Part 7 out of 7
"You haven't, George!"
"Yes, I have. I've just come back."
He replied with his damnable affected casualness: "I'm in the Army.
Royal Field Artillery. And so that's that."
"But where's your uniform?"
"I knew you'd say that. I'm in mufti, you see."
He promptly received his papers and returned them. His medical
examination was quite satisfactory. Then there was no further sign from
the Army. The Army might have completely forgotten him; his enrolment in
the Army might have been an illusion. Every day and every hour he
expected a telegram of command. It was in anticipation of the telegram,
curt and inexorable, that he kept harrying his tradesmen. To be caught
unprepared by the telegram would be a disaster. But the tradesmen had
lessons to teach him, and by the time the kit was approximately
completed he had learnt the lessons. Whether the transaction concerned
his tunic, breeches, spurs, leggings, cane, sword, socks, shirts, cap,
camp field-kit, or any of the numerous other articles without which an
officer might not respectably enter the British Army, the chief lesson
was the same, namely, that the tradesmen were bearing the brunt of the
war. Those who had enrolled and made spectacular sacrifices of homes and
careers and limbs and lives were enjoying a glorious game amid the
laudations of an ecstatic populace, but the real work was being done in
the shops and in the workrooms. The mere aspect of tradesmen was enough
to restore the lost modesty of officers. Useless to argue with the
tradesmen, to expostulate, to vituperate. The facts were in their
favour; the sublime law of supply and demand was in their favour. If the
suddenly unloosed military ardour had not been kept down it might have
submerged the Island. The tradesmen kept it down, and the Island was
saved by them from militarization. Majors and colonels and even generals
had to flatter and cajole tradesmen. As for lieutenants, they cringed.
And all officers were obliged to be grateful for the opportunity to
acquire goods at prices fifty per cent higher than would have been
charged to civilians. Within a few days George, who had need of every
obtainable sovereign for family purposes, had disbursed some forty
pounds out of his own pocket in order to exercise the privilege of
defending, at the risk of ruin and death, the ideals of his country.
At the end of the week what, as a civilian, he would have described as
his first 'suit' had not been delivered, and he spent Saturday afternoon
and Sunday in most uncomfortable apprehension of the telegraph-boy and
in studying an artillery manual now known to hundreds of thousands as
'F.A.T.' On the Monday morning he collected such portions of his kit as
had to be worn with the 'suit' (leggings, boots, spurs, cap, shirt,
collar, etc.), and took them in a taxi to the tailor's, intending to
change there and emerge a soldier. The clothes were not ready, but the
tailor, intimidated by real violence, promised them for three o'clock.
At three o'clock they were still not ready, for buttons had to be
altered on the breeches; another hour was needed.
George went to call at Lucas & Enwright's. That office seemed to
function as usual, for Everard Lucas alone had left it for the
profession of arms. The factotum in the cubicle was a young man of the
finest military age, and there were two other good ones in the clerks'
room, including a clerk just transferred from George's own office. And
George thought of his own office, already shut up, and his glance was
sardonic. Mr. Enwright sat alone in the principals' room, John Orgreave
being abroad in London in pursuit of George's two landlords--the
landlord of his house and the landlord of his office--neither of whom
had yet been brought to see that George's caprice for a military career
entitled him in the slightest degree to slip out of contracts
remunerative to the sacred caste of landlords. Lucas & Enwright had
behaved handsomely to George, having taken everything over, assumed all
responsibilities, and allotted to George more than a fair share of
percentages. And John Orgreave, who in his rough provincial way was an
admirable negotiator, had voluntarily busied himself with the affair of
the resilition of George's leases.
"Not gone, then?" Mr. Enwright greeted him. "Well, you'd better be
going, or I shan't get my chance of being Vice-President."
"What do you mean?"
"Orgreave was at a committee at the Institute this morning. It seems you
might have been the next Vice, in spite of your tender years, if you'd
stayed. You're becoming the rage, you know."
"Am I?" said George, startled.
He hungered for further details of this great and highly disturbing
matter, but Enwright, jealous by nature and excusably jealous by reason
of the fact that despite his immense artistic reputation he had never
succeeded in being even Vice-President of the Institute, would say no
more. Indeed he took a malicious pleasure in saying no more.
The ageing man, more hypochondriacal, thinner, and more wrinkled than
ever, was full to the brim of one subject--India. Somebody at the India
Office had flattered him by showing a knowledge of his work. The India
Office had very graciously agreed to the transfer of the barracks
enterprise to Lucas & Enwright, and now Mr. Enwright was for going to
India himself. He had never been there. Indian scenery, Indian manners,
Indian architecture boiled in his brain. The menace of German raiders
would not prevent him from going to India. He had already revisited the
photographs of Indian buildings at South Kensington Museum. Moreover, he
had persuaded himself that the erection of the barracks formed an urgent
and vital part of British war activity.
At the same time he was convinced that the war would soon end, and in
favour of Germany. He assumed, as being beyond doubt, that a German army
would occupy Paris, and when George, with a wave of the hand, pushed the
enemy back and magically rendered Paris impregnable, he nearly lost his
temper. This embittered Englishman would not hear a word against the
miraculous efficiency of the Germans, whom he admired as much as he
hated them. The German military reputation could not have been safer in
Potsdam than it was in Russell Square. George, impatient of his master
and inspirer, rose to depart, whereupon Mr. Enwright began to talk at
large about the terrible derangement of his daily life caused by the
sudden disappearance of his favourite barber, deemed now to have been a
spy. "But the only barber who ever really understood my chin," said Mr.
Enwright. George went, shaking hands perfunctorily. Mr. Enwright was too
preoccupied to wish him luck.
The clothes were ready at the tailor's, and they passed the tests.
George stood up disguised as a second-lieutenant in the R.F.A., booted,
spurred, gloved, nicely managing a cane. He examined himself in the
great mirror and was well pleased with his military appearance. In
particular, his dark moustache fitted the role excellently.
"Now you'll send the overcoat and all my civilian things down this
afternoon, without fail," he said. "I'll let you have an address for the
And he walked manfully out of the shop. Before he could find himself, a
superb serjeant-major strode up, saluted in the highest and strictest
perfection, and passed. The encounter was unfortunate. George, taken
aback, muddled his share of the rite. Further, the self-consciousness of
the potential Vice-President of the Royal Institute of British
Architects was so extreme in uniform that it could scarcely have been
more extreme had he been thrust by destiny into Oxford Street naked. He
returned to the shop and said:
"I think I'll take everything home myself, to make sure. You might get
me a taxi."
He crept into his own house furtively with his parcels, like a criminal,
though he well knew that the servants would be ready to worship him as a
new god. The children were evidently out. Lois was not in the
drawing-room. He ran to the bedroom. She lay on the sofa.
"Here I am!" he announced, posing bravely for her inspection.
She did not move for a few seconds. Her eyes were hard-set. Then she
gave a tremendous shattering sob, and burst into wild tears. George
stooped to pick up a telegram which was lying on the floor. It read:
"You are to report to Adjutant Headquarters Second First West Midland
R.F.A. Wimbledon to-morrow Tuesday before noon."
The Army had not forgotten him. Throughout the week his name upon
various forms had been under the eye of authority, and at last the order
had gone forth.
