Soldiers Three [Stories]
Part 3 out of 4
The subaltern at the rear of one troop turned in his saddle and
said very softly: -
"Carter, what the blessed heavens are you doing at the rear? Bring
your men up, man."
There was no answer, till a trooper replied: -
"Carter Sahib is forward - not here. There is nothing behind us."
"There is," said the subaltern. "The squadron's walking on its own
Then the Major in command moved down to the rear, swearing softly
and asking for the blood of Lieutenant Halley - the subaltern who
had just spoken.
"Look after your rearguard," said the Major. "Some of your
infernal thieves have got lost. They're at the head of the
squadron, and you're a several kinds of idiot."
"Shall I tell off my men, sir?" said the subaltern sulkily, for he
was feeling wet and cold.
"Tell 'em off!" said the Major. "Whip 'em off, by Gad! You're
squandering them all over the place. There's a troop behind you
"So I was thinking," said the subaltern calmly. "I have all my men
here, sir. Better speak to Carter."
"Carter Sahib sends salaam and wants to know why the regiment is
stopping," said a trooper to Lieutenant Halley.
"Where under heaven is Carter," said the Major.
"Forward with his troop," was the answer.
"Are we walking in a ring, then, or are we the centre of a blessed
brigade?" said the Major.
By this time there was silence all along the column. The horses
were still; but, through the drive of the fine rain, men could
hear the feet of many horses moving over stony ground.
"We're being stalked," said Lieutenant Halley.
"They've no horses here. Besides they'd have fired before this,"
said the Major. "It's - it's villagers' ponies."
"Then our horses would have neighed and spoilt the attack long
ago. They must have been near us for half an hour," said the
"Queer that we can't smell the horses," said the Major, damping
his finger and rubbing it on his nose as he sniffed up wind.
"Well, it's a bad start," said the subaltern, shaking the wet from
his overcoat. "What shall we do, sir?"
"Get on," said the Major. "We shall catch it to-night."
The column moved forward very gingerly for a few paces. Then there
was an oath, a shower of blue sparks as shod hooves crashed on
small stones, and a man rolled over with a jangle of accoutrements
that would have waked the dead.
"Now we've gone and done it," said Lieutenant Halley. "All the
hillside awake and all the hillside to climb in the face of
musketry-fire! This comes of trying to do night-hawk work."
The trembling trooper picked himself up and tried to explain that
his horse had fallen over one of the little cairns that are built
of loose stones on the spot where a man has been murdered. There
was no need to give reasons. The Major's big Australian charger
blundered next, and the column came to a halt in what seemed to be
a very graveyard of little cairns, all about two feet high. The
manoeuvres of the squadron are not reported. Men said that it felt
like mounted quadrilles without training and without the music;
but at last the horses, breaking rank and choosing their own way,
walked clear of the cairns, till every man of the squadron
reformed and drew rein a few yards up the slope of the hill. Then,
according to Lieutenant Halley, there was another scene very like
the one which has been described. The Major and Carter insisted
that all the men had not joined rank, and that there were more of
them in the rear, clicking and blundering among the dead men's
cairns. Lieutenant Halley told off his own troopers again and
resigned himself to wait. Later on he said to me:
"I didn't much know and I didn't much care what was going on. The
row of that trooper falling ought to have scared half the country,
and I would take my oath that we were being stalked by a full
regiment in the rear, and they were making row enough to rouse all
Afghanistan. I sat tight, but nothing happened."
The mysterious part of the night's work was the silence on the
hillside. Everybody knew that the Gulla Kutta Mullah had his
outpost-huts on the reverse side of the hill, and everybody
expected, by the time that the Major had sworn himself into quiet,
that the watchmen there would open fire. When nothing happened,
they said that the gusts of the rain had deadened the sound of the
horses, and thanked Providence. At last the Major satisfied
himself (a) that he had left no one behind among the cairns, and
(b) that he was not being taken in the rear by a large and
powerful body of cavalry. The men's tempers were thoroughly
spoiled, the horses were lathered and unquiet, and one and all
prayed for the daylight.
They set themselves to climb up the hill, each man leading his
mount carefully. Before they had covered the lower slopes or the
breast-plates had begun to tighten, a thunderstorm came up behind,
rolling across the low hills and drowning any noise less than that
of cannon. The first flash of the lightning showed the bare ribs
of the ascent, thc hill-crest standing steely-blue against the
black sky, the little falling lines of the rain, and, a few yards
to their left flank, an Afghan watch-tower, two-storied, built of
stone, and entered by a ladder from the upper story. The ladder
was up, and a man with a rifle was leaning from the window. The
darkness and the thunder rolled down in an instant, and, when the
lull followed, a voice from the watch-tower cried, "Who goes
The cavalry were very quiet, but each man gripped his carbine and
stood beside his horse. Again the voice called, "Who goes there?"
and in a louder key, "0 brothers, give the alarm!" Now, every man
in the cavalry would have died in his long boots sooner than have
asked for quarter, but it is a fact that the answer to the second
call was a long wail of "Marf karo! Marf karo!" which means, "Have
mercy! Have mercy!" It came from the climbing regiment.
The cavalry stood dumbfoundered, till the big troopers had time to
whisper one to another:
"Mir Khan, was that thy voice? Abdullah, didst thou call?"
Lieutenant Halley stood beside his charger and waited. So long as
no firing was going on he was content. Another flash of lightning
showed the horses with heaving flanks and nodding heads; the men,
white eye-balled, glaring beside them, and the stone watch-tower
to the left. This time there was no head at the window, and the
rude iron-clamped shutter that could turn a rifle-bullet was
"Go on, men," said the Major. "Get up to the top at any rate!" The
squadron toiled forward, the horses wagging their tails and the
men pulling at the bridles, the stones rolling down the hillside
and the sparks flying. Lieutenant Halley declares that he never
heard a squadron make so much noise in his life. They scrambled
up, he said, as though each horse had eight legs and a spare horse
to follow him. Even then there was no sound from the watch-tower,
and the men stopped exhausted on the ridge that overlooked the pit
of darkness in which the village of Bersund lay. Girths were
loosed, curb-chains shifted, and saddles adjusted, and the men
dropped down among the stones. Whatever might happen now, they
held the upper ground of any attack.
The thunder ceased, and with it the rain, and the soft thick
darkness of a winter night before the dawn covered them all.
Except for the sound of falling water among the ravines below,
everything was still. They heard the shutter of the watch-tower
below them thrown back with a clang, and the voice of the watcher
calling, "Oh, Hafiz Ullah!"
The echoes took up the call, "La-la-la!" and an answer came from
the watch-tower hidden round the curve of the hill, "What is it,
Shahbaz Khan replied in the high-pitched voice of the mountaineer:
"Hast thou seen?"
The answer came back: "Yes. God deliver us from all evil spirits!
There was a pause, and then: "Hafiz Ullah, I am alone! Come to
"Shahbaz Khan, I am alone also; but I dare not leave my post!"
"That is a lie; thou art afraid."
A longer pause followed, and then: "I am afraid. Be silent! They
are below us still. Pray to God and sleep."
The troopers listened and wondered, for they could not understand
what save earth and stone could lie below the watch-towers.
Shahbaz Khan began to call again: "They are below us. I can see
them! For the pity of God come over to me, Hafiz Ullah! My father
slew ten of them. Come over!"
Hafiz Ullah answered in a very loud voice, "Mine was guiltless.
Hear, ye Men of the Night, neither my father nor my blood had any
part in that sin. Bear thou thine own punishment, Shahbaz Khan."
"Oh, some one ought to stop those two chaps crowing away like
cocks there," said the Lieutenant, shivering under his rock.
He had hardly turned round to expose a new side of him to the rain
before a bearded, long-locked, evil-smelling Afghan rushed up the
hill, and tumbled into his arms. Halley sat upon him, and thrust
as much of a sword-hilt as could be spared down the man's gullet.
"If you cry out, I kill you," he said cheerfully.
The man was beyond any expression of terror. He lay and quaked,
gasping. When Halley took the sword-hilt from between his teeth,
he was still inarticulate, but clung to Halley's arm, feeling it
from elbow to wrist.
"The Rissala! The dead Rissala! " he gasped, "It is down there!"
"No; the Rissala, the very much alive Rissala. It is up here,"
said Halley, unshipping his watering-bridle and fastening the
man's hands. "Why were you in the towers so foolish as to let us
"The valley is full of the dead," said the Afghan. "It is better
to fall into the hands of the English than the hands of the dead.
They march to and fro below there. I saw them in the lightning."
He recovered his composure after a little, and whispering, because
Halley's pistol was at his stomach, said: "What is this? There is
no war between us now, and the Mullah will kill me for not seeing
"Rest easy," said Halley; "we are coming to kill the Mullah, if
God please. His teeth have grown too long. No harm will come to
thee unless the daylight shows thee as a face which is desired by
the gallows for crime done. But what of the dead regiment?"
"I only kill within my own border," said the man, immensely
relieved. "The dead regiment is below. The men must have passed
through it on their journey - four hundred dead on horses,
stumbling among their own graves, among the little heaps - dead
men all, whom we slew."
"Whew!" said Halley. "That accounts for my cursing Carter and the
Major cursing me. Four hundred sabres, eh? No wonder we thought
there were a few extra men in the troop. Kurruk Shah," he
whispered to a grizzled native officer that lay within a few feet
of him, "hast thou heard anything of a dead Rissala in these
"Assuredly," said Kurruk Shah with a grim chuckle. "Otherwise, why
did I, who have served the Queen for seven-and-twenty years, and
killed many hill-dogs, shout aloud for quarter when the lightning
revealed us to the watch-towers? When I was a young man I saw the
killing in the valley of Sheor-K“t there at our feet, and I know
the tale that grew up therefrom. But how can the ghosts of
unbelievers prevail against us who are of the Faith? Strap that
dog's hands a little tighter, Sahib. An Afghan is like an eel."
"But a dead Rissala," said Halley, jerking his captive's wrist.
"That is foolish talk, Kurruk Shah. The dead are dead. Hold still,
Sag." The Afghan wriggled.
"The dead are dead, and for that reason they walk at night. What
need to talk? We be men; we have our eyes and ears. Thou canst
both see and hear them down the hillside," said Kurruk Shah
Halley stared and listened long and intently. The valley was full
of stifled noises, as every valley must be at night; but whether
he saw or heard more than was natural Halley alone knows, and he
does not choose to speak on the subject.
