Part 4 out of 4
a despatch. "First of all, you, Bogle, take this message to the
telephone, and get it sent to Company Headquarters. Now you others.
We will wait till that machine-gun has fired another belt. Then, the
moment it has finished, while they are getting out the next belt, I
will dash across to the _estaminet_ over there. M'Snape, you will come
with me, but no one else--yet. If the _estaminet_ seems capable of
being held, I will signal to you, Sergeant Mucklewame, and you will
send your party across, in driblets, not forgetting the Lewis gun. By
that time I may have located the German machine-gun, so we should be
able to knock it out with the Lewis."
Further speech was cut short by a punctual fantasia from the gun
in question. Angus and M'Snape crouched behind the shattered wall,
awaiting their chance. The firing ceased.
"_Now!_" whispered Angus.
Next moment officer and corporal were flying across the open, and
before the mechanical Boche gunner could jerk the new belt into
position, both had found sanctuary within the open doorway of the
Nay, more than both; for as the panting pair flung themselves into
shelter, a third figure, short and stout, in an ill-fitting kilt,
tumbled heavily through the doorway after them. Simultaneously a
stream of machine-gun bullets went storming past.
"Just in time!" observed Angus, well pleased. "Bogle, what are you
"I was given tae unnerstand, sirr," replied Mr. Bogle calmly, "when I
jined the regiment, that in action an officer's servant stands by his
"That is true," conceded Angus; "but you had no right to follow me
against orders. Did you not hear me say that no one but Corporal
M'Snape was to come?"
"No, sirr. I doubt I was away at the 'phone."
"Well, now you are here, wait inside this doorway, where you can see
Sergeant Mucklewame's party, and look out for signals. M'Snape, let us
find that machine-gun."
The pair made their way to the hitherto blind side of the building,
and cautiously peeped through a much-perforated shutter in the
"Do you see it, sirr?" inquired M'Snape eagerly.
"See it? Fine! It is right in the open, in the middle of the street.
He relinquished his peep-hole. The German machine-gun was mounted
in the street itself, behind an improvised barrier of bricks and
sandbags. It was less than a hundred yards away, sited in a position
which, though screened from the view of Angus's platoon farther down,
enabled it to sweep all the ground in front of the position. This it
was now doing with great intensity, for the brief public appearance
of Angus and M'Snape had effectually converted intermittent into
"We must get the Lewis gun over at once," muttered Angus. "It can
knock that breastwork to pieces."
He crossed the house again, to see if any of Mucklewame's men had
They had not. The man with the Lewis gun was lying dead halfway across
the street, with his precious weapon on the ground beside him. Two
other men, both wounded, were crawling back whence they came, taking
what cover they could from the storm of bullets which whizzed a few
inches over their flinching bodies.
Angus hastily semaphored to Mucklewame to hold his men in check for
the present. Then he returned to the other side of the house.
"How many men are serving that gun?" he said to M'Snape. "Can you
"Only two, sirr, I think. I cannot see them, but that wee breastwork
will not cover more than a couple of men."
"Mphm," observed Angus thoughtfully. "I expect they have been left
behind to hold on. Have you a bomb about you?"
The admirable M'Snape produced from his pocket a Mills grenade, and
handed it to his superior.
"Just the one, sirr," he said.
"Go you," commanded Angus, his voice rising to a more than usually
Highland inflection, "and semaphore to Mucklewame that when he hears
the explosion of _this_"--he pulled out the safety-pin of the grenade
and gripped the grenade itself in his enormous paw--"followed,
probably, by the temporary cessation of the machine-gun, he is to
bring his men over here in a bunch, as hard as they can pelt. Put it
as briefly as you can, but make sure he understands. He has a good
signaller with him. Send Bogle to report when you have finished. Now
repeat what I have said to you.... That's right. Carry on!"
M'Snape was gone. Angus, left alone, pensively restored the safety-pin
to the grenade, and laid the grenade upon the ground beside him. Then
he proceeded to write a brief letter in his field message-book. This
he placed in an envelope which he took from his breast pocket. The
envelope was already addressed--to the _Reverend Neil M'Lachlan, The
Manse_, in a very remote Highland village. (Angus had no mother.) He
closed the envelope, initialled it, and buttoned it up in his breast
pocket again. After that he took up his grenade and proceeded to make
a further examination of the premises. Presently he found what he
wanted; and by the time Bogle arrived to announce that Sergeant
Mucklewame had signalled "message understood," his arrangements were
"Stay by this small hole in the wall, Bogle," he said, "and the moment
the Lewis gun arrives tell them to mount it here and open fire on the
He left the room, leaving Bogle alone, to listen to the melancholy
rustle of peeling wall-paper within and the steady crackling of
bullets without. But when, peering through the improvised loophole, he
next caught sight of his officer, Angus had emerged from the house by
the cellar window, and was creeping with infinite caution behind the
shelter of what had once been the wall of the _estaminet's_ back-yard
(but was now an uneven bank of bricks, averaging two feet high), in
the direction of the German machine-gun. The gun, oblivious of the
danger now threatening its right front, continued to fire steadily and
hopefully down the street.
