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"He was achin' for it--turrible achin' for it--an' he would not be
denied!" said Sergeant William Connor, of the Berkshire Regiment, in the
sergeants' mess at Suakim, two nights before the attack on McNeill's
zeriba at Tofrik.
"Serve 'im right. Janders was too bloomin' suddint," skirled Henry
Withers of the Sick Horse Depot from the bottom of the table.
"Too momentary, I believe you," said Corporal Billy Bagshot.
At the Sick Horse Depot Connor had, without good cause, made some
disparaging remarks upon the charger ridden by Subadar Goordit Singh at
the fight at Dihilbat Hill, which towers over the village of Hashin.
Subadar Goordit Singh heard the remarks, and, loving his welted,
gibbet-headed charger as William Connor loved any woman who came his way,
he spat upon the ground the sergeant's foot covered, and made an
evil-smiling remark. Thereupon Connor laid siege to the white-toothed,
wild-bearded Sikh with words which suddenly came to renown, and left not
a shred of glory to the garment of vanity the hillman wore.
He insinuated that the Sikh's horse was wounded at Hashin from behind by
backing too far on the Guards' Brigade on one side and on the Royal
Mounted Infantry on the other. This was ungenerous and it was not true,
for William Connor knew well the reputation of the Sikhs; but William's
blood was up, and the smile of the Subadar was hateful in his eyes. The
truth was that the Berkshire Regiment had had its chance at Dihilbat Hill
and the Sikhs had not. But William Connor refused to make a distinction
between two squadrons of Bengal Cavalry which had been driven back upon
the Guards' square and the Sikhs who fretted on their bits, as it were.
The Berkshire Regiment had done its work in gallant style up the steep
slopes of Dihilbat, had cleared the summit of Osman Digna's men, and
followed them with a raking fire as they retreated wildly into the mimosa
bushes on the plain. The Berkshires were not by nature proud of stomach,
but Connor was a popular man, and the incident of the Sick Horse Depot,
as reported by Corporal Bagshot, who kept a diary and a dictionary,
tickled their imagination, and they went forth and swaggered before the
Indian Native Contingent, singing a song made by Bagshot and translated
into Irish idiom by William Connor. The song was meant to humiliate the
Indian Native Contingent, and the Sikhs writhed under the raillery and
looked black-so black that word was carried to McNeill himself, who sent
orders to the officers of the Berkshire Regiment to give the offenders a
dressing down; for the Sikhs were not fellaheen, to be heckled with
That was why, twenty-four hours after the offending song was made, it was
suppressed; and in the sergeants' mess William Connor told the story how,
an hour before, he had met Subadar Goordit Singh in the encampment, and
the Subadar in a rage at the grin on Connor's face had made a rush at
him, which the Irishman met with his foot, spoiling his wind. That had
ended the incident for the moment, for the Sikh remembered in time, and
William Connor had been escorted "Berkshire way" by Corporal Bagshot and
Henry Withers. As the tale was told over and over again, there came
softly from the lips of the only other Irishman in the regiment, Jimmy
Coolin, a variant verse of the song that the great McNeill had stopped:
"Where is the shame of it,
Where was the blame of it,
William Connor dear?"
It was well for Graham, Hunter, McNeill, and their brigades that William
Connor and the Berkshires and the Subadar Goordit Singh had no idle time
in which to sear their difficulties, for, before another khamsin gorged
the day with cutting dust, every department of the Service, from the
Commissariat to the Balloon Detachment, was filling marching orders.
There was a collision, but it was the agreeable collision of preparation
for a fight, for it was ordained that the Berkshires and the Sikhs should
go shoulder to shoulder to establish a post in the desert between Suakim
"D'ye hear that, William Connor dear?" said Private Coolin when the
orders came. "An' y'll have Subadar Goordit Singh with his kahars and his
bhistis and his dhooly bearers an' his Lushai dandies an' his bloomin'
bullock-carts steppin' on y'r tail as ye travel, Misther Connor!"
"Me tail is the tail of a kangaroo; I'm strongest where they tread on me,
Coolin," answered Connor. "An' drinkin' the divil's chlorides from the
tins of the mangy dhromedairy has turned me insides into a foundry. I'm
"So ye'll need if ye meet the Subadar betune the wars!"
"Go back to y'r condinsation, Coolin. Bring water to the thirsty be
gravitation an' a four-inch main, an' shtrengthen the Bowl of the Subadar
wid hay-cake, for he'll want it agin the day he laves Tamai behind! Go
back to y'r condinsation, Coolin, an' take truth to y'r Bowl that there's
many ways to die, an' one o' thim's in the commysariat, Coolin--shame for
Coolin had been drafted into the Commissariat and was now variously
employed, but chiefly at the Sandbag Redoubt, where the condensing ship
did duty, sometimes at the southeast end of the harbour where the Indian
Contingent watered. Coolin hated the duty, and because he was in a bitter
mood his tongue was like a leaf of aloe.
