Part 4 out of 6
and, by the aid of a few cardamoms, ground ginger, chloric-ether, and
dilute alcohol, manufactured a new and wildish drink, of which I bore a
glassful to young Mr. Cashell, busy in the back office. He laughed shortly
when I told him that Mr. Shaynor had stepped out--but a frail coil of wire
held all his attention, and he had no word for me bewildered among the
batteries and rods. The noise of the sea on the beach began to make itself
heard as the traffic in the street ceased. Then briefly, but very lucidly,
he gave me the names and uses of the mechanism that crowded the tables and
"When do you expect to get the message from Poole?" I demanded, sipping my
liquor out of a graduated glass.
"About midnight, if everything is in order. We've got our installation-
pole fixed to the roof of the house. I shouldn't advise you to turn on a
tap or anything tonight. We've connected up with the plumbing, and all the
water will be electrified." He repeated to me the history of the agitated
ladies at the hotel at the time of the first installation.
"But what _is_ it?" I asked. "Electricity is out of my beat altogether."
"Ah, if you knew _that_ you'd know something nobody knows. It's just It--
what we call Electricity, but the magic--the manifestations--the Hertzian
waves--are all revealed by _this_. The coherer, we call it."
He picked up a glass tube not much thicker than a thermometer, in which,
almost touching, were two tiny silver plugs, and between them an
infinitesimal pinch of metallic dust. "That's all," he said, proudly, as
though himself responsible for the wonder. "That is the thing that will
reveal to us the Powers--whatever the Powers may be--at work--through
space--a long distance away."
Just then Mr. Shaynor returned alone and stood coughing his heart out on
"Serves you right for being such a fool," said young Mr. Cashell, as
annoyed as myself at the interruption. "Never mind--we've all the night
before us to see wonders."
Shaynor clutched the counter, his handkerchief to his lips. When he
brought it away I saw two bright red stains.
"I--I've got a bit of a rasped throat from smoking cigarettes," he panted.
"I think I'll try a cubeb."
"Better take some of this. I've been compounding while you've been away."
I handed him the brew.
"'Twon't make me drunk, will it? I'm almost a teetotaller. My word! That's
grateful and comforting."
He sat down the empty glass to cough afresh.
"Brr! But it was cold out there! I shouldn't care to be lying in my grave
a night like this. Don't _you_ ever have a sore throat from smoking?" He
pocketed the handkerchief after a furtive peep.
"Oh, yes, sometimes," I replied, wondering, while I spoke, into what
agonies of terror I should fall if ever I saw those bright-red danger-
signals under my nose. Young Mr. Cashell among the batteries coughed
slightly to show that he was quite ready to continue his scientific
explanations, but I was thinking still of the girl with the rich voice and
the significantly cut mouth, at whose command I had taken charge of the
shop. It flashed across me that she distantly resembled the seductive
shape on a gold-framed toilet-water advertisement whose charms were
unholily heightened by the glare from the red bottle in the window.
Turning to make sure, I saw Mr. Shaynor's eyes bent in the same direction,
and by instinct recognised that the flamboyant thing was to him a shrine.
"What do you take for your--cough?" I asked.
"Well, I'm the wrong side of the counter to believe much in patent
medicines. But there are asthma cigarettes and there are pastilles. To
tell you the truth, if you don't object to the smell, which is very like
incense, I believe, though I'm not a Roman Catholic, Blaudett's Cathedral
Pastilles relieve me as much as anything."
"Let's try." I had never raided a chemist's shop before, so I was
thorough. We unearthed the pastilles--brown, gummy cones of benzoin--and
set them alight under the toilet-water advertisement, where they fumed in
thin blue spirals.
"Of course," said Mr. Shaynor, to my question, "what one uses in the shop
for one's self comes out of one's pocket. Why, stock-taking in our
business is nearly the same as with jewellers--and I can't say more than
that. But one gets them"--he pointed to the pastille-box--"at trade
prices." Evidently the censing of the gay, seven-tinted wench with the
teeth was an established ritual which cost something.
"And when do we shut up shop?"
"We stay like this all night. The gov--old Mr. Cashell--doesn't believe
in locks and shutters as compared with electric light. Besides it brings
trade. I'll just sit here in the chair by the stove and write a letter,
if you don't mind. Electricity isn't my prescription."
The energetic young Mr. Cashell snorted within, and Shaynor settled
himself up in his chair over which he had thrown a staring red, black, and
yellow Austrian jute blanket, rather like a table-cover. I cast about,
amid patent medicine pamphlets, for something to read, but finding little,
returned to the manufacture of the new drink. The Italian warehouse took
down its game and went to bed. Across the street blank shutters flung back
the gaslight in cold smears; the dried pavement seemed to rough up in
goose-flesh under the scouring of the savage wind, and we could hear, long
ere he passed, the policeman flapping his arms to keep himself warm.
Within, the flavours of cardamoms and chloric-ether disputed those of the
pastilles and a score of drugs and perfume and soap scents. Our electric
lights, set low down in the windows before the tunbellied Rosamund jars,
flung inward three monstrous daubs of red, blue, and green, that broke
into kaleidoscopic lights on the facetted knobs of the drug-drawers, the
cut-glass scent flagons, and the bulbs of the sparklet bottles. They
flushed the white-tiled floor in gorgeous patches; splashed along the
nickel-silver counter-rails, and turned the polished mahogany counter-
panels to the likeness of intricate grained marbles--slabs of porphyry and
malachite. Mr. Shaynor unlocked a drawer, and ere he began to write, took
out a meagre bundle of letters. From my place by the stove, I could see
the scalloped edges of the paper with a flaring monogram in the corner and
could even smell the reek of chypre. At each page he turned toward the
toilet-water lady of the advertisement and devoured her with over-luminous
eyes. He had drawn the Austrian blanket over his shoulders, and among
those warring lights he looked more than ever the incarnation of a drugged
moth--a tiger-moth as I thought.
He put his letter into an envelope, stamped it with stiff mechanical
movements, and dropped it in the drawer. Then I became aware of the
silence of a great city asleep--the silence that underlaid the even voice
of the breakers along the sea-front--a thick, tingling quiet of warm life
stilled down for its appointed time, and unconsciously I moved about the
glittering shop as one moves in a sick-room. Young Mr. Cashell was
adjusting some wire that crackled from time to time with the tense,
knuckle-stretching sound of the electric spark. Upstairs, where a door
shut and opened swiftly, I could hear his uncle coughing abed.
"Here," I said, when the drink was properly warmed, "take some of this,
He jerked in his chair with a start and a wrench, and held out his hand
for the glass. The mixture, of a rich port-wine colour, frothed at the
"It looks," he said, suddenly, "it looks--those bubbles--like a string of
pearls winking at you--rather like the pearls round that young lady's
neck." He turned again to the advertisement where the female in the dove-
coloured corset had seen fit to put on all her pearls before she cleaned
"Not bad, is it?" I said.
He rolled his eyes heavily full on me, and, as I stared, I beheld all
meaning and consciousness die out of the swiftly dilating pupils. His
figure lost its stark rigidity, softened into the chair, and, chin on
chest, hands dropped before him, he rested open-eyed, absolutely still.
"I'm afraid I've rather cooked Shaynor's goose," I said, bearing the fresh
drink to young Mr. Cashell. "Perhaps it was the chloric-ether."
"Oh, he's all right." The spade-bearded man glanced at him pityingly.
"Consumptives go off in those sort of doses very often. It's exhaustion...
I don't wonder. I dare say the liquor will do him good. It's grand stuff,"
he finished his share appreciatively. "Well, as I was saying--before he
interrupted--about this little coherer. The pinch of dust, you see, is
nickel-filings. The Hertzian waves, you see, come out of space from the
station that despatches 'em, and all these little particles are attracted
together--cohere, we call it--for just so long as the current passes
through them. Now, it's important to remember that the current is an
induced current. There are a good many kinds of induction----"
"Yes, but what _is_ induction?"
"That's rather hard to explain untechnically. But the long and the short
of it is that when a current of electricity passes through a wire there's
a lot of magnetism present round that wire; and if you put another wire
parallel to, and within what we call its magnetic field--why then, the
second wire will also become charged with electricity."
"On its own account?"
"On its own account."
"Then let's see if I've got it correctly. Miles off, at Poole, or wherever
"It will be anywhere in ten years."
"You've got a charged wire----"
"Charged with Hertzian waves which vibrate, say, two hundred and thirty
million times a second." Mr. Cashell snaked his forefinger rapidly through
"All right--a charged wire at Poole, giving out these waves into space.
Then this wire of yours sticking out into space--on the roof of the house
--in some mysterious way gets charged with those waves from Poole----"
"Or anywhere--it only happens to be Poole tonight."
"And those waves set the coherer at work, just like an ordinary telegraph-
"No! That's where so many people make the mistake. The Hertzian waves
wouldn't be strong enough to work a great heavy Morse instrument like
ours. They can only just make that dust cohere, and while it coheres (a
little while for a dot and a longer while for a dash) the current from
this battery--the home battery"--he laid his hand on the thing--"can get
through to the Morse printing-machine to record the dot or dash. Let me
make it clearer. Do you know anything about steam?"
"Very little. But go on."
"Well, the coherer is like a steam-valve. Any child can open a valve and
start a steamer's engines, because a turn of the hand lets in the main
steam, doesn't it? Now, this home battery here ready to print is the main
steam. The coherer is the valve, always ready to be turned on. The
Hertzian wave is the child's hand that turns it."
"I see. That's marvellous."
"Marvellous, isn't it? And, remember, we're only at the beginning. There's
nothing we sha'n't be able to do in ten years. I want to live--my God, how
I want to live, and see it develop!" He looked through the door at Shaynor
breathing lightly in his chair. "Poor beast! And he wants to keep company
with Fanny Brand."
"Fanny _who_?" I said, for the name struck an obscurely familiar chord in
my brain--something connected with a stained handkerchief, and the word
"Fanny Brand--the girl you kept shop for." He laughed, "That's all I know
about her, and for the life of me I can't see what Shaynor sees in her, or
she in him."
"_Can't_ you see what he sees in her?" I insisted.
