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July 12, 1915.--Disquieting rumours to the effect that epidemic of Billetitis hitherto confined to the north of King's Road shows signs of spreading.
July 14.--Report that two Inns of Court men have been seen peeping over my gate.
July 16.--Informed that soldier of agreeable appearance and charming manners requests interview with me. Took a dose of Phospherine and went. Found composite photograph of French, Joffre, and Hindenburg waiting for me in the hall. Smiled (he did, I mean) and gave me the mutilated form of salute reserved for civilians. Introduced himself as Quartermaster- Sergeant Beddem, and stated that the Inns of Court O.T.C. was going under canvas next week. After which he gulped. Meantime could I take in a billet. Questioned as to what day the corps was going into camp said that he believed it was Monday, but was not quite sure--might possibly be Tuesday. Swallowed again and coughed a little. Accepted billet and felt completely re-warded by smile. Q.M.S. bade me good-bye, and then with the air of a man suddenly remembering something, asked me whether I could take two. Excused myself and interviewed my C.O. behind the dining-room door. Came back and accepted. Q.M.S. so overjoyed (apparently) that he fell over the scraper. Seemed to jog his memory. He paused, and gazing in absent fashion at the topmost rose on the climber in the porch, asked whether I could take three! Added hopefully that the third was only a boy. Excused myself. Heated debate with C.O. Subject: sheets. Returned with me to explain to the Q.M.S. He smiled. C.O. accepted at once, and, returning smile, expressed regret at size and position of bedrooms available. Q.M.S. went off swinging cane jauntily.
July 17.--Billets arrived. Spoke to them about next Monday and canvas. They seemed surprised. Strange how the military authorities decline to take men into their confidence merely because they are privates. Let them upstairs. They went (for first and last time) on tiptoe.
July 18.--Saw Q.M.S. Beddem in the town. Took shelter in the King's Arms.
Jug. 3.--Went to Cornwall.
Aug. 31.--Returned. Billets received me very hospitably.
Sept. 4.--Private Budd, electrical engineer, dissatisfied with appearance of bell-push in dining-room, altered it.
Sept. 5.--Bells out of order.
Sept. 6.--Private Merited, also an electrical engineer, helped Private Budd to repair bells.
Sept. 7.--Private Budd helped Private Merited to repair bells.
Sept. 8.--Privates Budd and Merited helped each other to repair bells.
Sept. 9.--Sent to local tradesman to put my bells in order.
Sept. 15.--Told that Q.M.S. Beddem wished to see me. Saw C.O. first. She thought he had possibly come to take some of the billets away. Q.M.S. met my approach with a smile that re-minded me vaguely of picture- postcards I had seen. Awfully sorry to trouble me, but Private Montease, just back from three weeks' holiday with bronchitis, was sleeping in the wood-shed on three planks and a tin-tack. Beamed at me and waited. Went and bought another bed-stead.
Sept. 16.--Private Montease and a cough entered into residence.
Sept. 17, 11.45 p.m.--Maid came to bedroom-door with some cough lozenges which she asked me to take to the new billet. Took them. Private Montease thanked me, but said he didn't mind coughing. Said it was an heirloom; Montease cough, known in highest circles all over Scotland since time of Young Pretender.
Sept. 20.--Private Montease installed in easy-chair in dining-room with touch of bronchitis, looking up trains to Bournemouth.
Sept. 21.--Private Montease in bed all day. Cook anxious "to do her bit" rubbed his chest with home-made embrocation. Believe it is same stuff she rubs chests in hall with. Smells the same anyway.
Sept. 24.--Private Montease, complaining of slight rawness of chest, but otherwise well, returned to duty.
Oct. 5.--Cough worse again. Private Montease thinks that with care it may turn to bronchitis. Borrowed an A.B.C.
Oct. 6.--Private Montease relates uncanny experience. Woke up with feeling of suffocation to find an enormous black-currant and glycerine jujube wedged in his gullet. Never owned such a thing in his life. Seems to be unaware that he always sleeps with his mouth open.
Nov. 14.--Private Bowser, youngest and tallest of my billets, gazetted.
Nov. 15, 10.35 a.m.--Private Bowser in tip-top spirits said good-bye to us all.
