“They won’t see that inefficiency is a sort of dishonesty. If a man doesn’t steal sixpence, they think it a light matter if he wastes half a crown. Here follows wisdom! From the point of view of a nation at war, sixpence is just a fifth part of half a crown....
“When I began this letter I was boiling with indignation, complicated, I suspect, by this morning’s ‘stew’; now I have written thus far I feel I’m an ungenerous grumbler.... It is remarkable, my dear Parent, that I let off these things to you. I like writing to you. I couldn’t possibly say the things I can write. Heinrich had a confidential friend at Breslau to whom he used to write about his Soul. I never had one of those Teutonic friendships. And I haven’t got a Soul. But I have to write. One must write to some one—and in this place there is nothing else to do. And now the old lady downstairs is turning down the gas; she always does at half-past ten. She didn’t ought. She gets—ninepence each. Excuse the pencil....”
That letter ended abruptly. The next two were brief and cheerful. Then suddenly came a new note.
“We’ve got rifles! We’re real armed soldiers at last. Every blessed man has got a rifle. And they come from Japan! They are of a sort of light wood that is like new oak and art furniture, and makes one feel that one belongs to the First Garden Suburb Regiment; but I believe much can be done with linseed oil. And they are real rifles, they go bang. We are a little light-headed about them. Only our training and discipline prevent our letting fly at incautious spectators on the skyline. I saw a man yesterday about half a mile off. I was possessed by the idea that I could get him—right in the middle.... Ortheris, the little beast, has got a motor-bicycle, which he calls his ’b——y oto’—no one knows why—and only death or dishonourable conduct will save me, I gather, from becoming a corporal in the course of the next month....”
A subsequent letter threw fresh light on the career of the young man with the “oto.” Before the rifle and the “oto,” and in spite of his fights with some person or persons unknown, Ortheris found trouble. Hugh told the story with the unblushing savoir-faire of the very young.