"I'll be drinkin' condinsed spirits an' 'atin' hay-cake whip the vultures
do be peckin' at what's lift uv ye whip the Subadar's done wid ye. I'd a
drame about ye last noight, William Connor dear--three times I dramed
Suddenly Connor's face was clouded. "Whist, thin, Coolin," said he
hoarsely. "Hadendowas I've no fear uv, an' Subadars are Injy nagurs
anyhow, though fellow-soldiers uv the Queen that's good to shtand befront
uv biscuit-boxes or behoind thim; an' wan has no fear of the thing that's
widout fear, an' death's iron enters in aisy whip mortial strength's
behind it. But drames--I've had enough uv drames in me toime, I have
that, Coolin!" He shuddered a little. "What was it ye dramed again,
Coolin? Was there anything but the dramin'--anny noise, or sound, or
Coolin lied freely, for to disturb William Connor was little enough
compensation for being held back at Suakim while the Berkshires and the
Sikhs were off for a scrimmage in the desert.
"Nothin' saw I wid open eye, an' nothin' heard," he answered; "but I
dramed twice that I saw ye lyin' wid y'r head on y'r arm and a hole in
y'r jacket. Thin I waked suddin', an' I felt a cold wind goin' over
me--three toimes; an' a hand was laid on me own face, an' it was cold an'
smooth-like the hand uv a Sikh, William Connor dear."
Connor suddenly caught Coolin's arm. "D'ye say that!" said he. "Shure,
I'll tell ye now why the chills rin down me back whin I hear uv y'r
drame. Thrue things are drames, as I'll prove to ye--as quare as
condinsation an' as thrue, Coolin; fer condinsation comes out uv nothin',
and so do drames.. . . There was Mary Haggarty, Coolin--ye'll not be
knowin' Mary Haggarty. It was mornin' an' evenin' an' the first day uv
the world where she were. That was Mary Haggarty. An' ivery shtep she tuk
had the spring uv the first sod of Adin. Shure no, ye didn't know Mary
Haggarty, an' ye niver will, Coolin, fer the sod she trod she's lyin'
under, an' she'll niver rise up no more."
"Fer choice I'll take the sod uv Erin to the sand uv the Soudan," said
"Ye'll take what ye can get, Coolin; fer wid a splinterin' bullet in y'r
gizzard ye lie where ye fall."
"But Mary Haggarty, Connor?"
"I was drinkin' hard, ye understand, Coolin--drinkin', loike a
dhromedairy--ivery day enough to last a wake, an' Mary tryin' to stop me
betimes. At last I tuk the pledge--an' her on promise. An' purty, purty
she looked thin, an' shtepping light an' fine, an' the weddin' was coming
an. But wan day there was a foire, an' the police coort was burned down,
an' the gaol was that singed they let the b'ys out, an' we rushed the
police an' carried off the b'ys, an'--"
"An' ye sweltered in the juice!" broke in Coolin with flashing eyes,
proud to have roused Connor to this secret tale, which he would tell to
the Berkshires as long as they would listen, that it should go down
through a long line of Berkshires, as Coolin's tale of William Connor.
"An' I sweltered in the swill," said Connor, his eye with a cast quite
shut with emotion, and the other nearly so. "An' wance broke out agin
afther tin months' goin' wake and watery, was like a steer in the corn.
There was no shtoppin' me, an'--"
"Not Mary Haggarty aither?"
"Not Mary Haggarty aither."
"O, William Connor dear!"
"Ye may well say, 'O, William Connor dear!' 'Twas what she said day by
day, an' the heart uv me loike Phararyoh's. Thrue it is, Coolin, that the
hand uv mortial man has an ugly way uv squazin' a woman's heart dry whin,
at last, to his coaxin' she lays it tinder an' onsuspectin' on the inside
grip uv it."
"But the heart uv Mary Haggarty, Connor?"
"'Twas loike a flower under y'r fut, Coolin, an' a heavy fut is to you.
She says to me wan day, 'Ye're breakin' me heart, William Connor,' says
she. 'Thin I'll sodder it up agin wid the help uv the priest,' says I.
