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This carefully crafted ebook: "Sergeant Michael Cassidy, The Lieutenant & Other War Stories (67 Short Stories in One Volume)" is formatted for your eReader with a functional and detailed table of contents. Herman Cyril McNeile (1888-1937) commonly known as H. C. McNeile or Sapper, was a British soldier and author. Drawing on his experiences in the trenches during the First World War, he started writing short stories and getting them published in the Daily Mail. McNeile's stories are either directly about the war, or contain people whose lives have been shaped by it. His war stories were considered by contemporary audiences as anti-sentimental, realistic depictions of the trenches, and as a "celebration of the qualities of the Old Contemptibles". McNeile's view, as expressed through his writing, was that war was a purposeful activity for the nation and for individuals, even if that purpose was later wasted: a "valuable chance at national renewal that had been squandered". The positive effects of war on the individual were outlined by McNeile, in The Lieutenant and Others and Sergeant Michael Cassidy, R.E, in which he wrote about "the qualities of leadership and selflessness essential to 'inspire' subalterns". His war stories include descriptions of fights between individuals that carry a sporting motif: in Sergeant Michael Cassidy, R.E., he writes, "To bag a man with a gun is one thing; there is sport—there is an element of one against one, like when the quality goes big game shooting. But to bag twenty men by a mine has not the same feeling at all, even if they are Germans" Content: Sergeant Michael Cassidy, R.E. The Lieutenant and Others John Walters Jim Brent The Man in Ratcatcher Men, Women and Guns Mufti No Man's Land Word of Honour
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"SURE, and it's the neatest little girl I've seen this side of Connymara that you are. It's a souvenir that you're wanting? By jabers! it's a souvenir you'll have, anyway. 'Tis the correct thing the other side of the water, whichever way you go."
The resounding noise of a kiss assailed my scandalised ears, followed by rapidly retreating feminine footsteps.
"I'll be after waiting for you here tomorrow morning at the same time." Sergeant Michael Cassidy's rich Irish voice followed the invisible recipient of his souvenir as she departed; and judging by the way he leaned over the railings waving an extremely dirty pocket-handkerchief, I came to the reluctant conclusion that the lady was not only not averse to receiving souvenirs, but would in all probability return for more.
"Are you not ashamed of yourself, Michael Cassidy — you with a wife and four children in Ballygoyle?" I remarked, as the handkerchief gradually became less violent.
"And what the devil — Ah! by all the saints! 'tis you, sir." Limping and leaning heavily on a crutch, Sergeant Cassidy came towards me. "'Tis great to see you again, sir. Is it wounded you've been, or why are you not over yonder?" He waved his free arm vaguely in the direction of Wales: however his meaning was clear.
"I was abroad when it started, Cassidy, and they've caught me for Kitchener's Army." I held my cigarette case out to him.
"'Tis bad luck that," he remarked, as he lit one of my best gold-tipped cigarettes. "But bedad you'll be after getting all you want when you do get out. It's no picnic at all — what with the Black Marias, and coal boxes, and snipers."
"What's the matter with you?" I asked as we sat down.
"I stopped a bit of lead with my foot. Nothing at all: we were just putting up a bit of wire one night in a wood, and one of them snipers got an outer in my foot."
He regarded the offending member with a critical eye, and carefully deposited it on a seat.
And here, to make things clear, I must digress for a moment. Michael Cassidy is a sergeant in His Majesty's Corps of Royal Engineers, to which I also have the honour to belong in the humble capacity of officer. I say humble advisedly; for there are sergeants of many sorts and kinds, and there is Michael Cassidy, and in his presence even Brigadier-Generals have trembled. Now in the days before the exigencies of the service had taken me abroad to an abominable island given over almost exclusively to priests and goats (anyone who has been condemned to soldier there will at once recognise its name) — in the days before my incarceration, then, on this dread spot, I had for some years soldiered side by side with Sergeant Cassidy. For when one's motto is "Ubique," it follows that one may live for a space with a man, and then obeying the dictates of the Great Powers that Be at the War Office, be rudely torn away from old friends and associations, whom one may never see again, and be hurled into the midst of new faces as well as new conditions. Lucky for the man who escapes the abode of goats: but that is neither here nor there, and anyway it's all in the day's work, I suppose.
Be that as it may, the order of my release from its inhospitable shores having coincided most aptly with a regrettable midnight fracas with the local police, which incidentally is quite another story, I had shaken its dust rapidly and joyfully from my feet and sailed for home, full of war and cocktails. I had landed some ten days before, to find myself posted to a "Catch 'em Alive oh!" but withal cheery crowd of solicitors, grocers, tailors, and coalheavers, who go to make up the New Army. Chancing to wander one morning round the garden of a select London mansion, which had been put at the disposal of wounded soldiers, my eyes had been gladdened by the events which I have already chronicled, and I metaphorically fell upon the neck of my old and disreputable friend.
"And how's the old crowd getting along, Cassidy?" I asked when he was comfortably settled.
"Fine, sir, fine. 'Tis a lot of officers we've lost, though — killed and wounded." He gave a little sigh. "Do you recall young Mr Trentham, him that came to us last Christmas, just before you went away?"
"I do," I answered. "I see he's wounded, in today's list."
"'Tis that that made me speak, sir. You remember him — quiet he was — without the necessary swallow which helps an officer to drink the healths of his men properly on Christmas Day."
I had vivid recollections of his inability to do so — but that is neither here nor there.
