Officer who was the
sole channel of communication between that stranger and the Draft at
whose head he had been placed by a misguided Sircar. . . .

Returning to the wharf, and conscious that he had a splitting head, a
sticky mouth, shaking limbs, sore throat and husky voice, Bertram roared
orders to the squatting Sepoys, who sprang up, fell in, unpiled arms, and
marched in file up the gangway and down into the bowels of the ship,
shepherded and directed by the Non-commissioned Officers whom he had
posted at various strategic points.  All went well, and, an hour later,
his first job was successfully accomplished.  His men were on board and
“shaking down” in their new quarters.  He was free to retire to his
cabin, bathe his throbbing head, and lie down for an hour or so.

                                * * * * *

At about midday he arose refreshed, and went on deck, with the delightful
feeling that, his own labours of the moment accomplished, he could look
on at the accomplishment of those of others.  Excellent! . . .  And for
many days to come he would be free from responsibility and anxiety, he
would have a time of rest, recuperation, and fruitful thought and study.
. . .  Throughout the morning detachments of Sepoys of the Indian Army
and Imperial Service Troops continued to arrive at the wharf and to
embark.  Bertram was much interested in a double-company of Gurkhas under
a Gurkha Subedar, their yellowish Mongolian faces eloquent of
determination, grit, and hardiness.

They contrasted strongly with a company of tall, hairy Sikhs, almost
twice their size, man for man, but with evidences of more enthusiasm than
discipline in their bearing.  Another interesting unit was a band of
warriors of very mixed nationality, under a huge Jemadar who looked a
picture of fat contentment, his face knowing no other expression than an
all-embracing smile.  It was whispered later that this unit saw
breech-loading rifles for the first time, on board the _Elymas_, having
been more familiar, hitherto, with jezails, jingals, match-locks,
flintlocks, and blunderbusses.  Probably a gross exaggeration, or an
invention of Lieutenant Stanner, of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth, who
gave them the name of “The Mixed Pickles.”

All three of these detachments were Imperial Service Troops—that is to
say, were in the service of various Indian Rajahs—but were of very
different value, both the Gurkhas and the Sikhs being as good material as
could be found among native troops anywhere in the world.

To Bertram, the picture of the little Gurkha Subedar, the tall Sikh
Subedar, and the burly Jemadar of the Mixed Pickles, was a very
interesting one, as the three stood together on the wharf, eyeing each
other like three strange dogs of totally different breeds—say, a fighting
terrier, a wolf-hound and a mastiff.

With a snap and a slick, and a smart “_One two_,” a company of British
Infantry arrived and embarked.  Beside the Mixed Pickles they were as a
Navy motor-launch beside a native bunderboat.  At them they smiled
amusedly, at the Sikhs they stared, and at the Gurkhas they grinned
appreciatively.

The news having spread that the _Elymas_ would not start until the
morrow, various visitors came on board, in search of friends whom they
knew to be sailing by her.  Captain Stott, R.A.M.C., came over from the
_Madras_ hospital ship, in search of Colonel Haldon.  Murray and Macteith
came down to see Stanner, of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth, and one
Terence Brannigan, of the Baluchis. . . .

“Who’s the chap on your right, Colonel?” asked Captain Stott, of gentle
and kindly old Colonel Haldon at dinner that evening.  “Rather an unusual
face to be ‘in’ khaki—or one would have said so before the war,” and he
indicated Bertram.

“Dunno,” was the reply.  “Stranger to me.  Nice-lookin’ boy. . . .  Looks
a wee-trifle more like a chaplain than a butcher, as you say,” though
Captain Stott had not said that at all.

Seeing Bertram talking to Murray and Macteith after dinner, Captain Stott
asked the latter who he was, for physiognomy and character-study were a
hobby of his.

Macteith told him what he knew, and added: “And they’re sending _that_
half-baked milksop to British East” (and implied: “While _I_, Lieutenant
and Quartermaster Reginald Macteith, remain to kick my heels at the
depot.”)

Next day the _Elymas_ began her voyage, a period of delightful _dolce far
niente_ that passed like a dream, until one wonderful evening, the
palm-clad shores of Africa “arose from out of the azure sea,” and, with a
great thrill of excitement, hope, anxiety and fear Bertram gazed upon the
beautiful scene, as the _Elymas_ threaded the lovely Kilindini Creek
which divides the Island of Mombasa from the mainland.



CHAPTER V
_Mrs. Stayne-Brooker_


And on those same palm-clad shores that arose from out the azure sea, an
unhappy woman had been expiating, by long years of bitter suffering, in
tears and shame and humiliation, the madness of a moment. . . .

Mrs. Stayne-Brooker’s life in German East Africa was, if possible less
happy than her life in the British colony.  The men she met in Nairobi,
Mombasa, Zanzibar, Witu or Lamu, though by no means all gentlemen, all
treated her as a gentlewoman; while the men she met in Dar-es-Salaam,
Tanga, Tabora, Lindi or Bukoba, whether “gentlemen” or otherwise, did
not.  In British East Africa her husband was treated by planters,
Government officials, sportsmen, and Army men, as the popular and cheery
old Charlie Stayne-Brooker—a good man in the club-bar, card-room and
billiard-room, on the racecourse, at the tent club, and on shooting
trips.  With several Assistant District Commissioners and officers of the
King’s African Rifles he was very intimate.  In German East Africa he was
treated differently—in a way difficult to define.  It was as though he
were a person of importance, but _déclassé_ and contemptible, and this
impression she gained in spite of her knowing no German (a condition of
ignorance upon which her husband insisted).  The average German official
and officer, whether of the exiled Junker class, or of plebeian origin,
she loathed—partly because they seemed to consider her “fair game,” and
made love to her, in more or less broken English, without shame or
cessation.  Nor did it make life easier for the poor lady that her
husband appeared to take delight in the fact.  She wondered whether this
was due to pride in seeing a possession of his coveted by his
“high-well-born,” and other, compatriots, or to a desire to keep ever
before her eyes a realisation of what her fate would be if he cast her
off, or she ran away from him.

Worst of all was life in the isolated lonely house on his coffee and
rubber plantation, where for months on end she would never see a white
face but his, and for weeks on end, when he was away on his mysterious
affairs, no white face at all. . . .  And at the bottom of his compound
were _bandas_, grass huts, in an enclosure, wherein dwelt native women.
. . .

One night, in the year 1914, she sat alone in the silent lonely house,
thinking of her daughter Eva at Cheltenham, of her happy, if hapless,
girlhood in her father’s house, of her brief married life with an
honourable English gentleman (oh, the contrast!), and wondering how much
longer she could bear her punishment. . .  Suddenly and noiselessly
appeared in the verandah her husband’s chief factotum, head house-boy,
and familiar, one Murad, an Arab-Swahili, whom she feared and detested.

“_Bwana_ coming,” said he shortly, and as noiselessly disappeared.

Going out on to the verandah, she saw her husband and a few “boys”
(gun-bearers, porters, and servants) coming through the garden.  It was
seven weeks since she had seen or heard anything of him.

“Pack,” was his greeting, “at once.  You start on _safari_ to the railway
as soon as possible, or sooner.  You are going to Mombasa.  I have cabled
to Eva to come out by the next boat. . . .  P. and O. to Aden, and thence
to Mombasa. . . .  She should be here in three weeks or so . . .” and he
went off to bath and change.  At dinner he informed her that she was to
settle at Mombasa with Eva, make as many new friends as possible,
entertain, and generally be the most English of English matrons with the
most English of English daughters—the latter fresh from boarding-school
in England. . . .  Dear old Charlie Stayne-Brooker, it was to be known,
had gone to Bukoba, to the wonderful sleeping-sickness hospital, for
diagnosis of an illness.  Nothing serious, really, of course—but one
couldn’t be too careful when one had trouble with the glands of the neck,
and certain other symptoms, after spending some time in that beastly
tsetse-fly country. . . .  She was to give the impression that he had
made light of it, and quite “taken her in”—wouldn’t dream of allowing his
wife and daughter to go up there.  People were to form the opinion that
poor old Charlie might be in a worse way than his wife imagined.

_And_ if such a thing as war broke out; _if_ such a thing came to pass,
mark you; her house in Mombasa was to be a perfect Home-from-Home for the
officers of the British Expeditionary Force which would undoubtedly be
dispatched from India.  It would almost certainly be the Nth Division
from Bombay—so she need not anticipate the pleasure of receiving her late
husband and his friends. . . .  Further instructions she would receive in
the event of war, but meanwhile, and all the time, her business was to
demonstrate the utter Englishness of the Stayne-Brooker family, and to
keep her eyes and ears open.  What General or Staff-Officer will not
“talk” to a beautiful woman—of the right sort?  Eh?  Ha-Ha! That was her
business in Mombasa now—_and ten times more so if war broke out_—to be a
beautiful woman—of the right sort, tremendously popular with the people
who know things and do things.  Moreover, Eva, her daughter, was to be
trained right sedulously to be a beautiful woman—of the right sort. . . .
Staff-officers in her pocket.  Eh?  Ha-Ha! . . .  And, sick at heart,
loving her daughter, loathing her husband, and loathing the unspeakable
rôle he would force upon her, Mrs. Stayne-Brooker travelled to Mombasa,
met her daughter with mingled joy and terror, happiness and apprehensive
misery, and endeavoured to serve two masters—her conscience and her
husband.



CHAPTER VI
_Mombasa_


“If you’d like to go ashore and have a look at Mombasa after tiffin, Mr.
Greene,” said the fourth officer of the _Elymas_ to Bertram, the next
morning, as he leant against the rail and gazed at the wonderful
palm-forest of the African shore, “some of us are going for a row—to
stretch our muscles.  We could drop you at the Kilindini _bunder_.”

“Many thanks,” replied Bertram.  “I shall be very much obliged,” and he
smiled his very attractive and pleasant smile.

This was a welcome offer, for, privately, he hated being taken ashore
from a ship by natives of the harbour in which the ship lay.  One never
knew exactly what to pay the wretches.  If one asked what the fare was,
they always named some absurd amount, and if one used one’s common sense
and gave them what seemed a reasonable sum they were inevitably hurt,
shocked, disappointed in one, indignantly broken-hearted, and invariably
waxed clamorous, protestful, demanding more.  It had been the same at
Malta, Port Said and Aden on his way out to India.  In Bombay harbour he
had once gone for a morning sail in a bunderboat, and on their return,
the captain of the crew of three had demanded fifteen rupees for a
two-hour sail.  A pound for two hours in a cranky sailing-boat!—and the
scoundrels had followed him up the steps clamouring vociferously, until a
native policeman had fallen upon them with blows and curses. . . .  How
he wished he was of those men who can give such people their due in such
a manner that they receive it in respectful silence, with apparent
contentment, if not gratitude.  Something in the eye and the set of the
jaw, evidently—and so was glad of the fourth officer’s kind suggestion.

He would have been still more glad had he heard the fourth officer
announce, at table, to his colleagues: “I offered to drop that chap,
Lieutenant Greene, at Kilindini this afternoon, when we go for our grind.
He can take the tiller-ropes. . . .  I like him the best of the lot—no
blooming swank and side about him.”

“Yes,” agreed the “wireless” operator, “he doesn’t talk to you as though
he owned the earth, but was really quite pleased to let you stand on it
for a bit. . . .  I reckon he’ll do all right, though, when he
gets-down-to-it with the Huns—if he doesn’t get done in. . . .”

And so it came to pass that Bertram was taken ashore that afternoon by
some half-dozen officers and officials (including the doctor, the purser,
and the Marconi operator) of the _Elymas_—worthy representatives of that
ill-paid, little-considered service, that most glorious and
beyond-praise, magnificent service, the British Mercantile Marine—and,
landing in state upon the soil of the Dark Continent, knew “the pleasure
that touches the souls of men landing on strange shores.”

Arrived at the top of the stone steps of the Kilindini quay, Bertram
encountered Africa in the appropriately representative person of a vast
negro gentleman, who wore a red fez cap (or tarboosh), a very long white
calico night-dress and an all-embracing smile.

“_Jambo_!” quoth the huge Ethiopian, and further stretched his lips an
inch nearer to his ears on either side.

Not being aware that the African “_Jambo_” is equivalent to the Indian
“_Salaam_,” and means “Greeting and Good Health,” or words to that
effect, Bertram did not counter with a return “_Jambo_,” but nodded
pleasantly and said: “Er—good afternoon.”

Whereupon the ebon one remarked: “Oh, my God, sah, ole chap, thank you,”
to show, in the first place, that he quite realised the situation (to
wit, Bertram’s excusable ignorance of Swahili-Arabic), and that he was
himself, fortunately, a fluent English scholar.  Bertram stared in
amazement at the pleasant-faced, friendly-looking giant.

“_Bwana_ will wanting servant, ole chap,” continued the negro, “don’t it?
I am best servant for _Bwana_.  Speaking English like hell, sah, please.
Waiting here for _Bwana_ before long time to come.  Good afternoon, thank
you, please, Master, by damn, ole chap.  Also bringing letter for
_Bwana_. . . .  You read, thanks awfully, your mos’ obedient servant by
damn, oh, God, thank you, sah,” and produced a filthy envelope from some
inner pocket of the aforementioned night-dress, which, innocent of
buttons or trimming, revealed his tremendous bare chest.

Bertram felt uncomfortable, and, for a moment, again wished that he was
one of those men-with-an-eye-and-a-jaw who could give a glare, a grunt,
and a jerk of the head which would cause the most importunate native to
fade unobtrusively away.

On the one hand, he knew it would be folly to engage as a servant the
first wandering scoundrel who accosted him and suggested that he should
do so; while, on the other, he distinctly liked this man’s cheery,
smiling face, he realised that servants would probably be at a decided
premium, and he recognised the extreme desirability of having a servant,
if have one he must, who spoke English, however weird, and understood it
when spoken.  Should he engage the man then and there?  Would he, by so
doing, show himself a man of quick decision and prompt action—one of
those forceful, incisive men he so admired?  Or would he merely be acting
foolishly and prematurely, merely exhibiting himself as a rash and
unbalanced young ass?  Anyhow, he would read the “chits” which the filthy
envelope presumably contained.  If these were satisfactory, he would tell
the man that the matter was under consideration, and that he might look
out for him again and hear his decision.

As Bertram surmised, the envelope contained the man’s “chits,” or
testimonials.  The first stated that Ali Sloper, the bearer, had been on
_safari_ with the writer, and had proved to be a good plain cook, a
reliable and courageous gun-carrier, a good shot, and an honest, willing
worker.  The second was written by a woman whose house-boy Ali Suleiman
had been for two years in Mombasa, and who stated that she had had worse
ones.  The third and last was written at the Nairobi Club by a
globe-trotting Englishman named Stayne-Brooker, who had employed the man
as personal “boy” and headman of porters, on a protracted lion-shooting
trip across the Athi and Kapiti Plains and found him intelligent, keen,
cheery, and staunch.  (_Where had he heard the name Stayne-Brooker
before—or had he dreamed it as a child_?)  Certainly this fellow was
well-recommended, and appeared to be just the man to take as one’s
personal servant on active service.  But _did_ one take a servant on
active service?  One could not stir, or exist, without one in India, and
officers took syces and servants with them on frontier campaigns—but
Africa is not India. . . .  However, he could soon settle that point by
asking.

“I’ll think about it,” he said, returning the chits.  “I shall be coming
ashore again to-morrow. . . .  How much pay do you want?”

“Oh, sah!  Master not mentioning it!” was the reply of this remarkable
person.  “Oh, nothing, nothing, sah!  _Bwana_ offering me forty rupees a
mensem, I say ‘No, sah!  Too much.’ . . .  Master not mention it.”

“It might not be half a bad idea to mention it, y’know,” said Bertram,
smiling and turning to move on.

“Oh, God, sah, thank you, please,” replied Ali Sloper, _alias_ Ali
Suleiman.  “I do not wanting forty.  I am accepting thirty rupees, sah,
and am now your mos’ obedient servant by damn from the beginning for
ever.  And when _Bwana_, loving me still more, can pay more, ole chap.
God bless my thank-you soul”—and “fell in” behind Bertram as though
prepared to follow him thence to the end of the world or beyond.

Bertram gazed around, and found that he was in a vast yard, two sides of
which were occupied by the largest corrugated-iron sheds he had ever seen
in his life.  One of these appeared to be the Customs shed, and into
another a railway wandered.  Between two of them, great gates let a white
sandy road escape into the Unknown.  On the stone quay the heat, shut in
and radiated by towering iron sheds, was the greatest he had ever
experienced, and he gasped for breath and trickled with perspiration.  He
devoutly hoped that this was not a fair sample of Africa’s normal
temperature.  Doubtless it would be cooler away from the quay, which,
with the iron sheds, seemed to form a Titanic oven for the quick and
thorough baking of human beings.  It being Sunday afternoon, there were
but few such, and those few appeared to be thoroughly enjoying the
roasting process, if one might judge from their grinning faces and happy
laughter.  They were all Africans, and, for the most part, clad in long,
clean night-dresses and fez caps.  Evidently Ali Sloper or Suleiman was
dressed in the height of local fashion.  On a bench, by the door of the
Customs shed, lounged some big negroes in dark blue tunics and shorts,
with blue puttees between bare knees and bare feet.  Their tall
tarbooshes made them look even taller than they were, and the big brass
plates on their belt-buckles shone like gold.  Bertram wondered whether
the Germans had just such brawny giants in their Imperial African Rifles,
and tried to imagine himself defeating one of them in single combat.  The
effort was a failure.

At the gates was a very different type of person, smarter, quicker, more
active and intelligent-looking, a Sikh Sepoy of the local military
police.  The man sprang to attention and saluted with a soldierly
promptness and smartness that were a pleasure to behold.

Outside the dock, the heat was not quite so intense, but the white sandy
road, running between high grass and palms, also ran uphill, and, as the
perspiration ran down his face, Bertram wished he might discover the
vilest, most ramshackle and moth-eaten _tikka-ghari_ that ever disgraced
the streets of Bombay.  That the hope was vain he knew, and that in all
the island of Mombasa there is no single beast of burden, thanks to the
tsetse fly, whose sting is death to them. . . .  And the Mombasa Club,
the Fort, and European quarter were at the opposite side of the island,
four miles away, according to report.  Where were these trolley-trams of
which he had heard?  If he had to walk much farther up this hill, his
uniform would look as though he had swum ashore in it.

“Master buck up like hell, ole chap, thank you,” boomed a voice behind.
“Trolley as nearer as be damned please.  Niggers make push by Jove to
Club, thank God,” and turning, Bertram beheld the smiling Ali beaming
down upon him as he strolled immediately behind him.

“Go away, you ass,” replied the hot and irritated Bertram, only to
receive an even broader smile and the assurance that his faithful old
servant would never desert him—not after having been his devoted slave
since so long a time ago before and for ever more after also.  And a
minute or two later the weary warfarer came in sight of a very narrow,
single tram-line, beside the road.  Where this abruptly ended stood a
couple of strange vehicles, like small, low railway-trolleys, with wheels
the size of dinner-plates.  On each trolley was a seat of sufficient
length to accommodate two people, and above the bench was a canvas roof
or shade, supported by iron rods.  From a neighbouring bench sprang four
men, also clad in night-dresses and fez caps, who, with strange howls and
gesticulations, bore down upon the approaching European.

“_Hapa_, {66} _Bwana_!” they yelled.  “_Trolley hapa_,” and, for a
moment, Bertram thought they would actually seize him and struggle for
possession of his body.  He determined that if one of the shrieking
fiends laid a hand upon him, he would smite him with what violence he
might.  The heat was certainly affecting his temper.  He wondered what it
would feel like to strike a man—a thing he had never done in his life.
But, on reaching him, the men merely pointed to their respective trolleys
and skipped back to them, still pointing, and apparently calling Heaven
to witness their subtle excellences and charms.

As Bertram was about to step on to the foremost trolley, the men in
charge of the other sprang forward with yelps of anguish, only to receive
cause for louder yelps of deeper anguish at the hands of Ali, who, with
blows and buffets, drove them before him.  Bertram wondered why the pair
of them, each as big as their assailant, should flee before him thus.
Was it by reason of Ali’s greater moral force, juster cause, superior
social standing as the follower of a white man, or merely the fact that
he took it upon him to be the aggressor.  Probably the last.
Anyhow—thank Heaven for the gloriously cool and refreshing breeze, caused
by the rapid rush of the trolley through the heavy air, as the
trolley-“boys” ran it down the decline from the hill-top whence they had
started.

As soon as the trolley had gained sufficient momentum, they leapt on to
the back of the vehicle, and there clung until it began to slow down
again.  Up-hill they slowly pushed with terrific grunts, on the level
they maintained a good speed, and down-hill the thing rattled, bumped and
bounded at a terrific pace, the while Bertram wondered how long it would
keep the rails, and precisely what would happen if it jumped them.  Had
he but known it, there was a foot-brake beneath the seat, which he should
have used when going down-hill.  ’Twas not for the two specimens of
Afric’s ebon sons, who perched and clung behind him, to draw his
attention to it.  Was he not a _Bwana_, a white man, and therefore one
who knew all things?  And if he wanted to break his neck had he not a
right so to do?  And if they, too, should be involved in the mighty
smash, would not that fact prove quite conclusively that it was their
_kismet_ to be involved in the smash, and therefore inevitable?  Who
shall avoid his fate? . . .  And so, in blissful ignorance, Bertram
swooped down-hill in joyous, mad career.  He wished the pace were slower
at times, for everything was new and strange and most interesting.
Native huts, such as he had seen in pictures (labelled “kaffir-kraals”)
in his early geography book, alternated with official-looking buildings,
patches of jungle; gardens of custard-apple, mango, paw-paw, banana, and
papai trees; neat and clean police-posts, bungalows, cultivated fields,
dense woods and occasional mosques, Arab houses, go-downs, {67} temples,
and native infantry “lines.”

On the dazzlingly white road (which is made of coral and nothing else)
were few people.  An occasional Indian Sepoy, a British soldier, an
_askari_ of the King’s African Rifles, an official _peon_ with a
belt-plate as big as a saucer (and bearing some such legend as _Harbour
Police_ or _Civil Hospital_), a tall Swahili in the inevitable long
night-dress and tarboosh, or a beautifully worked skull cap, a file of
native women clad each in a single garment of figured cotton which
extended from arm-pit to ankle, leaving the arms and shoulders bare.  The
hairdressing of these ladies interested Bertram, for each head displayed
not one, but a dozen, partings, running from the forehead to the neck,
and suggesting the seams on a football.  At the end of each parting was a
brief pigtail bound with wire.  Bertram wondered why these women always
walked one behind the other in single file, and decided that it was an
inherited and unconscious instinct implanted by a few thousand years of
use of narrow jungle-paths from which they dared not stray as the armed
men-folk did. . . .

After half an hour or so of travelling this thrillingly interesting road,
Bertram perceived that they were drawing near to the busy haunts of men.
From a church, a congregation of Goanese or else African-Portuguese was
pouring.  The scene was a very Indian one—the women, with their dusky
faces and long muslin veils worn _sari_-fashion over their European
dresses of cotton or satin; the men, with their rusty black suits or
cotton coats and trousers and European hats or solar _topis_.  One very
venerable gentleman, whose ancestors certainly numbered more Africans
than Portuguese, wore a golfing suit (complete, except for the
stockings), huge hob-nailed boots, and an over-small straw-yard with a
gay ribbon.  A fine upstanding specimen of the race, obviously the idol
of his young wife, who walked beside him with her adoring gaze fixed upon
his shining face, began well with an authentic silk hat, continued
excellently with a swallow-tailed morning-coat, white waistcoat, high
collar and black satin tie, but fell away from these high achievements
with a pair of tight short flannel tennis-trousers, grey Army socks, and
white canvas shoes.

“An idol with feet of pipe-clay,” smiled Bertram to himself, as his
chariot drove heavily through the throng, and his charioteers howled
“_Semeele_!  _Semeele_!” at the tops of their voices.

Soon the tram-line branched and bifurcated, and tributary lines joined it
from garden-enclosed bungalows and side turnings.  Later he discovered
that every private house has its own private tram-line running from its
front door down its drive out to the main line in the street, and that,
in Mombasa, one keeps one’s own trolley for use on the public line, as
elsewhere one keeps one’s own carriage or motor-car.

On, past the Grand Hotel, a stucco building of two storeys, went the
rumbling, rattling vehicle, past a fine public garden and blindingly
white stucco houses that lined the blindingly white coral road, across a
public square adorned with flowering shrubs and trees, to where arose a
vast grey pile, the ancient blood-drenched Portuguese fort, and a
narrow-streeted, whitewashed town of tall houses and low shops began.

Here the trolley-boys halted, and Bertram found himself at the entrance
of the garden of the Mombasa Club, which nestles in the shadow of its
mighty neighbour, the Fort—where once resided the Portuguese Governor and
the garrison that defied the Arab and kept “the Island of Blood” for
Portugal, and where now reside the Prison Governor and the convicts that
include the Arab, and keep the public gardens for the public.

Boldly entering the Club, Bertram left his card on the Secretary and
Members (otherwise stuck it on a green-baize board devoted to that
purpose), and commenced a tour of inspection of the almost empty
building.  Evidently Society did not focus itself until the cool of the
evening, in Africa as in India, and evidently this club very closely
resembled a thousand others across the Indian Ocean from Bombay to Hong
Kong, where the Briton congregates in exile.  The only difference between
this and any “station” club in India appeared to be in the facts that the
servants were negroes and the trophies on the walls were different and
finer.  Magnificent horns, such as India does not produce, alternated
with heads of lion and other feral beasts.  Later Bertram discovered
another difference in that the cheery and hospitable denizens of the
Mombasa Club were, on the whole, a thirstier race than those of the
average Indian club, and prone to expect and desire an equal thirst in
one their guest.  He decided that it was merely a matter of climate—a
question of greater humidity.

Emerging from an airy and spacious upstairs bar-room on to a vast
verandah, his breath was taken away by the beauty of the scene that met
his eye, a scene whose charm lay chiefly in its colouring, in the
wonderful sapphire blue of the strip of sea that lay between the low
cliff, on which the club was built, and the bold headland of the opposite
shore of the mainland, the vivid emerald green of the cocoa-palms that
clothed that same headland, the golden clouds, the snowy white-horses
into which the wind (which is always found in this spot and nowhere else
in Mombasa) whipped the wavelets of the tide-rip, the mauve-grey
distances of the Indian Ocean, with its wine-dark cloud-shadows, the
brown-grey of the hoary fort (built entirely of coral), the rich red of
tiled roofs, the vivid splashes of red, orange, yellow and purple from
flowering vine and tree and shrub—a wonderful colour-scheme enhanced and
intensified by the dazzling brightness of the sun and the crystal
clearness of the limpid, humid air. . . .  And in such surroundings Man
had earned the title of “The Island of Blood” for the beautiful
place—and, once again, as in those barbarous far-off days of Arab and
Portuguese, the shedding of blood was the burden of his song and the high
end and aim of his existence. . . .  Bertram sank into a long chair, put
his feet up on the mahogany leg-rests, and slaked the colour-thirst of
his æsthetic soul with quiet, joyous thankfulness. . . .  Beautiful! . . .

What would his father say when he knew that his son was at the Front? . . .

What was Miranda doing?  Nursing, probably. . . .  What would _she_ say
when she knew that he was at the Front? . . .  Dear old Miranda. . . .

Where had he heard the name, _Stayne-Brooker_, before?  _Had_ he dreamed
it in a nightmare as a child—or had he heard it mentioned in hushed
accents of grief and horror by the “grown-ups” at Leighcombe Priory? . . .
Some newspaper case perhaps. . . .  He had certainly heard it before.
. . .  He closed his eyes. . . .

A woman strolled by with a selection of magazines in her hand, and took a
chair that commanded a view of his.  Presently she noticed him. . . .  A
new-comer evidently, or she would have seen him before. . . .  What an
exceedingly nice face he had—refined, delicate. . . .  Involuntarily she
contrasted it with the face of the evil and sensual satyr to whom she was
married. . . .  She would like to talk to him. . . .

Bertram opened his eyes, and Mrs. Stayne-Brooker became absorbed in the
pages of her magazine. . . .

What a beautiful face she had, and _how_ sad and weary she looked . . .
drawn and worried and anxious. . . .  Had she perhaps a beloved husband
in the fighting-line somewhere?  He would like to talk to her—she looked
so kind and so unhappy. . . .  A girl, whose face he did not see, came
and called her away. . .



CHAPTER VII
_The Mombasa Club_


As Bertram lay drinking in the beauty of the scene, the Club began to
fill, and more particularly that part of it devoted to the dispensation
and consumption of assorted alcoholic beverages.  Almost everybody was in
uniform, the majority in that of the Indian Army (as there was a large
base camp of the Indian Expeditionary Force at Kilindini), and the
remainder in those of British regiments, the Navy, the Royal Indian
Marine, the Royal Engineers, the Royal Army Medical Corps, Artillery,
local Volunteer Corps, and the “Legion of Frontiersmen.”  A few ladies
adorned the lawn and verandahs.  Two large and weather-beaten but
unascetic-looking men of middle age sat them down in chairs which stood
near to that of Bertram.  They were clad in khaki tunics, shorts and
puttees, and bore the legend “C.C.” in letters of brass on each
shoulder-strap.

“Hullo!” said the taller of them to Bertram, who was wondering what
“C.C.” might mean.  “Just come ashore from the _Elymas_?  Have a drink?”

“Yes,” replied he; “just landed. . . .  Thanks—may I have a lime-squash?”

“What the devil’s that?” asked the other, and both men regarded him
seriously and with a kind of shocked interest.  “Never heard of it.”

“Don’t think they keep it here,” put in the shorter of the two men.  “How
d’you make it?”

“Lemon-juice, soda-water, and sugar,” replied Bertram, and felt that he
was blushing in a childish and absurd manner.

Both men shook their heads, more in sorrow than in anger.  They looked at
each other, as might two physicians at the bedside of one whose folly has
brought him to a parlous pass.

“Quite new to Africa?” enquired the taller.

“Yes.  Quite,” confessed Bertram.

“Ah!  Well, let me give you a word of advice then,” continued the man.
“_Don’t touch dangerous drinks_.  Avoid all harmful liquor as you would
poison.  It is poison, in this climate.  Drink is the curse of Africa.
It makes the place the White Man’s Grave.  You can’t be too careful. . . .
Can you, Piggy?” he added, turning to his friend.

“Quite right, Bill,” replied “Piggy,” as he rang a little bell that stood
on a neighbouring table.  “Let’s have a ‘Devil’s Own’ cocktail and then
some beer for a start, shall we? . . .  No—can’t be too careful. . . .
Look at me f’r example.  Been in the country quarter of a century, an’
never exceeded once!  Never _tasted_ it, in fact.”

“What—alcohol?” enquired Bertram.

“No. . . .  I was talking about harmful liquor,” replied Piggy patiently.
“Things like—_what_ did you call it? . . .  Chalk-squash?”

“Lime-squash,” admitted Bertram with another glowing blush.

“Give it up, Sonny, give it up,” put in Bill.  “Turn over a new leaf and
start afresh.  Make up your mind that, Heaven helping you, you’ll never
touch a drop of the accursed poison again, but forswear slops and live
cleanly; totally abstaining from—what is it?—soda-crunch?—fruit-juice,
ginger-beer, lemonade, toast-water, barley-water, dirty-water,
raspberryade, and all such filthy decoctions and inventions. . . .”

“Yes—give the country a chance,” interrupted Piggy.  “Climate’s all right
if you’ll take reasonable care and live moderately,” and he impatiently
rang the little bell again.  “’Course, if you _want_ to be ill and come
to an early and dishonourable grave, drink all the rot-gut you can lay
hands on—and break your mother’s heart. . . .”

Piggy lay back in his chair and gazed pensively at the ceiling.  So did
Bill.  Bertram felt uncomfortable.  “Dear, dear, dear!” murmured Bill,
between a sigh and a grunt.  “Chalk-powder and lemonade! . . . what a
nerve! . . .  Patient, unrecognised, unrewarded heroism.  .  .  .”

“Merciful Heaven,” whispered Piggy, “slaked-lime and ginger-beer! . .
What rash, waste courage and futile bravery. . . .”  And suddenly leapt
to his feet, swung the bell like a railway porter announcing the advent
of a train, and roared “_Boy_!” until a white-clad, white-capped Swahili
servant came running.

“_N’jo_, Boy!” he shouted.  “Come here! . . .  Lot of lazy, fat
_n’gombe_. {72a} . . .  Three ‘Devil’s Own’ cocktails, _late hapa_,”
{72b} and as, with a humble “_Verna_, _Bwana_,” the servant hurried to
the bar, grumbling.

“And now he’ll sit and have a _shauri_ {72c} with his pals, while we die
of thirst in this accursed land of sin and sorrow. . . .  Beastly
_shenzis_. {72d} . . .”

“You don’t like Africa?” said Bertram, for the sake of something to say.

“Finest country on God’s earth. . . .  The _only_ country,” was the
prompt reply.

“I suppose the negro doesn’t make a very good servant?” Bertram
continued, as Piggy rumbled on in denunciation.

“Finest servants in the world,” answered that gentleman.  “The _only_
servants, in fact. . . .”

“Should I take one with me on active service?” asked Bertram, suddenly
remembering Ali Suleiman, _alias_ Sloper.

“If you can get one,” was the reply.  “You’ll be lucky if you can. . . .
All snapped up by the officers of the Expeditionary Force, long ago.”

“Yes,” agreed Bill.  “Make all the difference to your comfort if you can
get one.  Don’t take any but a Swahili, though. . . .  You can depend on
’em, in a tight place.  The good ones, that is. . . .”

A big, fat, clean-shaven man, dressed in white drill, strolled up to the
little group.  He reminded Bertram of the portraits of Mr. William
Jennings Bryan who had recently visited India, and in three days
unhesitatingly given his verdict on the situation, his solution of all
political difficulties, and his opinion of the effete Britisher—uttering
the final condemnation of that decadent.

“Hello!  Hiram Silas P. Pocahantas of Pah,” remarked Piggy, with delicate
pleasantry, and the big man nodded, smiled, and drew up a chair.

“The drinks are on me, boys,” quoth he.  “Set ’em up,” and bursting into
song, more or less tunefully, announced—

    “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,”

whereat Bill hazarded the opinion that the day might unexpectedly and
ruddily dawn when he’d blooming well wish he bally well _had_, and that
he could join them in a cocktail if he liked—or he could bung off if he
didn’t.  Apparently William disapproved of the American’s attitude, and
that of his Government, toward the War and the Allies’ part therein; for,
on the American’s “allowing he would _con_sume a highball” and the liquor
arriving, he drank a health to those who are not too proud to fight, to
those who do not give themselves airs as the Champions of Freedom, and
then stand idly by when Freedom is trampled in the dust, and to those
whose Almighty God is not the Almighty Dollar!

Expecting trouble, Bertram was surprised to find that the American was
apparently amused, merely murmured “Shucks,” and, in the midst of a
violent political dissertation from Bill, ably supported by Piggy, went
to sleep with a long thin cigar in the corner of his long thin mouth.  He
had heard it all before.

Bertram found his Devil’s Own cocktail an exceedingly potent and
unpleasant concoction.  He decided that his first meeting with this
beverage of the Evil One should be his last, and when Piggy, suddenly
sitting up, remarked: “What’s wrong with the drinks?” and tinkled the
bell, he arose, said a hurried farewell in some confusion, and fled.

“’Tain’t right to send a half-baked lad like that to fight the Colonial
German,” observed Bill, idly watching his retreating form.

“Nope,” agreed the American, waking up.  “I _was_ going to say it’s
adding insult to injury—but you ain’t injured Fritz any, yet, I guess,”
and went to sleep again before either of the glaring Englishmen could
think of a retort.

Ere Bertram left the Club, he heard two pieces of “inside” military
information divulged quite openly, and by the Staff itself.  As he
reached the porch, a lady of fluffy appearance and kittenish demeanour
was delaying a red-tabbed captain who appeared to be endeavouring to
escape.

“And, oh, Captain, _do_ tell me what ‘A.S.C.’ and ‘C.C.’ mean,” said the
lady.  “I saw a man with ‘A.S.C.’ on his shoulders, and there are two
officers with ‘C.C.,’ in the Club. . . .  _Do_ you know what it means?  I
am _so_ interested in military matters.  Or is it a secret?”

“Oh, no!” replied the staff-officer, as he turned to flee.  “‘A.S.C.’
stands for Ally Sloper’s Cavalry, of course, and ‘C.C.’ for Coolie
Catchers. . . .  They are slave-traders, really, with a Government
contract for the supply of porters.  They get twenty rupees for each
slave caught and delivered alive, and ten for a dead one, or one who dies
within a week.”

“What do they want the _dead_ ones for?” she whispered.

“_That_ I dare not tell you,” replied the officer darkly, and with a
rapid salute, departed.

Emerging from the Club garden on to the white road, Bertram gazed around
for his trolley-boys and beheld them not.

“All right, ole chap,” boomed the voice of Ali, who suddenly appeared
beside him.  “I looking after _Bwana_.  Master going back along shippy?
I fetch trolley now and see _Bwana_ at Kilindini, thank you, please sah,
good God,” and he disappeared in the direction of the town, returning a
couple of minutes later with the trolley.

“Master not pay these dam’ thieves too much, ole chap,” he remarked.
“Two journey and one hour wait, they ask five rupees.  Master give
two-an’-a-puck.”

“How much is a ‘puck’?” enquired Bertram, ever anxious to learn.

“Sah?” returned the puzzled Ali.

“What’s a puck?” repeated Bertram, and a smile of bright intelligence
engulfed the countenance of the big Swahili.

“Oh, yessah!” he rumbled.  “Give two rupee and what _Bwana_ call
‘puck-in-the-neck.’  All the same, biff-on-the-napper, dig-in-the-ribs,
smack-in-the-eye, kick-up-the—”

“_Oh_, yes, I see,” interrupted Bertram, smiling—but at the back of his
amusement was the sad realisation that he was not of the class of
_bwanas_ who can gracefully, firmly and finally present two-and-a-puck to
extortionate and importunate trolley-boys.

He stepped on to the trolley and sat down, as Ali, saluting and salaaming
respectfully, again bade him be of good cheer and high heart, as he would
see him at Kilindini.

“How will you get there?  Would you like to ride?” asked the kind-hearted
and considerate Bertram (far too kind-hearted and considerate for the
successful handling of black or brown subordinates and inferiors).

“Oh, God, sah, no, please,” replied the smiling Ali.  “This Swahili slave
cannot sit with _Bwana_, and cannot run with damn low trolley-boys.  Can
running by self though like gentleman, thank you, please,” and as the
trolley started, added: “So long, ole chap.  See Master at Kilindini by
running like hell.  Ta-ta by damn!”  When the trolley had disappeared
round a bend of the road, he generously kilted up his flowing night-dress
and started off at the long loping trot which the African can maintain
over incredible distances.

Arrived at Kilindini, Bertram paid the trolley-boys and discovered that,
while they absorbed rupees with the greatest avidity, they looked askance
at such fractions thereof as the eight-anna, four-anna, and two-anna
piece, poking them over in their palms and finally tendering them back to
him with many grunts and shakes of the head as he said:

“Well, you’ll _have_ to take them, you silly asses,” to the
uncomprehending coolies.  “_That_ lot makes a rupee—one half-a-rupee and
two quarters, and that lot makes a rupee—four two-anna bits and two
four-annas, doesn’t it?”

But the men waxed clamorous, and one of them threw his money on the
ground with an impudent and offensive gesture.  Bertram coloured hotly,
and his fist clenched.  He hesitated; ought he. . . .  _Smack_!  _Thud_!
and the man rolled in the dust as Ali Sloper, _alias_ Suleiman, sprang
upon him, smote him again, and stood over him, pouring forth a terrific
torrent of violent vituperation.

As the victim of his swift assault obediently picked up the rejected
coins, he turned to Bertram.

“These dam’ niggers not knowing _annas_, sah,” he said, “only _cents_.
This not like East Indiaman’s country.  Hundred cents making one rupee
here.  All shopkeepers saying, ‘No damn good’ if master offering annas,
please God, sah.”

“Well—I haven’t enough money with me, then—” began Bertram.

“I pay trolley-boys, sah,” interrupted Ali quickly, “and Master can
paying me to-morrow—or on pay-day at end of mensem.”

“But, look here,” expostulated Bertram, as this new-found guide,
philosopher and friend sent the apparently satisfied coolies about their
business.  “I might not see you to-morrow.  You’d better come with me to
the ship and—”

“Oh, sah, sah!” cried the seemingly hurt and offended Ali, “am I not
_Bwana’s_ faithful ole servant?” and turning from the subject as closed,
said he would produce a boat to convey his cherished employer to his
ship.

“Master bucking up like hell now, please,” he advised.  “No boat allowed
to move in harbour after six pip emma, sah, thank God, please.”

“Who on earth’s Pip Emma?” enquired the bewildered Bertram, as they
hurried down the hill to the quay.

“What British soldier-mans and officer-_bwanas_ in Signal Corps call
‘p.m.,’ sah,” was the reply.  “Master saying ‘six p.m.,’ but Signal
_Bwana_ always saying ‘six pip emma’—all same meaning but different
language, please God, sah.  P’r’aps German talk, sah?  I do’n’ know,
sah.”

And Bertram then remembered being puzzled by a remark of Maxton (to the
effect that he had endeavoured to go down to his cabin at “three ack
emma” and being full of “beer,” had fallen “ack over tock” down the
companion), and saw light on the subject.  Truly these brigade signaller
people talked in a weird tongue that might seem a foreign language to an
uninitiated listener.

At the pier he saw Commander Finnis, of the Royal Indian Marine, and
gratefully accepted an offer of a joy-ride in his launch to the good ship
_Elymas_, to which that officer was proceeding.

“We’re disembarking you blokes to-morrow morning,” said he to Bertram, as
they seated themselves in the stern of the smart little boat.  “Indian
troops going under canvas here, and British entraining for Nairobi.  Two
British officers of Indian Army to proceed by tug at once to M’paga, a
few hours down the coast, in German East.  Scrap going on there.  Poor
devils will travel on deck, packed tight with fifty sheep and a gang of
nigger coolies. . . .  _Some_ whiff!” and he chuckled callously.

“D’you know who are going?” asked Bertram eagerly.  Suppose he should be
one of them—and in a “scrap” by this time to-morrow!  How would he
comport himself in his first fight?

“No,” yawned the Commander.  “O.C. troops on board will settle that.”

And Bertram held his peace, visualising himself as collecting his kit,
hurrying on to a dirty little tug to sit in the middle of a flock of
sheep while the boat puffed and panted through the night along the
mysterious African shore, landing on some white coral beach beneath the
palms at dawn, hurrying to join the little force fighting with its back
to the sea and its face to the foe, leaping into a trench, seizing the
rifle of a dying man whose limp fingers unwillingly relaxed their grip,
firing rapidly but accurately into the—

“Up you go,” quoth Commander Finnis, and Bertram arose and stepped on to
the platform at the bottom of the ladder that hospitably climbed the side
of His Majesty’s Troop-ship _Elymas_.



CHAPTER VIII
_Military and Naval Manœuvres_


However nonchalant in demeanour, it was an eager and excited crowd of
officers that stood around the foot of the boat-deck ladder awaiting the
result of the conference held in the Captain’s cabin, to which
meeting-place its proprietor had taken Commander Finnis before requesting
the presence of Colonel Haldon, the First Officer, and the Ship’s
Adjutant, to learn the decision and orders of the powers-that-be
concerning all and sundry, from the ship’s Captain to the Sepoys’ cook.

Who would Colonel Haldon send forthwith to M’paga, where the scrap was
even then in progress (according to Lieutenant Greene, quoting Commander
Finnis)?  What orders did the papers in the fateful little dispatch-case,
borne by the latter gentleman, contain for the various officers not
already instructed to join their respective corps?  Who would be sent to
healthy, cheery Nairobi?  Who to the vile desert at Voi?  Who to
interesting, far-distant Uganda?  Who to the ghastly mangrove-swamps down
the coast by the border of German East?  Who to places where there was
real active service, fighting, wounds, distinction and honourable death?
Who to dreary holes where they would “sit down” and sit tight, rotting
with fever and dysentery, eating out their hearts, without seeing a
single German till the end of the war. . . .

Bertram thought of a certain “lucky-dip bran-tub,” that loomed large in
memories of childhood, whence, at a Christmas party, he had seen three or
four predecessors draw most attractive and delectable toys and he had
drawn a mysterious and much-tied parcel which had proved to contain a
selection of first-class coke.  What was he about to draw from Fate’s
bran-tub to-day?

When the Ship’s Adjutant, bearing sheets of foolscap, eventually emerged
from the Captain’s cabin, ran sidling down the boat-deck ladder and
proceeded to the notice-board in the saloon-companion, followed by the
nonchalantly eager and excited crowd, as is the frog-capturing duck by
all the other ducks of the farm-yard, Bertram, with beating heart, read
down the list until he came to his own name—only to discover that Fate
had hedged.

The die was not yet cast, and Second-Lieutenant B. Greene would disembark
with detachments, Indian troops, and, at Mombasa, await further orders.

Captain Brandone and Lieutenant Stanner would proceed immediately to
M’paga, and with wild cries of “Yoicks!  Tally Ho!” and “Gone away!”
those two officers fled to their respective cabins to collect their kit.

Dinner that night was a noisy meal, and talk turned largely upon the
merits or demerits of the places from Mombasa to Uganda to which the
speakers had been respectively posted.

