They had gone back up the hill so that Levin might telephone to headquarters for his own car in case the general’s chauffeur should not have the sense to return for him. But that was as far as Tietjens got in uninterrupted reminiscences of that scene . . . He was sitting in his fleabag, digging idly with his pencil into the squared page of his note-book which had remained open on his knees, his eyes going over and over again over the words with which his report on his own case had concluded — the words: So the interview ended rather untidily. Over the words went the image of the dark hillside with the lights of the town, now that the air-raid was finished, spreading high up into the sky below them . . .
But at that point the doctor’s batman had uttered, as if with a jocular, hoarse irony, the name:
‘Poor —— 0 Nine Morgan! . . . ’ and over the whitish sheet of paper on a level with his nose Tietjens perceived thin films of reddish purple to be wavering, then a glutinous surface of gummy scarlet pigment. Moving! It was once more an effect of fatigue, operating on the retina, that was perfectly familiar to Tietjens. But it filled him with indignation against his own weakness. He said to himself: Wasn’t the name of the wretched 0 Nine Morgan to be mentioned in his hearing without his retina presenting him with the glowing image of the fellow’s blood? He watched the phenomenon, growing fainter, moving to the right-hand top corner of the paper and turning a faintly luminous green. He watched it with a grim irony.
Was he, he said to himself, to regard himself as responsible for the fellow’s death? Was his inner mentality going to present that claim upon him? That would be absurd. The end of the earth! The absurd end of the earth . . . Yet that insignificant ass Levin had that evening asserted the claim to go into his, Tietjens of Groby’s, relations with his wife. That was an end of the earth as absurd! It was the unthinkable thing, as unthinkable as the theory that the officer can be responsible for the death of the man . . . But the idea had certainly presented itself to him. How could he be responsible for the death? In fact — in literalness — he was. It had depended absolutely upon his discretion whether the man should go home or not. The man’s life or death had been in his hands. He had followed the perfectly correct course. He had written to the police of the man’s home town, and the police had urged him not to let the man come home . . . Extraordinary morality on the part of a police force! The man, they begged, should not be sent home because a prize-fighter was occupying his bed and laundry . . . Extraordinary common sense, very likely . . . They probably did not want to get drawn into a scrap with Red Evans of the Red Castle . . .
For a moment he seemed to see . . . he actually saw . . . 0 Nine Morgan’s eyes, looking at him with a sort of wonder, as they had looked when he had refused the fellow his leave . . . A sort of wonder! Without resentment, but with incredulity. As you might look at God, you being very small and ten feet or so below His throne when He pronounced some inscrutable judgment! . . . The Lord giveth home-leave, and the Lord refuseth . . . Probably not blessed, but queer, be the name of God-Tietjens!
And at the thought of the man as he was alive and of him now, dead, an immense blackness descended all over Tietjens. He said to himself: I am very tired. Yet he was not ashamed . . . It was the blackness that descends on you when you think of your dead . . . It comes, at any time, over the brightness of sunlight, in the grey of evening, in the grey of the dawn, at mess, on parade: it comes at the thought of one man or at the thought of half a battalion that you have seen, stretched out, under sheeting, the noses making little pimples: or not stretched out, lying face downwards, half buried. Or at the thought of dead that you have never seen dead at all . . . Suddenly the light goes out . . . In this case it was because of one fellow, a dirty enough man, not even very willing, not in the least endearing, certainly contemplating desertion . . . But your dead . . . Yours . . . Your own. As if joined to your own identity by a black cord . . .
In the darkness outside, the brushing, swift, rhythmic pacing of an immense number of men went past, as if they had been phantoms. A great number of men in fours, carried forward, irresistibly, by the overwhelming will of mankind in ruled motion. The sides of the hut were so thin that is was peopled by an innumerable throng. A sodden voice, just at Tietjens’ head, chuckled: ‘For God’s sake, sergeant-major, stop these —— I’m too —— drunk to halt them . . . ’
It made for the moment no impression on Tietjens’ conscious mind. Men were going past. Cries went up in the camp. Not orders, the men were still marching. Cries.
Tietjens’ lips — his mind was still with the dead — said:
‘That obscene Pitkins! I’ll have him cashiered for this . . . ’ He saw an obscene subaltern, small, with one eyelid that drooped.
He came awake at that. Pitkins was the subaltern he had detailed to march the draft to the station and go on to Bailleul under a boozy field officer of sorts.
McKechnie said from the other bed:
‘That’s the draft back.’
‘Good God! . . . ’
McKechnie said to the batman:
‘For God’s sake go and see if it is. Come back at once . . . ’
The intolerable vision of the line, starving beneath the moon, of grey crowds murderously elbowing back a thin crowd in brown, zigzagged across the bronze light in the hut. The intolerable depression that, in those days, we felt — that all those millions were the play-things of ants busy in the miles of corridors beneath the domes and spires that rise up over the central heart of our comity, that intolerable weight upon the brain and the limbs, descended once more on those two men lying upon their elbows. As they listened their jaws fell open. The long, polyphonic babble, rushing in from an extended line of men stood easy, alone rewarded their ears.
‘That fellow won’t come back . . . He can never do an errand and come back . . . ’ He thrust one of his legs cumbrously out of the top of his flea-bag. He said:
‘By God, the Germans will be all over here in a week’s time!’
He said to himself:
‘If they so betray us from Whitehall that fellow Levin has no right to pry into my matrimonial affairs. It is proper that one’s individual feelings should be sacrificed to the necessities of a collective entity. But not if that entity is to be betrayed from above. Not if it hasn’t the ten-millionth of a chance . . . ’ He regarded Levin’s late incursion on his privacy as inquiries set afoot by the general . . . Incredibly painful to him . . . like a medical examination into nudities, but perfectly proper. Old Campion had to assure himself that the other ranks were not demoralized by the spectacle of officers’ matrimonial ‘infidelities . . . But such inquiries were not to be submitted to if the whole show were one gigantic demoralization!
