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Title: A Man Could Stand Up
       (Parade's End, Part 3)
Author: Ford Madox Ford
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700191.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: February 2007
Date most recently updated: February 2007

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Title: A Man Could Stand Up
       (Parade's End, Part 3)
Author: Ford Madox Ford





PART ONE



I


Slowly, amidst intolerable noises from, on the one hand, the street and,
on the other, from the large and voluminously echoing playground, the
depths of the telephone began, for Valentine, to assume an aspect that,
years ago, it had used to have--of being a part of the supernatural
paraphernalia of inscrutable Destiny.

The telephone, for some ingeniously torturing reason, was in a corner of
the great schoolroom without any protection, and, called imperatively, at
a moment of considerable suspense, out of the asphalte playground where
under her command ranks of girls had stood electrically only just within
the margin of control, Valentine with the receiver at her ear was plunged
immediately into incomprehensible news uttered by a voice that she seemed
half to remember. Right in the middle of a sentence it hit her:

'...that he ought presumably to be under control, which you mightn't
like!'; after that the noise burst out again and rendered the voice
inaudible.

It occurred to her that probably at that minute the whole population of
the world needed to be under control; she knew she herself did. But she
had no male relative that the verdict could apply to in especial. Her
brother? But he was on a minesweeper. In dock at the moment. And
now...safe for good! There was also an aged great-uncle that she had
never seen. Dean of somewhere...Hereford? Exeter?...Somewhere...Had she
just said _safe?_ She was shaken with joy!

She said into the mouthpiece:

'Valentine Wannop speaking...Physical Instructress at this school, you
know.'

She had to present an appearance of sanity...a sane voice at the very
least!

The tantalizingly half-remembered voice on the telephone now got in some
more incomprehensibilities. It came as if from caverns and as if with
exasperated rapidity it exaggerated its s's with an effect of spitting
vehemence.

'His brothers.s.s got pneumonia, so his mistress.ss.ss even is
unavailable to look after...'

The voice disappeared; then it emerged again with:

'They're said to be friends now!'

It was drowned then, for a long period in a sea of shrill girls' voices
from the playground, in an ocean of factory-hooters' ululations, amongst
innumerable explosions that trod upon one another's heels. From where on
earth did they get explosives, the population of squalid suburban streets
amidst which the school lay? For the matter of that where did they get
the spirits to make such an appalling row? Pretty drab people! Inhabiting
liver-coloured boxes. Not on the face of it an imperial race.

The sibilating voice on the telephone went on spitting out spitefully
that the porter said he had no furniture at all; that he did not appear
to recognize the porter...Improbable-sounding pieces of information
half-extinguished by the external sounds but uttered in a voice that
seemed to mean to give pain by what it said.

Nevertheless it was impossible not to take it gaily. The thing, out
there, miles and miles away must have been signed--a few minutes ago. She
imagined along an immense line sullen and disgruntled cannon sounding for
a last time.

'I haven't,' Valentine Wannop shouted into the mouthpiece, 'the least
idea of what you want or who you are.'

She got back a title...Lady someone or other...It might have been
Blastus. She imagined that one of the lady governoresses of the school
must be wanting to order something in the way of school sports organized
to celebrate the auspicious day. A lady governoress or other was always
wanting something done by the School to celebrate something. No doubt the
Head who was not wanting in a sense of humour--not _absolutely_
wanting!--had turned this lady of title on to Valentine Wannop after
having listened with patience to her for half an hour. The Head had
certainly sent out to where in the playground they had all stood
breathless, to tell Valentine Wannop that there was someone on the
telephone that she--Miss Wanostrocht, the said Head--thought that she,
Miss Wannop, ought to listen to...Then Miss Wanostrocht must have been
able to distinguish what had been said by the now indistinguishable lady
of title. But of course that had been ten minutes ago...Before the
maroons or the sirens, whichever it had been, had sounded...'The porter
said he had no furniture at all...He did not appear to recognize the
porter...Ought presumably to be under control!...Valentine's mind thus
recapitulated the information that she had from Lady (provisionally)
Blastus. She imagined now that the Lady must be concerned for the
superannuated drill-sergeant the school had had before it had acquired
her, Valentine, as physical instructor. She figured to herself the
venerable, mumbling gentleman, with several ribbons on a black
commissionaire's tunic. In an almshouse, probably. Placed there by the
Governors of the school. Had pawned his furniture, no doubt...

Intense heat possessed Valentine Wannop. She imagined indeed her eyes
flashing. Was this the moment?

She didn't even know whether what they had let off had been maroons or
aircraft guns or sirens. It had happened--the noise, whatever it
was--whilst she had been coming through the underground passage from the
playground to the schoolroom to answer this wicked telephone. So she had
not heard the sound. She had missed the sound for which the ears of a
world had waited for years, for a generation. For an eternity. No sound.
When she had left the playground there had been dead silence. All
waiting: girls rubbing one ankle with the other rubber sole...

Then...For the rest of her life she was never able to remember the
greatest stab of joy that had ever been known by waiting millions. There
would be no one but she who would not be able to remember that...Probably
a stirring of the heart that was like a stab; probably a catching of the
breath that was like an inhalation of flame!...It was over now; they were
by now in a situation; a condition, something that would affect certain
things in certain ways...

She remembered that the putative ex-drill-sergeant had a brother who had
pneumonia and thus an unavailable mistress...

She was about to say to herself:

'That's just my luck!' when she remembered good-humouredly that her luck
was not like that at all. On the whole she had had good luck--ups and
downs. A good deal of anxiety at one time--but who hadn't had! But good
health; a mother with good health; a brother safe...Anxieties, yes! But
nothing that had gone so very wrong...

This then was an exceptional stroke of bad luck I Might it be no omen--to
the effect that things in future _would_ go wrong: to the effect
that she would miss other universal experiences. Never marry, say; or
never know the joy of childbearing: if it was a joy! Perhaps it was;
perhaps it wasn't. One said one thing, one another. At any rate might it
not be an omen that she would miss some universal and necessary
experience!...Never see Carcassonne, the French said...Perhaps she would
never see the Mediterranean. You could not be a proper man if you had
never seen the Mediterranean: the sea of Tibullus, of the Anthologists,
of Sappho, even...Blue: incredibly blue!

People would be able to travel now. It was incredible! Incredible!
Incredible! But you _could_. Next week you would be able to! You
could call a taxi! And go to Charing Cross! And have a porter! A whole
porter!...The wings, the wings of a dove: then would I flee away, flee
away and eat pomegranates beside an infinite wash-tub of Reckitt's blue.
Incredible, but you _could!_

She felt eighteen again. Cocky! She said, using the good, metallic,
Cockney bottoms of her lungs that she had used for shouting back at
interrupters at Suffrage meetings before...before this...she shouted
blatantly into the telephone:

'I say, whoever you are! I suppose they have _done_ it; did they
announce it in your parts by maroons or sirens?' She repeated it three
times, she did not care for Lady Blastus or Lady Blast Anybody else. She
was going to leave that old school and eat pomegranates in the shadow of
the rock where Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, did her washing. With
lashings of blue in the water! Was all your under-linen bluish in those
parts owing to the colour of the sea? She could! She could! She
_could_! Go with her mother and brother and all to where you could
eat...Oh new potatoes! In December, the sea being blue..._What songs
the Sirens sang and whether_...

She was not going to show respect for any Lady anything ever again. She
had had to hitherto, independent young woman of means though she were, so
as not to damage the School and Miss Wanostrocht with the Governoresses.
Now...She was never going to show respect for anyone ever again. She had
been through the mill: the whole world had been through the mill! No more
respect!

As she might have expected she got it in the neck immediately
afterwards--for over-cockiness!

The hissing, bitter voice from the telephone enunciated the one address
she did not want to hear:

'Lincolnss.s.s...sInn!'

Sin!...Like the Devil!

It hurt.

The cruel voice said:

'I'm s.s.peaking from there!'

Valentine said courageously:

'Well; it's a great day. I suppose you're bothered by the cheering like
me. I can't hear what you want. I don't care. Let 'em cheer!'

She felt like that. She should not have.

The voice said:

'You remember your Carlyle...'

It was exactly what she did not want to hear. With the receiver hard at
her ear she looked round at the great schoolroom--the Hall, made to let a
thousand girls sit silent while the Head made the speeches that were the
note of the School. Repressive!...The place was like a nonconformist
chapel. High, bare walls with Gothic windows running up to a pitch-pine
varnished roof. Repression, the note of the place; the place, the very
place not to be in to-day...You _ought_ to be in the streets,
hitting policemen's helmets with bladders. This was Cockney London: that
was how Cockney London expressed itself. Hit policemen innocuously
because policemen were stiff, embarrassed at these tributes of affection,
swayed in rejoicing mobs over whose heads they looked remotely, like
poplar trees jostled by vulgarer vegetables!

But she was there, being reminded of the dyspepsia of Thomas Carlyle!

'_Oh!_' she exclaimed into the instrument, 'You're Edith Ethel!'
Edith Ethel Duchemin, now of course Lady Mac-master! But you weren't used
to thinking of her as Lady Somebody.

The last person in the world: the very last! Because long ago she had
made up her mind that it was all over between herself and Edith Ethel.
She certainly could not make any advance to the ennobled personage who
vindictively disapproved of all things made--with a black thought in a
black shade, as you might say. Of all things that were not being
immediately useful to Edith Ethel!

And, aesthetically draped and meagre, she had sets of quotations for
appropriate occasions. Rossetti for Love; Browning for optimism--not
frequent that: Walter Savage Landor to show acquaintance with more
esoteric prose. And the unfailing quotation from Carlyle for damping off
saturnalia: for New Year's Day, Te Deums, Victories, anniversaries,
celebrations...It was coming over the wire now, that quotation:

'...And then I remembered that it was the birthday of their Redeemer!'

How well Valentine knew it: how often with spiteful conceit had not Edith
Ethel intoned that. A passage from the diary of the Sage of Chelsea who
lived near the Barracks.

'To-day,' the quotation ran, 'I saw that the soldiers by the public house
at the corner were more than usually drunk. And then I remembered that it
was the birthday of their Redeemer!'

How superior of the Sage of Chelsea not to remember till then that that
had been Christmas Day! Edith Ethel, too, was trying to show how superior
she was. She wanted to prove that until she, Valentine Wannop, had
reminded her, Lady Macmaster, that that day had about it something of the
popular festival she, Lady Mac, had been unaware of the fact. Really
quite unaware, you know. She lived in her rapt seclusion along with Sir
Vincent--the critic, you know: their eyes fixed on the higher things,
they disregarded maroons and had really a quite remarkable collection, by
now, of first editions, official-titled friends and At Homes to their
credit.

Yet Valentine remembered that once she had sat at the feet of the darkly
mysterious Edith Ethel Ducheminwhere had _that_ all gone?--and had
sympathized with her marital martyrdoms, her impressive taste in
furniture, her large rooms and her spiritual adulteries. So she said
good-humouredly to the instrument:

'Aren't you just the same, Edith Ethel? And what can I do for you?'

The good-natured patronage in her tone astonished her, and she was
astonished, too, at the ease with which she spoke. Then she realized that
the noises had been going away: silence was falling: the cries receded.
They were going towards a cumulation at a distance. The girls' voices in
the playground no longer existed: the Head must have let them go.
Naturally, too, the local population wasn't going to go on letting off
crackers in side streets...She was alone: cloistered with the utterly
improbable!

Lady Macmaster had sought her out and here was she, Valentine Wannop,
patronizing Lady Macmaster! Why? What could Lady Macmaster want her to
do? She _couldn't_--but of course she jolly well could!--be thinking
of being unfaithful to Macmaster and be wanting her, Valentine Wannop, to
play the innocent, the virginal gooseberry or Disciple. Or alibi.
Whatever it was. Goose was the most appropriate word...Obviously
Macmaster was the sort of person to whom any Lady Macmaster would
want--would have--to be unfaithful. A little, dark-bearded, drooping
deprecatory fellow. A typical Critic! All Critics' wives were probably
unfaithful to them. They lacked the creative gift. What did you call it?
A word unfit for a young lady to use!

Her mind ran about in this unbridled, Cockney schoolgirl's vein. There
was no stopping it. It was in honour of the DAY! She was temporarily
inhibited from bashing policemen on the head, so she was mentally
disrespectful to constituted authority--to Sir Vincent Macmaster,
Principal Secretary to H.M. Department of Statistics, author of _Walter
Savage Landor, a Critical Monograph_, and of twenty-two other Critical
Monographs in the Eminent Bores' Series..._Such_ books! And she was
being disrespectful and patronizing to Lady Macmaster, Egeria to
innumerable Scottish Men of Letters! No more respect! Was that to be a
lasting effect of the cataclysm that had involved the world? The
_late_ cataclysm! Thank God, since ten minutes ago they could call
it the late cataclysm!

She was positively tittering in front of the telephone from which Lady
Macmaster's voice was now coming in earnest, cajoling tones--as if she
knew that Valentine was not paying very much attention, saying:

'Valentine! _Val_entine! _Valentine!_'

Valentine said negligently:

'I'm listening!'

She wasn't really. She was really reflecting on whether there had not
been more sense in the Mistresses' Conference that that morning,
solemnly, had taken place in the Head's private room. Undoubtedly what
the Mistresses with the Head at their head had feared was that if they,
Headmistresses, Mistresses, Masters, Pastors--by whom I was made
etcetera!--should cease to be respected because saturnalia broke out on
the sounding of a maroon the whole world would go to pieces! An awful
thought! The Girls no longer sitting silent in the nonconformist hall
while the Head addressed repressive speeches to them...

She had addressed a speech, containing the phrase 'the Credit of a Great
Public School', in that Hall only last afternoon in which, fair thin
woman, square-elbowed, with a little of sunlight really still in her
coiled fair hair, she had seriously requested the Girls not again to
repeat the manifestations of joy of the day before. The day before there
had been a false alarm and the School--horribly!--had sung:

'Hang Kaiser Bill from the hoar apple tree
And Glory Glory Glory till it's tea-time!'

The Head, making her speech, was certain that she had now before her a
chastened School, a School that anyhow felt foolish because the rumour of
the day before had turned out to be a canard. So she impressed on the
Girls the nature of the joy they ought to feel: a joy repressed that
should send them silent home. Blood was to cease to be shed: a fitting
cause for home-joy--as it were a home-lesson. But there was to be no
triumph. The very fact that you ceased hostilities precluded triumph...

Valentine, to her surprise, had found herself wondering when you
_might_ feel triumph...You couldn't whilst you were still
contending: you must not when you had won! Then when? The Head told the
girls that it was their province as the future mothers of England--nay,
of reunited Europe!--to--well, in fact, to go on with their home-lessons
and not run about the streets with effigies of the Great Defeated! She
put it that it was their function to shed further light of womanly
culture--that there, thank Heaven, they had never been allowed to
forget!--athwart a re-illumined Continent...As if you could light up now
there was no fear of submarines or raids!

And Valentine wondered why, for a mutinous moment, she had wanted
to feel triumph...had wanted _someone_ to feel triumph. Well,
he...they...had wanted it so much. Couldn't they have it just for a
moment--for the space of one Benkollerdy! Even if it were wrong? or
vulgar? Something human, someone had once said, is dearer than a
wilderness of decalogues!

But at the Mistresses' Conference that morning, Valentine had realized
that what was really frightening them was the other note. A quite
definite fear. If, at this parting of the ways, at this crack across the
table of History, the School--the World, the future mothers of
Europe--got out of hand, would they ever come back? The
Authorities--Authority all over the world--was afraid of that; more
afraid of that than of any other thing. Wasn't it a possibility that
there was to be no more Respect? None for constituted Authority and
consecrated Experience?

And, listening to the fears of those careworn, faded, ill-nourished
gentlewomen, Valentine Wannop had found herself speculating.

'No more respect...For the Equator! For the Metric system. For Sir Walter
Scott! Or George Washington! Or Abraham Lincoln! Or the Seventh
Commandment!!!!!!'

And she had a blushing vision of fair, shy, square-elbowed Miss
Wanostrocht--the Head!--succumbing to some specious-tongued
beguiler!...That was where the shoe really pinched! You had to keep
them--the Girls, the Populace, everybody!--in hand now, for once you let
go there was no knowing where They, like waters parted from the seas,
mightn't carry You. Goodness knew! You might arrive anywhere--at county
families taking to trade; gentlefolk selling for profit! All the
unthinkable sorts of things!

And with a little inward smirk of pleasure Valentine realized that that
Conference was deciding that the Girls were to be kept in the playground
that morning--at Physical Jerks. She hadn't ever put up with _much_
in the way of patronage from the rather untidy-haired bookish branch of
the establishment. Still, accomplished Classicist as she once had been,
she had had to acknowledge that the bookish branch of a School was what
you might call the Senior Service. She was there only to oblige--because
her distinguished father had insisted on paying minute attention to her
physique which was vital and admirable. She had been there, for some time
past only to oblige--War Work and all that--but still she had always kept
her place and had never hitherto raised her voice at a Mistresses'
Conference. So it was indeed the World Turned Upside Down--already!--when
Miss Wanostrocht hopefully from behind her desk decorated with two pale
pink carnations said:

'The idea is, Miss Wannop, that They should be kept--that you should keep
them, please--as nearly as possible--isn't it called?--at attention until
the--eh--noises...announce the...well, _you_ know. Then we suppose
they will have to give, say, three cheers. And then perhaps you could get
them--in an orderly way--back to their classrooms...'

Valentine felt that she was by no means certain that she _could_. It
was not really practicable to keep every one of six hundred aligned girls
under your eye. Still she was ready to have a shot. She was ready to
concede that it might not be altogether--oh, expedient!--to turn six
hundred girls stark mad with excitement into the streets already filled
with populations that would no doubt be also stark mad with excitement.
You had better keep them in if you could. She would have a shot. And she
was pleased. She felt fit: amazingly fit! Fit to do the quarter in...oh,
in any time! And to give a clump on the jaw to any large, troublesome
Jewish type of maiden--or Anglo-Teutonic--who should try to break ranks.
Which was more than the Head or any one of the other worried and underfed
ones could do. She was pleased that they recognized it. Still she was
also generous, and recognizing that the world ought not really to be
turned upside down at any rate until the maroons went, she said:

'Of course I will have a shot at it. But it would be a reinforcement, in
the way of keeping order, if the Head--you, Miss Wanostrocht--and one or
two others of the Mistresses would be strolling about. In relays of
course; not all of the staff all the morning...'

That had been two and a half hours or so ago: before the world changed,
the Conference having taken place at eight-thirty. Now here she was,
after having kept those girls pretty exhaustingly jumping about for most
of the intervening time--here she was treating with disrespect obviously
constituted Authority. For whom _ought_ you to respect if not the
wife of the Head of a Department, with a title, a country place and most
highly attended Thursday afternoons?

She was not really listening to the telephone because Edith Ethel was
telling her about the condition of Sir Vincent: so overworked, poor man,
over Statistics that a nervous breakdown was imminently to be expected.
Worried over money, too. Those dreadful taxes for this iniquitous
affair...

Valentine took leisure to wonder why--why in the world!--Miss
Wanostrocht, who must know at the least the burden of Edith Ethel's
story, had sent for her to hear this farrago? Miss Wanostrocht must know:
she had obviously been talked to by Edith Ethel for long enough to form a
judgment. Then the matter must be of importance. Urgent even, since the
keeping of discipline in the playground was of such utter importance to
Miss Wanostrocht: a crucial point in the history of the School and the
mothers of Europe.

But to whom then could Lady Macmaster's communication be of life and
death importance? To her, Valentine Wannop? It could not be: there were
no events of importance that could affect her life outside the
playground, her mother safe at home and her brother safe on a minesweeper
in Pembroke Dock...

Then...of importance to Lady Macmaster herself? But how? What could she
do for Lady Macmaster? Was she wanted to teach Sir Vincent to perform
physical exercises so that he might avoid his nervous breakdown and, in
excess of physical health, get the mortgage taken off his country place
which she gathered was proving an overwhelming burden on account of
iniquitous taxes the result of a war that ought never to have been waged?

It was absurd to think that she could be wanted for that! An absurd
business...There she was, bursting with health, strength, good-humour,
perfectly _full_ of beans--there she was, ready in the cause of
order to give Leah Heldenstamm, the large girl, no end of a clump on the
side of the jaw or, alternatively, for the sake of all the
beanfeastishnesses in the world to assist in the amiable discomfiture of
the police. There she was in a sort of nonconformist cloister. Nunlike!
Positively nunlike! At the parting of the ways of the universe!

She whistled slightly to herself.

'By Jove,' she exclaimed coolly, 'I hope it does not mean an omen that
I'm to be--oh, nunlike--for the rest of my career in the reconstructed
world!'

She began for a moment seriously to take stock of her position--of her
whole position in life. It had certainly been hitherto rather nunlike.
She was twenty-threeish: rising twenty-four. As fit as a fiddle; as clean
as a whistle. Five foot four in her gym shoes. And no one had ever wanted
to marry her. No doubt that was because she was so clean and fit. No one
even had ever tried to seduce her. That was _certainly_ because she
was so clean-run. She didn't obviously offer--What was it the fellow
called it?--promise of pneumatic bliss to the gentlemen with
sergeant-majors' horse-shoe moustaches and gurglish voices! She never
would. Then perhaps she would never marry. And never be seduced!

Nunlike! She would have to stand at an attitude of attention beside a
telephone all her life; in an empty schoolroom with the world shouting
from the playground. Or not even shouting from the playground any more.
Gone to Piccadilly!

...But, hang it all, she wanted some fun! Now!

For years now she had been--oh, yes, nunlike!--looking after the lungs
and limbs of the girls of the adenoidy, nonconformistish--really
undenominational or so little Established as made no difference!--Great
Public Girls' School. She had had to worry about impossible but not
repulsive little Cockney creatures' breathing when they had their arms
extended...You _mustn't_ breathe rhythmically with your movements.
No. No. _No!_..._Don't_ breathe out with the first movement and
in with the second! Breathe naturally! Look at me!...She breathed
perfectly!

Well, for years that! War-work for a b----y Pro-German. Or Pacifist. Yes,
that too she had been for years. She hadn't liked being it because it was
the attitude of the superior and she did not like being superior. Like
Edith Ethel!

But now! Wasn't it manifest? She could put her hand whole-heartedly into
the hand of any Tom, Dick, or Harry. And wish him luck! Whole-heartedly!
Luck for himself and for his enterprise. She came back: into the fold:
into the Nation even. She could open her mouth! She could let out the
good little Cockney yelps that were her birthright! She could be free,
independent!

Even her dear, blessed, muddle-headed, tremendously eminent mother by now
had a depressed looking Secretary. She, Valentine Wannop, didn't have to
sit up all night typing after all day enjoining perfection of breathing
in the playground...By Jove, they could go all, brother, mother in untidy
black and mauve, secretary in untidy black without mauve, and she,
Valentine, out of her imitation Girl Scout's uniform and in--oh, white
muslin or Harris tweeds--and with Cockney yawps discuss the cooking under
the stone-pines of Amalfi. By the Mediterranean...No one, then, would be
able to say that she had never seen the sea of Penelope, the Mother of
the Gracchi, Delia, Lesbia, Nausicaa, Sappho...

'_Saepe te in somnis vidi!_'

She said:

'Good..._God!_'

Not in the least with a Cockney intonation but like a good Tory English
gentleman confronted by an unspeakable proposition. Well: it was an
unspeakable proposition. For the voice from the telephone had been saying
to her inattention, rather crawlingly, after no end of details as to the
financial position of the house of Macmaster:

'So I thought, my dear Val, in remembrance of old times; that...If in
short I were the means of bringing you together again...For I believe you
have not been corresponding...You might in return...You can see for
yourself that at this moment the sum would be absolutely
_crushing_...



II


Ten minutes later she was putting to Miss Wanostrocht, firmly if without
ferocity, the question:

'Look here, Head, what did that woman say to you? I don't like her; I
don't approve of her and I didn't really listen to her. But I want to
hear!'

Miss Wanostrocht, who had been taking her thin, black cloth coat from its
peg behind the highly varnished pitch-pine door of her own private cell,
flushed, hung up her garment again and turned from the door. She stood,
thin, a little rigid, a little flushed, faded and a little as it were at
bay.

'You must remember,' she began, 'that I am a schoolmistress.' She
pressed, with a gesture she constantly had, the noticeably golden plait
of her dun-coloured hair with the palm of her thin left hand. None of the
gentlewomen of that school had had quite enough to eat--for years now.
'It's,' she continued, 'an instinct to accept any means of knowledge. I
like you so much, Valentine--if in private you'll let me call you that.
And it seemed to me that if you were in ..

'In what?' Valentine asked. 'Danger?...Trouble?'

'You understand,' Miss Wanostrocht replied, 'that...person seemed as
anxious to communicate to me facts about yourself as to give you--that
was her ostensible reason for ringing you up--news. About a...another
person. With whom you once had...relations. And who has reappeared.'

'Ah,' Valentine heard herself exclaim. 'He has reappeared, has he? I
gathered as much.' She was glad to be able to keep her under control to
that extent.

Perhaps she did not have to trouble. She could not say that she felt
changed from what she had been--just before ten minutes ago, by the
reappearance of a man she hoped she had put out of her mind. A man who
had 'insulted' her. In one way or the other he had insulted her!

But probably all her circumstances had changed. Before Edith Ethel had
uttered her impossible sentence in that instrument her complete prospects
had consisted of no more than the family picnic, under fig-trees, beside
an unusually blue sea--and the prospect had seemed as near--as near as
kiss your finger! Mother in black and purple; mother's secretary in black
without adornments. Brother? Oh, a romantic figure; slight, muscular, in
white flannels with a Leghorn hat and--well, why _not_ be romantic
over one's brother--with a broad scarlet sash. One foot on shore and
one...in a light skiff that gently bobbed in the lapping tide. Nice boy;
nice little brother. Lately employed nautically, so up to managing a
light skiff. They were going to-morrow...but why not that very afternoon
by the 4.20?

'They'd got the ships, they'd got the men,
They'd got the money too!'

Thank goodness they'd got the money!

The ships, Charing Cross to Vallombrosa, would no doubt run in a
fortnight. The men--the porters--would also be released. You can't travel
in any comfort with mother, mother's secretary and brother--with your
whole world and its baggage--without lots of porters...Talk about
rationed butter! What was that to trying to get on without porters?

Once having begun it her mind went on singing the old eighteen-fiftyish,
or seventyish, martial, British, anti-Russian patriotic song that one of
her little friends had unearthed lately--to prove the historic ferocity
of his countrymen:

'We've fought the Bear before,
And so we will again!
The Russians shall not have Constantino...'

She exclaimed suddenly: '_Oh!_'

She had been about to say: 'Oh, _Hell!_' but the sudden recollection
that the War had been over a quarter of an hour made her leave it at
'_Oh!_' You would have to drop war-time phraseology! You became
again a Young Lady. Peace, too, has its Defence of the Realm Acts.
Nevertheless, she has been thinking of the man who had once insulted her
as the Bear, whom she would have to fight again! But with warm generosity
she said:

'It's a shame to call him the Bear!' Nevertheless he was--the man who was
said to have 'reappeared'--with his problems and all, something
devouring...Overwhelming, with rolling grey shoulders that with their
intolerable problems pushed you and your own problems out of the road...

She had been thinking all that while still in the School Hall, before she
had gone to see the Head: immediately after Edith Ethel, Lady Macmaster
had uttered the _intolerable_ sentence.

She had gone on thinking there for a long time...Ten minutes!

She formulated for herself summarily the first item of a period of nasty
worries of a time she flattered herself she had nearly forgotten. Years
ago, Edith Ethel, out of a clear sky, had accused her of having had a
child by that man. But she hardly thought of him as a man. She thought of
him as a ponderous, grey, intellectual mass who now, presumably, was
mooning, obviously dotty, since he did not recognize the porter, behind
the closed shutters of an empty house in Lincoln's Inn...Nothing less, I
assure you! She had never been in that house, but she figured him, with
cracks of light coming between the shutters, looking back over his
shoulder at you in the doorway, grey, superursine...Ready to envelop you
in suffocating bothers!

She wondered how long it had been since the egregious Edith Ethel had
made that assertion...with, naturally, every appearance of indignation
for the sake of the man's Wife with whom, equally naturally, Edith Ethel
had 'sided'. (Now she was trying to 'bring you together again'...The
Wife, presumably, did not go to Edith Ethel's tea-parties often enough,
or was too brilliantly conspicuous when there. Probably the
latter!)...How many years ago? Two? Not so much! Eighteen months, then?
Surely more!...surely, surely more!...When you thought of Time in those
days your mind wavered impotently like eyes tired by reading too small
print...He went out surely in the autumn of...No, it had been the first
time he went that he went in the autumn. It was her brother's friend,
Ted, that went in '16. Or the other...Malachi. So many goings out and
returnings: and goings out and perhaps not returning. Or only in bits:
the nose gone...or both eyes. Or--or, Hell! oh, Hell! and she clenched
her fists, her nails into her palms--no mind!

You'd think it must be that from what Edith Ethel had said. He hadn't
recognized the porter: he was reported to have no furniture. Then...She
remembered...

She was then--ten minutes before she interviewed Miss Wanostrocht; ten
seconds after she had been blown out of the mouth of the
telephone--sitting on a varnished pitch-pine bench that had black
iron-clamped legs against the plaster wall, non-conformistically
distempered in torpedo grey; and she had thought all that in ten
seconds...But that had been _really_ how it had been!

The minute Edith Ethel had finished saying the words:

'The sum would be absolutely _crushing_...' Valentine had realized
that she had been talking about a debt owed by her miserable husband to
the one human being she, Valentine, could bear to think about. It had
naturally at the same moment flashed upon her that Edith Ethel had been
giving her his news. He was in new troubles: broken down, broken up,
broke to the wide...Anything in the world but broken in...But
broken...And alone...And calling for her!

She could not afford--she could not bear!--to recall even his name or to
so much as bring up before her mind, into which, nevertheless, they were
continually forcing themselves, his grey-blond face, his clumsy, square,
reliable feet; his humpish bulk; his calculatedly wooden expression; his
perfectly overwhelming, but authentic omniscience...His masculinity.
His...his Frightfulness!

Now, through Edith Ethel--you would have thought that even _he_
would have found someone more appropriate--he was calling to her again to
enter into the suffocating web of his imbroglios. Not even Edith Ethel
would have dared to speak to her again of him without his having taken
the first step...

It was unthinkable; it was intolerable; and it had been as if she had
been lifted off her feet and deposited on that bench against the wall by
the mere sound of the offer...What was the offer?

'I thought that you might, if I were the means of bringing you
together...' She might...what?

Intercede with that man, that grey mass, not to enforce the pecuniary
claim that it had against Sir Vincent Mac-master. No doubt she and...the
grey mass!...would then be allowed the Macmaster drawing-room to...to
discuss the ethics of the day in! Just like that!

She was still breathless; the telephone continued to quack. She wished it
would stop but she felt too weak to get up and hang the receiver on its
hook. She wished it would stop; it gave her the feeling that a strand of
Edith Ethel's hair, say, was penetrating nauseously to her torpedo grey
cloister. Something like that!

The grey mass never would enforce its pecuniary claim...Those people had
sponged mercilessly on him for years and years without ever knowing the
kind of object upon which they sponged. It made them the more pitiful.
For it was pitiful to clamour to be allowed to become a pimp in order to
evade debts that would never be reclaimed...

Now, in the empty rooms at Lincoln's Inn--for that was probably what it
came to!--that man was a grey ball of mist; a grey bear rolling
tenebrously about an empty room with closed shutters. A grey problem!
Calling to _her!_

A hell of a lot...Beg pardon, she meant a remarkably great deal!...to
have thought of in ten seconds! Eleven, by now, probably. Later she
realized that that was what thought was. In ten minutes after large
impassive arms had carried you away from a telephone and deposited you on
a clamped bench against a wall of the peculiar coldness of torpedo-grey
distempered plaster, the sort of thing rejoiced in by Great Public
(Girls') Schools...in those ten minutes you found you thought out more
than in two years. Or it was not as long ago as that.

Perhaps that was not astonishing. If you had not thought about, say,
washable distemper for two years and then thought about it for ten
minutes you could think a hell of a lot about it in those ten minutes.
Probably all there was to think. Still, of course, washable distemper was
not like the poor--always with you. At least it always was in those
cloisters, but not spiritually. On the other hand you always were with
yourself!

But perhaps you were not always with yourself spiritually; you went on
explaining how to breathe without thinking of how the life you were
leading was influencing your...What? Immortal soul? Aura?
Personality?...Something!

Well, for two years...Oh, _call_ it two years, for goodness' sake,
and get it over!...she must have been in ...well, call _that_ a
'state of suspended animation' and get that over too! A sort of what they
called inhibition. She had been inhibiting--_pro_hibiting--herself
from thinking about herself. Well, hadn't she been right? What had a
b----y Pro-German to think about in an embattled, engrossed, clamouring
nation: especially when she had not much liked her brother-Pro's! A
solitary state, only to be dissolved by...maroons! In suspension!

But...Be conscientious with yourself, my good girl! _When that
telephone blew you out of its mouth you knew really that for two years
you had been avoiding wondering whether you had not been insulted!_
Avoiding wondering that. And nothing else! No other qualified thing.

She had, of course, been, not in suspension, but in suspense. Because, if
he made a sign--I understand,' Edith Ethel had said, 'that you have not
been in correspondence'...or had it been 'in communication' that she had
said?...Well, they hadn't been either...

Anyhow, if that grey Problem, that ravelled ball of grey knitting
worsted, had made a sign she would have known that she had not been
insulted. Or was there any sense in that?

Was it really true that if a male and female of the same species were
alone in a room together' and the male didn't...then it was an insult?
That was an idea that did not exist in a girl's head without someone to
put it there, but once it had been put there it became a luminous
veracity! It had been put into her, Valentine Wannop's, head, naturally
by Edith Ethel, who equally naturally said that she did not believe it,
but that it was a tenet of...oh, the man's wife! Of the idle,
surpassing-the-Lily-and-Solomontoo, surprisingly svelte, tall, clean-run
creature who for ever on the shiny paper of illustrated journals advanced
towards you with improbable strides along the railings of the Row,
laughing, in company with the Honourable Somebody, second son of Lord
Someone-or-other...Edith Ethel was more refined. She had a title, whereas
the other hadn't, but she was pensive. She showed you that she had read
_Walter Savage Landor_, and had only very lately given up wearing
opaque amber beads, as affected by the later pre-Raphaelites. She was
practically never in the illustrated papers, but she held more refined
views. She held that there were some men who were not like that--and
those, all of them, were the men to whom Edith Ethel accorded the
_entrée_ to her Afternoons. She was their Egeria! A refining
influence!

The Husband of the Wife then? Once he had been allowed in Edith Ethel's
drawing room: now he wasn't!...Must have deteriorated!

She said to herself sharply, in her 'No nonsense, there' mood:

'Chuck it. You're in love with a married man who's a Society wife and
you're upset because the Titled Lady has put into your head the idea that
you might "come together again". After ten years!'

But immediately she protested:

'No. NO. No! It isn't that. It's all right the habit of putting things
incisively, but it's misleading to put things too crudely.'

What was the coming together that was offered her? Nothing, on the face
of it, but being dragged again into that man's intolerable worries as
unfortunate machinists are dragged into wheels by belts--and all the
flesh torn off their bones! Upon her word that had been her first
thought. She was afraid, afraid, afraid! She suddenly appreciated the
advantages of nunlike seclusion. Besides she wanted to be bashing
policemen with bladders in celebration of Eleven Eleven!

That fellow--he had no furniture; he did not appear to recognize the hall
porter...Dotty. Dotty and too morally deteriorated to be admitted to
drawing-room of titled lady, the frequenters of which could be trusted
not to make love to you on insufficient provocation, if left alone with
you...

Her generous mind reacted painfully.

'Oh, that's not _fair!_' she said.

There were all sorts of sides to the unfairness. Before this War, and, of
course, before he had lent all his money to Vincent Macmaster that--that
grey grizzly had been perfectly fit for the country-parsonage
drawing-room of Edith Ethel Duchemin: he had been welcomed there with
effusion!...After the War and when his money was--presumably exhausted,
and his mind exhausted, for he had no furniture and did not know the
porter...After the War, then, and when his money was exhausted he was not
fit for the Salon of Lady Macmaster--the only Lady to have a Salon in
London.

It was what you called kicking down your ladder!

Obviously it had to be done. There were such a lot of these bothering War
heroes that if you let them all into your Salon it would cease to be a
Salon, particularly if you were under an obligation to them!...That was
already a pressing national problem: it was going to become an
overwhelming one now--in twenty minutes' time; after those maroons. The
impoverished War Heroes would all be coming back. Innumerable. You would
have to tell your parlourmaid that you weren't at home to...about seven
million!

But wait a minute...Where did they just stand?

He...But she could not go on calling him just He like a school-girl of
eighteen, thinking of her favourite actor ...in the purity of her young
thoughts. What was she to call him? She had never--even when they had
known each other--called him anything other than Mr So and So...She could
not bring herself to let her mental lips frame his name...She had never
used anything but his surname to this grey thing, familiar object of her
mother's study, seen frequently at tea-parties...Once she had been out
with it for a whole night in a dog-cart! Think of that!...And they had
spouted Tibullus one to another in moonlit mist. And she had certainly
wanted it to kiss her--in the moonlit mists, a practically, a really
completely strange bear!

It couldn't be done, of course, but she remembered still how she had
shivered...Ph...Ph...Ph...Shivering.

She shivered.

Afterwards they had been run into by the car of General Lord Edward
Campion, V.C., P.G., Heaven knows what! Godfather of the man's Society
Wife, then taking the waters in Germany...Or perhaps not _her_
Godfather. The man's rather; but her especial champion, in shining
armour. In these days they had worn broad red stripes down the outsides
of their trousers, Generals. What a change! _How_ significant of the
times!

That had been in 1912...Say the first of July; she could not remember
exactly. Summer weather, anyhow, before haymaking or just about. The
grass had been long in Hogg's Forty Acre, when they had walked through
it, discussing Woman's Suffrage. She had brushed the seed-tops of the
heavy grass with her hands as they walked...Say the 1/7/12.

Now it was Eleven Eleven...What? Oh, Eighteen, of course!

Six years ago! What changes in the world! What cataclysms! What
Revolutions!...She heard all the newspapers, all the halfpenny-paper
journalists in creation crying in chorus!

But hang it: it was true! If, six years ago, she had kissed the...the
greyish lacuna of her mind then sitting beside her on the dog-cart seat
it would have been the larkish freak of a school-girl: if she did it
to-day--as per invitation presumably of Lady Macmaster, bringing them
together, for, of course, it could not be performed from a distance or
without correspondence--No, communication!...If, then, she did it
to-day...to-day...to-day--the Eleven Eleven!--Oh, what a day to-day would
be...Not her sentiments those; quotations from Christina, sister of Lady
Macmaster's favourite poet...Or, perhaps, since she had had a title she
would have found poets more...more chic! The poet who was killed at
Gallipoli...Gerald Osborne, was it? Couldn't remember the name!

But for six years then she had been a member of that...triangle. You
couldn't call it a _ménage a trois_, even if you didn't know French.
They hadn't lived together!...They had d----d near died together when the
general's car hit their dog-cart! D----d near! (You _must_ not use
those Wartime idioms. _Do_ break yourself of it! Remember the
maroons!)

An oafish thing to do! To take a school-girl, just...oh, just past the
age of consent, out all night in a dog-cart and then get yourself run
into by the car of the V.C., P.G., champion-in-red-trouser-stripe of your
Legitimate! You'd think any man who _was_ a man would have avoided
that!

Most men knew enough to know that the Woman Pays...the school-girl too!

But they get it both ways...Look here: when Edith Ethel Duchemin, then,
just--or perhaps not quite, Lady Macmaster! At any rate, her husband was
dead and she had just married that miserable little...(Mustn't use that
word!) She, Valentine Wannop, had been the only witness of the
marriage--as of the previous, discreet, but so praiseworthy
adultery!...When, then, Edith Ethel had...It must have been on the very
day of the knighthood, because Edith Ethel made it an excuse not to ask
her to the resultant Party...Edith Ethel had accused her of having had a
baby by...oh, Mr So and So...And heaven was her, Valentine Wannop's,
witness that, although Mr So and So was her mother's constant adviser,
she, Valentine Wannop, was still in such a state of acquaintance with him
that she still called him by his surname...When Lady Macmaster, spitting
like the South American beast of burden called a llama, had accused her
of having had a baby by her mother's adviser--to her natural
astonishment, but, of course, it had been the result of the dog-cart and
the motor and the General, and the general's sister, Lady Pauline
Something--or perhaps it was Claudine? Yes, Lady Claudine!--who had been
in the car and the Society Wife, who was always striding along the
railings of the Row...When she had been so accused out of the blue, her
first thought--and, confound it, her enduring thought!--had not been
concern for her own reputation but for _his_...

That was the _quality_ of his entanglements, their very essence. He
got into appalling messes, unending and unravellable--no, she meant
ununravellable!--messes and other people suffered for him whilst he
mooned on--into more messes! The General charging the dog-cart was
symbolical of him. He was perfectly on his right side and all, but it was
like him to be in a dog-cart when flagitious automobiles carrying
Generals were running amuck! Then...the Woman Paid!...She really did, in
this case. It had been her mother's horse they had been driving and,
although they had got damages out of the General, the costs were twice
that...And her, Valentine's, reputation had suffered from being in a
dog-cart at dawn, alone with a man...It made no odds that he had--or was
it hadn't?--'insulted' her in any way all through that--oh, that
delicious delirious night...She had to be said to have a baby by him, and
then she had to be dreadfully worried about his poor old reputation...Of
course it would have been pretty rotten of him--she so young and
innocent, daughter of so preposterously eminent, if so impoverished a
man, his father's best friend and all. 'He hadn't oughter'er done it!' He
hadn't really oughter...She heard them all saying it, still!

