A hooded motor had followed mine from the Guildford Road up the drive to
The Infant's ancestral hall, and had turned off to the stables.
'We're having a quiet evening together. Stalky's upstairs changing.
Dinner's at 7.15 sharp, because we're hungry. His room's next to yours,'
said The Infant, nursing a cobwebbed bottle of Burgundy.
Then I found Lieutenant-Colonel A.L. Corkran, I.A., who borrowed a
collar-stud and told me about the East and his Sikh regiment.
'And are your subalterns as good as ever?' I asked.
'Amazin'--simply amazin'! All I've got to do is to find 'em jobs. They
keep touchin' their caps to me and askin' for more work. 'Come at me
with their tongues hangin' out. _I_ used to run the other way at
'And when they err?' said I. 'I suppose they do sometimes?'
'Then they run to me again to weep with remorse over their virgin
peccadilloes. I never cuddled my Colonel when I was in trouble.
'And what do you say to 'em?'
'Talk to 'em like a papa. Tell 'em how I can't understand it, an' how
shocked I am, and how grieved their parents'll be; and throw in a
little about the Army Regulations and the Ten Commandments. 'Makes one
feel rather a sweep when one thinks of what one used to do at their age.
We remembered together till close on seven o'clock. As we went out into
the gallery that runs round the big hall, we saw The Infant, below,
talking to two deferential well-set-up lads whom I had known, on and
off, in the holidays, any time for the last ten years. One of them had a
bruised cheek, and the other a weeping left eye.
'Yes, that's the style,' said Stalky below his breath. 'They're brought
up on lemon-squash and mobilisation text-books. I say, the girls we knew
must have been much better than they pretended they were; for I'll swear
it isn't the fathers.'
'But why on earth did you do it?' The Infant was shouting. 'You know
what it means nowadays.'
'Well, sir,' said Bobby Trivett, the taller of the two, 'Wontner talks
too much, for one thing. He didn't join till he was twenty-three, and,
besides that, he used to lecture on tactics in the ante-room. He said
Clausewitz was the only tactician, and he illustrated his theories with
cigar-ends. He was that sort of chap, sir.'
'And he didn't much care whose cigar-ends they were,' said Eames, who
was shorter and pinker.
'And then he _would_ talk about the 'Varsity,' said Bobby. 'He got a
degree there. And he told us we weren't intellectual. He told the
Adjutant so, sir. He was just that kind of chap, sir, if you
Stalky and I backed behind a tall Japanese jar of chrysanthemums and
listened more intently.
'Was all the Mess in it, or only you two?' The Infant demanded, chewing
'The Adjutant went to bed, of course, sir, and the Senior Subaltern said
he wasn't going to risk his commission--they're awfully down on ragging
nowadays in the Service--but the rest of us--er--attended to him,'
'Much?' The Infant asked. The boys smiled deprecatingly.
'Not in the ante-room, sir,' said Eames. 'Then he called us silly
children, and went to bed, and we sat up discussin', and I suppose we
got a bit above ourselves, and we--er--'
'Went to his quarters and drew him?' The Infant suggested.
'Well, we only asked him to get out of bed, and we put his helmet and
sword-belt on for him, and we sung him bits out of the Blue Fairy
Book--the cram-book on Army organisation. Oh yes, and then we asked him
to drink old Clausewitz's health, as a brother-tactician, in milk-punch
and Worcester sauce, and so on. We had to help him a little there. He
bites. There wasn't much else that time; but, you know, the War Office
is severe on ragging these days.' Bobby stopped with a lopsided smile.
'And then,' Eames went on, 'then Wontner said we'd done several pounds'
worth of damage to his furniture.'
'Oh,' said The Infant, 'he's that kind of man, is he? Does he brush his
'Oh yes, he's quite clean all over!' said Trivett; 'but his father's a
'Solicitor,' Eames corrected, 'and so this Mister Wontner is out for our
blood. He's going to make a first-class row about it--appeal to the War
Office--court of inquiry--spicy bits in the papers, and songs in the
music-halls. He told us so.'
