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Title: Men, Women and Guns
Author: McNeile, H. C. (Herman Cyril), 1888-1937
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Men, Women and Guns" ***

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Internet Archive)



    MEN, WOMEN AND GUNS

    "SAPPER"



    MEN, WOMEN AND GUNS

    BY
    "SAPPER"
    AUTHOR OF "MICHAEL CASSIDY, SERGEANT"

    NEW YORK
    GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

    COPYRIGHT, 1916,
    BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

    PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

    TO
    MY WIFE



CONTENTS

                                        PAGE
    PROLOGUE                              xi

    PART ONE
    CHAPTER
       I. THE MOTOR-GUN                   23
      II. PRIVATE MEYRICK--COMPANY IDIOT  49
     III. SPUD TREVOR OF THE RED HUSSARS  77
      IV. THE FATAL SECOND                99
       V. JIM BRENT'S V.C.               121
      VI. RETRIBUTION                    155
     VII. THE DEATH GRIP                 183
    VIII. JAMES HENRY                    211

    PART TWO
    THE LAND OF THE TOPSY TURVY
       I. THE GREY HOUSE                 237
      II. THE WOMEN AND--THE MEN         243
     III. THE WOMAN AND THE MAN          249
      IV. "THE REGIMENT"                 257
       V. THE CONTRAST                   265
      VI. BLACK, WHITE, AND--GREY        271
     VII. ARCHIE AND OTHERS              287
    VIII. ON THE STAFF                   291
      IX. NO ANSWER                      299
       X. THE MADNESS                    305
      XI. THE GREY HOUSE AGAIN           311



PROLOGUE



PROLOGUE


Two days ago a dear old aunt of mine asked me to describe to her what
shrapnel was like.

"What does it feel like to be shelled?" she demanded. "Explain it to
me."

Under the influence of my deceased uncle's most excellent port I did so.
Soothed and in that expansive frame of mind induced by the old and bold,
I drew her a picture--vivid, startling, wonderful. And when I had
finished, the dear old lady looked at me.

"Dreadful!" she murmured. "Did I ever tell you of the terrible
experience I had on the front at Eastbourne, when my bath-chair
attendant became inebriated and upset me?"

Slowly and sorrowfully I finished the decanter--and went to bed.

But seriously, my masters, it is a hard thing that my aunt asked of me.
There are many things worse than shelling--the tea-party you find in
progress on your arrival on leave; the utterances of war experts; the
non-arrival of the whisky from England. But all of those can be imagined
by people who have not suffered; they have a standard, a measure of
comparison. Shelling--no.

The explosion of a howitzer shell near you is a definite, actual
fact--which is unlike any other fact in the world, except the explosion
of another howitzer shell still nearer. Many have attempted to describe
the noise it makes as the most explainable part about it. And then
you're no wiser.

Listen. Stand with me at the Menin Gate of Ypres and listen. Through a
cutting a train is roaring on its way. Rapidly it rises in a great
swelling crescendo as it dashes into the open, and then its journey
stops on some giant battlement--stops in a peal of deafening thunder
just overhead. The shell has burst, and the echoes in that town of death
die slowly away--reverberating like a sullen sea that lashes against a
rock-bound coast.

And yet what does it convey to anyone who patronises inebriated
bath-chair men? ...

Similarly--shrapnel! "The Germans were searching the road with
'whizz-bangs.'" A common remark, an ordinary utterance in a letter,
taken by fond parents as an unpleasing affair such as the cook giving
notice.

Come with me to a spot near Ypres; come, and we will take our evening
walk together.

"They're a bit lively farther up the road, sir." The corporal of
military police stands gloomily at a cross-roads, his back against a
small wayside shrine. A passing shell unroofed it many weeks ago; it
stands there surrounded by débris--the image of the Virgin, chipped and
broken. Just a little monument of desolation in a ruined country, but
pleasant to lean against when it's between you and German guns.

Let us go on, it's some way yet before we reach the dug-out by the third
dead horse. In front of us stretches a long, straight road, flanked on
each side by poplars. In the middle there is pavé. At intervals, a few
small holes, where the stones have been shattered and hurled away by a
bursting shell and only the muddy grit remains hollowed out to a depth
of two feet or so, half-full of water. At the bottom an empty tin of
bully, ammunition clips, numbers of biscuits--sodden and muddy.
Altogether a good obstacle to take with the front wheel of a car at
night.

A little farther on, beside the road, in a ruined, desolate cottage two
men are resting for a while, smoking. The dirt and mud of the trenches
is thick on them, and one of them is contemplatively scraping his boot
with his knife and fork. Otherwise, not a soul, not a living soul in
sight; though away to the left front, through glasses, you can see two
people, a man and a woman, labouring in the fields. And the only point
of interest about them is that between you and them run the two
motionless, stagnant lines of men who for months have faced one
another. Those two labourers are on the other side of the German
trenches.

The setting sun is glinting on the little crumbling village two or three
hundred yards ahead, and as you walk towards it in the still evening air
your steps ring loud on the pavé. On each side the flat, neglected
fields stretch away from the road; the drains beside it are choked with
weeds and refuse; and here and there one of the gaunt trees, split in
two half-way up by a shell, has crashed into its neighbour or fallen to
the ground. A peaceful summer's evening which seems to give the lie to
our shrine-leaner. And yet, to one used to the peace of England, it
seems almost too quiet, almost unnatural.

Suddenly, out of the blue there comes a sharp, whizzing noise, and
almost before you've heard it there is a crash, and from the village in
front there rises a cloud of dust. A shell has burst on impact on one of
the few remaining houses; some slates and tiles fall into the road, and
round the hole torn out of the sloping roof there hangs a whitish-yellow
cloud of smoke. In quick succession come half a dozen more, some
bursting on the ruined cottages as they strike, some bursting above them
in the air. More clouds of dust rise from the deserted street, small
avalanches of débris cascade into the road, and, above, three or four
thick white smoke-clouds drift slowly across the sky.

This is the moment at which it is well--unless time is urgent--to pause
and reflect awhile. If you _must_ go on, a détour is strongly to be
recommended. The Germans are shelling the empty village just in front
with shrapnel, and who are you to interpose yourself between him and his
chosen target? But if in no particular hurry, then it were wise to dally
gracefully against a tree, admiring the setting sun, until he desists;
when you may in safety resume your walk. _But_--do not forget that he
may not stick to the village, and that whizz-bangs give no time. That is
why I specified a tree, and not the middle of the road. It's nearer the
ditch.

Suddenly, without a second's warning, they shift their target.
Whizz-bang! Duck, you blighter! Into the ditch. Quick! Move! Hang your
bottle of white wine! Get down! Cower! Emulate the mole! This isn't the
village in front now--he's shelling the road you're standing on! There's
one burst on impact in the middle of the pavé forty yards in front of
you, and another in the air just over your head. And there are more
coming--don't make any mistake. That short, sharp whizz every few
seconds--the bang! bang! bang! seems to be going on all around you. A
thing hums past up in the air, with a whistling noise, leaving a trail
of sparks behind it--one of the fuses. Later, the curio-hunter may find
it nestling by a turnip. He may have it.

With a vicious thud a jagged piece of shell buries itself in the ground
at your feet; and almost simultaneously the bullets from a well-burst
one cut through the trees above you and ping against the road, thudding
into the earth around. No more impact ones--they've got the range. Our
pessimistic friend at the cross-roads spoke the truth; they're quite
lively. Everything bursting beautifully above the road about forty feet
up. Bitter thought--if only the blighters knew that it was empty save
for your wretched and unworthy self cowering in a ditch, with a bottle
of white wine in your pocket and your head down a rat-hole, surely they
wouldn't waste their ammunition so reprehensibly!

Then, suddenly, they stop, and as the last white puff of smoke drifts
slowly away you cautiously lift your head and peer towards the village.
Have they finished? Will it be safe to resume your interrupted promenade
in a dignified manner? Or will you give them another minute or two?
Almost have you decided to do so when to your horror you perceive coming
towards you through the village itself two officers. What a position to
be discovered in! True, only the very young or the mentally deficient
scorn cover when shelling is in progress. But of course, just at the
moment when you'd welcome a shell to account for your propinquity with
the rat-hole, the blighters have stopped. No sound breaks the stillness,
save the steps ringing towards you--and it looks silly to be found in a
ditch for no apparent reason.

Then, as suddenly as before comes salvation. Just as with infinite
stealth you endeavour to step out nonchalantly from behind a tree, as if
you were part of the scenery--bang! crash! from in front. Cheer-oh! the
village again, the church this time. A shower of bricks and mortar comes
down like a landslip, and if you are quick you may just see two black
streaks go to ground. From the vantage-point of your tree you watch a
salvo of shells explode in, on, or about the temporary abode of those
two officers. You realise from what you know of the Hun that this salvo
probably concludes the evening hate; and the opportunity is too good to
miss. Edging rapidly along the road--keeping close to the ditch--you
approach the houses. Your position, you feel, is now strategically
sound, with regard to the wretched pair cowering behind rubble heaps.
You even desire revenge for your mental anguish when discovery in the
rodent's lair seemed certain. So light a cigarette--if you didn't drop
them all when you went to ground yourself; if you did--whistle some
snappy tune as you stride jauntily into the village.

Don't go too fast or you may miss them; but should you see a head peer
from behind a kitchen-range express no surprise. Just--"Toppin' evening,
ain't it? Getting furniture for the dug-out--what?" To linger is bad
form, but it is quite permissible to ask his companion--seated in a
torn-up drain--if the ratting is good. Then pass on in a leisurely
manner, _but_--when you're round the corner, run like a hare. With these
cursed Germans, you never know.

       *       *       *       *       *

Night--and a working-party stretching away over a ploughed field are
digging a communication trench. The great green flares lob up half a
mile away, a watery moon shines on the bleak scene. Suddenly a noise
like the tired sigh of some great giant, a scorching sheet of flame that
leaps at you out of the darkness, searing your very brain, so close does
it seem; the ping of death past your head; the clatter of shovel and
pick next you as a muttered curse proclaims a man is hit; a voice from
down the line: "Gawd! Old Ginger's took it. 'Old up, mate. Say, blokes,
Ginger's done in!" Aye--it's worse at night.

Shrapnel! Woolly, fleecy puffs of smoke floating gently down wind,
getting more and more attenuated, gradually disappearing, while below
each puff an oval of ground has been plastered with bullets. And it's
when the ground inside the oval is full of men that the damage is done.

Not you perhaps--but someone. Next time--maybe you.

       *       *       *       *       *

And that, methinks, is an epitome of other things besides shrapnel. It's
_all_ the war to the men who fight and the women who wait.



PART ONE



PART ONE

CHAPTER I

THE MOTOR-GUN


Nothing in this war has so struck those who have fought in it as its
impersonal nature. From the day the British Army moved north, and the
first battle of Ypres commenced--and with it trench warfare as we know
it now--it has been, save for a few interludes, a contest between
automatons, backed by every known scientific device. Personal rancour
against the opposing automatons separated by twenty or thirty yards of
smelling mud--who stew in the same discomfort as yourself--is apt to
give way to an acute animosity against life in general, and the accursed
fate in particular which so foolishly decided your sex at birth. But,
though rare, there have been cases of isolated encounters, where
men--with the blood running hot in their veins--have got down to
hand-grips, and grappling backwards and forwards in some cellar or
dugout, have fought to the death, man to man, as of old. Such a case has
recently come to my knowledge, a case at once bizarre and unique: a case
where the much-exercised arm of coincidence showed its muscles to a
remarkable degree. Only quite lately have I found out all the facts, and
now at Dick O'Rourke's special request I am putting them on paper. True,
they are intended to reach the eyes of one particular person, but ...
the personal column in the _Times_ interests others besides the lady in
the magenta skirt, who will eat a banana at 3.30 daily by the Marble
Arch!

       *       *       *       *       *

And now, at the very outset of my labours, I find myself--to my great
alarm--committed to the placing on paper of a love scene. O'Rourke
insists upon it: he says the whole thing will fall flat if I don't put
it in; he promises that he will supply the local colour. In advance I
apologise: my own love affairs are sufficiently trying without
endeavouring to describe his--and with that, here goes.

I will lift my curtain on the principals of this little drama, and open
the scene at Ciro's in London. On the evening of April 21st, 1915, in
the corner of that delectable resort, farthest away from the coon band,
sat Dickie O'Rourke. That afternoon he had stepped from the boat at
Folkestone on seven days' leave, and now in the boiled shirt of
respectability he once again smelled the smell of London.

With him was a girl. I have never seen her, but from his description I
cannot think that I have lived until this oversight is rectified.
Moreover, my lady, as this is written especially for your benefit, I
hereby warn you that I propose to remedy my omission as soon as
possible.

And yet with a band that is second to none; with food wonderful and
divine; with the choicest fruit of the grape, and--to top all--with the
girl, Dickie did not seem happy. As he says, it was not to be wondered
at. He had landed at Folkestone meaning to propose; he had carried out
his intention over the fish--and after that the dinner had lost its
savour. She had refused him--definitely and finally; and Dick found
himself wishing for France again--France and forgetfulness. Only he knew
he'd never forget.

"The dinner is to monsieur's taste?" The head-waiter paused attentively
by the table.

"Very good," growled Dick, looking savagely at an ice on his plate. "Oh,
Moyra," he muttered, as the man passed on, "it's meself is finished
entoirely. And I was feeling that happy on the boat; as I saw the white
cliffs coming nearer and nearer, I said to meself, 'Dick, me boy, in
just four hours you'll be with the dearest, sweetest girl that God ever
sent from the heavens to brighten the lives of dull dogs like
yourself.'"

"You're not dull, Dick. You're not to say those things--you're a dear."
The girl's eyes seemed a bit misty as she bent over her plate.

"And now!" He looked at her pleadingly. "'Tis the light has gone out of
my life. Ah! me dear, is there no hope for Dickie O'Rourke? Me estate is
mostly bog, and the ould place has fallen down, saving only the
stable--but there's the breath of the seas that comes over the heather
in the morning, and there's the violet of your dear eyes in the hills.
It's not worrying you that I'd be--but is there no hope at all, at all?"

The girl turned towards him, smiling a trifle sadly. There was woman's
pity in the lovely eyes: her lips were trembling a little. "Dear old
Dick," she whispered, and her hand rested lightly on his for a moment.
"Dear old Dick, I'm sorry. If I'd only known sooner----" She broke off
abruptly and fell to gazing at the floor.

"Then there is someone else!" The man spoke almost fiercely.

Slowly she nodded her head, but she did not speak.

"Who is it?"

"I don't know that you've got any right to ask me that, Dick," she
answered, a little proudly.

"What's the talk of right between you and me? Do you suppose I'll let
any cursed social conventions stand between me and the woman I love?"
She could see his hand trembling, though outwardly he seemed quite calm.
And then his voice dropped to a tender, pleading note--and again the
soft, rich brogue of the Irishman crept in--that wonderful tone that
brings with it the music of the fairies from the hazy blue hills of
Connemara.

"Acushla mine," he whispered, "would I be hurting a hair of your swate
head, or bringing a tear to them violet pools ye calls your eyes? 'Tis
meself that is in the wrong entoirely--but, mavourneen, I just worship
you. And the thought of the other fellow is driving me crazy. Will ye
not be telling me his name?"

"Dick, I can't," she whispered, piteously. "You wouldn't understand."

"And why would I not understand?" he answered, grimly. "Is it something
shady he has done to you?--for if it is, by the Holy Mother, I'll murder
him."

"No, no, it's nothing shady. But I can't tell you, Dick; and oh, Dick!
I'm just wretched, and I don't know what to do." The tears were very
near. A whimsical look came into his face as he watched her. "Moyra, me
dear; 'tis about ten shillings apiece we're paying for them ices; and if
you splash them with your darling tears, the chef will give notice and
that coon with the banjo will strike work."

"You dear, Dick," she whispered, after a moment, while a smile trembled
round her mouth. "I nearly made a fool of myself."

"Divil a bit," he answered. "But let us be after discussing them two
fair things yonder while we gets on with the ices. 'Tis the most
suitable course for contemplating the dears; and, anyway, we'll take no
more risks until we're through with them."

And so with a smile on his lips and a jest on his tongue did a gallant
gentleman cover the ache in his heart and the pain in his eyes, and felt
more than rewarded by the look of thanks he got. It was not for him to
ask for more than she would freely give; and if there was another
man--well, he was a lucky dog. But if he'd played the fool--yes, by
Heaven! if he'd played the fool, that was a different pair of shoes
altogether. His forehead grew black at the thought, and mechanically his
fists clenched.

"Dick, I'd like to tell you just how things are."

He pulled himself together and looked at the girl.

"It is meself that is at your service, my lady," he answered, quietly.

"I'm engaged. But it's a secret."

His jaw dropped, "Engaged!" he faltered. "But--who to? And why is it a
secret?"

"I can't tell you who to. I promised to keep it secret; and then he
suddenly went away and the war broke out and I've never seen him since."

"But you've heard from him?"

She bit her lip and looked away. "Not a line," she faltered.

"But--I don't understand." His tone was infinitely tender. "Why hasn't
he written to you? Violet girl, why would he not have written?"

"You see, he's a----" She seemed to be nerving herself to speak. "You
see, he's a German!"

It was out at last.

"Mother of God!" Dick leaned back in his chair, his eyes fixed on her,
his cigarette unheeded, burning the tablecloth. "Do you love him?"

"Yes." The whispered answer was hardly audible. "Oh, Dick, I wonder if
you can understand. It all came so suddenly, and then there was this
war, and I know it's awful to love a German, but I do, and I can't tell
anyone but you; they'd think it horrible of me. Oh, Dick! tell me you
understand."

"I understand, little girl," he answered, very slowly. "I understand."

It was all very involved and infinitely pathetic. But, as I have said
before, Dick O'Rourke was a gallant gentleman.

"It's not his fault he's a German," she went on after a while. "He
didn't start the war--and, you see, I promised him."

That was the rub--she'd promised him. Truly a woman is a wonderful
thing! Very gentle and patient was O'Rourke with her that evening, and
when at last he turned into his club, he sat for a long while gazing
into the fire. Just once a muttered curse escaped his lips.

"Did you speak?" said the man in the next chair.

"I did _not_," said O'Rourke, and getting up abruptly he went to bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

At 3 p.m. on April 22nd Dick O'Rourke received a wire. It was short and
to the point. "Leave cancelled. Return at once." He tore round to
Victoria, found he'd missed the boat-train, and went down to Folkestone
on chance. For the time Moyra was almost forgotten. Officers are not
recalled from short leave without good and sufficient reason; and as yet
there was nothing in the evening papers that showed any activity. At
Folkestone he met other officers--also recalled; and when the boat came
in rumours began to spread. The whole line had fallen back--the Germans
were through and marching on Calais--a ghastly defeat had been
sustained.

The morning papers were a little more reassuring; and in them for the
first time came the mention of the word "gas." Everything was vague, but
that something had happened was obvious, and also that that something
was pretty serious.

One p.m. on the 23rd found him at Boulogne, ramping like a bull. An
unemotional railway transport officer told him that there was a very
nice train starting at midnight, but that the leave train was cancelled.

"But, man!" howled O'Rourke, "I've been recalled. 'Tis urgent!" He
brandished the wire in his face.

The R.T.O. remained unmoved, and intimated that he was busy, and that
O'Rourke's private history left him quite cold. Moreover, he thought it
possible that the British Army might survive without him for another
day.

In the general confusion that ensued on his replying that the said
R.T.O. was no doubt a perfect devil as a traveller for unshrinkable
underclothes, but that his knowledge of the British Army might be
written on a postage-stamp, O'Rourke escaped, and ensconcing himself
near the barrier, guarded by French sentries, at the top of the hill
leading to St. Omer, he waited for a motor-car.

Having stopped two generals and been consigned elsewhere for his pains,
he ultimately boarded a flying corps lorry, and 4 p.m. found him at St.
Omer. And there--but we will whisper--was a relative--one of the exalted
ones of the earth, who possessed many motor-cars, great and small.

Dick chose the second Rolls-Royce, and having pursued his unit to the
farm where he'd left it two days before, he chivied it round the
country, and at length traced it to Poperinghe.

And there he found things moving. As yet no one was quite sure what had
happened; but he found a solemn conclave of Army Service Corps officers
attached to his division, and from them he gathered twenty or thirty of
the conflicting rumours that were flying round. One thing, anyway, was
clear: the Huns were not triumphantly marching on Calais--yet. It was
just as a charming old boy of over fifty, who had perjured his soul over
his age and had been out since the beginning--a standing reproach to a
large percentage of the so-called youth of England--it was just as he
suggested a little dinner in that hospitable town, prior to going up
with the supply lorries, that with a droning roar a twelve-inch shell
came crashing into the square....

That night at 11 p.m. Dick stepped out of another car into a ploughed
field just behind the little village of Woesten, and, having trodden on
his major's face and unearthed his servant, lay down by the dying fire
to get what sleep he could. Now and again a horse whinnied near by; a
bit rattled, a man cursed; for the unit was ready to move at a moment's
notice and the horses were saddled up. The fire died out--from close by
a battery was firing, and the sky was dancing with the flashes of
bursting shells like summer lightning flickering in the distance. And
with his head on a sharp stone and another in his back Dick O'Rourke
fell asleep and dreamed of--but dreams are silly things to describe. It
was just as he'd thrown the hors-d'oeuvres at the head-waiter of Ciro's,
who had suddenly become the hated German rival, and was wiping the
potato salad off Moyra's face, which it had hit by mistake, with the
table-cloth, that with a groan he turned on his other side--only to
exchange the stones for a sardine tin and a broken pickle bottle. Which
is really no more foolish than the rest of life nowadays....

       *       *       *       *       *

And now for a moment I must go back and, leaving our hero, describe
shortly the events that led up to the sending of the wire that recalled
him.

Early in the morning of April 22nd the Germans launched at that part of
the French line which lay in front of the little villages of Elverdinge
and Brielen, a yellowish-green cloud of gas, which rolled slowly over
the intervening ground between the trenches, carried on its way by a
faint, steady breeze. I do not intend to describe the first use of that
infamous invention--it has been done too often before. But, for the
proper understanding of what follows, it is essential for me to go into
a few details. Utterly unprepared for what was to come, the French
divisions gazed for a short while spellbound at the strange phenomenon
they saw coming slowly towards them. Like some liquid the heavy-coloured
vapour poured relentlessly into the trenches, filled them, and passed
on. For a few seconds nothing happened; the sweet-smelling stuff merely
tickled their nostrils; they failed to realise the danger. Then, with
inconceivable rapidity, the gas worked, and blind panic spread.
Hundreds, after a dreadful fight for air, became unconscious and died
where they lay--a death of hideous torture, with the frothing bubbles
gurgling in their throats and the foul liquid welling up in their lungs.
With blackened faces and twisted limbs one by one they drowned--only
that which drowned them came from inside and not from out. Others,
staggering, falling, lurching on, and of their ignorance keeping pace
with the gas, went back. A hail of rifle-fire and shrapnel mowed them
down, and the line was broken. There was nothing on the British
left--their flank was up in the air. The north-east corner of the
salient round Ypres had been pierced. From in front of St. Julian, away
up north towards Boesienge, there was no one in front of the Germans.

It is not my intention to do more than mention the rushing up of the
cavalry corps and the Indians to fill the gap; the deathless story of
the Canadians who, surrounded and hemmed in, fought till they died
against overwhelming odds; the fate of the Northumbrian division--fresh
from home--who were rushed up in support, and the field behind Fortuin
where they were caught by shrapnel, and what was left. These things are
outside the scope of my story. Let us go back to the gap.

Hard on the heels of the French came the Germans advancing. For a mile
or so they pushed on, and why they stopped when they did is--as far as I
am concerned--one of life's little mysteries. Perhaps the utter success
of their gas surprised even them; perhaps they anticipated some trap;
perhaps the incredible heroism of the Canadians in hanging up the German
left caused their centre to push on too far and lose touch;
perhaps--but, why speculate? I don't know, though possibly those in High
Places may. The fact remains they did stop; their advantage was lost and
the situation was saved.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such was the state of affairs when O'Rourke opened his eyes on the
morning of Saturday, April 24th. The horses were dimly visible through
the heavy mist, his blankets were wringing wet, and hazily he wondered
why he had ever been born. Then the cook dropped the bacon in the fire,
and he groaned with anguish; visions of yesterday's grilled kidneys and
hot coffee rose before him and mocked. By six o'clock he had fed, and
sitting on an overturned biscuit-box beside the road he watched three
batteries of French 75's pass by and disappear in the distance. At
intervals he longed to meet the man who invented war. It must be
remembered that, though I have given the situation as it really was, for
the better understanding of the story, the facts at the time were not
known at all clearly. The fog of war still wrapped in oblivion--as far
as regimental officers were concerned, at any rate--the events which
were taking place within a few miles of them.

When, therefore, Dick O'Rourke perceived an unshaven and unwashed
warrior, garbed as a gunner officer, coming down the road from Woesten,
and, moreover, recognised him as one of his own term at the "Shop,"
known to his intimates as the Land Crab, he hailed him with joy.

"All hail, oh, crustacean!" he cried, as the other came abreast of him.
"Whither dost walk so blithely?"

"Halloa, Dick!" The gunner paused. "You haven't seen my major anywhere,
have you?"

"Not that I'm aware of, but as I don't know your major from Adam, my
evidence may not be reliable. What news from the seat of war?"

"None that I know of--except this cursed gun, that is rapidly driving me
to drink."

"What cursed gun? I am fresh from Ciro's and the haunts of love and
ease. Expound to me your enigma, my Land Crab."

"Haven't you heard? When the Germans----"

He stopped suddenly. "Listen!" Perfectly clear from the woods
to the north of them--the woods that lie to the west of the
Woesten-Oostvleteren road, for those who may care for maps--there came
the distinctive boom! crack! of a smallish gun. Three more shots, and
then silence. The gunner turned to Dick.

"There you are--that's the gun."

"But how nice! Only, why curse it?"

"Principally because it's German; and those four shots that you have
just heard have by this time burst in Poperinghe."

"What!" O'Rourke looked at him in amazement. "Is it my leg you would be
pulling?"

"Certainly not. When the Germans came on in the first blind rush after
the French two small guns on motor mountings got through behind our
lines. One was completely wrecked with its detachment The motor
mounting of the other you can see lying in a pond about a mile up the
road. The gun is there." He pointed to the wood.

"And the next!" said O'Rourke. "D'you mean to tell me that there is a
German gun in that wood firing at Poperinghe? Why, hang it, man! it's
three miles behind our lines."

"Taking the direction those shells are coming from, the distance from
Poperinghe to that gun must be more than ten miles--if the gun is behind
the German trenches. Your gunnery is pretty rotten, I know, but if you
know of any two-inch gun that shoots ten miles, I'll be obliged if
you'll give me some lessons." The gunner lit a cigarette. "Man, we know
it's not one of ours, we know where they all are; we know it's a Hun."

"Then, what in the name of fortune are ye standing here for talking like
an ould woman with the indigestion? Away with you, and lead us to him,
and don't go chivying after your bally major." Dick shouted for his
revolver. "If there's a gun in that wood, bedad! we'll gun it."

"My dear old flick," said the other, "don't get excited. The woods have
been searched with a line of men--twice; and devil the sign of the gun.
You don't suppose they've got a concrete mounting and the Prussian flag
flying on a pole, do you? The detachment are probably dressed as Belgian
peasants, and the gun is dismounted and hidden when it's not firing."

But O'Rourke would have none of it. "Get off to your major, then, and
have your mothers' meeting. Then come back to me, and I'll give you the
gun. And borrow a penknife and cut your beard--you'll be after
frightening the natives."

That evening a couple of shots rang out from the same wood, two of the
typical shots of a small gun. And then there was silence. A group of men
standing by an estaminet on the road affirmed to having heard three
faint shots afterwards like the crack of a sporting-gun or revolver; but
in the general turmoil of an evening hate which was going on at the same
time no one thought much about it. Half an hour later Dick O'Rourke
returned, and there was a strange look in his eyes. His coat was torn,
his collar and shirt were ripped open, and his right eye was gradually
turning black. Of his doings he would vouchsafe no word. Only, as we sat
down round the fire to dinner, the gunner subaltern of the morning
passed again up the road.

"Got the gun yet, Dick?" he chaffed.

"I have that," answered O'Rourke, "also the detachment."

The Land Crab paused. "Where are they?"

"The gun is in a pond where you won't find it, and the detachment are
dead--except one who escaped."

"Yes, I don't think." The gunner laughed and passed on.

"You needn't," answered Dick, "but that gun will never fire again."

It never did. As I say, he would answer no questions, and even amongst
the few people who had heard of the thing at all, it soon passed into
the limbo of forgotten things. Other and weightier matters were afoot;
the second battle of Ypres did not leave much time for vague conjecture.
And so when, a few days ago, the question was once again recalled to my
mind by no less a person than O'Rourke himself, I had to dig in the
archives of memory for the remembrance of an incident of which I had
well-nigh lost sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You remember that gun, Bill," he remarked, lying back in the arm-chair
of the farmhouse where we were billeted, and sipping some hot rum--"that
German gun that got through in April and bombarded Poperinghe? I want to
talk to you about that gun." He started filling his pipe.

"'Tis the hardest proposition I've ever been up against, and sure I
don't know what to do at all." He was staring at the fire. "You
remember the Land Crab and how he told us the woods had been searched?
Well, it didn't take a superhuman brainstorm to realise that if what he
said was right and the Huns were dressed as Belgian peasants, and the
gun was a little one, that a line of men going through the woods had
about as much chance of finding them as a terrier has of catching a
tadpole in the water. I says to myself, 'Dick, my boy, this is an
occasion for stealth, for delicate work, for finesse.' So off I went on
my lonesome and hid in the wood. I argued that they couldn't be keeping
a permanent watch, and that even if they'd seen me come in, they'd think
in time I had gone out again, when they noticed no further sign of me.
Also I guessed they didn't want to stir up a hornet's nest about their
ears by killing me--they wanted no vulgar glare of publicity upon their
doings. So, as I say, I hid in a hole and waited. I got bored stiff;
though, when all was said and done, it wasn't much worse than sitting in
that blessed ploughed field beside the road. About five o'clock I
started cursing myself for a fool in listening to the story at all, it
all seemed so ridiculous. Not a sound in the woods, not a breath of wind
in the trees. The guns weren't firing, just for the time everything was
peaceful. I'd got a caterpillar down my neck, and I was just coming back
to get a drink and chuck it up, when suddenly a Belgian labourer popped
out from behind a tree. There was nothing peculiar about him, and if it
hadn't been for the Land Crab's story I'd never have given him a second
thought. He was just picking up sticks, but as I watched him I noticed
that every now and then he straightened himself up, and seemed to peer
around as if he was searching the undergrowth. The next minute out came
another, and he started the stick-picking stunt too."

Dick paused to relight his pipe, then he laughed. "Of course, the humour
of the situation couldn't help striking me. Dick O'Rourke in a filthy
hole, covered with branches and bits of dirt, watching two mangy old
Belgians picking up wood. But, having stood it the whole day, I made up
my mind to wait, at any rate, till night. If only I could catch the gun
in action--even if the odds were too great for me alone--I'd be able to
spot the hiding-place, and come back later with a party and round them
up.

"Then suddenly the evening hate started--artillery from all over the
place--and with it the Belgian labourers ceased from plucking sticks.
Running down a little path, so close to me that I could almost touch
him, came one of them. He stopped about ten yards away where the dense
undergrowth finished, and, after looking cautiously round, waved his
hand. The other one nipped behind a tree and called out something in a
guttural tone of voice. And then, I give you my word, out of the bowels
of the earth there popped up a little gun not twenty yards from where
I'd been lying the whole day. By this time, of course, I was in the same
sort of condition as a terrier is when he's seen the cat he has set his
heart on shin up a tree, having missed her tail by half an inch.

"They clapped her on a little mounting quick as light, laid her, loaded,
and, by the holy saints! under my very nose, loosed off a present for
Poperinghe. The man on guard waved his hand again, and bedad! away went
another. The next instant he was back, again an exclamation in German,
and in about two shakes the whole thing had disappeared, and there were
the two labourers picking sticks. I give you my word it was like a clown
popping up in a pantomime through a trap-door; I had to pinch myself to
make certain I was awake.

"The next instant into the clearing came two English soldiers, the
reason evidently of the sudden dismantling. Had they been armed we'd
have had at them then and there; but, of course, so far behind the
trenches, they had no rifles. They just peered round, saw the Belgians,
and went off again. I heard their steps dying away in the distance, and
decided to wait a bit longer. The two men seemed to be discussing what
to do, and ultimately moved behind the tree again, where I could hear
them talking. At last they came to a decision, and picking up their
bundles of sticks came slowly down the path past me. They were not going
to fire again that evening."

Dick smiled reminiscently. "Bill, pass the rum. I'm thirsty."

"What did you do, Dick?" I asked, eagerly.

"What d'you think? I was out like a knife and let drive with my
hand-gun. I killed the first one as dead as mutton, and missed the
second, who shot like a stag into the undergrowth. Gad! It was great. I
put two more where I thought he was, but as I still heard him crashing
on I must have missed him. Then I nipped round the tree to find the gun.
The only thing there was a great hole full of leaves. I ploughed across
it, thinking it must be the other side, when, without a word of warning,
I fell through the top--bang through the top, my boy, of the neatest
hiding-place you've ever thought of. The whole of the centre of those
leaves was a fake. There were about two inches of them supported on
light hurdle-work. I was in the robber's cave with a vengeance."

"Was the gun there?" I cried, excitedly.

"It was. Also the Hun. The gun of small variety; the Hun of large--very
large. I don't know which of us was the more surprised--him or me; we
just stood gazing at one another.

"'Halloa, Englishman,' he said; 'come to leave a card?'

"'Quite right, Boche,' I answered. 'A p.p.c. one.'

"I was rather pleased with that touch at the time, old son. I was just
going to elaborate it, and point out that he--as the dear
departing--should really do it, when he was at me.

"Bill, my boy, you should have seen that fight. Like a fool, I never saw
his revolver lying on the table, and I'd shoved my own back in my
holster. He got it in his right hand, and I got his right wrist in my
left. We'd each got the other by the throat, and one of us was for the
count. We each knew that. At one time I thought he'd got me--we were
crashing backwards and forwards, and I caught my head against a wooden
pole which nearly stunned me. And, mark you, all the time I was
expecting his pal to come back and inquire after his health. Then
suddenly I felt him weaken, and I squeezed his throat the harder. It
came quite quickly at the end. His pistol-hand collapsed, and I suppose
muscular contraction pulled the trigger, for the bullet went through his
head, though I think he was dead already." Dick O'Rourke paused, and
looked thoughtfully into the fire.

"But why in the name of Heaven," I cried, irritably, "have you kept this
dark all the while? Why didn't you tell us at the time?"

For a while he did not answer, and then he produced his pocket-book.
From it he took a photograph, which he handed to me.

"Out of that German's pocket I took that photograph."

"Well," I said, "what about it? A very pretty girl for a German." Then I
looked at it closely. "Why, it was taken in England. Is it an English
girl?"

"Yes," he answered, dryly, "it is. It's Moyra Kavanagh, whom I proposed
to forty-eight hours previously at Ciro's. She refused me, and told me
then she was in love with a German. I celebrate the news by coming over
here and killing him, in an individual fight where it was man to man."

"But," I cried, "good heavens! man--it was you or he."

"I know that," he answered, wearily. "What then? He evidently loved her;
if not--why the photo. Look at what's written on the back--'From
Moyra--with all my love.' All her love. Lord! it's a rum box up." He
sighed wearily and slowly replaced it in his case. "So I buried him, and
I chucked his gun in a pond, and said nothing about it. If I had it
would probably have got into the papers or some such rot, and she'd have
wanted to know all about it. Think of it! What the deuce would I have
told her? To sympathise and discuss her love affairs with her in
London, and then toddle over here and slaughter him. Dash it, man, it's
Gilbertian! And, mark you, nothing would induce me to marry her--even if
she'd have me--without her knowing."

"But---" I began, and then fell silent. The more I thought of it the
less I liked it. Put it how you like, for a girl to take as her husband
a man who has actually killed the man she loved and was engaged
to--German or no German--is a bit of a pill to swallow.

       *       *       *       *       *

After mature consideration we decided to present the pill to her garbed
in this form. On me--as a scribbler of sorts--descended the onus of
putting it on paper. When I'd done it, and Dick had read it, he said I
was a fool, and wanted to tear it up. Which is like a man....

Look you, my lady, it was a fair fight--it was war--it was an Englishman
against a German; and the best man won. And surely to Heaven you can't
blame poor old Dick? He didn't know; how could he have known, how... but
what's the use? If your heart doesn't bring it right--neither my pen nor
my logic is likely to. Which is like a woman.



CHAPTER II

PRIVATE MEYRICK--COMPANY IDIOT


No one who has ever given the matter a moment's thought would deny, I
suppose, that a regiment without discipline is like a ship without a
rudder. True as that fact has always been, it is doubly so now, when men
are exposed to mental and physical shocks such as have never before been
thought of.

