No More Parades, by Ford Madox Ford


General Lord Edward Campion, G.C.B., K.C.M.G. (military), D.S.O., etc., sat, radiating glory and composing a confidential memorandum to the Secretary of State for War, on a bully-beef case, leaning forward over a military blanket that covered a deal table. He was for the moment in high good humour on the surface, though his subordinate minds were puzzled and depressed. At the end of each sentence that he wrote — and he wrote with increasing satisfaction! — a mind that he was not using said: ‘What the devil am I going to do with that fellow?’ Or: ‘How the devil is that girl’s name to be kept out of this mess?’

Having been asked to write a confidential memorandum for the information of the home authorities as to what, in his opinion, was the cause of the French railway strike, he had hit on the ingenious device of reporting what was the opinion of the greater part of the forces under his command. This was a dangerous line to take, for he might well come into conflict with the home Government. But he was pretty certain that any inquiries that the home Government could cause to be made amongst the local civilian population would confirm what he was writing — which he was careful to state was not to be taken as a communication of his own opinion. In addition, he did not care what the Government did to him.

He was satisfied with his military career. In the early part of the war, after materially helping mobilisation, he had served with great distinction in the East, in command mostly of mounted infantry. He had subsequently so distinguished himself in the organising and transporting of troops coming and going overseas that, on the part of the lines of communication where he now commanded becoming of great importance, he knew that he had seemed the only general that could be given that command. It had become of enormous importance — these were open secrets! — because, owing to divided opinions in the Cabinet, it might at any moment be decided to move the bulk of H.M. Forces to somewhere in the East. The idea underlying this — as General Campion saw it — had at least some relation to the necessities of the British Empire, and strategy embracing world politics as well as military movements — a fact which is often forgotten. There was this much to be said for it: the preponderance of British Imperial interests might be advanced as lying in the Middle and Far Eaststo the east, that is to say, of Constantinople. This might be denied, but it was a feasible proposition. The present operations on the Western front, arduous, and even creditable, as they might have been until relatively lately, were very remote from our Far-Eastern possessions and mitigated from, rather than added to, our prestige. In addition, the unfortunate display in front of Constantinople in the beginning of the war had almost eliminated our prestige with the Mohammedan races. Thus a demonstration in enormous force in any region between European Turkey and the north-western frontiers of India might point out to Mohammedans, Hindus, and other Eastern races, what overwhelming forces Great Britain, were she so minded, could put into the field. It is true that that would mean the certain loss of the war on the Western front, with corresponding loss of prestige in the West. But the wiping out of the French republic would convey little to the Eastern races, whereas we could no doubt make terms with the enemy nations, as a price for abandoning our allies, that might well leave the Empire, not only intact, but actually increased in colonial extent, since it was unlikely that the enemy empires would wish to be burdened with colonies for some time.

General Campion was not overpoweringly sentimental over the idea of the abandonment of our allies. They had won his respect as fighting organizations, and that, to the professional soldier, is a great deal; but still he was a professional soldier, and the prospect of widening the bounds of the British Empire could not be contemptuously dismissed at the price of rather sentimental dishonour. Such bargains had been struck before during wars involving many nations, and doubtless such bargains would be struck again. In addition, votes might be gained by the Government from the small but relatively noisy and menacing part of the British population that favoured the enemy nations.

But when it came to tactics — which it should be remembered concerns itself with the movement of troops actually in contact with enemy forces — General Campion had no doubt that that plan was the conception of the brain of a madman. The dishonour of such a proceeding must of course be considered — and its impracticability was hopeless. The dreadful nature of what would be our debacle did we attempt to evacuate the Western front might well be unknown to, or might be deliberately ignored by, the civilian mind. But the general could almost see the horrors as a picture — and, professional soldier as he was, his mind shuddered at the picture. They had by now in the country enormous bodies of troops who had hitherto not come into contact with the enemy forces. Did they attempt to withdraw these in the first place the native population would at once turn from a friendly into a bitterly hostile factor, and moving troops through hostile country is to the nth power a more lengthy matter than moving them through territory where the native populations lend a helping hand, or are at least not obstructive. They had in addition this enormous force to ration, and they would doubtless have to supply them with ammunition on the almost certain breaking through of the enemy forces. It would be impossible to do this without the use of the local railways — and the use of these would at once be prohibited. If, on the other hand, they attempted to begin the evacuation by shortening the front, the operation would be very difficult with troops who, by now, were almost solely men trained only in trench warfare, with officers totally unused to that keeping up of communications between units which is the life and breath of a retreating army. Training, in fact, in that element had been almost abandoned in the training camps where instruction was almost limited to bomb-throwing, the use of machine-guns, and other departments which had been forced on the War Office by eloquent civilians — to the almost complete neglect of the rifle. Thus at the mere hint of a retreat the enemy forces must break through and come upon the vast, unorganised, or semi-organised bodies of troops in the rear . . .

The temptation for the professional soldier was to regard such a state of things with equanimity. Generals have not infrequently enormously distinguished themselves by holding up retreats from the rear when vanguard commanders have disastrously failed. But General Campion resisted the temptation of even hoping that this chance of distinguishing himself might offer itself. He could not contemplate with equanimity the slaughter of great bodies of men under his command, and not even a successful retreating action of that description could be carried out without horrible slaughter. And he would have little hope of conducting necessarily delicate and very hurried movements with an army that, except for its rough training in trench warfare, was practically civilian in texture. So that although, naturally, he had made his plans for such an eventuality, having indeed in his private quarters four enormous paper-covered blackboards upon which he had changed daily the names of units according as they passed from his hands or came into them and became available, he prayed specifically every night before retiring to bed that the task might not be cast upon his shoulders. He prized very much his universal popularity in his command, and he could not bear to think of how the eyes of the Army would regard him as he put upon them a strain so appalling and such unbearable sufferings. He had, moreover, put that aspect of the matter very strongly in a memorandum that he had prepared in answer to a request from the home Government for a scheme by which an evacuation might be effected. But he considered that the civilian element in the Government was so entirely indifferent to the sufferings of the men engaged in these operations, and was so completely ignorant of what are military exigencies, that the words he had devoted to that department of the subject were merely wasted . . .

So everything pushed him into writing confidentially to the Secretary of State for War a communication that he knew must be singularly distasteful to a number of the gentlemen who would peruse it. He chuckled indeed as he wrote, the open door behind him and the sunlight pouring in on his radiant figure. He said:

‘Sit down, Tietjens. Levin, I shall not want you for ten minutes,’ without raising his head, and went on writing. It annoyed him that, from the corner of his eye, he could see that Tietjens was still standing, and he said rather irritably: ‘Sit down, sit down . . . ’

He wrote:

‘It is pretty generally held here by the native population that the present very serious derangement of traffic, if not actively promoted, is at least winked at by the Government of this country. It is, that is to say, intended to give us a taste of what would happen if I took any measures here for returning any large body of men to the home country or elsewhere, and it is said also to be a demonstration in favour of a single command — a measure which is here regarded by a great weight of instructed opinion as indispensable to the speedy and successful conclusion of hostilities . . . ’

The general paused over that sentence. It came very near the quick. For himself he was absolutely in favour of a single command, and in his opinion, too, it was indispensable to any sort of conclusion of hostilities at all. The whole of military history, in so far as it concerned allied operations of any sort — from the campaigns of Xerxes and operations during the wars of the Greeks and Romans, to the campaigns of Marlborough and Napoleon and the Prussian operations of 1866 and 1870 — pointed to the conclusion that a relatively small force acting homogeneously was, to the nth power again, more effective than vastly superior forces of allies acting only imperfectly in accord or not in accord at all. Modern development in arms had made no shade at all of difference to strategy and had made differences merely of time and numbers to tactics. To-day, as in the days of the Greek Wars of the Allies, success depended on apt timing of the arrival of forces at given points, and it made no difference whether your lethal weapons acted from a distance of thirty miles or were held and operated by hand; whether you dealt death from above or below the surface of the ground, through the air by dropped missiles or by mephitic and torturing vapours. What won combats, campaigns, and, in the end, wars, was the brain which timed the arrival of forces at given points — and that must be one brain which could command their presence at these points, not a half-dozen authorities requesting each other to perform operations which might or might not fall in with the ideas or the prejudices of any one or other of the half-dozen . . .

Levin came in noiselessly, slid a memorandum slip on to the blanket beside the paper on which the general was writing. The general read: T. agrees completely, sir, with your diagnosis of the facts, except that he is much more ready to accept General O’H.’s acts as reasonable. He places himself entirely in your hands.