Slowly, painfully, Angus crawled on, until he found himself within the
right angle formed by the corner of the yard. He could go no further
without being seen. Between him and the German gun lay the cobbled
surface of the street, offering no cover whatsoever except one mighty
shell-crater, situated midway between Angus and the gun, and full to
the brim with rainwater.
A single peep over the wall gave him his bearings. The gun was too far
away to be reached by a grenade, even when thrown by Angus M'Lachlan.
Still, it would create a diversion. It was a time bomb. He would--
He stretched out his long arm to its full extent behind him, gave
one mighty overarm sweep, and with all the crackling strength of his
mighty sinews, hurled the grenade.
It fell into the exact centre of the flooded shell-crater.
Angus said something under his breath which would have shocked a
disciple of Kultur. Fortunately the two German gunners did not hear
him. But they observed the splash fifty yards away, and it relieved
them from _ennui_, for they were growing tired of firing at nothing.
They had not seen the grenade thrown, and were a little puzzled as to
the cause of the phenomenon.
Four seconds later their curiosity was more than satisfied. With a
muffled roar, the shell-hole suddenly, spouted its liquid contents and
other _debris_ straight to the heavens, startling them considerably
and entirely obscuring their vision.
A moment later, with an exultant yell, Angus M'Lachlan was upon them.
He sprang into their vision out of the descending cascade--a towering,
terrible, kilted figure, bare-headed and Berserk mad. He was barely
forty yards away.
Initiative is not the _forte_ of the Teuton. Number One of the German
gun mechanically traversed his weapon four degrees to the right and
continued to press the thumb-piece. Mud and splinters of brick sprang
up round Angus's feet; but still he came on. He was not twenty yards
away now. The gunner, beginning to boggle between waiting and bolting,
fumbled at his elevating gear, but Angus was right on him before
his thumbs got back to work. Then indeed the gun spoke out with no
uncertain voice, for perhaps two seconds. After that it ceased fire
Almost simultaneously there came a triumphant roar lower down the
street, as Mucklewame and his followers dashed obliquely across into
the _estaminet_. Mucklewame himself was carrying the derelict Lewis
gun. In the doorway stood the watchful M'Snape.
"This way, quick!" he shouted. "We have the Gairman gun spotted, and
the officer is needing the Lewis!"
But M'Snape was wrong. The Lewis was not required.
A few moments later, in the face of brisk sniping from the houses
higher up the street, James Bogle, officer's servant,--a member of
that despised class which, according to the _Bandar-log_ at home,
spend the whole of its time pressing its master's trousers and smoking
his cigarettes somewhere back in billets,--led out a stretcher party
to the German gun. Number One had been killed by a shot from Angus's
revolver. Number Two had adopted Hindenburg tactics, and was no more
to be seen. Angus himself was lying, stone dead, a yard from the
muzzle of the gun which he, single-handed, had put out of action.
His men carried him back to the _Estaminet aux Bons Fermiers_, with
the German gun, which was afterwards employed to good purpose during
the desperate days of attacking and counter-attacking which ensued
before the village was finally secured. They laid him in the
inner room, and proceeded to put the _estaminet_ in a state of
defence--ready to hold the same against all comers until such time
as the relieving Division should take over, and they themselves be
enabled, under the kindly cloak of darkness, to carry back their
beloved officer to a more worthy resting-place.
In the left-hand breast pocket of Angus's tunic they found his last
letter to his father. Two German machine-gun bullets had passed
through it. It was forwarded with a covering letter, by Colonel Kemp.
In the letter Angus's commanding officer informed Neil M'Lachlan that
his son had been recommended posthumously for the highest honour that
the King bestows upon his soldiers.
* * * * *
But for the moment Mucklewame's little band had other work to occupy
them. Shelling had recommenced; the enemy were mustering in force
behind the village; and presently a series of counter-attacks were
launched. They were successfully repelled, in the first instance by
the remainder of "A" Company, led in person by Bobby Little, and,
when the final struggle came, by the Battalion Reserve under Major
Wagstaffe. And throughout the whole grim struggle which ensued, the
_Estaminet aux Bons Fermiers_, tenanted by some of our oldest friends,
proved itself the head and corner of the successful defence.
Two steamers lie at opposite sides of the dock. One is painted a most
austere and unobtrusive grey; she is obviously a vessel with no
desire to advertise her presence on the high seas. In other words, a
transport. The other is dazzling white, ornamented with a good deal
of green, supplemented by red. She makes an attractive picture in the
early morning sun. Even by night you could not miss her, for she
goes about her business with her entire hull outlined in red lights,
regatta fashion, with a great luminous Red Cross blazing on either
counter. Not even the Commander of a U-boat could mistake her for
anything but what she is--a hospital ship.
First, let us walk round to where the grey ship is discharging her
cargo. The said cargo consists of about a thousand unwounded German
With every desire to be generous to a fallen foe, it is quite
impossible to describe them as a prepossessing lot. Not one man walks
like a soldier; they shamble. Naturally, they are dirty and unshaven,.