The condition of a man's brain after he has sat in a trench and suffered
an intensive bombardment for two or three hours can only be described by
one word, and that is--numbed. The actual physical concussion, apart
altogether from the mental terror, caused by the bursting of a
succession of large shells in a man's vicinity, temporarily robs him of
the use of his thinking faculties. He becomes half-stunned, dazed; his
limbs twitch convulsively and involuntarily; he mutters foolishly--he
becomes incoherent. Starting with fright he passes through that stage,
passes beyond it into a condition bordering on coma; and when a man is
in that condition he is not responsible for his actions. His brain has
ceased to work....

Now it is, I believe, a principle of psychology that the brain or mind
of a man can be divided into two parts--the objective and the
subjective: the objective being that part of his thought-box which is
actuated by outside influences, by his senses, by his powers of
deduction; the subjective being that part which is not directly
controllable by what he sees and hears, the part which the religious
might call his soul, the Buddhist "the Spark of God," others instinct.
And this portion of a man's nature remains acutely active, even while
the other part has struck work. In fact, the more numbed and comatose
the thinking brain, the more clearly and insistently does subjective
instinct hold sway over a man's body. Which all goes to show that
discipline, if it is to be of any use to a man at such a time, must be a
very different type of thing to what the ordinary, uninitiated, and
so-called free civilian believes it to be. It must be an ideal, a thing
where the motive counts, almost a religion. It must be an appeal to the
soul of man, not merely an order to his body. That the order to his
body, the self-control of his daily actions, the general change in his
mode of life will infallibly follow on the heels of the appeal to his
soul--if that appeal be successful--is obvious. But the appeal must come
first: it must be the driving power; it must be the cause and not the
effect. Otherwise, when the brain is gone--numbed by causes outside its
control; when the reasoning intellect of man is out of action--stunned
for the time; when only his soul remains to pull the quivering, helpless
body through,--then, unless that soul has the ideal of discipline in it,
it _will_ fail. And failure _may_ mean death and disaster; it _will_
mean shame and disgrace, when sanity returns....

To the man seated at his desk in the company office these ideas were not
new. He had been one of the original Expeditionary Force; but a sniper
had sniped altogether too successfully out by Zillebecke in the early
stages of the first battle of Ypres, and when that occurs a rest cure
becomes necessary. At that time he was the senior subaltern of one of
the finest regiments of "a contemptible little army"; now he was a major
commanding a company in the tenth battalion of that same regiment. And
in front of him on the desk, a yellow form pinned to a white slip of
flimsy paper, announced that No. 8469, Private Meyrick, J., was for
office. The charge was "Late falling in on the 8 a.m. parade," and the
evidence against him was being given by C.-S.-M. Hayton, also an old
soldier from that original battalion at Ypres. It was Major Seymour
himself who had seen the late appearance of the above-mentioned Private
Meyrick, and who had ordered the yellow form to be prepared. And now
with it in front of him, he stared musingly at the office fire....

There are a certain number of individuals who from earliest infancy have
been imbued with the idea that the chief pastime of officers in the
army, when they are not making love to another man's wife, is the
preparation of harsh and tyrannical rules for the express purpose of
annoying their men, and the gloating infliction of drastic punishment on
those that break them. The absurdity of this idea has nothing to do with
it, it being a well-known fact that the more absurd an idea is, the more
utterly fanatical do its adherents become. To them the thought
that a man being late on parade should make him any the worse
fighter--especially as he had, in all probability, some good and
sufficient excuse--cannot be grasped. To them the idea that men may not
be a law unto themselves--though possibly agreed to reluctantly in the
abstract--cannot possibly be assimilated in the concrete.

"He has committed some trifling offence," they say; "now you will give
him some ridiculous punishment. That is the curse of militarism--a
chosen few rule by Fear." And if you tell them that any attempt to
inculcate discipline by fear alone must of necessity fail, and that far
from that being the method in the Army the reverse holds good, they
will not believe you. Yet--it is so....

"Shall I bring in the prisoner, sir?" The Sergeant-Major was standing by
the door.

"Yes, I'll see him now." The officer threw his cigarette into the fire
and put on his hat.

"Take off your 'at. Come along there, my lad--move. You'd go to sleep at
your mother's funeral--you would." Seymour smiled at the conversation
outside the door; he had soldiered many years with that Sergeant-Major.
"Now, step up briskly. Quick march. 'Alt. Left turn." He closed the door
and ranged himself alongside the prisoner facing the table.

"No. 8469, Private Meyrick--you are charged with being late on the 8
a.m. parade this morning. Sergeant-Major, what do you know about it?"

"Sir, on the 8 a.m. parade this morning, Private Meyrick came running on
'alf a minute after the bugle sounded. 'Is puttees were not put on
tidily. I'd like to say, sir, that it's not the first time this man has
been late falling in. 'E seems to me to be always a dreaming,
somehow--not properly awake like. I warned 'im for office."

The officer's eyes rested on the hatless soldier facing him. "Well,
Meyrick," he said quietly, "what have you got to say?"

"Nothing, sir. I'm sorry as 'ow I was late. I was reading, and I never
noticed the time."

"What were you reading?" The question seemed superfluous--almost
foolish; but something in the eyes of the man facing him, something in
his short, stumpy, uncouth figure interested him.

"I was a'reading Kipling, sir." The Sergeant-Major snorted as nearly as
such an august disciplinarian could snort in the presence of his
officer.

"'E ought, sir, to 'ave been 'elping the cook's mate--until 'e was due
on parade."

"Why do you read Kipling or anyone else when you ought to be doing other
things?" queried the officer. His interest in the case surprised
himself; the excuse was futile, and two or three days to barracks is an
excellent corrective.

"I dunno, sir. 'E sort of gets 'old of me, like. Makes me want to do
things--and then I can't. I've always been slow and awkward like, and I
gets a bit flustered at times. But I do try 'ard." Again a doubtful
noise from the Sergeant-Major; to him trying 'ard and reading Kipling
when you ought to be swabbing up dishes were hardly compatible.

For a moment or two the officer hesitated, while the Sergeant-Major
looked frankly puzzled. "What the blazes 'as come over 'im," he was
thinking; "surely he ain't going to be guyed by that there wash. Why
don't 'e give 'im two days and be done with it--and me with all them
returns."

"I'm going to talk to you, Meyrick." Major Seymour's voice cut in on
these reflections. For the fraction of a moment "Two days C.B." had been
on the tip of his tongue, and then he'd changed his mind. "I want to try
and make you understand why you were brought up to office to-day. In
every community--in every body of men--there must be a code of rules
which govern what they do. Unless those rules are carried out by all
those men, the whole system falls to the ground. Supposing everyone came
on to parade half a minute late because they'd been reading Kipling?"

"I know, sir. I see as 'ow I was wrong. But--I dreams sometimes as 'ow
I'm like them he talks about, when 'e says as 'ow they lifted 'em
through the charge as won the day. And then the dream's over, and I know
as 'ow I'm not."

The Sergeant-Major's impatience was barely concealed; those returns were
oppressing him horribly.

"You can get on with your work, Sergeant-Major. I know you're busy."
Seymour glanced at the N.C.O. "I want to say a little more to Meyrick."

The scandalised look on his face amused him; to leave a prisoner alone
with an officer--impossible, unheard of.

"I am in no hurry, sir, thank you."

"All right then," Seymour spoke briefly. "Now, Meyrick, I want you to
realise that the principle at the bottom of all discipline is the motive
that makes that discipline. I want you to realise that all these rules
are made for the good of the regiment, and that in everything you do and
say you have an effect on the regiment. You count in the show, and I
count in it, and so does the Sergeant-Major. We're all out for the same
thing, my lad, and that is the regiment. We do things not because we're
afraid of being punished if we don't, but because we know that they are
for the good of the regiment--the finest regiment in the world. You've
got to make good, not because you'll be dropped on if you don't, but
because you'll pull the regiment down if you fail. And because you
count, you, personally, must not be late on parade. It _does_ matter
what you do yourself. I want you to realise that, and why. The rules you
are ordered to comply with are the best rules. Sometimes we alter
one--because we find a better; but they're the best we can get, and
before you can find yourself in the position of the men you dream
about--the men who lift others, the men who lead others--you've got to
lift and lead yourself. Nothing is too small to worry about, nothing too
insignificant. And because I think, that at the back of your head
somewhere you've got the right idea; because I think it's natural to you
to be a bit slow and awkward and that your failure isn't due to laziness
or slackness, I'm not going to punish you this time for breaking the
rules. If you do it again, it will be a different matter. There comes a
time when one can't judge motives; when one can only judge results. Case
dismissed."

Thoughtfully the officer lit a cigarette as the door closed, and though
for the present there was nothing more for him to do in office, he
lingered on, pursuing his train of thoughts. Fully conscious of the
aggrieved wrath of his Sergeant-Major at having his time wasted, a
slight smile spread over his face. He was not given to making
perorations of this sort, and now that it was over he wondered rather
why he'd done it. And then he recalled the look in the private's eyes as
he had spoken of his dreams.

"He'll make good that man." Unconsciously he spoke aloud. "He'll make
good."

The discipline of habit is what we soldiers had before the war, and that
takes time. Now it must be the discipline of intelligence, of ideal. And
for that fear is the worst conceivable teacher. We have no time to form
habits now; the routine of the army is of too short duration before the
test comes. And the test is too crushing....

The bed-rock now as then is the same, only the methods of getting down
to that bed-rock have to be more hurried. Of old habitude and constant
association instilled a religion--the religion of obedience, the
religion of esprit de corps. But it took time. Now we need the same
religion, but we haven't the same time.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the office next door the Sergeant-Major was speaking soft words to
the Pay Corporal.

"Blimey, I dunno what's come over the bloke. You know that there
Meyrick..."

"Who, the Slug?" interpolated the other.

"Yes. Well 'e come shambling on to parade this morning with 'is puttees
flapping round his ankles--late as usual; and 'e told me to run 'im up
to office." A thumb indicated the Major next door. "When I gets 'im
there, instead of giving 'im three days C.B. and being done with it, 'e
starts a lot of jaw about motives and discipline. 'E hadn't got no ruddy
excuse; said 'e was a'reading Kipling, or some such rot--when 'e ought
to have been 'elping the cook's mate."

"What did he give him?" asked the Pay Corporal, interested.

"Nothing. His blessing and dismissed the case. As if I had nothing
better to do than listen to 'im talking 'ot air to a perisher like that
there Meyrick. 'Ere, pass over them musketry returns."

Which conversation, had Seymour overheard it, he would have understood
and fully sympathised with. For C.-S.-M. Hayton, though a prince of
sergeant-majors, was no student of physiology. To him a spade was a
spade only as long as it shovelled earth.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, before I go on to the day when the subject of all this trouble and
talk was called on to make good, and how he did it, a few words on the
man himself might not be amiss. War, the great forcing house of
character, admits no lies. Sooner or later it finds out a man, and he
stands in the pitiless glare of truth for what he is. And it is not by
any means the cheery hail-fellow-well-met type, or the thruster, or the
sportsman, who always pool the most votes when the judging starts....

John Meyrick, before he began to train for the great adventure, had been
something in a warehouse down near Tilbury. And "something" is about the
best description of what he was that you could give. Moreover there
wasn't a dog's chance of his ever being "anything." He used to help the
young man--I should say young gentleman--who checked weigh bills at one
of the dock entrances. More than that I cannot say, and incidentally the
subject is not of surpassing importance. His chief interests in life
were contemplating the young gentleman, listening open-mouthed to his
views on life, and, dreaming. Especially the latter. Sometimes he would
go after the day's work, and, sitting down on a bollard, his eyes would
wander over the lines of some dirty tramp, with her dark-skinned crew.
Visions of wonderful seas and tropic islands, of leafy palms with the
blue-green surf thundering in towards them, of coral reefs and
glorious-coloured flowers, would run riot in his brain. Not that he
particularly wanted to go and see these figments of his imagination for
himself; it was enough for him to dream of them--to conjure them up for
a space in his mind by the help of an actual concrete ship--and then to
go back to his work of assisting his loquacious companion. He did not
find the work uncongenial; he had no hankerings after other modes of
life--in fact the thought of any change never even entered into his
calculations. What the future might hold he neither knew nor cared; the
expressions of his companion on the rottenness of life in general and
their firm in particular awoke no answering chord in his breast He had
enough to live on in his little room at the top of a tenement house--he
had enough over for an occasional picture show--and he had his dreams.
He was content.

Then came the war. For a long while it passed him by; it was no concern
of his, and it didn't enter his head that it was ever likely to be until
one night, as he was going in to see "Jumping Jess, or the Champion Girl
Cowpuncher" at the local movies, a recruiting sergeant touched him on
the arm.

He was not a promising specimen for a would-be soldier, but that
recruiting sergeant was not new to the game, and he'd seen worse.

"Why aren't you in khaki, young fellow me lad?" he remarked genially.

The idea, as I say, was quite new to our friend. Even though that very
morning his colleague in the weigh-bill pastime had chucked it and
joined, even though he'd heard a foreman discussing who they were to put
in his place as "that young Meyrick was habsolutely 'opeless," it still
hadn't dawned on him that he might go too. But the recruiting sergeant
was a man of some knowledge; in his daily round he encountered many and
varied types. In two minutes he had fired the boy's imagination with a
glowing and partially true description of the glories of war and the
army, and supplied him with another set of dreams to fill his brain.
Wasting no time, he struck while the iron was hot, and in a few minutes
John Meyrick, sometime checker of weigh-bills, died, and No. 8469,
Private John Meyrick, came into being....

But though you change a man's vocation with the stroke of a pen, you do
not change his character. A dreamer he was in the beginning, and a
dreamer he remained to the end. And dreaming, as I have already pointed
out, was not a thing which commended itself to Company-Sergeant-Major
Hayton, who in due course became one of the chief arbiters of our
friend's destinies. True it was no longer coral islands--but such
details availed not with cook's mates and other busy movers in the
regimental hive. Where he'd got them from, Heaven knows, those tattered
volumes of Kipling; but their matchless spirit had caught his brain and
fired his soul, with the result--well, the first of them has been given.

There were more results to follow. Not three days after he was again
upon the mat for the same offence, only to say much the same as before.

"I do try, sir--I do try; but some'ow----"

And though in the bottom of his heart the officer believed him, though
in a very strange way he felt interested in him, there are limits and
there are rules. There comes a time, as he had said, when one can't
judge by motives, when one can only judge by results.

"You mustn't only try; you must succeed. Three days to barracks."

       *       *       *       *       *

That night in mess the officer sat next to the Colonel. "It's the
thrusters, the martinets, the men of action who win the V.C.'s and
D.C.M.'s, my dear fellow," said his C.O., as he pushed along the wine.
"But it's the dreamers, the idealists who deserve them. They suffer so
much more."

And as Major Seymour poured himself out a glass of port, a face came
into his mind--the face of a stumpy, uncouth man with deep-set eyes. "I
wonder," he murmured--"I wonder."

       *       *       *       *       *

The opportunities for stirring deeds of heroism in France do not occur
with great frequency, whatever outsiders may think to the contrary. For
months on end a battalion may live a life of peace and utter boredom,
getting a few casualties now and then, occasionally bagging an unwary
Hun, vegetating continuously in the same unprepossessing hole in the
ground--saving only when they go to another, or retire to a town
somewhere in rear to have a bath. And the battalion to which No. 8469,
Private Meyrick, belonged was no exception to the general rule.

For five weeks they had lived untroubled by anything except flies--all
of them, that is, save various N.C.O.'s in A company. To them flies were
quite a secondary consideration when compared to their other worry. And
that, it is perhaps superfluous to add, was Private Meyrick himself.

Every day the same scene would be enacted; every day some sergeant or
corporal would dance with rage as he contemplated the Company Idiot--the
title by which he was now known to all and sundry.

"Wake up! Wake up! Lumme, didn't I warn you--didn't I warn yer 'arf an
'our ago over by that there tree, when you was a-staring into the
branches looking for nuts or something--didn't I warn yer that the
company was parading at 10.15 for 'ot baths?"

"I didn't 'ear you, Corporal--I didn't really."

"Didn't 'ear me! Wot yer mean, didn't 'ear me? My voice ain't like the
twitter of a grass'opper, is it? It's my belief you're balmy, my boy,
B-A-R-M-Y. Savez. Get a move on yer, for Gawd's sake! You ought to 'ave
a nurse. And when you gets to the bath-'ouse, for 'Eaven's sake pull
yerself together! Don't forget to take off yer clothes before yer gets
in; and when they lets the water out, don't go stopping in the bath
because you forgot to get out. I wouldn't like another regiment to see
you lying about when they come. They might say things."

And so with slight variations the daily strafe went on. Going up to the
trenches it was always Meyrick who got lost; Meyrick who fell into shell
holes and lost his rifle or the jam for his section; Meyrick who forgot
to lie down when a flare went up, but stood vacantly gazing at it until
partially stunned by his next-door neighbour. Periodically messages
would come through from the next regiment asking if they'd lost the
regimental pet, and that he was being returned. It was always
Meyrick....

"I can't do nothing with 'im, sir." It was the Company-Sergeant-Major
speaking to Seymour. "'E seems soft like in the 'ead. Whenever 'e does
do anything and doesn't forget, 'e does it wrong. 'E's always dreaming
and 'alf balmy."

"He's not a flier, I know, Sergeant-Major, but we've got to put up with
all sorts nowadays," returned the officer diplomatically. "Send him to
me, and let me have a talk to him."

"Very good, sir; but 'e'll let us down badly one of these days."

And so once again Meyrick stood in front of his company officer, and was
encouraged to speak of his difficulties. To an amazing degree he had
remembered the discourse he had listened to many months previously; to
do something for the regiment was what he desired more than anything--to
do something big, really big. He floundered and stopped; he could find
no words....

"But don't you understand that it's just as important to do the little
things? If you can't do them, you'll never do the big ones."

"Yes, sir--I sees that; I do try, sir, and then I gets thinking, and
some'ow--oh! I dunno--but everything goes out of my head like. I wants
the regiment to be proud of me--and then they calls me the Company
Idiot." There was something in the man's face that touched Seymour.

"But how can the regiment be proud of you, my lad," he asked gently, "if
you're always late on parade, and forgetting to do what you're told? If
I wasn't certain in my own mind that it wasn't slackness and
disobedience on your part, I should ask the Colonel to send you back to
England as useless."

An appealing look came into the man's eyes. "Oh! don't do that, sir. I
will try 'ard--straight I will."

"Yes, but as I told you once before, there comes a time when one must
judge by results. Now, Meyrick, you must understand this finally. Unless
you do improve, I shall do what I said. I shall tell the Colonel that
you're not fitted to be a soldier, and I shall get him to send you away.
I can't go on much longer; you're more trouble than you're worth. We're
going up to the trenches again to-night, and I shall watch you. That
will do; you may go."

And so it came about that the Company Idiot entered on what was destined
to prove the big scene in his uneventful life under the eyes of a
critical audience. To the Sergeant-Major, who was a gross materialist,
failure was a foregone conclusion; to the company officer, who went a
little nearer to the heart of things, the issue was doubtful. Possibly
his threat would succeed; possibly he'd struck the right note. And the
peculiar thing is that both proved right according to their own
lights....

       *       *       *       *       *

This particular visit to the trenches was destined to be of a very
different nature to former ones. On previous occasions peace had
reigned; nothing untoward had occurred to mar the quiet restful
existence which trench life so often affords to its devotees. But this
time....

It started about six o'clock in the morning on the second day of their
arrival--a really pleasant little intensive bombardment. A succession of
shells came streaming in, shattering every yard of the front line with
tearing explosions. Then the Huns turned on the gas and attacked behind
it. A few reached the trenches--the majority did not; and the ground
outside was covered with grey-green figures, some of which were writhing
and twitching and some of which were still. The attack had failed....

But that sort of thing leaves its mark on the defenders, and this was
their first baptism of real fire. Seymour had passed rapidly down the
trench when he realised that for the moment it was over; and though
men's faces were covered with the hideous gas masks, he saw by the
twitching of their hands and by the ugly high-pitched laughter he heard
that it would be well to get into touch with those behind. Moreover, in
every piece of trench there lay motionless figures in khaki....

It was as he entered his dugout that the bombardment started again.
Quickly he went to the telephone, and started to get on to brigade
headquarters. It took him twenty seconds to realise that the line had
been cut, and then he cursed dreadfully. The roar of the bursting shells
was deafening; his cursing was inaudible; but in a fit of almost
childish rage--he kicked the machine. Men's nerves are jangled at
times....

It was merely coincidence doubtless, but a motionless figure in a gas
helmet crouching outside the dugout saw that kick, and slowly in his
bemused brain there started a train of thought. Why should his company
officer do such a thing; why should they all be cowering in the trench
waiting for death to come to them; why...? For a space his brain refused
to act; then it started again.

Why was that man lying full length at the bottom of the trench, with the
great hole torn out of his back, and the red stream spreading slowly
round him; why didn't it stop instead of filling up the little holes at
the bottom of the trench and then overflowing into the next one? He was
the corporal who'd called him balmy; but why should he be dead? He was
dead--at least the motionless watcher thought he must be. He lay so
still, and his body seemed twisted and unnatural. But why should one of
the regiment be dead; it was all so unexpected, so sudden? And why did
his Major kick the telephone?...

For a space he lay still, thinking; trying to figure things out. He
suddenly remembered tripping over a wire coming up to the trench, and
being cursed by his sergeant for lurching against him. "You would," he
had been told--"you would. If it ain't a wire, you'd fall over yer own
perishing feet."

"What's the wire for, sergint?" he had asked.

"What d'you think, softie. Drying the washing on? It's the telephone
wire to Headquarters."

It came all back to him, and it had been over by the stunted pollard
that he'd tripped up. Then he looked back at the silent, motionless
figure--the red stream had almost reached him--and the Idea came. It
came suddenly--like a blow. The wire must be broken, otherwise the
officer wouldn't have kicked the telephone; he'd have spoken through it.

"I wants the regiment to be proud of me--and then they calls me the
Company Idiot." He couldn't do the little things--he was always
forgetting, but...! What was that about "lifting 'em through the charge
that won the day"? There was no charge, but there was the regiment. And
the regiment was wanting him at last. Something wet touched his
fingers, and when he looked at them, they were red. "B-A-R-M-Y. You
ought to 'ave a nurse...."

Then once again coherent thought failed him--utter physical weakness
gripped him--he lay comatose, shuddering, and crying softly over he knew
not what. The sweat was pouring down his face from the heat of the gas
helmet, but still he held the valve between his teeth, breathing in
through the nose and out through the mouth as he had been told. It was
automatic, involuntary; he couldn't think, he only remembered certain
things by instinct.

Suddenly a high explosive shell burst near him--quite close: and a mass
of earth crashed down on his legs and back, half burying him. He
whimpered feebly, and after a while dragged himself free. But the action
brought him close to that silent figure, with the ripped up back....

"You ought to 'ave a nurse..." Why? Gawd above--why? Wasn't he as good a
man as that there dead corporal? Wasn't he one of the regiment too? And
now the Corporal couldn't do anything, but he--well, he hadn't got no
hole torn out of his back. It wasn't his blood that lay stagnant,
filling the little holes at the bottom of the trench....

Kipling came back to him--feebly, from another world. The dreamer was
dreaming once again.

    "If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
    Remember it's ruin to run from a fight."

Run! Who was talking of running? He was going to save the regiment--once
he could think clearly again. Everything was hazy just for the moment.

    "And wait for supports like a soldier."

But there weren't no supports, and the telephone wire was broken--the
wire he'd tripped over as he came up. Until it was mended there wouldn't
be any supports--until it was mended--until----

With a choking cry he lurched to his feet: and staggering, running,
falling down, the dreamer crossed the open. A tearing pain through his
left arm made him gasp, but he got there--got there and collapsed. He
couldn't see very well, so he tore off his gas helmet, and, peering
round, at last saw the wire. And the wire was indeed cut. Why the
throbbing brain should have imagined it would be cut _there_, I know
not; perhaps he associated it particularly with the pollard--and after
all he was the Company Idiot. But it was cut there, I am glad to say;
let us not begrudge him his little triumph. He found one end, and some
few feet off he saw the other. With infinite difficulty he dragged
himself towards it. Why did he find it so terribly hard to move? He
couldn't see clearly; everything somehow was getting hazy and red. The
roar of the shells seemed muffled strangely--far-away, indistinct. He
pulled at the wire, and it came towards him; pulled again, and the two
ends met. Then he slipped back against the pollard, the two ends grasped
in his right hand....

The regiment was safe at last. The officer would not have to kick the
telephone again. The Idiot had made good. And into his heart there came
a wonderful peace.

There was a roaring in his ears; lights danced before his eyes; strange
shapes moved in front of him. Then, of a sudden, out of the gathering
darkness a great white light seared his senses, a deafening crash
overwhelmed him, a sharp stabbing blow struck his head. The roaring
ceased, and a limp figure slipped down and lay still, with two ends of
wire grasped tight in his hand.

"They are going to relieve us to-night, Sergeant-Major." The two men
with tired eyes faced one another in the Major's dugout The bombardment
was over, and the dying rays of a blood-red sun glinted through the
door. "I think they took it well."

"They did, sir--very well."

"What are the casualties? Any idea?"

"Somewhere about seventy or eighty, sir--but I don't know the exact
numbers."

"As soon as it's dark I'm going back to headquarters. Captain Standish
will take command."

"That there Meyrick is reported missing, sir."

"Missing! He'll turn up somewhere--if he hasn't been hit."

"Probably walked into the German trenches by mistake," grunted the
C.-S.-M. dispassionately, and retired. Outside the dugout men had moved
the corporal; but the red pools still remained--stagnant at the bottom
of the trench....

"Well, you're through all right now, Major," said a voice in the
doorway, and an officer with the white and blue brassard of the signals
came in and sat down. "There are so many wires going back that have been
laid at odd times, that it's difficult to trace them in a hurry." He
gave a ring on the telephone, and in a moment the thin, metallic voice
of the man at the other end broke the silence.

"All right. Just wanted to make sure we were through. Ring off."

"I remember kicking that damn thing this morning when I found we were
cut off," remarked Seymour, with a weary smile. "Funny how childish one
is at times."

"Aye--but natural. This war's damnable." The two men fell silent. "I'll
have a bit of an easy here," went on the signal officer after a while,
"and then go down with you."

A few hours later the two men clambered out of the back of the trench.
"It's easier walking, and I know every stick," remarked the Major. "Make
for that stunted pollard first."

Dimly the tree stood outlined against the sky--a conspicuous mark and
signpost. It was the signal officer who tripped over it first--that
huddled quiet body, and gave a quick ejaculation. "Somebody caught it
here, poor devil. Look out--duck."

A flare shot up into the night, and by its light the two motionless
officers close to the pollard looked at what they had found.

"How the devil did he get here!" muttered Seymour. "It's one of my men."

"Was he anywhere near you when you kicked the telephone?" asked the
other, and his voice was a little hoarse.

"He may have been--I don't know. Why?"

"Look at his right hand." From the tightly clenched fingers two broken
ends of wire stuck out.

"Poor lad." The Major bit his lip. "Poor lad--I wonder. They called him
the Company Idiot. Do you think...?"

"I think he came out to find the break in the wire," said the other
quietly. "And in doing so he found the answer to the big riddle."

"I knew he'd make good--I knew it all along. He used to dream of big
things--something big for the regiment."

"And he's done a big thing, by Jove," said the signal officer gruffly,
"for it's the motive that counts. And he couldn't know that he'd got the
wrong wire."

       *       *       *       *       *

"When 'e doesn't forget, 'e does things wrong."

As I said, both the Sergeant-Major and his officer proved right
according to their own lights.



CHAPTER III

SPUD TREVOR OF THE RED HUSSARS


It would be but a small exaggeration to say that in every God-forsaken
hole and corner of the world, where soldiers lived and moved and had
their being, before Nemesis overtook Europe, the name of Spud Trevor of
the Red Hussars was known. From Simla to Singapore, from Khartoum to the
Curragh his name was symbolical of all that a regimental officer should
be. Senior subalterns guiding the erring feet of the young and frivolous
from the tempting paths of night clubs and fair ladies, to the
infinitely better ones of hunting and sport, were apt to quote him.
Adjutants had been known to hold him up as an example to those of their
flock who needed chastening for any of the hundred and one things that
adjutants do not like--if they have their regiment at heart. And he
deserved it all.

I, who knew him, as well perhaps as anyone; I, who was privileged to
call him friend, and yet in the hour of his greatest need failed him; I,
to whose lot it has fallen to remove the slur from his name, state this
in no half-hearted way. He deserved it, and a thousand times as much
again. He was the type of man beside whom the ordinary English
gentleman--the so-called white man--looked dirty-grey in comparison. And
yet there came a day when men who had openly fawned on him left the room
when he came in, when whispers of an unsuspected yellow streak in him
began to circulate, when senior subalterns no longer held him up as a
model. Now he is dead: and it has been left to me to vindicate him.
Perchance by so doing I may wipe out a little of the stain of guilt that
lies so heavy on my heart; perchance I may atone, in some small degree,
for my doubts and suspicions; and, perchance too, the whitest man that
ever lived may of his understanding and knowledge, perfected now in the
Great Silence to which he has gone, accept my tardy reparation, and
forgive. It is only yesterday that the document, which explained
everything, came into my hands. It was sent to me sealed, and with it a
short covering letter from a firm of solicitors stating that their
client was dead--killed in France--and that according to his
instructions they were forwarding the enclosed, with the request that I
should make such use of it as I saw fit.

To all those others, who, like myself, doubted, I address these words.
Many have gone under: to them I venture to think everything is now
clear. Maybe they have already met Spud, in the great vast gulfs where
the mists of illusion are rolled away. For those who still live, he has
no abuse--that incomparable sportsman and sahib; no recriminations for
us who ruined his life. He goes farther, and finds excuses for us; God
knows we need them. Here is what he has written. The document is
reproduced exactly as I received it--saving only that I have altered all
names. The man, whom I have called Ginger Bathurst, and everyone else
concerned, will, I think, recognise themselves. And, pour les
autres--let them guess.

       *       *       *       *       *

In two days, old friend, my battalion sails for France; and, now with
the intention full formed and fixed in my mind, that I shall not return,
I have determined to put down on paper the true facts of what happened
three years ago: or rather, the true motives that impelled me to do what
I did. I put it that way, because you already know the facts. You know
that I was accused of saving my life at the expense of a woman's when
the _Astoria_ foundered in mid-Atlantic; you know that I was accused of
having thrust her aside and taken her place in the boat. That accusation
is true. I did save my life at a woman's expense. But the motives that
impelled my action you do not know, nor the identity of the woman
concerned. I hope and trust that when you have read what I shall write
you will exonerate me from the charge of a cowardice, vile and
abominable beyond words, and at the most only find me guilty of a
mistaken sense of duty. These words will only reach you in the event of
my death; do with them what you will. I should like to think that the
old name was once again washed clean of the dirty blot it has on it now;
so do your best for me, old pal, do your best.

You remember Ginger Bathurst--of course you do. Is he still a budding
Staff Officer at the War Office, I wonder, or is he over the water? I'm
out of touch with the fellows in these days--(_the pathos of it: Spud
out of touch, Spud of all men, whose soul was in the Army_)--one doesn't
live in the back of beyond for three years and find Army lists and
gazettes growing on the trees. You remember also, I suppose, that I was
best man at his wedding when he married the Comtesse de Grecin. I told
you at the time that I was not particularly enamoured of his choice, but
it was _his_ funeral; and with the old boy asking me to steer him
through, I had no possible reason for refusing. Not that I had anything
against the woman: she was charming, fascinating, and had a pretty
useful share of this world's boodle. Moreover, she seemed
extraordinarily in love with Ginger, and was just the sort of woman to
push an ambitious fellow like him right up to the top of the tree. He,
of course, was simply idiotic: he was stark, raving mad about her; vowed
she was the most peerless woman that ever a wretched being like himself
had been privileged to look at; loaded her with presents which he
couldn't afford, and generally took it a good deal worse than usual. I
think, in a way, it was the calm acceptance of those presents that first
prejudiced me against her. Naturally I saw a lot of her before they were
married, being such a pal of Ginger's, and I did my best for his sake to
overcome my dislike. But he wasn't a wealthy man--at the most he had
about six hundred a year private means--and the presents of jewellery
alone that he gave her must have made a pretty large hole in his
capital.

However that is all by the way. They were married, and shortly
afterwards I took my leave big game shooting and lost sight of them for
a while. When I came back Ginger was at the War Office, and they were
living in London. They had a delightful little flat in Hans Crescent,
and she was pushing him as only a clever woman can push. Everybody who
could be of the slightest use to him sooner or later got roped in to
dinner and was duly fascinated.

To an habitual onlooker like myself, the whole thing was clear, and I
must quite admit that much of my first instinctive dislike--and dislike
is really too strong a word--evaporated. She went out of her way to be
charming to me, not that I could be of any use to the old boy, but
merely because I was his great friend; and of course she knew that I
realised--what he never dreamed of--that she was paving the way to pull
some really big strings for him later.

I remember saying good-bye to her one afternoon after a luncheon, at
which I had watched with great interest the complete capitulation of two
generals and a well-known diplomatist.

"You're a clever man, Mr. Spud," she murmured, with that charming air of
taking one into her confidence, with which a woman of the world routs
the most confirmed misogynist. "If only Ginger----" She broke off and
sighed: just the suggestion of a sigh; but sufficient to imply--lots.

"My lady," I answered, "keep him fit; make him take exercise: above all
things don't let him get fat. Even you would be powerless with a fat
husband. But provided you keep him thin, and never let him decide
anything for himself, he will live to be a lasting monument and example
of what a woman can do. And warriors and statesmen shall bow down and
worship, what time they drink tea in your boudoir and eat buns from your
hand. Bismillah!"

But time is short, and these details are trifling. Only once again, old
pal, I am living in the days when I moved in the pleasant paths of
life, and the temptation to linger is strong. Bear with me a moment. I
am a sybarite for the moment in spirit: in reality--God! how it hurts.

    "Gentlemen rankers out on the spree,
    Damned from here to eternity:
    God have mercy on such as we.
      Bah! Yah! Bah!"

I never thought I should live to prove Kipling's lines. But that's what
I am--a gentleman ranker; going out to the war of wars--a private. I,
and that's the bitterest part of it, I, who had, as you know full well,
always, for years, lived for this war, the war against those cursed
Germans. I knew it was coming--you'll bear me witness of that fact--and
the cruel irony of fate that has made that very knowledge my downfall is
not the lightest part of the little bundle fate has thrown on my
shoulders. Yes, old man, we're getting near the motives now; but all in
good time. Let me lay it out dramatically; don't rob me of my exit--I'm
feeling a bit theatrical this evening. It may interest you to know that
I saw Lady Delton to-day: she's a V.A.D., and did not recognise me,
thank Heaven!

(_Need I say again that Delton is not the name he wrote. Sufficient that
she and Spud knew one another_ _very well, in other days. But in some
men it would have emphasised the bitterness of spirit._)

Let's get on with it. A couple of years passed, and the summer of 1912
found me in New York. I was temporarily engaged on a special job which
it is unnecessary to specify. It was not a very important one, but, as
you know, a gift of tongues and a liking for poking my nose into the
affairs of nations had enabled me to get a certain amount of more or
less diplomatic work. The job was over, and I was merely marking time in
New York waiting for the _Astoria_ to sail. Two days before she was due
to leave, and just as I was turning into the doors of my hotel, I ran
full tilt into von Basel--a very decent fellow in the Prussian
Guard--who was seconded and doing military attaché work in America. I'd
met him off and on hunting in England--one of the few Germans I know who
really went well to hounds.

"Hullo! Trevor," he said, as we met. "What are you doing here?"

"Marking time," I answered. "Waiting for my boat."

We strolled to the bar, and over a cocktail he suggested that if I had
nothing better to do I might as well come to some official ball that was
on that evening. "I can get you a card," he remarked. "You ought to
come; your friend, Mrs. Bathurst--Comtesse de Grecin that was--is going
to be present."

"I'd no idea she was this side of the water," I said, surprised.

"Oh, yes! Come over to see her people or something. Well! will you
come?"

I agreed, having nothing else on, and as he left the hotel, he laughed.
"Funny the vagaries of fate. I don't suppose I come into this hotel once
in three months. I only came down this evening to tell a man not to come
and call as arranged, as my kid has got measles--and promptly ran into
you."

Truly the irony of circumstances! If one went back far enough, one might
find that the determining factor of my disgrace was the quarrel of a
nurse and her lover which made her take the child another walk than
usual and pick up infection. Dash it all! you might even find that it
was a spot on her nose that made her do so, as she didn't want to meet
him when not looking at her best! But that way madness lies.