"Oh, yes, if _that's_ what you mean. She's a great, big, fat lump of a
girl, and so on. I suppose that's why he's so crazy after her. She isn't
his sort. Well, it doesn't matter. My uncle says he's bound to die before
the year's out. Your drink's given him a good sleep, at any rate." Young
Mr. Cashell could not catch Mr. Shaynor's face, which was half turned to
I stoked the stove anew, for the room was growing cold, and lighted
another pastille. Mr. Shaynor in his chair, never moving, looked through
and over me with eyes as wide and lustreless as those of a dead hare.
"Poole's late," said young Mr. Cashell, when I stepped back. "I'll just
send them a call."
He pressed a key in the semi-darkness, and with a rending crackle there
leaped between two brass knobs a spark, streams of sparks, and sparks
"Grand, isn't it? _That's_ the Power--our unknown Power--kicking and
fighting to be let loose," said young Mr. Cashell. "There she goes--kick--
kick--kick into space. I never get over the strangeness of it when I work
a sending-machine--waves going into space, you know. T.R. is our call.
Poole ought to answer with L.L.L."
We waited two, three, five minutes. In that silence, of which the boom of
the tide was an orderly part, I caught the clear "_kiss--kiss--kiss_" of
the halliards on the roof, as they were blown against the installation-
"Poole is not ready. I'll stay here and call you when he is."
I returned to the shop, and set down my glass on a marble slab with a
careless clink. As I did so, Shaynor rose to his feet, his eyes fixed once
more on the advertisement, where the young woman bathed in the light from
the red jar simpered pinkly over her pearls. His lips moved without
cessation. I stepped nearer to listen. "And threw--and threw--and threw,"
he repeated, his face all sharp with some inexplicable agony.
I moved forward astonished. But it was then he found words--delivered
roundly and clearly. These:--
And threw warm gules on Madeleine's young breast.
The trouble passed off his countenance, and he returned lightly to his
place, rubbing his hands.
It had never occurred to me, though we had many times discussed reading
and prize-competitions as a diversion, that Mr. Shaynor ever read Keats,
or could quote him at all appositely. There was, after all, a certain
stained-glass effect of light on the high bosom of the highly-polished
picture which might, by stretch of fancy, suggest, as a vile chromo
recalls some incomparable canvas, the line he had spoken. Night, my drink,
and solitude were evidently turning Mr. Shaynor into a poet. He sat down
again and wrote swiftly on his villainous note-paper, his lips quivering.
I shut the door into the inner office and moved up behind him. He made no
sign that he saw or heard. I looked over his shoulder, and read, amid
half-formed words, sentences, and wild scratches:--
--Very cold it was. Very cold
The hare--the hare--the hare--
He raised his head sharply, and frowned toward the blank shutters of the
poulterer's shop where they jutted out against our window. Then one clear
The hare, in spite of fur, was very cold.
The head, moving machine-like, turned right to the advertisement where
the Blaudett's Cathedral pastille reeked abominably. He grunted, and went
Incense in a censer--
Before her darling picture framed in gold--
Maiden's picture--angel's portrait--
"Hsh!" said Mr. Cashell guardedly from the inner office, as though in the
presence of spirits. "There's something coming through from somewhere; but
it isn't Poole." I heard the crackle of sparks as he depressed the keys of
the transmitter. In my own brain, too, something crackled, or it might
have been the hair on my head. Then I heard my own voice, in a harsh
whisper: "Mr. Cashell, there is something coming through here, too. Leave
me alone till I tell you."
"But I thought you'd come to see this wonderful thing--Sir," indignantly
at the end.
"Leave me alone till I tell you. Be quiet."
I watched--I waited. Under the blue-veined hand--the dry hand of the
consumptive--came away clear, without erasure:
And my weak spirit fails To think how the dead must freeze--
he shivered as he wrote--
Beneath the churchyard mould.
Then he stopped, laid the pen down, and leaned back.
For an instant, that was half an eternity, the shop spun before me in a
rainbow-tinted whirl, in and through which my own soul most
dispassionately considered my own soul as that fought with an over-
mastering fear. Then I smelt the strong smell of cigarettes from Mr.
Shaynor's clothing, and heard, as though it had been the rending of
trumpets, the rattle of his breathing. I was still in my place of
observation, much as one would watch a rifle-shot at the butts, half-bent,
hands on my knees, and head within a few inches of the black, red, and
yellow blanket of his shoulder. I was whispering encouragement, evidently
to my other self, sounding sentences, such as men pronounce in dreams.
"If he has read Keats, it proves nothing. If he hasn't--like causes _must_
beget like effects. There is no escape from this law. _You_ ought to be
grateful that you know 'St. Agnes Eve' without the book; because, given
the circumstances, such as Fanny Brand, who is the key of the enigma, and
approximately represents the latitude and longitude of Fanny Brawne;
allowing also for the bright red colour of the arterial blood upon the
handkerchief, which was just what you were puzzling over in the shop just
now; and counting the effect of the professional environment, here almost
perfectly duplicated--the result is logical and inevitable. As inevitable
Still, the other half of my soul refused to be comforted. It was cowering
in some minute and inadequate corner--at an immense distance.
Hereafter, I found myself one person again, my hands still gripping my
knees, and my eyes glued on the page before Mr. Shaynor. As dreamers
accept and explain the upheaval of landscapes and the resurrection of the
dead, with excerpts from the evening hymn or the multiplication-table, so
I had accepted the facts, whatever they might be, that I should witness,
and had devised a theory, sane and plausible to my mind, that explained
them all. Nay, I was even in advance of my facts, walking hurriedly before
them, assured that they would fit my theory. And all that I now recall of
that epoch-making theory are the lofty words: "If he has read Keats it's
the chloric-ether. If he hasn't, it's the identical bacillus, or Hertzian
wave of tuberculosis, _plus_ Fanny Brand and the professional status
which, in conjunction with the main-stream of subconscious thought common
to all mankind, has thrown up temporarily an induced Keats."
Mr. Shaynor returned to his work, erasing and rewriting as before with
swiftness. Two or three blank pages he tossed aside. Then he wrote,
The little smoke of a candle that goes out.
"No," he muttered. "Little smoke--little smoke--little smoke. What else?"
He thrust his chin forward toward the advertisement, whereunder the last
of the Blaudett's Cathedral pastilles fumed in its holder. "Ah!" Then with
The little smoke that dies in moonlight cold.
Evidently he was snared by the rhymes of his first verse, for he wrote and
rewrote "gold--cold--mould" many times. Again he sought inspiration from
the advertisement, and set down, without erasure, the line I had
And threw warm gules on Madeleine's young breast.
As I remembered the original it is "fair"--a trite word--instead of
"young," and I found myself nodding approval, though I admitted that the
attempt to reproduce "its little smoke in pallid moonlight died" was a
Followed without a break ten or fifteen lines of bald prose--the naked
soul's confession of its physical yearning for its beloved--unclean as we
count uncleanliness; unwholesome, but human exceedingly; the raw material,
so it seemed to me in that hour and in that place, whence Keats wove the
twenty-sixth, seventh, and eighth stanzas of his poem. Shame I had none in
overseeing this revelation; and my fear had gone with the smoke of the
"That's it," I murmured. "That's how it's blocked out. Go on! Ink it in,
man. Ink it in!"
Mr. Shaynor returned to broken verse wherein "loveliness" was made to
rhyme with a desire to look upon "her empty dress." He picked up a fold of
the gay, soft blanket, spread it over one hand, caressed it with infinite
tenderness, thought, muttered, traced some snatches which I could not
decipher, shut his eyes drowsily, shook his head, and dropped the stuff.
Here I found myself at fault, for I could not then see (as I do now) in
what manner a red, black, and yellow Austrian blanket coloured his dreams.
In a few minutes he laid aside his pen, and, chin on hand, considered the
shop with thoughtful and intelligent eyes. He threw down the blanket,
rose, passed along a line of drug-drawers, and read the names on the
labels aloud. Returning, he took from his desk Christie's _New Commercial
Plants_ and the old Culpepper that I had given him, opened and laid them
side by side with a clerky air, all trace of passion gone from his face,
read first in one and then in the other, and paused with pen behind his
"What wonder of Heaven's coming now?" I thought.
"Manna--manna--manna," he said at last, under wrinkled brows. "That's what
I wanted. Good! Now then! Now then! Good! Good! Oh, by God, that's good!"
His voice rose and he spoke rightly and fully without a falter:--
Candied apple, quince and plum and gourd,
And jellies smoother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrups tinct with cinnamon,
Manna and dates in Argosy transferred
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one
From silken Samarcand to cedared Lebanon.
He repeated it once more, using "blander" for "smoother" in the second
line; then wrote it down without erasure, but this time (my set eyes
missed no stroke of any word) he substituted "soother" for his atrocious
second thought, so that it came away under his hand as it is written in
the book--as it is written in the book.
A wind went shouting down the street, and on the heels of the wind
followed a spurt and rattle of rain.
After a smiling pause--and good right had he to smile--he began anew,
always tossing the last sheet over his shoulder:--
"The sharp rain falling on the window-pane,
Rattling sleet--the wind-blown sleet."
Then prose: "It is very cold of mornings when the wind brings rain and
sleet with it. I heard the sleet on the window-pane outside, and thought
of you, my darling. I am always thinking of you. I wish we could both run
away like two lovers into the storm and get that little cottage by the
sea which we are always thinking about, my own dear darling. We could sit
and watch the sea beneath our windows. It would be a fairyland all of our
own--a fairy sea--a fairy sea...."
He stopped, raised his head, and listened. The steady drone of the
Channel along the sea-front that had borne us company so long leaped up a
note to the sudden fuller surge that signals the change from ebb to
flood. It beat in like the change of step throughout an army--this
renewed pulse of the sea--and filled our ears till they, accepting it,
marked it no longer.
"A fairyland for you and me
Across the foam--beyond ...
A magic foam, a perilous sea."
He grunted again with effort and bit his underlip. My throat dried, but I
dared not gulp to moisten it lest I should break the spell that was
drawing him nearer and nearer to the high-water mark but two of the sons
of Adam have reached. Remember that in all the millions permitted there
are no more than five--five little lines--of which one can say: "These
are the pure Magic. These are the clear Vision. The rest is only poetry."
And Mr. Shaynor was playing hot and cold with two of them!
I vowed no unconscious thought of mine should influence the blindfold
soul, and pinned myself desperately to the other three, repeating and
A savage spot as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover.