So are the wounded men on the white ship: but their outstanding
characteristic is an invincible humanity. Beneath the mud and blood
they are men--white men. But this strange throng are grey--like their
ship. With their shifty eyes and curiously shaped heads, they look
like nothing human. They move like overdriven beasts. We realise now
why it is that the German Army has to attack in mass.
They pass down the gangway, and are shepherded into form in the dock
shed by the Embarkation Staff, with exactly the same silent briskness
that characterises the R.A.M.C., over the way. Their guard, with fixed
bayonets, exhibit no more or no less concern over them than over
half-a-dozen Monday morning malefactors paraded for Orderly Room.
Presently they will move off, possibly through the streets of the
town; probably they will pass by folk against whose kith and kin they
have employed every dirty trick possible in warfare. But there will
be no demonstration: there never has been. As a nation we possess a
certain number of faults, on which we like to dwell. But we have one
virtue at least--we possess a certain sense of proportion; and we are
not disposed to make subordinates suffer because we cannot, as yet,
get at the principals.
They make a good haul. Fifteen German regiments are here
represented--possibly more, for some have torn off their
shoulder-straps to avoid identification. Some of the units are thinly
represented; others more generously. One famous Prussian regiment
appears to have thrown its hand in to the extent of about five
Still, as they stand there, filthy, forlorn, and dazed, one suddenly
realises the extreme appropriateness of a certain reference in the
Litany to All Prisoners and Captives.
We turn to the hospital ship.
Two great 'brows,' or covered gangways, connect her with her native
land. Down these the stretchers are beginning to pass, having been
raised from below decks by cunning mechanical devices which cause no
jar; and are being conveyed into the cool shade of the dock-shed. Here
they are laid in neat rows upon the platform, ready for transfer to
the waiting hospital train. Everything is a miracle of quietness and
order. The curious public are afar off, held aloof by dock-gates.
(They are there in force to-day, partly to cheer the hospital trains
as they pass out, partly for reasons connected with the grey-painted
ship.) In the dock-shed, organisation and method reign supreme. The
work has been going on without intermission for several days and
nights; and still the great ships come. The Austurias is outside,
waiting for a place at the dock. The Lanfranc is half-way across the
English Channel; and there are rumours that the mighty Britannic
has selected this, the busiest moment in the opening fortnight of the
Somme Battle, to arrive with a miscellaneous and irrelevant cargo of
sick and wounded from the Mediterranean. But there is no fuss. The
R.A.M.C. Staff Officers, unruffled and cheery, control everything,
apparently by a crook of the finger. The stretcher-bearers do their
work with silent aplomb.
[Footnote 1: These three hospital ships were all subsequently sunk by
The occupants of the stretchers possess the almost universal feature
of a six days' beard--always excepting those who are of an age which
is not troubled by such manly accretions. They lie very still--not
with the stillness of exhaustion or dejection, but with the
comfortable resignation of men who have made good and have suffered in
the process; but who now, with their troubles well behind them, are
enduring present discomfort under the sustaining prospect of clean
beds, chicken diet, and ultimate tea-parties. Such as possess them are
wearing Woodbine stumps upon the lower lip.
They are quite ready to compare notes. Let us approach, and listen, to
a heavily bandaged gentleman who--so the label attached to him informs
us--is Private Blank, of the Manchesters, suffering from three "G.S."
machine-gun bullet wounds.
"Did the Fritzes run? Yes--they run all right! The last lot saved
us trouble by running towards us--with their 'ands up! But their
machine-guns--they gave us fair 'Amlet till we got across No Man's
Land. After that we used the baynit, and they didn't give us no more
vexatiousness. Where did we go in? Oh, near Albert. Our objective was
Mary's Court, or some such place." (It is evident that the Battle
of the Somme is going to add some fresh household words to our
war vocabulary. 'Wipers' is a veteran by this time: 'Plugstreet,'
'Booloo,' and 'Armintears' are old friends. We must now make room
for 'Monty Ban,' 'La Bustle,' 'Mucky Farm,' 'Lousy Wood,' and
"What were your prisoners like?"
"'Alf clemmed," said the man from Manchester.
"No rations for three days," explained a Northumberland Fusilier close
by. One of his arms was strapped to his side, but the other still
clasped to his bosom a German helmet. A British Tommy will cheerfully
shed a limb or two in the execution of his duty, but not all the
might and majesty of the Royal Army Medical Corps can force him to
relinquish a fairly earned 'souvenir.' In fact, owing to certain
unworthy suspicions as to the true significance of the initials,
"R.A.M.C.," he has been known to refuse chloroform.
"They couldn't get nothing up to them for four days, on account of our
artillery fire," he added contentedly.
"'Barrage,' my lad!" amended a rather superior person with a
lance-corporal's stripe and a bandaged foot.
Indeed, all are unanimous in affirming that our artillery preparation
was a tremendous affair. Listen to this group of officers sunning
themselves upon the upper deck. They are 'walking cases,' and must
remain on board, with what patience they may, until all the'stretcher
cases' have been evacuated.