Whatever the original cause--I went: and in due course met the Comtesse.
She gave me a couple of dances, and I found that she, too, had booked
her passage on the _Astoria_. I met very few people I knew, and having
found it the usual boring stunt, I decided to get a glass of champagne
and a sandwich and then retire to bed. I took them along to a small
alcove where I could smoke a cigarette in peace, and sat down. It was as
I sat down that I heard from behind a curtain which completely screened
me from view, the words "English Army" spoken in German. And the voice
was the voice of the Comtesse.

Nothing very strange in the words you say, seeing that she spoke German,
as well as several other languages, fluently. Perhaps not--but you know
what my ideas used to be--how I was obsessed with the spy theory: at any
rate, I listened. I listened for a quarter of an hour, and then I got my
coat and went home--went home to try and see a way through just about
the toughest proposition I'd ever been up against. For the
Comtesse--Ginger Bathurst's idolised wife--was hand in glove with the
German Secret Service. She was a spy, not of the wireless installation
up the chimney type, not of the document-stealing type, but of a very
much more dangerous type than either, the type it is almost impossible
to incriminate.

I can't remember the conversation I overheard exactly, I cannot give it
to you word for word, but I will give you the substance of it. Her
companion was von Basel's chief--a typical Prussian officer of the most
overbearing description.

"How goes it with you, Comtesse?" he asked her, and I heard the scrape
of a match as he lit a cigarette.

"Well, Baron, very well."

"They do not suspect?"

"Not an atom. The question has never been raised even as to my national
sympathies, except once, and then the suggestion--not forced or
emphasised in any way--that, as the child of a family who had lost
everything in the '70 war, my sympathies were not hard to discover, was
quite sufficient. That was at the time of the Agadir crisis."

"And you do not desire revanche?"

"My dear man, I desire money. My husband with his pay and private income
has hardly enough to dress me on."

"But, dear lady, why, if I may ask, did you marry him? With so many
others for her choice, surely the Comtesse de Grecin could have
commanded the world?"

"Charming as a phrase, but I assure you that the idea of the world at
one's feet is as extinct as the dodo. No, Baron, you may take it from me
he was the best I could do. A rising junior soldier, employed on a staff
job at the War Office, _persona grata_ with all the people who really
count in London by reason of his family, and moreover infatuated with
his charming wife." Her companion gave a guttural chuckle; I could feel
him leering. "I give the best dinners in London; the majority of his
senior officers think I am on the verge of running away with them, and
when they become too obstreperous, I allow them to kiss my--fingers.

"Listen to me, Baron," she spoke rapidly, in a low voice so that I could
hardly catch what she said. "I have already given information about some
confidential big howitzer trials which I saw; it was largely on my
reports that action was stopped at Agadir; and there are many other
things--things intangible, in a certain sense--points of view, the state
of feeling in Ireland, the conditions of labour, which I am able to hear
the inner side of, in a way quite impossible if I had not the entrée
into that particular class of English society which I now possess. Not
the so-called smart set, you understand; but the real ruling set--the
leading soldiers, the leading diplomats. Of course they are
discreet----"

"But you are a woman and a peerless one, chère Comtesse. I think we may
leave that cursed country in your hands with perfect safety. And, sooner
perhaps than even we realise, we may see der Tag."

Such then was briefly the conversation I overheard. As I said, it is not
given word for word--but that is immaterial. What was I to do? That was
the point which drummed through my head as I walked back to my hotel;
that was the point which was still drumming through my head as the dawn
came stealing in through my window. Put yourself in my place, old man;
what would you have done?

I, alone, of everyone who knew her in London, had stumbled by accident
on the truth. Bathurst idolised her, and she exaggerated no whit when
she boasted that she had the entrée to the most exclusive circle in
England. I know; I was one of it myself. And though one realises that it
is only in plays and novels that Cabinet Ministers wander about
whispering State secrets into the ears of beautiful adventuresses, yet
one also knows in real life how devilish dangerous a really pretty and
fascinating woman can be--especially when she's bent on finding things
out and is clever enough to put two and two together.

Take one thing alone, and it was an aspect of the case that particularly
struck me. Supposing diplomatic relations became strained between us and
Germany--and I firmly believed, as you know, that sooner or later they
would; supposing mobilisation was ordered--a secret one; suppose any of
the hundred and one things which would be bound to form a prelude to a
European war--and which at all costs must be kept secret--had occurred;
think of the incalculable danger a clever woman in her position might
have been, however discreet her husband was. And, my dear old boy, you
know Ginger!

Supposing the Expeditionary Force were on the point of embarkation. A
wife might guess their port of departure and arrival by an artless
question or two as to where her husband on the Staff had motored to that
day. But why go on? You see what I mean. Only to me, at that time--and
now I might almost say that I am glad events have justified me--it
appealed even more than it would have, say, to you. For I was so
convinced of the danger that threatened us.

But what was I to do? It was only my word against hers. Tell Ginger? The
idea made even me laugh. Tell the generals and the diplomatists? They
didn't want to kiss _my_ hand. Tell some big bug in the Secret Service?
Yes--that anyway; but she was such a devilish clever woman, that I had
but little faith in such a simple remedy, especially as most of them
patronised her dinners themselves.

Still, that was the only thing to be done--that, and to keep a look-out
myself, for I was tolerably certain she did not suspect me. Why should
she?

And so in due course I found myself sitting next her at dinner as the
_Astoria_ started her journey across the water.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am coming to the climax of the drama, old man; I shall not bore you
much longer. But before I actually give you the details of what occurred
on that ill-fated vessel's last trip, I want to make sure that you
realise the state of mind I was in, and the action that I had decided
on. Firstly, I was convinced that my dinner partner--the wife of one of
my best friends--was an unscrupulous spy. That the evidence would not
have hung a fly in a court of law was not the point; the evidence was my
own hearing, which was good enough for me.

Secondly, I was convinced that she occupied a position in society which
rendered it easy for her to get hold of the most invaluable information
in the event of a war between us and Germany.

Thirdly, I was convinced that there would be a war between us and
Germany.

So much for my state of mind; now, for my course of action.

I had decided to keep a watch on her, and, if I could get hold of the
slightest incriminating evidence, expose her secretly, but mercilessly,
to the Secret Service. If I could not--and if I realised there was
danger brewing--to inform the Secret Service of what I had heard, and,
sacrificing Ginger's friendship if necessary, and my own reputation for
chivalry, swear away her honour, or anything, provided only her capacity
for obtaining information temporarily ceased. Once that was done, then
face the music, and be accused, if needs be, of false swearing,
unrequited love, jealousy, what you will. But to destroy her capacity
for harm to my country was my bounden duty, whatever the social or
personal results to me.

And there was one other thing--and on this one thing the whole course of
the matter was destined to hang: _I alone could do it, for I alone knew
the truth._ Let that sink in, old son; grasp it, realise it, and read my
future actions by the light of that one simple fact.

I can see you sit back in your chair, and look into the fire with the
light of comprehension dawning in your eyes; it does put the matter in a
different complexion, doesn't it, my friend? You begin to appreciate the
motives that impelled me to sacrifice a woman's life; so far so good.
You are even magnanimous: what is one woman compared to the danger of a
nation?

Dear old boy, I drink a silent toast to you. Have you no suspicions?
What if the woman I sacrificed was the Comtesse herself? Does it
surprise you; wasn't it the God-sent solution to everything?

Just as a freak of fate had acquainted me with her secret; so did a
freak of fate throw me in her path at the end....

We hit an iceberg, as you may remember, in the middle of the night, and
the ship foundered in under twenty minutes.

You can imagine the scene of chaos after we struck, or rather you
can't. Men were running wildly about shouting, women were screaming, and
the roar of the siren bellowing forth into the night drove people to a
perfect frenzy. Then all the lights went out, and darkness settled down
like a pall on the ship. I struggled up on deck, which was already
tilting up at a perilous angle, and there--in the mass of scurrying
figures--I came face to face with the Comtesse. In the panic of the
moment I had forgotten all about her. She was quite calm, and smiled at
me, for of course our relations were still as before.

Suddenly there came the shout from close at hand, "Room for one more
only." What happened then, happened in a couple of seconds; it will take
me longer to describe.

There flashed into my mind what would occur if I were drowned and the
Comtesse was saved. There would be no one to combat her activities in
England; she would have a free hand. My plans were null and void if I
died; I must get back to England--or England would be in peril. I must
pass on my information to someone--for I alone knew.

"Hurry up! one more." Another shout from near by, and looking round I
saw that we were alone. It was she or I.

She moved towards the boat, and as she did so I saw the only possible
solution--I saw what I then thought to be my duty; what I still
consider--and, God knows, that scene is never long out of my mind--what
I still consider to have been my duty. I took her by the arm and twisted
her facing me.

"As Ginger's wife, yes," I muttered; "as the cursed spy I know you to
be, no--a thousand times no."

"My God!" she whispered. "My God!"

Without further thought I pushed by her and stepped into the boat, which
was actually being lowered into the water. Two minutes later the
_Astoria_ sank, and she went down with her....

That is what occurred that night in mid-Atlantic. I make no excuses, I
offer no palliation; I merely state facts.

Only had I not heard what I did hear in that alcove she would have been
just--Ginger's wife. Would the Expeditionary Force have crossed so
successfully, I wonder?

As I say, I did what I still consider to have been my duty. If both
could have been saved, well and good; but if it was only one, it _had_
to be me, or neither. That's the rub; should it have been neither?

Many times since then, old friend, has the white twitching face of that
woman haunted me in my dreams and in my waking hours. Many times since
then have I thought that--spy or no spy--I had no right to save my life
at her expense; I should have gone down with her. Quixotical, perhaps,
seeing she was what she was; but she was a woman. One thing and one
thing only I can say. When you read these lines, I shall be dead; they
will come to you as a voice from the dead. And, as a man who faces his
Maker, I tell you, with a calm certainty that I am not deceiving myself,
that that night there was no trace of cowardice in my mind. It was not a
desire to save my own life that actuated me; it was the fear of danger
to England. An error of judgment possibly; an act of cowardice--no. That
much I state, and that much I demand that you believe.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now we come to the last chapter--the chapter that you know. I'd been
back about two months when I first realised that there were stories
going round about me. There were whispers in the club; men avoided me;
women cut me. Then came the dreadful night when a man--half drunk--in
the club accused me of cowardice point-blank, and sneeringly contrasted
my previous reputation with my conduct on the _Astoria_. And I realised
that someone must have seen. I knocked that swine in the club down; but
the whispers grew. I knew it. Someone had seen, and it would be sheer
hypocrisy on my part to pretend that such a thing didn't matter. It
mattered everything: it ended me. The world--our world--judges deeds,
not motives; and even had I published at the time this document I am
sending to you, our world would have found me guilty. They would have
said what you would have said had you spoken the thoughts I saw in your
eyes that night I came to you. They would have said that a sudden wave
of cowardice had overwhelmed me, and that brought face to face with
death I had saved my own life at the expense of a woman's. Many would
have gone still further, and said that my black cowardice was rendered
blacker still by my hypocrisy in inventing such a story; that first to
kill the woman, and then to blacken her reputation as an excuse, showed
me as a thing unfit to live. I know the world.

Moreover, as far as I knew then--I am sure of it now--whoever it was who
saw my action, did not see who the woman was, and therefore the
publication of this document at that time would have involved Ginger,
for it would have been futile to publish it without names. Feeling as I
did that perhaps I should have sunk with her; feeling as I did that, for
good or evil, I had blasted Ginger's life, I simply couldn't do it. You
didn't believe in me, old chap; at the bottom of their hearts all my old
pals thought I'd shown the yellow streak; and I couldn't stick it. So I
went to the Colonel, and told him I was handing in my papers. He was in
his quarters, I remember, and started filling his pipe as I was
speaking.

"Why, Spud?" he asked, when I told him my intention.

And then I told him something of what I have written to you. I said it
to him in confidence, and when I'd finished he sat very silent.

"Good God!" he muttered at length. "Ginger's wife!"

"You believe me, Colonel?" I asked.

"Spud," he said, putting his hands on my shoulders, "that's a damn
rotten thing to ask me--after fifteen years. But it's the regiment." And
he fell to staring at the fire.

Aye, that was it. It was the regiment that mattered. For better or for
worse I had done what I had done, and it was my show. The Red Hussars
must not be made to suffer; and their reputation would have suffered
through me. Otherwise I'd have faced it out. As it was, I had to go; I
knew it. I'd come to the same decision myself.

Only now, sitting here in camp with the setting sun glinting through the
windows of the hut, just a Canadian private under an assumed name,
things are a little different. The regiment is safe; I must think now of
the old name. The Colonel was killed at Cambrai; therefore you alone
will be in possession of the facts. Ginger, if he reads these words,
will perhaps forgive me for the pain I have inflicted on him. Let him
remember that though I did a dreadful thing to him, a thing which up to
now he has been ignorant of, yet I suffered much for his sake after.
During my life it was one thing; when I am dead his claims must give way
to a greater one--my name.

Wherefore I, Patrick Courtenay Trevor, having the unalterable intention
of meeting my Maker during the present war, and therefore feeling in a
measure that I am, even as I write, standing at the threshold of His
Presence, do swear before Almighty God that what I have written is the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me, God.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fall-in is going, old man. Good-bye.



CHAPTER IV

THE FATAL SECOND


It was in July of 1914--on the Saturday of Henley Week. People who were
there may remember that, for once in a way, our fickle climate was
pleased to smile upon us.

Underneath the wall of Phyllis Court a punt was tied up. The prizes had
been given away, and the tightly packed boats surged slowly up and down
the river, freed at last from the extreme boredom of watching crews they
did not know falling exhausted out of their boats. In the punt of which
I speak were three men and a girl. One of the men was myself, who have
no part in this episode, save the humble one of narrator. The other
three were the principals; I would have you make their acquaintance. I
would hurriedly say that it is not the old, old story of a woman and two
men, for one of the men was her brother.

To begin with--the girl. Pat Delawnay--she was always called Pat, as she
didn't look like a Patricia--was her name, and she was--well, here I
give in. I don't know the colour of her eyes, nor can I say with any
certainty the colour of her hair; all I know is that she looked as if
the sun had come from heaven and kissed her, and had then gone back
again satisfied with his work. She was a girl whom to know was to
love--the dearest, most understanding soul in God's whole earth. I'd
loved her myself since I was out of petticoats.

Then there was Jack Delawnay, her brother. Two years younger he was, and
between the two of them there was an affection and love which is
frequently conspicuous by its absence between brother and sister. He was
a cheery youngster, a good-looking boy, and fellows in the regiment
liked him. He rode straight, and he had the money to keep good cattle.
In addition, the men loved him, and that means a lot when you size up an
officer.

And then there was the other. Older by ten years than the boy--the same
age as myself--Jerry Dixon was my greatest friend. We had fought
together at school, played the ass together at Sandhurst, and entered
the regiment on the same day. He had "A" company and I had "C," and the
boy was one of his subalterns. Perhaps I am biassed, but to me Jerry
Dixon had one of the finest characters I have ever seen in any man. He
was no Galahad, no prig; he was just a man, a white man. He had that
cheerily ugly face which is one of the greatest gifts a man can have,
and he also had Pat as his fiancée, which was another.

My name is immaterial, but everyone calls me Winkle, owing to---- Well,
some day I may tell you.

The regiment, our regiment, was the, let us call it the Downshires.

We had come over from Aldershot and were week-ending at the Delawnays'
place--they always took one on the river for Henley. At the moment Jerry
was holding forth, quite unmoved by exhortations to "Get out and get
under" bawled in his ears by blackened gentlemen of doubtful voice and
undoubted inebriation.

As I write, the peculiar--the almost sinister--nature of his
conversation, in the light of future events, seems nothing short of
diabolical. And yet at the time we were just three white-flannelled men
and a girl with a great floppy hat lazing over tea in a punt. How the
gods must have laughed!

"My dear old Winkle"--he was lighting a cigarette as he spoke--"you
don't realise the deeper side of soldiering at all. The subtle nuances
(French, Pat, in case my accent is faulty) are completely lost upon
you."

I remember smiling to myself as I heard Jerry getting warmed up to his
subject, and then my attention wandered, and I dozed off. I had heard it
all before so often from the dear old boy. We always used to chaff him
about it in the mess. I can see him now, after dinner, standing with his
back to the ante-room fire, a whisky-and-soda in his hand and a dirty
old pipe between his teeth.

"It's all very well for you fellows to laugh," he would say, "but I'm
right for all that. It is absolutely essential to think out beforehand
what one would do in certain exceptional eventualities, so that when
that eventuality does arise you won't waste any time, but will
automatically do the right thing."

And then the adjutant recalled in a still small voice how he first
realised the orderly-room sergeant's baby was going to be sick in his
arms at the regiment's Christmas-tree festivities, and, instead of
throwing it on the floor, he had clung to it for that fatal second of
indecision. As he admitted, it was certainly not one of the things he
had thought out beforehand.

He's gone, too, has old Bellairs the adjutant. I wonder how many fellows
I'll know when I get back to them next week? But I'm wandering.

"Winkle, wake up!" It was Pat speaking. "Jerry is being horribly
serious, and I'm not at all certain it will be safe to marry him; he'll
be experimenting on me."

"What's he been saying?" I murmured sleepily.

"He's been thinking what he'd do," laughed Jack, "if the stout female
personage in yonder small canoe overbalanced and fell in. There'll be no
fatal second then, Jerry, my boy. It'll be a minute even if I have to
hold you. You'd never be able to look your friends in the face again if
you didn't let her drown."

"Ass!" grunted Jerry. "No, Winkle, I was just thinking, amongst other
things, of what might very easily happen to any of us three here, and
what did happen to old Grantley in South Africa." Grantley was one of
our majors. "He told me all about it one day in one of his expansive
moods. It was during a bit of a scrap just before Paardeburg, and he had
some crowd of irregular Johnnies. He was told off to take a position,
and apparently it was a fairly warm proposition. However, it was
perfectly feasible if only the men stuck it. Well, they didn't, but they
would have except for his momentary indecision. He told me that there
came a moment in the advance when one man wavered. He knew it and felt
it all through him. He saw the man--he almost saw the deadly contagion
spreading from that one man to the others--and he hesitated and was
lost. When he sprang forward and tried to hold 'em, he failed. The fear
was on them, and they broke. He told me he regarded himself as every bit
as much to blame as the man who first gave out."

"But what could he have done, Jerry?" asked Pat.

"Shot him, dear--shot him on the spot without a second's thought--killed
the origin of the fear before it had time to spread. I venture to say
that there are not many fellows in the Service who would do it--without
thinking: and you can't think--you dare not, even if there was time. It
goes against the grain, especially if you know the man well, and it's
only by continually rehearsing the scene in your mind that you'd be able
to do it."

We were all listening to him now, for this was a new development I'd
never heard before.

"Just imagine the far-reaching results one coward--no, not coward,
possibly--but one man who has reached the breaking-point, may have.
Think of it, Winkle. A long line stretched out, attacking. One man in
the centre wavers, stops. Spreading outwards, the thing rushes like
lightning, because, after all, fear is only an emotion, like joy and
sorrow, and one knows how quickly they will communicate themselves to
other people. Also, in such a moment as an attack, men are particularly
susceptible to emotions. All that is primitive is uppermost, and their
reasoning powers are more or less in abeyance."

"But the awful thing, Jerry," said Pat quietly, "is that you would never
know whether it had been necessary or not. It might not have spread; he
might have answered to your voice--oh! a thousand things might have
happened."

"It's not worth the risk, dear. One man's life is not worth the risk.
It's a risk you just dare not take. It may mean everything--it may mean
failure--it may mean disgrace." He paused and looked steadily across the
shifting scene of gaiety and colour, while a long bamboo pole with a
little bag on the end, wielded by some passing vocalist, was thrust
towards him unheeded. Then with a short laugh he pulled himself
together, and lit a cigarette. "But enough of dull care. Let us away,
and gaze upon beautiful women and brave men. What's that little tune
they're playing?"

"That's that waltz--what the deuce is the name, Pat?" asked Jack,
untying the punt.

"'Destiny,'" answered Pat briefly, and we passed out into the stream.

       *       *       *       *       *

A month afterwards we three were again at Henley, not in flannels in a
punt on the river, but in khaki, with a motor waiting at the door of the
Delawnays' house to take us back to Aldershot. I do not propose to dwell
over the scene, but in the setting down of the story it cannot be left
out. Europe was at war; the long-expected by those scoffed-at alarmists
had actually come. England and Germany were at each other's throats.

Inside the house Jack was with his mother. Personally, I was standing in
the garden with the grey-haired father; and Jerry was--well, where else
could he have been?

As is the way with men, we discussed the roses, and the rascality of the
Germans, and everything except what was in our hearts. And in one of the
pauses in our spasmodic conversation we heard her voice, just over the
hedge:

"God guard and keep you, my man, and bring you back to me safe!" And the
voice was steady, though one could feel those dear eyes dim with tears.

And then Jerry's, dear old Jerry's voice--a little bit gruff it was, and
a little bit shaky: "My love! My darling!"

But the old man was going towards the house, blowing his nose; and
I--don't hold with love and that sort of thing at all. True, I blundered
into a flower-bed, which I didn't see clearly, as I went towards the
car, for there are things which one may not hear and remain unmoved.
Perhaps, if things had been different, and Jerry--dear old
Jerry--hadn't---- But there, I'm wandering again.

At last we were in the car and ready to start.

"Take care of him, Jerry; he and Pat are all we've got." It was Mrs.
Delawnay speaking, standing there with the setting sun on her sweet
face and her husband's arm about her.

"I'll be all right, mater," answered Jack gruffly. "Buck up! Back for
Christmas!"

"I'll look after him, Mrs. Delawnay," answered Jerry, but his eyes were
fixed on Pat, and for him the world held only her.

As the car swung out of the gate, we looked back the last time and
saluted, and it was only I who saw through a break in the hedge two
women locked in each other's arms, while a grey-haired gentleman sat
very still on a garden-seat, with his eyes fixed on the river rolling
smoothly by.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was on the Aisne I took it. Through that ghastly fourteen days we had
slogged dully south away from Mons, ever getting nearer Paris. Through
the choking dust, with the men staggering as they walked--some asleep,
some babbling, some cursing--but always marching, marching, marching;
digging at night, only to leave the trenches in two hours and march on
again; with ever and anon a battery of horse tearing past at a gallop,
with the drivers lolling drunkenly in their saddles, and the guns
jolting and swaying behind the straining, sweating horses, to come into
action on some ridge still further south, and try to check von Kluck's
hordes, if only for a little space. Every bridge in the hands of
anxious-faced sapper officers, prepared for demolition one and all, but
not to be blown up till all our troops were across. Ticklish work, for
should there be a fault, there is not much time to repair it.

But at last it was over, and we turned North. A few days later, in the
afternoon, my company crossed a pontoon bridge on the Aisne, and two
hours afterwards we dug ourselves in a mile and a half beyond it. The
next morning, as I was sitting in one of the trenches, there was a
sudden, blinding roar--and oblivion.

       *       *       *       *       *

I will pass rapidly over the next six weeks--over my journey from the
clearing hospital to the base at Havre, of my voyage back to England in
a hospital ship, and my ultimate arrival at Drayton Hall, the Delawnays'
place in Somerset, where I had gone to convalesce.

During the time various fragments of iron were being picked from me and
the first shock of the concussion was wearing off, we had handed over
our trenches on the Aisne to the French, and moved north to Flanders.

Occasional scrawls came through from Jack and Jerry, but the people in
England who had any knowledge at all of the fighting and of what was
going on, grew to dread with an awful dread the sight of the
telegraph-boy, and it required an effort of will to look at those
prosaic casualty lists in the morning papers.

Then suddenly without warning, as such news always does, it came. The
War Office, in the shape of a whistling telegraph-boy, regretted to
inform Mr. Delawnay that his son, Lieutenant Jack Delawnay of the Royal
Downshire Regiment, had been killed in action.

Had it been possible during the terrible days after the news came, I
would have gone away, but I was still too weak to move; and I like to
think that, perhaps, my presence there was some comfort to them, as a
sort of connection through the regiment with their dead boy. After the
first numbing shock, the old man bore it grandly.

"He was all I had," he said to me one day as I lay in bed, "but I give
him gladly for his country's sake." He stood looking at the broad
fields. "All his," he muttered; "all would have been the dear lad's--and
now six inches of soil and a wooden cross, perhaps not that."

And Pat, poor little Pat, used to come up every day and sit with me,
sometimes in silence, with her great eyes fixed on the fire, sometimes
reading the paper, because my eyes weren't quite right yet.

For about a fortnight after the news we did not think it strange; but
then, as day by day went by, the same fear formulated in both our minds.
I would have died sooner than whisper it; but one afternoon I found her
eyes fixed on mine. We had been silent for some time, and suddenly in
the firelight I saw the awful fear in her mind as clearly as if she had
spoken it.

"You're thinking it too, Winkle," she whispered, leaning forward. "Why
hasn't he written? Why hasn't Jerry written one line? Oh, my God! don't
say that _he_ has been----"

"Hush, dear!" I said quietly. "His people would have let you know if
they had had a wire."

"But, Winkle, the Colonel has written that Jack died while gallantly
leading a counter attack to recover lost trenches. Surely, Jerry would
have found time for a line, unless something had happened to him; Jack
was actually in his company."

All of which I knew, but could not answer.

"Besides," she went on after a moment, "you know how dad is longing for
details. He wants to know everything about Jack, and so do we all. But
oh, Winkle! I want to know if my man is all right. Brother and
lover--not both, oh, God--not both!" The choking little sobs wrung my
heart.

The next day we got a wire from him. He was wounded slightly in the arm,
and was at home. He was coming to us. Just that--no more. But, oh! the
difference to the girl. Everything explained, everything clear, and the
next day Jerry would be with her. Only as I lay awake that night
thinking, and the events of the last three weeks passed through my mind,
the same thought returned with maddening persistency. Slightly wounded
in the arm, evidently recently as there was no mention in the casualty
list, and for three weeks no line, no word. And then I cursed myself as
an ass and a querulous invalid.

At three o'clock he arrived, and they all came up to my room. The first
thing that struck me like a blow was that it was his left arm which was
hit--and the next was his face. Whether Pat had noticed that his writing
arm was unhurt, I know not; but she had seen the look in his eyes, and
was afraid.

Then he told the story, and his voice was as the voice of the dead. Told
the anxious, eager father and mother the story of their boy's heroism.
How, having lost some trenches, the regiment made a counter attack to
regain them. How first of them all was Jack, the men following him, as
they always did, until a shot took him clean through the heart, and he
dropped, leaving the regiment to surge over him for the last forty
yards, and carry out gloriously what they had been going to do.

And then the old man, pulling out the letter from the Colonel, and
trying to read it through his blinding tears: "He did well, my boy," he
whispered, "he did well, and died well. But, Jerry, the Colonel says in
his letter," and he wiped his eyes and tried to read, "he says in his
letter that Jack must have been right into their trenches almost, as he
was killed at point-blank range with a revolver. One of those swine of
German officers, I suppose." He shook his fist in the air. "Still he was
but doing his duty. I must not complain. But you say he was forty yards
away?"

"It's difficult to say, sir, in the dark," answered Jerry, still in the
voice of an automatic machine. "It may have been less than forty."

And then he told them all over again; and while they, the two old dears,
whispered and cried together, never noticing anything amiss, being only
concerned with the telling, and caring no whit for the method thereof,
Pat sat silently in the window, gazing at him with tearless eyes, with
the wonder and amazement of her soul writ clear on her face for all to
see. And I--I lay motionless in bed, and there was something I could not
understand, for he would not look at me, nor yet at her, but kept his
eyes fixed on the fire, while he talked like a child repeating a lesson.

At last it was over; their last questions were asked, and slowly,
arm-in-arm, they left the room, to dwell alone upon the story of their
idolised boy. And in the room the silence was only broken by the
crackling of the logs.

How long we sat there I know not, with the firelight flickering on the
stern set face of the man in the chair. He seemed unconscious of our
existence, and we two dared not speak to him, we who loved him best, for
there was something we could not understand. Suddenly he got up, and
held out his arms to Pat. And when she crept into them, he kissed her,
straining her close, as if he could never stop. Then, without a word, he
led her to the door, and, putting her gently through, shut it behind
her. Still without a word he came back to the chair, and turned it so
that the firelight no longer played on his face. And then he spoke.

"I have a story to tell you, Winkle, which I venture to think will
entertain you for a time." His voice was the most terrible thing I have
ever listened to.... "Nearly four weeks ago the battalion was in the
trenches a bit south of Ypres. It was bad in the retreat, as you know;
it was bad on the Aisne; but they were neither of them in the same
county as the doing we had up north. One night--they'd shelled us off
and on for three days and three nights--we were driven out of our
trenches. The regiment on our right gave, and we had to go too. The next
morning we were ordered to counter attack, and get back the ground we
had lost. It was the attack in which we lost so heavily."

He stopped speaking for a while, and I did not interrupt.

"When I got that order overnight Jack was with me, in a hole that passed
as a dugout. At the moment everything was quiet; the Germans were
patching up their new position; only a maxim spluttered away a bit to
one flank. To add to the general desolation a steady downpour of rain
drenched us, into which, without cessation the German flares went
shooting up. I think they were expecting a counter attack at once...."

Again he paused, and I waited.

"You know the condition one gets into sometimes when one is heavy for
sleep. We had it during the retreat if you remember--a sort of coma, the
outcome of utter bodily exhaustion. One used to go on walking, and all
the while one was asleep--or practically so. Sounds came to us dimly as
from a great distance; they made no impression on us--they were just a
jumbled phantasmagoria of outside matters, which failed to reach one's
brain, except as a dim dream. I was in that condition on the night I am
speaking of; I was utterly cooked--beat to the world; I was finished for
the time. I've told you this, because I want you to understand the
physical condition I was in."

He leaned forward and stared at the fire, resting his head on his hands.

"How long I'd dozed heavily in that wet-sodden hole I don't know, but
after a while above the crackle of the maxim, separate and distinct from
the soft splash of the rain, and the hiss of the flares, and the hundred
and one other noises that came dimly to me out of the night, I heard
Jack's voice--at least I think it was Jack's voice."

Of a sudden he sat up in the chair, and rising quickly he came and leant
over the foot of the bed.

"Devil take it," he cried bitterly, "I know it was Jack's voice--_now_.
I knew it the next day when it was too late. What he said exactly I
shall never know--at the time it made no impression on me; but at this
moment, almost like a spirit voice in my brain, I can hear him. I can
hear him asking me to watch him. I can hear him pleading--I can hear his
dreadful fear of being found afraid. As a whisper from a great distance
I can hear one short sentence--'Jerry, my God, Jerry--I'm frightened!'

"Winkle, he turned to me in his weakness--that boy who had never failed
before, that boy who had reached the breaking-point--and I heeded him
not. I was too dead beat; my brain couldn't grasp it."

"But, Jerry," I cried, "it turned out all right the next day; he..."
The words died away on my lips as I met the look in his eyes.

"You'd better let me finish," he interrupted wearily. "Let me get the
whole hideous tragedy off my mind for the first and the last time. Early
next morning we attacked. In the dim dirty light of dawn I saw the boy's
face as he moved off to his platoon; and even then I didn't remember
those halting sentences that had come to me out of the night. So instead
of ordering him to the rear on some pretext or other as I should have
done, I let him go to his platoon.

"As we went across the ground that morning through a fire like nothing I
had ever imagined, a man wavered in front of me. I felt it clean through
me. I knew fear had come. I shouted and cheered--but the wavering was
spreading; I knew that too. So I shot him through the heart from behind
at point-blank range as I had trained myself to do--in that eternity
ago--before the war. The counter attack was successful."

"Great Heavens, Jerry!" I muttered, "who did you shoot?" though I knew
the answer already.

"The man I shot was Jack Delawnay. Whether at the time I was actively
conscious of it, I cannot say. Certainly my training enabled me to act
before any glimmering of the aftermath came into my mind. _This_ is the
aftermath."

I shuddered at the utter hopelessness of his tone, though the full
result of his action had not dawned on me yet; my mind was dazed.

"But surely Jack was no coward," I said at length.

"He was not; but on that particular morning he gave out. He had reached
the limit of his endurance."

"The Colonel's letter," I reminded him; "it praised the lad."

"Lies," he answered wearily, "all lies, engineered by me. Not because I
am ashamed of what I did, but for the lad's sake, and hers, and the old
people. I loved the boy, as you know, but he failed, and _there was no
other way_. And where the fiend himself is gloating over it is that he
knows it was the only time Jack did fail. If only I hadn't been so beat
the night before; if only his words had reached my brain before it was
too late. If only ... I think," he added, after a pause, "I think I
shall go mad. Sometimes I wish I could."

"And what of Pat?" I asked, at length breaking the silence.

The hands grasping the bed tightened, and grew white.

"I said 'Good-bye' to her before your eyes, ten minutes ago. I shall
never see her again."

"But, Great Heavens, Jerry!" I cried, "you can't give her up like that.
She idolises the ground you walk on, she worships you, and she need
never know. You were only doing your duty after all."

"Stop!" he cried, and his voice was a command. "As you love me, old
friend, don't tempt me. For three weeks those arguments have been
flooding everything else from my mind. Do you remember at Henley, when
she said, 'He might have answered to your voice?' Winkle, it's true,
Jack might have. And I killed him. Just think if I married her, and she
did find out. Her brother's murderer--in her eyes. The man who has
wrecked her home, and broken her father and mother. It's inconceivable,
it's hideous. Ah! don't you see how utterly final it all is? She may
have been right; and if she was, then I, who loved her better than the
world, have murdered her brother, and broken the old people's hearts for
the sake of a theory. The fact that my theory has been put into
practice, at the expense of everything I have to live for, is full of
humour, isn't it?" And his laugh was wild.

"Steady, Jerry," I said sternly. "What do you mean to do?"

"You'll see, old man, in time," he answered. "First and foremost, get
back to the regiment, arm or no arm. I would not have come home, but I
had to see her once more."

"You talk as if it was the end." I looked at him squarely.

"It is," he answered. "It's easy out there."

"Your mind is made up?"

"Absolutely." He gave a short laugh. "Good-bye, old friend. Ease it to
her as well as you can. Say I'm unstrung by the trenches, anything you
like; but don't let her guess the truth."

For a long minute he held my hand. Then he turned away. He walked to the
mantelpiece, and there was a photograph of her there. For a long time he
looked at it, and it seemed to me he whispered something. A sudden
dimness blinded my eyes, and when I looked again he had gone--through
the window into the night.

       *       *       *       *       *

I did not see Pat until I left Drayton Hall after that ghastly night,
save only once or twice with her mother in the room.

But an hour before I left she came to me, and her face was that of a
woman who has passed through the fires.

"Tell me, Winkle, shall I ever see him again? You know what I mean."

"You will never see him again, Pat," and the look in her eyes made me
choke.

"Will you tell me what it was he told you before he went through the
window? You see, I was in the hall waiting for him," and she smiled
wearily.

"I can't, Pat dear; I promised him," I muttered. "But it was nothing
disgraceful."

"Disgraceful!" she cried proudly. "Jerry, and anything disgraceful. Oh,
my God! Winkle dear," and she broke down utterly, "do you remember the
waltz they were playing that day--'Destiny'?"

And then I went. Whether that wonderful woman's intuition has told her
something of what happened, I know not. But yesterday morning I got a
letter from the Colonel saying that Jerry had chucked his life away,
saving a wounded man. And this morning she will have seen it in the
papers.

God help you, Pat, my dear.



CHAPTER V

JIM BRENT'S V.C.


If you pass through the Menin-Gate at Ypres, and walk up the slight rise
that lies on the other side of the moat, you will come to the parting of
the ways. You will at the same time come to a spot of unprepossessing
aspect, whose chief claim to notoriety lies in its shell-holes and
broken-down houses. If you keep straight on you will in time come to the
little village of Potige; if you turn to the right you will eventually
arrive at Hooge. In either case you will wish you hadn't.

Before the war these two roads--which join about two hundred yards east
of the rampart walls of Ypres--were adorned with a fair number of
houses. They were of that stucco type which one frequently sees in
England spreading out along the roads that lead to a largish town.
Generally there is one of unusually revolting aspect that stands proudly
by itself a hundred yards or so from the common herd and enclosed in a
stuccoesque wall. And there my knowledge of the type in England ends.

In Belgium, however, my acquaintance with this sort of abode is
extensive. In taking over a house in Flanders that stands unpleasantly
near the Hun, the advertisement that there are three sitting, two bed,
h. and c. laid on, with excellent onion patch, near railway and good
golf-links, leaves one cold. The end-all and be-all of a house is its
cellar. The more gloomy, and dark, and generally horrible the cellar,
the higher that house ranks socially, and the more likely are you to
find in it a general consuming his last hamper from Fortnum & Mason by
the light of a tallow dip. And this applies more especially to the Hooge
road.

Arrived at the fork, let us turn right-handed and proceed along the
deserted road. A motor-car is not to be advised, as at this stage of the
promenade one is in full sight of the German trenches. For about two or
three hundred yards no houses screen you, and then comes a row of the
stucco residences I have mentioned. Also at this point the road bends to
the left. Here, out of sight, occasional men sun themselves in the
heavily-scented air, what time they exchange a little playful badinage
in a way common to Thomas Atkins. At least, that is what happened some
time ago; now, of course, things may have changed in the garden city.