Well, he hadn't!...But she?

That magic night. It was just before dawn, the mists nearly up to their
necks as they drove; the sky going pale in a sort of twilight. And one
immense star! She remembered only one immense star, though, historically,
there had been also a dilapidated sort of moon. But the star was her best
boy--what her wagon was hitched on to...And they had been
quoting--quarrelling over, she remembered:

_Flebis et arsuro me, Delia, lecto
Tristibus et..._

She exclaimed suddenly:

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me
And may there be no moaning at the bar
When I...'

She said:

'Oh, but you _oughtn't_ to, my dear! That's _Tennyson!_'
Tennyson, with a difference!

She said:

'All the same, that would have been an inexperienced school-girl's
prank...-But if I let him kiss me now I should be....' She would be a
what was it...a fornicatress?..._trix_! Fornicatrix is preferable!
Very preferable. Then why not adultrix? You couldn't: you had to be a
'cold-blooded adultress!' or morality was not avenged.

Oh; but surely not cold-blooded!...Deliberate, then!...That wasn't,
either, the word for the process. Of osculation!...Comic things, words,
as applied to states of feelings!

But if she went now to Lincoln's Inn and the Problem held out its
arms...That would be 'Deliberate'. It would be asking for it in the
fullest sense of the term.

She said to herself quickly:

'This way madness lies!' And then:

'What an imbecile thing to say!'

She had had an Affair with a man, she made her mind say to her, two years
ago. That was all right. There could not be a, say, a schoolmistress
rising twenty-four or twenty-five, in the world who hadn't had
_some_ affair, even if it were no more than a gentleman in a
tea-shop who every afternoon for a week had gazed at her disrespectfully
over a slice of plum-cake...And then disappeared...But you had to have
had at least a might-have-been or you couldn't go on being a
schoolmistress or a girl in a ministry or a dactylographer of
respectability. You packed _that_ away in the bottom of your mind
and on Sunday mornings before the perfectly insufficient Sunday dinner,
you took it out and built castles in Spain in which you were a
castanetted heroine turning on wonderful hips, but casting behind you
inflaming glances...Something like that!

Well, she had had an affair with this honest, simple creature! So good!
So unspeakably GOOD...Like the late Albert, prince consort! The very,
helpless, immobile sort of creature that she ought not to have tempted.
It had been like shooting tame pigeons! Because he had had a Society wife
always in the illustrated papers whilst he sat at home and evolved
Statistics or came to tea with her dear, tremendous, distracted mother,
whom he helped to get her articles accurate. So a woman tempted him and
he did...No; he didn't quite eat!

But why?...Because he was GOOD?

Very likely!

Or was it--that was the intolerable thought that she shut up within her
along with the material for castles in the air!--was it because he had
been really indifferent?

They had revolved round each other at tea-parties--or rather he had
revolved around her, because at Edith Ethel's affairs she always sat, a
fixed starlet, behind the tea-urn and dispensed cups. But he would moon
round the room, looking at the backs of books; occasionally laying down
the law to some guest; and always drifting in the end to her side where
he would say a trifle or two...And the beautiful--the quite
excruciatingly beautiful wife--striding along the Row with the second son
of the Earl of someone at her side...Asking for it...

So it had been from the 1/7/12, say to the 4/8/14!

After that, things had become more rubbled--mixed up with alarums.
Excursions on his part to unapproved places. And trouble. He was quite
damnably in trouble. With his Superiors; with, so unnecessarily, Hun
projectiles, wire, mud; over Money; politics; mooning on without a good
word from anyone...Unravellable muddles that never got unravelled but
that somehow got you caught up in them...

Because he needed her moral support! When, during the late Hostilities,
he hadn't been out there, he had drifted to the tea-table much earlier of
an afternoon and stayed beside it much longer: till after everyone else
had gone and they could go and sit on the tall fender side by side, and
argue...about the rights and wrongs of the War!

Because she was the only soul in the world with whom he could talk...They
had the same sort of good, bread-and-butter brains; without much of the
romantic...No doubt a touch...in him. Otherwise he would not have always
been in these muddles. He gave all he possessed to anyone who asked for
it. That was all right. But that those who sponged on him should also
involve him in intolerable messes...That was not proper. One ought to
defend oneself against that!

Because...if you do not defend yourself against that, look how you let in
your nearest and dearest--those who have to sympathise with you in your
confounded troubles whilst you moon on, giving away more and more and
getting into more troubles! In this case it was she who was his Nearest
and Dearest...Or had been!

At that her nerves suddenly got the better of her and her mind went
mad...Supposing that that fellow, from whom she had not heard for two
years, _hadn't_ now communicated with her...Like an ass she had
taken it for granted that he had _asked_ Lady...Blast her!...to
'bring them together again' But she imagined that even Edith Ethel would
not have had the cheek to ring her up if he hadn't asked her to!

But she had nothing to go on...Feeble, over-sexed ass that she was, she
had let her mind jump at once to the conclusion, the moment the mere
mention of him seemed implied--jump to the conclusion that he was asking
her again to come and be his mistress...Or nurse him through his present
muddle till he should be fit to...

Mind, she did not say that she would have succumbed. But if she had not
jumped at the idea that it was he, really, speaking through Edith Ethel,
she would never have permitted her mind to dwell on...on his blasted,
complacent perfections!

Because she had taken it for granted that if he had had her rung up he
would not have been monkeying with other girls during the two years he
hadn't written to her...Ah, but hadn't he?

Look here! _Was_ it reasonable? Here was a fellow who had all
but...all BUT...'taken advantage of her' one night just before going out
to France, say, two years ago...And not another word from him after
that!...It was all very well to say that he was portentous, looming,
luminous, loony: John Peel with his coat so grey, the English
Country Gentleman _pur sang_ and then some; saintly; Godlike,
Jesus-Christ-like...He was all that. But you don't seduce, as near as can
be, a young woman and then go off to Hell, leaving her, God knows, in
Hell, and not so much as send her, in two years, a picture-postcard with
MIZPAH on it. You don't. You don't!

Or if you do you have to have your character revised. You have to have it
taken for granted that you were only monkeying with her and that you've
been monkeying ever since with WAACS in Rouen or some other Base...

Of course, if you ring your young woman up when you come back...or have
her rung up by a titled lady...That might restore you in the eyes of the
world, or at least in the eyes of the young woman if she was a bit of a
softie...

But _had_ he? Had he? It was absurd to think that Edith Ethel hadn't
had the face to do it unasked! To save three thousand two hundred pounds,
not to mention interest--which was what Vincent owed _him_!--Edith
Ethel with the sweetest possible smile would beg the pillows off a whole
hospital ward full of dying...She was quite right. She had to save her
man. You go to any depths of ignominy to save your man.

But that did not help her, Valentine Wannop!

She sprang off the bench; she clenched her nails into her palms; she
stamped her thin-soled shoes into the coke-brize floor that was
singularly unresilient. She exclaimed:

'Damn it all, he didn't ask her to ring me up. He didn't ask her. He
didn't ask her to!' still stamping about.

She marched straight at the telephone that was by now uttering long,
tinny, night-jar's calls and, with one snap, pulled up the receiver right
off the twisted green-blue cord...Broke it! With incidental satisfaction!

Then she said:

'Steady the Buffs!' not out of repentence for having damaged School
Property, but because she was accustomed to call her thoughts The Buffs
because of their practical unromantic character as a rule...A fine
regiment, the Buffs!

Of course, if she had not broken the telephone she could have rung up
Edith Ethel and have asked her whether he had or hadn't asked to...to be
brought together again...It was like her, Valentine Wannop, to smash the
only means of resolving a torturing doubt...

It wasn't, really, in the least like her. _She_ was practical
enough: none of the 'under the ban of fatality' business about her. She
had smashed the telephone because it had been like smashing a connection
with Edith Ethel; or because she hated tinny night-jars; or because she
had smashed it. For nothing in the world; for nothing, nothing, nothing
in the world would she ever ring up Edith Ethel and ask her:

Did _he_ put you up to ringing me up?'

That would be to let Edith Ethel come between their intimacy.

A subconscious volition was directing her feet towards the great doors at
the end of the Hall, varnished, pitch-pine doors of Gothic architecture;
economically decorated as if with straps and tin-lids of
Brunswick-blacked cast iron.

She said:

'Of course if it's the wife who has removed his furniture that would be a
reason for his wanting to get into communication. They would have
split...But he does not hold with a man divorcing a woman, and she won't
divorce.'

As she went through the sticky postern--all that woodwork seemed sticky
on account of its varnish!--beside the great doors she said:

'Who cares!'

The great thing was...but she could not formulate what the great thing
was. You had to settle the preliminaries.



III


She said eventually to Miss Wanostrocht who had sat down at her table
behind two pink carnations:

'I didn't consciously want to bother you but a spirit in my feet has led
me who knows how...That's Shelley, isn't it?'

And indeed a quite unconscious but shrewd mind had pointed out to her
whilst still in the School Hall and even before she had broken the
telephone, that Miss Wanostrocht very probably would be able to tell her
what she wanted to know and that if she didn't hurry she might miss her,
since the Head would probably go now the girls were gone. So she had
hurried through gauntish corridors whose Decorated Gothic windows
positively had bits of pink glass here and there interspersed in their
lattices. Nevertheless a nearly deserted, darkish, locker-lined
dressing-room being a short cut, she had paused in it before the figure
of a clumsyish girl, freckled, in black and, on a stool, desultorily
lacing a dull black boot, an ankle on her knee. She felt an impulse to
say: 'Good-bye, Pettigul!' she didn't know why.

The clumsy, fifteenish, bumpy-faced girl was a symbol of that
place--healthyish, but not over healthy; honestish but with no craving
for intellectual honesty; big-boned in unexpected places...and uncomelily
blubbering so that her face appeared dirtyish...It was in fact all
'ishes' about that Institution. They were all healthyish, honestish,
clumsyish, twelve-to-eighteenish and big-boned in unexpected places
because of the late insufficient feeding...Emotionalish, too; apt to
blubber rather than to go into hysterics.

Instead of saying good-bye to the girl she said:

'Here!' and roughly, since she was exhibiting too much leg, pulled down
the girl's shortish skirt and set to work to lace the unyielding boot on
the unyielding shin-bone...After a period of youthful bloom, which would
certainly come and as certainly go, this girl would, normally, find
herself one of the Mothers of Europe, marriage being due to the period of
youthful bloom...Normally that is to say according to a normality that
that day might restore. Of course it mightn't!

A tepid drop of moisture fell on Valentine's right knuckle.

'My cousin Bob was killed the day before yesterday,' the girl's voice
said above her head. Valentine bent her head still lower over the boot
with the patience that, in educational establishments, you must, if you
want to be businesslike and shrewd, acquire and display in face of
unusual mental vagaries...This girl had never had a cousin Bob, or
anything else. Pettigul and her two sisters, Pettiguls Two and Three,
were all in that Institution at extremely reduced rates precisely because
they had not got, apart from their widowed mother, a discoverable
relative. The father, a half-pay major, had been killed early in the war.
All the mistresses had had to hand in reports on the moral qualities of
the Pettiguls, so all the mistresses had this information.

'He gave me his puppy to keep for him before he went out,' the girl said.
'It doesn't seem just!'

Valentine, straightening herself, said:

'I should wash my face if I were you, before I went out. Or you might get
yourself taken for a German!' She pulled the girl's clumsyish blouse
straight on her shoulders.

'Try,' she added, 'to imagine that you've got someone just come back!
It's just as easy and it will make you look more attractive!'

Scurrying along the corridors she said to herself: 'Heaven help me, does
it make _me_ look more attractive?'

She caught the Head, as she had anticipated, just on the point of going
to her home in Fulham, an unattractive suburb but near a bishop's palace
nevertheless. It seemed somehow appropriate. The lady was
episcopally-minded but experienced in the vicissitudes of suburban
children: very astonishing some of them unless you took them very much in
the lump.

The Head had stood behind her table for the first three questions and
answers, in an attitude of someone who is a little at bay, but she had
sat down just before Valentine had quoted Shelley at her, and she had now
the air of one who is ready to make a night of it. Valentine continued to
stand.

'This,' Miss Wanostrocht said very gently, 'is a day on which one
might...take steps...that might influence one's whole life.'

'That's,' Valentine answered, 'exactly why I've come to you. I want to
know what that woman said to you so as to know where I stand before I
take a step.'

The Head said:

'I had to let the girls go. I don't mind saying that you are very
valuable to me. The Governors--I had an express from Lord
Boulnois--ordered them to be given a holiday to-morrow. It's very
inconsistent. But that makes it all the...

She stopped. Valentine said to herself:

'By Jove, I don't know anything about men; but how little I know about
women. What's she getting at?' She added:

'She's nervous. She must be wanting to do something she thinks I won't
like!'

She said chivalrously:

'I don't believe anybody could have kept those girls in to-day. It's a
thing one has no experience of. There's never been a day like this
before.'

Out there in Piccadilly there would be seething mobs shoulder to
shoulder: she had never seen the Nelson column stand out of a solid mass.
They might roast oxen whole in the Strand: Whitechapel would be seething,
enamelled iron advertisements looking down on millions of bowler hats.
All sordid and immense London stretched out under her gaze. She felt
herself of London as the grouse feels itself of the heather, and there
she was in an emptied suburb looking at two pink carnations. Dyed
probably: offering of Lord Boulnois to Miss Wanostrocht! You never saw a
natural-grown carnation that shade!

She said:

'I'd be glad to know what that woman--Lady Macmaster--told you.'

Miss Wanostrocht looked down at her hands. She had the little-fingers
hooked together, the hands back to back; it was a demoded
gesture...Girton of 1897, Valentine thought. Indulged in by the
thoughtfully blonde...Fair girl graduates the sympathetic comic papers of
those days had called them. It pointed to a long sitting. Well, she,
Valentine, was not going to brusque the issue!...French-derived
expression that. But how would you put it otherwise?

Miss Wanostrocht said:

'I sat at the feet of your father!'

'You see!' Valentine said to herself. 'But she must then have gone to
Oxford, not Newnham!' She could not remember whether there had been
women's colleges at Oxford as early as 1895 or 1897. There must have
been.

'The greatest Teacher...The greatest influence in the world,' Miss
Wanostrocht said.

It was queer, Valentine thought: this woman had known all about her--at
any rate all about her distinguished descent all the time she, Valentine,
had been Physical Instructress at that Great Public School (Girls'). Yet
except for an invariable courtesy such as she imagined Generals might
show to non-commissioned officers, Miss Wanostrocht had hitherto taken no
more notice of her than she might have taken of a superior parlourmaid.
On the other hand she had let Valentine arrange her physical training
exactly as she liked: without any interference.

'We used to hear,' Miss Wanostrocht, said, 'how he spoke Latin with you
and your brother from the day of your births...He used to be regarded as
eccentric, but how _right_!...Miss Hall says that you are the most
remarkable Latinist she has ever so much as imagined.'

'It's not true,' Valentine said, 'I can't _think_ in Latin. You
cannot be a real Latinist unless you do that. He did of course.'

'It was the last thing you would think of him as doing,' the Head
answered with a pale gleam of youth. 'He was such a thorough man of the
world. So awake!'

'We ought to be a queer lot, my brother and I,' Valentine said. 'With
such a father...And mother of course!' Miss Wanostrocht said:

'Oh...your _mother_...

And immediately Valentine conjured up the little, adoring female clique
of Miss Wanostrocht's youth, all spying on her father and mother in their
walks under the Oxford Sunday trees, the father so jaunty and awake, the
mother so trailing, large, generous, unobservant. And all the little
clique saying: If only he had us to look after him...She said with a
little malice:

'You don't read my mother's novels, I suppose...It was she who did all my
father's writing for him. He couldn't write, he was too impatient!'

Miss Wanostrocht exclaimed:

'Oh, you _shouldn't_ say that!' with almost the pain of someone
defending her own personal reputation.

'I don't see why I shouldn't,' Valentine said. 'He was the first person
to say it about himself.'

'He shouldn't have said it either,' Miss Wanostrocht answered with a sort
of soft unction. 'He should have taken care more of his own reputation
for the sake of his Work!'

Valentine considered this thin, ecstatic spinster with ironic curiosity.

'Of course, if you've sat...if you're still sitting at father's feet as
much as all that,' she conceded, 'it gives you a certain right to be
careful about his reputation...All the same I wish you would tell me what
that person said on the phone!'

The bust of Miss Wanostrocht moved with a sudden eagerness towards the
edge of her table.

'It's precisely because of that,' she said, 'that I want to speak to you
first...That I want you to consider...Valentine said:

'Because of my father's reputation...Look here, did that person--Lady
Macmaster!--speak to you as if you were me? Our names are near enough to
make it possible.'

'You're,' Miss Wanostrocht said, 'as one might say, the fine fruit of the
product of his views on the education of women. And if you...It's been
such a satisfaction to me to observe in you such a...a sound, instructed
head on such a...oh, you know, sane body...And then...An earning
capacity. A commercial value. Your father, of course, never minced
words...' She added:

'I'm bound to say that my interview with Lady Mac-master...Who surely
isn't a lady of whom you could say that you disapprove. I've read her
husband's work. It surely--you'd say, wouldn't you?--conserves some of
the ancient fire.'

'He,' Valentine said, 'hasn't a word of Latin to his tail. He makes his
quotations out, if he uses them, by means of school-cribs...I know his
method of work, you know.'

It occurred to Valentine to think that if Edith Ethel really _had_
at first taken Miss Wanostrocht for herself there might pretty obviously
be some cause for Miss Wanostrocht's concern for her father's reputation
as an intimate trainer of young women. She figured Edith Ethel suddenly
bursting into a description of the circumstances of that man who was
without furniture and did not appear to recognize the porter. The
relations she might have described as having existed between her and him
might well worry the Head of a Great Public School for Middle Class
Girls. She had no doubt been described as having had a baby. A
disagreeable and outraged current invaded her feelings...

It was suddenly obscured by a recrudescence of the thought that had come
to her only incidentally in the hall. It rushed over her with
extraordinary vividness now, like a wave of warm liquid...If it
_had_ really been that fellow's wife who had removed his furniture
what was there to keep them apart? He couldn't have pawned or sold or
burnt his furniture whilst he had been with the British Expeditionary
Force in the Low Countries! He couldn't have without extraordinary
difficulty! Then...What _should_ keep them apart?...Middle Class
Morality? A pretty gory carnival that had been for the last four years!
Was this then Lent, pressing hard on the heels of Saturnalia? Not so hard
as that, surely! So that if one hurried...What on earth did she want,
unknown to herself?

She heard herself saying, almost with a sob, so that she was evidently in
a state of emotion:

'Look here: I disapprove of this whole thing: of what my father has
brought me to! Those people...the brilliant Victorians talked all the
time through their hats. They evolved a theory from anywhere and then
went brilliantly mad over it. Perfectly recklessly...Have you noticed
Pettigul One?...Hasn't it occurred to you that you _can't_ carry on
violent physical jerks and mental work side by side? I ought not to be in
this school and I ought not to be what I am!'

At Miss Wanostrocht's perturbed expression she said to herself:

'What on earth am I saying all this for? You'd think I was trying to cut
loose from this school! Am I?'

Nevertheless her voice was going on:

'There's too much oxygenation of the lungs, here. It's unnatural. It
affects the brain, deleteriously. Pettigul One is an example of it. She's
earnest with me and earnest with her books. Now she's gone dotty. Most of
them it only stupifies.'

It was incredible to her that the mere imagination that that fellow's
wife had left him should make her spout out like this--for all the world
like her father spouting out one of his ingenious theories!...It had
really occurred to her once or twice to think that you could not run a
dual physical and mental existence without some risk. The military
physical developments of the last four years had been responsible for a
real exaggeration of physical values. She was aware that in that
Institution, for the last four years, she had been regarded as
supplementing if not as actually replacing both the doctor and the
priest...But from that to evolving a complete theory that the Pettigul's
lie was the product of an over-oxygenated brain was going pretty far...

Still, she was prevented from taking part in national rejoicings; pretty
certainly Edith Ethel had been talking scandal about her to Miss
Wanostrocht. She had the right to take it out in some sort of exaggerated
declamation!

'It appears,' Miss Wanostrocht said, 'for we can't now go into the
question of the whole curriculum of the school, though I am inclined to
agree with you. What by the bye is the matter with Pettigul One? I
thought her rather a solid sort of girl. But it appears that the wife of
a friend...perhaps it's only a former friend of yours, is in a nursing
home.'

Valentine exclaimed:

'Oh, he...But that's too ghastly!'

'It appears,' Miss Wanostrocht said, 'to be rather a mess.' She added:
'That appears to be the only expression to use.'

For Valentine, that piece of news threw a blinding light upon herself.
She was overwhelmingly appalled because that woman was in a nursing home.
Because in that case it would not be sporting to go and see the husband!
Miss Wanostrocht went on:

'Lady Macmaster was anxious for your advice.--It appears that the only
other person that could look after the interests of...of your friend: his
brother...'

Valentine missed something out of that sentence. Miss Wanostrocht talked
too fluently. If people wanted you to appreciate items of
sledge-hammering news they should not use long sentences. They should
say:

'He's mad and penniless. His brother's dying: his wife's just been
operated on.' Like that! Then you could take it in; even if your mind was
rioting about like a cat in a barrel.

'The brother's...female companion,' Miss Wanostrocht was wandering on,
'though it appears that she would have been willing is therefore not
available...The theory is that he--he himself, your friend, has been
considerably unhinged by his experiences in the war. Then...Who in your
opinion should take the responsibility of looking after his interests?'

Valentine heard herself say:

'Me!'

She added:

'Him! Looking after him. I don't know that he has any...interests!'

He didn't appear to have any furniture, so how could he have the other
things? She wished Miss Wanostrocht would leave off using the word
'appear'. It was irritating...and infectious. Could the lady not make a
direct statement? But then, no one ever made clear statements, and this
no doubt appeared to that anaemic spinster a singularly tenebrous affair.

As for clear statements...If there had ever been any in precisely this
tenebrous mess she, Valentine, would know how she stood with that man's
wife. For it was part of the preposterous way in which she herself and
all her friends behaved that they never made clear statements--except for
Edith Ethel who had the nature of a female costermonger and could not
tell the truth, though she could be clear enough. But even Edith Ethel
had never hitherto said anything about the way the wife in this case
treated the husband. She had given Valentine very clearly to understand
that she 'sided' with the wife--but she had never gone as far as to say
that the wife was a good wife. If she--Valentine--could only know that.

Miss Wanostrocht was asking:

'When you say "Me", do you mean that you would propose to look after that
man yourself? I trust not.'

...Because, obviously, if she were a good wife, she, Valentine, couldn't
butt in...not generously. As her father's and still more her mother's
daughter...On the face of it you would say that a wife who was always
striding along the palings of the Row, or the paths of other resorts of
the fashionable could not be a good--a domestic--wife for a Statistician.
On the other hand he was a pretty smart man, Governing class, county
family and the rest of it--so he might like his wife to figure in
Society: he might even exact it. He was quite capable of that. Why, for
all she knew, the wife might be a retiring, shy person whom he thrust out
into the hard world. It was not likely: but it was as possible as
anything else.

Miss Wanostrocht was asking:

'Aren't there Institutions...Military Sanatoria...for cases precisely
like that of this Captain Tietjens? It appears to be the war that has
broken him down, not merely evil living.'

'It's precisely,' Valentine said, 'because of that that one should
want...shouldn't one...Because it's because of the War...'

The sentence would not finish itself.

Miss Wanostrocht said:

'I thought...It has been represented to me...that you were a Pacifist. Of
an extreme type!'

It had given Valentine a turn--like the breaking out of sweat in a case
of fever--to hear the name, coldly: 'Captain Tietjens,' for it was like a
release. She had been irrationally determined that hers should not be the
first tongue to utter that name.

And apparently from her tone Miss Wanostrocht was prepared to detest that
Captain Tietjens. Perhaps she detested him already.

She was beginning to say:

'If one is an extreme Pacifist because one cannot bear to think of the
sufferings of men, isn't that a precise reason why one should wish that a
poor devil, all broken up...'

But Miss Wanostrocht had begun one of her own long sentences. Their
voices went on together, like trains dragging along ballast--disagreeably,
Miss Wanstrocht's organ, however, won out with the words:

'...behaved very badly indeed.'

Valentine said hotly:

'You ought not to believe anything of the sort--on the strength of
anything said by a woman like Lady Mac-master.'

Miss Wanostrocht appeared to have been brought to a complete stop: she
leaned forward in her chair; her mouth was a little open. And Valentine
said: 'Thank Goodness!' to herself.

She had to have a moment to herself to digest what had the air of being
new evidence of the baseness of Edith Ethel; she felt herself to be
infuriated in regions of her own being that she hardly knew. That seemed
to her to be a littleness in herself. She had not thought that she had
been at little as that. It ought not to matter what people said of you.
She was perfectly accustomed to think of Edith Ehel as telling whole
crowds of people very bad things about her, Valentine Wannop. But there
was about this a recklessness that was hardly believable. To tell an
unknown person, encountered by chance on the telephone, derogatory facts
about a third party who might be expected to come to the telephone
herself in a minute or two--and, not only that--who must in all
probability hear what had been said very soon after, from the first
listener...That was surely a recklessness of evil-speaking that almost
outpassed sanity...Or else it betrayed a contempt for her, Valentine
Wannop, and what she could do in the way of reprisals that was extremely
hard to bear!

She said suddenly to Miss Wanostrocht:

'Look here! Are you speaking to me as a friend to my father's daughter or
as a Headmistress to a Physical Instructor?'

A certain amount of blood came into the lady's pinkish features. She had
certainly been ruffled when Valentine had permitted her voice to sound so
long alongside her own; for, although Valentine knew next to nothing
about the Head's likes or dislikes she had once or twice before seen her
evince marked distaste on being interrupted in one of her formal
sentences.

Miss Wanostrocht said with a certain coldness:

'I'm speaking at present...I'm allowing myself the liberty--as a much
older woman--in the capacity of a friend of your father. I have been, in
short, trying to recall to you all that you owe to yourself as being an
example of his training!'

Involuntarily Valentine's lips formed themselves for a low whistle of
incredulity. She said to herself:

'By Jove! I am in the middle of a nasty affair...This is a sort of
professional cross-examination.'

'I am in a way glad,' the lady was now continuing, 'that you take that
line...I mean of defending Mrs Tietjens with such heat against Lady
Macmaster. Lady Macmaster appears to dislike Mrs Tietjens, but I am bound
to say that she appears to be in the right of it. I mean of her dislike.
Lady Macmaster is a serious personality, and even on her public record
Mrs Tietjens appears to be very much the reverse. No doubt you wish to be
loyal to your...friends, but...'

'We appear,' Valentine said, 'to be getting into an extraordinary
muddle.'

She added:

'I haven't, as you seem to think, been defending Mrs Tietjens. I would
have. I would at any time. I have always thought of her as beautiful and
kind. But I heard you say the words: "_has been behaving very
badly_," and I thought you meant that Captain Tietjens had. I denied
it. If you meant that his wife has, I deny it, too. She's an admirable
wife...and mother...that sort of thing, for all I know...

She said to herself:

'Now why do I say that? What's Hecuba to me?' and then:

'It's to defend _his_ honour, of course...I'm trying to present
Captain Tietjens as English Country Gentleman complete with admirably
arranged establishment, stables, kennels, spouse, offspring...That's a
queer thing to want to do!'

Miss Wanostrocht who had breathed deeply said now:

'I'm extremely glad to hear that. Lady Macmaster certainly said that Mrs
Tietjens was--let us say--at least a neglectful wife...Vain, you know;
idle; overdressed...All that...And you appeared to defend Mrs Tietjens.'

'She's a smart woman in smart Society,' Valentine said, 'but it's with
her husband's concurrence. She has a right to be...

'We shouldn't,' Miss Wanostrocht said, 'be in the extraordinary muddle to
which you referred if you did not so continually interrupt me. I was
trying to say that, for you, an inexperienced girl, brought up in a
sheltered home, no pitfall could be more dangerous than a man with a wife
who neglected her duties!'

Valentine said:

'You will have to excuse my interrupting you. It is, you know, rather
more my funeral than yours.'

Miss Wanostrocht said quickly:

'You can't say that. You don't know how ardently...Valentine said:

'Yes, yes...Your _schwärm_ for my father's memory and all...But my
father couldn't bring it about that I should lead a sheltered life...I'm
about as experienced as any girl of the lower classes...No doubt it was
his doing, but don't make any mistakes.'

She added:

'Still, it's I that's the corpse. You're conducting the inquest. So it's
more fun for you.'

Miss Wanostrocht had grown slightly pale:

'If; if ...' she stammered slightly, 'by "experience" you mean...'

'I don't,' Valentine exclaimed, 'and you have no right to infer that I do
on the strength of a conversation you've had, but shouldn't have had,
with one of the worst tongues in London...I mean that my father left us
so that I had to earn my and my mother's living as a servant for some
months after his death. That was what his training came to. But I can
look after myself...In consequence...

Miss Wanostrocht had thrown herself back in her chair.

'But...' she exclaimed: she had grown completely pale--like discoloured
wax. 'There was a subscription...We...' She began again: 'We knew that he
hadn't...'

'You subscribed,' Valentine said, 'to purchase his library and presented
it to his wife...who had nothing to eat but what my wages as a tweeny
maid got for her.' But before the pallor of the other lady she tried to
add a touch of generosity: 'Of course the subscribers wanted, very
naturally, to preserve as much as they could of his personality. A man's
books are very much himself. That was all right.' She added: 'All the
same I had that training: in a suburban basement. So you cannot teach me
a great deal about the shady in life. I was in the family of a Middlesex
County Councillor. In Ealing.'

Miss Wanostrocht said faintly:

'This is very dreadful!'

'It isn't really!' Valentine said. 'I wasn't badly treated as tweeny
maids go. It would have been better if the Mistress hadn't been a
constant invalid and the cook constantly drunk...After that I did a
little office work. For the suffragettes. That was after old Mr Tietjens
came back from abroad and gave mother some work on a paper he owned. We
scrambled along then, somehow. Old Mr Tietjens was father's greatest
friend, so father's side, as you might say, turned up trumps--If you like
to think that to console you...

Miss Wanostrocht was bending her face down over her table, presumably to
hide a little of it from Valentine or to avoid the girl's eyes.

Valentine went on:

'One knows all about the conflict between a man's private duties and his
public achievements. But with a very little less of the flamboyant in his
life my father might have left us very much better off. It isn't what I
_want_--to be a cross between a sergeant in the army and an upper
housemaid. Any more than I wanted to be an under one.'

Miss Wanostrocht uttered an 'Oh!' of pain. She exclaimed rapidly:

'It was your moral rather than your mere athletic influence that made me
so glad to have you here...It was because I felt that you did not set
such a high value on the physical...'

'Well, you aren't going to have me here much longer,' Valentine said.
'Not an instant more than I can in decency help. I'm going to...

She said to herself:

'What on earth am I going to do?...What do I want?'

She wanted to lie in a hammock beside a blue, tideless sea and think
about Tibullus...There was no nonsense about her. She did not want to
engage in intellectual pursuits herself. She had not the training. But
she intended to enjoy the more luxurious forms of the intellectual
products of others...That appeared to be the moral of the day!

And, looking rather minutely at Miss Wanostrocht's inclined face, she
wondered if, in the history of the world, there had ever been such
another day. Had Miss Wanostrocht, for instance, ever known what it was
to have a man come back? Ah, but amid the tumult of a million other men
coming back! A collective impulse to slacken off! Immense! Softening!

Miss Wanostrocht had apparently loved her father. No doubt in company
with fifty damsels. Did they even get a collective kick out of that
affair? It was even possible that she had spoken as she had..._pour
cause_. Warning her, Valentine, against the deleterious effect of
being connected with a man whose wife was unsatisfactory...Because the
fifty damsels had all, in duty bound, thought that her mother was an
unsatisfactory wife for the brilliant, greyblack-haired Eminence with the
figure of a stripling that her father had been...They had probably
thought that, without the untidy figure of Mrs Wannop as a weight upon
him, he might have become...Well, with one of _them_!...Anything!
Any sort of figure in the councils of the nation. Why not Prime Minister?
For along with his pedagogic theories he had had political occupations.
He had certainly had the friendship of Disraeli. He supplied--it was
historic!--materials for eternally famous, meretricious speeches. He
would have been head-trainer of the Empire's pro-consuls if the other
fellow, at Balliol, had not got in first...As it was he had had to
specialize in the Education of Women. Building up Primrose Dames...

So Miss Wanostrocht warned her against the deleterious effect of
neglected wives upon young, attached virgins! It probably was
deleterious. Where would she, Valentine Wannop, have been by now if she
had thought that Sylvia Tietjens was really a bad one!

Miss Wanostrocht said, as if with sudden anxiety: 'You are going to do
what? You propose to do what?' Valentine said:

'Obviously after your conversation with Edith Ethel you won't be so glad
to have me here. My moral influence has not been brightened in aspect!' A
wave of passionate resentment swept over her.

'Look here,' she said, 'if you think that I am prepared to...

She stopped, however. 'No,' she said, 'I am not going to introduce the
housemaid note. But you will probably see that this is irritating.' She
added: 'I would have the case of Pettigul One looked into, if I were you.
It might become epidemic in a big school like this. And we've no means of
knowing where we stand nowadays!'




PART TWO



I


Months and months before Christopher Tietjens had stood extremely wishing
that his head were level with a particular splash of purposeless
whitewash. Something behind his mind forced him to the conviction that,
if his head--and of course the rest of his trunk and lower limbs--were
suspended by a process of levitation to that distance above the duckboard
on which, now, his feet were, he would be in an inviolable sphere. These
waves of conviction recurred continually: he was constantly glancing
aside and upwards at that splash: it was in the shape of the comb of a
healthy rooster; it gleamed, with five serrations, in the just beginning
light that shone along the thin, unroofed channel in the gravel slope.
Wet half-light, just filtering; more visible there than in the
surrounding desolation because the deep, narrow channel framed a section
of just-illuminated rift in the watery eastwards!

Twice he had stood up on a rifleman's step enforced by a bully-beef case
to look over--in the last few minutes. Each time, on stepping down again,
he had been struck by that phenomenon: the light seen from the trench
seemed if not brighter, then more definite. So, from the bottom of a
pit-shaft in broad day you can see the stars. The wind was light, but
from the North-West. They had there the weariness of a beaten army: the
weariness of having to begin always new days again...

He glanced aside and upwards: that cockscomb of phosphorescence...He felt
waves of some X force propelling his temples towards it. He wondered if
perhaps the night before he had not observed that that was a patch of
reinforced concrete, therefore more resistant. He might of course have
observed that and then forgotten it. He hadn't! It was therefore
irrational.

If you are lying down under fire--flat under pretty smart fire--and you
have only a paper bag in front of your head for cover you feel
immeasurably safer than you do without it. You have a mind at rest. This
must be the same thing.

It remained dark and quiet. It was forty-five minutes: it became
forty-four...forty-three...Forty-two minutes and thirty seconds before a
crucial moment and the slate grey cases of miniature metal pineapples had
not come from the bothering place...Who knew if there was anyone in
charge there?

Twice that night he had sent runners back. No results yet. That bothering
fellow might quite well have forgotten to leave a substitute. That was
not likely. A careful man. But a man with a mania might forget. Still it
was not likely!...

Thoughts menaced him as clouds threaten the heads of mountains, but for
the moment they kept away. It was quiet; the wet cool air was agreeable.
They had autumn mornings that felt like that in Yorkshire. The wheels of
his physique moved smoothly; he was more free in the chest than he had
been for months.

A single immense cannon at a tremendous distance said something.
Something sulky. Aroused in its sleep and protesting. But it was not a
signal to begin anything. Too heavy. Firing at something at a tremendous
distance. At Paris, may be: or the North Pole: or the moon! They were
capable of that, those fellows!

It would be a tremendous piece of frightfulness to hit the moon. Great
gain in prestige. And useless. There was no knowing what they would not
be up to, as long as it was stupid and useless. And, naturally
boring...And it was a mistake to be boring. One went on fighting to get
rid of those bores--as you would to get rid of a bore in a club.

It was more descriptive to call what had spoken a cannon than a
gun--though it was not done in the best local circles. It was all right
to call 75's or the implements of the horse artillery "guns"; they were
mobile and toy-like. But those immense things were cannons; the sullen
muzzles always elevated. Sullen, like cathedral dignitaries or butlers.
The thickness of barrel compared to the bore appeared enormous as they
pointed at the moon, or Paris, or Nova Scotia.

Well, that cannon had not announced anything except itself! It was not
the beginning of any barrage; our own fellows were not pooping off to
shut it up. It had just announced itself, saying protestingly,
'CAN...NON,' and its shell roaring away to an enormous height caught the
reflection of the unrisen sun on its base. A shining disc, like a halo in
flight...Pretty! A pretty motive for a decoration, tiny pretty planes up
on a blue sky amongst shiny, flying haloes! Dragon flies amongst
saints...No, 'with angels and archangels!'...Well, one had seen it!

Cannon...Yes, that was the right thing to call them. Like the up-ended,
rusted things that stuck up out of parades when one had been a child.

No, not the signal for a barrage! A good thing! One might as well say
'Thank Goodness', for the later they began the less long it lasted...Less
long it lasted was ugly alliteration. Sooner it was over better...No
doubt half-past eight or at half-past eight to the stroke those boring
fellows would let off their usual offering, probably plump, right on top
of that spot...As far as one could tell three salvoes of a dozen shells
each at half-minute intervals between the salvoes. Perhaps salvoes was
not the right word. Damn all artillery, anyhow!

Why did those fellows do it? Every morning at half-past eight; every
afternoon at half-past two. Presumably just to show that they were still
alive, and still boring. They were methodical. That was their secret. The
secret of their boredom. Trying to kill them was like trying to shut up
Liberals who would talk party politics in a non-political club had to be
done, though! Otherwise the world was no place for...Oh, post-prandial
naps!...Simple philosophy of the contest!...Forty minutes! And he glanced
aside and upwards at the phosphorescent cockscomb! Within his mind
something said that if he were only suspended up there...

He stepped once more on to the rifle-step and on to the bully-beef case.
He elevated his head cautiously: grey desolation sloped down and away.
FRRRrrr! A gentle purring sound!

He was automatically back, on the duckboard, his breakfast hurting his
chest. He said:

'By jove! I got the fright of my life!' A laugh was called for: he
managed it, his whole stomach shaking. And cold!

A head in a metal pudding-basin--a Suffolk type of blonde head, pushed
itself from a withdrawn curtain of sacking in the gravel wall beside him,
at his back. A voice said with concern:

'There ain't no beastly snipers, is there, sir? I did 'ope there would'n
be henny beastly snipers 'ere. It gives such a beastly lot of extra
trouble warning the men.'

Tietjens said it was a beastly skylark that almost walked into his mouth.
The Acting Seargeant-Major said with enthusiasm that them 'ere skylarks
could fair scare the guts out of you. He remembered a raid in the dark,
crawling on 'is 'ands 'n knees wen 'e put 'is 'and on a skylark on its
nest. Never left 'is nest till 'is 'and was on 'im! Then it went up and
fair scared the wind out of 'im. Cor! Never would 'e fergit that!

With an air of carefully pulling parcels out of a carrier's cart he
produced from the cavern behind the sacking two blinking assemblages of
tubular khaki-clad limbs. They wavered to erectness, pink cheeses of
faces yawning beside tall rifles and bayonets. The Sergeant said:

'Keep yer 'eds down as you go along. You never knows!'

Tietjens told the Lance-Corporal of that party of two that his confounded
gas-mask nozzle was broken. Hadn't he seen that for himself? The
dismembered object bobbed on the man's chest. He was to go and borrow
another from another man and see the other drew a new one at once.

Tietjens' eyes were drawn aside and upwards. His knees were still weak.
If he were levitated to the level of that thing he would not have to use
his legs for support.

The elderly Sergeant went on with enthusiasm about skylarks. Wonderful
the trust they showed in hus 'uman beens! Never left ther nesteses till
you trod on them tho hall 'ell was rockin' around them...An appropriate
skylark from above and before the parapet made its shrill and heartless
noise heard. No doubt the skylark that Tietjens had frightened--that had
frightened him.

Therd bin, the Sergeant went on still enthusiastically, pointing a hand
in the direction of the noise, skylarks singin' on the mornin' of every
straf 'e'd ever bin in! Won'erful trust in yumanity! Won'erful hinstinck
set in the fethered brest by the Halmighty! For oo was goin' to 'it a
skylark on a battlefield!

The solitary Man drooped beside his long, bayoneted rifle that was
muddied from stock to bayonet attachment. Tietjens said mildly that he
thought the Sergeant had got his natural history wrong. He must divide
the males from the females. The females sat on the nest through obstinate
attachment to their eggs; the males obstinately soared above the nests in
order to pour out abuse at 'other male skylarks in the vicinity.

He said to himself that he must get the doctor to give him a bromide. A
filthy state his nerves had got into unknown to himself. The agitation
communicated to him by that bird was still turning his stomach round...