"Loos was child's play to it," says one--a member of a certain
immortal, or at least irrepressible Division which has taken part in
every outburst of international unpleasantness since the Marne. "The
final hour was absolute pandemonium. And when our new trench-mortar
batteries got to work too,--at sixteen to the dozen,--well, it was bad
enough for _us_; but what it must have been like at the business end
of things, Lord knows! For a few minutes I was almost a pro-Boche!"
Other items of intelligence are gleaned. The weather was 'rotten':
mud-caked garments corroborate this statement. The wire, on the whole,
was well and truly cut to pieces everywhere; though there were spots
at which the enemy contrived to repair it. Finally, ninety per cent.
of the casualties during the assault were due to machine-gun fire.
But the fact most clearly elicited by casual conversation is
this--that the more closely you engage in a battle, the less you know
about its progress. This ship is full of officers and men who were in
the thick of things for perhaps forty-eight hours on end, but who are
quite likely to be utterly ignorant of what was going on round the
next traverse in the trench which they had occupied. The wounded
Gunners are able to give them a good deal of information. One F.O.O.
saw the French advance.
"It was wonderful to see them go in," he said. "Our Batteries were on
the extreme right of the British line, so we were actually touching
the French left flank. I had met hundreds of _poilus_ back in billets,
in _cafes_, and the like. To look at them strolling down a village
street in their baggy uniforms, with their hands in their pockets,
laughing and chatting to the children, you would never have thought
they were such tigers. I remember one big fellow a few weeks ago, home
on leave--_permission_--who used to frisk about with a big umbrella
under his arm! I suppose that was to keep the rain off his tin hat.
But when they went for Maricourt the other day, there weren't many
umbrellas about--only bayonets! I tell you, they were marvels!"
It would be interesting to hear the _poilu_ on his Allies.
The first train moves off, and another takes its place. The long lines
of stretchers are thinning out now. There are perhaps a hundred left.
They contain men of all units--English, Scottish, and Irish. There are
Gunners, Sappers, and Infantry. Here and there among them you may note
bloodstained men in dirty grey uniforms--men with dull, expressionless
faces and closely cropped heads. They are tended with exactly the
same care as the others. Where wounded men are concerned, the British
Medical Service is strictly neutral.
A wounded Corporal of the R.A.M.C. turns his head and gazes
thoughtfully at one of those grey men.
"You understand English, Fritz?" he enquires.
Apparently not. Fritz continues to stare woodenly at the roof of the
"I should like to tell 'im a story, Jock," says the Corporal to his
other neighbour. "My job is on a hospital train. 'Alf-a-dozen 'Un
aeroplanes made a raid behind our lines; and seeing a beautiful Red
Cross train--it was a new London and North Western train, chocolate
and white, with red crosses as plain as could be--well, they simply
couldn't resist such a target as that! One of their machines swooped
low down and dropped his bombs on us. Luckily he only got the rear
coach; but I happened to be in it! D' yer 'ear that, Fritz?"
"I doot he canna unnerstand onything," remarked the Highlander. "He's
fair demoralised, like the rest. D' ye ken what happened tae me? I was
gaun' back wounded, with _this_--" he indicates an arm strapped
close to his side--"and there was six Fritzes came crawlin' oot o'
a dug-oot, and gave themselves up tae me--_me_, that was gaun' back
wounded, withoot so much as my jack-knife! Demorralised--that's it!"
"Did you 'ear," enquired a Cockney who came next in the line, "that
all wounded are going to 'ave a nice little gold stripe to wear--a
stripe for every wound?"
There was much interest at this.
"That'll be fine," observed a man of Kent, who had been out since
Mons, and been wounded three times. "Folks'll know now that I'm not a
"Where will us wear it?" enquired a gigantic Yorkshireman, from the
"Wherever you was 'it, lad!" replied the Cockney humourist.
"At that rate," comes the rueful reply, "I shall 'ave to stand oop to
But now R.A.M.C. orderlies are at hand, and the symposium comes to an
end. The stretchers are conveyed one by one into the long open coaches
of the train, and each patient is slipped sideways, with gentleness
and dispatch, into his appointed cot.
One saloon is entirely filled with officers--the severe cases in the
cots, the rest sitting where they can. A newspaper is passed round.
There are delighted exclamations, especially from a second lieutenant
whose features appear to be held together entirely by strips of
plaster. Such parts of the countenance as can be discerned are smiling
"I _knew_ we were doing well," says the bandaged one, devouring the
headlines; "but I never knew we were doing as well as this. Official,
too! Somme Battle--what? Sorry! I apologise!" as a groan ran round the
"Nevermind," said an unshaven officer, with a twinkling eye, and a
major's tunic wrapped loosely around him. "I expect that jest will
be overworked by more people than you for the next few weeks. Does
anybody happen to know where this train is going to?"
"West of England, somewhere, I believe," replied a voice.
There was an indignant groan from various north countrymen.