The general heaved an immense sigh of relief. The sunlight streaming in became very bright. He had had a real sinking at the heart when Tietjens had boggled for a second over putting on his belt. An officer may not demand or insist on a court martial. But he, Campion, could not in decency have refused Tietjens his court martial if he stood out for it. He had a right to clear his character publicly. It would have been impossible to refuse him. Then the fat would have been in the fire. For, knowing O’Hara through pretty nearly twenty-five years — or it must be thirty! — of service Campion was pretty certain that O’Hara had made a drunken beast of himself. Yet he was very attached to O’Hara — one of the old type of rough-diamond generals who swore your head off, but were damn capable men! . . . It was a tremendous relief.

He said sharply:

‘Sit down, can’t you, Tietjens! You irritate me by standing there!’ He said to himself: ‘An obstinate fellow . . . Why, he’s gone!’ and his mind and eyes being occupied by the sentence he had last written, the sense of irritation remained with him. He re-read the closing clause: ‘ . . . a single command — a measure which is here regarded by a great weight of instructed opinion as indispensable to the speedy and successful termination of hostilities . . . ’

He looked at this, whistling beneath his breath. It was pretty thick. He was not asked for his opinion as to the single command: yet he decidedly wanted to get it in and was pretty well prepared to stand the consequences. The consequences might be something pretty bad: he might be sent home. That was quite possible. That, even, was better than what was happening to poor Puffies, who was being starved of men. He had been at Sandhurst with Puffles, and they had got their commissions on the same day to the same regiment. A damn good soldier, but too hot-tempered. He was making an extraordinarily good thing of it in spite of his shortage of men, which was the talk of the army. But it must be damn agonizing for him, and a very improper strain on his men. One day — as soon as the weather broke — the enemy must break through. Then he, Puffies, would be sent home. That was what the fellows at Westminster and in Downing Street wanted. Puffles had been a great deal too free with his tongue. They would not send him home before he had a disaster because, unless he were in disgrace, he would be a thorn in their sides: whereas if he were disgraced no one much would listen to him. It was smart practice . . . Sharp practice!

He tossed the sheet on which he had been writing across the table and said to Tietjens:

‘Look at that, will you?’ In the centre of the hut Tietjens was sitting bulkily on a bully-beef case that had been brought in ceremoniously by a runner. ‘He does look beastly shabby,’ the general said. ‘There are three . . . four grease stains on his tunic. He ought to get his hair cut!’ He added: ‘It’s a perfectly damnable business. No one but this fellow would have got into it. He’s a firebrand. That’s what he is. A regular firebrand!’

Tietjens’ troubles had really shaken the general not a little. He was left up in the air. He had lived the greater part of his life with his sister, Lady Claudine Sandbach, and the greater part of the remainder of his life at Groby, at any rate after he came home from India and during the reign of Tietjens’ father. He had idolized Tietjens’ mother, who was a saint! What indeed there had been of the idyllic in his life had really all passed at Groby, if he came to think of it. India was not so bad, but one had to be young to enjoy that . . .

Indeed, only the day before yesterday he had been thinking that if this letter that he was thinking out did result in his being sent back, he should propose to stand for the half of the Cleveland Parliamentary Division in which Groby stood. What with the Groby influence and his nephew’s in the country districts, though Castlemaine had not much land left up there, and with Sandbach’s interest in the ironworking districts, he would have an admirable chance of getting in. Then he would make himself a thorn in the side of certain persons.

He had thought of quartering himself on Groby. It would have been easy to get Tietjens out of the army and they could all — he, Tietjens and Sylvia — live together. It would have been his ideal of a home and of an occupation . . .

For, of course, he was getting old for soldiering: unless he got a fighting army there was not much more to it as a career for a man of sixty. If he did get an army he was pretty certain of a peerage and hefty political work could still be done in the Lords. He would have a good claim on India and that meant dying a Field-Marshal.

On the other hand, the only command that was at all likely to be going — except for deaths, and the health rate amongst army commanders was pretty high! — was poor Puffles’. And that would be no pleasant command — with men all hammered to pieces. He decided to put the whole thing to Tietjens. Tietjens, like a meal-sack, was looking at him over the draft of the letter that he had just finished reading. The general said:


Tietjens said:

‘It’s splendid, sir, to see you putting the matter so strongly. It must be put strongly, or we’re lost.’

The general said:

‘You think that?’

Tietjens said:

‘I’m sure of it, sir . . . But unless you are prepared to throw up your command and take to politics . . . ’

The general exclaimed:

‘You’re a most extraordinary fellow . . . That was exactly what I was thinking about: this very minute.’

‘It’s not so extraordinary,’ Tietjens said. ‘A really active general thinking as you do is very badly needed in the House. As your brother-in-law is to have a peerage whenever he asks for it, West Cleveland will be vacant at any moment, and with his influence and Lord Castlemaine’syour nephew’s not got much land, but the name is immensely respected in the country districts . . . And, of course, using Groby for your headquarters . . . ’

The general said:

‘That’s pretty well botched, isn’t it?’

Tietjens said without moving a muscle:

‘Why, no, sir. Sylvia is to have Groby and you would naturally make it your headquarters . . . You’ve still got your hunters there . . . ’

The general said:

‘Sylvia is really to have Groby . . . Good God!’

Tietjens said:

‘So it was no great conjuring trick, sir, to see that you might not mind . . . ’

The general said:

‘Upon my soul. I’d as soon give up my chance of heaven . . . no, not heaven, but India, as give up Groby.’

‘You’ve got,’ Tietjens said, ‘an admirable chance of India . . . The point is: which way? If they give you the sixteenth section . . . ’

‘I hate,’ the general said, ‘to think of waiting for poor Puffles’ shoes. I was at Sandhurst with him . . . ’

‘It’s a question, sir,’ Tietjens said, ‘of which is the best way. For the country and yourself. I suppose if one were a general one would like to have commanded an army on the Western front . . . ’

The general said:

‘I don’t know . . . It’s the logical end of a career . . . But I don’t feel that my career is ending . . . I’m as sound as a roach. And in ten years’ time what difference will it make?’

‘One would like,’ Tietjens said, ‘to see you doing it . . . ’

The general said:

‘No one will know whether I commanded a fighting army or this damned Whiteley’s outfitting store . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘I know that, sir . . . But the sixteenth section will desperately need a good man if General Perry is sent home. And particularly a general who has the confidence of all ranks . . . It will be a wonderful position. You will have every man that’s now on the Western front at your back after the war. It’s a certain peerage . . . It’s certainly a sounder proposition than that of a free-lance — which is what you’d be — in the House of Commons.’

The general said:

‘Then what am I to do with my letter? It’s a damn good letter. I don’t like wasting letters.’

Tietjens said:

‘You want it to show through that you back the single command for all you are worth, yet you don’t want them to put their finger on your definitely saying so yourself?’

The general said:

‘ . . . That’s it. That’s just what I do want . . . ’ He added: ‘I suppose you take my view of the whole matter. The Government’s pretence of evacuating the Western front in favour of the Middle East is probably only a put-up job to frighten our Allies into giving up the single command. Just as this railway strike is a counter-demonstration by way of showing what would happen to us if we did begin to evacuate . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘It looks like that . . . I’m not, of course, in the confidence of the Cabinet. I’m not even in contact with them as I used to be . . . But I should put it that the section of the Cabinet that is in favour of the Eastern expedition is very small. It’s said to be a one-man party — with hangerson — but arguing him out of it has caused all this delay. That’s how I see it.’

The general exclaimed:

‘But, good God! . . . How is such a thing possible? That man must walk along his corridors with the blood of a million — I mean it, of a million — men round his head. He could not stand up under it . . . That fellow is prolonging the war indefinitely by delaying us now. And men being killed all the time! . . . I can’t . . . ’ He stood up and paced, stamping up and down the hut . . . ‘At Bonderstrom,’ he said, ‘I had half a company wiped out under me . . . By my own fault, I admit. I had wrong information . . . ’ He stopped and said: ‘Good God! . . . Good God! . . . I can see it now . . . And it’s unbearable! After eighteen years. I was a brigadier then. It was your own regiment — the Glamorganshires . . . They were crowded into a little nullah and shelled to extinction . . . I could see it going on and we could not get on to the Boer guns with ours to stop ’em . . . That’s hell,’ he said, ‘that’s the real hell . . . I never inspected the Glamorganshires after that for the whole war. I could not bear the thought of facing their eyes . . . Buller was the same . . . Buller was worse than I . . . He never held up his head again after . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘If you would not mind, sir, not going on . . .