'Gilbert White of Selborne,' he said to the Sergeant, 'called the
behaviour of the female STORGE: a good word for it.' But, as for trust in
humanity, the Sergeant might take it that larks never gave us a thought.
We were part of the landscape and if what destroyed their nests whilst
they sat on them was a bit of H.E. shell or the coulter of a plough it
was all one to them.

The Sergeant said to the re-joined Lance-Corporal whose box now hung
correctly on his muddied chest:

'Now it's HAY post you gotter wait at!' They were to go along the trench
and wait where another trench ran into it and there was a great A in
whitewash on a bit of corrugated iron that was half-buried. 'You can tell
a great HAY from a bull's foot as well as another, can't you, Corporal?'
patiently.

Wen they Mills bombs come 'e was to send 'is Man into Hay Cumpny dugout
fer a fatigue to bring 'em along 'ere, but Hay Cumpny could keep is
little lot fer 'isself.

An if they Mills Bomb didn' come the Corporal'd better manufacture them
on 'is own. An not make no mistakes!

The Lance-Corporal said 'Yes sargint, no sargint!' and the two went
desultorily wavering along the duckboards, grey silhouettes against the
wet bar of light, equilibrating themselves with hands on the walls of the
trench.

'Ju 'eer what the orfcer said, Corporal,' the one said to the other.
Wottever'll 'e say next! Skylarks not trust 'uman beens in battles! Cor!'
The other grunted and, mournfully, the voices died out.

The cockscomb-shaped splash became of overwhelming interest momentarily
to Tietjens; at the same time his mind began upon abstruse calculation of
chances! Of his chances! A bad sign when the mind takes to doing that.
Chances of direct hits by shells, by rifle bullets, by grenades, by
fragments of shells or grenades. By any fragment of metal impinging on
soft flesh. He was aware that he was going to be hit in the soft spot
behind the collar-bone. He was conscious of that spot--the right-hand
one; he felt none of the rest of his body. It is bad when the mind takes
charge like that. A bromide was needed. The doctor must give him one. His
mind felt pleasure at the thought of the M.O. A pleasant little fellow of
the no account order that knows his job. And carried liquor cheerfully.
Confoundedly cheerfully!

He saw the doctor--plainly! It was one of the plainest things he could
see of this whole show--the doctor, a slight figure, vault on to the
parapet, like a vaulting horse for height; stand up in the early morning
sun...Blind to the world, but humming _Father O'Flynn_. And stroll
in the sunlight, a swagger cane of all things in the world, under his
arms, right straight over to the German trench...Then throw his cap down
into that trench. And walk back! Delicately avoiding the strands in the
cut apron of wire that he had to walk through!

The doctor said he had seen a Hun--probably an officer's batman--cleaning
a top-boot with an apron over his knees. The Hun had shied a boot brush
at him and he had shied his cap at the Hun. The blinking Hun, he called
him! No doubt the fellow had blinked!

No doubt you could do the unthinkable with impunity!

No manner of doubt: if you were blind drunk and all!...And however you
strained, in an army you fell into routine. Of a quiet morning you do not
expect drunken doctors strolling along your parapet. Besides, the German
front lines were very thinly held. Amazingly! There might not have been a
Hun with a gun within half a mile of that boot-black!

If he, Tietjens, stood in space, his head level with that cockscomb, he
would be in an inviolable vacuum--as far as projectiles were concerned!

He was asking desultorily of the Sergeant whether he often shocked the
men by what he said and the Sergeant was answering with blushes: Well,
you do say things, sir! Not believing in skylarks now! If there was one
thing the men believed hit was in the hinstincks of them little
creatures!

'So that,' Tietjens said, 'they look at me as a sort of an atheist.'

He forced himself to look over the parapet again, climbing heavily to his
place of observation. It was sheer impatience and purely culpable
technically. But he was in command of the regiment, of an establishment
of a thousand and eighteen men, or that used to be the Establishment of a
battalion; of a strength of three hundred and thirty-three. Say
seventy-five per company. And two companies in command of second
lieutenants, one just out...The last four days...There ought to be, say,
eighty pairs of eyes surveying what he was going to survey. If there were
fifteen it was as much as there were!...Figures were clean and comforting
things. The chance against being struck by a shell-fragment that day, if
the Germans came in any force, was fourteen to one against. There were
battalions worse off than they. The sixth had only one one six left!

The tortured ground sloped down into mists. Say a quarter of a mile away.
The German front lines were just shadows, like the corrugations of
photographs of the moon: the paradoses of our own trenches two nights
ago! The Germans did not seem to have troubled to chuck up much in the
way of parapets. They didn't. They were coming on. Anyhow they held their
front lines very sparsely...Was that the phrase? Was it even English?

Above the shadows the mist behaved tortuously: mounting up into umbrella
shapes. Like snow-covered umbrella pines.

Disagreeable to force the eye to examine that mist. His stomach turned
over...That was the sacks. A flat, slightly disordered pile of wet sacks,
half-right at two hundred yards. No doubt a shell had hit a G.S. wagon
coming up with sacks for trenching. Or the bearers had bolted, chucking
the sacks down. His eyes had fallen on that scattered pile four times
already that morning. Each time his stomach had turned over. The
resemblance to prostrate men was appalling. The enemy creeping
up...Christ! Within two hundred yards. So his stomach said. Each time, in
spite of the preparation.

Otherwise the ground had been so smashed up that it was flat: went down
into holes but did not rise up into mounds. That made it look gentle. It
sloped down. To the untidiness. They appeared mostly to lie on their
faces. Why? Presumably they were mostly Germans pushed back in the last
counter-attack. Anyhow you saw mostly the seats of their trousers. When
you did not, how profound was their repose! You must phrase it a little
like that--rhetorically. There was no other way to get the effect of that
profoundness. Call it profundity!

It was different from sleep. Flatter. No doubt when the appalled soul
left the weary body, the panting lungs...Well, you can't go on with a
sentence like that...But you collapsed inwards. Like the dying pig they
sold on trays in the street. Painter fellows doing battlefields never got
that _intimate_ effect. Intimate to them there. Unknown to the
corridors in Whitehall...Probably because they--the painters--drew from
living models or had ideas as to the human form...But these were not
limbs, muscles, torsi...Collections of tubular shapes in field-grey or
mud-colour they were. Chucked about by Almighty God! As if He dropped
them from on high to make them flatten into the earth...Good gravel soil,
that slope and relatively dry. No dew to speak of. The night had been
covered...

Dawn on the battlefield...Damn it all, why sneer? It _was_ dawn on
the battlefield...The trouble was that _this_ battle was not over.
By no means over. There would be a hundred and eleven years, nine months
and twenty-seven days of it still...No, you could not get the effect of
that endless monotony of effort by numbers. Nor yet by saying 'Endless
monotony of effort'...It was like bending down to look into darkness of
corridors under dark curtains. Under clouds...Mist...

At that, with dreadful reluctance his eyes went back to the spectral
mists over the photographic shadows. He forced himself to put his glasses
on the mists. They mopped and mowed, fantastically; grey, with black
shadows; drooping like the dishevelled veils of murdered bodies. They
were engaged in fantastic and horrifying layings out of corpses of vast
dimensions; in silence but in accord they performed unthinkable tasks.
They were the Germans. This was fear. This was the intimate fear of black
quiet nights, in dugouts where you heard the obscene suggestions of the
miners' picks below you; tranquil, engrossed. Infinitely
threatening...But not FEAR.

It was in effect the desire for privacy. What he dreaded at those normal
times when fear visited him at lunch; whilst seeing that the men got
their baths or when writing, in a trench, in support, a letter to his
bank-manager, was finding himself unhurt, surrounded by figures like the
brothers of the Misericordia, going unconcerned about their tasks,
noticing him hardly at all...Whole hillsides, whole stretches of
territory, alive with myriads of whitish-grey, long cagoules, with slits
for eyeholes. Occasionally one would look at him through the eye-slits in
the hoods...The prisoner!

He would be the prisoner: liable to physical contacts--to being handled
and being questioned. An invasion of his privacy!

As a matter of fact that wasn't so far out; not so dotty as it sounded.
If the Huns got him--as they precious near had the night before last
I--they would be--they had then been--in gas-masks of various patterns.
They must be short of these things: but they looked, certainly, like
goblin pigs with sore eyes, the hood with the askew, blind-looking
eyeholes and the mouthpiece or the other nose attachment going down into
a box, astonishingly like snouts!...Mopping and mowing--no doubt shouting
through the masks!

They had appeared with startling suddenness and as if with a supernatural
silence, beneath a din so overwhelming that you could not any longer
bother to notice it. They were there, as it were, under a glass dome of
silence that sheltered beneath that dark tumult, in the white
illumination of Verey lights that went on. They were there, those of them
that had already emerged from holes--astonishingly alert hooded figures
with the long rifles that always looked rather amateurish--though, Hell,
they weren't. The hoods and the white light gave them the aspects of
Canadian trappers in snow; made them no doubt look still more husky
fellows as against our poor rats of Derby men. The heads of goblin pigs
were emerging from shell-holes, from rifts in the torn earth, from old
trenches...This ground had been fought over again and again...Then the
counter-attack had come through his, Tietjens', own crowd. One disorderly
mob, as you might think, going through a disordered crowd that was damn
glad to let them get through, realizing slowly, in the midst of a general
not knowing what was going to happen, that the fellows were reliefs. They
shot past you clumsily in a darkness spangled with shafts of light coming
from God knows where and appeared going forward, whilst you at least had
the satisfaction that, by order, you were going back. In an atmosphere of
questioning. What was happening? What was going to happen?...What the
bloody hell...What...

Tidy-sized shells began to drop among them saying:
'Wee...ee...ry...Whack!' Some fellow showed Tietjens the way through an
immense apron of wire that was beginning to fly about. He, Tietjens, was
carrying a hell of a lot of paper folders and books. They ought to have
evacuated an hour ago; or the Huns ought not to have got out of their
holes for an hour...But the Colonel had been too...too exalted. Call it
too exalted. He was not going to evacuate for a pack of...Damn
orders!...The fellow, McKechnie, had at last had to beg Tietjens to give
the order...Not that the order mattered. The men could not have held ten
minutes longer. The ghostly Huns would have been in the trenches. But the
Company Commanders knew that there was a Divisional Order to retire, and
no doubt they had passed it on to their subalterns before getting killed.
Still, that Bn. H.Q. should have given the order made it better even if
there was no one to take it to the companies. It turned a practical
expulsion into an officially strategic retreat...And damn good divisional
staff work at that. They had been fitted into beautiful, clean, new
trenches, all ready for them--like chessmen fitting into their boxes.
Damn good for a beaten army that was being forced off the face of the
earth. Into the English Channel...What made them stick it? What the devil
made the men stick it? They were unbelievable.

There was a stroking on his leg. A gentle, timid, stroking! Well, he
_ought_ to get down: it was setting a bad example. The admirable
trenches were perfectly efficiently fitted up with spy-holes. For himself
he always disliked them. You thought of a rifle bullet coming smack
through them and guided by the telescope into your right eye. Or perhaps
you would not have a telescope. Anyhow you wouldn't know...

There were still the three wheels, a-tilt, attached to slanting axles: in
a haze of disintegrated wire, that, bedewed, made profuse patterns like
frost on a window. There was their own apron--a perfect village!--of wire
over which he looked. Fairly intact. The Germans had put up some of their
own in front of the lost trenches, a quarter of a mile off: over the
reposing untidinesses. In between there was a perfect maze: their own of
the night before last. How the deuce had it not been _all_ mashed to
pieces by the last Hun barrage? Yet there were three frosty
erections--like fairy sheds, half-way between the two lines. And,
suspended in them, as there would have to be, three bundles of rags and
what appeared to be a very large, squashed crow. How the devil had that
fellow managed to get smashed into that shape? It was improbable. There
was also--suspended, too, a tall melodramatic object, the head cast back
to the sky. One arm raised in the attitude of, say, a Walter Scot
Highland officer waving his men on. Waving a sword that wasn't
there...That was what wire did for you. Supported you in grotesque
attitudes, even in death! The beastly stuff! The men said that was
Lieutenant Constantine. It might well be. The night before last he,
Tietjens, had looked round at all the officers that were in H.Q. dug-out,
come for a last moment conference. He had speculated on which of them
would be killed. Ghostly! Well, they had all been killed: and more on to
that. But his premonition hadn't run to thinking that Constantine would
get caught up in the wire. But perhaps it was not Constantine. Probably
they would never know. The Huns would be where he stood by lunchtime. If
the attack of which Brigade H.Q. had warned them came off. But it
mightn't...

As a final salute to the on the whole not thrilling landscape, he wetted
his forefinger by inserting it in his mouth and held it in the air. It
was comfortingly chilly on the exterior, towards his back. Light airs
were going right in the other fellows' faces. It might only be the dawn
wind. But if it stiffened a very little or even held, those blessed
Wurtembergers would never that day get out of their trenches. They
couldn't come without gas. They were probably pretty well weakened,
too...You were not traditionally supposed to think much of Wurtembergers.
Mild, dull creatures they were supposed to be. With funny hats. Good
Lord! Traditions were going by the board!

He dropped down into the trench. The rather reddish soil with flakes of
flint and little, pinkish nodules of pebbles was a friendly thing to face
closely.

That sergeant was saying:

'You hadn't ought to do it, sir. Give me the creeps.' He added rather
lachrymosely that they couldn't do without superior officers
_al_together. Odd creatures these Derby N.C.O.'s! They tried to get
the tone of the old, timeserving N.C.O. They couldn't; all the same you
couldn't say they weren't creditable achievements.

Yes, it was friendly, the trench face. And singularly unbellicose. When
you looked at it you hardly believed that it was part of this
affair...Friendly! You felt at peace looking at its flints and pebbles.
Like being in the butts up above Groby on the moor, waiting for the
grouse to come over. The soil was not of course like those butts which
were built of turfs...

He asked, not so much for information, as to get the note of this fellow:

Why? What difference did it make whether there were senior officers or
not? Anyone above eighteen would do, wouldn't they? They would keep on
going on. It was a young man's war!

'It hasn't got that comfortable feeling, sir!' the Sergeant expressed it.
The young officers were very well for keeping you going through wire and
barrages. But when you looked at them you didn't feel they knew so well
what you were doing it for, if he might put it that way.

Tietjens said:

'Why? What are you doing it for?'

It wanted thirty-two minutes to the crucial moment. He said:

'Where are those bloody bombs?'

A trench cut in gravel wasn't, for all its friendly reddish-orange
coloration, the ideal trench. Particularly against rifle-fire. There were
rifts presumably alongside flakes of flint, that a rifle-bullet would get
along. Still, the chances against a hit by a rifle-bullet were eighty
thousand to one in a deep gravel trench like that. And he had had poor
Jimmy Johns killed beside him by a bullet like that. So that gave him,
say, 140,000 chances to one against. He wished his mind would not go on
and on figuring. It did it whilst you weren't looking. As a well-trained
dog will do when you tell it to stay in one part of a room and it prefers
another. It prefers to do figuring. Creeps from the rug by the door to
the hearth-rug, its eyes on your unconscious face...That was what your
mind was like. Like a dog!

The Sergeant said:

'They do say the first consignment of bombs was it n smashed. Hin a
gully; well behind the line.' Another was coming down.

'Then you'd better whistle,' Tietjens said. 'Whistle for all you're
worth.'

The Sergeant said:

Ter a wind, sir? Keep the 'Uns beck, sir?'

Looking up at the whitewash cockscomb Tietjens lectured the sergeant on
Gas. He always had said, and he said now, that the Germans had ruined
themselves with their gas...

He went on lecturing that Sergeant on gas...

He considered his mind: it was alarming him. All through the war he had
had one dread--that a wound, the physical shock of a wound, would cause
his mind to fail. He was going to be hit behind the collar-bone. He could
feel the spot; not itching but the blood pulsing a little warmer. Just as
you can become conscious of the end of your nose if you think about it!

The Sergeant said that 'e wished 'e could _feel_ the Germans 'ad
ruined themselves: they seemed to be drivin' us into the Channel.
Tietjens gave his reasons. They were driving us. But not fast enough. Not
fast enough. It was a race between our disappearance and their endurance.
They had been hung up yesterday by the wind: they were as like as not
going to be held up to-day...They were not going fast enough. They could
not keep it up.

The Sergeant said 'e wished, sir, you'd tell the men that. That was what
the men ought to be told: not the stuff that was hin Divisional Comic
Cuts and the 'ome pipers...

A key-bugle of singular sweetness--at least Tietjens supposed it to be a
key-bugle, for he knew the identities of practically no wind-instruments;
it was certainly not a cavalry bugle, for there were no cavalry and even
no Army Service Corps at all near--a bugle, then, of astounding sweetness
made some remarks to the cool, wet dawn. It induced an astonishingly
melting mood. He remarked:

'Do you mean to say, then, that your men, Sergeant, are really damned
heroes? I suppose they are!'

He said 'your men', instead of 'our' or even 'the' men, because he had
been till the day before yesterday merely the second-in-command--and was
likely to be to-morrow again merely the perfectly inactive
second-in-command of what was called a rag-time collection that was
astonishingly a clique and mutely combined to regard him as an outsider.
So he really regarded himself as rather a spectator; as if a railway
passenger had taken charge of a locomotive whilst the engine-driver had
gone to have a drink.

The Sergeant flushed with pleasure. 'Hit was,' he said, 'good to 'ave
prise from Regular officers.' Tietjens said that he was not a Regular.
The Sergeant stammered:

'_Hain't_ you, sir, a Ranker? The men all thinks you are a promoted
Ranker.'

No, Tietjens said, he was not a promoted Ranker. He added, after
consideration, that he was a militia-man. The men would have, by the will
of chance, to put up with his leadership for at least that day. They
might as well feel as good about it as they could--as settled in their
stomachs! It certainly made a difference that the men should feel assured
about their officers: what exact difference there was no knowing. This
crowd was not going to get any satisfaction out of being led by a
'gentleman'. They did not know what a gentleman was: a quite un-feudal
crowd. Mostly Derby men. Small drapers, rate-collectors' clerks,
gas-inspectors. There were even three music-hall performers, two scene
shifters and several milkmen.

It was another tradition that was gone. Still, they desired the
companionship of elder, heavier men who had certain knowledges. A
militiaman probably filled the bill! Well, he was that, officially!

He glanced aside and upwards at the whitewash cockscomb. He regarded it
carefully. And with amusement. He knew what it was that had made his mind
take the particular turn it had insisted on taking...The picks going in
the dark under the H.Q. dugout in the Casse-noisette section. The men
called it Crackerjack.

He had been all his life familiar with the idea of picks going in the
dark, underground. There is no North Country man who is not. All through
that country, if you awake at night you hear the sound, and always it
appears supernatural. You know it is the miners, at the pit-face,
hundreds and hundreds of feet down.

But just because it was familiar it was familiarly rather dreadful.
Haunting. And the silence had come at a bad moment. After a perfect hell
of noise; after so much of noise that he had been forced to ascend the
slippery clay stairs of the dug-out...And heaven knew if there was one
thing that on account of his heavy-breathing chest he loathed, it was
slippery clay...he had been forced to pant up those slippery stairs...His
chest had been much worse, then...two months ago!

Curiosity had forced him up. And no doubt FEAR. The large battle fear;
not the constant little, haunting misgivings. God knew! Curiosity or
fear. In terrific noise; noise like the rushing up of innumerable noises
determined not to be late, whilst the earth rocks or bumps or quakes or
protests, you cannot be very coherent about your thoughts. So it might
have been cool curiosity or it might have been sheer panic at the thought
of being buried alive in that dug-out, its mouth sealed up. Anyhow, he
had gone up from the dug-out where in his capacity of second-incommand,
detested as an interloper by his C.O., he had sat ignominiously in that
idleness of the second-in-command that it is in the power of the C.O. to
inflict. He was to sit there till the C.O. dropped dead: then, however
much the C.O. might detest him, to step into his shoes. Nothing the C.O.
could do could stop that. In the meantime, as long as the C.O. existed
the second-in-command must be idle; he would be given nothing to do. For
fear he got kudos!

Tietjens flattered himself that he cared nothing about kudos. He was
still Tietjens of Groby; no man could give him anything, no man could
take anything from him. He flattered himself that he in no way feared
death, pain, dishonour, the after-death, feared very little
disease--except for choking sensations!...But his Colonel got in on him.

He had no disagreeable feelings, thinking of the Colonel. A good boy, as
boys go: perfectly warranted in hating his second-in-command...There are
positions like that! But the fellow got in on him. He shut him up in that
reeling cellar. And, of course, you might lose control of your mind in a
reeling cellar where you cannot hear your thoughts. If you cannot hear
your thoughts how the hell are you going to tell what your thoughts are
doing?

You couldn't hear. There was an orderly with fever or shell-shock or
something--a rather favourite orderly of the orderly room--asleep on a
pile of rugs. Earlier in the night Orderly Room had asked permission to
dump the boy in there because he was making such a beastly row in his
sleep that they could not hear themselves speak and they had a lot of
paper work to do. They could not tell what had happened to the boy, whom
they liked. The acting Sergeant-Major thought he must have got at some
methylated spirits.

Immediately, that _strafe_ had begun. The boy had lain, his face to
the light of the lamp, on his pile of rugs--army blankets, that is to
say...A very blond boy's face, contorted in the strong light,
shrieking--positively shrieking obscenities at the flame. But with his
eyes shut. And two minutes after that _strafe_ had begun you could
see his lips move, that was all.

Well, he, Tietjens, had gone up. Curiosity or fear? In the trench you
could see nothing and noise rushed like black angels gone mad; solid
noise that swept you off your feet...Swept your brain off its feet.
Someone else took control of it. You became second-in-command of your own
soul. Waiting for its C.O. to be squashed flat by the direct hit of a
four point two before you got control again.

There was nothing to see; mad lights whirled over the black heavens. He
moved along the mud of the trench. It amazed him to find that it was
raining. In torrents. You imagined that the heavenly powers in decency
suspended their activities at such moments. But there was positively
lightning. They didn't! A Verey light or something extinguished
_that_: not very efficient lightning, really. Just at that moment he
fell on his nose at an angle of forty-five degrees against some squashed
earth where, as he remembered, the parapet had been revetted. The trench
had been squashed in. Level with the outside ground. A pair of boots
emerged from the pile of mud. How the deuce did the fellow get into that
position?

Broadside on to the hostilities in progress!...But naturally, he had been
running along the trench when that stuff buried him. Clean buried,
anyhow. The obliging Verey light showed to Tietjens, just level with his
left hand, a number of small smoking fragments. The white smoke ran level
with the ground in a stiff breeze. Other little patches of smoke added
themselves quickly. The Verey light went out. Things were coming over.
Something hit his foot; the heel of his boot. Not unpleasantly, a
smarting feeling as if his sole had been slapped.

It suggested itself to him, under all the noise, that there being no
parapet there...He got back into the trench towards the dug-out, skating
in the sticky mud. The duck-boards were completely sunk in it. In the
whole affair it was the slippery mud he hated most. Again a Verey light
obliged, but the trench being deep there was nothing to see except the
backside of a man. Tietjens said:

'If he's wounded...Even if he's dead one ought to pull him down...And get
the Victoria Cross!'

The figure slid down into the trench. Speedily, with drill-movements,
engrossed, it crammed two clips of cartridges into a rifle correctly held
at the loading angle. In a rift of the noise, like a crack in the wall of
a house, it remarked:

'Can't reload lying up there, sir. Mud gets into your magazine.' He
became again merely the sitting portion of a man, presenting to view the
only part of him that was not caked with mud. The Verey light faded.
Another reinforced the blinking effect. From just overhead.

Round the next traverse after the mouth of their dug-out a rapt face of a
tiny subaltern, gazing upwards at a Verey illumination, with an elbow on
an equality of the trench and the forearm pointing upwards suggested--the
rapt face suggested The Soul's Awakening!...In another rift in the sound
the voice of the tiny subaltern stated that he had to economise the Verey
cartridges. The battalion was very short. At the same time it was
difficult to time them so as to keep the lights going...This seemed
fantastic! The Huns were just coming over.

With the finger of his upward pointing hand the tiny subaltern pulled the
trigger of his upward-pointing pistol. A second later more brilliant
illumination descended from above. The subaltern pointed the clumsy
pistol to the ground in the considerable physical effort--for such a tiny
person!--to reload the large implement. A very gallant child--name of
Aranjuez. Maltese, or Portuguese, or Levantine--in origin.

The pointing of the pistol downwards revealed that he had practically
coiled around his little feet, a collection of tubular, dead, khaki
limbs. It didn't need any rift in the sound to make you understand that
his loader had been killed on him...By signs and removing his pistol from
his grasp Tietjens made the subaltern--he was only two days out from
England--understand that he had better go and get a drink and some
bearers for the man who might not be dead.

He was, however. When they removed him a little to make room for
Tietjens' immensely larger boots his arms just flopped in the mud, the
tin hat that covered the face, to the sky. Like a lay figure, but a
little less stiff. Not yet cold.

Tietjens became like a solitary statue of the Bard of Avon, the shelf for
his elbow being rather low. Noise increased. The orchestra was bringing
in _all_ the brass, _all_ the strings, _all_ the wood-wind,
all the percussion instruments. The performers threw about biscuit
tins filled with horseshoes; they emptied sacks of coal on
cracked gongs, they threw down forty-storey iron houses. It was comic to
the extent that an operatic orchestra's crescendo is comic.
Crescendo!...Crescendo! CRRRRRESC...The Hero _must_ be coming! He
didn't!

Still like Shakespeare contemplating the creation of, say, Cordelia,
Tietjens leaned against his shelf. From time to time he pulled the
trigger of the horse-pistol; from time to time he rested the butt on his
ledge and rammed a charge home. When one jammed he took another. He found
himself keeping up a fairly steady illumination.

The Hero arrived. Naturally, he was a Hun. He came over, all legs and
arms going, like a catamount; struck the face of the parados, fell into
the trench on the dead body, with his hands to his eyes, sprang up again
and danced. With heavy deliberation Tietjens drew his great trench-knife
rather than his revolver. Why? The butcher-instinct? Or trying to think
himself with the Exmoor stag-hounds? The man's shoulders had come down
heavily on him as he had rebounded from the parados-face. He felt
outraged. Watching that performing Hun he held the knife pointed and
tried to think of the German of _Hands Up_. He imagined it to be
_Hoch die Hände_!! He looked for a nice spot in the Hun's side.

His excursion into a foreign tongue proved supererogatory. The German
threw his arms abroad, his--considerably mashed!--face to the sky.

Always dramatic, Cousin Fritz! Too dramatic, really.

He fell, crumpling, into his untidy boots. Nasty boots, all crumpled too,
up the calves! But he didn't say _Hoch der Kaiser_, or _Deutschland
über alles_, or anything valedictory.

Tietjens fired another light upwards and filled in another charge, then
down on his hams in the mud he squatted over the German's head, the
fingers of both hands under the head. He could feel the great groans
thrill his fingers. He let go and felt tentatively for his brandy flask.

But there was a muddy group round the traverse end. The noise reduced
itself to half. It was bearers for the corpse. And the absurdly wee
Aranjuez and a new loader...In those days they had not been so short of
men! Shouts were coming along the trench. No doubt other Huns were in.

Noise reduced itself to a third. A bumpy diminuendo. Bumpy! Sacks of coal
continued to fall down the stairs with a regular cadence; more
irregularly, Bloody Mary, who was just behind the trench, or seemed like
it, shook the whole house as you might say and there were other naval
howitzers or something, somewhere.

Tietjens said to the bearers:

'Take the Hun first. He's alive. Our man's dead.' He was quite remarkably
dead. He hadn't, Tietjens had observed, when he bent over the German,
really got what you might call a head, though there was something in its
place. What had done that?

Aranjuez, taking his place beside the trench-face, said:

'Damn cool you were, sir. Damn cool. I never saw a knife drawn so slow!'
They had watched the Hun do the _danse du ventre_! The poor beggar
had had rifles and the young feller's revolver turned on him all the
time. They would probably have shot him some more but for the fear of
hitting Tietjens. Half-a-dozen Germans had jumped into that sector of
trenches in various places. As mad as march hares!...That fellow had been
shot through both eyes, a fact that seemed to fill the little Aranjuez
with singular horror. He said he would go mad if he thought he would be
blinded, because there was a girl in the teashop at Bailleul, and a
fellow called Spofforth of the Wiltshires would get her if his,
Aranjuez's, beauty was spoiled. He positively whimpered at the thought,
and then gave the information that this was considered to be a false
alarm: he meant a feigned attack to draw off troops from somewhere else
where the real attempt was being made. There must be pretty good hell
going on somewhere else, then.

It looked like that. For almost immediately all the guns had fallen
silent except for one or two that bumped and grumped...It had all been
just for fun, then!

Well, they were damn near Bailleul now. They would be driven past it in a
day or two. On the way to the Channel. Aranjuez would have to hurry to
see his girl. The little devil! He had overdrawn his confounded little
account over his girl, and Tietjens had had to guarantee his
overdraft--which he could not afford to do. Now the little wretch would
probably overdraw still more--and Tietjens would have to guarantee still
more of an overdraft.

But that night, when Tietjens had gone down into the black silence of his
own particular branch of a cellar--they really had been in wine-cellars
at that date, cellars stretching for hundreds of yards under chalk with
strata of clay which made the mud so particularly sticky and
offensive--he had found the sound of the pickaxes beneath his fleabag
almost unbearable. They were probably our own men. Obviously they were
our own men. But it had not made much difference, for, of course, if they
were there they would be an attraction, and the Germans might just as
well be below them, countermining.

His nerves had been put in a bad way by that rotten _strafe_ that
had been just for fun. He knew his nerves were in a bad way because he
had a ghostly visit from 09 Morgan, a fellow whose head had been smashed,
as it were, on his, Tietjens', own hands, just after Tietjens had refused
him home leave to go and get killed by a prize-fighter who had taken up
with his, 09 Morgan's, wife. It was complicated but Tietjens wished that
fellows who wished to fall on him when they were stopping things would
choose to stop things with something else than their heads. That wretched
Hun dropping on his shoulder, when, by the laws of war, he ought to have
been running back to his own lines, had given him, Tietjens, a jar that
still shook his whole body. And, of course, a shock. The fellow had
looked something positively Apocalyptic, his whitey-grey arms and legs
spread abroad...And it had been an imbecile affair, with no basis of real
fighting...

That thin surge of whitey-grey objects of whom not more than a dozen had
reached the line--Tietjens knew that, because, with a melodramatically
drawn revolver and the fellows who would have been really better employed
carrying away the unfortunate Hun who had had in consequence to wait half
an hour before being attended to--with those fellows loaded up with Mills
bombs like people carrying pears, he had dodged, revolver first, round
half-a-dozen traverses, and in quite enough of remains of gas to make his
lungs unpleasant...Like a child playing a game of 'I spy!' Just like
that...But only to come on several lots of Tommies standing round
unfortunate objects who were either trembling with fear and wet and
sweat, or panting with their nice little run...

This surge then of whitey-grey objects, sacrificed for fun, was
intended...was intended ulti ultim...then...A voice, just under his
camp-bed, said:

'_Bringt dem Hauptmann eine Kerze_...' As who should say: 'Bring a
candle for the Captain...Just like that! A dream!

It hadn't been as considerable a shock as you might have thought to a man
just dozing off. Not really as bad as the falling dream: but quite as
awakening...His mind had resumed that sentence.

The handful of Germans who had reached the trench, had been sacrificed
for the stupid sort of fun called Strategy. Probably. Stupid!...It was,
of course, just like German spooks to go mining by candle-light.
Obsoletely Nibelungen-like. Dwarfs probably!...They had sent over that
thin waft of men under a blessed lot of barrage and stuff...A lot!  a
_whole_ lot! It had been quite an artillery _strafe_. Ten thousand
shells as like as not. Then, somewhere up the line they had
probably made a demonstration in force. _Great_ bodies of men, an
immense surge. And twenty to thirty thousand shells. Very likely some
miles of esplanade, as it were, with the sea battering against it. And
only a demonstration in force...

It could not be real fighting. They had not been ready for their spring
advance.

It had been meant to impress somebody imbecile...Somebody imbecile in
Wallachia, or Sofia, or Asia Minor. Or Whitehall, very likely. Or the
White House!...Perhaps they had killed a lot of Yankees--to make
themselves Transatlantic popular. There were no doubt, by then, whole
American Army Corps in the line somewhere. By then! Poor devils, coming
so late into such an accentuated hell. Damnably accentuated...The sound
of even that little bit of fun had been portentously more awful than even
quite a big show say in '15. It was better to have been in then and got
used to it...If it hadn't broken you, just by duration...

Might be to impress anybody...But who was going to be impressed? Of
course, our legislators with the stewed-pear brains running about the
ignoble corridors with cokebrize floors and mahogany doors...might be
impressed. You must not rhyme!...Or, of course, our own legislators might
have been trying a nice little demonstration in force, equally idiotic
somewhere else, to impress someone just as unlikely to be
impressed...This, then, would be the answer! But no one ever would be
impressed again. We all had each other's measures. So it was just
wearisome...

It was remarkably quiet in that thick darkness. Down below, the picks
continued their sinister confidences in each other's ears...It was really
like that. Like children in the corner of a schoolroom whispering nasty
comments about their masters, one to the other...Girls, for
choice...Chop, chop, chop, a pick whispered. Chop? another asked in an
undertone. The first said Chopchopchop. Then Chup...And a silence of
irregular duration...Like what happens when you listen to typewriting and
the young woman has to stop to put in another page...

Nice young women with typewriters in Whitehall had very likely taken from
dictation, on hot-pressed, square sheets with embossed royal arms, the
plan for that very _strafe_...Because, obviously, it might have been
dictated from Whitehall almost as directly as from Unter den Linden. We
might have been making a demonstration in force on the Dwolologda in
order to get the Huns to make a counter-demonstration in Flanders. Hoping
poor old Puffles would get it in the neck. For they were trying still to
smash poor old General Puffles and stop the single command...They might
very well be hoping that our losses through the counter-demonstration
would be so heavy that the Country would cry out for the evacuation of
the Western Front...If they could get half-a-million of us killed perhaps
the Country might...They, no doubt, thought it worth trying. But it was
wearisome: those fellows in Whitehall never learned. Any more than
Brother Boche...

Nice to be in poor old Puffles' army. Nice but wearisome...Nice girls
with typewriters in well-ventilated offices. Did they still put paper
cuffs on to keep their sleeves from ink? He would ask Valen...Valen...It
was warm and still...On such a night...

'_Bringt dem Hauptmann eine Kerze_!' A voice from under his camp
bed! He imagined that the Hauptmann spook must be myopic: short-sightedly
examining a tamping fuze...If they used tamping fuzes or if that was what
they called them in the army!

He could not see the face or the spectacles of the Hauptmann any more
than he could see the faces of his men. Not through his flea-bag and
shins! They were packed in the tunnel; whitish-grey, tubular
agglomerations...Large! Like the maggots that are eaten by Australian
natives...Fear possessed him!

He sat up in his flea-bag, dripping with icy sweat.

'By Jove, I'm for it!' he said. He imagined that his brain was going: he
was mad and seeing himself go mad. He cast about in his mind for some
subject about which to think so that he could prove to himself that he
had not gone mad.



II


The key-bugle remarked with singular distinction to the dawn:

             dy
I know a lad    fair    kind
                     and
   Was never face
                  so           mind
                     please my
                             y

A sudden waft of pleasure at the seventeenth-century air that the tones
gave to the landscape went all over Tietjens...Herrick and Purcell!...Or
perhaps it was a modern imitation, Good enough. He asked:

'What the devil's that row, Sergeant?'

The Sergeant disappeared behind the muddied sacking curtain. There was a
guard-room in there. The key-bugle said:

Fair     kind...
     and
Fair         Fair         Fair
                                    kind...
     and ...       and ...    and

It might be two hundred yards off along the trenches. Astonishing
pleasure came to him from that seventeenth-century air and the
remembrance of those exact, quiet words...Or perhaps he had not got them
right. Nevertheless, they were exact and quiet. As efficient working
beneath the soul as the picks of miners in the dark.

The Sergeant returned with the obvious information that it was 011
Griffiths practising on the cornet. Captain McKechnie ad promised to ear
im after breakfast n recommend im to the Divisional Follies to play at
the concert tonight, if e like im.

Tietjens said:

'Well, I hope Captain McKechnie likes him!'

He hoped McKechnie, with his mad eyes and his pestilential accent, would
like that fellow. That fellow spread seventeenth-century atmosphere
across the landscape over which the sun's rays were beginning to flood a
yellow wash. Then, might the seventeenth century save the fellow's life,
for his good taste! For his life would probably be saved. He, Tietjens,
would give him a pass back to Division to get ready for the concert. So
he would be out of the _strafe_...Probably none of them would be
alive after the _strafe_ that Brigade reported to be coming
in...Twenty-seven minutes, by now! Three hundred and twenty-eight
fighting men against...Say a Division. Any preposterous number...Well,
the seventeeth century might as well save one man!

What had become of the seventeenth century? And Herbert and Donne and
Crashaw and Vaughan, the Silurist?...Sweet day so cool, so calm, so
bright, the bridal of the earth and sky!...By Jove, it was that!...Old
Campion flashing like a popinjay in the scarlet and gilt of the
Major-General, had quoted that in the base camp, years ago. Or was it
months? Or wasn't it: 'But at my back I always hear Time's winged
chariots hurrying near,' that he had quoted?

Anyhow, not bad for an old General!

He wondered what had become of that elegant collection of light yellow,
scarlet and gilt...Somehow he always thought of Campion as in light
yellow, rather than khaki, so much did he radiate light...Campion and
his, Tietjens', wife, radiating light together--she in a golden gown!

Campion was about due in these latitudes. It was astonishing that he had
not turned up before. But poor old Puffles with his abominably weakened
Army had done too jolly well to be replaced. Even at the request of the
Minister whot hated him. Good for him!

It occurred to him that if he...call it 'stopped one' that day, Campion
would probably marry his, Tietjens', widow...Sylvia in crepe. With
perhaps a little white about it!

The cornet--obviously it was not a key-bugle--remarked:

              : her pass        by...
                           ing
I did but view

and then stopped to reflect. After a moment it added meditatively:

              . her...
And           .      .
    now       .      .
        I     .      .
           love      . till
                            I die!

That would scarcely refer to Sylvia...Still, perhaps in crepe, with a
touch of white, passing by, very tall...Say, in a seventeenth century
street...

The only satisfactory age in England!...Yet what chance had it to-day?
Or, still more, to-morrow? In the sense that the age of, say, Shakespeare
had a chance. Or Pericles! or Augustus!

Heaven knew, we did not want a preposterous drumbeating such as the
Elizabethans produced--and received. Like lions at a fair...But what
chance had quiet fields, Anglican sainthood, accuracy of thought,
heavy-leaved, timbered hedgerows, slowly creeping plough-lands moving up
the slopes?...Still, the land remains...

The land remains...It remains!...At that same moment the dawn was wetly
revealing; over there in George Herbert's parish...What was it
called?...What the devil was its name? Oh, Hell!...Between Salisbury and
Wilton...The tiny church...But he refused to consider the plough-lands,
the heavy groves, the slow highroad above the church that the dawn was at
that moment wetly revealing--until he could remember that name...He
refused to consider that, probably even to-day, that land ran
to...produced the stock of...Anglican sainthood. The quiet thing!

But until he could remember the name he would consider nothing...

He said:

'Are those damned Mills bombs coming?'

The Sergeant said:

'In ten minutes they'll be ere, sir. HAY Cumpny had just telephoned that
they were coming in now.'

It was almost a disappointment: in an hour or so, without bombs, they
might all have been done with. As quiet as the seventeenth century: in
heaven...The beastly bombs would have to explode before that, now! They
might, in consequence, survive...Then what was he, Tietjens, going to do!
Take orders! It was thinkable...

He said:

'Those bloody imbeciles of Huns are coming over in an hour's time,
Brigade says. Get the beastly bombs served out, but keep enough in store
to serve as an emergency ration if we should want to advance...Say a
third. For C and D Companies...Tell the Adjutant I'm going along all the
trenches and I want the Assistant-Adjutant, Mr Aranjuez, and
Orderly-Corporal Colley to come with me...As soon as the bombs come for
certain!...I don't want the men to think they've got to stop a Hun rush
without bombs...They're due to begin their barrage in fourteen minutes,
but they won't really come over without a hell of a lot of
preparation...I don't know how Brigade knows all this!'

The name _Bemerton_ suddenly came on to his tongue. Yes, Bemerton,
Bemerton, Bemerton was George Herbert's parsonage. Bemerton, outside
Salisbury...The cradle of the race as far as our race was worth thinking
about. He imagined himself standing up on a little hill, a lean
contemplative parson, looking at the land sloping down to Salisbury
spire. A large, clumsily bound seventeenth-century testament, Greek,
beneath his elbow...Imagine standing up on a hill! It was the unthinkable
thing there!

The Sergeant was lamenting, a little wearily, that the Huns were coming.

'Hi did think them bleeding 'uns, 'xcuse me, sir, wasn' per'aps coming
this morning...Give us a rest an' a chance to clear up a bit...He had the
tone of a resigned schoolboy saying that the Head _might_ have given
the school a holiday on the Queen's birthday. But what the devil did that
man think about his approaching dissolution?