But though I believed my brain thus occupied, my every sense hung upon
the writing under the dry, bony hand, all brown-fingered with chemicals
Our windows fronting on the dangerous foam,
(he wrote, after long, irresolute snatches), and then--
"Our open casements facing desolate seas
Here again his face grew peaked and anxious with that sense of loss I had
first seen when the Power snatched him. But this time the agony was
tenfold keener. As I watched it mounted like mercury in the tube. It
lighted his face from within till I thought the visibly scourged soul
must leap forth naked between his jaws, unable to endure. A drop of sweat
trickled from my forehead down my nose and splashed on the back of my
"Our windows facing on the desolate seas
And pearly foam of magic fairyland--"
"Not yet--not yet," he muttered, "wait a minute.
_Please_ wait a minute. I shall get it then--"
Our magic windows fronting on the sea,
The dangerous foam of desolate seas ..
"_Ouh_, my God!"
From head to heel he shook--shook from the marrow of his bones
outwards--then leaped to his feet with raised arms, and slid the chair
screeching across the tiled floor where it struck the drawers behind and
fell with a jar. Mechanically, I stooped to recover it.
As I rose, Mr. Shaynor was stretching and yawning at leisure.
"I've had a bit of a doze," he said. "How did I come to knock the chair
over? You look rather--"
"The chair startled me," I answered. "It was so sudden in this quiet."
Young Mr. Cashell behind his shut door was offendedly silent.
"I suppose I must have been dreaming," said Mr. Shaynor.
"I suppose you must," I said. "Talking of dreams--I--I noticed you
He flushed consciously.
"I meant to ask you if you've ever read anything written by a man called
"Oh! I haven't much time to read poetry, and I can't say that I remember
the name exactly. Is he a popular writer?"
"Middling. I thought you might know him because he's the only poet who
was ever a druggist. And he's rather what's called the lover's poet."
"Indeed. I must dip into him. What did he write about?"
"A lot of things. Here's a sample that may interest you."
Then and there, carefully, I repeated the verse he had twice spoken and
once written not ten minutes ago.
"Ah. Anybody could see he was a druggist from that line about the
tinctures and syrups. It's a fine tribute to our profession."
"I don't know," said young Mr. Cashell, with icy politeness, opening the
door one half-inch, "if you still happen to be interested in our trifling
experiments. But, should such be the case----"
I drew him aside, whispering, "Shaynor seemed going off into some sort of
fit when I spoke to you just now. I thought, even at the risk of being
rude, it wouldn't do to take you off your instruments just as the call
was coming through. Don't you see?"
"Granted--granted as soon as asked," he said unbending. "I _did_ think it
a shade odd at the time. So that was why he knocked the chair down?"
"I hope I haven't missed anything," I said.
"I'm afraid I can't say that, but you're just in time for the end of a
rather curious performance. You can come in, too, Mr. Shaynor. Listen,
while I read it off."
The Morse instrument was ticking furiously. Mr. Cashell interpreted:
"'_K.K.V. Can make nothing of your signals_.'" A pause. "'_M.M.V. M.M.V.
Signals unintelligible. Purpose anchor Sandown Bay. Examine instruments
to-morrow.'_ Do you know what that means? It's a couple of men-o'-war
working Marconi signals off the Isle of Wight. They are trying to talk to
each other. Neither can read the other's messages, but all their messages
are being taken in by our receiver here. They've been going on for ever so
long. I wish you could have heard it."
"How wonderful!" I said. "Do you mean we're overhearing Portsmouth ships
trying to talk to each other--that we're eavesdropping across half South
"Just that. Their transmitters are all right, but their receivers are out
of order, so they only get a dot here and a dash there. Nothing clear."
"Why is that?"
"God knows--and Science will know to-morrow. Perhaps the induction is
faulty; perhaps the receivers aren't tuned to receive just the number of
vibrations per second that the transmitter sends. Only a word here and
there. Just enough to tantalise."
Again the Morse sprang to life.
"That's one of 'em complaining now. Listen: '_Disheartening--most
disheartening_.' It's quite pathetic. Have you ever seen a spiritualistic
seance? It reminds me of that sometimes--odds and ends of messages coming
out of nowhere--a word here and there--no good at all."
"But mediums are all impostors," said Mr. Shaynor, in the doorway,
lighting an asthma-cigarette. "They only do it for the money they can
make. I've seen 'em."
"Here's Poole, at last--clear as a bell. L.L.L. _Now_ we sha'n't be long."
Mr. Cashell rattled the keys merrily. "Anything you'd like to tell 'em?"
"No, I don't think so," I said. "I'll go home and get to bed. I'm feeling
a little tired."
THE ARMY OF A DREAM
SONG OF THE OLD GUARD
"And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold of beaten work shall the
candlestick be made: his shaft and its branches, his bowls, his knops,
and his flowers, shall be the same.
"And there shall be a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop
under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the
same, according to the six branches that proceed out of the candlestick.
Their knops and their branches shall be the same."--_Exodus._
"Know this, my brethren, Heaven is clear
And all the clouds are gone--
The Proper Sort shall flourish now,
Good times are coming on"--
The evil that was threatened late
To all of our degree,
Hath passed in discord and debate,
And, _Hey then up go we!_
A common people strove in vain
To shame us unto toil,
But they are spent and we remain,
And we shall share the spoil
According to our several needs
As Beauty shall decree,
As Age ordains or Birth concedes,
And, _Hey then up go we!_
And they that with accursed zeal
Our Service would amend,
Shall own the odds and come to heel
Ere worse befall their end
For though no naked word be wrote
Yet plainly shall they see
What pinneth Orders to their coat,
And, _Hey then up go we!_
Our doorways that, in time of fear,
We opened overwide
Shall softly close from year to year
Till all be purified;
For though no fluttering fan be heard
Nor chaff be seen to flee--
The Lord shall winnow the Lord's Preferred--
And, _Hey then up go we!_
Our altars which the heathen brake
Shall rankly smoke anew,
And anise, mint, and cummin take
Their dread and sovereign due,
Whereby the buttons of our trade
Shall all restored be
With curious work in gilt and braid,
And, _Hey then up go we!_
Then come, my brethren, and prepare
The candlesticks and bells,
The scarlet, brass, and badger's hair
Wherein our Honour dwells,
And straitly fence and strictly keep
The Ark's integrity
Till Armageddon break our sleep ...
And, _Hey then up go we!_
THE ARMY OF A DREAM
I sat down in the club smoking-room to fill a pipe.
* * * * *
It was entirely natural that I should be talking to "Boy" Bayley. We had
met first, twenty odd years ago, at the Indian mess of the Tyneside
Tail-twisters. Our last meeting, I remembered, had been at the Mount
Nelson Hotel, which was by no means India, and there we had talked half
the night. Boy Bayley had gone up that week to the front, where I think
he stayed a long, long time.
But now he had come back.
"Are you still a Tynesider?" I asked.
"I command the Imperial Guard Battalion of the old regiment, my son," he
"Guard which? They've been Fusiliers since Fontenoy. Don't pull my leg,
"I said Guard, not Guard-s. The I. G. Battalion of the Tail-twisters.
Does that make it any clearer?"
"Not in the least."
"Then come over to the mess and see for yourself. We aren't a step from
barracks. Keep on my right side. I'm--I'm a bit deaf on the near."
We left the club together and crossed the street to a vast four-storied
pile, which more resembled a Rowton lodging-house than a barrack. I could
see no sentry at the gates.
"There ain't any," said the Boy lightly. He led me into a many-tabled
restaurant full of civilians and grey-green uniforms. At one end of the
room, on a slightly raised dais, stood a big table.
"Here we are! We usually lunch here and dine in mess by ourselves. These
are our chaps--but what am I thinking of? You must know most of 'em.
Devine's my second in command now. There's old Luttrell--remember him at
Cherat?--Burgard, Verschoyle (you were at school with him), Harrison,
Pigeon, and Kyd."
With the exception of this last I knew them all, but I could not remember
that they had all been Tynesiders.
"I've never seen this sort of place," I said, looking round. "Half the
men here are in plain clothes, and what are those women and children
"Eating, I hope," Boy Bayley answered. "Our canteens would never pay if
it wasn't for the Line and Militia trade. When they were first started
people looked on 'em rather as catsmeat-shops; but we got a duchess or
two to lunch in 'em, and they've been grossly fashionable since."
"So I see," I answered. A woman of the type that shops at the Stores came
up the room looking about her. A man in the dull-grey uniform of the
corps rose up to meet her, piloted her to a place between three other
uniforms, and there began a very merry little meal.
"I give it up," I said. "This is guilty splendour that I don't
"Quite simple," said Burgard across the table. "The barrack supplies
breakfast, dinner, and tea on the Army scale to the Imperial Guard (which
we call I. G.) when it's in barracks as well as to the Line and Militia.
They can all invite their friends if they choose to pay for them. That's
where we make our profits. Look!"
Near one of the doors were four or five tables crowded with workmen in
the raiment of their callings. They ate steadily, but found time to jest
with the uniforms about them; and when one o'clock clanged from a big
half-built block of flats across the street, filed out.
"Those," Devine explained, "are either our Line or Militiamen, as such
entitled to the regulation whack at regulation cost. It's cheaper than
they could buy it; an' they meet their friends too. A man'll walk a mile
in his dinner hour to mess with his own lot."
"Wait a minute," I pleaded. "Will you tell me what those plumbers and
plasterers and bricklayers that I saw go out just now have to do with
what I was taught to call the Line?"
"Tell him," said the Boy over his shoulder to Burgard. He was busy
talking with the large Verschoyle, my old schoolmate.
"The Line comes next to the Guard. The Linesman's generally a town-bird
who can't afford to be a Volunteer. He has to go into camp in an Area for
two months his first year, six weeks his second, and a month the third.
He gets about five bob a week the year round for that and for being on
duty two days of the week, and for being liable to be ordered out to help
the Guard in a row. He needn't live in barracks unless he wants to, and
he and his family can feed at the regimental canteen at usual rates. The
women like it."
"All this," I said politely, but intensely, "is the raving of delirium.
Where may your precious recruit who needn't live in barracks learn his
"At his precious school, my child, like the rest of us. The notion of
allowing a human being to reach his twentieth year before asking him to
put his feet in the first position _was_ raving lunacy if you like!" Boy
Bayley dived back into the conversation.