At last, and just before the dawn, a green rocket shot up from the
far side of the valley of Bersund, at the head of the gorge, to
show that the Goorkhas were in position. A red light from the
infantry at left and right answered it, and the cavalry burnt a
white flare. Afghans in winter are late sleepers, and it was not
till full day that the Gulla Kutta Mullah's men began to straggle
from their huts, rubbing their eyes. They saw men in green, and
red, and brown uniforms, leaning on their arms, neatly arranged
all round the crater of the village of Bersund, in a cordon that
not even a wolf could have broken. They rubbed their eyes the more
when a pink-faced young man, who was not even in the Army, but
represented the Political Department, tripped down the hillside
with two orderlies, rapped at the door of the Gulla Kutta Mullah's
house, and told him quietly to step out and be tied up for safe
transport. That same young man passed on through the huts, tapping
here one cateran and there another lightly with his cane; and as
each was pointed out, so he was tied up, staring hopelessly at the
crowned heights around where the English soldiers looked down with
incurious eyes. Only the Mullah tried to carry it off with curses
and high words, till a soldier who was tying his hands said: -
"None o' your lip! Why didn't you come out when you was ordered,
instead o' keeping us awake all night? You're no better than my
own barrack-sweeper, you white-'eaded old polyanthus! Kim up!"
Half an hour later the troops had gone away with the Mullah and
his thirteen friends. The dazed villagers were looking ruefully at
a pile of broken muskets and snapped swords, and wondering how in
the world they had come so to miscalculate the forbearance of the
It was a very neat little affair, neatly carried out, and the men
concerned were unofficially thanked for their services.
Yet it seems to me that much credit is also due to another
regiment whose name did not appear in brigade orders, and whose
very existence is in danger of being forgotten.
THE DRUMS OF THE FORE AND AFT
In the Army List they still stand as "The Fore and Fit Princess
Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach's Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal
Loyal Light Infantry, Regimental District 329A," but the Army
through all its barracks and canteens knows them now as the "Fore
and Aft." They may in time do something that shall make their new
title honourable, but at present they are bitterly ashamed, and
the man who calls them "Fore and Aft" does so at the risk of the
head which is on his shoulders.
Two words breathed into the stables of a certain Cavalry Regiment
will bring the men out into the streets with belts and mops and
bad language; but a whisper of "Fore and Aft" will bring out this
regiment with rifles.
Their one excuse is that they came again and did their best to
finish the job in style. But for a time all their world knows that
they were openly beaten, whipped, dumb-cowed, shaking and afraid.
The men know it; their officers know it; the Horse Guards know it,
and when the next war comes the enemy will know it also. There are
two or three regiments of the Line that have a black mark against
their names which they will then wipe out; and it will be
excessively inconvenient for the troops upon whom they do their
The courage of the British soldier is officially supposed to be
above proof, and, as a general rule, it is so. The exceptions are
decently shovelled out of sight, only to be referred to in the
freshest of unguarded talk that occasionally swamps a Mess-table
at midnight. Then one hears strange and horrible stories of men
not following their officers, of orders being given by those who
had no right to give them, and of disgrace that, but for the
standing luck of the British Army, might have ended in brilliant
disaster. These are unpleasant stories to listen to, and the
Messes tell them under their breath, sitting by the big wood
fires, and the young officer bows his head and thinks to himself,
please God, his men shall never behave unhandily.
The British soldier is not altogether to be blamed for occasional
lapses; but this verdict he should not know. A moderately
intelligent General will waste six months in mastering the craft
of the particular war that he may be waging; a Colonel may utterly
misunderstand the capacity of his regiment for three months after
it has taken the field, and even a Company Commander may err and
be deceived as to the temper and temperament of his own handful:
wherefore the soldier, and the soldier of to-day more
particularly, should not be blamed for fa1ling back. He should be
shot or hanged afterwards - to encourage the others; but he should
not be vilified in newspapers, for that is want of tact and waste
He has, let us say, been in the service of the Empress for,
perhaps, four years. He will leave in another two years. He has no
inherited morals, and four years are not sufficient to drive
toughness into his fibre, or to teach him how holy a thing is his
Regiment. He wants to drink, he wants to enjoy himself - in India
he wants to save money - and he does not in the least like getting
hurt. He has received just sufficient education to make him
understand half the purport of the orders he receives, and to
speculate on the nature of clean, incised, and shattering wounds.
Thus, if he is told to deploy under fire preparatory to an attack,
he knows that he runs a very great risk of being killed while he
is deploying, and suspects that he is being thrown away to gain
ten minutes' time. He may either deploy with desperate swiftness,
or he may shuffle, or bunch, or break, according to the discipline
under which he has lain for four years.
Armed with imperfect knowledge, cursed with the rudiments of an
imagination, hampered by the intense selfishness of the lower
classes, and unsupported by any regimental associations, this
young man is suddenly introduced to an enemy
who in eastern lands is always ugly, generally tall and hairy, and
frequently noisy. If he looks to the right and the left and sees
old soldiers - men of twelve years' service, who, he knows, know
what they are about - taking a charge, rush, or demonstration
without embarrassment, he is consoled and applies his shoulder to
the butt of his rifle with a stout heart. His peace is the greater
if he hears a senior, who has taught him his soldiering and broken
his head on occasion, whispering: "They'll shout and carry on like
this for five minutes. Then they'll rush in, and then we've got
'em by the short hairs!"
But, on the other hand, if he sees only men of his own term of
service, turning white and playing with their triggers and saying:
"What the Hell's up now?" while the Company Commanders are
sweating into their sword-hilts and shouting: "Front rank, fix
bayonets. Steady there - steady! Sight for three hundred - no, for
five! Lie down, all! Steady! Front rank kneel!" and so forth, he
becomes unhappy, and grows acutely miserable when he hears a
comrade turn over with the rattle of fire-irons falling into the
fender, and the grunt of a pole-axed ox. If he can be moved about
a little and allowed to watch the effect of his own fire on the
enemy he feels merrier, and may be then worked up to the blind
passion of fighting, which is, contrary to general belief,
controlled by a chilly Devil and shakes men like ague. If he is
not moved about, and begins to feel cold at the pit of the
stomach, and in that crisis is badly mauled and hears orders that
were never given, he will break, and he will break badly, and of
all things under the light of the Sun there is nothing more
terrible than a broken British regiment. When the worst comes to
the worst and the panic is really epidemic, the men must be e'en
let go, and the Company Commanders had better escape to the enemy
and stay there for safety's sake. If they can be made to come
again they are not pleasant men to meet; because they will not
About thirty years from this date, when we have succeeded in half-
educating everything that wears trousers, our Army will be a
beautifully unreliable machine. It will know too much and it will
do too little. Later still, when all men are at the mental level
of the officer of to-day, it will sweep the earth. Speaking
roughly, you must employ either blackguards or gentlemen, or, best
of all, blackguards commanded by gentlemen, to do butcher's work
with efficiency and despatch. The ideal soldier should, of course,
think for himself - the "Pocket-book" says so. Unfortunately, to
attain this virtue, he has to pass through the phase of thinking
of himself, and that is misdirected genius. A blackguard may be
slow to think for himself, but he is genuinely anxious to kill,
and a little punishment teaches him how to guard his own skin and
perforate another's. A powerfully prayerful Highland Regiment,
officered by rank Presbyterians, is, perhaps, one degree more
terrible in action than a hard-bitten thousand of irresponsible
Irish ruffians led by most improper young unbelievers. But these
things prove the rule - which is that the midway men are not to be
trusted alone. They have ideas about the value of life and an
upbringing that has not taught them to go on and take the chances.
They are carefully unprovided with a backing of comrades who have
been shot over, and until that backing is re-introduced, as a
great many Regimental Commanders intend it shall be, they are more
liable to disgrace themselves than the size of the Empire or the
dignity of the Army allows. Their officers are as good as good can
be, because their training begins early, and God has arranged that
a clean-run youth of the British middle classes shall, in the
matter of backbone, brains, and bowels, surpass all other youths.
For this reason a child of eighteen will stand up, doing nothing,
with a tin sword in his hand and joy in his heart until he is
dropped. If he dies, he dies like a gentleman. If he lives, he
writes Home that he has been "potted," "sniped," "chipped," or
"cut over," and sits down to besiege Government for a wound-
gratuity until the next little war breaks out, when he perjures
himself before a Medical Board, blarneys his Colonel, burns
incense round his Adjutant, and is allowed to go to the Front once
Which homily brings me directly to a brace of the most finished
little fiends that ever banged drum or tootled fife in the Band of
a British Regiment. They ended their sinful career by open and
flagrant mutiny and were shot for it. Their names were Jakin and
Lew - Piggy Lew and they were bold, bad drummer-boys, both of them
frequently birched by the Drum-Major of the Fore and Aft.
Jakin was a stunted child of fourteen, and Lew was about the same
age. When not looked after, they smoked and drank. They swore
habitually after the manner of the Barrack-room, which is cold
swearing and comes from between clenched teeth, and they fought
religiously once a week. Jakin had sprung from some London gutter,
and may or may not have passed through Dr. Barnardo's hands ere he
arrived at the dignity of drummer-boy. Lew could remember nothing
except the Regiment and the delight of listening to the Band from
his earliest years. He hid somewhere in his grimy little soul a
genuine love for music, and was most mistakenly furnished with the
head of a cherub: insomuch that beautiful ladies who watched the
Regiment in church were wont to speak of him as a "darling." They
never heard his vitriolic comments on their manners and morals, as
he walked back to barracks with the Band and matured fresh causes
of offence against Jakin.
The other drummer-boys hated both lads on account of their
illogical conduct. Jakin might be pounding Lew, or Lew might be
rubbing Jakin's head in the dirt, but any attempt at aggression on
the part of an outsider was met by the combined forces of Lew and
Jakin; and the consequences were painful. The boys were the
Ishmaels of the corps, but wealthy Ishmaels, for they sold battles
in alternate weeks for the sport of the barracks when they were
not pitted against other boys; and thus amassed money.
On this particular day there was dissension in the camp. They had
just been convicted afresh of smoking, which is bad for little
boys who use plug-tobacco, and Lew's contention was that Jakin had
"stunk so 'orrid bad from keepin' the pipe in pocket," that he and
he alone was responsible for the birching they were both tingling
"I tell you I 'id the pipe back o' barracks," said Jakin
"You're a bloomin' liar," said Lew without heat.
"You're a bloomin' little barstard," said Jakin, strong in the
knowledge that his own ancestry was unknown.
Now there is one word in the extended vocabulary of barrack-room
abuse that cannot pass without comment. You may call a man a thief
and risk nothing. You may even call him a coward without finding
more than a boot whiz past your ear, but you must not call a man a
bastard unless you are prepared to prove it on his front teeth.