The general stamped to a halt in his stride. He said: ‘Eh? . . . What’s that? What’s the matter with you?’

Tietjens said:

‘I had a man killed on me last night. In this very hut; where I’m sitting is the exact spot. It makes me . . . It’s a sort of . . . Complex, they call it now . . . ’

The general exclaimed:

‘Good God! I beg your pardon, my dear boy . . . I ought not to have . . . I have never behaved like that before another soul in the world . . . Not to Buller . . . Not to Gatacre, and they were my closest friends . . . Even after Spion Kop I never . . . ’ He broke off and said: ‘I’ve such an absolute belief in your trustworthiness, I know you won’t betray what you’ve seen . . . What I’ve just said . . . ’ He paused and tried to adopt the air of the listening magpie. He said: ‘I was called Butcher Campion in South Africa, just as Gatacre was called Backacher. I don’t want to be called anything else because I’ve made an ass of myself before you . . . No, damn it all, not an ass. I was immensely attached to your sainted mother . . . He said: ‘It’s the proudest tribute any commander of men can have . . . To be called Butcher and have your men follow you in spite of it. It shows confidence, and it gives you, as commander, confidence! . . . One has to be prepared to lose men in hundreds at the right minute in order to avoid losing them in tens of thousands at the wrong! . . . ’ He said: ‘Successful military operations consist not in taking or retaining positions, but in taking or retaining them with a minimum sacrifice of effectives . . . I wish to God you civilians would get that into your heads. The men have it. They know that I will use them ruthlessly — but that I will not waste one life . . . ’ He exclaimed: ‘Damn it, if I had ever thought I should have such troubles, in your father’s days . . .!’ He said: ‘Let’s get back to what we were talking about . . . My memorandum to the Secretary . . . ’ He burst out: ‘My God! . . . What can that fellow think when he reads Shakespeare’s When all those heads, legs, arms, joined together on the Last Day shall . . . How does it run? Henry V’s address to his soldiers . . . Every subject’s body is the king’s . . . but every subject’s soul is his own . . . And there is no king, be his cause ever so just . . . My God! My God! . . . as can try it out with all unspotted soldiers . . . Have you ever thought of that?’

Alarm overcame Tietjens. The general was certainly in disorder. But over what? There was not time to think. Campion was certainly dreadfully overworked . . . He exclaimed:

‘Sir, hadn’t you better? . . . ’ He said: ‘If we could get back to your memorandum . . . I am quite prepared to write a report to the effect of your sentence as to the French civilian population’s attitude. That would throw the onus on me . . . ’

The general said agitatedly:

‘No! No! . . . You’ve got quite enough on your back as it is. Your confidential report states that you are suspected of having too great common interests with the French. That’s what makes the whole position so impossible . . . I’ll get Thurston to write something. He’s a good man, Thurston. Reliable . . . ’ Tietjens shuddered a little. The general went on astonishingly:

‘But at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near:

And yonder all before me lie

Deserts of vast eternity!’ . . .

That’s a general’s life in this accursed war . . . You think all generals are illiterate fools. But I have spent a great deal of time in reading, though I never read anything written later than the seventeenth century.’

Tietjens said:

‘I know, sir . . . You made me read Clarendon’s History of the Great Rebellion when I was twelve.’

The general said:

‘In case we . . . I shouldn’t like . . . In short . . . ’ He swallowed: it was singular to see him swallow. He was lamentably thin when you looked at the man and not the uniform.

Tietjens thought:

‘What’s he nervous about? He’s been nervous all the morning.’

The general said:

‘I am trying to say — it’s not much in my line — that in case we never met again, I do not wish you to think me an ignoramus.’

Tietjens thought:

‘He’s not ill . . . and he can’t think me so ill that I’m likely to die . . . A fellow like that doesn’t really know how to express himself. He’s trying to be kind and he doesn’t know how to . . . ’

The general had paused. He began to say:

‘But there are finer things in Marvell than that . . . ’

Tietjens thought:

‘He’s trying to gain time . . . Why on earth should he? . . . What is this all about?’ His mind slipped a notch. The general was looking at his finger-nails on the blanket. He said:

‘There’s, for instance:

‘The grave’s a fine and secret place

But none I think do there embrace . . .

At those words it came to Tietjens suddenly to think of Sylvia, with the merest film of clothing on her long, shining limbs . . . She was working a powder-puff under her armpits in a brilliant illumination from two electric lights, one on each side of her dressing table. She was looking at him in the glass with the corners of her lips just moving. A little curled . . . He said to himself:

‘One is going to that fine and secret place . . . Why not have?’ She had emanated a perfume founded on sandalwood. As she worked her swansdown powder-puff over those intimate regions he could hear her humming. Maliciously! It was then that he had observed the handle of the door moving minutely. She had incredible arms, stretched out amongst a wilderness of besilvered cosmetics. Extraordinarily lascivious! Yet clean! Her gilded sheath gown was about her hips on the chair . . .

Well! she had pulled the strings of one too many shower-baths!

Shining; radiating glory but still shrivelled so that he reminded Tietjens of an old apple inside a damascened helmet; the general had seated himself once more on the bully-beef case before the blanketed table. He fingered his very large, golden fountain-pen. He said:

‘Captain Tietjens, I should be glad of your careful attention!’

Tietjens said:

‘Sir!’ His heart stopped.

The general said that that afternoon Tietjens would receive a movement order. He said stiffly that he must not regard this new movement order as a disgrace. It was promotion. He, Major-General Campion, was requesting the colonel commanding the depot to inscribe the highest possible testimonial in his, Tietjens’, small-book. He, Tietjens, had exhibited the most extraordinary talent for finding solutions for difficult problems — The colonel was to write that! — In addition he, General Campion, was requesting his friend, General Perry, commanding the sixteenth section . . .

Tietjens thought:

‘Good God. I am being sent up the line. He’s sending me to Perry’s Army . . . That’s certain death!’

. . . To give Tietjens the appointment of second in command of the VIth Battalion of his regiment!

Tietjens said, but he did not know where the words came from:

‘Colonel Partridge will not like that. He’s praying for McKechnie to come back!’

To himself he said:

‘I shall fight this monstrous treatment of myself to my last breath.’

The general suddenly called out:

‘There you are . . . There is another of your infernal worries . . . ’

He put a strong check on himself, and, dryly, like the very great speaking to the very unimportant, asked:

‘What’s your medical category.’

Tietjens said:

‘Permanent base, sir. My chest’s rotten!’

The general said:

‘I should forget that, if I were you . . . The second in command of a battalion has nothing to do but sit about in arm-chairs waiting for the colonel to be killed.’ He added: ‘It’s the best I can do for you . . . I’ve thought it out very carefully. It’s the best I can do for you.’

Tietjens said:

‘I shall, of course, forget my category, sir . . . ’

Of course he would never fight any treatment of himself!

There it was then: the natural catastrophe! As when, under thunder, a dam breaks. His mind was battling with the waters. What would it pick out as the main terror? The mud: the noise: dread always at the back of the mind? Or the worry! The worry! Your eyebrows always had a slight tension on them . . . Like eye-strain!

The general had begun, soberly:

‘You will recognize that there is nothing else that I can do.’

His answering:

‘I recognize, naturally, sir, that there is nothing else that you can do . . . ’ seemed rather to irritate the general. He wanted opposition: he wanted Tietjens to argue the matter. He was the Roman father counselling suicide to his son: but he wanted Tietjens to expostulate. So that he, General Campion, might absolutely prove that he, Tietjens, was a disgraceful individual . . . It could not be done. The general said:

‘You will understand that I can’t — no commander could! — have such things happening in my command . . . ’

‘I must accept that, if you say it, sir.’

The general looked at him under his eyebrows. He said:

‘I have already told you that this is promotion. I have been much impressed by the way you have handled this command. You are, of course, no soldier, but you will make an admirable officer for the militia, that is all that our troops now are . . . ’ He said: ‘I will emphasize what I am saying . . . No officer could — without being militarily in the wrong — have a private life that is as incomprehensible and embarrassing as yours . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘He’s hit it! . . . ’

The general said:

‘An officer’s private life and his life on parade are as strategy to tactics . . . I don’t want, if I can avoid it, to go into your private affairs. It’s extremely embarrassing . . . But let me put it to you that . . . I wish to be delicate. But you are a man of the world! . . . Your wife is an extremely beautiful woman . . . There has been a scandal . . . I admit not of your making . . . But if, on the top of that, I appeared to show favouritism to you . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘You need not go on, sir . . . I understand . . . ’ He tried to remember what the brooding and odious McKechnie had said . . . only two nights ago . . . He couldn’t remember . . . It was certainly a suggestion that Sylvia was the general’s mistress. It had then, he remembered, seemed fantastic . . . Well, what else could they think? He said to himself: ‘It absolutely blocks out my staying here!’ He said aloud: ‘Of course, it’s my own fault. If a man so handles his womenfolk that they get out of hand, he has only himself to blame.’