And at this point really our journey is ended, though for interest we
might continue for another quarter of a mile. The row of houses stops
abruptly, and away in front stretches a long straight road. A few
detached mansions of sorts, in their own grounds, flank it on each side.
At length they cease, and in front lies the open country. The
poplar-lined road disappears out of sight a mile ahead, where it tops a
gentle slope. And half on this side of the rise, and half on the other,
there are the remnants of the tit-bit of the whole bloody charnel-house
of the Ypres salient--the remnants of the village of Hooge. A closer
examination is not to be recommended. The place where you stand is known
in the vernacular as Hell Fire Corner, and the Hun--who knows the range
of that corner to the fraction of an inch--will quite possibly resent
your presence even there. And shrapnel gives a nasty wound.

Let us return and seek safety in a cellar. It is not what one would call
a good-looking cellar; no priceless prints adorn the walls, no Turkey
carpet receives your jaded feet. In one corner a portable gramophone
with several records much the worse for wear reposes on an upturned
biscuit-box, and lying on the floor, with due regard to space economy,
are three or four of those excellent box-mattresses which form the
all-in-all of the average small Belgian house. On top of them are laid
some valises and blankets, and from the one in the corner the sweet
music of the sleeper strikes softly on the ear. It is the senior
subaltern, who has been rambling all the preceding night in Sanctuary
Wood--the proud authors of our nomenclature in Flanders quite rightly
possess the humour necessary for the production of official communiqués.

In two chairs, smoking, are a couple of officers. One is a major of the
Royal Engineers, and another, also a sapper, belongs to the gilded
staff. The cellar is the temporary headquarters of a field
company--office, mess, and bedroom rolled into one.

"I'm devilish short-handed for the moment, Bill." The Major thoughtfully
filled his pipe. "That last boy I got a week ago--a nice boy he was,
too--was killed in Zouave Wood the day before yesterday, poor devil.
Seymour was wounded three days ago, and there's only Brent, Johnson, and
him"--he indicated the sleeper. "Johnson is useless, and Brent----" He
paused, and looked full at the Staff-captain. "Do you know Brent well,
by any chance?"

"I should jolly well think I did. Jim Brent is one of my greatest pals,
Major."

"Then perhaps you can tell me something I very much want to know. I have
knocked about the place for a good many years, and I have rubbed
shoulders, officially and unofficially, with more men than I care to
remember. As a result, I think I may claim a fair knowledge of my
fellow-beings. And Brent--well, he rather beats me."

He paused as if at a loss for words, and looked in the direction of the
sleeping subaltern. Reassured by the alarming noise proceeding from the
corner, he seemed to make up his mind.

"Has Brent had some very nasty knock lately--money, or a woman, or
something?"

The Staff-captain took his pipe from his mouth, and for some seconds
stared at the floor. Then he asked quietly, "Why? What are you getting
at?"

"This is why, Bill. Brent is one of the most capable officers I have
ever had. He's a man whose judgment, tact, and driving power are
perfectly invaluable in a show of this sort--so invaluable, in fact"--he
looked straight at his listener--"that his death would be a very real
loss to the corps and the Service. He's one of those we can't replace,
and--he's going all out to make us have to."

"What do you mean?" The question expressed no surprise; the speaker
seemed merely to be demanding confirmation of what he already knew.

"Brent is deliberately trying to get killed. There is not a shadow of
doubt about it in my mind. Do you know why?"

The Staff-officer got up and strolled to a table on which were lying
some illustrated weekly papers. "Have you last week's _Tatler_?" He
turned over the leaves. "Yes--here it is." He handed the newspaper to
the Major. "That is why."

"_A charming portrait of Lady Kathleen Goring; who was last week married
to that well-known sportsman and soldier Sir Richard Goring. She was, it
will be remembered, very popular in London society as the beautiful Miss
Kathleen Tubbs--the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Silas P. Tubbs, of
Pittsburg, Pa._"

The Major put down the paper and looked at the Staff-captain; then
suddenly he rose and hurled it into the corner. "Oh, damn these women,"
he exploded.

"Amen," murmured the other, as, with a loud snort, the sleeper awoke.

"Is anything th' matter?" he murmured, drowsily, only to relapse at once
into unconsciousness.

"Jim was practically engaged to her; and then, three months ago, without
a word of explanation, she gave him the order of the boot, and got
engaged to Goring." The Staff-captain spoke savagely. "A damn rotten
woman, Major, and Jim's well out of it, if he only knew. Goring's a
baronet, which is, of course, the reason why this excrescence of the
house of Tubbs chucked Jim. As a matter of fact, Dick Goring's not a bad
fellow--he deserves a better fate. But it fairly broke Jim up. He's not
the sort of fellow who falls in love easily; this was his one and only
real affair, and he took it bad. He told me at the time that he never
intended to come back alive."

"Damn it all!" The Major's voice was irritable. "Why, his knowledge of
the lingo alone makes him invaluable."

"Frankly, I've been expecting to hear of his death every day. He's not
the type that says a thing of that sort without meaning it."

A step sounded on the floor above. "Look out, here he is. You'll stop
and have a bit of lunch, Bill?"

As he spoke the light in the doorway was blocked out, and a man came
uncertainly down the stairs.

"Confound these cellars. One can't see a thing, coming in out of the
daylight. Who's that? Halloa, Bill, old cock, 'ow's yourself?"

"Just tottering, Jim. Where've you been?"

"Wandered down to Vlamertinghe this morning early to see about some
sandbags, and while I was there I met that flying wallah Petersen in the
R.N.A.S. Do you remember him, Major? He was up here with an armoured car
in May. He told me rather an interesting thing."

"What's that, Jim?" The Major was attacking a brawn with gusto. "Sit
down, Bill. Whisky and Perrier in that box over there."

"He tells me the Huns have got six guns whose size he puts at about
9-inch; guns, mark you, not howitzers--mounted on railway trucks at
Tournai. From there they can be rushed by either branch of the line--the
junction is just west--to wherever they are required."

"My dear old boy," laughed Bill, as he sat down. "I don't know your
friend Petersen, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that
he is in all probability quite right. But the information seems to be
about as much use as the fact that it is cold in Labrador."

"I wonder," answered Brent, thoughtfully--"I wonder." He was rummaging
through a pile of papers in the stationery box.

The other two men looked at one another significantly. "What
hare-brained scheme have you got in your mind now, Brent?" asked the
Major.

Brent came slowly across the cellar and sat down with a sheet of paper
spread out on his knee. For a while he examined it in silence, comparing
it with an ordnance map, and then he spoke. "It's brick, and the drop is
sixty feet, according to this--with the depth of the water fifteen."

"And the answer is a lemon. What on earth are you talking about, Jim?"

"The railway bridge over the river before the line forks."

"Good Lord! My good fellow," cried the Major, irritably, "don't be
absurd. Are you proposing to blow it up?" His tone was ponderously
sarcastic.

"Not exactly," answered the unperturbed Brent, "but something of the
sort--if I can get permission."

The two men laid down their knives and stared at him solemnly.

"You are, I believe, a sapper officer," commenced the Major. "May I ask
first how much gun-cotton you think will be necessary to blow up a
railway bridge which gives a sixty-foot drop into water; second, how you
propose to get it there; third, how you propose to get yourself there;
and fourth, why do you talk such rot?"

Jim Brent laughed and helped himself to whisky. "The answer to the first
question is unknown at present, but inquiries of my secretary will be
welcomed--probably about a thousand pounds. The answer to the second
question is that I don't. The answer to the third is--somehow; and for
the fourth question I must ask for notice."

"What the devil are you driving at, Jim?" said the Staff-captain,
puzzled. "If you don't get the stuff there, how the deuce are you going
to blow up the bridge?"

"You may take it from me, Bill, that I may be mad, but I never
anticipated marching through German Belgium with a party of sappers and
a G.S. wagon full of gun-cotton. Oh, no--it's a one-man show."

"But," ejaculated the Major, "how the----"

"Have you ever thought, sir," interrupted Brent, "what would be the
result if, as a heavy train was passing over a bridge, you cut one rail
just in front of the engine?"

"But----" the Major again started to speak, and was again cut short.

"The outside rail," continued Brent, "so that the tendency would be for
the engine to go towards the parapet wall. And no iron girder to hold it
up--merely a little brick wall"--he again referred to the paper on his
knee--"three feet high and three bricks thick. No nasty parties of men
carrying slabs of gun-cotton; just yourself--with one slab of gun-cotton
in your pocket and one primer and one detonator--that and the
psychological moment. Luck, of course, but when we dispense with the
working party we lift it from the utterly impossible into the realm of
the remotely possible. The odds are against success, I know; but----" He
shrugged his shoulders.

"But how do you propose to get there, my dear chap?" asked the Major,
peevishly. "The Germans have a rooted objection to English officers
walking about behind their lines."

"Yes, but they don't mind a Belgian peasant, do they? Dash it, they've
played the game on us scores of times, Major--not perhaps the bridge
idea, but espionage by men disguised behind our lines. I only propose
doing the same, and perhaps going one better."

"You haven't one chance in a hundred of getting through alive." The
Major viciously stabbed a tongue.

"That is--er--beside the point," answered Brent, shortly.

"But how could you get through their lines to start with?" queried Bill.

"There are ways, dearie, there are ways. Petersen is a man of much
resource."

"Of course, the whole idea is absolutely ridiculous." The Major snorted.
"Once and for all, Brent, I won't hear of it. We're far too short of
fellows as it is."

And for a space the subject languished, though there was a look on Jim
Brent's face which showed it was only for a space.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now when a man of the type of Brent takes it badly over a woman, there
is a strong probability of very considerable trouble at any time. When,
in addition to that, it occurs in the middle of the bloodiest war of
history, the probability becomes a certainty. That he should quite fail
to see just what manner of woman the present Lady Goring was, was
merely in the nature of the animal. He was--as far as women were
concerned--of the genus fool. To him "the rag, and the bone, and the
hank of hair" could never be anything but perfect. It is as well that
there are men like that.

All of which his major--who was a man of no little understanding--knew
quite well. And the knowledge increased his irritation, for he realised
the futility of trying to adjust things. That adjusting business is
ticklish work even between two close pals; but when the would-be
adjuster is very little more than a mere acquaintance, the chances of
success might be put in a small-sized pill-box. To feel morally certain
that your best officer is trying his hardest to get himself killed, and
to be unable to prevent it, is an annoying state of affairs. Small
wonder, then, that at intervals throughout the days that followed did
the Major reiterate with solemnity and emphasis his remark to the
Staff-captain anent women. It eased his feelings, if it did nothing
else.

The wild scheme Brent had half suggested did not trouble him greatly. He
regarded it merely as a temporary aberration of the brain. In the South
African war small parties of mounted sappers and cavalry had undoubtedly
ridden far into hostile country, and, getting behind the enemy, had
blown up bridges, and generally damaged their lines of communication.
But in the South African war a line of trenches did not stretch from
sea to sea.

And so, seated one evening at the door of his commodious residence
talking things over with his colonel, he did not lay any great stress on
the bridge idea. Brent had not referred to it again; and in the cold
light of reason it seemed too foolish to mention.

"Of course," remarked the C.R.E., "he's bound to take it soon. No man
can go on running the fool risks you say he does without stopping one.
It's a pity; but, if he won't see by himself that he's a fool, I don't
see what we can do to make it clear. If only that confounded girl--" He
grunted and got up to go. "Halloa! What the devil is this fellow doing?"

Shambling down the road towards them was a particularly decrepit and
filthy specimen of the Belgian labourer. In normal circumstances, and in
any other place, his appearance would have called for no especial
comment; the brand is not a rare one. But for many months the salient of
Ypres had been cleared of its civilian population; and this sudden
appearance was not likely to pass unnoticed.

"Venez, ici, monsieur, tout de suite." At the Major's words the old man
stopped, and paused in hesitation; then he shuffled towards the two men.

"Will you talk to him, Colonel?" The Major glanced at his senior
officer.

"Er--I think not; my--er--French, don't you know--er--not what it was."
The worthy officer retired in good order, only to be overwhelmed by a
perfect deluge of words from the Belgian.

"What's he say?" he queried, peevishly. "That damn Flemish sounds like a
dog fight."

"Parlez-vous Français, monsieur?" The Major attempted to stem the tide
of the old man's verbosity, but he evidently had a grievance, and a
Belgian with a grievance is not a thing to be regarded with a light
heart.

"Thank heavens, here's the interpreter!" The Colonel heaved a sigh of
relief. "Ask this man what he's doing here, please."

For a space the distant rattle of a machine-gun was drowned, and then
the interpreter turned to the officers.

"'E say, sare, that 'e has ten thousand franc behind the German line,
buried in a 'ole, and 'e wants to know vat 'e shall do."

"Do," laughed the Major. "What does he imagine he's likely to do? Go and
dig it up? Tell him that he's got no business here at all."

Again the interpreter spoke.

"Shall I take 'im to Yper and 'and 'im to the gendarmes, sare?"

"Not a bad idea," said the Colonel, "and have him----"

What further order he was going to give is immaterial, for at that
moment he looked at the Belgian, and from that villainous old ruffian he
received the most obvious and unmistakable wink.

"Er--thank you, interpreter; I will send him later under a guard."

The interpreter saluted and retired, the Major looked surprised, the
Colonel regarded the Belgian with an amazed frown. Then suddenly the old
villain spoke.

"Thank you, Colonel. Those Ypres gendarmes would have been a nuisance."

"Great Scot!" gasped the Major. "What the----"

"What the devil is the meaning of this masquerade, sir?" The Colonel was
distinctly angry.

"I wanted to see if I'd pass muster as a Belgian, sir. The interpreter
was an invaluable proof."

"You run a deuced good chance of being shot, Brent, in that rig. Anyway,
I wish for an explanation as to why you're walking about in that get-up.
Haven't you enough work to do?"

"Shall we go inside, sir? I've got a favour to ask you."

       *       *       *       *       *

We are not very much concerned with the conversation that took place
downstairs in that same cellar, when two senior officers of the corps
of Royal Engineers listened for nearly an hour to an apparently
disreputable old farmer. It might have been interesting to note how the
sceptical grunts of those two officers gradually gave place to silence,
and at length to a profound, breathless interest, as they pored over
maps and plans. And the maps were all of that country which lies behind
the German trenches.

But at the end the old farmer straightened himself smartly.

"That is the rough outline of my plan, sir. I think I can claim that I
have reduced the risk of not getting to my objective to a minimum. When
I get there I am sure that my knowledge of the patois renders the chance
of detection small. As for the actual demolition itself, an enormous
amount will depend on luck; but I can afford to wait. I shall have to be
guided by local conditions. And so I ask you to let me go. It's a long
odds chance, but if it comes off it's worth it."

"And if it does, what then? What about you?" The Colonel's eyes and Jim
Brent's met.

"I shall have paid for my keep, Colonel, at any rate."

Everything was very silent in the cellar; outside on the road a man was
singing.

"In other words, Jim, you're asking me to allow you to commit suicide."

He cleared his throat; his voice seemed a little husky.

"Good Lord! sir--it's not as bad as that. Call it a forlorn hope, if you
like, but ..." The eyes of the two men met, and Brent fell silent.

"Gad, my lad, you're a fool, but you're a brave fool! For Heaven's sake,
give me a drink."

"I may go, Colonel?"

"Yes, you may go--as far, that is, as I am concerned. There is the
General Staff to get round first."

But though the Colonel's voice was gruff, he seemed to have some
difficulty in finding his glass.

As far as is possible in human nature, Jim Brent, at the period when he
gained his V.C. in a manner which made him the hero of the hour--one
might almost say of the war--was, I believe, without fear. The blow he
had received at the hands of the girl who meant all the world to him had
rendered him utterly callous of his life. And it was no transitory
feeling: the mood of an hour or a week. It was deeper than the ordinary
misery of a man who has taken the knock from a woman, deeper and much
less ostentatious. He seemed to view life with a contemptuous toleration
that in any other man would have been the merest affectation. But it was
not evinced by his words; it was shown, as his Major had said, by his
deeds--deeds that could not be called bravado because he never
advertised them. He was simply gambling with death, with a cool hand and
a steady eye, and sublimely indifferent to whether he won or lost. Up to
the time when he played his last great game he had borne a charmed life.
According to the book of the words, he should have been killed a score
of times, and he told me himself only last week that he went into this
final gamble with a taunt on his lips and contempt in his heart. Knowing
him as I do, I believe it. I can almost hear him saying to his grim
opponent, "Dash it all! I've won every time; for Heaven's sake do
something to justify your reputation."

But--he didn't; Jim won again. And when he landed in England from a
Dutch tramp, having carried out the maddest and most hazardous exploit
of the war unscathed, he slipped up on a piece of orange-peel and broke
his right leg in two places, which made him laugh so immoderately when
the contrast struck him that it cured him--not his leg, but his mind.
However, all in due course.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first part of the story I heard from Petersen, of the Naval Air
Service. I ran into him by accident in a grocer's shop in
Hazebrouck--buying stuff for the mess.

"What news of Jim?" he cried, the instant he saw me.

"Very sketchy," I answered. "He's the worst letter-writer in the world.
You know he trod on a bit of orange-peel and broke his leg when he got
back to England."

"He would." Petersen smiled. "That's just the sort of thing Jim would
do. Men like him usually die of mumps, or the effects of a bad oyster."

"Quite so," I murmured, catching him gently by the arm. "And now come to
the pub over the way and tell me all about it. The beer there is of a
less vile brand than usual."

"But I can't tell you anything, my dear chap, that you don't know
already!" he expostulated. "I am quite prepared to gargle with you,
but----"

"Deux bières, ma'm'selle, s'il vous plaît." I piloted Petersen firmly to
a little table. "Tell me all, my son!" I cried. "For the purposes of
this meeting I know nix, and you as part hero in the affair have got to
get it off your chest."

He laughed, and lit a cigarette. "Not much of the heroic in my part of
the stunt, I assure you. As you know, the show started from Dunkirk,
where in due course Jim arrived, armed with credentials extracted only
after great persuasion from sceptical officers of high rank. How he ever
got there at all has always been a wonder to me: his Colonel was the
least of his difficulties in that line. But Jim takes a bit of stopping.

"My part of the show was to transport that scatter-brained idiot over
the trenches and drop him behind the German lines. His idea was novel, I
must admit, though at the time I thought he was mad, and for that matter
I still think he's mad. Only a madman could have thought of it, only Jim
Brent could have done it and not been killed.

"From a height of three thousand feet, in the middle of the night, he
proposed to bid me and the plane a tender farewell and descend to terra
firma by means of a parachute."

"Great Scot," I murmured. "Some idea."

"As you say--some idea. The thing was to choose a suitable night. As Jim
said, 'the slow descent of a disreputable Belgian peasant like an angel
out of the skies will cause a flutter of excitement in the tender heart
of the Hun if it is perceived. Therefore, it must be a dark and overcast
night.'

"At last, after a week, we got an ideal one. Jim arrayed himself in his
togs, took his basket on his arm--you know he'd hidden the gun-cotton in
a cheese--and we went round to the machine. By Jove! that chap's a
marvel. Think of it, man." Petersen's face was full of enthusiastic
admiration. "He'd never even been up in an aeroplane before, and yet the
first time he does, it is with the full intention of trusting himself to
an infernal parachute, a thing the thought of which gives me cold feet;
moreover, of doing it in the dark from a height of three thousand odd
feet behind the German lines with his pockets full of detonators and
other abominations, and his cheese full of gun-cotton. Lord! he's a
marvel. And I give you my word that of the two of us--though I've flown
for over two years--I was the shaky one. He was absolutely cool; not the
coolness of a man who is keeping himself under control, but just the
normal coolness of a man who is doing his everyday job."

Petersen finished his beer at a gulp, and we encored the dose.

"Well, we got off about two. We were not aiming at any specific spot,
but I was going to go due east for three-quarters of an hour, which I
estimated should bring us somewhere over Courtrai. Then he was going to
drop off, and I was coming back. The time was chosen so that I should be
able to land again at Dunkirk about dawn.

"I can't tell you much more. We escaped detection going over the lines,
and about ten minutes to three, at a height of three thousand five
hundred, old Jim tapped me on the shoulder. He understood exactly what
to do--as far as we could tell him: for the parachute is still almost in
its infancy.

"As he had remarked to our wing commander before we started: 'A most
valuable experiment, sir; I will report on how it works in due course.'

"We shook hands. I could see him smiling through the darkness; and then,
with his basket under his arm, that filthy old Belgian farmer launched
himself into space.

"I saw him for a second falling like a stone, and then the parachute
seemed to open out all right. But of course I couldn't tell in the dark;
and just afterwards I struck an air-pocket, and had a bit of trouble
with the bus. After that I turned round and went home again. I'm looking
forward to seeing the old boy and hearing what occurred."

And that is the unvarnished account of the first part of Jim's last game
with fate. Incidentally, it's the sort of thing that hardly requires any
varnishing.

       *       *       *       *       *

The rest of the yarn I heard later from Brent himself, when I went round
to see him in hospital, while I was back on leave.

"For Heaven's sake, lady, dear," he said to the sister as I arrived,
"don't let anyone else in. Say I've had a relapse and am biting the
bed-clothes. This unpleasant-looking man is a great pal of mine, and I
would commune with him awhile."

"It's appalling, old boy," he said to me as she went out of the room,
"how they cluster. Men of dreadful visage; women who gave me my first
bath; unprincipled journalists--all of them come and talk hot air until
I get rid of them by swooning. My young sister brought thirty-four
school friends round last Tuesday! Of course, my swoon is entirely
artificial; but the sister is an understanding soul, and shoos them
away." He lit a cigarette.

"I saw Petersen the other day in Hazebrouck," I told him as I sat down
by the bed. "He wants to come round and see you as soon as he can get
home."

"Good old Petersen. I'd never have brought it off without him."

"What happened, Jim?" I asked. "I've got up to the moment when you left
his bus, with your old parachute, and disappeared into space. And of
course I've seen the official announcement of the guns being seen in the
river, as reported by that R.F.C. man. But there is a gap of about three
weeks; and I notice you have not been over-communicative to the
half-penny press."

"My dear old man," he answered, seriously, "there was nothing to be
communicative about. Thinking it over now, I am astounded how simple the
whole thing was. It was as easy as falling off a log. I fell like a
stone for two or three seconds, because the blessed umbrella wouldn't
open. Then I slowed up and floated gently downwards. It was a most
fascinating sensation. I heard old Petersen crashing about just above
me; and in the distance a search-light was moving backwards and forwards
across the sky, evidently looking for him. I should say it took me about
five minutes to come down; and of course all the way down I was
wondering where the devil I was going to land. The country below me was
black as pitch: not a light to be seen--not a camp-fire--nothing. As the
two things I wanted most to avoid were church steeples and the temporary
abode of any large number of Huns, everything looked very favourable. To
be suspended by one's trousers from a weathercock in the cold, grey
light of dawn seemed a sorry ending to the show; and to land from the
skies on a general's stomach requires explanation."

He smiled reminiscently. "I'm not likely to forget that descent,
Petersen's engine getting fainter and fainter in the distance, the first
pale streaks of light beginning to show in the east, and away on a road
to the south the headlamps of a car moving swiftly along. Then the
humour of the show struck me. Me, in my most picturesque disguise,
odoriferous as a family of ferrets in my borrowed garments, descending
gently on to the Hun like the fairy god-mother in a pantomime. So I
laughed, and--wished I hadn't. My knees hit my jaw with a crack, and I
very nearly bit my tongue in two. Cheeses all over the place, and there
I was enveloped in the folds of the collapsing parachute. Funny, but for
a moment I couldn't think what had happened. I suppose I was a bit dizzy
from the shock, and it never occurred to me that I'd reached the ground,
which, not being able to see in the dark, I hadn't known was so close.
Otherwise I could have landed much lighter. Yes, it's a great machine
that parachute." He paused to reach for his pipe.

"Where did you land?" I asked.

"In the middle of a ploughed field. Couldn't have been a better place if
I'd chosen it. A wood or a river would have been deuced awkward. Yes,
there's no doubt about it, old man, my luck was in from the very start.
I removed myself from the folds, picked up my cheeses, found a
convenient ditch alongside to hide the umbrella in, and then sat tight
waiting for dawn.

"I happen to know that part of Belgium pretty well, and when it got
light I took my bearings. Petersen had borne a little south of what we
intended, which was all to the good--it gave me less walking; but it was
just as well I found a sign-post almost at once, as I had no map, of
course--far too dangerous; and I wasn't very clear on names of villages,
though I'd memorized the map before leaving. I found I had landed
somewhere south of Courtrai, and was about twelve kilometres due north
of Tournai.

"And it was just as I'd decided that little fact that I met a horrible
Hun, a large and forbidding-looking man. Now, the one thing on which I'd
been chancing my arm was the freedom allowed to the Belgians behind the
German lines, and luck again stepped in.

"Beyond grunting 'Guten Morgen' he betrayed no interest in me whatever.
It was the same all along. I shambled past Uhlans, and officers and
generals in motor-cars--Huns of all breeds and all varieties, and no one
even noticed me. And after all, why on earth should they?

"About midday I came to Tournai; and here again I was trusting to luck.
I'd stopped there three years ago at a small estaminet near the station
kept by the widow Demassiet. Now this old lady was, I knew, thoroughly
French in sympathies; and I hoped that, in case of necessity, she would
pass me off as her brother from Ghent, who was staying with her for a
while. Some retreat of this sort was, of course, essential. A homeless
vagabond would be bound to excite suspicion.

"Dear old woman--she was splendid. After the war I shall search her out,
and present her with an annuity, or a belle vache, or something dear to
the Belgian heart. She never even hesitated. From that night I was her
brother, though she knew it meant her death as well as mine if I was
discovered.

"'Ah, monsieur,' she said, when I pointed this out to her, 'it is in the
hands of le bon Dieu. At the most I have another five years, and these
Allemands--pah!' She spat with great accuracy.

"She was good, was the old veuve Demassiet."

Jim puffed steadily at his pipe in silence for a few moments.

"I soon found out that the Germans frequented the estaminet; and, what
was more to the point--luck again, mark you--that the gunners who ran
the battery I was out after almost lived there. When the battery was at
Tournai they had mighty little to do, and they did it, with some skill,
round the beer in her big room.

"I suppose you know what my plan was. The next time that battery left
Tournai I proposed to cut one of the metals on the bridge over the River
Scheldt, just in front of the engine, so close that the driver couldn't
stop, and so derail the locomotive. I calculated that if I cut the
outside rail--the one nearest the parapet wall--the flange on the inner
wheel would prevent the engine turning inwards. That would merely cause
delay, but very possibly no more. I hoped, on the contrary, to turn it
outwards towards the wall, through which it would crash, dragging after
it with any luck the whole train of guns.

"That being the general idea, so to speak, I wandered off one day to see
the bridge. As I expected, it was guarded, but by somewhat
indifferent-looking Huns--evidently only lines of communication troops.
For all that, I hadn't an idea how I was going to do it. Still, luck,
always luck; the more you buffet her the better she treats you.

"One week after I got there I heard the battery was going out: and they
were going out that night. As a matter of fact, that hadn't occurred to
me before--the fact of them moving by night, but it suited me down to
the ground. It appeared they were timed to leave at midnight, which
meant they'd cross the bridge about a quarter or half past. And so at
nine that evening I pushed gently off and wandered bridgewards.

"Then the fun began. I was challenged, and, having answered thickly, I
pretended to be drunk. The sentry, poor devil, wasn't a bad fellow, and
I had some cold sausage and beer. And very soon a gurgling noise
pronounced the fact that he found my beer good.

"It was then I hit him on the base of his skull with a bit of gas-pipe.
That sentry will never drink beer again." Brent frowned. "A nasty blow,
a dirty blow, but a necessary blow." He shrugged his shoulders and then
went on.

"I took off his top-coat and put it on. I put on his hat and took his
rifle and rolled him down the embankment into a bush. Then I resumed his
beat. Discipline was a bit lax on that bridge, I'm glad to say; unless
you pulled your relief out of bed no one else was likely to do it for
you. As you may guess, I did not do much pulling.

"I was using two slabs of gun-cotton to make sure--firing them
electrically. I had two dry-cells and two coils of fine wire for the
leads. The cells would fire a No. 13 Detonator through thirty yards of
those leads--and that thirty yards just enabled me to stand clear of the
bridge. It took me twenty minutes to fix it up, and then I had to wait.

"By gad, old boy, you've called me a cool bird; you should have seen me
during that wait. I was trembling like a child with excitement:
everything had gone so marvellously. And for the first time in the whole
show it dawned on me that not only was there a chance of getting away
afterwards, but that I actually wanted to. Before that moment I'd
assumed on the certainty of being killed."

For a moment he looked curiously in front of him, and a slight smile
lurked round the corners of his mouth. Then suddenly, and apropos of
nothing, he remarked, "Kathleen Goring tea'd with me yesterday. Of
course, it was largely due to that damned orange-skin, but I--er--did
not pass a sleepless night."

Which I took to be indicative of a state of mind induced by the rind of
that nutritious fruit, rather than any reference to his broken leg. For
when a man has passed unscathed through parachute descents and little
things like that, only to lose badly on points to a piece of peel, his
sense of humour gets a jog in a crucial place. And a sense of humour is
fatal to the hopeless, undying passion. It is almost as fatal, in fact,
as a hiccough at the wrong moment.

"It was just about half-past twelve that the train came along. I was
standing by the end of the bridge, with my overcoat and rifle showing in
the faint light of the moon. The engine-driver waved his arm and shouted
something in greeting and I waved back. Then I took the one free lead
and waited until the engine was past me. I could see the first of the
guns, just coming abreast, and at that moment I connected up with the
battery in my pocket. Two slabs of gun-cotton make a noise, as you know,
and just as the engine reached the charge, a sheet of flame seemed to
leap from underneath the front wheels. The driver hadn't time to do a
thing--the engine had left the rails before he knew what had happened.
And then things moved. In my wildest moments I had never expected such a
success. The engine crashed through the parapet wall and hung for a
moment in space. Then it fell downward into the water, and by the mercy
of Allah the couplings held. The first two guns followed it, through the
gap it had made, and then the others overturned with the pull before
they got there, smashing down the wall the whole way along. Every single
gun went wallop into the Scheldt--to say nothing of two passenger
carriages containing the gunners and their officers. The whole thing was
over in five seconds; and you can put your shirt on it that before the
last gun hit the water yours truly had cast away his regalia of office
and was legging it like a two-year-old back to the veuve Demassiet and
Tournai. It struck me that bridge might shortly become an unhealthy
spot."

Jim Brent laughed. "It did. I had to stop on with the old lady for two
or three days in case she might be suspected owing to my sudden
departure--and things hummed. They shot the feldwebel in charge of the
guard; they shot every sentry; they shot everybody they could think of;
but--they never even suspected me. I went out and had a look next day,
the day I think that R.F.C. man spotted and reported the damage. Two of
the guns were only fit for turning into hairpins, and the other four
looked very like the morning after.

"Then, after I'd waited a couple of days, I said good-bye to the old
dear and trekked off towards the Dutch frontier, gaining immense
popularity, old son, by describing the accident to all the soldiers I
met.

"That's all, I think. I had words with a sentry at the frontier, but I
put it across him with his own bundook. Then I wandered to our
Ambassador, and sailed for England in due course. And--er--that's that."

Such is the tale of Jim Brent's V.C. There only remains for me to give
the wording of his official report on the matter.

"I have the honour to report," it ran, "that at midnight on the 25th
ult., I successfully derailed the train conveying six guns of calibre
estimated at about 9-inch, each mounted on a railway truck. The engine,
followed by the guns, departed from sight in about five seconds, and
fell through a drop of some sixty feet into the River Scheldt from the
bridge just west of Tournai. The gunners and officers--who were in two
coaches in rear--were also killed. Only one seemed aware that there was
danger, and he, owing to his bulk, was unable to get out of the door of
his carriage. He was, I think, in command. I investigated the damage
next day when the military authorities were a little calmer, and beg to
state that I do not consider the guns have been improved by their
immersion. One, at least, has disappeared in the mud. A large number of
Germans who had no connection with this affair have, I am glad to
report, since been shot for it.

"I regret that I am unable to report in person, but I am at present in
hospital with a broken leg, sustained by my inadvertently stepping on a
piece of orange-peel, which escaped my notice owing to its remarkable
similarity to the surrounding terrain. This similarity was doubtless due
to the dirt on the orange-peel."

       *       *       *       *       *

Which, I may say, should not be taken as a model for official reports by
the uninitiated.



CHAPTER VI

RETRIBUTION


On the Promenade facing the Casino at Monte Carlo two men were seated
smoking. The Riviera season was at its height, and passing to and fro in
front of them were the usual crowd of well-dressed idlers, who make up
the society of that delectable, if expensive, resort. Now and again a
casual acquaintance would saunter by, to be greeted with a smile from
one, and a curt nod from the other, who, with his eyes fixed on the
steps in front of him, seemed oblivious of all else.

"Cheer up, Jerry; she won't be long. Give the poor girl time to digest
her luncheon." The cheerful one of the twain lit a cigarette; and in the
process received the glad eye from a passing siren of striking aspect.
"Great Cæsar, old son!" he continued, when she was swallowed up in the
crowd, "you're losing the chance of a lifetime. Here, gathered together
to bid us welcome, are countless beautiful women and brave men. We are
for the moment the star turn of the show--the brave British sailors whom
the ladies delight to honour. Never let it be said, old dear, that you
failed them in this their hour of need."

"Confound it, Ginger, I know all about that!" The other man sighed and,
coming suddenly out of his brown study, he too leant forward and fumbled
for his cigarette-case. "But it's no go, old man. I'm getting a deuced
sight too old and ugly nowadays to chop and change about. There comes a
time of life when if a man wants to kiss one particular woman, he might
as well kiss his boot for all the pleasure fooling around with another
will give him."

Ginger Lawson looked at him critically. "My lad, I fear me that Nemesis
has at length descended on you. No longer do the ortolans and caviare of
unregenerate bachelorhood tempt you; rather do you yearn for ground rice
and stewed prunes in the third floor back. These symptoms----"

"Ginger," interrupted the other, "dry up. You're a dear, good soul, but
when you try to be funny, I realise the type of man who writes mottoes
for crackers." He started up eagerly, only to sit down again
disappointed.

"Not she, not she, my love," continued the other imperturbably. "And, in
the meanwhile, doesn't it strike you that you are committing a bad
tactical error in sitting here, with a face like a man that's eaten a
bad oyster, on the very seat where she's bound to see you when she does
finish her luncheon and come down?"

"I suppose that means you want me to cocktail with you?"

"More impossible ideas have fructified," agreed Ginger, rising.

"No, I'm blowed if----!"

"Come on, old son." Lawson dragged him reluctantly to his feet. "All the
world loves a lover, including the loved one herself; but you look like
a deaf-mute at a funeral, who's swallowed his fee. Come and have a
cocktail at Ciro's, and then, merry and bright and caracoling like a
young lark, return and snatch her from under the nose of the accursed
Teuton."

"Do you think she's going to accept him, Ginger?" he muttered anxiously,
as they sauntered through the drifting crowd.

"My dear boy, ask me another. But she's coming to the ball dance on
board to-night, and if the delicate pink illumination of your special
kala jugger, shining softly on your virile face, and toning down the
somewhat vivid colour scheme of your sunburned nose, doesn't melt her
heart, I don't know what will----"

Which all requires a little explanation. Before the war broke out it was
the custom each year for that portion of the British Fleet stationed in
the Mediterranean, and whose headquarters were at Malta, to make a
cruise lasting three weeks or a month to some friendly sea-coast, where
the ports were good and the inhabitants merry. Trieste, perhaps, and up
the Adriatic; Alexandria and the countries to the East; or, best of all,
the Riviera. And at the time when my story opens the officers of the
British Mediterranean Fleet, which had come to rest in the wonderful
natural anchorage of Villefranche, were doing their best to live up to
the reputation which the British naval officer enjoys the world over.
Everywhere within motor distance of their vessels they were greeted with
joy and acclamation; there were dances and dinners, women and wine--and
what more for a space can any hard-worked sailor-man desire? During
their brief intervals of leisure they slept and recuperated on board,
only to dash off again with unabated zeal to pastures new, or renewed,
as the case might be.

Foremost amongst the revellers on this, as on other occasions, was Jerry
Travers, torpedo-lieutenant on the flagship. Endowed by Nature with an
infinite capacity for consuming cocktails, and with a disposition which
not even the catering of the Maltese mess man could embitter, his sudden
fall from grace was all the more noticeable. From being a tireless
leader of revels, he became a mooner in secret places, a melancholy
sigher in the wardroom. Which fact did not escape the eyes of the
flagship wardroom officers. And Lawson, the navigating lieutenant, had
deputed himself as clerk of the course.

