The young man explained, and shortly afterwards Wankin went to headquarters under an armed escort. Three days later I saw his head sticking out through the guard-room window, and at that time I had not heard of the London road escapade.
“Here on account of drink?” I asked him.
“You fool,” he roared at me. “Do you think I mistook this damned place for the canteen?”
I like Wankin and most of his mates like him. We feel that when detention, barrack confinement and English taverns will be things of yesterday, Wankin will make a good and trustworthy friend in the trenches.
THE NIGHT SIDE OF SOLDIERING
There are three things in military life which make a great appeal to me; the rifle’s reply to the pull of the trigger-finger, the gossip of soldiers in the crowded canteen, and the onward movement of a thousand men in full marching order with arms at the trail. And at no time is this so impressive as at night when with rifles held in a horizontal position by the side, the arm hanging easily from the shoulder, we march at attention in complete silence. Not a word is spoken by anyone save officers, little is heard but the dull crunch of boots on the gravel and the rustle of trenching-tool handles as they rub against trousers or haversack. Seen from a flank at the rear, the moving battalion, bending round the curve or straining to a hill, looks like the plesiosaur of the picture shown in the act of dragging its cumbrous length along. The silence is full of mystery, the gigantic mass, of which you form so minute a unit, is entirely voiceless, a dumb thing without a tongue, brooding, as it were, over some eternal sorrow or ancient wrong to which it cannot give expression. Marching thus at night, a battalion is doubly impressive. The silent monster is full of restrained power; resolute in its onward sweep, impervious to danger, it looks a menacing engine of destruction, steady to its goal, and certain of its mission.
A march like this fell to our lot once every fortnight. At seven in the evening, loaded with full pack, bayonet, haversack, ground-sheet, water-bottle, overcoat, and rifle, we would take our way from the town out into the open country. The night varied in temper—sometimes it rained; again, it froze and chilled the ears and finger-tips; and once we marched with the full moon over us, lighting up the whole county—the fields, the woods, the lighted villages, the snug farmhouses, and the grey roads by which the long line of khaki-clad soldiers went on their way. That night was one to be remembered.
We went off from the parade ground, a thousand strong, along the sloping road that sweeps down the hill on which our town is built. Giggling girls watched us depart—they are ever there when the soldiers are on the move—old gentlemen and ladies wished us luck as we passed, but never a head of a thousand heads turned to the left or right, never a tongue replied to the cheery greetings; we were marching at attention, with arms at the trail.