'That's the sort of chap he is,' said Trivett. 'And that means old
Dhurrah-bags, our Colonel, 'll be put on half-pay, same as that case in
the Scarifungers' Mess; and our Adjutant'll have to exchange, like it
was with that fellow in the 73rd Dragoons, and there'll be misery all
round. He means making it too hot for us, and his papa'll back him.'
'Yes, that's all very fine,' said The Infant; 'but I left the Service
about the time you were born, Bobby. What's it got to do with me?'
'Father told me I was always to go to you when I was in trouble, and
you've been awfully good to me since he ...'
'Better stay to dinner.' The Infant mopped his forehead.
'Thank you very much, but the fact is--' Trivett halted.
'This afternoon, about four, to be exact--' Eames broke in.
'We went over to Wontner's quarters to talk things over. The row only
happened last night, and we found him writing letters as hard as he
could to his father--getting up his case for the War Office, you know.
He read us some of 'em, but I'm not a good judge of style. We tried to
ride him off quietly--apologies and so forth--but it was the milk-punch
and mayonnaise that defeated us.'
'Yes, he wasn't taking anything except pure revenge,' said Eames.
'He said he'd make an example of the regiment, and he was particularly
glad that he'd landed our Colonel. He told us so. Old Dhurrah-bags don't
sympathise with Wontner's tactical lectures. He says Wontner ought to
learn manners first, but we thought--' Trivett turned to Eames, who was
less a son of the house than himself, Eames's father being still alive.
'Then,' Eames went on, 'he became rather noisome, and we thought we
might as well impound the correspondence'--he wrinkled his swelled left
eye--'and after that, we got him to take a seat in my car.'
'He was in a sack, you know,' Trivett explained. 'He wouldn't go any
other way. But we didn't hurt him.'
'Oh no! His head's sticking out quite clear, and'--Eames rushed the
fence--'we've put him in your garage--er _pendente lite_.'
'My garage!' Infant's voice nearly broke with horror.
'Well, father always told me if I was in trouble, Uncle George--'
Bobby's sentence died away as The Infant collapsed on a divan and said
no more than, 'Your commissions!' There was a long, long silence.
'What price your latter-day lime-juice subaltern?' I whispered to
Stalky behind my hand. His nostrils expanded, and he drummed on the edge
of the Japanese jar with his knuckles.
'Confound your father, Bobby!' The Infant groaned. 'Raggin's a criminal
offence these days. It isn't as if--'
'Come on,' said Stalky. 'That was my old Line battalion in Egypt. They
nearly slung old Dhurrah-bags and me out of the Service in '85 for
ragging.' He descended the stairs and The Infant rolled appealing
eyes at him.
'I heard what you youngsters have confessed,' he began; and in his
orderly-room voice, which is almost as musical as his singing one, he
tongue-lashed those lads in such sort as was a privilege and a
revelation to listen to. Till then they had known him almost as a
relative--we were all brevet, deputy, or acting uncles to The Infant's
friends' brood--a sympathetic elder brother, sound on finance. They had
never met Colonel A.L. Corkran in the Chair of Justice. And while he
flayed and rent and blistered, and wiped the floor with them, and while
they looked for hiding-places and found none on that floor, I remembered
(1) the up-ending of 'Dolly' Macshane at Dalhousie, which came
perilously near a court-martial on Second-Lieutenant Corkran; (2) the
burning of Captain Parmilee's mosquito-curtains on a hot Indian dawn,
when the captain slept in his garden, and Lieutenant Corkran, smoking,
rode by after a successful whist night at the club; (3) the
introduction of an ekka pony, with ekka attached, into a brother
captain's tent on a frosty night in Peshawur, and the removal of tent,
pole, cot, and captain all wrapped in chilly canvas; (4) the bath that
was given to Elliot-Hacker on his own verandah--his lady-love saw it and
broke off the engagement, which was what the Mess intended, she being an
Eurasian--and the powdering all over of Elliot-Hacker with flour and
turmeric from the bazaar.
When he took breath I realised how only Satan can rebuke sin. The good
don't know enough.
