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The Horse Marines

(1911)

_The Rt. Hon. R.B. Haldane, Secretary of State for War[6], was
questioned in the House of Commons on April 8th about the rocking-horses
which the War Office is using for the purpose of teaching recruits to
ride. Lord Ronaldshay asked the War Secretary if rocking-horses were to
be supplied to all the cavalry regiments for teaching recruits to ride.
'The noble Lord,' replied Mr. Haldane, 'is doubtless alluding to certain
dummy horses on rockers which have been tested with very satisfactory
results.'... The mechanical steed is a wooden horse with an astonishing
tail. It is painted brown and mounted on swinging rails. The recruit
leaps into the saddle and pulls at the reins while the riding-instructor
rocks the animal to and fro with his foot. The rocking-horses are being
made at Woolwich. They are quite cheap_.

--Daily Paper.

[Footnote 6: Now Viscount Haldane of Cloan.]

My instructions to Mr. Leggatt, my engineer, had been accurately obeyed.
He was to bring my car on completion of annual overhaul, from Coventry
_via_ London, to Southampton Docks to await my arrival; and very pretty
she looked, under the steamer's side among the railway lines, at six in
the morning. Next to her new paint and varnish I was most impressed by
her four brand-new tyres.

'But I didn't order new tyres,' I said as we moved away. 'These are
Irresilients, too.'

'Treble-ribbed,' said Leggatt. 'Diamond-stud sheathing.'

'Then there has been a mistake.'

'Oh no, sir; they're gratis.'

The number of motor manufacturers who give away complete sets of
treble-ribbed Irresilient tyres is so limited that I believe I asked
Leggatt for an explanation.

'I don't know that I could very well explain, sir,' was the answer. 'It
'ud come better from Mr. Pyecroft. He's on leaf at Portsmouth--staying
with his uncle. His uncle 'ad the body all night. I'd defy you to find a
scratch on her even with a microscope.'

'Then we will go home by the Portsmouth road,' I said.

And we went at those speeds which are allowed before the working-day
begins or the police are thawed out. We were blocked near Portsmouth by
a battalion of Regulars on the move.

'Whitsuntide manoeuvres just ending,' said Leggatt. 'They've had a
fortnight in the Downs.'

He said no more until we were in a narrow street somewhere behind
Portsmouth Town Railway Station, where he slowed at a green-grocery
shop. The door was open, and a small old man sat on three potato-baskets
swinging his feet over a stooping blue back.

'You call that shinin' 'em?' he piped. 'Can you see your face in 'em
yet? No! Then shine 'em, or I'll give you a beltin' you'll remember!'

'If you stop kickin' me in the mouth perhaps I'd do better,' said
Pyecroft's voice meekly.

We blew the horn.

Pyecroft arose, put away the brushes, and received us not otherwise than
as a king in his own country.

'Are you going to leave me up here all day?' said the old man.

Pyecroft lifted him down and he hobbled into the back room.

'It's his corns,' Pyecroft explained. 'You can't shine corny feet--and
he hasn't had his breakfast.'

'I haven't had mine either,' I said.

'Breakfast for two more, uncle,' Pyecroft sang out.

'Go out an' buy it then,' was the answer, 'or else it's half-rations.'

Pyecroft turned to Leggatt, gave him his marketing orders, and
despatched him with the coppers.

'I have got four new tyres on my car,' I began impressively.

'Yes,' said Mr. Pyecroft. 'You have, and I _will_ say'--he patted my
car's bonnet--'you earned 'em.'

'I want to know why--,' I went on.

'Quite justifiable. You haven't noticed anything in the papers, have
you?'

'I've only just landed. I haven't seen a paper for weeks.'

'Then you can lend me a virgin ear. There's been a scandal in the
Junior Service--the Army, I believe they call 'em.'

A bag of coffee-beans pitched on the counter. 'Roast that,' said the
uncle from within.

Pyecroft rigged a small coffee-roaster, while I took down the shutters,
and sold a young lady in curl-papers two bunches of mixed greens and one
soft orange.

'Sickly stuff to handle on an empty stomach, ain't it?' said Pyecroft.

'What about my new tyres?' I insisted.

'Oh, any amount. But the question is'--he looked at me steadily--'is
this what you might call a court-martial or a post-mortem inquiry?'

'Strictly a post-mortem,' said I.

'That being so,' said Pyecroft, 'we can rapidly arrive at facts. Last
Thursday--the shutters go behind those baskets--last Thursday at five
bells in the forenoon watch, otherwise ten-thirty A.M., your Mr. Leggatt
was discovered on Westminster Bridge laying his course for the Old
Kent Road.'

'But that doesn't lead to Southampton,' I interrupted.

'Then perhaps he was swinging the car for compasses. Be that as it may,
we found him in that latitude, simultaneous as Jules and me was _ong
route_ for Waterloo to rejoin our respective ships--or Navies I should
say. Jules was a _permissionaire_, which meant being on leaf, same as
me, from a French cassowary-cruiser at Portsmouth. A party of her trusty
and well-beloved petty officers 'ad been seeing London, chaperoned by
the R.C. Chaplain. Jules 'ad detached himself from the squadron and was
cruisin' on his own when I joined him, in company of copious
lady-friends. _But_, mark you, your Mr. Leggatt drew the line at the
girls. Loud and long he drew it.'

