CHARACTER SKETCHES IN CAMP.
THE CAMP LIAR.
In the days of my almost forgotten boyhood I remember reading in the Book of all books that the Wise Man, in a fit of blank despair, declared that there were several things under heaven which he could neither gauge nor understand, viz., “The way of a serpent upon a rock, and the way of a man with a maid,” and I beg leave to doubt if Solomon, in all his wisdom, could understand the little ways of a camp liar in his frisky glory. Whence he cometh, whither he goeth, and why he was born, are conundrums which might tax the ingenuity of all the prophets, from Daniel downwards, to solve. I have sought him with peace offerings in each hand, hoping to beguile him from his sinful ways, and have located him not. I have risen in the chilly dawn, and laid wait for him with a gun, but have not feasted mine eyes upon him. I have lain awake through the still watches of the night planning divers surprises for him, but success has not come nigh unto me. I have cursed the camp liar with a fervour born of long suffering, and I have hired a Zulu mule-driver to curse him for me; but my efforts have come to nought, and now I am sore in my very bones when I think of him. All men whose fate it is to dwell under canvas know of his work, but no man hath yet laid hand or eye upon him. A man goeth to his blankets at night time feeling good towards all mankind, satisfied in his own soul that he has garnered in all the legitimate news that he is in any way entitled to handle for the public benefit; and lo! when he ariseth in the dawning he finds that the camp liar has neither slept nor slumbered, for the very air is full of stories concerning battles which have not been fought and victories which have not been won. From mouth to mouth, all along the lines, the stories run as fire runs along fuse, and no man born of woman can tell whence they came or where they will stop. Each soldier questioned swears the tale is true, because “’twas told to him by one who never lied.” Yet, at evening, when the weary wretch who works for newspapers returns to his tent, with his boots worn through with fruitless search for the author of the “news,” he learns that once again he has been the dupe of the “camp liar”; and he may well be forgiven if he then heaps a whole continent of curses on the invisible shape which, forming itself into a lie, is small enough to enter a man’s mouth, and yet big enough to permeate a whole camp. What is a camp liar? It is not a man, neither is it a maid, neither is it dog nor devil. It is a nameless shadow, which flits through the minds of men, fashioned by the Father of Evil to be a curse and a scourge to war correspondents. A mining liar is an awful liar, but he takes tangible form, and one can grapple with him when he appears upon a prospectus. A political liar is a pitiful liar, and vengeance finds him out upon the hustings, and