'Now,' said Stalky, 'get out! No, not out of the house. Go to your
'I'll send your dinner, Bobby,' said The Infant. 'Ipps!'
Nothing had ever been known to astonish Ipps, the butler. He entered and
withdrew with his charges. After all, he had suffered from Bobby since
Bobby's twelfth year.
'They've done everything they could, short of murder,' said The Infant.
'You know what this'll mean for the regiment. It isn't as if we were
dealing with Sahibs nowadays.'
'Quite so.' Stalky turned on me. 'Go and release the bagman,' he said.
''Tisn't my garage,' I pleaded. 'I'm company. Besides, he'll probably
slay me. He's been in the sack for hours.'
'Look here,' Stalky thundered--the years had fallen from us both--'is
your--am I commandin' or are you? We've got to pull this thing off
somehow or other. Cut over to the garage, make much of him, and bring
him over. He's dining with us. Be quick, you dithering ass!'
I was quick enough; but as I ran through the shrubbery I wondered how
one extricates the subaltern of the present day from a sack without
hurting his feelings. Anciently, one slit the end open, taking off his
boots first, and then fled.
Imagine a sumptuously-equipped garage, half-filled by The Infant's
cobalt-blue, grey-corded silk limousine and a mud-splashed, cheap,
hooded four-seater. In the back seat of this last, conceive a fiery
chestnut head emerging from a long oat-sack; an implacable white face,
with blazing eyes and jaws that worked ceaselessly at the loop of the
string that was drawn round its neck. The effect, under the electrics,
was that of a demon caterpillar wrathfully spinning its own cocoon.
'Good evening!' I said genially. 'Let me help you out of that.' The head
glared. 'We've got 'em,' I went on. 'They came to quite the wrong shop
for this sort of game--quite the wrong shop.'
'Game!' said the head. 'We'll see about that. Let me out.'
It was not a promising voice for one so young, and, as usual, I had no
'You've chewed the string so I can't find the knot,' I said as I worked
with trembling fingers at the cater-pillar's throat. Something untied
itself, and Mr. Wontner wriggled out, collarless, tieless, his coat
split half down his back, his waistcoat unbuttoned, his watch-chain
snapped, his trousers rucked well above the knees.
'Where,' he said grimly, as he pulled them down, 'are Master Trivett and
'Both arrested, of course,' I replied. 'Sir George'--I gave The Infant's
full title as a baronet--'is a Justice of the Peace. He'd be very
pleased if you dined with us. There's a room ready for you.' I picked
up the sack.
'D'you know,' said Mr. Wontner through his teeth--but the car's bonnet
was between us, 'that this looks to me like--I won't say conspiracy
_yet_, but uncommonly like a confederacy.'
When injured souls begin to distinguish and qualify, danger is over. So
I grew bold.
''Sorry you take it that way,' I said. 'You come here in trouble--'
'My good fool,' he interrupted, with a half-hysterical snort, 'let me
assure you that the trouble will recoil on the other men!'
'As you please,' I went on. 'Anyhow, the chaps who got you into trouble
are arrested, and the magistrate who arrested 'em asks you to dinner.
Shall I tell him you're walking back to Aldershot?'
He picked some fluff off his waistcoat.
'I'm in no position to dictate terms yet,' he said. 'That will come
later. I must probe into this a little further. In the meantime, I
accept your invitation without prejudice--if you understand what
I understood and began to be happy again. Sub-alterns without
prejudices were quite new to me. 'All right,' I replied; 'if you'll go
up to the house, I'll turn out the lights.'
He walked off stiffly, while I searched the sack and the car for the
impounded correspondence that Bobby had talked of. I found nothing
except, as the police reports say, the trace of a struggle. He had
kicked half the varnish off the back of the front seat, and had bitten
the leather padding where he could reach it. Evidently a purposeful and
hard-mouthed young gentleman.
'Well done!' said Stalky at the door. 'So he didn't slay you. Stop
laughing. He's talking to The Infant now about depositions. Look here,
you're nearest his size. Cut up to your rooms and give Ipps your dinner
things and a clean shirt for him.'
'But I haven't got another suit,' I said.