"Very good," I said meekly. "I accept the virtuous plumber who puts in
two months of his valuable time at Aldershot----"
"Aldershot!" The table exploded. I felt a little annoyed.
"A camp in an Area is not exactly Aldershot," said Burgard. "The Line
isn't exactly what you fancy. Some of them even come to _us_!"
"You recruit from 'em?"
"I beg your pardon," said Devine with mock solemnity. "The Guard doesn't
recruit. It selects."
"It would," I said, "with a Spiers and Pond restaurant; pretty girls to
play with; and----"
"A room apiece, four bob a day and all found," said Verschoyle. "Don't
"Of course!" I said. "It probably beats off recruits with a club."
"No, with the ballot-box," said Verschoyle, laughing. "At least in all
"I didn't know Roman Catholics were so particular," I ventured.
They grinned. "R.C. companies," said the Boy, "mean Right of Choice. When
a company has been very good and pious for a long time it may, if the
C.O. thinks fit, choose its own men--all same one-piecee club. All our
companies are R.C.'s, and as the battalion is making up a few vacancies
ere starting once more on the wild and trackless 'heef' into the Areas,
the Linesman is here in force to-day sucking up to our non-coms."
"Would some one mind explaining to me the meaning of every other word
you've used," I said. "What's a trackless 'heef'? What's an Area? What's
everything generally?" I asked.
"Oh, 'heefs' part of the British Constitution," said the Boy. "It began
long ago when they'd first mapped out the big military manoeuvring
grounds--we call 'em Areas for short--where the I. G. spend two-thirds of
their time and the other regiments get their training. It was slang
originally for beef on the hoof, because in the Military Areas two-thirds
of your meat-rations at least are handed over to you on the hoof, and you
make your own arrangements. The word 'heef' became a parable for camping
in the Military Areas and all its miseries. There are two Areas in
Ireland, one in Wales for hill-work, a couple in Scotland, and a sort of
parade-ground in the Lake District; but the real working Areas are in
India, Africa, and Australia, and so on."
"And what do you do there?"
"We 'heef' under service conditions, which are rather like hard work. We
'heef' in an English Area for about a year, coming into barracks for one
month to make up wastage. Then we may 'heef' foreign for another year or
eighteen months. Then we do sea-time in the war boats----"
"_What-t?_" I said.
"Sea-time," Bayley repeated. "Just like Marines,
to learn about the big guns and how to embark and disembark quick. Then
we come back to our territorial headquarters for six months, to educate
the Line and Volunteer camps, to go to Hythe, to keep abreast of any new
ideas, and then we fill up vacancies. We call those six months 'Schools,'
Then we begin all over again, thus: Home 'heef,' foreign 'heef,'
sea-time, schools. 'Heefing' isn't precisely luxurious, but it's on
'heef' that we make our head-money."
"Or lose it," said the sallow Pigeon, and all laughed, as men will, at
"The Dove never lets me forget that," said Boy Bayley. "It happened last
March. We were out in the Second Northern Area at the top end of Scotland
where a lot of those silly deer forests used to be. I'd sooner 'heef' in
the middle of Australia myself--or Athabasca, with all respect to the
Dove--he's a native of those parts. We were camped somewhere near
Caithness, and the Armity (that's the combined Navy and Army board that
runs our show) sent us about eight hundred raw remounts to break in to
keep us warm."
"Why horses for a foot regiment?"
"I.G.'s don't foot it unless they're obliged to. No have gee-gee how can
move? I'll show you later. Well, as I was saying, we broke those beasts
in on compressed forage and small box-spurs, and then we started across
Scotland to Applecross to hand 'em over to a horse-depot there. It was
snowing cruel, and we didn't know the country overmuch. You remember the
30th--the old East Lancashire--at Mian Mir?
"Their Guard Battalion had been 'heefing' round those parts for six
months. We thought they'd be snowed up all quiet and comfy, but Burden,
their C. O., got wind of our coming, and sent spies in to Eschol."
"Confound him," said Luttrell, who was fat and well-liking. "I
entertained one of 'em--in a red worsted comforter--under Bean Derig. He
said he was a crofter. 'Gave him a drink too."
"I don't mind admitting," said the Boy, "that, what with the cold and the
remounts, we were moving rather base over apex. Burden bottled us under
Sghurr Mohr in a snowstorm. He stampeded half the horses, cut off a lot
of us in a snow-bank, and generally rubbed our noses in the dirt."
"Was he allowed to do that?" I said.
"There is no peace in a Military Area. If we'd
beaten him off or got away without losing anyone, we'd have been entitled
to a day's pay from every man engaged against us. But we didn't. He cut
off fifty of ours, held 'em as prisoners for the regulation three days,
and then sent in his bill--three days' pay for each man taken. Fifty men
at twelve bob a head, plus five pounds for the Dove as a captured
officer, and Kyd here, his junior, three, made about forty quid to Burden
& Co. They crowed over us horrid."
"Couldn't you have appealed to an umpire or--or something?"
"We could, but we talked it over with the men and decided to pay and look
happy. We were fairly had. The 30th knew every foot of Sghurr Mohr. I
spent three days huntin' 'em in the snow, but they went off on our
remounts about twenty mile that night."
"Do you always do this sham-fight business?" I asked.
"Once inside an Area you must look after yourself; but I tell you that a
fight which means that every man-Jack of us may lose a week's pay isn't
so damn-sham after all. It keeps the men nippy. Still, in the long run,
it's like whist on a P. & O. It comes out fairly level if you play long
enough. Now and again, though, one gets a present--say, when a Line
regiment's out on the 'heef,' and signifies that it's ready to abide by
the rules of the game. You mustn't take head-money from a Line regiment
in an Area unless it says that it'll play you; but, after a week or two,
those clever Linesmen always think they see a chance of making a pot, and
send in their compliments to the nearest I.G. Then the fun begins. We
caught a Line regiment single-handed about two years ago in
Ireland--caught it on the hop between a bog and a beach. It had just
moved in to join its brigade, and we made a forty-two mile march in
fourteen hours, and cut it off, lock, stock, and barrel. It went to
ground like a badger--I _will_ say those Line regiments can dig--but we
got out privily by night and broke up the only road it could expect to
get its baggage and company-guns along. Then we blew up a bridge that
some Sappers had made for experimental purposes (_they_ were rather
stuffy about it) on its line of retreat, while we lay up in the mountains
and signalled for the A.C. of those parts."
"Who's an A.C.?" I asked.
"The Adjustment Committee--the umpires of the Military Areas. They're a
set of superannuated old aunts of colonels kept for the purpose, but they
occasionally combine to do justice. Our A.C. came, saw our dispositions,
and said it was a sanguinary massacre for the Line, and that we were
entitled to our full pound of flesh--head-money for one whole regiment,
with equipment, four company-guns, and all kit! At Line rates this worked
out as one fat cheque for two hundred and fifty. Not bad!"
"But we had to pay the Sappers seventy-four quid for blowing their patent
bridge to pieces," Devine interpolated. "That was a swindle."
"That's true," the Boy went on, "but the Adjustment Committee gave our
helpless victims a talking to that was worth another hundred to hear."
"But isn't there a lot of unfairness in this head-money system?" I asked.
"Can't have everything perfect," said the Boy. "Head-money is an attempt
at payment by results, and it gives the men a direct interest in their
job. Three times out of five, of course, the A. C. will disallow both
sides' claim, but there's always the chance of bringing off a coup."
"Do all regiments do it?"
"Heavily. The Line pays a bob per prisoner and the Militia ninepence, not
to mention side-bets which are what really keep the men keen. It isn't
supposed to be done by the Volunteers, but they gamble worse than anyone.
Why, the very kids do it when they go to First Camp at Aldershot or
"Head-money's a national institution--like betting," said Burgard.
"I should say it was," said Pigeon suddenly. "I was roped in the other
day as an Adjustment Committee by the Kemptown Board School. I was riding
under the Brighton racecourse, and I heard the whistle goin' for
umpire--the regulation, two longs and two shorts. I didn't take any
notice till an infant about a yard high jumped up from a furze-patch and
shouted: 'Guard! Guard! Come 'ere! I want you _per_fessionally. Alf says
'e ain't outflanked. Ain't 'e a liar? Come an' look 'ow I've posted my
men.' You bet I looked. The young demon trotted by my stirrup and showed
me his whole army (twenty of 'em) laid out under cover as nicely as you
please round a cowhouse in a hollow. He kept on shouting: 'I've drew Alf
into there. 'Is persition ain't tenable. Say it ain't tenable, Guard!' I
rode round the position, and Alf with his army came out of his cowhouse
an' sat on the roof and protested like a--like a Militia Colonel; but the
facts were in favour of my friend and I umpired according. Well, Alf
abode by my decision. I explained it to him at length, and he solemnly
paid up his head-money--farthing points if you please."
"Did they pay you umpire's fee?" said Kyd. "I
umpired a whole afternoon once for a village school at home, and they
stood me a bottle of hot ginger beer."
"I compromised on a halfpenny--a sticky one--or I'd have hurt their
feelings," said Pigeon gravely. "But I gave 'em sixpence back."
"How were they manoeuvring and what with?" I asked.
"Oh, by whistle and hand-signal. They had the dummy Board School guns and
flags for positions, but they were rushing their attack much too quick
for that open country. I told 'em so, and they admitted it."
"But who taught 'em?" I said.
"They had learned in their schools, of course, like the rest of us. They
were all of 'em over ten; and squad-drill begins when they're eight. They
knew their company-drill a heap better than they knew their King's
"How much drill do the boys put in?" I asked.
"All boys begin physical drill to music in the Board Schools when they're
six; squad-drill, one hour a week, when they're eight; company-drill when
they're ten, for an hour and a half a week. Between ten and twelve they
get battalion drill of a sort. They take the rifle at twelve and record
their first target-score at thirteen. That's what the Code lays down. But
it's worked very loosely so long as a boy comes up to the standard of his
"In Canada we don't need your physical drill. We're born fit," said
Pigeon, "and our ten-year-olds could knock spots out of your
"I may as well explain," said the Boy, "that the Dove is our 'swop'
officer. He's an untamed Huskie from Nootka Sound when he's at home. An
I. G. Corps exchanges one officer every two years with a Canadian or
Australian or African Guard Corps. We've had a year of our Dove, an' we
shall be sorry to lose him. He humbles our insular pride. Meantime,
Morten, our 'swop' in Canada, keeps the ferocious Canuck humble. When
Pij. goes we shall swop Kyd, who's next on the roster, for a Cornstalk or
a Maori. But about the education-drill. A boy can't attend First Camp, as
we call it, till he is a trained boy and holds his First Musketry
certificate. The Education Code says he must be fourteen, and the boys
usually go to First Camp at about that age. Of course, they've been to
their little private camps and Boys' Fresh Air Camps and public school
picnics while they were at school, but First Camp is where the young
drafts all meet--generally at Aldershot in this part of the world. First
Camp lasts a week or ten days, and the boys are looked over for
vaccination and worked lightly in brigades with lots of blank cartridge.