"You might ha' kep' that till I wasn't so sore," said Lew
sorrowfully, dodging round Jakin's guard.
"I'll make you sorer," said Jakin genially, and got home on Lew's
alabaster forehead. All would have gone well and this story, as
the books say, would never have been written, had not his evil
fate prompted the Bazar-Sergeant's son, a long, employless man of
five-and-twenty, to put in an appearance after the first round. He
was eternally in need of money, and knew that the boys had silver.
"Fighting again," said he. "I'll report you to my father, and
he'll report you to the Colour-Sergeant."
"What's that to you?" said Jakin with an unpleasant dilation of
"Oh! nothing to me. You'll get into trouble, and you've been up
too often to afford that."
"What the Hell do you know about what we've done?" asked Lew the
Seraph. "You aren't in the Army, you lousy, cadging civilian."
He closed in on the man's left flank.
"Jes' 'cause you find two gentlemen settlin' their diff'rences
with their fistes you stick in your ugly nose where you aren't
wanted. Run 'ome to your 'arf-caste slut of a Ma - or we'll give
you what-for," said Jakin.
The man attempted reprisals by knocking the boys' heads together.
The scheme would have succeeded had not Jakin punched him
vehemently in the stomach, or had Lew refrained from kicking his
shins. They fought together, bleeding and breathless, for half an
hour, and, after heavy punishment, triumphantly pulled down their
opponent as terriers pull down a jackal.
"Now," gasped Jakin, "I'll give you what-for." He proceeded to
pound the man's features while Lew stamped on the outlying
portions of his anatomy. Chivalry is not a strong point in the
composition of the average drummer-boy. He fights, as do his
betters, to make his mark.
Ghastly was the ruin that escaped, and awful was the wrath of the
Bazar-Sergeant. Awful too was the scene in Orderly-room when the
two reprobates appeared to answer the charge of half-murdering a
"civilian." The Bazar-Sergeant thirsted for a criminal action, and
his son lied. The boys stood to attention while the black clouds
of evidence accumulated.
"You little devils are more trouble than the rest of the Regiment
put together," said the Colonel angrily. "One might as well
admonish thistledown, and I can't well put you in cells or under
stoppages. You must be birched again."
"Beg y' pardon, Sir. Can't we say nothin' in our own defence,
Sir?" shrilled Jakin.
"Hey! What? Are you going to argue with me?" said the Colonel.
"No, Sir," said Lew. "But if a man come to you, Sir, and said he
was going to report you, Sir, for 'aving a bit of a turn-up with a
friend, Sir, an' wanted to get money out o' you, Sir-"
The Orderly-room exploded in a roar of laughter. "Well?" said the
"That was what that measly jarnwar there did, Sir, and 'e'd 'a'
done it, Sir, if we 'adn't prevented 'im. We didn't 'it 'im much,
Sir. 'E 'adn't no manner o' right to interfere with us, Sir. I
don't mind bein' birched by the Drum-Major, Sir, nor yet reported
by any Corp'ral, but I'm - but I don't think it's fair, Sir, for a
civilian to come an' talk over a man in the Army."
A second shout of laughter shook the Orderly-room, but the Colonel
"What sort of characters have these boys?" he asked of the
"Accordin' to the Bandmaster, Sir," returned that revered official
- the only soul in the Regiment whom the boys feared - "they do
everything but lie, Sir."
"Is it like we'd go for that man for fun, Sir?" said Lew, pointing
to the plaintiff.
"Oh, admonished - admonished!" said the Colonel testily, and when
the boys had gone he read the Bazar-Sergeant's son a lecture on
the sin of unprofitable meddling, and gave orders that the
Bandmaster should keep the Drums in better discipline.
"If either of you come to practice again with so much as a scratch
on your two ugly little faces," thundered the Bandmaster, "I'll
tell the Drum-Major to take the skin off your backs. Understand
that, you young devils."
Then he repented of his speech for just the length of time that
Lew, looking like a seraph in red worsted embellishments, took the
place of one of the trumpets - in hospital - and rendered the echo
of a battle-piece. Lew certainly was a musician, and had often in
his more exalted moments expressed a yearning to master every
instrument of the Band.
"There's nothing to prevent your becoming a Bandmaster, Lew," said
the Bandmaster, who had composed waltzes of his own, and worked
day and night in the interests of the Band.
"What did he say?" demanded Jakin after practice.
"Said I might be a bloomin' Bandmaster, an' be asked in to 'ave a
glass o' sherry wine on Mess-nights."
"Ho! 'Said you might be a bloomin' noncombatant, did 'e! That's
just about wot 'e would say. When I've put in my boy's service
it's a bloomin' shame that doesn't count for pension - I'll take
on as a privit. Then I'll be a Lance in a year - knowin' what I
know about the ins an' outs o' things. In three years I'll be a
bloomin' Sergeant. I won't marry then, not I! I'll 'old on and
learn the orf'cers' ways an' apply for exchange into a reg'ment
that doesn't know all about me. Then I'll be a bloomin' orf'cer.
Then I'll ask you to 'ave a glass o' sherry wine, Mister Lew, an'
you'll bloomin' well 'ave to stay in the hanty-room while the
Mess-Sergeant brings it to your dirty 'ands."
"S'pose I'm going to be a Bandmaster? Not I, quite. I'll be a
orf'cer too. There's nothin' like takin' to a thing an' stickin'
to it, the Schoolmaster says. The Reg'ment don't go 'ome for
another seven years. I'll be a Lance then or near to."
Thus the boys discussed their futures, and conducted themselves
piously for a week. That is to say, Lew started a flirtation with
the Colour-Sergeant's daughter, aged thirteen - "not," as he
explained to Jakin, "with any intention o' matrimony, but by way
o' keep in' my 'and in." And the black-haired Cris Delighan
enjoyed that flirtation more than previous ones, and the other
drummer-boys raged furiously together, and Jakin preached sermons
on the dangers of bein' tangled along o' petticoats."
But neither love nor virtue would have held Lew long in the paths
of propriety had not the rumour gone abroad that the Regiment was
to be sent on active service, to take part in a war which, for the
sake of brevity, we will call "The War of the Lost Tribes."
The barracks had the rumour almost before the Mess-room, and of
all the nine hundred men in barracks, not ten had seen a shot
fired in anger. The Colonel had, twenty years ago, assisted at a
Frontier expedition; one of the Majors had seen service at the
Cape; a confirmed deserter in E Company had helped to clear
streets in Ireland; but that was all. The Regiment had been put by
for many years. The overwhelming mass of its rank and file had
from three to four years' service; the non-commissioned officers
were under thirty years old; and men and sergeants alike had
forgotten to speak of the stories written in brief upon the
Colours - the New Colours that had been formally blessed by an
Archbishop in England ere the Regiment came away. They wanted to
go to the Front - they were enthusiastically anxious to go - but
they had no knowledge of what war meant, and there was none to
tell them. They were an educated regiment, the percentage of
school-certificates in their ranks was high, and most of the men
could do more than read and write. They had been recruited in
loyal observance of the territorial idea; but they themselves had
no notion of that idea. They were made up of drafts from an over-
populated manufacturing district. The system had put flesh and
muscle upon their small bones, but it could not put heart into the
sons of those who for generations had done overmuch work for
overscanty pay, had sweated in drying-rooms, stooped over looms,
coughed among white-lead, and shivered on lime-barges. The men had
found food and rest in the Army, and now they were going to fight
"niggers" - people who ran away if you shook a stick at them.
Wherefore they cheered lustily when the rumour ran, and the
shrewd, clerkly non-commissioned officers speculated on the
chances of batta and of saving their pay. At Headquarters men
said: "The Fore and Fit have never been under fire within the last
generation. Let us, therefore, break them in easily by setting
them to guard lines of communication." And this would have been
done but for the fact that British Regiments were wanted - badly
wanted - at the Front, and there were doubtful Native Regiments
that could fill the minor duties. "Brigade 'em with two strong
Regiments," said Headquarters. "They may be knocked about a bit,
but they'll learn their business before they come through. Nothing
like a night-alarm and a little cutting-up of stragglers to make a
Regiment smart in the field. Wait till they've had half a dozen
sentries' throats cut."
The Colonel wrote with delight that the temper of his men was
excellent, that the Regiment was all that could be wished, and as
sound as a bell. The Majors smiled with a sober joy, and the
subalterns waltzed in pairs down the Mess-room after dinner, and
nearly shot themselves at revolver-practice. But there was
consternation in the hearts of Jakin and Lew. What was to be done
with the Drums? Would the Band go to the Front? How many of the
Drums would accompany the Regiment?
They took counsel together, sitting in a tree and smoking.
"It's more than a bloomin' toss-up they'll leave us be'ind at the
Depot with the women. You'll like that," said Jakin sarcastically.
"Cause o' Cris, y' mean? Wot's a woman, or a 'ole bloomin' depot
o' women, 'longside o' the chanst of field-service? You know I'm
as keen on goin' as you," said Lew.
"Wish I was a bloomin' bugler," said Jakin sadly. "They'll take
Tom Kidd along, that I can plaster a wall with, an' like as not
they won't take us."
"Then let's go an' make Tom Kidd so bloomin' sick 'e can't bugle
no more. You 'old 'is 'ands an' I'll kick him," said Lew,
wriggling on the branch.
"That ain't no good neither. We ain't the sort o' characters to
presoom on our rep'tations - they're bad. If they have the Band at
the Depot we don't go, and no error there. If they take the Band
we may get cast for medical unfitness. Are you medical fit,
Piggy?" said Jakin, digging Lew in the ribs with force.
"Yus," said Lew with an oath. "The Doctor says your 'eart's weak
through smokin' on an empty stummick. Throw a chest an' I'll try
Jakin threw out his chest, which Lew smote with all his might.
Jakin turned very pale, gasped, crowed, screwed up his eyes, and
said - "That's all right."
"You'll do," said Lew. "I've 'eard o' men dying when you 'it 'em
fair on the breastbone."
"Don't bring us no nearer goin', though," said Jakin. "Do you know
where we're ordered?"
"Gawd knows, an' 'E won't split on a pal. Somewheres up to the
Front to kill Paythans - hairy big beggars that turn you inside
out if they get 'old o' you. They say their women are good-
"Any loot?" asked the abandoned Jakin.
"Not a bloomin' anna, they say, unless you dig up the ground an'
see what the niggers 'ave 'id. They're a poor lot." Jakin stood
upright on the branch and gazed across the plain.