“Where are you going, Brannigan?” asked Bertram of that cheery Hibernian,
as he seated himself beside him.

“Where am Oi goin’, is ut, me bhoy?” was the reply.  “Faith, where the
loin-eating man—Oi mane the man-eating loins reside, bedad.  Ye’ve heard
o’ the man-eaters of Tsavo?  That’s where Oi’m goin’, me bucko—to the
man-eaters of Tsavo.”

Terence had evidently poured a libation of usquebagh before dining, for
he appeared wound up to talk.

“Begorra—if ut’s loin-eaters they are, it’s Terry Brannigan’ll gird up
_his_ loins an’ be found there missing entoirely. . . .  Oi’d misloike to
be ’aten by a loin, Greene . . .” and he frowned over the idea and grew
momentarily despondent.

“’Tis not phwat I wint for a sojer for, at all, at all,” he complained,
and added a lament to the effect that he was not as tough as O’Toole’s
pig.  But the mention of this animal appeared to have a cheering effect,
for he burst into song.

    “Ye’ve heard of Larry O’Toole,
    O’ the beautiful town o’ Drumgool?
       Faith, he had but wan eye
       To ogle ye by,
    But, begorra, that wan was a jool. . . .”

After dinner, Bertram sought out Colonel Haldon for further orders,
information and advice.

“Everybody clears off to-morrow morning, my boy,” said he, “and in
twenty-four hours we shall be scattered over a country as big as Europe.
You’ll be in command, till further orders, of all native troops landed at
Mombasa.  I don’t suppose you’ll be there long, though.  You may get
orders to bung off with the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth draft of the Hundred
and Ninety-Eighth, or you may have to see them off under a Native Officer
and go in the opposite direction yourself. . . .  Don’t worry, anyway.
You’ll be all right. . . .”

That night Bertram again slept but little, and had a bad relapse into the
old state of self-distrust, depression and anxiety.  This sense of
inadequacy, inexperience and unworth was overwhelming.  What did he know
about Sepoys that he should, for a time, be in sole command and charge of
a mixed force of Regular troops and Imperial Service troops which
comprised Gurkhas, Sikhs, Pathans, Punjabi Mahommedans, Deccani Marathas,
Rajputs, and representatives of almost every other fighting race in
India?  It would be bad enough if he could thoroughly understand the
language of any one of them.  As it was, he had a few words of cook-house
Hindustani, and a man whom he disliked and distrusted as his sole
representative and medium of intercourse with the men.  Suppose the
fellow was rather his _mis_-representative?  Suppose he fomented trouble,
as only a native can?  What if there were a sudden row and quarrel
between some of the naturally inimical races—a sort of inter-tribal
shindy between the Sikhs and the Pathans, for example?  Who was wretched
little “Blameless Bertram,” to think he could impose his authority upon
such people and quell the riot with a word?  What if they defied him and
the Jemadar did not support him?  What sort of powers and authority had
he? . . .  He did not know. . . .  Suppose there _were_ a row, and there
was real fighting and bloodshed?  It would get into the papers, and his
name would be held up to the contempt of the whole British Empire.  It
would get into the American papers too.  Then an exaggerated account of
it would be published in the Press of the Central Powers and their
wretched allies, to show the rotten condition of the Indian Army.  The
neutral papers would copy it.  Soon there would not be a corner of the
civilised world where people had not heard the name of Greene, the name
of the wretched creature who could not maintain order and discipline
among a few native troops, but allowed some petty quarrel between two
soldiers to develop into an “incident.”  Yes—that’s what would happen, a
“regrettable incident.” . . .  And the weary old round of self-distrust,
depreciation and contempt went its sorry cycle once again. . . .

Going on deck in the morning, Bertram discovered that supplementary
orders had been published, and that all native troops would be
disembarked under his command at twelve noon, and that he would report,
upon landing, to the Military Landing Officer, from whom he would receive
further orders. . . .  Troops would carry no ammunition, nor cooked
rations.  All kits would go ashore with the men. . . .

Bertram at once proceeded to the companion leading down to the well-deck,
called a Sepoy of the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth, and “sent his salaams” to
the Jemadar of that regiment, to the Subedar of the Gurkhas, the Subedar
of the Sherepur Sikhs and the Jemadar of the Very Mixed Contingent.

To these officers he endeavoured to make it clear that every man of their
respective commands, and every article of those men’s kit, bedding, and
accoutrements, and all stores, rations and ammunition, must be ready for
disembarkation at midday.

The little Gurkha Subedar smiled brightly, saluted, and said he quite
understood—which was rather clever of him, as his Hindustani was almost
as limited as was Bertram’s.  However, he had grasped, from Bertram’s
barbarous and laborious “_Sub admi_ . . . _sub saman_ . . . _sub chiz_
. . . _tyar_ . . . _bara badji_ . . . _ither se jainga_ . . .” that “all
men . . . all baggage . . . all things . . . at twelve o’clock . . . will
go from here”—and that was good enough for him.

“Any chance of fighting to-morrow, Sahib?” he asked, but Bertram,
unfortunately, did not understand him.

The tall, bearded Sikh Subedar saluted correctly, said nothing but
“_Bahut achcha_, _Sahib_,” {81} and stood with a cold sneer frozen upon
his hard and haughty countenance.

The burly Jemadar of the Very Mixed Contingent, or Mixed Pickles, smiled
cheerily, laughed merrily at nothing in particular, and appeared mildly
shocked at Bertram’s enquiry as to whether he understood.  Of _course_,
he understood!  Was not the Sahib a most fluent speaker of most faultless
Urdu, or Hindi, or Sindhi, or Tamil or something?  Anyhow, he had clearly
caught the words “all men ready at twelve o’clock”—and who could require
more than a nice clear _hookum_ like that.

Jemadar Hassan Ali looked pained and doubtful.  So far as his
considerable histrionic powers permitted, he gave his rendering of an
honest and intelligent man befogged by perfectly incomprehensible orders
and contradictory directions which he may not question and on which he
may not beg further enlightenment.  His air and look of “_Faithful to the
last I will go forth and strive to obey orders which I cannot
understand_, _and to carry out instructions given so incomprehensibly and
in so strange a tongue that Allah alone knows what is required of me_”
annoyed Bertram exceedingly, and having smiled upon the cheery little
Subedar and the cheery big Jemadar, and looked coldly upon the unpleasant
Sikh and the difficult Hassan Ali, he informed the quartette that it had
his permission to depart.

As they saluted and turned to go, he caught a gleam of ferocious hatred
upon the face of the Gurkha officer whom the Sikh jostled, with every
appearance of intentional rudeness and the desire to insult.  Bertram’s
sympathy was with the Gurkha and he wished that it was with him and his
sturdy little followers that he was to proceed to the front.  He felt
that they would follow him to the last inch of the way and the last drop
of their blood, and would fight for sheer love of fighting, as soon as
they were shown an enemy.

After a somewhat depressing breakfast, at which he found himself almost
alone, Bertram arrayed himself in full war paint, packed his kit, said
farewell to the ship’s officers and then inspected the troops, drawn up
ready for disembarkation on the well-decks.  He was struck by the
apparent cheerfulness of the Gurkhas and the clumsy heaviness of their
kit which included a great horse-collar roll of cape, overcoat or
ground-sheet strapped like a colossal cross-belt across one shoulder and
under the other arm; by the apparent depression of the men of the Very
Mixed Contingent and their slovenliness; by what seemed to him the
critical and unfriendly stare of the Sherepur Sikhs as he passed along
their ranks; and by the elderliness of the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth
draft.  Had these latter been perceptibly aged by their sea-faring
experiences and were they feeling terribly _terra marique jactati_, or
was it that the impossibility of procuring henna or other dye had caused
the lapse of brown, orange, pink and red beards and moustaches to their
natural greyness?  Anyhow, they looked distinctly old, and on the whole,
fitter for the ease and light duty of “employed pensioner” than for
active service under very difficult conditions against a ferocious foe
upon his native heath.  His gentle nature and kindly heart led Bertram to
feel very sorry indeed for one bemedalled old gentleman who had evidently
had a very bad crossing, still had a very bad cough, and looked likely to
have another go of fever before very long.

As he watched the piling-up of square-sided boxes of rations, oblong
boxes of ammunition, sacks, tins, bags and jars, bundles of kit and
bedding, cooking paraphernalia, entrenching tools, mule harness, huge
zinc vessels for the transport of water, leather _chhagals_ and canvas
_pakhals_ or waterbags, and wished that his own tight-strapped
impedimenta were less uncomfortable and heavy, a cloud of choking smoke
from the top of the funnel of some boat just below him, apprised him of
the fact that his transport was ready.  Looking over the side he saw a
large barge, long, broad, and very deep, with upper decks at stem and
stern, which a fussy little tug had just brought into position below an
open door in the middle of the port side of the _Elymas_.  It was a long
way below it too, and he realised that unless a ladder were provided
every man would have to drop from the threshold of the door to the very
narrow edge of the barge about six feet below, make his way along it to
the stern deck, and down a plank on to the “floor” of the barge itself.
When his turn came he’d make an ass of himself—he’d fall—he knew he
would!

He tried to make Jemadar Hassan Ali understand that two Havildars were to
stand on the edge of the barge, one each side of the doorway and guide
the errant tentative feet of each man as he lowered himself and clung to
the bottom of the doorway.  He also had the sacks thrown where anyone who
missed his footing and fell from the side of the barge to the bottom
would fall upon them and roll, instead of taking the eight feet drop and
hurting himself.  When this did happen, the Sepoys roared with laughter
and appeared to be immensely diverted.  It occurred several times, for it
is no easy matter to lower oneself some six feet, from one edge to
another, when heavily accoutred and carrying a rifle.  When every man and
package was on board, Bertram cast one last look around the _Elymas_,
took a deep breath, crawled painfully out backwards through the port,
clung to the sharp iron edge, felt about wildly with his feet which were
apparently too sacred and superior for the Havildars to grab and guide,
felt his clutching fingers weaken and slip, and then with a pang of
miserable despair fell—and landed on the side of the barge a whole inch
below where his feet had been when he fell.  A minute later he had made
his way to the prow, and, with a regal gesture, had signified to the
captain of the tug that he might carry on.

And then he sat him down upon the little piece of deck and gazed upon the
sea of upturned faces, black, brown, wheat-coloured, and yellow, that
spread out at his feet from end to end and side to side of the great
barge.

Of what were they thinking, these men from every corner of India and
Nepal, as they stood shoulder to shoulder, or squatted on the boxes and
bales that covered half the floor of the barge?  What did they think of
him?  Did they really despise and dislike him as he feared, or did they
admire and like and trust him—simply because he was a white man and a
Sahib?  He had a suspicion that the Sikhs disliked him, the Mixed
Contingent took him on trust as an Englishman, the Hundred and
Ninety-Ninth kept an open mind, and the Gurkhas liked him—all reflecting
really the attitude of their respective Native Officers. . . .

In a few minutes the barge was run alongside the Kilindini quay, and
Bertram was, for the second time, climbing its stone stairs, in search of
the Military Landing Officer, the arbiter of his immediate destiny.

As he reached the top of the steps he was, as it were, engulfed and
embraced in a smile that he already knew—and he realised that it was with
a distinct sense of pleasure and a feeling of lessened loneliness and
unshared friendless responsibility that he beheld the beaming face of his
“since-long-time-to-come” faithful old retainer Ali Suleiman.

“God bless myself please, thank you, _Bwana_,” quoth that gentleman,
saluting repeatedly.  “_Bwana_ will now wanting Military Embarkation
Officer by golly.  I got him, sah,” and turning about added, “_Bwana_
come along me, sah, I got him all right,” as though he had, with much
skill and good luck, tracked down, ensnared, and encaged some wary and
wily animal. . . .

At the end of the little stone pier was a rough table or desk, by which
stood a burly officer clad in slacks, and a vast spine-pad of quilted
khaki.  On the tables were writing-materials and a mass of papers.

“Mornin’,” remarked this gentleman, turning a crimson and perspiring face
to Bertram.  “I’m the M.L.O.  You’ll fall your men in here and they’ll
stack their kits with the rations and ammunition over there.  Then you
must tell off working-parties to cart the lot up to the camp.  I’ve only
got two trucks and your fatigue-parties’ll have to man-handle ’em.
You’ll have to ginger ’em up or you’ll be here all day.  I don’t want you
to march off till all your stuff’s up to the camp. . . .  Don’t bung off
yourself, y’know. . . .  Right O.  Carry on. . . .”  Bertram saluted.

Another job which he must accomplish without hitch or error.  The more
jobs he _could_ do, the better.  What he dreaded was the job for the
successful tackling of which he had not the knowledge, ability or
experience.

“Very good, sir,” he replied.  “Er—where _are_ the trolleys?” for there
was no sign of any vehicle about the quay.

“Oh, they’ll roll up by and by, I expect,” was the reply.  Bertram again
saluted and returned to the barge.  Calling to the Native Officers he
told them that the men would fall in on the bunder and await further
orders, each detachment furnishing a fatigue-party for the unloading of
the impedimenta.  Before very long, the men were standing at ease in the
shade of a great shed, and their kits, rations and ammunition were piled
in a great mound at the wharf edge.

And thus, having nothing to do until the promised trucks arrived, Bertram
realised that it was terribly hot; suffocatingly, oppressively,
dangerously hot; and that he felt very giddy, shaky and faint.

The sun seemed to beat upward from the stone of the quay and sideways
from the iron of the sheds as fiercely and painfully as it did downward
from the sky.  And there was absolutely nowhere to sit down.  He couldn’t
very well squat down in the dirt. . . .  No—but the men could—so he
approached the little knot of Native Officers and told them to allow the
men to pile arms, fall out, and sit against the wall of the shed—no man
to leave the line without permission.

Jemadar Hassan Ali did not forget to post a sentry over the arms on this
occasion.  For an hour Bertram strolled up and down.  It was less tiring
to do that than to stand still.  His eyes ached most painfully by reason
of the blinding glare, his head ached from the pressure on his brows of
his thin, but hard and heavy, helmet (the regulation pattern, apparently
designed with an eye to the maximum of danger and discomfort) and his
body ached by reason of the weight and tightness of his accoutrements.
It was nearly two o’clock and he had breakfasted early.  Suppose he got
sunstroke, or collapsed from heat, hunger, and weariness?  What an
exhibition!  When would the men get their next meal?  Where were those
trolleys?  It was two hours since the Military Landing Officer had said
they’d “roll up by and by.”  He’d go and remind him.

The Military Landing Officer was just off to his lunch and well-earned
rest at the Club.  He had been on the beastly bunder since six in the
morning—and anybody who wanted him now could come and find him, what?

“Excuse me, sir,” said Bertram as Captain Angus flung his portfolio of
papers to his orderly, “those trucks haven’t come yet.”

“_Wha’_ trucks?” snapped the Landing Officer.  He had just told himself
he had _done_ for to-day—and he had had nothing since half-past five that
morning.  People must be reasonable—he’d been hard at it for eight solid
hours damitall y’know.

“The trucks for my baggage and ammunition and stuff.”

“Well, _I_ haven’t got ’em, have I?” replied Captain Angus.  “Be
reasonable about it. . .  I can’t _make_ trucks. . .  Anybody’d think I’d
stolen your trucks. . . .  You must be _patient_, y’know, and _do_ be
reasonable. . . .  _I_ haven’t got ’em.  Search me.”

The Military Landing Officer had been on his job for months and had
unconsciously evolved two formulæ, which he used for his seniors and
juniors respectively, without variation of a word.  Bertram had just
heard the form of prayer to be used with Captains and unfortunates of
lower rank, who showed yearnings for things unavoidable.  To Majors and
those senior thereunto the crystallised ritual was:

“Can’t understand it, sir, at all.  I issued the necessary orders all
right—but there’s a terrible shortage.  One must make allowances in these
times of stress.  It’ll turn up all right.  _I_’ll see to it . . .” etc.,
and this applied equally well to missing trains, mules, regiments,
horses, trucks, orders, motor-cars or anything else belonging to the
large class of Things That Can Go Astray.

“You told me to wait, sir,” said Bertram.

“Then why the devil _don’t you_?” said Captain Angus.

“I am, sir,” replied Bertram.

“Then what’s all this infernal row about?” replied Captain Angus.

Bertram felt that he understood exactly how children feel when, unjustly
treated, they cannot refrain from tears.  It was _too_ bad.  He had stood
in this smiting sun for over two hours awaiting the promised trucks—and
now he was accused of making an infernal row because he had mentioned
that they had not turned up!  If the man had told him where they were,
surely he and his three hundred men could have gone and got them long
ago.

“By the way,” continued Captain Angus, “I’d better give you your
route—for when you _do_ get away—and you mustn’t sit here all day like
this, y’know.  You must ginger ’em up a bit” (more formula this) “or
you’ll all take root.  Well, look here, you go up the hill and keep
straight on to where a railway-bridge crosses the road.  Turn to the left
before you go under the bridge, and keep along the railway line till you
see some tents on the left again.  Strike inland towards these, and
you’ll find your way all right.  Take what empty tents you want, but
don’t spread yourself _too_ much—though there’s only some details there
now.  You’ll be in command of that camp for the present. . . .  Better
not bung off to the Club either—you may be wanted in a hurry. . . .  I’ll
see if those trucks are on the way as I go up.  Don’t hop off till you’ve
shifted all your stuff. . .  So long! . . .” and the Military Landing
Officer bustled off to where at the Dock gates a motor-car awaited him. . . .

Before long, Bertram found that he must either sit down or fall down, so
terrific was the stifling heat, so heavy had his accoutrements become,
and so faint, empty and giddy did he feel.

Through the open door of a corrugated-iron shed he could see a huge,
burly, red-faced European, sitting at a little rough table in a big bare
room.  In this barn-like place was nothing else but a telephone-box and a
chair.  Could he go in and sit on it?  That dark and shady interior
looked like a glimpse of heaven from this hell of crashing glare and
gasping heat. . . .  Perhaps confidential military communications were
made through that telephone though, and the big man, arrayed in a singlet
and white trousers, was there for the very purpose of receiving them
secretly and of preventing the intrusion of any stranger?  Anyhow—it
would be a minute’s blessed escape from the blinding inferno, merely to
go inside and ask the man if he could sit down while he awaited the
trucks.  He could place the chair in a position from which he could see
his men. . . .  He entered the hut, and the large man raised a
clean-shaven crimson face, ornamented with a pair of piercing blue eyes,
and stared hard at him as he folded a pinkish newspaper and said nothing
at all, rather disconcertingly.

“May I come in and sit down for a bit, please?” said Bertram.  “I think
I’ve got a touch of the sun.”

“Put your wacant faice in that wacant chair,” was the prompt reply.

“Thanks—may I put it where I can see my men?” said Bertram.

“Putt it where you can cock yer feet on this ’ere table an’ lean back
agin that pertition, more sense,” replied the large red man, scratching
his large red head.  “_You_ don’ want to see yore men, you don’t,” he
added.  “They’re a ’orrid sight. . . .  All natives is. . . .  You putt
it where you kin get a good voo o’ _me_. . . .  Shed a few paounds o’ the
hup’olstery and maike yerself atome. . . .  Wisht I got somethink to
orfer yer—but I ain’t. . . .  Can’t be ’osspitable on a basin o’ water
wot’s bin washed in—can yer?”

Bertram admitted the difficulty, and, with a sigh of intense relief,
removed his belt and cross-belts and all that unto them pertained.  And,
as he sank into the chair with a grateful heart, entered Ali Suleiman,
whom he had not seen for an hour, bearing in one huge paw a great mug of
steaming tea, and in the other a thick plate of thicker biscuits.

Bertram could have wrung the hand that fed him.  Never before in the
history of tea had a cup of tea been so welcome.

“Heaven reward you as I never can,” quoth Bertram, as he drank.  “Where
on earth did you raise it?”

“Oh, sah!” beamed Ali.  “Master not mentioning it.  I am knowing
cook-fellow at R.E. Sergeants’ Mess, and saying my frien’ Sergeant Jones,
R.E., wanting cup of tea and biscuits at bunder P.D.Q.”

“P.D.Q.?” enquired Bertram.

“Yessah, all ’e same ‘pretty dam quick’—and bringing it to _Bwana_ by
mistake,” replied Ali, the son of Suleiman.

“But _isn’t_ there some mistake?” asked the puzzled youth.  “I don’t want
to .  .  .”

“Lookere,” interrupted the large red man, “_you_ don’ wanter discover no
mistakes, not until you drunk that tea, you don’t.  . . .  You push that
daown yore neck and then give that nigger a cent an’ tell ’im to be less
careful nex’ time.  You don’ wanter _dis_courage a good lad like that,
you don’t.  Not ’arf, you do.”

“But—Sergeant Jones’s tea” began Bertram, looking unhappily at the
half-emptied cup.

“_Sergeant Jones’s tea_!” mimicked the rude red man, in a high falsetto.
“_If_ ole Shifter Jones drunk a cup o’ tea it’d be in all the paipers
nex’ mornin’, it would.  Not arf it wouldn’t.  Don’ believe ’e ever
tasted tea, I don’t, an’ if he _did_—”

But at this moment a white-clad naval officer of exalted rank strode into
the room, and the large red man sprang to his feet with every sign of
respect and regard.  Picking up a Navy straw hat from the floor, the
latter gentleman stood at attention with it in his hand.  Bertram decided
that he was a naval petty officer on some shore-job or other, perhaps
retired and now a coast-guard or Customs official of some kind.
Evidently he knew the exalted naval officer and held him, or his Office,
in high regard.

“Get my message, William Hankey?” he snapped.

“Yessir,” replied William Hankey.

“Did you telephone for the car at once?”

“Nossir,” admitted Hankey, with a fluttering glance of piteous appeal.

The naval officer’s face became a ferocious and menacing mask of wrath
and hate, lit up by a terrible glare.  Up to that moment he had been
rather curiously like Hankey.  Now he was even more like a very
infuriated lion.  He took a step nearer the table, fixed his burning,
baleful eye upon the wilting William, and withered him with the most
extraordinary blast of scorching invective that Bertram had ever heard,
or was ever likely to hear, unless he met Captain Sir Thaddeus Bellingham
ffinch Beffroye again.

“You blundering bullock,” quoth he; “you whimpering weasel; you bleating
blup; you miserable dog-potter; you horny-eyed, bleary-nosed, bat-eared,
lop-sided, longshore loafer; you perishing shrimp-peddler; you Young
Helper; you Mother’s Little Pet; you dear Ministering Child; you
blistering bug-house body-snatcher; you bloated bumboat-woman; you
hopping hermaphrodite—what d’ye mean by it?  Eh?  . . .  _What d’ye mean
by it_, you anæmic Aggie; you ape-faced anthropoid; you adenoid; you
blood-stained buzzard; you abject abortion; you abstainer; you sickly,
one-lunged, half-baked, under-fed alligator; you scrofulous scorbutic;
you peripatetic pimple; you perambulating pimp-faced poodle; what about
it?  Eh?  _What about it_?”

Mr. William Hankey stood silent and motionless, but in his face was the
expression of one who, with critical approval, listens and enjoys.  Such
a look may be seen upon the face of a musician the while he listens to
the performance of a greater musician.

Having taken breath, the Captain continued: “What have you got to say for
yourself, you frig-faced farthing freak, you?  Nothing!  You purple
poultice-puncher; you hopeless, helpless, herring-gutted hound; you
dropsical drink-water; you drunken, drivelling dope-dodger; you mouldy,
mossy-toothed, mealy-mouthed maggot; you squinny-faced, squittering,
squint-eyed squab, you—what have you got to say for yourself?  Eh? . . .
_Answer me_, you mole; you mump; you measle; you knob; you nit; you noun;
you part; you piece; you portion; you bald-headed, slab-sided,
jelly-bellied jumble; you mistake; you accident; you imperial stinker;
you poor, pale pudding; you populous, pork-faced parrot—why don’t you
speak, you doddering, dumb-eared, deaf-mouthed dust-hole; you jabbering,
jawing, jumping Jezebel, why don’t you answer me?  Eh?  _D’ye hear_ me,
you fighting gold-fish; you whistling water-rat; you Leaning Tower of
Pisa-pudding; you beer-belching ration-robber; you pink-eyed, perishing
pension-cheater; you flat-footed, frog-faced fragment; you trumpeting
tripe-hound?  Hold your tongue and listen to me, you barge-bottom
barnacle; you nestling gin-lapper; you barmaid-biting bun-bolter; you
tuberculous tub; you mouldy manure-merchant; you moulting mop-chewer; you
kagging, corybantic cockroach; you lollipop-looting lighterman; you naval
know-all.  _Why didn’t you telephone for the car_?”

“’Cos it were ’ere all the time, sir,” replied Mr. William Hankey,
perceiving that his superior officer had run down and required rest.

“_That’s_ all right, then,” replied Captain Sir Thaddeus Bellingham
ffinch Beffroye pleasantly, and strode to the door.  There he turned, and
again addressed Mr. Hankey.

“Why couldn’t you say so, instead of chattering and jabbering and
mouthing and mopping and mowing and yapping and yiyiking for an hour, Mr.
Woozy, Woolly-witted, Wandering William Hankey?” he enquired.

The large red man looked penitent.

“Hankey,” the officer added, “you are a land-lubber.  You are a pier-head
yachtsman.  You are a beach pleasure-boat pilot.  You are a canal
bargee.”

Mr. Hankey looked hurt, _touché_, broken.

“Oh, _sir_!” said he, stricken at last.

“William Hankey, you are a _volunteer_,” continued his remorseless judge.

Mr. Hankey fell heavily into his chair, and fetched a deep groan.

“William Hankey-Pankey—you are a _conscientious objector_,” said the
Captain in a quiet, cold and cruel voice.

A little gasping cry escaped Mr. Hankey.  He closed his eyes, swayed a
moment, and then dropped fainting on the table, the which his large red
head smote with a dull and heavy thud, as the heartless officer strode
away.

A moment later Mr. Hankey revived, winked at the astonished Bertram, and
remarked:

“I’d swim in blood fer ’im, I would, any day.  I’d swim in beer wi’ me
mouf shut, if ’e ast me, I would. . . .  ’E’s the pleasant-manneredest,
kindest, nicest bloke I was ever shipmates wiv, ’e is. . .”

“His bark is worse than his bite, I suppose?” hazarded Bertram.

“Bark!” replied Mr. Hankey.  “’E wouldn’ bark at a blind beggar’s deaf
dog, ’e wouldn’t. . . .  The ship’s a ’Appy Ship wot’s got _’im_ fer Ole
Man. . . .  Why—the matlows do’s liddle things jest to git brought up
before ’im to listen to ’is voice. . . .  Yes. . . .  Their Master’s
Voice. . . .  Wouldn’ part brass-rags wiv ’im for a nogs’ead o’ rum. . . .”

Feeling a different man for the tea and biscuits, Bertram thanked Mr.
Hankey for his hospitality, and stepped out on to the quay, thinking, as
the heat-blast struck him, that one would experience very similar
sensations by putting his head into an oven and then stepping on to the
stove.  In the shade of the sheds the Sepoys sprawled, even the cheery
Gurkhas seemed unhappy and uncomfortable in that fiery furnace.

Bertram’s heart smote him.  Had it been the act of a good officer to go
and sit down in that shed, to drink tea and eat biscuits, while his men
. . . ?  Yes, surely that was all right.  He was far less acclimatised to
heat and glare than they, and it would be no service to them for him to
get heat-stroke and apoplexy or “a touch of the sun.”  They had their
water-bottles and their grain-and-sugar ration and their cold
_chupattis_.  They were under conditions far more closely approximating
to normal than he was.  Of course it is boring to spend hours in the same
place with full equipment on, but, after all, it was much worse for a
European, whose thoughts run on a cool club luncheon-room; a bath and
change; and a long chair, a cold drink and a novel, under a punkah on the
club verandah thereafter. . . .  Would those infernal trucks _never_
come?  Suppose they never did?  Was he to stay there all night?  He had
certainly received definite orders from the “competent military
authority” to stay there until all his baggage had been sent off.  Was
that to relieve the competent military authority of responsibility in the
event of any of it being stolen? . . .  Probably the competent military
authority was now having his tea, miles away at the Club.  What should he
do if no trucks had materialised by nightfall?  How about consulting the
Native Officers? . . .  Perish the thought! . . .  They’d have to stick
it, the same as he would.  The orders were quite clear, and all he had
got to do was to sit tight and await trucks—if he grew grey in the
process.

Some six hours from the time at which he had landed, a couple of small
four-wheeled trucks were pushed on to the wharf by a fatigue-party of
Sepoys from the camp; the Naik in charge of them saluted and fled, lest
he and his men be impounded for further service; and Bertram instructed
the Gurkha Subedar to get a fatigue-party of men to work at loading the
two trucks to their utmost capacity, with baggage, kit, and ration-boxes.
It was evident that the arrival of the trucks did not mean the early
departure of the force, for several journeys would he necessary for the
complete evacuation of the mound of material to be shifted.  Having
loaded the trucks, the fatigue-party pushed off, and it was only as the
two unwieldy erections of baggage were being propelled through the gates
by the willing little men, that it occurred to Bertram to enquire whether
they had any idea as to where they were going.

Not the slightest, and they grinned cheerily.  Another problem!  Should
he now abandon the force and lead the fatigue-party in the light of the
Military Landing Officer’s description of the route, or should he
endeavour to give the Gurkha Subedar an idea of the way, and send him off
with the trucks?  And suppose he lost his way and barged ahead straight
across the Island of Mombasa?  That would mean that the rest of them
would have to sit on the wharf all night—if he obeyed the Military
Landing Officer’s orders. . . .  Which he _must_ do, of course. . . .
Bertram was of a mild, inoffensive and quite unvindictive nature, but he
found himself wishing that the Military Landing Officer’s dinner might
thoroughly disagree with him. . . .  His own did not appear likely to get
the opportunity. . . .  He then and there determined that he would never
again be caught, while on Active Service, without food of some kind on
his person, if he could help it—chocolate, biscuits, something in a
tablet or a tin. . . .  Should he go and leave the Native Officer in
command, or should he send forth the two precious trucks into the
gathering gloom and hope that, dove-like, they would return? . . .

And again the voice of Ali fell like balm of Gilead, as it boomed,
welcome, opportune and cheering.

“Sah, I will show the Chinamans the way to camp and bring them back
P.D.Q.,” quoth he.

“Oh!  Good man!” said Bertram.  “Right O!  But they’re not Chinamen—they
are Gurkha soldiers. . . .  Don’t you hit one, or chivvy them about. . . .”

“Sah, I am knowing all things,” was the modest reply, and the black giant
strode off, followed by the empiled wobbling waggons.

More weary waiting, but, as the day waned, the decrease of heat and
sultriness failed to keep pace with the increasing hunger, faintness and
sickness which made at least one of the prisoners of the quay wish that
either he or the Emperor of Germany had never been born. . . .

Journey after journey having been made, each by a fresh party of Gurkhas
(for Bertram, as is customary, used the willing horse, when he saw that
the little hill-men apparently liked work for its own sake, as much as
the other Sepoys disliked work for any sake), the moment at last arrived
when the ammunition-boxes could be loaded on to the trucks and the whole
force could be marched off as escort thereunto, leaving nothing behind
them upon the accursed stones of that oven, which had been their gaol for
ten weary hours.

Never was the order, “Fall in!” obeyed with more alacrity, and it was
with a swinging stride that the troops marched out through the gates in
the rear of their British officer, who strode along with high-held head
and soldierly bearing, as he thanked God there was a good moon in the
heavens, and prayed that there might soon be a good meal in his stomach.

Up the little hill and past the trolley “terminus” the party tramped, and
the hot, heavy night seemed comparatively cool after the terrible day on
the shut-in, stone and iron heat-trap of the quay. . . .  As he glanced
at the diamond-studded velvet of the African sky, Bertram thought how
long ago seemed that morning when he had made his first march at the head
of his company.  It seemed to have taken place, not only in another
continent, but in another age.  Already he seemed an older, wiser, more
resourceful man. . . .

“_Bwana_ turning feet to left hands here,” said Ali Suleiman from where,
abreast of Bertram, he strode along at the edge of the road.  “If _Bwana_
will following me in front, I am leading him behind”—with which clear and
comprehensible offer, he struck off to the left, his long, clean
night-shirt looming ahead in the darkness as a pillar of cloud by night.
. . .

Again Bertram blessed him, and thanked the lucky stars that had brought
him across his path.  He had seen no railway-bridge nor railway-line; he
could see no tents, and he was exceedingly thankful that it was not his
duty to find, by night, the way which had seemed somewhat vaguely and
insufficiently indicated for one who sought to follow it by day.  Half an
hour later he saw a huge black mass which, upon closer experience, proved
to be a great palm grove, in the shadow of which stood a number of tents.

                                * * * * *

In a remarkably short space of time, the Sepoys had occupied four rows of
the empty tents, lighted hurricane lamps, unpacked bedding and kit
bundles, removed turbans, belts and accoutrements, and, set about the
business of cooking, distributing, and devouring their rations.

The grove of palms that had looked so very inviolable and sacredly remote
as it stood untenanted and silent in the brilliant moonlight, now looked
and smelt (thanks to wood fires and burning ghee) like an Indian bazaar,
as Sikhs, Gurkhas, Rajputs, Punjabis, Marathas, Pathans and
“down-country” Carnatics swarmed in and out of tents, around
cooking-fires, at the taps of the big railway water-tank, or the
kit-and-ration dump—the men of each different race yet keeping themselves
separate from those of other races. . . .

As the unutterably weary Bertram stood and watched and wondered as to
what military and disciplinary conundrums his motley force would provide
for him on the morrow, his ancient and faithful family retainer came and
asked him for his keys.  That worthy had already, in the name of his
_Bwana_, demanded the instant provision of a fatigue-party, and directed
the removal of a tent from the lines to a spot where there would be more
privacy and shade for its occupant, and had then unstrapped the bundles
containing his master’s bed, bedding and washhand-stand, and now desired
further to furnish forth the tent with the suitable contents of the sack.
. . .

And so Bertram “settled in,” as did his little force, save that he went
to bed supperless and they did not.  Far from it—for a goat actually
strayed bleating into the line and met with an accident—getting its silly
neck in the way of a _kukri_ just as its owner was, so he said, fanning
himself with it (with the _kukri_, not the goat).  So some fed full, and
others fuller.

Next day, Bertram ate what Ali, far-foraging, brought him; and rested
beneath the shade of the palms and let his men rest also, to recover from
their sea-voyage and generally to find themselves. . . .  For one whole
day he would do nothing and order nothing to be done; receive no reports,
issue no instructions, harry nobody and be harried by none.  Then, on the
morrow, he would arise, go on the warpath in the camp, and grapple
bravely with every problem that might arise, from shortage of turmeric to
excess of covert criticism of his knowledge and ability.

But the morrow never came in that camp, for the Base Commandant sent for
him in urgent haste at eventide, and bade him strain every nerve to get
his men and their baggage, lock, stock and barrel, on board the
_Barjordan_, just as quickly as it could be done (and a dam’ sight
quicker), for reinforcements were urgently needed at M’paga, down the
coast.

Followed a sleepless nightmare night, throughout which he worked by
moonlight in the camp, on the quay, and on the _Barjordan’s_ deck,
reversing the labours of the previous day, and re-embarking his men,
their kit, ammunition, rations and impedimenta—and in addition, two
barge-loads of commissariat and ordnance requisites for the M’paga
Brigade.

At dawn the last man, box, and bale was on board and Bertram endeavoured
to speak a word of praise, in halting Hindustani, to the Gurkha Subedar,
who, with his men, had shown an alacrity and gluttony for work, beyond
all praise.  All the other Sepoys had worked properly in their different
shifts—but the Gurkhas had revelled in work, and when their second shift
came at midnight, the first shift remained and worked with them!

Having gratefully accepted coffee from Mr. Wigger, the First Officer,
Bertram, feeling “beat to the world,” went down to his cabin, turned in,
and slept till evening.  When he awoke, a gazelle was gazing
affectionately into his face.

He shut his eyes and shivered. . . .  Was this sunstroke, fever, or
madness?  He felt horribly frightened, his nerves being in the state
natural to a person of his temperament and constitution when overworked,
underfed, affected by the sun, touched by fever, and overwrought to the
breaking-point by anxiety and worry.

He opened his eyes again, determined to be cool, wise and brave, in face
of this threatened breakdown, this hallucination of insanity.

The gazelle was still there—there in a carpeted, comfortable cabin, on
board a ship, in the Indian Ocean. . . .

He rubbed his eyes.

Then he put out his hand to pass it through the spectral Thing and
confirm his worst fears.

The gazelle licked his hand, and he sat up and said: “Oh, damn!” and
laughed weakly.

The animal left the cabin, and he heard its hoofs pattering on the
linoleum.

Later he found it to be a pet of the captain of the _Barjordan_, Captain
O’Connor.

Next morning the ship anchored a mile or so from a mangrove swamp, and
the business of disembarkation began again, this time into the ship’s
boats and some sailing dhows that had met the _Barjordan_ at this spot.

When all the Sepoys and stores were in the boats and dhows, he put on the
_puggri_ which Bludyer had given him, with the assistance of Ali Suleiman
and the Gurkha Subedar, looked at himself in the glass, and wished he
felt as fine and fierce a fellow as he looked. . . .  He then said
“Farewell” to kindly Captain O’Connor and burly, energetic Mr.
Wigger—both of whom he liked exceedingly—received their hearty good
wishes and exhortations to slay and spare not, and went down on the
motor-launch that was to tow the laden boats to the low gloomy shore—if a
mangrove swamp can be called a shore. . . .

One more “beginning”—or one more stage on the road to War!  Here was
_he_, Bertram Greene, armed to the teeth, with a turban on his head,
about to be landed—and left—on the shores of the mainland of this truly
Dark Continent.  He was about to invade Africa! . . .

If only his father and Miranda could see him _now_!



CHAPTER IX
_Bertram Invades Africa_


Bertram waded ashore and looked around.

Through a rank jungle of high grass, scrub, palms, trees and creepers, a
narrow mud path wound past the charred remnants of a native village to
where stood the shell-scarred ruins of a whitewashed _adobe_ building
which had probably been a Customs-post, treasury, post-office and
Government Offices in general. . . .  He was on the mainland of the
African Continent, and he was on enemy territory in the war area!  How
far away was the nearest German force?  What should he do if he were
attacked while disembarking?  How was he to find the main body of his own
brigade?  What should he do if there were an enemy force between him and
them?  And what was the good of asking himself conundrums, instead of
concentrating every faculty upon a speedy and orderly disembarkation?

Turning his back upon the unutterably dreary and depressing scene, as
well as upon all doubts and fears and questions, he gave orders that the
Gurkhas should land first.  His only object in this was to have what he
considered the best fighting men ashore first, and to form them up as a
covering force, ready for action, in the event of any attack being made
while the main body was still in the confusion, muddle and disadvantage
of the act of disembarkation.  And no bad idea either—but the Subedar of
the Sherepur Sikhs saw, or affected to see, in this Gurkha priority of
landing, an intentional and studied insult to himself, his contingent,
and the whole Sikh race.  He said as much to his men, and then, standing
up in the bows of the boat, called out:

“Sahib!  Would it not be better to let the Sherepur Sikh Contingent land
first, to ensure the safety of—er—those beloved of the Sahib?  There
might be an attack. . . .”

Not understanding in the least what the man was saying, Bertram ignored
him altogether, though he disliked the sound of the laughter in the Sikh
boat, and gathered from the face of the Gurkha Subedar that something
which he greatly resented had been said.

“_Khabadar_ . . . _tum_!” {98} the Gurkha hissed, as he stepped ashore,
and, with soldierly skill and promptness, got his men formed up, in and
around the ruined building and native village, in readiness to cover the
disembarkation of the rest.  Five minutes after he had landed, Bertram
found it difficult to believe that a hundred Gurkha Sepoys were within a
hundred yards of him, for not one was visible.  At the end of a couple of
hours the untowed dhows had arrived, all troops, ammunition, supplies and
baggage were ashore, the boats had all departed, and Bertram again found
himself the only white man and sole authority in this mixed force, and
felt the burden of responsibility heavy upon him.

The men having been formed up in their respective units, with the
rations, ammunition, and kit dump in their rear, Bertram began to
consider the advisability of leaving a strong guard over the latter, and
moving off in search of the brigade camp.  Would this be the right thing
to do?  Certainly his force was of no earthly use to the main body so
long as it squatted in the mud where it had landed.  Perhaps it was
urgently wanted at that very moment, and the General was praying for its
arrival and swearing at its non-arrival—every minute being precious, and
the fate of the campaign hanging upon its immediate appearance.  It might
well be that an attack in their rear by four hundred fresh troops would
put to flight an enemy who, up to that moment, had been winning.  He
would not know the strength of this new assailant, nor whether it was to
be measured in hundreds or in thousands.  Suppose the General was, at
that very moment, listening for his rifles, as Wellington listened for
the guns of his allies at Waterloo!  And here he was, doing
nothing—wasting time. . . .  Yes, but suppose this dense bush were full
of scouts and spies, as it well might be, and probably was, and supposing
that the ration and ammunition dump was captured as soon as he had
marched off with his main body?  A pretty start for his military
career—to lose the ammunition and food supply for the whole force within
an hour or two of getting it ashore!  His name would be better known than
admired by the British Expeditionary Force in East Africa. . . .  What
would Murray have done in such a case? . . .  Suppose he “split the
difference” and neither left the stores behind him nor stuck in the mud
with them?  Suppose he moved forward in the direction of the Base Camp,
taking everything with him?  But that would mean that every soldier in
the force would be burdened like a coolie-porter—and, moreover, they’d
have to move in single file along the mud path that ran through the
impenetrable jungle.  Suppose they were attacked? . . .

Bertram came to the conclusion that it may be a very fine thing to have
an independent command of one’s own, but that personally he would give a
great deal to find himself under the command of somebody else—be he never
so arrogant, unsympathetic and harsh.  Had Colonel Frost suddenly
appeared he would (metaphorically) have cast himself upon that cold,
stern man’s hard bosom in transports of relief and joy. . . .  He was
going to do his very best, of course, and would never shirk nor evade any
duty that lay before him—but—he felt a very lonely, anxious, undecided
lad, and anxiety was fast becoming nervousness and fear—fear of doing the
wrong thing, or of doing the right thing in the wrong way. . . .  Should
he leave a strong guard over the stores and advance?  Should he remain
where he was, and protect the stores to the last?  Or should he advance
with every man and every article the force possessed? . . .

Could the remainder carry all that stuff if he told off a strong
advance-guard and rear-guard?  And, if so, what could a strong
advance-guard or rear-guard do in single file if the column were attacked
in front or rear?  How could he avoid an ambush on either flank by
discovering it in time—in country which rendered the use of flank guards
utterly impossible?  A man could only make his way through that jungle of
thorn, scrub, trees, creepers and undergrowth by the patient and
strenuous use of a broad axe and a saw.  A strong, determined man might
do a mile of it in a day. . . .  Probably no human foot had trodden this
soil in a thousand years, save along the little narrow path of black
beaten mud that wound tortuously through it.  Should he send on a party
of Gurkhas with a note to the General, asking whether he should leave the
stores or attempt to bring them with him?  The Gurkhas were splendid
jungle-fighters and splendidly willing. . . .  But that would weaken his
force seriously, in the event of his being attacked. . . .  And suppose
the party were ambushed, and he stuck there waiting and waiting, for an
answer that could never come. . . .

With a heavy sigh, he ran his eye over the scene—the sullen, oily water,
the ugly mangrove swamp of muddy, writhing roots and twisted, slimy
trunks, the dense, brooding jungle, the grey, dull sky—all so unfriendly
and uncomfortable, giving one such a homeless, helpless feeling.  The
Gurkhas were invisible.  The Sherepur Sikhs sat in a tight-packed group
around their piled arms and listened to the words of their Subedar, the
men of the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth squatted in a double row along the
front of the _adobe_ building, and the Very Mixed Contingent was just a
mob near the ration-dump, beside which Ali Suleiman stood on guard over
his master’s kit. . . .  Suppose there were a sudden attack?  But there
couldn’t be?  An enemy could only approach down that narrow path in
single file.  The impenetrable jungle was his friend until he moved.
Directly he marched off it would be his terrible foe, the host and
concealer of a thousand ambushes.

He felt that he had discovered a military maxim on his own account.
_Impenetrable jungle is the friend of a force in position_, _and the
enemy of a force on the march_. . . .  Anyhow, the Gurkhas were out in
front as a line of sentry groups, and nothing could happen to the force
until they had come into action. . . .  Should he—

“_Sahib_!  _Ek Sahib ata hai_. . . .  _Bahut hubshi log ata hain_,” said
a voice, and he sprang round, to see the Gurkha Subedar saluting.

_What_ was that?  “_A sahib is coming_. . . .  _Many African natives are
coming_!” . . .  Then they _were_ attacked after all!  A German officer
was leading a force of _askaris_ of the Imperial African Rifles against
them—those terrible Yaos and Swahilis whom the Germans had disciplined
into a splendid army, and whom they permitted to loot and to slaughter
after a successful fight. . . .

His mouth went dry and the backs of his knees felt loose and weak.  He
was conscious of a rush of blood to the heart and a painful, sinking
sensation of the stomach. . . .  It had come. . . .  The hour of his
first battle was upon him. . . .

He swallowed hard.