Second Camp--that's for the fifteen to eighteen-year-olds--lasts ten days
or a fortnight, and that includes a final medical examination. Men don't
like to be chucked out on medical certificates much--nowadays. I assure
you Second Camp, at Salisbury, say, is an experience for a young I.G.
officer. We're told off to 'em in rotation. A wilderness of monkeys isn't
in it. The kids are apt to think 'emselves soldiers, and we have to take
the edge off 'em with lots of picquet-work and night attacks."
"And what happens after Second Camp?"
"It's hard to explain. Our system is so illogical. Theoretically, the
boys needn't show up for the next three or four years after Second Camp.
They are supposed to be making their way in life. Actually, the young
doctor or lawyer or engineer joins a Volunteer battalion that sticks to
the minimum of camp--ten days per annum. That gives him a holiday in the
open air, and now that men have taken to endowing their Volunteer
drill-halls with baths and libraries, he finds, if he can't run to a
club, that his own drill-hall is an efficient substitute. He meets men
there who'll be useful to him later, and he keeps himself in touch with
what's going on while he's studying for his profession. The
town-birds--such as the chemist's assistant, clerk, plumber, mechanic,
electrician, and so forth--generally put in for their town Volunteer
corps as soon as they begin to walk out with the girls. They like takin'
their true-loves to our restaurants. Look yonder!" I followed his gaze,
and saw across the room a man and a maid at a far table, forgetting in
each other's eyes the good food on their plates.
"So it is," said I. "Go ahead."
"Then, too, we have some town Volunteer corps that lay themselves out to
attract promising youths of nineteen or twenty, and make much of 'em on
condition that they join their Line battalion and play for their county.
Under the new county qualifications--birth or three years' residence--that
means a great deal in League matches, and the same in County cricket."
"By Jove, that's a good notion," I cried. "Who invented it?"
"C. B. Fry--long ago. He said in his paper, that County cricket and
County volunteering ought to be on the same footing--unpaid and genuine.
'No cricketer no corps. No corps no cricketer' was his watchword. There
was a row among the pro's at first, but C. B. won, and later the League
had to come in. They said at first it would ruin the gate; but when
County matches began to be _pukka_ county, _plus_ inter-regimental,
affairs the gate trebled, and as two-thirds of the gate goes to the
regiments supplying the teams some Volunteer corps fairly wallow in cash.
It's all unofficial, of course, but League Corps, as they call 'em, can
take their pick of the Second Camper. Some corps ask ten guineas
entrance-fee, and get it too, from the young bloods that want to shine in
the arena. I told you we catered for all tastes. Now, as regards the Line
proper, I believe the young artisan and mechanic puts in for that before
he marries. He likes the two-months' 'heef' in his first year, and five
bob a week is something to go on with between times."
"Do they follow their trade while they're in the Line?" I demanded.
"Why not? How many well-paid artisans work more than four days a week
anyhow? Remember a Linesman hasn't to be drilled in your sense of the
word. He must have had at least eight years' grounding in that, as well
as two or three years in his Volunteer battalion. He can sleep where he
pleases. He can't leave town-limits without reporting himself, of course,
but he can get leave if he wants it. He's on duty two days in the week as
a rule, and he's liable to be invited out for garrison duty down the
Mediterranean, but his benefit societies will insure him against that.
I'll tell you about that later. If it's a hard winter and trade's slack,
a lot of the bachelors are taken into the I. G. barracks (while the I. G.
is out on the heef) for theoretical instruction. Oh, I assure you the
Line hasn't half a bad time of it."
"Amazing!" I murmured. "And what about the others?"
"The Volunteers? Observe the beauty of our system. We're a free people.
We get up and slay the man who says we aren't. But as a little detail we
never mention, if we don't volunteer in some corps or another--as
combatants if we're fit, as non-combatants, if we ain't--till we're
thirty-five we don't vote, and we don't get poor-relief, and the women
don't love us."
"Oh, that's the compulsion of it?" said I.
Bayley inclined his head gravely. "That, Sir, is the compulsion. We voted
the legal part of it ourselves in a fit of panic, and we have not yet
rescinded our resolution. The women attend to the unofficial penalties.
But being free British citizens----"
"_And_ snobs," put in Pigeon.
"The point is well taken, Pij------we have supplied ourselves with every
sort and shape and make of Volunteer corps that you can imagine, and we've
mixed the whole show up with our Odd Fellows and our I.O.G.T.'s and our
Buffaloes, and our Burkes and our Debretts, not to mention Leagues and
Athletic Clubs, till you can't tell t'other from which. You remember the
young pup who used to look on soldiering as a favour done to his
ungrateful country--the gun-poking, ferret-pettin', landed gentleman's
offspring--the suckin' Facey Romford? Well, he generally joins a Foreign
Service Corps when he leaves college."
"Can Volunteers go foreign, then?"
"Can't they just, if their C.O. _or_ his wife has influence! The Armity
will always send a well-connected F.S. corps out to help a guard battalion
in a small campaign. Otherwise F.S. corps make their own arrangements
about camps. You see, the Military Areas are always open. They can 'heef'
there (and gamble on head-money) as long as their finances run to it; or
they can apply to do sea-time in the ships. It's a cheap way for a young
man to see the world, and if he's any good he can try to get into the
"The main point," said Pigeon, "is that F.S. corps are 'swagger'--the
correct thing. It 'ud never do to be drawn for the Militia, don't you
know," he drawled, trying to render the English voice.
"That's what happens to a chap who doesn't volunteer," said Bayley. "Well,
after the F.S. corps (we've about forty of 'em) come our territorial
Volunteer battalions, and a man who can't suit himself somewhere among 'em
must be a shade difficult. We've got those 'League' corps I was talking
about; and those studious corps that just scrape through their ten days'
camp; and we've crack corps of highly-paid mechanics who can afford a two
months' 'heef' in an interesting Area every other year; and we've senior
and junior scientific corps of earnest boilermakers and fitters and
engineers who read papers on high explosives, and do their 'heefing' in a
wet picket-boat--mine-droppin'--at the ports. Then we've heavy artillery--
recruited from the big manufacturing towns and ship-building yards--and
ferocious hard-ridin' Yeomanry (they _can_ ride--now), genteel, semi-
genteel, and Hooligan corps, and so on and so forth till you come to the
Home Defence Establishment--the young chaps knocked out under medical
certificate at the Second Camp, but good enough to sit behind hedges or
clean up camp, and the old was-birds who've served their time but don't
care to drop out of the fun of the yearly camps and the halls. They call
'emselves veterans and do fancy-shooting at Bisley, but, between you and
me, they're mostly Fresh Air Benefit Clubs. They contribute to the
Volunteer journals and tell the Guard that it's no good. But I like 'em. I
shall be one of 'em some day--a copper-nosed was-bird! ... So you see
we're mixed to a degree on the Volunteer side."
"It sounds that way," I ventured.
"You've overdone it, Bayley," said Devine. "You've missed our one strong
point." He turned to me and continued: "It's embarkation. The Volunteers
may be as mixed as the Colonel says, but they _are_ trained to go down to
the sea in ships. You ought to see a big Bank-Holiday roll-out. We suspend
most of the usual railway traffic and turn on the military time-table--say
on Friday at midnight. By 4 A.M. the trains are running from every big
centre in England to the nearest port at two-minute intervals. As a rule,
the Armity meets us at the other end with shipping of sorts--fleet
reserves or regular men of war or hulks--anything you can stick a
gang-plank to. We pile the men on to the troop-decks, stack the rifles in
the racks, send down the sea-kit, steam about for a few hours, and land
'em somewhere. It's a good notion, because our army to be any use _must_
be an army of embarkation. Why, last Whit Monday we had--how many were
down at the dock-edge in the first eight hours? Kyd, you're the Volunteer
enthusiast last from school."
"In the first ten hours over a hundred and eighteen thousand," said Kyd
across the table, "with thirty-six thousand actually put in and taken out
of ship. In the whole thirty-six hours we had close on ninety thousand men
on the water and a hundred and thirty-three thousand on the quays fallen
in with their sea-kit."
"That must have been a sight," I said.
"One didn't notice it much. It was scattered between Chatham, Dover,
Portsmouth, Plymouth, Bristol, Liverpool, and so on, merely to give the
inland men a chance to get rid of their breakfasts. We don't like to
concentrate and try a big embarkation at any one point. It makes the
Continent jumpy. Otherwise," said Kyd, "I believe we could get two hundred
thousand men, with their kits, away on one tide."
"What d'you want with so many?" I asked.
"_We_ don't want one of 'em; but the Continent used to point out, every
time relations were strained, that nothing would be easier than to raid
England if they got command of the sea for a week. After a few years some
genius discovered that it cut both ways, an' there was no reason why we,
who are supposed to command the sea and own a few ships, should not
organise our little raids in case of need. The notion caught on among the
Volunteers--they were getting rather sick of manoeuvres on dry land--and
since then we haven't heard so much about raids from the Continent," said
"It's the offensive-defensive," said Verschoyle, "that they talk so much
about. We learned it _all_ from the Continent--bless 'em! They insisted on
"No, we learned it from the Fleet," said Devine. "The Mediterranean Fleet
landed ten thousand marines and sailors, with guns, in twenty minutes once
at manoeuvres. That was long ago. I've seen the Fleet Reserve and a few
paddle-steamers, hired for the day, land twenty-five thousand Volunteers
at Bantry in four hours--half the men sea-sick too. You've no notion what
a difference that sort of manoeuvre makes in the calculations of our
friends on the mainland. The Continent knows what invasion means. It's
like dealing with a man whose nerve has been shaken. It doesn't cost much
after all, and it makes us better friends with the great European family.
We're now as thick as thieves."