"Well, sir, he may not be able to drink like some of us" — I indignantly repudiated this monstrous aspersion — "he may not, I say, be able to drink like some of us, but glory be he can fight. I have not seen his equal outside Ballygoyle. You mind the manner of young gentleman he was, sir, strong as a bull, with an arm like the hind leg of an elephant. He was fair crazy to get at them, was Mr Trentham; he couldn't stand the sort of fighting we were getting at all. 'It is not fighting,' he says to me one day, 'when you can't bill someone over the head with the butt end of a rifle once in a way.' I said to myself at the time, I said: 'May Heaven help the Boche you do put your hands on, for he'll want all of that and more.'
"Well, one day, I misremember the name of the place we were at, but it wasn't like what it is now, all one long line — there was a chance of striking a stray Uhlan on his own, scouting, if he wasn't drunk — and when them fellows do get on the drink, you can take it from me, sir, the races at Ballygoone ain't in it. Well, Mr Trentham and I were out one day, things being fairly quiet, and we thought we might visit one of those cafés they call them, and see if we could raise a bottle of the good. 'Tis poor stuff they have there, but we thought it was worth trying. We came along the road, and there in front of the café we were going to, we saw some horses tied up.
"'Steady,' says he to me all of a sudden; 'they aren't our horses, nor French either, unless I'm much mistaken.' At that moment out walks a man. 'Jove, Cassidy,' says he, pulling me behind a bush, 'it's Germans they are: a patrol of Uhlans.'
"'They are that, sir,' says I. 'What will we do? for not a drop will they have left in that café."
"He thought a moment, and then a lovely look came over his face. 'What will we do, Cassidy?' he says. 'What do you think?'
"'The same as you, sir,' says I.
"With that I followed him as fast as we could leg it towards that café, keeping under cover of some bushes by the road. At last we got to the place, and crept in through the back. Just as we got to the window, creeping, we were, along the side of the house, we heard a girl scream inside, followed by a roar of laughter. Mr Trentham, he forgot the risk, straightens himself up and looks in through the window. I do the same. Mother of Heaven! 'twas awful. There was six of them in all, six of the dirty traitorous swine. They'd been drinking hard, and the old lady that kept the café was trussed up in a corner. They'd been having pot shots at her with the empty bottles. Her face was all cut, and half stunned she was. The old man was bound to the table, but they hadn't stunned him. They'd left him in the full possession of his senses that he might the better appreciate the fun. They'd got the daughter — a pretty girl, of maybe twenty — in a chair. Well, I needn't say more, but every time the poor old man tried to get to her, they pulled the table back and roared with laughter. The swine — the cowardly swine!"
The veins were standing out in Cassidy's neck as he spoke: he was back again looking through that window. "Mr Trentham he turns to me and mutters. 'Three to one, Michael Cassidy, three to one,' he says, and his face was white, saving only his eyes, and they were blood-red. 'Three to one,' and his voice was thick, and he shook like a man with the ague as we crept through the back door. 'Three to one,' he snarled as we got to the door, while his hand, that had been shaking with the fury of his passion, grew steady as a rock. For a moment we stood outside of the door, and as I looked at him I said to myself, I said, 'You were dangerous at the window when you saw red,' I says; 'but by the Holy Mother a regiment of Uhlans wouldn't stop you now.' And then we went in. 'Twas great, oh! 'twas great. They stood there, that six — gaping, they were. Then one of them muttered 'English.' Then I saw Mr Trentham go in. Oh! 'twas an education — a dream. And then I lost sight of him in the box-up. I got home on one of their heads with my rifle belt, and split it like a pumpkin. My backhander hit the lamp, and spoilt the next one, but it reached his face, and it was enough for him. And then I saw one getting out of the door. I caught him in the garden: he will not play that game again. When I got back I found everything was silent, saving only the poor old woman moaning in the corner. It was an awful sight. Mr Trentham, he'd swung two of them together, and cracked both their skulls. They was dead as mutton. The other one he'd got at with his hands.
"'Is there any more of them, Michael Cassidy?' he says.
"'There is not, sir,' says I. 'They are all dead, the devils, and their horses are without.'
"''Twas a great blow that first one of yours,' he says.
"'It felt good, sir,' says I. ''Tis a blow we use at Ballygoyle with empty bottles on race days.'
"While we'd been speaking we'd untied the old man and the old lady, but the poor girl she just lay there dazed and sick. 'Twas awful, the room. You've never seen such a shambles in your life, sir — oh! 'twas fearful. We pulled out the dead Germans, and threw them into the wood, and then we cleared up the mess as best we could. We left them there, the three of them, the poor old man trying to comfort his old wife, and the pair of them weeping by the daughter. Ah! the devils, the swine: to think of it. It might have been one's own girl, sir; and the look in her eyes — I'll never forget it."
"But you killed the lot, Cassidy. That's the main point: you killed the brutes," I cried excitedly.
"And is not one officer of the British Army and one sergeant sufficient for six Germans when it comes to that sort of work, especially when the officer is such as Mr Trentham?" he answered with dignity.
He did not add a like comparison for the sergeant.
I admired him for it.
"'Tis a fine body of men that they are," remarked Sergeant Cassidy to me, as I sat with him one day in the house where he was slowly recovering from the wound in his foot, which had caused his temporary absence from the plains of Flanders. As he spoke his eyes followed the fire engine, drawn by two grand white horses, disappearing in the distance. The bell was still clanging faintly, as he absent-mindedly felt in his pocket, to find that as usual he'd left his cigarettes upstairs.