'I'm glad of that,' I said.

'You may be. He adopted the puristical formation from the first. "Yes,"
he said, when we was annealing him at--but you wouldn't know the pub--"I
_am_ going to Southampton," he says, "and I'll stretch a point to go
_via_ Portsmouth; _but_," says he, "seeing what sort of one hell of a
time invariably trarnspires when we cruise together, Mr. Pyecroft, I do
_not_ feel myself justified towards my generous and long-suffering
employer in takin' on that kind of ballast as well." I assure you he
considered your interests.'

'And the girls?' I asked.

'Oh, I left that to Jules. I'm a monogomite by nature. So we embarked
strictly _ong garçong_. But I should tell you, in case he didn't, that
your Mr. Leggatt's care for your interests 'ad extended to sheathing the
car in matting and gunny-bags to preserve her paint-work. She was all
swathed up like an I-talian baby.'

'He _is_ careful about his paint-work,' I said.

'For a man with no Service experience I should say he was fair homicidal
on the subject. If we'd been Marines he couldn't have been more pointed
in his allusions to our hob-nailed socks. However, we reduced him to a
malleable condition, and embarked for Portsmouth. I'd seldom rejoined
my _vaisseau ong automobile, avec_ a fur coat and goggles. Nor
'ad Jules.'

'Did Jules say much?' I asked, helplessly turning the handle of the
coffee-roaster.

'That's where I pitied the pore beggar. He 'adn't the language, so to
speak. He was confined to heavings and shruggin's and copious _Mong
Jews_! The French are very badly fitted with relief-valves. And then our
Mr. Leggatt drove. He drove.'

'Was he in a very malleable condition?'

'Not him! We recognised the value of his cargo from the outset. He
hadn't a chance to get more than moist at the edges. After which we went
to sleep; and now we'll go to breakfast.'

We entered the back room where everything was in order, and a screeching
canary made us welcome. The uncle had added sausages and piles of
buttered toast to the kippers. The coffee, cleared with a piece of
fish-skin, was a revelation.

Leggatt, who seemed to know the premises, had run the car into the tiny
backyard where her mirror-like back almost blocked up the windows. He
minded shop while we ate. Pyecroft passed him his rations through a flap
in the door. The uncle ordered him in, after breakfast, to wash up, and
he jumped in his gaiters at the old man's commands as he has never
jumped to mine.

'To resoom the post-mortem,' said Pyecroft, lighting his pipe. 'My
slumbers were broken by the propeller ceasing to revolve, and by vile
language from your Mr. Leggatt.'

'I--I--' Leggatt began, a blue-checked duster in one hand and a cup in
the other.

'When you're wanted aft you'll be sent for, Mr. Leggatt,' said Pyecroft
amiably. 'It's clean mess decks for you now. Resooming once more, we was
on a lonely and desolate ocean near Portsdown, surrounded by gorse
bushes, and a Boy Scout was stirring my stomach with his little
copper-stick.'

'"You count ten," he says.

'"Very good, Boy Jones," I says, "count 'em," and I hauled him in over
the gunnel, and ten I gave him with my large flat hand. The remarks he
passed, lying face down tryin' to bite my leg, would have reflected
credit on any Service. Having finished I dropped him overboard again,
which was my gross political error. I ought to 'ave killed him; because
he began signalling--rapid and accurate--in a sou'westerly direction.
Few equatorial calms are to be apprehended when B.P.'s little pets take
to signallin'. Make a note o' that! Three minutes later we were stopped
and boarded by Scouts--up our backs, down our necks, and in our boots!
The last I heard from your Mr. Leggatt as he went under, brushin' 'em
off his cap, was thanking Heaven he'd covered up the new paint-work with
mats. An 'eroic soul!'

'Not a scratch on her body,' said Leggatt, pouring out the
coffee-grounds.

'And Jules?' said I.

'Oh, Jules thought the much advertised Social Revolution had begun, but
his mackintosh hampered him.

'You told me to bring the mackintosh,' Leggatt whispered to me.

'And when I 'ad 'em half convinced he was a French vicomte coming down
to visit the Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, he tried to take it off.
Seeing his uniform underneath, some sucking Sherlock Holmes of the Pink
Eye Patrol (they called him Eddy) deduced that I wasn't speaking
the truth. Eddy said I was tryin' to sneak into Portsmouth
unobserved--unobserved mark you!--and join hands with the enemy. It
trarnspired that the Scouts was conducting a field-day against opposin'
forces, ably assisted by all branches of the Service, and they was so
afraid the car wouldn't count ten points to them in the fray, that
they'd have scalped us, but for the intervention of an umpire--also in
short under-drawers. A fleshy sight!'

Here Mr. Pyecroft shut his eyes and nodded. 'That umpire,' he said
suddenly, 'was our Mr. Morshed--a gentleman whose acquaintance you have
already made _and_ profited by, if I mistake not[7].'

[Footnote 7: 'Their Lawful Occasions,' _Traffics and Discoveries_.]

'Oh, was the Navy in it too?' I said; for I had read of wild doings
occasionally among the Boy Scouts on the Portsmouth Road, in which Navy,
Army, and the world at large seemed to have taken part.