"Where does the Imperial Guard come in in all this gorgeousness?" I asked.
"You're unusual modest about yourselves."
"As a matter of fact, we're supposed to go out and stay out. We're the
permanently mobilised lot. I don't think there are more than eight I.G.
battalions in England now. We're a hundred battalions all told. Mostly on
the 'heef' in India, Africa and so forth."
"A hundred thousand. Isn't that small allowance?" I suggested.
"You think so? One hundred thousand _men_, without a single case of
venereal, and an average sick list of two per cent, permanently on a war
footing? Well, perhaps you're right, but it's a useful little force to
begin with while the others are getting ready. There's the native Indian
Army also, which isn't a broken reed, and, since 'no Volunteer no Vote' is
the rule throughout the Empire, you will find a few men in Canada,
Australia, and elsewhere, that are fairly hefty in their class."
"But a hundred thousand isn't enough for garrison duty," I persisted.
"A hundred thousand _sound_ men, not sick boys, go quite a way," said
"We expect the Line to garrison the Mediterranean Ports and thereabouts,"
said Bayley. "Don't sneer at the mechanic. He's deuced good stuff. He
isn't rudely ordered out, because this ain't a military despotism, and we
have to consider people's feelings. The Armity usually brackets three Line
regiments together, and calls for men for six months or a year for Malta,
Gib, or elsewhere, at a bob a day. Three battalions will give you nearly a
whole battalion of bachelors between 'em. You fill up deficiencies with a
call on the territorial Volunteer battalion, and away you go with what we
call a Ports battalion. What's astonishing in that? Remember that in this
country, where fifty per cent of the able-bodied males have got a pretty
fair notion of soldiering, and, which is more, have all camped out in the
open, you wake up the spirit of adventure in the young."
"Not much adventure at Malta, Gib, or Cyprus," I retorted. "Don't they get
sick of it?"
"But you don't realise that we treat 'em rather differently from the
soldier of the past. You ought to go and see a Ports battalion drawn from
a manufacturing centre growin' vines in Cyprus in its shirt sleeves; and
at Gib, and Malta, of course, the battalions are working with the Fleet
half the time."
"It seems to me," I said angrily, "you are knocking _esprit de corps_ on
the head with all this Army-Navy jumble. It's as bad as----"
"I know what you're going to say. As bad as what Kitchener used to do when
he believed that a thousand details picked up on the veldt were as good as
a column of two regiments. In the old days, when drill was a sort of holy
sacred art learned in old age, you'd be quite right. But remember _our_
chaps are broke to drill from childhood, and the theory we work on is that
a thousand trained Englishmen ought to be about as good as another
thousand trained Englishmen. We've enlarged our horizon, that's all. Some
day the Army and the Navy will be interchangeable."
"You've enlarged it enough to fall out of, I think. Now where in all this
mess of compulsory Volunteers----?"
"My dear boy, there's no compulsion. You've _got_ to be drilled when
you're a child, same as you've got to learn to read, and if you don't
pretend to serve in some corps or other till you're thirty-five or
medically chucked you rank with lunatics, women, and minors. That's fair
"Compulsory conscripts," I continued. "Where, as I was going to say, does
the Militia come in?"
"As I have said--for the men who can't afford volunteering. The Militia is
recruited by ballot--pretty comprehensively too. Volunteers are exempt,
but most men not otherwise accounted for are bagged by the Militia. They
have to put in a minimum three weeks' camp every other year, and they get
fifteen bob a week and their keep when they're at it, and some sort of a
yearly fee, I've forgotten how much. 'Tisn't a showy service, but it's
very useful. It keeps the mass of the men between twenty-five, say, and
thirty-five moderately fit, and gives the Armity an excuse for having more
equipment ready--in case of emergencies."
"I don't think you're quite fair on the Militia," drawled Verschoyle.
"They're better than we give 'em credit for. Don't you remember the Middle
Moor Collieries' strike?"
"Tell me," I said quickly. Evidently the others knew.
"We-ell, it was no end of a pitman's strike about eight years ago. There
were twenty-five thousand men involved--Militia, of course. At the end of
the first month--October--when things were looking rather blue, one of
those clever Labour leaders got hold of the Militia Act and discovered
that any Militia regiment could, by a two-thirds vote, go on 'heef' in a
Military Area in addition to its usual biennial camp. Two-and-twenty
battalions of Geordies solemnly applied, and they were turned loose into
the Irish and Scotch Areas under an I.G. Brigadier who had private
instructions to knock clinkers out of 'em. But the pitman is a strong and
agile bird. He throve on snowdrifts and entrenching and draggin' guns
through heather. _He_ was being fed and clothed for nothing, besides
having a chance of making head-money, and his strike-pay was going clear
to his wife and family. You see? Wily man. But wachtabittje! When that
'heef' finished in December the strike was still on. _Then_ that same
Labour leader found out, from the same Act, that if at any time more than
thirty or forty men of a Militia regiment wished to volunteer to do
sea-time and study big guns in the Fleet they were in no wise to be
discouraged, but were to be taken on as opportunity offered and paid a bob
a day. Accordingly, about January, Geordie began volunteering for sea-
time--seven and eight hundred men out of each regiment. Anyhow, it made up
seventeen thousand men! It was a splendid chance and the Armity jumped at
it. The Home and Channel Fleets and the North Sea and Cruiser Squadrons
were strengthened with lame ducks from the Fleet Reserve, and between 'em
with a little stretching and pushing they accommodated all of that young
"Yes, but you've forgotten how we lied to the Continent about it. All
Europe wanted to know what the dooce we were at," said Boy Bayley, "and
the wretched Cabinet had to stump the country in the depths of winter
explaining our new system of poor-relief. I beg your pardon, Verschoyle."
"The Armity improvised naval manoeuvres between Gib and Land's End, with
frequent coalings and landings; ending in a cruise round England that
fairly paralysed the pitmen. The first day out they wanted the fleet
stopped while they went ashore and killed their Labour leader, but they
couldn't be obliged. Then they wanted to mutiny over the coaling--it was
too like their own job. Oh, they had a lordly timel They came back--the
combined Fleets anchored off Hull--with a nautical hitch to their
breeches. They'd had a free fight at Gib with the Ports battalion there;
they cleared out the town of Lagos; and they'd fought a pitched battle
with the dockyard-mateys at Devonport. So they'd done 'emselves well, but
they didn't want any more military life for a bit."
"And the strike?"
"That ended, all right enough, when the strike-money came to an end. The
pit-owners were furious. They said the Armity had wilfully prolonged the
strike, and asked questions in the House. The Armity said that they had
taken advantage of the crisis to put a six months' polish on fifteen
thousand fine young men, and if the masters cared to come out on the same
terms they'd be happy to do the same by them."
"Palaver done set," said Bayley. "Everybody laughed."
"I don't quite understand about this sea-time business," I said. "Is the
Fleet open to take any regiment aboard?"
"Rather. The I.G. must, the Line can, the Militia may, and the Volunteers
do put in sea-time. The Coast Volunteers began it, and the fashion is
spreading inland. Under certain circumstances, as Verschoyle told you, a
Volunteer or Militia regiment can vote whether it 'heefs' wet or dry. If
it votes wet and has influence (like some F.S. corps), it can sneak into
the Channel or the Home Fleet and do a cruise round England or to Madeira
or the North Sea. The regiment, of course, is distributed among the ships,
and the Fleet dry nurse 'em. It rather breaks up shore discipline, but it
gives the inland men a bit of experience, and, of course, it gives us a
fairish supply of men behind the gun, in event of any strain on the Fleet.
Some coast corps make a specialty of it, and compete for embarking and
disembarking records. I believe some of the Tyneside engineerin' corps put
ten per cent of their men through the Fleet engine rooms. But there's no
need to stay talking here all the afternoon. Come and see the I.G. in his
lair--the miserable conscript driven up to the colours at the point of the
The great hall was emptying apace as the clocks struck two, and we passed
out through double doors into a huge reading and smoking room, blue with
tobacco and buzzing with voices.
"We're quieter as a rule," said the Boy. "But we're filling up vacancies
to-day. Hence the anxious faces of the Line and Militia. Look!" There were
four tables against the walls, and at each stood a crowd of uniforms. The
centres of disturbance were noncommissioned officers who, seated, growled
and wrote down names.
"Come to my table," said Burgard. "Well, Purvis, have you ear-marked our
"I've been tellin' 'em for the last hour we've only twenty-three
vacancies," was the sergeant's answer. "I've taken nearly fifty for
Trials, and this is what's left." Burgard smiled.
"I'm very sorry," he said to the crowd, "but C Company's full."
"Excuse me, Sir," said a man, "but wouldn't sea-time count in my favour?
I've put in three months with the Fleet. Small quick-firers, Sir? Company
guns? Any sort of light machinery?"
"Come away," said a voice behind. "They've chucked the best farrier
between Hull and Dewsbury. Think they'll take _you_ an' your potty quick-
The speaker turned on his heel and swore.
"Oh, damn the Guard, by all means!" said Sergeant Purvis, collecting his
papers. "D'you suppose it's any pleasure to _me_ to reject chaps of your
build and make? Vote us a second Guard battalion and we'll accommodate
you. Now, you can come into Schools and watch Trials if you like."
Most of the men accepted his invitation, but a few walked away angrily. I
followed from the smoking-room across a wide corridor into a riding-
school, under whose roof the voices of the few hundred assembled wandered
in lost echoes.
"I'll leave you, if you don't mind," said Burgard. "Company officers
aren't supposed to assist at these games. Here, Matthews!" He called to a
private and put me in his charge.
In the centre of the vast floor my astonished eyes beheld a group of
stripped men; the pink of their bodies startling the tan.
"These are our crowd," said Matthews. "They've been vetted, an' we're
putting 'em through their paces."
"They don't look a bit like raw material," I said.
"No, we don't use either raw men or raw meat for that matter in the
Guard," Matthews replied. "Life's too short."
Purvis stepped forward and barked in the professional manner. It was
physical drill of the most searching, checked only when he laid his hand
over some man's heart.
Six or seven, I noticed, were sent back at this stage of the game. Then a
cry went up from a group of privates standing near the line of contorted
figures. "White, Purvis, white! Number Nine is spitting white!"
"I know it," said Purvis. "Don't you worry."