That was the unanswerable question. He, Tietjens, had been asked several
times what death was like...Once, in a cattle truck under a bridge, near
a Red-Cross Clearing Station, by a miserable fellow called Perowne. In
the presence of the troublesome lunatic called McKechnie. You would have
thought that even a Movement Order Officer would have managed to send up
the line that triangle differently arranged. Perowne was known to have
been his wife's lover; he, Tietjens, against his will, had been given the
job, as second-in-command of the battalion, that McKechnie wanted madly.
And indeed he had a right to it. They _ought_ not to have been sent
up together.

But there they had been--Perowne broken down, principally at the thought
that he was not going to see his, Tietjens', wife ever again in a golden
gown...Unless, perhaps, with a golden harp on a cloud, for he looked at
things like that....And, positively, as soon as that baggage-car--it had
been a baggage-car, not a cattle-truck!--had discharged the deserter with
escort and the three wounded Cochin-Chinese platelayers whom the French
authorities had palmed off on them...And where the devil had they all
been going? Obviously up into the line, and already pretty near it: near
Division Headquarters. But where?...God knew? Or when? God knew too!
...A fine-ish day with a scanty remains of not quite melted snow in the
cutting and the robins singing in the coppice above. Say February...Say
St Valentine's Day: which, of course would agitate Perowne some
more...Well, positively as soon as the baggage-car had discharged the
wounded who had groaned, and the sheepish escort who did not know whether
they ought to be civil to the deserter in the presence of the orfcers,
and the deserter who kept on defiantly--or if you like brokenheartedly,
for there was no telling the difference--asking the escort questions as
to the nature of their girls, or volunteering information as to the
intimate behaviour of _his_...The deserter a gipsyfied, black-eyed
fellow with an immense jeering mouth; the escort a Corporal and two
Tommies, blond and blushing East Kents, remarkably polished about the
buttons and brass numerals, with beautifully neatly put on puttees:
obviously Regulars, coming from behind the lines; the Cochin-Chinese,
with indistinguishable broad yellow faces, brown poetic eyes, furred
top-boots and blue furred hoods over their bandaged heads and swathed
faces. Seated, leaning back against the side of the box-truck and
groaning now and then and shivering all the time...

Well, the moment they had been cleared out at the Deputy Sub RTO's tin
shed by the railway bridge, the fellow Perowne with his well-padded
presence and his dark babu-Hinduish aspect had bubbled out with questions
as to the hereafter according to Tietjens and as to the nature of Death;
the immediate process of dissolution: dying...And in between Perowne's
questions McKechnie, with his unspeakable intonation and his dark eyes as
mad as a cat's, had asked Tietjens how he dared get himself appointed
second-in-command of his, McKechnie's own battalion...'You're no
soldier,' he would burst out. 'Do you think you are a b----y infantryman?
You're a mealsack, and what the devil's to become of _my_
battalion...Mine...My battalion! _Our_ battalion of pals!'

That had been in, presumably, February, and, presumably, it was now
April. The way the dawn came up looked like April...What did it
matter?...That damned truck had stayed under that bridge for two hours
and a half ...in the process of the eternal waiting that is War. You hung
about and you hung about, and you kicked your heels and you kicked your
heels: waiting for Mills bombs to come, or for jam, or for generals, or
for the tanks, or transport, or the clearance of the road ahead. You
waited in offices under the eyes of somnolent orderlies, under fire on
the banks of canals, you waited in hotels, dug-outs, tin sheds, ruined
houses. There will be no man who survives of His Majesty's Armed Forces
that shall not remember those eternal hours when Time itself stayed still
as the true image of bloody War! ...

Well, in that case Providence seemed to have decreed a waiting just long
enough to allow Tietjens to persuade the unhappy mortal called Perowne
that death was not a very dreadful affair...He had enough intellectual
authority to persuade the fellow with his glued-down black hair that
Death supplied His own anaesthetics. That was the argument. On the
approach of Death all the faculties are so numbed that you feel neither
pain nor apprehension...He could still hear the heavy, authoritative
words that, on that occasion, he had used.

The Providence of Perowne! For, when he was dug out after, next night
having been buried in going up into the trenches, they said, he had a
smile like a young baby's on his face. He didn't have long to wait and
died with a smile on his face...nothing having so much become him during
his life as...Well, a becoming smile! During life he had seemed a
worried, fussing sort of chap.

Bully for Perowne...But what about him. Tietjens? Was that the sort of
thing that Providence ought to do to one?...That's TEMPTING GOD!

The Sergeant beside him said:

'Then a man could stand hup on an ill...You really mean to say, sir, that
you think a man will be able to stand up on a bleedin' ill...'

Presumably Tietjens had been putting heart into that acting temporary
Sergeant-Major. He could not remember what he had been saying to the
N.C.O. because his mind had been so deeply occupied with the image of
Perowne...He said:

'You're a Lincolnshire man, aren't you? You come from a Fen country. What
do you want to stand up on a hill for?' The man said:

'Ah, but you _do_, sir!'

He added:

'You want to stand up! Take a look round...' He struggled for expression:
'Like as if you wanted to breathe deep after bein in a stoopin posture
for a long time!'

Tietjens said:

'Well, you can do that here. With discretion. I did it just now...

The man said:

'You, sir...You're a law hunto yourself!'

It was the most considerable shock that Tietjens received in the course
of his military career. And the most considerable reward.

There were all these inscrutable beings: the Other Ranks, a brownish
mass, spreading underground, like clay strata in the gravel, beneath all
this waving country that the sun would soon be warming: they were in
holes, in tunnels, behind sackcloth curtains, carrying on...carrying on
some sort of life: conversing, breathing, desiring. But completely
mysterious, in the mass. Now and then you got a glimpse of a passionate
desire: 'A man could stand up on a bleedin' ill!'; now and then you
got--though you knew that they watched you eternally and knew the
minutest gestures of your sleep--you got some sort of indication as to
how they regarded you: 'You are a law unto yourself!'

That must be hero-worship: an acting temporary regimental Sergeant-Major,
without any real knowledge of his job, extemporising, not so long ago a
carrier in an eastern county of remarkable flatness, does not tell his
Acting Commanding Officer that he is a law unto himself without meaning
it to be a flattering testimony: a certificate, as far as it went, of
trustworthiness...

They were now crawling out into the light of day...from behind the
sacking: six files that he had last night transferred from C to D Coy., D
having been reduced to forty-three rank and file. They shuffled out, an
extraordinary Falstaff's battalion of muddy odd-come shorts; fell into
some sort of alignment in the trench; shuffled an inch further this way,
an inch further that; pushed up their chin-straps and pulled them down;
humped up their packs by hunching their shoulders and jerking; adjusted
their water bottles and fell into some sort of immobility, their rifles,
more or less aligned, poked out before them. In that small company they
were men of all sorts of sizes, of all sorts of disparities and
grotesquenesses of physique. Two of them were music-hall comedians and
the whole lot looked as if they made up a knock-about turn...The Rag Time
Army: at its vocation: living and breathing.

The Sergeant called them to attention and they wavered back and forward.
The Sergeant said:

The Commandin' Officer's lookin' at you. FIX...B'ts!' And, positively, a
dwarf concealed under a pudding basin shuffled a foot length and a half
forward in the mud, protruded his rifle-muzzle between his bent knees,
jerked his head swiftly to strain his sight along the minute line...It
was like a blurred fairy-tale! Why did that dwarf behave in a smart and
soldierly manner? Through despair? It wasn't likely!

The men wavered like the edge of a field of tall grass with the wind
running along it; they felt round themselves for their bayonet-handles,
like women attempting difficult feats with their skirts...The dwarf cut
his hand smartly away to his side, as the saying is; the men pulled their
rifles up into line. Tietjens exclaimed:

'Stand at ease: stand easy,' negligently enough, then he burst out in
uncontrollable irritation: 'For _God's_ sake, put your beastly hats
straight!' The men shuffled uneasily, this being no order known to them,
and Tietjens explained: 'No, this isn't drill. It's only that your hats
all at sixes and sevens give me the pip!' And the whispers of the men
went down the little line:

'You 'eer the orfcer...Gives 'im the pip, we do!...Goin' for a wawk in
the pawk wiv our gels, we are...' They glanced nevertheless aside and
upwards at each other's tin-hat rims and said: 'Shove 'im a shade
forward, 'Orace...You tighten your martingale, Erb!' They were gaily
rueful and impenitently profane: they had had thirty-six hours of
let-off. A fellow louder-than-hummed:

'"As I wawk erlong ther Bor dee Belong
Wiv an indipendent air..."
W'ere's me swegger-kine, you fellers!'

Tietjens addressed him:

'Did you ever hear Coborn sing that, Runt?' and Runt replied:

'Yes, sir. I was the hind legs of the elephant when he sung it in the Old
Drury panto!'...A little, dark, beady-eyed Cockney, his enormous mouth
moved lip on lip as if he were chewing a pebble in pride at the
reminiscence. The men's voices went on: 'Ind legs 'f the elephink!...good
ol' Helefink...I'll go n see 'n elephink first thing I do in Blighty!'

Tietjens said:

'I'll give every man of you a ticket for Drury Lane next Boxing Day.
We'll all be in London for the next Boxing Day. Or Berlin!'

They exclaimed polyphonically and low:

'Oo-er! Djee 'eer 'im? Di'djee 'eer the orfcer? The noo C.O.?'

A hidden man said:

'Mike it the old Shoreditch Empire, sir, n we'll thenk you!'

Another:

'I never keered fer the Lane meself! Give me the old Balham for Boxing
Day.' The Sergeant made the sounds for them to move off.

They shuffled off up the trench. An unseen man said: 'Better'n a bleedin'
dipso!' Lips said 'Shhh!'

The Sergeant shouted--with an astonishing brutal panic:

'You shut your bleedin' mouth, you man, or I'll shove you in the b----y
clink!' He looked nevertheless at Tietjens with a calm satisfaction a
second later.

'A good lot of chaps, sir,' he said. 'The best!' He was anxious to wipe
out the remembrance of the last spoken word. 'Give 'em the right sort of
officers n they'll beat the world!'

'Do you think it makes any difference to them what officers they have?'
Tietjens asked. 'Wouldn't it be all the same if they had just anyone?'

The Sergeant said:

'No, sir. They bin frightened these last few days. Now they're better.'

This was just exactly what Tietjens did not want to hear. He hardly knew
why. Or he did...He said:

'I should have thought these men knew their job so well--for this sort of
thing--that they hardly needed orders. It cannot make much difference
whether they receive orders or not.'

The Sergeant said:

'It _does_ make a difference, sir,' in a tone as near that of cold
obstinacy as he dare attain to; the feeling of the approaching
_strafe_ was growing on them. It hung over them.

McKechnie stuck his head out from behind the sacking. The sacking had the
lettering PXL in red and the word _Minn_ in black. McKechnie's eyes
were blazing maniacally. Jumping maniacally in his head. They always were
jumping maniacally in his head. He was a tiring fellow. He was wearing
not a tin hat, but an officer's helmet. The gilt dragon on it glittered.
The sun was practically up, somewhere. As soon as its disc cleared the
horizon, the Huns, according to Brigade, were to begin sending over their
wearisome stuff. In thirteen and a half minutes.

McKechnie gripped Tietjens by the arm, a familiarity that Tietjens
detested. He hissed--he really hissed because he was trying to speak
under his breath:

'Come past the next traverse. I want to speak to you.'

In correctly prepared trenches, made according to order as these had been
to receive them in retreat, by a regular battalion acting under the
orders of the Royal Engineers, you go along a straight ditch of trench
for some yards, then you find a square block of earth protruding inwards
from the parapet round which you must walk; then you come to another
straight piece, then to another traverse, and so on to the end of the
line, the lengths and dimensions varying to suit the nature of the
terrain or the character of the soil. These outjuttings were designed to
prevent the lateral spreading of fragments of shell bursting in the
trench which would otherwise serve as a funnel, like the barrel of a gun
to direct those parts of missiles into men's bodies. It was also
exciting--as Tietjens expected to be doing before the setting of the not
quite risen sun--to crouch rapidly along past one of them, the heart
moving very disagreeably, the revolver protruded well in advance, with
half a dozen careless fellows with grenades of sorts just behind you. And
you not knowing whether, crouching against the side that was just round
the corner, you would or would not find a whitish, pallid, dangerous
object that you would have no time to scrutinize closely.

Past the nearest of these McKechnie led Tietjens. He was portentous and
agitated.

At the end of the next stretch of trench, leaning as it were against a
buttress in an attitude of intense fatigue, was a mud-coloured, very
thin, tall fellow; squatting dozing on his heels in the mud just beside
that one's foot was another, a proper Glamorganshire man of whom not many
more than ten were left in the battalion. The standing man was leaning
like that to look through a loophole that had been placed very close to
the buttress of raw earth. He grunted something to his companion and
continued looking intently. The other man grunted too.

McKechnie withdrew precipitately into the recessed pathway. The column of
earth in their faces gave a sense of oppression. He said:

'Did you put that fellow up to saying that damnable thing?...' He
repeated: 'That perfectly damnable thing! Damnable!' Besides hating
Tietjens he was shocked, pained, femininely lachrymose. He gazed into
Tietjens' eyes like a forsaken mistress fit to do a murder, with a sort
of wistful incredulity of despair.

To that Tietjens was accustomed. For the last two months McKechnie
whispering in the ear of the C.O. wherever Battalion Headquarters might
happen to be McKechnie, with his arms spread abroad on the table and his
chin nearly on the cloth that they had always managed to retain in spite
of three precipitate moves, McKechnie, with his mad eyes every now and
then moving in the direction of Tietjens, had been almost the most
familiar object of Tietjens' night landscape. They wanted him gone so
that McKechnie might once again become Second in Command of that body of
pals...That indeed was what they were...with the addition of a great deal
too much of what they called Ooch.

Tietjens obviously could not go. There was no way of managing it: he had
been put there by old Campion and there he must remain. So that by the
agreeable irony of Providence there was Tietjens, who had wanted above
all McKechnie's present relatively bucolic job, hated to hell by half a
dozen quite decent if trying young squits--the pals--because Tietjens was
in his, McKechnie's, desired position. It seemed to make it all the worse
that they were all, with the exception of the Commanding Officer himself,
of the little, dark, Cockney type and had the Cockney's voice, gesture
and intonation, so that Tietjens felt himself like a blond Gulliver with
hair very silver in patches, rising up amongst a lot of Lilliputian brown
creatures...Portentous and unreasonably noticeable.

A large cannon, nearer than the one that had lately spoken, but as it
were with a larger but softer voice, remarked: Phohhhhhhhhh,' the sound
wandering round the landscape for a long while. After a time about four
coupled railway-trains hurtled jovially amongst the clouds and went a
long way away. Four in one. They were probably trying to impress the
North Sea.

It might of course be the signal for the German barrage to begin.
Tietjens' heart stopped; his skin on the nape of the neck began to
prickle: his hands were cold. That was fear: the BATTLE FEAR, experienced
in _strafes_. He might not again be able to hear himself think. Not
ever. What did he want of life?...Well, just not to lose his reason. One
would pray: not that...Otherwise, perhaps a nice parsonage might do. It
was just thinkable. A place in which for ever to work at the theory of
waves...But of course it was not thinkable...

He was saying to McKechnie:

'You ought not to be here without a tin hat. You will have to put a tin
hat on if you mean to stop here. I can give you your four minutes if that
is not the _strafe_ beginning. Who's been saying what?'

McKechnie said:

'I'm not stopping here. I'm going back, after I've given you a piece of
my mind, to the beastly job you have got me defiled with.'

Tietjens said:

'Well, you'll put on a tin hat to go there, please. And don't ride your
horse, if you've got it here, till after you're a hundred yards at least
down a communication trench.'

McKechnie asked how Tietjens dared give him orders and Tietjens said:
Fine he would look with Divisional Transport dead in his lines at five in
the morning in a parade hat. McKechnie with objurgations said that the
Transport Officer had the right to consult the C.O. of a battalion he
supplied. Tietjens said:

'I'm commanding here. You've not consulted me!'

It appeared to him queer that they should be behaving like that when you
could hear...oh, say: the wings of the angel of death...You can 'almost
hear the very rustling of his wings' was the quotation. Good enough
rhetoric...But of course that was how armed men would behave...At all
times!

He had been trying the old trick of the military, clipped voice on the
half-dotty subject. It had before then reduced McKechnie to some sort of
military behaviour.

It reduced him in this case to a maudlin state. He exclaimed with a sort
of lachrymose agony:

'This is what it has come to with the old battalion...the b----y, b----y,
b----y old battalion of b----rs!' Each imprecation was a sob. 'How we
worked at it...And now..._you_'ve got it!'

Tietjens said:

'Well, you were Vice-Chancellor's Latin Prizeman once. It's what we get
reduced to.' He added: '_Vos mellificatis apes_!'

McKechnie said with gloomy contempt:

'You...You're no Latinist!'

By now Tietjens had counted two hundred and eighty since the big cannon
had said Phooooh'. Perhaps then it was not the signal for the barrage to
begin...Had it been it would have begun before now; it would have come
thumping along on the heels of the Phooooh'. His hands and the nape of
his neck were preparing to become normal.

Perhaps the _strafe_ would not come at all that day. There was the
wind. If anything it was strengthening. Yesterday he had suspected that
the Germans hadn't got any tanks handy. Perhaps the ugly, senseless
armadillos--and incapable at that! Under-engined!--had all got stuck in
the marshes in front of G section. Perhaps the heavy artillery fire of
ours that had gone on most of yesterday had been meant to pound the
beastly things to pieces. Moving, they looked like slow rats, their noses
to the ground, snouting crumbs of garbage. When they were still they
looked merely pensive.

Perhaps the _strafe_ would not come. He hoped it would not. He did
not want a _strafe_ with himself in command of the battalion. He did
not know what to do: what he ought to do by the book. He knew what he
would do. He would stroll about along those deep trenches. Stroll. With
his hands in his pockets. Like General Gordon in pictures. He would say
contemplative things as the time dragged on...A rather abominable sort of
Time really...But that would introduce into the Battalion a spirit of
calm that it had lately lacked...The night before last the C.O., with a
bottle in each hand, had hurled them both at Huns who did not materialize
for an hour and a half. Even the Pals had omitted to laugh. After that
he, Tietjens, had taken command. With lots of the Orderly Room papers
under both arms. They had had to be in a hurry. At night. With men
suggesting pale grey Canadian trappers coming out of holes!

He did not want to command in a _strafe_: or at any other time! He
hoped the unfortunate C.O. would get over his trouble by the
evening...But he supposed that he, Tietjens, would get through it all
right if he had to. Like the man who had never tried playing the violin!

McKechnie had suddenly become lachrymosely feminine: like a woman
pleading, large-eyed, for her lover, his eyes explored Tietjens' face for
signs of treachery: for signs that what he said was not what he meant in
his heart. He said:

'What are you going to do about Bill? Poor old Bill that has sweated for
his Battalion as you never...' He began again:

'Think of poor old Bill! You can't be _thinking_ of doing the dirty
on him..._No_ man could be such a swine!'

It was curious how those circumstances brought out the feminine that was
in man. What was that ass of a German Professor's theory...formula? My
_plus_ Wx equals Man?...Well, if God hadn't invented woman men would
have had to do so. In that sort of place. You grew sentimental. He,
Tietjens, was growing sentimental. He said:

'What does Terence say about him this morning?' The nice thing to have
said would have been:

'Of course, old man, I'll do all I can to keep it dark!' Terence was the
M.O.--the man who had chucked his cap at the Hun orderly.

McKechnie said:

'That's the damnable thing! Terence is ratty with him. He won't take a
pill!'

Tietjens said:

'What's that? What's that?'

McKechnie wavered: his desire for comfort became overpowering.

He said:

'Look here! _Do_ the decent thing! You know how poor Bill has worked
for us! Get Terence not to report him to Brigade!'

This was wearisome: but it had to be faced.

A very minute subaltern--Aranjuez--in a perfectly impossible tin hat
peered round the side of the bank. Tietjens sent him away for a
moment...These tin hats were probably all right: but they were the curse
of the army. They bred distrust! How could you trust a man whose
incapable hat tumbled forward on his nose? Or another, with his hat on
the back of his head, giving him the air of a ruined gambler! Or a fellow
who had put on a soap-dish. To amuse the children: not a serious
proceeding...The German things were better--coming down over the nape of
the neck and rising over the brows. When you saw a Hun sideways he looked
something: a serious proposition. Full of ferocity. A Hun against a
Tommie looked like a Holbein _landsknecht_ fighting a music-hall
turn. It made you feel that you were indeed a rag-time army. Rubbed it
in!

McKechnie was reporting that the C.O. had refused to take a pill ordered
him by the M.O. Unfortunately the M.O. was ratty that morning--too much
hooch overnight! So he said he should report the C.O. to Brigade. Not as
being unfit for further service, for he wasn't. But for refusing to take
the pill. It was damnable. Because if Bill wouldn't take a pill he
wouldn't...The M.O. said that if he took a pill, and stayed in bed that
day--without hooch of course!--he would be perfectly fit on the morrow.
He had been like that often enough before. The C.O. had always been given
the dose before as a drench. He swore he would not take it as a ball.
Sheer contrariety!

Tietjens was accustomed to think of the C.O. as a lad--a good lad, but
young. They were, all the same, much of an age, and, for the matter of
that, because of his deeply-lined forehead the Colonel looked the older
often enough. But when he was fit he was fine. He had a hooked nose, a
forcible grey moustache, like two badger-haired paintbrushes joined
beneath the nose, pink skin as polished as the surface of a billiard
ball, a noticeably narrow but high forehead, an extremely piercing glance
from rather colourless eyes; his hair was black and most polished in
slight waves. He was a soldier.

He was, that is to say, the ranker. Of soldiering in the English
sense--the real soldiering of peace-time, parades, social events, spit
and polish, hard worked summers, leisurely winters, India, the Bahamas,
Cairo seasons and the rest he only knew the outside, having looked at it
from the barrack windows, the parade ground and luckily for him, from his
Colonel's house. He had been a most admirable batman to that Colonel,
had--in Simla--married the Colonel memsahib's lady's maid, had been
promoted to the orderly-room, to the Corporals' and Sergeants' messes,
had become a Musketry-Colour Sergeant, and two months before the war had
been given a commission. He would have gained this before but for a
slight--a very slight--tendency to overdrinking, which had given on
occasion a similarly slight tone of insolence to his answers to
Field-Officers. Elderly Field-Officers on parade are apt to make slight
mistakes in their drill, giving the command to move to the right when
technically, though troops are moving to the right, the command should
be: 'Move to the left '; and the officers' left being the troops' right,
on a field-day, after lunch, Field-Officers of a little rustiness are apt
to grow confused. It then becomes the duty of warrant-officers present if
possible to rectify, or if not, to accept the responsibility for the
resultant commotion. On two occasions during his brilliant career, being
slightly elated, this wartime C.O. had neglected this military duty, the
result being subsequent Orderly Room Strafes which remained as black
patches when he looked back on his past life and which constantly
embittered his remembrances. Professional soldiers are like that.

In spite of an exceptionally fine service record he remained bitter, and
upon occasion he became unreasonable. Being what the men--and for the
matter of that the officers of the battalion, too--called a b----y h-ll
of a pusher, he had brought his battalion up to a great state of
efficiency; he had earned a double string of ribbons and by pushing his
battalion into extremely tight places, by volunteering it for difficult
services which, even during trench warfare, did present themselves, and
by extricating what remained of it with singular skill during the first
battle of the Somme on an occasion--perhaps the most lamentable of the
whole war--when an entire division commanded by a political rather than a
military general had been wiped out, he had earned for his battalion a
French decoration called a _Fourragère_ which is seldom given to
other than French regiments. These exploits and the spirit which dictated
them were perhaps less appreciated by the men under his command than was
imagined by the C.O. and his bosom friend, Captain McKechnie who had
loyally aided him, but they _did_ justify the two in attaching to
the battalion the sort of almost maudlin sentimentality that certain
parents will bestow upon their children.

In spite, however, of the appreciation that his services had received the
C.O. remained embittered. He considered that, by this time, he ought at
least to have been given a brigade if not a division, and he considered
that, if that was not the case, it was largely due to the two black marks
against him as well at to the fact of his low social origin. And when he
had a little liquor taken these obsessions exaggerated themselves very
quickly to a degree that very nearly endangered his career. It was not
that he soaked--but there were occasions during that period of warfare
when the consumption of a certain amount of alcohol was a necessity if
the human being were to keep on carrying on and through rough places.
Then, happy was the man who carried his liquor well.

Unfortunately the C.O. was not one of these. Worn out by continual
attention to papers--at which he was no great hand--and by fighting that
would continue for days on end, he would fortify himself with whisky and
immediately his bitterness would overwhelm his mentality, the aspect of
the world would change, and he would rail at his superiors in the army
and sometimes would completely refuse to obey orders, as had been the
occasion a few nights before, when he had refused to let his battalion
take part in the concerted retreat of the Army Corps. Tietjens had had to
see to this.

Now, exasperated by the after effects of several days' great anxieties
and alcoholisms, he was refusing to take a pill. This was a token of his
contempt for his superiors, the outcome of his obsession of bitterness.



III


An army--especially in peace time--is a very complex and nicely adjusted
affair, and though active operations against an enemy force are apt to
blunt niceness and upset compensations--as they might for a
chronometer--and although this of ours, according to its own computation,
was only a rag-time aggregation, certain customs of times when this force
was also Regular had an enormous power of survival.

It may seem a comic affair that a Colonel commanding a regiment in the
midst of the most breathless period of hostilities, should refuse to take
a pill. But the refusal, precisely like a grain of sand in the works of a
chronometer, may cause the most singular perturbations. It was so in this
case.

A sick officer of the very highest rank is the subordinate of his doctor
the moment he puts himself into the M.O.'s hands: he must obey orders as
if he were a Tommy. A Colonel whole and in his senses may obviously order
his M.O. to go here and there and to perform this or that duty; the
moment he becomes sick the fact that his body is the property of His
Majesty the King comes forcibly into operation and the M.O. is the
representative of the sovereign in so far as bodies are concerned. This
is very reasonable and proper, because sick bodies are not only of no use
to the King, but are enormously detrimental to the army that has to cart
them about.

In the case that Tietjens had perforce to worry over, the matter was very
much complicated in the first place by the fact of the great personal
dislike that the C.O. had manifested--though always with a sort of
Field-Officer's monumental courtesy--towards himself, and then because
Tietjens had a very great respect for the abilities of the Commanding
Officer as Commanding Officer. His rag-time battalion of a rag-time army
was as nearly on the level of an impeccable regular battalion as such a
unit with its constantly changing personnel could possibly be. Nothing
had much more impressed Tietjens in the course of even the whole war,
than the demeanour of the soldier whom the other night he had seen firing
engrossedly into invisibility. The man had fired with care, had come down
to re-load with exact drill movements--which are the quickest possible.
He had muttered some words which showed that his mind was entirely on his
job like a mathematician engrossed in an abstruse calculation. He had
climbed back on to the parapet; continued to fire engrossedly into
invisibility; had returned and re-loaded and had again climbed back. He
might have been firing off a tie at the butts!

It was a very great achievement to have got men to fire at moments of
such stress with such complete tranquillity. For discipline works in two
ways: in the first place it enables the soldier in action to get through
his movements in the shortest possible time; and then the engrossment in
the exact performance begets a great indifference to danger. When, with
various sized pieces of metal flying all round you, you go composedly
through efficient bodily movements, you are not only wrapped up in your
task, but you have the knowledge that that exact performance is every
minute decreasing your personal danger. In addition you have the feeling
that Providence ought to--and very frequently does--specially protect
you. It would not be right that a man exactly and scrupulously performing
his duty to his sovereign, his native land and those it holds dear,
should not be protected by a special Providence. And he is!

It is not only that that engrossed marksman might--and very probably
did--pick off an advancing enemy with every second shot, and thus
diminish his personal danger to that extent; it is that the regular and
as if mechanical falling of comrades spreads disproportionate dismay in
advancing or halted troops. It is no doubt terrible to you to have large
numbers of your comrades instantaneously annihilated by the explosion of
some huge engine, but huge engines are blind and thus accidental; a slow,
regular picking off of the man beside you is evidence that human
terribleness that is not blind or accidental is cold-bloodedly and
unshakably turning its attention to a spot very near you. It may very
shortly turn its attention to yourself.

Of course, it is disagreeable when artillery is bracketting across your
line: a shell falls a hundred yards in front of you, another a hundred
yards behind you: the next will be halfway between, and you are halfway
between. The waiting wrings your soul; but it does not induce panic or
the desire to run--at any rate to nearly the same extent. Where, in any
event, could you run to?

But from coldly and mechanically advancing and firing troops you
_can_ run. And the C.O. was accustomed to boast that on the several
occasions when, imitating the second battalion of the regiment, he had
been able to line his men up on tapes before letting them go in an attack
and had insisted that they should advance at a very slow double indeed,
and in exact alignment, his losses had been not only less than those of
every other battalion in the Division, but they had been almost
farcically negligible. Faced with troops advancing remorselessly and with
complete equanimity the good Wurtembergers had fired so wildly and so
high that you could hear their bullets overhead like a flock of
wild-geese at night. The effect of panic is to make men fire high. They
pull too sharply on their triggers.

These boasts of their Old Man naturally reached the men: they would be
uttered before warrant officers and the orderly room staff; and the
men--than whom in this matter none are keener mathematicians--were quick
to see that the losses of their battalion until lately, at any rate, had
been remarkably smaller than those of other units engaged in the same
places. So that hitherto, though the men had regarded their Colonel with
mixed feelings, he had certainly come out on top. That he was a b----y
h-ll of a pusher did not elate them; they would have preferred to be
reserved for less dangerous enterprises than those by which the battalion
gained its remarkable prestige. On the other hand, though they were
constantly being pushed into nasty scrapes, they lost less than units in
quieter positions, and that pleased them. But they still asked
themselves: 'If the Old Man let us be quiet shouldn't we lose
proportionately still less? No one at all?'

That had been the position until very lately: until a week or so, or even
a day or so before.

But for more than a fortnight this Army had been what amounted to on the
run. It retreated with some personal stubbornness and upon prepared
positions, but these prepared positions were taken with such great speed
and method by the opposing forces attacking it, that hostilities had
assumed the aspect almost of a war of movement. For this these troops
were singularly ill-adapted, their training having been almost purely
that suited for the process of attrition known as trench-warfare. In
fact, though good with bombs and even with the bayonet, and though
courageous and composed when not in action, these troops were singularly
inept when it was a matter of keeping in communication with the units on
either side of them, or even within their own unit, and they had
practically no experience in the use of the rifle when in motion. To both
these branches the Enemy had devoted untiring attention all through the
period of relative inaction of the winter that had now closed, and in
both particulars their troops, though by now apparently inferior in
morale, were remarkably superior. So it appeared to be merely a matter of
waiting for a period of easterly winds for this Army to be pushed into
the North Sea. The easterly winds were needed for the use of the gas
without which, in the idea of the German leaders, it was impossible to
attack.

The position, nevertheless, had been desperate and remained desperate,
and standing there in the complete tranquillity and inaction of an April
morning with a slight westerly breeze, Tietjens realized that he was
experiencing what were the emotions of an army practically in flight. So
at least he saw it. The use of gas had always been extremely disliked by
the enemy's men, and its employment in cylinders had long since been
abandoned. But the German Higher Staff persisted in preparing their
attacks by dense screens of gas put over by huge plasterings of shells.
These screens the enemy forces refused to enter if the wind blew in their
direction.

There had come in, then, the factor which caused him himself to feel
particular discomfort.

The fact that the battalion was remarkably ably commanded and unusually
well-disciplined had not, of course, been overlooked by either brigade or
division. And the brigade, too, happened to be admirable. Thus--these
things did happen even in the confused periods that preceded the final
breaking up of trench warfare--the brigade was selected to occupy
positions where the enemy divisions might be expected to be hottest in
attack, the battalion was selected to occupy the hottest points in that
hottest sector of the line. The chickens of the C.O.'s efficiency had
come home to roost.

It had been, as Tietjens felt all over his body, nearly more than flesh
and blood could stand. Do what the C.O. had been able to do to husband
his men, and do what discipline could do to aid in the process, the
battalion was reduced to not more than a third of what would have been a
reasonable strength for the position it had had to occupy--and to
abandon. And it was small comfort to the men that the Wiltshires on their
right and the Cheshires on their left were in far worse case. So the
aspect of the Old Man as a b----y h-11 of a pusher became foremost in
their considerations.

To a sensitive officer--and all good officers in this respect are
sensitive--the psychology of the men makes itself felt in innumerable
ways. He can afford to be blind to the feelings of his officers, for
officers have to stand so much at the hands of their seniors before the
rules of the service give them a chance to retaliate, that it takes a
really bad Colonel to put his own mess in a bad way. As officer you have
to jump to your C.O.'s orders, to applaud his sentiments, to smile at his
lighter witticisms and to guffaw at those that are more gross. That is
the Service. With the Other Ranks it is different. A discreet
warrant-officer will discreetly applaud his officer's eccentricities and
good humours, as will a Sergeant desirous of promotion; but the rank and
file are under no such compulsion. As long as a man comes to attention
when spoken to that is all that can be expected of him. He is under no
obligation to understand his officer's witticisms, so he can still less
be expected to laugh at or to repeat them with gusto. He need not even
come very smartly at attention...

And for some days the rank and file of the battalion had gone dead, and
the C.O. was aware that it had gone dead. Of the various types of
Field-Officer upon whom he could have modelled himself as regards the men
he had chosen that of the genial, rubicund, slightly whiskeyfied C.O. who
finished every sentence with the words: 'Eh, what?'...In him it was a
perfectly cold-blooded game for the benefit of the senior
non-commissioned officers and the Other Ranks, but it had gradually
become automatic.

For some days now, this mannerism had refused to work. It was as if
Napoleon the Great had suddenly found that the device of pinching the ear
of a grenadier on parade had suddenly become ineffective. After the 'Eh,
what!' like a pistol shot the man to whom it was addressed had not all
but shuffled, nor had any other men within earshot tittered and whispered
to their pals. They had all remained just loutish. And it is a
considerable test of courage to remain loutish under the Old Man's eyes!

All this the C.O. knew by the book, having been through it. And Tietjens
knew that the C.O. knew it; and he half suspected that the C.O. knew that
he, Tietjens, knew it...And that the Pals and the Other Ranks also knew:
that, in fact, everyone knew that everyone knew. It was like a nightmare
game of bridge with all hands exposed and all the players ready to snatch
pistols from their hip-pockets...

And Tietjens, for his sins, now held the trump card and was in play!

It was a loathsome position. He loathed having to decide the fate of the
C.O. as he loathed the prospect of having to restore the _morale_ of
the men--if they survived.

And he was faced now by the conviction that he could do it. If he hadn't
felt himself get his hand in with that dozen of disreputable tramps he
would not have felt that he could do it. Then he must have used his moral
authority with the doctor to get the Old Man patched up, drugged up,
bucked up, sufficiently to carry the battalion at least to the end of the
retreat of the next few days. It was obvious that that must be done if
there was no one else to take command--no one else that was pretty well
certain to handle the men all right. But if there was anyone else to take
over, didn't the C.O.'s condition make it too risky to let him remain in
authority? Did it, or didn't it? Did it, or didn't it?

Looking at McKechnie coolly as if to see where next he should plant his
fist he had thus speculated. And he was aware that at the most dreadful
moment of his whole life his besetting sin, as the saying is, was getting
back on him. With the dreadful dread of the approaching _strafe_ all
over him, with a weight on his forehead, his eyebrows, his heavily
labouring chest, he had to take...Responsibility. And to realize that he
was a fit person to take responsibility.

He said to McKechnie:

'The M.O. is the person who has to dispose of the Colonel.'

McKechnie exclaimed:

'By God, if that drunken little squit dares...

Tietjens said:

'Derry will act along the lines of my suggestions. He doesn't have to
take orders from me. But he has said that he will act along the lines of
my suggestions. I shall accept the moral responsibility.'

He felt the desire to pant: as if he had just drunk at a draft a too
great quantity of liquid. He did not pant. He looked at his wrist-watch.
Of the time he had decided to give McKechnie thirty seconds remained.

McKechnie made wonderful use of the time. The Germans sent over several
shells. Not such very long distance shells either. For ten seconds
McKechnie went mad. He was always going mad. He was a bore. If that were
only the German customary pooping off...But it was heavier. Unusual
obscenities dropped from the lips of McKechnie. There was no knowing
where the German projectiles were going. Or aimed at. A steam laundry in
Bailleul as like as not. He said:

'Yes! Yes! Aranjuez!'

The tiny subaltern had peeped again, with his comic hat, round the corner
of the pinkish gravel buttress...A good, nervous boy. Imagining that the
fact that he had reported had not been noticed! The gravel certainly
looked more pink now the sun was come up...It was rising on Bemerton! Or
perhaps not so far to the west yet. The parsonage of George Herbert,
author, of _Sweet day so cool, so calm, so bright, the bridal of the
earth and sky_!

It was odd where McKechnie who was still shouting got his words for
unnatural vice. He had been Latin Prize Man. But he was probably quite
pure. The words very likely meant nothing to him...As to the
Tommies!...Then, why did they use them!

The German artillery thumped on! Heavier than the usual salvoes with
which methodically they saluted the dawn. But there were no shells
falling in that neighbourhood. So it might not be the barrage opening the
Great _Strafe_! Very likely they were being visited by some little
German Prince and wanted to show him what shooting was. Or by
Field-Marshal Count von Brunkersdorf! Who had ordered them to shoot down
the chimney of the Bailleul steam laundry. Or it might be sheer
irresponsibility such as distinguished all gunners. Few Germans were
imaginative enough to be irresponsible, but no doubt their gunners were
more imaginative than other Germans.

He remembered being up in the artillery O.P.--what the devil was its
name?--before Albert. On the Albert-Bécourt-Bécordel Road! What the devil
was its name? A gunner had been looking through his glasses. He had said
to Tietjens: 'Look at that fat...!' And through the glasses lent him,
Tietjens had seen, on a hillside in the direction of Martinpuich, a fat
Hun, in shirt and trousers, carrying in his right hand a food tin from
which he was feeding himself with his left. A fat, lousy object:
suggesting an angler on a quiet day. The gunner had said to Tietjens:

'Keep your glass on him!'

And they had chased that miserable German about that naked hillside, with
shells, for ten minutes. Whichever way he bolted, they put a shell in
front of him. Then they let him go. His action, when he had realized that
they were really attending to him, had been exactly that of a rabbit
dodging out of the wheat the reapers have just reached. At last he just
lay down. He wasn't killed. They had seen him get up and walk off later.
Still carrying his bait can!

His antics had afforded those gunners infinite amusement. It afforded
them almost more when all the German artillery on that front, imagining
that God knew what was the matter, had awakened and plastered heaven and
earth and everything between for a quarter of an hour with every
imaginable kind of missile. And had then, abruptly, shut
up...Yes...Irresponsible people, gunners!

The incident had really occurred because Tietjens had happened to ask
that gunner how much he imagined it had cost in shells to smash to pieces
an indescribably smashed field of twenty acres that lay between
Bazentin-le-petit and Mametz Wood. The field was unimaginably smashed,
pulverized, powdered...The gunner had replied that with shells from all
the forces employed it might have cost three million sterling. Tietjens
asked how many men the gunner imagined might have been killed there. The
gunner said he didn't begin to know. None at all, like as not! No one was
very likely to have been strolling about there for pleasure, and it
hadn't contained any trenches. It was just a field. Nevertheless, when
Tietjens had remarked that in that case two Italian labourers with a
steam plough could have pulverized that field about as completely for,
say, thirty shillings the gunner had taken it quite badly. He had made
his men poop off after that inoffensive Hun with the bait can, just to
show what artillery _can_ do.

...At that point Tietjens had remarked to McKechnie:

Tor my part, I shall advise the M.O. to recommend that the Colonel should
be sent back on sick leave for a couple of months. It is within his power
to do that.'

McKechnie had exhausted all his obscene expletives. He was thus sane. His
jaw dropped:

'Send the C.O. back!' he exclaimed lamentably. 'At the very moment
when...'

Tietjens exclaimed:

'Don't be an ass. Or don't imagine that I'm an ass. No one is going to
reap any glory. In this Army. Here and now!' McKechnie said:

'But what price the money? Command pay! Nearly four quid a day. You could
do with two-fifty quid at the end of his two months!'

Not so very long ago it would have seemed impossible that any man
_could_ speak to him about either his private financial affairs or
his intimate motives.

He said:

'I have obvious responsibilities...'

'Some say,' McKechnie went on, 'that you're a b----y millionaire. One of
the richest men in England. Giving coal mines to duchesses. So they say.
Some say you're such a pauper that you hire your wife out to
generals...Any generals. That's how you get your jobs.'

To that Tietjens had had to listen before...

Max Redoubt...It had come suddenly on to his tongue--just as, before, the
name of Bemerton had come, belatedly. The name of the artillery
observation post between Albert and Bécourt-Bécordel had been Max
Redoubt! During the intolerable waitings of that half-forgotten July and
August the name had been as familiar on his lips as...say, as Bemerton
itself...When I forget thee, oh my Bemerton...or, oh my Max Redoubt...may
my right hand forget its cunning!...The unforgettables!...Yet he had
forgotten them!...

If only for a time he had forgotten them. Then, his right hand might
forget its cunning. If only for a time...But even that might be
disastrous: might come at a disastrous moment....The Germans had
suppressed themselves. Perhaps they had knocked down the laundry chimney.
Or hit some G.S. wagons loaded with coal...At any rate, that was not the
usual morning _strafe_. That was to come. Sweet day so cool--began
again.