Staying at the Hôtel de Paris was an American, who was afflicted with
the dreadful name of Honks; with him were his wife and his daughter
Maisie. Maisie Honks has not a prepossessing sound; but she was the girl
who was responsible for Jerry Travers's downfall. He had met her at a
ball in Nice just after the Fleet arrived, and, from that moment he had
become a trifle deranged. Brother officers entering his cabin unawares
found him gazing into the infinite with a slight squint. His Marine
servant spread the rumour on the lower deck that "'e'd taken to poetry,
and 'orrible noises in his sleep." Like a goodly number of men who have
walked merrily through life, sipping at many flowers, but leaving each
with added zest for the next, when he took it he took it hard. And
Maisie had just about reduced him to idiocy. I am no describer of girls,
but I was privileged to know and revere the lady from afar, and I can
truthfully state that I have rarely, if ever, seen a more absolute dear.
She wasn't fluffy, and she wasn't statuesque; she did not have violet
eyes which one may liken to mountain pools, or hair of that colour
described as spun-gold. She was just--Maisie, one of the most adorable
girls that ever happened. And Jerry, as I say, had taken it very badly.

Unfortunately, there was a fly in the ointment--almost of bluebottle
size--in the shape of another occupant of the Hôtel de Paris, who had
also taken it very badly, and at a much earlier date. The Baron von
Dressler--an officer in the German Navy, and a member of one of the
oldest Prussian families--had been staying at Monte Carlo for nearly a
month, on sick leave after a severe dose of fever. And he, likewise,
worshipped with ardour and zeal at the Honks shrine. Moreover, being
apparently a very decent fellow, and living as he did in the same hotel,
he had, as Jerry miserably reflected, a bit of a preponderance in
artillery, especially as he had opened fire more than a fortnight before
the British Navy had appeared on the scene. This, then, was the general
situation; and the particular feature of the moment, which caused an
outlook on life even more gloomy than usual in the heart of the
torpedo-lieutenant, was that the Baron von Dressler had been invited to
lunch with his adored one, while he had not.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Something potent, Fritz." Lawson piloted him firmly to the bar and
addressed the presiding being respectfully. "Something potent and heady
which will make this officer's sad heart bubble once again with the joie
de vivre. He has been crossed in love."

"Don't be an ass, Ginger," said the other peevishly.

"My dear fellow, the credit of the Navy is at stake. Admitted that
you've had a bad start in the Honks stakes, nevertheless--you never
know--our Teuton may take a bad fall. And, incidentally, there they both
are, to say nothing of Honks père et mère." He was peering through the
window. "No, you don't, my boy!" as the other made a dash for the door.
"The day is yet young. Lap it up; repeat the dose; and then in the
nonchalant style for which our name is famous we will sally forth and
have at them."

"Confound it, Ginger! they seem to be on devilish good terms. Look at
the blighter, bending towards her as if he owned her." Travers stood in
the window rubbing his hands with his handkerchief nervously.

"What d'you expect him to do? Look the other way?" The navigating
officer snorted. "You make me tired, Torps. Come along if you're ready;
and try and look jaunty and debonair."

"Heavens! old boy; I'm as nervous as an ugly girl at her first party."
They were passing into the street. "My hands are clammy and my boots are
bursting with feet."

"I don't mind about your boots; but for goodness' sake dry your hands.
No self-respecting woman would look at a man with perspiring palms."

Ten minutes later three pairs of people might have been seen strolling
up and down the Promenade. And as the arrangement of those pairs was
entirely due to the navigating lieutenant, their composition is perhaps
worthy of a paragraph. At one end, as was very right and proper, Jerry
and Miss Honks discussed men and matters--at least, I assume so--with a
zest that seemed to show his nervousness was only transient. In the
middle the stage-manager and Mrs. Honks discussed Society, with a
capital "S"--a subject of which the worthy woman knew nothing and talked
a lot. At the other end Mr. Honks poured into the unresponsive ear of an
infuriated Prussian nobleman his new scheme for cornering sausages.
Which shows what a naval officer can do when he gets down to it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, it is certainly not my intention to recount in detail the course of
Jerry Travers's love affair during his stay on the Riviera. Sufficient
to say, it did not run smoothly. But there are one or two things which I
must relate--things which concern our three principals. They cover the
first round in the contest--the round which the German won on points.
And though they have no actual bearing on the strange happenings which
brought about the second and last round, in circumstances nothing short
of miraculous at a future date, yet for the proper understanding of the
retribution that came upon the Hun at the finish it is well that they
should be told.

They occurred that same evening, at the ball given by the British Navy
on the flagship. Few sights, I venture to think, are more imposing, and
to a certain extent more incongruous, than a battleship in gala mood.
For days beforehand, men skilled in electricity erect with painstaking
care a veritable fairyland of coloured lights, which shine softly on the
deck cleared for dancing, and discreet kala juggers prepared with equal
care by officers skilled in love. Everywhere there is peace and luxury;
the music of the band steals across the silent water; the engine of
death is at rest. Almost can one imagine the mighty turbines, the great
guns, the whole infernal paraphernalia of destruction, laughing grimly
at their master's amusements--those masters whose brains forged them and
riveted them and gave them birth; who with the pressure of a finger can
launch five tons of death at a speck ten miles away; whose lightest
caprice they are bound to obey--and yet who now cover them with flimsy
silks and fairy lights, while they dance and make love to laughing,
soft-eyed girls. And perhaps there was some such idea in the
gunnery-lieutenant's mind as he leant against the breech of a
twelve-inch gun, waiting for his particular guest. "Not yet, old man,"
he muttered thoughtfully--"not yet. To-night we play; to-morrow--who
knows?"

Above, the lights shone out unshaded, silhouetting the battle-cruiser
with lines of fire against the vault of heaven, sprinkled with the
golden dust of a myriad stars; while ceaselessly across the violet water
steam-pinnaces dashed backwards and forwards, carrying boatloads of
guests from the landing-stage, and then going back for more. At the top
of the gangway the admiral, immaculate in blue and gold, welcomed them
as they arrived; the flag-lieutenant, with the weight of much
responsibility on his shoulders, having just completed a last lightning
tour of the ship, only to discover a scarcity of hairpins in
the ladies' cloak-room, stood behind him. And in the wardroom the
engineer-commander--a Scotsman of pessimistic outlook--reviled with
impartiality all ball dances, adding a special clause for the one now
commencing. But then, off duty, he had no soul above bridge.

In this setting, then, appeared the starters for the Honks stakes on the
night in question, only, for the time being, the positions were
reversed. Now the Baron was the stranger in a strange land; Jerry was at
home--one of the hosts. Moreover, as has already been discreetly hinted,
there was a certain and very particular kala jugger. And into this very
particular kala jugger Jerry, in due course, piloted his adored one.

I am now coming to the region of imagination. I was not in that dim-lit
nook with them, and therefore I am not in a position to state with any
accuracy what occurred. But--and here I must be discreet--there was a
midshipman, making up in cheek and inquisitiveness what he lacked in
years and stature. Also, as I have said, the Honks stakes were not a
private matter--far from it. The prestige of the British Navy was at
stake, and betting ran high in the gunroom, or abode of "snotties."
Where this young imp of mischief hid, I know not; he swore himself that
his overhearing was purely accidental, and endeavoured to excuse his
lamentable conduct by saying that he learned a lot!

His account of the engagement was breezy and nautical; and as there is,
so far as I know, no other description of the operations extant, I give
it for what it is worth.

Jerry, he told me in the Union Club, Valetta, at a later date, opened
the action with some tentative shots from his lighter armament. For ten
minutes odd he alternately Honked and Maisied, till, as my ribald
informant put it, the deck rang with noises reminiscent of a jibbing
motor-car. She countered ably with rhapsodies over the ship, the band,
and life in general, utterly refusing to be drawn into personalities.

Then, it appeared, Jerry's self-control completely deserted him, and
with a hoarse and throaty noise he opened fire with the full force of
his starboard broadside; he rammed down the loud pedal and let drive.

He assured her that she was the only woman he could ever love; he seized
her ungloved hand and fervently kissed it; in short, he offered her his
hand and heart in the most approved style, the while protesting his
absolute unworthiness to aspire to such an honour as her acceptance of
the same.

"Net result, old dear," murmured my graceless informant, pressing the
bell for another cocktail, "nix--a frost absolute, a frost complete."

"She thought he and the whole ship were bully, and wasn't that little
boy who'd brought them out in the launch the cutest ever, but she
reckoned sailors cut no ice with poppa. She was just too sorry for words
it had ever occurred, but there it was, and there was nothing more to be
said."

For the truth of these statements I will not vouch. I do know that on
the night in question Jerry was refused by the only woman he'd ever
really cared about, because he told me so, and the method of it is of
little account. And if there be any who may think I have dealt with this
tragedy in an unfeeling way, I must plead in excuse that I have but
quoted my informant, and he was one of those in the gunroom who had lost
money on the event.

Anyway, let me, as a sop to the serious-minded, pass on to the other
little event which I must chronicle before I come to my finale. In this
world the serious and the gay, the tears and the laughter, come to us
out of the great scroll of fate in strange, jumbled succession. The
lucky dip at a bazaar holds no more variegated procession of surprises
than the mix up we call life brings to each and all. And so, though my
tone in describing Jerry's proposal has perhaps been wantonly flippant,
and though the next incident may seem to some to savour of
melodrama--yet, is it not life, my masters, is it not life?

I was in the wardroom when it occurred. Jerry, standing by the
fireplace, was smoking a cigarette, and looking like the proverbial
gentleman who has lost a sovereign and found sixpence. There were
several officers in there at the time, and--the Baron von Dressler. And
the Prussian had been drinking.

Not that he was by any means drunk, but he was in that condition when
some men become merry, some confidential, some--what shall I say?--not
exactly pugnacious, but on the way to it. He belonged to the latter
class. All the worst traits of the Prussian officer, the domineering,
sneering, aggressive mannerisms--which, to do him justice, in normal
circumstances he successfully concealed, at any rate, when mixing with
other nationalities--were showing clearly in his face. He was once again
the arrogant, intolerant autocrat--truly, _in vino veritas_. Moreover,
his eyes were wandering with increasing frequency to Jerry, who, so far,
seemed unconscious of the scrutiny.

After a while I caught Ginger Lawson's eye and he shrugged his shoulders
slightly. He told me afterwards that he had been fearing a flare-up for
some minutes, but had hoped it would pass over. However, he strolled
over to Jerry and started talking.

"Mop that up, Jerry," he said, "and come along and do your duty. Baron,
you don't seem to be dancing much to-night. Can't I find you a partner?"

"Thank you, but I probably know more people here than you do." The tone
even more than the words was a studied insult. "Lieutenant Travers's
duty seems to have been unpleasant up to date, which perhaps accounts
for his reluctance to resume it. Are you--er--lucky at cards?" This time
the sneer was too obvious to be disregarded.

Jerry looked up, and the eyes of the two men met. "It is possible, Baron
von Dressier," he remarked icily, "that in your navy remarks of that
type are regarded as witty. Would it be asking you too much to request
that you refrain from using them in a ship where they are merely
considered vulgar?"

By this time a dead silence had settled on the wardroom, one of those
awkward silences which any scene of this sort produces on those who are
in the unfortunate position of onlookers.

Von Dressler was white with passion. "You forget yourself, lieutenant. I
would have you to know that my uncle is a prince of the blood royal."

"That apparently does not prevent his nephew from failing to remember
the customs that hold amongst gentlemen."

"Gentlemen!" The Prussian looked round the circle of silent officers
with a scornful laugh; the fumes of the spirits he had drunk were
mounting to his head with his excitement. "You mean--shopkeepers."

With a muttered curse several officers started forward; no ball is a
teetotal affair, I suppose, and scenes of this sort are dangerous at any
time. Travers held up his hand, sharply, incisively.

"Gentlemen, remember this--er--Prussian officer and gentleman is our
guest. That being the case, sir"--he turned to the German--"you are
quite safe in insulting us as much as you like."

"The question of safety would doubtless prove irresistible to an
Englishman." The face of the German was distorted with rage, he seemed
to be searching in his mind for insults; then suddenly he tried a new
line.

"Bah! I am not a guttersnipe to bandy words with you. You will not have
long to wait, you English, and then--when the day does come, my friends;
when, at last, we come face to face, then, by God! then----"

"Well, what then, Baron von Dressler?" A stern voice cut like a whiplash
across the wardroom; standing in the door was the admiral himself, who
had entered unperceived.

For a moment the coarse, furious face of the Prussian paled a little;
then with a supreme effort of arrogance he pulled himself together.
"Then, sir, we shall see--the world will see--whether you or we will be
the victor. The old and effete versus the new and efficient. Der Tag."
He lifted his hand and let it drop; in the silence one could have heard
a pin drop.

"The problem you raise is of interest," answered the admiral, in the
same icy tone. "In the meanwhile any discussion is unprofitable; and in
the surroundings in which you find yourself at present it is more than
unprofitable--it is a gross breach of all good form and service
etiquette. As our guest we were pleased to see you; you will pardon my
saying that now I can no longer regard you as a guest. Will you kindly
give orders, Lieutenant Travers, for a steam-pinnace? Baron von Dressler
will go ashore."

Such was the other matter that concerned my principals, and which, of
necessity, I have had to record. Such an incident is probably almost
unique; but when there's a girl at the bottom of things and wine at the
top, something is likely to happen. The most unfortunate thing about it
all, as far as Jerry was concerned, was an untimely indisposition on the
part of Honks mère. As a coincidence nothing could have been more
disastrous.

The pinnace was at the foot of the gangway, and the Baron--his eyes
savage--was just preparing to take an elaborate and sarcastic farewell
of the silent torpedo-lieutenant, who was regarding him with an air of
cold contempt, when Mr. Honks appeared on the scene.

"Say, Baron, are you going away?"

"I am, Mr. Honks. My presence seems distasteful to the officers."

The American seemed hardly to hear the last part of the remark. "I guess
we'll quit too. My wife's been taken bad. Can we come in your boat,
Baron?"

"I shall be more than delighted." His eyes came round with ill-concealed
triumph to Travers's impassive face as the American bustled away. "I
venture to think that the Honks stakes are still open."

"By Heaven! You blackguard!" muttered Jerry, his passion overcoming him
for a moment. "I believe I'd give my commission to smash your damned
face in with a marline-spike and chuck you into the sea."

"I won't forget what you say," answered the German vindictively, "One
day I'll make you eat those words; and then when I've sunk your
rat-eaten ship, it will be me that uses the marline-spike--you swine."

It was as well for Jerry, and for the Baron too, that at this
psychological moment the Honks ménage arrived, otherwise that German
would probably have gone into the sea.

"Good night, lady," murmured Jerry, when he had solicitously inquired
after her mother's health. "Is there no hope?" He was desperately
anxious to seize the second or two left; he knew she would not hear the
true account of what had happened from the Baron.

"I guess not," she answered softly. "But come and call." With a smile
she was gone, and from the boat there came the Baron's voice mocking
through the still air, "Good night, Lieutenant Travers. Thank you so
much."

And, drowned by the band that started at that moment, the wonderful and
fearful curse that left the torpedo-lieutenant's lips drifted into the
night unheard.

       *       *       *       *       *

Let us go on a couple of years. The moment thought of by the
gunnery-lieutenant, the day acclaimed by the Prussian officer had come.
England was at war. Der Tag was a reality. No longer did silks and
shaded lights form part of the equipment of the Navy, but grim and
sombre, ruthlessly stripped of everything not absolutely necessary, the
great grey monsters watched tirelessly through the flying scud of the
North Sea for "the fleet that stayed at home." Only their submarines
were out, and these, day by day, diminished in numbers, until the men
who sent them out looked at one another fearfully--so many went out, so
few came back.

Tearing through the water one day, away a bit to the south-west of
Bantry Bay, with the haze of Ireland lying like a smudge on the horizon,
was a lean, villainous-looking torpedo-boat-destroyer. She was plunging
her nose into the slight swell, now and again drenching the oilskinned
figure standing motionless on the bridge. Behind her a great cloud of
black smoke drifted across the grey water, and the whole vessel was
quivering with the force of her engines. She was doing her maximum and a
bit more, but still the steady, watchful eyes of the officer on the
bridge seemed impatient, and every now and again he cursed softly and
with wonderful fluency under his breath.

It was our friend Jerry, who at the end of his time on the flagship had
been given one of the newest T.B.D.'s, and now with every ounce he could
get out of her he was racing towards the spot from which had come the
last S.O.S. message, nearly an hour ago. There was something grimly
foreboding about those agonised calls sent out to the world for perhaps
twenty minutes, and then--silence, nothing more. German submarines, he
reflected, as for the tenth time he peered at his wrist-watch, German
submarines engaged once again in the only form of war they could compete
in or dared undertake. And not for the first time his thoughts went back
to the vainglorious boastings of his friend the Baron.

"Damn him," he muttered. "I haven't forgotten the sweep."

There were many things he hadn't forgotten; how, when he'd gone to call
on the lady as requested, she had been "out," and it was that sort of
"out" that means "in." How a letter had been answered courteously but
distinctly coldly, and, impotent with rage, he had been forced to the
conclusion that she was offended with him. And with the Prussian able to
say what he liked, it was not difficult to find the reason.

Then the Fleet left, and Jerry resigned himself to the inevitable, a
proceeding which was not made easier by the many rumours he heard to the
effect that the Baron himself had done the trick. Distinctly he wanted
once again to meet that gentleman.

"We ought to see her, if she hasn't sunk, sir, by now." The
sub-lieutenant on the bridge spoke in his ear.

Travers nodded and shrugged his shoulders. He had realised that fact for
some minutes.

"Something on the starboard bow." The voice of the look-out man came to
his ears.

"It's a boat, an open boat," cried the sub., after a careful inspection,
"and it's pretty full, by Jove!"

A curt order, and the T.B.D. swung round and tore down on the little
speck bobbing in the water. And they were still a few hundred yards away
when a look of dawning horror strangely mixed with joy spread over
Jerry's face. His glass was fixed on the boat, and who in God's name was
the woman--impossible, of course--but surely.... If it wasn't her it was
her twin sister; his hand holding the glass trembled with eagerness, and
then at last he knew. The woman standing up in the stern of the boat
_was_ Maisie, and as he got nearer he saw there was a look on her face
which made him catch his breath sharply.

"Great God!" The sub's voice roused him. "What have they been doing?" No
need to ask whom he meant by "they." "The boat is a shambles."

The destroyer slowed down, and from the crew who looked into that
little open boat came dreadful curses. It ran with blood; and at the
bottom women and children moaned feebly, while an elderly man contorted
with pain in the stern, writhed and sobbed in agony. And over this black
scene the eyes of the man and the woman met.

"Carefully, carefully, lads," Travers sang out. This was no time for
questions, only the poor torn fragments counted. Afterwards, perhaps.
Very tenderly the sailors lifted out the bodies, and one of them--a
little girl in his arms, with a dreadful wound in her head--jabbered
like a maniac with the fury of his rage. And so after many days they
again came face to face.

"Are you wounded?" he whispered.

"No." Her voice was hard and strained; she was near the breaking point.
"They sunk us without warning--the _Lucania_--and then shelled us in the
open boats."

"Dear heavens!" Jerry's voice was shaking. "Ah! but you're not hurt, my
lady; they didn't hit you?"

"My mother was drowned, and my father too." She was swaying a little.
"It was the U 99."

"Ah!" The man's voice was almost a sigh.

"Submarine on the port bow, sir." A howl came from the look-out,
followed by the sharp, detonating reports of the destroyer's
quick-firers. And then a roaring cheer. Like lightning Jerry was upon
the bridge, and even he could scarcely contain himself. There, lying
helpless in the water, with a huge hole in her conning tower, wallowed
the U 99. Two direct hits from the destroyer's guns in a vital spot, and
the submarine was a submarine no longer. Just one of those strokes of
poetic justice which happen so rarely in war.

Like rats from a sinking ship the Germans were pouring up and diving
into the water, and with snarling faces the Englishmen waited for them,
waited for them with the dying proofs of their vileness still lying on
the deck as one by one they came on board. Suddenly with a sucking noise
the submarine foundered, and over the seething, troubled waters where
she had been a sheet of blackish oil slowly spread.

But Jerry spared no glance for the sinking boat--he did not so much as
look at the German sailors huddled fearfully together. With hard,
merciless eyes he faced the submarine commander. For the first time in
his life he saw red: for the first time in his life there was murder in
his soul, and the heavy belaying-pin in his hand seemed to goad him on.
"Suppose the positions had been reversed," mocked a voice in his brain.
"Would he have hesitated?" The night two years ago surged back to his
mind; the plaintive crying of the dying child struck on his ears. He
stepped a pace forward with a snarl--his grip tightened on the
bar--when suddenly the man who had carried up the little girl gave a
hoarse cry, and with all his force smote the nearest German in the
mouth. The German fell like a stone.

"Stand fast." Jerry's voice dominated the scene. The old traditions had
come back: the old wonderful discipline. The iron pin dropped with a
clang on the deck. "It is not their fault, they were only obeying his
orders." And once again his eyes rested on their officer.

"So we meet again, Baron von Dressler," he remarked, "and the rat-eaten
ship is not sunk. Is this your work?" He pointed to the mangled bodies.

"It is not," muttered the Prussian.

"You lie, you swine, you lie! Unfortunately for you you didn't quite
carry out your infamous butchery completely enough. There is one person
on board who knows the U 99 sank the _Lucania_ without warning and was
in the boat you shelled."

"I don't believe you, I----"

"Then perhaps you'll believe her. I rather think you know her--very
well." As he spoke he was looking behind the Prussian, to where
Maisie--roused from her semi-stupor by the Baron's voice--had got up,
and with her hand to her heart was swaying backwards and forwards. "Look
behind you, you cur."

The Prussian turned, and then with a cry staggered back, white to the
lips. "You, great heavens, you--Maisie----"

And so once again the three principals of my little drama were face to
face: only the setting had changed. No longer sensuous music and the
warm, violet waters of the Riviera for a background; this time the
moaning of dying men and children was the ghastly orchestra, and, with
the grey scud of the Atlantic flying past them, the Englishman and the
German faced one another, while the American girl stood by. And watching
them were the muttering sailors.

At last she spoke. "This ring, I believe, is yours." She took a
magnificent half-hoop of diamonds from her engagement finger and flung
it into the sea. Then she moved towards him.

"You drowned my mother, and for that I strike you once." She hit him in
the face with an iron-shod pin. "You drowned my father, and for that I
strike you again." Once again she struck him in the face. "I will leave
a fighting man and a gentleman to deal with you for those poor mites."
With a choking sob she turned away, and once again sank down on the coil
of rope.

The Prussian, sobbing with pain and rage, with the blood streaming from
his face, was not a pretty sight; but in Travers's face there was no
mercy.

"'The old and effete versus the new and efficient!' I seem to recall
those words from our last meeting. May I congratulate you on your
efficiency? Bah! you swine"--his face flamed with sudden passion--"if
you aren't skulking in Kiel, you're butchering women. By heavens! I can
conceive of nothing more utterly perfect than flogging you to death."

The Prussian shrank back, his face livid with fear.

"They were my orders," he muttered. "For God's sake----"

"Oh, don't be frightened, Baron von Dressler." The Englishman's voice
was once again under control. "The old and effete don't do that. You
were safe as our guest two years ago; you are safe as our prisoner now.
Your precious carcass will be returned safe and sound to your Royal
uncle at the end of the war, and my only hope is that your face will
still bear those honourable scars. Moreover, if what you say is true, if
the orders of your Government include shelling an open boat crammed with
defenceless women and children--and neutrals at that--I can only say
that their infamy is so incredible as to force one to the conclusion
that they are not responsible for their actions. But--make no
mistake--they will get their retribution."

For a moment he fell silent, looking at the cowering, blood-stained
face opposite him, and then a pitiful wail behind him made him turn
round.

"Mummie, I'se hurted." On her knees beside the little girl was Maisie,
soothing her as best she could, easing the throbbing head, whispering
that mummie couldn't come for a while. "I'se hurted, mummie--I'se
hurted."

Travers turned back again, and the eyes of the two men met.

"My God! Is it possible that a sailor could do such a thing?"

His voice was barely above a whisper, yet the Prussian heard and winced.
In the depths of even the foulest bully there is generally some little
redeeming spark.

"I'se hurted; I want my mummie."

The Prussian's lips moved, but no sound came, while in his eyes was the
look of a man haunted. Travers watched him silently; and at length he
spoke again.

"As I said, your rulers will get their deserts in time, but I think,
Baron von Dressler, your Nemesis has come on you already. That little
poor kid is asking you for her mother. Don't forget it in the years to
come, Baron. No, I don't think you _will_ forget it."

       *       *       *       *       *

My story is finished. Later on, when some of the dreadful nightmare
through which she had passed had been effaced from her mind, Maisie and
the man who had come to her out of the grey waters discussed many
things. And the story which the Prussian had told her after the dance on
the flagship was finally discredited.

Can anyone recommend me a good cheap book on "Things a Best Man Should
Know"?



CHAPTER VII

THE DEATH GRIP


Two reasons have impelled me to tell the story of Hugh Latimer, and both
I think are good and sufficient. First I was his best friend, and second
I know more about the tragedy than anyone else--even including his wife.
I saw the beginning and the end; she--poor broken-hearted girl--saw only
the end.

There have been many tragedies since this war started; there will be
many more before Finis is written--and each, I suppose, to its own
particular sufferers seems the worst. But, somehow, to my mind Hugh's
case is without parallel, unique--the devil's arch of cruelty. I will
give you the story--and you shall judge for yourself.

Let us lift the curtain and present a dug-out in a support trench
somewhere near Givenchy. A candle gutters in a bottle, the grease
running down like a miniature stalactite congeals on an upturned
packing-case. On another packing-case the remnants of a tongue, some
sardines, and a goodly array of bottles with some tin mugs and plates
completes the furniture--or almost. I must not omit the handsome
coloured pictures--three in all--of ladies of great beauty and charm,
clad in--well, clad in something at any rate. The occupants of this
palatial abode were Hugh Latimer and myself; at the rise of the curtain
both lying in corners, on piles of straw.

Outside, a musician was coaxing noises from a mouth-organ; occasional
snatches of song came through the open entrance, intermingled with
bursts of laughter. One man, I remember, was telling an interminable
story which seemed to be the history of a gentleman called Nobby Clark,
who had dallied awhile with a lady in an estaminet at Bethune, and had
ultimately received a knock-out blow with a frying-pan over the right
eye, for being too rapid in his attentions. Just the usual dull,
strange, haunting trench life--which varies not from day's end to day's
end.

At intervals a battery of our own let drive, the blast of the explosion
catching one through the open door; at intervals a big German shell
moaned its way through the air overhead--an express bound for somewhere.
Had you looked out to the front, you would have seen the bright green
flares lobbing monotonously up into the night, all along the line.
War--modern war; boring, incredible when viewed in cold blood....

"Hullo, Hugh." A voice at the door roused us both from our doze, and
the Adjutant came in. "Will you put your watches right by mine? We are
making a small local attack to-morrow morning, and the battalion is to
leave the trenches at 6.35 exactly."

"Rather sudden, isn't it?" queried Hugh, setting his watch.

"Just come through from Brigade Headquarters. Bombs are being brought up
to H.15. Further orders sent round later. Bye-bye."

He was gone, and once more we sat thinking to the same old accompaniment
of trench noises; but in rather a different frame of mind. To-morrow
morning at 6.35 peace would cease; we should be out and running over the
top of the ground; we should be...

"Will they use gas, I wonder?" Hugh broke the silence.

"Wind too fitful," I answered; "and I suppose it's only a small show."

"I wonder what it's for. I wish one knew more about these affairs; I
suppose one can't, but it would make it more interesting."

The mouth-organ stopped; there were vigorous demands for an encore.

"Poor devils," he went on after a moment. "I wonder how many?--I wonder
how many?"

"A new development for you, Hugh." I grinned at him. "Merry and bright,
old son--your usual motto, isn't it?"

He laughed. "Dash it, Ginger--you can't always be merry and bright. I
don't know why--perhaps it's second sight--but I feel a sort of
presentiment of impending disaster to-night. I had the feeling before
Clements came in."

"Rot, old man," I answered cheerfully. "You'll probably win a V.C., and
the greatest event of the war will be when it is presented to your
cheeild."

Which prophecy was destined to prove the cruellest mixture of truth and
fiction the mind of man could well conceive....

"Good Lord!" he said irritably, taking me seriously for a moment; "we're
a bit too old soldiers to be guyed by palaver about V.C.'s." Then he
recovered his good temper. "No, Ginger, old thing, there's big things
happening to-morrow. Hugh Latimer's life is going into the melting-pot.
I'm as certain of it as--as that I'm going to have a whisky and soda."
He laughed, and delved into a packing-case for the seltzogene.

"How's the son and heir?? I asked after a while.

"Going strong," he answered. "Going strong, the little devil."

And then we fell silent, as men will at such a time. The trench outside
was quiet; the musician, having obliged with his encore, no longer
rendered the night hideous--even the guns were still. What would it be
to-morrow night? Should I still be...? I shook myself and started to
scribble a letter; I was getting afraid of inactivity--afraid of my
thoughts.

"I'm going along the trenches," said Hugh suddenly, breaking the long
silence. "I want to see the Sergeant-Major and give some orders."

He was gone, and I was alone. In spite of myself my thoughts would drift
back to what he had been saying, and from there to his wife and the son
and heir. My mind, overwrought, seemed crowded with pictures: they
jumbled through my brains like a film on a cinematograph.

I saw his marriage, the bridal arch of officers' swords, the
sweet-faced, radiant girl. And then his house came on to the screen--the
house where I had spent many a pleasant week-end while we trained and
sweated to learn the job in England. He was a man of some wealth was
Hugh Latimer, and his house showed it; showed moreover his perfect,
unerring taste. Bits of stuff, curios, knick-knacks from all over the
world met one in odd corners; prints, books, all of the very best,
seemed to fit into the scheme as if they'd grown there. Never did a
single thing seem to whisper as you passed, "I'm really very rare and
beautiful, but I've been dragged into the wrong place, and now I know
I'm merely vulgar." There are houses I wot of where those clamorous
whispers drown the nightingales. But if you can pass through rooms full
of bric-à-brac--silent bric-à-brac: bric-à-brac conscious of its
rectitude and needing no self apology, you may be certain that the owner
will not give you port that is improved by a cigarette.

Then came the son, and Hugh's joy was complete. A bit of a dreamer, a
bit of a poet, a bit of a philosopher, but with a virility all his own;
a big man--a man in a thousand, a man I was proud to call Friend. And
he--at the dictates of "Kultur"--was to-morrow at 6.35 going to expose
himself to the risk of death, in order to wrest from the Hun a small
portion of unprepossessing ground. Truly, humour is not dead in the
world!...

A step outside broke the reel of pictures, and the Sapper Officer looked
in. "I hear a whisper of activity in the dark and stilly morn," he
remarked brightly. "Won't it be nice?"

"Very," I said sarcastically. "Are you coming?"

"No, dear one. That's why I thought it would be so nice. My opposite
number and tireless companion and helper to-morrow morning will prance
over the greensward with you, leading his merry crowd of minions,
bristling with bowie knives, sandbags, and other impedimenta."

"Oh! go to Hell," I said crossly. "I want to write a letter."

"Cheer up, Ginger." He dropped his bantering tone. "I'll be up to drink
a glass of wine with you to-morrow night in the new trench. Tell Latimer
that the wire is all right--it's been thinned out and won't stop him,
and that there are ladders for getting out of the trench on each
traverse."

"Have you been working?" I asked.

"Four hours, and got caught by shrapnel in the middle. Night-night, and
good luck, old man."

He was gone; and when he had, I wished him back again. For the game
wasn't new to him--he'd done it before; and I hadn't. It tends to give
one confidence....

It was about four I woke up. For a few blissful moments I lay forgetful;
then I turned and saw Hugh. There was a new candle in the bottle, and by
its flicker I saw the glint in his sombre eyes, the clear-cut line of
his profile. And I remembered....

I felt as if something had caught me by the stomach--inside: a sinking
feeling, a feeling of nausea: and for a while I lay still. Outside in
the darkness the men were rousing themselves; now and again a curse was
muttered as someone tripped over a leg he didn't see; and once the
Sergeant-Major's voice rang out--"'Ere, strike a light with them
breakfasts."

"Awake, Ginger?" Hugh prodded me with his foot. "You'd better get
something inside you, and then we'll go round and see that everything is
O.K."

"Have you had any sleep, Hugh?"

"No. I've been reading." He put Maeterlinck's "Blue Bird" on the table.
With his finger on the title he looked at me musingly, "Shall we find it
to-day, I wonder?"

       *       *       *       *       *

I have lingered perhaps a little long on what is after all only the
introduction to my story. But it is mainly for the sake of Hugh's wife
that I have written it at all; to show her how he passed the last few
hours before--the change came. Of what happened just after 6.35 on that
morning I cannot profess to have any very clear idea. We went over the
parapet I remember, and forward at the double. For half an hour
beforehand a rain of our shells had plastered the German trenches in
front of us, and during those eternal thirty minutes we waited tense.
Hugh Latimer alone of all the men I saw seemed absolutely unconscious of
anything unusual. Some of the men were singing below their breath, and
one I remember sucked his teeth with maddening persistency. And one and
all watched me curiously, speculatively--or so it seemed to me. Then we
were off, and of crossing No-Man's-Land I have no recollection. I
remember a man beside me falling with a crash and nearly tripping me
up--and then, at last, the Huns. I let drive with my revolver from the
range of a few inches into the fat, bloated face of a frightened-looking
man in dirty grey, and as he crashed down I remember shouting, "There's
the Blue Bird for you, old dear." Little things like that do stick. But
everything else is just a blurred phantasmagoria in my mind. And after a
while it was over. The trench was full of still grey figures, with here
and there a khaki one beside them. A sapper officer forced his way
through shouting for a working-party. We were the flanking company, and
vital work had to be done and quick. Barricades rigged up, communication
trenches which now ran to our Front blocked up, the trench made to fire
the other way. For we knew there would be a counter-attack, and if you
fail to consolidate what you've won you won't keep it long. It was while
I slaved and sweated with the men shifting sandbags--turning the
parados, or back of the trench into the new parapet, or front--that I
got word that Hugh was dead. I hadn't seen him since the morning, and
the rumour passed along from man to man.

"The Captain's took it. Copped it in the head. Bomb took him in the
napper."

But there was no time to stop and enquire, and with my heart sick within
me I worked on. One thing at any rate; it had only been a little show,
but it had been successful--the dear chap hadn't lost his life in a
failure. Then I saw the doctor for a moment.

"No, he's not dead," he said, "but--he's mighty near it. You know he
practically ran the show single-handed on the left flank."

"What did he do?" I cried.

"Do? Why he kept a Hun bombing-party who were working up the trench at
bay for half an hour by himself, which completely saved the situation,
and then went out into the open, when he was relieved, and pulled in
seven men who'd been caught by a machine-gun. It was while he was
getting the last one that a bomb exploded almost on his head. Why he
wasn't killed on the spot, I simply can't conceive." And the doctor was
gone.

But strange things happen, and the hand of Death is ever capricious. Was
it not only the other day that we exploded a mine, and sailing through
the air there came a Hun--a whole complete Hun. Stunned and winded he
fell on the parapet of our trench, and having been pulled in and
revived, at last sat up. "Goot," he murmured; "I hof long vanted to
surrender...."

Hugh Latimer was not dead--that was the great outstanding fact; though
had I known the writing in the roll of Fate, I would have wished a
thousand times that the miracle had not happened. There are worse
things than death....

And now I bring the first part of my tragedy to a halt; the beginning as
I called it--that part which Hugh's wife did not know. She, with all the
world, saw the announcement in the paper, the announcement--bald and
official of the deed for which he won his V.C. It was much as the doctor
described it to me. She, with all the world, saw his name in the
Casualty List as wounded; and on receipt of a telegram from the War
Office, she crossed to France in fear and trembling--for the wire did
not mince words; his condition was very critical. He did not know
her--he was quite unconscious, and had been so for days. That night they
were trephining, and there was just a hope....

The next morning Hugh knew his wife.

       *       *       *       *       *

For the next three months I did not see him. The battalion was still up,
and I got no chance of going down to Boulogne. He didn't stay there
long, but, following the ordinary routine of the R.A.M.C., went back to
England in a hospital ship, and into a home in London. Sir William
Cremer, the eminent brain specialist, who had operated on him, and been
particularly interested in his case, kept him under his eye for a
couple of months, and then he went to his own home to recuperate.

All this and a lot more besides I got in letters from his wife. The King
himself had graciously come round and presented him with the cross--and
she was simply brimming over with happiness, dear soul. He was ever so
much better, and very cheerful; and Sir William was a perfect dear; and
he'd actually taken out six ounces of brain during the operation, and
wasn't it wonderful. Also the son and heir grew more perfect every day.
Which news, needless to say, cheered me immensely.

Then came the first premonition of something wrong. For a fortnight I'd
not heard from her, and then I got a letter which wasn't quite so
cheerful.

