This “common sense” argument carried him through following days; then came another of the frightful undoings of his emotions; and just as the war definitely began for him with the glimpse of the beginnings of that “jamborino” in the Mess, so from this new occasion began, unceasingly and increasingly, and with shocking effect upon his sensitiveness, a dreadful oppression by the war and, adding to its darkness, a gnawing and unreasonable self-accusation that he was not “in it.”
The occasion was that of his meeting with Harkness outside the County Times office. Harkness was a captain of the battalion that had gone out who had been left behind owing to some illness. The British Expeditionary Force had been in action. There had been scraps of news of some heavy fighting. Harkness said dully, “Hullo, Sabre. I’ve just been in to see that chap Pike to see if he’d got anything. We’ve had some news, you know.” He stopped. His face was twitching.
Sabre said, “News? Anything about the Pinks?”
Harkness nodded. He seemed to be swallowing. Then he said, “Yes, the regiment. Pretty bad.”
Sabre said, “Any one—?” and also stopped.
Harkness looked, not at Sabre, but straight across the top of his head and began an appalling, and as it seemed to Sabre, an endless recitative. “The Colonel’s killed. Bruce is killed. Otway’s killed—”
“Cottar’s killed. Bullen’s killed—”
Endless! The names struck Sabre like successive blows. Were they never going to end?
“Carmichael’s killed. My young brother’s—” his voice cracked—“killed. Sikes is killed.”
“Sikes killed.... And your brother....”
Harkness said in a very thin, squeaking voice, “Yes, the regiment’s pretty well—The regiment’s—” He looked full at Sabre and said in a very loud, defiant voice, “I bet they were magnificent. By God, I bet you they were magnificent. Oh, my God, why the hell wasn’t I there?” He turned abruptly and went away, walking rather funnily.
This was the moment at which there descended upon Sabre, never to leave him while he remained not “in it”, the appalling sense of oppression that the war exercised upon him. On his brain like a weight; on his heart like a pressing hand. He thought of Otway’s intense, gleaming face. “My God, Sabre, you ought to have seen the battalion on parade this morning.” He saw Otway’s face cold and stricken. He thought of Sikes, on the table. “Well, I’m going to take nothing but socks. I’m going to stuff my pack absolutely bung full of socks.” He saw Sikes flung like a disused thing in some field....
And still events; still, and always, now, disturbing things.
While he stood there he was suddenly aware of Young Rod, Pole or Perch, rather breathlessly come up.
“I say, Sabre, have you heard this frightful news about the Pinks?—I say, Sabre, I want your help most frightfully. I want you to talk to my mother. She likes you. She’ll listen to you. I’m going to enlist. I’ve been putting it off day after day, trying to fix up things for my mother and trying to persuade her; but I haven’t done much and I absolutely can’t wait any longer.”