"I suppose it is quite impossible to sort us all out at a time like
this," remarked a plaintive Caledonian in an upper cot; "but I fail
to see why the R.A.M.C. authorities should go through the mockery of
_asking_ every man in the train where he wants to be taken, when the
train can obviously only go to one place--or perhaps two. I was asked.
I said 'Edinburgh'; and the medical wallah said, 'Righto! We'll send
you to Bath!'"
"I think I can explain," remarked the wounded major. "These trains
usually go to two places--one half to Bath, the other, say, to Exeter.
Bath is nearer to Edinburgh than Exeter, so they send you there. It is
kindly meant, but--"
"I say," croaked a voice from another cot,--its owner was a young
officer who must just have escaped being left behind at a Base
hospital as too dangerously wounded to move,--"is that a newspaper
down there? Would some one have a look, and tell me if we have got
Longueval all right? Longueval? Long--I got pipped, and don't quite--"
The wounded major turned his head quickly.
"Hallo, Bobby!" he observed cheerfully. "That you? I didn't notice you
Bobby Little's hot eyes turned slowly on Wagstaffe, and he exclaimed
"Hallo, Major! Cheeroh! Did we stick to Longueval all right? I've been
dreaming about it a bit, and--"
"We did," replied Wagstaffe--"thanks to 'A' Company."
Bobby Little's head fell back on the pillow, and he remarked
"Thanks awfully. I think I can sleep a bit now. So long! See you
His eyes closed, and he sighed happily, as the long train slid out
from the platform.
"TWO OLD SOLDIERS, BROKEN IN THE WARS"
The smoking-room of the Britannia Club used to be exactly like the
smoking-room of every other London Club. That is to say, members
lounged about in deep chairs, and talked shop, or scandal--or
slumbered. At any moment you might touch a convenient bell, and a
waiter would appear at your elbow, like a jinnee from a jar, and
accept an order with silent deference. You could do this all day, and
the jinnee never failed to hear and obey.
That was before the war. Now, those idyllic days are gone. So is the
waiter. So is the efficacy of the bell. You may ring, but all that
will materialise is a self-righteous little girl, in brass buttons,
who will shake her head reprovingly and refer you to certain passages
in the Defence of the Realm Act.
Towards the hour of six-thirty, however, something of the old spirit
of Liberty asserts itself. A throng of members--chiefly elderly
gentlemen in expanded uniforms--assembles in the smoking-room,
occupying all the chairs, and even overflowing on to the tables and
window-sills. They are not the discursive, argumentative gathering
of three years ago. They sit silent, restless, glancing furtively at
The clocks of London strike half-past six. Simultaneously the door of
the smoking-room is thrown open, and a buxom young woman in cap and
apron bounces in. She smiles maternally upon her fainting flock, and
"The half-hour's gone. Now you can _all_ have a drink!"
What would have happened if the waiter of old had done this thing, it
is difficult to imagine. But the elderly gentlemen greet their Hebe
with a chorus of welcome, and clamour for precedence like children at
a school-feast. And yet trusting wives believe that in his club, at
least, a man is safe!
Major Wagstaffe, D.S.O., having been absent from London upon urgent
public affairs for nearly three years, was not well versed in the
newest refinements of club life. He had arrived that morning from his
Convalescent Home in the west country, and had already experienced a
severe reverse at the hands of the small girl with brass buttons on
venturing to order a sherry and bitters at 11.45 A.M. Consequently, at
the statutory hour, his voice was not uplifted with the rest; and he
was served last. Not least, however; for Hebe, observing his empty
sleeve, poured out his soda-water with her own fair hands, and offered
to light his cigarette.
This scene of dalliance was interrupted by the arrival of Captain
Bobby Little. He wore the ribbon of the Military Cross and walked with
a stick--a not unusual combination in these great days. Wagstaffe made
room for him upon the leather sofa, and Hebe supplied his modest wants
with an indulgent smile.
An autumn and a winter had passed since the attack on Longueval. From
July until the December floods, the great battle had raged. The New
Armies, supplied at last with abundant munitions, a seasoned Staff,
and a concerted plan of action, had answered the question propounded
in a previous chapter in no uncertain fashion. Through Longueval and
Delville Wood, where the graves of the Highlanders and South Africans
now lie thick, through Flers and Martinpuich, through Pozieres and
Courcelette, they had fought their way, till they had reached the
ridge, with High Wood at its summit, which the Boche, not altogether
unreasonably, had regarded as impregnable. The tide had swirled over
the crest, down the reverse slope, and up at last to the top of that
bloodstained knoll of chalk known as the Butte de Warlencourt. There
the Hun threw in his hand. With much loud talk upon the subject of
victorious retirements and Hindenburg Lines, he withdrew himself to
a region far east of Bapaume; with the result that now some thousand
square miles of the soil of France had been restored once and for all
to their rightful owners.
But Bobby and Wagstaffe had not been there. All during the autumn and
winter they had lain softly in hospital, enjoying their first rest for
two years. Wagstaffe had lost his left arm and gained a decoration.
Bobby, in addition to his Cross, had incurred a cracked crown and a
permanently shortened leg. But both were well content. They had done
their bit--and something over; and they had emerged from the din of
war with their lives, their health, and their reason. A man who can
achieve that feat in this war can count himself fortunate.