“_Achcha_, {101a} _Subedar Sahib_,” he said with seeming nonchalance,
“_shaitan-log ko maro_.  _Achcha kam karo_,”{101b} and turning to the
Sherepur Sikhs, the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth and the Very Mixed
Contingent bawled: “_Fall in_!” in a voice that made those worthies
perform the order as quickly as ever they had done it in their lives.

“_Dushman nahin hai_, {101c} _Sahib_,” said the Gurkha Subedar—as he
realised that Bertram had ordered him “to kill the devils”—and explained
that the people who approached bore no weapons.

Hurrying forward with the Subedar to a bend in the path beyond the
burnt-out native village, Bertram saw a white man clad in khaki shirt,
shorts and puttees, with a large, thick “pig-sticker” solar-topi of pith
and quilted khaki on his head, and a revolver and hunting-knife in his
belt.  Behind him followed an apparently endless column of unarmed
negroes.  Evidently these were friends—but there would be no harm in
taking all precautions in case of a ruse.

“Be ready,” he said to the Subedar.

That officer smiled and pointed right and left to where, behind logs,
mounds, bushes, and other cover, both natural and hastily prepared, lay
his men, rifles cuddled lovingly to shoulder, fingers curled
affectionately round triggers, eyes fixed unswervingly upon the
approaching column, and faces grimly expectant.  So still and so well
hidden were they, that Bertram had not noticed the fact of their
presence.  He wondered whether the Subedar had personally strewn grass,
leaves and brushwood over them after they had taken up their positions.
He thought of the Babes in the Wood, and visualised the fierce little
Gurkha as a novel kind of robin for the work of burying with dead leaves.
. . .

He stopped in the path and awaited the arrival of the white man.

“Good morning, Mr. Greene,” said that individual, as he approached.
“Sorry if I’ve kept you waiting, but I had another job to finish first.”

Bertram stared in amazement at this person who rolled up from the wilds
of the Dark Continent with an unarmed party, addressed him by name, and
apologised for being late!  He was a saturnine and pessimistic-looking
individual, wore the South African War ribbons on his breast, and the
letters C.C. on his shoulders, and a lieutenant’s stars.

“Good morning,” replied Bertram, shaking hands.  “I’m awfully glad to see
you.  I was wondering whether I ought to push off or stay here. . . .”

“No attractions much here,” said the new-comer.  “I should bung off.
. . .  Straight along this path.  Can’t miss the way.”

“Is there much danger of attack?” asked Bertram.

“Insects,” replied the other.

“Why not by Germans?” enquired Bertram.

“River on your left flank,” was the brief answer of the saturnine and
pessimistic one.

“Can’t they cross it by bridges?”

“No; owing to the absence of bridges.  I’m the only Bridges here,” sighed
Mr. Bridges, of the Coolie Corps.

“Why not in boats then?”

“Owing to the absence of boats.”

“Might not the Germans open fire on us from the opposite bank then?”
pursued the anxious Bertram, determined not to begin his career in Africa
with a “regrettable incident,” due to his own carelessness.

“No; owing to the absence of Germans,” replied Mr. Bridges.  “Where’s
your stuff?  I’ve brought a thousand of my blackbirds, so we’ll shift the
lot in one journey.  If you like to shove off at once, I’ll see nothing’s
left behind. . . .”  And then, suddenly realising that there was not the
least likelihood of attack nor cause for anxiety, and that all he had to
do was to stroll along a path to the camp, where all responsibility for
the safety of men and materials would be taken from him, Bertram relaxed,
and realised that the heat was appalling and that he felt very faint and
ill.  His kit had suddenly grown insupportably heavy and unsufferably
tight about his chest; his turban gave no shade to his eyes nor
protection to his temples and neck, and its weight seemed to increase by
pounds per minute.  He felt very giddy, blue lights appeared before his
eyes, and there was a surging and booming in his ears.  He sat down, to
avoid falling.

“Hullo!  Seedy?” ejaculated Bridges, and turned to a big negro who stood
behind him, and appeared to be a person of quality, inasmuch as he wore
the ruins of a helmet, a khaki shooting-jacket much too small for him,
and a whistle on a string.  (“Only that and nothing more.”)

“Here, MacGinty-my-lad,” said Bridges to this gentleman, “_m’dafu late
hapa_,” and with a few whistling clicks and high-pitched squeals, the
latter sped another negro up a palm tree.  Climbing it like a monkey, the
negro tore a huge yellow coco-nut from the bunch that clustered beneath
the spreading palm leaves, and flung it down.  This, Mr. MacGinty-my-lad
retrieved and, with one skilful blow of a _panga_, a kind of _machete_ or
butchers’ axe, decapitated.

“Have a swig at this,” said Bridges, handing the nut to Bertram, who
discovered it to contain about a quart of deliciously cool, sweet “milk,”
as clear as distilled water.

“Thanks awfully, Bridges,” said he.  “I think I had a touch of the sun.
. . .”

“Had a touch of breakfast?” enquired the other.

“No,” replied Bertram.

“Hence the milk in the coco-nut,” said Bridges, and added, “If you want
to live long and die happy in Africa, you _must_ do yourself well.  It’s
the secret of success.  You treat your tummy well—and often—and it’ll do
the same for you. . . .  If you don’t, well, you’ll be no good to
yourself nor anyone else.”

“Thanks,” said the ever-grateful Bertram, and arose feeling much better.

“Fall in, Subedar Sahib,” said he to the Gurkha officer, and the latter
quickly assembled his men as a company in line.

The Subedar of the Sherepur Sikhs approached and saluted.  “We want to be
the advance-guard, Sahib,” he said.

“Certainly,” replied Bertram, and added innocently, “There is no enemy
between here and the camp.”

The Sikh flashed a glance of swift suspicion at him. . . .  Was this an
intentional _riposte_?  Was the young Sahib more subtle than he looked?
Had he meant “The Sikhs may form the advance-guard _because_ there is no
fear of attack,” with the implication that the Gurkhas would again have
held the post of honour and danger if there had been any danger?

“I don’t like the look of that bloke,” observed Bridges, as the Sikh
turned away, and added: “Well—I’ll handle your stuff now, if you’ll bung
off,” and continued his way to the dump, followed by Mr. MacGinty and a
seemingly endless file of very tall, very weedy, Kavirondo negroes, of an
unpleasant, scaly, greyish-black colour and more unpleasant,
indescribable, but fishlike odour.  These worthies were variously
dressed, some in a _panga_ or _machete_, some in a tin pot, others in a
gourd, a snuff-box, a tea-cup, a saucepan or a jam-jar.  Every man,
however, without exception, possessed a red blanket, and every man,
without exception, wore it, for modesty’s sake, folded small upon his
head—where it also served the purpose of a porter’s pad, intervening
between his head and the load which it was his life’s work to bear
thereupon. . . .  When these people conversed, it was in the high, piping
voices of little children, and when Bridges, Mr. MacGinty-my-lad, or any
less _neapara_ (head man), made a threatening movement towards one of
them, the culprit would forthwith put his hands to his ears, draw up one
foot to the other knee, close his eyes, cringe, and emit an incredibly
thin, small squeal, a sound infinitely ridiculous in the mouth of a man
six feet or more in stature. . . .  When the last of these quaint
creatures had passed, Bertram strode to where the Sherepur Sikhs had
formed up in line, ready to march off at the head of the force.  The
Subedar gave an order, the ranks opened, the front rank turned about, and
the rifles, with bayonet already fixed, came down to the “ready,” and
Bertram found himself between the two rows of flickering points.

“_Charge magazhinge_,” shouted the Subedar, and Bertram found an odd
dozen of rifles waving in the direction of his stomach, chest, face, neck
and back, as their owners gaily loaded them. . . .  Was there going to be
an “accident”? . . .  Were there covert smiles on any of the fierce
bearded faces of the big men? . . .  Should he make a dash from between
the ranks? . . .  No—he would stand his ground and look displeased at
this truly “native” method of charging magazines.  It seemed a long time
before the Subedar gave the orders, “Front rank—about turn. . . .  Form
fours. . . .  Right,” and the company was ready to march off.

“All is ready, Sahib,” said the Subedar, approaching Bertram.  “Shall I
lead on?”

“Yes, Subedar Sahib,” replied Bertram, “but why do your men face each
other and point their rifles at each other’s stomachs when they load
them?”

His Hindustani was shockingly faulty, but evidently the Subedar
understood.

“They are not afraid of being shot, Sahib,” said he, smiling superiorly.

“Then it is a pity they are not afraid of being called slovenly, clumsy,
jungly recruits,” replied Bertram—and before the scowling officer could
reply, added: “March on—and halt when I whistle,” in sharp voice and
peremptory manner.

Before long the little force was on its way, the Gurkhas coming last—as
the trusty rear-guard, Bertram explained—and, after half an hour’s
uneventful march through the stinking swamp, reached the Base Camp of the
M’paga Field Force—surely one of the ugliest, dreariest and most
depressing spots in which ever a British force sat down and acquired
assorted diseases.



CHAPTER X
_M’paga_


Halting his column, closing it up, and calling it to attention, Bertram
marched past the guard of King’s African Rifles and entered the Camp.
This consisted of a huge square, enclosed by low earthen walls and
shallow trenches, in which were the “lines” of the Indian and African
infantry, composing the inadequate little force which was invading German
East Africa, rather with the idea of protecting British East than
achieving conquest.  The “lines” of the Sepoys and _askaris_ consisted of
rows of tiny low tents, while along the High Street of the Camp stood
hospital tents, officers’ messes, the General’s tent, and that of his
Brigade Major, and various other tents connected with the mysteries of
the field telegraph and telephone, the Army Service Corps’ supply and
transport, and various offices of Brigade and Regimental Headquarters.
As he passed the General’s tent (indicated by a flagstaff and Union
Jack), a tall lean officer, with a white-moustached, keen-eyed face,
emerged and held up his hand.  Seeing the crossed swords of a General on
his shoulder-straps, Bertram endeavoured to rise to the occasion, roared:
“_Eyes right_,” “_Eyes front_,” and then “_Halt_,” saluted and stepped
forward.

The General shook hands with him, and said: “Glad to see you.  Hope
you’re ready for plenty of hard work, for there’s plenty for you. . .
Glad to see your men looking so businesslike and marching so smartly. . . .
All right—carry on. . . .”

Bertram would gladly have died for that General on the spot, and it was
positively with a lump (of gratitude, so to speak) in his throat that he
gave the order “_Quick march_,” and proceeded, watched by hundreds of
native soldiers, who crawled out of their low tents or rose up from where
they lay or squatted to clean accoutrements, gossip, eat, or contemplate
Infinity.

Arrived at the opposite entrance of the Camp, Bertram felt foolish, but
concealed the fact by pretending that he had chosen this as a suitable
halting place, bawled: “_Halt_,” “_Into line_—_left turn_,” “_Stand at
ease_,” “_Stand easy_,” and determined to wait events.  He had carried
out his orders and brought the troops to the Camp as per instructions.
Somebody else could come and take them if they wanted them. . . .

As he stood, trying to look unconcerned, a small knot of British officers
strolled up, headed by a tall and important-looking person arrayed in
helmet, open shirt, shorts, grey stockings and khaki canvas shoes.

“Greene?” said he.

“Yes, sir,” said Bertram, saluting.

“Brigade Major,” continued the officer, apparently introducing himself.
“March the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth on and report to Colonel Rock.  The
Hundred and Ninety-Eighth are outside the perimeter,” and he pointed to
where, a quarter of a mile away, were some grass huts and rows of tiny
tents.  “The remainder will be taken over by their units here, and your
responsibility for them ceases.”

Bertram, very thankful to be rid of them, marched on with the Hundred,
and halted them in front of the low tents, from which, with whoops of
joy, poured forth the warriors of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth in search
of any _bhai_, pal, townee, bucky, or aunt’s cousin’s husband’s sister’s
son—(who, as such, would have a strong claim upon his good offices)—in
the ranks of this thrice-welcome reinforcement.

Leaving the Hundred in charge of Jemadar Hassan Ali to await orders,
Bertram strode to a large grass _banda_, or hut, consisting of three
walls and a roof, through the open end of which he could see a group of
British officers sitting on boxes and stools, about a long and most
uneven, undulating table of box-sides nailed on sticks and supported by
four upright logs.

At the head of this table, on which were maps and papers, sat a small
thick-set man, who looked the personification of vigour, force and
restless activity.  Seeing that this officer wore a crown and star on his
shoulder-strap, Bertram went up to him, saluted, and said:

“Second-Lieutenant Greene, I.A.R., sir.  I have brought a hundred men
from the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth, and nine cooking-pots—which Colonel
Frost wishes to have returned at once. . . .”

“The men or the cooking-pots, or both?” enquired Colonel Rock, whose
habit of sarcastic and savage banter made him feared by all who came in
contact with him, and served to conceal a very kindly and sympathetic
nature.

“The cooking-pots, sir,” replied Bertram, blushing as the other officers
eyed him critically and with half-smiles at the Colonel’s humour.
Bertram felt, a little cynically, that such wit from an officer of their
own rank would not have seemed so pleasingly humorous to some of these
gentlemen, and that, moreover, he had again discovered a Military Maxim
on his own account.  _The value and humorousness of any witty remark made
by any person in military uniform is in inverse ratio to the rank and
seniority of the individual to whom it is made_.  In other words, a
Colonel must smile at a General’s joke, a Major must grin broadly, a
Captain laugh appreciatively, a Subaltern giggle right heartily, a
Warrant Officer or N.C.O. explode into roars of laughter, and a private
soldier roll helpless upon the ground in spasms and convulsions of
helpless mirth.

Hearing a distinct snigger from the end of the table, Bertram glanced in
that direction, said to himself, “You’re a second-lieutenant, by your
appreciative giggle,” and encountered the sneering stare of a
vacant-faced youth whom he heartily disliked on sight.

“Wants the cooking-pots back, but not the men, eh?” observed the Colonel,
and, turning to the officer who sat at his left hand, a tall, handsome
man with a well-bred, pleasant, dark face, who was Adjutant of the
Hundred and Ninety-Ninth, added:

“Better go and see if there’s good reason for his not wanting them back,
Hall. . . .  Colonel Frost’s a good man at selling a horse—perhaps he’s
sold us a pup. . . .”

More giggles from the vacant faced youth as Captain Hall arose and went
out of the shed of grass and sticks, thatched on a framework of posts,
which was the Officers’ Mess of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth Regiment.

Feeling shy and nervous, albeit most thankful to be among senior officers
who would henceforth relieve him of the lonely responsibility he had
found so trying and burdensome, Bertram seized the opportunity of the
Adjutant’s departure to escape, and followed that officer to where the
Hundred awaited the order to dismiss.

“Brought a tent?” asked Captain Hall, as they went along.

“No,” replied Bertram.  “Ought I to have done so?”

“If you value your comfort on these picnics,” was the answer.  “You’ll
find it a bit damp o’ nights when it rains, in one of these grass huts. . . .
You can pig in with me to-night, and we’ll set a party of Kavirondo
to build you a _banda_ to-morrow if you’re staying on here.”

“Thanks awfully,” acknowledged Bertram.  “Am I likely to go on somewhere
else, though?”

“I did hear something about your taking a provision convoy up to Butindi
the day after to-morrow,” was the reply.  “One of our Majors is up there
with a mixed force of Ours and the Arab Company, with some odds and ends
of King’s African Rifles and things. . . .  Pity you haven’t a tent.”

After looking over the Hundred and committing them to the charge of the
Subedar-Major of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth, Captain Hall invited
Bertram “to make himself at home” in his hut, and led the way to where a
row of green tents and grass huts stood near the Officers’ Mess.  On a
Roorkee chair, at the door of one of these, sat none other than the
Lieutenant Stanner whom Bertram had last seen on the deck of _Elymas_.
With him was another subaltern, one of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth.

“Hullo, Greene-bird!” cried Stanner.  “Welcome home.  Allow me to present
you to my friend Best. . . .  He is Very Best to-day, because he has got
a bottle of whisky in his bed.  He’ll only be Second Best to-morrow,
because he won’t have any by then. . . .  Not if he’s a gentleman, that
is,” he added, eyeing Best anxiously.

That officer grinned, arose, and entering the hut, produced the whisky, a
box of “sparklets,” a kind of siphon, and a jug of dirty water.

“You already know Hall?” continued Stanner, the loquacious.  “I was at
school with his father.  He’s a good lad.  Address him as Baronial Hall
when you want something, Music Hall when you’re feeling girlish, Town
Hall when he’s coming the pompous Adjutant over you, and Mission Hall
when you’re tired of him.”

“Don’t associate with him, Greene.  Come away,” said Captain Hall.
“He’ll teach you to play shove-ha’penny, to smoke, and to use bad
language,” but as Best handed him a whisky-and-dirty-water, feebly
aerated by a sparklet, he tipped Stanner from his chair, seated himself
in it, murmured, “When sinners entice thee, consent thou some,” and
drank.

“Why are you dressed like that?  Is it your birthday, or aren’t you very
well?” enquired Stanner suddenly, eyeing Bertram’s lethal weapons and
Sepoy’s turban.  Bertram blushed, pleaded that he had nowhere to
“undress,” and had only just arrived.  Whereupon the Adjutant, remarking
that he must be weary, arose and took him to his hut.

“Get out of everything but your shirt and shorts, my son,” said he, “and
chuck that silly _puggri_ away before you get sunstroke.  All very well
if you’re going into a scrap, but it’s as safe as Piccadilly round here.”
Bertram, as he sank into the Adjutant’s chair, suddenly realised that he
was more tired than ever he had been in his life before.

“Where _Bwana_ sleeping to-night, sah, thank you, please?” boomed a
familiar voice, and before the tent stood the faithful Ali, bowing and
saluting—behind him three tall Kavirondo carrying Bertram’s kit.  Ali had
commandeered these men from Bridges’ party, and had hurried them off far
in advance of the porters who were bringing in the general kit, rations,
and ammunition.  By means best known to himself he had galvanised the
“low niggers” into agility and activity that surprised none more than
themselves.

“Oh—it’s my servant,” said Bertram to the Adjutant.  “May he put my bed
in here, then?”

“That’s the idea,” replied Captain Hall, and, in a few minutes, Bertram’s
camp-bed was erected and furnished with bedding and mosquito net, his
washhand-stand was set up, and his canvas bucket filled with water.  Not
until everything possible had been done for his master’s comfort did Ali
disappear to that mysterious spot whereunto native servants repair beyond
the ken of the master-folk, when in need of food, leisure and relaxation.

Having washed, eaten and slept, Bertram declared himself “a better and
wiser man,” and asked Hall if he might explore the Camp, its wonders to
admire.  “Oh, yes,” said Hall, “but don’t go into the gambling dens,
boozing-kens, dancing-saloons and faro tents, to squander your money,
time and health.”

“_Are_ there any?” asked Bertram, in wide-eyed astonishment.

“No,” replied Hall.

Bertram wished people would not be so fond of exercising their humour at
his expense.  He wondered why it was that he was always something of a
butt.  It could not be that he was an absolute fool, or he would not have
been a Scholar of Balliol.  He sighed.  _Could_ one be a Scholar of
Balliol and a fool? . . .

“You might look in on the General, though,” continued Hall, “and be
chatty. . . .  It’s a very lonely life, y’know, a General’s.  I’m always
sorry for the poor old beggars.  Yes—he’d be awfully glad to see you. . . .
Ask you to call him Willie before you’d been there a couple of hours,
I expect.”

“D’you mean I ought to call on the General formally?” asked Bertram, who
knew that Hall was “ragging” again, as soon as he introduced the “Willie”
touch.

“Oh, don’t be too formal,” was the reply.  “Be matey and cosy with him. . . .
I don’t suppose he’s had a really heart-to-heart chat with a
subaltern about the things that _really_ matter—the Empire (the Leicester
Square one, I mean); Ciro’s; the girls; George Robey, George Graves, Mr.
Bottomley, Mrs. Pankhurst and the other great comedians—since I
dunno-when.  He’d _love_ to buck about what’s doing in town, with _you_,
y’know. . . .”

Bertram sighed again.  It was no good.  _Everybody_ pulled his leg and
seemed to sum him up in two minutes as the sort of green ass who’d
believe anything he was told, and do anything that was suggested.

“I say, Hall,” he said suddenly, “I’m a civilian, y’know, and a bit of a
fool, too, no doubt.  I am absolutely ignorant of all military matters,
particularly those of etiquette.  I am going to ask you things, since you
are Adjutant of the corps I’m with.  If you score off me, I think it’ll
be rather a cheap triumph and an inglorious victory, don’t you? . . .
I’m not a bumptious and conceited ass, mind—only an ignorant one, who
fully admits it, and asks for help. . . .”

As the poet says, it is a long lane that has no public-house, and a long
worm that has no turning.

Hall stared.

“Well said, Greene,” quoth he, and never jested at Bertram’s expense
again.

“Seriously—should I leave a card on the General?” continued Bertram.

“You should not,” was the reply.  “Avoid Generals as you would your
creditors.  They’re dangerous animals in peace-time.  On manœuvres
they’re ferocious.  On active service they’re rapid. . . .”

“Any harm in my strolling round the Camp?” pursued Bertram.  “I’m awfully
interested, and might get some ideas of the useful kind.”

“None whatever,” said Hall.  “No reason why you shouldn’t prowl around
like the hosts of Midian till dinner-time.  There’s nothing doing in the
Hundred and Ninety-Eighth till four a.m. to-morrow, and you’re not in
that, either.”

“What is it?” asked Bertram.

“Oh, a double-company of Ours is going out to mop up a little post the
Germans have established across the river.  We’re going to learn ’em not
to do such,” said Hall.

“D’you think I might go?” asked Bertram, wondering, even as he spoke,
whether it was his voice that was suggesting so foolish a thing as that
Bertram Greene should arise at three-thirty in the morning to go,
wantonly and without reason, where bullets were flying, bayonets were
stabbing, and death and disablement were abroad.

“Dunno,” yawned Hall.  “Better ask the Colonel.  What’s the matter with
bed at four ack emma?  That’s where I’d be if I weren’t in orders for
this silly show.”

As Bertram left the tent on his tour of exploration he decided that he
would ask the Colonel if he might go with the expedition, and then he
decided that he would do nothing so utterly foolish. . . .  No, of course
he wouldn’t. . . .

Yes, he would. . . .



CHAPTER XI
_Food and Feeders_


Rightly or wrongly, Bertram gathered the impression, as he strolled about
the Camp, that this was not a confident and high-spirited army, drunk
with the heady fumes of a debauch of victory.  The demeanour of the
Indian Sepoys led him to the conclusion, just or unjust, that they had
“got their tails down.”  They appeared weary, apprehensive, even
despondent, when not merely apathetic, and seemed to him to be distinctly
what they themselves would call _mugra_—pessimistic and depressed.

The place alone was sufficient to depress anybody, he freely admitted, as
he gazed around at the dreary grey environs of this little British
_pied-à-terre_—grey thorn bush; grey grass; grey baobab trees (like
hideous grey carrots with whiskerish roots, pulled up from the ground and
stood on end); grey shell-strewn mud; grey bushwood; grey mangroves; grey
sky.  Yes, an inimical minatory landscape; a brooding, unwholesome,
sinister landscape; the home of fever, dysentery, disease and sudden
death.  And over all hung a horrible sickening stench of decay, an evil
smell that seemed to settle at the pit of the stomach as a heavy weight.

No wonder if Indians from the hills, deserts, plains and towns of the
Deccan, the Punjab, Rajputana, and Nepal, found this terrible place of
most terrific heat, foul odour, bad water and worse mud, enervating and
depressing. . . .  Poor beggars—it wasn’t _their_ war either. . . .  The
faces of the negroes of the King’s African Rifles were inscrutable, and,
being entirely ignorant of their ways, manners, and customs, he could not
tell whether they were exhibiting signs of discouragement and depression,
or whether their bearing and demeanour were entirely normal.  Certainly
they seemed a stolid and reserved folk, with a kind of dignity and
self-respecting aloofness that he had somehow not expected.  In their
tall tarbooshes, jerseys, shorts and puttees, they looked most
workman-like and competent soldiers. . . .  Certainly they did not tally
with his preconceived idea of them as a merry, care-free, irresponsible
folk who grinned all over their faces for sheer light-heartedness, and
spent their leisure time in twanging the banjo, clacking the bones,
singing rag-time songs and doing the cake-walk.  On duty, they stood like
ebon statues and opened not their mouths.  Off duty they squatted like
ebon statuettes and shut them.  Perhaps they did not know that England
expects every nigger to do his duty as a sort of born music-hall, musical
minstrel—or perhaps they _were_ depressed, like the Sepoys, and had laid
aside their banjoes, bones, coon-songs and double-shuffle-flap-dancing
boots until brighter days? . . .  Anyhow, decided Bertram, he would much
rather be with these stalwarts than against them, when they charged with
their triangular bayonets on their Martini rifles; and if the German
_askaris_ were of similar type, he cared not how long his first personal
encounter with them might be postponed. . . .  Nor did the Englishmen of
the Army Service Corps, the Royal Engineers, the Signallers and other
details, strike him as light-hearted and bubbling with the _joie de
vivre_.  Frankly they looked ill, and they looked anxious. . . .

Strolling past the brushwood-and-grass hut which was the R.A.M.C.
Officers’ Mess, he heard the remark:

“They’ve only got to leave us here in peace a little while for us all to
die natural deaths of malaria or dysentery.  The wily Hun knows _that_
all right. . . .  No fear—we shan’t be attacked here.  No such luck.”

“Not unless we make ourselves too much of a nuisance to him,” said
another voice.  “’Course, if we go barging about and capturing his
trading posts and ‘factories,’ and raiding his _shambas_, he’ll come down
on us all right. . . .”

“I dunno what we’re doing here at all,” put in a third speaker.  “You
can’t invade a blooming _continent_ like German East with a weak brigade
of sick Sepoys. . . .  Sort of bloomin’ Jameson’s Raid. . . .  Why—they
could come down the railway from Tabora or Kilimanjaro way with enough
European troops alone to eat us alive.  What are we here, irritating ’em
at all for, _I_ want to know? . . .”

“Why, to maintain Britain’s glorious traditions—of sending far too weak a
force in the first place,” put in the first speaker.  “They’ll send an
adequate army later on, all right, and do the job in style.  We’ve got to
demonstrate the necessity for the adequate army first, though. . . .”

“Sort of bait, like,” said another, and yawned.  “Well, we’ve all fished,
I expect. . . .  Know how the worm feels now. . . .”

“I’ve only fished with flies,” observed a languid and euphuistic voice.

“_What_ an honour for the ’appy fly!” replied the worm-fisherman, and
there was a guffaw of laughter.

Bertram realised that he was loitering to the point of eavesdropping, and
strolled on, pondering many things in his heart. . . .

In one corner of the great square of mud which was the Camp, Bertram came
upon a battery consisting of four tiny guns.  Grouped about them stood
their Sepoy gunners, evidently at drill of some kind, for, at a sudden
word from a British officer standing near, they leapt upon them, laboured
frantically for five seconds, stood clear again, and, behold, each gun
lay dismembered and prone upon the ground—the wheels off, the trail
detached, the barrel of the gun itself in two parts, so that the breech
half was separate from the muzzle half.  At another word from the officer
the statuesque Sepoys again sprang to life, seized each man a piece of
the dismembered gun, lifted it above his head, raised it up and down,
replaced it on the ground and once more stood at attention.  Another
order, and, in five seconds, the guns were reassembled and ready to fire.

“A mountain-battery of screw guns, so called because they screw and
unscrew in the middle of the barrel,” said Bertram to himself, and
concluded that the drill he had just witnessed was that required for
putting the dissected guns on the backs of mules for mountain transport,
and rebuilding them for use.  Certainly they were wonderfully nippy,
these Sepoys, and seemed, perhaps, rather more cheery than the others.
One old gentleman who had a chestful of medal-ribbons raised and lowered
a gun-wheel above his head as though it had been of cardboard, in spite
of his long grey beard and pensioner-like appearance.

Bertram envied the subaltern in command of this battery.  How splendid it
must be to know exactly what to do and to be able to do it; to be
conscious that you are adequate and competent, equal to any demand that
can be made upon you.  Probably this youth was enjoying this campaign in
the mud and stench and heat as much as he had ever enjoyed a picnic or
tramping or boating holiday in England. . . .  Lucky dog. . . .

At about seven o’clock that evening, Bertram “dined” in the Officers’
Mess of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth.  The rickety hut, through the
walls of which the fires of the Camp could be seen, and through the roof
of which the great stars were visible, was lighted, or left in darkness,
by a hurricane-lamp which dangled from the ridge-pole.  The officers of
the corps sat on boxes, cane-stools, shooting-seats, or patent
“weight-less” contrivances of aluminium and canvas.  The vacant-faced
youth, whose name was Grayne, had a bicycle-saddle which could be raised
and lowered on a metal rod.  He was very proud of it and fell over
backwards twice during dinner.  Bertram would have had nothing whatever
to sit on had not the excellent and foresighted Ali discovered the fact
in time to nail the two sides of a box in the shape of the letter T by
means of a stone and the nails still adhering to the derelict wood.  On
this Bertram balanced himself with less danger and discomfort than might
have been expected, the while he viewed with mixed feelings Ali’s
apologies and promise that he would steal a really nice stool or chair by
the morrow.

On the mosaic of box-sides that formed the undulating, uneven, and
fissured table-top, the Mess servant places tin plates containing a thin
and nasty soup, tasting, Bertram thought, of cooking-pot, dish-cloth,
wood-smoke, tin plate and the thumb of the gentleman who had borne it
from the cook-house, or rather the cook-hole-in-the-ground, to the Mess
hut.  The flourish with which Ali placed it before his “beloved ole
marstah” as he ejaculated “Soop, sah, thick an’ clear thank-you please”
went some way to make it interesting, but failed to make it palatable.

Although sick and faint for want of food, Bertram was not hungry or in a
condition to appreciate disgraceful cooking disgustingly served.

As he sat awaiting the next course, after rejecting the thick-an’-clear
“soup,” Bertram took stock of the gentlemen whom, in his heart, he
proudly, if shyly, called his brother-officers.

At the head of the table sat the Colonel, looking gloomy and distrait.
Bertram wondered if he were thinking of the friends and comrades-in-arms
he had left in the vile jungle round Tanga—his second-in-command and half
a dozen more of his officers—and a third of his men.  Was he thinking of
his School—and Sandhurst—and life-long friend and trusted colleague,
Major Brett-Boyce, slain by the German _askaris_ as he lay wounded,
propped against a tree by the brave and faithful dresser of the
subordinate medical service, who was murdered with him in the very midst
of his noble work, by those savage and brutal disciples of a more savage
and brutal _kultur_?

Behind him stood his servant, a tall Mussulman in fairly clean white
garments, and a big white turban round which was fastened a broad ribbon
of the regimental colours adorned with the regimental crest in silver.

“Tell the cook that he and I will have a quiet chat in the morning, if
he’ll be good enough to come to my tent after breakfast—and then the
provost-marshal shall show him a new game, perhaps,” said the Colonel to
this man as he finished his soup.

With the ghost of a smile the servant bowed, removed the Colonel’s plate
and departed to gloat over the cook, who, as a Goanese, despised
“natives” heartily and without concealment, albeit himself as black as a
negro.

Returning, the Colonel’s servant bore a huge metal dish on which reposed
a mound of most repulsive-looking meat in lumps, rags, shreds, strings,
tendrils and fibres, surrounded by a brownish clear water.  This was a
seven-pound tin of bully-beef heated and turned out in all its native
ugliness, naked and unadorned, on to the dish.  Like everyone else,
Bertram took a portion on his plate, and, like everyone else, left it on
his plate, and, like everyone else, left it after tasting a morsel—or
attempting to taste, for bully-beef under such conditions has no taste
whatever.  To chew it is merely as though one dipped a ball of rag and
string into dirty water, warmed it, put it in one’s mouth, and attempted
to masticate it.  To swallow it is moreover to attain the same
results—nutrient, metabolic and sensational—as would follow upon the
swallowing of the said ball of rags and string.

The morsel of bully-beef that Bertram put in his mouth abode with him.
Though of the West it was like the unchanging East, for it changed not.
He chewed and chewed, rested from his labours, and chewed again, in an
honest and earnest endeavour to take nourishment and work out his own
insalivation, but was at last forced to acknowledge himself defeated by
the stout and tough resistance of the indomitable lump.  It did not know
when it was beaten and it did not know when it was eaten; nor, had he
been able to swallow it, would the “juices” of his interior have
succeeded where those of his mouth, aided by his excellent teeth, had
failed.  In course of time it became a problem—another of those small but
numerous and worrying problems that were fast bringing wrinkles to his
forehead, hollows to his cheeks, a look of care and anxiety to his eyes,
and nightmares to his sleep.  He could not reduce it, he could not
swallow it, he could not publicly reject it.  What _could_ he do? . . .
A bright idea. . . .  Tactics. . . .  He dropped his handkerchief—and
when he arose from stooping to retrieve it, he was a free man again.  A
few minutes later a lump of bully-beef undiminished, unaffected and
unfrayed, travelled across the mud floor of the hut in the mandibles of
an army of big black ants, to provide them also with a disappointment and
a problem, and, perchance, with a bombproof shelter for their young in a
subterranean dug-out of the ant-hill. . . .

Bertram again looked around at his fellow-officers.  Not one of them
appeared to have reduced the evil-looking mass of fibrous tissue and
gristle that lay upon his plate—nor, indeed, did Bertram, throughout the
campaign, ever see anyone actually eat and swallow the disgusting and
repulsive muck served out to the officers and European units of the
Expeditionary Force—hungry as they often were.

To his foolish civilian mind it seemed that if the money which this foul
filth cost (for even bully-beef costs money—ask the contractors) had been
spent on a half or a quarter or a tithe of the quantity of _edible_
meat—such as tinned ox-tongue—sick and weary soldiers labouring and
suffering for their country in a terrible climate, might have had a
sufficiency of food which they could have eaten with pleasure and
digested with benefit, without costing their grateful country a penny
more. . . .  Which is an absurd and ridiculous notion expressed in a long
and involved sentence. . . .

Next, to the Colonel, eyeing his plate of bully-beef through his monocle
and with patent disgust, sat Major Manton, a tall, aristocratic person
who looked extraordinarily smart and dapper.  Hair, moustache,
finger-nails and hands showed signs of obvious care, and he wore tunic,
tie and, in fact, complete uniform, in an assembly wherein open shirts,
bare arms, white tennis shoes, slacks, shorts, and even flannel trousers
were not unknown.  Evidently the Major put correctness before comfort—or,
perhaps, found his chief comfort in being correct.  He spoke to no one,
but replied suavely when addressed.  He looked to Bertram like a man who
loathed a rough and rude environment having the honour or pleasure or
satisfaction of knowing that he noticed its existence, much less that he
troubled to loathe it.  Bertram imagined that in the rough and tumble of
hand-to-hand fighting, the Major’s weapon would be the revolver, his aim
quick and clean, his demeanour unhurried and unflurried, the expression
of his face cold and unemotional.

Beside him sat a Captain Tollward in strong contrast, a great burly man
with the physiognomy and bull-neck of a prize-fighter, the hands and arms
of a navvy, and the figure of a brewer’s dray-man.  Frankly, he looked
rather a brute, and Bertram pictured him in a fight—using a fixed bayonet
or clubbed rifle with tremendous vigour and effect.  He would be purple
of face and wild of eye, would grunt like a bull with every blow, roar to
his men like a charging lion, and swear like a bargee between whiles. . . .
“Thank God for all England’s Captain Tollwards this day,” thought
Bertram as he watched the powerful-looking man, and thought of the
gladiators of ancient Rome.

Stanner was keeping him in roars of Homeric laughter with his jests and
stories, no word of any one of which brought the shadow of a smile to the
expressionless strong face of Major Manton, who could hear every one of
the jokes that convulsed Tollward and threatened him with apoplexy.  Next
to Stanner sat Hall, who gave Bertram, his left-hand neighbour, such
information and advice as he could, anent his taking of the convoy to
Butindi, should such be his fate.

“You’ll see some fighting up there, if you ever get there,” said he.
“They’re always having little ‘affairs of out-posts’ and patrol scraps.
You may be cut up on the way, of course. . . .  If the Germans lay for
you they’re bound to get you, s’ far as I can see. . . .  How _can_ you
defend a convoy of a thousand porters going in single file through
impenetrable jungle along a narrow path that it’s practically impossible
to leave? . . .  You can have an advance-guard and a rear-guard, of
course, and much good may they do you when your _safari_ covers anything
from a couple of miles to three or four. . . .  What are you going to do
if it’s attacked in the middle, a mile or so away from where you are
yourself? . . .  What are you going to do if they ambush your
advance-guard and mop the lot up, as they perfectly easily could do, at
any point on the track, if they know you’re coming—as of course they will
do, as soon as we know it ourselves. . . .”

“You fill me with despondency and alarm,” said Bertram, with a lightness
that he was far from feeling, and a sinking sensation that was not wholly
due to emptiness of stomach.

Suddenly he was aware that a new stench was contending with the familiar
one of decaying vegetation, rotting shell-fish, and the slime that was
neither land nor water, but seemed a foul grease formed by the
decomposition of leaves, grasses, trees, fish, molluscs and animals in an
inky, oily fluid that the tides but churned up for the freer exhalation
of poisonous miasma, and had not washed away since the rest of the world
arose out of chaos and darkness, that man might breathe and thrive. . . .
The new smell was akin to the old one but more penetrating, more subtly
vile, more _vulgar_, than that ancient essence of decay and death and
dissolution, and—awaking from a brown study in which he saw visions of
himself writhing beneath the bayonets of a dozen gigantic savages, as he
fell at the head of his convoy—he perceived that the new and conquering
odour proceeded from the cheese.  On a piece of tin, that had been the
lid of a box, it lay and defied competition, while, with the unfaltering
step of a strong man doing right, because it is his duty, Ali Suleiman
bore it from _bwana_ to _bwana_ with the booming murmur: “Cheese, please
God, sah, thank you.”  To the observant and thoughtful Bertram its
reception by each member of the Mess was interesting and instructive, as
indicative of his character, breeding, and personality.

The Colonel eyed it with a cold smile.

“Yes.  Please God it _is_ only cheese,” he remarked, “but take it
away—quick.”

Major Manton glanced at it and heaved a very gentle sigh.  “No, thank
you, Boy,” he said.

Captain Tollward sniffed hard, turned to Stanner, and roared with
laughter.

“What ho, the High Explosive!” he shouted, and “What ho, the Forty Rod
Gorgonzola—so called because it put the battery-mules out of action at
that distance. . . .  Who unchained it, I say?  Boy, where’s its muzzle?”
and he cut himself a generous slice.

Stanner buried his nose in his handkerchief and waved Ali away as he
thrust the nutritious if over-prevalent delicacy upon his notice.

“Take it to Bascombe _Bwana_ and ask him to fire it from his guns,” said
he.  “Serve the Germans right for using poison-gas and liquid fire. . . .
Teach ’em a lesson, what, Tollward?”

“Don’t be dev’lish-minded,” replied that officer when laughter permitted
him to speak.  “You’re as bad as the bally Huns yourself to suggest such
an atrocity. . . .”

“Seems kinder radio-active,” said Hall, eyeing it with curiosity.
“Menacing . . .” and he also drove it from him.

Bertram, as one who, being at war, faces the horrors of war as they come,
took a piece of the cheese and found that its bite, though it skinned the
roof of his mouth, was not as bad as its bark.  Grayne affected to faint
when the cheese reached him, and the others did according to their kind.

Following in the tracks of Ali came another servant, bearing a wooden
box, which he tendered to each diner, but as one who goeth through an
empty ritual, and without hope that his offering will be accepted.  In
the box Bertram saw large thick biscuits exceedingly reminiscent of the
dog-biscuit of commerce, but paler in hue and less attractive of
appearance.  He took one, and the well-trained servant only dropped the
box in his surprise.

“What are you going to do with _that_?” enquired Hall.

“Why!—eat it, I suppose,” said Bertram.

“People don’t eat _those_,” replied Hall.

“Why not?” asked Bertram.

“Try it and see,” was the response.

Bertram did, and desisted not until his teeth ached and he feared to
break them.  There was certainly no fear of breaking the biscuit.  Was it
a sort of practical joke biscuit—a rather clever imitation of a biscuit
in concrete, hardwood, or pottery-ware of some kind?

“I understand why people do not eat them,” he admitted.

“Can’t be done,” said Hall.  “Why, even the Kavirondo who eat live slugs,
dead snakes, uncooked rice, raw flesh or rotten flesh and any part of any
animal there is, do not regard those things as food. . . .  They make
ornaments of them, tools, weapons, missiles, all sorts of things. . . .”

“I suppose if one were really starving one could live on them for a
time,” said the honest and serious-minded Bertram, ever a seeker after
truth.

“Not unless one could get them into one’s stomach, I suppose,” was the
reply; “and I don’t see how one would do it. . . .  I was reduced to
trying once, and I tried hard.  I put one in a basin and poured boiling
water on it. . . .  No result whatever. . . .  I left it to soak for an
hour while I chewed and chewed a piece of bully-beef. . . .  Result? . . .
It was slightly darker in colour, but I could no more bite into it
than I could into a tile or a book. . . .”

“Suppose you boiled one,” suggested Bertram.

“Precisely what I did,” said Hall, “for my blood was up, apart from the
fact that I was starving.  It was a case of Hall _versus_ a Biscuit.  I
boiled it—or rather watched the cook boil it in a _chattie_. . . .  I
gave it an hour.  At the end of the hour it was of a slightly still
darker colour—and showed signs of splitting through the middle.  But
never a bit could I get off it. . . . ‘Boil the dam’ thing all day and
all night, and give it me hot for breakfast,’ said I to the cook. . . .
As one who patiently humours the headstrong, wilful White Man, he went
away to carry on the foolish struggle. . . .”

“What was it like in the morning?” enquired Bertram, as Hall paused
reminiscent, and chewed the cud of bitter memory.

“Have you seen a long-sodden boot-sole that is resolving itself into its
original layers and laminæ?” asked Hall.  “Where there should be one
solid sole, you see a dozen, and the thing gapes, as it were, showing
serried rows of teeth in the shape of rusty nails and little
protuberances of leather and thread?”

“Yes,” smiled Bertram.

“That was my biscuit,” continued Hall.  “At the corners it gasped and
split.  Between the layers little lumps and points stood up, where the
original biscuit holes had been made when the dreadful thing was without
form, and void, in the process of evolution from cement-like dough to
brick-like biscuit. . . .”

“Could you eat it?” asked Bertram.

“Could _you_ eat a boiled boot-sole?” was the reply.  “The thing had
turned from dry concrete to wet leather. . . .  It had exchanged the
extreme of brittle durability for that of pliant toughness. . . .  _Eat_
it!” and Hall laughed sardonically.

“What becomes of them all, then, if no one eats them?” asked Bertram.

“Oh—they have their uses, y’ know.  Boxes of them make a jolly good
breastwork. . .  The Army Service Corps are provided with work—taking
them by the ton from place to place and fetching them back again. . . .
I reveted a trench with biscuits once. . . .  Looked very neat. . . .
Lonely soldiers, in lonely outposts, do _GOD BLESS OUR HOME_ and other
devices with them—and you can make really attractive little photo-frames
for ‘midgets’ and miniature with them if you have a centre-bit and
carving tools. . .  The handy-men of the R.E. make awf’ly nice boxes of
children’s toy-building-bricks with them, besides carved _plaques_ and
all sorts of little models. . . .  I heard of a prisoner who made a
complete steam-engine out of biscuits, but I never saw it myself. . . .
Oh, yes, the Army would miss its biscuits—but I certainly never saw
anybody eat one. . . .”

Nor did Bertram, throughout the campaign.  And here again it occurred to
his foolish civilian mind that if the thousands of pounds spent on wholly
and utterly inedible dog-biscuit had been spent on the ordinary biscuits
of civilisation and the grocer’s shop, sick and weary soldiers, working
and suffering for their country in a terrible climate, might have had a
sufficiency of food that they could have eaten with pleasure and digested
with benefit, without costing their grateful country a penny more.

“Which would be the better,” asked Bertram of himself—“to send an army
ten tons of ‘biscuit’ that it cannot eat, or one ton of real biscuit that
it can eat and enjoy?”

But, as an ignorant, simple, and silly civilian, he must be excused. . . .

Dessert followed, in the shape of unripe bananas, and Bertram left the
table with a cupful of thin soup, a small piece of cheese, and half a
crisp, but pithy and acidulous banana beneath his belt.  As the Colonel
left the hut he hurried after him.

“If you please, sir,” said he, “may I go out with the force that is to
attack the German post to-morrow?”

Having acted on impulse and uttered the fatal words, he regretted the
fact.  Why should he be such a silly fool as to seek sorrow like this?
Wasn’t there danger and risk and hardship enough—without going out to
look for it?

“In what capacity?” asked Colonel Rock, and added: “Hall is in command,
and Stanner is his subaltern.”

“As a spectator, sir,” said Bertram, “and I might—er—be useful
perhaps—er—if—”

“Spectator!” mused the Colonel.  “Bright idea!  We might _all_ go, of
course. . . .  Two hundred men go out on the job, and a couple of
thousand go with ’em to whoop ’em on and clap, what?  Excellent notion. . . .
Wonder if we could arrange a ‘gate,’ and give the gate-money to the
Red Cross, or start a Goose Club or something. . .” and he turned to go
into his tent.

Bertram was not certain as to whether this reply was in the nature of a
refusal of his request.  He hoped it was.