The general was going on. He pointed out that one of his predecessors had lost that very command on account of scandals about women. He had turned the place into a damned harem! . . .

He burst out, looking at Tietjens with a peculiar goggle-eyed intentness:

‘If you think I’d care about losing my command over Sylvia or any other damned Society woman . . . ’ He said: ‘I beg your pardon . . . ’ and continued reasoningly:

‘It’s the men that have to be considered. They think — and they’ve every right to think it if they wish to — that a man who’s a wrong ’un over women isn’t the man they can trust their lives in the hands of . . . ’ He added: ‘And they’re probably right . . . A man who’s a real wrong ’un . . . I don’t mean who sets up a gal in a tea-shop . . . But one who sells his wife, or . . . At any rate, in our army . . . The French may be different! . . . Well, a man like that usually has a yellow streak when it comes to fighting . . . Mind, I’m not saying always . . . Usually . . . There was a fellow called . . . ’

He went off into an anecdote . . .

Tietjens recognized the pathos of his trying to get away from the agonizing present moment, back to an India where it was all real soldiering and good leather and parades that had been parades. But he did not feel called upon to follow. He could not follow. He was going up the line . . .

He occupied himself with his mind. What was it going to do? He cast back along his military history: what had his mind done in similar moments before? . . . But there had never been a similar moment! There had been the sinister or repulsive business of going up, getting over, standing to — even of the casualty clearing-station! . . . But he had always been physically keener, he had never been so depressed or overwhelmed.

He said to the general:

‘I recognize that I cannot stop in this command. I regret it, for I have enjoyed having this unit . . . But does it necessarily mean the VIth Battalion?’

He wondered what was his own motive at the moment. Why had he asked the general that? . . . The thing presented itself as pictures: getting down bulkily from a high French train, at dawn. The light picked out for you the white of large hunks of bread — half-loaves — being handed out to troops themselves invisible . . . The ovals of light on the hats of English troops: they were mostly West Countrymen. They did not seem to want the bread much . . . A long ridge of light above a wooded bank: then suddenly, pervasively, a sound! . . . For all the world as, sheltering from rain in a cottager’s wash-house on the moors, you hear the cottager’s clothes boiling in a copper . . . Bubble . . . bubble . . . bubbubbub . . . bubble . . . Not terribly loud — but terribly demanding attention! . . . The Great Strafe! . . .

The general had said:

‘If I could think of anything else to do with you, I’d do it . . . But all the extraordinary rows you’ve got into . . . They block me everywhere . . . Do you realize that I have requested General O’Hara to suspend his functions until now? . . . ’

It was amazing to Tietjens how the general mistrusted his subordinates — as well as how he trusted them! . . . It was probably that that made him so successful an officer. Be worked for by men that you trust: but distrust them all the time — along certain lines of frailty: liquor, women, money! . . . Well, he had a long knowledge of men!

He said:

‘I admit, sir, that I misjudged General O’Hara. I have said as much to Colonel Levin and explained why.’

The general said with a gloating irony:

‘A damn pretty pass to come to . . . You put a general officer under arrest . . . Then you say you had misjudged him! . . . I am not saying you were not performing a duty . . . ’ He went on to recount the classical case of a subaltern, cited in King’s Regulations, temp. William IV, who was court-martialled and broken for not putting under arrest his colonel who came drunk on to parade . . . He was exhibiting his sensuous delight in misplaced erudition.

Tietjens heard himself say with great slowness:

‘I absolutely deny, sir, that I put General O’Hara under arrest! I have gone into the matter very minutely with Colonel Levin.’

The general burst out:

‘By God! I had taken that woman to be a saint . . . I swear she is a saint . . .

Tietjens said:

‘There is no accusation against Mrs Tietjens, sir!’

The general said:

‘By God, there is!’

Tietjens said:

‘I am prepared to take all the blame, sir.’

The general said:

‘You shan’t . . . I am determined to get to the bottom of all this . . . You have treated your wife damn badly . . . You admit to that . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘With great want of consideration, sir . . . ’

The general said:

‘You have been living practically on terms of separation from her for a number of years? You don’t deny that that was on account of your own misbehaviour. For how many years?’

Tietjens said:

‘I don’t know, sir . . . Six or seven!’

The general said sharply:

‘Think, then . . . It began when you admitted to me that you had been sold up because you kept a girl in a tobacco-shop? That was at Rye in 1912 . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘We have not been on terms since 1912, sir.’

The general said:

‘But why? . . . She’s a most beautiful woman. She’s adorable. What could you want better? . . . She’s the mother of your child . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Is it necessary to go into all this, sir? . . . Our differences were caused by . . . by differences of temperament. She, as you say, is a beautiful and reckless woman . . . Reckless in an admirable way. I, on the other hand . . . ’

The general exclaimed:

‘Yes! that’s just it . . . What the hell are you? . . . You’re not a soldier. You’ve got the makings of a damn good soldier. You amaze me at times. Yet you’re a disaster; you are a disaster to every one who has to do with you. You are as conceited as a hog; you are as obstinate as a bullock . . . You drive me mad . . . And you have ruined the life of that beautiful woman . . . For I maintain she once had the disposition of a saint . . . Now: I’m waiting for your explanation!’

Tietjens said:

‘In civilian life, sir, I was a statistician. Second secretary to the Department of Statistics . . . ’

The general exclaimed convictingly:

‘And they’ve thrown you out of that! Because of the mysterious rows you made . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Because, sir, I was in favour of the single command . . . ’

The general began a long wrangle: ‘But why were you? What the hell had it got to do with you?’ Couldn’t Tietjens have given the Department the statistics they wanted — even if it meant faking them? What was discipline for if subordinates were to act on their consciences? The home Government had wanted statistics faked in order to dish the Allies . . . Well . . . Was Tietjens French or English? Every damn thing Tietjens did . . . Every damn thing, made it more impossible to do anything for him! With his attainments he ought to be attached to the staff of the French Commander-in-Chief. But that was forbidden in his, Tietjens’, confidential report. There was an underlined note in it to that effect. Where else, then, in Heaven’s name, could Tietjens be sent to? He looked at Tietjens with intent blue eyes:

‘Where else, in God’s name . . . I am not using the Almighty’s name blasphemously . . . can you be sent to? I know it’s probably death to send you up the line — in your condition of health. And to poor Perry’s Army. The Germans will be through it the minute the weather breaks.’

He began again: ‘You understand: I’m not the War Office. I can’t send any officer anywhere. I can’t send you to Malta or India. Or to other commands in France. I can send you home — in disgrace. I can send you to your own battalion. On promotion! . . . Do you understand my situation? . . . I have no alternative.’

Tietjens said:

‘Not altogether, sir.’

The general swallowed and wavered from side to side. He said:

‘For God’s sake, try to . . . I am genuinely concerned for you. I won’t — I’m damned if I will! — let it appear that you’re disgraced . . . If you were McKechnie himself I wouldn’t! The only really good jobs I’ve got to give away are on my own staff. I can’t have you there. Because of the men. At the same time . . . ’

He paused and said with a ponderous shyness:

‘I believe there’s a God . . . I believe that, though wrong may flourish, right will triumph in the end! . . . If a man is innocent, his innocence will one day appear . . . In a humble way I want to . . . help Providence . . . I want some one to be able one day to say: ”General Campion, who knew the ins and outs of the affair . . . ” promoted you! In the middle of it . . . ’ He said: ‘It isn’t much. But it’s not nepotism. I would do as much for any man in your position.’

Tietjens said:

‘It’s at least the act of a Christian gentleman!’

A certain lack-lustre joy appeared in the general’s eyes. He said:

‘I’m not used to this sort of situation . . . I hope I’ve always tried to help my junior officers . . . But a case like this . . . ’ He said:

‘Damn it . . . The general commanding the 9th French Army is an intimate friend of mine . . . But in face of your confidential report — I can’t ask him to ask for you. That’s blocked!’

