English Literature

Men, Women and Guns by H. C. McNeile

Men, Women and Guns by H. C. McNeile.jpg




Nothing in this war has so struck those who have fought in it as its impersonal nature. From the day the British Army moved north, and the first battle of Ypres commenced—and with it trench warfare as we know it now—it has been, save for a few interludes, a contest between automatons, backed by every known scientific device. Personal rancour against the opposing automatons separated by twenty or thirty yards of smelling mud—who stew in the same discomfort as yourself—is apt to give way to an acute animosity against life in general, and the accursed fate in particular which so foolishly decided your sex at birth. But, though rare, there have been cases of isolated encounters, where men—with the blood running hot in their veins—have got down to[24] hand-grips, and grappling backwards and forwards in some cellar or dugout, have fought to the death, man to man, as of old. Such a case has recently come to my knowledge, a case at once bizarre and unique: a case where the much-exercised arm of coincidence showed its muscles to a remarkable degree. Only quite lately have I found out all the facts, and now at Dick O’Rourke’s special request I am putting them on paper. True, they are intended to reach the eyes of one particular person, but … the personal column in the Times interests others besides the lady in the magenta skirt, who will eat a banana at 3.30 daily by the Marble Arch!

And now, at the very outset of my labours, I find myself—to my great alarm—committed to the placing on paper of a love scene. O’Rourke insists upon it: he says the whole thing will fall flat if I don’t put it in; he promises that he will supply the local colour. In advance I apologise: my own love affairs are sufficiently trying without endeavouring to describe his—and with that, here goes.

I will lift my curtain on the principals of this little drama, and open the scene at Ciro’s in London. On the evening of April 21st, 1915, in the corner of that delectable resort, farthest away from the coon band, sat Dickie O’Rourke. That afternoon he had stepped[25] from the boat at Folkestone on seven days’ leave, and now in the boiled shirt of respectability he once again smelled the smell of London.

With him was a girl. I have never seen her, but from his description I cannot think that I have lived until this oversight is rectified. Moreover, my lady, as this is written especially for your benefit, I hereby warn you that I propose to remedy my omission as soon as possible.

And yet with a band that is second to none; with food wonderful and divine; with the choicest fruit of the grape, and—to top all—with the girl, Dickie did not seem happy. As he says, it was not to be wondered at. He had landed at Folkestone meaning to propose; he had carried out his intention over the fish—and after that the dinner had lost its savour. She had refused him—definitely and finally; and Dick found himself wishing for France again—France and forgetfulness. Only he knew he’d never forget.

“The dinner is to monsieur’s taste?” The head-waiter paused attentively by the table.

“Very good,” growled Dick, looking savagely at an ice on his plate. “Oh, Moyra,” he muttered, as the man passed on, “it’s meself is finished entoirely. And I was feeling that happy on the boat; as I saw the white cliffs coming nearer and nearer, I said to meself, ‘Dick, me boy, in just four hours you’ll be[26] with the dearest, sweetest girl that God ever sent from the heavens to brighten the lives of dull dogs like yourself.'”

“You’re not dull, Dick. You’re not to say those things—you’re a dear.” The girl’s eyes seemed a bit misty as she bent over her plate.

“And now!” He looked at her pleadingly. “‘Tis the light has gone out of my life. Ah! me dear, is there no hope for Dickie O’Rourke? Me estate is mostly bog, and the ould place has fallen down, saving only the stable—but there’s the breath of the seas that comes over the heather in the morning, and there’s the violet of your dear eyes in the hills. It’s not worrying you that I’d be—but is there no hope at all, at all?”

The girl turned towards him, smiling a trifle sadly. There was woman’s pity in the lovely eyes: her lips were trembling a little. “Dear old Dick,” she whispered, and her hand rested lightly on his for a moment. “Dear old Dick, I’m sorry. If I’d only known sooner——” She broke off abruptly and fell to gazing at the floor.

“Then there is someone else!” The man spoke almost fiercely.

Slowly she nodded her head, but she did not speak.

“Who is it?”[27]

“I don’t know that you’ve got any right to ask me that, Dick,” she answered, a little proudly.

“What’s the talk of right between you and me? Do you suppose I’ll let any cursed social conventions stand between me and the woman I love?” She could see his hand trembling, though outwardly he seemed quite calm. And then his voice dropped to a tender, pleading note—and again the soft, rich brogue of the Irishman crept in—that wonderful tone that brings with it the music of the fairies from the hazy blue hills of Connemara.