'You! I'm not thinking of you! We've got to conciliate _him_. He's in
filthy rags and a filthy temper, and he won't feel decent till he's
dressed. You're the sacrifice. Be quick! And clean socks, remember!'
Once more I trotted up to my room, changed into unseasonable unbrushed
grey tweeds, put studs into a clean shirt, dug out fresh socks, handed
the whole garniture over to Ipps, and returned to the hall just in time
to hear Stalky say, 'I'm a stockbroker, but I have the honour to hold
His Majesty's commission in a Territorial battalion.' Then I felt as
though I might be beginning to be repaid.
'I have a very high opinion of the Territorials myself,' said Mr.
Wontner above a glass of sherry. (Infant never lets us put bitters into
anything above twenty years old.) 'But if you had any experience of the
Service, you would find that the Average Army Man--'
Here The Infant suggested changing, and Ipps, before whom no human
passion can assert itself, led Mr. Wontner away.
'Why the devil did you tell him I was on the Bench?' said Infant
wrathfully to me. 'You know I ain't now. Why didn't he stay in his
father's office? He's a raging blight!'
'Not a bit of it,' said Stalky cheerfully. 'He's a little shaken and
excited. Probably Beetle annoyed him in the garage, but we must overlook
that. We've contained him so far, and I'm going to nibble round his
outposts at dinner. All you've got to do, Infant, is to remember you're
a gentleman in your own house. Don't hop! You'll find it pretty
difficult before dinner's over. I don't want to hear anything at all
from you, Beetle.'
'But I'm just beginning to like him,' I said. 'Do let me play!'
'Not till I ask you. You'll overdo it. Poor old Dhurrah-bags! A scandal
'ud break him up!'
'But as long as a regiment has no say as to who joins it, it's bound to
rag,' Infant began. 'Why--why, they varnished me when I joined!' He
squirmed at the thought of it.
'Don't be owls! We ain't discussing principles! We've got to save the
court of inquiry if we can,' said Stalky.
Five minutes later--at 7.45 to be precise--we four sat down to such a
dinner as, I hold, only The Infant's cook can produce, with wines worthy
of pontifical banquets. A man in the extremity of rage and injured
dignity is precisely like a typhoid patient. He asks no questions,
accepts what is put before him, and babbles in one key--very often of
trifles. But food and drink are the very best of drugs. I think it was
Heidsieck Dry Monopole '92--Stalky as usual stuck to Burgundy--that
began to unlock Mr. Wontner's heart behind my shirt-front. Me he snubbed
throughout, after the Oxford manner, because I had seen him in the sack,
and he did not intend me to presume; but to Stalky and The Infant, while
I admired the set of my dinner-jacket across his shoulders, he made his
plans of revenge very clear indeed. He had even sketched out some of the
paragraphs that were to appear in the papers, and if Stalky had allowed
me to speak, I would have told him that they were rather neatly phrased.
'You ought to be able to get whackin' damages out of 'em, into the
bargain,' said Stalky, after Mr. Wontner had outlined his
'My de-ah sir,' Mr. Wontner applied himself to his glass, 'it isn't a
matter that gentlemen usually discuss, but, I assure you, we
Wontners'--he waved a well-kept hand--'do not stand in any need of
filthy lucre.' In the next three minutes, we learned exactly what his
father was worth, which, as he pointed out, was a trifle no man of the
world dwelt on. Stalky envied aloud, and I delivered my first kick at
The Infant's ankle. Thence we drifted to education, and the Average Army
Man, and the desolating vacuity--I remember these words--of Army
Society, notably among its womenkind. It appeared there was some sort of
narrow convention in the Army against mentioning a woman's name at Mess.