"... Hugh doesn't seem able to sleep." So ran part of it. "He is
terribly restless, and at times dreadfully irritable. He doesn't seem to
have any pain in his head, which is a comfort. But I'm not quite easy
about him, Ginger. The other evening I was sitting opposite to him in
the study, and suddenly something compelled me to look at him. I have
never seen anything like the look in his eyes. He was staring at the
fire, and his right hand was opening and shutting like a bird's talon. I
was terrified for a moment, and then I forced myself to speak calmly.

"'Why this ferocious expression, old boy,' I said, with a laugh. For a
moment he did not answer, but his eyes left the fire, and travelled
slowly round till they met mine. I never knew what that phrase meant
till then; it always struck me as a sort of author's license. But that
evening I felt them coming, and I could have screamed. He gazed at me in
silence and then at last he spoke.

"'Have you ever heard of the Death Grip? Some day I'll tell you about
it.' Then he looked away, and I made an excuse to go out of the room,
for I was shaking with fright. It was so utterly unlike Hugh to make a
silly remark like that. When I came back later, he was perfectly calm
and his own self again. Moreover, he seemed to have completely forgotten
the incident, because he apologised for having been asleep.

"I wanted Sir William to come down and see him; or else for us to go up
to town, as I expect Sir William is far too busy. But Hugh wouldn't hear
of it, and got quite angry--so I didn't press the matter. But I'm
worried, Ginger...."

I read this part of the letter to our doctor. We were having an omelette
of huit-oeufs, and une bouteille de vin rouge in a little estaminet way
back, I remember; and I asked him what he thought.

"My dear fellow," he said, "frankly it's impossible to say. You know
what women are; and that letter may give quite a false impression of
what really took place. You see what I mean: in her anxiety she may
have exaggerated some jocular remark. She's had a very wearing time, and
her own nerves are probably a bit on edge. But----" he paused and leaned
back. "Encore du vin, s'il vous plaît, mam'selle. But, Ginger, it's no
good pretending, there may be a very much more sinister meaning behind
it all. The brain is a most complex organisation, and even such men as
Cremer are only standing on the threshold of knowledge with regard to
it. They know a lot--but how much more there is to learn! Latimer, as
you know, owes his life practically to a miracle. Not once in a thousand
times would a man escape instant death under such circumstances. A great
deal of brain matter was exposed, and subsequently removed at Boulogne
by Sir William, when he trephined. And it is possible that some radical
alteration has taken place in Hugh Latimer's character, soul--whatever
you choose to call that part of a man which controls his life--as a
result of the operation. If what Mrs. Latimer says is the truth--and
when I say that I mean if what she says is to be relied on as a cold,
bald statement of what happened--then I am bound to say that I think the
matter is very serious indeed."

"God Almighty!" I cried, "do you mean to say that you think there is a
chance of Hugh going mad?"

"To be perfectly frank, I do; always granted that that letter is
reliable. I consider it vital that whether he wishes to or whether he
doesn't, Sir William Cremer should be consulted. And--_at once_." The
doctor emphasised his words with his fist on the table.

"Great Scott! Doc," I muttered. "Do you really think there is danger?"

"I don't know enough of the case to say that. But I do know something
about the brain, enough to say that there might be not only danger, but
hideous danger, to everyone in the house." He was silent for a bit and
then rapped out. "Does Mrs. Latimer share the same room as her husband?"

"I really don't know," I answered. "I imagine so."

"Well, I don't know how well you know her; but until Sir William gives a
definite opinion, if I knew her well enough, I would strongly advise her
to sleep in another room--_and lock the door_."

"Good God! you think ..."

"Look here, Ginger, what's the good of beating about the bush. It is
possible--I won't say probable--that Hugh Latimer is on the road to
becoming a homicidal maniac. And if, by any chance, that assumption is
correct, the most hideous tragedy might happen at any moment. Mam'selle,
l'addition s'il vous plaît. You're going on leave shortly, aren't you?"

"In two days," I answered.

"Well, go down and see for yourself; it won't require a doctor to
notice the symptoms. And if what I fear is correct, track out Cremer in
his lair--find him somehow and find him quickly."

We walked up the road together, and my glance fell on the plot of ground
on the right, covered so thickly with little wooden crosses. As I looked
away the doctor's eyes and mine met. And there was the same thought in
both our minds.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days later I was in Hugh's house. His wife met me at the station,
and before we got into the car my heart sank. I knew something was
wrong.

"How is he?" I asked, as we swung out of the gates.

"Oh! Ginger," she said. "I'm frightened--frightened to death."

"What is it, lady," I cried. "Has he been looking at you like that
again, the way you described in the letter?"

"Yes--it's getting more frequent. And at nights--oh! my God! it's awful.
Poor old Hugh."

She broke down at that, while I noticed that her hands were all
trembling, and that dark shadows were round her eyes.

"Tell me about it," I said, "for we must do something."

She pulled herself together, and called through the speaking-tube to
the chauffeur. "Go a little way round, Jervis. I don't want to get in
till tea-time."

Then she turned to me. "Since his operation I've been using another
room." The doctor's words flashed into my mind. "Sir William thought it
essential that he should have really long undisturbed nights, and I'm
such a light sleeper. For a few weeks everything panned out splendidly.
He seemed to get better and stronger, and he was just the same dear old
Hugh he's always been. Then gradually the restlessness started; he
couldn't sleep, he became irritable,--and the one thing which made him
most irritable of all was any suggestion that he wasn't going on all
right; or any hint even that he should see a doctor. Then came the
incident I wrote to you about. Since that evening I've often caught the
same look in his eye." She shuddered, and again I noticed the quiver in
her hands, but she quickly controlled herself. "Last night, I woke up
suddenly. It must have been about three, for it was pitch dark, and I
think I'd been asleep some hours. I don't know what woke me; but in an
instant I knew there was someone in the room. I lay trembling with
fright, and suddenly out of the darkness came a hideous chuckle. It was
the most awful, diabolical noise I've ever heard. Then I heard his
voice.

"He was muttering, and all I could catch were the words 'Death-Grip.' I
nearly fainted with terror, but forced myself to keep consciousness. How
long he stood there I don't know, but after an eternity it seemed, I
heard the door open and shut. I heard him cross the passage, and go into
his own room. Then there was silence. I forced myself to move; I
switched on the light, and locked the door. And when dawn came in
through the windows, I was still sitting in a chair sobbing, shaking
like a terrified child.

"This morning he was perfectly normal, and just as cheerful and loving
as he'd ever been. Oh! Ginger, what am I to do?" She broke down and
cried helplessly.

"You poor kid," I said; "what an awful experience! You must lock your
door to-night, and to-morrow, with or without Hugh's knowledge, I shall
go up to see Cremer."

"You don't think; oh! it couldn't be true that Hugh, my Hugh, is
going----" She wouldn't say the word, but just gazed at me fearfully
through her tears.

"Hush, my lady," I said quietly. "The brain is a funny thing; perhaps
there is some pressure somewhere which Sir William will be able to
remove."

"Why, of course that's it. I'm tired, stupid--it's made me exaggerate
things. It will mean another operation, that's all. Wasn't it splendid
about his getting the V.C.; and the King, so gracious, so kind...." She
talked bravely on, and I tried to help her.

But suppose there wasn't any pressure; suppose there was nothing to
remove; suppose.... And in my mind I saw the plot with the little wooden
crosses; in my mind I heard the express for somewhere booming sullenly
overhead. And I wondered ... shuddered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hugh met us at the door; dear old Hugh, looking as well as he ever did.

"Splendid, Ginger, old man! So glad you managed the leave all right."

"Not a hitch, Hugh. You're looking very fit."

"I am. Fit as a flea. You ask Elsie what she thinks."

His wife smiled. "You're just wonderful, old boy, except for your
sleeplessness at night. I want him to see Sir William Cremer, Ginger,
but he doesn't think it worth while."

"I don't," said Hugh shortly. "Damn that old sawbones."

In another man the remark would have passed unnoticed; but the chauffeur
was there, and a maid, and his wife--and the expression was quite
foreign to Hugh.

But I am bound to say that except for that one trifling thing I noticed
absolutely nothing peculiar about him all the evening. At dinner he was
perfectly normal; quite charming--his own brilliant self. When he was in
the mood, I have seldom heard his equal as a conversationalist, and that
night he was at the top of his form. I almost managed to persuade myself
that my fears were groundless....

"I want to have a buck with Ginger, dear," he said to his wife after
dinner was over. "A talk over the smells and joys of Flanders."

"But I should like to hear," she answered. "It's so hard to get you men
to talk."

"I don't think you would like to hear, my dear." His tone was quite
normal, but there was a strange note of insistence in it. "It's shop,
and will bore you dreadfully." He still stood by the door waiting for
her to pass through. After a moment's hesitation she went, and Hugh
closed the door after her. What suggested the analogy to my mind I
cannot say, but the way in which he performed the simple act of closing
the door seemed to be the opening rite of some ceremony. Thus could I
picture a morphomaniac shutting himself in from prying gaze, before
abandoning himself to his vice; the drunkard, at last alone, returning
gloatingly to his bottle. Perhaps my perceptions were quickened, but it
seemed to me that Hugh came back to me as if I were his colleague in
some guilty secret--as if his wife were alien to his thoughts, and now
that she was gone, we could talk.... His first words proved I was right.

"Now we can talk, Ginger," he remarked. "These women don't understand."
He pushed the port towards me.

"Understand what?" I was watching him closely.

"Life, my boy, _the_ life. The life of an eye for an eye and a tooth for
a tooth. Gad! it was a great day that, Ginger." His eyes were fixed on
me, and for the first time I noticed the red in them, and a peculiar
twitch in the lids.

"Did you find the Blue Bird?" I asked quietly.

"Find it?" He laughed--and it was not a pleasant laugh. "I used to think
it lay in books, in art, in music." Again he gave way to a fit of
devilish mirth. "What damned fools we are, old man, what damned fools.
But you mustn't tell her." He leaned over the table and spoke
confidentially. "She'd never understand; that's why I got rid of her."
He lifted his glass to the light, looking at it as a connoisseur looks
at a rare vintage, while all the time a strange smile--a cruel
smile--hovered round his lips. "Music--art," his voice was full of
scorn. "Only we know better. Did I ever tell you about that grip I
learned in Sumatra--the Death Grip?"

He suddenly fired the question at me, and for a moment I did not
answer. All my fears were rushing back into my mind with renewed
strength; it was not so much the question as the tone--and the eyes of
the speaker.

"No, never." I lit a cigarette with elaborate care.

"Ah! Someday I must show you. You take a man's throat in your right
hand, and you put your left behind his neck--like that." His hands were
curved in front of him--curved as if a man's throat was in them. "Then
you press and press with the two thumbs--like that; with the right thumb
on a certain muscle in the neck, and the left on an artery under the
ear; and you go on pressing, until--until there's no need to press any
longer. It's wonderful." I can't hope to give any idea of the dreadful
gloating tone in his voice.

"I got a Prussian officer like that, that day," he went on after a
moment. "I saw his dirty grey face close to mine, and I got my hands on
his throat. I'd forgotten the exact position for the grip, and then
suddenly I remembered it. I squeezed and squeezed--and, Ginger, the grip
was right. I squeezed his life out in ten seconds." His voice rose to a
shout.

"Steady, Hugh," I cried. "You'll be frightening Elsie."

"Quite right," he answered; "that would never do. I haven't told her
that little incident--she wouldn't understand. But I'm going to show
her the grip one of these days. As a soldier's wife, I think it's a
thing she ought to know."

He relapsed into silence, apparently quite calm, though his eyelids
still twitched, while I watched him covertly from time to time. In my
mind now there was no shadow of doubt that the doctor's fears were
justified; I knew that Hugh Latimer was insane. That his loss of mental
balance was periodical and not permanent was not the point; layman
though I was, I could realise the danger to everyone in the house. At
the moment the tragedy of the case hardly struck me; I could only think
of the look on his face, the gloating, watching look--and Elsie and the
boy....

At half-past nine he went to bed, and I had a few words with his wife.

"Lock your door to-night," I said insistently, "as you value everything,
lock your door. I am going to see Cremer to-morrow."

"What's he been saying?" she asked, and her lips were white. "I heard
him shouting once."

"Enough to make me tell you to lock your door," I said as lightly as I
could. "Elsie, you've got to be brave; something has gone wrong with
poor old Hugh for the time, and until he's put right again, there are
moments when he's not responsible for his actions. Don't be uneasy; I
shall be on hand to-night."

"I shan't be uneasy" she answered, and then she turned away, and I saw
her shoulders shaking. "My Hugh--my poor old man." I caught the
whispered words, and she was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

I suppose it was about two that I woke with a start. I had meant to keep
awake the whole night, and with that idea I had not undressed, but,
sitting in a chair before the fire, had tried to keep myself awake with
a book. But the journey from France had made me sleepy, and the book had
slipped to the floor, as has been known to happen before. The light was
still on, though the fire had burned low; and I was cramped and stiff.
For a moment I sat listening intently--every faculty awake; and then I
heard a door gently close, and a step in the passage. I switched off the
light and listened.

Instinctively, I knew the crisis had come, and with the need for action
I became perfectly cool. Soft footsteps, like a man walking in his
socks, came distinctly through the door which I had left ajar--once a
board creaked. And after that sharp ominous crack there was silence for
a space; the nocturnal walker was cautious, cautious with the devilish
cunning of the madman.

It seemed to me an eternity as I listened--straining to hear in the
silent house--then once again there came the soft pad-pad of stockinged
feet; nearer and nearer till they halted outside my door. I could hear
the heavy breathing of someone outside, and then stealthily my door was
pushed open. In the dim light which filtered in from the passage Hugh's
figure was framed in the doorway. With many pauses and very cautious
steps he moved to the bed, while I pressed against the wall watching
him.

His hands wandered over the pillows, and then he muttered to himself.
"Old Ginger--I suppose he hasn't come to bed yet. And I wanted to show
him that little grip--that little death-grip." He chuckled horribly.
"Never mind--Elsie, dear little Elsie; I will show her first. Though she
won't understand so well--only Ginger would really understand."

He moved to the door, and once again the slow padding of his feet
sounded in the passage; while he still muttered, though I could not hear
what he said. Then he came to his wife's door and cautiously turned the
handle....

What happened then happened quickly. He realised quickly that it was
locked, and this seemed to infuriate him. He gave an inarticulate shout,
and rattled the door violently; then he drew back to the other side of
the passage and prepared to charge it. And at that moment we closed.

I had followed him out of my room, and, knowing myself to be far
stronger than him, I threw myself on him without a thought I hadn't
reckoned on the strength of a madman, and for two minutes he threw me
about as if I were a child. We struggled and fought, while frightened
maids wrung their hands--and a white-faced woman watched with tearless
eyes. And at last I won; when his temporary strength gave out, he was as
weak as a child. Poor old Hugh! Poor old chap!...

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir William Cremer came down the next day, and to him I told everything.
He made all the necessary wretched arrangements, and the dear fellow was
taken away--seemingly quite sane--and telling Elsie he'd be back soon.

"They say I need a change, old dear, and this old tyrant says I've been
restless at night." He had his hand on Sir William's shoulder as he
spoke, while the car was waiting at the door.

"Jove! little girl--you do look a bit washed out Have I been worrying
you?"

"Of course not, old man." Her voice was perfectly steady.

"There you are, Sir William." He turned triumphantly to the doctor.
"Still perhaps you're right. Where's the young rascal? Give me a kiss,
you scamp--and look after your mother while I'm away. I'll be back
soon." He went down the steps and into the car.

"And very likely he will, Mrs. Latimer. Keep your spirits up and never
despair." Sir William patted her shoulder paternally, but over her bent
head I saw his eyes.

"God knows," he said reverently to me as he followed Hugh. "The brain is
such a wonderful thing; just a tiny speck and a genius becomes a madman.
God knows."

       *       *       *       *       *

Later on I too went away, carrying in my mind the picture of a girl--she
was no more--holding a little bronze cross in front of a laughing
baby--the cross on which is written, "For Valour." And once again my
mind went back to that little plot in Flanders covered with wooden
crosses.



CHAPTER VIII

JAMES HENRY


James Henry was the sole remaining son of his mother, and she was a
widow. His father, some twelve months previously, had inadvertently
encountered a motor-car travelling at great speed, and had forthwith
been laid to rest. His sisters--whom James Henry affected to
despise--had long since left the parental roof and gone to seek their
Fortunes in the great world; while his brothers had in all cases died
violent deaths, following in the steps of their lamented father. In
fact, as I said, James Henry was alone in the world saving only for his
mother: and as she'd married again since his father's death he felt that
his responsibility so far as she was concerned was at an end. In fact,
he frequently cut her when he met her about the house.

Relations had become particularly strained after this second matrimonial
venture. An aristocrat of the most unbending description himself, he had
been away during the period of her courtship--otherwise, no doubt, he
would have protected his father's stainless escutcheon. As it was, he
never quite recovered from the shock.

It was at breakfast one morning that he heard the news. Lady Monica told
him as she handed him his tea. "James Henry," she remarked
reproachfully, "your mother is a naughty woman." True to his
aristocratic principle of stoical calm he continued to consume his
morning beverage. There were times when the mention of his mother bored
him to extinction. "A very naughty woman," she continued. "Dad"--she
addressed a man who had just come into the room--"it's occurred."

"What--have they come?"

"Yes--last night. Five."

"Are they good ones?"

Lady Alice laughed. "I was just telling James Henry what I thought of
his Family when you came in. I'm afraid Harriet Emily is incorrigible."

"Look at James!" exclaimed the Earl--"he's spilled his tea all over the
carpet." He was inspecting the dishes on the sideboard as he spoke.

"He always does. His whiskers dribble. Jervis tells me that he thinks
Harriet Emily must have--er--flirted with a most undesirable
acquaintance."

"Oh! has she?" Her father opened the morning paper and started to enjoy
his breakfast. "We must drown 'em, my dear, drown---- Hullo! the
Russians have crossed the----" It sounded like an explosion in a
soda-water factory, and James Henry protested.

"Quite right, Henry. He oughtn't to do it at breakfast. It doesn't
really make any one any happier. Did _you_ know about your mother? Now
don't gobble your food." Lady Monica held up an admonishing finger.
"Four of your brothers and sisters are more or less respectable, James,
but there's _one_--there's one that is distinctly reminiscent of a
dachshund. Oh! 'Arriet, 'Arriet--I'm ashamed of you."

James Henry sneezed heavily and got down from the table. Always a
perfect gentleman, he picked up the crumbs round his chair, and even
went so far as to salvage a large piece of sausage skin which had
slipped on to the floor. Then, full of rectitude and outwardly
unconcerned, he retired to a corner behind a cupboard and earnestly
contemplated a little hole in the floor.

Outwardly calm--yes: that at least was due to the memory of his
blue-blooded father. But inwardly, he seethed. With his head on one side
he alternately sniffed and blew as he had done regularly every morning
for the past two months. His father's wife the mother of a sausage-dog!
Incredible! It must have been that miserable fat beast who lived at the
Pig and Whistle. The insolence--the inconceivable impertinence of such
an unsightly, corpulent traducer daring to ally himself with One of the
Fox Terriers. He growled slightly in his disgust, and three mice inside
the wall laughed gently. But--still, the girls are ever frail. He
blushed slightly at some recollection, and realised that he must make
allowances. But a sausage dog! Great Heavens!

"James--avançons, mon brave." Lady Monica was standing in the window.
"We will hie us to the village. Dad, don't forget that our branch of the
Federated Association of Women War Workers are drilling here this
afternoon."

"Good Heavens! my dear girl--is it?" Her father gazed at her in alarm.
"I think--er--I think I shall have to--er--run up to Town--er--this
afternoon."

"I thought you'd have to, old dear. In fact, I've ordered the car for
you. Come along, Henry--we must go and get a boy scout to be bandaged."

James Henry gave one last violently facial contortion at the entrance of
the mouse's lair, and rose majestically to his feet. If she wanted to go
out, he fully realised that he must go with her: Emily would have to
wait. He would go round later and see his poor misguided mother and
reason with her; but just at present the girl was his principal duty.
She generally asked his advice on various things when they went for a
walk, and the least he could do was to pretend to be interested at any
rate.

Apparently this morning she was in need of much counsel and help.
Having arrived at a clearing in the wood, on the way to the village, she
sat down on the fallen trunk of a tree, and addressed him.

"James--what am I to do? Derek is coming this afternoon before he goes
back to France. What shall I tell him, Henry--what _shall_ I tell him?
Because I know he'll ask me again. Thank you, old man, but you're not
very helpful, and I'd much sooner you kept it yourself."

Disgustedly James Henry removed the carcase of a field mouse he had just
procured, and resigned himself to the inevitable.

"I'm fond of him; I like him--in fact at times more than like him. But
is it the _real_ thing? Now what do you think, James Henry?--tell me all
that is in your mind. Ought I----"

It was then that he gave his celebrated rendering of a young typhoon,
owing to the presence of a foreign substance--to wit, a fly--in a
ticklish spot on his nose.

"You think that, do you? Well, perhaps you're right. Come on, my lad, we
must obtain the victim for this afternoon. I wonder if those little boys
like it? To do some good and kindly action each day--that's their motto,
James. And as one person to another you must admit that to be revived
from drowning, resuscitated from fainting, brought to from an epileptic
fit, and have two knees, an ankle, and a collarbone set at the same
time is some good action even for a boy scout."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not until after lunch that James Henry paid his promised call on
his mother. Maturer considerations had but strengthened his resolve to
make allowances. After all, these things do happen in the best families.
He was, indeed, prepared to be magnanimous and forgive; he was even
prepared to be interested; the only thing he wasn't prepared for was the
nasty bite he got on his ear. That settled it. It was then that he
finally washed his hands of his undutiful parent. As he told her, he
felt more sorrow than anger; he should have realised that anyone who
could have dealings with a sausage-hound must be dead to all sense of
decency--and that the only thing he asked was that in the future she
would conceal the fact that they were related.

Then he left her--and trotting round to the front of the house, found
great activity in progress on the lawn.

"Good Heavens! James Henry, do they often do this?" With a shout of joy
he recognised the speaker. And having told him about Harriet, and blown
heavily at a passing spider and then trodden on it, he sat down beside
the soldier on the steps. The game on the lawn at first sight looked
dull; and he only favoured it with a perfunctory glance. In fact, what
on earth there was in it to make the soldier beside him shake and shake
while the tears periodically rolled down his face was quite beyond
Henry.

The principal player seemed to be a large man--also in khaki--with a
loud voice. Up to date he had said nothing but "Now then, ladies," at
intervals, and in a rising crescendo. Then it all became complicated.

"Now then, ladies, when I says Number--you numbers from Right to Left in
an heven tone of voice. The third lady from the left 'as no lady behind
'er--seeing as we're a hodd number. She forms the blank file. Yes, you,
mum--you, I means."

"What are you pointing at me for, my good man?" The Vicar's wife
suddenly realised she was being spoken to. "Am I doing anything wrong?"

"No, mum, no. Not this time. I was only saying as you 'ave no one behind
you."

"Oh! I'll go there at once--I'm so sorry." She retired to the rear rank.
"Dear Mrs. Goodenough, _did_ I tread upon your foot?--so clumsy of me!
Oh, what is that man saying now? But you've just told me to come here.
You did nothing of the sort? How rude!"

But as I said, the game did not interest James Henry, so he wandered
away and played in some bushes. There were distinct traces of a recently
moving mole which was far more to the point. Then having found--after a
diligent search and much delight in pungent odours--that the mole was a
has-been, our Henry disappeared for a space. And far be it from me to
disclose where he went: his intentions were always strictly honourable.

When he appeared again the Earl had just returned from London, and was
talking to the tall soldier-man. The Women War Workers had departed,
and, as James Henry approached, his mistress came out and joined the two
men.

"Have those dreadful women gone, my dear?" asked the Earl as he saw her.

"You're very rude, Dad. The Federated Association of the W.W.W. is a
very fine body of patriotic women. What did you think of our drill,
Derek?"

"Wonderful, Monica. Quite the most wonderful thing I've ever seen." The
soldier solemnly offered her a cigarette.

"You men are all jealous. We're coming out to France as V.A.D.'s soon."

"Good Lord, Derek--you ought to have seen their first drill. In one
corner of the lawn that poor devil of a sergeant with his face a shiny
purple alternately sobbed and bellowed like a bull--while twenty-seven
W.W.W.'s tied themselves into a knot like a Rugby football scrum, and
told one another how they'd done it. It was the most heart-rending
sight I've ever seen."

"Dear old Dad!" The girl blew a cloud of smoke. "You told it better last
time."

"Don't interrupt, Monica. The final tableau----"

"Which one are you going to tell him, dear? The one where James Henry
bit the Vicar's wife in the leg, or the one where the sergeant with a
choking cry of 'Double, damn you!' fell fainting into the rhododendron
bush?"

"I think the second is the better," remarked the soldier pensively.
"Dogs always bite the Vicar's wife's leg. Not a hobby I should
personally take up, but----"

They all laughed. "Now run indoors, old 'un, and tell John to get you a
mixed Vermouth--I want to talk to Derek." The girl gently pushed her
father towards the open window.

It was at that particular moment in James Henry's career that, having
snapped at a wasp and partially killed it, he inadvertently sat on the
carcase by mistake. As he explained to Harriet Emily afterwards, it
wasn't so much the discomfort of the proceeding which annoyed him, as
the unfeeling laughter of the spectators. And it was only when she'd
bitten him in the other ear that he remembered he had disowned her that
very afternoon.

       *       *       *       *       *

But elsewhere, though he was quite unaware of the fact, momentous
decisions as to his future were being taken. The Earl had gone in to get
his mixed Vermouth, and outside his daughter and the soldier-man sat and
talked. It was fragmentary, disjointed--the talk of old friends with
much in common. Only in the man's voice there was that suppressed note
which indicates things more than any mere words. Monica heard it and
sighed--she'd heard it so often before in his voice. James Henry had
heard it too during a previous talk--one which he had graced with his
presence--and had gone to the extent of discussing it with a friend. On
this occasion he had been gently dozing on the man's knee, when suddenly
he had been rudely awakened. In his dreams he had heard her say, "Dear
old Derek--I'm afraid it's No. You see, I'm not sure;" which didn't seem
much to make a disturbance about.

"Would you believe it," he remarked later, "but as she spoke the
soldier-man's grip tightened on my neck till I was almost choked."

"What did you do?" asked his Friend, a disreputable "long-dog." "Did you
bite him?"

"I did not." James Henry sniffed. "It was not a biting moment. Tact was
required. I just gave a little cough, and instantly he took his hand
away. 'Old man,' he whispered to me--she'd left us--'I'm sorry. I
didn't mean to--I wasn't thinking.' So I licked his hand to show him I
understood."

"I know what you mean. I'm generally there when my bloke comes out of
prison, and he always kicks me. But it's meant kindly."

"As a matter of fact that is not what I mean--though I daresay your
experiences on such matters are profound." James was becoming
blue-blooded. "The person who owns you, and who is in the habit of going
to--er--prison, no doubt shows his affection for you in that way. And
very suitable too. But the affair to which I alluded is quite different.
The soldier-man is almost as much in my care as the girl. And so I know
his feelings. At the time, he was suffering though why I don't
understand; and therefore it was up to me to suffer with him. It helped
him."

"H'm," the lurcher grunted. "Daresay you're right. What about a trip to
the gorse? I haven't seen a rabbit for some time."

And if Henry had not sat on the wasp, his neck might again have been
squeezed that evening. As it was, the danger period was over by the time
he reappeared and jumped into the girl's lap. Not only had the sixth
proposal been gently turned down--but James's plans for the near future
had been settled for him in a most arbitrary manner.

"Well, old man, how's the tail?" laughed the soldier. James Henry
yawned--the subject seemed a trifle personal even amongst old friends.
"Have you heard you're coming with me to France?"

"And you must bring him to me as soon as I get over," cried the girl.

"At once, dear lady. I'll ask for special leave, and if necessary an
armistice."

"Won't you bark at the Huns, my cherub?" She laughed and got up. "Go to
your uncle--I'm going to dress."

What happened then was almost more than even the most long-suffering
terrier could stand. He was unceremoniously bundled into his uncle's
arms by his mistress, and at the same moment she bent down. A strange
noise was heard such as he had frequently noted, coming from the top of
his own head, when his mistress was in an affectionate mood--a peculiar
form of exercise he deduced, which apparently amused some people. But
the effect on the soldier was electrical. He sprang out of his chair
with a shout--"Monica--you little devil--come back," and James Henry
fell winded to the floor. But a flutter of white disappearing indoors
was the only answer....

"She's not sure, James, my son--she's not sure." The man pulled out his
cigarette case and contemplated him thoughtfully. "And how the deuce
are we to make her sure? I want it, and her father wants it, and so
does she if she only knew it. They're the devil, James Henry--they're
the devil."

But his hearer did not want philosophy; he wanted his tummy rubbed. He
lay with one eye closed, his four paws turned up limply towards the sky,
and sighed gently. Never before had the suggestion failed; enthusiastic
admirers had always taken the hint gladly, and he had graciously allowed
them the pleasure. But this time--horror upon horror--not only was there
no result, but in a dreamy, contemplative manner the soldier actually
deposited his used and still warm match carefully on the spot where
James Henry's wind had been. Naturally there was only one possible
course open to him. He rose quietly, and left. It was only when he was
thinking the matter over later that it struck him that his exit would
have been more dignified if he hadn't sat down halfway across the lawn
to scratch his right ear. It was more than likely that a completely
false construction would be put on that simple action by anyone who
didn't know he'd had words with Harriet Emily.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus James Henry--gentleman, at his country seat in England. I have gone
out of my way to describe what may be taken as an average day in his
life, in order to show him as he was before he went to France to be
banished from the country--cashiered in disgrace a few weeks after his
arrival. Which only goes to prove the change that war causes in even the
most polished and courtly.

I am told that the alteration for the worse started shortly after his
arrival at the front. What did it I don't know--but he lost one whisker
and a portion of an ear, thus giving him a somewhat lopsided appearance;
though rakish withal. It may have been a detonator which went off as he
ate it--it may have been foolish curiosity over a maxim--it may even
have been due to the fact that he found a motor-bicycle standing still,
what time it made strange provocative noises, and failed to notice that
the back wheel was off the ground and rotating at a great pace.

Whatever it was it altered James Henry. Not that it soured his
temper--not at all; but it made him more reckless, less careful of
appearances. He forgot the repose that stamps the caste of Vere de Vere,
and a series of incidents occurred which tended to strain relations all
round.

There was the question of the three dead chickens, for instance. Had
they disappeared decently and in order much might have been thought but
nothing would have been known. But when they were deposited on their
owner's doorstep, with James Henry mounting guard over the corpses
himself, it was a little difficult to explain the matter away. That was
the trouble--his sense of humour seemed to have become distorted.

The pastime of hunting for rats in the sewers of Ypres cannot be too
highly commended; but having got thoroughly wet in the process, James
Henry's practice of depositing the rat and himself on the Adjutant's bed
was open to grave criticism.

But enough: these two instances were, I am sorry to state, but types of
countless other regrettable episodes which caused the popularity of
James Henry to wane.

The final decree of death or banishment came when James had been in the
country some seven weeks.

On the day in question a dreadful shout was heard, followed by a flood
of language which I will refrain from committing to print. And then the
Colonel appeared in the door of his dug-out.

"Where is that accursed idiot, Murgatroyd? Pass the word along for the
damn fool."

"'Urry up, Conky. The ole man's a-twittering for you." Murgatroyd
emerged from a recess.

"What's 'e want?"

"I'd go and find out, cully. I think 'e's going to mention you in 'is
will." At that moment a fresh outburst floated through the stillness.

"Great 'Eavens!" Murgatroyd reluctantly rose to his feet. "So long,
boys. Tell me mother she was in me thoughts up to the end." He paused
outside the dug-out and then went manfully in. "You wanted me, sir."

"Look at this, you blithering ass, look at this." The Colonel was
searching through his Fortnum and Mason packing-case on the floor.
"Great Heavens! and the caviar too--imbedded in the butter. Five defunct
rodents in the brawn"--he threw each in turn at his servant, who dodged
round the dug-out like a pea in a drum--"the marmalade and the pâté de
fois gras inseparably mixed together, and the whole covered with a thick
layer of disintegrating cigar."

"It wasn't me, sir," Murgatroyd spoke in an aggrieved tone.

"I didn't suppose it was, you fool." The Colonel straightened himself
and glared at his hapless minion. "Great Heavens! there's another rat on
my hairbrush."

"One of the same five, sir. It ricocheted off my face." With a
magnificent nonchalance his servant threw it out of the door. "I think,
sir, it must be James 'Enry."

"Who the devil is James Henry?"

"Sir Derek Temple's little dawg, sir."

"Indeed." The Colonel's tone was ominous. "Go round and ask Sir Derek
Temple to be good enough to come and see me at once."

What happened exactly at that interview I cannot say; although I
understand that James Henry considered an absurd fuss had been made
about a trifle. In fact he found it so difficult to lie down with any
comfort that night that he missed much of his master's conversation with
him.

"You've topped it, James, you've put the brass hat on. The old man
threatens to turn out a firing party if he ever sees you again."

James feigned sleep: this continual harping on what was over and done
with he considered the very worst of form. Even if he had put the caviar
in the butter and his foot in the marmalade--well, hang it all--what
then? He'd presented the old buster with five dead rats, which was more
than he'd do for a lot of people.

"In fact, James, you are not popular, my boy--and I shudder to think
what Monica will do with you when she gets you. She's come over, you may
be pleased to hear, Henry. She is V.A.D.-ing at a charming hospital that
overlooks the sea. James, why can't I go sick--and live for a space at
that charming hospital that overlooks the sea? Think of it: here am I,
panting to have my face washed by her, panting----"

For a moment he rhapsodised in silence. "Breakfast in bed, poached egg
in the bed: oh! James, my boy, and she probably never even thinks of
me."

He took a letter out of his pocket and held it under the light of the
candle. "'Not much to do at present, but delightful weather. The
hospital is nearly empty, though there's one perfect dear who is almost
fit--a Major in some Highland regiment.'

"Listen to that, James. Some great raw-boned, red-kneed Scotchman, and
she calls him a perfect dear!" His listener blew resignedly and again
composed himself to slumber.

"'How is James behaving? I'd love to see the sweet pet again.' Sweet
pet: yes--my boy--you look it. 'Do you remember how annoyed he was when
I put him in your arms that afternoon at home?' Do you hear that,
James?--do I remember? Monica, you adorable soul...." He relapsed into
moody thought.

       *       *       *       *       *

At what moment during that restless night the idea actually came I know
not. Possibly a diabolical chuckle on the part of James Henry, who was
hunting in his dreams, goaded him to desperation. But it is an undoubted
fact that when Sir Derek Temple rose the next morning he had definitely
determined to embark on the adventure which culminated in the tragedy of
the cat, the General, and James. The latter is reputed to regard the
affair as quite trifling and unworthy of the fierce glare of publicity
that beat upon it. The cat, has, or rather had, different views.

Now, be it known to those who live in England that it is one thing to
say in an airy manner, as Derek had said to Lady Monica, that he would
come and see her when she landed in France; it is another to do it. But
to a determined and unprincipled man nothing is impossible; and though
it would be the height of indiscretion for me to hint even at the
methods he used to attain his ends, it is a certain fact that in the
afternoon of the second day following the episode of the five rodents he
found himself at a certain seaport town with James Henry as the other
member of the party. And having had his hair cut, and extricated his
companion from a street brawl, he hired a motor and drove into the
country.

Now, Derek Temple's knowledge of hospitals and their ways was not
profound. He had a hazy idea that on arriving at the portals he would
send in his name, and that in due course he could consume a tête-à-tête
tea with Monica in her private boudoir. He rehearsed the scene in his
mind: the quiet, cutting reference to Highlanders who failed to
understand the official position of nurses--the certainty that this
particular one was a scoundrel: the fact that, on receiving her letter,
he had at once rushed off to protect her.

And as he got to this point the car turned into the gates of a palatial
hotel and stopped by the door. James Henry jumped through the open
window, and his master followed him up the steps.

"Is Lady Monica Travers at home; I mean--er--is she in the hospital?" He
addressed an R.A.M.C. sergeant in the entrance.

"No dawgs allowed in the 'ospital, sir." The scandalised N.C.O. glared
at James Henry, who was furiously growling at a hot-air grating in the
floor. "You must get 'im out at once, sir: we're being inspected
to-day."

"Heel, James, heel. He'll be quite all right, Sergeant. Just find out,
will you, about Lady Monica Travers?"

"Beg pardon, sir, but are you a patient?"

"Patient--of course I'm not a patient. Do I look like a patient?"

"Well, sir, there ain't no visiting allowed when the sisters is on
duty."

"What? But it's preposterous. Do you mean to say I can't see her unless
I'm a patient? Why, man, I've got to go back in an hour."