McKechnie hadn't suppressed himself. He was going to get suppressed. He
had just been declaring that Tietjens had not displayed any chivalry in
not reporting the C.O. if he, Tietjens, considered him to be drunk--or
even chronically alcoholic. No chivalry...

This was like a nightmare!...No it wasn't. It was like fever when things
appear stiffly unreal...And exaggeratedly real! Stereoscopic, you might
say!

McKechnie with an accent of sardonic hate begged to remind Tietjens that
if he considered the C.O. to be a drunkard he ought to have him put under
arrest. King's Regs exacted that. But Tietjens was too cunning. He meant
to have that two-fifty quid. He might be a poor man and need it. Or a
millionaire, and mean. They said that was how millionaires became
millionaires: by snapping up trifles of money that, God knows, would be
godsends to people like himself, McKechnie.

It occurred to Tietjens that two hundred and fifty pounds, after this was
over, might be a godsend to himself in a manner of speaking. And then he
thought:

'Why the devil shouldn't I earn it?'

What was he going to do? After this was over.

And it was going over. Every minute the Germans were not advancing they
were losing. Losing the power to advance...Now, this minute! It was
exciting.

'No!' McKechnie said. 'You're too cunning. If you got poor Bill cashiered
for drunkenness you'd have no chance of commanding. They'd put in another
pukka colonel. As a stop-gap, whilst Bill's on sick leave, you're pretty
certain to get it. That's why you're doing the damnable thing you're
doing.'

Tietjens had a desire to go and wash himself. He felt physically dirty.

Yet what McKechnie said was true enough! It was true!...The mechanical
impulse to divest himself of money was so strong that he began to say:

'In that case ...' He was going to finish: 'I'll _get_ the damned
fellow cashiered.' But he didn't.

He was in a beastly hole. But decency demanded that he shouldn't act in
panic. He had a mechanical, normal panic that made him divest himself of
money. Gentlemen don't earn money. Gentlemen, as a matter of fact, don't
do anything. They exist. Perfuming the air like Madonna lilies. Money
comes into them as air through petals and foliage. Thus the world is made
better and brighter. And, of course, thus political life can be kept
clean!...So you can't make money.

But look here: this Unit was the critical spot of the whole affair. The
weak spots of Brigade, Division, Army, British Expeditionary Force,
Allied Forces...If the Hun went through there..._Fuit Ilium et magna
gloria_...Not much glory!

He was bound to do his best for that unit. That poor b----y unit. And for
the poor b----y knockabout comedians to whom he had lately promised
tickets for Drury Lane at Christmas...The poor devils had said they
preferred the Shoreditch Empire or the old Balham...That was typical of
England. The Lane was the _locus classicus_ of the race, but these
rag-time...heroes, call them heroes!--preferred Shoreditch and Balham!

An immense sense of those grimy, shuffling, grouching, dirty-nosed
pantomime-supers came over him and an intense desire to give them a bit
of luck, and he said:

'Captain McKechnie, you can fall out. And you will return to duty. Your
own duty. In proper head-dress.'

McKechnie, who had been talking, stopped with his head on one side like a
listening magpie. He said:

'What's this? What's this?' stupidly. Then he remarked: 'Oh, well, I
suppose if you're in command...'

Tietjens said:

'It's usual to say "sir," when addressing a senior officer on parade.
Even if you don't belong to his unit.' McKechnie said:

'Don't belong!..._I_ don't...To the poor b----y old pals!

Tietjens said:

'You're attached to Division Headquarters, and you'll get back to it.
Now! At once!...And you won't come back here. Not while I'm in
command...Fall out...'

That was really a duty--a feudal duty!--performed for the sake of
rag-time fellows. They wanted to be rid--and at once!--of dipsomaniacs in
command of that unit and having the disposal of their lives...Well, the
moment McKechnie had uttered the words: 'The poor b----y old pals,' an
illuminating flash had presented Tietjens with the conviction that,
alone, the C.O. was too damn good an officer to appear a dipsomaniac,
even if he were observably drunk quite often. But, seen together with his
fellow McKechnie, the two of them must present a formidable appearance of
being alcoholic lunatics!

The rest of the poor b----y old pals didn't really any more exist. They
were a tradition--of ghosts! Four of them were dead: four in hospital:
two awaiting court-martial for giving stumer cheques. The last of them,
practically, if you excepted McKechnie, was the collection of putrescence
and rags at that moment hanging in the wire apron...The whole complexion
of Headquarters would change with the going of McKechnie.

He considered with satisfaction that he would command a very decent lot.
The Adjutant was so inconspicuous you did not even notice him.
Beady-eyed, like a bird! Always preoccupied. And little Aranjuez, the
signalling officer! And a fat fellow called Dunne, who had represented
Intelligence since the Night Before Last! 'A' Company Commander was
fifty, thin as a pipe-stem and bald; 'B' was a good, fair boy, of good
family; 'C' and 'D' were subalterns, just out. But clean...Satisfactory!

What a handful of frail grass with which to stop an aperture in the dam
of--of the Empire! Damn the Empire! It was England! It was Bemerton
Parsonage that mattered! What did we want with an Empire! It was only a
jerrybuilding Jew like Disraeli that could have provided us with that
jerry-built name! The Tories said they had to have someone to do their
dirty work...Well: they'd had it!

He said to McKechnie:

'There's a fellow called Bemer--I mean Griffiths, 0 Eleven Griffiths, I
understand you're interested in for the Divisional Follies. I'll send him
along to you as soon as he's had his breakfast. He's first-rate with the
cornet.'

McKechnie said:

'Yes sir,' saluted rather limply and took a step.

That was McKechnie all over. He never brought his mad fits to a crisis.
That made him still more of a bore. His face would be distorted like that
of a wild-cat in front of its kittens' hole in a stone wall. But he
became the submissive subordinate. Suddenly! Without rhyme or reason!

Tiring people! Without manners!...They would presumably run the world
now. It would be a tiresome world.

McKechnie, however, was saluting. He held a sealed envelope, rather small
and crumpled, as if from long carrying. He was talking in a controlled
voice after permission asked. He desired Tietjens to observe that the
seal on the envelope was unbroken. The envelope contained 'The Sonnet'.

McKechnie must, then, have gone mad! His eyes, if his voice was quiet,
though with an Oxford-Cockney accent--his prune-coloured eyes were
certainly mad...Hot prunes!

Men shuffled along the trenches, carrying by rope-handles very heavy,
lead-coloured wooden cases: two men to each case. Tietjens said:

'You're "D" Company?...Get a move on!...'

McKechnie, however, wasn't mad. He was only pointing out that he could
pit his Intellect and his Latinity against those of Tietjens: that he
could do it when the great day came!

The envelope, in fact, contained a sonnet. A sonnet Tietjens, for
distraction, had written to rhymes dictated by McKechnie...for
distraction in a moment of stress...

Several moments of stress they had been in together. It ought to have
formed a bond between them. It hadn't...Imagine having a bond with a
Highland-Oxford-Cockney!

Or perhaps it had! There was certainly the sonnet. Tietjens had written
it in two and a half minutes, he remembered, to stave off the thought of
his wife who was then being a nuisance...Two and a half minutes of
forgetting Sylvia! A bit of luck!...But McKechnie had insisted on
regarding it as a challenge. A challenge to his Latinity. He had then and
there undertaken to turn that sonnet into Latin hexameters in two
minutes. Or perhaps four...

But things had got in the way. A fellow called O9 Morgan had got himself
killed over their feet. In the hut. Then they had been busy: with the
Draft!

Apparently McKechnie had sealed up that sonnet in an envelope. In
_that_ envelope. Then and there. Apparently McKechnie had been
inspired with a blind, Celtic, snorting rage to prove that he was better
as a Latinist than Tietjens as a sonneteer. Apparently he was still so
inspired. He was mad to engage in competition with Tietjens.

It was perhaps that that made him not quite mad. He kept sane in order to
be fit for this competition. He was now repeating, holding out the
envelope, seal upwards:

'I suppose you believe I have not read your sonnet, sir. I suppose you
believe I have not read your sonnet, sir...To prepare myself to translate
it more quickly.'

Tietjens said:

'Yes! No!...I don't care.'

He couldn't tell the fellow that the idea of a competition was loathsome
to him. Any sort of competition was loathsome to Tietjens. Even
competitive games. He liked playing tennis. Real tennis. But he very
rarely played because he couldn't get fellows to play with, that beating
would not be disagreeable...And it would be loathsome to be drawn into
any sort of competition with this Prize-man...They were moving very
slowly along the trench, McKechnie retreating sideways and holding out
the seal.

'It's your seal, sir!' he was repeating. 'Your own seal. You see, it
isn't broken...You don't perhaps imagine that I read the sonnet quickly
and made a copy from memory?'

...The fellow wasn't even a decent Latinist. Or verse-maker, though he
was always boasting about it to the impossible, adenoidy, Cockney
subalterns who made up the battalion's mess. He would translate their
chits into Latin verse...But it was always into tags. Generally from the
Aeneid. Like:

'_Conticuere omnes_', or '_Vino somnoque sepultum_!'

That was, presumably, what Oxford of just before the War was doing.

He said:

'I'm not a beastly detective...Yes, of course, I quite believe it.'

He thought of emerging into the society of little Aranjuez who was some
sort of gentle earnest Levantine with pleasure. Think of thinking of a
Levantine with pleasure! He said:

'Yes. It's all right, McKechnie.'

He felt himself solid. He was really in a competition with this fellow.
It was deterioration. He, Tietjens, was crumpling up morally. He had
accepted responsibility: he had thought of two hundred and fifty pounds
with pleasure: now he was competing with a Cockney-Celtic-Prizeman. He
was reduced to that level...Well, as like as not he would be dead before
the afternoon. And no one would know.

Think of thinking about whether any one would know or no!...But it was
Valentine Wannop that wasn't to know. That he had deteriorated under the
strain!...That enormously surprised him. He said to his subconscious
self:

'What! Is _that_ still there!'

That girl was at least an admirable Latinist. He remarked, with a sort of
sardonic glee that, years before, in a dog-cart, emerging from mist,
somewhere in Sussex-Udimore!--she had made him look silly. Over Catullus!
Him, Tietjens!...Shortly afterwards old Campion had run into them with
his motor that he couldn't drive but _would_ drive.

McKechnie, apparently assuaged, said:

'I don't know if you know, sir, that General Campion is to take over his
Army the day after to-morrow...But, of course, you would know.'

Tietjens said:

'No. I didn't...You fellows in touch with Headquarters get to hear of
things long before us.' He added:

'It means that we shall be getting reinforcements...It means the Single
Command.'



IV


It meant that the end of the war was in sight.

In the next sector, in front of the Headquarters' dug-out sacking they
found only Second-Lieutenant Aranjuez and Lance-Corporal Duckett of the
Orderly Room. Both good boys: the Lance-Corporal, with very long graceful
legs. He picked up his feet well, but continually rubbed his ankles with
his shoe when he talked earnestly. Somebody's bastard.

McKechnie plunged at once into the story of the sonnet. The
Lance-Corporal had, of course, a large number of papers for Tietjens to
sign. An untidy, buff and white sheaf, so McKechnie had time to talk. He
wished to establish himself as on a level with the temporary C.O. At
least intellectually.

He didn't. Aranjuez kept on exclaiming:

'The Major wrote a sonnet in two and a half minutes! The Major! Who would
have thought it!' Ingenuous boy!

Tietjens looked at the papers with some attention. He had been so kept
out of contact with the affairs of the battalion, that he wanted to know.
As he had suspected, the paper business of the unit was in a shocking
state. Brigade, Division, even Army and, positively, Whitehall were
_strafing_ for information about everything imaginable from jam,
toothbrushes and braces, to religions, vaccination and barrack
damages...This was interesting matter. A relief to contemplate...You
would almost think all-wise Authority snowed under and broke the backs of
Commanding Officers with papers in order to relieve their minds of
affording alternative interests...alternative to the exigencies of active
hostilities! It was certainly a relief whilst waiting for a _strafe_
to come to the right stage--to have to read a violent enquiry about
P.R.I. funds, whilst the battalion had been resting near a place called
Béhencourt...

It appeared that Tietjens might well be thankful that he had not been
allowed to handle the P.R.I. funds.

The second-in-command is the titular administrator of the Regimental
Institute: he is the president, supposed to attend to the men's billiard
tables, almanacks, backgammon boards, football boots...But the C.O. had
preferred to keep these books in his own hands. Tietjens regarded that as
a slight. Perhaps it had not been.

It went quickly through his head that the C.O. perhaps had financial
difficulties--though that was no real affair of his...The Horse Guards
was pressingly interested in the pre-enlistment affairs of a private
called 64 Smith. They asked violently and for the third time for
particulars of his religion, previous address and real name...That was no
doubt the espionage at work...But Whitehall was also more interested in
answers to queries about the disposal of regimental funds of a training
camp in January, 1915...As long ago as that! The mills of God grind
slowly...That query was covered by a private note from the Brigadier
saying that he wished for goodness' sake the C.O. would answer these
queries or there would have to be a Court of Enquiry.

These particular two papers ought not to have been brought to Tietjens.
He held them between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand and the
query upon 64 Smith S--which seemed rather urgent--between the first and
second, and so handed them to Lance-Corporal Duckett. That nice, clean,
fair boy was, at the moment, talking in intimate undertones to
Second-Lieutenant Aranjuez about the resemblances between the Petrarchan
and the Shakespearean sonnet form...

This was what His Majesty's Expeditionary Force had come to. You had four
of its warriors, four minutes before the zero of a complete advance of
the whole German line, all interested in sonnets...Drake and his game of
bowls--in fact repeated itself!...Differently, of course! But times
change.

He handed the two selected papers to Duckett.

'Give this one to the Commanding Officer,' he said, 'and tell the
Sergeant-Major to find what Company 64 Smith is in and have him brought
to me, wherever I am...I'm going right along the trenches now. Come after
me when you've been to the C.O. and the Sergeant-Major. Aranjuez will
make notes of what I want done about revetting, you can put down anything
about the personnel of the companies...Get a move on!'

He told McKechnie amiably to be out of those lines forthwith. He didn't
want him killed on his hands. The sun was now shining into the trench.

He looked again through Brigade's that morning communication concerning
dispositions the unit was to make in the event of the expected German
attack...Due to begin--the preparatory artillery at least--in three
minutes' time.

Don't we say prayers before battle?...He could not imagine himself doing
it...He just hoped that nothing would happen that would make him lose
control of his mind...Otherwise he found that he was meditating on how to
get the paper affairs of the unit into a better state...'_Who sweeps a
room as for Thy cause_ ...' It was the equivalent of prayer
probably...

He noted that Brigade's injunctions about the coming fight were not only
endorsed with earnestness by Division but also by very serious
exhortations from Army. The chit from Brigade was in handwriting, that
from Division in fairly clear type-script, that from Army in very pale
typed characters...It amounted to this: that they were that day to stick
it till they burst...That meant that there was nothing behind their
backs--from there to the North Sea!...The French were hurrying along
probably...He imagined a lot of little blue fellows in red breeches
trotting along pink, sunlit plains.

(You cannot control your imagination's pictures. Of course the French no
longer wore red trousers.) He saw the line breaking just where the blue
section came to: the rest, swept back into the sea. He saw the whole of
the terrain behind them. On the horizon was a glistening haze. That was
where they were going to be swept to. Or of course they would not be
swept. They would be lying on their faces, exposing the seats of their
breeches. Too negligible for the large dust-pan and broom...What was
death like: the immediate process of dissolution? He stuffed the papers
into his tunic pocket.

He remembered with grimmish amusement that one chit promised him
reinforcements. Sixteen men! Sixteen! Worcesters! From a Worcester
training camp...Why the deuce weren't they sent to the Worcester
battalion just next door? Good fellows, no doubt. But they hadn't got the
drill quiffs of our lot: they were not pals with our men: they did not
know the officers by name. There would be no welcome to cheer them...It
was a queer idea, the deliberate destruction of regimental _esprit de
corps_ that the Home Authorities now insisted on. It was said to be
imitated at the suggestion of a civilian of advanced social views from
the French who in turn had imitated it from the Germans. It is of course
lawful to learn of the Enemy: but is it sensible?

Perhaps it is. The Feudal Spirit was broken. Perhaps it would therefore
be harmful to Trench Warfare. It used to be comfortable and cosy. You
fought beside men from your own hamlet under the leadership of the
parson's son. Perhaps that was not good for you?

At any rate, as at present arranged, dying was a lonely affair.

He, Tietjens, and little Aranjuez there, if something hit them would
die--a Yorkshire territorial magnate's son and the son of, positively, an
Oporto Protestant minister, if you can imagine such a thing!--the
dissimilar souls winging their way to heaven side by side. You'd think
God would find it more appropriate if Yorkshiremen went with other North
Country fellows, and Dagoes with other Papists. For Aranjuez, though the
son of a Nonconformist of sorts, had reverted to the faith of his
fathers.

He said:

'Come along, Aranjuez...I want to see that wet bit of trench before the
Hun shells hit it.'

Well...They were getting reinforcements. The Home Authorities had
awakened to their prayers. They sent them sixteen Worcesters. They would
be three hundred and forty-four--no, forty-three, because he had sent
back 0-Eleven Griffith, the fellow with the cornet--three hundred and
forty-three lonely souls against...say two Divisions! Against about
eighteen thousand, very likely. And they were to stick it till they
burst. Reinforced!

Reinforced. Good God!...Sixteen Worcesters!

What was at the bottom of it all?

Campion was going to command that Army. That meant that real
reinforcements had been promised from the millions of men that filled the
base camps. And it meant the Single Command! Campion would not have
consented to take the command of that Army if he had not had those very
definite promises.

But it would take time. Months! Anything like adequate reinforcements
would take months.

And at that moment, in the most crucial point of the line of the Army, of
the Expeditionary Force, the Allied Forces, the Empire, the Universe, the
Solar system, they had three hundred and sixty-six men commanded by the
last surviving Tory. To face wave on wave of the Enemy. In one minute the
German barrage was due.

Aranjuez said to him:

'You can write a sonnet in two and a half minutes, sir...And your syphon
works like anything in that damp trench...It took my mother's
great-uncle, the canon of Oporto, fifteen weeks to finish his celebrated
sonnet. I know because my mother told me...But you oughtn't to be here,
sir.'

Aranjuez then was the nephew of the author of the _Sonnet to Night_.
He could be. You had to have that sort of oddity to make up this world.
So naturally he was interested in sonnets.

And, having got hold of a battalion with a stretch of damp trench,
Tietjens had had the opportunity of trying a thing he had often thought
of--of drying out vertically cut, damp soil by means of a syphon of
soil-pipes put in, not horizontally but vertically. Fortunately Hackett,
the commander of B Company, that had the wet trench, had been an engineer
in civil life. Aranjuez had been along, out of sheer hero-worship, to B
trenches to see how his hero's syphons had worked. He reported that they
worked like a dream.

Little Aranjuez said:

'These trenches are like Pompeii, sir.'

Tietjens had never seen Pompeii, but he understood that Aranjuez was
referring to the empty square-cut excavations in the earth.
Particularly to their emptiness. And to the deadly stillness in the
sunlight...Admirable trenches. Made to hold an establishment of several
thousand men. To bustle with Cockney life. Now dead empty. They passed
three sentries in the pinkish gravel passage and two men, one with a
pick, the other with a shovel. They were exactly squaring the juncture of
the wall and the path, as they might have done in Pompeii. Or in Hyde
Park! A perfect devil for tidiness, 'A' Comany Commander. But the men
seemed to like it. They were sniggering, though they stopped that, of
course when Tietjens passed...

A nice, dark, tiny boy, Aranjuez: his adoration was charming. From the
very first--and naturally, frightened out of his little life, he had
clung to Tietjens as a child clings to an omnipotent father. Tietjens,
all-wise, could direct the awful courses of war and decree safety for the
frightened! Tietjens needed that sort of worship. The boy said it would
be awful to have anything happen to your eyes. Your girl naturally would
not look at you. Not more than three miles away, Nancy Truefitt was now.
Unless they had evacuated her. Nancy was his flame. In a tea-shop at
Bailleul.

A man was sitting outside the mouth of 'A' dugout, just after they passed
the mouth of the communication trench...Comforting that channel in the
soil looked, running uphill. You could saunter away up there, out of all
this...But you couldn't! There was no turning here either to the right or
to the left!

The man writing in a copy-book had his tin hat right over his eyes.
Engrossed, he sat on a gravel-step, his copybook on his knees. His name
was Slocombe and he was a dramatist. Like Shakespeare. He made fifty
pounds a time writing music-hall sketches: for the outer halls. The outer
halls were the cheap music-halls that go in a ring round the suburbs of
London. Slocombe never missed a second, writing in his copy-books. If you
fell the men out for a rest when marching Slocombe would sit by the
roadside--and out would come his copy-book and his pencil. His wife would
type out what he sent home. And write him grumbling letters if the supply
of copy failed. How was she to keep up the Sunday best of George and
Flossie if he did not keep on writing one-act sketches? Tietjens had this
information through censoring one of the man's letters containing
manuscript...Slocombe was slovenly as a soldier, but he kept the other
men in a good humour, his mind being a perfect repertoire of Cockney
jests at the expense of Big and Little Willy and Brother Fritz. Slocombe
wrote on, wetting his pencil with his tongue.

The Sergeant in the mouth of 'A' Company headquarters dugout started to
turn out some sort of a guard, but Tietjens stopped him. 'A' Company ran
itself on the lines of regulars in the depot. The O.C. had a conduct
sheet book as neat as a ledger! The old, bald, grim fellow. Tietjens
asked the Sergeant questions. Had they their Mills bombs all right? They
weren't short of rifles--first-class order?...But how could they be! Were
there any sick?...Two!...Well, it was a healthy life!...Keep the men
under cover until the Hun barrage began. It was due now.

It was due now. The second-hand of Tietjens' watch, like an animated
pointer of hair, kicked a little on the stroke of the minute...'Crumb!'
said the punctual, distant sound.

Tietjens said to Aranjuez:

'It's presumably coming now!' Aranjuez pulled at the chin strap of his
tin hat.

Tietjens' mouth filled itself with a dreadful salty flavour, the back of
his tongue being dry. His chest and heart laboured heavily. Aranjuez
said:

'If I stop one, sir, you'll tell Nancy Truefitt that...'

Tietjens said:

'Little nippers like you don't stop things...Besides, feel the wind!'

They were at the highest point of the trenches that ran along a hillside.
So they were exposed. The wind had undoubtedly freshened, coming down the
hill. In front and behind, along the trench, they could see views. Land,
some green, greyish trees.

Aranjuez said:

'You think the wind will stop them, sir?' appealingly. Tietjens exclaimed
with gruffness:

'Of course it will stop them. They won't work without gas. Yet their men
hate to have to face the gas-screens. It's our great advantage. It saps
their _moral_. Nothing else would. They can't put up smoke-screens
either.'

Aranjuez said:

'I know you think their gas has ruined them, sir...It was wicked of them
to use it. You can't do a wicked thing without suffering for it, can you,
sir?'

It remained indecently quiet. Like Sunday in a village with the people in
church. But it was not pleasurable.

Tietjens wondered how long physical irregularities would inconvenience
his mind. You cannot think well with a parched back to your tongue. This
was practically his first day in the open during a _strafe_. His
first whole day for quite a time. Since Noircourt!...How long ago?...Two
years?...Maybe!...Then he had nothing to go on to tell him how long he
would be inconvenienced!

It remained indecently quiet! Running footsteps, at first on duckboards,
then on the dry path of trench. They made Tietjens start violently,
inside himself. The house must be on fire!

He said to Aranjuez:

'Some one is in a hurry!'

The lad's teeth chattered. They must have made him feel bad too, the
footsteps...The knocking on the gate in 'Macbeth'!

They began. It had come. Pam...Pamperi...Pam! Pam!...Pa...Pamperi...Pam!
Pam!...Pampamperipampampam...Pam...They were the ones that sound like
drums. They continued incessantly. Immensely big drums. The ones that go
at it with real zest...You know how it is, looking at an opera orchestra
when the fellow with the big drum-sticks really begins. Your own heart
beats like hell. Tietjens' heart, did. The drummer appears to go mad.

Tietjens was never much good at identifying artillery by the sound. He
would have said that these were anti-aircraft guns. And he remembered
that, for some minutes, the drone of plane engines had pervaded the
indecent silence...But that drone was so normal it was part of the
silence. Like your own thoughts. A filtered and engrossed sound, drifting
down from overhead. More like fine dust than noise.

A familiar noise said: 'We...e...e...ry!' Shells always appeared tired of
life. As if after a long, long journey they said: 'Weary!' Very much
prolonging the 'e' sound. Then 'Whack!' when they burst.

This was the beginning of the _strafe_...Though he had been
convinced the _strafe_ was coming he had hoped for a prolongation of
the...say Bemerton!...conditions. The life Peaceful. And Contemplative.
But here it was beginning. 'Oh well...'

This shell appeared heavier and to be more than usually tired. Desultory.
It seemed to pass within six feet over the heads of Aranjuez and himself.
Then, just twenty yards up the hill it said, invisibly, 'Dud!'...And it
was a dud!

It had not, very likely, been aimed at their trench at all. It was
probably just an aircraft shrapnel shell that had not exploded. The
Germans were firing a great number of duds--these days.

So it might not be a sign of the beginning! It was tantalizing. But as
long as it ended the right way one could bear it.

Lance-Corporal Duckett, the fair boy, ran to within two foot of Tietjens'
feet and pulled up with a Guardee's stamp and a terrific salute. There
was life in the old dog yet. Meaning that a zest for spit and polish
survived in places in these ragtime days.

The boy said, panting--it might have been agitation, or that he had run
so fast...But why had he run so fast if he were not agitated:

'If you please, sir,'...Pant...'Will you come to the Colonel?'...Pant.
'With as little delay as possible!' He remained panting.

It went through Tietjens' mind that he was going to spend the rest of
that day in a comfortable, dark hole. Not in the blinding daylight...Let
us be thankful!

Leaving Lance-Corporal Duckett...it came suddenly into his head that he
liked that boy because he suggested Valentine Wannop!...to converse in
intimate tones with Aranjuez and so to distract him from the fear of
imminent death or blindness that would mean the loss of his girl,
Tietjens went smartly back along the trenches. He didn't hurry. He was
determined that the men should not see him hurry. Even if the Colonel
should refuse to be relieved of the command, Tietjens was determined that
the men should have the consolation of knowing that Headquarters numbered
one cool, sauntering soul amongst its members.

They had had, when they took over the Trasna Valley trenches before the
Mametz Wood affair, a rather good Major who wore an eyeglass and was of
good family. He had something the matter with him, for he committed
suicide later...But, as they went in, the Huns, say fifty yards away,
began to shout various national battle-cries of the Allies or the
melodies of regimental quicksteps of British regiments. The idea was that
if they heard, say: '_Some talk of Alexander_...' resounding from an
opposite trench, H.M. Second Grenadier Guards would burst into cheers and
Brother Hun would know what he had before him.

Well, this Major Grosvenor shut his men up, naturally, and stood
listening with his eyeglass screwed into his face and the air of a
connoisseur at a quartette party. At last he took his eyeglass out, threw
it in the air and caught it again.

'Shout, _Banzai!_ men,' he said.

That, on the off-chance, might give the Enemy a scunner at the thought
that we had Japanese troops in the line in front of them, or it would
show them that we were making game of them, a form of offensive that sent
these owlish fellows mad with rage...So the Huns shut up!

That was the sort of humour in an officer that the men still liked--. The
sort of humour Tietjens himself had not got: but he could appear
unconcernedly reflective and all there--and he could tell them, at trying
moments, that, say, their ideas about skylarks were all wrong...That was
tranquilizing.

Once he had heard a Papist Padre preaching in a barn, under shell-fire.
At any rate shells were going overhead and pigs underfoot. The Padre had
preached about very difficult points in the doctrine of the Immaculate
Conception, and the men had listened raptly. He said that was common
sense. They didn't want lachrymose or mortuary orations. They wanted
their minds taken off...So did the Padre!

Thus you talk to the men, just before the event, about skylarks, or the
hind-legs of the elephant at the old Lane! And you don't hurry when the
Colonel sends for you.

He walked along, for a moment or two, thinking nothing. The pebbles in
the gravel of the trench grew clear and individual. Some one had dropped
a letter. Slocombe, the dramatist, was closing his copy-book. Sighing,
apparently, he reached for his rifle. 'A' Company Sergeant-Major was
turning out some men of sorts. He said: 'Get a move on!' Tietjens said as
he passed: 'Keep them under cover as much as you can, Sergeant-Major.'

It occurred to him suddenly that he had committed a military misdemeanour
in leaving Lance-Corporal Duckett with Aranjuez. An officer should not
walk along a stretch of lonely trench without escort. Some Hun offering
might hit him and there would be loss of property to His Majesty. No one
to fetch a doctor or stretcher-bearers while you bled to death. That was
the Army...

Well, he had left Duckett with Aranjuez to comfort him. That minute
subaltern was suffering. God knew what little agonies ran about in his
little mind, like mice! He was as brave as a lion when _strafes_
were on: when they weren't, his little, blackamoor, nobbly face quivered
as the thoughts visited him...

He had really left Valentine Wannop with Aranjuez! That, he realized, was
what he had done. The boy Duckett was Valentine Wannop. Clean, blonde,
small: with the ordinary face, the courageous eyes, the obstinately,
slightly peaked nose...It was just as if, Valentine Wannop being in his
possession, they had been walking along a road and seen someone in
distress. And he, Tietjens, had said:

'I've got to get along. You stop and see what you can do!'

And, amazingly, he was walking along a country road beside Valentine
Wannop, silent, with the quiet intimacy that comes with possession. She
belonged to him...Not a mountain road: not Yorkshire. Not a valley road:
not Bemerton. A country parsonage was not for him. So he wouldn't take
orders!

A down-land road, with some old thorn trees. They only grew really in
Kent. And the sky coming down on all sides. The flat top of a down!

Amazing! He had not thought of that girl for over a fortnight now, except
in moments of great _strafes_, when he had hoped she would not be
too worried if she knew where he was. Because he had the sense that, all
the time, she knew where he was.

He had thought of her less and less. At longer intervals...As with his
nightmare of the mining Germans who desired that a candle should be
brought to the Captain. At first, every night, three or four times every
night, it had visited him...Now it came only once every night...

The physical semblance of that boy had brought the girl back to his mind.
That was accidental, so it was not part of any psychological rhythm. It
did not show him, that is to say, whether, in the natural course of
events and without accidents, she was ceasing to obsess him.

She was certainly now obsessing him! Beyond bearing or belief. His whole
being was overwhelmed by her...by her mentality really. For of course the
physical resemblance of the Lance-Corporal was mere subterfuge.
Lance-Corporals do not resemble young ladies...And, as a matter of fact,
he did not remember exactly what Valentine Wannop looked like. Not
vividly. He had not that sort of mind. It was words that his mind found
that let him know that she was fair, snub-nosed, rather broad-faced and
square on her feet. As if he had made a note of it and referred to it
when he wanted to think of her. His mind didn't make any mental picture:
it brought up a sort of blur of sunlight.

It was the mentality that obsessed him: the exact mind, the impatience of
solecisms and facile generalizations!...A queer catalogue of the charms
of one's lady love!...But he wanted to hear her say: 'Oh, chuck it, Edith
Ethel!' when Edith Ethel Duchemin, now of course Lady Mac-master, quoted
some of the opinions expressed in Mac-master's critical monograph about
the late Mr Rossetti...How _very_ late now!

It would rest him to hear that. She was, in effect, the only person in
the world that he wanted to hear speak. Certainly the only person in the
world that he wanted to talk to. The only clear intelligence!...The
repose that his mind needed from the crackling of thorns under all the
pots of the world...From the eternal, imbecile 'Pampamperipam Pam Pamperi
Pam Pam!' of the German guns that all the while continued...

Why couldn't they chuck that? What good did it do them to keep that mad
drummer incessantly thundering on his stupid instrument?...Possibly they
might bring down some of our planes, but they generally didn't. You saw
the black balls of their shells exploding and slowly expand like
pocket-handkerchiefs about the unconcerned planes, like black peas aimed
at dragon-flies, against the blue: the illuminated, pinkish, pretty
things!...But his dislike of those guns was just dislike--a Tory
prejudice. They were probably worth while. Just...

You naturally tried every argument in the unseen contest of wills that
went on across the firmament.

'Ho!' says our Staff, 'they are going to attack in force at such an hour
ackemma,' because naturally the staff thought in terms of ackemma years
after the twenty-four-hour day had been established. 'Well, we'll send
out a million machine gun planes to wipe out any men they've got moving
up into support!'

It was of course unusual to move bodies of men by daylight. But this game
had only two resources: you used the usual. Or the unusual.
_Usually_ you didn't begin your barrage after dawn and launch your
attack at ten-thirty or so. So you might do it--the Huns might be trying
it on--as a surprise measure.

On the other hand, our people might be sending over the planes, whose
immense droning was then making your very bones vibrate, in order to tell
the Huns that we were ready to be surprised: that the time had now come
round when we might be expecting the Hun brain to think out a surprise.
So we sent out those deathly, dreadful things to run along just over the
tops of the hedgerows, in spite of all the guns! For there was nothing
more terrifying in the whole war than that span of lightness, swaying,
approaching a few feet above the heads of your column of men: instinct
with wrath: dispensing the dreadful rain! So we had sent them. In a
moment they would be tearing down...

Of course if this were merely a demonstration: if, say, there were no
reinforcements moving, no troops detraining at the distant railhead, the
correct Hun answer would be to hammer some of our trenches to hell with
all the heavy stuff they could put on to them. That was like saying
sardonically:

'God, if you interfere with our peace and quiet on a fine day we'll
interfere with yours!' And...Kerumph...the wagons of coal would fly over
until we recalled our planes and all went to sleep again over the
chess-board...You would probably be just as well off if you refrained
from either demonstration or counter-demonstration. But Great General
Staff liked to exchange these wittiscisms in iron. And a little blood!

A Sergeant of sorts approached him from Bn H.Q. way, shepherding a man
with a head wound. His tin hat, that is to say, was perched jauntily
forward over a bandage. He was Jewish-nosed, appeared not to have shaved,
though he had, and appeared as if he ought to have worn pince-nez to
complete his style of Oriental manhood. Private Smith. Tietjens said:

'Look here, what was your confounded occupation before the war?'

The man replied with an agreeable, cultured throaty intonation:

'I was a journalist, sir. On a Socialist paper. Extreme Left!'

'And what,' Tietjens asked, 'was your agreeable name?...I'm obliged to
ask you that question. I don't want to insult you.'

In the old regular army it was an insult to ask a private if he was not
going under his real name. Most men enlisted under false names.

The man said:

'Eisenstein, sir!'

Tietjens asked if the man were a Derby recruit or compulsorily enlisted.
He said he had enlisted voluntarily. Tietjens said: 'Why?' If the fellow
was a capable journalist and on the right side he would be more useful
outside the army. The man said he had been foreign correspondent of a
Left paper. Being correspondent of a Left paper with a name like
Eisenstein deprived one of one's chance of usefulness. Besides he wanted
to have a whack at the Prussians. He was of Polish extraction. Tietjens
asked the Sergeant if the man had a good record. The Sergeant said:
'First-class man. First-class soldier.' He had been recommended for the
D.C.M. Tietjens said:

'I shall apply to have you transferred to the Jewish regiment. In the
meantime you can go back to the First Line Transport. You shouldn't have
been a Left journalist and have a name like Eisenstein. One or the other.
Not both.' The man said the name had been inflicted on his ancestry in
the Middle Ages. He would prefer to be called Esau, as a son of that
tribe. He pleaded not to be sent to the Jewish regiment, which was
believed to be in Mesopotamia, just when the fighting there was at its
most interesting.

'You're probably thinking of writing a book,' Tietjens said. 'Well, there
are all Abana and Pharpar to write about. I'm sorry. But you're
intelligent enough to see that I can't take...' He stopped, fearing that
if the Sergeant heard any more the men might make it hot for the fellow
as a suspect.. He was annoyed at having asked his name before the
Sergeant. He appeared to be a good man. Jews could fight...And hunt!...But
he wasn't going to take any risks. The man, dark-eyed and erect,
flinched a little, gazing into Tietjens' eyes.

'I suppose you can't, sir,' he said. 'It's a disappointment. I'm not
writing anything. I want to go on in the Army. I like the life.'

Tietjens said:

'I'm sorry, Smith. I can't help it. Fall out!' He was sorry. He believed
the fellow. But responsibility hardens the heart. It must. A very short
time ago he would have taken trouble over that fellow. A great deal of
trouble, very likely. Now he wasn't going to...

A large capital 'A' in whitewash decorated the piece of corrugated iron
that was derelictly propped against a channel at right angles to the
trench. To Tietjens' astonishment a strong impulse like a wave of passion
influenced his being towards the left--up that channel. It wasn't funk:
it wasn't any sort of funk. He had been rather irritatedly wrapped up in
the case of Private Smith-Eisenstein. It had undeniably irritated him to
have to break the chances of a Jew and Red Socialist. It was the sort of
thing one did not do if one were omnipotent--as he was. Then...this
strong impulse?...It was a passionate desire to go where you could find
exact intellect: rest.

He thought he suddenly understood. For the Lincolnshire Sergeant-Major
the word Peace meant that a man could stand up on a hill. For him it
meant someone to talk to.



V


The Colonel said:

'Look here, Tietjens, lend me two hundred and fifty quid. They say you're
a damn beastly rich fellow. My accounts are all out. I've got a loathsome
complaint. My friends have all gone back on me. I shall have to face a
Court of Enquiry if I go home. But my nerve's gone. I've got to go home.'

He added:

'I daresay you knew all that.'

From the sudden fierce hatred that he felt at the thought of giving money
to this man, Tietjens knew that his inner mind based all his calculations
on the idea of living with Valentine Wannop...when men could stand up on
hills.

He had found the Colonel in his cellar--it really, actually was a cellar,
the remains of a farm--sitting on the edge of his camp-bed, in his
shorts, his khaki shirt very open at the neck. His eyes were a little
bloodshot, but his cropped, silver-grey hair was accurately waved, his
grey moustache beautifully pointed. His silver-backed hair-brushes and a
small mirror were indeed on the table in front of him. By the rays of the
lamp that, hung overhead, rendered that damp stone place faintly
nauseating, he looked keen, clean and resolute. Tietjens wondered how he
would look by daylight. He had remarkably seldom seen the fellow by
daylight. Beside the mirror and the brushes lay, limply, an unfilled
pipe, a red pencil and the white buff papers from Whitehall that Tietjens
had already read.

He had begun by looking at Tietjens with a keen, hard, bloodshot glance.
He had said:

'You think you can command this battalion? Have you any experience? It
appears you suggest that I take two months' leave.'

Tietjens had expected a violent outbreak. Threats even. None had come.
The Colonel had continued to regard him with intentness, nothing more. He
sat motionless, his long arms, bare to the elbow, dependent over each of
his knees which were far apart. He said that if he decided to go he
didn't want to leave his battalion to a man that would knock it about. He
continued staring hard at Tietjens. The phrase was singular in that place
and at that hour, but Tietjens understood it to mean that he did not want
his battalion discipline to go to pieces.

Tietjens answered that he did not think he would let the discipline go to
pieces. The Colonel bad said:

'How do you know? You're no sddier, are you?'

Tietjens said he had commanded in the line a Company at full
strength--nearly as large as the battalion and, out of it, a unit of
exactly eight times its present strength. He did not think any complaints
had been made of him. The Colonel said, frostily:

'Well! I know nothing about you.' He had added:

'You seem to have moved the battalion all right the night before last. I
wasn't in a condition to do it myself. I'm not well. I'm obliged to you.
The men appear to like you. They're tired of me.'

Tietjens felt himself on tenterhooks. He had, now, a passionate desire to
command that battalion. It was the last thing he would have expected of
himself. He said:

'If it becomes a question of a war of motion, sir, I don't know that I
should have much experience.'

The Colonel answered:

'It won't become a war of motion before I come back. If I ever do come
back.'

Tietjens said:

'Isn't it rather like a war of motion now, sir?' It was perhaps the first
time in his life he had ever asked for information from a superior in
rank--with an implicit belief that he would get an exact answer. The
Colonel said:

'No. This is only falling back on prepared positions. There will be
positions prepared for us right back to the sea. If the Staff has done
its work properly. If it hasn't, the war's over. We're done, finished,
smashed, annihilated, non-existent.'

Tietjens said:

'But if the great _strafe_ that, according to Division, is due
now...'

The Colonel said: 'What?' Tietjens repeated his words and added:

'We might get pushed beyond the next prepared position.'

The Colonel appeared to withdraw his thoughts from a great distance.

'There isn't going to be any great _strafe_,' he said. He was
beginning to add: 'Division has got...' A considerable thump shook the
hill behind their backs. The Colonel sat listening without much
attention. His eyes gloomily rested on the papers before him. He said,
without looking up:

'Yes: I don't want my battalion knocked about!' He went on reading
again--the communication from Whitehall. He said: 'You've read this?' and
then:

'Falling back on prepared positions isn't the same as moving in the open.
You don't have to do more than you do in a trench-to-trench attack. I
suppose you can get your direction by compass all right. Or get someone
to, for you.'

Another considerable crump of sound shook the earth but from a little
further away. The Colonel turned the sheet of paper over. Pinned to the
back of it was the private note of the Brigadier. He perused this also
with gloomy and unsurprised eyes.