"'Tis a fine body of men that they are," he remarked again, as he took one of mine. "But, by jabers! sir, seeing them going up the street there, brings to my mind the last fire that I was present at, over yonder." On this occasion he indicated Northumberland with a large hand; but, no matter.
"You'll mind," he went on after a reflective pause, "that those farms over the water are not what you would call the equals of Buckingham Palace for comfort. The majority of them are built in the same manner all over the country, and when you've seen one you've seen the lot. There's the farm itself, in which reside the owners and the officers. The officers have a room to themselves, but in these farms all the rooms lead into one another. Mr Tracey — you mind him, sir, the officer with the spectacles, fat he was — he was powerful set on washing, which is not to be encouraged in that trying weather; and he was rendered extremely irritated by the habit of the ladies of the farm, who would walk through the room when he was in his bath.
"I mind one morning, perishing cold it was, when I came up to the kitchen to see him, and I looked through the door. Two of the old women of the farm were in the room, and they'd left both the doors open, while they had a bit of a set-to about something. Poor Mr Tracey was sitting in his bath, shouting at them to go out of the room and shut the door. He'd lost his spectacles, and his towel had fallen in the bath, and the draught was causing him great uneasiness. 'Twas a terrible example of the dangers of washing in those parts."
Sergeant Cassidy shook his head reflectively.
"Still," he continued after a moment, "'twas of the farms I was speaking. They have most of them two barns which run perpendicular to the farmhouse, so that the three buildings enclose a sort of square yard in the middle of them. The barns are full of straw and hay and the like, and there it is that the men sleep, though 'tis well to climb up to the loft, and not to remain on the ground floor. The reason will be clear to you. These folks are very partial to pigs and hens and cows, and they are not particular where the animals go at night. When therefore I was roused from my sleep on one occasion by a fearful yell from below, I was not surprised.
"'Mother of Heaven! 'tis the Germans,' says the man next to me, hunting for his gun.
"''Tis nothing of the sort,' I says, as I looked through the loft. ''Tis the pig, going to bed, and she has sat on the face of Angus MacNab.'
"'The dirty beast has sat on me face,' cried MacNab, as he saw me.
"'Then 'tis the pig I'm concerned about,' says I, and I went back to my blankets. I have no patience with them Scotchmen."
Sergeant Cassidy again availed himself of my cigarette case. "But where does the fire come in, Cassidy?" I asked, as he lit up.
"I am just coming to that, sir. As you can imagine, the soldier will not stop his smoking because he is in the middle of hay and straw. It is too much to ask of any man. There are strict orders about it, of course, but — well, an officer like you will understand, sir. One day — it was about eleven o'clock in the morning — one of the men says to me, 'Look at the barn.'
"''Tis fired,' I cried, and there was smoke coming out at the top of the thatching. 'Run, ye blackguards, run. It's water and buckets we'll be wanting.'
"The first man in was the dirty schemer O'Toole, him that had been excused duty that very morning by the doctor for gout in the foot.
"'I have my bull's-eyes saved,' he says to me as I came up.
"'You flat-faced malingerer,' says I, 'you have fatigues for a month as well.'
"And then the officers came out. ''Tis fired, it is,' I says to the Major. Do you recall the Major, sir. A terrible sarcastic man he was — with an eyeglass.
"He puts it in his eye as I spoke. 'I didn't imagine the damn'd thing was frostbitten,' he says. 'Who's the fool who did it?'
"Then the boys got the water going. We had a ladder placed up to the loft, and we handed the buckets up to the men above. The lads kept a chain of full buckets on the move from hand to hand. But it was hopeless from the start.
"'Get the animals out, boys,' I shouts.
"Then the fun began. The old women were out wringing their hands and weeping, and the old farmer was shouting to the interpreter, with a little pig under each arm. The interpreter goes up to the Major, and tells him that the farmer said there was a fire engine in the village. So the Major he sends off one of the officers to get it. Meantime one of the pigs had knocked down the old women, and then got entangled in their skirts. When that little box-up came to rest in the middle of the refuse pit, the skirts were on the pig. Oh! 'twas great. The fair at Ballygoyle was not in it. Then Mr Tracey he climbs up the ladder to the loft, and gets an empty bucket in the chest, as they threw it out.
"''Tis hopeless, sir,' he says to the Major when he could again speak, for the wind he had lost.
"So the Major orders all the men out of the barn, and we started pouring water on the house to keep it from spreading. And then after about an hour the fire engine arrived. 'Twas the most amazing contraption you ever did see. 'Twas an old tub on two wheels, with a hand-pump attached, and it had been brought by three old gentlemen with grey hair — one of them with a wooden leg. 'Twas the local fire brigade — the rest had gone to the war. The old man with the wooden leg took on something terrible. He hopped about crying 'Oh! Oh!' and we thought he was hurt till the interpreter said he wanted the tub filled with water. Just as we had it filled the old pig knocked it over, and we had to fill it again. A terrible machine it was! When it was filled, those of the lads who could speak for laughter started to pump, while one of the old gentlemen took the nozzle, and climbed up the roof of the farmhouse, that he might the better direct the water. He had his thumb over the end of the nozzle to get the pressure up, and 'twas a powerful thumb he had, for the hose burst near the Major, and the water took him in the stomach. The lads were pumping with a will, and in stepping back the Major overbalanced and fell into the refuse pit in the centre of the courtyard. Oh! a terrible sight he was as he got up. All the men spent the afternoon looking for his eyeglass. And then the old gentleman on the roof was overcome by the heat, and fell off, and was only saved from destruction by going into a tub of pigwash. 'Twas a great diversion, as, having his head downwards, he was nearly drowned."