McKechnie said, in reference to Tietjens’ protruded foot:
‘There’s no good your going out . . . Cowley will get the men into their lines. He was prepared.’ He added: ‘If the fellows in Whitehall are determined to do old Puffies in, why don’t they recall him?’
The legend was that an eminent personage in the Government had a great personal dislike for the general in command of one army — the general being nicknamed Puffles. The Government, therefore, were said to be starving his command of men so that disaster should fall upon his command.
‘They can recall generals easy enough,’ McKechnie went on, ‘or anyone else!’
A heavy dislike that this member of the lower middle classes should have opinions on public affairs overcame Tietjens. He exclaimed: ‘Oh, that’s all tripe!’
He was himself outside all contact with affairs by now. But the other rumour in that troubled host had it that, as a political manoeuvre, the heads round Whitehall — the civilian heads — were starving the army of troops in order to hold over the allies of Great Britain the threat of abandoning altogether the Western Front. They were credited with threatening a strategic manoeuvre on an immense scale in the Near East, perhaps really intending it, or perhaps to force the hands of their allies over some political intrigue. These atrocious rumours reverberated backwards and forwards in the ears of all those millions under the black vault of heaven. All their comrades in the line were to be sacrificed as a rearguard to their departing host. That whole land was to be annihilated as a sacrifice to one vanity. Now the draft had been called back. That seemed proof that the Government meant to starve the line! McKechnie groaned:
‘Poor —— old Bird! . . . He’s booked. Eleven months in the front line, he’s been . . . Eleven months! . . . I was nine, this stretch. With him.’
‘Get back into bed, old bean . . . I’ll go and look after the men if it’s necessary . . . ’
‘You don’t so much as know where their lines are . . . ’ And sat listening. Nothing but the long roll of tongues came to him. He said:
‘Damn it 1 The men ought not to be kept standing in the cold like that . . . ’ Fury filled him beneath despair. His eyes filled with tears. ‘God,’ he said to himself, ‘the fellow Levin presumes to interfere in my private affair . . . Damn it,’ he said again, ‘it’s like doing a little impertinence in a world that’s foundering . . . ’
‘I’d go out,’ he said, ‘but I don’t want to have to put that filthy little Pitkins under arrest. He only drinks because he’s shellshocked. He’s not man enough else, the unclean little Nonconformist . . . ’
‘Hold on! . . . I’m a Presbyterian myself . . . ’
‘You would be! . . . ’ He said: ‘I beg your pardon . . . There will be no more parades . . . The British Army is dishonoured for ever . . . ’
‘That’s all right, old bean . . . ’
Tietjens exclaimed with sudden violence:
‘What the hell are you doing in the officers’ lines? . . . Don’t you know it’s a court-martial offence?’
He was confronted with the broad, mealy face of his regimental quartermaster-sergeant, the sort of fellow who wore an officer’s cap against the regulations, with a Tommie’s silver-plated badge. A man determined to get Sergeant-Major Cowley’s job. The man had come in unheard under the roll of voices outside. He said:
‘Excuse me, sir, I took the liberty of knocking . . . The sergeant-major is in an epileptic fit . . . I wanted your directions before putting the draft into the tents with the other men . . . ’ Having said that tentatively he hazarded cautiously: ‘The sergeant-major throws these fits, sir, if he is suddenly woke up . . . And Second-Lieutenant Pitkins woke him very suddenly . . . ’
‘So you took on you the job of a beastly informer against both of them . . . I shan’t forget it.’ He said to himself:
‘I’ll get this fellow one day . . . ’ and he seemed to hear with pleasure the clicking and tearing of the scissors as, inside three parts of a hollow square, they cut off his stripes and badges.
‘Good God, man, you aren’t going out in nothing but your pyjamas. Put your slacks on under your British warm . . . ’
‘Send the Canadian sergeant-major to me at the double . . . ’ to the quarter. ‘My slacks are at the tailor’s, being pressed.’ His slacks were being pressed for the ceremony of the signing of the marriage contract of Levin, the fellow who had interfered in his private affairs. He continued into the mealy broad face and vague eyes of the quartermaster: ‘You know as well as I do that it was the Canadian sergeant-major’s job to report to me . . . I’ll let you off this time, but, by God, if I catch you spying round the officers’ lines again you are for a D.C.M . . . ’
He wrapped a coarse, Red Cross, grey-wool muffler under the turned-up collar of his British warm.
‘That swine,’ he said to McKechnie, ‘spies on the officers’ lines in the hope of getting a commission by catching out —— little squits like Pitkins, when they’re drunk . . . I’m seven hundred braces down. Morgan does not know that I know that I’m that much down. But you can bet he knows where they have gone . . . ’
‘I wish you would not go out like that . . . I’ll make you some cocoa . . . ’
‘I can’t keep the men waiting while I dress . . . I’m as strong as a horse . . . ’
He was out amongst the bitterness, the mist, and the moongleams on three thousand rifle barrels, and the voices . . . He was seeing the Germans pour through a thin line, and his heart was leaden . . . A tall, graceful man swam up against him and said, through his nose, like an American: ‘There has been a railway accident, due to the French strikers. The draft is put back till three pip emma the day after to-morrow, sir.’
‘It isn’t countermanded?’ breathlessly.
The Canadian sergeant-major said:
‘No, sir . . . A railway accident . . . Sabotage by the French, they say . . . Four Glamorganshire sergeants, all nineteen-fourteen men, killed, sir, going home on leave. But the draft is not cancelled . . . ’ Tietjens said:
The slim Canadian with his educated voice said:
‘You’re thanking God, sir, for what’s very much to our detriment. Our draft was ordered for Salonika till this morning. The sergeant in charge of draft returns showed me the name Salonika scored off in his draft roster. Sergeant-Major Cowley had got hold of the wrong story. Now it’s going up the line. The other would have been a full two months’ more life for us.’