'Pretty stiff, all this,' he said. 'You've read it? I shall have to go
back and see about this.'

He exclaimed:

'It's rough luck. I should have liked to leave my battalion to someone
that knew it. I don't suppose you do. Perhaps you do, though.'

An immense collection of fire-irons: all the fire-irons in the world fell
just above their heads. The sound seemed to prolong itself in echoes,
though of course it could not have. It was repeated.

The Colonel looked upwards negligently. Tietjens proposed to go to see.
The Colonel said:

'No, don't. Notting will tell us if anything's wanted...Though nothing
can be wanted!' Notting was the beady-eyed Adjutant in the adjoining
cellar. 'How could they expect us to keep accounts straight in August
1914? How can they expect me to remember what happened? At the Depot.
Then!' He appeared listless, but without resentment. 'Rotten luck...' he
said. 'In the battalion and ...with this!' He rapped the back of his hand
on the papers. He looked up at Tietjens.

'I suppose I could get rid of you; with a bad report,' he said. 'Or
perhaps I couldn't...General Campion put you here. You're said to be his
bastard.'

'He's my godfather,' Tietjens said. 'If you put in a bad report of me I
should not protest. That is, if it were on the grounds of lack of
experience. I should go to the Brigadier over anything else.'

'It's the same thing,' the Colonel said, 'I mean a godson. If I had
thought you were General Campion's bastard, I should not have said
it...No; I don't want to put in a bad report of you. It's my own fault if
you don't know the battalion. I've kept you out of it. I didn't want you
to see what a rotten state the papers are in. They say you're the devil
of a paper soldier. You used to be in a Government office, didn't you?'

Heavy blows were being delivered to the earth with some regularity on
each side of the cellar. It was as if a boxer of the size of a mountain
were delivering rights and lefts in heavy alternation. And it made
hearing rather difficult.

'Rotten luck,' the Colonel said. 'And McKechnie's dotty. Clean dotty.'
Tietjens missed some words. He said that he would probably be able to get
the paper work of the battalion straight before the Colonel came back.

The noise rolled down hill like a heavy cloud. The Colonel continued
talking and Tietjens, not being very accustomed to his voice, lost a good
deal of what he said but, as if in a rift, he did hear:

'I'm not going to burn my fingers with a bad report on you that may bring
a General on my back--to get back McKechnie who's dotty...Not fit to...'

The noise rolled in again. Once the Colonel listened to it, turning his
head on one side and looking upwards. But he appeared satisfied with what
he heard and recommenced his perusal of the Horse Guards letter. He took
the pencil, underlined words and then sat idly stabbing the paper with
the point.

With every minute Tietjens' respect for him increased. This man at least
knew his job--as an engine-dresser does, or the captain of a steam tramp.
His nerves might have gone to pieces. They probably had; probably he
could not go very far without stimulants: he was probably under bromides
now.

And, all things considered, his treatment of Tietjens had been admirable
and Tietjens had to revise his view of it. He realized that it was
McKechnie who had given him the idea that the Colonel hated him: but he
would not have said anything. He was too old a hand in the Army to give
Tietjens a handle by saying anything definite...And he had always treated
Tietjens with a sort of monumental deference that, in a Mess, the Colonel
should bestow on his chief assistant. Going through a door at meal-times,
for instance, if they happened to be side by side, he would motion with
his hand for Tietjens to go first, naturally though, taking his proper
precedence when Tietjens halted. And here he was, perfectly calm. And
quite ready to be instructive.

Tietjens was not calm: he was too much bothered by Valentine Wannop and
by the thought that, if the _strafe_ was on, he ought to be seeing
about his battalion. And of course by the bombardment. But the Colonel
said, when Tietjens with the aid of signs again made proposals to take a
look around:

'No. Stop where you are. This isn't the _strafe_. There is not going
to be a _strafe_. This is only a little extra Morning Hate. You can
tell by the noise. That's only four point two's. There's nothing really
heavy. The really heavies don't come so fast. They'll be turning on to
the Worcesters now and only giving us one every half minute...That's
their game. If you don't know that, what are you doing here?' He added:
'You hear?' pointing his forefinger to the roof. The noise shifted. It
went away to the right as a slow coal-wagon might. He went on:

'This is your place. Not doing things up above. They'll come and tell you
if they want things. And you've got a first-rate Adjutant in Notting and
Dunne's a good man...The men are all under cover: that's an advantage in
having your strength down to three hundred. There's dugouts for all and
to spare...All the same, this is no place for you. Nor for me. This is a
young man's war. We're old uns. Three and a half years of it have done
for me. Three and a half months will do for you.'

He looked gloomily at his reflection in the mirror that stood before him.

'You're a gone coon!' he said to it. Then he took it and holding it for a
moment poised at the end of a bare white arm, flung it violently at the
rough stones of the wall behind Tietjens. The fragments tinkled to the
ground.

'There's seven years' bad luck,' he said. 'God take 'em, if they can give
me seven years worse than this last I'd find it instructive!'

He looked at Tietjens with infuriated eyes.

'Look here you!' he said, 'you're an educated man...What's the
_worst_ thing about this war? What's the worst thing? Tell me that!'
His chest began to heave. 'It's that they won't let us alone. Never! Not
one of us! If they'd let us alone we could fight. But never...No one!
It's not only the beastly papers of the battalion, though I'm no good
with papers. Never was and never shall be...But it's the people at home.
One's own people. God help us, you'd think that when a poor devil was in
the trenches they'd let him alone...Damn it: I've had solicitors' letters
about family quarrels when I was in hospital. Imagine that! ...Imagine
it! I don't mean tradesmen's dunnings. But one's own people. I haven't
even got a bad wife as McKechnie has and they say you have. My wife's a
bit extravagant and the children are expensive. That's worry enough...But
my father died eighteen months ago. He was in partnership with my uncle.
A builder. And they tried to do his estate out of his share of the
business and leave my old mother with nothing. And my brother and sister
threw the estate into Chancery in order to get back the little bit my
father spent on my wife and children. My wife and children lived with my
father whilst I was in India...And out here...My solicitor says they can
get it out of my share: the cost of their keep. He calls it the doctrine
of ademption. Ademption...Doctrine of...I was better off as a Sergeant,'
he added gloomily. 'But Sergeants don't get let alone. They've always got
women after them. Or their wives take up with Belgians and they get
written to about it. Sergeant Cutts of "D" Company gets an anonymous
letter every week about his wife. How's he to do his duty! But he does.
So have I till now...' He added with renewed violence:

'Look here. You're an educated man, aren't you? The sort of man that
could write a book. You write a book about that. You write to the papers
about it. You'd be more use to the Army doing that than being here. I
daresay you're a good enough officer. Old Campion is too keen a commander
to stick a rotten officer into this job, godson or no godson...Besides, I
don't believe the whole story about you. If a General wanted to give a
soft godson's job to a fellow, it would be a soft job and a fat one. He
wouldn't send him here. So take the battalion with my blessing. You won't
worry over it more than I have: the poor bloody Glamorgans.'

So he had his battalion! He drew an immense breath. The bumps began to
come back along the line. He figured those shells as being like
sparrow-hawks beating along a hedge. They were probably pretty accurate.
The Germans were pretty accurate. The trenches were probably being
knocked about a good deal, the pretty, pinkish gravel falling about in
heaps as it would lie in a park, ready to be spread on paths. He
remembered how he had been up on the Montagne Noire, still, thank God,
behind where they were now. Why did he thank God? Did he really care
where the Army was. Probably! But enough to say 'thank God' about?
Probably too...But as long as they kept on at the job did anything
matter? Anything else? It was keeping on that mattered. From the Montagne
Noire he had seen our shells bursting on a thinnish line in the distance,
in shining weather. Each shell existing in a white puff, beautifully.
Forward and backward along the line...Under Messines village. He had felt
exhilaration to think that our gunners were making such good practice.
Now some Hun on a hill was feeling exhilaration over puffs of smoke in
our line!...But he, Tietjens, was...Damn it, he was going to make two
hundred and fifty quid towards living with Valentine Wannop--when you
really _could_ stand up on a hill...anywhere!

The Adjutant, Notting, looked in and said:

'Brigade wants to know if we're suffering any, sir?' The Colonel surveyed
Tietjens with irony:

'Well, what are you going to report?' he asked...'This officer is taking
over from me,' he said to Notting. Notting's beady eyes and red-varnished
cheeks expressed no emotions.

'Oh, tell Brigade,' the Colonel said, 'that we're all as happy as
sand-boys. We could stand this till Kingdom come.' He asked: 'We
_aren't_ suffering any, are we?'

Notting said: no, not in particular. 'C' Company was grumbling that all
its beautiful revetments had been knocked to pieces. The sentry near
their own dugout complained that the pebbles in the gravel were nearly as
bad as shrapnel.

'Well, tell Brigade what I said. With Major Tietjens' compliments, not
mine. He's in command.'

...You may as well make a cheerful impression to begin with,' he added to
Tietjens.

It was then that, suddenly, he burst out with:

'Look here! Lend me two hundred and fifty quid!'

He remained staring fixedly at Tietjens with an odd air of a man who has
just asked a teasing, jocular conundrum...

Tietjens had recoiled--really half an inch. The man said he was suffering
from a loathsome disease: it was being near something dirty. You don't
contract loathsome diseases except from the cheapest kind of women or
through being untidy-minded...The man's pals had gone back on him. That
sort of man's pals do go back on him His accounts were all out...He was
in short the sort of swindling, unclean scoundrel to whom one lent
money...Irresistibly!

A crash of the sort you couldn't ignore, as is the case with certain
claps in thunderstorms, sent a good deal of gravel down their cellar
steps. It crashed against their shaky door. They heard Notting come out
of his cellar and tell someone to shovel the beastly stuff back again
where it had come from.

The Colonel looked up at the roof. He said that had knocked their parapet
about a bit. Then he resumed his fixed gaze at Tietjens.

Tietjens said to himself.

'I'm losing my nerve...It's the damned news that Campion is coming...I'm
becoming a wretched, irresolute Johnny.'

The Colonel said:

'Pm not a beastly sponger. I never borrowed before!' His chest
heaved...It really expanded and then got smaller again, the orifice in
the khaki at his throat contracting...Perhaps he had never borrowed
before...

After all, it didn't matter what kind of man this was, it was a question
of what sort of a man Tietjens was becoming. He said:

'I can't lend you the money. I'll guarantee an overdraft to your agents.
For two hundred and fifty.'

Well, then, he remained the sort of man who automatically lent money. He
was glad.

The Colonel's face fell. His martially erect shoulders indeed collapsed.
He exclaimed ruefully:

'Oh, I say, I thought you were the sort one could go to.' Tietjens said:

'It's the same thing. You can draw a cheque on your bank exactly as if I
paid the money in.'

The Colonel said:

'I _can?_ It's the same thing? You're sure?' His questions were like
the pleas of a young woman asking you not to murder her.

...He obviously was not a sponger. He was a financial virgin. There could
not be a subaltern of eighteen in the whole army who did not know what it
meant to have an overdraft guaranteed after a fortnight's
leave...Tietjens only wished they didn't. He said:

'You've practically got the money in your hand as you sit there. I've
only to write the letter. It's impossible your agents should refuse my
guarantee. If they do, I'll raise the money and send it to you.'

He wondered why he didn't do that last in any case. A year or so ago he
would have had no hesitation about overdrawing his account to any extent.
Now he had an insupportable objection. Like a hatred!

He said:

'You'd better let me have your address,' he added, for his mind was
really wandering a little. There was too much talk! 'I suppose you'll go
to No. IX Red Cross at Rouen for a bit.'

The Colonel sprang to his feet:

'My God, what's that?' he cried out. 'Me...to No. IX.'

Tietjens exclaimed:

'I don't know the procedure. You said you had...'

The other cried out:

'I've got cancer. A big swelling under the armpit.' He passed his hand
over his bare flesh through the opening of his shirt, the long arm
disappearing to the elbow. 'Good God...I suppose when I said my pals had
gone back on me you thought I'd asked them for help and been refused. I
haven't...They're all killed. That's the worst way you can go back on a
pal, isn't it? Don't you understand men's language?'

He sat down heavily on his bed again.

He said:

'By Jove: if you hadn't promised to let me have the money there would
have been nothing for me but to make a hole in the water.'

Tietjens said:

'Well, don't contemplate it now. Get yourself well looked after. What
does Derry say?'

The Colonel again started violently:

'Derry! The M.O...Do you think I'd tell him! Or little squits of
subalterns? Or any man! You understand now why I wouldn't take Derry's
beastly pill. How do I know what it mightn't do to...'

Again he passed his hand under his armpit, his eyes taking on a yearning
and calculating expression. He added:

'I thought it a duty to tell you as I was asking you for a loan. You
might not get repaid. I suppose your offer still holds good?'

Drops of moisture had hitherto made beads on his forehead; it now shone,
uniformly wet.

'If you haven't consulted anybody,' Tietjens said, 'you mayn't have got
it. I should have yourself seen to right away. My offer still holds
good!'

'Oh, I've got it, all right,' the Colonel answered with an air of
infinite sapience. 'My old man--my governor--had it. Just like that. And
he never told a soul till three days before his death. Neither shall I.'

'I should get it seen to,' Tietjens maintained. 'It's a duty to your
children. And the King. You're too damn good a soldier for the Army to
lose.'

'Nice of you to say so,' the Colonel said. 'But I've stood too much. I
couldn't face waiting for the verdict.'

...It was no good saying he had faced worse things. He very likely
hadn't, being the man he was.

The Colonel said:

'Now if I could be any good!'

Tietjens said:

'I suppose I may go along the trenches now. There's a wet place...

He was determined to go along the trenches. He had to...what was
it...'find a place to be alone with Heaven.' He maintained also his
conviction that he must show the men his mealsack of a body, mooning
along; but attentive.

A problem worried him. He did not like putting it since it might seem to
question the Colonel's military efficiency. He wrapped it up: had the
Colonel any special advice as to keeping in touch with units on the right
and left? And as to passing messages.

...That was a mania with Tietjens. If he had had his way he would keep
the battalion day and night at communication drill. He had not been able
to discover that any precautions of that sort were taken in that unit at
all. Or in the others alongside...

He had hit on the Colonel's heel of Achilles.

In the open it became evident: more and more and more and always more
evident! The news that General Campion was taking over that command had
changed Tietjens' whole view of the world.

The trenches were much as he had expected. They conformed indeed exactly
to the image he had had in the cellar. They resembled heaps of reddish
gravel laid out ready to distribute over the roads of parks. Getting out
of the dugout had been like climbing into a trolley that had just been
inverted for the purposes of discharging its load. It was a nasty job for
the men, cleaving a passage and keeping under cover. Naturally the German
sharpshooters were on the lookout. Our problem was to get as much of the
trench as you could set up by daylight. The German problem was to get as
many of our men as possible. Tietjens would see that our men stayed under
cover until nightfall; the commander of the unit opposite would attend to
the sniping of as many men as he could. Tietjens himself had three
first-class snipers left: they would attempt to get as many of the German
snipers as they could. That was self-defence.

In addition a great many Enemy attentions would direct themselves to
Tietjens' stretch of the line. The artillery would continue to plunk in a
shell or so from time to time. They would not do this very often because
it would invite the attention of our artillery and that might prove too
costly. More or less heavy masses of High Explosives would be thrown on
to the line: what the Germans called _Minenwerfer_ might project
what our people called sausages. These being visible coming through the
air you posted lookouts who gave you warning in time to get under cover.
So the Germans had rather abandoned the use of these, probably as being
costly in explosives and not so very effective. They made, that is to
say, good holes but accounted for few men.

Airplanes with their beastly bullet-distributing hoppers--that is what
they seemed like--would now and then duck along the trench, but not very
often. The proceeding was, again, too costly: they would limit themselves
as a rule to circling leisurely overhead and dropping things whilst the
shrapnel burst round them--and spattered bullets over the trench. Flying
pigs, aerial torpedoes, and other floating missiles, pretty, shining,
silvery things with fins, would come through the air and would explode on
striking the ground or after burying themselves. There was practically no
end to their devices and the Huns had a new one every other week or so.
They perhaps wasted themselves on new devices. A good many of them turned
out to be duds. And a good many of their usually successful missiles
turned out to be duds. They were undoubtedly beginning to feel the
strain--mental and in their materials. So that if you had to be in these
beastly places it was probably better to be in our trenches than theirs.
Our war material was pretty good!

This was the war of attrition...A mug's game! A mug's game as far as
killing men was concerned, but not an uninteresting occupation if you
considered it as a struggle of various minds spread all over the broad
landscape in the sunlight. They did not kill many men and they expended
an infinite number of missiles and a vast amount of thought. If you took
six million men armed with loaded canes and stockings containing bricks
or knives and set them against another six million men similarly armed,
at the end of three hours four million on the one side and the entire six
million on the other would be dead. So, as far as killing went, it really
was a mug's game. That was what happened if you let yourself get into the
hands of the applied scientist. For all these things were the products
not of the soldier but of hirsute, bespectacled creatures who peered
through magnifying glasses. Or of course, on our side, they would be
shaven-cheeked and less abstracted. They were efficient as slaughterers
in that they enabled the millions of men to be moved. When you had only
knives you could not move very fast. On the other hand, your knife killed
at every stroke: you would set a million men firing at each other with
rifles from eighteen hundred yards. But few rifles ever registered a hit.
So the invention was relatively inefficient. And it dragged things out!

And suddenly it had become boring.

They were probably going to spend a whole day during which the Germans
would strain themselves, their intelligences flickering across the world,
to kill a couple of Tietjens' men, and Tietjens would exercise all his
care in the effort not to have even one casualty. And at the end of the
day they would all be very tired and the poor b----y men would have to
set to work to repair the trenches in earnest. That was the ordinary
day's work.

He was going about it...He had got 'A' Company Commander to come up and
talk to him about his fatigues. To the right of Headquarters the trenches
appeared to have suffered less than to the left and it was possible to
move quite a number of men without risk. 'A' Company Commander was an
astonishingly thin, bald man of fifty. He was so bald that his tin hat
slid about all over his skull. He had been a small shipowner and must
have married very late in life, for he spoke of having two children, one
of five, one of seven. A pigeon pair. His business was now making fifty
thousand a year for him. It pleased Tietjens to think that his children
would be well provided for if he were killed. A nice, silent, capable man
who usually looked into the distance rather abstractedly when he talked.
He was killed two months later, cleanly, by a bullet.

He was impatient that things had not got a move on. What had become of
the big Hun _strafe_?

Tietjens said:

'You remember the Hun company-sergeant-major that surrendered to your
crowd the night before last? The fellow who said he was going to open a
sweet-stuff shop in the Tottenham Court Road with the company money he
had stolen?...Or perhaps you did not hear?'

The remembrance of that shifty-looking N.C.O. in blue-grey that was
rather smart for a man coming in during a big fight stirred up intensely
disagreeable feelings from the bottom of Tietjens' mind. It was
detestable to him to be in control of the person of another human
being--as detestable as it would have been to be himself a
prisoner...that thing that he dreaded most in the world. It was indeed
almost more detestable, since to be taken prisoner was at least a thing
outside your own volition, whereas to control a prisoner, even under the
compulsion of discipline on yourself, implies a certain free-will of your
own. And this had been an especially loathsome affair. Even normally,
though it was irrational enough, prisoners affected him with the sense
that they were unclean. As if they were maggots. It was not sensible; but
he knew that if he had had to touch a prisoner he would have felt nausea.
It was no doubt the product of his passionate Tory sense of freedom. What
distinguished man from the brutes was his freedom. When then a man was
deprived of freedom he became like a brute. To exist in his society was
to live with brutes: like Gulliver amongst the Houyhnhms!

And this unclean fellow had been a deserter in addition!

He had been brought into the H.Q. dugout at three in the morning after
the _strafe_ had completely died out. It appeared that he had come
over, ostensibly in the ordinary course of the attack. But he had lain
all night in a shell hole, creeping in to our lines only when things were
quiet. Previously to starting he had crammed his pockets with all the
company money and even the papers that he could lay his hands on. He had
been brought to H.Q. at that disagreeable hour because of the money and
the papers, 'A' Company judging that such things ought to be put in the
hands at least of the Adjutant as quickly as possible.

The C.O., McKechnie, the Intelligence Officer and the doctor had all, in
addition to Tietjens himself, just settled in there, and the air of the
smallish place was already fetid and reeking with service rum and whisky.
The appearance of the German had caused Tietjens almost to vomit, and he
was already in a state of enervation from having had to bring the
battalion in. His temples were racked with a sort of neuralgia that he
believed to be caused by eyestrain.

Normally, the questioning of prisoners before they reached Division was
strongly discountenanced, but a deserter excites more interest than an
ordinary prisoner, and the C.O. who was by then in a state of hilarious
mutiny absolutely ordered Tietjens to get all he could out of the
prisoner. Tietjens knew a little German: the Intelligence Officer who
knew that language well had been killed. Dunne, replacing him, had no
German.

The shifty, upright, thin, dark fellow with even unusually uneasy eyes,
had answered questions readily enough. Yes, the Huns were fed up with the
war; discipline had become so difficult to maintain that one of his
reasons for deserting had been sheer weariness over the effort to keep
the men under him in order. They had no food. It was impossible to get
the men, in an advance, past any kind of food dumps. He was continually
being unjustly reprimanded for his want of success, and standing there he
cursed his late officers! Nevertheless, when the C.O. made Tietjens ask
him some questions about an Austrian gun that the Germans had lately
introduced to that front and that threw a self-burying shell containing
an incredible quantity of H.E., the fellow had clicked his heels together
and had answered:

'_Nein, Herr Offizier, das wäre Landesverratung_!'...to answer that
would be to betray one's country. His psychology had been difficult to
grasp. He had explained as well as he could, using a few words of
English, the papers that he had brought over. They were mostly
exhortations to the German soldiers, circulars containing news of
disasters to and the demoralization of the Allied troops; there were also
a few returns of no great interest--mostly statistics of influenza cases.
But when Tietjens had held before the fellow's eyes a typewritten page
with a heading that he had now forgotten, the Sergeant had exclaimed:
'_Ach, nicht das_!'...and had made as if to snatch the paper from
Tietjens' fingers. Then he had desisted, realizing that he was risking
his life, no doubt. But he had become as pale as death, and had refused
to translate the phrases that Tietjens did not understand; and indeed
Tietjens understood practically none of the words, which were all
technical.

He knew the paper contained some sort of movement orders; but he was by
that time heartily sick of the affair and he knew that that was just the
sort of paper that the staff did not wish men in the line to meddle with.
So he dropped the matter, and the Colonel and the Pals being by that time
tired of listening and not grasping what was happening, Tietjens had sent
the fellow at the double back to Brigade under the charge of the
Intelligence Officer and a heavier escort than was usual.

What remained to Tietjens of the affair was the expression that the
fellow had used when asked what he was going to do with the Company money
he had stolen. He was going to open a little sweet shop in the Tottenham
Court Road. He had, of course, been a waiter: in Old Compton Street.
Tietjens wondered vaguely what would become of him. What did they do with
deserters? Perhaps they interned them: perhaps they made them N.C.O.'s in
prisoners' units. He could never go back to Germany...

That remained to him--and the horror and loathing he had felt at the
episode: as if it had caused him personal deterioration. He had put the
matter out of his mind.

It occurred to him now that, very likely, the urgent announcements from
Staff of all sorts had been inspired by that very paper! The paper that
loathsome fellow had tried to grab at. He remembered that he had been
feeling so sick that he hadn't bothered to have the man handcuffed...It
raised a number of questions. Does a man desert and at the same time
refuse to betray his country? Well, he might. There was no end to the
contradictions in men's characters. Look at the C.O. An efficient officer
and a muddled ass in one: even in soldiering matters!

On the other hand, the whole thing might be a plant of the Huns. The
paper--the movement order--might have been meant to reach our Army
Headquarters. On the face of it, important movement orders do not lie
about in Company offices. Not usually. The Huns might be trying to call
our attention to this part of the line whilst their real attack might be
coming somewhere else. That again was unlikely because that particular
part of the line was so weak owing to poor General Puffles' unpopularity
with the great ones at home that the Huns would be mad if they attacked
anywhere else. And the French were hurrying up straight to that spot in
terrific force. He might then be a hero!...But he didn't look like a
hero!

This sort of complication was wearisome nowadays, though once it would
have delighted him to dwell on it and work it out with nice figures and
calculations of stresses. Now his only emotion about the matter was that,
thank God, it was none of his job. The Huns didn't appear to be coming.

He found himself regretting that the _strafe_ was not coming after
all. That was incredible. How could he regret not being put into
immediate danger of death?

Long, thin, scrawny and mournful, with his tin hat now tilted forward
over his nose, the O.C. 'A' Company gazed into futurity and remarked:

'I'm sorry the Huns aren't coming!'

He was sorry the Huns were not coming. Because if they came they might as
well come according to the information supplied by that prisoner. He had
captured that fellow. He might as well therefore get the credit. It might
get him remembered if he put in for leave. He wanted leave. He wanted to
see his children. He had not seen them for two years now. Children of
five and seven change a good deal in two years. He grumbled on. Without
any shame at the revelation of his intimate motives. The quite ordinary
man! But he was perfectly to be respected. He had a rather grating chest
voice. It occurred to Tietjens that that man would never see his
children.

He wished these intimations would not come to him. He found himself at
times looking at the faces of several men and thinking that this or that
man would shortly be killed. He wished he could get rid of the habit. It
seemed indecent. As a rule he was right. But then, almost every man you
looked at there was certain to get killed...Himself excepted. He himself
was going to be wounded in the soft place behind the right collar-bone.

He regretted that the _strafe_ was not coming that morning! Because
if they came they might as well come according to the information
supplied by the prisoner he had examined in the stinking dug-out. His
unit had captured the fellow. He would now be signing its H.Q. chits as
Acting O.C. Ninth Glamorganshires. So he, Tietjens, had captured that
fellow. And his perspicacity in having him sent immediately back to
Brigade with his precious paper might get him, Tietjens, remembered
favourably at Brigade H.Q. Then they would leave him in temporary command
of his battalion. And if they did that he might do well enough to get a
battalion of his own!

He astounded himself...His mentality was that of O.C. 'A' Company!

He said:

'It was damn smart of you to see that fellow was of importance and have
him sent at the double to me.' O.C. 'A' Coy. grew red over all his grim
face. So, one day, he, Tietjens, might flush with pleasure at the words
of some squit with a red band round his hat!

He said:

'Even if the Germans don't come it might have been helpful. It might have
been even more helpful. It might have been the means of keeping them
back.' Because of course if the Germans knew that we had got hold of
their Movement Order they might change their plans. That would
inconvenience them. It was not likely. There was perhaps not time for the
news that we knew to have got through to their Important Ones. But it was
possible. Such things had happened.

Aranjuez and the Lance-Corporal stood still and so silent in the sunlight
that they resembled fragments of the reddish trench. The red gravel of
the trenches began here, however, to be smirched with more agricultural
marl. Later the trenches became pure alluvial soil and then ran down more
smartly into stuff so wet that it was like a quicksand. A bog. It was
there he had tried revetting with a syphon-drain. The thought of that
extreme of his line reminded him. He said:

'You know all about keeping in communication with immediately
neighbouring units?'

The grim fellow said:

'Only what they taught in the training camps at the beginning of the war,
sir. When I joined up. It was fairly thorough but it's all forgotten
now.'

Tietjens said to Aranjuez:

'You're Signalling Officer. What do you know about keeping in
communication with units on your right and left?'

Aranjuez, blushing and stammering, knew all about buzzers and signals.
Tietjens said:

'That's only for trenches, all that. But, in motion. At your O.T.C.
Didn't they practise you in keeping communication between troops in
motion?'

They hadn't at the 0.T.C...At first it had been in the programme. But it
had always been crowded out by some stunt. Rifle-grenade drill.
Bomb-throwing. Stokes-gun drill. Any sort of machine drill as long as it
was not moving bodies of men over difficult country--sandhills, say--and
hammering into them that they must keep in touch unit with unit or drop
connecting files if a unit itself divided up.

It was perhaps the dominant idea of Tietjens, perhaps the main idea that
he got out of warfare--that at all costs you must keep in touch with your
neighbouring troops. When, later, he had to command the escorts over
immense bodies of German prisoners on the march it several times occurred
to him to drop so many connecting files for the benefit of the men or
N.C.O.s--or even the officers, of his escort who had fallen out through
sheer fatigue or disease, that he would arrive in a new camp at the day's
end with hardly any escort left at all--say thirty for three thousand
prisoners. The business of an escort being to prevent the escape of
prisoners it might have been thought better to retain the connecting
files for that purpose. But, on the other hand, he never lost a prisoner
except by German bombs, and he never lost any of his stragglers at all.

...He said to O.C. 'A' Company:

'Please look after this matter in your Company. I shall arrange as soon
as I can to transfer you to the outside right of the unit. If the men are
doing nothing lecture them, please, yourself on this subject and talk
very seriously to all lance-corporals, section leaders and oldest
privates of platoons. And be good enough to get into communication at
once with the Company Commander of the Wiltshires immediately on our
right. In one of two ways the war is over. The war of trenches. Either
the Germans will immediately drive us into the North Sea or we shall
drive them back. They will then be in a state of demoralization and we
shall need to move fast. Lieutenant Aranjuez, you will arrange to be
present when Captain Gibbs talks to his Company and you will repeat what
he says in the other Companies.'

He was talking quickly and distinctly, as he did when he was well, and he
was talking stiltedly on purpose. He could not obviously call an
officers' conference with a German attack possibly impending; but he was
pretty certain that something of what he said would penetrate to nearly
every ear of the Battalion if he said it before a Company Commander, a
Signalling Lieutenant and an Orderly-room Lance-Corporal. It would go
through that the Old Man was dotty on this joke, and Sergeants would see
that some attention was paid to the matter. So would the officers. It was
all that could be done at the moment.

He walked behind Gibbs along the trench which at this point was perfectly
intact and satisfactory, the red gravel giving place to marl. He remarked
to the good fellow that in that way they would do something to checkmate
the blasted civilians whose meddling with the processes of war had put
them where they were. Gibbs agreed gloomily that civilian interference
had lost the war. They so hated the regular army that whenever a civilian
saw a trace of regular training remaining in this mud-fighting that they
liked us to indulge in, he wrote a hundred letters under different names
to the papers, and the War Secretary at once took steps to retain that
hundred votes; Gibbs had been reading a home newspaper that morning.

Tietjens surprised himself by saying:

'Oh, we'll beat them yet!' It was an expression of impracticable
optimism. He sought to justify his words by saying that their Army
Commanders having put up such a damn good fight in spite of the most
criminal form of civilian interference had begun to put a stopper on
their games. Campion's coming was a proof that soldiers were going to be
allowed to have some say in the conduct of the war. It meant the single
command...Gibbs expressed a muted satisfaction. If the French took over
those lines as they certainly would if they had the Single Command he
would no doubt be able to go home and see his children. All their
divisions would have to be taken out of the lines to be reorganized and
brought up to strength.

Tietjens said:

'As to what we were talking about...Supposing you detailed outside
section leaders and another file to keep in touch with the Wiltshires and
they did the same. Supposing that for purpose of recognition they wore
handkerchiefs round their right and left arms respectively...It has been
done...'

'The Huns,' Captain Gibbs said grimly, 'would probably pick them off
specially. They'd probably pick off specially any one who had any sort of
badge. So you would be worse off.'

They were going at his request to look at a section of his trench.
Orderly Room had ordered him to make arrangements for machine-gun
performances there. He couldn't. It didn't exist. Nothing existed. He
supposed that to have been the new Austrian gun. New probably, but why
Austrian? The Austrians did not usually interest themselves much in High
Explosives. This one, whatever it was, threw something that buried itself
and then blew up half the universe. With astonishingly little noise and
commotion. Just lifted up. Like a hippopotamus. He, Gibbs, had hardly
noticed anything as you would have if it had been say a mine. When they
came and told him that a mine had gone off there he would not believe
them...But you could see for yourself that it looked exactly as if a mine
had been chucking things about. A small mine. But still a mine...

In the shelter of the broken end of the trench a fatigue of six men
worked with pick and shovel, patiently, two at a time. They threw up mud
and stones and patted them and, stepping down into the thus created
vacancy, threw up more mud and stones. Water oozed about, uncertain where
to go. There must be a spring there. That hillside was honeycombed with
springs...

You would certainly have said there had been a mine there. If we had been
advancing it would have been a small mine left by the Huns to cheer us
up. But we had retreated on to ground we had always held. So it couldn't
have been a mine.

Also it kicked the ground forward and backward and relatively little
laterally, so that the deep hole it had created more resembled the entry
into a rudimentary shaft than the usually circular shell hole. A mound
existed between Tietjens and 'B' Company trench, considerably higher than
you could see over. A vast mound; a miniature Primrose Hill. But much
bigger than anything they had seen created by flying pigs or other aerial
missiles as yet. Anyhow the mound was high enough to give Tietjens a
chance to get round it in cover and shuffle down into 'B' Company's line.
He said to Gibbs:

'We shall have to see about that machine gun place. Don't come any
further with me. Make those fellows keep their heads down and send them
back if the Huns seem like sending over any more dirt.'



VI


Tietjens reclined on the reverse slope of the considerable mound. In the
sunlight. He had to be alone. To reflect on his sentimental situation and
his machine guns. He had been kept so out of the affairs of the unit that
he had suddenly remembered that he knew nothing whatever about his
machine guns, or even about the fellow who had to look after him. A new
fellow called Cobbe, who looked rather vacant, with an immense sunburnt
nose and an open mouth. Not, on the face of him, alert enough for his
job. But you never knew.

He was hungry. He had eaten practically nothing since seven the night
before, and had been on his feet the greater part of the time.

He sent Lance-Corporal Duckett to 'A' Company dugout, to ask if they
could favour him with a sandwich and some coffee with rum in it: he sent
Second-Lieutenant Aranjuez to 'B' Company to tell them that he was coming
to take a look round on their men and quarters. 'B' Company Commander for
the moment was a very young boy just out from an O.T.C. It was annoying
that he had an outside Company. But Constantine, the former Commander,
had been killed the night before last. He was, in fact, said to be the
gentleman whose remains hung in the barbed wire which was what made
Tietjens doubtful whether it could be he. He should not have been so far
to the left if he had been bringing his Company in. Anyhow, there had
been no one to replace him but this boy--Bennett. A good boy. So shy that
he could hardly give a word of command on parade, but yet with all his
wits about him. And blessed with an uncommonly experienced Company
Sergeant-Major. One of the original old Glamorganshires. Well, beggars
could not be choosers! The Company had reported that morning five cases
of the influenza that was said to be ravaging the outside world. Here
then was another thing for which they had to thank the outside
world--this band of rag-time solitaries! They let the outside world
severely alone; they were, truly, hermits. Then the outside world did
this to them. Why not leave them to their monastic engrossedness?

Even the rotten and detestable Huns had it! They were said by the
Divisional news-sheets to have it so badly that whole Divisions were
incapable of effective action. That might be a lie, invented for the
purpose of heartening us; but it was probably true. The German men were
apparently beastly underfed, and, at that, only on substitute-foods of
relatively small percentage of nutritive value. The papers brought over
by that N.C.O. had certainly spoken urgently of the necessity of taking
every precaution against the spread of this flail. Another circular
violently and lachrymosely assured the troops that they were as well fed
as the civilian populations and the Corps of Officers. Apparently there
had been some sort of scandal. A circular of which he had not had time to
read the whole ended up with an assertion something like: 'Thus the
honour of the Corps of Officers has been triumphantly vindicated.'

It was a ghastly thought, that of that whole vast territory that
confronted them, filled with millions of half-empty stomachs that bred
disorders in the miserable brains. Those fellows must be the most
miserable human beings that had ever existed. God knows, the life of our
own Tommies must be Hell. But those fellows...It would not bear thinking
of.

And it was curious to consider how the hatred that one felt for the
inhabitants of those regions seemed to skip in a wide trajectory over the
embattled ground. It was the civilian populations and their rulers that
one hated with real hatred. Now the swine were starving the poor devils
in the trenches!

They were detestable. The German fighters and their Intelligence and
staffs were merely boring and grotesque. Unending nuisances. For he was
confoundedly irritated to think of the mess they had made of his nice
clean trenches. It was like when you go out for an hour and leave your
dog in the drawing-room. You come back and find that it has torn to
pieces all your sofa-cusions. You would like to knock its head off...So
you would like to knock the German soldiers' heads off. But you did not
wish them much real harm. Nothing like having to live in that hell on
perpetually half empty, windy stomachs with the nightmares they set up!
Naturally influenza was decimating them.

Anyhow, Germans were the sort of people that influenza would bowl over.
They were bores because they came for ever true to type. You read their
confounded circulars and they made you grin whilst a little puking. They
were like continual caricatures of themselves and they were continually
hysterical...Hypochondriacal...Corps of Officers...Proud German
Army...His Glorious Majesty...Mighty Deeds...Not much of the Rag-time
Army about that, and that was welling out continuously all the
time...Hypochondria!

A rag-time army was not likely to have influenza so badly. It felt
neither its moral nor its physical pulse...Still, here was influenza in
13' Company. They must have got it from the Huns the night before last.
'B' Company had had them jump in on top of them; then and there had been
hand-to-hand fighting. It was a nuisance. 'B' Company was a nuisance. It
had naturally been stuck into the dampest and lowest part of their line.
Their company dugout was reported to be like a well with a dripping roof.
It would take 13' Company to be afflicted with such quarters...It was
difficult to see what to do--not to drain their quarters...but to
exorcise their ill-luck. Still, it would have to be done. He was going
into their quarters to make a _strafe_, but he sent Aranjuez to
announce his coming so as to give the decent young Company Commander a
chance to redd up his house...

The beastly Huns! They stood between him and Valentine Wannop. If they
would go home he could be sitting talking to her for whole afternoons.
That was what a young woman was for. You seduced a young woman in order
to be able to finish your talks with her. You could not do that without
living with her. You could not live with her without seducing her; but
that was the by-product. The point is that you can't otherwise talk. You
can't finish talks at street corners; in museums; even in drawing-rooms.
You mayn't be in the mood when she is in the mood--for the intimate
conversation that means the final communion of your souls. You have to
wait together--for a week, for a year, for a lifetime, before the final
intimate conversation may be attained...and exhausted. So that...

That in effect was love. It struck him as astonishing. The word was so
little in his vocabulary...Love, ambition, the desire for wealth. They
were things he had never known of as existing--as capable of existing
within him. He had been the Younger Son, loafing, contemptuous, capable,
idly contemplating life, but ready to take up the position of the Head of
the Family if Death so arranged matters. He had been a sort of eternal
Second-in-Command.

Now: what the Hell was he? A sort of Hamlet of the Trenches? No, by God
he was not...He was perfectly ready for action. Ready to command a
battalion. He was presumably a lover. They did things like commanding
battalions. And worse!

He ought to write her a letter. What in the world would she think of this
gentleman who had once made improper proposals to her; balked; said 'So
long!' or perhaps not even 'So long!' And then walked off. With never a
letter! Not even a picture postcard! For two years! A sort of a Hamlet
all right! Or a swine!

Well, then, he ought to write her a letter. He ought to say: 'This is to
tell you that I propose to live with you as soon as this show is over.
You will be prepared immediately on cessation of active hostilities to
put yourself at my disposal. Please. Signed, Xtopher Tietjens, Acting
O.C. 9th Glams.' A proper military communication. She would be pleased to
see that he was commanding a battalion. Or perhaps she would not be
pleased. She was a Pro-German. She loved these tiresome fellows who tore
his, Tietjens', sofa-cushions to pieces.

That was not fair. She was a Pacifist. She thought these proceedings
pestilential and purposeless. Well, there were times when they appeared
purposeless enough. Look at what had happened to his neat gravel walks.
And to the marl too. Though that served the purpose of letting him sit
sheltered. In the sunlight. With any number of larks. Someone once wrote:

'A myriad larks in unison sang o'er her, soaring out of
sight!'

That was imbecile really. Larks cannot sing in unison. They make a
heartless noise like that produced by the rubbing of two corks one on the
other...There came into his mind an image. Years ago: years and years
ago: probably after having watched that gunner torment the fat Hun,
because it had been below Max Redoubt...The sun was now for certain
shining on Bemerton! Well, he could never be a country parson. He was
going to live with Valentine Wannop!...he had been coming down the
reverse side of the range, feeling good. Probably because he had got out
of that O.P. which the Germans guns had been trying to find. He went down
with long strides, the tops of thistles brushing his hips. Obviously the
thistles contained things that attracted flies. They are apt to after a
famous victory. So myriads of swallows pursued him, swirling round and
round him, their wings touching; for a matter of twenty yards all round
and their wings brushing him and the tops of the thistles. And as the
blue sky was reflected in the blue of their backs--for their backs were
below his eyes--he had felt like a Greek God striding through the sea...

The larks were less inspiring. Really, they were abusing the German guns.
Imbecilely and continuously, they were screaming imprecations and
threats. They had been relatively sparse until just now. Now that the
shells were coming back from a mile or so off the sky was thick with
larks. A myriad--two myriad--corks at once. Not in unison. Sang o'er him,
soaring out of sight!...You might almost say that it was a sign that the
Germans were going to shell you again. Wonderful 'hinstinck' set by the
Almighty in their little bosoms! It was perhaps also accurate. No doubt
the shells as they approached more and more shook the earth and disturbed
the little bosoms on their nests. So they got up and shouted; perhaps
warning each other; perhaps mere defiance of the artillery.