'The Navy _was_ in it. I was the only one out of it--for several
seconds. Our Mr. Morshed failed to recognise me in my fur boa, and my
appealin' winks at 'im behind your goggles didn't arrive. But when Eddy
darling had told his story, I saluted, which is difficult in furs, and I
stated I was bringin' him dispatches from the North. My Mr. Morshed
cohered on the instant. I've never known his ethergram installations out
of order yet. "Go and guard your blessed road," he says to the Fratton
Orphan Asylum standing at attention all round him, and, when they was
removed--"Pyecroft," he says, still _sotte voce_, "what in Hong-Kong are
you doing with this dun-coloured _sampan_?"

'It was your Mr. Leggatt's paint-protective matting which caught his
eye. She _did_ resemble a _sampan_, especially about the stern-works. At
these remarks I naturally threw myself on 'is bosom, so far as Service
conditions permitted, and revealed him all, mentioning that the car was
yours. You know his way of working his lips like a rabbit? Yes, he was
quite pleased. "_His_ car!" he kept murmuring, working his lips like a
rabbit. "I owe 'im more than a trifle for things he wrote about me. I'll
keep the car."

'Your Mr. Leggatt now injected some semi-mutinous remarks to the effect
that he was your chauffeur in charge of your car, and, as such, capable
of so acting. Mr. Morshed threw him a glarnce. It sufficed. Didn't it
suffice, Mr. Leggatt?'

'I knew if something didn't happen, something worse would,' said
Leggatt. 'It never fails when you're aboard.'

'And Jules?' I demanded.

'Jules was, so to speak, panicking in a water-tight flat through his
unfortunate lack of language. I had to introduce him as part of the
_entente cordiale_, and he was put under arrest, too. Then we sat on the
grass and smoked, while Eddy and Co. violently annoyed the traffic on
the Portsmouth Road, till the umpires, all in short panties, conferred
on the valuable lessons of the field-day and added up points, same as at
target-practice. I didn't hear their conclusions, but our Mr. Morshed
delivered a farewell address to Eddy and Co., tellin' 'em they ought to
have deduced from a hundred signs about me, that I was a friendly
bringin' in dispatches from the North. We left 'em tryin' to find those
signs in the Scout book, and we reached Mr. Morshed's hotel at
Portsmouth at 6.27 P.M. _ong automobile_. Here endeth the
first chapter.'

'Begin the second,' I said.

The uncle and Leggatt had finished washing up and were seated, smoking,
while the damp duster dried at the fire.

'About what time was it,' said Pyecroft to Leggatt, 'when our Mr.
Morshed began to talk about uncles?'

'When he came back to the bar, after he'd changed into those rat-catcher
clothes,' said Leggatt.

'That's right. "Pye," said he, "have you an uncle?" "I have," I says.
"Here's santy to him," and I finished my sherry and bitters to
_you_, uncle.'

'That's right,' said Pyecroft's uncle sternly. 'If you hadn't I'd have
belted you worth rememberin', Emmanuel. I had the body all night.'

Pyecroft smiled affectionately. 'So you 'ad, uncle, an' beautifully you
looked after her. But as I was saying, "I have an uncle, too," says Mr.
Morshed, dark and lowering. "Yet somehow I can't love him. I want to
mortify the beggar. Volunteers to mortify my uncle, one pace to
the front."

'I took Jules with me the regulation distance. Jules was getting
interested. Your Mr. Leggatt preserved a strictly nootral attitude.

'"You're a pressed man," says our Mr. Morshed. "I owe your late employer
much, so to say. The car will manoeuvre all night, as requisite."

'Mr. Leggatt come out noble as your employee, and, by 'Eaven's divine
grace, instead of arguing, he pleaded his new paint and varnish which
was Mr. Morshed's one vital spot (he's lootenant on one of the new
catch-'em-alive-o's now). "True," says he, "paint's an 'oly thing. I'll
give you one hour to arrange a _modus vivendi_. Full bunkers and steam
ready by 9 P.M. to-night, _if_ you please."

'Even so, Mr. Leggatt was far from content. _I_ 'ad to arrange the
details. We run her into the yard here.' Pyecroft nodded through the
window at my car's glossy back-panels. 'We took off the body with its
mats and put it in the stable, substitooting (and that yard's a tight
fit for extensive repairs) the body of uncle's blue delivery cart. It
overhung a trifle, but after I'd lashed it I knew it wouldn't fetch
loose. Thus, in our composite cruiser, we repaired once more to the
hotel, and was immediately dispatched to the toy-shop in the High Street
where we took aboard one rocking-horse which was waiting for us.'

'Took aboard _what_?' I cried.

'One fourteen-hand dapple-grey rocking-horse, with pure green rockers
and detachable tail, pair gashly glass eyes, complete set 'orrible
grinnin' teeth, and two bloody-red nostrils which, protruding from the
brown papers, produced the _tout ensemble_ of a Ju-ju sacrifice in the
Benin campaign. Do I make myself comprehensible?'

'Perfectly. Did you say anything?' I asked.

'Only to Jules. To him, I says, wishing to try him. "_Allez à votre
bateau. Je say mon Lootenong. Eel voo donneray porkwor_." To me, says
he, "_Vous ong ate hurroo! Jamay de la vee_!" and I saw by his eye he'd
taken on for the full term of the war. Jules was a blue-eyed,
brindle-haired beggar of a useful make and inquirin' habits. Your Mr.
Leggatt he only groaned.'