We were much surprised at this--Stalky would not let me express my
surprise--but we took it from Mr. Wontner, who said we might, that it
was so. Next he touched on Colonels of the old school, and their
cognisance of tactics. Not that he himself pretended to any skill in
tactics, but after three years at the 'Varsity--none of us had had a
'Varsity education--a man insensibly contracted the habit of clear
thinking. At least, he could automatically co-ordinate his ideas, and
the jealousy of these muddle-headed Colonels was inconceivable. We would
understand that it was his duty to force on the retirement of his
Colonel, who had been in the conspiracy against him; to make his
Adjutant resign or exchange; and to give the half-dozen childish
subalterns who had vexed his dignity a chance to retrieve themselves in
other corps--West African ones, he hoped. For himself, after the case
was decided, he proposed to go on living in the regiment, just to
prove--for he bore no malice--that times had changed, _nosque mutamur in
illis_--if we knew what that meant. Infant had curled his legs out of
reach, so I was quite free to return thanks yet once more to Allah for
the diversity of His creatures in His adorable world.
And so, by way of an eighty-year-old liqueur brandy, to tactics and the
great General Clausewitz, unknown to the Average Army Man. Here The
Infant, at a whisper from Ipps--whose face had darkened like a mulberry
while he waited--excused himself and went away, but Stalky, Colonel of
Territorials, wanted some tips on tactics. He got them unbrokenly for
ten minutes--Wontner and Clausewitz mixed, but Wontner in a film of
priceless cognac distinctly on top. When The Infant came back, he
renewed his clear-spoken demand that Infant should take his depositions.
I supposed this to be a family trait of the Wontners, whom I had been
visualising for some time past even to the third generation.
'But, hang it all, they're both asleep!' said Infant, scowling at me.
'Ipps let 'em have the '81 port.'
'Asleep!' said Stalky, rising at once. 'I don't see that makes any
difference. As a matter of form, you'd better identify them. I'll show
you the way.'
We followed up the white stone side-staircase that leads to the
bachelors' wing. Mr. Wontner seemed surprised that the boys were not in
'Oh, a chap's assumed to be innocent until he's proved guilty,' said
Stalky, mounting step by step. 'How did they get you into the sack,
'Jumped on me from behind--two to one,' said Mr. Wontner briefly. 'I
think I handed each of them something first, but they roped my arms
'And did they photograph you in the sack?'
'Good Heavens, no!' Mr. Wontner shuddered.
'That's lucky. Awful thing to live down--a photograph, isn't it?' said
Stalky to me as we reached the landing. 'I'm thinking of the newspapers,
'Oh, but you can easily have sketches in the illustrated papers from
accounts supplied by eye-witnesses,' I said.
Mr. Wontner turned him round. It was the first time he had honoured me
by his notice since our talk in the garage.
'Ah,' said he, 'do you pretend to any special knowledge in these
'I'm a journalist by profession,' I answered simply but nobly. 'As soon
as you're at liberty, I'd like to have your account of the affair.'
Now I thought he would have loved me for this, but he only replied in an
uncomfortable, uncoming-on voice, 'Oh, you would, would you?'
'Not if it's any trouble, of course,' I said. 'I can always get their
version from the defendants. Do either of 'em draw or sketch at all, Mr.
Wontner? Or perhaps your father might--'
Then he said quite hotly, 'I wish you to understand very clearly, my
good man, that a gentleman's name can't be dragged through the gutter to
bolster up the circulation of your wretched sheet, whatever it may be.'
'It is ----' I named a journal of enormous sales which specialises in
scholastic, military, and other scandals. 'I don't know yet what it
can't do, Mr. Wontner.'
'I didn't know that I was dealing with a reporter' said Mr. Wontner.
We were all halted outside a shut door. Ipps had followed us.
'But surely you want it in the papers, don't you?' I urged. 'With a
scandal like this, one couldn't, in justice to the democracy, be
exclusive. We'd syndicate it here and in the United States. I helped you
out of the sack, if you remember.'
'I wish to goodness you'd stop talking!' he snapped, and sat down on a
chair. Stalky's hand on my shoulder quietly signalled me out of action,
but I felt that my fire had not been misdirected.
'I'll answer for him,' said Stalky to Wontner, in an undertone that
dropped to a whisper. I caught--'Not without my leave--dependent on me
for market-tips,' and other gratifying tributes to my integrity.