The man’s rather slow voice seemed to continue for a long time. As it went on Tietjens felt the sunlight dwelling on his nearly coverless limbs, and the tide of youth returning to his veins. It was like champagne. He said:
‘You sergeants get a great deal too much information. The sergeant in charge of returns had no business to show you his roster. It’s not your fault, of course. But you are an intelligent man. You can see how useful that news might be to certain people: people that it’s not to your own interest should know these things . . . ’ He said to himself: ‘A landmark in history . . . ’ And then: ‘Where the devil did my mind get hold of that expression at this moment?’
They were walking in mist, down an immense lane, one hedge of which was topped by the serrated heads and irregularly held rifles that showed here and there. He said to the sergeant-major: ‘Call ’em to attention. Never mind their dressing, we’ve got to get ’em into bed. Roll-call will be at nine tomorrow.’
His mind said:
‘If this means the single command . . . And it’s bound to mean the single command, it’s the turning point . . . Why the hell am I so extraordinarily glad? What’s it to me?’
He was shouting in a round voice:
‘Now then, men, you’ve got to go six extra in a tent. See if you can fall out six at a time at each tent. It’s not in the drill book, but see if you can do it for yourselves. You’re smart men: use your intelligences. The sooner you get to bed the sooner you will be warm. I wish I was. Don’t disturb the men who’re already in the tents. They’ve got to be up for fatigues tomorrow at five, poor devils. You can lie soft till three hours after that . . . The draft will move to the left in fours . . . Form fours . . . Left . . . ’ Whilst the voices of the sergeants in charge of companies yelped varyingly to a distance in the quick march order he said to himself:
‘Extraordinarily glad . . . A strong passion . . . How damn well these fellows move! . . . Cannon fodder . . . Cannon fodder . . . That’s what their steps say . . . ’ His whole body shook in the grip of the cold that beneath his loose overcoat gnawed his pyjamaed limbs. He could not leave the men, but cantered beside them with the sergeant-major till he came to the head of the column in the open in time to wheel the first double company into a line of ghosts that were tents, silent and austere in the moon’s very shadowy light . . . It appeared to him a magic spectacle. He said to the sergeant-major: ‘Move the second company to B line, and so on,’ and stood at the side of the men as they wheeled, stamping, like a wall in motion. He thrust his stick half-way down between the second and third files. ‘Now then, a four and half a four to the right; remaining half-four and next four to the left. Fall out into first tents to right and left . . . ’ He continued saying ‘First four and half, this four to the right Damn you, by the left! How can you tell which beastly four you belong to if you don’t march by the left . . . Remember you’re soldiers, not new-chum lumbermen . . .
It was sheer exhilaration to freeze there on the downside of the extraordinary pure air with the extraordinarily fine men. They came round, marking time with the stamp of guardsmen. He said, with tears in his voice:
‘Damn it all, I gave them that extra bit of smartness . . . Damn it all, there’s something I’ve done . . . ’ Getting cattle into condition for the slaughter-house . . . They were as eager as bullocks running down by Camden Town to Smithfield Market . . . Seventy per cent. of them would never come back . . . But it’s better to go to heaven with your skin shining and master of your limbs than as a hulking lout . . . The Almighty’s orderly room will welcome you better in all probability . . . He continued exclaiming monotonously . . . ‘Remaining half-four and next four to the left . . . Hold your beastly tongues when you fall out. I can’t hear myself give orders . . . ’ It lasted a long time. Then they were all swallowed up.
He staggered, his knees wooden-stiff with the cold, and the cold more intense now the wall of men no longer sheltered him from the wind, out along the brink of the plateau to the other lines. It gave him satisfaction to observe that he had got his men into their lines seventy-five per cent. quicker than the best of the N.C.O.’s who had had charge of the other lines. Nevertheless, he swore bitingly at the sergeants: their men were in knots round the entrance to the alleys of ghost-pyramids . . . Then there were no more, and he drifted with regret across the plain towards his country street of huts. One of them had a coarse evergreen rose growing over it. He picked a leaf, pressed it to his lips and threw it up into the wind . . . ‘That’s for Valentine,’ he said meditatively. ‘Why did I do that? . . . Or perhaps it’s for England . . . ’ He said: ‘Damn it all, this is patriotism? . . . This is patriotism . . . ’ It wasn’t what you took patriotism as a rule to be. There were supposed to be more parades, about that job! . . . But this was just a broke to the wide, wheezy, half-frozen Yorkshireman, who despised every one in England not a Yorkshireman, or from more to the North, at two in the morning picking a leaf from a rose-tree and slobbering over it, without knowing what he was doing. And then discovering that it was half for a pug-nosed girl whom he presumed, but didn’t know, to smell like a primrose; and half for . . . England! . . . At two in the morning with the thermometer ten degrees below zero . . . Damn, it was cold! . . .
And why these emotions? . . . Because England, not before it was time, had been allowed to decide not to do the dirty on her associates! . . . He said to himself: ‘It is probably because a hundred thousand sentimentalists like myself commit similar excesses of the subconscious that we persevere in this glorious but atrocious undertaking. All the same, I didn’t know I had it in me!’ A strong passion! . . . For his girl and his country! . . . Nevertheless, his girl was a pro-German . . . It was a queer mix-up . . . Not of course a pro-German, but disapproving of the preparation of men, like bullocks, with sleek healthy skins for the abattoirs in Smithfield . . . Agreeing presumably with the squits who had been hitherto starving the B.E.F. of men . . . A queer mix-up . . .
At half-past one the next day, in chastened winter sunlight, he mounted Schomburg, a coffin-headed, bright chestnut, captured from the Germans on the Marne by the second battalion of the Glamorganshires. He had not been on the back of the animal two minutes before he remembered that he had forgotten to look it over. It was the first time in his life that he had ever forgotten to look at an animal’s hoofs, fetlocks, knees, nostrils and eyes, and to take a pull at the girth before climbing into the saddle. But he had ordered the horse for a quarter to one and, even though he had bolted his cold lunch like a cannibal in haste, there he was three-quarters of an hour late, and with his head still full of teasing problems. He had meant to clear his head by a long canter over the be-hutted downs, dropping down into the city by a bypath.