"Lew," said he, "there's the Colonel coming. 'Colonel's a good old
beggar. Let's go an' talk to 'im."
Lew nearly fell out of the tree at the audacity of the suggestion.
Like Jakin he feared not God, neither regarded he Man, but there
are limits even to the audacity of a drummer-boy, and to speak to
a Colonel was -
But Jakin had slid down the trunk and doubled in the direction of
the Colonel. That officer was walking wrapped in thought and
visions of a C. B. yes, even a K. C. B., for had he not at command
one of the best Regiments of the Line - the Fore and Fit? And he
was aware of two small boys charging down upon him. Once before it
had been solemnly reported to him that "the Drums were in a state
of mutiny," Jakin and Lew being the ringleaders. This looked like
an organised conspiracy.
The boys halted at twenty yards, walked to the regulation four
paces, and saluted together, each as well set-up as a ramrod and
The Colonel was in a genial mood; the boys appeared very forlorn
and unprotected on the desolate plain, and one of them was
"Well!" said the Colonel, recognising them. "Are you going to pull
me down in the open? I'm sure I never interfere with you, even
though" - he sniffed suspiciously - "you have been smoking."
It was time to strike while the iron was hot. Their hearts beat
"Beg y' pardon, Sir," began Jakin. "The Reg'ment's ordered on
active service, Sir?"
"So I believe," said the Colonel courteously.
"Is the Band goin', Sir?" said both together. Then, without pause,
"We're goin', Sir, ain't we?"
"You!" said the Colonel, stepping back the more fully to take in
the two small figures. "You! You'd die in the first march."
"No, we wouldn't, Sir. We can march with the Reg'ment anywheres -
p'rade an' anywhere else," said Jakin.
"If Tom Kidd goes 'e'll shut up like a clasp-knife," said Lew.
"Tom 'as very-close veins in both 'is legs, Sir."
"Very how much?"
"Very-close veins, Sir. That's why they swells after long p'rade,
Sir. If 'e can go, we can go, Sir."
Again the Colonel looked at them long and intently.
"Yes, the Band is going," he said as gravely as though he had been
addressing a brother officer. "Have you any parents, either of you
"No, Sir," rejoicingly from Lew and Jakin. "We're both orphans,
Sir. There's no one to be considered of on our account, Sir."
"You poor little sprats, and you want to go up to the Front with
the Regiment, do you? Why?"
"I've wore the Queen's Uniform for two years," said Jakin. "It's
very 'ard, Sir, that a man don't get no recompense for doin' of
'is dooty, Sir."
"An'- an' if I don't go, Sir," interrupted Lew, "the Bandmaster 'e
says 'e'll catch an' make a bloo - a blessed musician o' me, Sir.
Before I've seen any service, Sir."
The Colonel made no answer for a long time. Then he said quietly:
"If you're passed by the Doctor I dare say you can go. I shouldn't
smoke if I were you."
The boys saluted and disappeared. The Colonel walked home and told
the story to his wife, who nearly cried over it. The Colonel was
well pleased. If that was the temper of the children, what would
not the men do?
Jakin and Lew entered the boys' barrack-room with great
stateliness, and refused to hold any conversation with their
comrades for at least ten minutes. Then, bursting with pride,
Jakin drawled: "I've bin intervooin' the Colonel. Good old beggar
is the Colonel. Says I to 'im, 'Colonel,' says I, 'let me go to
the Front, along o' the Reg'ment. - 'To the Front you shall go,'
says 'e, 'an' I only wish there was more like you among the dirty
little devils that bang the bloomin' drums.' Kidd, if you throw
your 'courtrements at me for tellin' you the truth to your own
advantage, your legs'll swell."
None the less there was a Battle-Royal in the barrack-room, for
the boys were consumed with envy and hate, and neither Jakin nor
Lew behaved in conciliatory wise.
"I'm goin' out to say adoo to my girl," said Lew, to cap the
climax. "Don't none o' you touch my kit because it's wanted for
active service; me bein' specially invited to go by the Colonel."
He strolled forth and whistled in the clump of trees at the back
of the Married Quarters till Cris came to him, and, the
preliminary kisses being given and taken, Lew began to explain the
"I'm goin' to the Front with the Reg'ment," he said valiantly.
"Piggy, you're a little liar," said Cris, but her heart misgave
her, for Lew was not in the habit of lying.
"Liar yourself, Cris," said Lew, slipping an arm round her. "I'm
goin'. When the Reg'ment marches out you'll see me with 'em, all
galliant and gay. Give us another kiss, Cris, on the strength of
"If you'd on'y a-stayed at the Depot - where you ought to ha' bin
- you could get as many of 'em as - as you dam please," whimpered
Cris, putting up her mouth.
"It's 'ard, Cris. I grant you it's 'ard, But what's a man to do?
If I'd a-stayed at the Depot, you wouldn't think anything of me."
"Like as not, but I'd 'ave you with me, Piggy. An' all the
thinkin' in the world isn't like kissin'."
"An' all the kissin' in the world isn't like 'avin' a medal to
wear on the front o' your coat."
"You won't get no medal."
"Oh, yus, I shall though. Me an' Jakin are the only acting-
drummers that'll be took along. All the rest is full men, an'
we'll get our medals with them."
"They might ha' taken anybody but you, Piggy. You'll get killed -
you're so venturesome. Stay with me, Piggy darlin', down at the
Depot, an' I'll love you true, for ever."
"Ain't you goin' to do that now, Cris? You said you was."
"0' course I am, but th' other's more comfortable. Wait till
you've growed a bit, Piggy. You aren't no taller than me now."
"I've bin in the Army for two years, an' I'm not goin' to get out
of a chanst o' seein' service, an' don't you try to make me do so.
I'll come back, Cris, an' when I take on as a man I'll marry you -
marry you when I'm a Lance."
Lew reflected on the future as arranged by Jakin a short time
previously, but Cris's mouth was very near to his own.
"I promise, s'elp me Gawd!" said he.
Cris slid an arm round his neck.
"I won't 'old you back no more, Piggy. Go away an' get your medal,
an' I'll make you a new button-bag as nice as I know how," she
"Put some o' your 'air into it, Cris, an' I'll keep it in my
pocket so long's I'm alive."
Then Cris wept anew, and the interview ended. Public feeling among
the drummer-boys rose to fever pitch, and the lives of Jakin and
Lew became unenviable. Not only had they been permitted to enlist
two years before the regulation boy's age - fourteen - but, by
virtue, it seemed, of their extreme youth, they were allowed to go
to the Front - which thing had not happened to acting-drummers
within the knowledge of boy. The Band which was to accompany the
Regiment had been cut down to the regulation twenty men, the
surplus returning to the ranks. Jakin and Lew were attached to the
Band as supernumeraries, though they would much have preferred
being company buglers.
"Don't matter much," said Jakin after the medical inspection. "Be
thankful that we're 'lowed to go at all. The Doctor 'e said that
if we could stand what we took from the Bazar-Sergeant's son we'd
stand pretty nigh anything."
"Which we will," said Lew, looking tenderly at the ragged and ill-
made housewife that Cris had given him, with a lock of her hair
worked into a sprawling "L" upon the cover.
"It was the best I could," she sobbed. "I wouldn't let mother nor
the Sergeant's tailor 'elp me. Keep it always, Piggy, an' remember
I love you true."
They marched to the railway station, nine hundred and sixty
strong, and every soul in cantonments turned out to see them go.
The drummers gnashed their teeth at Jakin and Lew marching with
the Band, the married women wept upon the platform, and the
Regiment cheered its noble self black in the face.
"A nice level lot," said the Colonel to the Second-in-Command as
they watched the first four companies entraining.
"Fit to do anything," said the Second-in-Command enthusiastically.
"But it seems to me they're a thought too young and tender for the
work in hand. It's bitter cold up at the Front now."
"They're sound enough," said the Colonel. "We must take our chance
of sick casualties."
So they went northward, ever northward, past droves and droves of
camels, armies of camp-followers, and legions of laden mules, the
throng thickening day by day, till with a shriek the train pulled
up at a hopelessly congested junction where six lines of temporary
track accommodated six forty-waggon trains; where whistles blew,
Babus sweated, and Commissariat officers swore from dawn till far
into the night, amid the wind-driven chaff of the fodder-bales and
the lowing of a thousand steers.
"Hurry up - you're badly wanted at the Front," was the message
that greeted the Fore and Aft, and the occupants of the Red Cross
carriages told the same tale.
"Tisn't so much the bloomin' fightin'," gasped a headbound trooper
of Hussars to a knot of admiring Fore and Afts. "Tisn't so much
the bloomin' fightin', though there's enough o' that. It's the
bloomin' food an' the bloomin' climate. Frost all night 'cept when
it hails, and b'iling sun all day, and the water stinks fit to
knock you down. I got my 'ead chipped like a egg; I've got
pneumonia too, an' my guts is all out o' order. 'Tain't no
bloomin' picnic in those parts, I can tell you."
"Wot are the niggers like?" demanded a private.
"There's some prisoners in that train yonder. Go an' look at 'em.
They're the aristocracy o' the country. The common folk are a
dashed sight uglier. If you want to know what they fight with,
reach under my seat an' pull out the
long knife that's there."
They dragged out and beheld for the first time the grim, bone-
handled, triangular Afghan knife. It was almost as long as Lew.
"That's the thing to j'int ye," said the trooper feebly. "It can
take off a man's arm at the shoulder as easy as slicing butter. I
halved the beggar that used that un, but there's more of his likes
up above. They don't understand thrustin', but they're devils to
The men strolled across the tracks to inspect the Afghan
prisoners. They were unlike any "niggers" that the Fore and Aft
had ever met - these huge, black-haired, scowling sons of the
Beni-Israel. As the men stared the Afghans spat freely and
muttered one to another with lowered eyes.
"My eyes! Wot awful swine!" said Jakin, who was in the rear of the
procession. "Say, ole man, how you got puckrowed, eh? Kiswasti you
wasn't hanged for your ugly face, hey?"
The tallest of the company turned, his leg-irons clanking at the
movement, and stared at the boy. "See!" he cried to his fellows in
Pushto. "They send children against us. What a people, and what
"Hya." said Jakin, nodding his head cheerily. "You go down-
country. Khana get, peenikapanee get - live like a bloomin' Raja
ke marfik. That's a better bandobust than baynit get it in your
innards. Good-bye, ole man. Take care o' your beautiful figure-
'ead, an' try to look kushy."
The men laughed and fell in for their first march, when they began
to realise that a soldier's life is not all beer and skittles.
