To me there are only two kinds of horse. Chestnuts, roans, bay rums—I know nothing of all these; I can only describe a horse simply as a nice horse or a nasty horse. Toby is a nice horse.
Toby, of course, knows much more about men than I do about horses, and no doubt he describes me professionally to his colleagues as a “flea-bitten fellow standing about eighteen hoofs”; but when he is not being technical I like to think that he sums me up to himself as a nice man. At any rate I am not allowed to wear spurs, and that must weigh with a horse a good deal.
I have no real right to Toby. The Signalling Officer’s official mount is a bicycle, but a bicycle in this weather—! And there is Toby, and somebody must ride him, and, as I point out to the other subalterns, it would only cause jealousy if one of them rode him, and—”
“Why would it create more jealousy than if you do?” asked one of them.
“Well,” I said, “you’re the officer commanding platoon number—”
“Fifteen. Now, why should the officer commanding the fifteenth platoon ride a horse when the officer commanding the nineteenth—”
He reminded me that there were only sixteen platoons in a battalion. It’s such a long time since I had anything to do with platoons that I forget.
“All right, we’ll say the sixteenth. Why shouldn’t he have a horse? Of all the unjust—Well, you see what recriminations it would lead to. Now I don’t say I’m more valuable than a platoon-commander or more effective on a horse, but, at any rate, there aren’t sixteen of me. There’s only one Signalling Officer, and if there is a spare horse over—”
“What about the Bombing Officer?” said O.C. Platoon 15 carelessly.
I had quite forgotten the Bombing Officer. Of course he is a specialist too.
“Yes, quite so, but if you would only think a little,” I said, thinking hard all the time, “you would—well, put it this way. The range of a Mills bomb is about fifty yards; the range of a field telephone is several miles. Which of us is more likely to require a horse?”
“And the Sniping officer?” he went on dreamily.
This annoyed me.
“You don’t shoot snipe from horseback,” I said sharply. “You’re mixing up shooting and hunting, my lad. And in any case there are reasons, special reasons, why I ride Toby—reasons of which you know nothing.”
Here are the reasons:—
1. I think I have more claim to a horse called Toby than has a contributor to “Our Feathered Friends” or whatever paper the Sniping Officer writes for.
2. When I joined the Army, Celia was inconsolable. I begged her to keep a stiff upper lip, to which she replied that she could do it better if I promised not to keep a bristly one. I pointed out that the country wanted bristles; and though, between ourselves, we might regard it as a promising face spoilt for a tradition, still discipline was discipline. And so the bristles came, and remained until the happy day when the War Office, at the risk of losing the war, made them optional. Immediately they were uprooted.