The next morning, after a disturbed night, Lois was taken ill. George
telephoned for the doctor, and as soon as he had seen the patient the
doctor telephoned for the nurse, and as soon as the doctor had
telephoned for the nurse George telephoned for Laurencine. What with
George's uniform and approaching departure, and the premature seizure of
Lois, the household had, in an exceedingly short time, reached a state
of intense excitement and inefficiency. Nurse was with Lois; the
children were with cook in the kitchen; the other two servants were
noisily and vaguely active on the stairs and the landings. The breakfast
had been very badly cooked; the newspapers, with a detailed description
of the retreat from Mons, were not glanced at. George was expecting a
letter from his mother concerning the arrangements for the visit of Lois
and the children to Ladderedge, already decided upon, and no letter had
At half-past ten he sent the parlourmaid to get a taxi. Having inspected
his luggage in the hall, he went to the telephone again and ascertained
that Laurencine had actually started from home. Almost at the same
moment a taxi stopped in front of the house. "She's been jolly quick,"
thought George, meaning the parlourmaid; but going to the window he saw
that his stepfather and his mother were in the taxi. He did not rush out
to them. He did not move. The comfortable sense of the perfect
reliability and benevolence of his 'people' filled and warmed him. They
had not written again; they had just come themselves.
He affectionately and critically watched them as they got out of the
taxi. Alderman Edwin Clayhanger, undeniably stout, with grey hair and
beard, was passing from middle-age into the shadow of the sixties. He
dressed well, but the flat crown of his felt hat, and the artificial,
exaggerated squareness of the broad shoulders, gave him a provincial
appearance. His gesture as he paid the driver was absolutely
characteristic--a mixture of the dignified and the boyish, the
impressive and the timid. He had descended from the vehicle with
precautions, but Mrs. Clayhanger jumped down lightly, though she was
about as old and as grey as her husband. Her costume was not successful;
she did not understand and never had understood how to dress herself.
But she had kept her figure; she was as slim as a girl, and as restless.
George ran to the door, which the feverish parlourmaid had neglected to
shut. His mother, mounting the steps, was struck full in the face by the
apparition of her son in uniform. The Alderman, behind her, cried
mockingly to cover his emotion: "Hal_lo_! Hal_lo_!"
"When did you come up?" asked George quietly, taking his mother's hand
and kissing her. She slid past him into the house. Her eyes were moist.
"Last night," the Alderman answered. "Last train. Your mother's idea.
All of a sudden. Thought you might be leaving."
"Well, I am," said George. "I have to report at Headquarters at
Wimbledon by twelve o'clock. It's rather a good thing you've come. Lois
is ill. Oh! Here's _my_ taxi." The parlourmaid had driven up.
"Ill!" exclaimed Mrs. Clayhanger.
"Yes. I've sent for the doctor, and he's sent for the nurse. I'm
expecting the nurse every minute."
"You don't mean to say--" Mrs. Clayhanger began.
"She _must_ have had a shock. I knew what it would be for her. It's all
very well, but--" Mrs. Clayhanger again left a sentence unfinished.
"I've sent for Laurencine too," said George. "She also may be here any
"Oh!" said the old lady tartly. "I can stay as long as you like, you
know. Lois and I get on splendidly."
It was true. They had had one enormous quarrel, which had mysteriously
ended by both of them denying superiorly to all males that any quarrel
had ever occurred.
"Well, come into the dining-room."
"I think I'll go up and see Lois at once," said Mrs. Clayhanger.
"The doctor's there."
"What if he is?"
The Alderman put in:
"Now look here, missis. Don't startle her."
Mrs. Clayhanger exhaled impatient scorn and went upstairs.
"This your stuff?" the Alderman questioned, pointing with his stick to
the kit-bag and strange packages on the hall floor.
"Yes," said George, and to the parlourmaid: "You can put it all in the
taxi, May. Come along in, uncle."
"Don't hurry me, boy. Don't hurry me."
"Where are you staying?"
"Russell ... Bit awkward, this about Lois!"
They were now within the dining-room.
"Yes." In the presence and under the influence of his people George at
once ceased to be an expansive Londoner, and reverted to the character
of the Five Towns.
"I suppose she'll be all _right_?"
"Doctor seems to think so."
"Yes. They generally are." The Alderman sighed pleasantly and dropped
rather heavily into a chair.
"Have a cigarette?"
"No!" The Alderman refused regretfully. "I've got a new rule now. I
don't smoke till after dinner."
There was a pause.
"I'm glad we came."
"You needn't worry about anything. Your mother and I will see to
everything. I'll go up and have a talk with Johnnie about the leases."
"What about money?"
"I'll write you. No hurry."
"What sort of a woman is Laurencine? I've scarcely set eyes on her."
"Will she hit it off with your mother?"
"Well, then, I think I'll have one o' them cigarettes."
They smoked in taciturnity, nervous but relieved. They had said what
they had to say to each other. After a time George remarked:
"I heard last night there was a chance of me being Vice-President of the
Institute this year if I hadn't gone into the Army."
Mr. Clayhanger raised his eyebrows.
"That'll keep all right for later."
Mrs. Clayhanger hurried into the dining-room. She had removed her hat
"Lois wants to see you."
"I was just coming up. I've got to go now." He glanced at his watch.
"Go where?" It was like Mrs. Clayhanger to ask a question to which she
knew the answer. Her ardent eyes, set a little too close together in the
thin, lined, nervous face, burned upon him challengingly.
"I told you! I have to report at Headquarters before noon."
"But you don't mean to say you're going to leave your wife like this!
She's very ill."
"I'm bound to leave her."
"But you can't leave her."
The Alderman said:
"The boy's quite right. If he's got to report he's got to report."
"And supposing she was dying?"
"Now, missis, we needn't suppose that. She isn't."
"It would be just the same if she was," Mrs. Clayhanger retorted
bitterly. "I don't know what men are coming to. But I know this--all
husbands are selfish. They probably don't know it, but they are."
She wept angrily.
"Don't you understand I'm in the machine now, mater?" said George
resentfully as he left the room.
In the bedroom Lois lay on her back, pale, perspiring, moaning. He
kissed her, glanced at the doctor for instructions, and departed. Lois
was not in a condition to talk, and the doctor wished her not to speak.
Then George went to the kitchen and took leave of the children, and
incidentally of the servants. The nurse was arriving as he re-entered
the dining-room; he had seized his cap in the hall and put it on.
"Better give me an address," said the Alderman.
"You might wire during the day," George said, scribbling on a loose leaf
from his pocket-book, which he had to search for in unfamiliar pockets.
"The idea had occurred to me," the Alderman smiled.
"Au revoir, mater."
"But you've got plenty of time!" she protested.
"I know," said he. "I'm not going to be late. I haven't the slightest
notion where Headquarters are, and supposing the taxi had a break-down!"
He divined from the way in which she kissed him good-bye that she was
excessively proud of him.
"Mater," he said, "I see you're still a girl."
As he was leaving, Mr. Clayhanger halted him.
"You said something in your last letter about storing the furniture,
didn't you? Have ye made any inquiries?"
"No. But I've told Orgreave. You might look into that, because--well,
From the hall he glanced into the dining-room and up the stairs. The
furniture that filled the house had been new ten years earlier; it had
been anybody's furniture. The passage of ten years, marvellously swift,
had given character to the furniture, charged it with associations,
scarred it with the history of a family--his family, individualized it,
humanized it. It was no longer anybody's furniture. With a pang he
pictured it numbered and crowded into a warehouse, forlorn, thick with
dust, tragic, exiled from men and women.
He drove off, waving. His stepfather waved from the door, his mother
waved from the dining-room; the cook had taken the children into the
drawing-room, where they shook their short, chubby arms at him, smiling.