They were much impressed with the size and bestial ferocity of the
niggers whom they had now learned to call "Paythans," and more
with the exceeding discomfort of their own surroundings. Twenty
old soldiers in the corps would have taught them how to make
themselves moderately snug at night, but they had no old soldiers,
and, as the troops on the line of march said, "they lived like
pigs." They learned the heart-breaking cussedness of camp-kitchens
and camels and the depravity of an E. P. tent and a wither-wrung
mule. They studied animalculae in water, and developed a few cases
of dysentery in their study.
At the end of their third march they were disagreeably surprised
by the arrival in their camp of a hammered iron slug which, fired
from a steady rest at seven hundred yards, flicked out the brains
of a private seated by the fire. This robbed them of their peace
for a night, and was the beginning of a long-range fire carefully
calculated to that end. In the daytime they saw nothing except an
unpleasant puff of smoke from a crag above the line of march. At
night there were distant spurts of flame and occasional
casualties, which set the whole camp blazing into the gloom and,
occasionally, into opposite tents. Then they swore vehemently and
vowed that this was magnificent but not war.
Indeed it was not. The Regiment could not halt for reprisals
against the sharpshooters of the country-side. Its duty was to go
forward and make connectioon with the Scotch and Goorkha troops
with which it was brigaded. The Afghans knew this, and knew too,
after their first tentative shots, that they were dealing with a
raw regiment Thereafter they devoted themselves to the task of
keeping the Fore and Aft on the strain. Not for anything would
they have taken equal liberties with a seasoned corps - with the
wicked little Goorkhas, whose delight it was to lie out in the
open on a dark night and stalk their stalkers - with the terrible
big men dressed in women's clothes, who could be heard praying to
their God in the night-watches, and whose peace of mind no amount
of "sniping" could shake - or with those vile Sikhs, who marched
so ostentatiously unprepared and who dealt out such grim reward to
those who tried to profit by that unpreparedness. This white
regiment was different - quite different. It slept like a hog,
and, like a hog, charged in every direction when it was roused.
Its sentries walked with a footfall that could be heard for a
quarter of a mile; would fire at anything that moved - even a
driven donkey - and when they had once fired, could be
scientifically "rushed " and laid out a horror and an offence
against the morning sun. Then there were camp-followers who
straggled and could be cut up without fear. Their shrieks would
disturb the white boys, and the loss of their services would
inconvenience them sorely.
Thus, at every march, the hidden enemy became bolder and the
Regiment writhed and twisted under attacks it could not avenge.
The crowning triumph was a sudden night-rush ending in the cutting
of many tent-ropes, the collapse of the sodden canvas, and a
glorious knifing of the men who struggled and kicked below. It was
a great deed, neatly carried out, and it shook the already shaken
nerves of the Fore and Aft. All the courage that they had been
required to exercise up to this point was the "two o'clock in the
morning courage"; and, so far, they had only succeeded in shooting
their comrades and losing their sleep.
Sullen, discontented, cold, savage, sick, with their uniforms
dulled and unclean, the Fore and Aft joined their Brigade.
"I hear you had a tough time of it coming up," said the Brigadier.
But when he saw the hospital-sheets his face fell.
"This is bad," said he to himself. "They're as rotten as sheep."
And aloud to the Colonel - "I'm afraid we can't spare you just
yet. We want all we have, else I should have given you ten days to
The Colonel winced. "On my honour, Sir," he returned, "there is
not the least necessity to think of sparing us. My men have been
rather mauled and upset without a fair return. They only want to
go in somewhere where they can see what's before them."
"Can't say I think much of the Fore and Fit," said the Brigadier
in confidence to his Brigade-Major. "They've lost all their
soldiering, and, by the trim of them, might have marched through
the country from the other side. A more fagged-out set of men I
never put eyes on."
"Oh, they'll improve as the work goes on. The parade gloss has
been rubbed off a little, but they'll put on field polish before
long," said the Brigade-Major. "They've been mauled, and they
don't quite understand it."
They did not. All the hitting was on one side, and it was cruelly
hard hitting with accessories that made them sick. There was also
the real sickness that laid hold of a strong man and dragged him
howling to the grave. Worst of all, their officers knew just as
little of the country as the men themselves, and looked as if they
did. The Fore and Aft were in a thoroughly unsatisfactory
condition, but they believed that all would be well if they could
once get a fair go-in at the enemy. Pot-shots up and down the
valleys were unsatisfactory, and the bayonet never seemed to get a
chance. Perhaps it was as well, for a long-limbed Afghan with a
knife had a reach of eight feet, and could carry away lead that
would disable three Englishmen.
The Fore and Aft would like some rifle-practice at the enemy - all
seven hundred rifles blazing together. That wish showed the mood
of the men.
The Goorkhas walked into their camp, and in broken, barrack-room
English strove to fraternise with them: offered them pipes of
tobacco and stood them treat at the canteen. But the Fore and Aft,
not knowing much of the nature of the Goorkhas, treated them as
they would treat any other "niggers," and the little men in green
trotted back to their firm friends the Highlanders, and with many
grins confided to them: "That dam white regiment no dam use. Sulky
- ugh! Dirty - ugh! Hya, any tot for Johnny?" Whereat the
Highlanders smote the Goorkhas as to the head, and told them not
to vilify a British Regiment, and the Goorkhas grinned
cavernously, for the Highlanders were their elder brothers and
entitled to the privileges of kinship. The common soldier who
touches a Goorkha is more than likely to have his head sliced
Three days later the Brigadier arranged a battle according to the
rules of war and the peculiarity of the Afghan temperament. The
enemy were massing in inconvenient strength among the hills, and
the moving of many green standards warned him that the tribes were
"up" in aid of the Afghan regular troops. A squadron and a half of
Bengal Lancers represented the available Cavalry, and two screw-
guns, borrowed from a column thirty miles away, the Artillery at
the General's disposal.
"If they stand, as I've a very strong notion that they will, I
fancy we shall see an infantry fight that will be worth watching,"
said the Brigadier. "We'll do it in style. Each regiment shall be
played into action by its Band, and we'll hold the Cavalry in
"For all the reserve?" somebody asked.
"For all the reserve; because we're going to crumple them up,"
said the Brigadier, who was an extraordinary Brigadier, and did
not believe in the value of a reserve when dealing with Asiatics.
Indeed, when you come to think of it, had the British Army
consistently waited for reserves in all its little affairs, the
boundaries of Our Empire would have stopped at Brighton beach.
The battle was to be a glorious battle.
The three regiments debouching from three separate gorges, after
duly crowning the heights above, were to converge from the centre,
left, and right upon what we will call the Afghan army, then
stationed towards the lower extremity of a flat-bottomed valley.
Thus it will be seen that three sides of the valley practically
belonged to the English, while the fourth was strictly Afghan
property. In the event of defeat the Afghans had the rocky hills
to fly to, where the fire from the guerrilla tribes in aid would
cover their retreat. In the event of victory these same tribes
would rush down and lend their weight to the rout of the British.
The screw-guns were to shell the head of each Afghan rush that was
made in close formation, and the Cavalry, held in reserve in the
right valley, were to gently stimulate the break-up which would
follow on the combined attack. The Brigadier, sitting upon a rock
overlooking the valley, would watch the battle unrolled at his
feet. The Fore and Aft would debouch from the central gorge, the
Goorkhas from the left, and the Highlanders from the right, for
the reason that the left flank of the enemy seemed as though it
required the most hammering. It was not every day that an Afghan
force would take ground in the open, and the Brigadier was
resolved to make the most of it.
"If we only had a few more men," he said plaintively, "we could
surround the creatures and crumple 'em up thoroughly. As it is,
I'm afraid we can only cut them up as they run. It's a great
The Fore and Aft had enjoyed unbroken peace for five days, and
were beginning, in spite of dysentery, to recover their nerve. But
they were not happy, for they did not know the work in hand, and
had they known, would not have known how to do it. Throughout
those five days in which old soldiers might have taught them the
craft of the game, they discussed together their misadventures in
the past - how such an one was alive at dawn and dead ere the
dusk, and with what shrieks and struggles such another had given
up his soul under the Afghan knife. Death was a new and horrible
thing to the sons of mechanics who were used to die decently of
zymotic disease; and their careful conservation in barracks had
done nothing to make them look upon it with less dread.
Very early in the dawn the bugles began to blow, and the Fore and
Aft, filled with a misguided enthusiasm, turned out without
waiting for a cup of coffee and a biscuit; and were rewarded by
being kept under arms in the cold while the other regiments
leisurely prepared for the fray. All the world knows that it is
ill taking the breeks off a Highlander. It is much iller to try to
make him stir unless he is convinced of the necessity for haste.
The Fore and Aft waited, leaning upon their rifles and listening
to the protests of their empty stomachs. The Colonel did his best
to remedy the default of lining as soon as it was borne in upon
him that the affair would not begin at once, and so well did he
succeed that the coffee was just ready when - the men moved off,
their Band leading. Even then there had been a mistake in time,
and the Fore and Aft came out into the valley ten minutes before
the proper hour. Their Band wheeled to the right after reaching
the open, and retired behind a little rocky knoll still playing
while the Regiment went past.
It was not a pleasant sight that opened on the uninstructed view,
for the lower end of the valley appeared to be filled by an army
in position - real and actual regiments attired in red coats, and
- of this there was no doubt - firing Martini-Henry bullets which
cut up the ground a hundred yards in front of the leading company.
Over that pock-marked ground the Regiment had to pass, and it
opened the ball with a general and profound courtesy to the piping
pickets; ducking in perfect time, as though it had been brazed on
a rod. Being half capable of thinking for itself, it fired a
volley by the simple process of pitching its rifle into its
shoulder and pulling the trigger. The bullets may have accounted
for some of the watchers on the hill side, but they certainly did
not affect the mass of enemy in front, while the noise of the
rifles drowned any orders that might have been given.
"Good God!" said the Brigadier, sitting on the rock high above
all. "That Regiment has spoilt the whole show. Hurry up the
others, and let the screw-guns get off."
But the screw-guns, in working round the heights, had stumbled
upon a wasp's nest of a small mud fort which they incontinently
shelled at eight hundred yards, to the huge discomfort of the
occupants, who were unaccustomed to weapons of such devilish
The Fore and Aft continued to go forward, but with shortened
stride. Where were the other regiments, and why did these niggers
use Martinis? They took open order instinctively, lying down and
firing at random, rushing a few paces forward and lying down
again, according to the regulations. Once in this formation, each
man felt himself desperately alone, and edged in towards his
fellow for comfort's sake.