I could stand it no more, so I rose to go. "Were the people compensated, Cassidy?" I asked.
"They will be, sir," he answered, "they will be — though it's my own belief the old ruffian of a farmer set light to it himself. 'Twas poor hay that he had, and he will be paid as if 'twas best quality."
The other morning was not one of my best. Somehow in the days of peace I had always laboured under the delusion that, if ever we did go to war, we should at any rate enter simultaneously into an era when the ordnance cease from troubling and the doctors are at rest. So having found how great the delusion really was, my heart yearned for Sergeant Cassidy. His views on life in general, especially with regard to those branches of the Service whose mission in life is the annoyance of everyone else, would, I thought, be as balm to my anguished soul.
I found him in bed. His foot had relapsed.
"Cassidy," I said, as I handed him my cigarette case, "I am in trouble. A doctor has just inspected us, and was very put out to find the ration meat for the men floating in the soak-pit of a neighbouring ablution bench. It was not put there by my instructions, as I told him, but he was unappeasable. Again, a Board Inventory, the property of the Army Service Corps, has been defaced, in that false figures have been added by some person or persons unknown. Personally I suspect the solicitor, who is at present doing cook-mate, of having feloniously inserted the figures 94 opposite the item 'Shovels, coal, ordinary. Mark 6A.' We have not, as you know, got 94 shovels, coal, ordinary, Mark 6A. We haven't got one. It has been lost, and personally I again suspect the solicitor: but the stout gentleman who was making his weekly or yearly inspection has already reported it to the Army Council. He gave me to understand that if we do lose the war, it will probably be owing to that Inventory Board." I sighed deeply and relapsed into silence.
"'Tis always the same, sir," he answered kindly: I needed sympathy. "'Tis always the same. The great thing is to discover their little weaknesses before they come round to see one. Of course the circumstances you mention are peculiar. I doubt me that, even had you discovered their peculiarities, so to speak, you would have escaped entirely — for as you say, sir, the soak-pit is no place for the meat to rest in at all. Still, 'tis a most important thing, and should be looked into on all occasions of that nature.
"I mind me now of a thing which took place some fortnight before I got the little souvenir in my foot. We were in billets; 'twas the billet of which I have already spoken, where the barn was burnt down. One day the doctor comes to me and says, 'Cassidy,' he says, 'it's inspected we'll be.'
"''Tis not the first time that same thing has happened,' says I, 'and we will survive. Do not be uneasy, sir. 'Twill be all right.'
"I should tell you that our doctor was not a soldier at all: one of those civilians, he was, who came in at the beginning. His principal duty when we was resting in billets was the obtaining of food and drink for the officers, at which same game, so I heard, he was hard to beat. One of them gentlemen who has a way with him: he would coax a bottle of the stuff out of a lime-kiln, and most of them cafés were worse than that after the boys had been there for a bit. A cheery gentleman he was, who always got mistakes in his returns. You mind them returns, sir — in triplicate they are generally, and he could not abide them same. Oh! there was a terrible box-up when he made a mistake on one occasion, and mixed up the number of orderlies that he had with the number of men that had been inoculated for the enteric. For he had but two orderlies, and one hundred and sixty of the boys had the inoculation taken.
"Of course he was not used to inspections, but I told him 'twould be all right. 'Twas the chief of all the doctors was coming, he said, and as he always got his returns wrong, he was anxious that all should be well. So we went round together, and he poked his nose into all the places where the men slept, and the cook-houses, and the like. I turned them on to the cleaning up, and soon the smell was not quite so bad as usual. We had everything ready the night before, and the men had knocked off, when the doctor comes to me in a terrible state.
"'Cassidy,' he says, 'we have the bath forgot.'
"'Bath,' says I, 'what will we be wanting with a bath? Have not the boys their buckets? And it is not the Hotel Cecil that we have.'
"'Cassidy,' he says, 'the chief doctor is the devil on a bath for the men. That and a tub in which to wash their clothes we must have, or it's lost I am. I heard just now 'twas the first thing he'd look for.'
"'Bedad,' says I, 'if 'tis the peculiarity of the chief doctor we will get a bath, or my name is not Michael Cassidy. — O'Toole,' I shouts, 'you lazy blatherer, I'm wanting you.' 'Twas the scheming malingerer that had been excused duty for the gout in the foot, and had us all beat when we ran to the burning barn, to save his peppermint bull's-eyes. You mind I told you of that same O'Toole. I says when he comes, 'Hunt round and find a bath.'
"'A bath!' says he, 'and where will I be finding that same?'
"'Is it me that would be saving you that trouble?' I cries. 'The doctor wishes a bath; do not let me see your ugly face till you have one found.'
"'I'm thinking,' says I, when he had gone, 'that if we cannot get a bath, it is a hole we might dig in the field, and line it with the waterproof sheets. They did that same, the squadron in the next farm, but owing to the difficulty of seeing which was hole and which was not when they had it filled with the water, the old sow fell in at the same time as the sergeant-major, and there was a terrible commotion.'
"''Tis something better we must have, Cassidy,' he says. 'The chief doctor is a terrible man, and he has it against me that I told him in triplicate that I had one hundred and sixty orderlies.'
"At that moment back comes O'Toole. 'I have it found,' he cries. 'There is a big tub yonder of metal, that they use for the pig-wash, and empty it is.'