Tietjens said:

‘I do not propose, sir, at any rate in your eyes, to pass as putting the interests of any power before those of my own country. If you examine my confidential report you will find that the unfavourable insertions are initialled G. D . . . They are the initials of a Major Drake . . . ’

The general said bewilderingly:

‘Drake . . . Drake . . . I’ve heard the name.’

Tietjens said:

‘It doesn’t matter, sir . . . Major Drake’s a gentleman who doesn’t like me . . . ’

The general said:

‘There are so many. You don’t try to make yourself popular, I must say!’

Tietjens said to himself:

‘The old fellow feels it! . . . But he can hardly expect me to tell him that Sylvia thinks Drake was the father of my own son, and desires my ruin!’ But of course the old man would feel it. He, Tietjens, and his wife, Sylvia, were as near a son and daughter as the old man had. The obvious answer to make to the old man’s query as to where he, Tietjens, ought to be sent was to remind him that his brother Mark had had an order put through to the effect that Tietjens was to be put in command of divisional transport . . . Could he remind the old man of that? Was it a thing one could do?

Yet the idea of commanding divisional transport was like a vision of Paradise to Tietjens. For two reasons: it was relatively safe, being concerned with a lot of horses . . . and the knowledge that he had that employment would put Valentine Wannop’s mind at rest.

Paradise! . . . But could one wangle out of a hard into a soft job? Some other poor devil very likely wanted it. On the other hand — think of Valentine Wannop! He imagined her torture of mind, wandering about London, thinking of him in the very worst spot of a doomed army. She would get to hear of that. Sylvia would tell her! He would bet Sylvia would ring her up and tell her. Imagine, then, writing to Mark to say that he was with the transport! Mark would pass it on to the girl within half a minute. Why . . . he, Tietjens, would wire. He imagined himself scribbling the wire while the general talked and giving it to an orderly the moment the talk was over . . . But could he put the idea into the old man’s head! Is it done? . . . Would, say . . . say, an Anglican saint do it?

And then . . . Was he up to the job? What about the accursed obsession of 0 Nine Morgan that intermittently jumped on him? All the while he had been riding Schomburg the day before, 0 Nine Morgan had seemed to be just before the coffin-headed brute’s off-shoulder. The animal must fall! . . . He had had the passionate impulse to pull up the horse. And all the time a dreadful depression! A weight! In the hotel last night he had nearly fainted over the thought that Morgan might have been the man whose life he had spared at Noircourt . . . It was getting to be a serious matter! It might mean that there was a crack in his, Tietjens’, brain. A lesion! If that was to go on . . . 0 Nine Morgan, dirty as he always was, and with the mystified eyes of the subject races on his face, rising up before his horse’s off-shoulder! But alive, not with half his head cut away . . . If that was to go on he would not be fit to deal with transport, which meant a great deal of riding.

But he would chance that . . . Besides, some damn fool of a literary civilian had been writing passionate letters to the papers insisting that all horses and mules must be abolished in the army . . . Because of their pestilence-spreading dung! . . . It might be decreed by A.C.I. that no more horses were to be used! . . . Imagine taking battalion supplies down by night with motor lorries, which was what that genius desired to see done! . . .

He remembered once or twice — it must have been in September, ‘16 — having had the job of taking battalion transport down from Locre to B.H.Q., which were in the château of Kemmell village . . . You muffled every bit of metal you could think of: bits, trace-chains, axles . . . and yet, whilst you hardly breathed, in the thick darkness some damn thing would always chink and jolt; beef tins made a noise of old iron . . . And bang, after a long whine, would come the German shell, registered exactly on to the corner of the road where it went down by the shoulder of the hill: where the placards were ordering you not to go more than two men together . . . Imagine doing it with lorries, that could be heard five miles away! . . . The battalion would go pretty short of rations! . . . The same antichevaline genius had emitted the sentiment that he had rather the Allies lost the war than that cavalry should distinguish themselves in any engagement! . . . A wonderful passion for the extermination of dung . . .! Or perhaps this hatred of the horse was social . . . Because the cavalry wear long moustaches dripping with Macassar oil and breakfast off caviare, chocolate and Pommery Greno they must be abolished! . . . Something like that . . . He exclaimed: ‘By God! How my mind wanders! How long will it go on?’ He said: ‘I am at the end of my tether.’ He had missed what the general had said for some time.

The general said:

‘Well. Has he?’

Tietjens said:

‘I didn’t catch, sir!’

‘Are you deaf?’ the general asked. ‘I’m sure I speak plain enough. You’ve just said there are no horses attached to this camp. I asked you if there is not a horse for the colonel commanding the depot . . . A German horse, I understand!’

Tietjens said to himself:

‘Great heavens! I’ve been talking to him. What in the world about?’ It was as if his mind were falling off a hillside. He said:

‘Yes, sir . . . Schomburg. But as that’s a German prisoner, captured on the Marne, it is not on our strength. It is the private property of the colonel. I ride it myself . . . ’

The general exclaimed dryly:

‘You would . . . ’ He added more dryly still: ‘Are you aware that there is a hell of a strafe put in against you by a R.A.S.C. second-lieutenant called Hotchkiss? . . . ’

Tietjens said quickly:

‘If it’s over Schomburg, sir . . . it’s a washout. Lieutenant Hotchkiss has no more right to give orders about him than as to where I shall sleep . . . And I would rather die than subject any horse for which I am responsible to the damnable torture Hotchkiss and that swine Lord Beichan want to inflict on service horses . . . ’

The general said maleficently:

‘It looks as if you damn well will die on that account!’

He added: ‘You’re perfectly right to object to wrong treatment of horses. But in this case your objection blocks the only other job open to you.’ He quietened himself a little. ‘You are probably not aware,’ he went on, ‘that your brother Mark . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘Yes, I am aware . . . ’

The general said: ‘Do you know that the 19th Division to which your brother wants you sent is attached to Fourth Army now — and it’s Fourth Army horses that Hotchkiss is to play with? . . . How could I send you there to be under his orders?’

Tietjens said:

‘That’s perfectly correct, sir. There is nothing else that you can do . . . ’ He was finished. There was now nothing left but to find out how his mind was going to take it. He wished they could go to his cook-houses!

The general said:

‘What was I saying? . . . I’m dreadfully tired . . . No one could stand this . . . ’ He drew from inside his tunic a lapis-lazuli coloured, small be-coroneted note-case and selected from it a folded paper that he first looked at and then slipped between his belt and his tunic. He said: ‘On top of all the responsibility I have to bear!’ He asked: ‘Has it occurred to you that, if I’m of any service to the country, your taking up my energy —sapping my energy over your affairs! — is aiding your country’s enemies? . . . I can only afford four hours sleep as it is . . . I’ve got some questions to ask you . . . He referred to the slip of paper from his belt, folded it again and again slipped it into his belt.

Tietjens’ mind missed a notch again . . . It was the fear of the mud that was going to obsess him. Yet, curiously, he had never been under heavy fire in mud . . . You would think that that would not have obsessed him. But in his ear he had just heard uttered in a whisper of intense weariness, the words: Es ist nicht zu ertragen; es ist das dasz uns verloren hat . . . words in German, of utter despair, meaning: It is unbearable: it is that that has ruined us . . . The mud! . . . He had heard those words, standing amidst volcano craters of mud, amongst ravines, monstrosities of slime, cliffs and distances, all of slime . . . He had been going, for curiosity or instruction, from Verdun where he had been attached to the French — on a holiday afternoon when nothing was doing, with a guide, to visit one of the outlying forts . . . Deaumont? . . . No, Douaumont . . . Taken from the enemy about a week before . . . When would that be? He had lost all sense of chronology . . . In November . . . A beginning of some November . . . With a miracle of sunshine: not a cloud: the mud towering up shut you in intimately with a sky that ached for limpidity . . . And the slime had moved . . . following a French bombardier who was strolling along eating nuts, disreputably, his shoulders rolling . . . Déserteurs . . . The moving slime was German deserters . . . You could not see them: the leader of them — an officer! — had his glasses so thick with mud that you could not see the colour of his eyes, and his half-dozen decorations were like the beginnings of swallows’ nests, his beard like stalactites . . . Of the other men you could only see the eyes — extraordinarily vivid: mostly blue like the sky! . . . Deserters! Led by an officer! Of the Hamburg Regiment! As if an officer of the Buffs had gone over! . . . It was incredible . . . And that was what the officer had said as he passed: not shamefacedly, but without any humanity left in him . . . Done! . . . Those moving saurians compacted of slime kept on passing him afterwards, all the afternoon . . . And he could not help picturing their immediate antecedents for two months . . . In advanced pill-boxes . . . No, they didn’t have pill-boxes then . . . In advanced pockets of mud, in dreadful solitude amongst those ravines . . . suspended in eternity, at the last day of the world. And it had horribly shocked him to hear again the German language, a rather soft voice, a little suety . . . Like an obscene whisper . . . The voice obviously of the damned: hell could hold nothing curious for those poor beasts . . . His French guide had said sardonically: On dirait l’Inferno de Dante! . . . Well, those Germans were getting back on him. They were now to become an obsession! A complex, they said nowadays . . . The general said coolly:

‘I presume you refuse to answer?’