Then the crack of his neighbor's rifle at his ear led him to fire
as rapidly as he could - again for the sake of the comfort of the
noise. The reward was not long delayed. Five volleys plunged the
files in banked smoke impenetrable to the eye, and the bullets
began to take ground twenty or thirty yards in front of the
firers, as the weight of the bayonet dragged down and to the right
arms wearied with holding the kick of the leaping Martini. The
Company Commanders peered helplessly through the smoke, the more
nervous mechanically trying to fan it away with their helmets.
"High and to the left!" bawled a Captain till he was hoarse. "No
good! Cease firing, and let it drift away a bit."
Three and four times the bugles shrieked the order, and when it
was obeyed the Fore and Aft looked that their foe should be lying
before them in mown swaths of men. A light wind drove the smoke to
leeward, and showed the enemy still in position and apparently
unaffected. A quarter of a ton of lead had been buried a furlong
in front of them, as the ragged earth attested.
That was not demoralizing to the Afghans, who have not European
nerves. They were waiting for the mad riot to die down, and were
firing quietly into the heart of the smoke. A private of the Fore
and Aft spun up his company shrieking with agony, another was
kicking the earth and gasping, and a third, ripped through the
lower intestines by a jagged bullet, was calling aloud on his
comrades to put him out of his pain. These were the casualties,
and they were not soothing to hear or see. The smoke cleared to a
Then the foe began to shout with a great shouting, and a mass - a
black mass - detached itself from the main body, and rolled over
the ground at horrid speed. It was composed of, perhaps, three
hundred men, who would shout and fire and slash if the rush of
their fifty comrades who were determined to die carried home. The
fifty were Ghazis, half maddened with drugs and wholly mad with
religious fanaticism. When they rushed the British fire ceased,
and in the lull the order was given to close ranks and meet them
with the bayonet.
Any one who knew the business could have told the Fore and Aft
that the only way of dealing with a Ghazi rush is by volleys at
long ranges; because a man who means to die, who desires to die,
who will gain heaven by dying, must, in nine cases out of ten,
kill a man who has a lingering prejudice in favour of life. Where
they should have closed and gone forward, the Fore and Aft opened
out and skirmished, and where they should have opened out and
fired, they closed and waited.
A man dragged from his blankets half awake and unfed is never in a
pleasant frame of mind. Nor does his happiness increase when he
watches the whites of the eyes of three hundred six-foot fiends
upon whose beards the foam is lying, upon
whose tongues is a roar of wrath, and in whose hands are yard-long
The Fore and Aft heard the Goorkha bugles bringing that regiment
forward at the double, while the neighing of the Highland pipes
came from the left. They strove to stay where they were, though
the bayonets wavered down the line like the oars of a ragged boat.
Then they felt body to body the amazing physical strength of their
foes; a shriek of pain ended the rush, and the knives fell amid
scenes not to be told. The men clubbed together and smote blindly
- as often as not at their own fellows. Their front crumpled like
paper, and the fifty Ghazis passed on; their backers, now drunk
with success, fighting as madly as they.
Then the rear ranks were bidden to close up, and the subalterns
dashed into the stew - alone. For the rear-ranks had heard the
clamour in front, the yells and the howls of pain, and had seen
the dark stale blood that makes afraid. They were not going to
stay. It was the rushing of the camps over again. Let their
officers go to Hell, if they chose; they would get away from the
"Come on!" shrieked the subalterns, and their men, cursing them,
drew back, each closing in to his neighbour and wheeling round.
Charteris and Devlin, subalterns of the last company, faced their
death alone in the belief that their men would follow.
"You've killed me, you cowards," sobbed Devlin and dropped, cut
from the shoulder-strap to the centre of the chest; and a fresh
detachment of his men retreating, always retreating, trampled him
under foot as they made for the pass whence they had emerged.
I kissed her in the kitchen and I kissed her in the hall
Child'un, child'un, follow me!
Oh Golly, said the cook, is he gwine to kiss us all?
Halla - Halla - Halla - Hallelujah!
The Goorkhas were pouring through the left gorge and over the
heights at the double to the invitation of their Regimental Quick-
step. The black rocks were crowned with dark green spiders as the
bugles gave tongue jubilantly: -
In the morning! In the morning by the bright light!
When Gabriel blows his trumpet in the morning!
The Goorkha rear companies tripped and blundered over loose
stones. The front files halted for a moment to take stock of the
valley and to settle stray boot-laces. Then a happy little sigh of
contentment soughed down the ranks, and it was as though the land
smiled, for behold there below was the enemy, and it was to meet
them that the Goorkhas had doubled so hastily. There was much
enemy. There would be amusement. The little men hitched their
kukris well to hand, and gaped expectantly at their officers as
terriers grin ere the stone is cast for them to fetch. The
Goorkhas' ground sloped downward to the valley, and they enjoyed a
fair view of the proceedings. They sat upon the boulders to watch,
for their officers were not going to waste their wind in assisting
to repulse a Ghazi rush more than half a mile away. Let the white
men look to their own front.
"Hi! yi !" said the Subadar-Major, who was sweating profusely.
"Dam fools yonder, stand close order! This is no time for close
order, it is the time for volleys. Ugh!"
Horrified, amused, and indignant, the Goorkhas beheld the
retirement of the Fore and Aft with a running chorus of oaths and
"They run! The white men run! Colonel Sahib, may we also do a
little running?" murmured Runbir Thappa, the Senior Jemadar.
But the Colonel would have none of it. "Let the beggars be cut up
a little," said he wrathfully. "Serves 'em right. They'll be
prodded into facing round in a minute." He looked through his
field-glasses, and caught the glint of an officer's sword.
"Beating 'em with the flat - damned conscripts! How the Ghazis are
walking into them!" said he.
The Fore and Aft, heading back, bore with them their officers. The
narrowness of the pass forced the mob into solid formation, and
the rear ranks delivered some sort of a wavering volley. The
Ghazis drew off, for they did not know what reserve the gorge
might hide. Moreover, it was never wise to chase white men too
far. They returned as wolves return to cover, satisfied with the
slaughter that they had done, and only stopping to slash at the
wounded on the ground. A quarter of a mile had the Fore and Aft
retreated, and now, jammed in the pass, was quivering with pain,
shaken and demoralised with fear, while the officers, maddened
beyond control, smote the men with the hilts and the flats of
"Get back! Get back, you cowards - you women! Right about face -
column of companies, form - you hounds!" shouted the Colonel, and
the subalterns swore aloud. But the Regiment wanted to go - to go
anywhere out of the range of those merciless knives. It swayed to
and fro irresolutely with shouts and outcries, while from the
right the Goorkhas dropped volley after volley of cripple-stopper
Snider bullets at long range into the mob of the Ghazis returning
to their own troops.
The Fore and Aft Band, though protected from direct fire by the
rocky knoll under which it had sat down, fled at the first rush.
Jakin and Lew would have fled also, but their short legs left them
fifty yards in the rear, and by the time the Band had mixed with
the Regiment, they were painfully aware that they would have to
close in alone and unsupported.
"Get back to that rock," gasped Jakin. "They won't see us there."
And they returned to the scattered instruments of the Band, their
hearts nearly bursting their ribs.
"Here's a nice show for us," said Jakin, throwing himself full
length on the ground. "A bloomin' fine show for British Infantry!
Oh, the devils! They've gone and left us alone here! Wot'll we
Lew took possession of a cast-off water-bottle, which naturally
was full of canteen rum, and drank till he coughed again.
"Drink," said he shortly. "They'll come back in a minute or two -
Jakin drank, but there was no sign of the Regiment's return. They
could hear a dull clamour from the head of the valley of retreat,
and saw the Ghazis slink back, quickening their pace as the
Goorkhas fired at them.
"We're all that's left of the Band, an' we'll be cut up as sure as
death," said Jakin.
"I'll die game, then," said Lew thickly, fumbling with his tiny
drummer's sword. The drink was working on his brain as it was on
"'Old on! I know something better than fightin'," said Jakin,
stung by the splendour of a sudden thought due chiefly to rum.
"Tip our bloomin' cowards yonder the word to come back. The
Paythan beggars are well away. Come on,
Lew! We won't get hurt. Take the fife an' give me the drum. The
Old Step for all your bloomin' guts are worth! There's a few of
our men coming back now. Stand up, ye drunken little defaulter. By
your right - quick march!"
He slipped the drum-sling over his shoulder, thrust the fife into
Lew's hand, and the two boys marched out of the cover of the rock
into the open, making a hideous hash of the first bars of the
As Lew had said, a few of the Fore and Aft were coming back
sullenly and shamefacedly under the stimulus of blows and abuse;
their red coats shone at the head of the valley, and behind them
were wavering bayonets. But between this shattered line and the
enemy, who with Afghan suspicion feared that the hasty retreat
meant an ambush, and had not moved therefore, lay half a mile of
level ground dotted only by the wounded.
The tune settled into full swing and the boys kept shoulder to
shoulder, Jakin banging the drum as one possessed. The one fife
made a thin and pitiful squeaking, but the tune carried far, even
to the Goorkhas.
"Come on, you dogs!" muttered Jakin to himself. "Are we to play
forhever?" Lew was staring straight in front of him and marching
more stiffly than ever he had done on parade.
And in bitter mockery of the distant mob, the old tune of the Old
Line shrilled and rattled: -
Some talk of Alexander,
And some of Hercules;
Of Hector and Lysander,
And such great names as these!
There was a far-off clapping of hands from the Goorkhas, and a
roar from the Highlanders in the distance, but never a shot was
fired by British or Afghan. The two little red dots moved forward
in the open parallel to the enemy's front.
But of all the world's great heroes
There's none that can compare,
With a tow-row-row-row-row-row,
To the British Grenadier!
The men of the Fore and Aft were gathering thick at the entrance
into the plain. The Brigadier on the heights far above was
speechless with rage. Still no movement from the enemy. The day
stayed to watch the children.
Jakin halted and beat the long roll of the Assembly, while the
fife squealed despairingly.
"Right about face! Hold up, Lew, you're drunk," said Jakin. They
wheeled and marched back: -
hose heroes of antiquity
Ne'er saw a cannon-ball,
Nor knew the force o' powder,
"Here they come!" said Jakin. "Go on, Lew": -
To scare their foes withal!
The Fore and Aft were pouring out of the valley. What officers had
said to men in that time of shame and humiliation will never be
known; for neither officers nor men speak of it now.
"They are coming anew!" shouted a priest among the Afghans. "Do
not kill the boys! Take them alive, and they shall be of our
But the first volley had been fired, and Lew dropped on his face.