But the ride did not clear his head — rather, the sleeplessness of the night began for the first time then to tell on him after a morning of fatigues, during which he had managed to keep the thought of Sylvia at arm’s length. He had to wait to see Sylvia before he could see what Sylvia wanted. And morning had brought the common-sense idea that probably she wanted to do nothing more than pull the string of the showerbath — which meant committing herself to the first extravagant action that came into her head — and exulting in the consequences.
He had not managed to get to bed at all the night before. Captain McKechnie, who had had some cocoa — a beverage Tietjens had never before tasted — hot and ready for him on his return from the lines, had kept him till past half-past four, relating with a male fury his really very painful story. It appeared that he had obtained leave to go home and divorce his wife, who, during his absence in France, had been living with an Egyptologist in Government service. Then, acting under conscientious scruples of the younger school of the day, he had refrained from divorcing her. Campion had in consequence threatened to deprive him of his commission . . . The poor devil — who had actually consented to contribute to the costs of the household of his wife and the Egyptologist — had gone raving mad and had showered an extraordinary torrent of abuse at the decent old fellow that Campion was . . . A decent old fellow, really. For the interview, being delicate, had taken place in the general’s bedroom and the general had not felt it necessary, there being no orderlies or junior officers present, to take any official notice of McKechnie’s outburst. McKechnie was a fellow with an excellent military record; you could in fact hardly have found a regimental officer with a better record. So Campion had decided to deal with the man as suffering from a temporary brain-storm and had sent him to Tietjens’ unit for rest and recuperation. It was an irregularity, but the general was of a rank to risk what irregularities he considered to be of use to the service.
It had turned out that McKechnie was actually the nephew of Tietjens’ very old intimate, Sir Vincent Mac-master, of the Department of Statistics, being the son of his sister who had married the assistant to the elder Macmaster, a small grocer in the Port of Leith in Scotland . . . That indeed had been why Campion had been interested in him. Determined as he was to show his godson no unreasonable military favours, the general was perfectly ready, to do a kindness that he thought would please Tietjens. All these pieces of information Tietjens had packed away in his mind for future consideration and, it being after four-thirty before McKechnie had calmed himself down, Tietjens had taken the opportunity to inspect the breakfasts of the various fatigues ordered for duty in the town, these being detailed for various hours from a quarter to five to seven. It was a matter of satisfaction to Tietjens to have seen to the breakfasts, and inspected his cook-houses, since he did not often manage to make the opportunity and he could by no means trust his orderly officers.
At breakfast in the depot mess-hut he was detained by the colonel in command of the depot, the Anglican padre and McKechnie; the colonel, very old, so frail that you would have thought that a shudder or a cough would have shaken his bones one from another, had yet a passionate belief that the Greek Church should exchange communicants with the Anglican: the padre, a stout, militant Churchman, had a gloomy contempt for Orthodox theology. McKechnie from time to time essayed to define the communion according to the Presbyterian rite. They all listened to Tietjens whilst he dilated on the historic aspects of the various schisms of Christianity and accepted his rough definition to the effect that, in transubstantiation, the host actually became the divine presence, whereas in consubstantiation the substance of the host, as if miraculously become porous, was suffused with the presence as a sponge is with water . . . They all agreed that the breakfast bacon supplied from store was uneatable and agreed to put up half a crown a week apiece to get better for their table.
Tietjens had walked in the sunlight down the lines, past the hut with the evergreen climbing rose, in the sunlight, thinking in an interval good humouredly about his official religion: about the Almighty as, on a colossal scale, a great English Landowner, benevolently awful, a colossal duke who never left his study and was thus invisible, but knowing all about the estate down to the last hind at the home farm and the last oak: Christ, an almost too benevolent Land-Steward, son of the Owner, knowing all about the estate down to the last child at the porter’s lodge, apt to be got round by the more detrimental tenants: the Third Person of the Trinity, the spirit of the estate, the Game as it were, as distinct from the players of the game: the atmosphere of the estate, that of the interior of Winchester Cathedral just after a Handel anthem has been finished, a perpetual Sunday, with, probably, a little cricket for the young men. Like Yorkshire of a Saturday afternoon; if you looked down on the whole broad county you would not see a single village green without its white flannels. That was why Yorkshire always leads the averages . . . Probably by the time you got to heaven you would be so worn out by work on this planet that you would accept the English Sunday, for ever, with extreme relief!
With his belief that all that was good in English literature ended with the seventeenth century, his imaginations of heaven must be materialist — like Bunyan’s . He laughed good-humouredly at his projection of a hereafter. It was probably done with. Along with cricket. There would be no more parades of that sort. Probably they would play some beastly yelping game . . . Like baseball or Association football . . . And heaven? . . . Oh, it would be a revival meeting on a Welsh hillside. Or Chautauqua, wherever that was . . . And God? A Real Estate Agent, with Marxist views . . . He hoped to be out of it before the cessation of hostilities, in which case he might be just in time for the last train to the old heaven . . .