On the second floor the back of the large rectangular mirror on the
dressing-table presented a flat and wooden negative to his anxious
In the neighbourhood of Wimbledon the taxi-driver ascertained his
destination at the first inquiry from a strolling soldier. It was the
Blue Lion public-house. The taxi skirted the Common, parts of which were
covered with horse-lines and tents. Farther on, in vague suburban
streets, the taxi stopped at a corner building with a blatant, curved
gilt sign and a very big lamp. A sentry did something with his rifle as
George got out, and another soldier obligingly took the luggage. A
clumsy painted board stuck on a pole at the entrance to a side-passage
indicated that George had indeed arrived at his Headquarters. He was
directed to a small, frowzy apartment, which apparently had once been
the land-lord's sitting-room. Two officers, Colonel Hullocher and his
Adjutant, both with ribbons, were seated close together at a littered
deal table, behind a telephone whose cord, instead of descending
modestly to the floor, went up in sight of all men to the ceiling. In a
corner a soldier, the Colonel's confidential clerk, was writing at
another table. Everything was dirty and untidy. Neither of the officers
looked at George. The Adjutant was excitedly reading to the Colonel and
the Colonel was excitedly listening and muttering. The clerk too was in
a state of excitement. George advanced towards the table, and saluted
and stood at attention. The Adjutant continued to read and the Colonel
to murmur, but the Adjutant did manage to give a momentary surreptitious
glance at George. After some time the Colonel, who was a short, stout,
bald, restless man, interrupted the reading, and, still without having
looked at George, growled impatiently to the Adjutant:
"Who's this fellow?"
The Adjutant replied smoothly:
"Mr. Cannon, sir."
The Colonel said:
"He's got a devilish odd way of saluting. I must go now." And jumped up
and went cyclonically as far as the door. At the door he paused and
looked George full in the face, glaring.
"You came to me with a special recommendation?" he demanded loudly.
"Colonel Rannion kindly recommended me, sir."
"General Rannion, sir. Haven't you seen this morning's _Times_? You
should read your Gazette."
"You're the celebrated architect?"
"I'm an architect, sir."
"I wish you would condescend to answer, yes or no, sir. That's the
second time. I say--you're the celebrated architect?"
"Well, remember this. When you come into the Army what you were before
you came into the Army has not the slightest importance."
Colonel Hullocher glared in silence for a moment, and was gone. The
clerk slipped out after him.
The Adjutant rose:
"Now, Cannon, we're all very busy."
And shook hands.
The same afternoon, indeed within about two hours of his entrance into
the Army, George found himself driving back from Wimbledon to London in
Colonel Hullocher had vanished out of his world, and he had been sent to
another and still more frowzy public-house which was the Headquarters of
No. 2 Battery of the Second Brigade. He was allotted to No. 2 Battery,
subject to the approval of Major Craim, the commanding officer. Major
Craim was young and fair and benevolent, and at once approvingly
welcomed George, who thereupon became the junior subaltern of the
Battery. The other half-dozen officers, to whom he was introduced one by
one as they came in, seemed amiable and very well-mannered, if unduly
excited. When, immediately before lunch, the Major was called away to
lunch with Colonel Hullocher, the excitement of the mess seemed to boil
over. The enormous fact was that the whole Division--yeomanry, infantry,
and artillery--had been ordered to trek southward the next morning. The
Division was not ready to trek; in particular the Second Brigade of its
artillery, and quite specially Battery No. 2 of the Second Brigade, was
not ready to trek. Nevertheless it would trek. It might even trek to
France. Southward was Franceward, and there were those who joyously
believed that this First Line Territorial Division was destined to lead
the Territorial Army in France.
All the officers had a schoolboyish demeanour; all of them called one
another by diminutives ending in 'y'; all of them were pretty young.
But George soon divided them into two distinct groups--those who worried
about the smooth working of the great trek, and those who did not. Among
the former was Captain Resmith, the second in command, a dark man with a
positive, strong voice, somewhat similar to George in appearance.
Captain Resmith took George very seriously, and promised to initiate him
personally into as many technical mysteries as could be compressed into
one afternoon. Then a Major Tumulty, middle-aged and pale, came
hurriedly into the stuffy room and said without any prologue:
"Now I must have one of you chaps this afternoon. Otherwise I promise
you you won't get all the things you want."
Silence fell on the mess.
"The C.O. isn't here, sir," said Captain Resmith.
"I can't help that. I'm not going alone."
"Cannon, you'd better go with Major Tumulty. Major, this is Mr. Cannon,
our latest addition."
George only knew about Major Tumulty that he was Major Tumulty and that
he did not belong to No. 2 Battery. So far as George was concerned he
was a major in the air. After drinking a glass of port with the mess,
Major Tumulty suddenly remembered that he was in a hurry, and took
George off and put him into a scarlet London-General motor-bus that was
throbbing at the door of the public-house, with an ordinary civilian
driver at the steering-wheel and a soldier on the step. George felt like
a parcel; he had no choice of movement, no responsibility, no knowledge.
The mentality of a parcel was not disagreeable to him. But at times,
vaguely uneasy, he would start out of it, and ask himself: "What is
wrong?" And then the vision of a distant, half-forgotten street called
Elm Park Road would rise in his mind and he would remember: "My wife is
very ill, and everything is upset at home."
The motor-bus travelled a few yards and stopped; and out of yet another
office a soldier carried, staggering, a heavy bag with a brass lock, and
dropped it on the floor of the bus between the Major and George; and the
bus, after a good imitation by the soldier-conductor of a professional
double ting on the bell, went away afresh.
"That's money," said the Major, in his mild, veiled voice, pointing to
Little by little George learnt that the Major had 'won' the bus 'out of'
the War Office, and had been using it daily for several days for the
purpose of buying and collecting urgent stores and equipment. The bus
had become celebrated within the Division in an astoundingly short time,
and on this, the last day preceding the trek, the various units had
burdened the good-natured Major with a multitude of commissions.
"I try to keep accounts," said the Major. "But I know I've made a loss
every day. I've been in the T.F. ever since there was one, and it has
always cost me money. Now, I shall put you in charge of this little
The little book was a penny account-book, with pages lettered in pencil
A, B, C, D, etc., and items scribbled on each page.
"The letters show the batteries," the Major explained. "I've got a key
to the batteries somewhere in my pocket. And here's what I call my grand
list." He produced a roll of foolscap. "I like everything orderly. It
saves so much trouble, doesn't it? I mean in the end. Now, as I buy
things I shall strike them off here, and I want you to strike them off
in your book and put down the price from the bill. I always insist on a
receipted bill. It saves so much trouble in the end. I meant to bring a
file or a clip for the bills, but I forgot. You understand, don't you?"
George answered solemnly and sharply:
The Major weakly cried:
"Yessir!" The soldier-conductor came to attention.
"Did you tell him to go to Harrods first?"
"I think we might go and sit on the top," said the Major. "It's a nice
So the two officers went and sat on the top of the motor-bus. The Major
gossiped with soothing tranquillity. He said that he was a pianoforte
manufacturer; his father, from whom he had inherited, had traded under a
German name because people preferred German pianos to English; he now
regretted this piece of astuteness on the part of his father; he was
trying to sell his business--he had had enough of it.
"Hi! You!" he called, standing up quite unexpectedly and leaning over
the front of the bus to hail the driver. "Hi! You!" But the driver did
not hear, and the bus drove forward like fate. The Major, who had
hitherto seemed to be exempt from the general perturbation of Wimbledon
troops, suddenly showed excitement. "We must stop this bus somehow! Why
the devil doesn't he stop? I've forgotten the rope-shop."
"I'll stop it, sir," said George, maintaining an admirable presence of
mind in the crisis, and he rose and pushed down the knob of the
signal-rod at the back of the bus. The bus did actually stop.