'That ye will not do,' says she; 'wance broken, 'tis broke beyond
mendin'.' 'Go an wid ye, Mary Haggarty darlin',' says I, laughin' in her
face, 'hivin is y'r home.' 'Yes, I'll be goin' there, William Connor,'
says she, 'I'll be goin' there betimes, I hope.' 'How will it be?' says
I; 'be fire or wateer, Mary darlin'?' says I. 'Ye shall know whin it
comes,' says she, wid a quare look in her eye."
"An' ye did?" asked Coolin, open-mouthed and staring; for never had he
seen Connor with aught on his face but a devil-may-care smile.
"Ordered away we was next avenin', an' sorra the glimpse of Mary Haggarty
to me--for Headquarters is a lady that will not be denied. Away we wint
overseas. Shlapin' I was wan night in a troop-ship in the Bay uv Biscay;
an' I dramed I saw Mary walkin' along the cliff by--well, 'tis no matter,
fer ye've niver been there, an 'tis no place to go to unheedin'. Manny
an' manny a time I'd walked wid Mary Haggarty there. There's a steep hill
betune two pints uv land. If ye go low on't ye're safe enough--if ye go
high it crumbles, an' down ye shlip a hunder fut into the say. In me
drame I saw Mary onthinkin', or thinkin' maybe about me an' not about the
high path or the low--though 'tis only the low that's used these twinty
years. Her head was down. I tried to call her. She didn't hear, but wint
an an' an. All at wanst I saw the ground give way. She shlipped an'
snatched at the spinifex. Wan minnit she held, an' thin slid down, down
into the say. An' I woke callin' 'Mary--Mary' in me throat."
"Ye dramed it wance only, Connor?" said Coolin, with the insolent grin
gone out of his eyes.
"I dramed it three times, an' the last time, whin I waked, I felt a cold
wind go over me. Thin a hand touched me face--the same as you, Coolin,
the same as you. Drames are thrue things, Coolin."
"It was thrue, thin, Connor?"
A look of shame and a curious look of fear crept into Coolin's face; for
though it was not true he had dreamed of the hand on his face and the
cold wind blowing over him, it was true he had dreamed he saw Connor
lying on the ground with a bullet-hole in his tunic. But Coolin, being
industrious at his trencher, often had dreams, and one more or less
horrible about Connor had not seemed to him to matter at all. It had
sufficed, however, to give him a cue to chaff the man who had knocked the
wind out of Subadar Goordit Singh, and who must pay for it one hour or
another in due course, as Coolin and the Berkshires knew full well.
"It was thrue, thin, William Connor?" repeated Coolin.
"As thrue as that yander tripod pump kills wan man out uv ivery fifty. As
thrue as that y'r corn-beef from y'r commysariat tins gives William
Connor thirst, Coolin."
"She was drownded, Connor?" asked Coolin in a whisper.
"As I dramed it, an' allowin' fer difference uv time, at the very hour,
Coolin. 'Tis five years ago, an' I take it hard that Mary Haggarty spakes
to me through you. 'Tis a warnin', Coolin."
"'Twas a lie I told you, Connor--'twas a lie!" And Coolin tried to grin.
Connor's voice was like a woman's, soft and quiet, as he answered: "Ye'll
lie fast enough, Coolin, whin the truth won't sarve; but the truth has
sarved its turn this time."
"Aw, Connor dear, only wan half's thrue. As I'm a man--only wan half."
"Go an to y'r condinsation, Coolin, fer the face uv ye's not fit fer
dacint company, wan side paralytic wid lyin', an' the other struck simple
wid tellin' the truth. An' see, Coolin, fer the warnin' she give ye fer
me, the kit I lave is yours, an' what more, be the will uv God! An' what
ye've told me ye'll kape to y'self, Coolin, or hell shall be your
"He tuk it fer truth an' a warnin', an' he would not be denied," said
Coolin to Henry Withers, of the Sick Horse Depot, two hours afterwards,
when the Berkshires and the Sikhs and the Bengalese were on the march
"The bloomin' trick is between the Hadendowas and the Subadar," answered
he of the Sick Horse Depot. "Ye take it fer a warnin', thin?" asked
"I believe you," answered Henry Withers.
As for William Connor, when he left Suakim, his foot was light, his
figure straight, and he sent a running fire of laughter through his
company by one or two "insinsible remarks," as Coolin called them.
Three hours' marching in the Soudan will usually draw off the froth of a
man's cheerfulness, but William Connor was as light of heart at Tofrik as
at Suakim, and he saw with pleasure two sights--the enemy in the distance
and the 15th Sikhs on their right flank, with Subadar Goordit Singh in
"There's work 'ere to-day for whoever likes it on the 'op!" said Henry
Withers, of the Sick Horse Depot, as he dragged his load of mimosa to the
zeriba; for he had got leave to come on with his regiment.