“May I go, sir?” he said.

“You may not,” replied the Colonel, and Bertram felt very disappointed.



CHAPTER XII
_Reflections_


That night Bertram was again unable to sleep.  Lying awake on his hard
and narrow bed, faint for want of food, and sick with the horrible stench
of the swamp, his mind revolved continually round the problem of how to
“personally conduct” a convoy of a thousand porters through twenty miles
of enemy country in such a way that it might have a chance if attacked.
After tossing and turning for hours and vainly wooing sleep, he lay
considering the details of a scheme by which the armed escort should, as
it were, circulate round and round from head to tail of the convoy by a
process which left ten of the advance-guard to occupy every tributary
turning that joined the path and to wait at the junction of the two paths
until the whole convoy had passed and the rear-guard had arrived.  The
ten would then join the rear-guard and march on with them.  By the time
this had been repeated sufficiently often to deplete the advance-guard,
the convoy should halt while the bulk of the rear-guard marched up to the
head of the column again and so _da capo_.  It would want a lot of
explaining to whoever was in command of the rear-guard, for it would be
impossible for him, himself, to struggle up and down a line miles long—a
line to which anything might happen, at any point, at any moment. . . .
He could make it clear that at any turning he would detail ten men from
the advance-guard, and then, when fifty had been withdrawn for this
flanking work, he would halt the column so that the officer commanding
the rear-guard could send fifty back. . . .  Ten to one the fool would
bungle it, and he might sit and await the return of the fifty until the
crack of doom, or until he went back and fetched them up himself.  And as
soon as he had quitted the head of the column there would be an attack on
it! . . .  Yes—or perhaps the ass in command of the ten placed to guard
the side-turnings would omit to join the rear-guard as it passed—and he’d
roll up at his destination, with a few score men short. . . .  What would
be done to him if he—

_Bang_! . . .

Bertram’s heart seemed to leap out of his body and then to stand still.
His bones seemed to turn to water, and his tongue to leather.  Had a
shell burst beneath his bed? . . .  Was he soaring in the air? . . .  Had
a great mine exploded beneath the Camp, and was the M’paga Field Force
annihilated? . . .  Captain Hall sat up, yawned, put his hand out from
beneath the mosquito curtain of his camp-bed and flashed his electric
torch at a small alarm-clock that stood on a box within reach.

“What was that explosion?” said Bertram as soon as he could speak.

“Three-thirty,” yawned Hall.  “Might as well get up, I s’pose. . . .
Wha’? . . .  ’Splosion? . . .  Some fool popped his rifle off at nothing,
I sh’d say. . . .  Blast him!  Woke me up. . .”

“It’s not an attack, then?” said Bertram, mightily relieved.  “It sounded
as though it were right close outside the hut. . . .”

“Well—you don’t attack with _one_ rifle shot—nor beat off an attack with
_none_.  I don’t, at least,” replied Hall. . .  “Just outside, was it?”
he added as he arose.  “Funny!  There’s no picket or sentry there.  You
must have been dreaming, my lad.”

“I was wide awake before it happened,” said Bertram.  “I’ve been awake
all night. . . .  It was so close, I—I thought I was blown to bits. . . .”

“’Oo wouldn’ sell ’is liddle farm an’ go ter War,” remarked Hall in Tommy
vein.  “It’s a wearin’ life, being blowed outer yer bed at ar’ pars free
of a mornin’, ain’t it, guv’nor?”

A deep and hollow groan, apparently from beneath Bertram’s bed, almost
froze that young gentleman’s blood.

Pulling on his slippers and turning on his electric torch, Hall dashed
out of the hut.  Bertram heard him exclaim, swear, and ask questions in
Hindustani.  He was joined by others, and the group moved away. . . .

“Bright lad nearly blown his hand off,” said Hall, re-entering the hut
and lighting a candle-lamp.  “Says he was cleaning his rifle. . . .”

“Do you clean a rifle while it is loaded, and also put one hand over the
muzzle and the other on the trigger while you do it?” asked Bertram.

“_I_ don’t, personally,” replied Captain Hall, shortly.  He was loath to
admit that this disgrace to the regiment had intentionally incapacitated
himself from active service, though it was fairly obvious.

“I wish he’d gone somewhere else to clean his rifle,” said Bertram.  “I
believe the thing was pointed straight at my ear.  I tell you—I felt as
though a shell had burst in the hut.”

“Bullet probably came through here,” observed Hall nonchalantly as he
laced his boots.  (Later Bertram discovered that it had actually cut one
of the four sticks that supported his mosquito curtain, and had torn the
muslin thereof.)

Sleep being out of the question, Bertram decided that he might as well
arise and watch the setting-forth of the little expedition.

“Going to get up and see you off the premises,” said he.

“Stout fella,” replied Hall.  “I love enthusiasm—but it’ll wear off. . . .
The day’ll come, and before long, when you wouldn’t get out of bed to
see your father shot at dawn. . . .  Not unless you were in orders to
command the firing-party, of course,” he added. . .

Bertram dressed, feeling weak, ill and unhappy. . . .

“Am I coming in, sah, thank you?” said a well-known voice at the doorless
doorway of the hut.

“Hope so,” replied Bertram, “if that’s tea you’ve got.”

It was.  In a large enamel “tumbler” was a pint of glorious hot tea,
strong, sweet and scalding.

“Useful bird, that,” observed Hall, after declining to share the tea, as
he was having breakfast at four o’clock over in the Mess.  “I s’pose you
hadn’t ordered tea at three forty-five, had you?”

Bertram admitted that he had not, and concealed the horrid doubt that
arose in his mind—born of memories of Sergeant Jones’s tea at
Kilindini—as to whether he was not drinking, under Hall’s very nose, the
tea that should have graced Hall’s breakfast, due to be on the table in
the Mess at that moment. . . .

If Captain Hall found his tea unduly dilute he did not mention the fact
when Bertram came over to the Mess _banda_, and sat yawning and watching
him—the man who could nonchalantly sit and shovel horrid-looking porridge
into his mouth at four a.m., and talk idly on indifferent subjects, a few
minutes before setting out to make a march in the darkness to an attack
at dawn. . . .

Ill and miserable as he felt, Bertram forgot everything in the thrilling
interest of watching the assembly and departure of the little force.  Out
of the black darkness little detachments appeared, sometimes silhouetted
against the red background of cooking fires, and marched along the main
thoroughfare of the Camp to the place of assembly at the quarter-guard.
Punctual to the minute, the column was ready to march off, as Captain
Hall strolled up, apparently as unconcerned as if he were in some boring
peace manœuvres, or about to ride to a meet, instead of to make a
cross-country night march, by compass, through an African jungle-swamp to
an attack at dawn, with the responsibility of the lives of a couple of
hundred men upon his shoulders, as well as that of making a successful
move on the chess-board of the campaign. . . .

At the head of the column were a hundred Sepoys of the Hundred and
Ninety-Eighth, under Stanner.  In the light of the candle-lantern which
he had brought from the _banda_, Bertram scrutinised their faces.  They
were Mussulmans, and looked determined, hardy men and fine soldiers.
Some few looked happily excited, some ferocious, but the prevailing
expression was one of weary depression and patient misery.  Very many
looked ill, and here and there he saw a sullen and resentful face.  On
the whole, he gathered the impression of a force that would march where
it was led and would fight bravely, venting on the foe its anger and
resentment at his being the cause of their sojourning in a stinking swamp
to rot of malaria and dysentery.

How was Stanner feeling, Bertram wondered.  He was evidently feeling
extremely nervous, and made no secret of it when Bertram approached and
addressed him.  He was anything but afraid, but he was highly excited.
His teeth chattered as he spoke, and his hand shook when he lit a
cigarette.

“Gad! I should hate to get one of their beastly expanding bullets in my
stomach,” said he.  “They fire a brute of a big-bore slug with a flat
nose.  Bad as an explosive bullet, the swine,” and he shuddered
violently.  “Stomach’s the only part I worry about, and I don’t give a
damn for bayonets. . . .  But a bullet through your stomach!  You live
for weeks. . . .”

Bertram felt distinctly glad to discover that a trained regular officer,
like Stanner, could entertain these sensations of nervous excitement, and
that he himself had no monopoly of them.  He even thought, with a thrill
of hope and confidence, that when his turn came he would be less nervous
than Stanner.  He knew that Stanner was not frightened, and that he did
not wish he was snug in bed as his brother-officers were, but he also
knew that Bertram Greene would not be frightened, and hoped and believed
he would not be so palpably excited and nervous. . . .

Behind the detachment of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth came a machine-gun
team of _askaris_ of the King’s African Rifles, in charge of a gigantic
Sergeant.  The dismounted gun and the ammunition-boxes were on the heads
of Swahili porters.

Bertram liked the look of the Sergeant.  He was a picture of quiet
competence, reliability and determination.  Although a full-blooded
Swahili, his face was not unhandsome in a fierce, bold, and vigorously
purposeful way, and though he had the flattened, wide-nostrilled nose of
the negro, his mouth was Arab, thin-lipped and clear cut as Bertram’s
own.  There was nothing bovine, childish nor wandering in his regard, but
a look of frowning thoughtfulness, intentness and concentration.

And Sergeant Simba was what he looked, every inch a soldier, and a fine
honourable fighting-man, brave as the lion he was named after; a
subordinate who would obey and follow his white officer to certain death,
without question or wavering; a leader who would carry his men with him
by force of his personality, courage and leadership, while he could move
and they could follow. . . .  Beside Sergeant Simba, the average German
soldier is a cur, a barbarian, and a filthy brute, for never in all the
twenty years of his “savage” warfare has Sergeant Simba butchered a
child, tortured a woman, murdered wounded enemies, abused (nor used) the
white flag, fired on the Red Cross, turned captured dwelling-places into
pig-styes and latrines in demonstration of his _kultur_—nor, when caught
and cornered, has he waggled dirty hands about cunning, cowardly head
with squeal of _Kamerad_!  _Kamerad_! . . .  Could William the Kultured
but have officered his armies with a hundred thousand of Sergeant Simba,
instead of with his high-well-born Junkers, the Great War might have been
a gentleman’s war, a clean war, and the word _German_ might not have
become an epithet for all time, nor the “noble and knightly” sons of
ancient houses have received commissions as Second Nozzle-Holder in the
Poison-Gas Grenadiers, Sub Tap-Turner in a Fire-Squirting Squadron, or
Ober Left-behind to Poison Wells in the Prussic (Acid) Guard. . . .

As Bertram watched this sturdy-looking Maxim-gun section, with their
imperturbable, inscrutable faces, an officer of the King’s African Rifles
emerged from the circumambient gloom and spoke with Sergeant Simba in
Swahili.  As he departed, after giving his orders and a few words of
advice to Sergeant Simba, he raised his lantern to the face of the man in
charge of the porters who carried the gun and ammunition.  The man’s face
was instantly wreathed in smiles, and he giggled like a little girl.  The
officer dug him affectionately in the ribs, as one smacks a horse on
dismounting after a long run and a clean kill, and the giggle became a
cackle of elfin laughter most incongruous.  Evidently the man was the
officer’s pet butt and prize fool.

“_Cartouchie n’gapi_?” asked the officer.

“Hundrem millium, _Bwana_,” replied the man, and as the officer turned
away with a laugh, Bertram correctly surmised that on being asked how
many cartridges he had got, the man had replied that he possessed a
hundred million.

Probably he spoke in round numbers, and used the only English words he
knew. . . .  The African does not deal in larger quantities than
ten-at-a-time, and his estimates are vague, and still more vague is his
expression of them.  He will tell you that a place is “several nights
distant,” or perhaps that it is “a few rivers away.”  It is only just,
however, to state that he will cheerfully accept an equal vagueness in
return, and will go to your tent with the alacrity of clear understanding
and definite purpose, if you say to him: “Run quickly to my tent and
bring me the thing I want.  You will easily distinguish it, as it is of
about the colour of a flower, the size of a piece of wood, the shape of
elephant’s breath, and the weight of water.  _You_ know—it’s as long as
some string and exactly the height of some stones.  You’ll find it about
as heavy as a dead bird or a load on the conscience.  That thing that
looks like a smell and feels like a sound. . . .”  He may bring your gun,
your tobacco-pouch, your pyjamas, your toothbrush, or one slipper, but he
will bring _something_, and that without hesitation or delay, for he
immediately and clearly grasped that that particular thing, and none
other, was what you wanted.  He recognised it from your clear and careful
description.  It was not as though you had idly and carelessly said:
“Bring me my hat” (or my knife or the matches or some other article that
he handled daily), and left him to make up his mind, unaided, as to
whether you did not really mean trousers, a book, washhand-stand, or the
pens, ink, and paper of the gardener’s aunt. . . .

Behind the Swahili was a half-company of Gurkhas of the Kashmir Imperial
Service Troops.  As they stood at ease and chatted to each other, they
reminded Bertram of a class of schoolboys waiting to be taken upon some
highly pleasurable outing.  There was an air of cheerful excitement and
joyous expectancy.

“_Salaam_, _Subedar Sahib_,” said Bertram, as the fierce hard face of his
little friend came within the radius of the beams of his lantern.

“_Salaam_, _Sahib_,” replied the Gurkha officer, “_Sahib ata hai_?” he
asked.

“_Nahin_,” replied Bertram.  “_Hamara Colonel Sahib hamko hookum dea ki_
‘_Mut jao_,’” and the Subedar gathered that Bertram’s Colonel had
forbidden him to go.  He commiserated with the young Sahib, said it was
bad luck, but doubtless the Colonel Sahib in his wisdom had reserved him
for far greater things.

As he strolled along their flank, Bertram received many a cheery grin of
recognition and many a “Salaam, Sahib,” from the friendly and lovable
little hill-men.

In their rear, Bertram saw, with a momentary feeling that was something
like the touch of a chill hand upon his heart, a party of Swahili
stretcher-bearers, under an Indian of the Subordinate Medical Department,
who bore, slung by a crossbelt across his body, a large satchel of
dressings and simple surgical appliances. . . .  Would these
stretcher-bearers come back laden—sodden and dripping with the life-blood
of men now standing near them in full health and strength and vigour of
lusty life?  Perhaps this fine Sergeant, perhaps the Subedar-Major of the
Gurkhas?  Stanner?  Hall? . . .

Suddenly the column was in motion and passing through the entrance by
which Bertram had come into the Camp—was it a month ago or only
yesterday?

Without disobeying the Colonel, he might perhaps go with the column as
far as the river?  There was a water-picket there permanently.  If he did
not go beyond the picket-line, it could not be held that he had “gone
out” with the force in face of the C.O.’s prohibition.

Along the narrow lane or tunnel which wound through the impenetrable
jungle of elephant-grass, acacia scrub, live oak, baobab, palm, thorn,
creeper, and undergrowth, the column marched to the torrential little
river, thirty or forty yards wide, that swirled brown, oily, and ugly,
between its reed-beds of sucking mud.  Here the column halted while Hall
and Stanner, lantern in hand, felt their slow and stumbling way from log
to log of the rough and unrailed bridge that spanned the stream.  On the
far side Hall waited with raised lantern, and in the middle stayed
Stanner and bade the men cross in single file, the while he vainly
endeavoured to illuminate each log and the treacherous gap beside it.
Before long the little force had crossed without loss—(and to fall
through into that deep, swift stream in the darkness with accoutrements
and a hundred rounds of ammunition was to be lost for ever)—and in a
minute had disappeared into the darkness, swallowed up and lost to sight
and hearing, as though it had never passed that way. . . .

Bertram turned back to Camp and came face to face with Major Manton.

“Morning, Greene,” said he.  “Been to see ’em off?  Stout fella.”  And
Bertram felt as pleased and proud as if he had won a decoration. . . .

The day dawned grey, cheerless and threatening over a landscape as grey,
cheerless and threatening as the day.  The silent, menacing jungle, the
loathsome stench of the surrounding swamp, the heavy, louring sky, the
moist, suffocating heat; the sense of lurking, threatening danger from
savage man, beast and reptile, insect and microbe; the feeling of utter
homelessness and rough discomfort, combined to oppress, discourage and
disturb. . . .

Breakfast, eaten in silence in the Mess _banda_, consisted of porridge
that required long and careful mastication by any who valued his
digestion; pieces of meat of dull black surface and bright pink interior,
also requiring long and careful mastication by all who were not too
wearied by the porridge drill; and bread.

The bread was of interest—equally to the geologist, the zoologist, the
physiologist, the chemist, and the merely curious.  To the dispassionate
eye, viewing it without prejudice or partiality, the loaf looked like an
oblate spheroid of sandstone—say the Old Red Sandstone in which the
curious may pick up a mammoth, aurochs, sabre-toothed tiger, or similar
ornament of their little world and fleeting day—and to the passionate
hand hacking _with_ prejudice and partiality (for crumb, perhaps), it
also felt like it.  It was Army Bread, and quite probably made since the
outbreak of the war.  The geologist, wise in Eras—_Paleolithic_,
_Pliocene_, _Eocene_, _May-have-been_—felt its challenge at once.  To the
zoologist there was immediate appeal when, by means of some sharp or
heavy tool, the outer crust had been broken.  For that interior was
honey-combed with large, shiny-walled cells, and every cell was filled
with a strange web-like kind of cocoon of finest filaments, now grey, now
green, to which adhered tiny black specks.  Were these, asked the
zoologist, the eggs of insects, and, if so, of what insects?  Were they
laid before the loaf petrified, or after?  If before, had the burning
process in the kiln affected them?  If after, how did the insect get
inside?  Or were they possibly of vegetable origin—something of a fungoid
nature—or even on that strange borderland ’twixt animal and vegetable
where roam the yeasty microbe and boisterous bacillus?  Perhaps, after
all, it was neither animal nor vegetable, but mineral? . . .  So ponders
the geologist who incurs Army Bread in the wilds of the earth.

The physiologist merely wonders once again at the marvels of the human
organism, that man can swallow such things and live; while the chemist
secretes a splinter or two, that he may make a qualitative and
quantitative analysis of this new, compound, if haply he survive to
return to his laboratory.

To the merely curious it is merely curious—until he essays to eat it—and
then his utterance may not be merely precious. . . .

After this merry meal, Bertram approached the Colonel, saluted, and said:

“Colonel Frost, of the Hundred and Ninety-Ninth, ordered me to be sure to
request you to return his nine cooking-pots at your very earliest
convenience, sir, if you please.”

Colonel Rock smiled brightly upon Bertram.

“He always was a man who liked his little joke,” said he. . . .  “Remind
me to send him—”

“Yes, sir,” interrupted Bertram, involuntarily, so pleased was he to
think that the Pots of Contention were to be returned after all.

“. . . A Christmas-card—will you?” finished Colonel Rock.

Bertram’s face fell.  He thought he could hear, afar off, the ominous
sound of the grinding of the mill-stones, between the upper and the
nether of which he would be ground exceeding small. . . .  Would Colonel
Frost send him a telegram?  What would Colonel Rock say if he took it to
him?  Could he pretend that he had never received it.  Base thought!  If
he received one every day? . . .

Suppose he were wounded.  Could he pretend that his mind and memory were
affected—loss of memory, loss of identity, loss of cooking-pots? . . .

“By the way,” said the Colonel, as Bertram saluted to depart, “you’ll
leave here to-morrow morning with a thousand porters, taking rations and
ammunition to Butindi.  You will take the draft from the Hundred and
Ninety-Ninth as escort, and report to Major Mallery there.  Don’t go and
get scuppered, or it’ll be bad for them up at Butindi. . . .  Start about
five.  Lieutenant Bridges, of the Coolie Corps, will give you a guide.
He’s been up there. . . .  Better see Captain Brent about it to-night.
He’ll hand over the thousand porters in good condition in the morning. . . .
The A.S.C. people will make a separate dump of the stuff you are to
take. . . .  Make sure about it, so that you don’t pinch the wrong stuff,
and turn up at Butindi with ten tons of Number Nine pills and other
medical comforts. . . .”

Bertram’s heart sank within him, but he strove to achieve a look that
blent pleasure, firmness, comprehension, and wide experience of
convoy-work into one attractive whole.  Wending his way to his _banda_,
Bertram found Ali Suleiman making work for himself and doing it.

“I am going to Butindi at five to-morrow morning,” he announced.  “Have
you ever been that way?”

“Oh, yes, sah, please God, thank you,” replied Ali.  “I was gun-bearer to
a _bwana_, one ’Mericani gentlyman wanting to shoot sable antelope—very
rare inseck—but a lion running up and bite him instead, and shocking
climate cause him great loss of life.”

“Then you could be guide,” interrupted Bertram, “and show me the way to
Butindi?”

“Yes, sah,” replied Ali, “can show _Bwana_ everythings. . . .  _Bwana_
taking much quinine and other _n’dawa_ {133a} there though.  Shocking
climate causing _Bwana_ bad _homa_, bad fever, and perhaps great loss of
life also. . . .”

“D’you get fever ever?” asked Bertram.

“Sometimes, sah, but have never had loss of life,” was the reassuring
answer. . . .

That morning and afternoon Bertram spent in watching the work of the
Camp, as he had no duties of his own, and towards evening learnt of the
approach of the expedition of the morning. . . .

The column marched along with a swing, evidently pleased with itself,
particularly the Swahili detachment, who chanted a song consisting of one
verse which contained but one line.  “_Macouba Simba na piga mazungo_,”
{133b} they sang with wearying but unwearied regularity and monotony.  At
their head marched Sergeant Simba, looking as fresh as when he started,
and more like a blackened European than a negro.

The Subedar and his Gurkhas had been left to garrison the outpost, but a
few had returned on the stretchers of the medical detachment.

Bertram, with sinking heart and sick feelings of horror, watched these
blood-stained biers, with their apparently lifeless burdens, file over
the bridge, and held his breath whenever a stretcher-bearer stumbled on
the greasy logs.

As the last couple safely crossed the bridge and laid their dripping
stretcher down for a moment, the occupant, a Gurkha rifleman, suddenly
sat up and looked round.  His face was corpse-like, and his uniform
looked as though it had just been dipped in a bath of blood.  Painfully
he rose to his feet, while the Swahili bearers gaped in amazement, and
tottered slowly forward.  Reeling like a drunken man, he followed in the
wake of the disappearing procession, until he fell.  Picking up the empty
stretcher, the bearers hurried to where he lay—only to be waved away by
the wounded man, who again arose and reeled, staggering, along the path.

Bertram met him and caught his arm as he collapsed once more.

“_Subr karo_,” said Bertram, summoning up some Hindustani of a sort.
“_Stretcher men baitho_.” {134a}

“_Nahin_, _Sahib_,” whispered the Gurkha; “_kuch nahin hai_.” {134b}  He
evidently understood and spoke a little of the same kind.  No.  It was
nothing.  Only seven holes from Maxim-gun fire, that had riddled him as
the German N.C.O. sprayed the charging line until a _kukri_ halved his
skull. . . .  It was nothing. . . .  No—it would take more than a
_Germani_ and his woolly-haired _askaris_ to put Rifleman Thappa Sannu on
a stretcher. . . .

Bertram’s hand seemed as though it were holding a wet sponge.  He felt
sick, and dreaded the moment when he must look at it and see it reeking
red.

“_Mirhbani_, _Sahib_,” whispered the man again.  “_Kuch nahin hai_.
_Hamko mut pukkaro_.”  {134c}

He lurched free, stumbled forward a dozen yards, and fell again.

There was no difficulty about placing him upon the stretcher this time,
and he made no remonstrance, as he was dead.

Bertram went to his _banda_, sat on the edge of his bed, and wrestled
manfully with himself.

By the time Hall had made his report to the Colonel and come to the hut
for a wash and rest, Bertram had conquered his desire to be very sick,
swallowed the lump in his throat, relieved the stinging in his eyes, and
contrived to look and behave as though he had not just had one of the
most poignant and disturbing experiences of his life. . . .

“Ripping little show,” said Captain Hall, as he prepared for a bath and
change.  “The Gurkhas did in their pickets without a sound.  Gad!  They
can handle those _kukris_ of theirs to some purpose.  Sentry on a mound
in the outpost pooped off for some reason.  They must just have been
doing their morning Stand-to. . . .  All four sides of the post opened
fire, and we were only attacking on one. . . .  They’d got a Maxim at
each corner. . . .  Too late, though.  One hurroosh of a rush before they
knew anything, and we were in the _boma_ with the bayonet.  Most of them
bunked over the other side. . . .  Got three white men, though.  A Gurkha
laid one out—on the Maxim, he was—and the Sergeant of the Swahilis fairly
spitted another with his bayonet. . . .  Third one got in the way of my
revolver. . .  I don’t s’pose the whole thing lasted five minutes from
the time their sentry fired. . . .  The Hundred and Ninety-Eighth were
fine.  Lost our best Havildar, though.  He’d have been Jemadar if he’d
lived.  He was leading a rush of his section in fine style, when he
‘copped a packet.’  Stopped one badly.  Clean through the neck.  One o’
those beastly soft-nosed slugs the swine give their _askaris_ for
‘savage’ warfare. . . .  As if a German knew of any other kind. . . .”

“Many casualties?” asked Bertram, trying to speak lightly.

“No—very few.  Only eleven killed and seven wounded.  Wasn’t time for
more.  Shouldn’t have had that much, only the blighter with the Maxim was
nippy enough to get going with it while we charged over about forty yards
from cover.  The Gurkhas jumped the ditch like greyhounds and over the
parapet of the inner trench like birds. . . .  You _should_ ha’ been
there. . . .  They never had a chance. . . .”

“Yes,” said Bertram, and tried to visualise that rush at the belching
Maxim.

“Didn’t think much of their _bundobust_,” continued Hall.  “Their pickets
were pretty well asleep and the place hadn’t got a yard of barbed wire
nor even a row of stakes.  They hadn’t a field of fire of more than fifty
yards anywhere. . . .  Bit provincial, what? . . .”

While Hall bathed, Bertram went in search of Captain Brent of the Coolie
Corps.

Dinner that night was a vain repetition of yesterday’s, save that there
was more soup and cold bully-beef gravy available, owing to the rain.

The roof of the _banda_ consisting of lightly thatched grass, reeds,
twigs, and leaves, was as a sieve beneath the tropical downpour.  There
was nothing to do but to bear it, with or without grinning.  Heavy drops
in rapid succession pattered on bare heads, resounded on the tin plates,
splashed into food, and, by constant dropping, wore away tempers.  By
comparison with the great heat of the weather, the rain seemed cold, and
the little streams that cascaded down from pendent twig or reed were
unwelcome as they invaded the back of the neck of some depressed diner
below.

A most unpleasant looking snake, dislodged or disturbed by the rain, fell
with sudden thud upon the table from his lodging in the roof.  Barely had
it done so when it was skewered to the boards by the fork of Captain
Tollward.  “Good man,” said Major Manton, and decapitated the reptile
with his knife.

“Just as well to put him out of pain,” said he coolly; “it’s a _mamba_.
Beastly poisonous,” and the still-writhing snake was removed with the
knife and fork that had carved him.  “Lucky I got him in the neck,”
observed Tollward, and the matter dropped.

Bertram wondered what he would have done had a small and highly poisonous
serpent suddenly flopped down with a thump in front of his plate.
Squealed like a girl perhaps?

Before long he was sitting huddled up beneath a perfect shower-bath of
cold drops, with his feet in an oozy bog which soon became a pool and
then a stream, and by the end of “dinner” was a torrent that gurgled in
at one end of the Mess _banda_, and foamed out at the other.  In this
filthy water the Mess servants paddled to and fro, becoming more and more
suggestive of drowned birds, while the yellowish khaki-drill of their
masters turned almost black as it grew more sodden.  One by one the lamps
used by the cook and servants went out.  That in the _banda_ went out
too, and the Colonel, who owned a tent, followed its example.  Those
officers who had only huts saw no advantage in retiring to them, and sat
on in stolid misery, endeavouring to keep cigarettes alight by holding
them under the table between hasty puffs.

Having sat—as usual—eagerly listening to the conversation of his
seniors—until the damp and depressed party broke up, Bertram splashed
across to his _banda_ to find that the excellent Ali had completely
covered his bed with his water-proof ground-sheet, had put his pyjamas
and a change of underclothing into the bed and the rest of his kit under
it.  He had also dug a small trench and drain round the hut, so that the
interior was merely a bog instead of a pool. . . .

Bertram then faced the problem of how to undress while standing in mud
beneath a shower-bath, in such a manner as to be able to get into bed
reasonably dry and with the minimum of mud upon the feet. . . .

As he lay sick and hungry, cold and miserable, with apparently high
promise of fever and colic, listening to the pattering of heavy drops of
water within the hut, and the beating of rain upon the sea of mud and
water without, and realised that on the morrow he was to undertake his
first really dangerous and responsible military duty, his heart sank. . . .
Who was _he_ to be in sole charge of a convoy upon whose safe arrival
the existence of an outpost depended?  What a _fool_ he had been to come!
Why should _he_ be lying there half starving in that bestial swamp,
shivering with fever, and feeling as though he had a very dead cat and a
very live one in his stomach?  .  .  .  Raising his head from the pillow,
he said aloud: “I would not be elsewhere for anything in the world. . . .”



CHAPTER XIII
_Baking_


When Bertram was awakened by Ali at four o’clock the next morning, he
feared he would be unable to get up.  Had he been at home, he would have
remained in bed and sent for the doctor.  His head felt like lead, every
bone in his body ached, and he had that horrible sense of internal
_malaise_, than which few feelings are more discouraging, distressing and
enervating.

The morning smelt horrible, and, by the light of the candle-lamp, the
floor was seen to have resigned in favour of the flood.  Another problem:
Could a fair-sized man dress himself on a tiny camp-bed beneath a small
mosquito curtain?  If not, he must get out of bed into the water, and
paddle around in that slimy ooze which it hid from the eye but not from
the nose.  Subsidiary problem: Could a man step straight into a pair of
wet boots, so as to avoid putting bare feet into the mud, and then
withdraw alternate feet from them, for the removal of pyjamas and the
putting-on of shorts and socks, while the booted foot remained firmly
planted in the slush for his support?

Or again: Sitting precariously on the edge of a canvas bed, could an
agile person, with bare feet coyly withdrawn from contact with the
foulness beneath, garb his nether limbs to the extent that permitted the
pulling-on of boots? . . .

He could try anyhow. . . .  After much groping and fumbling, Bertram
pulled on his socks and shorts, and then, still lying on his bed, reached
for his boots.  These he had left standing on a dry patch beneath his
bed, and now saw standing, with the rest of his kit, in a couple of
inches of filthy water.  Balancing himself on the sagging edge of the
strip of canvas that served as bed-laths, palliasse and mattress, he
struggled into the resisting and reluctant boots, and then boldly entered
the water, pleased with the tactics that had saved him from touching it
before he was shod. . . .  It was not until he had retrieved his sodden
puttees and commenced to put them on, that he realised that he was still
wearing the trousers of his pyjamas!

And then it was that Bertram, for the first time in his life, furiously
swore—long and loud and heartily.  Let those who say in defence of War
that it rouses man’s nobler instincts and brings out all that is best in
him, note this deplorable fact.

Could he keep them on, or must he remove those clinging, squelching boots
and partially undress again?

Striped blue and green pyjamas, showing for six inches between his shorts
and his puttees, would add a distinctly novel touch to the uniform of a
British officer. . . .  No.  It could not be done.  Ill as he felt, and
deeply as he loathed the idea of wrestling with the knots in the sodden
boot-laces of those awful boots, he must do it—in spite of trembling
hands, swimming head, and an almost unconquerable desire to lie down
again.

And then—alas! for the moral maxims of the copy-books, the wise saws and
modern instances of the didactic virtuous—sheer bad temper came to his
assistance.  With ferocious condemnations of everything, he cut his
boot-laces, flung his boots into the water, splashed about violently in
his socks, as he tore off the offending garments and hurled them after
the boots, and then completed his dressing with as little regard to
water, mud, slime, filth, and clay as though he were standing on the
carpet of his dressing-room in England.

“_I’m fed up_!” quoth he, and barged out of the _banda_ in a frame of
mind that put the Fear of God and Second-Lieutenant Bertram Greene into
all who crossed his path. . . .  (_Cupid_ forsooth!)

The first was Ali Suleiman, who stood waiting in the rain, until he could
go in and pack his master’s kit.

“Here—you—pack my kit sharp, and don’t stand there gaping like a fish in
a frying-pan.  Stir yourself before I stir _you_,” he shouted.

The faithful Ali dived into the _banda_ like a rabbit into its hole.
Excellent!  This was the sort of _bwana_ he could reverence.  Almost had
he been persuaded that this new master was not a real gentleman—he was so
gentle. . . .

Bertram turned back again, but not to apologise for his harsh words, as
his better nature prompted him to do.

“Where’s my breakfast, you lazy rascal?” he shouted.

“On the table in Mess _banda_, please God, thank you, sah,” replied Ali
Suleiman humbly, as one who prays that his grievous trespasses may be
forgotten.

“Then why couldn’t you say so, you—you—you—” and here memories of the
Naval Officer stole across his subconsciousness, “you blundering burden,
you posthumous porridge-punter, you myopic megalomaniac, you pernicious,
piebald pacifist. . . .”

Ali Suleiman rolled his eyes and nodded his head with every epithet.

“Oh, my God, sah,” said he, as Bertram paused for breath, “I am a dam man
mos’ blasted sinful”—and, so ridiculous a thing is temper, that Bertram
neither laughed nor saw cause for laughter.

Splashing across to the Mess _banda_, he discovered a battered metal
teapot, an enamelled tumbler, an almost empty tin of condensed milk, and
a tin plate of very sad-looking porridge.  By the light of a lamp that
appealed more to the olfactory and auditory senses than to the optic, he
removed from the stodgy mess the well-developed leg of some insect
unknown, and then tasted it—(the porridge, not the leg).

“_Filthy muck_,” he remarked aloud.

“Sahib calling me, sir?” said a voice that made him jump, and the Cook’s
Understudy, a Goanese youth, stepped into the circle of light—or of
lesser gloom.

“Very natural you should have thought so,” answered Bertram.  “I said
_Filthy Muck_.”

“Yessir,” replied the acting deputy assistant adjutant cooklet, proudly,
“I am cooking breakfast for the Sahib.”

“_You_ cooked this?” growled Bertram, and half rose, with so menacing an
expression and wild an eye that the guilty fled, making a note that this
was a Sahib to be properly served in future, and not, as he had foolishly
thought him, a poor polite soul for whom anything was good enough. . . .

Pushing the burnt and nauseating horror from him, Bertram essayed to pour
out tea, only to find that the fluid was readily procurable from anywhere
but the spout.  A teapot that will not “pour out” freely is an annoyance
at the best of times, and to the most placid of souls.  (The fact that
tea through the lid is as good as tea through the spout is more than
counter-balanced by the fact that tea in the cup is better than tea on
the table-cloth.  And it is a very difficult art, only to be acquired by
patient practice, to pour tea into the cup and the cup alone, from the
top of a spout-bunged teapot.  Try it.)

Bertram’s had temper waxed and deepened.

“_Curse the thing_!” he swore, and banged the offending pot on the table,
and, forgetting his nice table-manners, blew violently down the spout.
This sent a wave of tea over his head and scalded him, and there the
didactic virtuous, and the copy-book maxims, scored.

Sorely tempted to call to the cooklet in honeyed tones, decoy him near
with fair-seeming smiles, with friendly gestures, and then to fling the
thing at his head, he essayed to pour again.

A trickle, a gurgle, a spurt, a round gush of tea—and the pale wan
skeletal remnants of a once lusty cockroach, sodden and soft, leapt into
the cup.  Swirling round and round, it seemed giddily to explore its new
unresting-place, triumphant, as though chanting, with the Ancient
Mariner, some such pæan as

    “I was the first that ever burst
    Into this silent tea. . . .”

Heaven alone knew to how many cups of tea that disintegrating corpse had
contributed of its best before the gusts of Bertram’s temper had
contributed to its dislodgment.

(Temper seems to have scored a point here, it must be reluctantly
confessed.)

Bertram arose and plunged forth into the darkness, not daring to trust
himself to call the cook.

Raising his clenched hands in speechless wrath, he drew in his breath
through his clenched teeth—and then slipped with catastrophic suddenness
on a patch of slimy clay and sat down heavily in very cold water.

He arose a distinctly dangerous person. . . .

Near the ration-dump squatted a solid square of naked black men, not
precisely savages, raw _shenzis_ of the jungle, but something between
these and the Swahilis who work as personal servants, gun-bearers, and
the better class of _safari_ porters.  They were big men and looked
strong.  They smelt stronger.  It was a perfectly indescribable odour,
like nothing on earth, and to be encountered nowhere else on earth—save
in the vicinity of another mass of negroes.

In the light of a big fire and several lanterns, Bertram saw that the men
were in rough lines, and that each line appeared to be in charge of a
headman, distinguished by some badge of rank, such as a bowler hat, a
tobacco tin worn as an ear-ring, a pair of pink socks, or a frock coat.
These men walked up and down their respective lines and occasionally
smote one of their squatting followers, hitting the chosen one without
fear or favour, without rhyme or reason, and apparently without doing
much damage.  For the smitten one, without change of expression or
position, emitted an incredibly thin piping squeal, as though in
acknowledgment of an attention, rather than as if giving natural vent to
anguish. . . .

Every porter had a red blanket, and practically every one wore a _panga_.
The verbs are selected.  They _had_ blankets and they _wore_ pangas.  The
blankets they either sat upon or folded into pads for insertion beneath
the loads they were to carry upon their heads.  The _pangas_ were
attached to strings worn over the shoulder.  This useful implement serves
the African as toothpick, spade, axe, knife, club, toasting-fork, hammer,
weapon, hoe, cleaver, spoon, skinning-knife, and every other kind of
tool, as well as being correct jungle wear for men for all occasions, and
in all weathers.  He builds a house with it; slays, skins and dismembers
a bullock; fells a tree, makes a boat, digs a pit; fashions a club,
spear, bow or arrow; hews his way through jungle, enheartens his wife,
disheartens his enemy, mows his lawn, and makes his bed. . . .

Not far away, a double company of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth “stood
easy.”  The fact that they were soaked to the skin did nothing to give
them an air of devil-may-care gaiety.

The Jemadar in command approached and saluted Bertram, who recognised the
features of Hassan Ali.

“It’s _you_, is it!” he grunted, and proceeded to explain that the
Jemadar would command the rear-guard of one hundred men, and that by the
time it was augmented to a hundred and fifty by the process of picking up
flankers left to guard side-turnings, the column would be halted while
fifty men made their way up to the advance-guard again, and so on.

“D’you understand?” concluded Bertram.

“_Nahin_, _Sahib_,” replied the Jemadar.

“_Then fall out_,” snapped Bertram.  “I’ll put an intelligent private in
command, and you can watch him until you do,” and then he broke into
English: “I’ve had about enough of you, my lad, and if you give me any of
your damned nonsense, I’ll twist your tail till you howl.  Call yourself
an _officer_! . . .” and here the Jemadar, saluting repeatedly, like an
automaton, declared that light had just dawned upon his mind and that he
clearly understood.

“And so you’d better,” answered Bertram harshly, staring with a hard
scowl into the Jemadar’s eyes until they wavered and sank.  “So you’d
_better_, if you want to keep your rank. . . .  March one hundred men
down the path past the Officers’ Mess, and halt them a thousand yards
from here. . . .  The coolies will follow.  You will return and fall in
behind the coolies with the other hundred as rear-guard.  See that the
coolies do not straggle.  March behind your men—so that you are the very
last man of the whole convoy.  D’you understand?”

Jemadar Hassan Ali did understand, and he also understood that he’d made
a bad mistake about Second-Lieutenant Greene.  He was evidently one of
those subtle and clever people who give the impression that they are not
_hushyar_, {142} that they are foolish and incompetent, and then suddenly
destroy you when they see you have thoroughly gained that impression.

Respect and fear awoke in the breast of the worthy Jemadar, for he
admired cunning, subtlety and cleverness beyond all things. . . .  He
marched a half of his little force off into the darkness, halted them
some half-mile down the path (or rivulet) that led into the jungle, put
them in charge of the senior Havildar and returned.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Bridges, in a cloak and pyjamas, had arrived,
yawning and shivering, to superintend the loading up of the porters.  At
an order, given in Swahili, the first line of squatting Kavirondo arose
and rushed to the dump.

“Extraordinary zeal!” remarked Bertram to Bridges.

“Yes—to collar the lightest loads,” was the illuminating reply.

The zeal faded as rapidly as it had glowed when he coldly pointed with
the _kiboko_, which was his badge of office and constant companion, to
the heavy ammunition-boxes.

“I should keep that near the advance-guard and under a special guard of
its own,” said he.

“I’m going to—naturally,” replied Bertram shortly, and added: “Hurry them
along, please.  I want to get off to-day.”

Bridges stared.  This was a much more assured and autocratic person than
the mild youth he had met at the water’s edge a day or two ago.

“Well—if you like to push off with the advance-guard, I’ll see that a
constant stream of porters files off from here, and that your rear-guard
follows them,” said he.

“Thanks—I’ll not start till I’ve seen the whole convoy ready,” replied
Bertram.

Yesterday he’d have been glad of advice from anybody.  Now he’d take it
from no one.  Orders he would obey, of course—but “a poor thing but mine
own” should be his motto with regard to his method of carrying out
whatever he was left to do.  They’d told him to take their beastly
convoy; they’d left him to do it; and he’d do it as he thought fit. . . .
Curse the rain, the mud, the stench, the hunger, sickness and the beastly
pain that nearly doubled him up and made him feel faint. . . .

Grayne strolled over.

“Time you bunged off, my lad,” quoth he, loftily.

“If you’ll mind your own business, I shall have the better chance to mind
mine,” replied Bertram, eyeing him coldly—and wondering at himself.

Grayne stared open-mouthed, and before he could speak Bertram was
hounding on a lingering knot of porters who had not hurried off to the
line as soon as their boxes of biscuit were balanced on their heads, but
stood shrilly wrangling about something or nothing.

“_Kalele_!  _Kalele_!” shouted Bertram, and sprang at them with raised
fist and furious countenance, whereat they emitted shrill squeals and
fled to their places in the long column.

He had no idea what “_Kalele_!” meant, but had heard Bridges and the
headman say it.  Later he learnt that it meant “Silence!” and was a very
useful word. . . .

Ali Suleiman approached, seized three men, and herded them before him to
fetch Bertram’s kit.  Having loaded them with it, he drove them to the
head of the column and stationed them in rear of the advance-guard.

Returning, he presented Bertram with a good, useful-looking cane.

“_Bwana_ wanting a _kiboko_,” said he.  “_Shenzis_ not knowing anything
without _kiboko_ and not feeling happy in mind.  Not thinking _Bwana_ is
a real master.”

Yesterday Bertram would have chidden Ali gently, and explained that kind
hearts are more than coronets and gentle words than cruel whips.  To-day
he took the cane, gave it a vicious swish, and wished that it were indeed
a _kiboko_, one of those terrible instruments of hippopotamus hide, four
feet in length, as thick as a man’s wrist at one end, tapering until it
was of the thinness of his little finger at the other.  .  .  .

A big Kavirondo seized a rum jar.  His bigger neighbour dropped a heavy
box and tried to snatch it from him.  He who had the lighter jar clung to
it, bounded away, and put it on his head.  The box-wallah, following,
gave him a sudden violent blow in the back, jerking the jar from his
head.

Raising his cane, Bertram brought it down with all his strength on the
starboard quarter of the box-wallah as he stooped to grab the jar.  With
a wild yelp, he leapt for his box and galloped to his place in the
column.

“Excellent!” said Bridges, “you’ll have no trouble with the _safari_
people, at any rate.”

“I’ll have no trouble with anybody,” replied Bertram with a quiet
truculence that surprised himself, “not even with a _Balliol_ negro.”

Bridges decided that he had formed his estimate of Lieutenant Greene too
hastily and quite wrongly.  He was evidently a bit of a tough lad when he
got down to it.  Hot stuff. . . .

At last the dump had disappeared completely, and its original components
now swayed and turned upon the heads of a thousand human beasts of
burden—human in that they walked erect and used fire for cooking food;
beasts in that they were beastly and beast-like in all other ways.  Among
them, and distinguished by being feebler of physique, and, if possible,
feebler of mind, was a party of those despised savages, the Kikuyu,
rendered interesting as providing the great question that shook the
Church of England to its foundations, and caused Lord Bishops to forget
the wise councils of good Doctor Watts’ hymn.  (It is to be feared that
among the even mightier problems of the Great War, the problem of the
spiritual position and ecclesiastical condition of the Communicating
Kikuyu has been temporarily lost sight of.  Those who know the gentleman,
with his blubber-lipped, foreheadless face, his teeth filed to sharp
points, his skin a mass of scar patterns, done with a knife, and his
soulless, brainless animalism and bestiality, would hate to think he was
one short on the Thirty-Nine Articles or anything of that sort.)

Bertram gave a last injunction to Jemadar Hassan Ali, said farewell to
Bridges, and strode to the head of the column.  Thence he sent out a
“point” of a Havildar and three men, and waited to give the word to
advance, and plunge into the jungle, the one white man among some fifteen
hundred people, all of whom looked to him, as to a Superior Being, for
guidance and that competent command which should be their safeguard.

As the point disappeared he turned and looked along the apparently
endless line, cried “_Quick March_,” and set off at a smart pace, the
first man of the column.

He was too proud and excited to realise how very ill he felt, or to be
ashamed of the naughty temper that he had so clearly and freely
exhibited.



