Then Sanford and I would pass the wink and go at it tooth and nail. It was ridiculous, arguing the toss on a long-gone-by small-time scrap like the Civil War with the greatest show in history going on all around us. Anyway the Tommies loved it and would fairly howl with delight when we got to going good.
It is strange, but with so many Americans in the British service, I ran up against very few. I remember one night when we were making a night march from one village to another, we stopped for the customary ten-minutes-in-the-hour rest. Over yonder in a field there was a camp of some kind,—probably field artillery. There was dim light of a fire and the low murmur of voices. And then a fellow began to sing in a nice tenor:
me not on the lone prairie
Where the wild coyotes howl o’er me.
Bury me down in the little churchyard
In a grave just six by three.
The last time I had heard that song was in New Orleans, and it was sung by a wild Texan. So I yelled, “Hello there, Texas.”
He answered, “Hello, Yank. Where from?”
I answered, “Boston.”
“Give my regards to Tremont Street and go to hell,” says he. A gale of laughter came out of the night. Just then we had the order to fall in, and away we went. I’d like to know sometime who that chap was.
After knocking about all over the north of France seemingly, we brought up at Canchy of a Sunday afternoon. Here the whole brigade, four battalions, had church parade, and after that the band played ragtime and the officers had a gabfest and compared medals, on top of which we were soaked with two hours’ steady drill. We were at Canchy ten days, and they gave it to us good and plenty. We would drill all day and after dark it would be night ’ops. Finally so many men were going to the doctor worn out that he ordered a whole day and a half of rest.
Mr. Blofeld on Saturday night suggested that, as we were going into the Somme within a few weeks, the non-coms ought to have a little blow-out. It would be the last time we would all ever be together. He furnished us with all the drinkables we could get away with, including some very choice Johnny Walker. There was a lot of canned stuff, mostly sardines. Mr. Blofeld loaned us the officers’ phonograph.
It was a large, wet night. Everybody made a speech or sang a song, and we didn’t go home until morning. It was a farewell party, and we went the limit. If there is one thing that the Britisher does better than another, it is getting ready to die. He does it with a smile,—and he dies with a laugh.
Poor chaps! Nearly all of them are pushing up the daisies somewhere in France. Those who are not are, with one or two exceptions, out of the army with broken bodies.
FIRST SIGHT OF THE TANKS
Late in the summer I accumulated a nice little case of trench fever.