Leggatt nodded. 'It was like nightmares,' he said. 'It was like
nightmares.'

'Once more, then,' Pyecroft swept on, 'we returned to the hotel and
partook of a sumptuous repast, under the able and genial chairmanship of
our Mr. Morshed, who laid his projecks unreservedly before us. "In the
first place," he says, opening out bicycle-maps, "my uncle, who, I
regret to say, is a brigadier-general, has sold his alleged soul to
Dicky Bridoon for a feathery hat and a pair o' gilt spurs. Jules,
_conspuez l'oncle_!" So Jules, you'll be glad to hear--'

'One minute, Pye,' I said. 'Who is Dicky Bridoon?'

'I don't usually mingle myself up with the bickerings of the Junior
Service, but it trarnspired that he was Secretary o' State for Civil
War, an' he'd been issuing mechanical leather-belly gee-gees which
doctors recommend for tumour--to the British cavalry in loo of real meat
horses, to learn to ride on. Don't you remember there was quite a stir
in the papers owing to the cavalry not appreciatin' 'em? But that's a
minor item. The main point was that our uncle, in his capacity of
brigadier-general, mark you, had wrote to the papers highly approvin' o'
Dicky Bridoon's mechanical substitutes an 'ad thus obtained
promotion--all same as a agnosticle stoker psalm-singin' 'imself up the
Service under a pious captain. At that point of the narrative we caught
a phosphorescent glimmer why the rocking-horse might have been issued;
but none the less the navigation was intricate. Omitting the fact it was
dark and cloudy, our brigadier-uncle lay somewhere in the South Downs
with his brigade, which was manoeuvrin' at Whitsum manoeuvres on a large
scale--Red Army _versus_ Blue, et cetera; an' all we 'ad to go by was
those flapping bicycle-maps and your Mr. Leggatt's groans.'

'I was thinking what the Downs mean after dark,' said Leggatt angrily.

'They was worth thinkin' of,' said Pyecroft. 'When we had studied the
map till it fair spun, we decided to sally forth and creep for uncle by
hand in the dark, dark night, an' present 'im with the rocking-horse. So
we embarked at 8.57 P.M.'

'One minute again, please. How much did Jules understand by that time?'
I asked.

'Sufficient unto the day--or night, perhaps I should say. He told our
Mr. Morshed he'd follow him _more sang frays_, which is French for dead,
drunk, or damned. Barrin' 'is paucity o' language, there wasn't a
blemish on Jules. But what I wished to imply was, when we climbed into
the back parts of the car, our Lootenant Morshed says to me, "I doubt if
I'd flick my cigar-ends about too lavish, Mr. Pyecroft. We ought to be
sitting on five pounds' worth of selected fireworks, and I think the
rockets are your end." Not being able to smoke with my 'ead over the
side I threw it away; and then your Mr. Leggatt, 'aving been as nearly
mutinous as it pays to be with my Mr. Morshed, arched his back
and drove.'

'Where did he drive to, please?' said I.

'Primerrily, in search of any or either or both armies; seconderrily, of
course, in search of our brigadier-uncle. Not finding him on the road,
we ran about the grass looking for him. This took us to a great many
places in a short time. Ow 'eavenly that lilac did smell on top of that
first Down--stinkin' its blossomin' little heart out!'

'I 'adn't leesure to notice,' said Mr. Leggatt. 'The Downs were full o'
chalk-pits, and we'd no lights.'

'We 'ad the bicycle-lamp to look at the map by. Didn't you notice the
old lady at the window where we saw the man in the night-gown? I thought
night-gowns as sleepin' rig was extinck, so to speak.'

'I tell you I 'adn't leesure to notice,' Leggatt repeated.

'That's odd. Then what might 'ave made you tell the sentry at the first
camp we found that you was the _Daily Express_ delivery-waggon?'

'You can't touch pitch without being defiled,' Leggatt answered. ''Oo
told the officer in the bath we were umpires?'

'Well, he asked us. That was when we found the Territorial battalion
undressin' in slow time. It lay on the left flank o' the Blue Army, and
it cackled as it lay, too. But it gave us our position as regards the
respective armies. We wandered a little more, and at 11.7 P.M., not
having had a road under us for twenty minutes, we scaled the heights of
something or other--which are about six hundred feet high. Here we
'alted to tighten the lashings of the superstructure, and we smelt
leather and horses three counties deep all round. We was, as you might
say, in the thick of it.'

'"Ah!" says my Mr. Morshed. "My 'orizon has indeed broadened. What a
little thing is an uncle, Mr. Pyecroft, in the presence o' these
glitterin' constellations! Simply ludicrous!" he says, "to waste a
rocking-horse on an individual. We must socialise it. But we must get
their 'eads up first. Touch off one rocket, if you please."