CHAPTER XIV
_The Convoy_


Bertram never forgot this plunge into the primeval jungle with its
mingled suggestions of a Kew hot-house, a Turkish bath, a shower bath, a
mud bath and a nightmare.

His mind was too blunted with probing into new things, his brain too
dulled by the incessant battering of new ideas, too drunk with draughts
of strange mingled novelty, too covered with recent new impressions for
him to be sensitive to fresh ones.

Had an elephant emerged from the dripping jungle, wagged its tail and sat
up and begged, he would have experienced no great shock of surprise.  He,
a town-bred, town-dwelling, pillar of the Respectable, the Normal and the
Established, was marching through virgin forest at the head of a thousand
African porters and two hundred Indian soldiers and their camp-followers,
surrounded by enemies—varying from an _ex_-Prussian Guard armed with a
machine-gun to a Wadego savage armed with a poisoned arrow—to the relief
of hungry men in a stockaded outpost! . . .  What further room was there
for marvels, wonders, and surprises?  As he tramped, splashed, slipped
and stumbled along the path, and the gloom of early morning, black sky,
mist, and heavy rain slowly gave way to dawn and daylight, his fit of
savage temper induced by “liver,” hunger, headache and disgust, slowly
gave way, also, to the mental inertia, calm, and peace, induced by
monotonous exercise.  The steady dogged tramp, tramp, tramp, was an
anodyne, a sedative, a narcotic that drugged the mind, rendering it
insensitive to the pains and sickness of the body as well as to its own
worries, anxieties and problems. . . .

Bertram felt that he could go on for a very long time; go on until he
fell; but he knew that when he fell it would be quite impossible for him
to get up again.  Once his legs stopped moving, the spell would be
broken, the automaton would have “run down,” and motion would cease quite
finally. . . .

As daylight grew, he idly and almost subconsciously observed the details
of his environment.

This was better than the mangrove-thicket of the swamp, in a clearing of
which the base camp lay.  It was the densest of dense jungle through
which the track ran, like a stream through a cañon, but it was a jungle
of infinite variety.  Above the green impenetrable mat of elephant grass
and nameless tangle of undergrowth, scrub, shrub, liana, bush, creeper,
and young trees, stood, in solid serried array, great trees by the
million, palm, mango, baobab, acacia, live oak, and a hundred other
kinds, with bamboo and banana where they could, in defiance of
probability, squeeze themselves in.  Some of the trees looked like the
handiwork of prentice gods, so crude and formless were they, their fat
trunks tapering rapidly from a huge ground-girth to a fine point, and
putting forth little abortive leafless branches suggestive of straggly
hairs.  Some such produced brilliant red blossoms, apparently on the
trunk itself, but dispensed with the banality of leaves and branches.
Some great knotted creepers seemed to have threaded themselves with beads
as big as a man’s head, and the fruit of one arboreal freak was vast
sausages.

Through the aerial roadways of the forest, fifty feet above the heads of
the _safari_, tribes of monkeys galloped and gambolled as they spied upon
it and shrieked their comment.

Apparently the varied and numerous birds held views upon the subject of
_safaris_ also, and saw no reason to conceal them.

One accompanied the advance-guard, piping and fluting: “_Poli-Poli_!
_Poli-Poli_!” which, as Ali Suleiman informed Bertram, is Swahili for
“Slowly!  _Slowly_!”

Another bird appeared to have fitted up his home with a chime of at least
eight bells, for, every now and then, a sweet and sonorous tolling rang
through the jungle.  One bird, sitting on a branch a few feet from
Bertram’s head, emitted two notes that for depth of timbre and rich
sonorous sweetness could be excelled by no musical instrument or bell on
earth.  He had but the two notes apparently, but those two were
marvellous.  They even roused Bertram to the reception of a new
impression and a fresh sensation akin to wonder.

From many of the overhanging trees depended the beautifully woven
bottle-like nests of the weaver-bird.  Brilliant parrots flashed through
the tree-tops, incredible horn-bills carried their beaks about, the
hypocritical widower-bird flaunted his new mourning, the blue starling,
the sun-bird, and the crow-pheasant, with a score of other species,
failed to give the gloomy, menacing jungle an air of brightness and life,
seemed rather to emphasise its note of gloom, its insistence upon itself
as the home of death where Nature, red in tooth and claw, pursued her
cycle of destruction with fierce avidity and wanton masterfulness. . . .

Suddenly a whistle rang out—sharp, clear, imperative.  Its incisive blow
upon the silence of the deadly jungle startled Bertram from his apathy.
His tired wits sprang to life and activity, urged on his weary flagging
muscles.  He wheeled round and faced the Sepoys just behind him, even as
the blast of the whistle ceased.

“_Halt_!  _Baitho_!” {148} he shouted—gave the drill-book sign to lie
down—and waited, for a second that seemed like a year, to feel the
withering blast of fire that should tear through them at point-blank
range. . . .  Why did it not come? . . .  Why did no guttural German
voice shout an order to fire? . . . .  He remained standing upright,
while the Sepoys, crouching low, worked the bolts of their rifles to load
the latter from their magazines.  He was glad to see that they made ready
thus, without awaiting an order, even as they sank to the ground.  Would
it not be better to march in future with a cartridge in the chamber and
the cut-off of the magazine open? . . .  Accidents? . . .  Not if he made
them march with rifles at the “slope.” . . .  Better the risk of an
accident than the risk of being caught napping. . . .  Why did not the
accursed German give the order to fire? . . .  Was it because Bertram had
got his men crouching down so quickly? . . .  Would the crashing volley
thunder out, the moment they arose? . . .  They could not stay squatting,
kneeling and lying in the mud for ever. . . .  Where was the ambush? . . .
Had they Maxims in trees, commanding this path? . . .  Were the enemy
massed in a clearing a foot or two from the road, and separated from it
only by a thin screen of foliage? . . . .  What should he do if there
were a sudden bayonet-charge down the path, by huge ferocious _askaris_?
. . .  You can’t meet a charge with efficient rifle-fire when you are in
single file and your utmost effort at deployment would get two, or
possibly three crowded and hampered men abreast. . . .  On the other
hand, the enemy would not be charging under ideal conditions either. . . .
More likely a machine-gun would suddenly nip out, from concealment
beside the path, and wither the column away with a blast of fire at six
hundred rounds a minute. . . .  Perhaps the “point” marching on ahead
would have the sense and the courage and the time to get into the
gun-team with their bayonets before it got the gun going? . . .  _Why did
not the enemy fire_? . . .  He would go mad if they didn’t do so soon. . . .
Were they playing with him, as a cat plays with a mouse? . . .

The whistle rang out again, harsh, peremptory, fateful—and then Ali
Suleiman laughed, and pointed at a small bird.  As he did so, the bird
whistled again, with precisely the note of a police-whistle blown under
the stress of fear, excitement or anger, a clamant, bodeful, and
insistent signal.

Bertram would have welcomed warmly an opportunity to wring little
birdie’s neck, in the gust of anger that followed the fright.

Giving the signal to rise and advance, Bertram strode on, and, still
under the stimulus of alarm, forgot that he was tired.

He analysed his feelings. . . .  Was he frightened and afraid?  Not at
all.  The whistle had “made him jump,” and given him a “start,” of
course.  The waiting for the blast of fire, that he knew would follow the
signal, had been terribly trying—a torture to the nerves.  The problem of
what to do, in response to the enemy’s first move, had been an agonising
anxiety—but he would certainly have done something—given clear orders as
to object and distance if there had been anything to fire at; used his
revolver coolly and set a good example if there had been a charge down
the path; headed a fierce rush at the Maxim if one had come out of cover
and prepared to open fire. . . .  No—he decidedly was not frightened and
afraid. . .  He was glad that he had remained erect, and, with his hand
on his revolver, had, with seeming coolness, scanned the surrounding
trees and jungle for signs of an ambushed enemy. . . .

The road forked, and he turned to Ali Suleiman, who had marched near him
from the start, in the proud capacity of guide.

“Which of these paths?” said he.

“The left hands, sah, please God,” was the reply; “the right is closed
also.”

“What d’you mean?” asked Bertram, staring down the open track that
branched to the right.

“See, _Bwana_,” replied Ali, pointing to a small branch that lay in the
middle of the path, with its broken end towards them and its leaves away
from them.  “Road closed.  I ’spec _askari_ patrol from Butani putting it
there, when they know _Bwana_ coming, thank God, please.”

Apparently this twig, to the experienced eye, was precisely equivalent to
a notice-board bearing the legend, _No Thoroughfare_.  Bertram signalled
a halt and turned to the Havildar at the head of the advance-guard.

“Take ten men and patrol down that path for a thousand yards,” said he.
“Then march back, wait for the rear-guard, and report to the Jemadar
Sahib.”

The man saluted, and Bertram saw him and his patrol move off, before he
gave the order for the column to advance again. . . .  That should secure
the _safari_ from attack down _that_ path, anyhow.  Ten determined men
could hold up any number for any length of time, if they did the right
thing. . . .  These beastly bush fighting conditions cut both ways. . . .
Yes—then suppose a small patrol of enemy _askaris_ were on this track in
front of him, and decided to hold the convoy up, what could he do?

To advance upon them, practically in single file, would be like
approaching a long stick of sealing-wax to the door of a furnace—the
point would melt and melt until the whole stick had disappeared without
reaching the fire. . . .  Of course, if there was a possibility of
getting into the jungle, he would send out parties to take them in flank
as he charged down the path.  But that was just the point—you _couldn’t_
get more than a few yards into the jungle in the likeliest places, and,
when you’d done that, you’d be utterly out of touch with your right and
left-hand man in no time—not to mention the fact that you’d have no sense
of direction or distance. . . .

No. . . .  He’d just head a charge straight for them, and if it were a
really determined one and the distance not too great, enough of the
advance-guard might survive to reach them with the bayonet. . . .
Evidently, if there were any rules at all in this jungle warfare, one
would be that the smaller of the two forces should dispose itself to
bring every rifle to bear with magazine fire, and the larger should make
the swiftest charge it possibly could.  If it didn’t—a dozen men would be
as good as a thousand—while their ammunition held out. . . .  What an
advantage over the Indian Sepoy, with his open order _maidan_ {150}
training, the _askari_, bred and born and trained to this bush-fighting,
would have!  The German _ought_ to win this campaign with his very big
army of indigenous soldiers and his “salted” Colonials.  What chance had
the Sepoy or the British Regular in these utterly strange and
unthought-of conditions? . . .  As well train aviators and then put them
in submarines as train the Indian Army for the frontier and the plains
and then put them in these swamps and jungles where your enemy is
invisible and your sole “formation” is single file.  What about the
sacred and Medean Law: _Never fire until you can see something to fire
at_?  They’d never fire at all, at that rate, with an enemy who
habitually used machine-guns from tree-tops and fired from dense
cover—and small blame to him. . . .

A sound of rushing water, and a few minutes later the path became the
edge of a river-bank beneath which the torrent swirled.  It looked as
though its swift erosion would soon bring the crumbling and beetling bank
down, and the path would lead straight into the river.  He must mention
the fact at Butindi.

He stared at the jungle of the opposite bank, apparently lifeless and
deserted, though menacing, secretive and uncanny.  An ugly place. . . .
Suppose the Germans bridged the river just here. . . .  He found that he
had come to a halt and was yearning to sit down. . . .  He must not do
that.  He must keep moving.  But he did not like that gap in the path
where, for some yards, it ran along the edge of the bank.  It was a gap
in the wall, an open door in the house, a rent in the veil of protection.
The jungle seemed a friend instead of a blinding and crippling hindrance,
impediment, and obstacle, now that the path lay open and exposed along
that flank.  Suppose there were an ambush in the jungle on the other side
of the narrow rushing river, and a heavy fire was opened upon his men as
they passed?  He could not get at an enemy so placed, nor return their
fire for long, from an open place, while they were in densest cover.
They could simply prohibit the passing of the _safari_. . . .  Anyhow,
he’d leave a force there to blaze like fury into the jungle across the
river if a shot were fired from there.

“Naik,” said he, to a corporal, “halt here with twenty men and line the
edge of the bank.  If you are fired at from across the river, pour in
magazine fire as hard as you can go—and make the porters _run_ like the
devil across this gap.”  He then translated, as well as he could, and
marched on.  He had done his best, anyhow.

For another hour he doggedly tramped on.  The rain ceased, and the heat
grew suffocating, stifling, terrible to bear.  He felt that he was
breathing pure steam, and that he must climb a tree in search of air—do
_something_ to relieve his panting lungs. . . .  He tore his tunic open
at the throat. . . .  _Help_! he was going to faint and fall. . . .  With
a great effort he swung about and raised his hand for the “halt” and
lowered it with palm horizontal downward for the “lie down.” . . .  If
the men were down themselves they would not realise that he had fallen. . . .
It would not do to fall while marching at their head, to fall and
lie there for the next man to stumble over him, to set an example of
weakness. . . .  The officer should be the last man to succumb to
anything—but wounds—in front. . . .

He sank to the ground, and feeling that he was going to faint away, put
his head well down between his knees, and, after a while, felt better.

“_Bwana_ taking off tunic and belts,” said Ali Suleiman, “and I carry
them.  _Bwana_ keep only revolver, by damn, please God, sah.”

A bright idea!  Why not?  Where was the sense in marching through these
foul swamps and jungles as though it were along the Queen’s Road at
Bombay?  And Ali, who would rather die than carry a load upon his head,
like a low _shenzi_ of a porter, would be proud to carry his master’s
sword and personal kit.

In his shirt-sleeves, with exposed chest, Bertram felt another man, gave
the signal to advance, and proceeded free of all impedimenta save his
revolver. . . .

Suddenly the narrow, walled-in path debouched into a most beautiful open
glade of trees like live oaks.  These were not massed together; there was
no undergrowth of bush; the grass was short and fine; the ground sloping
slightly upward was gravelly and dry—the whole spot one of Africa’s
freakish contrasts.

Bertram determined to halt the whole _safari_ here, get it “closed up”
into something like fours, and see every man, including the rear-guard,
into the place before starting off again.

With the help of Ali, who interpreted to the headmen, he achieved his
object, and, when he had satisfied himself that it was a case of “all
present and correct,” he returned to the head of the column and sat him
down upon the trunk of a fallen tree. . . .

Everybody, save the sentries, whom he had posted about the glade,
squatted or lay upon the ground, each man beside his load. . . .

Though free now of the horrible sense of suffocation, he felt sick and
faint, and very weary.  Although he had not had a proper meal since he
left the _Barjordan_, he was not hungry—or thought he was not. . . .
Would it be his luck to be killed in the first fight that he took part
in?  His _good_ luck?  When one is ill and half starved, weary beyond
words, and bearing a nightmare burden of responsibility in conditions as
comfortless and rough as they can well be, Death seems less a grisly
terror than a friend, bearing an Order of Release in his bony hand. . . .

Ali stood before him unbuckling his haversack.

“Please God, sah, I am buying _Bwana_ this chocolates in Mombasa when
finding master got no grubs for emergency rasher,” said he, producing a
big blue packet of chocolate.

“Good man!” replied Bertram.  “I meant to get a stock of that myself. . . .”

He ate some chocolate, drank of the cold tea with which the excellent Ali
had filled his water-bottle, and felt better.

After an hour’s rest he gave the order to fall in, the headmen of the
porters got their respective gangs loaded up again, and the _safari_
wound snake-like from the glade along the narrow path once more, Bertram
at its head.  He felt he was becoming a tactical soldier as he sent a
lance-naik to go the round of the sentries and bid them stand fast until
the rear-guard had disappeared into the jungle, when they were to rejoin
it.

On tramped the _safari_, hour after hour, with occasional halts where the
track widened, or the jungle, for a brief space, gave way to forest or
_dambo_.  Suddenly the head of the column emerged from the denser jungle
into an undulating country of thicket, glade, scrub, and forest.  Bertram
saw the smoke of campfires far away to the left; and with one accord the
porters commenced to beat their loads, drum-wise, with their _safari_
sticks as they burst into some tribal chant or pæan of rejoicing.  The
convoy had reached Butindi in safety.



CHAPTER XV
_Butindi_


Half a mile beyond a village of the tiniest huts—built for themselves by
the Kavirondo porters, and suggesting beehives rather than human
habitations—Bertram beheld the entrenched and stockaded _boma_, zariba,
or fort, that was to be his home for some months.

At that distance, it looked like a solid square of grass huts and tents,
surrounded by a high wall.  He guessed each side to be about two hundred
yards in length.  It stood in a clearing which gave a field of fire of
some three hundred yards in every direction.

Halting the advance-guard, he formed it up from single file into fours;
and, taking his kit from Ali, resumed it.  Giving the order to march at
“attention,” he approached the _boma_, above the entrance to which an
officer was watching him through field-glasses.

Halting his men at the plank which crossed the trench, he bade them
“stand easy,” and, leaving them in charge of a Havildar, crossed the
little bridge and approached the gateway which faced sideways instead of
outwards, and was so narrow that only one person at a time could pass
through it.

Between the trench and the wall of the _boma_ was a space some ten yards
in width, wherein a number of small men in blue uniform, who resembled
neither Indians nor Africans, were employed upon the off-duty duties of
the soldier—cleaning rifles and accoutrements, chopping wood, rolling
puttees, preparing food, washing clothing, and pursuing trains of thought
or insects.

Against the wall stood the long lean-to shelters, consisting of a roof of
plaited palm-leaf, supported by poles, in which they lived.  By the
entrance was a guard-house, which suggested a rabbit-hutch; and a sentry,
who, seeing the approach of an armed party, turned out the guard.  The
Sergeant of the Guard was an enormous man with a skin like fine black
satin, a skin than which no satin could be blacker nor more shiny.  He
was an obvious negro, Nubian or Soudanese, but the men of the guard were
small and fair, and wore blue turbans, of which the ornamental end hung
tail-wise down their backs.  Beneath their blue tunics were unpleated
kilts or skirts, of a kind of blue tartan, reaching to their knees.  They
had blue puttees and bare feet.

Saluting the guard, Bertram entered the _boma_ and found himself in the
High Street of a close-packed village of huts and tents, which were the
dwelling-places of the officers, the hospital and sick-lines, the
commissariat store, the Officers’ Mess, the cook-house, orderly-room, and
offices.

In the middle of the High Street stood four poles which supported a roof.
A “table” of posts and packing-case boards, surrounded by native
bedsteads of wood and string—by way of seats—constituted this, the
Officers’ Mess, Club, Common Room and Bar.  A bunch of despondent-looking
bananas hanging from the ridge-pole suggested food, and a bath containing
a foot of water and an inch of mud suggested drink and cholera.

About the table sat several British officers in ragged shirts and shorts,
drinking tea and eating native _chupatties_.  They looked ill and weary.
The mosaic of scraps of stencilled packing-case wood, the tin plates, the
biscuit-box “sugar-basin,” the condensed milk tin “milk-jug,” the
battered metal teapot and the pile of sodden-looking _chupatties_ made as
uninviting an afternoon tea ménage as could be imagined, particularly in
that setting of muddy clay floor, rough and dirty _angarebs_, and
roof-and-wall thatch of withered leaves and grass.  A typical scene of
modern glorious war with its dirt, discomfort and privation, its disease,
misery and weary boredom. . . .

Bertram approached the rickety grass hut and saluted.

A very tall man, with the face and moustache of a Viking, rose and
extended his hand.

“How do, Greene?” said he.  “Glad to see you. . . .  Hope you brought the
rum ration safe. . . .  Take your bonnet off and undo your furs. . . .
Hope that pistol’s not loaded. . . .  Nor that sword sharp. . . .
Oughtn’t to go about with nasty, dangerous things like that. . . .  Hope
the rum ration’s safe. . . .  Have some tea and a bloater. . . .
Berners, go and do Quartermaster, like a good lad. . . .  Have some rum
and a bloater, Greene. . . .”

“Thank you, sir,” said Bertram, noting that the big man had a crown on
one shoulder of his shirt and a safety-pin spanning a huge hole on the
other.  His great arms and chest were bare, and a pair of corduroy
riding-breeches, quite unfastened at the knee and calf, left an expanse
of bare leg between their termination and the beginning of grey, sagging
socks.  Hob-nailed boots, fastened with string, completed his attire.  He
looked like a tramp, a scarecrow, and a strong leader of men.

“’Fraid you’ll have to drink out of a condensed milk tin, until your kit
turns up. . .” said a pale and very handsome youth.  “You get a flavour
of milk, though,” he added with an air of impartiality, “as well as of
tin and solder. . . .  They burn your fingers so damnably, though, when
you go to pick ’em up. . . .  Or why not drink out of the teapot, if
everyone has finished? . . .  Yes—I’ll drop in a spot of condensed milk.”

“No—damn it all, Vereker,” put in the Major, “let’s do him well and
create an impression.  Nothing like beginning as you don’t mean to go
on—or can’t possibly go on. . . .  He can have The Glass this evening.
And some fresh tea.  And his own tin of condensed. . . .  And a bloater.
Hasn’t he brought us rum and hope? . . .”

The pale and handsome Vereker sighed.

“You create a _false_ impression, sir,” he said, and, taking a key from
his neck, arose and unlocked a big chop-box that stood in a corner of the
_banda_.  Thence he produced a glass tumbler and set it before Bertram.

“There’s The Glass,” said he.  “It’s now in your charge, present and
correct.  I’ll receive it from you and return the receipt at ‘Stand-to.’
. . .”

Bertram gathered that the tumbler was precious in the Major’s sight, and
that honour was being shown him.  He had a faint sense of having reached
Home.  He was disappointed when a servant brought fresh tea, a
newly-opened tin of milk, and the lid of a biscuit-box for a plate, to
discover that the banana which reposed upon it was the “bloater” of his
hopes and the Major’s promise.

“For God’s sake use plenty of condensed milk,” said that gentleman, as
Bertram put some into the glass, preparatory to pouring out his tea.
Bertram thought it very kind and attentive of him—until he added: “And
pour the tea _on_ to it, and not down the side of the glass. . . .
That’s how the other tumbler got done in. . . .”

As he gratefully sipped the hot tea and doubtfully munched a _chapatti_,
Bertram took stock of the other members of the Mess.  Beside Major
Mallery sat a very hard-looking person, a typical fighting-man with the
rather low forehead, rather protruding ears, rather high cheek-bones,
heavy jaw and jutting chin of his kind.  He spoke little, and that
somewhat truculently, wore a big heavy knife in his belt, looked like a
refined prize-fighter, and answered to the name of Captain Macke.

Beside him, and in strong contrast, sat a young man of the Filbert genus.
He wore a monocle, his nails were manicured, he spoke with the euphuism
and euphemism of a certain Oxford type, he had an air of languor, boredom
and acute refinement, was addressed as Cecil Clarence, when not as Gussie
Augustus Gus, and seemed to be one of the very best.

On the same string bed, and in even stronger contrast, sat a dark-faced
Indian youth.  On his shoulder-straps were the letters I.M.S. and two
stars.  A lieutenant of the Indian Medical Service, and, as such, a
member of this British Officers’ Mess.  Bertram wondered why the fact
that he had been to England and read certain books should have this
result; and whether the society of the Subedar-Major of the regiment
would have been preferred by the British officers.  The young man talked
a lot, and appeared anxious to show his freedom from anxiety, and his
knowledge of English idiom and slang.  When he addressed anyone by the
nickname which intimate pals bestowed upon him, Bertram felt sorry for
this youth with the hard staccato voice and raucous, mirthless laugh.
Cecil Clarence said of him that “if one gave him an inch he took an ’ell
of a lot for granted.”  His name was Bupendranath Chatterji, and his papa
sat cross-legged and bare-footed in the doorway of a little shop in a
Calcutta bazaar, and lent moneys to the poor, needy and oppressed, for a
considerable consideration.

“’Bout time for Stand-to, isn’t it?” said the Major, consulting his
wrist-watch.  “Hop it, young Clarence. . . .  You might come round with
me to-night, Greene, if you’ve finished tea. . . .  Can’t offer you
another bloater, I’m afraid. . . .”

The other officers faded away.  A few minutes later a long blast was
blown on a whistle, there were near and distant cries of “Stand-to,” and
Cecil Clarence returned to the Mess _banda_.  He was wearing tunic and
cross-belt.  On his cheerful young face was a look of portentous
solemnity as he approached the Major, halted, saluted, stared at him as
at a perfect stranger, and said: “Stand-to, sir.  All present and
correct.”

Over the Major’s face stole a similar expression.  He looked as one who
has received sudden, interesting and important but anxious news.

“Thank you,” said he.  “I’ll—ah—go round.  Yes.  Come with me, will you?
. . .”  Cecil Clarence again saluted, and fell in behind the Major as he
left the _banda_.  Bertram followed.  The Major went to his tent and put
on his tunic and cross-belt.  These did little to improve the
unfastenable riding-breeches, bare calves and grey socks, but were
evidently part of the rite.

Proceeding thence to the entrance to the _boma_, the Major squeezed
through, was saluted by the guard, and there met by an English officer in
the dress of the small men whom Bertram had noticed on his arrival.  His
white face looked incongruous with the blue turban and tartan petticoat.
“All present and correct, sir,” said he.  Half his men were down in the
trench, their rifles resting in the loop-holes of the parapet.  These
loop-holes were of wicker-work, like bottomless waste-paper baskets, and
were built into the earthwork of the parapet so that a man, looking
through one, had a foot of earth and logs above his head.  The other half
of his blue-clad force was inside the _boma_ and lining the wall.  This
wall, some eight feet in height, had been built by erecting two walls of
stout wattle and posts, two feet apart, and then filling the space
between these two with earth.  Along the bottom of the wall ran a
continuous fire-step, some two feet in height, and a line of wicker-work
loop-holes pierced it near the top.  In the angle, where this side of the
_boma_ met the other, was a tower of posts, wattle and earth, some twelve
feet in height, and on it, within an earth-and-wattle wall, and beneath a
thatched roof, was a machine-gun and its team of King’s African Rifles
_askaris_, in charge of an English N.C.O.  On the roof squatted a sentry,
who stared at the sky with a look of rapt attention to duty.

“How are those two men, Black?” asked the Major, as the N.C.O. saluted.

“Very bad, sir,” was the reply.  “They’ll die to-night.  I’m quite sure
the Germans had poisoned that honey and left it for our _askari_ patrols
to find.  I wondered at the time that they ’adn’t skoffed it themselves.
. . .  And it so near their _boma_ and plain to see, an’ all. . . .  I
never thought about poison till it was too late. . . .”

“Foul swine!” said the Major.  “I suppose it’s a trick they learnt from
the _shenzis_, this poisoning wild honey? . . .”

“More like they taught it ’em, sir,” was the reply.  “There ain’t no
savage as low as a German, sir. . . .  I lived in German East, I did,
afore the war. . . .  I _know_ ’em. . . .”

The next face of the _boma_ was held by the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth.
Captain Macke met the Major and saluted him as a revered stranger.  He,
too, wore tunic and cross-belt and a look of portentous solemnity, such
as that on the faces of the Major, Cecil Clarence, and, indeed, everybody
else.  Bertram, later, labelled it the Stand-to face and practised to
acquire it.

“How many sick, Captain Macke?” enquired the Major.

“Twenty-seven, sir,” was the reply.  Bertram wondered whether they were
“present” in the spirit and “correct” in form.

“All fever or dysentery—or both, I suppose?” said the Major.

“Yes—except one with a poisoned foot and one who seems to be going
blind,” was the reply.

As they passed along, the Major glanced at each man, looked into the
canvas water-tanks, scrutinised the residential sheds beneath the
wall—and, in one of them discovered a scrap of paper!  As the ground was
covered with leaves, twigs, and bits of grass, as well as being thick
with mud, Bertram did not see that this piece of paper mattered much.
This only shows his ignorance.  The Major pointed at it, speechless.
Captain Macke paled—with horror, wrath or grief.  Gussie Augustus Gus
stooped and stared at it, screwing his monocle in the tighter, that he
might see the better and not be deceived.  Vereker turned it over with
his stick, and only then believed the evidence of three of his senses.
The Jemadar shook his head with incredulous but pained expression.  He
called for the Havildar, whose mouth fell open.  The two men were very
alike, being relatives, but while the senior wore a look of incredulous
pain, the junior, it seemed to Bertram, rather wore one of pained
incredulity.  That is to say, the Jemadar looked stricken but unable to
believe his eyes, whereas the Havildar looked as though he could not
believe his eyes but was stricken nevertheless.

All stared hard at the piece of paper. . . .  It was a poignant moment. . . .
No one moved and no one seemed to breathe.  Suddenly the Havildar
touched a Naik who stood behind his men, with his back to the group of
officers, and stared fixedly at Nothing.  He turned, beheld the paper at
which the Havildar’s accusing finger pointed, rigid but tremulous. . . .
What next?  The Naik pocketed the paper, and the incident was closed.

Bertram was glad that he had witnessed it.  He knew, thenceforth, the
proper procedure for an officer who, wearing the Stand-to face, sees a
piece of paper.

The third wall of the _boma_ was occupied by a company of Dogras of an
Imperial Service Corps, under a Subedar, a fine-looking Rajput, and a
company of Marathas of the Hundred and Ninety-Eighth, under the
Subedar-Major of that regiment.  Bertram was strongly attracted to this
latter officer, and thought that never before had he seen an Indian whose
face combined so much of patient strength, gentle firmness, simple
honesty, and noble pride.

He was introduced to Bertram, and, as they shook hands and saluted, the
fine old face was lit up with a smile of genuine pleasure and friendly
respectfulness.  A man of the old school who recognised duties as well as
“rights”—and in whose sight “_false to his salt_” was the last and lowest
epithet of uttermost degradation.

“You’ll have charge of this face of the fort to-morrow, Greene,” said the
Major, as they passed on.  “Subedar-Major Luxman Atmaram is a priceless
old bird.  He’ll see you have no trouble. . . .  Don’t be in a hurry to
tell him off for anything, because it’s a hundred to one you’ll find he’s
right.”

Bertram smiled to himself at the thought of his being the sort to “tell
off” anybody without due cause and was secretly pleased to find that
Major Mallery had thought such a thing possible. . . .

The remaining side of the fort was held by Gurkhas, and Bertram noted the
fact with pleasure.  He had taken a great fancy to these cheery, steady
people.  Another machine-gun, with its team of _askaris_ of the King’s
African Rifles, occupied the middle of this wall.

“Don’t cough or sneeze near the gun,” murmured Vereker to Bertram, “or it
may fall to pieces again.  The copper-wire is all right, but the
boot-lace was not new to begin with.”

“What kind of gun is it?” he asked.

“It was a Hotchkiss once.  It’s a Hot-potch now,” was the reply.  “Don’t
touch it as you pass,” and the puzzled Bertram observed that it was
actually bound with copper-wire at one point and tied with some kind of
cord or string at another.

By the hospital—a horrible pit with a tent over it—stood the Indian youth
and a party of Swahili stretcher-bearers.

Bertram wondered whether it would ever be his fate to be carried on one
of those blood-stained stretchers by a couple of those negroes, laid on
the mud at the bottom of that pit, and operated on by that young native
of India.  He shuddered.  Fancy one’s life-blood ebbing away into that
mud.  Fancy dying, mangled, in that hole with no one but a Bupendranath
Chatterji to soothe one’s last agonies. . . .

Having completed his tour of inspection, Major Mallery removed the
Stand-to face and resumed his ordinary one, said: “They can dismiss,” to
Captain Macke and the group of officers, and tore off his cross-belt and
tunic.

All his hearers relaxed their faces likewise, blew their whistles, cried
“Dismiss!” in the direction of their respective Native Officers, and
removed their belts and tunics almost as quickly as they had removed
their Stand-to faces.

They then proceeded to the Bristol Bar.



CHAPTER XVI
_The Bristol Bar_


“Come along to the Bristol Bar and have a drink, Greene,” said Cecil
Clarence, _alias_ Gussie Augustus Gus, emerging from his _banda_, into
which he had cast his tunic and Sam Browne belt.

“Thanks,” replied Bertram, wondering if there were a Jungle Hotel within
easy reach of the _boma_, or whether the outpost had its own Place,
“licensed for the sale of beer, wine, spirits, and tobacco, to be
consumed on the premises. . . .”

In the High Street, next door to the Officers’ Mess, were two green
tents, outside one of which stood a rough camp-table of the “folding”
variety, a native string bed, and a circle of Roorkee chairs, boxes and
stools.  On an erection of sticks and withes, resembling an umbrella
stand, stood an orderly array of fresh coco-nuts, the tops of which had
been sliced off to display the white interior with its pint or so of
sweet, limpid milk.

Emerging from the tent, an Arab “boy” in a blue turban, blue jacket
buttoning up to the chin, blue petticoat and puttees, placed bottles of
various kinds on the table, together with a “sparklet” apparatus and a
pannikin of water.  The Bristol Bar was open. . . .  From the other tent
emerged an officer in the blue uniform of the little fair men.

He eyed the muddy ground, the ugly grey _bandas_ of withered grass and
leaves, the muddy, naked Kavirondo—piling their loads on the commissariat
dump, and the general dreary, cheerless scene, with the cold eye of
extreme distaste and disfavour.

“_Yah_!” said he.  He eyed the bottles on the table.

“_Ah_!” said he, and seated himself behind the Bristol Bar.

“Start with a Ver-Gin, I think, as I’ve been such a good boy to-day,” he
murmured, and, pouring a measure of Italian vermuth into an enamelled
mug, he added a smaller allowance of gin.

“Wish some fool’d roll up so that I can get a drink,” he grumbled,
holding the mug in his hand.

It did not occur to him to “_faire Suisse_,” as the French say—to drink
alone.  He must at least say “Chin-chin” or “Here’s how” to somebody else
with a drink in his hand.  Had it been cocoa, now, or something of that
sort, one might drink gallons of it without a word to a soul.  One could
lie in bed and wallow and soak, lap it up like a cat or take it in
through the pores—but this little drop of alcohol must not be drunk
without a witness and a formula.  So Lieutenant Forbes possessed his soul
in impatience.

A minute later, from every _banda_ and tent, from the Officers’ Mess and
from all directions, came British officers, bearing each man in his hands
something to drink or something from which to drink.

The Major bore The Glass, and, behind him, the Mess butler carried a
square bottle of ration whisky.  He was followed by a Swahili clasping to
his bosom a huge jar of ration rum, newly arrived.  “Leesey” Lindsay, of
the Intelligence Department, brought a collapsible silver cup, which, as
he said, only wanted knowing.  It leaked and it collapsed at
inappropriate moments, but, on the other hand, it _did_ collapse, and you
could put it in your pocket—where it collected tobacco dust, crumbs,
fluff, and grit.  Vereker carried a fresh coco-nut and half a coco-nut
shell.  This latter he was going to carve and polish.  He said that
coco-nut shells carved beautifully and took a wonderful polish. . . .
His uncle, an admiral, had one which he brought from the South Sea
Islands.  It was beautifully carved and had taken a high polish—from
someone or other.  A cannibal chief had drunk human blood from it for
years. . . .  Vereker was going to drink whisky from his for years, and
keep it all his life—carving and polishing it between whiles. . . .
“Yes.  I used that as a drinking-cup all through my first campaign.  It
nearly fell on my head in the first battle I ever fought.  Cut off the
tree by a bullet.  Carved and polished it myself,” he would be able to
say, in years to come.  Meanwhile it looked a very ordinary half-shell of
the common coco-nut of commerce as known to those who upon Saints’ Days
and Festivals do roll, bowl, or pitch. . . .

Captain Macke brought a prepared siphon of “sparklet” water and his
ration whisky.  Gussie Augustus Gus walked delicately, bearing a brimming
condensed milk tin, and singing softly—

    “Dear, sweet Mother,
       Kind and true;
    She’s a boozer,
       Through and through . . . .
    But roll your tail,
       And roll it high,
    And you’ll be an angel
       By and by. . . .”

Lieutenant Bupendranath Chatterji brought a harsh laugh and an
uncultivated taste, but a strong liking, for assorted liquors, preferably
sweet.  The officer who had been in command of the side of the fort
occupied by the men in blue entered the tent and, having removed his
belt, seated himself beside Lieutenant Forbes, behind the bar.

“Good evening, Major,” said he; “won’t you come and have a drink? . . .
Do!”

Regarding The Glass with a look of surprise, and as though wondering how
the devil it came to be there, the Major considered the invitation.

“Thanks!” said he.  “Don’t mind if I _do_ sit down for a moment.”  And he
placed The Glass upon the table.  Strangely enough, his own Roorkee chair
was already in the centre of the circle facing the said table, as it had
been any evening at this time for the last fifty nights.  The Mess butler
put the rum and whisky beneath his chair.  “Let me introduce Lieutenant
Greene, attached to Ours.  Wavell . . .” said he. . . .  “Captain Wavell
of Wavell’s Arabs, Greene,” and Bertram shook hands with a remarkable and
romantic soldier of fortune, explorer and adventurous knight-errant, whom
he came to like, respect, and admire with the greatest warmth.  The
others drifted up and dropped in, accidentally and casually, as it were,
until almost all were there, and the Bristol Bar was full; the hour of
the evening star and the evening drink had arrived; _l’heure d’absinthe_,
_l’heure verte_ had struck; the sun was below the yard-arm; now the day
was over, night was drawing nigh, shadows of the evening stole across the
sky; and, war or no war, hunger, mud, disease and misery, or no hunger,
mud, disease and misery, the British officer was going to have his
evening cocktail, his evening cheroot, and his evening “buck” at the club
bar—and to the devil with all Huns who’d interfere with his sacred rights
and their sacred rites.

“Here’s the best, Major,” said Forbes, and drank his ver-gin with gusto
and appreciation.  His very fine long-lashed eyes beneath faultlessly
curving eyebrows—eyes which many a woman had enviously and regretfully
considered to be criminally wasted on a mere man—viewed the grey prospect
with less disgust.  The first drink of the day provided the best minute
of the day to this exile from the cream of the joys of Europe; and he
eyed the array of bottles with something approaching optimism as he
considered the question of what should be his drink for the evening.

“Cheerioh!” responded the Major, and took a pull at the whisky and
slightly-aerated water in The Glass.  “Here’s to Good Count Zeppelin—our
finest recruiting agent, and Grandpa Tirpitz—who’ll bring America in on
our side. . . .”

“What’ll you drink, Greene?” asked Wavell.  “Vermuth?  Whisky?  Rum?
Gin?  Try an absinthe?  Or can I mix you a Risky—rum and whisky, you
know—or a Whum—whisky and rum, of course?”

“They’re both helpful and cheering,” added Forbes.

“Let me make you a cock-eye,” put in Gussie Augustus Gus.  “Thing of my
own.  Much better than a mere cocktail.  Thought of it in bed last night
while I was sayin’ my prayers.  This is one,” and he raised his condensed
milk tin.  “Cross between milk-punch, cocktail, high-ball, gin-sling,
rum-shrub, and a bitters. . . .  Go down to posterity as a ‘Gussie’—along
with the John Collins and Elsie May. . . .  Great thought. . . .  Let us
pause before it. . . .”

“What’s in it?” asked Captain Macke.

“Condensed milk,” replied Augustus, “ration lime-juice, ration rum,
ration whisky, medical-comfort brandy, vermuth, coco-nut milk, angostura,
absinthe, glycerine. . . .”

“And a damn great flying caterpillar,” added the Major as a hideous
insect, with a fat, soft body, splashed into the pleasing compound.

“Dirty dog!” grumbled Augustus, fishing for the creature.  “Here, don’t
play submarines in the mud, Eustace—be a sport and swim. . . .  I can
drink down to him, anyhow,” he added, failing to secure the enterprising
little animal with a finger and thumb that groped short of the bottom
stratum of his concoction.  “Got his head stuck in the toffee-milk at the
bottom.”  Bertram declined a “Gussie,” feeling unworthy, also unable.

“Have you tried rum and coco-nut milk?” asked Wavell.  “It’s a kind of
local industry since we’ve been here.  The Intelligence Department keeps
a Friendly Tribe at work bringing in fresh coco-nuts, and our numerous
different detachments provide fatigue-parties in rotation to open them. . . .
Many a worse drink than half a tumbler of ration rum poured into the
coco-nut. . . .”

“Point of fact—I’m a teetotaller just at present,” replied Bertram, sadly
but firmly.  “May I substitute lime-juice for rum? . . .”

Vereker screwed in his monocle and regarded him.  Not with astonishment
or interest, of course, for nothing astonished or interested him any
more.  He was too young and wise for those emotions.  But he regarded
him.

“What a dreadful habit to contract at your age, Greene,” observed
Augustus, slightly shocked.  “Y’ought to pull yourself together, y’know.
. . .  Give it up. . . .  Bad. . . .  Bad. . .” and he shook his head.

“What’s it feel like?” asked Captain Macke.

“You’ve been getting into bad company, my lad,” said Major Mallery.

“Oah!  Maan, maan!  You must not do thatt!” said Mr. Chatterji.

“I’ve got some ration lime-juice here,” said Wavell, “but I really don’t
advise it as a drink in this country.  It’s useful stuff to have about
when you can’t get vegetables of any sort—but I believe it thins your
blood, gives you boils, and upsets your tummy. . . .  Drop of rum or
whisky in the evening . . . do you more good.”

Bertram’s heart warmed to the kindly friendliness of his voice and
manner—the more because he felt that, like himself, this famous traveller
and explorer was of a shy and diffident nature.

“Thanks.  I’ll take your advice then,” he said, and reflected that what
was good enough for Wavell was good enough for him, in view of the
former’s unique experience of African and Asiatic travel.  “I’ll try the
rum and coco-nut milk if I may,” he added.

“Three loud cheers!” remarked Augustus.  “Won’t mother be pleased! . . .
I’m going to write a book about it, Greene, if you don’t mind. . . .
‘The Redemption of Lieutenant Greene’ or somethin’. . . .  _You_ know—how
on the Eve of Battle, in a blinding flash of self-illuminating
introspection, he saw his soul for the Thing it was, saw just where he
stood—on the brink of an Abyss. . . .  And repented in time. . . .
Poignant. . . .  Repented and drank rum. . . .  Searching.”

“Probably Greene’s pulling our legs the whole time, my good ass,” put in
Vereker.  “Dare say he’s really a frightful drunkard.  Riotous reveller
and wallowing wassailer. . . .  He’s got rather a wild eye. . . .”

Bertram laughed with the rest.  It was impossible to take offence, for
there was nothing in the slightest degree offensive about these pleasant,
friendly people.

Berners joined the group and saluted the Major.  “Ammunition and ration
indents all present and correct, sir,” said he.

“Rum ration all right?” asked the Major.  “How do you know the jars
aren’t full of water?”

“P’raps he’d better select one at random as a sample and bring it over
here, Major,” suggested Macke.  And it was so. . . .

Another officer drifted in and was introduced to Bertram as Lieutenant
Halke of the Coolie Corps, in charge of the Kavirondo, Wakamba, and
Monumwezi labourers and porters attached to the Butindi garrison.

He was an interesting man, a big, burly planter, who had been in the
colony for twenty years.  “I want your birds to dig another trench
to-morrow, Halke,” said the Major.  “Down by the water-picket.”

“Very good, sir,” replied Halke.  “I’m glad that convoy rolled up safely
to-day.  Their _posho_ {167} was running rather low . . .” and the
conversation became technical.

Bertram felt distinctly better for his rum and milk.  His weariness fell
from him like a garment, and life took on brighter hues.  He was not a
wretched, weary lad, caught up in the maelstrom of war and flung from
pleasant city streets into deadly primeval jungles, where lurked Death in
the form of bacillus, savage beast, and more savage and more beastly Man.
Not at all.  He was one of a band of Britain’s soldiers in an outpost of
Empire on her far-flung battle-line. . . .  One of a group of cheery
comrades, laughing and jesting in the face of danger and discomfort. . . .
He had Answered His Country’s Call, and was of the great freemasonry
of arms, sword on thigh, marching, marching. . . .  Camp-fire and
bivouac. . .  .  The Long Trail. . . .  Beyond the Ranges. . . .  Men who
have Done Things. . . .  A sun-burnt, weather-beaten man from the Back of
Beyond. . . .  Strong, silent man with a Square Jaw. . . .  Romance. . . .
Adventure. . . .  Life.  He drank some more of his rum and felt very
happy.  He nodded, drooped, snored—and nearly fell off his stool.  Wavell
smiled as he jerked upright again, and tried to look as though he had
never slept in his life.

“So Pappa behaved nasty,” Gussie Augustus Gus was saying to a deeply
interested audience.  “He’d just been turned down himself by a gay and
wealthy widowette whom he’d marked down for his Number 2.  When I said,
‘Pappa, I’m going to be married on Monday, please,’ he spake pompous
platitudes, finishing up with: ‘_A young man married is a young man
marred_.’ . . .  ‘Yes, Pappa,’ says I thoughtlessly, ‘_and an old man
jilted is an old man jarred_.’ . . .  Caused quite a coolness.  So I went
to sea.”  Augustus sighed and drank—and then almost choked with violent
spluttering and coughing.

“That blasted Eustace!” he said, as he suddenly and vehemently expelled
something.

“Did you marry her?” asked Vereker, showing no sympathy in the matter of
the unexpected recovery of the body of Eustace.

“No,” said Augustus.  “Pappa did.” . . .

“That’s what I went to see,” he added.

“Don’t believe you ever had a father,” said Vereker.

“I didn’t,” said Gussie Augustus Gus.  “I was an orphan. . . .  Am still.
. . .  Poignant. . . .  Searching. . . .”