"'It will serve,' says I when I see it. 'Can ye paint, O'Toole?'
"'I can that,' he says.
"'There is a man with some whitewash,' I says, 'painting the farm. Get that same and write BATH upon that tub.'
"'But the wash-tub,' cries the doctor. 'We have it forgot.'
"'Is there another of them tubs, O'Toole?' I says.
"'There is not,' he says. 'I have the farm searched.'
"'What will we do?' cried the doctor. 'The chief doctor is a devil for wash-tubs; and, Cassidy,' he says coaxingly, 'there's that matter of the orderlies.' Oh! he had a way with him, had the doctor.
"''Tis not I that will be failing you,' I cries, and I thinks for a moment. I looks at the tub, and then sudden-like I gets the idea.
"''Tis big enough,' I says, 'tis plenty big. O'Toole,' I cries, 'O'Toole, ye blackguard, you will paint BATH as I have told you on this side of that tub, and on the other you will paint WASH-TUB. Do you follow me, O'Toole?'
"'I do that,' he says, and goes off for the whitewash.
"The doctor was gazing at me. 'What is the notion?' he says, 'for the chief doctor will not be deceived.'
"'Leave it to me, sir,' I says: 'leave it to me,' for I had the scheme in my mind.
"The next day I sent for O'Toole. 'You have it marked,' I says. 'That is good. Now listen while I tell you, you dirty malingerer. The chief doctor is inspecting us this day, and the devil he is on baths and washtubs. You will place the tub against the wall in the barn with the word BATH outwards. The chief doctor is coming at eleven, but it's late he may be. On the other hand he may be early. So at a quarter to eleven you will remove your clothes, and stand by the bath.'
"'But, Sergeant!' he says.
"'There is no but,' says I. 'When the chief doctor appears you will receive the signal from Angus MacNab, who will be at the door, and you will get into the water. You will get into the water, I say, and when the chief doctor comes in at the door you will pretend that you like it.'
"'But it's dead I shall be!' he cries.
"''Twill be no loss,' says I. Then I sends for six of the boys. 'The chief doctor is coming,' I says, 'and the devil he is on baths and wash-tubs. I have the bath fixed for O'Toole; but when I shall give the signal for which you will watch, you will rush in and seize the tub and carry it round to the other side of the barn, and put it against the wall with WASH-TUB showing. I will see the chief doctor goes round the other way; then when he appears you will be washing your socks. There will be water in it from the bath of O'Toole.'
"''Tis only one pair of socks that I have,' says one.
"'Then 'tis high time they were washed,' says I. 'Be off, you blackguards, and may Heaven help you if you have the doctor let down.'
"At eleven-thirty the chief doctor arrives. ''Tis the bath I would see,' he says.
"''Tis occupied, sir,' says I, giving the sign to Angus MacNab. 'Twas high time too, for O'Toole had been dressed only in his shirt for three-quarters of an hour.'
"When we got to the barn there was O'Toole standing in the water. He was blue with the cold, and shivering like a leaf in the wind.
"'Ah! my man,' says the chief doctor, ''tis a bath you're having, I see.'
"'Sit down, you varmint,' I whispers, 'sit down and splash. It's enjoying yourself you are.'
"'And how often do you take a bath?' says the chief doctor.
"'Every day,' mutters O'Toole, when he could speak for the chattering of his teeth, for I had my eye fixed upon him.
"'Very good indeed,' says the chief doctor. 'A most satisfactory arrangement,' he remarks to our own doctor. 'And now I will inspect the place where they have the clothes washed.'
"'Get out,' I says to O'Toole as they goes out.
"''Tis dying I am,' he says, as the six men rushes in for the tub.
"'Step it, you blackguards!' I cries. 'I will keep them diverted till you have it in place.'
"With that I catches up the party, and asks the Colonel concerning one of the cookhouses nearby. The doctor keeps him occupied inside, I having given him the wink, and then out come the boys with the tub. They stuck going round, as the passage was narrow, but I had them fixed with my eye, and they suddenly fell through together. The tub upset and the water was received by Angus MacNab. There was a terrible noise as it fell on the bricks, but they was out of sight when the doctor appeared.
"'And now the wash-tub,' he says.
"'Round here, sir,' says I, and with that I leads the party to the other side of the barn. They had it fixed, as he comes up.
"'But it is empty,' says he. 'You cannot wash clothes without water. And what is that at the bottom?'
"He pointed to a watery-looking grey object at the bottom of the tub.
"''Tis the shirt of O'Toole," whispers one of the men to me, 'that slipped in by mistake.'
"''Tis a shirt,' says I, 'the owner of which has been in contact with a horse with the ringworm.' At that moment I heard the voice of O'Toole from inside as he looked for his shirt, and I went on a little louder, the better to drown his horrible language. 'I have the men instructed that they are to empty the water away after washing any of his garments.'
"'But why does he not wash his own?' asks the Colonel.
"'In this unit, sir,' says I, 'the medical officer is that particular that we has a special squad trained in washing.'
"'Indeed,' says he, and looked at me close. 'Twas a mercy he did not look at our own doctor, for he was purple in the face, and unable to speak with ease. 'Indeed,' says he, and fixes his eye on the one sock which was all the whole six could muster between them for the washing. 'I trust they are not overworked.'
"I have since wondered whether he suspected anything," murmured Cassidy, as he took another of my cigarettes.