10.45.--Told that Q.M.S. Beddem desired to see me. Capitulated. New billet, Private Early, armed to the teeth, turned up in the evening. Said that he was a Yorkshireman. Said that Yorkshire was the finest county in England, and Yorkshiremen the finest men in the world. Stood toying with his bayonet and waiting for contradiction.
Jan. 5, 1916.--Standing in the garden just after lunch was witness to startling phenomenon. Q.M.S. Beddem came towards front-gate with a smile so expansive that gate after first trembling violently on its hinges swung open of its own accord. Q.M.S., with smile (sad), said he was in trouble. Very old member of the Inns of Court, Private Keen, had re-joined, and he wanted a good billet for him. Would cheerfully give up his own bed, but it wasn't long enough. Not to be outdone in hospitality by my own gate accepted Private Keen. Q.M.S. digging hole in my path with toe of right boot, and for first and only time manifesting signs of nervousness, murmured that two life-long friends of Private Keen's had rejoined with him. Known as the Three Inseparables. Where they were to sleep, unless I----. Fled to house, and locking myself in top-attic watched Q.M.S. from window. He departed with bent head and swagger-cane reversed.
Jan 6.--Private Keen arrived. Turned out to be son of an old Chief of mine. Resolved not to visit the sins of the father on the head of a child six feet two high and broad in proportion.
Feb. 6.--Private Keen came home with a temperature.
Feb. 7.--M.O. diagnosed influenza. Was afraid it would spread.
Feb. 8.--Warned the other four billets. They seemed amused. Pointed out that influenza had no terrors for men in No. 2 Company, who were doomed to weekly night-ops. under Major Carryon.
Feb. 9.--House strangely and pleasantly quiet. Went to see how Private Keen was progressing, and found the other four billets sitting in a row on his bed practising deep-breathing exercises.
Feb. 16.--Billets on night-ops. until late hour. Spoke in highest terms of Major Carryon's marching powers--also in other terms.
March 3.--Waited up until midnight for Private Merited, who had gone to Slough on his motor-bike.
March 4, 1.5 a.m.--Awakened by series of explosions from over-worked, or badly-worked, motor-bike. Put head out of window and threw key to Private Merited. He seemed excited. Said he had been chased all the way from Chesham by a pink rat with yellow spots. Advised him to go to bed. Set him an example.
1.10. a.m.--Heard somebody in the pantry. 2.10. a.m.--Heard Private Merited going upstairs to bed.
2.16 a.m.--Heard Private Merited still going upstairs to bed.
2.20-3.15. a.m.--Heard Private Merited getting to bed.
April 3, 12.30 a.m.--Town-hooter announced Zeppelins and excited soldier called up my billets from their beds to go and frighten them off. Pleasant to see superiority of billets over the hooter: that only emitted three blasts.
12.50 a.m.--Billets returned with exception of Private Merited, who was retained for sake of his motor-bike.
9 a.m.--On way to bath-room ran into Private Merited, who, looking very glum and sleepy, inquired whether I had a copy of the Exchange and Mart in the house.
10 p.m.--Overheard billets discussing whether it was worth while removing boots before going to bed until the Zeppelin scare was over. Joined in discussion.
May 2.--Rumours that the Inns of Court were going under canvas. Discredited them.
May 5.--Rumours grow stronger.
May 6.--Billets depressed. Begin to think perhaps there is something in rumours after all.
May 9.-All doubts removed. Tents begin to spring up with the suddenness of mushrooms in fields below Berkhamsted Place.
May 18, LIBERATION DAY.--Bade a facetious good-bye to my billets; response lacking in bonhomie.
May 19.-House delightfully quiet. Presented caller of unkempt appearance at back-door with remains of pair of military boots, three empty shaving- stick tins, and a couple of partially bald tooth-brushes.
May 21.--In afternoon went round and looked at camp. Came home smiling, and went to favourite seat in garden to smoke. Discovered Private Early lying on it fast asleep. Went to study. Private Merited at table writing long and well-reasoned letter to his tailor. As he said he could never write properly with anybody else in the room, left him and went to bath-room. Door locked. Peevish but familiar voice, with a Scotch accent, asked me what I wanted; also complained of temperature of water.
May 22.--After comparing notes with neighbours, feel deeply grateful to Q.M.S. Beddem for sending me the best six men in the corps.
July 15.--Feel glad to have been associated, however remotely and humbly, with a corps, the names of whose members appear on the Roll of Honour of every British regiment.
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