Jakin stood for a minute, spun round and collapsed, as the Fore
and Aft came forward, the curses of their officers in their ears,
and in their hearts the shame of open shame.
Half the men had seen the drummers die, and they made no
sign. They did not even shout. They doubled out straight across
the plain in open order, and they did not fire.
"This," said the Colonel of Goorkhas, softly, "is the real attack,
as it should have been delivered. Come on, my children."
"Ulu-lu-lu-lu!" squealed the Goorkhas, and came down with a joyful
clicking of kukris - those vicious Goorkha knives.
On the right there was no rush. The Highlanders, cannily
commending their souls to God (for it matters as much to a dead
man whether he has been shot in a Border scuffle or at Waterloo),
opened out and fired according to their custom, that is to say
without heat and without intervals, while the screw-guns, having
disposed of the impertinent mud fort aforementioned, dropped shell
after shell into the clusters round the flickering green standards
on the heights.
"Charrging is an unfortunate necessity," murmured the Colour-
Sergeant of the right company of the Highlanders. "It makes the
men sweer so, but I am thinkin' that it will come to a charrge if
these black devils stand much longer. Stewarrt, man, you're firing
into the eye of the sun, and he'll not take any harm for
Government ammuneetion. A foot lower and a great deal slower! What
are the English doing? They're very quiet, there in the center.
The English were not running. They were hacking and hewing and
stabbing, for though one white man is seldom physically a match
for an Afghan in a sheepskin or wadded coat, yet, through the
pressure of many white men behind, and a certain thirst for
revenge in his heart, he becomes capable of doing much with both
ends of his rifle. The Fore and Aft held their fire till one
bullet could drive through five or six men, and the front of the
Afghan force gave on the volley. They then selected their men, and
slew them with deep gasps and short hacking coughs, and groanings
of leather belts against strained bodies, and realised for the
first time that an Afghan attacked is far less formidable than an
Afghan attacking; which fact old soldiers might have told them.
But they had no old soldiers in their ranks.
The Goorkhas' stall at the bazar was the noisiest, for the men
were engaged - to a nasty noise as of beef being cut on the block
- with the kukri, which they preferred to the bayonet; well
knowing how the Afghan hates the half-moon blade.
As the Afghans wavered, the green standards on the mountain moved
down to assist them in a last rally. This was unwise. The Lancers,
chafing in the right gorge, had thrice despatched their only
subaltern as galloper to report on the progress of affairs. On the
third occasion he returned, with a bullet-graze on his knee,
swearing strange oaths in Hindustani, and saying that all things
were ready. So that squadron swung round the right of the
Highlanders with a wicked whistling of wind in the pennons of its
lances, and fell upon the remnant just when, according to all the
rules of war, it should have waited for the foe to show more signs
But it was a dainty charge, deftly delivered, and it ended by the
Cavalry finding itself at the head of the pass by which the
Afghans intended to retreat; and down the track that the lances
had made streamed two companies of the Highlanders, which was
never intended by the Brigadier. The new development was
successful. It detached the enemy from his base as a sponge is
torn from a rock, and left him ringed about with fire in that
pitiless plain. And as a sponge is chased round the bath-tub by
the hand of the bather, so were the Afghans chased till they broke
into little detachments much more difficult to dispose of than
"See!" quoth the Brigadier. "Everything has come as I arranged.
We've cut their base, and now we'll bucket 'em to pieces."
A direct hammering was all that the Brigadier had dared to hope
for, considering the size of the force at his disposal; but men
who stand or fall by the errors of their opponents may be forgiven
for turning Chance into Design. The bucketing went forward
merrily. The Afghan forces were upon the run - the run of wearied
wolves who snarl and bite over their shoulders. The red lances
dipped by twos and threes, and, with a shriek, uprose the lance-
butt, like a spar on a stormy sea, as the trooper cantering
forward cleared his point. The Lancers kept between their prey and
the steep hills, for all who could were trying to escape from the
valley of death. The Highlanders gave the fugitives two hundred
yards' law, and then brought them down, gasping and choking ere
they could reach the protection of the boulders above. The
Goorkhas followed suit; but the Fore and Aft were killing on their
own account, for they had penned a mass of men between their
bayonets and a wall of rock, and the flash of the rifles was
lighting the wadded coats.
"We cannot hold them, Captain Sahib!" panted a Ressaidar of
Lancers. "Let us try the carbine. The lance is good, but it wastes
They tried the carbine, and still the enemy melted away - fled up
the hills by hundreds when there were only twenty bullets to stop
them. On the heights the screw-guns ceased firing - they had run
out of ammunition - and the Brigadier groaned, for the musketry
fire could not sufficiently smash the retreat. Long before the
last volleys were fired, the doolies were out in force looking for
the wounded. The battle was over, and, but for want of fresh
troops, the Afghans would have been wiped off the earth. As it
was, they counted their dead by hundreds, and nowhere were the
dead thicker than in the track of the Fore and Aft.
But the Regiment did not cheer with the Highlanders, nor did they
dance uncouth dances with the Goorkhas among the dead. They looked
under their brows at the Colonel as they leaned upon their rifles
"Get back to camp, you. Haven't you disgraced yourself enough for
one day! Go and look to the wounded. It's all you're fit for,"
said the Colonel. Yet for the past hour the Fore and Aft had been
doing all that mortal commander could expect. They had lost
heavily because they did not know how to set about their business
with proper skill, but they had borne themselves gallantly, and
this was their reward.
A young and sprightly Colour-Sergeant, who had begun to imagine
himself a hero, offered his water-bottle to a Highlander whose
tongue was black with thirst. "I drink with no cowards," answered
the youngster huskily, and, turning to a Goorkha, said, "Hya,
Johnny! Drink water got it?" The Goorkha grinned and passed his
bottle. The Fore and Aft said no word.
They went back to camp when the field of strife had been a little
mopped up and made presentable, and the Brigadier, who saw himself
a Knight in three months, was the only soul who was complimentary
to them. The Colonel was heartbroken, and the officers were savage
"Well," said the Brigadier, "they are young troops, of course, and
it was not unnatural that they should retire in disorder for a
"Oh, my only Aunt Maria ! " murmured a junior Staff Officer.
"Retire in disorder! It was a bally run!"
"But they came again, as we all know," cooed the Brigadier, the
Colonel's ashy-white face before him, "and they behaved as well as
could possibly be expected. Behaved beautifully, indeed. I was
watching them. It's not a matter to take to heart, Colonel. As
some German General said of his men, they wanted to be shooted
over a little, that was all." To himself he said - "Now they're
blooded I can give 'em responsible work. It's as well that they
got what they did. 'Teach 'em more than half a dozen rifle
flirtations, that will - later - run alone and bite. Poor old
All that afternoon the heliograph winked and flickered on the
hills, striving to tell the good news to a mountain forty miles
away And in the evening there arrived, dusty, sweating, and sore,
a misguided Correspondent who had gone out to assist at a trumpery
village-burning, and who had read off the message from afar,
cursing his luck the while.
"Let's have the details somehow - as full as ever you can, please.
It's the first time I've ever been left this campaign," said the
Correspondent to the Brigadier; and the Brigadier, nothing loth,
told him how an Army of Communication had been crumpled up,
destroyed, and all but annihilated by the craft, strategy, wisdom,
and foresight of the Brigadier.
But some say, and among these be the Goorkhas who watched on the
hillside, that that battle was won by Jakin and Lew, whose little
bodies were borne up just in time to fit two gaps at the head of
the big ditch-grave for the dead under the heights of Jagai.
JUDSON AND THE EMPIRE
Gloriana! The Don may attack us
Whenever his stomach be fain;
He must reach us before he can rack us . . .
And where are the galleons of Spain?
One of the many beauties of a democracy is its almost superhuman
skill in developing troubles with other countries and finding its
honour abraded in the process. A true democracy has a large
contempt for all other lands that are governed by Kings and Queens
and Emperors, and knows little and thinks less of their internal
affairs. All it regards is its own dignity, which is its King,
Queen, and Knave. So, sooner or later, an international difference
ends in the common people, who have no dignity, shouting the
common abuse of the street, which also has no dignity, across the
seas in order to vindicate their own dignity. The consequences may
or may not be war, but the chances do not favour peace.
An advantage in living in a civilised land which is really
governed lies in the fact that all the Kings and Queens and
Emperors of the continent are closely related by blood or marriage
- are, in fact, one large family. A wise head of them knows that
what appears to be a studied insult may be no more than some man's
indigestion or woman's indisposition to be treated as such, and
explained in quiet talk. Again, a popular demonstration, headed by
King and Court, may mean nothing more than that so-and-so's people
are out of hand for the minute. When a horse falls to kicking in a
hunt-crowd at a gate, the rider does not dismount, but puts his
open hand behind him, and the others draw aside. It is so with the
rulers of men. In the old days they cured their own and their
people's bad temper with fire and slaughter; but now that the fire
is so long of range and the slaughter so large, they do other
things, and few among their people guess how much they owe in mere
life and money to what the slang of the minute calls "puppets" and
Once upon a time there was a little Power, the half-bankrupt wreck
of a once great empire, that lost its temper with England, the
whipping-boy of all the world, and behaved, as every one knows,
most scandalously. But it is not generally known that that Power
fought a pitched battle with England and won a glorious victory.
The trouble began with the people. Their own misfortunes had been
many, and for private rage it is always refreshing to find a vent
in public swearing. Their national vanity had been deeply injured,
and they thought of their ancient glories and the days when their
fleets had first rounded the Cape of Storms, and their own
newspapers called upon Camoens and urged them to extravagances. It
was the gross, smooth, sleek, lying England that was checking
their career of colonial expansion. They assumed at once that
their ruler was in league with that country, and consequently
they, his people, would forthwith become a Republic and colonially
expand themselves as a free people should. This made plain, the
people threw stones at the English Consuls and spat at English
ladies, and cut off drunken sailors of our fleet in their ports
and hammered them with oars, and made things very unpleasant for
tourists at their customs, and threatened awful deaths to the
consumptive invalids at Madeira, while the junior officers of the
Army drank fruit-extracts and entered into blood-curdling
conspiracies against their monarch, all with the object of being a
Republic. Now the history of all the South American Republics
shows that it is not good that Southern Europeans should be also
Republicans. They glide too quickly into military despotism; and
the propping of men against walls and shooting them in detachments
can be arranged much more economically and with less effect on the
death-rate by a hide-bound monarchy. Still the performances of the
Power as represented by its people were extremely inconvenient. It
was the kicking horse in the crowd, and probably the rider
explained that he could not check it. The people enjoyed all the
glory of war with none of the risks, and the tourists who were
stoned in their travels returned stolidly to England and told the
"Times" that the police arrangements of foreign towns were
This then was the state of affairs north of the Line. South it was
more strained, for there the Powers were at direct issue: England,
unable to go back because of the pressure of adventurous children
behind her, and the actions of far-away adventurers who would not
come to heel, but offering to buy out her rival; and the other
Power, lacking men or money, stiff in the conviction that three
hundred years of slave-holding and intermingling with the nearest
natives gave an inalienable right to hold slaves and issue half-
castes to all eternity. They had built no roads. Their towns were
rotting under their hands; they had no trade worth the freight of
a crazy steamer, and their sovereignty ran almost one musket-shot
inland when things were peaceful. For these very reasons they
raged all the more, and the things that they said and wrote about
the manners and customs of the English would have driven a younger
nation to the guns with a long red bill for wounded honour.