"Unfair!" murmured the man who understood quick-firers. "If I couldn't
shape better than that I'd hire myself out to wheel a perambulator. He's
"Nah," said the intent Matthews. "He'll answer to a month's training like
a horse. It's only suet. _You've_ been training for this, haven't you?"
"Look at me," said the man simply.
"Yes. You're overtrained," was Matthews' comment. "The Guard isn't a
"Guns!" roared Purvis, as the men broke off and panted. "Number off from
the right. Fourteen is one, three is two, eleven's three, twenty and
thirty-nine are four and five, and five is six." He was giving them their
numbers at the guns as they struggled into their uniforms. In like manner
he told off three other guncrews, and the remainder left at the double, to
return through the further doors with four light quick-firers jerking at
the end of man-ropes.
"Knock down and assemble against time!" Purvis called.
The audience closed in a little as the crews flung themselves on the guns,
which melted, wheel by wheel, beneath their touch.
"I've never seen anything like this," I whispered.
"Huh!" said Matthews scornfully. "They're always doin' it in the Line and
Militia drill-halls. It's only circus-work."
The guns were assembled again and some one called the time. Then followed
ten minutes of the quickest firing and feeding with dummy cartridges that
was ever given man to behold.
"They look as if they might amount to something--this draft," said
"What might you teach 'em after this, then?" I asked.
"To be Guard," said Matthews.
"Spurs," cried Purvis, as the guns disappeared through the doors into the
stables. Each man plucked at his sleeve, and drew up first one heel and
then the other.
"What the deuce are they doing?" I asked.
"This," said Matthews. He put his hand to a ticket-pocket inside his
regulation cuff, showed me two very small black box-spurs: drawing up a
gaitered foot, he snapped them into the box in the heel, and when I had
inspected snapped them out again.
"That's all the spur you really need," he said.
Then horses were trotted out into the school barebacked, and the neophytes
were told to ride.
Evidently the beasts knew the game and enjoyed it, for they would not make
it easy for the men.
A heap of saddlery was thrown in a corner, and from this each man, as he
captured his mount, made shift to draw proper equipment, while the
audience laughed, derided, or called the horses towards them.
It was, most literally, wild horseplay, and by the time it was finished
the recruits and the company were weak with fatigue and laughter.
"That'll do," said Purvis, while the men rocked in their saddles. "I don't
see any particular odds between any of you. C Company! Does anybody here
know anything against any of these men?"
"That's a bit of the Regulations," Matthews whispered. "Just like
forbiddin' the banns in church. Really, it was all settled long ago when
the names first came up."
There was no answer.
"You'll take 'em as they stand?"
There was a grunt of assent.
"Very good. There's forty men for twenty-three billets." He turned to the
sweating horsemen. "I must put you into the Hat."
With great ceremony and a shower of company jokes that I did not follow,
an enormous Ally Sloper top-hat was produced, into which numbers and
blanks were dropped, and the whole was handed round to the riders by a
private, evidently the joker of C Company.
Matthews gave me to understand that each company owned a cherished
receptacle (sometimes not a respectable one) for the papers of the final
drawing. He was telling me how his company had once stolen the Sacred
Article used by D Company for this purpose and of the riot that followed,
when through the west door of the schools entered a fresh detachment of
stripped men, and the arena was flooded with another company.
Said Matthews as we withdrew, "Each company does Trials their own way. B
Company is all for teaching men how to cook and camp. D Company keeps 'em
to horse-work mostly. We call D the circus-riders and B the cooks. They
call us the Gunners."
"An' you've rejected _me_," said the man who had done sea-time, pushing
out before us. "The Army's goin' to the dogs."
I stood in the corridor looking for Burgard.
"Come up to my room and have a smoke," said Matthews, private of the
We climbed two flights of stone stairs ere we reached an immense landing
flanked with numbered doors.
Matthews pressed a spring-latch and led me into a little cabin-like room.
The cot was a standing bunk, with drawers beneath. On the bed lay a
brilliant blanket; by the bed head was an electric light and a shelf of
books: a writing table stood in the window, and I dropped into a low
"This is a cut above subaltern's quarters," I said, surveying the photos,
the dhurri on the floor, the rifle in its rack, the field-kit hung up
behind the door, and the knicknacks on the walls.
"The Line bachelors use 'em while we're away; but they're nice to come
back to after 'heef.'" Matthews passed me his cigarette-case.
"Where have you 'heefed'?" I said.
"In Scotland, Central Australia, and North-Eastern Rhodesia and the North-
West Indian front."
"What's your service?"
"Four years. I'll have to go in a year. I got in when I was twenty-two--by
a fluke--from the Militia direct--on Trials."
"Trials like those we just saw?"
"Not so severe. There was less competition then. I hoped to get my
stripes, but there's no chance."
"I haven't the knack of handling men. Purvis let me have a half-company
for a month in Rhodesia--over towards Lake N'Garni. I couldn't work 'em
properly. It's a gift."
"Do colour-sergeants handle half-companies with you?"
"They can command 'em on the 'heef.' We've only four company officers--
Burgard, Luttrell, Kyd, and Harrison. Pigeon's our swop, and he's in
charge of the ponies. Burgard got his company on the 'heef,' You see
Burgard had been a lieutenant in the Line, but he came into the Guards on
Trials like the men. _He_ could command. They tried him in India with a
wing of the battalion for three months. He did well so he got his company.
That's what made me hopeful. But it's a gift, you see--managing men--and
so I'm only a senior private. They let ten per cent of us stay on for two
years extra after our three are finished--to polish the others."
"Aren't you even a corporal?"
"We haven't corporals, or lances for that matter, in the Guard. As a
senior private I'd take twenty men into action; but one Guard don't tell
another how to clean himself. You've learned that before you apply. ...
There was a knock at the door, and Burgard entered, removing his cap.
"I thought you'd be here," he said, as Matthews vacated the other chair
and sat on the bed. "Well, has Matthews told you all about it? How did our
Trials go, Matthews?"
"Forty names in the Hat, Sir, at the finish. They'll make a fairish lot.
Their gun-tricks weren't bad; but D company has taken the best horsemen--
"Oh, I'll attend to that on 'heef.' Give me a man who can handle company-
guns and I'll engage to make him a horse-master. D company will end by
thinkin' 'emselves Captain Pigeon's private cavalry some day."
I had never heard a private and a captain talking after this fashion, and
my face must have betrayed my astonishment, for Burgard said:
"These are not our parade manners. In our rooms, as we say in the Guard,
all men are men. Outside we are officers and men."
"I begin to see," I stammered. "Matthews was telling me that sergeants
handled half-companies and rose from the ranks--and I don't see that there
are any lieutenants--and your companies appear to be two hundred and fifty
strong. It's a shade confusing to the layman."
Burgard leaned forward didactically. "The Regulations lay down that every
man's capacity for command must be tested to the uttermost. We construe
that very literally when we're on the 'heef.' F'r instance, any man can
apply to take the command next above him, and if a man's too shy to ask,
his company officer must see that he gets his chance. A sergeant is given
a wing of the battalion to play with for three weeks--a month, or six
weeks--according to his capacity, and turned adrift in an Area to make his
own arrangements. That's what Areas are for--and to experiment in. A good
gunner--a private very often--has all four company-guns to handle through
a week's fight, acting for the time as the major. Majors of Guard
battalions (Verschoyle's our major) are supposed to be responsible for the
guns, by the way. There's nothing to prevent any man who has the gift
working his way up to the experimental command of the battalion on 'heef.'
Purvis, my colour-sergeant, commanded the battalion for three months at
the back of Coolgardie, an' very well he did it. Bayley 'verted to company
officer for the time being an' took Harrison's company, and Harrison came
over to me as my colour-sergeant. D'you see? Well, Purvis is down for a
commission when there's a vacancy. He's been thoroughly tested, and we all
like him. Two other sergeants have passed that three months' trial in the
same way (just as second mates go up for extra master's certificate). They
have E.C. after their names in the Army List. That shows they're capable
of taking command in event of war. The result of our system is that you
could knock out every single officer of a Guard battalion early in the
day, and the wheels 'ud still go forward, _not_ merely round. We're
allowed to fill up half our commissioned list from the ranks direct. _Now_
d'you see why there's such a rush to get into a Guard battalion?"
"Indeed I do. Have you commanded the regiment experimentally?"
"Oh, time and again," Burgard laughed. "We've all had our E.C. turn."
"Doesn't the chopping and changing upset the men?"
"It takes something to upset the Guard. Besides, they're all in the game
together. They give each other a fair show you may be sure."
"That's true," said Matthews. "When I went to N'Gami with my--with the
half-company," he sighed, "they helped me all they knew. But it's a gift--
handling men. I found _that_ out,"
"I know you did," said Burgard softly. "But you found it out in time,
which is the great thing. You see," he turned to me, "with our limited
strength we can't afford to have a single man who isn't more than up to
any duty--in reason. Don't you be led away by what you saw at Trials just
now. The Volunteers and the Militia have all the monkey-tricks of the
trade--such as mounting and dismounting guns, and making fancy scores and
doing record marches; but they need a lot of working up before they can
pull their weight in the boat."
There was a knock at the door. A note was handed in. Burgard read it and
"Bayley wants to know if you'd care to come with us to the Park and see
the kids. It's only a Saturday afternoon walk-round before the
taxpayer.... Very good. If you'll press the button we'll try to do the
He led me by two flights of stairs up an iron stairway that gave on a
platform, not unlike a ship's bridge, immediately above the barrelled
glass roof of the riding-school. Through a ribbed ventilator I could see B
Company far below watching some men who chased sheep. Burgard unlocked a
glass-fronted fire-alarm arrangement flanked with dials and speaking-
tubes, and bade me press the centre button.
Next moment I should have fallen through the riding-school roof if he had
not caught me; for the huge building below my feet thrilled to the
multiplied purring of electric bells. The men in the school vanished like
minnows before a shadow, and above the stamp of booted feet on staircases
I heard the neighing of many horses.
"What in the world have I done?" I gasped.
"Turned out the Guard--horse, foot, and guns!"
A telephone bell rang imperiously. Burgard snatched up the receiver:
"Yes, Sir.... _What_, Sir?... I never heard they said that," he laughed,
"but it would be just like 'em. In an hour and a half? Yes, Sir. Opposite
the Statue? Yes, Sir."
He turned to me with a wink as he hung up.