I left the great man smoking reflectively, and as I reached the front door the sense of my great inferiority descended like a pall. What would he have done had the meat been found in the soak-pit? But at this moment I was nearly run over by a motor omnibus.
As I strolled into the house one morning where Sergeant Michael Cassidy was recovering from the wound in his foot, I found a subdued air of bustle and confusion.
"And what is up this morning, sister?" I asked. "You seem very busy."
"He wishes to go for a drive," she said.
I smiled, and asked the unnecessary question. There being some twenty other wounded in the house, to the casual observer the question as to who wished to go for a drive might not appear unnecessary; but then the casual observer does not know Cassidy. Receiving, as I had anticipated, an amazed: "Why, Sergeant Cassidy, of course," I thoughtfully left her to lay down the necessary red carpet on the steps, and wended my way upstairs to his room.
I found the great man in a gracious mood.
"Ah! 'tis yourself, sir," he said, as I came in. "And it's pleased to see you that I am."
"I hear you're going for a drive, Cassidy," I remarked, as he held out his hand for my cigarette case. "I rather think I'll come with you — unless," I hastened to add, "any beautiful lady wishes for the privilege."
"No," he answered, "no; I was going alone, and it's delighted I shall be if you will come."
And so it happened that in a few minutes we were rolling smoothly towards Regent's Park. It was at the entrance by Sussex Place, as far as I can remember, that he suddenly blew a delighted kiss to a lady standing on the pavement, whom I recognised, to my horror, as the wife of a well-known sporting peer.
"Cassidy," I said, "for Heaven's sake, what are you doing?" I clutched his arm. "Do you know who that was?"
"I do not," he said. "But she was a decent enough looking little filly, and would I not be blowing her a kiss?" He dismissed this untoward incident with a wave of the hand, and sat back majestically in the car. The next instant he sat up with a jerk. "Glory be, sir," he said, "and what is that that I see?"
I followed the direction of his eyes, and saw, that at present familiar sight to all Londoners, a line of men in wonderful garments, bowlers, flannel trousers, scarlet tunics, brown brogue shoes, and the like, advancing a few paces, then lying down, and finally charging the road with hoarse and horrible noises.
"It is Kitchener's Army training," I said.
"The saints be praised," he remarked. "Seeing them without any uniform, I thought that likely enough some scheming blackguard had hopped it with their money, and that sort of row is one I am not willing to miss." He watched them closely as, the charge over, they closed up on the road to listen to the words of wisdom of their platoon commander. "Indeed," he went on after a moment, "'tis Kitchener's Army they are! And a likely-looking lot of boys, or my name is not Michael Cassidy. But tell me, sir," he turned to me, "are they allowed to dig in the grass here?"
I told him that I really wasn't certain whether they were actually allowed to dig in the Park itself, but that they anyway did it elsewhere.
"That is good," he said. "You must mind, sir, that the war over yonder is different to what you and I were brought up to. What we have just seen is good: 'tis undoubtedly good that the foot soldiers should be able to run and lie down the like we have been after looking at; but it is by no manner of speaking all. And it is the other great part of their training that I would not see left out, for, begorrah, 'tis the most important."
"You mean the digging, Cassidy?" I asked.
"I mean that same, sir. I would march those lads miles and miles till they were fit to drop, and when they were so tired that they were unable to wish for anything — not even beer — I would say to them, 'Dig, you blackguards, dig yourselves in, and I will give you an hour to do that same in. And if I find any man who has made but a scratch in the ground, I will be upon him and he will be sorry that he was ever born. You are to go down four feet or four feet six, and you shall not rest till you have it done.' Then, when I had seen them do it, I would say to them, 'That is what you will do over yonder, only then it will not be in the daylight; 'twill be at night, and we will practise that same every day for the next month. It is that," he continued, "that made those fellows the devils," and with a large hand he indicated the Zoo.
"Which fellows?" I asked, a little bewildered.
"Those Guards," he answered. "It is there that they live, is it not? though it seems a strange place for those smart gentlemen."
"They have moved into the Cavalry Barracks lately," I answered mildly, "but they are not far from here."
"I knew they were somewhere in these parks," he remarked. "And you say they are cavalry?"
"The particular barracks in Regent's Park are cavalry ones," I told him.
"Is that so?" he said, as he lit another of my cigarettes. "Well, of those Cavalry Guards I cannot speak. They have not, up to date, served with me personally." He paused in thought.
"Oh! you haven't been with them out there?" I asked, as his attention wandered to a nursemaid on the path.
"That is correct, sir," he returned, when the perambulator had vanished. "They have not been with me out there; but I have heard tell that they are equally devils. But it is of those Foot Guards that I would tell you, for I have not seen their equals in a fight outside of Ballygoyle. I mind me once, when I was in these parts before, I was standing in one of those crowded streets, when I heard the sound of a band, and coming along the road was a company of those fellows. 'Twas a dream to watch them, they were so smart; and I was just thinking that I myself could not have walked better than the man with the stick at the head, when a little rat of a man standing beside me, said to me all of a sudden, he says, 'And what is the use of those fellows? Dressed-up dolls, I call them, and that's what I and the likes of me have to pay for. Soldiers like you,' he says to me, 'we do not mind, but those —' and he spat in the gutter.
"'Ye dirty little beast,' I says to him, 'is it a drink you're wanting with your flattery? With a face like yours, whatever clothes you were after putting on, it is not a doll you would resemble, but a walking pimple; and as for paying, you have never paid for anything yet in your life unless you could not steal it,' and with that I put him in the gutter too.