"Ah!" murmured the Major, calmed.
The soldier raced upstairs.
"Do you know a rope and string shop near the Granville Theatre of
Varieties at Walham Green?"
"Well, there is one. Tell him to stop at the Granville."
The Major resumed his bland conversation. At Putney they saw the first
contents-bill of the afternoon papers.
"How do you think things are going, sir?" George asked.
"It's very difficult to say," answered the Major. "This Mons business is
The discovery of the rope-shop involved a policeman's aid. When the rope
had been purchased and new silver brought forth from the bag, and the
receipt made out, and the item struck off and the amount entered, and
the bus had started again, George perceived that he would soon be
passing the end of Elm Park Gardens. Dared he ask the Major to deflect
the bus into Elm Park Road so that he might obtain news of Lois? He
dared not. The scheme, simple and feasible enough, was nevertheless
unthinkable. The bus, with 'Liverpool Street' inscribed on its forehead,
rolled its straight inevitable course along Fulham Road, pursued by the
disappointed glances of gesturing wayfarers who wanted it to take them
to Liverpool Street.
After about two hours of fine confused shopping the Major stopped his
bus at a Tube station in the north of London.
"I mustn't forget my pens," said he. "I have to spend three-quarters of
my time mewed up in the office, and I don't grumble; but I'm very
particular about nibs, and if I don't have my own I cannot work. It's
useless to expect it."
Then to the soldier:
"Hall! You go down to Partridge & Cooper's, at the corner of Chancery
Lane and Fleet Street, and buy a sixpenny box of their 'No. 6 Velvet'
pen-nibs. You understand: 'No. 6 Velvet.'"
"Yessir. With the bus, sir?"
"With the bus. Here's sixpence." He took a coin out of the bag, locked
it, and gave the key to George. "And keep an eye on this bag, my boy.
You will then come back and wait for us--let me see--outside Piccadilly
Tube Station in Jermyn Street."
The Major and George entered the North London station and proceeded to
"Tickets!" demanded the lift-man.
The Major halted and gazed at him.
"On service!" said the Major, with resentment and disdain. "A fortnight
ago you civilians were raising your hats to us. Now you ask us for
tickets! Haven't you grasped yet that there's a war on? Don't you think
you'd look better in khaki?" He showed excitement, as at every personal
The lift-man bowed his head, inarticulately muttering, and the officers
passed into the lift, having created a certain amount of interest among
the other passengers. The Major was tranquillized in a moment. They came
to the surface again at Piccadilly Circus, where at the lift a similar
"Do you know anything about pyjamas?" said the Major.
"I never wear them myself. I'm rather old-fashioned. But I have to buy
three pairs--suits for Colonel Hullocher--at Swan & Edgar's. Oh! Bother
it! Have you any money? I forgot to take some out of the bag."
The Major purchased the pyjamas with George's money, and his attitude
towards the shopman during the transaction was defiant, indicating to
the shopman that, though personally he, the Major, never wore pyjamas,
he was an expert in pyjamas and not to be gulled. George took the
resulting parcel and the receipted bill, and they walked across to
Jermyn Street, where surely the bus, with the sixpenny box of pens, was
waiting for them. It was perfectly magical. As the vehicle swung with
them into the Circus the Major exclaimed:
"We're getting on very well. What do you say to some tea?"
The bus, having stopped by order at the second tea-house on the left in
Piccadilly, was immediately assaulted, without success, by several
would-be passengers. A policeman, outraged by the spectacle of a bus
stationary at a spot where buses are absolutely forbidden to be
stationary, hurried forward in fury. But the Major, instantly excited,
was ready for him.
"This motor-bus is a military vehicle on service, and I'll thank you to
mind your own business. If you've any complaints to make, you'd better
make them to Lord Kitchener."
The policeman touched his hat.
"They have music here," said the Major mildly, entering the tea-house.
"I always like music. Makes things so much jollier, doesn't it?"
During tea the Major inquired about George's individual circumstances,
and George said that he was an architect.
"Student of bricks and mortar, eh?" said the Major benevolently. "How
long have you been in the Army?"
"Rather less than half a day, sir."
The Major, raising his eyebrows, was very interested and kind.
Perceiving that he had virgin material under his hands, he began to
shape the material, and talked much about the niceties of the etiquette
of saluting. George listened, yet at intervals his attention would
wander, and he would be in Elm Park Road. But the illusion of home was
very faint. His wife and family seemed to be slipping away from him.
"How is it," he thought, "that I am not more upset about Lois than I
am?" The various professional and family matters which in his haste he
had left unsettled were diminishing hourly in their apparent importance.
He came back to the tea-house with a start, hearing the Major praise his
business capacity as displayed during the afternoon. The friendly aspect
of the thin, pallid face inspired him with a sort of emotional audacity,
and in ten words he suddenly informed the Major of his domestic
"H'm!" said the Major. "I'm a bachelor myself."
There was a pause.
"I'll give you a tip," said the Major, resuming the interrupted topic.
"War is a business. The more business capacity you have, the more likely
you are to succeed. I'm a business man myself."
On leaving the tea-house they discovered the military vehicle surrounded
by an enchanted multitude who were staring through its windows at the
merchandise--blankets, pans, kettles, saddles, ropes, parcels, stoves,
baskets, and box of nibs--within, while the policeman strove in vain to
keep both the road and the pavement clear. George preceded the Major,
pushing aside with haughty military impatience the civilians so
reluctant to move. He felt as though he had been in the Army for years.
No longer did his uniform cause him the slightest self-consciousness.
At Wimbledon in the dusk the bus was met by several military wagons each
from a different unit, and each anxious to obtain goods. This piece of
organization rather impressed George.
"Well, my boy," said the Major, "you'd better go and report yourself.
You've been a great help to me."
George saluted according to the Major's own doctrine, and departed. At
Battery Headquarters he met Captain Resmith.
"How did you get on with Auntie?" asked Resmith in his loud, firm voice.
Resmith gave a scarcely perceptible smile.
"Look here," he said. "I'm just going round the horse-lines. If you'll
come with me I'll show you a thing or two, and we can choose a mount for
you. Then after dinner if you like I'll take you through the orders for
to-morrow. By the way, there's a telegram for you."
The telegram read:
"Girl. Everything fairly satisfactory. Don't worry too much. Laurencine
The telegram was entirely characteristic of his stepfather--curt, exact,
"Three girls, by Jove!"
The early sun, carrying into autumn the tradition of a magnificent
summer, shone on the artillery camps. The four guns of the No. 2 Battery
of the Second Brigade were ranged side by side in the vast vague space
in front of the officers' hutments. Each gun had six horses in three
pairs, and a rider for each pair. On the guns and the gun-teams
everything glittered that could glitter--leather, metal, coats of
horses, faces of men. Captain Resmith rode round, examining harness and
equipment with a microscope that he called his eye. George rode round
after him. Sometimes Captain Resmith spoke to a N.C.O., sometimes even
to a man, but for the most part the men stared straight in front of them
into eternity. Major Craim trotted up. Captain Resmith approached the
Major and saluted, saying in his best military voice:
"The Battery is all correct and ready to move off, sir."
The Major in his drawing-room voice replied:
"Thank you, Captain Resmith."
Silence reigned in No. 2 Battery, except for the faint jingling
restlessness of the horses.
Then Colonel Hullocher and his Adjutant pranced into sight. The Adjutant
saluted the Major and made an inquiry. The Major saluted, and all three
chatted a little.