In his orderly hut he found an immense number of papers. On the top an envelope marked Urgent. Private with a huge rubber stamp. From Levin. Levin, too, must have been up pretty late. It was not about Mrs Tietjens, or even Miss de Bailly. It was a private warning that Tietjens would probably have his draft on his hands another week or ten days, and very likely another couple of thousand men extra as well. He warned Tietjens to draw all the tents he could get hold of as soon as possible . . . Tietjens called to a subaltern with pimples who was picking his teeth with a pen-nib at the other end of the hut: ‘Here, you! . . . Take two companies of the Canadians to the depot store and draw all the tents you can get up to two hundred and fifty . . . Have ’em put alongside my D lines . . . Do you know how to look after putting up tents? . . . Well then, get Thompson . . . no, Pitkins, to help you . . . ’ The subaltern drifted out sulkily. Levin said that the French railway strikers, for some political reason, had sabotaged a mile of railway, the accident of the night before had completely blocked up all the lines, and the French civilians would not let their own breakdown gangs make any repairs. German prisoners had been detailed for that fatigue, but probably Tietjens’ Canadian railway corps would be wanted. He had better hold them in readiness. The strike was said to be a manoeuvre for forcing our hands — to get us to take over more of the line. In that case they had jolly well dished themselves, for how could we take over more of the line without more men, and how could we send up more men without the railway to send them by? We had half a dozen army corps all ready to go. Now they were all jammed. Fortunately the weather at the front was so beastly that the Germans could not move. He finished up ‘Four in the morning, old bean, à tantot!’ the last phrase having been learned from Mlle de Bailly. Tietjens grumbled that if they went on piling up the work on him like this he would never get down to the signing of that marriage contract.
He called the Canadian sergeant-major to him.
‘See,’ he said, ‘that you keep the Railway Service Corps in camp with their arms ready, whatever their arms are. Tools, I suppose. Are their tools all complete? And their muster roll?’
‘Girtin has gone absent, sir,’ the slim dark fellow said, with an air of destiny. Girtin was the respectable man with the mother to whom Tietjens had given the two hours’ leave the night before.
‘He would have!’ with a sour grin. It enhanced his views of strictly respectable humanity. They blackmailed you with lamentable and pathetic tales and then did the dirty on you. He said to the sergeant-major:
‘You will be here for another week or ten days. See that you get your tents up all right and the men comfortable. I will inspect them as soon as I have taken my orderly room. Full marching order. Captain McKechnie will inspect their kits at two.’
The sergeant-major, stiff but graceful, had something at the back of his mind. It came out:
‘I have my marching orders for two-thirty this afternoon. The notice for inserting my commission in depot orders is on your table. I leave for the O.T.C. by the three train . . . ’
‘Your commission! . . . ’ It was a confounded nuisance.
The sergeant-major said:
‘Sergeant-Major Cowley and I applied for our commissions three months ago. The communications granting them are both on your table together . . .
‘Sergeant-Major Cowley . . . Good God! Who recommended you?’
The whole organization of his confounded battalion fell to pieces. It appeared that a circular had come round three months before — before Tietjens had been given command of that unit — asking for experienced first-class warrant officers capable of serving as instructors in Officers’ Training Corps, with commissions. Sergeant-Major Cowley had been recommended by the colonel of the depot, Sergeant-Major Ledoux by his own colonel. Tietjens felt as if he had been let down — but of course he had not been. It was just the way of the army, all the time. You got a platoon, or a battalion, or, for the matter of that, a dug-out or a tent, by herculean labours into good fettle. It ran all right for a day or two, then it all fell to pieces, the personnel scattered to the four winds by what appeared merely wanton orders, coming from the most unexpected headquarters, or the premises were smashed up by a chance shell that might just as well have fallen somewhere else . . . The finger of Fate! . . .
But it put a confounded lot more work on him . . . He said to Sergeant-Major Cowley, whom he found in the next hut where all the paper work of the unit was done:
‘I should have thought you would have been enormously better off as regimental sergeant-major than with a commission. I know I would rather have the job.’ Cowley answered — he was very pallid and shaken — that with his unfortunate infirmity, coming on at any moment of shock, he would be better in a job where he could slack off, like an O.T.C. He had always been subject to small fits, over in a minute, or couple of seconds even . . . But getting too near a H.E. shell — after Noircourt, which had knocked out Tietjens himself — had brought them on, violent. There was also, he finished, the gentility to be considered. Tietjens said:
‘Oh, the gentility! . . . That’s not worth a flea’s jump . . . There won’t be any more parades after this war. There aren’t any now. Look at who your companions will be in an officer’s quarters; you’d be in a great deal better society in any self-respecting sergeants’ mess.’ Cowley answered that he knew the service had gone to the dogs. All the same his missis liked it. And there was his daughter Winnie to be considered. She had always been a bit wild, and his missis wrote that she had gone wilder than ever, all due to the war. Cowley thought that the bad boys would be a little more careful how they monkeyed with her if she was an officer’s daughter . . . There was probably something in that!
Coming out into the open, confidentially with Tietjens, Cowley dropped his voice huskily to say:
‘Take Quartermaster-Sergeant Morgan for R.S.M., sir.’ Tietjens said explosively:
‘I’m damned if I will.’ Then he asked: ‘Why?’ The wisdom of an old N.C.O.’s is a thing no prudent officer neglects.
‘He can do the work, sir,’ Cowley said. ‘He’s out for a commission, and he’ll do his best . . . He dropped his husky voice to a still greater depth of mystery:
‘You’re over two hundred — I should say nearer three hundred — pounds down in your battalion stores. I don’t suppose you want to lose a sum of money like that?’
‘I’m damned if I do . . . But I don’t see . . . Oh, yes, I do . . . If I make him sergeant-major he has to hand over the stores all complete . . . To-day . . . Can he do it?’
Cowley said that Morgan could have till the day after to-morrow. He would look after things till then.
‘But you’ll want to have a flutter before you go,’ Tietjens said. ‘Don’t stop for me.’
Cowley said that he would stop and see the job through. He had thought of going down into the town and having a flutter. But the girls down there were a common sort, and it was bad for his complaint . . . He would stop and see what could be done with Morgan. Of course it was possible that Morgan might decide to face things out. He might prefer to stick to the money he’d got by disposing of Tietjens’ stores to other battalions that were down, or to civilian contractors. And stand a court martial! But it wasn’t likely. He was a Nonconformist deacon, or pew-opener, or even a minister possibly, at home in Wales . . . From near Denbigh! And Cowley had got a very good man, a first-class man, an Oxford professor, now a lance-corporal at the depot, for Morgan’s place. The colonel would lend him to Tietjens and would get him rated acting quartermaster-sergeant unpaid . . . Cowley had it all arranged . . . Lance-Corporal Caldicott was a first-class man, only he could not tell his right hand from his left on parade. Literally could not tell them . . .