'I touched off a green three-pounder which rose several thousand metres,
and burst into gorgeous stars. "Reproduce the manoeuvre," he says, "at
the other end o' this ridge--if it don't end in another cliff." So we
steamed down the ridge a mile and a half east, and then I let Jules
touch off a pink rocket, or he'd ha' kissed me. That was his only way to
express his emotions, so to speak. Their heads come up then all around
us to the extent o' thousands. We hears bugles like cocks crowing below,
and on the top of it a most impressive sound which I'd never enjoyed
before because 'itherto I'd always been an inteegral part of it, so to
say--the noise of 'ole armies gettin' under arms. They must 'ave
anticipated a night attack, I imagine. Most impressive. Then we 'eard a
threshin'-machine. "Tutt! Tutt! This is childish!" says Lootenant
Morshed. "We can't wait till they've finished cutting chaff for their
horses. We must make 'em understand we're not to be trifled with.
Expedite 'em with another rocket, Mr. Pyecroft."

'"It's barely possible, sir," I remarks, "that that's a searchlight
churnin' up," and by the time we backed into a providential chalk
cutting (which was where our first tyre went pungo) she broke out to the
northward, and began searching the ridge. A smart bit o' work.'

''Twasn't a puncture. The inner tube had nipped because we skidded so,'
Leggatt interrupted.

'While your Mr. Leggatt was effectin' repairs, another searchlight broke
out to the southward, and the two of 'em swept our ridge on both sides.
Right at the west end of it they showed us the ground rising into a
hill, so to speak, crowned with what looked like a little fort. Morshed
saw it before the beams shut off. "That's the key of the position!" he
says. "Occupy it at all hazards."

'"I haven't half got occupation for the next twenty minutes," says your
Mr. Leggatt, rootin' and blasphemin' in the dark. Mark, now, 'ow
Morshed changed his tactics to suit 'is environment. "Right!" says he.
"I'll stand by the ship. Mr. Pyecroft and Jules, oblige me by doubling
along the ridge to the east with all the maroons and crackers you can
carry without spilling. Read the directions careful for the maroons, Mr.
Pyecroft, and touch them off at half-minute intervals. Jules represents
musketry an' maxim fire under your command. Remember, it's death or
Salisbury Gaol! Prob'ly both!"

'By these means and some moderately 'ard runnin', we distracted 'em to
the eastward. Maroons, you may not be aware, are same as bombs, with the
anarchism left out. In confined spots like chalk-pits, they knock a
four-point-seven silly. But you should read the directions before'and.
In the intervals of the slow but well-directed fire of my cow-guns,
Jules, who had found a sheep-pond in the dark a little lower down, gave
what you might call a cinematograph reproduction o' sporadic musketry.
They was large size crackers, and he concluded with the dull, sickenin'
thud o' blind shells burstin' on soft ground.'

'How did he manage that?' I said.

'You throw a lighted squib into water and you'll see,' said Pyecroft.
'Thus, then, we improvised till supplies was exhausted and the
surrounding landscapes fair 'owled and 'ummed at us. The Jun or Service
might 'ave 'ad their doubts about the rockets but they couldn't overlook
our gunfire. Both sides tumbled out full of initiative. I told Jules no
two flat-feet 'ad any right to be as happy as us, and we went back
along the ridge to the derelict, and there was our Mr. Morshed
apostrophin' his 'andiwork over fifty square mile o' country with
"Attend, all ye who list to hear!" out of the Fifth Reader. He'd got as
far as "And roused the shepherds o' Stonehenge, the rangers o' Beaulieu"
when we come up, and he drew our attention to its truth as well as its
beauty. That's rare in poetry, I'm told. He went right on to--"The red
glare on Skiddaw roused those beggars at Carlisle"--which he pointed out
was poetic license for Leith Hill. This allowed your Mr. Leggatt time to
finish pumpin' up his tyres. I 'eard the sweat 'op off his nose.'

'You know what it is, sir,' said poor Leggatt to me.

'It warfted across my mind, as I listened to what was trarnspirin', that
it might be easier to make the mess than to wipe it up, but such
considerations weighed not with our valiant leader.

'"Mr. Pyecroft," he says, "it can't have escaped your notice that we
'ave one angry and 'ighly intelligent army in front of us, an' another
'ighly angry and equally intelligent army in our rear. What 'ud you
recommend?"

'Most men would have besought 'im to do a lateral glide while there was
yet time, but all I said was: "The rocking-horse isn't expended
yet, sir."

'He laid his hand on my shoulder. "Pye," says he, "there's worse men
than you in loftier places. They shall 'ave it. None the less," he
remarks, "the ice is undeniably packing."

'I may 'ave omitted to point out that at this juncture two large
armies, both deprived of their night's sleep, was awake, as you might
say, and hurryin' into each other's arms. Here endeth the
second chapter.'

He filled his pipe slowly. The uncle had fallen asleep. Leggatt lit
another cigarette.

'We then proceeded _ong automobile_ along the ridge in a westerly
direction towards the miniature fort which had been so kindly revealed
by the searchlight, but which on inspection (your Mr. Leggatt bumped
into an outlyin' reef of it) proved to be a wurzel-clump;
_c'est-à-dire_, a parallelogrammatic pile of about three million
mangold-wurzels, brought up there for the sheep, I suppose. On all
sides, excep' the one we'd come by, the ground fell away moderately
quick, and down at the bottom there was a large camp lit up an' full of
harsh words of command.

'"I said it was the key to the position," Lootenant Morshed remarks.
"Trot out Persimmon!" which we rightly took to read, "Un-wrap the
rocking-horse."