Lieutenant Bupendranath Chatterji listened to this sort of thing with an
owlish expression on his fat face.  When anybody laughed he laughed also,
loudly and raucously.

It was borne in upon Bertram that it took more than fever, hunger,
boredom, mud, rain and misery to depress the spirits of the officers of
the garrison of Butindi. . . .

“_Khana tyar hai_, {168a} _Sahib_,” announced the Major’s butler,
salaaming.

“Come and gnaw ropes and nibble bricks, Greene,” said the officer
addressed, and with adieux to Wavell and Forbes, who ran a mess of their
own, the guests departed from the Bristol Bar and entered the Officers’
Mess.  Here Bertram learnt the twin delights of a native bedstead when
used as a seat.  You can either sit on the narrow wooden edge until you
feel as though you have been sitting on a hot wire for a week, or you can
slide back on to the string part and slowly, slowly disappear from sight,
and from dinner.

“This water drawn from the river and been standing in the bath all day,
boy?”

“_Han_, {168b} _Sahib_,” replied that worthy.

“Alum in the water?”

“_Han_, _Sahib_.”

“Water then filtered?”

“_Han_, _Sahib_.”

“Water then boiled?”

“_Han_, _Sahib_.”

“_Pukka_ boiled?”

“_Han_, _Sahib_, all bubbling.”

“Filtered again?  You saw it all done yourself?”

“_Han_, _Sahib_.”

“That’s all right, then,” concluded the Major.

This catechism was the invariable prelude to the Major’s use of water for
drinking purposes, whether in the form of _aqua pura_, whisky and water,
or tea.  For the only foe that Major Mallery feared was the disease-germ.
To bullet and bayonet, shrapnel and shell-splinter, he gave no thought.
To cholera, enteric and dysentery he gave much, and if care with his
drinking water would do it, he intended to avoid those accursed scourges
of the tropics.  Holding up the glass to the light of the hurricane lamp
which adorned the clothless table of packing-case boards, he gazed
through it—as one may do when caressing a glass of crusted ruby port—and
mused upon the wisdom that had moved him to make it the sole and special
work of one special man to see that he had a plentiful supply of pure
fair water.

He gazed. . . .  And slowly his idle abstracted gaze became a stare and a
glare.  His eyes protruded from his head, and he gave a yell of gasping
horror and raging wrath that drew the swift attention of all—

While round and round in the alum-ised, filtered, boiled and re-filtered
water, there slowly swam—a little fish.

                                * * * * *

Dinner was painfully similar to that at M’paga, save that the party,
being smaller, was more of a Happy Family.  It began with what Vereker
called “Chatty” soup (because it was “made from talkative meat, in a
chattie”), proceeded to inedible bully-beef, and terminated with
dog-biscuit and coco-nut—unless you chose to eat your daily banana then.

During dinner, another officer, who had been out all day on a
reconnaissance-patrol, joined the party, drank a pint of rum-and-coco-nut
milk and fell asleep on the bedstead whereon he sat.  He looked terribly
thin and ill.

Macke punched him in the ribs, sat him up, and banged the tin plate of
cold soup with his knife till the idea of “dinner” had penetrated the
sleepy brain of the new-corner.  “Feed yer face, Murie,” he shouted in
his ear.

“Thanks awf’ly,” said that gentleman, took up his spoon, and toppled over
backwards on to the bed with a loud snore.

“Disgustin’ manners,” said Gussie Augustus Gus.

“I wish we had a siphon of soda-water.  I’d wake him all right.”

“Set him on fire,” suggested Vereker.

“He’s too beastly wet, the sneak,” complained Gussie.

“Oah, he iss sleepee,” observed Lieutenant Bupendranath Chatterji.

Vereker regarded him almost with interest.

“What makes you think so?” he asked politely.  In the laugh that
followed, the sleeper was forgotten and remained where he was until
Stand-to the following morning.  He was living on quinine and his
nerves—which form an insufficient diet in tropical Africa.

“Where _Bwana_ sleeping to-night, sah, please Mister?” whispered Ali, as,
dinner finished, Bertram sat listening with deep interest to the
conversation.

Pipes alight, and glasses, mugs and condensed milk tins charged, the Mess
was talking of all things most distant and different from jungle swamps
and dirty, weary war. . . .

“Quite most ’sclusive Society in Oxford, I tell you,” Gussie was saying.
“Called ourselves _The Astronomers_. . . .”

“What the devil for?  Because you were generally out at night?” asked
Macke.

“No—because we studied the Stars—of the Stage,” was the reply. . . .

“Rotten,” said Vereker, with a shiver.  “You sh’d have called yourselves
_The Botanists_,” he added a minute later.

“Why?”

“Because you culled Peroxide Daisies and Lilies of the Ballet.”

“Ghastly,” observed Gussie, with a shudder.  “And _cull_ is a beastly
word.  One who culls is a cully. . . .  How’d you like to be called
_Cully_, Murie?” he shouted in that officer’s ear.  Receiving no reply,
he pounded upon the sleeper’s stomach with one hand while violently
rolling his head from side to side with the other.

Murie awoke.

“Whassup?” he jerked out nervously.

“How’d you like to be called _Cully_?” shouted Gussie again.

Murie fixed a glassy eye on him.  His face was chalky white and his black
hair lay dank across his forehead.

“Eh?” said he.

Gussie repeated his enquiry.

“Call me anything—but don’t call me early,” was the reply, as he realised
who and where he was, and closed his eyes again.

“_You’re_ an ornament to the Mess.  _You_ add to the gaiety of nations.
_You_ ought to be on the halls,” shouted the tormentor.  “You’re a
refined Society Entertainer. . . .”

“Eh?” grunted Murie.

“Come for a walk in the garden I said,” shouted Augustus. “Oh, you give
me trypanosomiasis to look at you,” he added.

“You go to Hell,” replied Murie, and snored as he finished speaking.

Bertram felt a little indignant.

“Wouldn’t it be kinder to let him sleep?” he said.

“No, it wouldn’t,” was the reply.  “He’ll sleep there for an hour, and
then go over to his hut and be awake all night because he’s had no
dinner.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Bertram—and asked the Major where he was to
sleep that night.

“On your right side, with your mouth shut,” was the reply; to which
Augustus added:

“Toe of the right foot in line with the mouth; thumb in rear of the seam
of the pyjamas; heel of the left foot in the hollow of the back; and
weight of the body on the chin-strap—as laid down in the drill-book.”

“Haven’t you a tent?” asked the Major, and, in learning that Bertram had
not, said that a _banda_ should be built for him on the morrow, and that
he could sleep on or under the Mess table that night. . . .

When the Major had returned to his tent with the remark “All lights out
in fifteen minutes,” Ali set up Bertram’s bed in the Mess _banda_, and in
a few minutes the latter was alone. . . .  As he sat removing his boots,
Bertram was surprised to see Gussie Augustus Gus return to the Mess,
carrying a native spear and a bundle of white material.  Going to where
Murie lay, he raised the spear and drove it with all his force—apparently
into Murie’s body!  Springing to his feet, Bertram saw that the spear was
stuck into the clay and that the shaft, protruding through the meshes of
the bed string, stood up beside Murie.  Throwing the mosquito-net over
the top of it, Gussie enveloped the sleeper in its folds, as well as he
could, and vanished.



CHAPTER XVII
_More Baking_


Bertram was awakened at dawn by the bustle and stir of Stand-to.  He
arose and dressed, by the simple process of putting on his boots and
helmet, which, by reason of rain, wind, mud and publicity, were the only
garments he had removed.  Proceeding to that face of the fort which was
to be his special charge, he found that one half of its defenders were
lining its water-logged trench, and the other half, its wall.  It was a
depressing hour and place.  Depressing even to one who had not slept in
his wet clothes and arisen with throbbing head, horrible mouth, aching
limbs and with the sense of a great sinking void within.

Around the fort was a sea of withering brushwood, felled trees, scrub and
thorn, grey and ugly: inside the fort, a lake of mud.  Burly
Subedar-Major Luxman Atmaram seemed cheery and bright, so Bertram
endeavoured to emulate him.

The Major, accompanied by Vereker (who called himself Station Staff
Officer, Aide-de-camp to the O.C. Troops, Assistant Provost Marshal, and
other sonorous names), passed on his tour of inspection.  Bertram
saluted.

“Good morning, sir,” said he.

“Think so?” said the Major, and splashed upon his way.

“Good morning, Vereker,” said Bertram, as that gentleman passed.

“Nothing of the sort.  Wrong again,” replied Vereker, and splashed upon
_his_ way.

Both were wearing the Stand-to face, and looked coldly upon Bertram, who
was not.

After “Dismiss,” Bertram returned to the Mess _banda_.

“Good morning, Greene,” said the Major, and:

“Good morning, Greene,” echoed Vereker.

Bertram decided that his not being properly dressed in the matter of the
Stand-to face, was overlooked or condoned, in view of his youth and
inexperience. . . .  The vast metal teapot and a tray of dog-biscuits
made their appearance.

“I’m going to have my bloater now,” said Berners, plucking a banana from
the weary-looking bunch.  “Will someone remind me that I have had it, if
I go to take another?”

“I will,” volunteered Augustus.  “Any time you pluck a bloater and I hit
you on the head three times with the tent-peg mallet, that means ‘Nay,
Pauline.’  See?” . . .

“What’s the Programme of Sports for to-day, sir?” asked Berners of the
Major, as he cleansed his fingers of over-ripe banana upon Augustus’s
silky hair.

“Macke takes a strong Officer’s Patrol towards Muru,” replied the Major.
“Halke starts getting the trenches deepened a bit.  You can wrestle with
commissariat and ammunition returns, and the others might do a bit of
parade and physical jerks or something this morning.  I’m going to sneak
round and catch the pickets on the hop.  You’d better come with me,
Greene, and see where they’re posted.  Tell the Subedar-Major what you
want your men to do.  Wavell’s taking his people for a march.  Murie will
be in charge of the fort. . . .”

“Murie has temperature of one hundred and five,” put in Lieutenant
Bupendranath Chatterji.  “He has fever probably.”

“Shouldn’t be at all surprised,” observed the Major dryly.  “What are you
giving him?”

“Oah, he will be all right,” was the reply.

“I’ve got three fresh limes I pinched from that _shamba_,” {173} said
Augustus.  “If he had those with a quart of boiling water and half a tin
of condensed milk, he might be able to do a good sweat and browse a
handful of quinine.”

“No more condensed milk,” said Berners.  “Greene had the last tin last
night, and the hog didn’t bring any with him.”

“I shall be delighted to contribute the remainder of it,” said Bertram,
looking into his tin.  “There’s quite three-quarters of it left.”

“Good egg,” applauded Augustus.  “If you drink your tea from the tin,
you’ll get the flavour of milk for ever so long,” and Ali having been
despatched to the cook-house for a kettle of boiling water, Augustus
fetched his limes and the two concocted the brew with their condensed
milk and lime-juice in an empty rum-jar.

“What about a spot of whisky in it?” suggested Vereker.

“Better without it when fever is violent,” opined the medical attendant,
and Augustus, albeit doubtfully, accepted the _obiter dicta_, as from one
who should know.

“Shall I shove it into him through the oil-funnel if he is woozy?” he
asked, and added: “Better not, p’r’aps.  Might waste half of it down his
lungs and things . . .” and he departed, in search of his victim.

As Bertram left the _boma_ in company of the Major, he found it difficult
to realise that, only a few hours earlier he had not set eyes on the
place.  He seemed to have been immured within its walls of mud and wattle
for days, rather than hours.

About the large clearing that lay on that side of the fort, Sepoys,
servants, porters and _askaris_ came and went upon their occasions; the
stretcher-bearers, gun-teams, and a company of Gurkhas were at drill; and
in the trenches, the long, weedy bodies of the Kavirondo rose and fell as
they dug in the mud and clay.  Near the gate a doleful company of sick
and sorry porters squatted and watched a dresser of the Indian
Subordinate Medical Department, as he sprinkled iodoform from a pepperbox
on to the hideous sores and wounds of a separate squad requiring such
treatment.  The sight of an intensely black back, with a huge wound of a
glowing red, upon which fell a rain of brilliant yellow iodoform, held
Bertram’s spell-bound gaze, while it made him feel exceedingly sick.
Those patients suffering from ghastly sores and horrible festering wounds
seemed gay and lighthearted and utterly indifferent, while the remainder,
suffering from _tumbo_, {174} fever, cold in the head, or
world-weariness, appeared to consider themselves at the last gasp, and
each, like the Dying Gladiator, did lean his head upon his hand while his
manly brow consented to Death, but conquered agony.

“The reason why the African will regard a gaping wound, or great
festering sore, with no more than mild interest, while he will wilt away
and proceed to perish if he has a stomach-ache is an interestin’
exemplification of _omne ignotum pro magnifico_,” remarked the Major.

Bertram stared at his superior officer in amazement.  The tone and
language were utterly different from those hitherto connected, in
Bertram’s experience, with that gentleman.  Was this a subtle mockery of
Bertram as a civilian Intellectual?  Or was it that the Major liked to be
“all things to all men” and considered this the style of conversation
likely to be suitable to the occasion?

“Yes, sir?” said Bertram, a trifle shortly.

“Yes,” continued Major Mallery.  “He believes that all internal
complaints are due to Devils.  A stomach-ache is, to him, painful and
irrefragible proof that he hath a Devil.  One has entered into him and
abideth.  It’s no good telling him anything to the contrary—because he
can _feel_ It there, and surely he’s the best judge of what he can feel?
So any internal complaint terrifies him to such an extent that he dies of
fright—whereas he’ll think nothing of a wound that would kill you or me.
. . .”

Here, apparently, the Major’s mocking fancy tired, or else his effort to
talk “high-brow” to an Intellectual could be no further sustained, for he
fell to lower levels with the remark:

“Rum blokes. . .  Dam’ funny. . .” and fell silent.

A well-trodden mud path led down to the river, on the far side of which
was the water-picket commanding the approach, not to a ford, but to the
only spot where impenetrable jungle did not prevent access to the river.
. . .

“Blighters nearly copped us badly down here before we built the fort,”
said the Major.  “Look in here . . .” and he parted some bushes beside
the path and disappeared.  Following him, Bertram found himself in a
long, narrow clearing cut out of the solid jungle and parallel with the
path.

“They had a hundred men at least, in here,” said Major Mallery, “and you
might have come along the path a hundred times without spotting them.
There was a machine-gun up that tree, to deal with the force behind the
point of ambush, and a big staked pit farther down the path to catch
those in front who ran straight on. . . .  Lovely trap. . . .  They used
to occupy it from dawn to sunset every day, poor fellers. . . .”

“What happened?” asked Bertram.

“Our Intelligence Department learnt all about it from the local
_shenzis_, and we forestalled them one merry morn.  They were ambushed in
their own ambush. . . .  The _shenzi_ doesn’t love his Uncle Fritz a bit.
No appreciation of _Kultur_-by-_kiboko_.  He calls the Germans ‘_the
Twenty-Five Lashes People_,’ because the first thing the German does when
he goes to a village is to give everybody twenty-five of the best, by way
of introducing himself and starting with a proper understanding.  Puts
things on a proper footing from the beginning. . . .”

“Their _askaris_ are staunch enough, aren’t they?” asked Bertram.

“Absolutely.  They are well paid and well fed, and they are allowed to do
absolutely as they like in the way of loot, rape, arson and murder, once
the fighting is over. . . .  They flog them most unmercifully for
disciplinary offences—and the nigger understands that.  Also they leave
the defeated foe—his village, crops, property, women, children and
wounded—to their mercy—and the nigger understands _that_ too. . . .  Our
_askaris_ are not nearly so contented with our milder punishments,
cumbrous judicial system, and absolute prohibition of loot, rape, arson
and the murder of the wounded.  Yes—the German _askari_ will stick to the
German so long as he gets the conqueror’s rights whenever he conquers—as
is the immemorial law and custom of Africa. . . .  ‘What’s the good of
fighting a cove if you’re going to cosset and coddle him directly you’ve
won, and give him something out of the poor-box—instead of dismembering
him?’ says he. . . .  You might say the _askari_-class is to the Native
what the Junker-class is to the peasant, in Germany.”

And conversing thus, the two officers visited the pickets and the
sentries, who sat on _machans_ in the tops of high trees and, in theory
at any rate, scoured the adjacent country with tireless all-seeing eye.

Returning to the fort, Bertram saw the materials for his own private
freehold residence being carried to the eligible site selected for its
erection by the united wisdom of the Station Staff Officer and the
Quartermaster.  It was built and furnished in less than an hour by a
party of Kavirondo, who used no other tools than their _pangas_, and it
consisted of a framework of stout saplings firmly planted in the ground,
wattle, and thatched leaves, twigs and grass.  It had a window-frame and
a doorway, and it kept out the sun and the first few drops of a shower of
rain.  If a _banda_ does little else, it provides one’s own peculiar
place apart, where one can be private and alone. . . .  On the table and
shelf—of sticks bound together with strips of bark—Ali set forth his
master’s impedimenta, and took a pride in the Home. . . .

Finding that the spine-pad of quilted red flannel—which Murray had
advised him to get and to wear buttoned on to the inner side of his
shirt, as a protection against the sun’s actinic rays—was soaked with
perspiration, Bertram gave it to Ali that it might be dried.  What he did
not foresee was that his faithful retainer would tie a long strip of bark
from the new _banda_ to the opposite one across the “street,” and pin the
red flannel article to flap in the breeze and the face of the passer-by.
. . .

“Oh, I say, you fellers, look here!” sang out the voice of Gussie
Augustus Gus, as Bertram was finishing his shave, a few minutes later.
“Here’s that careless fellow, Greene, been and left his chest-protector
off! . . .  It’s on the line to air, and I _don’t_ know what he’s doing
without it.”  The voice broke with anguish and trouble as it continued:
“Perhaps running about with nothing on at all. . . .  On his chest, I
mean. . . .”

There was a laugh from neighbouring _bandas_ and tents where Vereker,
Berners, Halke and “Leesey” Lindsay were washing by their cottage doors,
preparatory to breakfast.

Bertram blushed hotly in the privacy of his hut.  _Chest-protector_!
Confound the fellow’s impudence—and those giggling’ idiots.  He had half
a mind to put his head out and remark; “The laughter of fools is as the
crackling of thorns beneath a pot,” and in the same moment wiser counsels
prevailed.

Thrusting a soapy face out of the window, he said, in a tone expressive
more of sorrow than of anger:

“I am surprised at _you_, Clarence! . . .  To laugh at the infirmities of
your elders! . . .  Is it _my_ fault I have housemaid’s knee?”

To which Augustus, with tears in his eyes and voice, replied:

“Forgive me, Pappa.  I have known trouble too.  _I_ had an Aunt with a
corn. . . .  _She_ wore one. . . .  Pink, like yours. . . .  Poignant. . . .
Searching. . . .”

This cheerful and indefatigable young gentleman had, in his rôle of Mess
President, found time, after parade and kit-inspection that morning, to
prepare a breakfast _menu_.  Consulting it, Bertram discovered promise of

    1.  _Good Works_.  Taken out of some animal, or animals, unknown.
    Perhaps Liver.  Perhaps not.  Looks rather poignant.

    2.  _Shepherd’s Bush_ (or is it Plaid or Pie?) or Toed-in-the-Hole.
    Same as above, bedded down in manioc.  Looks very poignant.

    3.  There were _Sausages on Toast_, but they are in bad odour,
    uppish, and peevish to the eye, and there is no bread.

    4.  _Curried Bully-beef_.  God help us.  And Dog-biscuit.

    5.  _Arm of monkey_.  No ’arm in that?  _But_—One rupee reward is
    offered for a missing Kavirondo baby.  Answers to the name of
    Horatio, and cries if bitten in the stomach. . . .  Searching.

“Great news,” quoth the author of this document, seating himself on the
bed-frame beside Bertram and eyeing a plate of Good Works without
enthusiasm.  “There’s to be a General Court-Martial after breakfast.  You
and I and Berners.  Leesey Lindsay is prosecuting a bloke for spying and
acting as guide to German raiding parties—him bein’ a British subjick an’
all. . .  Splendid! . . .  Shall we hang him or shoot him? . . .”

“_I_ am Provost-Marshal,” put in Vereker, “and _I_ shall hang him.  I
know exactly how to hang, and am a recognised good hanger.  Anyhow, no
one has complained. . . .  Wish we had some butter. . . .”

“Whaffor?” asked Augustus.

“Grease the rope,” was the reply.  “They like it.  Butter is awfully
good.”

“Put the knot under the left ear, don’t you?” asked Augustus.

“_I_ do,” answered Vereker.  “Some put it under the right. . . .  I have
seen it at the back.  Looks bad, though.  Depressin’.  Bloke hangs his
head.  Mournful sight. . . .”

“Got any rope?” enquired Augustus.

“No! . . .  How thoughtless of me! . . .  Never mind—make up something
with strips of bark. . . .  Might let the bloke make his own—only himself
to blame, then, if it broke and he met with an accident.”

“I _have_ heard of suicides—and—people hanging themselves with their
braces,” observed Augustus.

“Wadego _shenzis_ don’t have braces,” replied Vereker.

“No, but Greene does.  I’m perfectly sure he’d be delighted to lend you
his.  He’s kindness itself.  Or would you rather he were shot, Greene?
We must remember there’s no blood about a hanging, whereas there’s lots
the other way—’specially if it’s done by _askaris_ with Martinis. . . .
On the other hand, hanging lasts longer.  I dunno _what_ to advise for
the best. . . .”

“Suppose we try him first,” suggested Bertram.

“Of course!” was the somewhat indignant reply.  “I’m surprised at _you_,
Greene.  You wouldn’t put him to the edge of the sword without a trial,
would you?”

“No, Greene,” added Vereker.  “Not goin’ to waste a good _shenzi_ like
that.  We’re goin’ to have a jolly good Court-Martial out of him before
we do him in. . . .  And I shall hang him, Clarence—rope or no rope.”

“May I swing on his feet, Vereker?” begged Augustus.  “_Do_ let me! . . .
Be a sport. . . .”

“Everything will be done properly and nicely,” was the reply, “and in the
best style.  There will be no swinging on the prisoner’s legs while _I_’m
M.C. . . .  Not unless the prisoner himself suggests it,” he added.

“How’ll we tell him of his many blessin’s, and so on?” enquired Berners.

“There’s an Arab blighter of Lindsay’s who professes to know a tongue
spoken by a porter who knows Wadego.  The bloke talks to the porter in
Wadego, the porter talks to the Arab in the Tongue, the Arab talks to
Wavell in Arabic, and Wavell talks to us in any language we like—French,
German, Swahili, Hindustani, Latin, Greek, American, Turkish, Portuguese,
Taal or even English.  He knows all those. . . .”

“Let’s ask him to talk them all at once, while we smoke and quaff beakers
of rum,” suggested Augustus.  “And I _say_—couldn’t we torture the
prisoner?  I know lots of ripping tortures.”

“Well, I’m not going to have him ripped,” vetoed Vereker.  “You gotter
hand him over to the Provost-Marshal in good condition. . .  Fair wear
and tear of trial and incarceration allowed for, of course. . . .  Bound
to be _some_ depreciation, I know.”

“What’s ‘to incarcerate’ mean, exactly?” enquired Augustus.

“Same as ‘incinerate.’”

“Can we do it to him by law?” asked Augustus.

“You read the Orders, my lad,” replied Vereker.  “On the notice-board in
the Orderly Room.  That post’s the Orderly Room.  Written and signed by
the Station Staff Officer.  And look up Field and General Court-Martials
in the King’s Regulations and you’ll know what your Powers are.”

“I say, Berners.  Let me find you the least contrary of those turned
sausages, and have it nicely fried for you,” begged Augustus.  “You’d
hardly taste anything awkward about it if you had some lemon-peel done
with it.  Plenty of lemon-peel and some coco-nut.  I’ll find the peel I
threw away this morning. . . .  _Do_.”

“This is very kind and thoughtful of you, Gussie.  What’s the idea?”
replied Berners.

“I want to propitiate you, Berners.  You’ll be President of the
Court-Martial.”

“And?”

“I want you to promise you won’t have the prisoner found Guilty unless
Vereker promises to let me swing on his feet. . . .  I’ve _never_ once
had the chance. . . .  And now my chance has come. . . .  And Vereker
feels thwartful. . . .  It’s due to his having a boil—and no cushion with
him. . . .  Be a good soul, Berners. . . ”

“Let’s see the sausages,” said the President-elect.

“That’s done it,” admitted Augustus, and dropped the subject with a heavy
sigh.

Bertram noticed that, in spite of his flow of cheery nonsense, Augustus
ate nothing at all and looked very ill indeed.  He remembered a sentence
he had read in a book on board the _Elymas_:

“Comedy lies lightly upon all things, like foam upon the dark waters.
Beneath are tragedy and the tears of time.”



CHAPTER XVIII
_Trial_


After breakfast Bertram attended Court, which was a table under a tree,
and took his seat on the Bench, an inverted pail, as a Ruler and a Judge,
for the first and last time in his life.  He felt that it was a strange
and terrible thing that he should thus be suddenly called upon to try a
man for his life.

Suppose that his two fellow-judges, Berners and Clarence, disagreed as to
the death-sentence, and he had to give his verdict, knowing that a man’s
life depended on it! . . .

A couple of _askaris_ of the King’s African Rifles, police-orderlies of
“Leesey” Lindsay’s, brought in the prisoner.  He was a powerful and
decidedly evil-looking negro, clad in a striped petticoat.  He had more
of the appearance of furtive intelligence than is usual with _shenzis_ of
his tribe.  Bertram decided that he carried his guilt in his face and had
trickster and traitor written all over it.  He then rebuked himself for
pre-judging the case and entertaining prejudice against an untried, and
possibly innocent, man.

“Guilty,” said Augustus Gus.  “Who’s coming for a walk?”

“I’m President of this Court,” replied Berners.  “Who asked you to open
your head?  If I’m not sure as to his guilt, I may consult you later.  Or
I may not.”

“Look here, Berners—let’s do the thing properly,” was the reply.
“There’s a Maxim—or is it a Hotchkiss—of English Law which says that a
man is to be considered Guilty until he is proved to be Innocent.
Therefore we start fair.  He is Guilty, I say.  Now we’ve got to prove
him Innocent.  Do be a sport, and give the poor blighter a show.”

“I b’lieve it’s the other way about,” said Berners.

“Oh, indeed!” commented Augustus.  “You’d say the feller’s innocent and
then start in to prove him guilty, would you? . . .  Dirty trick, I call
it.  Filthy habit.”

Wavell appeared at the entrance to his tent, holding a green,
silk-covered book in his hand.  The cover was richly embroidered and had
a flap, like that of an envelope, provided with strings for tying it
down.  It was a copy of the Koran, and on it all witnesses were sworn,
repeating an oath administered by Wavell in Arabic. . . .

“Ready?” asked he of the President, and proceeded with great patience,
skill and knowledge of languages and dialects, to interpret the
statements of Wadegos, Swahilis, Arabs, and assorted Africans.
Occasionally it was beyond his power, or that of any human being, to
convey the meaning of some simple question to a savage mind, and to get a
rational answer.

For the prosecution, Lindsay, who was down with dysentery, had produced
fellow-villagers of the accused, from each of whom Wavell obtained the
same story.

Prisoner was enamoured of a daughter of the headman of the village, and,
because his suit was dismissed by this gentleman, he had led a German
raiding-party to the place, and, moreover, had shown them where hidden
treasures were _cached_, and where fowls, goats, and cattle had been
penned in the jungle, and where grain was stored.  Also, he had “smelt
out” enemies of the _Germanis_ among his former neighbours, wicked men
who, he said, had led English raiding-parties into the country of the
_Germanis_, and had otherwise injured them.  These enemies of the
_Germanis_ were all, as it happened, enemies of his own. . . .  When this
raiding-party of _askaris_, led by half a dozen _Germanis_, had burnt the
village, killed all the villagers who had not escaped in time, and
carried off all they wanted in the way of livestock, women, grain and
gear, they had rewarded accused with a share of the loot. . . .

“Do they all tell the same tale in the same way, as though they had
concocted it and learnt it by heart?” asked Bertram.

“No,” replied Wavell.  “I didn’t get that impression.”

“Let’s question them one by one,” said Berners.

A very, very old man, a sort of “witch-doctor” or priest, by his
ornaments, entered the witness-box—otherwise arose from the group of
witnesses and stood before the Court—to leeward by request.

“Hullo, Granpa!  How’s things?” said Augustus.

The ancient ruin mumbled something in Swahili, and peered with horny eyes
beneath rheumy, shrivelled lids at the Court, as he stood trembling, his
palsied head ashake.

“Don’t waggle your head at _me_, Rudolph,” said Augustus severely, as the
old man fixed him with a wild and glassy eye.  “_I_’m not going to uphold
you. . . .  Pooh!  _What_ an odour of sanctity!  You’re a _high_ priest,
y’know,” and murmured as he sought his handkerchief, “Poignant! . . .
Searching. . . .”

The old man repeated his former mumble.

“He says he did not mean to steal the tobacco,” interpreted Wavell.

“Sort of accident that might happen to anybody, what?” observed Augustus.
“Ask him if he knows the prisoner.”

The question was put to him in his own tongue, and unfalteringly he
replied that he had not meant to steal the tobacco—had not _really_
stolen it, in fact.

Patiently Wavell asked, and patiently he was answered.  “Do you know the
prisoner?”

“I never steal.”

“Do you know this man?”

“Tobacco I would never steal.”

“What is this man’s name?”

“Tobacco.”

“Have you ever seen that man before?”

“What man?”

“This one.”

“Yes.  He is the prisoner.”

“When have you seen him before?”

“Last night.”

“When, before that?”

“He ate rice with us last night.  He is the prisoner.”

“Do you know him well?”

“Yes, I know he is the prisoner.  _He_ stole the tobacco.”

“Have you known him long?”

“No.  He is only a young man.  He steals tobacco.”

“Does he come from your village?”

“Yes.”

“Have you known him all his life?”

“No, because he went and spent some time in the _Germanis’_ country.  I
think he went to steal tobacco.”

“Did he come back alone from the _Germanis’_ country?”

“No.  He brought _askaris_ and _muzangos_. {183a}  They killed my people
and burnt my village.”

“You are sure it was this man who brought them?”

“Is he not a prisoner?”

Suddenly an ancient hag arose from the group of witnesses and bounded
into Court.  At the feet of Wavell she poured forth a torrent of
impassioned speech.

“Cheer up, Auntie!” quoth Augustus, and as the woman ceased, added: “Ask
her if she’d come to Paris for the week-end.”

“What does she say?” enquired the President of the Court.

“In effect—that she will be security for _witness’s_ good behaviour, as
he is her only child and never steals tobacco.  He only took the tobacco
because he wanted a smoke.  He is ninety years of age, and a good
obedient son to her.  It is her fault for not looking after him better.
She hopes he will not be hung, as she is already an orphan, and would
then be a childless orphan. . . .  She undertakes to beat him with a
_runga_.” {183b}

“Does she identify prisoner as the man who led the German raiding-party?”
asked Bertram, after Augustus had called for three loud cheers for the
witness, had been himself called to order by the President, and had
threatened that he would not play if further annoyed by that official.

Again, in careful Swahili, Wavell endeavoured to find traces of evidence
for or against the accused.

“Do you know this man?”

“Yes, _Bwana_.”

“Who is he?”

“The prisoner, _Bwana Macouba_ (Great Master).”

“Why is he a prisoner?”

“Because he brought the _Germanis_ to Pongwa, oh, _Bwana Macouba Sana_
(Very Great Master).”

“How do you know he brought the _Germanis_ to Pongwa?”

“Because he has been made prisoner for doing so, oh, _Bwana Macouba
Kabeesa Sana_ (Very Greatest Master).”

“Do you know anything about him?”

“He is the man who stole the tobacco which my little boy took.”

All being translated and laid before the Court, it was decided that, so
far, prisoner was scarcely proven guilty.

“Let’s ask him whether he would like to say anything as to the evidence
of the last two witnesses,” suggested Bertram.

“He doesn’t understand Swahili,” objected Berners.

“I feel sure he does,” replied Bertram.  “I have been watching his face.
He half grinned when they talked about tobacco, and looked venomous when
they talked about him.”

“Do you understand Swahili?” asked Wavell, suddenly, of the prisoner.

“No, not a word,” replied that individual in the same tongue.

“Can you speak it?”

“No, not a word,” he reaffirmed in Swahili.

“Well—did the last two witnesses tell the truth about you?”

“They did not.  I have never seen them before.  They have never seen me
before.  I do not know where Pongwa is.  I think this is a very fine
trial.  I like it.”

Other witnesses swore that the accused had indeed done the treacherous
deed.  One swore with such emphasis and certainty that he carried
conviction to the minds of the Court—until it was discovered that witness
was swearing that prisoner had stolen a bundle of leaf-tobacco from the
son of the woman who was an orphan. . . .

The Court soon found that it could tell when a point was scored against
the defendant, without waiting for translation, inasmuch as he always
seized his stomach with both hands, groaned, rolled his eyes, and cried
that he was suffering horribly from _tumbo_, when evidence was going
unfavourably.

At length all witnesses had been examined, even unto the last, who swore
he was the prisoner’s brother, and that he saw the prisoner leading the
_Germanis_ and, lo, it wasn’t his brother at all, and concluded with:
“Yes—this is true evidence.  I have spoken well.  I can prove it, for I
can produce the _sufuria_ {184} which prisoner gave me to say that I am
his brother, and to speak these truths. He is my innocent brother, and
was elsewhere when he led the _Germanis_ to Pongwa.”

“Let’s give him something out of the poor-box,” suggested Augustus when
this speech was interpreted, and then marred this intimation of kindly
feelings by adding: “and then hang the lot of them.”

“Has the prisoner anything to say?” asked the President.

The prisoner had.

“This is a good trial,” quoth he, in Swahili.  “I am now an important
man.  All the witnesses are liars.  I have never seen any of them before.
I do not associate with such.  I have never seen Pongwa, and I have never
seen a _Germani_.  I will tell . . .”

Wavell looked at him suddenly, but made no movement.

“_Noch nichte_!” said he in German, very quietly.

The man stopped talking at once.

“You understand German.  You speak German!” said Wavell, in that
language, and pointing at him accusingly.  “Answer quickly.  You speak
German.”

“_Ganz klein wenig_—just a very little,” replied the prisoner, adding in
English: “I am a very clever man”—and then, in German: “_Ich hab kein
Englisch_.”

“Prisoner has never seen a _Germani_—but he understands German!” wrote
Bertram in his notes of the trial.  “Also Swahili and English.”

“Please ask him if he hasn’t had enough trial now, and wouldn’t he like
to be hanged to save further trouble,” said Augustus.

“_Tiffin tyar hai_, {185} _Sahib_,” said the Mess butler, approaching the
President, and the Court adjourned.

The afternoon session of the Court proved dull up to the moment when the
lady who was an orphan and the mother of the ninety-year-old, bounded
into Court with a scream of:

“Ask him where he got his petticoat!”

Apparently this was very distressful to the defendant, for he was
instantly seized with violent stomachic pains.

“Poignant! . . .  Searching! . . .” murmured Augustus.

“Where did you get that _’Mericani_?” asked Wavell of the prisoner,
pointing to his only garment.

“He got it from the _Germanis_.  It was part of his share of the loot,”
screamed the old lady.  “It is from my own shop.  I know it by that
mark,” and she pointed to a trade-mark and number stencilled in white
paint upon the selvedge of the loin-cloth.

Terrible agonies racked the prisoner as he replied: “She is a liar.”

“Trade-mark don’t prove much,” remarked the President.  “My pants and
vest might have same trade-mark as the Kaiser’s—but that wouldn’t prove
he stole them from me.”

The sense of this remark was conveyed to the witness.

“Then see if a mark like _this_ is not in the corner of that piece of
_’Mericani_,” said the old lady, and plucking up her own wardrobe, showed
where a small design was crudely stitched.

The _askaris_ in charge of the prisoner quickly demonstrated that an
identical “laundry-mark” ornamented his also.  Presumably the worthy
woman’s secret price-mark, or else her monogram.

Terrific agonies seized the prisoner, and with a groan of “_Tumbo_,” he
sank to the ground.

A kick from each of the _askaris_ revived him, and he arose promptly and
took a bright interest in the subsequent proceedings, which consisted
largely in the swearing by several of the villagers that they had seen
the _Germanis_ loot the old lady’s store and throw some pieces of the
_’Mericani_ to the accused.  Two of the witnesses were wearing petticoats
which they had bought from the female witness, and which bore her private
mark. . . .

“Gentlemen,” said the President at length, “I should like your written
findings by six o’clock this evening, together with the sentence you
would impose if you were sole judge in this case.  The Court is deeply
indebted to Captain Wavell for his courteous and most valuable assistance
as interpreter.  The witnesses may be discharged, and the prisoner
removed to custody. . . .  Clear the blasted Court, in fact, and come to
the Bristol Bar. . . .”

“Oh, hang it all, Berners,” objected Augustus, “let’s hang him _now_.  We
can watch him dangle while we have tea. . . .”  But the Court had risen,
and the President was asking where the devil some bally, fat-headed fool
had put his helmet, eh? . . .

For an hour Bertram sat in his _banda_ with throbbing, aching head,
considering his verdict.  He believed the man to be a spy and a
treacherous, murderous scoundrel—but what was really _proven_, save that
he knew German and wore a garment marked similarly to those of three
inhabitants of Pongwa?  Were these facts sufficient to warrant the
passing of the death sentence and to justify Bertram Greene, who, till a
few days ago, was the mildest of lay civilians, to take the
responsibility of a hanging judge and imbrue his hands with the blood of
this man?  If all that was suspected of him were true, what, after all,
was he but a savage, a barbarous product of barbaric uncivilisation? . .
.  What right had anyone to apply the standards of a cultured white man
from London to a savage black man from Pongwa? . . .  A savage who had
been degraded and contaminated by contact with Germans moreover. . . .

After many unsatisfactory efforts, he finally wrote out his judgment on
leaves torn from his military pocket-book, and proposed, as verdict, that
the prisoner be confined for the duration of the war as a spy, and
receive twenty-five strokes of the _kiboko_ for perjury. . . .

On repairing to Berners’ hut at the appointed time, he found that
Clarence had written a longer and better judgment than his own, and had
proposed as sentence that the accused be detained during the King’s
pleasure at Mombasa Gaol, since it was evident that he had dealings with
Germans and had recently been in German East Africa.  He found the charge
of leading a German raiding-party Not Proven.

The sentence of the President was that prisoner should receive twenty
lashes and two years’ imprisonment, for receiving stolen goods, well
knowing them to be stolen, and for committing perjury.

“And that ought to dish the lad till the end of the war,” observed he,
“whereafter he’ll have precious small use for his German linguistic
lore—unless he goes to Berlin for the Iron Cross or a Commission in the
Potsdammer Poison-Gas Guards, or somethin’, what?”



CHAPTER XIX
_Of a Pudding_


There was a sound of revelry by night, at the Bristol Bar.  A Plum
Pudding had arrived.  Into that lonely outpost, where men languished and
yearned for potatoes, cabbage, milk, cake, onions, beer, steaks,
chocolate, eggs, cigarettes, bacon, fruit, coffee, bread, fish, jam,
sausages, honey, sugar, ham, tobacco, pastry, toast, cheese, wine and
other things of which they had almost forgotten the taste, a Plum Pudding
had drifted.  When it had begun to seem that food began and ended with
coco-nut, maize, bully-beef and dog-biscuit—a Plum Pudding rose up to
rebuke error.

At least, it was going to do so.  At present it lay, encased in a stout
wooden box and a soldered sarcophagus of tin, at the feet of the habitués
of the Bristol Bar, what time they looked upon the box and found it good
in their sight. . . .

“You’ll dine with us and sample it, I hope, Wavell?” said the Major,
eyeing the box ecstatically.

“Thanks,” was the reply.  “Delighted. . . .  May I bring over some brandy
to burn round it?”

“Stout fella,” said the Major warmly.

“Do we eat it as it is—or fry it, or something, or what?” he added.  “I
fancy you bake ’em. . . .”

“I believe puddings are boiled, sir,” remarked Bertram.

“Yes—I b’lieve you’re right, Greene,” agreed Major Mallery. . . .  “I
seem to know the expression, ‘boiled plum-pudding.’ . . .  Yes—boiled
plum-pudding. . . .”

“Better tell the cook to boil the bird at once, hadn’t we?” suggested
Captain Macke.

“Yes,” agreed Vereker.  “I fancy I’ve heard our housekeeper at home talk
about boiling ’em for _hours_.  Hours and hours. . . .  Sure of it.”

“But s’pose the beastly thing’s _bin_ boiled already—what then?” asked
Augustus.  “Bally thing’d _dissolve_, I tell you. . . .  Have to drink
it. . . .”

“Very nice, too,” declared Halke.

“I’d sooner eat pudding and drink brandy, than drink pudding and burn
brandy,” stated Augustus firmly.  “What would we boil it in, anyhow?” he
added.  “It wouldn’t go in a kettle, an’ if you let it loose in a dam’
great _dekchi_ or something, it’d all go to bits. . . .”

“Tie it up in a shirt or something,” said Forbes. . . .  “What’s your
idea, Greene—as a man of intellect and education?”

“I’d say boil it,” replied Bertram.  “I don’t believe they _can_ be
boiled too much. . . .  I fancy it ought to be tied up, though, as
Clarence suggests, or it might disintegrate, I suppose.”

“Who’s got a clean shirt or vest or pants or something?” asked the Major.
“Or could we ram it into a helmet and tie it down?”

It appeared that no one had a _very_ clean shirt, and it happened that
nobody spoke up with military promptitude and smart alacrity when
Lieutenant Bupendranath Chatterji offered to lend his pillow-case.

“I know,” said the Major, in a tone of decision and finality.  “I’ll send
for the cook, tell him there’s a plum-pudding, an’ he can dam’ well serve
it hot for dinner as a plum-pudding _ought_ to be served—or God have
mercy on him, for we will have none. . . .”

And so it was.  Although at first the cook protested that the hour being
seven and dinner due at seven-thirty, there was not time for the just and
proper cooking of a big plum-pudding.  But, “To hell with that for a
Tale,” said the Major, and waved pudding and cook away, with instructions
to serve the pudding steaming hot, in half an hour, with a blaze of
brandy round it, a sprig of holly stuck in it, and a bunch of mistletoe
hung above it.

“And write ‘_God Bless Our Home_’ on the _banda_ wall,” he added, as a
happy after-thought.  The cook grinned.  He was a Goanese, and a good
Christian cheat and liar.

The Bristol Bar settled down again to talk of Home, hunting, theatres,
clubs, bars, sport, hotels, and everything else—except religion, women
and war. . . .

“Heard about the new lad, Major?” asked Forbes.  “Real fuzzy-wuzzy
dervish Soudanese.  Lord knows how he comes to be in these parts.  Smelt
war like a camel smells water, I suppose. . . .  Got confused ideas about
medals though. . . .  Tell the tale, Wavell.”

“Why—old Isa ibn Yakub, my Sergeant-Major—you know Isa, six-feet-six and
nine medals, face like black satin”—began Wavell, “brought me a stout
lad—with grey hair—who looked like his twin brother.  Wanted to join my
Arab Company.  He’d come from Berbera to Mombasa in a dhow, and then
strolled down here through the jungle. . . .  Conversation ran somewhat
thus:

“‘You want to enlist in my Arab Company, do you?  Why?’

“‘I want to fight.’

“‘Against the _Germanis_?’

“‘Anybody.’

“‘You know what the pay is?’

“‘Yes.  It is enough.  But I also want my Omdurman medal—like that worn
by Isa ibn Yakub.’

“‘Oh—you have fought before?  And at Omdurman.’

“‘Yes.  And I want my medal.’

“‘You are sure you fought at Omdurman?’

“‘Yes.  Was I not wounded there and left for dead?  Look at this hole
through my side, below my arm.  I want my medal—like that of Isa ibn
Yakub.’

“‘How is it that you have not got it, if you fought there as you say?’

“‘They would not give it to me.  I want you to get it for me.’

“‘I do not believe you fought at Omdurman at all.’

“‘I did.  Was I not shot there?’

“‘Were you in a Soudanese Regiment?’

“‘No.’

“‘What then?’

“‘In the army of Our Lord the Mahdi.  And I was shot in front of the line
of British soldiers who wear petticoats! . . .’”

“Did you take him?” asked the Major, as the laugh subsided.

“Rather!” was the reply.  “A lad who fought against us and expects us to
give him a medal for it, evidently thinks we are sportsmen, and probably
is one himself.  I fancy he’s done a lot of mixed fighting at different
times. . . .  Says he knew Gordon. . . .”

The cook, Mess butler, and a deputation of servants approached, salaamed
as one man, and held their peace.

“What’s up?” asked the Major.  “Anyone dead?”

“The Pudding, sah,” said the cook, and all the congregation said, “The
Pudding.”

A painful brooding silence settled upon the Bristol Bar.

“If you’ve let pi-dogs or _shenzis_ or kites eat that pudding, they shall
eat you—alive,” promised the Major—and he had the air of one whose word
is his bond.

“Nossir,” replied the cook.  “Pudding all gone to damn.  Sahib come and
see.  I am knowing nothing.  It is bad.”

“_What_?” roared the Major, and rose to his feet.

“Sah, I am a poor man.  You are my father and my mother,” said the cook
humbly, and all the congregation said that they were poor men and that
the Major was their father and their mother.