George, who had accompanied Captain Resmith into the background,
murmured to him, as cautiously as a convict talking at exercise:
"He's got his knife into me."
"Don't you know why?"
"No. I was specially recommended to him."
"Well, that's one reason, isn't it? But there was a difficulty between
him and the Major as to when you should come. The old man got the better
of him--always does. But he's a good officer."
"Hullocher. Shut up."
These two had reached familiarity with the swiftness characteristic of
During the brief colloquy Resmith had sat very upright on his horse, the
chin slightly lifted, the head quite still, even the lips scarcely
moving to articulate. Colonel Hullocher seemed now to be approaching. It
was a false alarm. The Colonel and his Adjutant pranced off. After a
long time, and at a considerable distance, could just be heard the voice
of the Colonel ordering the Brigade to move. But No. 2 Battery did not
stir for another long period. Suddenly, amid a devolution of orders, No.
2 Battery moved. The Major, attended by his trumpeter, and followed by
the Battery staff of range-takers, director-men, telephonists, and the
serjeant-major, inaugurated a sinuous procession into the uneven,
rutted track leading to the side-road. Then the guns one by one wheeled
to the right, the horses' hoofs stamping into the damp ground as they
turned, and became part of the procession. Then the quartermaster and
other N.C.O.'s and men joined; and last were Captain Resmith, attended
by _his_ trumpeter, and George. Resmith looked over his shoulder at the
Third Battery which surged behind. There were nearly two hundred men and
over a hundred and fifty horses and many vehicles in the Battery. The
Major was far out of sight, and the tail of the column was equally out
of sight in the rear, for the total length of Major Craim's cavalcade
exceeded a mile; and of the Brigade three miles, and two other similar
Brigades somewhere in the region of Wimbledon were participating in the
grand Divisional trek.
Captain Resmith cantered ahead to a bend in the track, and anxiously
watched a gun-team take the sharp curve, which was also a sharp slope.
The impression of superb, dangerous physical power was tremendous. The
distended nostrils of horses, the gliding of their muscles under the
glossy skin, the muffled thud of their hoofs in the loose soil, the
grimacing of the men as they used spur and thong, the fierce straining
of straps and chains, the creaking, the grinding, and finally the
swaying of the 90-millimetre gun, coddled and polished, as it swung
helplessly forward, stern first, and its long nose describing an arc in
the air behind--these things marvellously quickened the blood.
"Good men!" said Captain Resmith, enthusiastic. "It's great, isn't it?
You know, there's nothing so fine as a battery--nothing in the whole
George heartily agreed with him.
"This is the best Battery in the Division," said Resmith religiously.
And George was religiously convinced that it was.
He was astoundingly happy. He thought, amazed, that he had never been so
happy, or at any rate so uplifted, in all his life. He simply could not
comprehend his state of bliss, which had begun that morning at 6.30 when
the grey-headed, simple-minded servant allotted to him had wakened him,
according to instructions, with a mug of tea. Perhaps it was the far,
thin sound of bugles that produced the rapturous effect, or the fresh
air blowing in through the broken pane of the hut, or the slanting
sunlight, or the feeling that he had no responsibility and nothing to do
but blindly obey orders.
He had gone to sleep as depressed as he was tired. A sense of futility
had got the better of him. The excursion of the afternoon had certainly
been ridiculous in a high degree. He had hoped for a more useful
evening. Captain Resmith had indeed taken him to the horse-lines, and he
had tried a mount which was very suitable, and Captain Resmith had said
that he possessed a naturally good seat and hands, and had given him a
few sagacious tips. It was plain to him that Resmith had the Major's
orders to take him in tutelage and make an officer of him. But the
satisfactoriness of the evening had suddenly ceased. Scarcely had
Resmith begun to expound the orders, and George to read the thrilling
words, 'Second Lieutenant G.E. Cannon to ride with Captain Resmith,'
when the mess had impulsively decided to celebrate the last night in
camp by a dinner at the hotel near the station, and George, fit for
nothing more important, had been detailed to run off and arrange for the
rich repast. The bulk of the mess was late to arrive, and George spent
the time in writing a descriptive and falsely gay letter on slips of
yellow Army paper to Lois. The dinner, with its facile laughter and
equally facile cynicism, had bored him; for he had joined the Army in
order to save an Empire and a world from being enslaved. He had lain
down in his truckle-bed and listened to the last echoing sounds in the
too-resonant corridor of the hutments, and thought of the wisdom of Sir
Isaac Davids, and of the peril to his wife, and of the peril to the
earth, and of his own irremediable bondage to the military machine. He,
with all his consciousness of power, had been put to school again;
deprived of the right to answer back, to argue, even to think. If one
set in authority said that black was white, his most sacred duty was to
concur and believe. And there was no escape....
And then, no sooner had he gone to sleep than it was bright day, and the
faint, clear call of bugles had pierced the clouds of his depression and
they had vanished! Every moment of the early morning had been exquisite.
Although he had not been across a horse for months, he rode comfortably,
and the animal was reliable. Resmith in fact had had to warn him against
fatiguing himself. But he knew that he was incapable of fatigue. The
day's trek was naught--fifteen miles or less--to Epsom Downs, at a
walk!... Lois? He had expected a letter from 'Nunks' or his mother, but
there was no letter, and no news was good news, at any rate with 'Nunks'
in charge of communications. Lois could not fail to be all right. He
recalled the wise generalization of 'Nunks' on that point ... Breakfast
was a paradisiacal meal. He had never 'fancied' a meal so much. And
Resmith had greatly enheartened him by saying sternly: "You've got
exactly the right tone with the men. Don't you go trying to alter it."
The general excitement was intense, and the solemn synchronizing of
watches increased it further. An orderly brought a newspaper, and nobody
would do more than disdainfully glance at it. The usual daily stuff
about the war!... Whereas Epsom Downs glittered in the imagination like
a Canaan. And it lay southward. Probably they were not going to France,
but probably they would have the honour of defending the coast against
invasion. George desired to master gunnery instantly, and Resmith
soothed him with the assurance that he would soon be sent away on a
gunnery course, which would give him beans. And in the meantime George
might whet his teeth on the detailed arrangements for feeding and
camping the Battery on Epsom Downs. This organization gave George pause,
especially when he remembered that the Battery was a very trifling item
in the Division, and when Resmith casually informed him that a Division
on the trek occupied fifteen miles of road. He began to perceive the
difference between the Army and a circus, and to figure the Staff as
something other than a club of haughty, aristocratic idlers in red hats.
And when the Battery was fairly under way in the side-road, with another
Battery in front and another Battery behind, and more Artillery Brigades
and uncounted Infantry Brigades and a screen of Yeomanry all invisibly
marching over the map in the direction of Epsom, and bound to reach a
certain lettered square on the map at a certain minute--when this
dynamic situation presented itself to the tentacles of his grasping
mind, he really did feel that there could be no game equal to war.
The Battery 'rode easy,' the men were smoking, talking, and singing in
snatches, when suddenly all sounds were silenced. Captain Resmith, who
had been summoned to the Major, reined in his horse, and George did
likewise, and the Battery passed by them on the left. The Major's voice
"No. 2 Battery. Eyes--_right_!"
"C.R.A.'s ahead," murmured Resmith.
Then another officer cried:
"Right section. Eyes--_right_."
And then an N.C.O. bawled:
"A sub-section. Eyes--_right_."
Then only did George, from the rear, see the drivers, with a
simultaneous gesture, twist their heads very sharply to the right, raise
their whips, and fling the thongs over the withers of the hand-horses,
while the section-officer saluted.
Another N.C.O. bawled:
"B sub-section. Eyes--_right_."