"Very sorry, sir--but no visiting allowed. Very strict 'ere, and as I
says we're full of brass 'ats to-day."

For a moment Derek was nonplussed; this was a complication on which he
had not reckoned.

"But look here, Sergeant, you know..." and even as he spoke he looked
upstairs and beheld Lady Monica. Unfortunately she had not seen him, and
the situation was desperate. Forcing James Henry into the arms of the
outraged N.C.O., he rushed up the stairs and followed her.

"Derek!" The girl stopped in amazement. "What in the world are you doing
here?"

"Monica, my dear, I've come to see you. Tell me that you don't really
love that damn Scotchman."

An adorable smile spread over her face. "You idiot! I don't love anyone.
My work fills my life."

"Rot! You said in your letter you had nothing to do at present. Monica,
take me somewhere where I can make love to you."

"I shall do nothing of the sort. In the first place you aren't allowed
here at all; and in the second I don't want to be made love to."

"And in the third," said Derek grimly, as the sound of a procession
advancing down a corridor came from round the corner, "you're being
inspected to-day, and that--if I mistake not--is the great pan-jan-drum
himself."

"Oh! good Heavens. Derek, I'd forgotten. Do go, for goodness' sake.
Run--I shall be sacked."

"I shall not go. As the great man himself rounds that corner I shall
kiss you with a loud trumpeting noise.'

"You brute! Oh! what shall I do?--there they are. Come in here." She
grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him into a small deserted
sitting-room close by.

"You darling," he remarked and promptly kissed her. "Monica, dear, you
must listen----"

"Sit down, you idiot. I'm sure they saw me. You must pretend you're a
patient just come in. I know I shall be sacked. The General is
dreadfully particular. Put this thermometer in your mouth. Quick, give
me your hand--I must take your pulse."

"I think," said a voice outside the door, "that I saw--er--a patient
being brought into one of these rooms."

"Surely not, sir. These rooms are all empty." The door opened and the
cavalcade paused. "Er--Lady Monica... really."

"A new patient, Colonel," she remarked. "I am just taking his
temperature." Derek, his eyes partially closed, lay back in a chair,
occasionally uttering a slight groan.

"The case looks most interesting." The General came and stood beside
him. "Most interesting. Have you--er--diagnosed the symptoms, sister?"
His lips were twitching suspiciously.

"Not yet, General. The pulse is normal--and the temperature"--she looked
at the thermometer--"is--good gracious me! have you kept it properly
under your tongue?" She turned to Derek, who nodded feebly. "The
temperature is only 93." She looked at the group in an awestruck manner.

"Most remarkable," murmured the General. "One feels compelled to wonder
what it would have been if he'd had the right end in his mouth." Derek
emitted a hollow groan. "And where do you feel it worst, my dear boy?"
continued the great man, gazing at him through his eyeglass.

"Dyspepsia, sir," he whispered feebly. "Dreadful dyspepsia. I can't
sleep, I--er--Good Lord!" His eyes opened, his voice rose, and with a
fixed stare of horror he gazed at the door. Through it with due
solemnity came James Henry holding in his mouth a furless and very dead
cat. He advanced to the centre of the group--laid it at the General's
feet--and having sneezed twice sat down and contemplated his handiwork:
his tail thumping the floor feverishly in anticipation of well-merited
applause.

It was possibly foolish, but, as Derek explained afterwards to Monica,
the situation had passed beyond him. He arose and confronted the
General, who was surveying the scene coldly, and with a courtly
exclamation of "Your cat, I believe, sir," he passed from the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The conclusion of this dreadful drama may be given in three short
sentences.

The first was spoken by the General. "Let it be buried." And it was so.

The second was whispered by Lady Monica--later. "Darling, I had to _say_
we were engaged: it looked so peculiar." And it was even more so.

The third was snorted by James Henry. "First I'm beaten and then I'm
kissed. Damn all cats!"



PART TWO

THE LAND OF TOPSY TURVY



PART TWO

THE LAND OF TOPSY TURVY

CHAPTER I

THE GREY HOUSE


You come on it unexpectedly, round a little spur in the side of the
valley, which screens it from view. It stands below you as you first see
it, not a big house, not a little one, but just comfortable. It seems in
keeping with the gardens, the tennis courts, the orchards which lie
around it in a hap-hazard sort of manner, as if they had just grown
there years and years ago and had been too lazy to move ever since.
Peace is the keynote of the whole picture--the peace and contentment of
sleepy unwoken England.

Down in the valley below, the river, brown and swollen, carries on its
bosom the flotsam and jetsam of its pilgrimage through the country. Now
and then a great branch goes bobbing by, only to come to grief in the
shallows round the corner--the shallows where the noise of the water on
the rounded stones lulls one to sleep at night, and sounds a ceaseless
reveille each morning. On the other side of the water the woods stretch
down close to the bank, though the upper slopes of the hills are bare,
and bathed in the golden light of the dying winter sun. Slowly the dark
shadow line creeps up--creeps up to meet the shepherd coming home with
his flock. Faint, but crisp, the barks of his dog, prancing excitedly
round him, strike on one's ears, and then of a sudden--silence. They
have entered the purple country; they have left the golden land, and the
dog trots soberly at his master's heels. One last peak alone remains,
dipped in flaming yellow, and then that too is touched by the finger of
oncoming night. For a few moments it survives, a flicker of fire on its
rugged tip, and then--the end; like a grim black sentinel it stands
gloomy and sinister against the evening sky.

The shepherd is out of sight amongst the trees; the purple is changing
to grey, the grey to black; there is no movement saving only the
tireless swish of the river....

To the man leaning over the gate the scene was familiar--but familiarity
had not robbed it of its charm. Involuntarily his mind went back to the
days before the Madness came--to the days when others had stood beside
him watching those same darkening hills, with the smoke of their pipes
curling gently away in the still air. Back from a day's shooting, back
from an afternoon on the river, and a rest at the top of the hill before
going in to tea in the house below. So had he stood countless times in
the past--with those others....

The Rabbit, with a gun under his arm, and his stubby briar glowing red
in the paling light. The Rabbit, with his old shooting-coat, with the
yarn of the one woodcock he nearly got, with his cheery laugh. But they
never found anything of him--an eight-inch shell is at any rate
merciful.

Torps--the naval candidate: one of the worst and most gallant riders
that ever threw a leg across a horse. Somewhere in the depths of the
Pacific, with the great heaving combers as his grave, he lies
peacefully; and as for a little while he had gasped and struggled while
hundreds of others gasped and struggled near him--perhaps he, too, had
seen the hills opposite once again even as the Last Fence loomed in
front and the whispered Kismet came from his lips....

Hugh--the son of the house close by. Twice wounded, and now out again in
Mesopotamia. Did the sound of the water come to him as the sun dropped,
slow and pitiless, into the west? The same parching, crawling days
following one another in deadly monotony: the same....

"Dreaming, Jim?" A woman's voice behind him broke on the man's thoughts.

"Yes, lady," he answered soberly. "Dreaming. Some of the ghosts we knew
have been coming to me out of the blue grey mists." He fell into step
beside her, and they moved towards the house.

"Ah! don't," she whispered--"don't! Oh! it's wicked, this war; cruel,
damnable." She stopped and faced him, her breast rising and falling
quickly. "And we can't follow you, Jim--we women. You go into the
unknown."

"Yes--yours is the harder part. You can only wait and wonder."

"Wait and wonder!" She laughed bitterly. "Hope and pray--while God
sleeps."

"Hush, lady!" he answered quietly; "for that way there lies no peace. Is
Sybil indoors?"

"Yes--she's expecting you. Thank goodness you're not going out yet
awhile, Jim; the child is fretting herself sick over her brother as it
is--and when you go...."

"Yes--when I go, what then?" he asked quietly. "Because I'm very nearly
fit again, Lady Alice. My arm is nearly all right."

"Do you want to go back, Jim?" Her quiet eyes searched his face. "Look
at that."

They had rounded a corner, and in front of them a man was leaning
against a wall talking to the cook. They were in the stage known as
walking-out--or is it keeping company? The point is immaterial and
uninteresting. But the man, fit and strong, was in a starred trade. He
was a forester--or had been since the first rumour of compulsion had
startled his poor tremulous spirit. A very fine, but not unique example
of the genuine shirker....

"What has he to do with us?" said Jim bitterly. "That thing takes his
stand along with the criminals, and the mental degenerates. He's worse
than a conscientious objector. And we've got no choice. He reaps the
benefits for which he refuses to fight. I don't want to go back to
France particularly; every feeling I've got revolts at the idea just at
present. I want to be with Sybil, as you know; I want to--oh! God knows!
I was mad over the water--it bit into me; I was caught by the fever.
It's an amazing thing how it gets hold of one. All the dirt and
discomfort, and the boredom and the fright--one would have thought...."
He laughed. "I suppose it's the madness in the air. But I'm sane now."

"Are you? I wonder for how long. Let's go in and have some tea." The
woman led the way indoors; there was silence again save only for the
sound of the river.



CHAPTER II

THE WOMEN AND--THE MEN


When Jim Denver told Lady Alice Conway that he was sane again, he spoke
no more than the truth. A few weeks in France, and then a shattered arm
had brought him back to England with more understanding than he had ever
possessed before. He had gone out the ordinary Englishman--casual,
sporting, easy going, somewhat apathetic; he had come back a thinker as
well, at times almost a dreamer. It affects different men in different
ways--but none escape. And that is what those others cannot
understand--those others who have not been across. Even the man who
comes back on short leave hardly grasps how the thing has changed him:
hardly realises that the madness is still in his soul. He has not time;
his leave is just an interlude. He is back again in France almost before
he realises he has left it. In mind he has never left it.

There is humour there in plenty--farce even; boredom, excitement,
passion, hatred. Every human emotion runs its full gamut in the Land of
Topsy Turvy; in the place where the life of a man is no longer
three-score years and ten, but just so long as the Great Reaper may
decide and no more. And you are caught in the whirl--you are tossed here
and there by a life of artificiality, a life not of one's own seeking,
but a life which, having once caught you, you are loath to let go.

Which is a hard saying, and one impossible of comprehension to those who
wait behind--to the wives, to the mothers, to the women. To them the
leave-train pulling slowly out of Victoria Station, with their man
waving a last adieu from the carriage window, means the ringing down of
the curtain once again. The unknown has swallowed him up--the unknown
into which they cannot follow him. Be he in a Staff office at the base
or with his battalion in the trenches, he has gone where the woman to
whom he counts as all the world cannot even picture him in her mind. To
her Flanders is Flanders and war is war--and there are casualty lists.
What matter that his battalion is resting; what matter that he is going
through a course somewhere at the back of beyond? He has gone into the
Unknown; the whistle of the train steaming slowly out is the voice of
the call-boy at the drop curtain. And now the train has passed out of
sight--or is it only that her eyes are dim with the tears she kept back
while he was with her?

At last she turns and goes blindly back to the room where they had
breakfast; she sees once more the chair he used, the crumpled morning
paper, the discarded cigarette. And there let us leave her with
tear-stained face and a pathetic little sodden handkerchief clutched in
one hand. "O God! dear God! send him back to me." Our women do not show
us this side very much when we are on leave; perhaps it is as well, for
the ground on which we stand is holy....

       *       *       *       *       *

And what of the man? The train is grinding through Herne Hill when he
puts down his _Times_ and catches sight of another man in his brigade
also returning from leave.

"Hullo, old man! What sort of a time have you had?"

"Top-hole. How's yourself? Was that your memsahib at the station?"

"Yes. Dislike women at these partings as a general rule--but she's
wonderful."

"They're pulling the brigade out to rest, I hear."

"So I believe. Anyway, I hope they've buried that dead Hun just in front
of us. He was getting beyond a joke...."

He is back in the life over the water again; there is nothing
incongruous to him in his sequence of remarks; the time of his leave has
been too short for the contrast to strike him. In fact, the whirl of
gaiety in which he has passed his seven days seems more unreal than his
other life--than the dead German. And it is only when a man is wounded
and comes home to get fit, when he idles away the day in the home of his
fathers, with a rod or a gun to help him back to convalescence, when the
soothing balm of utter peace and contentment creeps slowly through his
veins, that he looks back on the past few months as a runner on a race
just over. He has given of his best; he is ready to give of his best
again; but at the moment he is exhausted; panting, but at rest For the
time the madness has left him; he is sane. But it is only for the
time....

       *       *       *       *       *

He is able to think coherently; he is able to look on things in their
proper perspective. He knows. The bits in the kaleidoscope begin to
group coherently, to take definite form, and he views the picture from
the standpoint of a rational man. To him the leave-train contains no
illusions; the territory is not unknown. No longer does a dead Hun dwarf
his horizon to the exclusion of all else. He has looked on the thing
from close quarters; he has been mad with passion and shaking with
fright; he has been cold and wet, he has been hot and thirsty. Like a
blaze of tropical vegetation from which individual colours refuse to be
separated, so does the jumble of his life in Flanders strike him as he
looks back on it. Isolated occurrences seem unreal, hard to identify.
The little things which then meant so much now seem so paltry; the
things he hardly noticed now loom big. Above all, the grim absurdity of
the whole thing strikes him; civilisation has at last been defined....

He marvels that men can be such wonderful, such super-human fools; his
philosophy changes. He recalls grimly the particular night on which he
crept over a dirty ploughed field and scrambled into a shell-hole as he
saw the thin green streak of a German flare like a bar of light against
the blackness; then the burst--the ghostly light flooding the desolate
landscape--the crack of a solitary rifle away to his left. And as the
flare came slowly hissing down, a ball of fire, he saw the other
occupant of his hiding-place--a man's leg, just that, nothing more. And
he laughs; the thing is too absurd.

It is; it is absurd; it is monstrous, farcical. The realisation has come
to him; he is sane--for a time.

Sane: but for how long? It varies with the type. There are some who love
the game--who love it for itself alone. They sit on the steps of the War
Office, and drive their C.O.'s mad: they pull strings both male and
female, until the powers that be rise in their wrath, and consign them
to perdition and--France.

There are others who do not take it quite like that. They do not _want_
to go back particularly--and if they were given an important job in
England, a job for which they had special aptitude, in which they knew
they were invaluable, they would take it without regret. But though they
may not seek earnestly for France--neither do they seek for home. Their
wants do not matter; their private interests do not count: it is only
England to-day....

And lastly there is a third class, the class to whom that accursed
catch-phrase, "Doing his bit," means everything. There are some who
consider they have done their bit--that they need do no more. They draw
comparisons and become self-righteous. "Behold I am not as other men
are," they murmur complacently; "have not I kept the home fires burning,
and amassed money making munitions?" "I am doing my bit." "I have been
out; I have been hit--and _he_ has not. Why should I go again? I have
done my bit." Well, friend, it may be as you say. But methinks there is
only one question worth putting and answering to-day. Don't bother about
having done your bit. Are you doing your _all_? Let us leave it at
that.



CHAPTER III

THE WOMAN AND THE MAN


"When's your board, Jim?" The flickering light of the fire lit up the
old oak hall, playing on the face of the girl buried in an easy chair.
Tea was over, and they were alone.

"On Tuesday, dear," he answered gravely.

"But you aren't fit, old man; you don't think you're fit yet, do you?"
There was a note of anxiety in her voice.

"I'm perfectly fit, Sybil," he said quietly--"perfectly fit, my dear."

"Then you'll go back soon?" She looked at him with frightened eyes.

"Just as soon as they'll send me. I am going to ask the Board to pass me
fit 'for General Service.'"

"Oh, Jim!"--he hardly caught the whisper. "Oh, Jim! my man."

"Well----" he came over and knelt in front of her.

"It makes me sick," she cried fiercely, "to think of you and Hugh and
men like you--and then to think of all these other cowardly beasts. My
dear, my dear--do you _want_ to go back?"

"At present, I don't. I'm utterly happy here with you, and the old
peaceful country life. I'm afraid, Syb--I'm afraid of going on with it
I'm afraid of its sapping my vitality--I'm afraid of never wanting to go
back." His voice died away, and then suddenly he leant forward and
kissed her on the mouth.

"Come over here a moment," he stood up and drew her to him. "Come over
here." With his arm round her shoulders he led her over to a great
portrait in oils that hung against the wall, the portrait of a
stern-faced soldier in the uniform of a forgotten century. To the girl
the picture of her great-grandfather was not a thing of surpassing
interest--she had seen it too often before. But she was a girl of
understanding, and she realised that the soul of the man beside her was
in the melting-pot; and, moreover, that she might make or mar the mould
into which it must run. So in her wisdom she said nothing, and waited.

"I want you to listen to me for a bit, Syb," he began after a while.
"I'm not much of a fist at talking--especially on things I feel very
deeply about. I can't track my people back like you can. The
corresponding generation in my family to that old buster was a junior
inkslinger in a small counting-house up North. And that junior
inkslinger made good: you know what I'm worth to-day if the governor
died."

He started to pace restlessly up and down the hall, while the girl
watched him quietly.

"Then came this war and I went into it--not for any highfalutin motives,
not because I longed to avenge Belgium--but simply because my pals were
all soldiers or sailors, and it never occurred to me not to. In fact at
first I was rather pleased with myself--I treated it as a joke more or
less. The governor was inordinately proud of me; the mater had about
twelve dozen photographs of me in uniform sent round the country to
various bored and unwilling recipients; and lots of people combined to
tell me what a damn fine fellow I was. Do you think he'd have thought
so?" He stopped underneath the portrait and for a while gazed at the
painted face with a smile.

"That old blackguard up there--who lived every moment of his life--do
you think he would have accounted that to me for credit? What would _he_
say if he knew that in a crisis like this there are men who cloak
perfect sight behind blue glasses; that there are men who have joined
home defence units though they are perfectly fit to fight anywhere? And
what would he say, Sybil, if he knew that a man, even though he'd done
something, was now resting on his oars--content?"

"Go on, dear!" The girl's eyes were shining now.

"I'm coming to the point This morning the old dad started on the line of
various fellows he knew whose sons hadn't been out yet; and he didn't
see why I should go a second time--before they went. The business
instinct to a certain extent, I suppose--the point of view of a business
man. But would _he_ understand that?" Again he nodded to the picture.

"I think----" She began to speak, and then fell silent.

"Ah! but would he, my dear? What of Hugh, of the Rabbit, of Torps? With
them it was bred in the bone--with me it was not. For years I and mine
have despised the soldier and the sailor: for years you and yours have
despised the counting-house. And all that is changing. Over there the
tinkers, the tailors, the merchants, are standing together with the old
breed of soldier--the two lots are beginning to understand one
another--to respect one another. You're learning from us, and we're
learning from you, though _he_ would never have believed that possible."

Jim was standing very close to the girl, and his voice was low.

"It's because I'm not very sure of one of the lessons I've learnt: it's
because at times I do think it hard that others should not take their
fair share that I must get back to that show quick--damn quick.

"I want to be worthy of that old ancestor of yours--now that I'm going
to marry one of his family. I know we're all mad--I know the world's
mad; but, Syb, dear, you wouldn't have me sane, would you; not for ever?
And I shall be if I stay here any longer...."

"I understand, Jim," she answered, after a while. "I understand exactly.
And I wouldn't have you sane, except just now for a little while.
Because it's a glorious madness, and"--she put both her arms round his
neck and kissed him passionately--"and I love you."

Which was quite illogical and inconsequent--but there you are. What is
not illogical and inconsequent nowadays?

From which it will be seen that Jim Denver was not of the first of the
three types which I have mentioned. He did not love the game for itself
alone; my masters, there are not many who do. But there was no job in
England in which he would prove invaluable: though there were many which
with a little care he might have adorned beautifully.

And just because there _is_ blood in the counting-house, which only
requires to be brought out to show itself, he knew that he must go
back--he knew that it was his job.

       *       *       *       *       *

That wild enthusiasm which he had shared with other subalterns in his
battalion before they had been over the first time was lacking now; he
was calmer--more evenly balanced. He had attained the courage of
knowledge instead of the courage of ignorance.

No longer did the men who waited to be fetched excuse him--even though
he had "done his bit." No longer was it possible to shelter behind
another man's failure, and plead for so-called equality of sacrifice. To
him had come the meaning of tradition--that strange, nameless something
which has kept regiments in a position, battered with shells, stunned
with shock, gassed, brain reeling, mind gone, with nothing to hold them
except that nameless something which says to them, "Hold on!" While
other regiments, composed of men as brave, have not held. To him had
come that quality which has sent men laughing and talking without a
quaver to their death; that quality which causes men--eaten with fever,
lonely, weary to death, thinking themselves forsaken even of God--to
carry on the Empire's work in the uttermost corners of the globe, simply
because it is their job.

He had assimilated to a certain extent the ideas of that stern, dead
soldier; he had visualised them; he had realised that the destinies of a
country are not entrusted to all her children. Many are not worthy to
handle them, which makes the glory for the few all the greater....

    Winds of the world, give answer! They are whimpering
        to and fro--
    And what should they know of England, who only
        England know?
    The poor little street-bred people that vapour and fume
        and brag,
    They are lifting their heads in the stillness to yelp at
        the English Flag.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Never the lotos closes, never the wild-fowl wake,
        But a soul goes out on the East wind that died for
            England's sake--
    Man or woman or suckling, mother or bride or maid--
        Because on the bones of the English the English flag is
            stayed.



CHAPTER IV

"THE REGIMENT"


On the Tuesday a board of doctors passed Jim Denver fit for General
Service, having first given him the option of a month's home service if
he liked. Two days after he turned up at the depôt of his regiment,
where he found men in various stages of convalescence--light duty,
ordinary duty at home, and fit to go out like himself. One or two he
knew, and most of them he didn't. There were a few old regular officers
and a large number of very new ones--who were being led in the way they
should go.

But there is little to tell of the time he spent waiting to go out. This
is not a diary of his life--not even an account of it; it is merely an
attempt to portray a state of mind--an outlook on life engendered by
war, in a man whom war had caused to think for the first time.

And so the only incidents which I propose to give of his time at the
depôt is a short account of a smoking concert he attended and a
conversation he had the following day with one Vane, a stockbroker. The
two things taken individually meant but little: taken together--well,
the humour was the humour of the Land of Topsy Turvy. A delicate humour,
not to be appreciated by all: with subtle shades and delicate strands
and bloody brutality woven together....

       *       *       *       *       *

A sudden silence settled on the gymnasium; the man at the piano turned
round so as to hear better; the soldiers sitting astride the horse
ceased laughing and playing the fool.

At a table at the end of the big room, seen dimly through the
smoke-clouded atmosphere, sat a group of officers, while the regimental
sergeant-major, supported by other great ones of the non-commissioned
rank near by, presided over the proceedings.

Occasionally a soldier-waiter passed behind the officers' chairs, armed
with a business-like bottle and a box of dangerous-looking cigars; and
unless he was watched carefully he was apt to replenish the liquid
refreshment in a manner which suggested that he regarded soda as harmful
in the extreme to the human system. Had he not received his instructions
from that great man the regimental himself?

For an hour and a half the smoking concert had been in progress; the
Brothers Bimbo, those masterly knock-about comedians, had given their
performance amid rapturous applause. In life the famous pair were a
machine-gun sergeant and a cook's mate; but on such gala occasions they
became the buffoons of the regiment. They were the star comics: a
position of great responsibility and not to be lightly thought of. An
officer had given a couple of rag-time efforts; the melancholy corporal
in C Company had obliged with a maundering tune of revolting
sentimentality, and one of A Company scouts had given a so-called comic
which caused the padre to keep his eyes fixed firmly on the floor,
though at times his mouth twitched suspiciously, and made the colonel
exclaim to his second in command in tones of heartfelt relief: "Thank
Heavens, my wife couldn't come!" Knowing his commanding officer's wife
the second in command agreed in no less heartfelt voice.

But now a silence had settled on the great room: and all eyes were
turned on the regimental sergeant-major, who was standing up behind the
table on which the programme lay, and behind which he had risen every
time a new performer had appeared during the evening, in order to
introduce him to the assembly. There are many little rites and
ceremonies in smoking concerts....

This time, however, he did not inform the audience that Private
MacPherson would now oblige--that is the mystic formula. He stood there,
waiting for silence.

"Non-commissioned officers and men"--his voice carried to every corner
of the building--"I think you will all agree with me that we are very
pleased to see Colonel Johnson and all our officers here with us
to-night. It is our farewell concert in England: in a few days we shall
all be going--somewhere; and it gives us all great pleasure to welcome
the officers who are going to lead us when we get to that somewhere.
Therefore I ask you all to fill up your glasses and drink to the health
of Colonel Johnson and all our officers."

A shuffling of feet; an abortive attempt on the part of the pianist to
strike up "For he's a jolly good fellow" before his cue, an attempt
which died horribly in its infancy under the baleful eye of the
sergeant-major; a general creaking and grunting and then--muttered,
shouted, whispered from a thousand throats--"Our Officers." The pianist
started--right this time--and in a second the room was ringing with the
well-known words. Cheers, thunderous cheers succeeded it, and through it
all the officers sat silent and quiet. Most were new to the game; to
them it was just an interesting evening; a few were old at it; a few,
like Jim, had been across, and it was they who had a slight lump in
their throats. It brought back memories--memories of other men, memories
of similar scenes....

At last the cheering died away, only to burst out again with renewed
vigour. The colonel was standing up, a slight smile playing round his
lips, the glint of many things in his quiet grey eyes. To the second in
command, a sterling soldier but one of little imagination, there came
for the first time in his life the meaning of the phrase, "the windows
of the soul." For in the eyes of the man who stood beside him he saw
those things of which no man speaks; the things which words may kill.

He saw understanding, affection, humour, pain; he saw the pride of
possession struggling with the sorrow of future loss; he saw the desire
to test his creation struggling with the fear that a first test always
brings; he saw visions of glorious possibilities, and for a fleeting
instant he saw the dreadful abyss of a hideous failure. Aye, for a few
moments the second in command looked not through a glass darkly, but saw
into the unplumbed depths of a man who had been weighed in the balance
and not found wanting; a man who had faced responsibility and would face
it again; a man of honour, a man of humour, a man who knew.

"My lads," he began--and the quiet, well-modulated voice reached every
man in the room just as clearly as the harsher voice of the previous
speaker--"as the sergeant-major has just said, in a few days we shall be
sailing for--somewhere. The bustle and fulness of your training life
will be over; you will be confronted with the real thing. And though I
do not want to mar the pleasure of this evening in any way or to
introduce a serious tone to the proceedings, I do want to say just one
or two things which may stick in your minds and, perhaps, on some
occasion may help you. This war is not a joke; it is one of the most
hideous and ghastly tragedies that have ever been foisted on the world;
I have been there and I know. You are going to be called on to stand all
sorts of discomfort and all sorts of boredom; there will be times when
you'd give everything you possess to know that there was a
picture-palace round the corner. You may not think so now, but remember
my words when the time comes--remember, and stick it.

"There will be times when there's a sinking in your stomach and a
singing in your head; when men beside you are staring upwards with the
stare that does not see; when the sergeant has taken it through the
forehead and the nearest officer is choking up his life in the corner of
the traverse. But--there's still your rifle; perhaps there's a
machine-gun standing idle; anyway, remember my words then, and stick it.

"Stick it, my lads, as those others have done before you. Stick it, for
the credit of the regiment, for the glory of our name. Remember always
that that glory lies in your hands, each one of you individually. And
just as it is in the power of each one of you to tarnish it irreparably,
so is it in the power of each one of you to keep it going undimmed. Each
one of us counts, men"--his voice sank a little--"each one of us has to
play the game. Not because we're afraid of being punished if we're found
out, but because it _is_ the game."

He looked round the room slowly, almost searchingly, while the arc light
spluttered and then burnt up again with a hiss.

"The Regiment, my lads--the Regiment." His voice was tense with feeling.
"It is only the Regiment that counts."

He raised his glass, and the men stood up:

"The Regiment."

A woman sobbed somewhere in the body of the gym., and for a moment, so
it seemed to Denver, the wings of Death flapped softly against the
windows. For a moment only--and then:

"Private Mulvaney will now oblige."

Jim walked slowly home. He remembered just such another evening before
his own battalion went out. Would those words of the Colonel have their
effect: would some white-faced man stick it the better for the
remembrance of that moment: would some machine-gun fired with trembling
dying hands take its toll? Perhaps--who knows? The ideal of the soldier
is there--the ideal towards which the New Armies are led. Thus the first
incident....



CHAPTER V

THE CONTRAST


The following afternoon Denver, strolling back from the town, was hailed
by a man in khaki, standing in the door of his house. He knew the man
well, Vane, by name--had dined with him often in the days when he was in
training himself. A quiet man, with a pleasant wife and two children.
Vane was a stockbroker by trade: and just before Jim went out he had
enlisted.

"Come in and have a gargle. I've just got back on short leave." Vane
came to the gate.

"Good," Jim answered. "Mrs. Vane must be pleased." They strolled up the
drive and in through the door. "You're looking very fit, old man.
Flanders seems to suit you."

"My dear fellow, it does. It's the goods. I never knew what living was
before. The thought of that cursed office makes me tired--and once"--he
shrugged his shoulders--"it filled my life. Say when."

"Cheer oh!" They clinked glasses. "I thought you were taking a
commission."

"I am--very shortly. The colonel has recommended me for one, and I
gather the powers that be approve. But in a way I'm sorry, you know.
I've got a great pal in my section--who kept a whelk stall down in
Whitechapel."

"They're the sort," laughed Jim. "The Cockney takes some beating."

"This bird's a flier. We had quite a cheery little show the other night,
just him and me. About a week ago we were up in the trenches--bored
stiff, and yet happy in a way, you know, when Master Boche started to
register.[1] I suppose it was a new battery or something, but they were
using crumps, not shrapnel. They weren't very big, but they were very
close--and they got closer. You know that nasty droning noise, then the
hell of an explosion--that great column of blackish yellow smoke, and
the bits pinging through the air overhead."

"I do," remarked Jim tersely.

Vane laughed. "Well, he got a bracket; the first one was fifty yards
short of the trench, and the second was a hundred yards over. Then he
started to come back--always in the same line; and the line passed
straight through our bit of the trench.

"''Ere, wot yer doing, you perishers? Sargint, go and stop 'em. Tell 'em
I've been appointed purveyor of winkles to the Royal 'Ouse of the 'Un
Emperor.' Our friend of the whelk stall was surveying the scene with
intense disfavour. A great mass of smoke belched up from the ground
twenty yards away, and he ducked instinctively. Then we waited--fifteen
seconds about was the interval between shots. The men were a bit white
about the gills--and, well the feeling in the pit of my tummy was what
is known as wobbly. You know that feeling too?"

"I do," remarked Jim even more tersely.

Vane finished his drink. "Then it came, and we cowered. There was a roar
like nothing on earth--the back of the trench collapsed, and the whole
lot of us were buried. If the shell had been five yards short, it would
have burst in the trench, and my whelk friend would have whelked no
more."

Vane laughed. "We emerged, plucking mud from our mouths, and cursed. The
Hun apparently was satisfied and stopped. The only person who wasn't
satisfied was the purveyor of winkles to the Royal 'Ouse. He brooded
through the day, but towards the evening he became more cheerful.

"'Look 'ere,' he said to me, ''ave you ever killed a 'Un?'

"'I think I did once,' I said. 'A fat man with a nasty face.'

"'Oh! you 'ave, 'ave you? Well, wot abaht killing one to-night. If they
thinks I'm going to stand that sort of thing, they're ---- ---- wrong.'
The language was the language of Whitechapel, but the sentiments were
the sentiments of even the most rabid purist of speech.

"To cut a long story short, we went. And we were very lucky."

"You bumped your face into 'em, did you?" asked Jim, interested.

"We did. Man, it was a grand little scrap while it lasted, and it was
the first one I'd had. It won't be the last."

"Did you kill your men?"

"Did we not? Welks brained his with the butt of his gun; and I did the
trick with a bayonet." Vane became a little apologetic. "You know it was
only my first, and I can't get it out of my mind." Then his eyes shone
again. "To feel that steel go in--Good God! man--it was IT: it was...."

Then came the interruption. "Dear," said a voice at the door, "the
children are in bed; will you go up and say good night."... Thus the
second incident....

       *       *       *       *       *

As I said, taken separately the two incidents mean but little: taken
together--there is humour: the whole humour of war.

An itinerant fishmonger and a worthy stockbroker are inculcated with
wonderful ideals in order to fit them for sallying forth at night and
killing complete strangers. And they revel in it....

The highest form of emotionalism on one hand: a hole in the ground full
of bluebottles and smells on the other....

War ... war in the twentieth century.

But there is nothing incompatible in it: it is only strange when
analysed in cold blood. And Jim Denver, as I have said, was sane again:
while Vane, the stockbroker, was still mad.

In fact, it is quite possible that the peculiar significance of the
interruption in his story never struck him: that he never noticed the
Contrast.

And what is going to be the result of it all on the Vanes of England?
"Once the office filled my life." No man can go to the land of Topsy
Turvy and come back the same--for good or ill it will change him. Though
the madness leave him and sanity return, it will not be the same
sanity. Will he ever be content to settle down again after--the lawyer,
the stockbroker, the small clerk? Back to the old dull routine, the same
old train in the morning, the same deadly office, the same old home each
evening. It hardly applies to the Jim Denvers--the men of money: but
what of the others?

Will the scales have dropped from the eyes of the men who have really
been through it? Shall we ever get back to the same old way? Heaven
knows--but let us hope not. Anyway, it is all mere idle conjecture--and
a digression to boot.

FOOTNOTE:

[Footnote 1: For the benefit of the uninitiated, let me explain that the
process of registering consists of finding the exact range to a certain
object from a particular gun or battery. To find this range it is
necessary to obtain what is known as a bracket: _i.e._ one burst beyond
the object, and one burst short. The range is then known to lie between
these two: and by a little adjustment the exact distance can be found.]



CHAPTER VI

BLACK, WHITE, AND--GREY


Four weeks after his board Jim Denver once again found himself in
France.

Having reported his arrival, he sat down to await orders. Boulogne is
not a wildly exhilarating place; though there is always the hotel where
one may consume cocktails and potato chips, and hear strange truths
about the war from people of great knowledge and understanding.

Moreover--though this is by the way--in Boulogne you get the first sniff
of that atmosphere which England lacks; that subtle, indefinable
something which war _in_ a country produces in the spirit of its
people....

Gone is the stout lady of doubtful charm engaged in mastering the
fox-trot, what time a band wails dismally in an alcove; gone is the
wild-eyed flapper who bumps madly up and down the roads on the carrier
of a motor-cycle. It has an atmosphere of its own this fair land of
France to-day. It is laughing through its tears, and the laughter has an
ugly sound--for the Huns. They will hear that laughter soon, and the
sound will give them to think fearfully.

But at the moment when Jim landed it was all very boring. The R.T.O. at
Boulogne was bored; the A.S.C. officers at railhead were bored; the
quartermaster guarding the regimental penates in a field west of Ypres
was bored.

"Cheer up, old son," Jim remarked, slapping the last-named worthy
heavily on the back. "You look peevish."

"Confound you," he gasped, when he'd recovered from choking. "This is my
last bottle of whisky."

"Where's the battalion?" laughed Denver.

"Where d'you think? In a Turkish bath surrounded by beauteous houris?"
the quartermaster snorted. "Still in the same damn mud-hole near Hooge."

"Good! I'll trot along up shortly. You know, I'm beginning to be glad I
came back. I didn't want to particularly, at first: I was enjoying
myself at home--but I felt I ought to, and now--'pon my soul---- How are
you, Jones?"

A passing sergeant stopped and saluted. "Grand, sir. How's yourself? The
boys will be glad you've come back."

Denver stood chatting with him for a few moments and then rejoined the
pessimistic quartermaster.

"Don't rhapsodise," begged that worthy--"don't rhapsodise; eat your
lunch. If you tell me it will be good to see your men again, I shall
assault you with the remnants of the tinned lobster. I know it will be
good--no less than fifteen officers have told me so in the last six
weeks. But I don't care--it leaves me quite, quite cold. If you're in
France, you pine for England; when you're in England, you pine for
France; and I sit in this damn field and get giddy."

Which might be described as to-day's great thought.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus did Jim Denver come back to his regiment. Once again the life of
the moles claimed him--the life of the underworld: that strange
existence of which so much has been written, and so little has been
really grasped by those who have not been there. A life of incredible
dreariness--yet possessing a certain "grip" of its own. A life of
peculiar contrasts--where the suddenness--the abruptness of things
strikes a man forcibly: the extraordinary contrasts of black and white.
Sometimes they stand out stark and menacing, gleaming and brilliant;
more often do they merge into grey. But always are they there....

As I said before, my object is not to give a diary of my hero's life. I
am not concerned with his daily vegetation in his particular hole, with
Hooge on his right front and a battered farm close to. Sleep, eat, read,
look through a periscope and then repeat the performance. Occasionally
an aerial torpedo, frequently bombs, at all times pessimistic sappers
desiring working parties. But it was very much the "grey" of trench life
during the three days that Jim sat in the front line by the wood that is
called "Railway."