The Major said that the congregation were liars.

“_Bad_?” stammered Forbes.  “Puddings can’t go _bad_. . . .”

“Oh, Mother, Mother!” said Augustus, and cried, his head upon his knees.

“Life in epitome,” murmured Vereker.  “_Tout lasse_; _tout passe_; _tout
casse_.”

“Strike me blind!” said Halke.

“Feller’s a purple liar. . . .  Must be,” opined Berners.

“Beat the lot of them,” suggested Macke.  “Puddings keep for ever if you
handle ’em properly.”

“Yes—the brutes haven’t treated it kindly,” said Augustus, wiping his
eyes.  “Here, Vereker, you’re Provost-Marshal.  Serve them so that _they_
go bad—and see how they like it.”

“It may just have a superficial coating of mould or mildew that can be
taken off,” said Bertram.

“Let’s go an’ interview the dam’ thing,” suggested Augustus.  “We can
then take measures—or rum.”

The Bristol Bar was deserted in the twinkling of an eye as, headed by the
Major, the dozen or so of British officers sought out the Pudding, that
they might hold an inquest upon it. . . .

Near the cooking-fire in the straw shed behind the Officers’ Mess
_banda_, upon some boards beside a tin sarcophagus, lay a large green
ball, suggestive of a moon made of green cheese.

In silent sorrow the party gazed upon it, stricken and stunned.  And the
congregation of servants stood afar off and watched.

Suddenly the Major snatched up the gleaming _panga_ that had been used
for prising open the case and for cutting open the tin box in which the
green horror had arrived.

Raising the weapon above his head, the Major smote with all his might.
Right in the centre of the Pudding the heavy, sharp-edged blade struck
and sank. . . .  The Pudding fell in halves, revealing an interior even
greener and more horrible than the outside, as a cloud of greenish,
smoke-like dust went up to the offended heavens. . . .

“Bury the damned Thing,” said the Major, and in his wake the officers of
the Butindi garrison filed out, their hearts too full, their stomachs too
empty for words.

And the servants buried the Pudding, obeying the words of the Major.

But in the night the Sweeper arose and exhumed the Pudding and ate of it
right heartily.  And through the night of sorrow he groaned.  And at dawn
he died.  This is the truth.

                                * * * * *

Dinner that night was a silent meal, if meal it could be called.  No man
dared speak to his neighbour for fear of what his neighbour might reply.
The only reference to the Pudding was made by Augustus, who remarked, as
a servant brought in a dish of roasted maize-cobs, where the Pudding
should have come—chicken-feed where should have been Food of the Gods—“I
am almost glad poor Murie and Lindsay are so ill that they couldn’t
possibly have eaten any Pudding in any case. . . .  Seems some small
compensation to ’em, don’t it, poor devils. . . .”

“I do not think Murie will get better,” observed Lieutenant Bupendranath
Chatterji.  “Fever and dysentery, both violent, and I have not proper
things. . . .”

The silence seemed to deepen as everybody thought of the two sick men,
lying in their dirty clothes, on dirty camp-beds, in leaky grass huts,
with a choice of bully-beef, dog-biscuit, coco-nut and maize as a
dysentery diet.

Whose turn next?  And what sort of a fight could the force put up if
attacked by Africans when all the Indians and Europeans were ill with
fever and dysentery?  Heaven bless the Wise Man who had kept the African
Army of British East Africa so small and had disbanded battalions of the
King’s African Rifles just before the war.  What chance would Indians and
white men, who had lived for months in the most pestilential swamp in
Africa, have against salted Africans led by Germans especially brought
down from the upland health-resorts where they lived? . . .

“Can you give me a little quinine, Chatterji?” asked Augustus.  “Got any
calomel?  I b’lieve my liver’s as big as my head to-day.  I feel a corner
of it right up between my lungs.  Stops my breathing sometimes. . . .”

“Oah, yees.  Ha! Ha!” said the medical gentleman.  “I have a few tablets.
I will presently send you some also. . . .”

Next morning Augustus came in last to breakfast.

“Thanks for the quinine tablets, Chatterji,” said he.  “The hospital
orderly brought them in his bare palm.  I swallowed all ten, however.
What was it—twenty grains?”

“Oah!  That was calomel!” replied the worthy doctor, and Augustus arose
forthwith and retired, murmuring: “Poignant!  _Searching_!”

He had once taken a quarter of a grain of calomel, and it had tied him in
knots.

When Bertram visited Murie, Lindsay and Augustus in their respective
huts, Augustus seemed the worst of the three.  With white face, set
teeth, and closed eyes, he lay bunched up, and, from time to time,
groaned, “Oh, poignant!  _Searching_! . . .”

It being impossible for him to march, it fell to Bertram to take his duty
that day, and lead an officers’ patrol to reconnoitre a distant village
to which, according to information received by the Intelligence
Department, a German patrol had just paid a visit.  For some reason the
place had been sacked and burnt.

It was Bertram’s business to discover whether there were any signs of a
_boma_ having been established by this patrol; to learn anything he could
about its movements; whence it had come and whither it had gone; whether
the massacre were a punishment for some offence, or just the result of
high animal (German) spirits; whether there were many _shambas_, of no
further use to slaughtered people, in which the raiders had left any
limes, bananas, papai or other fruits, vegetables, or crops; whether any
odd chicken or goat had been overlooked, and was wanting a good home;
and, in short, to find out anything that could be found out, see all that
was to be seen, do anything that might be done. . . .  As he marched out
of the Fort at the head of a hundred Gurkhas, with a local guide and
interpreter, he felt proud and happy, quite reckless, and absolutely
indifferent to his fate.  He would do his best in any emergency that
might arise, and he could do no more.  He’d leave it at that.

He’d march straight ahead with a “point” in front of him, and if he was
ambushed, he was ambushed.

When they reached the village, he’d deploy into line and send scouts into
the place.  If he was shot dead—a jolly good job.  If he were wounded and
left lying for the German _askaris_ to find—or the wild beasts at night . . .
he turned from the thought.

Anyhow, he’d got good cheery, sturdy Gurkhas with him, and it was a
pleasure and an honour to serve with them.

One jungle march is precisely like another—and in three or four hours the
little column reached the village, deployed, and skirmished into it, to
find it a deserted, burnt-out ruin.  _Kultur_ had passed that way,
leaving its inevitable and unmistakable sign-manual.  The houses were
only blackened skeletons; the gardens, wildernesses; the byres,
cinder-heaps; the fruit-trees, withering wreckage.  What had been pools
of blood lay here and there, with clumps of feathers, burnt and broken
utensils, remains of slaughtered domestic animals and chickens.

_Kultur_ had indeed passed that way.  To Bertram it seemed, in a manner,
sadder that this poor barbarous little African village should be so
treated than that a walled city of supermen should suffer. . .  “Is there
not more cruelty and villainy in violently robbing a crying child of its
twopence than in snatching his gold watch from a portly stockbroker?”
thought he, as he gazed around on the scene of ruin, desolation and
destruction.

To think of Europeans finding time, energy, and occasion to effect _this_
in such a spot, so incredibly remote from their marts and ways and busy
haunts!  Christians! . . .

Having posted sentries and chosen a spot for rally and defence, he sent
out tiny patrols along the few jungle paths that led to the village, and
proceeded to see what he could, as there was absolutely no living soul
from whom he could learn anything.  There was little that the ablest
scoutmaster could deduce, save that the place had been visited by a large
party of mischievously destructive and brutal ruffians, who wore boots.
There was nothing of use or of value that had not been either destroyed
or taken.  Even papai trees that bore no fruit had been hacked down, and
the _panga_ had been laid to the root of tree and shrub and sugar-cane.
Not a plantain, lime, mango, or papai was to be seen.

Bertram entered one of the least burnt of the well-made huts of thatch
and wattle.  There was what had been blood on the earthen floor,
blackened walls, charred stools, bed-frames and domestic utensils.  He
felt sick. . . .  In a corner was a child’s bed of woven string plaited
over a carved frame.  It would make a useful stool or a resting-place for
things which should not lie on the muddy floor of his _banda_.  He picked
it up.  Underneath it was a tiny black hand with pinkish finger-tips.  He
dropped the bed and was violently sick.  _Kultur_ had indeed passed that
way. . . .

Hurrying out into the sunlight, as soon as he was able to do so, he
completed his tour of inspection.  There was little of interest and
nothing of importance.

Apparently the hamlet had boasted an artist, a sculptor, some village
Rodin, before the Germans came to freeze the genial current of his soul.
. . .  As Bertram studied the handiwork of the absent one, his admiration
diminished, however, and he withdrew the “Rodin.”  The man was an arrant,
shameless plagiarist, a scoundrelly pick-brain imitator, a mere copying
ape, for, seen from the proper end, as it lay on its back, the clay
statue of a woman, without form and void, boneless, wiggly,
semi-deliquescent, was an absolutely faithful and shameless reproduction
of the justly world-famous Eppstein Venus.

“The man ought to be prosecuted for infringement of copyright,” thought
Bertram, “if there is any copyright in statues. . . .”

The patrols having returned with nothing to report, Bertram marched back
to Butindi and reported it.



CHAPTER XX
_Stein-Brücker Meets Bertram Greene—and Death_


And so passed the days at Butindi, with a wearisome monotony of Stand-to,
visiting the pickets, going out on patrol, improving the defences of the
_boma_, foraging, gathering information, reconnoitring, trying to waylay
and scupper enemy patrols, communicating with the other British outposts,
surveying and map-making, beating off half-hearted attacks by strong
raiding-patrols—all to the accompaniment of fever, dysentery, and growing
weakness due to malnutrition and the terrible climate.

To Bertram it all soon became so familiar and normal that it seemed
strange to think that he had ever known any other kind of life.  His
chief pleasure was to talk to Wavell, that most uncommon type of soldier,
who was also philosopher, linguist, student, traveller, explorer and
ethnologist.

From the others, Bertram learnt that Wavell was, among other things, a
second Burton, having penetrated into Mecca and Medina in the disguise of
a _haji_, a religious pilgrim, at the very greatest peril of his life.
He had also fought, as a soldier of fortune, for the Arabs against the
Turks, whom he loathed as only those who have lived under their rule can
loathe them.  He could have told our Foreign Office many interesting
things about the Turk.  (When, after he had been imprisoned and brutally
treated by them at Sanaa, in the Yemen, he had appealed to our Foreign
Office, it had sided rather with the Turk indeed, confirming the
Unspeakable One’s strong impression that the English were a no-account
race, even as the Germans said.)  So Wavell had fought against them,
helping the Arabs, whom he liked.  And when the Great War broke out, he
had raised a double company of these fierce, brave, and blood-thirsty
little men in Arabia, and had drilled them into fine soldiers.  Probably
no other Englishman—or European of any sort—could have done this; but
then Wavell spoke Arabic like an Arab, knew the Koran almost by heart,
and knew his Arabs quite by heart.

That he showed a liking for Bertram was, to Bertram, a very great source
of pride and pleasure.  When Wavell went out on a reconnoitring-patrol,
he went with him if he could get Major Mallery’s permission, and the two
marched through the African jungle discussing art, poetry, travel,
religion, and the ethnological problems of Arabia—followed by a hundred
or so Arabs—Arabs who were killing Africans and being killed by Africans,
often of their own religion and blood, because a gang of greedy
materialists, a few thousand miles away, was suffering from megalomania.
. . .

Indeed to Bertram it was food for much thought that in that tiny _boma_
in a tropical African swamp, Anglo-Indians, Englishmen, Colonials, Arabs,
Yaos, Swahilis, Gurkhas, Rajputs, Sikhs, Marathas, Punjabis, Pathans,
Soudanese, Nubians, Bengalis, Goanese, and a mob of assorted _shenzis_ of
the primeval jungle, should be laying down their lives because, in
distant Berlin, a hare-brained Kaiser could not control a crowd of greedy
and swollen-headed military aristocrats.

                                * * * * *

“Your month’s tobacco ration, Greene,” said Berners one morning, as he
entered Bertram’s hut, “and _don’t_ leave your boots on the floor to
attract jigger-fleas—unless you _want_ blood-poisoning and guinea-worm—or
is it guinea-fowl?  Hang them on the wall. . . .  And look between your
toes every time you take ’em off.  Jigger-fleas are, hell, once they get
under the skin and lay their eggs. . .” and he handed Bertram some cakes
of perfectly black tobacco.

“But, my dear chap, I couldn’t smoke _that_,” said Bertram, eyeing the
horrible stuff askance.

“Of course you can’t _smoke_ it,” replied Berners.

“What can I do with it, then?” he asked.

“Anything you like. . . .  I don’t care. . . .  It’s your tobacco ration,
and I’ve issued it to you, and there the matter ends.  ..  .  You can
revet your trench parapet with it if you like—or give it to the Wadegos
to poison their arrows with. . . .  Jolly useful stuff, really. . . .
Sole your boots, tile the roof of your _banda_, make a parquet floor
round your bed, put it in Chatterji’s tea, make a chair seat, lay down a
pathway to the Mess, make your mother a teapot-stand, feed the
chickens—oh, lots of things.  But you can’t _smoke_ it, of course. . . .
You expect too much, my lad. . . .”

“Why do they issue it, then?” asked Bertram.

“Same reason that they issue inedible bully-beef and unbreakable
biscuits, I s’pose—contractors must _live_, mustn’t they? . . .  Be
reasonable. . . .”

And again it seemed to the foolish civilian mind of this young man that,
since tons of this black cake tobacco (which no British officer ever has
smoked or could smoke) cost money, however little—there would be more
sense in spending the money on a small quantity of Turkish and Virginian
cigarettes that _could_ be smoked, by men accustomed to such things, and
suffering cruelly for lack of them.  Throughout the campaign he saw a
great deal of this strong, black cake issued (to men accustomed to good
cigarettes, cigars or pipe-mixture), but he never saw any of it smoked.
He presented his portion to Ali, who traded it to people of palate and
stomach less delicate than those the British Government expects the
British officer to possess. . . .

“You look seedy, Greene,” observed the Major that same evening, as
Bertram dragged himself across the black mud from his _banda_ to the
Bristol Bar—wondering if he would ever get there.

“Touch of fever, sir.  I’m all right,” replied he, wishing that everyone
and everything were not so nebulous and rotatory.

He did not mention that he had been up all night with dysentery, and had
been unable to swallow solid food for three days.  (Nor that his
temperature was one hundred and four—because he was unaware of the fact.)
But he knew that the moment was not far off when all his will-power and
uttermost effort would be unable to get him off his camp-bed.  He had
done his best—but the worst climate in the world, a diet of indigestible
and non-nutritious food, taken in hopelessly inadequate quantities; bad
water; constant fever; dysentery; long patrol marches; night alarms; high
nerve-tension (when a sudden bang followed by a fusillade might mean a
desultory attention, a containing action while a more important place was
being seriously attacked, or that final and annihilating assault of a big
force which was daily expected); and the monotonous, dirty, dreary life
in that evil spot, had completely undermined his strength.  He was
“living on his nerves,” and they were nearly gone.  “You look like an old
hen whose neck has been half-wrung for to-morrow’s dinner before she was
found to be the wrong one, and reprieved,” said Augustus.  “You let me
make you a real, rousing cock-eye, and then we’ll have an _n’goma_
{198}—all the lot of us. . . .”

But finding Bertram quite unequal to dealing with a cock-eye or
sustaining his part in a tribal dance that should “astonish the natives,”
he helped Bertram over to his _banda_, took off his boots and got him a
hot drink of condensed milk and water laced with ration rum.

In the morning Bertram took his place at Stand-to and professed himself
equal to performing his duty, which was that of making a
reconnoitring-patrol as far as Paso, where there was another outpost. . . .

Here he arrived in time for tea, and had some with real fresh cow’s milk
in it; and had a cheery buck with Major Bidwell, Captains Tucker and
Bremner, and Lieutenants Innes (another Filbert), Richardson, Stirling,
Carroll, and Jones—stout fellows all, and very kind to him.  He was very
sorry indeed when it was time for him to march back again with his
patrol.

He started on the homeward journey, feeling fairly well, for him; but he
could never remember how he completed it. . . .

The darkness gathered so rapidly that he had a suspicion that the
darkness was within him.  Then he found that he was continually running
into trees or being brought up short by impenetrable bush that somehow
sprang up before him. . . .  Also he was talking aloud, and rather
surprised at his eloquence. . . .  Then he was lying on the ground—being
put on his feet again—falling again . . . trying to fight a bothering
swarm of _askaris_ with a quill pen, while he addressed the House of
Commons on the iniquity of allowing Bupendranath Chatterji to be in
medical charge of four hundred men with insufficient material to deal
with a street accident. . . .  Marching again, falling again, being put
on his feet again. . . .

                                * * * * *

After two days on his camp-bed he was somewhat better, and on the next
day he found himself in sole command of the Butindi outpost and a man of
responsibility and pride.  Urgent messages had taken Major Mallery with
half the force in one direction, and Captain Wavell with half the
remainder in another.

Suppose there should be an attack while he was in command!  He half hoped
there would be. . . .

Towards evening an alarm from a sentry and the turning out of the guard
brought him running to the main gate, shouting “Stand-to!” as he ran.

Through his glasses he saw that a European and a small party of natives
were approaching the _boma_. . . .

The new-comer was an Englishman of the name of Desmont, in the
Intelligence Department, who had just made a long and dangerous tour
through the neighbouring parts of German East in search of information.
Apparently Butindi was the first British outpost that he had struck, as
he asked endless questions about others—apparently with a view to
visiting them _en route_ to the Base Camp.  Bertram extended to him such
hospitality as Butindi could afford, and gave him all the help and
information in his power.  He had a very strong conviction that the man
was disguised (whether his huge beard was false or not), but he supposed
that it was very natural in the case of an Intelligence Department spy,
scout, or secret agent.  Anyhow, he was most obviously English. . . .

While he sat in the Officers’ Mess and talked with the man—a most
interesting conversation—Ali Suleiman entered with coco-nuts and a
rum-jar.  Seeing the stranger, he instantly wheeled about and retired,
sending another servant in with the drinks. . . .

After a high-tea of coco-nut, biscuit, bully-beef, and roasted
mealie-cobs, Desmont, who looked worn out, asked if he might lie down for
a few hours before he “moved off” again.  Bertram at once took him to his
own _banda_ and bade him make himself at home.  Five minutes later came
Ali with an air of mystery to where Bertram paced up and down the “High
Street,” and asked if he might speak with him.

“That man a _Germani_, sah!” quoth he.  “Spy-man he is.  Debbil-man.  His
own name _not_ Desmont _Bwana_, and he is big man in Dar-es-Salaam and
Tabora, and knowing all the big _Germani bwanas_.  I was his gun-boy and
I go with him to _Germani_ East. . . .  _Bwana_ go and shoot him for
dead, sah, by damn!”

Bertram sat down heavily on a chop-box.

“_What_?” gasped he.

“Yessah, thank you please.  One of those porters not a _shenzi_ at all.
He Desmont _Bwana’s_ head boy Murad.  Very bad man, sah.  Master look in
this spy-man’s chop-boxes.  _Germani_ uniform in one—under rice and
posho.  Master see. . . .”

“You’re a fool, Ali,” said Bertram.

“Yessah,” said Ali, “and Desmont _Bwana_ a _Germani_ spy-man.  Master go
an’ shoot him for dead while asleep—or tie him to tree till Mallery
_Bwana_ coming. . . .”

_Now_ what was to be done?  Here was a case for swift action by the
“strong silent man” type of person who thought like lightning and acted
like some more lightning.

If he did nothing and let the man go when he had rested, would his
conduct be that of a fool and a weakling who could not act promptly and
efficiently on information received—conduct deserving the strongest
censure? . . .

And if he arrested and detained one of their own Intelligence Officers,
on the word of a native servant, would he ever hear the last of it?

“_Bwana_ come and catch this bad man Murad,” suggested Ali.  “_Bwana_
say, ‘_Jambo_, _Murad ibn Mustapha_!  _How much rupees Desmont Bwana
paying you for spy-work_?’ and _Bwana_ see him jump!  By damn, sah!
_Bwana_ hold revolver ready.” . . .

“Does the man know English then?” asked the perturbed and undecided
Bertram.

“Yessah—all the same better as I do,” was the reply.  “And he pretending
to be poor _shenzi_ porter.  He knowing _Germani_ too. . . .”

At any rate, he might look into _this_, and if anything suspicious
transpired, he could at least prevent Desmont from leaving before Mallery
returned.

“Has he seen you?” asked Bertram.

“No, sah, nor has Desmont _Bwana_,” was the reply—and Bertram bade Ali
show him where the porters were.

They were outside the _boma_, squatting round a cooking-fire near the
“lines” of the Kavirondo porters.

Approaching the little group, Bertram drew his revolver and held it
behind him.  He did not know why he did this.  Possibly subconscious
memory of Ali’s advice, perhaps with the expectation that the men might
attack him or attempt to escape; or perhaps a little pleasant touch of
melodrama. . . .

“_Jambo_, _Murad ibn Mustapha_!” he said suddenly.  “_Desmont Bwana wants
you at once_.  _Go quickly_.”

A man arose immediately and approached him.  “Go back and sit down,” said
Bertram, covering the man with his revolver and speaking in German.  He
returned and sat down.  Evidently he understood English and German and
answered to the name of Murad ibn Mustapha! . . .

Ali had spoken the truth and it was now up to Bertram Greene to act
wisely, promptly and firmly.  This lot should be kept under arrest
anyhow.  But might not all this be part of Desmont’s game as a scout, spy
and secret service agent of the British Intelligence Department.  Yes,
_or_ of the German Intelligence Department.

If there was a German uniform in one of the chop-boxes, it might well be
a disguise for him to wear in German East.  Or it might be his real
dress.  Anyhow—he shouldn’t leave the outpost until Major Mallery
returned. .

. .  And that was a weak shelving of responsibility.  He was in command
of the post, and Major Mallery and the other officers with him might be
scuppered.  It was quite possible that neither the Major’s party nor
Captain Wavell’s might ever get back to Butindi.  He strolled over to his
_banda_ and looked in.

Desmont was evidently suffering from digestive troubles or a bad
conscience, for his face was contorted, he moved restlessly and ground
his teeth.

Suddenly he screamed like a woman and cried:

“_Ach_!  _Gott in Himmel_!  _Nein_, _Nein_!  _Ich_ . . .”

Bertram drew his revolver.  The man was a German.  Englishmen don’t talk
German in their sleep.

The alleged Desmont moaned.

“_Zu müde_,” he said.  “_Zu müde_.” . . .

Bertram sat down on his camp-stool and watched the man.

                                * * * * *

The Herr Doktor Karl Stein-Brücker had made a name for himself in German
East, as one who knew how to manage the native.  This in a country where
they all pride themselves on knowing how to manage the native—how to put
the fear of Frightfulness and _Kultur_ into his heart.  He had once given
a great increase to a growing reputation by flogging a woman to death, on
suspicion of unfaithfulness.  He had wielded the _kiboko_ with his own
(literally) red right hand until he was aweary, and had then passed the
job on to Murad ibn Mustapha, who was very slow to tire.  But even he had
had to be kept to it at last. . . .

“_Noch nichte_!” had the Herr Doktor said, “_Not yet_!” as Murad wished
to stop, and

“_Ganz klein wenig_!” as the brawny arm dropped.  “_Just a little more_.”
. . .

It had been a notable and memorable punishment—but the devil of it was
that whenever the Herr Doktor got run down or over-ate himself, he had a
most terrible nightmare, wherein Marayam, streaming with blood, pursued
him, caught him, and flogged him.  And when she tired, he was doomed to
urge her on to further efforts.  After screaming with agony, he must moan
“_Zu müde_!  _Zu müde_!” and then—when she would have stopped—“_Noch
nichte_!” and “_Ganz klein wenig_!” so that she began afresh.  Then he
must struggle, break free, leap at her—and find himself sweating, weeping
and trembling beside his bed.

Presently the moaning sleeper cried “_Noch nichte_!” and a little later
“_Ganz klein wenig_!”—and then with a scream and a struggle, leapt from
the camp cot and sprang at Bertram, whose revolver straightway went off.
With a cough and a gurgle the _soi-disant_ Desmont collapsed with a ·450
service bullet through his heart.

When Major Mallery returned at dawn he found a delirious
Second-Lieutenant Greene (and a dead European, and a wonderful tale from
one Ali Suleiman. . . .)

With a temperature of 105·8 he did not seem likely to live. . . .

Whether Bertram Greene lived or died, however, he had, albeit ignorantly,
avenged the cruel wrong done to his father. . . .  He—the despised and
rejected one—had avenged Major Hugh Walsingham Greene.  Fate plays some
queer tricks and Time’s whirligig performs some quaint gyrations!



PART III
THE BAKING OF BERTRAM BY LOVE


CHAPTER I
_Mrs. Stayne-Brooker Again_


Luckily for himself, Second-Lieutenant Bertram Greene was quite
unconscious when he was lifted from his camp-bed into a stretcher by the
myrmidons of Mr. Chatterji and dispatched, carriage paid, to M’paga.
What might happen to him there was no concern of Mr. Chatterji’s—which
was the important point so far as that gentleman was concerned.

Unconscious he remained as the four Kavirondo porters, the stretcher on
their heads, jogged along the jungle path in the wake of Ali and the
three other porters who bore his baggage.  Behind the stretcher-bearers
trotted four more of their brethren who would relieve them of their
burden at regular intervals.

Ali was in command, and was also in a hurry, for various reasons,
including prowling enemy patrols and his master’s dire need of help.  He
accordingly set a good pace and kept the “low niggers” of his party to it
by fabulous promises, hideous threats, and even more by the charm of
song—part song in fact.  Lifting up his powerful voice he delivered in
deep diapason a mighty

“_Ah-Nah-Nee-Nee_!  _Ah-Nah-Nee-Nee_!”

to which all the congregation responded

“_Umba Jo-eel_!  _Umba Jo-eel_”

as is meet and right to do.

And when, after a few hundred thousand repetitions of this, in strophe
and antistrophe, there seemed a possibility that restless and volatile
minds desiring change might seek some new thing, Ali sang

“_Hay-Ah-Mon-Nee_!  _Hay-Ah-Mon-Nee_!”

which is quite different, and the jogging, sweating congregation, with
deep earnestness and conviction, took up the response:

“_Tunk-Tunk-Tunk-Tunk_!”

and all fear of the boredom of monotony was gone—especially as, after a
couple of hours of this, you could go back to the former soulful and
heartsome Threnody, and begin again.  But if they got no forrader with
the concert they steadily got forrader with the journey, as their loping
jog-trot ate up the miles.

And, in time to their regular foot-fall and chanting, the insensible head
of the white man rolled from side to side unceasingly. . . .

Unconscious he still was when the little party entered the Base Camp, and
Private Henry Hall remarked to Private John Jones:

“That there bloke’s gone West all right but ’e ain’t gone long. . . .
You can see ’e’s dead becos ’is ’ead’s a waggling and you can see ’e
ain’t bin dead _long_ becos ’is ’ead’s a waggling. . . .”

And Private John Jones, addressing the speaker as Mister Bloomin’-Well
Sherlock ’Olmes, desired that he would cease to chew the fat.

Steering his little convoy to the tent over which the Red Cross flew, Ali
handed over his master and the cleft stick holding Major Mallery’s
letter, to Captain Merstyn, R.A.M.C., and then stood by for orders.

It appeared that the _Barjordan_ was off M’paga, that a consignment of
sick and wounded was just going on board, and that Second-Lieutenant
Greene could go with them. . . .

That night Bertram was conveyed out to sea in a dhow (towed by a
petrol-launch from the _Barjordan_), taken on board that ship, and put
comfortably to bed.  The next night he was in hospital at Mombasa and had
met Mrs. Stayne-Brooker.

                                * * * * *

As, thanks to excellent nursing, he very slowly returned to health and
strength, Bertram began to take an increasing interest in the very
charming and very beautiful woman whom he had once seen and admired at
the Club, who daily took his temperature, brought his meals, administered
his medicine, kept his official chart, shook up his pillows, put cooling
hands upon his forehead, found him books to read, talked to him at times,
attended the doctor on his daily visits, and superintended the brief
labours of the Swahili youth who was ward-boy and house-maid on that
floor of the hospital.

Before long, the events of the day were this lady’s visits, and, on
waking, he would calculate the number of hours until she would enter his
room and brighten it with her presence.  He had never seen so sweet,
kind, and gentle a face.  It was beautiful too, even apart from its
sweetness, kindness and gentleness.  He was very thankful when he found
himself no longer too weak to turn his head and follow her with his eyes,
as she moved about the room.  It was indescribably delightful to have a
woman, and such a woman, about one’s sick bed—after negro servants,
Indian orderlies, _shenzi_ stretcher-bearers, and Bengali doctors.  How
his heart swelled with gratitude as she laid her cool hand on his
forehead, or raised his head and gave him a cooling drink. . . .  But how
sad she looked! . . .  He hated to see her putting up the
mosquito-curtains that covered the big frame-work, like the skeleton of a
room, in which his bed stood, and which, at night, formed a
mosquito-proof room-within-a-room, and provided space for his bedside
chair, table and electric-lamp, as well as for the doctor and nurse, if
necessary.

One morning he sat up and said:

“_Please_ let me do that, Sister—I hate to see you working for me—though
I love to see _you_ . . .” and then had been gently pushed back on to his
pillow as, with a laugh, Mrs. Stayne-Brooker said:

“That’s what I’m here for—to work I mean,” and patted his wasted hand.
(He _was_ such a dear boy, and so appreciative of what one could do for
him.  It made one’s heart ache to see him such a wasted skeleton.)

The time came when he could sit in a long chair with leg-rest arms, and
read a book; but he found that most of his time was spent in thinking of
the Sister and in the joys of retrospection and anticipation.  He had to
put aside, quite resolutely, all thought of the day when he would be
declared fit for duty and be “returned to store.”  Think of a _banda_ at
Butindi and of this white room with its beautiful outlook across the
strait to the palm-feathered shore; think of Ali as one’s cup-bearer and
of this sweet angelic Englishwoman. . . .  Better not think of it at all.
. . .

It was quite a little shock to him, one day, to notice that she wore a
wedding-ring. . . .  He had never thought of that. . . .  He felt
something quite like a little twinge of jealousy. . . .  He was sure the
man must be a splendid fellow though, or she would never have married
him. . . .  How old would she be?  It was no business of his, and it was
not quite gentlemanly to speculate on such a subject—but somehow he had
not thought of her as “an old married woman.”  Not that married women are
necessarily older than unmarried women. . . .  A silly expression—“old”
married women.  He had imagined her to be about his own generation so to
speak.  Possibly a _little_ older than himself—in years—but years don’t
make age really. . . .  Fancy her being married!  Well, well, well! . . .
But what did that matter—she was just as much the charming and beautiful
woman for whom he would have laid down his life in sheer gratitude. . . .

                                * * * * *

A man gets like this after fever. He is off his balance, weak,
neurasthenic, and devoid of the sense of proportion.  He waxes
sentimental, and is to be forgiven.

                                * * * * *

But there is not even this excuse for Mrs. Stayne-Brooker.

                                * * * * *

She began by rather boring her daughter, Eva, about her new patient—his
extreme gratitude, his charming ways and thoughts, his true gentleness of
nature, his delightful views, the _niceness_ of his mind, the
likeableness of him. . . .  She wondered aloud as to whether he had a
mother—she must be a very nice woman.  She wondered in silence as to
whether he had a wife—she must be a very happy woman. . . .  How old was
he? . . .  It was so hard to tell with these poor fellows, brought in so
wasted with fever and dysentery; and rank wasn’t much guide to age
nowadays.  He _might_ be. . . .  Well—he’d be up and gone before long,
and she’d never see him again, so what was the good of wondering. . . .
And she continued to wonder. . . .  And then, from rather boring Miss
Stayne-Brooker with talk about Lieutenant Greene she went to the extreme,
and never mentioned him at all.

For, one day, with an actual gasp of horrified amazement, she found that
she had suddenly realised that possibly the poets and novelists were not
so wrong as she had believed, and that there _might_ be such a thing as
the Love—they hymned and described—and that Peace and Happiness might be
its inseparable companions. . . .  She would read her Browning, Herrick,
Swinburne, Rosetti again, her Dante, her Mistral, and some of those plays
and poems of Love that the world called wonderful, beautiful, true, for
she had an idea that she might see glimmerings of wonder, beauty and
truth in them—_now_. . . .

But then—how absurd!—at _her_ age.  Of course she would not read them
again!  At _her_ age! . . .

And proceeded to do so at _her_ Dangerous Age. . . .

Strange that _his_ name should be Green or Greene—he was the fifth person
of that name whom she had met since she left Major Walsingham Greene,
eighteen years ago. . . .



CHAPTER II
_Love_


All too soon for two people concerned, Doctor Mowbray, the excellent
Civil Surgeon of Mombasa, in whose hospital Bertram was, decided that
that young gentleman might forthwith be let loose on ticket-of-leave
between the hours of ten and ten for a week or two, preparatory to his
discharge from hospital for a short spell of convalescence-leave before
rejoining his regiment. . . .

“I’ll call for you and take you for a drive after lunch,” said Mrs.
Stayne-Brooker, “and then you shall have tea with me, and we’ll go over
to the Club and sit on the verandah.  You mustn’t walk much, your first
day out.”

“I’m going to run miles,” said Bertram, smiling up into her face and
taking her hand as she stood beside his chair—a thing no other patient
had dared to do or would have been permitted to do.  (“He was such a dear
boy—one would never dream of snubbing him or snatching away a hand he
gratefully stroked—it would be like hitting a baby or a nice friendly
dog. . . .”)

“Then you’ll be ill again at once,” rejoined Mrs. Stayne-Brooker, giving
the hand that had crept into hers a little chiding shake.

“Exactly . . . and prolong my stay here. . .” said Bertram, and his eyes
were very full of kindness and gratitude as they met eyes that were also
very full.

(“What a sweet, kind, good woman she was!  And what a cruel wrench it
would be to go away and perhaps never see her again. . . .”)

He went for his drive with Mrs. Stayne-Brooker in a car put at her
disposal, for the purpose, by the Civil Surgeon; and found he was still
very weak and that it was nevertheless good to be alive.

At tea he met Miss Stayne-Brooker, and, for a moment, his breath was
taken away by her beauty and her extraordinary likeness to her mother.

He thought of an opened rose and an opening rose-bud (exactly alike save
for the “open” and “opening” difference), on the same stalk. . . .  It
was wonderful how alike they were, and how young Mrs. Stayne-Brooker
looked—away from her daughter. . . .  The drive-and-tea programme was
repeated almost daily, with variations, such as a stroll round the
golf-course, as the patient grew stronger. . . .  And daily Bertram saw
the very beautiful and fascinating Miss Stayne-Brooker and daily grew
more and more grateful to Mrs. Stayne-Brooker.  He was grateful to her
for so many things—for her nursing, her hospitality, her generous giving
of her time; her kindness in the matter of lending him books (the books
she liked best, prose works _and_ others); her kind interest in him and
his career, ambitions, tastes, views, hopes and fears; for her being the
woman she was and for brightening his life as she had, not to mention
saving it; and, above all, he was grateful to her for having such a
daughter. . . .  He told her that he admired Miss Stayne-Brooker
exceedingly, and she did not tell him that Miss Stayne-Brooker did not
admire him to the same extent. . . .  She was a little sorry that her
daughter did not seem as enthusiastic about him as she herself was, for
we love those whom we admire to be admired.  But she realised that a chit
of a girl, fresh from a Cheltenham school, was not to be expected to
appreciate a man like this one, a scholar, an artist to his finger-tips,
a poet, a musician, a man who had read everything and could talk
interestingly of anything—a man whose mind was a sweet and pleasant
storehouse—a _kind_ man, a gentleman, a man who, thank God, _needed_ one,
and yet to whom one’s ideas were of as much interest as one’s face and
form.  Of course, the average “Cheerioh” subaltern, whose talk was of
dances and racing and sport, would, very naturally, be of more interest
to a callow girl than this man whose mind (to Mrs. Stayne-Brooker) a
kingdom was, and who had devoted to the study of music, art, literature,
science, and the drama, the time that the other man had given to the
pursuit of various hard and soft balls, inoffensive quadrupeds, and less
inoffensive bipeds.

Thus Mrs. Stayne-Brooker, addressing, in imagination, a foolishly
unappreciative Eva Stayne-Brooker.

                                * * * * *

As she and her daughter sat at dinner on the verandah which looked down
on to Vasco da Gama Street, one evening, a month later, her Swahili
house-boy brought Mrs. Stayne-Brooker a message. . . .  A _shenzi_ was
without, and he had a _chit_ which he would give into no hands save those
of Mrs. Stayne-Brooker herself.

It was the escaped Murad ibn Mustapha, in disguise.

On hearing his news, she did what she had believed people only did in
books.  She fell down in a faint and lay as one dead.

                                * * * * *

Miss Stayne-Brooker tried to feel as strongly as her mother evidently
did, but signally failed, her father having been an almost complete
stranger to her.  She was a little surprised that the blow should have
been so great as to strike her mother senseless, for there had certainly
been nothing demonstrative about her attitude to her husband—to say the
least of it.  She supposed that married folk got like that . . . loved
each other all right but never showed it at all. . .  Nor had what she
had seen of her father honestly impressed her with the feeling that he
was a _very_ lovable person.  Neither before dinner nor after it—when he
was quite a different man. . . .

Still—here was her mother, knocked flat by the news of his death, and now
lying on her bed in a condition which seemed to vary between coma and
hysteria. . . .

Knocked flat—(and yet, from time to time, she murmured, “Thank God!  Oh,
thank God!”).  Queer!

                                * * * * *

When Mr. Greene called next day, Miss Eva received him in the
morning-sitting-drawing-room and told him the sad news.  Her father had
died. . . .  He was genuinely shocked.

“Oh, your poor, _poor_ mother!” said he.  “I am grieved for her”—and sat
silent, his face looking quite sad.  Obviously there was no need for
sympathy with Miss Eva as she frankly confessed that she scarcely knew
her father and felt for him only as one does for a most distant relation,
whom one has scarcely ever seen.

With a request that she would convey his most heart-felt condolence and
deepest sympathy to her mother, he withdrew and returned to the Mombasa
Hotel, where he was now staying, an ex-convalescent awaiting orders. . .
He had hoped for an evening with Eva.  That evening the _Elymas_ steamed
into Kilindini harbour and Bertram, strolling down to the pier, met
Captain Murray, late Adjutant of the One Hundred and Ninety-Ninth, and
Lieutenant Reginald Macteith, both of whom had just come ashore from her.

He wrung Murray’s hand, delighted to see him, and congratulated him on
his escape from regimental duty, and shook hands with Macteith.

“By Jove, Cupid, you look ten years older than when I saw you last,” said
Murray, laying his hand on Bertram’s shoulder and studying his face.  “I
should hardly have known you. . . .”

“Quite a little man now,” remarked Macteith, and proceeded to enquire as
to where was the nearest and best Home-from-Home in Mombasa, where one
could have A-Drink-and-a-Little-Music-what-what?

“I am staying at the Mombasa Hotel,” said Bertram coldly, to which
Macteith replied that he hoped it appreciated its privilege.

Bertram felt that he hated Macteith, but also had a curious sense that
that young gentleman had either lost in stature or that he, Bertram, had
gained. . . .  Anyhow he had seen War, and, so far, Macteith had not.  He
had no sort of fear of anything Macteith could say or do—and he’d welcome
any opportunity of demonstrating the fact. . . .  Dirty little worm!
Chatting gaily with Murray, he took them to the Mombasa Club and there
found a note from Mrs. Stayne-Brooker asking him to come to tea on the
morrow.

                                * * * * *

“I won’t attempt to offer condolence nor express my absolute sympathy,
Mrs. Stayne-Brooker,” said Bertram as he took her hand and led her to her
favourite settee.

“Don’t,” said she.

“My heart aches for you, though,” he added.

“It need not,” replied Mrs. Stayne-Brooker, and, as Bertram looked his
wonder at her enigmatic reply and manner, she continued:

“I will not pretend to _you_.  I will be honest.  Your heart need not
ache for me at all—because mine sings with relief and gratitude and joy.
. . .”

Bertram’s jaw fell in amazement.  He felt inexpressibly shocked.

Or was it that grief had unhinged the poor lady’s mind?

“I am going to say to you what I have never said to a living soul, and
will never say again. . . .  I have never even said it to myself. . . .
_I hated him most utterly and most bitterly_. . . .”

Bertram was more shocked than he had ever been in his life. . .  This was
terrible! . . .  He wanted to say, “Oh, hush!” and get up and go away.

“I could not _tell_ you how I hated him,” continued Mrs. Stayne-Brooker,
“for he spoilt my whole life. . . .  I am not going into details nor am I
going to say one word against him beyond that.  I repeat that he _made_
me loathe him—from my very wedding-day . . . and I leave you to judge. .
. .”

Bertram judged.

He was very young—much younger than his years—and he judged as the young
do, ignorantly, harshly, cruelly. . . .

What manner of woman, after all, was this, who spoke of her dead husband?
Of her own husband—scarcely cold in his grave.  Of her _husband_ of all
people in the world! . . .  He could have wept with the shame and misery
of it, the disillusionment, the shattering blow which she herself had
dealt at the image and idol that he had set up in his heart and
gratefully worshipped.

He looked up miserably as he heard the sound of a sob in the heavy
silence of the room.  She was weeping bitterly, shaken from head to foot
with the violence of her—her—what could it be? not grief for her husband
of course.  Did she weep for the life that he had “spoilt” as she
expressed it?  Was it because of her wasted opportunities for happiness,
the years that the locust had eaten, the never-to-return days of her
youth, when joy and gaiety should have been hers?

What could he say to her?—save a banal “Don’t cry”?  There was nothing to
say.  He did not know when he had felt so miserable and uncomfortable. . . .

“It is over,” she said suddenly, and dried her tears; but whether she
alluded to the unhappiness of her life with her husband, or to her brief
tempest of tears, he did not know.

What could he say to her? . . .  It was horrible to see a woman cry.  And
she had been _so_ good to him.  She had revived his interest in life when
through the miasma of fever he had seen it as a thing horrible and
menacing, a thing to flee from.  How could he comfort her?  She had made
no secret of the fact that she liked him exceedingly, and that to talk to
him of the things that matter in Life, Art, Literature, Music, History,
was a pleasure akin to that of a desert traveller who comes upon an
inexhaustible well of pure water.  Perhaps she liked him so well that he
could offer, acceptably, that Silent Sympathy that is said to be so much
finer and more efficacious than words. . . .  Could he? . .  Could he? . . .

Conquering his sense of repulsion at her attitude toward her newly dead
husband, and remembering all he owed to her sweet kindness, he crossed to
her settee, knelt on one knee beside her, took her hand, and put it to
his lips without a word.  She would understand—and he would go.

With a little sobbing cry, Mrs. Stayne-Brooker snatched her hand from
him, and, throwing her arms about his neck, pressed her lips to his—her
face was transfigured as with a great light—the light of the knowledge
that the poets had told the great and wondrous truth when they sang of
Love as the Greatest Thing—and sung but half the truth.  All that she
longed for, dreamed of, yearned over—and disbelieved—was true and had
come to pass. . . .

She looked no older than her own daughter—and forgot that she was a woman
of thirty-seven years, and that the man who knelt in homage (the moment
that she was free to receive his homage!) _might_ be but little over
thirty.

She did not understand—but perhaps, in that moment, received full
compensation for her years of misery, and her marred, thwarted, wasted
womanhood.

Oh, thank God; thank God, that he loved her . . . she could not have
borne it if . . .

                                * * * * *

Glad that he had succeeded in comforting her, slightly puzzled and
vaguely stirred, he arose and went out, still without a word.

                                * * * * *

Returning to his hotel, he found a telegram ordering him to proceed
“forthwith” to a place called Soko Nassai _via_ Voi and Taveta, and as
“forthwith” means the next train, and the next train to Voi on the Uganda
Railway went in two hours, he yelled for Ali, collected his kit, paid his
Club bill and got him to the railway station without having time or
opportunity to make any visits of farewell.  That he had to go without
seeing Miss Eva again troubled him sorely, much more so than he would
have thought possible.

In fact he thought of her all night as he lay on the long bed-seat of his
carriage in a fog of fine red dust, instead of sleeping or thinking of
what lay before him at Taveta, whence, if all or any of the Club gossip
were true, he would be embarking upon a very hard campaign, and one of
“open” fighting, too.  This would be infinitely more interesting than the
sit-in-the-mud trench warfare, but it was not of this that he found
himself thinking so much as of the length and silkiness of Miss Eva’s
eyelashes, the tendrils of hair at her neck, the perfection of her lips,
and similar important matters.  He was exceedingly glad that he was going
to be attached to a Kashmiri regiment, because it was composed of Dogras
and Gurkhas, and he liked Gurkhas exceedingly, but he was ten thousand
times more glad that there was a Miss Eva Stayne-Brooker in the world,
that she was in Mombasa, that he could think of her there, and, best of
all, that he could return and see her there when the war was o’er—and he
sang aloud:

    “When the war is o’er,
    We’ll part no more.”

No—damn it all—one couldn’t sing “at Ehren on the Rhine,” after the
German had shown his country to be the home of the most ruffianly,
degraded, treacherous and despicable brute the world has yet produced;
and, turning over with an impatient jerk, he tipped a little mound of
drifted red dust and sand into his mouth and his song turned to dust and
ashes and angry spluttering.  _Absit omen_.