Now, passed by a Medical Board as fit for Home Service, they had said
farewell to their Convalescent Home and come to London to learn what
fate Olympus held in store for them.
"Where have you been all day, Bobby?" enquired Wagstaffe, as they sat
down to dinner an hour later.
"Down in Kent," replied Bobby briefly.
"Very well: I will not probe the matter. Been to the War Office?"
"Yes. I was there this morning. I am to be Adjutant of a Cadet school,
at Great Snoreham. What sort of a job is that likely to be?"
"On the whole," replied Wagstaffe, "a Fairy Godmother Department job.
It might have been very much worse. You are thoroughly up to the
Adjutant business, Bobby, and of course the young officers under you
will be immensely impressed by your game leg and bit of ribbon. A very
"What are they going to do with you?" asked Bobby in his turn.
"I am to command our Reserve Battalion, with acting rank of
Lieutenant-Colonel. Think of that, my lad! They have confirmed you in
your rank as Captain, I suppose?"
"Good! The only trouble is that you will be stationed in the South of
England and I in the North of Scotland; so we shall not see quite
so much of one another as of late. However, we must get together
occasionally, and split a tin of bully for old times' sake."
"Bully? By gum!" said Bobby thoughtfully. "I have almost forgotten
what it tastes like. (Fried sole, please; then roast lamb.) Eight
months in hospital do wash out certain remembrances."
"But not all," said Wagstaffe.
"No, not all. I--I wonder how our chaps are getting on, over there."
"Yes. It is so hard to get definite news."
"They were in the Arras show. Did better than ever; but--well, they
required a big draft afterwards."
"The third time!" sighed Bobby. "Did any one write to you about it?"
"Yes. Who do you think?"
"Some one in the regiment?"
"I didn't know there were any of the old lot left. Who was it?"
"Mucklewame? You mean to say the Boche hasn't got _him_ yet? It's like
missing Rheims Cathedral."
"Yes, they got him at Arras. Mucklewame is in hospital. Fortunately
his chief wound is in the head, so he's doing nicely. Here is his
Bobby took the pencilled screed, and read:--
Sir,--I take up my pen for to inform you that I am now in hospital in
Glasgow, having become a cassuality on the 18th inst.
I was struck on the head by the nose-cap of a German shell (now in the
possession of my guidwife). Unfortunately I was wearing one of they
steel helmets at the time, with the result that I sustained a serious
scalp-wound, also very bad concussion. I have never had a liking for
they helmets anyway.
The old regiment did fine in the last attack. They were specially
mentioned in Orders next day. The objective was reached under heavy
fire and position consolidated before we were relieved next morning_.
"Good boys!" interpolated Bobby softly.
_Colonel Carmichael, late of the Second Battn., I think, is now in
command. A very nice gentleman, but we have all been missing you and
They tell me that I will be for home service after this. My head is
doing well, but the muscules of my right leg is badly torn. I should
have liked fine for to have stayed out and come home with the other
boys when we are through with Berlin.
Having no more to say, sir, I will now draw to a close.
After the perusal of this characteristic _Ave atque Vale!_ the two
friends adjourned to the balcony, overlooking the Green Park. Here
they lit their cigars in reminiscent silence, while neighbouring
search-lights raked the horizon for Zeppelins which no longer came. It
was a moment for confidences.
"Old Mucklewame is like the rest of us," said Wagstaffe at last.
"Wanting to go back, and all that. I do too--just because I'm here,
I suppose. A year ago, out there, my chief ambition was to get home,
with a comfortable wound and a comfortable conscience."
"Same here," admitted Bobby.
"It was the same with practically every one," said Wagstaffe. "If any
man asserts that he really enjoys modern warfare, after, say, six
months of it, he is a liar. In the South African show I can honestly
say I was perfectly happy. We were fighting in open country, against
an adversary who was a gentleman; and although there was plenty of
risk, the chances were that one came through all right. At any rate,
there was no poison gas, and one did not see a whole platoon blown to
pieces, or buried alive, by a single shell. If Brother Boer took
you prisoner, he did not stick you in the stomach with a saw-edged
bayonet. At the worst he pinched your trousers. But Brother Boche is
a different proposition. Since he butted in, war has descended in
the social scale. And modern scientific developments have turned a
sporting chance of being scuppered into a mathematical certainty.
And yet--and yet--old Mucklewame is right. One _hates_ to be out of
it--especially at the finish. When the regiment comes stumping through
London on its way back to Euston--next year, or whenever it's going to
be--with their ragged pipers leading the way, you would like to be
at the head of 'A' Company, Bobby, and I would give something to be
exercising my old function of whipper-in. Eh, boy?"
"Never mind," said practical Bobby. "Perhaps we shall be on somebody's
glittering Staff. What I hate to feel at present is that the other
fellows, out there, have got to go on sticking it, while we--"
"And by God," exclaimed Wagstaffe, "what stickers they are--and were!