So the battalion settled itself down . . . Whilst Cowley and he were at the colonel’s orderly room arranging for the transfer of the professor — he was really only a fellow of his college — who did not know his right hand from his left, Tietjens was engaged in the remains of the colonel’s furious argument as to the union of the Anglican and Eastern rites. The colonel — he was a full colonel — sat in his lovely private office, a light, gay compartment of a tin-hutment, the walls being papered in scarlet, with, on the purplish, thick, soft baize of his table-cover, a tall glass vase from which sprayed out pale Riviera roses, the gift of young lady admirers amongst the V.A.D.’s in the town because he was a darling, and an open, very gilt and leather-bound volume of a biblical encyclopaedia beneath his delicate septuagenarian features. He was confirming his opinion that a union between the Church of England and the Greek Orthodox Church was the only thing that could save civilization. The whole war turned on that. The Central Empires represented Roman Catholicism, the Allies Protestantism and Orthodoxy. Let them unite. The papacy was a traitor to the cause of civilization. Why had the Vatican not protested with no uncertain voice about the abominations practised on the Belgian Catholics? . . .
Tietjens pointed out languidly objections to this theory. The first thing our ambassador to the Vatican had found out on arriving in Rome and protesting about massacres of Catholic laymen in Belgium was that the Russians before they had been a day in Austrian Poland had hanged twelve Roman Catholic bishops in front of their palaces.
Cowley was engaged with the adjutant at another table. The colonel ended his theologico-political tirade by saying:
‘I shall be very sorry to lose you, Tietjens. I don’t know what we shall do without you. I never had a moment’s peace with your unit until you came.’
‘Well, you aren’t losing me, sir, as far as I know.’ The colonel said:
‘Oh, yes, we are. You are going up the line next week . . . ’ He added: ‘Now, don’t get angry with me . . . I’ve protested very strongly to old Campion — General Campion — that I cannot do without you.’ And he made, with his delicate, thin, hairy-backed, white hands a motion as of washing.
The ground moved under Tietjens’ feet. He felt himself clambering over slopes of mud with his heavy legs and labouring chest. He said:
‘Damn it all! . . . I’m not fit . . . I’m C3 . . . I was ordered to live in an hotel in the town . . . I only mess here to be near the battalion.’
The colonel said with some eagerness:
‘Then you can protest to Garrison . . . I hope you will . . . But I suppose you are the sort of fellow that won’t.’ Tietjens said:
‘No, sir . . . Of course I cannot protest . . . Though it’s probably a mistake of some clerk . . . I could not stand a week in the line . . . ’ The profound misery of brooding apprehension in the line was less on his mind than, precisely, the appalling labour of the lower limbs when you live in mud to the neck . . . Besides, whilst he had been in hospital, practically the whole of his equipment had disappeared from his kitbag — including Sylvia’s two pairs of sheets! — and he had no money with which to get more. He had not even any trench-boots. Fantastic financial troubles settled on his mind.
The colonel said to the adjutant at the other purple baize-covered table:
‘Show Captain Tietjens those marching orders of his . . . They’re from Whitehall, aren’t they? . . . You never know where these things come from nowadays. I call them the arrow that flieth by night!’
The adjutant, a diminutive, a positively miniature gentleman with Coldstream badges up and a dreadfully worried brow, drifted a quarto sheet of paper out of a pile, across his tablecloth towards Tietjens. His tiny hands seemed about to fall off at the wrists; his temples shuddered with neuralgia. He said:
‘For God’s sake do protest to Garrison if you feel you can . . . We can’t have more work shoved on us . . . Major Lawrence and Major Halkett left the whole of the work of your unit to us . . .
The sumptuous paper, with the royal arms embossed at the top, informed Tietjens that he would report to his VIth battalion on the Wednesday of next week in preparation for taking up the duties of divisional transport officer to the XIX division. The order came from Room G 14 R, at the War Office. He asked what the deuce G 14 R was, of the adjutant, who in an access of neuralgic agony, shook his head miserably, between his two hands, his elbows on the tablecloth.
Sergeant-Major Cowley, with his air of a solicitor’s clerk, said the room G 14 R was the department that dealt with civilian requests for the services of officers. To the adjutant who asked what the devil a civilian request for the employment of officers could have to do with sending Captain Tietjens to the XIX division, Sergeant-Major Cowley presumed that it was because of the activities of the Earl of Beichan. The Earl of Beichan, a Levantine financier and race-horse owner, was interesting himself in army horses, after a short visit to the lines of communication. He also owned several newspapers. So they had been waking up the army transport-animals’ department to please him. The adjutant would no doubt have observed a Veterinary-Lieutenant Hotchkiss or Hitchcock. He had come to them through G 14 R. At the request of Lord Beichan, who was personally interested in Lieutenant Hotchkiss’s theories, he was to make experiments on the horses of the Fourth Army — in which the XIXth division was then to be found . . . ‘So,’ Cowley said, ‘you’ll be under him as far as your horse lines go. If you go up.’ Perhaps Lord Beichan was a friend of Captain Tietjens and had asked for him, too: Captain Tietjens was known to be wonderful with horses.
Tietjens, his breath rushing through his nostrils, swore he would not go up the line at the bidding of a hog like Beichan, whose real name was Stavropolides, formerly Nathan.
He said the army was reeling to its base because of the continual interference of civilians. He said it was absolutely impossible to get through his programme of parades because of the perpetual extra drills that were forced on them at the biddings of civilians. Any fool who owned a newspaper, nay, any fool who could write to a newspaper, or any beastly little squit of a novelist could frighten the Government and the War Office into taking up one more hour of the men’s parade time for patent manoeuvres with jampots or fancy underclothing. Now he was asked if his men wanted lecturing on the causes of the war and whether he — he, good God! — would not like to give the men cosy chats on the nature of the Enemy nations . . .