That shook him cruelly.

He said desperately:

‘I had to end what I took to be an unbearable position for both parties. In the interests of my son!’ Why in the world had he said that? . . . He was going to be sick. It came back to him that the general had been talking of his separation from Sylvia. Last night that had happened. He said: ‘I may have been right: I may have been wrong . . . ’

The general said icily:

‘If you don’t choose to go into it . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘I would prefer not to . . . ’

The general said:

‘There is no end to this . . . But there are questions it’s my duty to ask . . . If you do not wish to go into your marital relations, I cannot force you . . . But, damn it, are you sane? Are you responsible? Do you intend to get Miss Wannop to live with you before the war is over? Is she, perhaps, here, in the town, now? Is that your reason for separating from Sylvia? Now, of all times in the world!’

Tietjens said:

‘No, sir. I ask you to believe that I have absolutely no relations with that young lady. None! I have no intention of having any. None! . . . ’

The general said:

‘I believe that!’

‘Circumstances last night,’ Tietjens said, ‘convinced me suddenly, there on the spot, that I had been wronging my wife . . . I had been putting a strain on the lady that was unwarrantable. It humiliates me to have to say it! I had taken a certain course for the sake of the future of our child. But it was an atrociously wrong course. We ought to have separated years ago. It has led to the lady’s pulling the strings of all these shower-baths . . . ’

The general said:

‘Pulling the . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘It expresses it, sir . . . Last night was nothing but pulling the string of a shower-bath. Perfectly justifiable. I maintain that it was perfectly justifiable.’

The general said:

‘Then why have you given her Groby? . . . You’re not a little soft, are you? . . . You don’t imagine you’ve . . . say, got a mission? Or that you’re another person? . . . That you have to . . . to forgive . . . ’ He took off his pretty hat and wiped his forehead with a tiny cambric handkerchief. He said: ‘Your poor mother was a little . . . ’

He said suddenly:

‘To-night when you are coming to my dinner . . . I hope you’ll be decent. Why do you so neglect your personal appearance? Your tunic is a disgusting spectacle . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘I had a better tunic, sir . . . but it has been ruined by the blood of the man who was killed here last night . . . ’

The general said:

‘You don’t say you have only two tunics? . . . Have you no mess clothes?’

Tietjens said:

‘Yes, sir, I’ve my blue things. I shall be all right for to-night . . . But almost everything else I possessed was stolen from my kit when I was in hospital . . . Even Sylvia’s two pair of sheets . . . ’

‘But hang it all,’ the general exclaimed, ‘you don’t mean to say you’ve spaflled all your father left you?’

Tietjens said:

‘I thought fit to refuse what my father left me owing to the way it was left . . . ’

The general said:

‘But, good God! . . . Read that!’ He tossed the small sheet of paper at which he had been looking across the table. It fell face downwards. Tietjens read, in the minute handwriting of the general’s:

‘Colonel’s horse: Sheets: Jesus Christ: Wannop girl: Socialism?’

The general said irritably:

‘The other side . . . the other side . . . ’

The other side of the paper displayed the words in large capitals: WORKERS OF THE WORLD, a wood-cut of a sickle and some other objects. Then high treason for a page.

The general said:

‘Have you ever seen anything like that before? Do you know what it is?’

Tietjens answered:

‘Yes, sir. I sent that to you. To your Intelligence . . . ’ The general thumped both his fists violently on the army blanket:

‘You . . . ’ he said. ‘It’s incomprehensible . . . It’s incredible . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘No, sir . . . You sent out an order asking commanders of units to ascertain what attempts were being made by Socialists to undermine the discipline of their other ranks . . . I naturally asked my sergeant-major, and he produced this sheet, which one of the men had given to him as a curiosity. It had been handed to the man in the street in London. You can see my initials on the top of the sheet!’

The general said:

‘You . . . you’ll excuse me, but you’re not a Socialist yourself?’

Tietjens said:

‘I knew you were working round to that, sir. But I’ve no politics that did not disappear in the eighteenth century. You, sir, prefer the seventeenth!’

‘Another shower-bath, I suppose,’ the general said.

‘Of course,’ Tietjens said, ‘if it’s Sylvia that called me a Socialist, it’s not astonishing. I’m a Tory of such an extinct type that she might take me for anything. The last megatherium. She’s absolutely to be excused . . . ’

The general was not listening. He said:

‘What was wrong with the way your father left his money to you?’

‘My father,’ Tietjens said — the general saw his jaw stiffen —‘committed suicide because a fellow called Ruggles told him that I was . . . what the French called maquereau . . . I can’t think of the English word. My father’s suicide was not an act that can be condoned. A gentleman does not commit suicide when he has descendants. It might influence my boy’s life very disastrously . . . ’

The general said:

‘I can’t . . . I can’t get to the bottom of all this . . . What in the world did Ruggles want to go and tell your father that for? . . . What are you going to do for a living after the war? They won’t take you back into your office, will they?’

Tietjens said:

‘No, sir. The Department will not take me back. Every one who has served in this war will be a marked man for a long time after it is over. That’s proper enough. We’re having our fun now.’

The general said:

‘You say the wildest things.’

Tietjens answered:

‘You generally find the things I say come true, sir. Could we get this over? Ruggles told my father what he did because it is not a good thing to belong to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries in the twentieth. Or really, because it is not good to have taken one’s public-school’s ethical system seriously. I am really, sir, the English public schoolboy. That’s an eighteenth-century product. What with the love of truth that — God help me! — they rammed into me at Clifton and the belief Arnold forced upon Rugby that the vilest of sins — the vilest of all sins — is to peach to the head master! That’s me, sir. Other men get over their schooling. I never have. I remain adolescent. These things are obsessions with me. Complexes, sir!’

The general said:

‘All this seems to be very wild . . . What’s this about peaching to a head master?’

Tietjens said:

‘For a swan song, it’s not wild, sir. You’re asking for a swan song. I am to go up into the line so that the morals of the troops in your command may not be contaminated by the contemplation of my marital infelicities.’

The general said:

‘You don’t want to go back to England, do you?’ Tietjens exclaimed:

‘Certainly not! Very certainly not! I can never go home. I have to go underground somewhere. If I went back to England there would be nothing for me but going underground by suicide.’

The general said:

‘You see all that? I can give you testimonials . . . ’

Tietjens asked:

‘Who couldn’t see that it’s impossible?’

The general said:

‘But . . . suicide! You won’t do that. As you said: think of your son.’

Tietjens said:

‘No, sir. I shan’t do that. But you see how bad for one’s descendants suicide is. That is why I do not forgive my father. Before he did it I should never have contemplated the idea. Now I have contemplated it. That’s a weakening of the moral fibre. It’s contemplating a fallacy as a possibility. For suicide is no remedy for a twisted situation of a psychological kind. It is for bankruptcy. Or for military disaster. For the man of action, not for the thinker. Creditors’ meetings wipe the one out. Military operations sweep on. But my problem will remain the same whether I’m here or not. For it’s insoluble. It’s the whole problem of the relations of the sexes.’

The general said:

‘Good God! . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘No, sir, I’ve not gone off my chump. That’s my problem! . . . But I’m a fool to talk so much . . . It’s because I don’t know what to say.’

The general sat staring at the tablecloth: his face was suffused with blood. He had the appearance of a man in monstrous ill-humour. He said:

‘You had better say what you want to say. What the devil do you mean? . . . What’s this all about? . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘I’m enormously sorry, sir. It’s difficult to make myself plain.’