At Taveta, a name on a map and a locality beneath wooded hills, Bertram
found a detachment of his regiment, and was accepted by his
brother-officers as a useful-looking and very welcome addition to their
small Mess.  He was delighted to renew acquaintance with Augustus and
with the Gurkha Subedar—whom he had last seen at M’paga.  Here he also
found the 29th Punjabis, the 130th Baluchis, and the 2nd Rhodesians.  In
the intervals of thinking of Miss Eva, he thought what splendid troops
they looked, and what a grand and fortunate man he was to be one of their
glorious Brigade.

When he smelt the horrible fever smell of the pestilential Lumi swamp, he
hoped Miss Eva would not get fever in Mombasa.

When he feasted his delighted eyes on Kilimanjaro, on the rose-flushed
snows and glaciers of Kibo and Mawenzi, their amazing beauty was as the
beauty of her face, and he walked uplifted and entranced.

When the daily growing Brigade was complete, and marched west through
alternating dense bush and open prairie of moving grass, across dry sandy
nullahs or roughly bridged torrents, he marched with light heart and
untiring body, neither knowing nor caring whether the march were long or
short.

When Gussie Augustus Gus said it was dam’ hot and very thoughtless
conduct of Jan Smuts to make innocent and harmless folk walk on their
feet at midday, Bertram perceived that it _was_ hot, though he hadn’t
noticed it.  His spirit had been in Mombasa, and his body had been unable
to draw its attention to such minor and sordid details as dust, heat,
thirst, weariness and weakness.

The ice-cold waters of the Himo River, which flows from the Kilimanjaro
snows to the Pangani, reminded him of the coolness of her firm young
hands.

As the Brigade camped on the ridge of a green and flower-decked hill
looking across the Pangani Valley, to the Pare Hills, a scene of fertile
beauty, English in its wooded rolling richness, he thought of her with
him in England; and as the rancid smell of a frying _ghee_, mingled with
the acrid smell of wood smoke, was wafted from where Gurkha, Punjabi,
Pathan and Baluchi cooked their _chapattis_ of _atta_, he thought of her
in India with him. . . .

Day after day the Brigade marched on, and whether it marched between
impenetrable walls of living green that formed a tunnel in which the red
dust floated always, thick, blinding and choking, or whether it marched
across great deserts of dried black peat over which the black dust hung
always, thicker, more blinding and more choking—it was the same to
Second-Lieutenant Bertram Greene, as he marched beside the sturdy little
warriors of his regiment.  His spirit marched through the realms of
Love’s wonderland rather than through deserts and jungles, and the things
of the spirit are more real, and greater than those of the flesh.

For preference he marched alone, alone with his men that is, and not with
a brother officer, that he might be spared the necessity of conversation
and the annoyance of distraction of his thoughts.  For miles he would
trudge beside the Subedar in companionly silence.  He grew very fond of
the staunch little man to whom duty was a god. . . .

When the Brigade reached Soko Nassai it joined the Division which
(co-operating with Van Deventer’s South African Division, then
threatening Tabora and the Central Railway from Kondoa Irangi) in three
months conquered German East Africa—an almost adequate force having been
dispatched at last.  It consisted of the 2nd Kashmir Rifles, 28th
Punjabis, 130th Baluchis, the 2nd Rhodesians, a squadron of the 17th
Cavalry, the 5th and 6th Batteries of the S.A. Field Artillery, a section
of the 27th Mountain Battery, and a company of the 61st Pioneers, forming
the First East African Brigade.  There were also the 25th Royal
Fusiliers, the M.I. and machine-guns of the Loyal North Lancashire
Regiment, the East African Mounted Rifles, a Howitzer Battery of Cornwall
Territorials, “Z” Signalling Company, a “wireless” section, and a fleet
of armoured cars.  In reserve were the 5th and 6th South Africans.

Few divisions have ever done more than this one did—under the greatest
hardships in one of the worst districts in the world.

Its immediate task was to clear the Germans from their strong positions
in the Pare and Usambara Mountains, and to seize the railway to Tanga on
the coast, a task of all but superhuman difficulty, as it could only be
accomplished by the help of a strong force making a flanking march
through unexplored roadless virgin jungle, down the Pangani valley, the
very home of fever, where everything would depend upon efficient
transport—and any transport appeared impossible.  How could motor
transport go through densest trackless bush, or horse and bullock
transport where horse-sickness and tsetse fly forbade?

The First Brigade made the Pangani march and turning movement, performing
the impossible, and with it went Second-Lieutenant Bertram Greene, head
in air and soul among the stars, his heart full of a mortal tenderness
and caught up in a great divine uplifting,



CHAPTER III
_Love and War_


As he marched on, day after day, his thoughts moving to the dogged tramp
of feet, the groan of laden bullock-carts, the creak of mule packs, the
faint rhythmic tap of tin cup on a bayonet hilt, the clank of a swinging
chain end, through mimosa thorn and dwarf scrub, dense forest, mephitic
swamp or smitten desert, ever following the river whose waters gave life
and sudden death, the river to leave which was to die of thirst, and to
stay by which was to die of fever, this march which would have been a
nightmare of suffering, was merely a dream—a dream from which he would
awake to arise and go to Mombasa. . . .

“I always thought you had guts, Greene,” said Augustus coarsely, one
night, as they laid their weary bones beneath a tarpaulin stretched
between two carts.  “I always thought you had ’em beneath your
gentle-seeming surface, so to speak—but dammy, you’re _all_ guts. . . .
You’re a blooming whale, to march. . . .  Why the devil don’t you growl
and grumble like a Christian gentleman, eh? . . .  I hate you ‘strong
silent men.’ . . .  Dammitall—you march along with a smug smile on your
silly face! . . .  You’re a perfect tiger, you know. . . .  Don’t like
it.  .  .  .  Colonel will be saying your ‘conduct under trying
circumstances is an example and inspiration to all ranks.’ . . .  Will
when you’re dead anyhow. . . .  Horrid habit. . . .  You go setting an
example to _me_, and I’ll bite you in the stomach, my lad. . . .”

Bertram laughed and looked out at the great stars—blue diamonds sprinkled
on black velvet—and was very happy.

Was he tired?  Everybody else was, so he supposed he must be.

Was he hungry?  Yes—for the sight of a face. . . .  Oh, the joy of
shutting his eyes and calling it to memory’s eye, and of living over
again every moment spent in her presence!

He realised, with something like amazement, that Love grows and waxes
without the food and sustenance of the loved one’s real presence.  He
loved her more than he had done at Mombasa.  Had he really _loved_ her at
Mombasa at all?  Certainly not as he did now—when he thought of nothing
else, and performed all his duties and functions mechanically and was
only here present in the mere dull and unfeeling flesh. . . .

As the column halted where, across an open glade, the menacing sinister
jungle might at any moment burst into crackling life, as machine-gun and
rifle-fire crashed out to mow men down, he felt but mild interest, little
curiosity and no vestige of fear.  He would do his duty to the utmost, of
course, but—how sweet to get a wound that would send him back to where
she was!

As the column crossed the baked mud of former floods, and his eye noted
the foot-prints, preserved in it, of elephant, lion, large and small
antelope, rhinoceros and leopard, these wonders moved him to but faint
interest, for he had something a thousand times more interesting to think
of.  Things that would have thrilled him before this great event, this
greatest event, of his life—such as the first complete assembling of the
Brigade in the first sufficient open space it had yet encountered—by the
great spare rock, Njumba-ya-Mawe, the House of Stone, on which General
Jan Smuts himself climbed to see them pass; the sight of his own
Kashmiris cutting a way straight through the bush with their _kukris_;
the glimpses of animals he had hitherto only seen in zoological gardens;
the faint sound of far-distant explosions where the retiring Germans were
blowing up their railway culverts and bridges; the sight of deserted
German positions with their trenches littered with coco-nut shells,
husks, and mealie-cobs, their cunning machine-gun positions, and their
officers’ _bandas_ littered with empty tins and bottles; the infernal
hullabaloo when a lion got within the perimeter one night and stampeded
the mules; the sudden meeting with a little band of ragged emaciated
prisoners, some German patrol captured by the Pathan _sowars_ of the 17th
or the Mounted Infantry of the Lancashires; the passing, high in air, of
a humming yellow aeroplane; the distant rattle of machine-guns, like the
crackling of a forest fire, as the advance-guard came in sight of some
retiring party of Kraut’s force; the hollow far-off boom of some big gun
brought from the _Konigsberg_—dismantled and deserted in the Rufigi
river—as it fired from Sams upon the frontal feint of the 2nd Brigade’s
advance down the railway or at the column of King’s African Rifles from
M’buyini—these things which would have so thrilled him once, now left him
cold—mere trifles that impinged but lightly on his outer consciousness. . . .

“You’re a blasé old bloke, aren’t you, Greene?” said the puzzled
Augustus.  “Hardened old warrior like you can’t be expected to take much
interest in a dull game like war, unless they let you charge guns and
squares with cavalry, what?  Sport without danger’s no good to you, what?
You wait till you find a dam’ great Yao _askari_ looking for your liver
with a bayonet, my lad. . . .  See you sit up and take notice then, what?
Garn!  You patient, grinning Griselda . . .” and so forth.

But, one evening, as the column approached the South Pare Mountains, near
Mikocheni, Bertram “sat up and took notice,” very considerable notice, as
with a rush and a roar and a terrific explosion, a column of black smoke
and dust shot up to the sky when a shell burst a few score yards away—the
first of a well-placed series of four-point-one high explosive shells.

The column halted and lay low in the bush.  Further progress would be
more wholesome in the dark.

“Naval guns: over seven miles away: dam’ good shootin’,” quoth Augustus
coolly, and with the air of a connoisseur, adding, “and we’ve got nothing
that could carry half-way to ’em.  I’m goin’ ’ome. . . .”

Bertram, everything driven from his mind but the thought that he was
under fire, was rejoiced to find himself as cool as Augustus, who
suddenly remarked, “I’m not as ’appy as you look, and I don’t b’lieve you
are either”—as the column hurriedly betook itself from the
position-betraying dust of the open to the shelter of the scrub that lay
between it and the river, the river so beautiful in the rose-glow and
gold of evening, and so deadly to all who could not crawl beneath the
sheltering mosquito curtains as the light faded from the sinister-lovely
scene.

                                * * * * *

Next day the column found one of the enemy’s prepared positions in the
dense bush, and it was not, as hitherto, a deserted one.  The first
intimation was, as usual in the blind, fumbling fighting of East Africa,
a withering blast of Maxim fire, and terribly heavy casualties for a
couple of minutes.

At one moment, nothing at all—just a weary, plodding line of hot, weary
and dusty men, crossing a _dambo_, all hypnotised from thought of danger
by fatigue, familiarity and normal immunity; at the next moment,
slaughter, groans, brief confusion, burst upon burst of withering fire, a
line of still or writhing forms.

It is an inevitable concomitant of such warfare, wherein one feels for
one’s enemy rather than looks for him, and a hundred-mile march is a
hundred-mile ambush.

This particular nest of machine-guns and large force of _askaris_ was
utterly invisible at a few yards’ range, and, at a few yards’ range, it
blasted the head and flank of the column.

Instinctively the war-hardened Sepoys who survived dropped to earth and
opened fire at the section of bush whence came the hail of death—a few
scattered rifles against massed machine-guns and a battalion of highly
trained _askaris_, masters of jungle-craft.  As, still firing, they
crawled backward to the cover of the scrub on the side of the glade
opposite to the German position, the companies who had been marching
behind them deployed and painfully skirmished toward the concealed enemy,
halting to fire volleys into the dense bush in the probable direction,
striving to keep touch with their flanking companies, to keep something
like a line, to keep direction, to keep moving forward, and to keep a
sharp look-out for the enemy who, having effected their surprise and
caught the leading company in the open, had vanished silently,
machine-guns and all, from the position which had served their purpose. . . .

A few feet in advance of his men as they skirmished forward, extended to
one pace interval, Bertram, followed by the Subedar, crossed the line of
dead and wounded caught by the first blast of fire.  He saw two men he
knew, lieutenants of the 130th Baluchis, who had evidently been made a
special target by the concealed riflemen and machine-gunners.  He saw
another with his leg bent in the middle at right-angles—and realised with
horror that it was bent _forward_.  Also that the wounded man was Terence
Brannigan. . . .

He feared he was going to be sick, and shame himself before his Gurkhas
as his eye took in the face of a Baluchi whose lower jaw had been removed
as though by a surgeon’s knife.  He noted subconsciously how raven-blue
the long oiled hair of these Pathans and Baluchis shone in the sun, their
_puggris_ having fallen off or been shot away.  The machine-guns must
have over-sighted and then lowered, instead of the reverse, as everybody
seemed to be hit in the head, neck or chest except Brannigan, whose knee
was so shattered that his leg bent forward until his boot touched his
belt—with an effect as of that of a sprawled rag doll.  Probably he had
been hit by one of the great soft-nosed slugs with which the swine armed
their _askaris_.  The hot, heavy air reeked with blood.  Some of the
wounded lay groaning; some sat and smiled patiently as they held up
shattered arms or pressed thumbs on bleeding legs; some rose and
staggered and fell, rose and staggered and fell, blindly going nowhere.
One big, grey-eyed Pathan lustily sang his almost national song, “_Zakhmi
Dil_”—“The Wounded Heart,” but whether in bravado, delirium, sheer
_berserk_ joy of battle, or quiet content at getting a wound that would
give him a rest, change and privileges, Bertram did not know.

“_Stretcher-bearer log ainga bhai_,” {221a} said Bertram, as he passed
him sitting there singing in a pool of blood.

“_Béshak Huzoor_,” replied the man with a grin, “_ham baitha hai_,”
{221b} and resumed his falsetto nasal dirge.  Another, crouching on all
fours with his face to the ground, suddenly raised that grey-green,
dripping face, and crawled towards him.  Bertram saw that he was trailing
his entrails as he moved.  To avoid halting and being sick at this
shocking sight, he rushed forward to the edge of the scrub whence all
this havoc had been wrought, his left hand pressed over his mouth, all
his will-power concentrated upon conquering the revolt of his stomach.

Thinking he was charging an enemy, his men dashed forward after him, only
to find the place deserted.  Little piles of empty cartridge-cases marked
the places where the machine-guns had stood behind natural and artificial
screens.  One tripod had been fixed on an ant-hill screened by bushes,
and must have had a fine field of fire across the glade.  How far back
had they gone—and then, in which direction?  How long would it be before
the column would again expose a few hundred yards of its flank to the
sudden blast of the machine-guns of this force and the withering
short-range volleys of its rifles?  Would they get away now and go on
ahead of the column and wait for it again, or, that being the obvious
thing, would they move down toward the tail of the column, and attack
there?  Or was it just a rear-guard holding the Brigade up while Kraut
evacuated Mikocheni? . . .  Near and distant rifle and machine-gun fire,
rising to a fierce crescendo and dying away to a desultory popping,
seemed to indicate that this ambush was one of many, or that the Brigade
was fighting a regular battle. . . .  Probably a delaying action by a
strong rear-guard. . . .  Anyhow, his business was to see that his men
kept direction, kept touch, kept moving forward slowly, and kept a sharp
look-out. . . .  Firing came nearer on the right flank.  That part of the
line had seen something—or been fired on, evidently—and suddenly he came
to the edge of the patch or belt of jungle and, looking across another
glassy glade, he saw a white man striking, with a whip or stick, at some
_askaris_ who were carrying off a machine-gun.  Apparently he was
hurrying their retirement.  Quickly Bertram turned to the grim little
Subedar and got a section of his men to fire volleys at the spot, but
there was no sign of life where, a minute earlier, he had certainly seen
a German machine-gun team. . . .

He felt very cool and very strong, but knew that this great strength
might fail him at any moment and leave him shaking and trembling, weak
and helpless. . . .

He must line this edge of the jungle and examine every bush and tree of
the opposite edge, across the glade, before adventuring out into its
naked openness.

Suppose a dozen machine-guns were concealed a few yards within that
sinister sullen wall.  He bade the Subedar halt the whole line and open
rapid fire upon it with a couple of sections.  If he watched through his
glasses carefully, he might see some movement in those menacing depths
and shadows, movement induced by well-directed fire—possibly he might
provoke concealed machine-gunners or _askaris_ to open fire and betray
their positions.  If so, should he lead his men in one wild charge across
the glade, in the hope that enough might survive to reach them?  If only
the Gurkhas could get there with their _kukris_, the guns would change
hands pretty speedily. . . .  It would be rather a fine thing to be “the
chap who led the charge that got the Maxims.” . . .

“_Gya_, _Sahib_,” said the Subedar as he stared across the glade.  “_Kuch
nahin hai_.” {222}

Should he move on?  And if he led the line out into a deathtrap? . . .
He could see nothing of the companies on the left and right flank, even
though this was thin and penetrable bush.  How would he feel if he gave
the order to advance and, as soon as the line was clear of cover, it was
mown down like grass?

Bidding the Subedar wait, he stepped out and, with beating heart,
advanced across the open. . . .  He couldn’t talk to the Gurkhas, but he
could show them that a British officer considered their safety before his
own.  He entered the opposite scrub, his heart in his mouth, his revolver
shaking wildly in his trembling hand, but an exhilarating excitement
thrilling him with a kind of wild joy. . . .  He rather hoped he would be
fired at.  He wished to God they would break the horrible stillness and
open fire. . . .  He felt that, if they did not soon do so, he would
scream and blaspheme or run away. . . .

Nothing there.  No trenches.  No suspicious broken branches or withering
bushes placed _en camouflage_.  He wheeled about, re-entered the glade,
and gave the signal for his men to advance.  They crossed the glade.
Again they felt their way, tore, pushed, writhed, forced their way,
through a belt of thin jungle, and again came upon a narrow glade and, as
the line of jungle-bred, jungle-trained Gurkhas halted at its edge, a
horde of _askaris_ in a rough double line dashed out from the opposite
side and, as the Gurkhas instinctively opened independent magazine fire,
charged yelling across, with the greatest _élan_ and ferocity.  Evidently
they thought they were swooping down upon the scattered remnants of the
company that had headed the column, or else were in great strength, and
didn’t care what they “bumped into,” knowing that their enemy had no
prepared positions and death-traps for them to be caught in. . . .

As he stood behind a tree, steadily firing his revolver at the charging,
yelling _askaris_ now some forty yards distant, Bertram was aware of
another line, or extended mob, breaking like a second wave from the
jungle, and saw a couple of machine-gun teams hastily fling down their
boxes and set up their tripods.  He knew that a highly trained German
gunner would sit behind each one and fire single shots or solid streams
of bullets, according to his targets and opportunities.  Absolute
artists, these German machine-gunners and, ruffianly brutal bullies or
not, very cool, brave men.

So was he cool and brave, for the moment—but how soon he would collapse,
he did not know.  He had emptied his revolver, and he realised that he
had sworn violently with every shot. . . .  He reloaded with trembling
fingers, and, looking up, saw that the fight was about to become a
hand-to-hand struggle.  Firing rapidly, as the _askaris_ charged, the
Gurkhas had thinned their line, and the glade was dotted with dozens of
their dead and wounded—but the survivors, far outnumbering the Gurkhas,
were upon them—and, with shrill yells, the little men rose and rushed at
their big enemies _kukri_ in hand.

The Subedar dashed at a huge non-commissioned officer who raised his
fixed bayonet to drive downward in a kind of two-handed spear-thrust at
the little man.  Bertram thought the Gurkha was killed but, as he raised
his revolver, he saw the Subedar duck low and slash with incredible
swiftness at the negro’s thigh and again at his stomach.  In the very act
of springing sideways he then struck at the _askari’s_ wrist and again at
his neck.  The little man was using his national weapon (the _kukri_, the
Gurkha’s terrible carved knife, heavy, broad and razor-edged, wherewith
he can decapitate an ox) when it came to fighting—no sword nor revolver
for him—and the negro fell, with four horrible wounds, within four
seconds of raising his rifle to stab, his head and hand almost severed,
his thigh cut to the bone and his abdomen laid open.

“Sha-bas!” {224a} yelled Bertram, seeing red, and going mad with battle
lust, and shouting “Maro!  Maro!” {224b} at the top of his voice, rushed
into the hacking, hewing, stabbing throng that, with howls, grunts, and
screams, swayed to and fro, but gradually approached the direction whence
the Gurkhas had advanced. . . .

And the two artists behind the machine-guns, the two merry manipulators
of Death’s brass band, sat cool and calm, playing delicate airs upon
their staccato-voiced instruments—here a single note and there a single
note, now an arpeggio and now a run as they got their opportunity at a
single man or a group, a charging section or a firing-line.  Where a
whirling knot of clubbing, thrusting, slashing men was seen to be more
foe than friend they treated it as foe and gave it a whole _rondo_—these
heralds and trumpeters of Death.

And, as Bertram rushed out into the open, each said “Offizier!” and gave
him their undivided attention.

“Shah-bas! Subedar Sahib,” he yelled; “Maro!  Maro!” and the Gurkhas who
saw and heard him grinned and grunted, slashing and hacking, and
thoroughly enjoying life. . . .  (This was worth all the marching and
sweating, starving and working. . . .  _This_ was something like!  A
_kukri_ in your hand and an enemy to go for!)

Firing his revolver into the face of an _askari_ who swung up his clubbed
rifle, and again into the chest of one who drove at him with his bayonet,
he shouted and swore, wondering at himself as he did so.

And then he received a blow on his elbow and his revolver was jerked from
his open, powerless hand.  Glancing at his arm he saw it was covered with
blood, and, at the same moment, a gigantic _askari_ aimed a blow at his
skull—a blow that he felt would crush it like an egg . . . and all he
could do was to put his left arm across his face . . . and wait . . . for
a fraction of a second. . . .  He saw the man’s knees crumple. . . .  Why
had he fallen instead of delivering that awful blow?

The nearer machine-gunner cursed the fallen man and played a trill of
five notes as he got a clear glimpse of the white man. . . .

Someone had kicked his legs from under Bertram—or had they thrown a
stone—or what?  He was on the ground.  He felt as though a swift
cricket-ball had hit his shin, and another his knee, and his right arm
dropped and waggled aimlessly—and when it waggled there was a grating
feeling (which was partly a grating sound) horrible to be heard. . . .
And he couldn’t get up. . . .

He felt very faint and could see nothing, by reason of a blue light which
burnt dully, but obscured his vision, destroying the sunlight.  Darkness,
and a loud booming and rushing sound in his ears. . . .

Then he felt better and, half raising himself on his left hand, saw
another line emerge from the scrub and charge. . . .  Baluchis and
Gurkhas, friends . . . thank God!!  And there was Augustus.  He’d pass
him as, just now, he had passed Terence Brannigan and the two other
Baluchi subalterns.  Would Augustus feel sick at the sight of him, as
_he_ had done? . . .

With a wild yell, the big Baluchis and little Gurkhas charged, and the
line was borne back toward the machine-gunners, who disappeared with
wonderful dispatch, in search of a desirable and eligible pitch,
preferably on a flank, for their next musical performance.

“Hullo, Priceless Old Thing, stopped one?” asked Augustus, pausing in his
rush.

“Bit chipped,” Bertram managed to say.

“Oh, poignant! Search—” began Augustus . . . and fell across Bertram,
causing him horrible agony, a bullet-hole the size of a marble in his
forehead, the back of his head blown completely out.

Bertram fainted as his friend’s brains oozed and spread across his chest.

Having dodged and manœuvred to a flank position, one of the
machine-gunners played a solo to the wounded while waiting a more
favourable moment and target.  His fellow sons of _kultur_ wanted no
wounded German _askaris_ on their hands, and of course the wounded Sepoys
and British were better dead.  Dead men don’t recover and fight again. . . .
So he did a little neat spraying of twitching, writhing, crawling,
wriggling or staggering individuals and groups.  Incidentally he hit the
two British officers again, riddling the body which was on top of the
other, putting one bullet through the left arm of the underneath one. . . .
Then he had to scurry off again, as the fighting-line was getting so
far towards his left that he might be cut off. . . .  Anyhow he’d had a
very good morning and felt sure his “good old German God” must be feeling
quite pleased about it.



CHAPTER IV
_Baked_


§1


When he recovered consciousness, Bertram found himself lying on a
stretcher in a little natural clearing in the bush—a tiny square enclosed
by acacia, sisal, and mimosa scrub.  On a candelabra tree hung a bunch of
water-bottles, a helmet, some haversacks, a tunic, and strips of white
rag.

An officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps and a _babu_ of the Indian
Subordinate Medical Service were bending over a medical pannier.
Stretcher-bearers brought in another burden as he turned his head to look
round.  It was a Native Officer.  On top of his head was an oblong of
bare-shaven skull—some caste-mark apparently.  Following them with his
eyes Bertram saw the stretcher-bearers place the unconscious (or dead)
man at the end of a small row of similar still forms. . . .  There was
Brannigan. . . .  There was a man with whom he had shared a tent for a
night at Taveta. . . .  What was his name? . . .  There were the two
Baluchi subalterns. . . .  Was that the dead row—the mortuary, so to
speak, of this little field ambulance?  Was he to join it?

The place stunk of blood, iodine and horrors.  He could move neither hand
nor foot, and the world seemed to be a Mountain of Pain upon the peak of
which he was impaled. . . .

The continued rattle of firing was coming nearer, surely?  It was—much
nearer.  The stretcher-bearers brought in another casualty, the stretcher
dripping blood.  No “walking wounded” appeared to come to this particular
dressing-station.

The firing was getting quite close, and the sound of the cracking of
branches was audible.  Leaves and twigs, cut from the trees by the
bullets, occasionally fell upon the mangled and broken forms as though to
hide them. . . .

“Sah—they are coming!” said the _babu_ suddenly.  His face was a mask of
fear, but he continued to perform his duties as dresser, as well as his
shaking hands would permit.

Suddenly a ragged line of Gurkhas broke into the clearing, halting to
fire, retreating and firing again, fighting from tree to tree and bush to
bush. . . .  The mixed, swaying and changing battle-line was going to
cross the spot where the wounded lay. . . .  Those of them who were
conscious knew what _that_ meant. . .

So did the medical officer, and he shouted to the stretcher-bearers,
_babu_, mule-drivers, porters, everybody, to carry the wounded farther
into the bush—quick—quick. . . .

As his stretcher was snatched up, Bertram—so sick with pain, and the
cruel extra agony of the jolts and jars, that he cared not what befell
him—saw a group of _askaris_ burst into the clearing, glare around, and
rush forward with bayonets poised.  He shut his eyes as they reached the
other stretchers. . . .


§2


On the terrible journey down the Tanga Railway to M’buyuni, between
Taveta and Voi, Bertram kept himself alive with the thought that he would
eventually reach Mombasa. . . .

He had forgotten Eva only while he was in the fight and on the stretcher,
but when he lay on the floor of the cattle-truck he seemed to wake from a
night of bad dreams—to awake again into the brightness and peace of the
day of Love.

Of course, the physical agony of being jolted and jerked for a hundred
and fifty miles, throughout which every bump of every wheel over every
railway joint gave a fresh stab of pain to each aching wound and his
throbbing head, was a terrible experience—but he would rather have been
lying on the floor of that cattle-truck bumping towards Mombasa, than
have been marching in health and strength away from it.

Every bump that racked him afresh meant that he was about forty feet
nearer to M’buyuni which was on the line to Voi which is on the line to
Mombasa.

What is the pain of a shattered right elbow, a broken left arm, a bullet
hole in the right thigh and another in the left calf, when one is on the
road to where one’s heart is, and one is filled with the divine wonder of
first love?

He could afford to pity the poor uninjured Bertram Greene of yesterday,
marching farther and farther from where all hope, happiness, joy, peace
and plenty lay, where love lay, and where alone in all the world could he
know content. . . .

She would not think the less of him that he had temporarily lost the use
of his hands and, for a time, was lame. . . .  He had done his duty and
was out of it!  Blessed wounds! . . .


§3


In the hospital at M’buyuni the clean bullet-holes in the flesh of his
legs healed quickly.  Lucky for him that they had been made by nickel
Maxim-bullets and not by the horrible soft-nosed slugs of the _askaris’_
rifles.  The bone-wounds in his arms were more serious, and he could walk
long before he could use his hands.

His patient placidity was remarkable to those who came in contact with
him—not knowing that he dwelt in a serene world apart and dreamed love’s
young age-old dream therein.

Every day was a blessed day in that it brought him much nearer to the
moment when he would see her face, hear her voice, touch her hand.  What
unthinkably exquisite joy was to be his—and was his _now_ in the mere
contemplation of it!

His left arm began to do well, but the condition of his right arm was
less satisfactory.

“Greene, my son,” said the O.C. M’buyuni Stationary Hospital to him one
day, “you’re for the Hospital Ship _Madras_, her next trip.  Lucky young
dog.  Wish I was. . . .  Give my love to Colonel Giffard and Major Symons
when you get on board. . . .  You’ll get a trip down to Zanzibar, I
believe, on your way to Bombay. . . .  You’ll be having tea on the lawn
at the Yacht Club next month—think of it!”

Bertram thought of something else and radiated joy.

“Aha!  That bucks you, does it?  Wounded hero with his arm in a sling at
the Friday-evening-band-night-tea-on-the-lawn binges, what?”

Bertram smiled.

“Could I stay on in Mombasa a bit, sir?” he asked.

The O.C. M’buyuni Stationary Hospital stared.

“Eh?” said he, doubting that he could have heard aright.  Bertram
repeated the question, and the O.C., M.S.H., felt his pulse.  Was this
delirium?

“No,” he said shortly in the voice of one who is grieved and
disappointed.  “You’ll go straight on board the _Madras_—and damned lucky
too. . . .  You don’t deserve to. . . .  I’d give . . .”

“What is the procedure when I get to Bombay?” asked Bertram, as the
doctor fell into a brown study.

“You’ll go before a Medical Board at Colaba Hospital.  They may detain
you there, give you a period of sick leave, or invalid you out of the
Service.  Depends on how your right arm shapes. . . .  You’ll be all
right, I think.”

“And if my arm goes on satisfactorily I shall be able to come back to
East Africa in a month or two perhaps?” continued Bertram.

“Yes.  Nice cheery place, what?” said the Medical Officer and departed.
He never could suffer fools gladly and he personally had had enough, for
the moment, of heat, dust, stench, monotony, privation, exile, and
overwork. . . .  _Hurry_ back to East Africa! . . .  Zeal for duty is
zeal for duty—and lunacy’s lunacy. . . .  But perhaps the lad was just
showing off and talking through his hat, what?


§4


The faithful Ali, devoted follower of his old master’s peregrinations,
saw the muddy, blood-stained greasy bundles, which were that master’s
kit, safe on board the _Madras_ from the launch which had brought the
party of wounded officers from the Kilindini pier.  Personally he
conducted the bundles to the cabin reserved for Second-Lieutenant B.
Greene, I.A.R., and then sought their owner where he reclined in a
_chaise longue_ on deck, none the better for his long journey on the
Uganda Railway.

“I’m coming back, Ali,” said he as his retainer, a monument of restrained
grief, came to him.

“Please God, _Bwana_,” was the dignified reply.

“What will you do while I am away?” he asked, for the sake of something
to say.

“Go and see my missus and childrens, my little damsels and damsons at
Nairobi, sah,” was the sad answer.  “When _Bwana_ sailing now?”

“Not till this evening,” answered Bertram, “and the last thing I want you
to do for me is to take these two _chits_ to Stayne-Brooker Mem-Sahib and
Stayne-Brooker Miss-Sahib as quickly as you can.  You’ll catch them at
tiffin if you take a trolley now from Kilindini.  They _must_ have them
quickly. . . .  If they come to see me before the ship sails at six,
there’ll be an extra present for one Ali Suleiman, what?”

“Oh, sah!  _Bwana_ not mentioning it by golly,” replied Ali and fled.

Mrs. Stayne-Brooker was crossing from the Hospital to Vasco da Gama
Street for lunch when, having run quicker than any trolley ever did, he
caught sight of her, salaamed and presented the two _chits_, written for
Bertram by a hospital friend and companion of his journey, as soon as
they got on board.  She opened the one addressed to herself.

    “_My Dear Mrs. Stayne-Brooker_,” it ran, “_I have just reached the
    Madras_, _and sail at six this evening_.  _I cannot tell you how much
    I should like to see you_, _if you could take your evening drive in
    this direction and come on board_.  _How I wish I could stay and
    convalesce in Mombasa_!  _Very much more than __ever words could
    possibly express_.  _It is just awful to pass through like this_.

                                                “_I do hope you can come_.
                                         “_Your ever grateful and devoted_
                                                         “BERTRAM GREENE.”

The worthy Ali, panting and perspiring, thought the lady was going to
fall.

“_Bertram_!” she whispered, and then her heart beat again, and she
regained control of her trembling limbs.

“You are Greene _Bwana’s_ boy!” she said, searching Ali’s bedewed but
beaming countenance.  “Is he—is he ill—hurt—wounded?”  (She did not know
that the man had been in her husband’s service.)

“Yes, Mem,” was the cheerful reply.  “Shot in all arms and legs.  Also
quite well, thank you.”

“Go and tell him I will come,” she said.  “Be quick.  Here—_baksheesh_.
. . .  Now, _hurry_.”

“Oh, Mem!  Mem-Sahib not mentioning it, thank you please,” murmured Ali
as his huge paw engulfed the rupees.  Turning, he started forthwith upon
the four-mile return run.

Putting the note addressed to her daughter on the lunch-table, beside her
plate, she hurried into her room, crying for joy, and, with trembling
hands, made her toilette.  She must look her best—look her youngest.

He was back!  He was safe!  He was alive!  Oh, the long, long night of
silence through the black darkness of which she had miserably groped!
The weary, weary weeks of waiting and wondering, hoping and fearing,
longing and doubting!  But her prayers had been answered—and she was
about to _see_ him. . . .  And if he were shattered and broken?  She
could almost find it in her heart to hope he was—that she might spend her
life in guarding, helping, comforting him.  He would _need_ her, and oh,
how she yearned to be needed, she who had never yet been really needed by
man, woman, or child. . . .

“_Mother_!” said Miss Stayne-Brooker, as she went in to lunch.  “_What_ a
bright, gay girlie you look! . . .  Here’s a note from that Mr. Greene of
yours.  He says:

    ‘_Dear Miss Stayne-Brooker_,

    ‘_I am passing through Mombasa_, _and am now on board the __Madras_.
    _I can’t come and see you—do you think you’d let your mother bring
    you to see me_’—_he’s crossed that out and put_ ‘_see the Hospital
    Ship Madras_’—‘_it might interest you_.  _I have written to ask if
    she’d care to come_.  _Do—could you_?

                                          ‘_Always your grateful servant_,
                                                         ‘BERTRAM GREENE.’

But I am playing golf with Reggie and having tea with him at the Club,
you know.”

“All right, dear.  I’ll go and see the poor boy.”

“That’s right, darling.  You won’t mind if I don’t, will you? . . .  He’s
_your_ friend, you know.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Stayne-Brooker, “he’s _my_ friend,” and Miss
Stayne-Brooker wondered at the tone of her mother’s voice. . . .  (Poor
old Mums; she made quite a silly of herself over this Mr. Greene!)


§5


Having blessed and rewarded the worthy Ali, returned dove-like to the
_Madras_, Bertram possessed his soul with what patience he could, and
sought distraction from the gnawing tooth of anxiety by watching the
unfamiliar life of a hospital-ship. . . .

Suppose Eva Stayne-Brooker could not come!  Suppose the ship sailed
unexpectedly early! . . .

He could not sit still in that chair and wait, and wait. . . .

A pair of very pretty nurses, with the sallow ivory complexion, black
hair and large liquid eyes of the Eurasian, walked up and down.

Another, plain, fat, and superiorly English, walked apart from them.

Two very stout Indian gentlemen, in the uniform of Majors of the Indian
Medical Service, promenaded, chattering and gesticulating.  The Chief
Engineer (a Scot, of course), leaning against the rail and smoking a
black Burma cheroot, eyed them with a kind of wonder, and smiled
tolerantly upon them. . . .  Travel and much time for philosophical
reflection had confairrmed in him the opeenion that it tak’s all sorrts
to mak’ a Univairse. . . .

From time to time, a sick or wounded man was hoisted on board, lying on a
platform that dangled from four ropes at the end of a chain and was
worked by a crane.  From the launch to the deck of the ship he was slung
like so much merchandise or luggage, but without jar or jolt.  Or a
walking-wounded or convalescent sick man would slowly climb the companion
that sloped diagonally at an easy angle along the ship’s side from the
promenade-deck to the water.

On the fore and aft well-decks, crowds of sick or wounded Sepoys crouched
huddled in grey blankets, or moved slowly about with every evidence of
woe and pain.  It takes an Indian Sepoy to do real justice to illness of
any kind.  He is a born actor and loves acting the dying man better than
any part in life’s drama.  This is not to say that he is a malingerer or
a weakling—but that when he is sick he _is_ going to get, at any rate,
the satisfaction of letting everybody know it and of collecting such
sympathy and admiration as he can.

“No, there is no one so sick as a sick Indian,” smiled Bertram to
himself.

In contrast was the demeanour of a number of British soldiers sitting and
lying about the deck allotted to them, adjoining but railed off from that
of the officers.

Laughter and jest were the order of the day.  One blew into a mouth-organ
with more industry than skill; another endeavoured to teach one of the
ship’s cats to waltz on its hind legs; some played “brag” with a pack of
incredibly dirty little cards; and others sat and exchanged experiences,
truthfully and otherwise.

Near to where Bertram stood, a couple sprawled on the deck and leaned
against a hatch.  The smaller of the two appeared to be enjoying the
process of annoying the larger, as he tapped his protruding and outlying
tracts with a _kiboko_, listening intently after each blow in the manner
of a doctor taking soundings as to the thoracic or abdominal condition of
a patient.

An extra sharp tap caused the larger man to punch his assailant violently
in the ribs, whereupon the latter threw his arms round the puncher’s
neck, kissed him, and stated, with utter disregard for facts:

“’Erb!  In our lives we was werry beautiful, an’ in our deafs we wos not
diwided.”  (Evidently a reminiscence of the Chaplain’s last sermon.)

But little mollified by the compliment, Herbert smote again, albeit less
violently, as he remarked with a sneer:

“Ho, yus!  You wouldn’t a bin divided all right if you’d stopped one o’
them liddle four-point-seven shells at Mikocheni, you would.  Not ’arf,
you wouldn’t. . . .”

But for crutches, splints, slings and bandages, no one would have
supposed this to be a collection of sick and wounded men, wreckage of the
storm of war, flotsam and jetsam stranded here, broken and useless. . . .

Bertram returned to his chair and tried to control his sick impatience
and anxiety.  Would she come?  What should he say to her if she did? . .
.  Should he “propose”—(beastly word)?  He had not thought much about
marriage. . . .  To see her and hear her voice was what he really wanted.
Should he tell her he loved her? . . .  Surely that would be unnecessary.

And then his heart stood still, as Mrs. Stayne-Brooker stepped from the
companion-platform on to the deck, and came towards him—her face shining
and radiant, her lips quivering, her eyes suffused.

He realised that she was alone, and felt that he had turned pale, as his
heart sank like lead.  But perhaps _she_ was behind. . . .  Perhaps she
was in another boat. . . .  Perhaps she was coming later. . . .

He rose to greet her mother—who gently pushed him back on the long cane
couch-chair and rested herself on the folding stool that stood beside it.

Still holding his left hand, she sat and tried to find words to ask of
his hurts, and could say nothing at all. . . .  She could only point to
the sling, as she fought with a desire to gather him to her, and cry and
cry and cry for joy and sweet sorrow.

“Yes,” said Bertram, “but that’s the only bad one. . . .  Shan’t lose the
use of it, I expect, though. . . .  Would she—would a woman—think it
cheek if a maimed man—would she mind his being—if she really . . . ?”

“Oh, my dear, my dear!  Don’t!  Oh, don’t!” Mrs. Stayne-Brooker broke
down.  “She’d love him ten thousand times more—you poor, foolish . . .”

“Will she come?” he interrupted.  “And dare I tell her I . . .”

_And Mrs. Stayne-Brooker understood_.

She was a brave woman, and Life had taught her not to wear her poor heart
upon her sleeve, had taught her to expect little (except misery), and to
wear a defensive mask.

“_Eva is engaged to marry Mr. Macteith_,” she said in a toneless voice,
and rose to go—to go before she broke down, fainted, became hysterical,
or went mad. . . .

Had two kind people ever dealt each other two such blows?

She looked at his face, and knew how her own must look. . . .

Why _should_ God treat her so? . . .  To receive so cruel a wound and to
have to deal one as cruel to the heart she so loved! . . .

He looked like a corpse—save that his eyes stared through her, burning
her, seeing nothing.  She must go, or disgrace herself—and him. . . .
She felt her way, blindly fumbling, to the companion, realising even then
that, when the stunned dullness immediately following this double blow
gave place to the keen agony that awaited her recovery of her senses,
there would be one spot of balm to her pain, there would be one feeble
gleam of light in the Stygian darkness of her life—she would not be
aching and yearning for the passionate love of her own son-in-law! . . .

And, were this veracious chronicle a piece of war-fiction woven by a
romancer’s brain, Bertram Greene would have been standing on the deck
that evening, looking his last upon the receding shores of the country
wherein he had suffered and done so much.

On his breast would have been the Victoria Cross, and by his side the
Woman whom he had Also Won.

She would have murmured “Darling!” . . .  He would have turned to her, as
the setting sun, ever obliging, silhouetted the wonderfully lovely palms
of the indescribably beautiful Kilindini Creek, and said to her:

“_Darling_, _life is but beginning_.”

                                * * * * *

Facts being facts, it is to be stated that Bertram sat instead of
standing, as the _Madras_ moved majestically down the Creek; that on his
breast, instead of the Cross, a sling with a crippled arm; and by his
side, instead of the Woman, a Goanese steward, who murmured:

“Master having tea out here, sir, please?” and to whom Bertram turned as
the setting sun silhouetted the palms and said: “_Oh_, _go to hell_!”
(and then sincerely apologised.)

                                * * * * *

Captain Stott passed and recognised him, in spite of changes.  He noted
the hardened face, the line between the eyes, the hollowed cheeks, the
puckers and wrinkles, the steel-trap mouth, and wondered again at how War
can make a boy into a Man in a few months. . . .

There was nothing “half-baked” about _that_ face.

                                * * * * *

And so, in ignorance, the despised and rejected boy again avenged his
father, this time upon the woman who had done him such bitter, cruel
wrong.



CHAPTER V
_Finis_


After war, peace; after storm, calm; after pain, ease. . . .

Almost the first people whom he met in the Bombay Yacht Club after
visiting the Colaba Hospital and being given six months’ leave by the
Medical Board, were his father and Miranda Walsingham.

Major Walsingham Greene had been severely wounded in Mesopotamia—but he
had at last won decoration, promotion, recognition.  He was acting
Brigadier-General when he fell—and it was considered certain that he
would get the Victoria Cross for which he had been recommended.

When he beheld his son, in khaki, war-worn and wounded (like himself,
like his father and grandfather, like a true Greene of that ilk), his cup
was full and he was a happy man—at last.

And Miranda!  She could scarcely contain herself.  She almost threw her
arms round her old playmate’s neck, then and there, in the middle of the
Yacht Club lawn. . . .  How splendid he looked!  Who said her Bertram
might make a scholar and a gentleman—but would never make a _man_?

Oh, joy!  She had come out to bring home her “Uncle” Hugh and generally
look after him—and now there were _two_ patients to look after.

                                * * * * *

It was a happy voyage Home, and a very happy six months at Leighcombe
Priory thereafter. . . .

And when acting Brigadier-General Walsingham Greene and his son returned
to India, Miranda Walsingham went with them as Mrs. Bertram Greene.

But Bertram was no longer “Cupid”—he seemed to have left “Cupid” in
Africa.



NOTES.


{17a}  Plain.

{17b}  Loin-cloth.

{21a}  Good.

{21b}  Make.

{21c}  “I want the Colonel.  Where is he?”

{30}  Cupboard.

{38a}  “Is all well?”

{38b}  “Without doubt.”

{50}  Woolly ones.  Negroes.

{54}  Bullock-cart men.

{56a}  Yes.

{56b}  Without doubt.

{66}  Here.

{67}  Store-sheds.

{72a}  Oxen.

{72b}  Bring here.

{72c}  Talk, palaver.

{72d}  Savages.

{81}  “Very good, sir.”

{98}  “Be careful—_you_!”

{101a}  “Good!”

{101b}  “Kill the devils.  Do well.”

{101c}  “It is not the enemy.”

{133a}  Medicine.

{133b}  “Great Simba has killed a white man.”

{134a}  “Wait.  Lie on the stretcher.”

{134b}  “It is nothing.”

{134c}  “Thanks.  It is nothing.  Do not hold me.”

{142}  Clever and competent.

{148}  Sit down.

{150}  Open plain.

{167}  Food.

{168a} “Dinner is ready.”

{168b}  Yes.

{173} Cultivation, garden.

{174} Over-eating.

{183a}  White men.

{183b}  Club.

{184}  Cooking-pot.

{185}  “Lunch is ready.”

{198}  Tribal dance.

{221a}  “The stretcher-bearers will come, brother.”

{221b}  “No doubt, sir.  I am waiting.”

{222}  “Gone, sir.  There is nothing.”

{224a}  “Bravo.”

{224b}  “Kill!  Kill!”





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