The colonel said:
‘There, there, Tietjens! . . . There, there! . . . We all suffer alike. We’ve got to lecture our men on the uses of a new patent sawdust stove. If you don’t want that job, you can easily get the general to take you off it. They say you can turn him round your little finger . . .
‘He’s my godfather,’ Tietjens thought it wise to say. ‘I never asked him for a job, but I’m damned if it isn’t his duty as a Christian to keep me out of the clutches of this Greek-‘Ebrew pagan peer . . . He’s not even Orthodox, colonel.’
The adjutant here said that Colour-Sergeant Morgan of their orderly room wanted a word with Tietjens. Tietjens said he hoped to goodness that Morgan had some money for him! The adjutant said he understood that Morgan had unearthed quite a little money that ought to have been paid to Tietjens by his agents and hadn’t.
Colour-Sergeant Morgan was the regimental magician with figures. Inordinately tall and thin, his body, whilst his eyes peered into distant columns of cyphers, appeared to be always parallel with the surface of his table and, as he always answered the several officers whom he benefited without raising his head, his face was very little known to his superiors. He was, however, in appearance a very ordinary, thin N.C.O. whose spidery legs, when very rarely he appeared on parade, had the air of running away with him as a race-horse might do. He told Tietjens that, pursuant to his instructions and the A.C.P. i 96 b that Tietjens had signed, he had ascertained that command pay at the rate of two guineas a day and supplementary fuel and light allowance at the rate of 6s. 8d. was being paid weekly by the Paymaster-General’s Department to his, Tietjens’, account at his agents’. He suggested that Tietjens should write to his agents that if they did not immediately pay to his account the sum of £194 13s. 4d., by them received from the Paymaster’s Department, he would proceed against the Crown by Petition of Right. And he strongly recommended Tietjens to draw a cheque on his own bank for the whole of the money because, if by any chance the agents had not paid the money in, he could sue them for damages and get them cast in several thousand pounds. And serve the devils right. They must have a million or so in hand in unpaid command and detention allowances due to officers. He only wished he could advertise in the papers offering to recover unpaid sums due by agents. He added that he had a nice little computation as to variations in the course of Gunter’s Second Comet that he would like to ask Tietjens’ advice about one of these days. The colour-sergeant was an impassioned amateur astronomer.
So Tietjens’ morning went up and down . . . The money at the moment, Sylvia being in that town, was of tremendous importance to him and came like an answer to prayer. It was not so agreeable, however, even in a world in which, never, never, never for ten minutes did you know whether you stood on your head or your heels, for Tietjens, on going back to the colonel’s private office, to find Sergeant-Major Cowley coming out of the next room in which, on account of the adjutant’s neuralgia, the telephone was kept. Cowley announced to the three of them that the general had the day before ordered his correspondence-corporal to send a very emphatic note to Colonel Gillum to the effect that he was informing the competent authority that he had no intention whatever of parting with Captain Tietjens, who was invaluable in his command. The correspondence-corporal had informed Cowley that neither he nor the general knew who was the competent authority for telling Room G 14 R at the War Office to go to hell, but the matter would be looked up and put all right before the chit was sent off . . .
That was good as far as it went. Tietjens was really interested in his present job, and although he would have liked well enough to have the job of looking after the horses of a division, or even an army, he felt he would rather it was put off till the spring, given the weather they were having and the state of his chest. And the complication of possible troubles with Lieutenant Hotchkiss who, being a professor, had never really seen a horse — or not for ten years! — was something to be thought about very seriously. But all this appeared quite another matter when Cowley announced that the civilian authority who had asked for Tietjens’ transfer was the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Transport . . .
Colonel Gillum said:
‘That’s your brother, Mark . . . ’ And indeed the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Transport was Tietjens’ brother Mark, known as the indispensable Official. Tietjens felt a real instant of dismay. He considered that his violent protest against the job would appear rather a smack in the face for poor old wooden-featured Mark who had probably taken a good deal of trouble to get him the job. Even if Mark should never hear of it, a man should not slap his brother in the face! Moreover, when he came to think of his last day in London, he remembered that Valentine Wannop, who had exaggerated ideas as to the safety of First Line Transport, had begged Mark to get him a job as divisional officer . . . And he imagined Valentine’s despair if she heard that he — Tietjens — had moved heaven and earth to get out of it. He saw her lower lip quivering and the tears in her eyes . . . But he probably had got that from some novel, because he had never seen her lower lip quiver. He had seen tears in her eyes!
He hurried back to his lines to take his orderly room. In the long hut McKechnie was taking that miniature court of drunks and defaulters for him and, just as Tietjens reached it, he was taking the case of Girtin and two other Canadian privates . . . The case of Girtin interested him, and when McKechnie slid out of his seat Tietjens occupied it. The prisoners were only just being marched in by a Sergeant Davis, an admirable N.C.O. whose rifle appeared to be part of his rigid body and who executed an amazing number of stamps in seriously turning in front of the C.O.’s table. It gave the impression of an Indian war dance . . .
Tietjens glanced at the charge sheet, which was marked as coming from the Provost-Marshal’s Office. Instead of the charge of absence from draft he read that of conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline in that . . . The charge was written in a very illiterate hand; an immense beery lance-corporal of Garrison Military Police, with a red hat-band, attended to give evidence . . . It was a tenuous and disagreeable affair. Girtin had not gone absent, so Tietjens had to revise his views of the respectable. At any rate of the respectable Colonial private soldier with mother complete. For there really had been a mother, and Girtin had been seeing her into the last tram down into the town. A frail old lady. Apparently, trying to annoy the Canadian, the beery lance-corporal of the Garrison Military Police had hustled the mother. Girtin had remonstrated; very moderately, he said. The lance-corporal had shouted at him. Two other Canadians returning to camp had intervened and two more police. The police had called the Canadians —— conscripts, which was almost more than the Canadians could stand, they being voluntarily enlisted 1914 or 1915 men. The police — it was an old trick — had kept the men talking until two minutes after the last post had sounded and then had run them in for being absent off pass — and for disrespect to their red hat-bands.