And the same action followed.
Then another officer cried:
"Left section. Eyes--_right_."
So the rite proceeded.
Resmith and George had now gone back to their proper places. George
could see the drivers of the last gun gathering up the whip thongs into
their hands preparatory to the salute. C sub-section received the
And then, not many yards ahead, the voice of an N.C.O.:
"D sub-section. Eyes--_right_."
Heads turned; whips were raised and flung outwards; horses swerved
"Get ready," muttered Resmith to George.
The figure of the C.R.A., Brigadier-General Rannion, motionless on a
charger, came into view. George's heart was beating high. Resmith and he
saluted. The General gazed hard at him and never moved. They passed
The officer commanding the Third Battery had already called:
The marvellous ceremonial slipped rearwards. George was aware of tears
in his eyes. He was aware of the sentiment of worship. He felt that he
would have done anything, accomplished any deed, died, at the bidding of
the motionless figure on the charger. It was most curious.
There was a terrific crash of wood far behind. Resmith chuckled.
"One of those G.S. wagons has knocked down the Automobile Club
'Cross-Roads' sign," he said. "Good thing it wasn't a lamp-post! You
see, with their eyes right, they can't look where they're going, and the
whip touches up the horses, and before you can say knife they're into
something. Jolly glad it's only the Am. Col. Jones will hear of this."
He chuckled again. Jones was the Captain commanding the Ammunition
The order ran down the line:
Soon afterwards they came to some policemen, and two girls in very gay
frocks with bicycles, and the cross-roads. The Battery swung into the
great high road whose sign-post said, 'To Ewell and Epsom.' Another unit
had been halted to let the Artillery pass into its definitive place in
the vast trek. It was about this time that George began to notice the
dust. Rain had fallen before dawn and made the roads perfect; but now
either all the moisture had evaporated in the blazing sun, or the
Battery had reached a zone where rain had not fallen. At first the dust
rose only in a shallow sea to the height of fetlocks; but gradually it
ascended and made clouds, and deposited a layer on the face and on the
tongue and in the throat. And the surface itself of the road,
exasperated by innumerable hoofs and wheels, seemed to be in a kind of
crawling fermentation. The smell of humanity and horses was strong. The
men were less inclined to sing.
"Left!" yelled a voice.
And still another, very close on the second one:
"Keep your distances there!" Resmith shouted violently.
A horn sounded, and the next moment a motor-car, apparently full of
red-hats, rushed past the Battery, overtaking it, in a blinding storm of
dust. It was gone, like a ghost.
"That's the Almighty himself," Resmith explained, with unconscious awe
and devotion in his powerful voice. "Gramstone, Major-General."
George, profoundly impressed (he knew not why), noticed in his brain a
tiny embryo of a thought that it might be agreeable to ride in a car.
A hand went up, and the Battery stopped. It was the first halt.
"Look at your watch," said Resmith, smiling.
"Ten to, exactly."
"That's right. We have ten minutes in each hour."
All dismounted, examined horses for galls, and looked at their shoes,
took pulls at water-bottles, lit cigarettes, expectorated, coughed,
flicked at flies with handkerchiefs. The party also went past, and
shortly afterwards returned with the stretcher laden.
It was after the long halt at midday that the weather changed. The
horses, martyrized by insects, had been elaborately watered and fed with
immense labour; officers and men had eaten rations and dust from their
haversacks, and for the most part emptied their water-bottles; and the
march had been resumed in a temper captious and somewhat exacerbated.
"Get your horse away; he's kicking mine!" said Captain Resmith
impatiently to George, reflecting the general mood. And George, who was
beginning to experience fatigue in the region of the knees, visited on
his horse the resentment he felt at Resmith's tone.
At precisely that moment some drops of rain fell. Nobody could believe
at first that the drops were raindrops for the whole landscape was
quivering in hot sunshine. However, an examination of the firmament
showed a cloud perpendicularly overhead; the drops multiplied; the cloud
slowly obscured the sun. An almost audible sigh of relief passed down
the line. Everybody was freshened and elated. Some men with an instinct
for the apposite started to sing:
"Shall we gather at the river?"
And nearly the whole Battery joined in the tune. The rain persevered,
thickening. The sun accepted defeat. The sky lost all its blue. Orders
were given as to clothing. George had the sensation that something was
lacking to him, and found that it was an umbrella. On the outskirts of
Ewell the Battery was splashing through puddles of water; the coats of
horses and of men had darkened; guns, poles, and caps carried chaplets
of raindrops; and all those stern riders, so proud and scornful, with
chins hidden in high, upturned collars, and long garments disposed
majestically over their legs and the flanks of the horses, nevertheless
knew in secret that the conquering rain had got down the backs of their
necks, and into their boots and into their very knees but they were
still nobly maintaining the illusion of impermeability against it. The
Battery, riding now stiffly 'eyes front,' was halted unexpectedly in
Ewell, filling the whole of the village, to the village's extreme
content. Many minutes elapsed. Rumour floated down that something, was
wrong in front. Captain Resmith had much inspectorial cantering to do,
and George faithfully followed him for some time. At one end of the
village a woman was selling fruit and ginger-beer to the soldiers at
siege prices; at the other, men and women out of the little gardened
houses were eagerly distributing hot tea and hot coffee free of charge.
The two girls from the crossroads entered the village, pushing their
bicycles, one of which had apparently lost a pedal. They wore
mackintoshes, and were still laughing.
At length George said:
"If you don't mind I'll stick where I am for a bit."
"Tired, eh?" Resmith asked callously.
"Well! I shall be if I keep on."
"Dismount, my canny boy. Didn't I tell you what would happen to you? At
"Why! How old d'you think I am?"
"Well, my canny boy, you'll never see thirty again, I suppose."
"No, I shan't. Nor you either."
Captain Resmith said:
George was thunder-struck. The fellow was a boy, and George had been
treating him as an equal! But then the fellow was also George's superior
officer, and immeasurably his superior in physique. Do what he would,
harden himself as he might, George at thirty-three could never hope to
rival the sinews of the boy of twenty-four, who incidentally could
instruct him on every conceivable military subject. George, standing by
his sodden horse, felt humiliated and annoyed as Resmith cantered off to
speak to the officer commanding the Ammunition Column. But on the trek
there was no outlet for such a sentiment as annoyance. He was Resmith's
junior and Resmith's inferior, and must behave, and expect to be behaved
to, as such.
"Never mind!" he said to himself. His determination to learn the art and
craft of war was almost savage in ferocity.
When the Battery at length departed from Ewell the rain had completed
its victory but at the same time had lost much of its prestige. The
riders, abandoning illusion, admitting frankly that they were wet to the
skin, knowing that all their clothing was soaked, and satisfied that
they could not be wetter than they were if the bottom fell out of the
sky, simply derided the rain and plodded forward. Groups of them even
disdained the weather in lusty song. But not George. George was
exhausted. He was ready to fall off his horse. The sensation of fatigue
about the knees and in the small of his back was absolute torture.
Resmith told him to ride without stirrups and dangle his legs. The
relief was real, but only temporary. And the Battery moved on at the
horribly monotonous, tiring walk. Epsom was incredibly distant. George
gave up hope of Epsom; and he was right to do so, for Epsom never came.