Still Mr. Wontner sat in his chair, and still we waited on him. The
Infant's face showed worry and heavy grief; Stalky's, a bright and
bird-like interest; mine was hidden behind his shoulders, but on the
face of Ipps were written emotions that no butler should cherish towards
any guest. Contempt and wrath were the least of them. And Mr. Wontner
was looking full at Ipps, as Ipps was looking at him. Mr. Wontner's
father, I understood, kept a butler and two footmen.
'D'you suppose they're shamming, in order to get off?' he said at last.
Ipps shook his head and noiselessly threw the door open. The boys had
finished their dinner and were fast asleep--one on a sofa, one in a long
chair--their faces fallen back to the lines of their childhood. They had
had a wildish night, a hard day, that ended with a telling-off from an
artist, and the assurance they had wrecked their prospects for life.
What else should youth do, then, but eat, and drink '81 port, and
remember their sorrows no more?
Mr. Wontner looked at them severely, Ipps within easy reach, his hands
quite ready. 'Childish,' said Mr. Wontner at last. 'Childish but
necessary. Er--have you such a thing as a rope on the premises, and a
sack--two sacks and two ropes? I'm afraid I can't resist the temptation.
That man understands, doesn't he, that this is a private matter?'
'That man,' who was me, was off to the basement like one of Infant's own
fallow-deer. The stables gave me what I wanted, and coming back with it
through a dark passage, I ran squarely into Ipps. 'Go on!' he grunted.
'The minute he lays hands on Master Bobby, Master Bobby's saved. But
that person ought to be told how near he came to being assaulted. It was
touch-and-go with me all the time from the soup down, I assure you.'
I arrived breathless with the sacks and the ropes. 'They were two to one
with me,' said Mr. Wontner, as he took them. 'If they wake--'
'We'll stand by,' Stalky replied. 'Two to one is quite fair.'
But the boys hardly grunted as Mr. Wontner roped first one and then the
other. Even when they were slid into the sacks they only mumbled, with
rolling heads, through sticky lips, and snored on.
'Port?' said Mr. Wontner virtuously.
'Nervous exhaustion. They aren't much more than kids, after all. What's
next?' said Stalky.
'I want to take 'em away with me, please.'
Stalky looked at him with respect.
'I'll have my car round in five minutes,' said The Infant. 'Ipps'll help
carry 'em downstairs,' and he shook Mr. Wontner by the hand.
We were all perfectly serious till the two bundles were dumped on a
divan in the hall, and the boys waked and began to realise what
'Yah!' said Mr. Wontner, with the simplicity of twelve years old. 'Who's
scored now?' And he sat upon them. The tension broke in a storm of
laughter, led, I think, by Ipps.
'Asinine--absolutely asinine!' said Mr. Wontner, with folded arms from
his lively chair. But he drank in the flattery and the fellowship of it
all with quite a brainless grin, as we rolled and stamped round him, and
wiped the tears from our cheeks.
'Hang it!' said Bobby Trivett. 'We're defeated!'
'By tactics, too,' said Eames. 'I didn't think you knew 'em, Clausewitz.
It's a fair score. What are you going to do with us?'
'Take you back to Mess,' said Mr. Wontner.
'Not like this?'
'Oh no. Worse--much worse! I haven't begun with you yet. And you
thought you'd scored! Yah!'
They had scored beyond their wildest dream. The man in whose hands it
lay to shame them, their Colonel, their Adjutant, their Regiment, and
their Service, had cast away all shadow of his legal rights for the sake
of a common or bear-garden rag--such a rag as if it came to the ears of
the authorities, would cost him his commission. They were saved, and
their saviour was their equal and their brother. So they chaffed and
reviled him as such till he again squashed the breath out of them, and
we others laughed louder than they.
'Fall in!' said Stalky when the limousine came round. 'This is the score
of the century. I wouldn't miss it for a brigade! We shan't be
I hurried into a coat.
'Is there any necessity for that reporter-chap to come too?' said Mr.
Wontner in an unguarded whisper. 'He isn't dressed for one thing.'
Bobby and Eames wriggled round to look at the reporter, began a joyous
bellow, and suddenly stopped.