Did you ever see anything so splendid, Bobby, as those six-months-old
soldiers of ours--in the early days, I mean, when we held our
trenches, week by week, under continuous bombardment, and our gunners
behind could only help us with four or five rounds a day?"
"I never did," said Bobby, truthfully.
"I admit to you," continued Wagstaffe, "that when I found myself
pitchforked into 'K(1)' at the outbreak of the war, instead of getting
back to my old line battalion, I was a pretty sick man. I hated
everybody. I was one of the old school--or liked to think I was--and
the ways of the new school were not my ways. I hated the new officers.
Some of them bullied the men; some of them allowed themselves to be
bullied by N.C.O.'s. Some never gave or returned salutes, others went
about saluting everybody. Some came into Mess in fancy dress of their
own design, and elbowed senior officers off the hearthrug. I used to
marvel at the Colonel's patience with them. But many of them are dead
now, Bobby, and they nearly all made good. Then the men! After ten
years in the regular Army I hated them all--the way they lounged, the
way they dressed, the way they sat, the way they spat. I wondered how
I could ever go on living with them. And now--I find myself wondering
how I am ever going to live without them. We shall not see their
like again. The new lot--present lot--are splendid fellows. They are
probably better soldiers. Certainly they are more uniformly trained.
But there was a piquancy about our old scamps in 'K(1)' that was
unique--priceless--something the world will never see again."
"I don't know," said Bobby thoughtfully. "That Cockney regiment which
lay beside us at Albert last summer was a pretty priceless lot. Do you
remember a pair of fat fellows in their leading platoon? We called
them Fortnum and Mason!"
"I do--particularly Fortnum. Go on!"
"Well, their bit of trench was being shelled one day, and Fortnum, who
was in number one bay with five other men, kept shouting out to Mason,
who was round a traverse and out of sight, to enquire how he was
getting on. 'Are you all right, Bill?' 'Are you _sure_ you're all
right, Bill?' 'Are you _still_ all right, Bill?' and so on. At last
Bill, getting fed up with this unusual solicitude, yelled back:
'What's all the anxiety abaht, eh?' And Fortnum put his head round the
traverse and explained. 'We're getting up a little sweepstake in our
bay,' he said, 'abaht the first casuality, and I've drawn you, ole
"That must have been the regiment that had the historic poker party,"
"What yarn was that?"
"I heard it from the Brigadier--four times, to be exact. Five men off
duty were sitting in a dug-out playing poker. A gentleman named 'Erb
had just gone to the limit on his hand, when a rifle-grenade came into
the dug-out from somewhere and did him in. While they were waiting for
the stretcher-bearers, one of the other players picked up 'Erb's hand
and examined it. Then he laid it down again, and said: 'It doesn't
matter, chaps. Poor 'Erb wouldn't a made it, anyway. I 'ad four
"Tommy has his own ideas of fun, I'll admit," said Bobby. "Do you
remember those first trenches of ours at Festubert? There was a dead
Frenchman buried in the parapet--you know how they used to bury people
in those days?"
"I did notice it. Go on."
"Well, this poor chap's hand stuck out, just about four feet from the
floor of the trench. My dug-out was only a few yards away, and I never
saw a member of my platoon go past that spot without shaking the hand
and saying, Good-morning, Alphonse!' I had it built up with sandbags
ultimately, and they were quite annoyed!"
"They have some grisly notions about life and death," agreed
Wagstaffe, "but they are extraordinarily kind to people in trouble,
such as wounded men, or prisoners. You can't better them."
"And now there are five millions of them. We are all in it, at last!"
"We certainly are--men and women. I'm afraid I had hardly realised
what our women were doing for us. Being on service all the time, one
rather overlooks what is going on at home. But stopping a bullet puts
one in the way of a good deal of inside information on that score."
"You mean hospital work, and so on?"
"Yes. One meets a lot of wonderful people that way! Sisters, and
ward-maids, and V.A.D.'s--"
"I love all V.A.D.'s!" said Bobby, unexpectedly.
"Why, my youthful Mormon?"
"Because they are the people who do all the hard work and get no
"Like Second Lieutenants--eh?"
"Yes, that is the idea. They have a pretty hard time, you know,"
continued Bobby confidentially: "And nothing heroic, either. Giving up
all the fun that a girl is entitled to; washing dishes; answering the
door-bell; running up and downstairs; eating rotten food. That's the
"What is her name?" enquired the accusing voice of Major Wagstaffe.
Then, without waiting to extort an answer from the embarrassed
"You are quite right. This war has certainly brought out the best in
our women. The South African War brought out the worst. My goodness,
you should have seen the Mount Nelson Hotel at Capetown in those
days! But they have been wonderful this time--wonderful. I love them
all--the bus-conductors, the ticket-punchers, the lift-girls--one
of them nearly shot me right through the roof of Harrod's the
other day--and the window-cleaners and the page-girls and the
railway-portresses! I divide my elderly heart among them. And I met a
bunch of munition girls the other day, Bobby, coming home from work.
