He paused and wiped his wet forehead; “you,” he said, turning to the other signaler, “tell them behind there the same thing.”
“How in thunder did they manage it, sergeant?” said the perplexed signaler. “They haven’t had time since they got my message through.”
“No,” said the sergeant, “but they’ve just had time since they got mine.”
“Got yours?” said the bewildered signaler.
“Yes, didn’t I tell you?” said the sergeant. “When I went out for a look round that time, I found an artillery signaler laying out a new line, and I got him to let me tap in and send a message through his battery to headquarters.”
“You might have told me,” said the aggrieved signaler. “It would have saved me a heap of sweat getting that message through.” After he had finished his message to the rear station he spoke reflectively: “Lucky thing you did get through,” he said. “’Twas a pretty close shave. The O.C. should have a ‘thank you’ for you over it.”
“I don’t suppose,” answered the sergeant, “the O.C. will ever know or ever trouble about it; he sent a message to the signaling company to send through—and it was sent through. There’s the beginning and the end of it.”
And as he said, so it was; or rather the end of it was in those three words that appeared later in the despatch: “It is reported.”
You must know plenty of people—if you yourself are not one of them—who hold out stoutly against any military compulsion or conscription in the belief that the “fetched” man can never be the equal in valor and fighting instinct of the volunteer, can only be a source of weakness in any platoon, company and regiment. This tale may throw a new light on that argument.
Gerald Bunthrop was not a conscript in the strict sense of the word, because when he enlisted no legal form of conscription existed in the United Kingdom; but he was, as many more have been, a moral conscript, a man utterly averse to any form of soldiering, much less fighting, very reluctantly driven into the Army by force of circumstance and pressure from without himself. Before the War the Army and its ways were to him a sealed book. Of war he had the haziest ideas compounded of novels he had read and dimly remembered and mental pictures in a confused jumble of Charles O’Malley dragoons on spirited charges, half-forgotten illustrations in the papers of pith-helmeted infantry in the Boer War, faint boyhood recollections of Magersfontein and the glumness of the “Black Week”—a much more realistic and vivid impression of Waterloo as described by Brigadier Gerard—and odd figures of black Soudanese, of Light Brigade troopers, of Peninsula red-coats, of Sepoys and bonneted Highlanders in the Mutiny period, and of Life Guard sentries at Whitehall, lines of fixed bayonets on City procession routes, and khaki-clad Terriers seen about railway