'What's the matter?' said Wontner with suspicion.
'Nothing,' said Bobby. 'I die happy, Clausewitz. Take me up tenderly.'
We packed into the car, bearing our sheaves with us, and for half an
hour, as the cool night-air fanned his thoughtful brow, Mr. Wontner was
quite abreast of himself. Though he said nothing unworthy, he triumphed
and trumpeted a little loudly over the sacks. I sat between them on the
back seat, and applauded him servilely till he reminded me that what I
had seen and what he had said was not for publication. I hinted, while
the boys plunged with joy inside their trappings, that this might be a
matter for arrangement. 'Then a sovereign shan't part us,' said Mr.
Wontner cheerily, and both boys fell into lively hysterics. 'I don't see
where the joke comes in for you,' said Mr. Wontner. 'I thought it was my
little jokelet to-night.'
'No, Clausewitz,' gasped Bobby. 'Some is, but not all. I'll be good now.
I'll give you my parole till we get to Mess. I wouldn't be out of this
for a fiver.'
'Nor me,' said Eames, and he gave his parole to attempt no escape or
'Now, I suppose,' said Mr. Wontner largely to Stalky, as we neared the
suburbs of Ash, 'you have a good deal of practical joking on the Stock
Exchange, haven't you?'
'And when were you on the Stock Exchange, Uncle Leonard?' piped Bobby,
while Eames laid his sobbing head on my shoulder.
'I'm sorry,' said Stalky, 'but the fact is, I command a regiment myself
when I'm at home. Your Colonel knows me, I think.' He gave his name. Mr.
Wontner seemed to have heard of it. We had to pick Eames off the floor,
where he had cast himself from excess of delight.
'Oh, Heavens!' said Mr. Wontner after a long pause. 'What have I done?
What haven't I done?' We felt the temperature in the car rise as
'You didn't talk tactics, Clausewitz?' said Bobby. 'Oh, say it wasn't
'It was,' said Wontner.
Eames was all among our feet again, crying, 'If you don't let me get my
arms up, I'll be sick. Let's hear what you said. Tell us.'
But Mr. Wontner turned to Stalky. 'It's no good my begging your pardon,
sir, I suppose,' he said.
'Don't you notice 'em,' said Stalky. 'It was a fair rag all round, and
anyhow, you two youngsters haven't any right to talk tactics. You've
been rolled up, horse, foot, and guns.'
'I'll make a treaty. If you'll let us go and change presently,' said
Bobby, 'I'll promise we won't tell about you, Clausewitz. _You_ talked
tactics to Uncle Len? Old Dhurrah-bags will like that. He don't love
'If I've made one ass of myself, I shall take extra care to make asses
of you!' said Wontner. 'I want to stop, please, at the next milliner's
shop on the right. It ought to be close here.'
He evidently knew the country even in the dark, for the car stopped at a
brilliantly-lighted millinery establishment, where--it was Saturday
evening--a young lady was clearing up the counter. I followed him, as a
good reporter should.
'Have you got--' he began. 'Ah, those'll do!' He pointed to two hairy
plush beehive bonnets, one magenta, the other a conscientious electric
blue. 'How much, please? I'll take them both, and that bunch of peacock
feathers, and that red feather thing.' It was a brilliant crimson-dyed
'Now I want some yards of muslin with a nice, fierce pattern, please.'
He got it--yellow with black tulips--and returned heavily laden.
'Sorry to have kept you,' said he. 'Now we'll go to my quarters to
change and beautify.'
We came to them--opposite a dun waste of parade-ground that might have
been Mian Mir--and bugles as they blew and drums as they rolled set
We hoisted the boys out and arranged them on chairs, while Wontner
changed into uniform, but stopped when he saw me taking off my jacket.
'What on earth's that for?' said he.
'Because you've been wearing my evening things,' I said. 'I want to get
into 'em again, if you don't mind.'
'Then you aren't a reporter?' he said.
'No,' I said, 'but that shan't part us.'
'Oh, hurry!' cried Eames in desperate convulsions. 'We can't stand this
much longer. 'Tisn't fair on the young.'