"But it is an undoubted fact, sir," he continued, "that those fellows were not with a certain class of the people too popular. They are always about with His Majesty the King — the saints preserve him — and, as I say, a certain class of the people think that they cannot fight, because they are too grand to do that same. Well — they are wrong," and with an air of finality Cassidy smiled at three complete strangers of the female sex.
"You mind, sir," he continued after a moment, "that, as I told you, the war is different to what you and I were brought up to expect. Take our own work, for instance. Since we have been up in the North, 'tis entirely at night that we have been used. The foot soldiers are in the trenches, and the Germans are in their trenches, so close that they are able to wish one another the top of the morning. But as those Germans, when they were making an endeavour to break through our lines, were not in the habit of ringing a bell before they started, it was necessary to put up a halting-place where they might gain breath, the better to attack. That they should stop there, because they could not get through the wire, was not our fault, and if they were killed, well, what could they expect with the range but ten or fifteen yards? I mind me one morning I was in the trenches, and when the dawn broke 'twas an ugly sight. There must have been a hundred of them dead on the wire we had put up the night before. One of them was facing me, so close that I could almost touch him.
"He had the wire-cutters in his right hand, and it was stretched above his head. He was lying on the apron of the wire, and his head was twisted, and he was grinning. His legs was all twisted, and he still held his rifle in his left hand. And he went on grinning, until I was after shouting at him to turn his face away. And one of those Foot Guards sergeants he says to me, he says, ''Tis not a pleasant sight,' he says. 'It's alive he might be, and the bully beef is uncommon hard on the stomach for the contemplation of him.' 'I have a wife,' I said to him, 'a wife and four kiddies in Ballygoyle, and it's thinking I am that that man there may have the same. What would she say if she were to see that grin? Ah! for the Holy Mother's sake, turn your face away,' I muttered, for my nerves were a bit upset, and I could not take my eyes from that grin. And then he slips down — quietly like, all of a sudden, and as he slipped his chin caught in one of the wires, and his head went back, and he stopped his grinning.
"But 'twas the Guards I was after speaking to you of." Cassidy became cheerful again "It will be clear to you, sir," he said, "that when one is putting up that same wire in front of those trenches, it makes a power of difference who it is that is behind. For some of those lads — especially those recruits who had come out to replace the casualties — were a bit jumpy: and in the habit of loosing off into the night without due consideration of the consequences. It is just as easy to be killed from behind, when one is on the top of the ground working between the trenches, as it is to be killed from in front. I remember me one night when that flat-footed malingerer O'Toole of whom I have already spoken to you, missed the picket with his maul, and hit the foot of Angus MacNab. 'Twas a fearful howl that rent the night, and the Germans thought that it was attacking we were. So they started to fire. 'Lie down,' I screams as our own fellows fired too, 'or it's shot we shall be.' And there we lie for half an hour, while they shot over our heads. 'Twas a mercy no one was hit; though 'twas the language of MacNab that had us saved. He had thrown himself down when I shouted, and his face met some bully beef which had walked out of the trenches on its own. That and his foot combined raised the tone of his conversation, and deflected those bullets.
"But as you know, sir," he went on, "when we are working we have not the time to fire even if we are attacked. It is therefore desirable to get, if the infantry will arrange it, a covering party, which will give the warning if the Germans are coming. But the infantry were having a terrible time. They were being shelled all day and half the night, and 'twas sometimes a little difficult to get that same covering party. For it meant, as you will see, going even nearer to the Germans than we were, and in addition to that it meant coming out of the trenches where they felt they were, in a manner of speaking, safe. It was necessary to use a little persuasion at times, and sometimes even we worked without them at all.
"But one night, I mind me, we were to work in front of the Guards. When we arrived, at about ten of the clock, Mr Trentham was with us in command, and he crept along the trench with me to find the officer. 'Is it wiring you are?' he says, when we found him. 'We'll have a drop of the old and bold, while I arrange for the party to cover you as you work.' And with that he went out, and we each had a drop of the stuff, which same, I remember me, was the proper goods. Then he came back and said, ''Tis all arranged, and I have the men told that you are doing the dirty in front, and they will not fire until I tell them.' Mr Trentham and I, we looked at one another, and 'twas the same thought in both our minds: 'If 'twas always like that how easy it would be!' The covering party ready at once, and offered without the asking: the splendid discipline of it all! For those men behind us would have died sooner than fire without the further orders. Mind you, sir, there are many other regiments the same, but 'tis unfair to my manner of thinking that anyone should say those Guards are for show alone. And I says, and I'd like to meet the man that would deny me, that the discipline in those fellows is simply amazing."
"But where does the digging come in, Cassidy?" I asked.