The general said:

‘Neither of us do. What is language for? What the hell is language for? We go round and round. I suppose I’m an old fool who cannot understand your modern ways . . . But you’re not modern. I’ll do you that justice . . . That beastly little McKechnie is modern . . . I shall ram him into your divisional-transport job, so that he won’t incommode you in your battalion . . . Do you understand what the little beast did? He got leave to go and get a divorce. And then did not get a divorce. That’s modernism. He said he had scruples. I understand that he and his wife and . . . some dirty other fellow . . . slept three in a bed. That’s modern scruples . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘No sir, it’s not really . . . But what is a man to do if his wife is unfaithful to him?’

The general said as if it were an insult:

‘Divorce the harlot! Or live with her! . . . ’ Only a beast he went on, would expect a woman to live all her life alone in a cockloft! She’s bound to die. Or go on the streets . . . What sort of a fellow wouldn’t see that? Was there any sort of beast who’d expect a woman to live . . . with a man beside her . . . Why, she’d . . . she’d be bound to . . . He’d have to take the consequences of whatever happened. The general repeated: ‘Whatever happened! If she pulled all the strings of all the shower-baths in the world!’

Tietjens said:

‘Still, sir . . . there are . . . there used to be . . . in families of . . . position . . . a certain . . . ’ He stopped.

The general said:

‘Well . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘On the part of the man . . . a certain . . . Call it . . . parade!’

The general said:

‘Then there had better be no more parades . . . ’ He said: ‘Damn it! . . . Besides us, all women are saints . . . Think of what child-bearing is. I know the world . . . Who would stand that? . . . You? . . . I . . . I’d rather be the last poor devil in Perry’ lines!’

He looked at Tietjens with a sort of injurious cunning: ‘Why don’t you divorce?’ he asked.

Panic came over Tietjens. He knew it would be his last panic of that interview. No brain could stand more. Fragments of scenes of fighting, voices, names, went before his eyes and ears. Elaborate problems . . . The whole map of the embattled world ran out in front of him — as large as a field. An embossed map in greenish papier mâché— a ten-acre field of embossed papier mâché: with the blood of O Nine Morgan blurring luminously over it. Years before . . . How many months? . . . Nineteen, to be exact, he had sat on some tobacco plants on the Mont de Kats . . . No, the Montagne Noire. In Belgium . . . What had he been doing? . . . Trying to get the lie of the land . . . No . . . Waiting to point out positions to some fat home general who had never come. The Belgian proprietor of the tobacco plants had arrived, and had screamed his head off over the damaged plants . . .

But, up there you saw the whole war . . . Infinite miles away, over the sullied land that the enemy forces held: into Germany proper. Presumably you could breathe in Germany proper . . . Over your right shoulder you could see a stump of a tooth. The Cloth Hall at Ypres: at an angle of 50° below . . . Dark lines behind it . . . The German trenches before Wytschaete!

That was before the great mines had blown Wytschaete to hell . . .

But — every half-minute by his wrist-watch — white puffs of cotton-wool existed on the dark lines — the German trenches before Wytschaete. Our artillery practice . . . Good shooting. Jolly good shooting!

Miles and miles away to the left . . . beneath the haze of light that, on a clouded day, the sea threw off, a shaft of sunlight fell, and was reflected in a grey blue . . . It was the glass roofs of a great airplane shelter!

A great plane, the largest he had then seen, was moving over, behind his back, with four little planes as an escort . . . Over the vast slag-heaps by Bethune . . . High, purplish-blue heaps, like the steam domes of engines or the breasts of women . . . Bluish purple. More blue than purple . . . Like all Franco-Belgian Gobelins tapestry . . . And all quiet . . . Under the vast pall of quiet cloud! . . .

There were shells dropping in Poperinghe . . . Five miles out, under his nose . . . The shells dropped. White vapour rose and ran away in plumes . . . What sort of shells? . . . There were twenty different kinds of shells . . .

The Huns were shelling Poperinghe! A senseless cruelty. It was five miles behind the lines! Prussian brutality . . . There were two girls who kept a tea-shop in Poperinghe . . . High coloured . . . General Plumer had liked them . . . a fine old general . . . The shells had killed them both . . . Any man might have slept with either of them with pleasure and profit . . . Six thousand of H.M. officers must have thought the same about those high-coloured girls. Good girls! . . . But the Hun shells got them . . . What sort of fate was that? . . . To be desired by six thousand men and smashed into little gobbets of flesh by Hun shells?

It appeared to be mere Prussianism — the senseless cruelty of the Hun! — to shell Poperinghe. An innocent town with a tea-shop five miles behind Ypres . . . Little noiseless plumes of smoke rising under the quiet blanketing of the pale maroon skies, with the haze from the aeroplane shelters, and the great aeroplanes over the Bethune slag-heaps . . . What a dreadful name — Bethune . . .

Probably, however, the Germans had heard that we were massing men in Poperinghe. It was reasonable to shell a town where men were being assembled . . . Or we might have been shelling one of their towns with an Army H.Q. in it. So they shelled Poperinghe in the silent grey day . . . That was according to the rules of the service . . . General Campion, accepting with equanimity what German airplanes did to the hospitals, camps, stables, brothels, theatres, boulevards, chocolate stalls and hotels of his town, would have been vastly outraged if Hun planes had dropped bombs on his private lodgings . . . The rules of war! . . . You spare, mutually, each other’s headquarters and blow to pieces girls that are desired by six thousand men apiece . . .

That had been nineteen months before! . . . Now, having lost so much emotion, he saw the embattled world as a map . . . An embossed map of greenish papier mâché. The blood of 0 Nine Morgan was blurring luminously over it. At the extreme horizon was territory labelled White Ruthenians! Who the devil were those poor wretches?

He exclaimed to himself: ‘By heavens! Is this epilepsy?’ He prayed: ‘Blessed saints, get me spared that!’ He exclaimed: ‘No, it isn’t! . . . I’ve complete control of my mind. My uppermost mind.’ He said to the general:

‘I can’t divorce, sir. I’ve no grounds.’

The general said:

‘Don’t lie. You know what Thurston knows. Do you mean that you have been guilty of contributory misconduct? . . . Whatever it is? And can’t divorce! I don’t believe it.’

Tietjens said to himself:

‘Why the devil am I so anxious to shield the whore? It’s not reasonable. It is an obsession!’

White Ruthenians are miserable people to the south of Lithuania. You don’t know whether they incline to the Germans or to the Poles. The Germans don’t even know . . . The Germans were beginning to take their people out of the line where we were weak: they were going to give them proper infantry training. That gave him, Tietjens, a chance. They would not come over strong for at least two months. It meant, though, a great offensive in the spring. Those fellows had sense. In the poor, beastly trenches the Tommies knew nothing but how to chuck bombs. Both sides did that. But the Germans were going to cure it! Stood chucking bombs at each other from forty yards. The rifle was obsolete! Ha! ha! Obsolete! . . . The civilian psychology!

The general said:

‘No, I don’t believe it. I knew you did not keep any girl in any tobacco-shop. I remember every word you said at Rye in 1912. I wasn’t sure then. I am now. You tried to let me think it. You had shut up your house because of your wife’s misbehaviour. You let me believe you had been sold up. You weren’t sold up at all.’

. . . Why should it be the civilian psychology to chuckle with delight, uproariously, when the imbecile idea was promulgated that the rifle was obsolete? Why should public opinion force on the War Office a training-camp course that completely cut out any thorough instruction in the rifle and communication drill? It was queer . . . It was of course disastrous. Queer. Not altogether mean. Pathetic, too . . .

‘Love of truth!’ the general said. ‘Doesn’t that include a hatred for white lies? No; I suppose it doesn’t, or your servants could not say you were not at home . . . ’

. . . Pathetic! Tietjens said to himself. Naturally the civilian population wanted soldiers to be made to look like fools: and to be done in. They wanted the war won by men who would at the end be either humiliated or dead. Or both. Except, naturally, their own cousins or fiancées’ relatives. That was what it came to. That was what it meant when important gentlemen said that they had rather the war were lost than that cavalry should gain any distinction in it! . . . But it was partly the simple, pathetic illusion of the day that great things could only be done by new inventions. You extinguished the Horse, invented something very simple and became God! That is the real pathetic fallacy. You fill a flower-pot with gunpowder and chuck it in the other fellow’s face, and heigh presto! the war is won. All the soldiers fall down dead! And You: you who forced the idea on the reluctant military, are the Man that Won the War. You deserve all the women in the world. And . . . you get them! Once the cavalry are out of the way! . . .

The general was using the words:

‘Head master!’ It brought Tietjens completely back. He said collectedly:

‘Really, sir, why this strafe of yours is so terribly long is that it embraces the whole of life.’