'I'll attend to you in good time,' said Wontner; and when he had made
careful toilet, he unwrapped the bonnets, put the peacock's feather into
the magenta one, pinned the crimson wing on the blue one, set them
daintily on the boys' heads, and bade them admire the effect in his
shaving-glass while he ripped the muslin into lengths, bound it first,
and draped it artistically afterwards a little below their knees. He
finished off with a gigantic sash-bow, obi fashion. 'Hobble skirts,' he
explained to Stalky, who nodded approval.
Next he split open the bottom of each sack so that they could walk, but
with very short steps. 'I ought to have got you white satin slippers,'
he murmured, 'and I'm sorry there's no rouge.'
'Don't worry on our account, old man--you're doing us proud,' said Bobby
from under his hat. 'This beats milk-punch and mayonnaise.'
'Oh, why didn't we think of these things when we had him at our mercy?'
Eames wailed. 'Never mind--we'll try it on the next chap. You've a
'Now we'll call on 'em at Mess,' said Wontner, as they minced towards
'I think I'll call on your Colonel,' said Stalky. 'He oughtn't to miss
this. Your first attempt? I assure you I couldn't have done it better
myself. Thank you!' He held out his hand.
'Thank _you_, sir!' said Wontner, shaking it. 'I'm more grateful to you
than I can say, and--and I'd like you to believe some time that I'm not
quite as big a--'
'Not in the least,' Stalky interrupted. 'If I were writing a
confidential report on you, I should put you down as rather adequate.
Look after your geishas, or they'll fall!'
We watched the three cross the road and disappear into the shadow of the
Mess verandah. There was a noise. Then telephone bells rang, a sergeant
and a Mess waiter charged out, and the noise grew, till at last the Mess
was a little noisy.
We came back, ten minutes later, with Colonel Dalziell, who had been
taking his sorrows to bed with him. The ante-room was quite full and
visitors were still arriving, but it was possible to hear oneself speak
occasionally. Trivett and Eames, in sack and sash, sat side by side on a
table, their hats at a ravishing angle, coquettishly twiddling their
tied feet. In the intervals of singing 'Put Me Among the Girls,' they
sipped whisky-and-soda held to their lips by, I regret to say, a Major.
Public opinion seemed to be against allowing them to change their
costume till they should have danced in it. Wontner, lying more or less
gracefully at the level of the chandelier in the arms of six subalterns,
was lecturing on tactics and imploring to be let down, which he was with
a run when they realised that the Colonel was there. Then he picked
himself up from the sofa and said: 'I want to apologise, sir, to you and
the Mess for having been such an ass ever since I joined!'
This was when the noise began.
Seeing the night promised to be wet, Stalky and I went home again in The
Infant's car. It was some time since we had tasted the hot air that lies
between the cornice and the ceiling of crowded rooms.
After half an hour's silence, Stalky said to me: 'I don't know what
you've been doing, but I believe I've been weepin'. Would you put that
down to Burgundy or senile decay?'
These were our children who died for our lands: they
were dear in our sight.
We have only the memory left of their home-treasured
sayings and laughter.
The price of our loss shall be paid to our hands, not
Neither the Alien nor Priest shall decide on it. That is our right.
_But who shall return us the children_?
At the hour the Barbarian chose to disclose his pretences,
And raged against Man, they engaged, on the breasts
that they bared for us,
The first felon-stroke of the sword he had long-time
prepared for us--
Their bodies were all our defence while we wrought our defences.
They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us,
Those hours which we had not made good when the Judgment
They believed us and perished for it. Our statecraft, our learning.
Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning
Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour.
Not since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her.
Nor was their agony brief, or once only imposed on them.
The wounded, the war-spent, the sick received no exemption:
Being cured they returned and endured and achieved our redemption,
Hopeless themselves of relief, till Death, marvelling, closed
That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given
To corruption unveiled and assailed by the malice of Heaven--
By the heart-shaking jests of Decay where it lolled on the wires--
To be blanched or gay-painted by fumes--to be cindered by fires--
To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater. For this we shall take expiation.
_But who shall return us our children_?