One episode is perhaps worthy of note. It was just one of those harmless
little jests which give one an appetite for a hunk of bully washed down
by a glass of tepid whisky and water. Now be it known to those who do
not dabble in explosives, there are in the army two types of fuze which
are used for firing charges. Each type is flexible, and about the
thickness of a stout and well-nourished worm. Each, moreover, consists
of an inner core which burns, protected by an outer covering--the idea
being that on lighting one end a flame should pass along the burning
inner core and explode in due course whatever is at the other end.
There, however, their similarity ends; and their difference becomes so
marked that the kindly powers that be have taken great precautions
against the two being confused.

The first of these fuzes is called Safety--and the outer covering is
black. In this type the inner core burns quite slowly at the rate of two
or three feet to the minute. This is the fuze which is used in the
preparation of the jam-tin bomb: an instrument of destruction which has
caused much amusement to the frivolous. A jam tin is taken and is
filled with gun cotton, nails, and scraps of iron. Into the gun cotton
is inserted a detonator; and into the detonator is inserted two inches
of safety-fuze. The end of the safety-fuze is then lit, and the jam tin
is presented to the Hun. It will readily be seen by those who are
profound mathematicians, that if three feet of safety-fuze burn in a
minute, two inches will burn in about three seconds--and three seconds
is just long enough for the presentation ceremony. This in fact is the
principal of all bombs both great and small.

The second of these fuzes is called Instantaneous--and the outer
covering is orange. In this type the inner core burns quite quickly, at
the rate of some thirty yards to the second, or eighteen hundred times
as fast as the first. Should, therefore, an unwary person place two
inches of this second fuze in his jam tin by mistake, and light it, it
will take exactly one-600th of a second before he gets to the motto.
Which is "movement with a meaning quite its own."

To Jim then came an idea. Why not with care and great cunning remove
from the inner core of Instantaneous fuze its vulgar orange covering,
and substitute instead a garb of sober black--and thus disguised present
several bombs of great potency _unlighted_ to the Hun.

The afternoon before they left for the reserve trenches he staged his
comedy in one act and an epilogue. A shower of bombs was propelled in
the direction of the opposing cave-dwellers to the accompaniment of loud
cries, cat calls, and other strange noises. The true artist never
exaggerates, and quite half the bombs had genuine safety-fuze in them
and were lit before being thrown. The remainder were not lit, it is
perhaps superfluous to add.

The lazy peace of the afternoon was rudely shattered for the Huns. Quite
a number of genuine bombs had exploded dangerously near their
trench--while some had even taken effect in the trench. Then they
perceived several unlit ones lying about--evidently propelled by nervous
men who had got rid of them before lighting them properly. And there was
much laughter in that German trench as they decided to give the epilogue
by lighting them and throwing them back. Shortly after a series of
explosions, followed by howls and groans, announced the carrying out of
that decision. And once again the Hymn of Hate came faintly through the
drowsy stillness....

Those are the little things which occasionally paint the grey with a dab
of white; the prowls at night--the joys of the sniper who has just
bagged a winner and won the bag of nuts--all help to keep the spirits up
when the pattern of earth in your particular hole causes a rush of blood
to the head.

Incidentally this little comedy was destined to be Jim Denver's last
experience of the Hun at close quarters for many weeks to come. The grey
settled down like a pall, to lift in the fulness of time, to _the_ black
and white day of his life. But for the present--peace. And yet only
peace as far as he was concerned personally. That very night, close to
him so that he saw it all, some other battalions had a chequered hour or
so--which is all in the luck of the game. To-day it's the man over the
road--to-morrow it's you....

They occurred about 2 a.m.--the worries of the men over the road. Denver
had moved to his other hole, courteously known as the reserve trenches,
and there seated in his dug-out he discussed prospects generally with
the Major. There were rumours that the division was moving from Ypres,
and not returning there--a thought which would kindle hope in the most
pessimistic.

"Don't you believe it," answered the Major gloomily. "Those rumours are
an absolute frost."

"Cheer up! cully, we'll soon be dead." Denver laughed. "Have some rum."

He poured some out into a mug and passed the water. "Quiet
to-night--isn't it? I was reading to-day that the Italians----"

"You aren't going to quote any war expert at me, are you?"

"Well--er--I was: why not?"

"Because I have a blood-feud with war experts. I loathe and detest the
breed. Before I came out here their reiterated statement made monthly
that we should be on the Rhine by Tuesday fortnight was a real comfort.
We always got to Tuesday fortnight--but we've never actually paddled in
the bally river."

"To err is human; to get paid for it is divine," murmured Jim.

"Bah!" the Major filled his pipe aggressively. "What about the
steam-roller, what about the Germans being reduced to incurable
epileptics in the third line trenches--what about that drivelling ass
who said the possession of heavy guns was a disadvantage to an army
owing to their immobility?"

"Have some more rum, sir?" remarked Jim soothingly.

"But I could have stood all that--they were trifles." The Major was
getting warmed up to it. "This is what finished me." He pulled a piece
of paper out of his pocket. "Read that, my boy--read that and ponder."

Jim took the paper and glanced at it.

"I carry that as my talisman. In the event of my death I've given orders
for it to be sent to the author."

"But what's it all about?" asked Denver.

"'At the risk of repeating myself, I wish again to asseverate what I
drew especial attention to last week, and the week before, and the one
before that; as a firm grasp of this essential fact is imperative to an
undistorted view of the situation. Whatever minor facts may now or again
crop up in this titanic conflict, we must not shut our eyes to the rules
of war. They are unchangeable, immutable; the rules of Cæsar were the
rules of Napoleon, and are in fact the rules that I myself have
consistently laid down in these columns. They cannot change: this war
will be decided by them as surely as night follows day; and those
ignorant persons who are permitted to express their opinions elsewhere
would do well to remember that simple fact.'"

"What the devil is this essential fact?"

"Would you like to know? I got to it after two columns like that."

"What was it?" laughed Jim.

"'An obstacle in an army's path is that which obstructs the path of the
army in question.'"

"After that--more rum." Jim solemnly decanted the liquid. "You deserve
it. You...."

"Stand to." A shout from the trench outside--repeated all along until it
died away in the distance. The Major gulped his rum and dived for the
door--while Jim groped for his cap. Suddenly out of the still night
there came a burst of firing, sudden and furious. The firing was taken
up all along the line, and then the guns started and a rain of shrapnel
came down behind the British lines.

Away--a bit in front on the other side of the road to Jim's trench there
were woods--woods of unenviable reputation. Hence the name of
"Sanctuary." In the middle of them, on the road, lay the ruined château
and village of Hooge--also of unenviable reputation.

And towards these woods the eyes of all were turned.

"What the devil is it?" shouted the man beside Jim. "Look at them lights
in the trees."

The devil it was. Dancing through the darkness of the trees were flames
and flickering lights, like will-o'-the-wisps playing over an Irish bog.
And men, looking at one another, muttered sullenly. They remembered the
gas; what new devilry was this?

Up in the woods things were moving. Hardly had the relieving regiments
taken over their trenches, when from the ground in front there seemed to
leap a wall of flame. It rushed towards them and, falling into the
trenches and on to the men's clothes, burnt furiously like brandy round
a plum pudding. The woods were full of hurrying figures dashing blindly
about, cursing and raving. For a space pandemonium reigned. The Germans
came on, and it looked as if there might be trouble. The regiments who
had just been relieved came back, and after a while things straightened
out a little. But our front trenches in those woods, when morning broke,
were not where they had been the previous night....

Liquid fire--yet one more invention of "Kultur"; gas; the moat at Ypres
poisoned with arsenic; crucifixion; burning death squirted from the
black night--suddenly, without warning: truly a great array of Kultured
triumphs.... And with it all--failure. To fight as a sportsman fights
and lose has many compensations; to fight as the German fights and lose
must be to taste of the dregs of hell.

But that is how they _do_ fight, whatever interesting surmises one may
make of their motives and feelings. And that is how it goes on over the
water--the funny mixture of the commonplace of everyday with the great
crude, cruel realities of life and death.

       *       *       *       *       *

But as I said, for the next few weeks the grey screen cloaked those
crude realities as far as Jim was concerned. Rumour for once had proved
true; the division was pulled out, and his battalion found itself near
Poperinghe.

"Months of boredom punctuated by moments of intense fright" is a
definition of war which undoubtedly Noah would have regarded as a
chestnut. And I should think it doubtful if there has ever been a war
in which this definition was more correct.

Jim route marched: he trained bombers: he dined in Poperinghe and went
to the Follies. Also, he allowed other men to talk to him of their plans
for leave: than which no more beautiful form of unselfishness is laid
down anywhere in the Law or the Prophets.

On the whole the time did not drag. There is much of interest for those
who have eyes to see in that country which fringes the Cock Pit of
Europe. Hacking round quietly most afternoons on a horse borrowed from
someone, the spirit of the land got into him, that blood-soaked, quiet,
uncomplaining country, whose soul rises unconquerable from the battered
ruins.

Horses exercising, lorries crashing and lurching over the pavé roads.
G.S. wagons at the walk, staff motors--all the necessary wherewithal to
preserve the safety of the mud holes up in front--came and went in a
ceaseless procession; while every now and then a local cart with
mattresses and bedsteads, tables and crockery, tied on perilously with
bits of string, would come creaking past--going into the unknown,
leaving the home of years.

Ypres, that tragic charnel house, with the great jagged holes torn out
of the pavé; with the few remaining walls of the Cathedral and Cloth
Hall cracked and leaning outwards; with the strange symbolical touch of
the black hearse which stood untouched in one of the arches. Rats
everywhere, in the sewers and broken walls; in the crumbling belfry
above birds, cawing discordantly. The statue of the old gentleman which
used to stand serene and calm amidst the wreckage, now lay broken on its
face. But the stench was gone--the dreadful stench of death which had
clothed it during the second battle; it was just a dead town--dead and
decently buried in great heaps of broken brick....

Vlamertinghe, with the little plot of wooden crosses by the cross roads;
Elverdinghe, where the gas first came, and the organ pipes lay twisted
in the wreckage of the unroofed church; where the long row of French
graves rest against the château wall, graves covered with long
grass--each with an empty bottle upside down at their head.

    And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
    Among the Guests star-scatter'd on the Grass,
    ... turn down an empty Glass.

       *       *       *       *       *

And in the family archives are some excellent reproductions--not
photographs of course, for the penalty for carrying a camera is death at
dawn--of ruined churches and shell-battered châteaux. Perhaps the most
interesting one, at any rate the most human, is a "reproduction" of a
group of cavalry men. They had been digging in a little village a mile
behind the firing-line--a village battered and dead from which the
inhabitants had long since fled. Working in the garden of the local
doctor, they were digging a trench which ran back to the cellar of the
house, when on the scene of operations had suddenly appeared the doctor
himself. By signs he possessed himself of a shovel, and, pacing five
steps from the kitchen door and three from the tomato frame, he too
started to dig.

"His wife's portrait, probably," confided the cavalry officer to Jim, as
they watched the proceeding. "Or possibly an urn with her ashes."

It was a sergeant who first gave a choking cry and fainted; he was
nearest the hole.

"Yes," remarked Jim, "he's found the urn."

With frozen stares they watched the last of twelve dozen of light beer
go into the doctor's cart. With pallid lips the officer saw three dozen
of good champagne snatched from under his nose.

"Heavens! man," he croaked, "it was _dry_ too. If our trench had been a
yard that way...." He leant heavily on his stick, and groaned.

The moment was undoubtedly pregnant with emotion.

"'E'ad a nasty face, that man--a nasty face. Oh, 'orrible."

Hushed voices came from the group of leaners. The "reproduction" depicts
the psychological moment when the doctor with a joyous wave of the hand
wished them "_Bonjour, messieurs,_" and drove off.

"Not one--not one ruddy bottle--not the smell of a perishing cork.
Stung!"

But Jim had left.

Which very silly and frivolous story is topsy-turvy land up to date, or
at any rate typical of a large bit of it.



CHAPTER VII

ARCHIE AND OTHERS


However, to be serious. It was as he came away from this scene of alarm
and despondency that Jim met an old pal who boasted the gunner badge,
and whom conversation revealed as the proud owner of an Archie, or
anti-aircraft gun. And as the salient is perhaps more fruitful in
aeroplanes than any other part of the line, and the time approached five
o'clock (which is generally the hour of their afternoon activity), Jim
went to see the fun.

In front, an observing biplane buzzed slowly to and fro, watching the
effect of a mother[1] shooting at some mark behind the German lines.
With the gun concealed in the trees, a gunner subaltern altered his
range and direction as each curt wireless message flashed from the
'plane. "Lengthen 200--half a degree left." And so on till they got it.
Occasionally, with a vicious crack, a German anti-aircraft shell would
explode in the air above in a futile endeavour to reach the observer,
and a great mass of acrid yellow or black fumes would disperse slowly.
Various machines, each intent on its own job, rushed to and fro, and in
the distance, like a speck in the sky, a German monoplane was travelling
rapidly back over its own lines, having finished its reconnaissance.

Behind it, like the wake of a steamer, little dabs of white plastered
the blue sky. English shrapnel bursting from other anti-aircraft guns.
Jim's gunner friend seemed to know most of them by name, as old pals
whom he had watched for many a week on the same errand; and from him Jim
gathered that the moment approached for the appearance of Panting
Lizzie. Lizzie, apparently, was a fast armoured German biplane which
came over his gun every fine evening about the same hour. For days and
weeks had he fired at it, so far without any success, but he still had
hopes. The gun was ready, cocked wickedly upon its motor mounting,
covered with branches and daubed with strange blotches of paint to make
it less conspicuous. Round the motor itself the detachment consumed tea,
a terrier sat up and begged, a goat of fearsome aspect looked pensive.
In front, in a chair, his eye glued to a telescope on a tripod, sat the
look-out man.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was just as Jim and his pal were getting down to a whisky and soda
that Lizzie hove in sight. The terrier ceased to beg, the goat departed
hurriedly, the officer spoke rapidly in a language incomprehensible to
Jim, and the fun began. There are few things so trying to listen to as
an Archie, owing to the rapidity with which it fires; the gun pumps up
and down with a series of sharp cracks, every two or three shots being
followed by more incomprehensible language from the officer. Adjustment
after each shot is impossible owing to the fact that three or four
shells have left the gun and are on their way before the first one
explodes. It was while Jim, with his fingers in his ears, was watching
the shells bursting round the aeroplane and marvelling that nothing
seemed to happen, that he suddenly realised that the gun had stopped
firing. Looking at the detachment, he saw them all gazing upwards. From
high up, sounding strangely faint in the air, came the zipping of a
Maxim.

"By Gad!" muttered the gunner officer; "this is going to be some fight."

Bearing down on Panting Lizzie came a British armoured 'plane, and from
it the Maxim was spitting. And now there started a very pretty air duel.
I am no airman, to tell of spirals, and glides, and the multifarious
twistings and turnings. At times the German's Maxim got going as well;
at times both were silent, manoeuvring for position. The Archies were
not firing--the machines were too close together. Once the German seemed
to drop like a stone for a thousand feet or so. "Got him!" shouted
Jim--but the gunner shook his head.

"A common trick," he answered. "He found it getting a bit warm, and that
upsets one's range. You'll find he'll be off now."

Sure enough he was--with his nose for home he turned tail and fled. The
gunner shouted an order, and they opened fire again, while the British
'plane pursued, its Maxim going continuously. Generally honour is
satisfied without the shedding of blood; each, having consistently
missed the other and resisted the temptations of flying low over his
opponents' guns, returns home to dinner. But in this case--well, whether
it was Archie or whether it was the Maxim is really immaterial. Suddenly
a great sheet of flame seemed to leap from the German machine and a puff
of black smoke: it staggered like a shot bird and then, without warning,
it fell--a streak of light, like some giant shooting star rushing to the
earth. The Maxim stopped firing, and after circling round a couple of
times the British machine buzzed contentedly back to bed. And in a
field--somewhere behind our lines--there lay for many a day, deep
embedded in a hole in the ground, the battered remnants of Panting
Lizzie, with its great black cross stuck out of the earth for all to
see. Somewhere in the débris, crushed and mangled beyond recognition,
could have been found the remnants of two German airmen. Which might be
called the black and white of the overworld.

FOOTNOTE:

[Footnote 1: 9·2" Howitzer.]



CHAPTER VIII

ON THE STAFF


But now rumour was getting busy in earnest--things were in the air.
There were talks of a great offensive--and although there be rumour in
England, though bucolic stationmasters have brushed the snow from the
steppes of Russia out of railway carriages, I have no hesitation in
saying that for quality and quantity the rumours that float round the
army in France have de Rougemont beat to a frazzle. In this case
expectations were fulfilled, and two or three days after the decease of
Panting Lizzie, Jim and his battalion shook the dust of the Ypres
district from their feet and moved away south.

It was then that our hero raised his third star. Shades of Wellington! A
captain in a year. But I make no comment. A sense of humour, invaluable
at all times, is indispensable in this war, if one wishes to preserve an
unimpaired digestion.

But another thing happened to him, too, about this time, for, owing to
the sudden sickness of a member of his General's Staff, he found himself
attached temporarily for duty. No longer did he flat foot it, but in a
large and commodious motor-car he viewed life from a different
standpoint. And, solely owing to this temporary appointment, he was able
to see the launching of the attack near Loos at the end of September. He
saw the wall of gas and smoke roll slowly forward towards the German
trenches over the wide space that separated the trenches in that part of
the line. Great belching explosions seemed to shatter the vapour
periodically, as German shells exploded in it, causing it to rise in
swirling eddies, as from some monstrous cauldron, only to sink sullenly
back and roll on. And behind it came the assaulting battalions, lines of
black pigmies charging forward.

And later he heard of the Scotsmen who chased the flying Huns like
terriers after rats, grunting, cursing, swearing, down the gentle slope
past Loos and up the other side; on to Hill 70, where they swayed
backwards and forwards over the top, while some with the lust of killing
on them fought their way into the town beyond--and did not return. He
heard of the battery that blazed over open sights at the Germans during
the morning, till, running out of ammunition, the guns ceased fire, a
mark to every German rifle. The battery remained there during the day,
for there was not cover for a terrier, let alone a team of horses, and
between the guns were many strange tableaux as Death claimed his toll.
They got them away that night, but not before the gunners had taken back
the breech-blocks--in case; for it was touch and go.

But this attack has already been described too often, and so I will say
no more. I would rather write of those things which happened to Jim
Denver himself, before he left the Land of Topsy Turvy for the second
time. Only I venture to think that when the full story comes to be
written--if ever--of that last week in September, or the surging forward
past Loos and the Lone Tree to Hulluch and the top of 70, of the cavalry
who waited for the chance that never came, and the German machine-guns
hidden in the slag-heaps, the reading will be interesting. What happened
would fill a book; what might have happened--a library.

It was a couple of days afterwards that he saw his first big batch of
German prisoners. Five or six miles behind the firing-line in a great
grass field, fenced in on all sides by barbed wire, was a batch of some
seven hundred--almost all of them Prussians and Jägers. Munching food
contentedly, they sat in rows on the ground; their dirty grey uniforms
coated with dust and mud--unwashed, unshaven, and--well, if you are
contemplating German prisoners, get "up wind." All around the field
Tommies stood and gazed, now and again offering them cigarettes. A few
prisoners who could speak English got up and talked.

It struck Jim Denver then that he viewed these men with no antipathy; he
merely gazed at them curiously as one gazes at animals in a "Zoo." And
as we English are ever prone to such views, and as the Hymn of Hate and
like effusions are regarded, and rightly so, as occasions for mirth, it
was perhaps as well for Jim to realise the other point of view. There
are two sides to every question, and the Germans believe in their hate
just as we believe in our laughter. But when it is over, it will be
unfortunate if we forget the hate too quickly.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What a nation we are!" said a voice beside Jim. He turned round and
found a doctor watching the scene with a peculiar look in his eyes.
"Suppose it had been the other way round! Suppose those were our men
while the Germans were the captors! Do you think the scene would be like
this?" His face twisted into a bitter smile. "There would have been
armed soldiers walking up and down the ranks, kicking men in the
stomach, hitting them on the head with rifle butts, tearing bandages off
wounds--just for the fun of the thing. Sharing food!"--he laughed
contemptuously--"why, they'd have been starving. Giving 'em
cigarettes!--why, they'd have taken away what they had already."

He turned and looked up the road. Walking down it were thirty or so
German officers. From the button in the centre of their jackets hung in
nearly every case the ribbon of the Iron Cross. Laughing, talking--one
or two sneering--they came along and halted by the gate into the field.
They had been questioned, and were waiting to be marched off with the
men. A hundred yards or so away the cavalry escort was forming up.

"Man," cried the doctor, suddenly gripping Jim's arm in a vice, "it's
wicked!" In his eyes there was an ugly look. "Look at those swine--all
toddling off to Donington Hall--happy as you like. And think of the
other side of the picture. Stuck with bayonets, hit, brutally treated,
half-starved, thrown into cattle trucks. Good Heaven! it's horrible."

"We're not the sort to go in for retribution," said Jim, after a moment.
"After all--oh! I don't know--but it's not quite cricket, is it? Just
because they're swine...?"

"Cricket!" the other snorted. "You make me tired. I tell you I'm sick to
death of our kid-glove methods. No retribution! I suppose if a buck
nigger hit your pal over the head with a club you'd give him a tract on
charity and meekness. What would our ranting pedagogues say if their
own sons had been crucified by the Germans as some of our wounded have
been? You think I'm bitter?" He looked at Jim. "I am. You see, I was a
prisoner myself until a few weeks ago." He turned and strolled away down
the road....

And now the escort was ready. An order shouted in the field, and the men
got up, falling in in some semblance of fours. Slowly they filed through
the gate and, with their own officers in front, the cortège started. Led
by an English cavalry subaltern, with troopers at four or five horses'
lengths alongside--some with swords drawn, the others with rifles--the
procession moved sullenly off. A throng of English soldiers gazed
curiously at them as they passed by; small urchins ran in impudently
making faces at them. And in the doors of the houses dark-haired,
grim-faced women watched them pass with lowering brows....

A mixture, those prisoners--a strange mixture. Some with the faces of
educated men, some with the faces of beasts; some men in the prime of
life, some mere boys; slouching, squelching through the mud with the
vacant eyes that the Prussian military system seems to give to its
soldiers. The look of a man who has no vestige of imagination or
initiative; the look of a stoical automaton; callous, boorish, sottish
as befits a man who willingly or unwillingly has sold himself body and
soul to a system.

And as they wind through the mining villages on their way to a railhead,
these same grim-faced French women watch them as they go by. They do not
see the offspring of a system; they only see a group of beast-men--the
men whose brothers have killed their husbands. After all, has not Madame
got in her house a refugee--her cousin--whose screams even now ring out
at night...?

       *       *       *       *       *

For a few days more Jim stayed on with the general. Their feeding-place
was a little café on the main road to Lens. There each morning might our
hero have been found, in a filthy little back room, drinking coffee out
of a thick mug, with an omelette cooked to perfection on his plate.
Never was there such dirt in any room; never a household so prolific of
children. Every window was smashed; the back garden one huge shell hole;
but, absolutely unperturbed by such trifles, that stout, good-hearted
Frenchwoman pursued her sturdy way. She had had the Boches there--"mais
oui"--but what matter? They did not stay long. "Une omelette, monsieur;
du café? Certainement, monsieur. Toute de suite."

It might have been in a different world from Ypres and
Poperinghe--instead of only twenty miles to the south. Gone were the
flat, cultivated fields; great slag-heaps and smoking chimneys were
everywhere. And in spite of the fact that active operations were in
progress, there seemed to be no more gunning than the normal daily
contribution at Lizerne, Boesinge, and Jim's old friend and first love,
Hooge. Aeroplanes, too, seemed scarcer. True, one morning, standing in
the road outside the café, he saw for the first time a fleet of 'planes
starting out on a raid. Now one and then another would disappear behind
a fleecy white cloud, only to reappear a few moments later glinting in
the rays of the morning sun, until at length the whole fleet, in
dressing and order like a flight of geese, their wings tipped with fire,
moved over the blue vault of heaven. The drone of their engines came
faintly from a great height, until, as if at some spoken word from the
leader, the whole swung half-right and vanished into a bank of clouds.



CHAPTER IX

NO ANSWER


But the grey period for Jim was drawing to a close. To-day it's the man
over the road that tops the bill; to-morrow it's you, as I said before:
and a change of caste was imminent in our friend's performance. One does
not seek these things--they occur; and then they're over, and one waits
for the next. There is no programme laid down, no book of the words
printed. Things just happen--sometimes they lead to a near acquaintance
with iodine, and a kind woman in a grey dress who takes your temperature
and washes your face; and at others to a dinner with much good wine
where the laughter is merry and the revelry great. Of course there are
many other alternatives: you may never reach the hospital--you may never
get the dinner; you may get a cold in the nose, and go to the
Riviera--or you may get a bad corn and get blood-poisoning from using a
rusty jack knife to operate. The caprice of the spirit of Topsy Turvy is
quite wonderful.

For instance, on the very morning that the Staff Officer came back to
his job, and Jim returned to his battalion, his company commander asked
him to go to a general bomb store in a house just up the road, and see
that the men who were working there were getting on all right. The
regiment was for the support trenches that night, and preparing bombs
was the order of the day.

Just as he started to go, a message arrived that the C.O. wished to see
him. So the company commander went instead; and entered the building
just as a German shell came in by another door. By all known laws a man
going over Niagara in an open tub would not willingly have changed
places with him; an 8-inch shell exploding in the same room with you is
apt to be a decisive moment in your career.

But long after the noise and the building had subsided, and from high up
in the air had come a fusillade of small explosions and little puffs of
smoke, where the bombs hurled up from the cellar went off in turn--Jim
perceived his captain coming down the road. He had been hurled through
the wall as it came down, across the road, and had landed intact on a
manure heap. And it was only when he hit the colonel a stunning blow
over the head with a French loaf at lunch time that they found out he
was temporarily as mad as a hatter. So they got him away in an ambulance
and Jim took over the company. As I say--things just happen.

That night they moved up into support trenches--up that dirty, muddy
road with the cryptic notices posted at various places: "Do not loiter
here," "This cross-road is dangerous," "Shelled frequently," etc. And at
length they came to the rise which overlooks Loos and found they were to
live in the original German front line--now our support trench. They
were for the front line in the near future--but at present their job was
work on this support trench and clearing up the battlefield near them.

Now this war is an impersonal sort of thing taking it all the way round.
Those who stand in front trenches and blaze away at advancing Huns are
not, I think, actuated by personal fury against the men they kill. You
may pick out a fat one perhaps with a red beard and feel a little
satisfaction when you kill him because his face offends you, but you
don't really feel any individual animosity towards him. One gets so used
to death on a large scale that it almost ceases to affect one. An
isolated man lying dead and twisted by the road, where one doesn't
expect to find him, moves one infinitely more than a wholesale
slaughter. The thing is too vast, too overpowering for a man's brain to
realise.

       *       *       *       *       *

But of all the things which one may be called on to do, the clearing of
a battlefield after an advance brings home most poignantly the tragedy
of war. You see the individual then, not the mass. Every silent figure
lying sprawled in fantastic attitude, every huddled group, every
distorted face tells a story.

Here is an R.A.M.C. orderly crouching over a man lying on a stretcher.
The man had been wounded--a splint is on his leg, while the dressing is
still in the orderly's hand. Then just as the orderly was at work, the
end came for both in a shrapnel shell, and the tableau remains,
horribly, terribly like a tableau at some amateur theatricals.

Here are a group of men caught by the fire of the machine-gun in the
corner, to which even now a dead Hun is chained--riddled,
unrecognisable.

Here is an officer lying on his back, his knees doubled up, a revolver
gripped in one hand, a weighted stick in the other. His face is black,
so death was instantaneous. Out of the officer's pocket a letter
protrudes--a letter to his wife. Perhaps he anticipated death before he
started, for it was written the night before the advance--who knows?

And it is when, in the soft half-light of the moon, one walks among
these silent remnants, and no sound breaks the stillness save the noise
of the shovels where men are digging their graves; when the guns are
silent and only an occasional burst of rifle fire comes from away in
front, where the great green flares go silently up into the night, that
for a moment the human side comes home to one. One realises that though
monster guns and minenwerfer and strange scientific devices be the paper
money of this war, now as ever the standard coinage--the bed-rock gold
of barter--is still man's life. The guns count much--but the man counts
more.

Take out his letter carefully--it will be posted later. Scratch him a
grave, there's work to be done--much work, so hurry. His name has been
sent in to headquarters--there's no time to waste. Easy, lads,
easy--that's right--cover him up. A party of you over there and get on
with that horse--_there's no time to waste_....

But somewhere in England a telegraph boy comes whistling up the drive,
and the woman catches her breath. With fingers that tremble she takes
the buff envelope--with fearful eyes she opens the flimsy paper.
Superbly she draws herself up--"There is no answer...."

Lady, you are right. There is no answer, no answer this side of the
Great Divide. Just now--with your aching eyes fixed on _his_ chair you
face your God, and ask Why? He knows, dear woman, He knows, and in time
it will all be clear--the why and the wherefore. Surely it must be so.

But just now it's Hell, isn't it? You know so little: you couldn't help
him at the end; he had to go into the Deep Waters alone. With the
shrapnel screaming overhead he lies at peace, while above him it still
goes on--the work of life and death: the work that brooks no delay. He
is part of the Price....



CHAPTER X

THE MADNESS


All the next day the battalion worked on the trenches. To men used to
the water and slush of Ypres they came as a revelation--the trenches and
dug-outs in the chalk district. Great caves had been hollowed out of the
ground under the barbed wire in front, with two narrow shafts sloping
steeply down from the trench to each, so small and narrow that you must
crawl on hands and knees to get in or out. And up these shafts they
hauled and pushed the dead Germans. Caught like rats, they had been
gassed and bombed before they could get out, though some few had managed
to crawl up after the assaulting battalions had passed over and to open
fire on the supporting ones as they came up. Jim and his men threw them
out to be buried at night, and they confined their attention during the
day to building up the trenches and shifting the parapet round. German
sandbags look like an assortment out of a cheap village draper's--pink
and black and every kind of colour, but they hold earth, which is the
main point. So with due care the battalion patted them into shape again
and then took a little sleep.

That night they moved on again. Now the first trench which they had
occupied had been behind Loos, and there our new line was a mile away to
their front on the side of a hill. The place they were now bound for was
nothing like so peaceful. It was that part of the original German front
where their old line marked the limit of our advance. We had not pushed
on beyond it, and the fighting was continuous and bloody.

Now without going into details, perhaps a few words of explanation might
not be amiss. To many who may read them, they will seem as extracts from
the "Child's Guide to Knowledge," or reminiscent of those great truths
one learned at one's nurse's knee. But to some, who know nothing about
it, they may be of use.

When one occupies the German front line and the Hun has been driven into
his second, the communication trenches which ran between are still
there. The trenches which used to run to their rear now run to your
front and are a link between you and the enemy. And as somewhat
naturally their knowledge of the position is accurate and yours is
sketchy, the situation is not all it might be. Moreover, as no
communication trenches exist between the two old front lines--over what
was No-man's-land--any reserves must come across the open, and should
it be necessary to retire, a contingency which must always be faced, the
retreat must be across the open as well.

       *       *       *       *       *

But when you're in a German redoubt, where the trenches would have put a
maze to shame, the work of consolidating the position is urgent and
difficult. Communication trenches to your front have to be reconnoitred
and partially filled in; wire put up; Maxims arranged to shoot down
straight lengths of trench; new trenches dug to the rear. Which is all
right if the enemy is half a mile away, but when the distance is twenty
yards, when without cessation he bombs you from unexpected quarters,
your temper gets frayed.

This type of fighting ceases to be impersonal. No longer do you throw
bombs mechanically from one trench to another. No longer do you have no
actual animosity against the men over the way. You understand the
feelings of the guard when their German prisoners laughed on seeing men
gassed--earlier in the war. And you realise that when a man's blood is
up, you might just as well preach on the wickedness of retribution as
request a man-eating tiger to postpone his dinner. The joy of killing a
man you hate is wonderful; the unfortunate thing is that in these days,
when far from leading to the hangman, it frequently leads to much kudos
and a medal, so few of us have ever really had the opportunity....

In the place where Jim found himself it was at such close quarters that
bombs were the only possible weapon. For two days and two nights it went
on. Little parties of Germans surged up unexpected openings, sometimes
establishing themselves, sometimes fighting hand-to-hand in wet, sticky
chalk. Then, unless they were driven out--bombers to the fore again: a
series of sharp explosions, a dash round a traverse, a grunting,
snarling set-to in the dark, and all would be over one way or the other.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then one morning Jim's company got driven out of a forward piece of the
trench they were holding. Worn out and tired, their faces grey with
exhaustion, their clothes grey with chalk, heavy-eyed, unshaven, driven
out by sheer weight of numbers and bombs, they fell back--those that
remained--down a communication trench. But they were different men from
the men who went into the place three days before; the primitive
passions of man were rampant--they asked no mercy, they gave none. Back,
after a short breather, they went, and when they won through by sheer
bloody fighting, they found a thing which sent them tearing mad with
rage. The wounded they had left behind had been bombed to death. The
junior subaltern was pulled out of a corner by a traverse--mangled
horribly--and he told Jim.

"They packed us in here and between the next two or three traverses and
lobbed bombs over," he whispered. And Jim swore horribly. "They're
coming back," muttered the dying boy. "Listen."

The next instant the Germans were at it again, and the fighting became
like the fighting of wild beasts. Men stabbed and hacked and cursed;
rifle butts cracked down on heads; triggers were pulled with the muzzle
an inch from a man's face. And because the German face to face is no
match for the English or French, in a short time there was peace, while
men, panting like exhausted runners, bound up one another's scratches,
and passed back the serious cases to the rear. They knew it was only a
temporary respite, and while Jim eased the dying boy, they stacked bombs
in heaps where they could get at them quickly. It was then that the
German officer crawled out. Down some hole or other in a bomb recess he
had hidden during the fight--and then, thinking his position dangerous,
decided for peaceful capture. It was unfortunate for him the junior
subaltern was still alive--but only Jim heard the whisper:

"That's the man who told them to bomb us."

"That's interesting," said Jim, and his face was white, while his eyes
were red.

Quietly he picked up a pick, and moved towards the German officer.
Through the Huns who had come back again, fighting, stabbing, picking
his way, Jim Denver moved relentlessly. And at last he reached
him--reached him and laughed gently. The German sprang at him and Jim
struck him with his fist; the German screamed for help, but there was
none to help; every man was fighting grimly for his own life. Then still
without a word he drove the pick.... Once again he laughed gently, and
turned his mind to other things.

For hours they hung on, bombing, shooting, at a yard's range, and in the
forefront, cheering them, holding them, doing the work of ten, was Jim.
His revolver ammunition was exhausted, his loaded stick was broken; his
eyes had a look of madness: temporarily he was mad--mad with the lust of
killing. It was almost the last bomb the Germans threw that took him,
and that took him properly. But the remnant of his company who carried
him back, when relief came up from the battalion, contained no one more
cheery than him. As a fight they'll never have a better; and it's better
to take it when the fighting is bloody, and it's man to man, than to
stop a shrapnel at the estaminet two miles down the road. That isn't
even grey--it's mottled; especially if the red wine is just coming....



CHAPTER XI

THE GREY HOUSE AGAIN


So they carried him home for the second time--back to the Land of
Sanity: to the place where the noise of the water sounded ceaselessly
over the rounded stones. And resting one afternoon on a sofa in the
drawing-room Jim dozed.

The door burst open, and Sybil came in. "Boy, do you see, they've given
you a D.S.O. 'For conspicuous gallantry in holding up an almost isolated
position for several hours against vastly superior numbers of the enemy.
He was badly wounded just before relief came.'"

Her eyes were shining. "Oh! my dear--I'm so proud of you! Do you
remember saying it was a glorious madness?"

Into his mind there flashed the picture of a German officer's
face--distorted with terror--cringing: just as a pick came down....

"Yes, girl, I remember," he answered softly. "I remember. But, thank
God! I'm sane again now."

       *       *       *       *       *

And now I will ring down the curtain. For Jim Denver the black and white
have gone; even the grey of the Land of Topsy Turvy is hazy and
indistinct. The guns are silent: the men and the women are--sane.

The shepherd is out of sight amongst the trees; the purple is changing
to grey, the grey to black; there is no sound saving only the tireless
murmur of the river....

THE END


       *       *       *       *       *


Transcriber's Notes

Herman Cyril McNeile was an officer in the Royal Engineers who
published under the pseudonym "Sapper".

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Hyphen added: "bed[-]rock" (p. 303).

Hyphen removed: "ward[-]room" (p. 167), "sand[-]bags" (p. 188),
"stock[-]broker" (p. 265).

The following words are inconsistently hyphenated but have not been
changed: "dug[-]out", "half[-]way", "sand[-]bags", "sign[-]post",
"super[-]human", "table[-]cloth".

Page 291: "Panting Lizze" changed to "Panting Lizzie".





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software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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