He was going to write to Valentine Wannop. It was a clumsy swine's trick
not to have written to her before. He had proposed to seduce her; hadn't
done it and had gone off without a word...Considering himself rather a
swell, too!

He said:

Did you get a bit to eat, Corporal!'

The Corporal balanced himself before Tietjens on the slope of the mound.
He blushed, rubbing his right sole on his left instep, holding in his
right hand a small tin can and a cup, in his left an immaculate towel
containing a small cube.

Tietjens debated whether he should first drink of the coffee and army rum
to increase his zest for the sandwiches, or whether he should first eat
the sandwiches and so acquire more thirst for the coffee...It would be
reprehensible to write to Valentine Wannop. The act of the cold-blooded
seducer. Reprehensible!...It depended on what was in the sandwiches. It
would be agreeable to fill the void below and inwards from his
breastbone. But whether do it first with a solid or warm moisture?

The Lance-Corporal was deft...He set the coffee tin, cup and towel on a
flat stone that stuck out of that heap; the towel, unfolded, served as a
tablecloth; there appeared three heaps of ethereal sandwiches. He said he
had eaten half a tin of warm mutton and haricot beans, whilst he was
cutting the sandwiches. The meat in the sandwiches consisted of foie
gras, that pile: bully beef reduced to a paste with butter that was
margarine, anchovy paste out of a tin and minced onion out of pickles;
the third pile was bully beef nature, seasoned with Worcester sauce...All
the materials he had at disposal!

Tietjens smiled on the boy at his work. He said this must be a regular
_chef_. The boy said:

'Not a _chef_, yet, sir!' He had a camp stool hung on his trenching
tool behind his hip. He had been chief assistant to one of the chief
cooks in the Savoy. He had been going to go to Paris. 'What you call a
marmiton, sir!' he said. With his trenching tool he was scooping out a
level place in front of the flat rock. He set the camp stool on the
flattened platform.

Tietjens said:

'You used to wear a white cap and white overalls?'

He liked to think of the blond boy resembling Valentine Wannop dressed
all in slim white. The Lance-Corporal said:

'It's different now, sir!' He stood at Tietjens' side, always caressing
his instep. He regarded cooking as an Art. He would have preferred to be
a painter, but Mother hadn't enough money. The source of supply dried up
during the War...If the C.O. would say a word for him after the War...He
understood it was going to be difficult to get jobs after the War. All
the blighters who had got out of serving, all the R.A.S.C., all the Lines
of Communication men would get first chance. As the saying was, the
further from the Line the better the pay. And the chance, too!

Tietjens said:

'Certainly I shall recommend you. You'll get a job all right. I shall
never forget your sandwiches.' He would never forget the keen, clean
flavour of the sandwiches or the warm generosity of the sweet, be-rummed
coffee! In the blue air of that April hill-side. All the objects on that
white towel were defined: with iridescent edges. The boy's face, too!
Perhaps not physically iridescent. His breath, too, was very easy. Pure
air! He was going to write to Valentine Wannop: 'Hold yourself at my
disposal. Please. Signed...' Reprehensible! Worse than reprehensible! You
do not seduce the child of your father's oldest friend. He said:

'I shall find it difficult enough to get a job after the War!' Not only
to seduce the young woman, but to invite her to live a remarkably
precarious life with him. It isn't done! The Lance-Corporal said:

'Oh, sir; no, sir!...You're Mr Tietjens, of Groby!'

He had often been to Groby of a Sunday afternoon. His mother was a
Middlesbrough woman. Southbank, rather. He had been to the Grammar School
and was going to Durham University when...Supplies stopped. On the eight
nine fourteen...

They oughtn't to put North Riding, Yorkshire, boys in Welsh-traditioned
units. It was wrong. But for that he would not have run against this boy
of disagreeable reminiscences.

'They say,' the boy said, 'that the well at Groby is three hundred and
twenty feet deep, and the cedar at the corner of the house a hundred and
sixty. The depth of the well twice the height of the tree!' He had often
dropped stones down the well and listened: they made an astonishingly
loud noise. Long: like echoes gone mad! His mother knew the cook at
Groby. Mrs Harmsworth. He had often seen...he rubbed his ankles more
furiously, in a paroxysm...Mr Tietjens, the father, and him, and Mr Mark
and Mr John and Miss Eleanor. He once handed Miss Eleanor her riding crop
when she dropped it...

Tietjens was never going to live at Groby. No more feudal atmosphere! He
was going to live, he figured, in a four-room attic-flat, on the top of
one of the Inns of Court. With Valentine Wannop. _Because_ of
Valentine Wannop!

He said to the boy:

'Those German shells seem to be coming back. Go and request Captain Gibbs
as soon as they get near to take his fatigues under cover until they have
passed.'

He wanted to be alone with Heaven...He drank his last cup of warm,
sweetened coffee, laced with rum...He drew a deep breath. Fancy drawing a
deep breath of satisfaction after a deep draught of warm coffee,
sweetened with condensed milk and laced with rum!...Reprehensible!
Gastronomically reprehensible!...What would they say at the Club?...Well,
he was never going to be at the Club! The Club claret was to be
regretted! Admirable claret! And the cold sideboard!

But, for the matter of that, fancy drawing deep breaths of satisfaction
over the mere fact of lying--in command of a battalion!--on a slope, in
the clear air, with twenty thousand--two myriad!--corks making noises
overhead and the German guns directing their projectiles so that they
were slowly approaching! Fancy!

They were, presumably, trying out their new Austrian gun. Methodically,
with an infinite thoroughness. If, that is to say, there really was a new
Austrian gun. Perhaps there wasn't. Division had been in a great state of
excitement over such a weapon. It stood in Orders that every one was to
try to obtain every kind of information about it, and it was said to
throw a projectile of a remarkable, High Explosive efficiency. So Gibbs
had jumped to the conclusion that the thing that had knocked to pieces
his projected machine-gun emplacement, had been the new gun. In that case
they were trying it out very thoroughly.

The actual report of the gun or guns--they fired every three minutes, so
that might mean that there was only one and that it took about three
minutes to re-load--was very loud and rather high in tone. He had not yet
heard the actual noise made by the projectile, but the reports from a
distance had been singularly dulled. When, presumably, the projectile had
effected its landing, it bored extraordinarily into the ground and then
exploded with a time-fuse. Very likely it would not be very dangerous to
life, but, if they had enough of the guns and the H.E. to plaster the
things all along the Line, and if the projectiles worked as efficiently
as they had done on poor Gibbs' trench, there would be an end of trench
warfare on the Allied side. But, of course, they probably had not either
enough guns or enough High Explosive and the thing would very likely act
less efficiently in other sorts of soils. They were very likely trying
that out. Or, if they were firing with only one gun they might be trying
how many rounds could be fired before the gun became ineffective. Or they
might be trying only the attrition game: smashing up the trenches which
was always useful and then sniping the men who tried to repair them. You
could bag a few men in that way, now and then. Or, naturally, with
planes...There was no end to these tiresome alternatives! Presumably,
again, our planes might spot that gun or battery. Then it would stop!

Reprehensible!...He snorted! If you don't obey the rules of your club you
get hoofed out, and that's that! If you retire from the post of
Second-in-Command of Groby, you don't have to...oh, attend battalion
parades! He had refused to take any money from Brother Mark on the ground
of a fantastic quarrel. But he had not any quarrel with Brother Mark. The
sardonic pair of them were just matching obstinacies. On the other hand
you had to set to the tenantry an example of chastity, sobriety, probity,
or you could not take their beastly money. You provided them with the
best Canadian seed corn; with agricultural experiments suited to their
soils; you sat on the head of your agent; you kept their buildings in
repair; you apprenticed their sons; you looked after their daughters when
they got into trouble and after their bastards, your own or another
man's. But you must reside on the estate. _You must reside on the
estate_. The money that comes out of those poor devils' pockets must
go back into the land so that the estate and all on it, down to the
licensed beggars, may grow richer and richer and richer. So he had
invented his fantastic quarrel with Brother Mark: because he was going to
take Valentine to live with him. You could not have a Valentine Wannop
having with you in a Groby the infinite and necessary communings. You
could have a painted doxy for the servants' hall, quarrelling with the
other maids, who would want her job, and scandalizing the parsons for
miles round. In their sardonic way the tenants appreciated that: it was
in the tradition and all over the Riding they did it themselves. But not
a lady: the daughter of your father's best friend! They wanted Quality
women to be Quality and they themselves would go to ruin, spend their
dung-and-seed-money on whores and wreck the fortunes of the Estate,
sooner than that you should indulge in infinite conversations...So he
hadn't taken a penny of their money from his brother, and he wouldn't
take a penny when he in turn became Groby. Fortunately, there was the
heir...Otherwise he could not have gone with that girl!

Two pangs went through him. His son had never written to him: the girl
might have married a War Office clerk! On the rebound! That was what it
would be: a civilian War Office clerk would be the most exact contrast to
himself!...But the son's letters would have been stopped by the mother.
That was what they did to people who were where _he_ was. As the
C.O. had said! And Valentine Wannop, who had listened to his
conversation, would never want to mingle intimately in another's! Their
communion was immutable and not to be shaken!

So he was going to write to her: freckled, downright, standing square on
feet rather widely planted apart, just ready to say: 'Oh, _chuck_
it, Edith Ethel!'...She made the sunlight!

Or no: by Heavens, he could not write to her! If he stopped one or went
dotty...Wouldn't it make it infinitely worse for her to know that his
love for her had been profound and immutable? It would make it far worse,
for by now the edges of passion had probably worn less painful. Or there
was the chance of it!...But impenitently he would go on willing her to
submit to his will: through mounds thrown up by Austrian projectiles and
across the seas. They would do what they wanted and take what they got
for it!

He reclined, on his right shoulder, feeling like some immense and absurd
statue: a collection of meal-sacks done in mud: with grotesque shorts
revealing his muddy knees...The figure on one of Michelangelo's Medici
tombs. Or perhaps his _Adam_...He felt the earth move a little
beneath him. The last projectile must have been pretty near. He would not
have noticed the sound, it had become such a regular sequence. But he
noticed the quiver in the earth...

Reprehensible! He said. For God's sake let us be reprehensible! And have
done with it! We aren't Hun strategists for ever balancing pros and cons
of militant morality!

He took with his left hand the cup from the rock. Little Aranjuez came
round the mound. Tietjens threw the cup downhill at a large bit of rock.
He said to Aranjuez's wistful enquiring eyes:

'So that no toast more ignoble may ever be drunk out of it!'

The boy gasped and blushed:

'Then you've got some one that you love, sir!' he said in his tone of
hero-worship. 'Is she like Nancy, in Bailleul?' Tietjens said:

'No, not like Nancy...Or, perhaps, yes, a little like Nancy!' He did not
want to hurt the boy's feelings by the suggestion that any one unlike
Nancy could be loved. He felt a premonition that that child was going to
be hurt. Or, perhaps, it was only that he was already so suffering.

The boy said:

'Then you'll get her, sir. You'll certainly get her!' 'Yes, I shall
probably get her!' Tietjens said.

The Lance-Corporal came, too, round the mound. He said that 'A' Company
were all under cover. They went all together round the heap in the
direction of 'B' Company's trench down into which they slid. It descended
sharply. It was certainly wet. It ended practically in a little swamp.
The next battalion had even some yards of sand-bag parapet before
entering the slope again with its trench. This was Flanders. Duck
country. The bit of swamp would make personal keeping in communication
difficult. Where Tietjens had put in his tile-syphons a great deal of
water had exuded. The young O.C. Company said that they had had to bale
the trench out, until they had made a little drain down into the bog.
They baled out with shovels. Two of the shovels still stood against the
brushwood revetments of the parapet.

'Well, you should not leave your shovels about!' Tietjens shouted. He was
feeling considerable satisfaction at the working of his syphon. In the
meantime we had begun a considerable artillery demonstration. It became
overwhelming. There was some sort of Bloody Mary somewhere a few yards
off, or so it seemed. She pooped off. The planes had perhaps reported the
position of the Austrian gun. Or we might be _strafing_ their
trenches to make them shut up that weapon. It was like being a dwarf at a
conversation, a conflict--of mastodons. There was so much noise it seemed
to grow dark. It was a mental darkness. You could not think. A Dark Age!
The earth moved.

He was looking at Aranjuez from a considerable height. He was enjoying a
considerable view. Aranjuez's face had a rapt expression--like that of a
man composing poetry. Long dollops of liquid mud surrounded them in the
air. Like black pancakes being tossed. He thought: 'Thank God I did not
write to her. We are being blown up!' The earth turned like a weary
hippopotamus. It settled down slowly over the face of Lance-Corporal
Duckett who lay on his side, and went on in a slow wave.

It was slow, slow, slow...like a slowed down movie. The earth manoeuvred
for an infinite time. He remained suspended in space. As if he were
suspended as he had wanted to be in front of that cockscomb in whitewash.
Coincidence!

The earth sucked slowly and composedly at his feet.

It assimilated his calves, his thighs. It imprisoned him above the waist.
His arms being free, he resembled a man in a life-buoy. The earth moved
him slowly. It was solidish.

Below him, down a mound, the face of little Aranjuez, brown, with immense
black eyes in bluish whites, looked at him. Out of viscous mud. A head on
a charger! He could see the imploring lips form the words: 'Save me,
Captain!' He said: 'I've got to save myself first!' He could not hear his
own words. The noise was incredible.

A man stood over him. He appeared immensely tall because Tietjens' face
was on a level with his belt. But he was a small Cockney Tommy really.
Name of Cockshott. He pulled at Tietjens' two arms. Tietjens tried to
kick with his feet. Then he realized it was better not to kick with his
feet. He was pulled out. Satisfactorily. There had been two men at it. A
second, a Corporal had come. They were all three of them grinning. He
slid down with the sliding earth towards Aranjuez. He smiled at the
pallid face. He slipped a lot. He felt a frightful burning on his neck,
below and behind the ear. His hand came down from feeling the place. The
finger tips had no end of mud and a little pinkishness on them. A pimple
had perhaps burst. He had at least two men not killed. He signed
agitatedly to the Tommies. He made gestures of digging. They were to get
shovels.

He stood over Aranjuez, on the edge of liquid mud. Perhaps he would sink
in. He did not sink in. Not above his boot tops. He felt his feet to be
enormous and sustaining. He knew what had happened, Aranjuez was sunk in
the issuing hole of the spring that made that bog. It was like being on
Exmoor. He bent down over an ineffable, small face. He bent lower and his
hands entered the slime. He had to get on his hand and knees.

Fury entered his mind. He had been sniped at. Before he had had that pain
he had heard, he realized, an intimate drone under the hellish tumult.
There was reason for furious haste. Or, no...They were low. In a wide
hole. There was no reason for furious haste. Especially on your hands and
knees.

His hands were under the slime, and his forearms. He battled his hands
down greasy cloth; under greasy cloth. _Slimy_, not greasy! He
pushed outwards. The boy's hands and arms appeared. It was going to be
easier. His face was now quite close to the boy's, but it was impossible
to hear what he said. Possibly he was unconscious. Tietjens said: 'Thank
God for my enormous physical strength!' It was the first time that he had
ever had to be thankful for great physical strength. He lifted the boy's
arms over his own shoulders so that his hand might clasp themselves
behind his neck. They were slimy and disagreeable. He was short in the
wind. He heaved back. The boy came up a little. He was certainly
fainting. He gave no assistance. The slime was filthy. It was
condemnation of a civilization that he, Tietjens, possessed of enormous
physical strength, should never have needed to use it before. He looked
like a collection of meal-sacks; but, at least, he could tear a pack of
cards in half. If only his lungs weren't...

Cockshott, the Tommie, and the Corporal were beside him. Grinning. With
the two shovels that ought not to have stood against the parapet of their
trench. He was intensely irritated. He had tried to indicate with his
signs that it was Lance-Corporal Duckett that they were to dig out. It
was probably no longer Lance-Corporal Duckett. It was probably by now
'it.' The body! He had probably lost a man, after all!

Cockshott and the Corporal pulled Aranjuez out of the slime. He came out
reluctantly, like a lugworm out of sand. He could not stand. His legs
gave way. He drooped like a flower done in slime. His lips moved, but you
could not hear him. Tietjens took him from the two men who supported him
between the arms and laid him a little way up the mound. He shouted in
the ear of the Corporal: 'Duckett! Go and dig out Duckett! At the
double!'

He knelt and felt along the boy's back. His spine might have been
damaged. The boy did not wince. His spine might be damaged all the same.
He could not be left there. Bearers could be sent with a stretcher if one
was to be found. But they might be sniped coming. Probably, he, Tietjens,
could carry that boy; if his lungs held out. If not, he could drag him.
He felt tender, like a mother, and enormous. It might be better to leave
the boy there. There was no knowing. He said: 'Are you wounded?' The guns
had mostly stopped. Tietjens could not see any blood flowing. The boy
whispered 'No, sir!' He was, then, probably just faint. Shell shock, very
likely. There was no knowing what shell shock was or what it did to you.
Or the mere vapour of the projectile.

He could not stop there.

He took the boy under his arm as you might do a roll of blankets. If he
took him on his shoulders he might get high enough to be sniped. He did
not go very fast, his legs were so heavy. He bundled down several steps
in the direction of the spring in which the boy had been. There was more
water. The spring was filling up that hollow. He could not have left the
boy there. You could only imagine that his body had corked up the
spring-hole before. This had been like being at home where they had
springs like that. On the moors, digging out badgers. Digging earth
drains, rather. Badgers have dry lairs. On the moors above Groby. April
sunlight. Lots of sunlight and skylarks.

He was mounting the mound. For some feet there was no other way. They had
been left in the shaft made by that projectile. He inclined to the left.
To the right would take them quicker to the trench, but he wanted to get
the mound between them and the sniper. His breathing was tremendous.
There was more light falling on them.

Exactly!...Snap! Snap! Snap!...Clear sounds from a quarter of a mile
away...Bullets whined. Overhead. Long sounds, going away. Not snipers.
The men of a battalion. A chance! Snap! Snap! Snap! Bullets whined
overhead. Men of a battalion get excited when shooting at anything
running. They fire high. Trigger pressure. _He_ was now a fat,
running object. Did they fire with a sense of hatred or fun! Hatred
probably. Huns have not much sense of fun.

His breathing was unbearable. Both his legs were like painful bolsters.
He would be on the relatively level in two steps if he made them...Well,
make them!...He was on the level. He had been climbing: up clods. He
_had_ to take an immense breath. The ground under his left foot gave
way. He had been holding Aranjuez in front of his own body as much as he
could, under his right arm. As his left foot sank in, the boy's body came
right on top of him. Naturally this stiffish earth in huge clods had
fissures in it. Apertures. It was not like regular digging.

The boy kicked, screamed, tore himself loose...Well, if he wanted to go!
The scream was like a horse's in a stable on fire. Bullets had gone
overhead. The boy rushed off, his hands to his face. He disappeared round
the mound. It was a conical mound. He, Tietjens, could now crawl on his
belly. It was satisfactory.

He crawled. Shuffling himself along with his hips and elbows. There was
probably a text-book way of crawling. He did not know it. The clods of
earth appeared friendly. For bottom soil thrown to the top they did not
feel or smell so very sour. Still, it would take a long time to get them
into cultivation or under grass. Probably, agriculturally speaking, that
country would be in a pretty poor condition for a long time...

He felt pleased with his body. It had had no exercise to speak of for two
months--as second-in-command. He could not have expected to be in even
the condition he was in. But the mind had probably had a good deal to do
with that! He had, no doubt, been in a devil of a funk. It was only
reasonable. It was disagreeable to think of those Hun devils hunting down
the unfortunate. A disagreeable business. Still, we did the same...That
boy must have been in a devil of a funk. Suddenly. He had held his hands
in front of his face. Afraid to see. Well, you couldn't blame him. They
ought not to send out schoolgirls. He was like a girl. Still, he ought to
have stayed to see that he, Tietjens, was not pipped. He might have
thought he was hit from the way his left leg had gone down. He would have
to be _strafed_. Gently.

Cockshott and the Corporal were on their hands and knees digging with the
short-handled shovels that are known as trenching tools. They were on the
rear side of the mound.

'We've found im, sir,' the Corporal said. 'Regular buried. Just seed his
foot. Dursen't use a shovel. Might cut im in arf!'

Tietjens said:

'You're probably right. Give me the shovel!'

Cockshott was a draper's assistant, the Corporal a milkman. Very likely
they were not good with shovels.

He had had the advantage of a boyhood crowded with digging of all sorts.
Duckett was buried horizontally, running into the side of a conical
mound. His feet at least stuck out like that, but you could not tell how
the body was disposed. It might turn to either side or upwards. He said:

'Go on with your tools above! But give me room.'

The toes being to the sky, the trunk could hardly bend downwards. He
stood below the feet and aimed terrific blows with the shovel eighteen
inches below. He liked digging. This earth was luckily dryish. It ran
down the hill conveniently. This man had been buried probably ten
minutes. It seemed longer but it was probably less. He ought to have a
chance. Probably earth was less suffocating than water. He said to the
Corporal:

'Do you know how to apply artificial respiration?' 'To the drowned?'

Cockshott said:

'I do, sir. I was swimming champion of Islington baths!' A rather
remarkable man, Cockshott. His father had knocked up the arm of a man who
had tried to shoot Mr Gladstone in 1866 or thereabouts.

A lot of earth falling away, obligingly, after one withdrawal of the
shovel Lance-Corporal Duckett's thin legs appeared to the fork, the knees
dropping.

Cockshott said:

'E ain't rubbin' 'is ankles this journey!'

The Corporal said:

'Company Commander is killed, sir. Bullet clean thru the ed!'

It annoyed Tietjens that here was another head wound. He could not
apparently get away from them. It was silly to be annoyed, because in
trenches a majority of wounds had to be head wounds. But Providence might
just as well be a little more imaginative. To oblige one. It annoyed him,
too, to think that he had _strafed_ that boy just before he was
killed. For leaving his shovels about. A _strafe_ leaves a
disagreeable impression on young boys for quite half an hour. It was
probably the last incident in his life. So he died depressed...Might God
be making it up to him!

He said to the Corporal:

'Let me come.' Duckett's left hand and wrist had appeared, the hand
drooping and improbably clean, level with the thigh. It gave the line of
the body; you could clear away beside him.

''E wasn't on'y twenty-two,' the Corporal said. Cockshott said: 'Same age
as me. Very particular e was about your rifle pull-throughs.'

A minute later they pulled Duckett out, by the legs. A stone might have
been resting on his face, in that case his face would have been damaged.
It wasn't, though you had had to chance it. It was black but asleep...As
if Valentine Wannop had been reposing in an ash-bin. Tietjens left
Cockshott applying artificial respiration very methodically and
efficiently to the prostrate form.

It was to him a certain satisfaction that, at any rate, in that minute
affair he hadn't lost one of the men but only an officer. As satisfaction
it was not militarily correct, though as it harmed no one there was no
harm in it. But for his men he always felt a certain greater
responsibility; they seemed to him to be there infinitely less of their
own volition. It was akin to the feeling that made him regard cruelty to
an animal as a more loathsome crime than cruelty to a human being, other
than a child. It was no doubt irrational.

Leaning, in the communication trench, against the corrugated iron that
boasted a great whitewashed A, in, a very clean thin Burberry boasting
half a bushel of badges of rank--worsted crowns and things!--and in a
small tin hat that looked elegant, was a slight figure. How the devil can
you make a tin hat look elegant! It carried a hunting switch and wore
spurs. An Inspecting General. The General said benevolently:

'Who are you?' and then with irritation: 'Where the devil is the officer
commanding this Battalion? Why can't he be found?' He added: 'You're
disgustingly dirty. Like a blackamoor. I suppose you've an explanation.'

Tietjens was being spoken to by General Campion. In a hell of a temper.
He stood to attention like a scarecrow. He said:

'I am in command of this Battalion, sir. I am Tietjens,
second-in-command. Now in command temporarily. I could not be found
because I was buried. Temporarily.'

The General said:

'You...Good God!' and fell back a step, his jaw dropping. He said: 'I've
just come back from London!' And then: 'By God, you don't stop in command
of a Battalion of mine a second after I take over!' He said: 'They said
this was the smartest battalion in my unit!' and snorted with passion. He
added: 'Neither my galloper nor Levin can find you or get you found. And
there you come strolling along with your hands in your pockets!'

In the complete stillness, for, the guns having stopped, the skylarks.
too, were taking a spell, Tietjens could hear his heart beat, little dry
scraping sounds out of his lungs. The heavy beats were very accelerated.
It gave an effect of terror. He said to himself:

'What the devil has his having been in London to do with it?' And then:
'He wants to marry Sylvia! I'll bet he wants to marry Sylvia!' That was
what his having been to London had to do with it. It was an obsession
with him: the first thing he said when surprised and passionate.

They always arranged these periods of complete silence for the visits of
Inspecting Generals. Perhaps the Great General Staffs of both sides
arrange that for each other. More probably our guns had split themselves
in the successful attempt to let the Huns know that we wanted them to
shut up--that we were firing with what Papists call a special intention.
That would be as effective as a telephone message. The Huns would know
there was something up. Never put the other side in a temper when you can
help it.

He said:

'I've just had a scratch, sir. I was feeling in my pockets for my
field-dressing.'

The General said:

'A fellow like you has no right to be where he can be wounded. Your place
is the lines of communication. I was mad when I sent you here. I shall
send you back.'

He added:

'You can fall out. I want neither your assistance nor your information.
They said there was a damn smart officer in command here. I wanted to see
him...Of the name of...Of the name of...It does not matter. Fall out...

Tietjens went heavily along the trench. It came into his head to say to
himself:

'It _is_ a land of Hope and Glory!' Then he exclaimed: 'By God! I'll
take the thing before the Commander-in-Chief. I'll take the thing before
the King in Council if necessary. By God I will!' The old fellow had no
business to speak to him like that. It was importing personal enmity into
service matters. He stood still reflecting on the terms of his letter to
Brigade. The Adjutant Notting came along the trench. He said:

'General Campion wants to see you, sir. He takes over this Army on
Monday.' He added: 'You've been in a nasty place, sir. Not hurt, I
trust!' It was a most unusual piece of loquacity for Notting.

Tietjens said to himself:

'Then I've got five days in command of this unit. He can't kick me out
before he's in command.' The Huns would be through them before then. Five
days' fighting! Thank God!

He said:

'Thanks. I've seen him. No, I'm all right. Beastly dirty!' Notting's
beady eyes had a tinge of agony in them. He said:

'When they said you had stopped one, sir, I thought I should go mad. We
_can't_ get through the work!'

Tietjens was wondering whether he should write his letter to Brigade
before or after the old fellow took over. Notting was saying:

'The doctor says Aranjuez will get through all right.'

It would be better, if he were going to base his appeal on the grounds of
personal prejudice. Notting was saying:

'Of course he will lose his eye. In fact it...it is not practically
there. But he'll get through.'




PART THREE



I


Coming into the Square was like being suddenly dead, it was so silent and
so still to one so lately jostled by the innumerable crowd and deafened
by unceasing shouts. The shouting had continued for so long that it had
assumed the appearance of being a solid and unvarying thing: like life.
So the silence appeared like Death; and now she had death in her heart.
She was going to confront a madman in a stripped house. And the empty
house stood in an empty square all of whose houses were so
eighteenth-century and silver-grey and rigid and serene that they ought
all to be empty too and contain dead, mad men. And was this the errand?
For to-day when all the world was mad with joy? To become bear-ward to a
man who had got rid of all his furniture and did not know the porter--mad
without joy!

It turned out to be worse than she expected. She had expected to turn the
handle of a door of a tall empty room; in a space made dim with shutters
she would see him, looking suspiciously round over his shoulder, a grey
badger or a bear taken at its dim occupations. And in uniform. But she
was not given time even to be ready. In the last moment she was to steel
herself incredibly. She was to become the cold nurse of a shell-shock
case.

But there was not any last moment. He charged upon her. There in the
open. More like a lion. He came, grey all over, his grey hair--or the
grey patches of his hair--shining, charging down the steps, having
slammed the hall door. And lopsided. He was carrying under his arm a
diminutive piece of furniture. A cabinet.

It was so quick. It was like having a fit. The houses tottered. He
regarded her. He had presumably checked violently in his clumsy stride.
She hadn't seen because of the tottering of the houses. His stone-blue
eyes came fishily into place in his wooden countenance--pink and white.
_Too_ pink where it was pink and too white where it was white. Too
much so for health. He was in grey homespuns. He should not wear
homespuns or grey. It increased his bulk. He could be made to look...Oh,
a fine figure of a man, let us say!

What was he doing? Fumbling in the pocket of his clumsy trousers. He
exclaimed--she shook at the sound of his slightly grating, slightly
gasping voice:

'I'm going to sell this thing...Stay here.' He had produced a latchkey.
He was panting fiercely beside her. Up the steps. He was beside her.
Beside her. Beside her. It was infinitely sad to be beside this madman.
It was infinitely glad. Because if he had been sane she would not have
been beside him. She could be beside him for long spaces of time if he
were mad. Perhaps he did not recognize her! She might be beside him for
long spaces of time with him not recognizing her. Like tending your baby!

He was stabbing furiously at the latchhole with his little key. He
_would_: that was normal. He was a stab-the-keyhole sort of clumsy
man. She would not want that altered. But she would see about his
clothes. She said: 'I am deliberately preparing to live with him for a
long time!' Think of that! She said to him:

'Did you send for me?'

He had the door open: he said, panting--his _poor_ lungs!:

'No.' Then: 'Go in!' and then: 'I was just going...

She was in his house. Like a child...He had not sent for her...Like a
child faltering on the sill of a vast black cave.

It _was_ black. Stone flags. Pompeian red walls scarred pale-pink
where fixed hall furniture had been removed. Was it _here_ she was
going to live?

He said, panting, from behind her back:

'Wait here!' A little more light fell into the hall. That was because he
was gone from the doorway.

He was charging down the steps. His boots were immense. He lolloped all
over on one side because of the piece of furniture he had under his arm.
He was grotesque, really. But joy radiated from his homespuns when you
walked beside him. It welled out; it enveloped you...Like the warmth from
an electric heater, only that did not make you want to cry and say your
prayers--the haughty oaf.

No, but he was not haughty. Gauche, then! No, but he was not gauche...She
would not run after him. He was a bright patch, with his pink ears and
silver hair. Gallumphing along the rails in front of the
eighteenth-century houses. _He_ was eighteenth-century all
right...But then the eighteenth century never went mad. The only century
that never went mad. Until the French Revolution: and that was either not
mad or not eighteenth century.

She stepped irresolutely into the shadows; she returned irresolutely to
the light...A long hollow sound existed: the sea saying: Ow, Ow, Ow along
miles and miles. It was the armistice. It was Armistice Day. She had
forgotten it. She was to be cloistered on Armistice Day! Ah, not
cloistered! Not cloistered there. My beloved is mine and I am his! But
she might as well close the door!

She closed the door as delicately as if she were kissing him on the lips.
It was a symbol. It was Armistice Day. She ought to go away; instead she
had shut the door on...Not on Armistice Day! What was it like to
be...changed!

No! She ought not to go away! She ought not to go away! She ought
_not_! He had told her to wait. She was not cloistered. This was the
most exciting spot on the earth. It was not her fate to live nun-like.
She was going to pass her day beside a madman; her night, too...Armistice
Night! That night would be remembered down unnumbered generations. Whilst
one lived that had seen it the question would be asked: What did you do
on Armistice Night? My beloved is mine and I am his!

The great stone stairs were carpetless: to mount them would be like
taking part in a procession. The hall came in straight from the front
door. You had to turn a corner to the right before you came to the
entrance of a room. A queer arrangement. Perhaps the eighteenth century
was afraid of draughts and did not like the dining-room door near the
front entrance...My beloved is...Why does one go on repeating that
ridiculous thing? Besides it's from the _Song of Solomon_, isn't it?
The _Canticle of Canticles_! Then to quote it is blasphemy when one
is...No, the essence of prayer is volition, so the essence of blasphemy
is volition. She did not want to quote the thing. It was jumped out of
her by sheer nerves. She was afraid. She was waiting for a madman in an
empty house. Noises whispered up the empty stairway!

She was like Fatima. Pushing open the door of the empty room. He might
come back to murder her. A madness caused by sex obsessions is not
infrequently homicidal...What did you do on Armistice Night? 'I was
murdered in an empty house?' For, no doubt he would let her live till
midnight.

But perhaps he had not got sex-obsessions. She had not the shadow of a
proof that he had; rather that he hadn't! Certainly, rather that he
hadn't. Always the gentleman.

They had left the telephone! The windows were duly shuttered but in the
dim light from between cracks the nickel gleamed on white marble. The
mantel-shelf. Pure Parian marble, the shelf supported by rams' heads.
Singularly chaste. The ceilings and rectilinear mouldings in an intricate
symmetry. Chaste, too. Eighteenth century. But the eighteenth century was
not chaste..._He_ was eighteenth century.

She ought to telephone to her mother to inform that Eminence in untidy
black with violet tabs here and there of the grave step that her daughter
was...

What was her daughter going to do?

She ought to rush out of the empty house. She ought to be trembling with
fear at the thought that he was coming home very likely to murder her.
But she wasn't. What was she? Trembling with ecstasy? Probably. At the
thought that he was coming. If he murdered her...Can't be helped! She was
trembling with ecstasy all the same. She must telephone to her mother.
Her mother might want to know where she was. But her mother never did
want to know where she was. She had her head too screwed on to get into
mischief I...Think of _that_!

Still, on such a day her mother might like to. They ought to exchange
gladnesses that her brother was safe for good now. And others, too.
Normally her mother was irritated when she rang up. She would be at her
work. It was amazing to see her at work. Perhaps she never would again.
Such untidiness of papers. In a little room. Quite a little room. She
never would work in a big room because a big room tempted her to walk
about and she could not afford the time to walk about.

She was writing at two books at once now. A novel...Valentine did not
know what it was about. Her mother never let them know what her novels
were about till they were finished. And a woman's history of the War. A
history by a woman for women. And there she would be sitting at a large
table that hardly left room for more than getting round it. Grey, large,
generous-featured and tired, she would be poking over one set of papers
on one side of the table or just getting up from over the novel, her
loose pince-nez falling off, pushing round the table between its edge and
the wall to peer at the sheets of the woman's history that were spread
all over that region. She would work for ten minutes or twenty-five or an
hour at the one and then an hour and a half or half an hour or
three-quarters at the other. What a muddle her dear old head must be in!

With a little trepidation she took the telephone. It had got to be done.
She could not live with Christopher Tietjens without first telling her
mother. Her mother ought to be given the chance of dissuading. They say
you ought to give a lover a chance of a final scene before leaving him or
her for good. Still more your mother. That was jannock.

It broke the word of promise to the ear, the telephone!...Was it
blasphemy to quote Shakespeare when one was going to...Perhaps bad taste.
Shakespeare, however, was not spotless. So they said...Waiting! Waiting!
How much of one's life wasn't spent waiting, with one's weight boring
one's heels into the ground...But _this_ thing was dead. No roar
came from its mouth and when you jabbed the little gadget at the side up
and down no bell tinkled...It had probably been disconnected. They had
perhaps cut him off for not paying. Or he had cut it off so that she
might not scream for the police through it whilst he was strangling her.
Anyhow they were cut off. They would be cut off from the world on
Armistice Night...Well, they would probably be cut off for good!

What nonsense. He had not known that she was coming. He had not asked her
to come.

So, slowly, slowly she went up the great stone staircase, the noises all
a-whispering up before her...'So, slowly, slowly she went up and slowly
looked about her. Henceforth take warning by the fall...' Well, she did
not need to take warning: she was not going to fall in the way Barbara
Allen did. Contrariwise!

He had not sent for her. He had not asked Edith Ethel to ring her up.
Then presumably she felt humiliated. But she did not feel humiliated! It
was in effect fairly natural. He was quite noticeably mad, rushing out,
lopsided, with bits of furniture under his arm and no hat on his
noticeable hair. Noticeable! That was what he was. He would never pass in
a crowd!...He _had_ got rid of all his furniture as Edith Ethel had
alleged. Very likely he had not recognized the porter, too. She,
Valentine Wannop, had seen him going to sell his furniture. Madly!
Running to it. You do not run when you are selling furniture if you are
sane. Perhaps Edith Ethel had seen him running along with a table on his
head. And she was by no means certain that he had recognized her,
Valentine Wannop!

So Edith Ethel might have been almost justified in ringing her up.
Normally it would have been an offence, considering the terms on which
they had parted. Considering that Edith Ethel had accused her of having
had a child by this very man! It was pretty strong, even if she had seen
him running about the Square with furniture, and even if there had been
no one else who could help...But she ought to have sent her miserable rat
of a husband. There was no excuse!

Still, there had been nothing else for her, Valentine, to do. So there
was not call for her to feel humiliated. Even if she had not felt for
this man as she did she would have come, and, if he had been very bad,
would have stayed.

He had not sent for her! This man who had once proposed love to her and
then had gone away without a word and who had never so much as sent her a
picture-postcard! Gauche! Haughty! Was there any other word for him?
There could not be. Then she ought to feel humiliated. But she did not.

She felt frightened, creeping up the great staircase, and entering a
great room. A very great room. All white; again with stains on the walls
from which things had been removed. From over the way the houses
confronted her, eighteenth-centuryishly. But with a touch of gaiety from
their red chimney-pots...And now she was spying: with her heart in her
mouth. She was terribly frightened. This room was inhabited. As if set
down in a field, the room being so large, there camped...A camp-bed for
the use of officers, G.S. one, as the saying is. And implements of green
canvas, supported on crossed white-wood staves: a chair, a bucket with a
rope handle, a washing-basin, a table. The bed was covered over with a
flea-bag of brown wool. She was terribly frightened. The further she
penetrated the house the more she was at his mercy. She ought to have
stayed downstairs. She was spying on him.

These things looked terribly sordid and forlorn. Why did he place them in
the centre of the room? Why not against a wall? It was usual to stand the
head of a bed against a wall when there is no support for the pillows.
Then the pillows do not slip off. She would change...No, she would not.
He had put the bed in the centre of the room because he did not want it
to touch walls that had been brushed by the dress of...You must not think
bad things about that woman!

They did not look sordid and forlorn. They looked frugal. And glorious!
She bent down and drawing down the flea bag at the top, kissed the
pillows. She would get him linen pillows. You would be able to get linen
now. The war was over. All along that immense line men could stand up!

At the head of the room was a dais. A box of square boarding, like the
model-throne artists have in studios. Surely she did not receive her
guests on a dais: like Royalty. She was capable..._You must
not_...It was perhaps for a piano. Perhaps she gave concerts. It was
used as a library now. A row of calf-bound books stood against the wall
on the back edge of the platform. She approached them to see what books
he had selected. They must be the books he had read in France. If she
could know what books he had read in France she would know what some of
his thoughts there had been. She knew he slept between very cheap cotton
sheets.

Frugal and glorious. That was he! And he had designed this room to love
her in. It was the room she would have asked...The furnishing...Alcestis
never had...For she, Valentine Wannop, was of frugal mind, too. And his
worshipper, Having reflected glory...Damn it, she was getting soppy. But
it was curious how their tastes marched together. He had been neither
haughty nor gauche. He had paid her the real compliment. He had said:
'Her mind so marches with mine that she will understand.'

The books were indeed a job lot. Their tops ran along against the wall
like an ill-arranged range of hills; one was a great folio in calf, the
title indented deep and very dim. The others were French novels and
little red military text books. She leaned over the dais to read the
title of the tall book. She expected it to be Herbert's Poems or his
_Country Parson_..._He_ ought to be a Country Parson. He never
would be now. She was depriving the church of...Of a Higher
Mathematician, really. The title of the book was _Vir Obscur_.

Why did she take it that they were going to live together? She had no
official knowledge that he wanted to. But _they_ wanted to TALK. You
can't talk unless you live together. Her eye, travelling downwards along
the dais, caught words on paper. They threw themselves up at her from
among a disorder of half-a-dozen typed pages; they were in big, firm,
pencilled letters. They stood out because they were pencilled; they were:

_A man could stand up on a bleedin' 'ill!_

Her heart stopped. She must be out of condition. She could not stand very
well, but there was nothing to lean on to. She had--she didn't know she
had--read also the typed words:

'_Mrs Tietjens is leaving the model cabinet by Barker of Bath which she
believes you claim_...'

She looked desperately away from the letter. She did not want to read the
letter. She could not move away. She believed she was dying. Joy never
kills...But it...'_fait peur_'. 'Makes Afraid.' Afraid! Afraid!
Afraid! There was nothing now between them. It was as if they were
already in each other's arms. For surely the rest of the letter must say
that Mrs Tietjens had removed the furniture. And his comment--amazingly
echoing the words she had just thought--was that he could stand up. But
it wasn't in the least amazing. My beloved is mine...Their thoughts
marched together; not in the least amazing. They could now stand on a
hill together. Or get into a little hole. For good. And talk. For ever.
She must not read the rest of the letter. She must not be certain. If she
were certain she would have no hope of preserving her...Of
remaining...Afraid and unable to move. She would be forced to read the
letter because she was unable to move. Then she would be lost. She looked
beseechingly out of the window at the house-fronts over the way. They
were friendly. They would help her. Eighteenth century. Cynical, but not
malignant. She sprang right off her feet. She could move then. She hadn't
had a fit. Idiot. It was only the telephone. It went on and on. Drrinn;
drinnnn; d.r.R.I.n.n. It came from just under her feet. No, from under
the dais. The receiver was on the dais. She hadn't consciously noticed it
because she had believed the telephone was dead. Who notices a dead
telephone?