“Acushla mine,” he whispered, “would I be hurting a hair of your swate head, or bringing a tear to them violet pools ye calls your eyes? ‘Tis meself that is in the wrong entoirely—but, mavourneen, I just worship you. And the thought of the other fellow is driving me crazy. Will ye not be telling me his name?”

“Dick, I can’t,” she whispered, piteously. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“And why would I not understand?” he answered, grimly. “Is it something shady he has done to you?—for if it is, by the Holy Mother, I’ll murder him.”

“No, no, it’s nothing shady. But I can’t tell you, Dick; and oh, Dick! I’m just wretched, and I don’t know what to do.” The tears were very near.[28] A whimsical look came into his face as he watched her. “Moyra, me dear; ’tis about ten shillings apiece we’re paying for them ices; and if you splash them with your darling tears, the chef will give notice and that coon with the banjo will strike work.”

“You dear, Dick,” she whispered, after a moment, while a smile trembled round her mouth. “I nearly made a fool of myself.”

“Divil a bit,” he answered. “But let us be after discussing them two fair things yonder while we gets on with the ices. ‘Tis the most suitable course for contemplating the dears; and, anyway, we’ll take no more risks until we’re through with them.”

And so with a smile on his lips and a jest on his tongue did a gallant gentleman cover the ache in his heart and the pain in his eyes, and felt more than rewarded by the look of thanks he got. It was not for him to ask for more than she would freely give; and if there was another man—well, he was a lucky dog. But if he’d played the fool—yes, by Heaven! if he’d played the fool, that was a different pair of shoes altogether. His forehead grew black at the thought, and mechanically his fists clenched.

“Dick, I’d like to tell you just how things are.”

He pulled himself together and looked at the girl.

“It is meself that is at your service, my lady,” he answered, quietly.[29]

“I’m engaged. But it’s a secret.”

His jaw dropped, “Engaged!” he faltered. “But—who to? And why is it a secret?”

“I can’t tell you who to. I promised to keep it secret; and then he suddenly went away and the war broke out and I’ve never seen him since.”

“But you’ve heard from him?”

She bit her lip and looked away. “Not a line,” she faltered.

“But—I don’t understand.” His tone was infinitely tender. “Why hasn’t he written to you? Violet girl, why would he not have written?”

“You see, he’s a——” She seemed to be nerving herself to speak. “You see, he’s a German!”

It was out at last.

“Mother of God!” Dick leaned back in his chair, his eyes fixed on her, his cigarette unheeded, burning the tablecloth. “Do you love him?”

“Yes.” The whispered answer was hardly audible. “Oh, Dick, I wonder if you can understand. It all came so suddenly, and then there was this war, and I know it’s awful to love a German, but I do, and I can’t tell anyone but you; they’d think it horrible of me. Oh, Dick! tell me you understand.”

“I understand, little girl,” he answered, very slowly. “I understand.”

It was all very involved and infinitely pathetic. But,[30] as I have said before, Dick O’Rourke was a gallant gentleman.

“It’s not his fault he’s a German,” she went on after a while. “He didn’t start the war—and, you see, I promised him.”

That was the rub—she’d promised him. Truly a woman is a wonderful thing! Very gentle and patient was O’Rourke with her that evening, and when at last he turned into his club, he sat for a long while gazing into the fire. Just once a muttered curse escaped his lips.

“Did you speak?” said the man in the next chair.

“I did not,” said O’Rourke, and getting up abruptly he went to bed.

At 3 p.m. on April 22nd Dick O’Rourke received a wire. It was short and to the point. “Leave cancelled. Return at once.” He tore round to Victoria, found he’d missed the boat-train, and went down to Folkestone on chance. For the time Moyra was almost forgotten. Officers are not recalled from short leave without good and sufficient reason; and as yet there was nothing in the evening papers that showed any activity. At Folkestone he met other officers—also recalled; and when the boat came in rumours began to spread. The whole line had fallen back—the[31] Germans were through and marching on Calais—a ghastly defeat had been sustained.

The morning papers were a little more reassuring; and in them for the first time came the mention of the word “gas.” Everything was vague, but that something had happened was obvious, and also that that something was pretty serious.

One p.m. on the 23rd found him at Boulogne, ramping like a bull. An unemotional railway transport officer told him that there was a very nice train starting at midnight, but that the leave train was cancelled.