'"Houp la!" says Jules in a insubordinate tone, an' slaps Persimmon on
the flank.

'"Silence!" says the Lootenant. "This is the Royal Navy, not Newmarket";
and we carried Persimmon to the top of the mangel-wurzel clump
as directed.

'Owing to the inequalities of the terrain (I _do_ think your Mr. Leggatt
might have had a spirit-level in his kit) he wouldn't rock free on the
bed-plate, and while adjustin' him, his detachable tail fetched adrift.
Our Lootenant was quick to seize the advantage.

'"Remove that transformation," he says. "Substitute one Roman candle.
Gas-power is superior to manual propulsion."

'So we substituted. He arranged the _pièce de resistarnce_ in the shape
of large drums--not saucers, mark you--drums of coloured fire, with
printed instructions, at proper distances round Persimmon. There was a
brief interregnum while we dug ourselves in among the wurzels by hand.
Then he touched off the fires, _not_ omitting the Roman candle, and, you
may take it from me, all was visible. Persimmon shone out in his naked
splendour, red to port, green to starboard, and one white light at his
bows, as per Board o' Trade regulations. Only he didn't so much rock,
you might say, as shrug himself, in a manner of speaking, every time the
candle went off. One can't have everything. But the rest surpassed our
highest expectations. I think Persimmon was noblest on the starboard or
green side--more like when a man thinks he's seeing mackerel in hell,
don't you know? And yet I'd be the last to deprecate the effect of the
port light on his teeth, or that blood-shot look in his left eye. He
knew there was something going on he didn't approve of. He
looked worried.'

'Did you laugh?' I said.

'I'm not much of a wag myself; nor it wasn't as if we 'ad time to allow
the spectacle to sink in. The coloured fires was supposed to burn ten
minutes, whereas it was obvious to the meanest capacity that the Junior
Service would arrive by forced marches in about two and a half. They
grarsped our topical allusion as soon as it was across the foot-lights,
so to speak. They were quite chafed at it. Of course, 'ad we reflected,
we might have known that exposin' illuminated rockin'-horses to an army
that was learnin' to ride on 'em partook of the nature of a _double
entender_, as the French say--same as waggling the tiller lines at a man
who's had a hanging in the family. I knew the cox of the
_Archimandrite's_ galley 'arf killed for a similar _plaisan-teree._ But
we never anticipated lobsters being so sensitive. That was why we
shifted. We could 'ardly tear our commandin' officer away. He put his
head on one side, and kept cooin'. The only thing he 'ad neglected to
provide was a line of retreat; but your Mr. Leggatt--an 'eroic soul in
the last stage of wet prostration--here took command of the van, or,
rather, the rear-guard. We walked downhill beside him, holding on to the
superstructure to prevent her capsizing. These technical details,
'owever, are beyond me.' He waved his pipe towards Leggatt.

'I saw there was two deepish ruts leadin' down 'ill somewhere,' said
Leggatt. 'That was when the soldiers stopped laughin', and begun to
run uphill.'

'Stroll, lovey, stroll!' Pyecroft corrected. 'The Dervish rush took
place later.'

'So I laid her in these ruts. That was where she must 'ave scraped her
silencer a bit. Then they turned sharp right--the ruts did--and then she
stopped bonnet-high in a manure-heap, sir; but I'll swear it was all of
a one in three gradient. I think it was a barnyard. We waited there,'
said Leggatt.

'But not for long,' said Pyecroft. 'The lights were towering out of the
drums on the position we 'ad so valiantly abandoned; and the Junior
Service was escaladin' it _en masse_. When numerous bodies of 'ighly
trained men arrive simultaneous in the same latitude from opposite
directions, each remarking briskly, "What the 'ell did you do _that_
for?" detonation, as you might say, is practically assured. They didn't
ask for extraneous aids. If we'd come out with sworn affidavits of what
we'd done they wouldn't 'ave believed us. They wanted each other's
company exclusive. Such was the effect of Persimmon on their clarss
feelings. Idol'try, _I_ call it! Events transpired with the utmost
velocity and rapidly increasing pressures. There was a few remarks about
Dicky Bridoon and mechanical horses, and then some one was smacked--hard
by the sound--in the middle of a remark.'

'That was the man who kept calling for the Forty-fifth Dragoons,' said
Leggatt. 'He got as far as Drag ...'

'Was it?' said Pyecroft dreamily. 'Well, he couldn't say they didn't
come. They all came, and they all fell to arguin' whether the Infantry
should 'ave Persimmon for a regimental pet or the Cavalry should keep
him for stud purposes. Hence the issue was soon clouded with
mangold-wurzels. Our commander said we 'ad sowed the good seed, and it
was bearing abundant fruit. (They weigh between four and seven pounds
apiece.) Seein' the children 'ad got over their shyness, and 'ad really
begun to play games, we backed out o' the pit and went down, by steps,
to the camp below, no man, as you might say, making us afraid. Here we
enjoyed a front view of the battle, which rolled with renewed impetus,
owing to both sides receiving strong reinforcements every minute. All
arms were freely represented; Cavalry, on this occasion only, acting in
concert with Artillery. They argued the relative merits of horses
_versus_ feet, so to say, but they didn't neglect Persimmon. The wounded
rolling downhill with the wurzels informed us that he had long ago been
socialised, and the smallest souvenirs were worth a man's life. Speaking
broadly, the Junior Service appeared to be a shade out of 'and, if I may
venture so far. They did _not_ pay prompt and unhesitating obedience to
the "Retires" or the "Cease Fires" or the "For 'Eaven's sake come to
bed, ducky" of their officers, who, I regret to say, were 'otly
embroiled at the heads of their respective units.'