The Battery had taken a secondary road to the left which climbed slowly
to the Downs. At the top of this road, under the railway bridge, just
before fields ceased to be enclosed, stood the two girls. Their bicycles
leaned against the brick wall. They had taken off their mackintoshes,
and it was plain from their clinging coloured garments that they too
were utterly drenched. They laughed no more. Over the open Downs the
wind was sweeping the rain in front of it; and the wind was the night
wind, for the sky had begun to darken into dusk. The Battery debouched
into a main road which seemed full of promise, but left it again within
a couple of hundred yards, and was once more on the menacing, high,
naked Downs, with a wide and desolate view of unfeatured plains to the
north. The bugles sounded sharply in the wet air, and the Battery, now
apparently alone in the world, came to a halt. George dropped off his
horse. A multiplicity of orders followed. Amorphous confusion was
produced out of a straight line. This was the bivouacking ground. And
there was nothing--nothing but the track by which they had arrived, and
the Downs, and a distant blur to the west in the shape of the Epsom
Grand Stand, and the heavy, ceaseless rain, and the threat of the
fast-descending night. According to the theory of the Divisional Staff a
dump furnished by the Army Service Corps ought to have existed at a spot
corresponding to the final letter in the words 'Burgh Heath' on the map,
but the information quickly became general that no such dump did in
practice exist. To George the situation was merely incredible. He knew
that for himself there was only one reasonable course of conduct. He
ought to have a boiling bath, go to bed with his dressing-gown over his
pyjamas, and take a full basin of hot bread-and-milk adulterated by the
addition of brandy--and sleep. Horses and men surged perilously around
him. The anarchical disorder, however, must have been less acute than he
imagined, for a soldier appeared and took away his horse; he let the
reins slip from his dazed hand. The track had been transformed into a
morass of viscous mud.
It was night. The heavy rain drove out of the dark void from every
direction at once, and baptized the chilled faces of men as though it
had been discharged from the hundred-holed rose of a full watering-can.
The right and the left sections of the Battery were disposed on either
side of the track. Fires were burning. Horse-lines had been laid down,
and by the light of flickering flames the dim forms of tethered animals
could be seen with their noses to the ground pessimistically pretending
to munch what green turf had survived in the mud. Lanterns moved
mysteriously to and fro. In the distance to the west more illuminations
showed that another unit had camped along the track. The quartermaster
of No. 2, had produced meagre tinned meats and biscuits from his
emergency stores, and had made a certain quantity of tea in dixies; he
had even found a half-feed of oats for the horses; so that both horses
and men were somewhat appeased. But the officers had had nothing, and
the Army Service Corps detachment was still undiscoverable.
George sat on an empty box at the edge of the track, submissive to the
rain. Resmith had sent him to overlook men cutting straight branches in
a wood on Park Downs, and then he had overlooked them as, with the said
branches and with waterproofs laced together in pairs, they had erected
sleeping shelters for the officers under the imperfect shelter of the
sole tree within the precincts of the camp. From these purely ornamental
occupations he had returned in a condition approximating to collapse,
without desire and without hope. The invincible cheerfulness of unseen
men chanting music-hall songs in the drenched night made no impression
on him, nor the terrible staccato curtness of a N.C.O. mounting guard.
Volition had gone out of him; his heart was as empty as his stomach.
Then a group of officers approached, with a mounted officer in the
middle of them, and a lantern swinging. The group was not proceeding in
any particular direction, but following the restless motions of the
uneasy horse. George, suddenly startled, recognized the voice of the
rider; it was Colonel Hullocher's voice. The Brigade-Commander had come
in person to investigate the melancholy inexcusable case of No. 2
Battery, and he was cursing all men and all things, and especially the
Divisional Staff. It appeared that the Staff was responsible for the
hitch of organization. During the day the Staff had altered its
arrangements for No. 2 Battery of the Second Brigade, and had sent an
incomplete message to the Army Service Corps Headquarters. The A.S.C.
had waited in vain for the completion of the message, and had then, at
dark, dispatched a convoy with provender for No. 2 with instructions to
find No. 2. This convoy had not merely not found No. 2--it had lost
itself, vanished in the dark universe of rain. But let not No. 2 imagine
that No. 2 was blameless! No. 2 ought to have found the convoy. By some
means, human or divine, by the exercise of second sight or the vision of
cats or the scent of hounds, it ought to have found the convoy, and
there was no excuse for it not having done so. Such was the expressed
opinion of Colonel Hullocher, and a recital by Major Craim of the
measures taken by him did nothing to shake that opinion.
"How exactly do you stand now?" the Colonel fiercely demanded.
"The men and the horses will manage fairly well with what they've had,
sir," said the Major; and he incautiously added: "But my officers
haven't had anything at all."
The Colonel seized the opening with fury.
"What the devil do I care for your officers? It's your horses and your
men that I'm thinking about. It's to-morrow morning that I'm thinking
The horse, revolving, cut short his harangue.
"Keep that d--d lantern out of his eyes!" cried the Colonel.
George jumped up, and as he did so the water swished in his boots, and a
stream poured off his cap. The horse was being fatally attracted towards
him. The beam of the lantern fell on him, illuminating before his face
the long slants of rain.
"Ha! Who's this?" the Colonel demanded, steadying the horse.
George smartly saluted, forgetting his fatigue.
"You, is it? And what are _you_ supposed to be doing? Look here--"
Colonel Hullocher stopped in full career of invective, remembering
military etiquette. "Major, I suggest you send Mr. Cannon with some men
to find the convoy." The Major having eagerly concurred, the Colonel
went on: "Take a few men and search every road and track between here
and Kingswood Station--systematically. Kingswood's the rail-head, and
somewhere between here and there that convoy is bound to be.
Systematically, mind! It's not a technical job. All that's wanted is
common sense and thoroughness."
The Colonel's gaze was ruthlessly challenging. George met it stiffly. He
knew that the roads, if not the tracks, had already been searched. He
knew that he was being victimized by a chance impulse of the Colonel's.
But he ignored all that. He was coldly angry and resentful. Utterly
forgetting his fatigue, he inimically surveyed the Colonel's squat,
shining figure in the cavalry coat, a pyramid of which the apex was a
round head surmounted by a dripping cap.
"Yes, sir," he snapped.
By rights the tyrant ought to have rolled off his horse dead. But
Colonel Hullocher was not thus vulnerable. He could give glance for
glance with perhaps any human being on earth, and indeed thought little
more of subalterns than of rabbits.
He finished, after a pause:
"You will be good enough, Major, to let this officer report to me
personally when he has found the convoy."
The horse bounded away, scattering the group.
Rather less than half an hour later George had five men (including his
own servant and Resmith's) and six lanterns round a cask, on the top of
which was his map. There were six possible variations of route to
Kingswood Station, and he explained them all, allotting one to each man
and keeping one for himself. He could detect the men exchanging looks,
but what the looks signified he could not tell. He gave instructions
that everybody should go forward until either discovering the convoy or
reaching Kingswood. He said with a positive air of conviction that by
this means the convoy could not fail to be discovered. The men received
the statement with strict agnosticism; they could not see things with
the eye of faith, fortified though they were with tea and tinned meats.
An offered reward of ten shillings to the man who should hit on the
convoy did not appreciably inspirit them. George himself was of course
not a bit convinced by his own argument, and had not the slightest
expectation that the convoy would be found. The map, which the breeze
lifted and upon which the rain drummed, seemed to be entirely
unconnected with the actual facts of the earth's surface. The party
mounted tired, unwilling horses and filed off. Some soldiers in the
darkness, watching the string of lanterns, gave a half-ironical
'Hurrah.' One by one, as the tracks bifurcated, George dispatched his
men, with renewed insistent advice, and at last he and his horse were
alone on the Downs.