"Bayley's playing up for you. Now you'll see some fun."
"Who's going to catch it?" I demanded.
"Only our local Foreign Service Corps. Its C.O. has been boasting that
it's _en tat de partir_, and Bayley's going to take him at his word and
have a kit-inspection this afternoon in the Park. I must tell their
drill-hall. Look over yonder between that brewery chimney and the mansard
He readdressed himself to the telephone, and I kept my eye on the building
to the southward. A Blue Peter climbed up to the top of the flagstaff that
crowned it and blew out in the summer breeze. A black storm-cone followed.
"Inspection for F.S. corps acknowledged, Sir," said Burgard down the
telephone. "Now we'd better go to the riding-school. The battalion falls
in there. I have to change, but you're free of the corps. Go anywhere. Ask
anything. In another ten minutes we're off."
I lingered for a little looking over the great city, its huddle of houses
and the great fringe of the Park, all framed between the open windows of
this dial-dotted eyrie.
When I descended the halls and corridors were as hushed as they had been
noisy, and my feet echoed down the broad tiled staircases. On the third
floor, Matthews, gaitered and armed, overtook me smiling.
"I thought you might want a guide," said he. "We've five minutes yet," and
piloted me to the sunsplashed gloom of the riding-school. Three companies
were in close order on the tan. They moved out at a whistle, and as I
followed in their rear I was overtaken by Pigeon on a rough black mare.
"Wait a bit," he said, "till the horses are all out of stables, and come
with us. D Company is the only one mounted just now. We do it to amuse the
taxpayer," he explained, above the noise of horses on the tan.
"Where are the guns?" I asked, as the mare lipped my coat-collar.
"Gone ahead long ago. They come out of their own door at the back of
barracks. We don't haul guns through traffic more than we can help.... If
Belinda breathes down your neck smack her. She'll be quiet in the streets.
She loves lookin' into the shop-windows."
The mounted company clattered through vaulted concrete corridors in the
wake of the main body, and filed out into the crowded streets.
When I looked at the townsfolk on the pavement, or in the double-decked
trams, I saw that the bulk of them saluted, not grudgingly or of
necessity, but in a light-hearted, even flippant fashion.
"Those are Line and Militia men," said Pigeon. "That old chap in the
top-hat by the lamp-post is an ex-Guardee. That's why he's saluting in
slow-time. No, there's no regulation governing these things, but we've all
fallen into the way of it somehow. Steady, mare!"
"I don't know whether I care about this aggressive militarism," I began,
when the company halted, and Belinda almost knocked me down. Looking
forward I saw the badged cuff of a policeman upraised at a crossing, his
back towards us.
"Horrid aggressive, ain't we?" said Pigeon with a chuckle when we moved on
again and overtook the main body. Here I caught the strains of the band,
which Pigeon told me did not accompany the battalion on 'heef,' but lived
in barracks and made much money by playing at parties in town.
"If we want anything more than drums and fifes on 'heef' we sing," said
Pigeon. "Singin' helps the wind."
I rejoiced to the marrow of my bones thus to be borne along on billows of
surging music among magnificent men, in sunlight, through a crowded town
whose people, I could feel, regarded us with comradeship, affection--and
"By Jove," I said at last, watching the eyes about us, "these people are
looking us over as if we were horses."
"Why not? They know the game."
The eyes on the pavement, in the trams, the cabs, at the upper windows,
swept our lines back and forth with a weighed intensity of regard which at
first seemed altogether new to me, till I recalled just such eyes, a
thousand of them, at manoeuvres in the Channel when one crowded battleship
drew past its sister at biscuit-toss range. Then I stared at the ground,
overborne by those considering eyes.
Suddenly the music changed to the wail of the Dead March in "Saul," and
once more--we were crossing a large square--the regiment halted.
"Damn!" said Pigeon, glancing behind him at the mounted company. "I
believe they save up their Saturday corpses on purpose."
"What is it?" I asked.
"A dead Volunteer. We must play him through." Again I looked forward and
saw the top of a hearse, followed by two mourning-coaches, boring directly
up the halted regiment, which opened out company by company to let it
"But they've got the whole blessed square to funeralise in!" I exclaimed.
"Why don't they go round?"
"Not so!" Pigeon replied. "In this city it's the Volunteer's perquisite to
be played through by any corps he happens to meet on his way to the
cemetery. And they make the most of it. You'll see."
I heard the order, "Rest on your arms," run before the poor little
procession as the men opened out. The driver pulled the black Flanders
beasts into a more than funeral crawl, and in the first mourning-coach I
saw the tearful face of a fat woman (his mother, doubtless), a
handkerchief pressed to one eye, but the other rolling vigilantly, alight
with proper pride. Last came a knot of uniformed men--privates, I took it
--of the dead one's corps.
Said a man in the crowd beside us to the girl on his arm, "There, Jenny!
That's what I'll get if I 'ave the luck to meet 'em when my time comes."
"You an' your luck," she snapped. "'Ow can you talk such silly nonsense?"
"Played through by the Guard," he repeated slowly. "The undertaker 'oo
could guarantee _that_, mark you, for all his customers--well, 'e'd
monopolise the trade, is all I can say. See the horses passagin'
"She done it a purpose," said the woman with a sniff.
"An' I only hope you'll follow her example. Just as long as you think I'll
We reclosed when the funeral had left us twenty paces behind. A small boy
stuck his head out of a carriage and watched us jealously.
"Amazing! Amazing!" I murmured. "Is it regulation?"
"No. Town-custom. It varies a little in different cities, but the people
value being played through more than most things, I imagine. Duddell, the
big Ipswich manufacturer--he's a Quaker--tried to bring in a bill to
suppress it as unchristian." Pigeon laughed.
"It cost him his seat next election. You see, we're all in the game."
We reached the Park without further adventure, and found the four company-
guns with their spike teams and single drivers waiting for us. Many people
were gathered here, and we were halted, so far as I could see, that they
might talk with the men in the ranks. The officers broke into groups.
"Why on earth didn't you come along with me?" said Boy Bayley at my side.
"I was expecting you."
"Well, I had a delicacy about brigading myself with a colonel at the head
of his regiment, so I stayed with the rear company and the horses. It's
all too wonderful for any words. What's going to happen next?"
"I've handed over to Verschoyle, who will amuse and edify the school
children while I take you round our kindergarten. Don't kill any one, Vee.
Are you goin' to charge 'em?"
Old Verschoyle hitched his big shoulder and nodded precisely as he used to
do at school. He was a boy of few words grown into a kindly taciturn man.
"Now!" Bayley slid his arm through mine and led me across a riding road
towards a stretch of rough common (singularly out of place in a park)
perhaps three-quarters of a mile long and half as wide. On the encircling
rails leaned an almost unbroken line of men and women--the women
outnumbering the men. I saw the Guard battalion move up the road flanking
the common and disappear behind the trees.
As far as the eye could range through the mellow English haze the ground
inside the railings was dotted with boys in and out of uniform, armed and
unarmed. I saw squads here, half-companies there; then three companies in
an open space, wheeling with stately steps; a knot of drums and fifes near
the railings unconcernedly slashing their way across popular airs; and a
batch of gamins labouring through some extended attack destined to be
swept aside by a corps crossing the ground at the double. They broke out
of furze bushes, ducked over hollows and bunkers, held or fell away from
hillocks and rough sandbanks till the eye wearied of their busy legs.
Bayley took me through the railings, and gravely returned the salute of a
freckled twelve-year-old near by.
"What's your corps?" said the Colonel of that Imperial Guard battalion to
"Eighth District Board School, fourth standard, Sir. We aren't out
to-day." Then, with a twinkle, "I go to First Camp next year."
"What are those boys yonder--that squad at the double?"
"Jewboys, Sir. Jewish Voluntary Schools, Sir."
"And that full company extending behind the three elms to the south-west?"
"Private day-schools, Sir, I think. Judging distance, Sir."
"Can you come with us?"
"Here's the raw material at the beginning of the process," said Bayley to
We strolled on towards the strains of "A Bicycle Built for Two," breathed
jerkily into a mouth-organ by a slim maid of fourteen. Some dozen infants
with clenched fists and earnest legs were swinging through the extension
movements which that tune calls for. A stunted hawthorn overhung the
little group, and from a branch a dirty white handkerchief flapped in the
breeze. The girl blushed, scowled, and wiped the mouth-organ on her sleeve
as we came up.
"We're all waiting for our big bruvvers," piped up one bold person in blue
breeches--seven if he was a day.
"It keeps 'em quieter, Sir," the maiden lisped. "The others are with the
"Yeth, and they've all lots of blank for _you_," said the gentleman in
blue breeches ferociously.
"Oh, Artie! 'Ush!" the girl cried.
"But why have they lots of blank for _us_?" Bayley asked. Blue Breeches
"'Cause--'cause the Guard's goin' to fight the Schools this afternoon; but
my big bruvver says they'll be dam-well surprised."
"_Artie!_" The girl leaped towards him. "You know your ma said I was to
"Don't. Please don't," said Bayley, pink with suppressed mirth. "It was
all my fault. I must tell old Verschoyle this. I've surprised his plan out
of the mouths of babes and sucklings."
"Old Vee has taken the battalion up to the top of the common, and he told
me he meant to charge down through the kids, but they're on to him
already. He'll be scuppered. The Guard will be scuppered!"
Here Blue Breeches, overcome by the reproof of his fellows, began to weep.
"I didn't tell," he roared. "My big bruvver _he_ knew when he saw them go
up the road..."
"Never mind! Never mind, old man," said Bayley soothingly. "I'm not
fighting to-day. It's all right."
He rightened it yet further with sixpence, and left that band loudly at
feud over the spoil.
"Oh, Vee! Vee the strategist," he chuckled. "We'll pull Vee's leg
Our freckled friend of the barriers doubled up behind us.
"So you know that my battalion is charging down the ground," Bayley
"Not for certain, Sir, but we're preparin' for the worst," he answered
with a cheerful grin. "They allow the Schools a little blank ammunition
after we've passed the third standard; and we nearly always bring it on to
the ground of Saturdays."
"The deuce you do! Why?"
"On account of these amateur Volunteer corps, Sir. They're always
experimentin' upon us, Sir, comin' over from their ground an' developin'
attacks on our flanks. Oh, it's chronic 'ere of a Saturday sometimes,
unless you flag yourself."