'How did you find that out?' I asked.

'On account of Lootenant Morshed going to the Mess tent to call on his
uncle and raise a drink; but all hands had gone to the front. We thought
we 'eard somebody bathing behind the tent, and we found an oldish
gentleman tryin' to drown a boy in knickerbockers in a horse-trough. He
kept him under with a bicycle, so to speak. He 'ad nearly accomplished
his fell design, when we frustrated him. He was in a highly malleable
condition and full o' _juice de spree_. "Arsk not what I am," he says.
"My wife 'll tell me that quite soon enough. Arsk rather what I've
been," he says. "I've been dinin' here," he says. "I commanded 'em in
the Eighties," he says, "and, Gawd forgive me," he says, sobbin'
'eavily, "I've spent this holy evening telling their Colonel they was a
set of educated inefficients. Hark to 'em!" We could, without strainin'
ourselves; but how _he_ picked up the gentle murmur of his own corps in
that on-the-knee party up the hill I don't know. "They've marched and
fought thirty mile to-day," he shouts, "and now they're tearin' the
_intestines_ out of the Cavalry up yonder! They won't stop this side the
gates o' Delhi," he says. "I commanded their ancestors. There's nothing
wrong with the Service," he says, wringing out his trousers on his lap.
"'Eaven pardon me for doubtin' 'em! Same old game--same young beggars."

'The boy in the knickerbockers, languishing on a chair, puts in a claim
for one drink. "Let him go dry," says our friend in shirt-tails. "He's a
reporter. He run into me on his filthy bicycle and he asked me if I
could furnish 'im with particulars about the mutiny in the Army. You
false-'earted proletarian publicist," he says, shakin' his finger at
'im--for he was reelly annoyed--"I'll teach you to defile what you can't
comprebend! When my regiment's in a state o' mutiny, I'll do myself the
honour of informing you personally. You particularly ignorant and very
narsty little man," he says, "you're no better than a dhobi's donkey! If
there wasn't dirty linen to wash, you'd starve," he says, "and why I
haven't drowned you will be the lastin' regret of my life."

'Well, we sat with 'em and 'ad drinks for about half-an-hour in front
of the Mess tent. He'd ha' killed the reporter if there hadn't been
witnesses, and the reporter might have taken notes of the battle; so we
acted as two-way buffers, in a sense. I don't hold with the Press
mingling up with Service matters. They draw false conclusions. Now, mark
you, at a moderate estimate, there were seven thousand men in the
fighting line, half of 'em hurt in their professional feelings, an' the
other half rubbin' in the liniment, as you might say. All due to
Persimmon! If you 'adn't seen it you wouldn't 'ave believed it. And yet,
mark you, not one single unit of 'em even resorted to his belt. They
confined themselves to natural producks--hands and the wurzels. I
thought Jules was havin' fits, till it trarnspired the same thought had
impressed him in the French language. He called it _incroyable_, I
believe. Seven thousand men, with seven thousand rifles, belts, and
bayonets, in a violently agitated condition, and not a ungenteel blow
struck from first to last. The old gentleman drew our attention to it as
well. It was quite noticeable.

'Lack of ammunition was the primerry cause of the battle ceasin'. A
Brigade-Major came in, wipin' his nose on both cuffs, and sayin' he 'ad
'ad snuff. The brigadier-uncle followed. He was, so to speak, sneezin'.
We thought it best to shift our moorings without attractin' attention;
so we shifted. They 'ad called the cows 'ome by then. The Junior Service
was going to bye-bye all round us, as happy as the ship's monkey when
he's been playin' with the paints, and Lootenant Morshed and Jules kept
bowin' to port and starboard of the superstructure, acknowledgin' the
unstinted applause which the multitude would 'ave given 'em if they'd
known the facts. On the other 'and, as your Mr. Leggatt observed, they
might 'ave killed us.

'That would have been about five bells in the middle watch, say
half-past two. A well-spent evening. There was but little to be gained
by entering Portsmouth at that hour, so we turned off on the grass (this
was after we had found a road under us), and we cast anchors out at the
stern and prayed for the day.

'But your Mr. Leggatt he had to make and mend tyres all our watch below.
It trarnspired she had been running on the rim o' two or three wheels,
which, very properly, he hadn't reported till the close of the action.
And that's the reason of your four new tyres. Mr. Morshed was of opinion
you'd earned 'em. Do you dissent?'

I stretched out my hand, which Pyecroft crushed to pulp. 'No, Pye,' I
said, deeply moved, 'I agree entirely. But what happened to Jules?'

'We returned him to his own Navy after breakfast. He wouldn't have kept
much longer without some one in his own language to tell it to. I don't
know any man I ever took more compassion on than Jules. 'Is sufferings
swelled him up centimetres, and all he could do on the Hard was to kiss
Lootenant Morshed and me, _and_ your Mr. Leggatt. He deserved that much.
A cordial beggar.'