His clothes were exceedingly heavy with all the moisture they had
imbibed. Repose had mitigated his fatigue, but every slow, slouching
step of the horse intensified it again--and at a tremendous rate. Still,
he did not care, having mastered the great truth that he would either
tall off the horse in exhaustion or arrive at Kingswood--and which of
the alternatives happened did not appear to him to matter seriously. The
whole affair was fantastic; it was unreal, in addition to being silly.
But, real or unreal, he would finish it. If he was a phantom and
Kingswood a mirage, the phantom would reach the mirage or sink senseless
into astral mud. He had Colonel Hullocher in mind, and, quite
illogically, he envisaged the Colonel as a reality. Often he had heard
of the ways of the Army, and had scarcely credited the tales told and
printed. Well, he now credited them. Was it conceivable that that madman
of a Colonel had packed him, George, off on such a wild and idiotic
errand in the middle of the night, merely out of caprice? Were such
He faintly heard voices through the rain, and the horse started at this
sign of life from the black, unknown world beyond the circle of
lantern-light. George was both frightened and puzzled. He thought of
ghosts and haunted moors. Then he noticed a penumbra round about the
form of what might be a small hillock to the left of the track. He
quitted the track, and cautiously edged his horse forward, having
commendably obscured the lantern beneath his overcoat. The farther side
of the hillock had been tunnelled to a depth of perhaps three feet; a
lantern suspended somehow in the roof showed the spade which had done
the work; it also showed, within the cavity, the two girls who had
accompanied the Brigade from Wimbledon, together with two soldiers. The
soldiers were rankers, but one of the girls talked with perfect
correctness in a very refined voice; the other was silently eating. Both
were obviously tired to the limit of endurance, and very dirty and
draggled. The gay colours of their smart frocks had, however, survived
the hardships of the day. George was absolutely amazed by the spectacle.
The vagaries of autocratic Colonels were nothing when compared to this
extravagance of human nature, this glimpse of the subterranean life of
regiments, this triumphant and forlorn love-folly in the midst of the
inclement, pitiless night. And he was touched, too. The glimmer of the
lantern on the green and yellow of the short skirts half disclosed under
the mackintoshes was at once pathetic and exciting. The girl who had
been eating gave a terrible scream; she had caught sight of the figure
on horseback. The horse shied violently and stood still. George
persuaded him back into the track and rode on, guessing that already he
had become a genuine phantom for the self-absorbed group awakened out of
its ecstasy by the mysterious vision of a nightrider.
Half a mile farther on he saw the red end of a cigarette swimming on the
sea of darkness; his lantern had expired, and he had not yet tried to
"Hi there!" he cried. "Who are you?"
The cigarette approached him, in a wavy movement, and a man's figure was
"A.S.C. convoy, sir."
"Where are you supposed to be going to?"
"No. 2 Battery, Second Brigade, sir. Can't find it, sir. And we've got
off the road. The G.S. wagon fell into a hole and broke an axle, sir."
"And what do you think you're doing?"
"Waiting for daylight, sir."
The man's youthful voice was quite cheerful.
"D'you know what time it is?"
"How many other vehicles have you got?"
"Three altogether, sir. Six horses."
"Well, I'm from No. 2 Battery, and I'm looking for you. You've
unharnessed, I suppose."
"Oh yes, sir, and fed."
"Well, you'd better harness up your other two carts like lightning and
come along with me. Show me the way. We'll see about the G.S. wagon
"It's about a hundred yards from here, sir."
For the second time that evening George forgot fatigue. Exultation,
though carefully hidden, warmed and thrilled every part of his body.
Tying his horse behind one of the vehicles, he rode comfortably on hard
packages till within sight of the Battery camp, when he took saddle
again and went off alone to find a celebrated inn near the Epsom Grand
Stand, where Colonel Hullocher and other grandees had billeted
themselves. The Colonel was busy with his Adjutant, but apparently quite
ready to eat George.
"Ah! You, is it? Found that convoy?"
George answered in a tone to imply that only one answer was conceivable:
"Brought it back?"
"Part of it, sir."
He explained the circumstances.
The Colonel coughed, and said:
"Have a whisky-and-soda before you go?"
George reflected for an instant. The Colonel seemingly had a core of
decency, but George said in his heart: "I've not done with you yet, my
fat friend." And aloud, grimly.
"Thank you very much, sir. But I shall ask you to excuse me."
Both the Colonel and the Adjutant were pardonably shaken by this
The Colonel barked:
"No, sir. But I've eaten nothing since lunch, and a glass of whisky
might make me drunk."
Colonel Hullocher might have offered George some food to accompany the
whisky, but he did not. He had already done a marvel; a miracle was not
to be expected. He looked at George and George looked at him.
"No doubt you're right. Good night."
"Good night, sir." George saluted and marched off.
He prepared to turn in. The process was the simplest in the world. He
had only to wrap a pair of blankets round his soaked clothes, and,
holding them in place with one hand, creep under the shelter. There were
four shelters. The Major had a small one, nearest the trunk of the tree,
and the others were double shelters, to hold two officers apiece. He
glanced about. The invisible camp was silent and still, save for a
couple of lieutenants who were walking to and fro like young ducks in
the heavy rain. Faint fires here and there in the distance showed how
the troops were spread over the Downs. Heaven and earth were equally
mysterious and inscrutable. He inserted himself cautiously into the
aperture of the shelter, where Resmith already lay asleep, and, having
pushed back his cap, arranged his right arm for a pillow. The clammy
ground had been covered with dry horse-litter. As soon as he was settled
the noise of the rain ceaselessly pattering on the waterproof became
important. He could feel the chill of the wind on his feet, which, with
Resmith's, projected beyond the shelter. The conditions were certainly
astounding. Yet, despite extreme fatigue, he was not depressed. On the
contrary he was well satisfied. He had accomplished something. He had
been challenged, and had accepted the challenge, and had won. The
demeanour of the mess when he got back to the camp clearly indicated
that he had acquired prestige. He was the man who had organized an
exhaustive search for the convoy and had found the convoy in the pitchy
blackness. He was the man who had saved the unit from an undeserved
shame. The mess had greeted him with warm food. Perhaps he had been
lucky--the hazard of a lighted cigarette in the darkness! Yes, but luck
was in everything. The credit was his, and men duly gave it to him, and
he took it. He thought almost kindly of Colonel Hullocher, against whom
he had measured himself. The result of the match was a draw, but he had
provided the efficient bully with matter for reflection. After all,
Hullocher was right. When you were moving a Division, jobs had to be
done, possible or impossible; human beings had to be driven; the
supernatural had to be achieved. And it had been! That which in the
morning existed at Wimbledon now existed on the Downs. There it lay,
safe and chiefly asleep, in defiance of the weather and of accidents and
miscarriage! And the next day it would go on.
The vast ambitions of the civilian had sunk away. He thought, exalted as
though by a wonderful discovery:
"_There is something in this Army business_!"
He ardently desired to pursue it further. He ardently desired sleep and
renewal so that he might rise afresh and pursue it further. What he had
done and been through was naught, less than naught. To worry about
physical discomforts was babyish. Inviting vistas of knowledge,
technical attainment, experience, and endurance stretched before him,
illuminating the night. His mind dwelt on France, on Mons, on the idea
of terror and cataclysm. And it had room too for his wife and children.
He had had no news of them for over twenty-four hours; and he had broken
his resolve to write to Lois every day; he had been compelled to break
it. But in the morning, somehow, he would send a telegram and he would
"If it's true the French Government has left Paris--"
The nocturnal young ducks were passing the shelter.
"And who says it's true? Who told you, I should like to know?"
"The Major has heard it."
"Rats! I lay you a fiver the Allies are in Berlin before Christmas."