"'Tis another story, that, sir," he answered, "but 'tis all part of the same thing — the discipline. You'll mind, that when men have been fighting hard, or when they have been marching, and it is all over for the time, the first thought of those men is to lie down and go to sleep. They are done to the world, they are dead beat, and more often than not it is at night. I am speaking of the thing as it was some month or two ago. The men are there — the position is new — and they cannot see ten yards in front of them. There is no officer at hand, maybe, and they just lie down and go to sleep. Now, sir, that will not do at all. 'Tis fatal. The morning comes, and those coal boxes start again, and the men are in the open. Even if they are not hit, they get a bit jumpy in a manner of speaking, for those contraptions are ugly things to watch, bursting all round you. They get jumpy, I say, and perhaps one comes a bit nearer than the rest, and somebody mutters 'Let's hop it.' 'Tis not a thing which we would wish to speak of, sir, but you know as well as I that those things happen even in the finest army of the world. Had those same lads been made to dig themselves in — right in, not a blithering little hole scratched in the mud, but down four foot or more, when they got there the night previous, some of those things which I have seen, and of which same I would rather not speak, would not have happened at all. But 'tis discipline that is needed to make a man dig when he is beat to the world, and there is no regiment in the Army that has the Guards beat at it. Some are as good, but there is none that has them beat. Those fellows have not yet run, that I knows of: they have not budged one inch from the places where they were put, and there are regiments that cannot say that same. And I puts it down to the making the men dig themselves in, to a great extent — to the discipline that makes the man not skimp his work because the officer is not behind him with a stick. You will understand, sir, when I say run I do not mean that anyone has hopped it bad: at least, glory be, I have not seen that same. But 'tis just that hopping it for a quarter of a mile or so and losing the advantage that you had won overnight, for the want of the digging, that sometimes occurred, before the importance of that same digging was understood properly; and it's there those Guards were so good, and it's that which those fellows who are now training should have shooed into their heads."
"I think that lesson has been well learned," I said as he stopped.
"Sir," he answered seriously, "it cannot be learned too well, "for 'tis a matter of life and death."
Slowly the car glided past Wellington Barracks, and as we passed one of the entrances three young officers came out.
"Good lads they are," cried Cassidy, "with that swagger which is right and fitting. For as you know, sir, if there is one thing which the boys cannot abide, it is the officer who creeps about like a cheese mite. They have their faults, those lads, but they are faults on the right side. I mind me now of a story I heard out yonder. They'd suffered, those Guard regiments, lost something cruel, as you know; and the young gentlemen from home were coming out to replace the casualties. Well, as you can imagine, sir, 'tis an uneasy matter at times for a young lad, fresh to the game, to find himself with old soldiers who have him watched, to see what manner of lad he is when the Marias are about. And 'tis the fear of being afraid that makes their hands tremble a bit, and gives them a touch of sweat on the forehead though the day would kill a polar bear with the cold. 'Tis the fear of being afraid of which those lads are afraid. One of those young lads — a proper thoroughbred he was — came out, and found himself in a trench, with the lads with their eyes on him.
"''Tis afraid they think me,' he says to himself. 'I'll show 'em, the blighters. So he stepped out of the trench, as pleasant as may be, as if to take the air. 'Come in, sir,' begs the sergeant — ''tis death outside.' 'Seems quite a healthy sort of death, sergeant,' says he, as nice as you like, and as he was speaking he took it. Luckily for him 'twas only a flesh wound, in such a place that he could not sit down with ease. The men they roared with laughter, and the sergeant smiled; and at that moment along creeps the captain. ''Tis wounded I am, sir,' says the subaltern. 'Bad luck,' says the captain; 'and where have you taken it?' 'Where it will hinder the easy use of the firing step to sit on,' says the subaltern. 'And how the devil did you take it there?' says the captain. 'Was it out of the trench you were?' 'I was that,' he says — ' taking the air.' The captain looked at the sergeant and saw him smile, and the captain looked at the men and saw them with their hands to their mouths studying the view. 'You cannot with ease sit upon the step,' he said. 'Can you with ease accompany me a little distance down the trench? And you will come as well, sergeant,' he says, 'for I'm minded to discuss this question of taking the air.' When they were away from the men he said to the sergeant, 'Did you tell the officer the air was unhealthy a few feet higher up?' 'I did that, sir,' said the sergeant. ' All right,' he said, 'that will do.' The sergeant backed away a few paces, and then the captain started. 'Mr So-and-so,' he started — I misremember the gentleman's name — 'have you made any mistake? You aren't by any means under the delusion that you are out here to practise open-air pastoral dances, are you? You aren't qualifying for an instructor in Swedish exercises by any chance, are you?' 'No, sir,' said the little officer, looking all bewildered like. 'Then what the blazes do you mean by behaving like an organ grinder's monkey and getting out of that trench?' he roared. ''Twas to show them I was not afraid,' says the little 'un, standing bolt upright and looking him straight in the face. The captain's eyes they twinkled, and he looked away that the lad might not see; then he turned back. 'The officers in our regiment,' he said, 'are never afraid. Let us not be mistaken,' he said. 'When you come to me as my subaltern, I want you alive and well. It is your job to keep yourself fit, and not get wounded. If I told you to lead the men over that ground there,' and he pointed to the German trenches, 'and you refused or hesitated, though 'twould be certain death you went to, I would blow your brains out if you could not blow them out yourself. But I did not tell you to give an imitation of a skirt dance at the Alhambra merely to show that you possessed what you should blow your brains out for if you didn't. It's taught you a lesson, my lad, and a damned good one. Take him away,' he said to the sergeant, 'and have it dressed. If he can't sit down, he must lie on his face.' The lad was nigh faint with the blood he had lost, but he stood up and he said, 'I'm sorry, sir: I was a fool.' 'You were, my lad,' said the captain; but as he went back to the trench past the sergeant, he said to him, 'They're the sort of fool we can do with, though, aren't they?'
"A thoroughbred lot they are," continued Cassidy, after a pause, "with their eyeglasses, and hair-oil, and the like. Hampers they have from the big shops, they tell me, with bottles of the stuff inside. And the talking of those same bottles reminds me of another story about those same Guards." He paused reminiscently as a huge and majestic policeman barred our way.
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