’I was ‘oping,’ said the Cockney, with a solemn wink to the gathering, ’as ’ow Number 26 would be took by a toff, and, blime, if it ain’t! It were gettin’ blinkin’ lonesome for me with only Jock ’ere and Frenchy opposite, who ain’t bad blokes in their wy, but orful crude for my likin’.’
‘Where did it hit ye?’ asked the Scot encouragingly.
‘On the head,’ said Selwyn, pointing to his bandage.
‘Mon, mon, that’s apt to be dangerous.’
‘Nah then!’ cried the Cockney, reaching for his temperature-chart, ’we’ll open the mornink proper with the ’Ymn of ’Ate. In cise you don’t know the piece, m’lud, you can read it off your temperacher-ticket. Steady now—everybody got a full breath? Gow!’
With great zest all the patients who were able to sit up broke into a discordant jumble of scales as they followed the course of their temperatures up and down the chart. Gradually, one by one, they fell out and resumed their breakfast, until the Scotsman was the only one singing.
‘Ye ken,’ he said, pausing temporarily and looking at Selwyn, ’yon should be rendered wi’ proper deegnity.’ With which explanatory comment he finished the last six notes, and solemnly replaced the chart on the ledge behind him, as if it were a copy of Handel’s Messiah.
The last note had hardly died away when a violent controversy broke out between a pair of Australian soldiers on one side and almost the entire ward on the other. The thing had started by one of the Anzacs venturing the modest opinion that if Britain had had a million Australian troops, they, the present gathering, would be ‘hoch, hoching’ in Berlin (apparently a delightful prospect) instead of being cooped up in a London hospital.
The little Cockney was just going to utter a crushing sarcasm, the French-Canadian had taken in a perfectly stupendous breath, the Highlander was calmly tasting the flavour of his own reply, when the impending torrent was broken by the entrance of the chaplain, who wished every one a somewhat sanctimonious ‘Good-day.’
‘I shall read,’ he said, putting on a pair of glasses, ’the latest communique from the front. We have done very well. The news is quite good—quite good. “This morning, on a front of three miles, after an intense artillery preparation, the Australians"’——
‘’OORAY!’ roared the Cockney.
The glasses popped off the chaplain’s startled nose, and he just managed by a brilliant bit of juggling to rescue them before they reached the floor.
‘I—I,’ he ventured, smiling blandly, ’am delighted at your enthusiasm, but you did not let me finish. “This morning”—um, um, ah—“three miles”—um, um, yes—“three miles, after an intense artillery preparation, the Australians"’——
‘’OORAY!’ It was a deafening roar from the whole crowd.