She said--it was as if she were talking into his ear, he so pervaded
her--she said:

'Who are you?'

One ought not to answer all telephone calls, but one does so
mechanically. She ought not to have answered this. She was in a
compromising position. Her voice might be recognized. Let it be
recognized. She desired to be known to be in a compromising position!
What did you do on Armistice Day!

A voice, heavy and old, said:

'You _are_ there, Valentine...

She cried out:

'Oh, poor _mother_...But he's not here.' She added, 'He's not been
here with me. I'm still only waiting.' She added again: 'The house is
empty!' She seemed to be stealthy, the house whispering round her. She
seemed to be whispering to her mother to save her and not wanting the
house to hear her. The house was eighteenth century. Cynical. But not
malignant. It wanted her undoing but it knew that women liked
being...ruined.

Her mother said, after a long time:

'Have you _got_ to do this thing?...My little Valentine...My little
Valentine!' She wasn't sobbing.

Valentine said:

'Yes, I've got to do it!' She sobbed. Suddenly she stopped sobbing.

She said quickly:

'Listen, mother. I've had no conversation with him. I don't know even
whether he's sane. He appears to be mad.' She wanted to give her mother
hope. Quickly. She had been speaking quickly to get hope to her mother as
quickly as possible. But she added: 'I believe that I shall die if I
cannot live with him.'

She said that slowly. She wanted to be like a little child trying to get
truth home to its mother.

She said:

'I have waited too long. All these years.' She did not know that she had
such desolate tones in her voice. She could see her mother looking into
the distance with every statement that came to her, thinking. Old and
grey. And majestic and kind...Her mother's voice came:

'I have sometimes suspected...My poor child...It has been for a long
time?' They were both silent. Thinking. Her mother said:

'There isn't any practical way out?' She pondered for a long time. 'I
take it you have thought it all out. I know you have a good head and you
are good.' A rustling sound. 'But I am not level with these times. I
should be glad if there were a way out. I should be glad if you could
wait for each other. Or perhaps find a legal...

Valentine said:

'Oh, mother, don't cry!'...'Oh, mother, I can't...

'Oh, I will come...Mother, I will come back to you if you order it.' With
each phrase her body was thrown about as if by a wave. She thought they
only did that on the stage. Her eyes said to her:

...'_Dear Sir_,

'_Our client, Mrs Christopher Tietjens of Groby-in-Cleveland_...

They said:

'_After the occurrence at the Base-Camp at_...

They said:

'_Thinks it useless_...

She was agonized for her mother's voice. The telephone hummed in E flat.
It tried B. Then it went back to E flat. Her eyes said:

'_Proposes when occasion offers to remove to Groby_ in fat, blue
typescript. She cried agonizedly:

'Mother. Order me to come back or it will be too late...

She had looked down, unthinkingly...as one does when standing at the
telephone. If she looked down again and read to the end of the sentence
that contained the words: 'It is useless,' it would be too late! She
would know that his wife had given him up!

Her mother's voice came turned by the means of its conveyance into the
voice of a machine of Destiny. 'No, I can't. I am thinking.'

Valentine placed her foot on the dais at which she stood. When she looked
down it covered the letter. She thanked God. Her mother's voice said:

'I cannot order you to come back if it would kill you not to be with
him.' Valentine could feel her late-Victorian advanced mind, desperately
seeking for the right plea--for any plea that would let her do without
seeming to employ maternal authority. She began to talk like a book: an
august Victorian book; Morley's _Life of Gladstone_. That was
reasonable: she wrote books like that.

She said they were both good creatures of good stock. If their
consciences let them commit themselves to a certain course of action they
were probably in the right. But she begged them, in God's name to assure
themselves that their consciences _did_ urge that course. She had to
talk like a book!

Valentine said:

'It is nothing to do with conscience.' That seemed harsh. Her mind was
troubled with a quotation. She could not find it. Quotations ease strain;
she said: 'One is urged by blind destiny!' A Greek quotation, then! 'Like
a victim upon an altar. I am afraid; but I consent!'...Probably
Euripides; the _Alkestis_ very likely! If it had been a Latin author
the phrases would have occurred to her in Latin. Being with her mother
made her talk like a book. Her mother talked like a book: then _she_
did. They _must_; if they did not they would scream...But they were
English ladies. Of scholarly habits of mind. It was horrible. Her mother
said:

'That is probably the same as conscience--race conscience!' She could not
urge on them the folly and disastrousness of the course they appeared to
propose. She had, she said, known too many irregular unions that had been
worthy of emulation and too many regular ones that were miserable and a
cause of demoralization by their examples...She was a gallant soul. She
could not in conscience go back on the teachings of her whole life. She
wanted to. Desperately! Valentine could feel the almost physical
strainings of her poor, tired brain. But she could not recant. She was
not Crammer! She was not even Joan of Arc. So she went on repeating:

'I can only beg and pray you to assure yourself that not to live with
that man will cause you to die or be seriously mentally injured. If you
think you can live without him or wait for him, if you think there is any
hope of later union without serious mental injury I beg and pray...'

She could not finish the sentence...It was fine to behave with dignity at
the crucial moment of your life! It was fitting: it was proper. It
justified your former philosophic life. And it was cunning. Cunning!

For now she said:

'My child! my little child! You have sacrificed all your life to me and
my teaching. How can I ask you now to deprive yourself of the benefit of
them?'

She said:

'I _can't_ persuade you to a course that might mean your eternal
unhappiness!'...The _can't_ was like a flame of agony!

Valentine shivered. That was cruel pressure. Her mother was no doubt
doing her duty; but it was cruel pressure. It was very cold. November is
a cold month. There were footsteps on the stairs. She shook.

'Oh, he is coming. He is coming!' she cried out. She wanted to say: 'Save
me!' She said: 'Don't go away! Don't...Don't go away!' What do men do to
you: men you love? Mad men. He was carrying a sack. The sack was the
first she saw as he opened the door. Pushed it open; it was already
half-open. A sack was a dreadful thing for a madman to carry. In an empty
house. He dumped the sack down on the hearth stone. He had coal dust on
his right forehead. It was a heavy sack. Bluebeard would have had in it
the corpse of his first wife. Borrow says that the gipsies say: 'Never
trust a young man with grey hair!'...He had only half-grey hair and he
was only half young. He was panting. He must be stopped carrying heavy
sacks. Panting like a fish. A great, motionless carp, hung in a tank.

He said:

'I suppose you would want to go out. If you don't we will have a fire.
You can't stop here without a fire.' At the same moment her mother said:

'If that is Christopher I will speak to him.'

She said away from the mouthpiece:

'Yes, let's go out. Oh, oh, oh. Let's go out...Armistice...My mother
wants to speak to you.' She felt herself to be suddenly a little Cockney
shop-girl. A midinette in an imitation Girl Guide's uniform. 'Afride of
the gentleman, my dear.' Surely one could protect oneself against a great
carp! She could throw him over her shoulder. She had enough Ju Jitsu for
that. Of course a little person trained to Ju Jitsu can't overcome an
untrained giant if he expects it. But if he doesn't expect it she can.

His right hand closed over her left wrist. He had swum towards her and
had taken the telephone in his left. One of the window panes was so old
it was bulging and purplish. There was another. There were several. But
the first one was the purplishest. He said:

'Christopher Tietjens speaking!' He could not think of anything more
_recherché_ to say than that--the great inarticulate fellow! His
hand was cool on her wrist. She was calm but streaming with bliss. There
was no other word for it. As if you had come out of a bath of warm nectar
and bliss streamed off you. His touch had calmed her and covered her with
bliss.

He let her wrist go very slowly. To show that the grasp was meant
for a caress! It was their first caress!

Before she had surrendered the telephone she had said to her mother:

'He doesn't know...Oh, realize that he doesn't know!' She went to the
other end of the room and stood watching him.

He heard the telephone from its black depths say:

'How are you, my dear boy? My dear, dear boy; you're safe for good.' It
gave him a disagreeable feeling. This was the mother of the young girl he
intended to seduce. He intended to. He said:

'I'm pretty well. Weakish. I've just come out of hospital. Four days
ago.' He was never going back to that bloody show. He had his application
for demobilization in his pocket. The voice said:

'Valentine thinks you are very ill. Very ill, indeed. She came to you
because she thinks that.' She hadn't come, then, because...But, of
course, she would not have. But she might have wanted them to spend
Armistice Day together! She might have! A sense of disappointment went
over him. Discouragement. He was very raw. That old devil, Campion!
Still, one ought not to be as raw as that. He was saying, deferentially:

'Oh, it was mental rather than physical. Though I had pneumonia all
right.' He went on saying that General Campion had put him in command
over the escorts of German prisoners all through the Lines of several
Armies. That really nearly had driven him mad. He couldn't bear being a
beastly gaoler.

Still--Still!--he saw those grey spectral shapes that had surrounded and
interpenetrated all his later days. The image came over him with the mood
of repulsion at odd moments--at the very oddest; without suggestion there
floated before his eyes the image, the landscape of greyish forms. In
thousands, seated on upturned buckets, with tins of fat from which they
ate at their sides on the ground, holding up newspapers that were not
really newspapers; on grey days. They were all round him. And he was
their gaoler. He said: 'A filthy job!'

Mrs Wannop's voice said:

'Still, it's kept you alive for us!'

He said:

'I sometimes wish it hadn't!' He was astonished that he had said it; he
was astonished at the bitterness of his voice. He added: 'I don't mean
that in cold blood of course,' and he was again astonished at the
deference in his voice. He was leaning down, positively, as if over a
very distinguished, elderly, seated lady. He straightened himself. It
struck him as distasteful hypocrisy to bow before an elderly lady when
you entertained designs upon her daughter. Her voice said:

'My dear boy...my dear, almost son...'

Panic overcame him. There was no mistaking those tones. He looked round
at Valentine. She had her hands together as if she were wringing them.
She said, exploring his face painfully with her eyes:

'Oh, be kind to her. Be kind to her...'

Then there had been revelation of their...you couldn't call it intimacy!

He never liked her Girl Guides' uniform. He liked her best in a white
sweater and a fawn-coloured short skirt. She had taken off her hat--her
cowboyish hat. She had had her hair cut. Her fair hair.

Mrs Wannop said:

'I've got to think that you have saved us...To-day I have to think that
you have saved us...And of all you have suffered.' Her voice was
melancholy, slow, and lofty.

Intense, hollow reverberations filled the house. He said: 'That's
nothing. That's over. You don't have to think of it.

The reverberations apparently reached her ear. She said:

'I can't hear you. There seems to be thunder.'

External silence came back. He said:

'I was telling you not to think of my sufferings.'

She said:

'Can't you wait? You and she? Is there _no_...The reverberations
began again. When he could again hear she was saying:

'Has had to contemplate such contingencies arising for one's child. It is
useless to contend with the tendency of one's age. But I had hoped...'

The knocker below gave three isolated raps, but the echoes prolonged
them. He said to Valentine:

'That's the knocking of a drunken man. But then half the population might
well be drunk. If they knock again, go down and send them away.'

She said:

'I'll go in any case before they can knock again.'

She heard him say as she left the room--she could not help waiting for
the end of the sentence: she _must_ gather all that she could as to
that agonizing interview between her mother and her lover. Equally, she
must go or she would go mad. It was no good saying that her head was
screwed on straight. It wasn't. It was as if it contained two balls of
string with two ends. On the one her mother pulled, on the other,
he...She heard him say:

'I don't know. One has desperate need. Of talk. I have not really spoken
to a soul for two years!' Oh, blessed, adorable man! She heard him going
on, getting into a stride of talk:

'It's that that's desperate. I'll tell you. I'll give you an instance. I
was carrying a boy. Under rifle-fire. His eye got knocked out. If I had
left him where he was his eye would not have been knocked out. I thought
at the time that, he might have been drowned, but I ascertained
afterwards that the water never rose high enough. So I am responsible for
the loss of his eye. It's a sort of monomania. You see, I am talking of
it now. It recurs. Continuously. And to have to bear it in complete
solitude...'

She was not frightened going now down the great stairs. They whispered,
but she was like a calm Fatima. He was Sister Anne, and a brother, too.
The enemy was fear. She must not fear. He rescued her from few. It is to
a woman that you must come for refuge from regrets about a boy's eyes.

Her physical interior turned within her. He had been under fire! He might
never have been there, a grey badger, a tender, tender grey badger
leaning down and holding a telephone. Explaining things with tender care.
It was lovely how he spoke to her mother; it was lovely that they were
all three together. But her mother would keep them apart. She was taking
the only way to keep them apart if she was talking to him as she had
talked to her.

There was no knowing. She had heard him say:

He was pretty well...'Thank God!'...Weakish ...'Ah, give _me_ the
chance to cherish him!'...He had just come out of hospital. Four days
ago. He had had pneumonia all right, but it had been mental rather than
physical...

Ah, the dreadful thing about the whole war was that it had been--the
suffering had been--mental rather than physical. And they had not thought
of z...He had been under fire. She had pictured him always as being in a
Base, thinking. If he had been killed it would not have been so dreadful
for him. But now he had cane back with his obsessions and mental
troubles...And he needed his woman. And her mother was forcing hm to
abstain from his woman! That was what was terrible. He had suffered
mental torture and now his pity was being worked on to make him abstain
from the woman that could atone.

Hitherto, she had thought of the War as physical suffering only: now she
saw it only as menta torture. Immense miles and miles of anguish in
darkened minds. That remained. Men might stand up on hill, but the
mental torture could not be expelled.

She ran suddenly down the steps that remained to her and was fumbling at
the bolts of the front door. She was not skilful at that: she was
thinking abort the conversation that dreadfully she felt to be
continuing. She must stop the knocking. The knocker had stayed for just
long enough for the abstention of an impatient man knocking on a great
door. Her mother was too cunning for them. With the cunning that makes
the mother wild-duck tumble apparently broken-winged just under your feet
to decoy you away from her little things. STORGE, Gilbert White calls it!
For, of course, she could never have his lips upon hers when she thought
of that crafty, beloved, grey Eminence sitting at home and
shuddering...But she _would_!

She found the gadget that opened the door--the third she had tried
amongst incomprehensible, painted century-old fixings. The door came open
exactly upon a frustrated sound. A man was being propelled towards her by
the knocker to which he held...She had saved his thoughts. Without the
interruption of the knocker he might be able to see that mother's device
was just cunning. They were cunning, the great Victorians...Oh, poor
mother!

A horrible man in uniform looked at her hatefully, with piercing, hollow,
black eyes in a fallen away face. He said:

'I must see that fellow Tietjens; you're not Tietjens!' As if she were
defrauding him. 'It's urgent,' he said. 'About a sonnet. I was dismissed
the Army yesterday. _His_ doing. And Campion's. His wife's lover!'

She said fiercely:

'He's engaged. You can't see him. If you want to see him you must wait!'
She felt horror that Tietjens should ever have had to do with such a
brute beast. He was unshaven; black. And filled with hatred. He raised
his voice to say:

'I'm McKechnie. Captain McKechnie of the ninth. Vice-Chancellor's Latin
Prizeman! One of the Old Pals!' He added: 'Tietjens forced himself in on
the Old Pals!'

She felt the contempt of the scholar's daughter for the Prizeman; she
felt that Apollo with Admetus was as nothing for sheer disgust compared
with Tietjens buried in a band of such beings.

She said:

'It is not necessary to shout. You can come in and wait.'

At all costs Tietjens must finish his conversation with her mother
undisturbed. She led this fellow round the corner of the hall. A sort of
wireless emanation seemed to connect her with the upper conversation. She
was aware of it going on, through the wall above, diagonally; then
through the ceiling in perpendicular waves. It seemed to work inside her
head, her end of it, likes waves, churning her mind.

She opened the shutters of the empty room round the corner, on the right.
She did not wish to be alone in the dark with this hating man. She did
not dare to go up and warn Tietjens. At all costs he must not be
disturbed. It was not fair to call what her mother was doing, cunning. It
was instinct, set in her breast by the Almighty, as the saying
is...Still, it was early Victorian instinct! Tremendously cunning in
itself.

The hateful man was grumbling:

'He's been sold up, I see. That's what comes of selling your wife to
Generals. To get promotion. They're a cunning lot. But he overreached
himself. Campion went back on him. But Campion, too, overreached
_himself_...!

She was looking out of the window, across the green square. Light was an
agreeable thing. You could breathe more deeply when it was light...Early
Victorian instinct!...The Mid-Victorians had had to loosen the bonds. Her
mother, to be in the van of Mid-Victorian thought, had had to allow
virtue to 'irregular unions'. As long as they were high-minded. But the
high-minded do not consummate irregular unions. So all her books had
showed you high-minded creatures contracting irregular unions of the mind
or of sympathy; but never carrying them to the necessary conclusion. They
would have been ethically at liberty but they didn't. They ran with the
ethical hare, but hunted with the ecclesiastical hounds...Still, of
course, she could not go back on her premises just because it was her own
daughter!

She said:

'I beg your pardon!' to that fellow. He had been saying:

'They're too damn cunning. They overreach themselves!'

Her mind spun. She did not know what he had been talking about. Her mind
retained his words, but she did not understand what they meant. She had
been sunk in the contemplation of Early Victorian Thought. She remembered
the long--call it liaison'--of Edith Ethel Duchemin and little Vincent
Macmaster. Edith Ethel, swathed in opaque crepe, creeping widow-like
along the very palings she could see across the square, to her
high-minded adulteries, amidst the whispered applause of Mid-Victorian
England. So circumspect and right!...She had her thoughts to keep, all
right. Well under control!...Well, she had been patient.

The man said agonizedly:

'My filthy, bloody, swinish uncle, Vincent Macmaster. _Sir_ Vincent
Macmaster! And this fellow Tietjens. All in a league against me...Campion
too...But he overreached himself...A man got into Tietjens' wife's
bedroom. At the Base. And Campion sent him to the front. To get him
killed. Her other lover, you see?'

She listened. She listened with all her attention straining. She wanted
to be able to...She did not know what she wanted to be able to do! The
man said:

'Major-General Lord Edward Campion, V.C., K.C.M.G., tantivy turn tum,
etcetera. Too cunning. Too b----y cunning by half. Sent Tietjens to the
front too to get him killed. Me too. We all three went up to Division in
a boxcar--Tietjens, his wife's lover, and me. Tietjens confessed that
bleedin' swab. Like a beastly monk. Told him that when you die--_in
articulo mortis_, but you won't understand what that means!--your
faculties are so numbed that you feel neither pain nor fear. He said that
death was no more than an anaesthetic. And that trembling, whining pup
drank it in...I can see them now. In a box-car. In a cutting.'

She said:

'You've had shell-shock? You've got shell-shock now!'

He said, like a badger snapping:

'I haven't. I've got a bad wife. Like Tietjens. At least she isn't a bad
wife. She's a woman with appetites. She satisfies her appetites. That's
why they're hoofing me out of the Army. But at least, I don't sell her to
Generals. To Major-General Lord Edward Campion, V.C., K.C.M.G., etc. I
got divorce leave and didn't divorce her. Then I got second divorce
leave. And didn't divorce her. It's against my principles. She lives with
a British Museum Palaeontologist and he'd lose his job. I owe that fellow
Tietjens a hundred and seventy quid. Over my second divorce leave. I
can't pay him. I didn't divorce, but I've spent the money. Going about
with my wife and her friend. On principle!'

He spoke so inexhaustibly and fast, and his topics changed so quickly
that she could do no more than let the words go into her ears. She
listened to the words and stored them up. One main line of topic held
her; otherwise she could not think. She only let her eyes run over the
friezes of the opposite houses. She gathered that Tietjens had been
unjustly dismissed by Campion, whilst saving two lives under fire.
McKechnie grudgingly admitted heroism to Tietjens in order to blacken the
General. The General wanted Sylvia Tietjens. So as to get her he had sent
Tietjens into the hottest part of the line. But Tietjens had refused to
get killed. He had a charmed life. That was Provvy spiting the General.
All the same, Providence could not like Tietjens, a cully who comforted
his wife's lover. A dirty thing to do. When Tietjens would not be killed
the General came down into the Line and _strafed_ him to Hell.
Didn't she, Valentine, understand why? He wanted Tietjens cashiered so
that he, Campion, might be less disgustingly disgraced for taking up with
the wife. But he had overreached himself. You can't be cashiered for not
being on the spot to lick a General's boots when you are saving life
under rifle-fire. So the General had to withdraw his words and find
Tietjens a dirty scavenger's job. Made a bleedin' gaoler of him!

She was standing in the doorway so that this fellow should not run
upstairs to where the conversation was going on. The windows consoled
her. She only gathered that Tietjens had had great mental trouble. He
must have. She knew nothing of either Sylvia Tietjens or the General
except for their beautiful looks. But Tietjens must have had great mental
trouble. Dreadful!

It was hateful. How could she stand it! But she must, to keep this fellow
from Tietjens, who was talking to her mother.

And...if his wife was a bad wife, didn't it...

The windows were consoling. A little dark boy of an officer passed the
railings of the house, looking up at the windows.

McKechnie had talked himself hoarse. He was coughing. He began to
complain that his uncle, Sir Vincent Mac-master, had refused him an
introduction to the Foreign Office. He had made a scene at the
Macmasters' already that morning. Lady Macmaster--a haggard wanton, if
there ever was one--had refused him access to his uncle, who was
suffering from nervous collapse. He said suddenly:

'Now about this sonnet: I'm at least going to show this fellow...' Two
more officers, one short, the other tall, passed the window. They were
laughing and calling out '...that I'm a better Latinist than he...'

She sprang into the hall. Thunder again had come from the door.

In the light outside a little officer with his half profile towards her
seemed to be listening. Beside him was a thin lady, very tall. At the
bottom of the steps were two laughing Officers. The boy, his eye turned
towards her, with a shrinking timidity you would have said, exclaimed in
a soft voice:

'We've come for Major Tietjens...This is Nancy. Of Bailleul, you know!'
He had turned his face still more towards the lady. She was unreasonably
thin and tall, the face of her skin drawn. She was much the older. Much.
And hostile. She must have put on a good deal of colour. Purplish.
Dressed in black. She ducked a little.

Valentine said:

'I'm afraid...He's engaged...

The boy said:

'Oh, but he'll see us. This is Nancy, you know!' One of the officers
said:

'We said we'd look old Tietjens up...' He had only one arm. She was
losing her head. The boy had a blue band round his hat. She said:

'But he's dreadfully urgently engaged...'

The boy turned his face full on her with a gesture of entreaty.

'Oh, but...' he said. She nearly fell, stepping back. His eye-socket
contained nothing: a disorderly reddish scar. It made him appear to be
peering blindly; the absence of the one eye blotted out the existence of
the other. He said in Oriental pleading tones:

'The Major saved my life; I must see him!' The sleeveless officer called
out:

'We said we'd look old Tietjens up...IT's armi...hick...At Rouen in the
pub...' The boy continued:

'I'm Aranjuez, you know! Aranjuez...' They had only been married last
week. He was going to the Indian Army to-morrow. They _must_ spend
Armistice Day with the Major. Nothing would be anything without the
Major. They had a table at the Holborn.

The third officer: he was a very dark, silky-voiced, young Major, crept
slowly up the steps, leaning on a stick, his dark eyes on her face.

'It _is_ an engagement, you know!' he said. He had a voice like silk
and bold eyes. 'We really did make an engagement to come to Tietjens'
house to-day...whenever it happened...a lot of us. In Rouen. Those who
were in Number Two.'

Aranjuez said:

'The C.O.'s to be there. He's dying, you know. And it would be nothing
without the Major...'

She turned her back on him. She was crying because of the pleading tones
of his voice and his small hands. Tietjens was coming down the stairs,
mooning slowly.



II


Standing at the telephone Tietjens had recognized at once that this was a
mother, pleading with infinite statesmanship for her daughter. There was
no doubt about that. How could he continue to...to entertain designs on
the daughter of this voice?...But he _did_. He couldn't. He did. He
_couldn't_. He did...You may expel Nature by pleading..._tamen
usque recur_...She must recline in his arms before midnight. Having
cut her hair had made her face look longer. Infinitely attracting. Less
downright: with a refinement. Melancholy! One must comfort.

There was nothing to answer to the mother on sentimental lines. He wanted
Valentine Wannop enough to take her away. That was the overwhelming
answer to Mrs Wannop's sophistications of the advanced writer of a past
generation. It answered her then; still more it answered her now, today,
when a man could stand up. Still, he could not overwhelm an elderly,
distinguished and inaccurate lady! It is not done.

He took refuge in the recital of facts. Mrs Wannop, weakening her ground,
asked:

'_Isn't_ there any legal way out? Miss Wanostrocht tells me your
wife...'

Tiejtens answered:

'I can't divorce my wife. She's the mother of my child. I can't live with
her, but I can't divorce her.'

Mrs Wannop took it lying down again, resuming her proper line. She said
that he knew the circumstances and that if his conscience...And so on and
so on. She believed, however, in arranging things quietly if it could be
done. He was looking down mechanically, listening. He read that our
client Mrs Tietjens of Groby-in-Cleveland requests us to inform you that
after the late occurrences at a Base Camp in France she thinks it useless
that you and she should contemplate a common life for the future...He had
contemplated that set of facts enough already. Campion during his leave
had taken up his quarters at Groby. He did not suppose that Sylvia had
become his mistress. It was improbable in the extreme. Unthinkable! He
had gone to Groby with Tietjens' sanction in order to sound his prospects
as candidate for the Division. That is to say that, ten months ago,
Tietjens had told the General that he might make Groby his headquarters
as it had been for years. But, in that communication trench he had not
told Tietjens that he had been at Groby. He had said 'London'.
Specifically.

That _might_ be an adulterer's guilty conscience, but it was more
likely that he did not want Tietjens to know that he had been under
Sylvia's influence. He had gone for Tietjens bald-headed, beyond all
reason for a Commander-in-Chief speaking to a Battalion Commander. Of
course he might have the wind up at being in the trenches and being kept
waiting so near the area of a real _strafe_ as he might well have
taken that artillery lark to be. He might have let fly just to relieve
his nerves. But it was more likely that Sylvia had bewildered his old
brains into thinking that he, Tietjens, was such a villain that he ought
not to be allowed to defile the face of the earth. Still less a trench
under General Campion's control.

Campion had afterwards taken back his words very handsomely--with a sort
of distant and lofty deprecation. He had even said that Tietjens had
deserved a decoration, but that there were only a certain number of
decorations now to be given and that he imagined that Tietjens would
prefer it to be given to a man to whom it would be of more advantage. And
he did not like to recommend for decoration an officer so closely
connected with himself. He said this before members of his staff...Levin
and some others. And he went on, rather pompously, that he was going to
employ Tietjens on a very responsible and delicate duty. He had been
asked by H.M. Government to put the charge over all enemy prisoners
between Army H.Q. and the sea in charge of an officer of an exceptionally
trustworthy nature, of high social position and weight. In view of the
enemy's complaints to the Hague of ill-treatment of prisoners.

So Tietjens had lost all chance of distinction, command pay,
cheerfulness, or even equanimity. And all tangible proof that he had
saved life under fire--if the clumsy mud-bath of his incompetence could
be called saving life under fire. He could go on being discredited by
Sylvia till kingdom come, with nothing to show on the other side but the
uncreditable fact that he had been a gaoler. Clever old General!
Admirable old godfather-in-law!

Tietjens astonished himself by saying to himself that if he had any proof
that Campion had committed adultery with Sylvia he would kill him! Call
him out and kill him...That of course was absurd. You do not kill a
General Officer commanding in chief an Army. And a good General too. His
reorganization of that Army had been everything that was ship-shape and
soldierly; his handling it in the subsequent fighting had been impeccably
admirable. It was in fact the apotheosis of the Regular Soldier. That
alone was a benefit to have conferred on the country. He had also
contributed by his political action to forcing the single command on the
Government. When he had gone to Groby he had let it be quite widely known
that he was prepared to fight that Division of Cleveland on the political
issue of single command or no single command--and to fight it in his
absence in France. Sylvia no doubt would have run the campaign for him!

Well, that, and the arrival of the American troops in large quantities,
had no doubt forced the hand of Downing Street. There could no longer
have been any question of evacuating the Western Front. Those swine in
their corridors were scotched. Campion was a good man. He was
good--impeccable!--in his profession he had deserved well of his country.
Yet, if Tietjens had had proof that he had committed adultery with his,
Tietjens', wife he would call him out. Quite properly. In the
eighteenth-century tradition for soldiers. The old fellow could not
refuse. He was of eighteenth-century tradition too.

Mrs Wannop was informing him that she had had the news of Valentine's
having gone to him from a Miss Wanostrocht. She had, she said, at first
agreed that it was proper that Valentine should look after him if he were
mad and destitute. But this Miss Wanostrocht had gone on to say that she
had heard from Lady Macmaster that Tietjens and her daughter had had a
liaison lasting for years. And ...Mrs Wannop's voice hesitated...Valentine
seemed to have announced to Miss Wanostrocht that she intended to live
with Tietjens. 'Maritally', Miss Wanostrocht had expressed it.

It was the last word alone of Mrs Wannop's talk that came home to him.
People would talk. About him. It was his fate. And hers. Their identities
interested Mrs Wannop, as novelist. Novelists live on gossip. But it was
all one to him.

The word 'Maritally!' burst out of the telephone like a blue light! That
girl with the refined face, the hair cut longish, but revealing its
thinner refinement...That girl longed for him as he for her! The longing
had refined her face. He must comfort...

He was aware that for a long time, from below his feet a voice had been
murmuring on and on. Always one voice. Who could Valentine find to talk
or to listen to for so long? Old Macmaster was almost the only name that
came to his mind. Macmaster would not harm her. He felt her being united
to his by a current. He had always felt that her being was united to his
by a current. This then was the day!

The war had made a man of him! It had coarsened him and hardened him.
There was no other way to look at it. It had made him reach a point at
which he would no longer stand unbearable things. At any rate from his
equals! He counted Campion as his equal; few other people, of course. And
what he wanted he was prepared to take...What he had been before, God
alone knew. A Younger Son? A Perpetual Second-in-Command? Who knew? But
to-day the world changed. Feudalism was finished; its last vestiges were
gone. It held no place for him. He was going--he was damn well going!--to
make a place in it for...A man could now stand up on a hill, so he and
she could surely get into some hole together!

He said:

'Oh, I'm not destitute, but I was penniless this morning. So I ran out
and sold a cabinet to Sir John Robertson. The old fellow had offered me a
hundred and forty pounds for it before the war. He would only pay forty
to-day--because of the immorality of my character.' Sylvia had completely
got hold of the old collector. He went on: 'The Armistice came too
suddenly. I was determined to spend it with Valentine. I expected a
cheque to-morrow. For some books I've sold. And Sir John was going down
to the country. I had got into an old suit of _mufti_ and I hadn't a
civilian hat.' Reverberations came from the front door. He said
earnestly:

'Mrs Wannop...If Valentine and I can, we will...But to-day's to-day!...If
we can't we can find a hole to get into...I've heard of an antiquity shop
near Bath. No special regularity of life is demanded of old furniture
dealers. We should be quite happy! I have also been recommended to apply
for a vice-consulate. In Toulon, I believe. I'm quite capable of taking a
practical hold of life!'

The Department of Statistics would transfer him. All the Government
Departments, staffed of course by non-combatants, were aching to transfer
those who had served to any other old Department.

A great many voices came from below stairs. He could not leave
Valentine to battle with a great number of voices. He said:

'I've got to go!' Mrs Wannop's voice answered: 'Yes, do. I'm very tired.'

He came mooning slowly down the stairs. He smiled. He exclaimed:

'Come up, you fellows. There's some Hooch for you!' He had a royal
aspect. An all-powerfulness. They pushed past her and then past him on
the stairs. They all ran up the stairs, even the man with the stick. The
armless man shook hands with his left hand as he ran. They exclaimed
enthusiasms...On all celebrations it is proper for His Majesty's officers
to exclaim and to run upstairs when whisky is mentioned. How much the
more so to-day!

They were alone now in the hall, he on a level with her. He looked into
her eyes. He smiled. He had never smiled at her before. They had always
been such serious people. He said:

'We shall have to celebrate! But I'm not mad. I'm not destitute!' He had
run out to get money to celebrate with her. He had meant to go and fetch
her. To celebrate that day together.

She wanted to say: 'I am falling at your feet. My arms are embracing your
knees!'

Actually she said:

'I suppose it is proper to celebrate together to-day!'

Her mother had made their union. For they looked at each other for a long
time. What had happened to their eyes? It was as if they had been bathed
in soothing fluid: they could look the one at the other. It was no longer
the one looking and the other averting the eyes, in alternation. Her
mother had spoken between them. They might never have spoken of
themselves. In one heart-beat apiece whilst she had been speaking they
had been made certain that their union had already lasted many years...It
was warm; their hearts beat quietly. They had already lived side by side
for many years. They were quiet in a cavern. The Pompeian red bowed over
them; the stairways whispered up and up. They would be alone together
now. For ever!

She knew that he desired to say 'I hold you in my arms. My lips are on
your forehead. Your breasts are being hurt by my chest!'

He said:

'Who have you got in the dining-room? It used to be the dining-room!'

Dreadful fear went through her. She said:

'A man called McKechnie. Don't go in!'

He went towards danger, mooning along. She would have caught at his
sleeve, but Caesar's wife must be as brave as Caesar. Nevertheless she
slipped in first. She had slipped passed him before at a hanging-stile. A
Kentish kissing-gate. She said:

'Captain Tietjens is here!' She did not know whether he was a Captain or
a Major. Some called him one, some another.

McKechnie looked merely grumbling: not homicidal. He grumbled:

'Look here, my bloody swine of an uncle, your pal, has had me dismissed
from the army!'

Tietjens said:

'Chuck it. You know you've been demobilized to go to Asia Minor for the
Government. Come and celebrate.' McKechnie had a dirty envelope. Tietjens
said: 'Oh, yes. The sonnet. You can translate it under Valentine's
inspection. She's the best Latinist in England!' He said: 'Captain
McKechnie: Miss Wannop!'

McKechnie took her hand:

'It isn't fair if you're such a damn good Latinist as that...' he
grumbled.

'You'll have to have a shave before you come out with us!' Tietjens said.

They three went up the stairs together, but they two were alone. They
were going on their honeymoon journey...The bride's going away!...She
ought not to think such things. It was perhaps blasphemy. You go away in
a neatly shining coupe with cockaded footmen!

He had re-arranged the room. He had positively rearranged the room. He
had removed the toilet-furnishings in green canvas: the camp bed--three
officers on it--was against the wall. That was his thoughfulness. He did
not want these people to have it suggested that she slept with him
there...Why not? Aranjuez and the hostile thin lady sat on green canvas
pillows on the dais. Bottles leaned against each other on the green
canvas table. They all held glasses. There were in all five of H.M.
Officers. Where had they come from? There were also three mahogany chairs
with green rep, sprung seats. Fat seats. Glasses were on the mantelshelf.
The thin, hostile lady held a glass of dark red in an unaccustomed
manner.

They all stood up and shouted:

'McKechnie! Good old McKechnie!' 'Hurray McKechnie!' 'McKechnie!' opening
their mouths to the full extent and shouting with all their lungs. You
could see that!

A swift pang of jealousy went through her.

McKechnie turned his face away. He said:

'The Pals! The old pals!' He had tears in his eyes.

A shouting officer sprang from the camp bed--her nuptial couch! Did she
_like_ to see three officers bouncing about on her nuptial couch.
What an Alcestis! She sipped sweet port! It had been put into her hand by
the soft, dark, armless major! The shouting officer slapped Tietjens
violently on the back. The officer shouted:

'I've picked up a skirt...A proper little bit of fluff, sir!'

Her jealousy was assuaged. Her lids felt cold. They had been wet for an
instant or so: the moisture had cooled! It's salt of course!...She
belonged to this unit! She was attached to him...for rations and
discipline. So she was attached to it. Oh, happy day! Happy, happy
day!...There was a song with words like that. She had never expected
to see it. She had never expected...

Little Aranjuez came up to her. His eyes were soft, like a deer's, his
voice and hands caressing...No, he had only one eye! Oh, dreadful! He
said:

'You are the Major's dear friend...He made a sonnet in two and a half
minutes!' He meant to say that Tietjens had saved his life.

She said:

'Isn't he wonderful!' Why?

He said:

'He can do anything! Anything!...He ought to have been...'

A gentlemanly officer with an eyeglass wandered in...Of course they had
left the front door open. He said with an exquisite voice:

'Hullo, Major! Hullo, Monty...Hullo, the Pals!' and strolled to the
mantelpiece to take a glass. They all yelled: 'Hullo, Duckfoot...Hullo,
Brassface I' He took his glass delicately and said: 'Here's to
hoping!...The mess!'

Aranjuez said:

'Our only V.C...' Swift jealousy went through her. Aranjuez said:

'_I_ say..._that_ he...' Good Boy! Dear Boy! Dear little
brother!...Where was her own brother? Perhaps they were not going to be
on terms any more! All around them the world was roaring. They were doing
their best to make a little roaring unit there: the tide creeping into
silent places!

The thin woman in black on the dais was looking at them. She drew her
skirts together. Aranjuez had his little hands up as if he were going to
lay them pleadingly on her breast. Why pleadingly?...Begging her to
forget his hideous eye-socket. He said:

'Wasn't it splendid...wasn't it ripping of Nancy to marry me like
this?...We shall all be such friends.'

The thin woman caught her eye. She seemed more than ever to draw her
skirts away though she never moved...That was because she, Valentine, was
Tietjens' mistress...There's a picture in the National Gallery called
_Titian's Mistress_...She passed perhaps with them all for
having...The woman smiled at her: a painfully forced smile. For
Armistice...She, Valentine, was outside the pale. Except for holidays and
days of National rejoicing...

She felt...nakedish, at her left side. Sure enough Tietjens was gone. He
had taken McKechnie to shave. The man with the eyeglass looked critically
round the shouting room. He fixed her and bore towards her. He stood
over, his legs wide apart. He said:

'Hullo! Who'd have thought of seeing _you_ here? Met you at the
Prinsep's. Friend of friend Hun's, aren't you?'

He said:

'Hullo, Aranjuez Better?'

It was like a whale speaking to a shrimp: but still more like an uncle
speaking to a favourite nephew! Aranjuez blushed with sheer pleasure. He
faded away as if in awe before tremendous eminences. For him she too was
an eminence. His life-hero's...woman!

The V.C. was in the mood to argue about politics. He always was. She had
met him twice during evenings at friends' called Prinsep. She had not
known him because of his eyeglasses: he must have put that up along with
his ribbon. It took your breath away: like a drop of blood illuminated by
a light that never was.

He said:

'They say you're receiving for Tietjens! Who'd have thought it? you a
pro-German, and he such a sound Tory. Squire of Groby and all, eh what?'

He said:

'Know Groby?' He squinted through his glasses round the room. 'Looks like
a mess this...Only needs the _Vie Parisienne_ and the _Pink
Un_...Suppose he has moved his stuff to Groby. He'll be going to live
at Groby, now. The war's over!'

He said:

'But you and old Tory Tietjens in the same room...By Jove the war's
over...The lion lying down with the lamb's nothing...' he exclaimed 'Oh,
damn! Oh, damn, damn, damn...I say...I didn't mean it...Don't cry. My
dear little girl. My dear Miss Wannop. One of the best I always thought
you. You don't suppose...'

She said:

'I'm crying because of Groby...It's a day to cry on anyhow...You're quite
a good sort, really!'

He said:

'Thank you! Thank you! Drink some more port! He's a good fat old beggar,
old Tietjens. A good officer!' He added: 'Drink a _lot_ more port!'

He had been the most asinine, creaking, 'what about your king and
country', shocked, outraged and speechless creature of all the many who
for years had objected to her objecting to men being unable to stand
up...Now he was a rather kind brother!

They were all yelling.

'Good old Tietjens! Good old Fat Man! Pre-war Hooch! He'd be the one to
get it.' No one like Fat Man Tietjens! He lounged at the door; easy;
benevolent. In uniform now. That was better. An officer, yelling like an
enraged Redskin, dealt him an immense blow behind the shoulder blades. He
staggered, smiling, into the centre of the room. An officer pushed her
into the centre of the room. She was against him. Khaki encircled them.
They began to yell and to prance, joining hands. Others waved the bottles
and smashed underfoot the glasses. Gipsies break glasses at their
weddings. The bed was against the wall. She did not like the bed to be
against the wall. It had been brushed by...

They were going round them: yelling in unison: 'Over here! Porn Pom! Over
here! Porn Porn! That's the word, that's the word. Over here...

At least they weren't over there! They were prancing. The whole world
round them was yelling and prancing round. They were the centre of
unending roaring circles. The man with the eyeglass had stuck a
half-crown in his other eye. He was well-meaning. A brother. She had a
brother with the V.C. All in the family.

Tietjens was stretching out his two hands from the waist. It was
incomprehensible. His right hand was behind her back, his left in her
right hand. She was frightened. She was amazed. Did you ever! He was
swaying slowly. The elephant! They were dancing! Aranjuez was hanging on
to the tall woman like a kid on a telegraph pole. The officer who had
said he had picked up a little bit of fluff...well, he had! He had run
out and fetched it. It wore white cotton gloves and a flowered hat. It
said: 'Ow! Now!'...There was a fellow with a most beautiful voice. He
led: better than a gramophone. Better...

_Les petites marionettes, font! font! font_!...

On an elephant. A dear, meal-sack elephant. She was setting out on...



THE END





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