"You'll find it 'otter still when the vedettes and Cossack Posts come
leadin' in the Osnum Digners. If there ain't hoscillations on that
rectangle, strike me in the night-lights!" said Corporal Bagshot, with
his eye on the Bengalese. "Blyme, if the whole bloomin' parallogram don't
shiver," he added; "for them Osnum Digners 'as the needle, and they're
ten to one, or I'm a bloater!"
"There's Gardner guns fer the inimy an' Lushai dandies fer us," broke in
Connor, as he drove a stake in the ground, "wet without and dry within--
an' Gardner guns are divils on the randan. Whin they get to work it's
like a self-actin' abbatoir."
"I 'opes ye like it, Connor. Bloomin' picnic for you when the Osnum
Digners eat sand. What ho!"
"I have no swarms of conscience there, Billy Bag; shot. For the bones uv
me frinds that's lyin' in this haythen land, I'll clane as fur as I can
reach. An' I'll have the run uv me belt to-day, an--" he added, then
stopped short as the order came from McNeill that the Berkshires should
receive dinner by half-battalions.
"An' 'igh time," said Corporal Bagshot. "What with marchin' and
zeribakin' and the sun upon me tank since four this mornin', I'm dead for
food and buried for water. I ain't no bloomin' salamanker to be grilled
and say thank-ye, and I ain't no bloomin' camomile to bring up me larder
and tap me tank when Coolin's commissaryat hasn't no orders."
"Shure ye'll run better impty, Billy boy," said Connor. "An' what fer do
ye need food before y'r execution?" he added, with a twist of his mouth.
"Before execution, ye turkey-cock--before execution is the time to eat
and drink. How shall the bloomin' carnage gore the Libyan sands, if there
ain't no refreshment for the vitals and the diagrams?"
"Come an wid ye to y'r forage-cake, thin-an' take this to ye," added
Connor slyly, as he slipped a little nickel-plated flask into Billy
"With a Woking crematory in y'r own throat. See you bloomin' furder!"
answered Billy Bagshot.
"I'm not drinkin' to-day," answered Connor, with a curious look in the
eye that had no cast. "I'm not drinkin', you understand."
"Ain't it a bit momentary?" asked Bagshot, as they sat down.
"Momentary betimes," answered Connor evasively. "Are you eatin' at this
bloomin' swaree, then?"
"I'm niver aff me forage-cake," answered Connor, and he ate as if he had
had his tooth in nothing for a month.
A quarter of an hour later, the Sikhs were passing the Berkshire zeriba,
and the Berkshires, filing out, joined them to cut brushwood. A dozen
times the Subadar Goordit Singh almost touched shoulders with Connor, but
neither spoke, and neither saw directly; for if once they saw each
other's eyes the end might come too soon, to the disgrace of two
Suddenly, the forbidden song on William Connor and the Subadar arose
among the Berkshires. No one knew who started it, but it probably was
Billy Bagshot, who had had more than a double portion of drink, and was
seized with a desire to celebrate his thanks to Connor thus.
In any case the words ran along the line, and were carried up in a shout
amid the crackling of the brushwood:
"Where was the shame of it,
Where was the blame of it,
William Connor dear?"
That sort of special providence which seems to shelter the unworthy, gave
India and the Berkshires honour that hour when the barometer registered
shame; for never was mercury more stormy than shot up in the artery of
two men's wills when that song rose over the zeriba at Tofrik. They were
not fifty feet apart at the time, and at the lilt of that chorus they
swung towards each other like two horses to the bugle on parade.
"A guinea to a brown but Janders goes large!" said Billy Bagshot under
his breath, his eye on the Subadar and repenting him of the song.
But Janders did not go large; for at that very moment there came the
bugle-call for the working parties to get into the zeriba, as from the
mimosa scrub came hundreds upon hundreds of "Osnum Digners" hard upon the
heels of the vedettes.
"The Hadendowas 'as the privilege," said Billy Bagshot, as the Berkshires
and the Sikhs swung round and made for the zeriba.
"What's that ye say?" cried Connor, as the men stood to their arms.
"Looked as if the bloomin' hontray was with the Subadar, but the
Hadendowas 'as the honour to hinvite sweet William!"
"Murther uv man--look--look, ye Berkshire boar! The Bengals is breakin'
"Oscillations 'as begun!" said Bagshot, as, disorganised by the vedettes
riding through their flank into the zeriba, the Bengalese wavered.
"'Tis your turn now--go an to y'r gruel!" said Connor, as Bagshot with
his company and others were ordered to move over to the Bengalese and
"An' no bloomin' sugar either," Bagshot called back as he ran.