The general said:

‘You’re not going to drag a red herring across the trail . . . I say you regarded me as a head master in 1912. Now I am your commanding officer — which is the same thing. You must not peach to me. That’s what you call the Arnold of Rugby touch . . . But who was it said: Magna est veritas et prev . . . Prev something!’

Tietjens said:

‘I don’t remember, sir.’

The general said:

‘What was the secret grief your mother had? In 1912? She died of it. She wrote to me just before her death and said she had great troubles. And begged me to look after you, very specially! Why did she do that?’ He paused and meditated. He asked: ‘How do you define Anglican sainthood? The other fellows have canonizations, all shipshape like Sandhurst examinations. But us Anglicans . . . I’ve heard fifty persons say your mother was a saint. She was. But why?’

Tietjens said:

‘It’s the quality of harmony, sir. The quality of being in harmony with your own soul. God having given you your own soul you are then in harmony with heaven.’

The general said:

‘Ah, that’s beyond me . . . I suppose you will refuse any money I leave you in my will?’

Tietjens said:

‘Why, no, sir.’

The general said:

‘But you refused your father’s money. Because he believed things against you. What’s the difference?’

Tietjens said:

‘One’s friends ought to believe that one is a gentleman. Automatically. That is what makes one and them in harmony. Probably your friends are your friends because they look at situations automatically as you look at them . . . Mr Ruggles knew that I was hard up. He envisaged the situation. If he were hard up, what would he do? Make a living out of the immoral earnings of women . . . That translated into the Government circles in which he lives means selling your wife or mistress. Naturally he believed that I was the sort of fellow to sell my wife. So that’s what he told my father. The point is, my father should not have believed him.’

‘But I . . . ’ the general said.

Tietjens said:

‘You never believed anything against me, sir.’

The general said:

‘I know I’ve damn well worried myself to death over you . . . ’

Tietjens was sentimental at rest, still with wet eyes. He was walking near Salisbury in a grove, regarding long pastures and ploughlands running to dark, high elms from which, embowered . . . Embowered was the word! — peeped the spire of George Herbert’s church . . . One ought to be a seventeenth-century parson at the time of the renaissance of Anglican saintliness . . . who wrote, perhaps poems. No, not poems. Prose. The statelier vehicle!

That was home-sickness! . . . He himself was never to go home!

The general said:

‘Look here . . . Your father . . . I’m concerned about your father . . . Didn’t Sylvia perhaps tell him some of the things that distressed him?’

Tietjens said distinctly:

‘No, sir. That responsibility cannot be put on to Sylvia. My father chose to believe things that were said against me by a perfect — or a nearly perfect — stranger . . . ’ He added: ‘As a matter of fact, Sylvia and my father were not on any sort of terms. I don’t believe they exchanged two words for the last five years of my father’s life.’

The general’s eyes were fixed with an extreme hardness on Tietjens’. He watched Tietjens’ face, beginning with the edges round the nostrils, go chalk white. He said: ‘He knows he’s given his wife away! . . . Good God!’ With his face colourless, Tietjens’ eyes of porcelain-blue stuck out extraordinarily. The general thought: ‘What an ugly fellow! His face is all crooked!’ They remained looking at each other.

In the silence the voices of men talking over the game of House came as a murmur to them. A rudimentary card game monstrously in favour of the dealer. When you heard voices going on like that you knew they were playing House . . . So they had had their dinners.

The general said:

‘It isn’t Sunday, is it?’

Tietjens said:

‘No, sir; Thursday, the seventeenth, I think, of January . . . ’

The general said:

‘Stupid of me . . . ’

The men’s voices had reminded him of church bells on a Sunday. And of his youth . . . He was sitting beside Mrs Tietjens’ hammock under the great cedar at the corner of the stone house at Groby. The wind being from the east-north-east the bells of Middlesbrough came to them faintly. Mrs Tietjens was thirty; he himself thirty; Tietjens — the father — thirty-five or so. A most powerful quiet man. A wonderful landowner. Like his predecessor for generations. It was not from him that this fellow got his . . . his . . . his what? . . . Was it mysticism? . . . Another word! He himself home on leave from India: his head full of polo. Talking for hours about points in ponies with Tietjens’ father, who was a wonderful hand with a horse.

But this fellow was much more wonderful! . . . Well, he got that from the sire, not the dam! . . . He and Tietjens continued to look at each other. It was as if they were hypnotized. The men’s voices went on in a mournful cadence. The general supposed that he too must be pale. He said to himself: ‘This fellow’s mother died of a broken heart in 1912. The father committed suicide five years after. He had not spoken to the son’s wife for four or five years! That takes us back to 1912 . . . Then, when I strafed him in Rye, the wife was in France with Perowne.’

He looked down at the blanket on the table. He intended again to look up at Tietjens’ eyes with ostentatious care. That was his technique with men. He was a successful general because he knew men. He knew that all men will go to hell over three things: alcohol, money . . . and sex.

This fellow apparently hadn’t. Better for him if he had! He thought:

‘It’s all gone . . . mother! father! Groby! This fellow’s down and out. It’s a bit thick.’

He thought:

‘But he’s right to do as he is doing.’

He prepared to look at Tietjens . . . He stretched out a sudden, ineffectual hand. Sitting on his beef-case, his hands on his knees, Tietjens had lurched. A sudden lurch — as an old house lurches when it is hit by a H.E. shell. It stopped at that. Then he righted himself. He continued to stare direct at the general. The general looked carefully back. He said — very carefully too:

‘In case I decide to contest West Cleveland, it is your wish that I should make Groby my headquarters?’

Tietjens said:

‘I beg, sir, that you will!’

It was as if they both heaved an enormous sigh of relief. The general said:

‘Then I need not keep you . . . ’

Tietjens stood on his feet, wanly, but with his heels together.

The general also rose, settling his belt. He said:

‘ . . . You can fall out.’

Tietjens said:

‘My cook-houses, sir . . . Sergeant-Cook Case will be very disappointed . . . He told me that you couldn’t find anything wrong if I gave him ten minutes to prepare . . . ’

The general said:

‘Case . . . Case . . . Case was in the drums when we were at Delhi. He ought to be at least Quartermaster by now . . . But he had a woman he called his sister . . . ’

Tietjens said:

‘He still sends money to his sister.’

The general said:

‘ . . . He went absent over her when he was colour-sergeant and was reduced to the ranks . . . Twenty years ago that must be! . . . Yes, I’ll see your dinners!’

In the cook-houses, brilliantly accompanied by Colonel Levin, the cook-house spotless with limed walls and mirrors that were the tops of camp-cookers, the general, Tietjens at his side, walked between goggle-eyed men in white who stood to attention holding ladles. Their eyes bulged, but the corners of their lips curved because they liked the general and his beautifully unconcerned companions. The cook-house was like a cathedral’s nave, aisles being divided off by the pipes of stoves. The floor was of coke-brize shining under french polish and turpentine.

The building paused, as when a godhead descends. In breathless focusing of eyes the godhead, frail and shining, walked with short steps up to a high-priest who had a walrus moustache and, with seven medals on his Sunday tunic, gazed away into eternity. The general tapped the sergeant’s Good Conduct ribbon with the heel of his crop. All stretched ears heard him say:

‘How’s your sister, Case? . . . ’

Gazing away, the sergeant said:

‘I’m thinking of making her Mrs Case . . . ’

Slightly leaving him, in the direction of high, varnished pitch-pine panels, the general said:

‘I’ll recommend you for a Quartermaster’s commission any day you wish . . . Do you remember Sir Garnet inspecting field kitchens at Quetta?’

All the white tubular beings with global eyes resembled the pierrots of a child’s Christmas nightmare. The general said: ‘Stand at ease, men . . . Stand easy!’ They moved as white objects move in a childish dream. It was all childish. Their eyes rolled.

Sergeant Case gazed away into infinite distance.

‘My sister would not like it, sir,’ he said. ‘I’m better off as a first-class warrant officer!’

With his light step the shining general went swiftly to the varnished panels in the eastern aisle of the cathedral. The white figure beside them became instantly tubular, motionless and global-eyed. On the panels were painted: TEA! SUGAR! SALT! CURRY PDR! FLOUR! PEPPER!

The general tapped with the heel of his crop on the locker-panel labelled PEPPER: the top, right-hand locker-panel. He said to the tubular, global-eyed white figure beside it: ‘Open that, will you, my man? . . . ’

To Tietjens this was like the sudden bursting out of the regimental quick-step, as after a funeral with military honours the band and drums march away, back to barracks.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54