It was then that Fate sent down in a twin-screw shallow-draft
gunboat, designed for the defence of rivers, of some two hundred
and seventy tons' displacement, Lieutenant Harrison Edward Judson,
to be known for the future as Bai-Jove-Judson. His type of craft
looked exactly like a flat-iron with a match stuck up in the
middle; it drew five feet of water or less, carried a four-inch
gun forward, which was trained by the ship, and, on account of its
persistent rolling, was to live in three degrees worse than a
torpedo-boat. When Judson was appointed to take charge of the
thing on her little trip of six or seven thousand miles southward,
his first remark as he went to look her over in dock was, "Bai
Jove, that topmast wants staying forward!" The topmast was a stick
about as thick as a clothes-prop, but the flat-iron was Judson's
first command, and he would not have exchanged his position for
second post on the "Anson" or the "Howe". He navigated her, under
convoy, tenderly and lovingly to the Cape (the story of the
topmast came with him), and he was so absurdly in love with his
wallowing wash-tub when he reported himself, that the Admiral of
the station thought it would be a pity to kill a new man on her,
and allowed Judson to continue in his unenvied rule.
The Admiral visited her once in Simon's Bay, and she was bad, even
for a flat-iron gunboat strictly designed for river and harbour
defence. She sweated clammy drops of dew between decks in spite of
a preparation of powdered cork that was sprinkled over her inside
paint. She rolled in the long Cape swell like a buoy; her foc's'le
was a dog-kennel; Judson's cabin was practically under the water-
line; not one of her dead-bights could ever be opened; and her
compasses, thanks to the influence of the four-inch gun, were a
curiosity even among Admiralty compasses. But Bai-Jove-Judson was
radiant and enthusiastic. He had even contrived to fill Mr.
Davies, the second-class engine-room artificer, who was his chief
engineer, with the glow of his passion. The Admiral, who
remembered his own first command, when pride forbade him to
slacken off a single rope on a dewy night, and he had racked his
rigging to pieces in consequence, looked at the flat-iron keenly.
Her fenders were done all over with white sennit which was truly
white; her big gun was varnished with a better composition than
the Admiralty allowed; the spare sights were cased as carefully as
the chronometers; the chocks for spare spars, two of them, were
made of four-inch Burma teak carved with dragons' heads that was
one result of Bai-Jove-Judson's experiences with the Naval Brigade
in the Burmese war; the bow-anchor was varnished instead of being
painted, and there were charts more than the Admiralty scale
supplied. The Admiral was well pleased, for he loved a ship's
husband - a man who had a little money of his own and was willing
to spend it on his command. Judson looked at him hopefully. He was
only a Junior Navigating Lieutenant under eight years' standing.
He might be kept in Simon's Bay for six months, and his ship at
sea was his delight. The dream of his heart was to enliven her
dismal official gray with a line of gold-leaf and perhaps a little
at her blunt barge-like bows.
"There's nothing like a first command, is there?" said the
Admiral, reading his thoughts. "You seem to have rather queer
compasses, though. Better get them adjusted."
"It's no use, sir," said Judson. "The gun would throw out the Pole
itself. But - but I've got the hang of most of their weaknesses."
"Will you be good enough to lay that gun over thirty degrees,
please?" The gun was put over. Round and round and round went the
needle merrily, and the Admiral whistled.
"You must have kept close to your convoy?"
"Saw her twice between here and Madeira, sir," said Judson with a
flush, for he resented the slur on his seamanship. " It's - it's a
little out of hand, now, but she'll settle down after a while."
The Admiral went over the side, according to the rules of the
Service, but the Staff-Captain must have told the other men of the
squadron in Simon's Bay, for they one and all made light of the
flat-iron for many days. "What can you shake out of her, Judson?"
said the Lieutenant of the "Mongoose", a real white-painted, ram-
bow gunboat with quick-firing guns, as he came into the upper
verandah of the little naval Club overlooking the dockyard one hot
afternoon. It is in that Club as the captains come and go that you
hear all the gossip of all the Seven Seas.
"Ten point four," said Bai-Jove-Judson.
"Ah! That was on her trial trip. She's too deep by the head now. I
told you staying that topmast would throw her out of trim."
"You leave my top-hamper alone," said Judson, for the joke was
beginning to pall on him.
"Oh, my soul! Listen to him. Juddy's top-hamper! Keate, have you
heard of the flat-iron's top-hamper? You're to leave it alone.
Commodore Judson's feelings are hurt."
Keate was the Torpedo Lieutenant of the big "Vortigern", and he
despised small things. "His top-hamper," said he slowly. "Oh, ah
yes, of course. Juddy, there's a shoal of mullet in the bay, and I
think they're foul of your screws. Better go down, or they'll
carry away something."
"I don't let things carry away as a rule. You see I've no Torpedo
Lieutenant on board, thank God!"
Keate within the past week had so managed to bungle the slinging
in of a small torpedo-boat on the "Vortigern", that the boat had
broken the crutches in which she rested, and was herself being
repaired in the dockyard under the Club windows.
"One for you, Keate. Never mind, Juddy; you're hereby appointed
dockyard-tender for the next three years, and if you're very good
and there's no sea on, you shall take me round the harbour.
Waitabeechee, Commodore. What'll you take? Vanderhum for the 'Cook
and the captain bold, And the mate o' the Nancy brig, And the
bo'sun tight' (Juddy, put that cue down or I'll put you under
arrest for insulting the lieutenant of the real ship) 'And the
midshipmite, And the crew of the captain's gig."
By this time Judson had pinned him in a corner, and was prodding
him with the half-butt. The Admiral's Secretary entered, and saw
the scuffle from afar.
"Ouch! Juddy, I apologise. Take that - er topmast of yours away!
Here's the man with the bow-string. I wish I were a staff-captain
instead of a bloody lootenant. Sperril sleeps below every night.
That's what makes Sperril tumble home from the waist uppards.
Sperril, I defy you to touch me. I'm under orders for Zanzibar.
Probably I shall annex it!"
"Judson, the Admiral wants to see you!" said the Staff-Captain,
disregarding the scoffer of the "Mongoose".
"I told you you'd be a dockyard-tender yet, Juddy. A side of fresh
beef to-morrow and three dozen snapper on ice. On ice, you
Bai-Jove-Judson and the Staff-Captain went out together.
"Now, what does the Admiral want with Judson?" said Keate from the
"Don't know. Juddy's a damned good fellow, though. I wish to
goodness he was on the Mongoose with us."
The Lieutenant of the "Mongoose" dropped into a chair and read the
mail papers for an hour. Then he saw Bai-Jove-Judson in the street
and shouted to him. Judson's eyes were very bright, and his figure
was held very straight, and he moved joyously. Except for the
Lieutenant of the "Mongoose", the Club was empty.
"Juddy, there will be a beautiful row," said that young man when
he had heard the news delivered in an undertone. "You'll probably
have to fight, and yet I can't see what the Admiral's thinking of
"My orders are not to fight under any circumstances," said Judson.
"Go-look-see? That all? When do you go?"
"To-night if I can. I must go down and see about things. I say, I
may want a few men for the day."
"Anything on the "Mongoose" is at your service. There's my gig
come in now. I know that coast, dead, drunk, or asleep, and you'll
need all the knowledge you can get. If it had only been us two
together! Come over with me!"
For one whole hour Judson remained closeted in the stern cabin of
the "Mongoose", listening, poring over chart upon chart and taking
notes, and for an hour the marine at the door heard nothing but
things like these: "Now you'll have to put in here if there's any
sea on. That current is ridiculously under-estimated, and it sets
west at this season of the year, remember. Their boats never come
south of this, see? So it's no good looking out for them." And so
on and so forth, while Judson lay at length on the locker by the
three-pounder, and smoked and absorbed it all.
Next morning there was no flat-iron in Simon's Bay, only a little
smudge of smoke off Cape Hangklip to show that Mr. Davies, the
second-class engine-room artificer, was giving her all she could
carry. At the Admiral's house, the ancient and retired bo'sun, who
had seen many Admirals come and go, brought out his paint and
brushes and gave a new coat of pure raw pea-green to the two big
cannon-balls that stood one on each side of the Admiral's
entrance-gate. He felt dimly that great events were stirring.
And the flat-iron, constructed, as has been before said, solely
for the defense of rivers, met the great roll off Cape Agulhas and
was swept from end to end and sat upon her twin-screws and leaped
as gracefully as a cow in a bog from one sea to another, till Mr.
Davies began to fear for the safety of his engines, and the Kroo
boys that made the majority of the crew were deathly sick. She ran
along a very badly-lighted coast, past bays that were no bays,
where ugly flat-topped rocks lay almost level with the water, and
very many extraordinary things happened that have nothing to do
with the story, but they were all duly logged by Bai-Jove-Judson.
At last the coast changed and grew green and low and exceedingly
muddy, and there were broad rivers whose bars were little islands
standing three or four miles out at sea, and Bai-Jove-Judson
hugged the shore more closely than ever, remembering what the
Lieutenant of the "Mongoose" had told him. Then he found a river
full of the smell of fever and mud, with green stuff growing far
into its waters, and a current that made the flatiron gasp and
"We will turn up here," said Bai-Jove-Judson, and they turned up
accordingly; Mr. Davies wondering what in the world it all meant,
and the Kroo boys grinning. Bai-Jove-Judson went forward to the
bows and meditated, staring through the muddy waters. After six
hours of rooting through this desolation at an average rate of
five miles an hour, his eyes were cheered by the sight of one
white buoy in the coffee-hued mid-stream. The flat-iron crept up
to it cautiously, and a leadsman took soundings all around it from
a dinghy, while Bai-Jove-Judson smoked and thought, with his head
on one side.
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