"Here's to ye thin!" shouted Connor, as the enemy poured down on their
zeriba on the west and the Bengalese retreated on them from the east, the
Billy Bagshot detachment of Berkshires rallying them and firing steadily,
the enemy swarming after and stampeding the mules and camels. Over the
low bush fence, over the unfinished sand-bag parapet at the southwest
salient, spread the shrieking enemy like ants, stabbing and cutting. The
Gardner guns, as Connor had said, were "fer the inimy," but the Lushai
dandies were for the men that managed them that day; for the enemy came
too soon--in shrieking masses to a hand-to-hand melee.
What India lost that hour by the Bengalese the Sikhs won back. Side by
side with them the Berkshires cursed and raged and had their way; and
when the Sikhs drew over and laid themselves along the English lines a
wild cheer went up from the Berkshires. Wounded men spluttered their
shouts from mouths filled with blood, and to the welcoming roars of the
Berkshires the Sikhs showed their teeth in grim smiles, "and done
things," as Billy Bagshot said when it was all over.
But by consent of every man who fought under McNeill that day, the
biggest thing done among the Sikhs happened in the fiercest moment of the
rush on the Berkshire zeriba. Billy Bagshot told the story that night,
after the Lushai dandies had carried off the wounded and the sands of the
desert had taken in the dead.
"Tyke it or leave it, 'e 'ad the honours of the day," said Bagshot, "'e
and Janders--old Subadar Goordit Singh. It myde me sick to see them
Bengalesey, some of 'em 'ookin' it to Suakim, some of 'em retirin' on the
seraphim, which is another name for Berkshires. It ain't no sweet levee
a-tryin' to rally 'eathen 'ands to do their dooty. So we 'ad to cover 'em
back into the zeriba of the seraphim--which is our glorious selves. A
bloomin' 'asty puddin' was that tournamong, but it wasn't so bloomin'
'asty that the Subadar and William Connor didn't finish what they started
for to do when the day was young."
"Did Janders stick the b'y?" asked Coolin, who had just come in from
Suakim with the Commissariat camels. "Shure, I hope to God he didn't!" He
was pale and wild of eye.
"Did a bloomin' sparrow give you 'is brains when you was changed at
birth? Stick William Connor--I believe you not! This is what 'appened, me
bloomin' sanitary. When I got back be'ind the 'eavenly parapet, there was
William Connor in a nice little slaughter-house of 'is own. 'E was doin'
of 'isself proud--too busy to talk. All at once 'e spies a flag the Osnum
Digners 'ad planted on the 'eavenly parapet. 'E opens 'is mouth and gives
one yell, and makes for that bit of cotton. 'E got there, for 'e would
not be denied. 'E got there an' 'e couldn't get back. But 'e made a rush
"A divil he was on rushes," broke in Private Coolin, wiping his mouth
"'E's the pride of 'is 'ome and the bloomin' brigade, bar one, which is
the Subadar Goordit Singh. For w'en the Subadar sees Connor in 'is 'ole,
a cut across 'is jaw, doin' of 'is trick alone, away goes Subadar Goordit
Singh and two of 'is company be'ind 'im for to rescue. 'E cut with 'is
sword like a bloomin' picture. 'E didn't spare 'is strength, and 'e
didn't spare the Osnum Digners. An' 'e comeback, an' he brought with him
William Connor--that's all what come back."
"How long did William live?" asked Coolin. "He was a good frind to me was
Connor, a thrue frind he was to me. How long did the b'y live?"
"'E lived long enough to 'ave McNeill shake 'im by the 'and. 'E lived long
enough to say to the Subadar Goordit Singh, 'I would take scorn uv me to
lave widout askin' y'r pardon, Subadar.' And the Subadar took 'is 'and
and salaamed, and showed 'is teeth, which was meant friendly."
"What else did Connor say?" asked Coolin, eagerly.
"'E said 'is kit was for you that's spoilin' a good name in the
condinsation of the Commissaryat, Coolin."
"But what else?" urged Coolin. "Nothin' about a drame at all?"
"Who's talkin' about dreams!" said Bagshot. "'E wasn't no bloomin' poet.
'E was a man. What 'e said 'e said like a man. 'E said 'e'd got word from
Mary--which is proper that a man should do when 'e's a-chuckin' of 'is
tent-pegs. If 'e ain't got no mother--an' Connor 'adn't 'is wife or 'is
sweetheart 'as the honour."
"Oh, blessed God," said Coolin, "I wish I hadn't towld him--I wish I
hadn't towld the b'y."
"Told 'im wot?" said Bagshot.
But Coolin of the Commissariat did not answer; his head was on his arms,
and his arms were on his knees.
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