Soon we were hurrying through England to a place unknown. Most of my comrades were merry and a little sentimental; they sang music-hall songs that told of home. There were seven with me in my compartment, the Jersey youth, whom I saw kissing a weeping sweetheart in the cold hours of the early day; Mervin, my cot-mate, who always cleaned the rifles while I cooked breakfast in the morning; Bill, the Cockney youth who never is so happy as when getting the best of an argument in the coffee-shop of which I have already spoken, and the Oxford man. The other three were almost complete strangers to me, they have just been drafted into our regiment; one was very fat and reminded me of a Dickens character in Pickwick Papers; another who soon fell asleep, his head warm in a Balaclava helmet, was a tall, strapping youth with large muscular hands, which betoken manual labour, and the last was a slightly-built boy with a budding moustache which seemed to have been waxed at one end. We noticed this, and the fat soldier said that the wax had melted from the few lonely hairs on the other side of the lip.
Stations whirled by, Mervin leant out of the window to read their names, but was never successful. Cigarettes were smoked, the carriage was full of tobacco fumes and the floor littered with “fag-ends.” Rifles were lying on the racks, four in each side, and caps, papers and equipment piled on top of them. The Jersey youth made a remark:
“Where are we going to?” he asked. “France I suppose, isn’t it?”
“Maybe Egypt,” someone answered.
“With two pairs of socks to one boot!” Mervin muttered in sarcastic tones; and almost immediately fell asleep. He had been a great traveller and knows many countries. His age is about forty, but he owns to twenty-seven, and in his youth he was educated for the church. “But the job was not one for me,” he says, “and I threw it up.” He looks forward to the life of a soldier in the field.
Our train journey neared the end. Bill was at the window and said that we were in sight of our destination. All were up and fumbling with their equipment; and one, the University man, hoped that the night would be a good one for sailing to France.
If we are bound for France we shall be there to-morrow.
* * * * *
By Patrick MACGILL, author of “Children of the dead end.” Crown 8vo. Price 6/-. Inland postage 5D. Extra.