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.
‘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 . . . ’
‘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.
‘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.’
‘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:
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.’
‘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.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54