Tietjens, with a carefully measured fury, first cross-examined and then damned the police witness to hell. Then he marked the charge sheets with the words, ‘Case explained’, and told the Canadians to go and get ready for his parade. It meant he was in for a frightful row with the provost-marshal, who was a port-winey old general called O’Hara and loved his police as if they had been ewe-lambs.
He took his parade, the Canadian troops looking like real soldiers in the sunlight, went round his lines with the new Canadian sergeant-major, who had his appointment, thank goodness, from his own authorities; wrote a report on the extreme undesirability of lecturing his men on the causes of the war, since his men were either graduates of one or other Canadian university and thus knew twice as much about the causes of the war as any lecturer the civilian authorities could provide, or else they were half-breed Micamuc Indians, Esquimaux, Japanese, or Alaskan Russians, none of whom could understand any English lecturer . . . He was aware that he would have to re-write his report so as to make it more respectful to the newspaper proprietor peer who, at that time, was urging on the home Government the necessity of lecturing all the subjects of His Majesty on the causes of the war. But he wanted to get that grouse off his chest and its disrespect would pain Levin, who would have to deal with these reports if he did not get married first. Then he lunched off army sausage-meat and potatoes, mashed with their skins complete, watered with an admirable 1906 brut champagne which they bought themselves, and an appalling Canadian cheese — at the headquarters table to which the colonel had invited all the subalterns who that day were going up the line for the first time. They had some h’s in their compositions, but in revenge they must have boasted of a pint of adenoid growths between them. There was, however, a charming young half-caste Goa second-lieutenant, who afterwards proved of an heroic bravery. He gave Tietjens a lot of amusing information as to the working of the purdah in Portuguese India.
So, at half-past one Tietjens sat on Schomburg, the coffin-headed, bright chestnut from the Prussian horse-raising establishment near Celle. Almost a pure thoroughbred, this animal had usually the paces of a dining-room table, its legs being fully as stiff. But to-day its legs might have been made of cotton-wool, it lumbered over frosty ground breathing stertorously and, at the jumping ground of the Deccan Horse, a mile above and behind Rouen, it did not so much refuse a very moderate jump as come together in a lugubrious crumple. It was, in the light of a red, jocular sun, like being mounted on a broken-hearted camel. In addition, the fatigues of the morning beginning to tell, Tietjens was troubled by an obsession of 0 Nine Morgan which he found tiresome to have to stall off.
‘What the hell,’ he asked of the orderly, a very silent private on a roan beside him, ‘what the hell is the matter with this horse? . . . Have you been keeping him warm?’ He imagined that the clumsy paces of the animal beneath him added to his gloomy obsessions.
The orderly looked straight in front of him over a valley full of hutments. He said:
‘No, sir.’ The ‘oss ‘ad been put in the ‘oss-standings of G depot. By the orders of Lieutenant ‘Itchcock. ‘Osses, Lieutenant ‘Itchcock said, ‘ad to be ‘ardened.
‘Did you tell him that it was my orders that Schomburg was to be kept warm? In the stables of the farm behind No. XVI I.B.D.’
‘The lieutenant,’ the orderly explained woodenly, ‘said as ‘ow henny departure f’m ‘is orders would be visited by the extreme displeasure of Lord Breech’em, K.C.V.O., K.C.B., etcetera.’ The orderly was quivering with rage.
‘You Tietjens said very carefully, ‘when you fall out with the horses at the Hotel de la Poste, take Schomburg and the roan to the stables of La Volonté Farm, behind No. XVI I.B.D.’ The orderly was to close all the windows of the stable, stopping up any chinks with wadding. He would procure, if possible, a sawdust stove, new pattern, from Colonel Gillum’s store and light it in the stables. He was also to give Schomburg and the roan oatmeal and water warmed as hot as the horses would take it . . . And Tietjens finished sharply, ‘If Lieutenant Hotchkiss makes any comments, you will refer him to me. As his CO.’
The orderly seeking information as to horse-ailments, Tietjens said:
‘The school of horse-copers, to which Lord Beichan belongs, believes in the hardening of all horse-flesh other than racing cattle.’ They bred racing-cattle. Under six blankets apiece! Personally Tietjens did not believe in the hardening process and would not permit any animal over which he had control to be submitted to it. — It had been observed that if any animal was kept at a lower temperature than that of its normal climatic condition it would contract diseases to which ordinarily it was not susceptible . . . If you keep a chicken for two days in a pail of water it will contract human scarlet-fever or mumps if injected with either bacillus. If you remove the chicken from the water, dry it, and restore it to its normal conditions, the scarlet-fever or the mumps will die out of the animal . . . He said to the orderly: ‘You arc an intelligent man. What deduction do you draw?’
The orderly looked away over the valley of the Seine.
‘I suppose, sir,’ he said, ‘that our ‘osses, being kept alwise cold in their standings, ‘as hillnesses they wouldn’t otherwise ‘ave.’
‘Well, then,’ Tietjens said, ‘keep the poor animals warm.’
He considered that here was the makings of a very nasty row for himself if, by any means, his sayings came round to the ears of Lord Beichan. But that he had to chance. He coud not let a horse for which he was responsible be martyred . . . There was too much to think about . . . so that nothing at all stood out to be thought of. The sun was glowing. The valley of the Seine was blue-grey, like a Gobelin tapestry. Over it all hung the shadow of a deceased Welsh soldier. An odd skylark was declaiming over an empty field behind the incinerators’ headquarters . . . An odd lark. For as a rule larks do not sing in December. Larks sing only when courting, or over the nest . . . The bird must be oversexed. 0 Nine Morgan was the other thing, that accounting for the prize-fighter!
They dropped down a mud lane between brick walls into the town . . .
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08