They were all young, and most of them were pretty. Their faces and
hands were stained a bright orange-colour with picric acid, and will
be, I suppose, until the Boche is booted back into his stye. In other
words, they had deliberately sacrificed their good looks for the
duration of the war. That takes a bit of doing, I know, innocent
bachelor though I am. But bless you, they weren't worrying. They
waved their orange-coloured hands to me, and pointed to their
orange-coloured faces, and laughed. They were _proud_ of them; they
were doing their bit. They nearly made me cry, Bobby. Yes, we are all
in it now; and those of us who come out of it are going to find this
old island of ours a wonderfully changed place to live in."
"How? Why?" enquired Bobby. Possibly he was interested in Wagstaffe's
unusual expansiveness: possibly he hoped to steer the conversation
away from the topic of V.A.D.'s--possibly towards it. You never know.
"Well," said Wagstaffe, "we are all going to understand one another a
great deal better after this war."
"Who? Labour and Capital, and so on?"
"'Labour and Capital' is a meaningless and misleading expression,
Bobby. For instance, our men regard people like you and me as
Capitalists; the ordinary Brigade Major regards us as Labourers, and
pretty common Labourers at that. It is all a question of degree. But
what I mean is this. You can't call your employer a tyrant and an
extortioner after he has shared his rations with you and never
spared himself over your welfare and comfort through weary months of
trench-warfare; neither, when you have experienced a working-man's
courage and cheerfulness and reliability in the day of battle, can you
turn round and call him a loafer and an agitator in time of peace--can
you? That is just what the _Bandar-log_ overlook, when they jabber
about the dreadful industrial upheaval that is coming with peace. Most
of all have they overlooked the fact that with the coming of peace
this country will be invaded by several million of the wisest men that
she has ever produced--the New British Army. That Army will consist
of men who have spent three years in getting rid of mutual
misapprehensions and assimilating one another's point of view--men
who went out to the war ignorant and intolerant and insular, and are
coming back wise to all the things that really matter. They will flood
this old country, and they will make short work of the agitator, and
the alarmist, and the profiteer, and all the nasty creatures that
merely make a noise instead of _doing_ something, and who crab the
work of the Army and Navy--more especially the Navy--because there
isn't a circus victory of some kind in the paper every morning. Yes,
Bobby, when our boys get back, and begin to ask the _Bandar-log_ what
they _did_ in the Great War--well, it's going to be a rotten season
for _Bandar-log_ generally!"
There was silence again. Presently Bobby spoke:--
"When our boys get back! Some of them are never coming back again,
"Still," said Wagstaffe, "what they did was worth doing, and what they
died for was worth while. I think their one regret to-day would
be that they did not live to see their own fellows taking the
offensive--the line going forward on the Somme; the old tanks waddling
over the Boche trenches; and the Boche prisoners throwing up their
hands and yowling 'Kamerad'! And the Kut unpleasantness cleaned up,
and all the kinks in the old Salient straightened out! And Wytchaete
and Messines! You remember how the two ridges used to look down into
our lines at Wipers and Plugstreet? And now we're on top of both of
them! Some of our friends out there--the friends who are not coming
back--would have liked to know about that, Bobby. I wish they could,
"Perhaps they do," said Bobby simply.
It was close on midnight. Our "two old soldiers, broken in the wars,"
levered themselves stiffly to their feet, and prepared to depart.
"Heigho!" said Wagstaffe. "It is time for two old wrecks like us to be
in bed. That's what we are, Bobby--wrecks, dodderers, has-beens! But
we have had the luck to last longer than most. We have dodged the
missiles of the Boche to an extent which justifies us in claiming that
we have followed the progress of their war with a rather more than
average degree of continuity. We were the last of the old crowd, too.
Kemp has got his Brigade, young Cockerell has gone to be a Staff
Captain, and--you and I are here. Some of the others dropped out far
too soon. Young Lochgair, old Blaikie--"
"Waddell, too," said Bobby. "We joined the same day."
"And Angus M'Lachlan. I think he would have made the finest soldier of
the lot of us," added Wagstaffe. "You remember his remark to me, that
we only had the bye to play now? He was a true prophet: we are dormy,
anyhow. (Only cold feet at Home can let us down now.) And he only saw
three months' service! Still, he made a great exit from this world,
Bobby, and that is the only thing that matters in these days. Ha! H'm!
As our new Allies would say, I am beginning to 'pull heart stuff' on
you. Let us go to bed. Sleeping here?"
"Yes, till to-morrow. Then off on leave."
"How much have you got?"
"A month. I say?"
"Are you doing anything on the nineteenth?"
Wagstaffe regarded his young friend suspiciously.
"Is this a catch of some kind?" he enquired.
"Oh, no. Will you be my--" Bobby turned excessively pink, and
completed his request.
Wagstaffe surveyed him resignedly.
"We all come to it, I suppose," he observed.
"Only some come to it sooner than others. Are you of age, my lad? Have
"I'm twenty-two," said Bobby shortly.
"Will the bridesmaids be pretty?"
"They are all peaches," replied Bobby, with enthusiasm. "But nothing
whatever," he added, in a voice of respectful rapture, "compared with