Pyecroft looked at the washed cups on the table, and the low sunshine
on my car's back in the yard.

'Too early to drink to him,' he said. 'But I feel it just the same.'

The uncle, sunk in his chair, snored a little; the canary answered with
a shrill lullaby. Pyecroft picked up the duster, threw it over the cage,
put his finger to his lips, and we tiptoed out into the shop, while
Leggatt brought the car round.

'I'll look out for the news in the papers,' I said, as I got in.

'Oh, we short-circuited that! Nothing trarnspired excep' a statement to
the effect that some Territorial battalions had played about with
turnips at the conclusion of the manoeuvres The taxpayer don't know all
he gets for his money. Farewell!'

We moved off just in time to be blocked by a regiment coming towards the
station to entrain for London.

'Beg your pardon, sir,' said a sergeant in charge of the baggage, 'but
would you mind backin' a bit till we get the waggons past?'

'Certainly,' I said. 'You don't happen to have a rocking-horse among
your kit, do you?'

The rattle of our reverse drowned his answer, but I saw his eyes. One of
them was blackish-green, about four days old.


THE LEGEND OF MIRTH

The Four Archangels, so the legends tell,
Raphael, Gabriel, Michael, Azrael,
Being first of those to whom the Power was shown,
Stood first of all the Host before The Throne,
And when the Charges were allotted burst
Tumultuous-winged from out the assembly first.
Zeal was their spur that bade them strictly heed
Their own high judgment on their lightest deed.
Zeal was their spur that, when relief was given,
Urged them unwearied to fresh toil in Heaven;
For Honour's sake perfecting every task
Beyond what e'en Perfection's self could ask....
And Allah, Who created Zeal and Pride,
Knows how the twain are perilous-near allied.

It chanced on one of Heaven's long-lighted days,
The Four and all the Host having gone their ways
Each to his Charge, the shining Courts were void
Save for one Seraph whom no charge employed,
With folden wings and slumber-threatened brow.
To whom The Word: 'Beloved, what dost thou?'
'By the Permission,' came the answer soft,
'Little I do nor do that little oft.
As is The Will in Heaven so on Earth
Where by The Will I strive to make men mirth.'
He ceased and sped, hearing The Word once more:
'Beloved, go thy way and greet the Four.'

Systems and Universes overpast,
The Seraph came upon the Four, at last,
Guiding and guarding with devoted mind
The tedious generations of mankind
Who lent at most unwilling ear and eye
When they could not escape the ministry....
Yet, patient, faithful, firm, persistent, just
Toward all that gross, indifferent, facile dust,
The Archangels laboured to discharge their trust
By precept and example, prayer and law,
Advice, reproof, and rule, but, labouring, saw
Each in his fellow's countenance confessed,
The Doubt that sickens: 'Have I done my best?'

Even as they sighed and turned to toil anew,
The Seraph hailed them with observance due;
And after some fit talk of higher things
Touched tentative on mundane happenings.
This they permitting, he, emboldened thus,
Prolused of humankind promiscuous.
And, since the large contention less avails
Than instances observed, he told them tales--Tales
of the shop, the bed, the court, the street,
Intimate, elemental, indiscreet:
Occasions where Confusion smiting swift
Piles jest on jest as snow-slides pile the drift.

Whence, one by one, beneath derisive skies,
The victims bare, bewildered heads arise:
Tales of the passing of the spirit, graced
With humour blinding as the doom it faced:
Stark tales of ribaldry that broke aside
To tears, by laughter swallowed ere they dried:
Tales to which neither grace nor gain accrue,
But only (Allah be exalted!) true,
And only, as the Seraph showed that night,
Delighting to the limits of delight.

These he rehearsed with artful pause and halt,
And such pretence of memory at fault,
That soon the Four--so well the bait was thrown--
Came to his aid with memories of their own--
Matters dismissed long since as small or vain,
Whereof the high significance had lain
Hid, till the ungirt glosses made it plain.
Then as enlightenment came broad and fast,
Each marvelled at his own oblivious past
Until--the Gates of Laughter opened wide--
The Four, with that bland Seraph at their side,
While they recalled, compared, and amplified,
In utter mirth forgot both zeal and pride.

High over Heaven the lamps of midnight burned
Ere, weak with merriment, the Four returned,
Not in that order they were wont to keep--
Pinion to pinion answering, sweep for sweep,
In awful diapason heard afar,
But shoutingly adrift 'twixt star and star.
Reeling a planet's orbit left or right
As laughter took them in the abysmal Night;
Or, by the point of some remembered jest,
Winged and brought helpless down through gulfs unguessed,
Where the blank worlds that gather to the birth
Leaped in the womb of Darkness at their mirth,
And e'en Gehenna's bondsmen understood.
They were not damned from human brotherhood.

Not first nor last of Heaven's high Host, the Four
That night took place beneath The Throne once more.
O lovelier than their morning majesty,
The understanding light behind the eye!
O more compelling than their old command,
The new-learned friendly gesture of the hand!
O sweeter than their zealous fellowship,
The wise half-smile that passed from lip to lip!
O well and roundly, when Command was given,
They told their tale against themselves to Heaven,
And in the silence, waiting on The Word,
Received the Peace and Pardon of The Lord!


Rudyard Kipling

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