“But, man!” howled O’Rourke, “I’ve been recalled. ‘Tis urgent!” He brandished the wire in his face.

The R.T.O. remained unmoved, and intimated that he was busy, and that O’Rourke’s private history left him quite cold. Moreover, he thought it possible that the British Army might survive without him for another day.

In the general confusion that ensued on his replying that the said R.T.O. was no doubt a perfect devil as a traveller for unshrinkable underclothes, but that his knowledge of the British Army might be written on a postage-stamp, O’Rourke escaped, and ensconcing himself near the barrier, guarded by French sentries, at the top of the hill leading to St. Omer, he waited for a motor-car.

Having stopped two generals and been consigned[32] elsewhere for his pains, he ultimately boarded a flying corps lorry, and 4 p.m. found him at St. Omer. And there—but we will whisper—was a relative—one of the exalted ones of the earth, who possessed many motor-cars, great and small.

Dick chose the second Rolls-Royce, and having pursued his unit to the farm where he’d left it two days before, he chivied it round the country, and at length traced it to Poperinghe.

And there he found things moving. As yet no one was quite sure what had happened; but he found a solemn conclave of Army Service Corps officers attached to his division, and from them he gathered twenty or thirty of the conflicting rumours that were flying round. One thing, anyway, was clear: the Huns were not triumphantly marching on Calais—yet. It was just as a charming old boy of over fifty, who had perjured his soul over his age and had been out since the beginning—a standing reproach to a large percentage of the so-called youth of England—it was just as he suggested a little dinner in that hospitable town, prior to going up with the supply lorries, that with a droning roar a twelve-inch shell came crashing into the square….

That night at 11 p.m. Dick stepped out of another car into a ploughed field just behind the little village of Woesten, and, having trodden on his major’s face[33] and unearthed his servant, lay down by the dying fire to get what sleep he could. Now and again a horse whinnied near by; a bit rattled, a man cursed; for the unit was ready to move at a moment’s notice and the horses were saddled up. The fire died out—from close by a battery was firing, and the sky was dancing with the flashes of bursting shells like summer lightning flickering in the distance. And with his head on a sharp stone and another in his back Dick O’Rourke fell asleep and dreamed of—but dreams are silly things to describe. It was just as he’d thrown the hors-d’œuvres at the head-waiter of Ciro’s, who had suddenly become the hated German rival, and was wiping the potato salad off Moyra’s face, which it had hit by mistake, with the table-cloth, that with a groan he turned on his other side—only to exchange the stones for a sardine tin and a broken pickle bottle. Which is really no more foolish than the rest of life nowadays….

And now for a moment I must go back and, leaving our hero, describe shortly the events that led up to the sending of the wire that recalled him.

Early in the morning of April 22nd the Germans launched at that part of the French line which lay in front of the little villages of Elverdinge and Brielen, a yellowish-green cloud of gas, which rolled slowly over the intervening ground between the trenches,[34] carried on its way by a faint, steady breeze. I do not intend to describe the first use of that infamous invention—it has been done too often before. But, for the proper understanding of what follows, it is essential for me to go into a few details. Utterly unprepared for what was to come, the French divisions gazed for a short while spellbound at the strange phenomenon they saw coming slowly towards them. Like some liquid the heavy-coloured vapour poured relentlessly into the trenches, filled them, and passed on. For a few seconds nothing happened; the sweet-smelling stuff merely tickled their nostrils; they failed to realise the danger. Then, with inconceivable rapidity, the gas worked, and blind panic spread. Hundreds, after a dreadful fight for air, became unconscious and died where they lay—a death of hideous torture, with the frothing bubbles gurgling in their throats and the foul liquid welling up in their lungs. With blackened faces and twisted limbs one by one they drowned—only that which drowned them came from inside and not from out. Others, staggering, falling, lurching on, and of their ignorance keeping pace with the gas, went back. A hail of rifle-fire and shrapnel mowed them down, and the line was broken. There was nothing on the British left—their flank was up in the air. The north-east corner of the salient round Ypres had been pierced. From in front[35] of St. Julian, away up north towards Boesienge, there was no one in front of the Germans.

It is not my intention to do more than mention the rushing up of the cavalry corps and the Indians to fill the gap; the deathless story of the Canadians who, surrounded and hemmed in, fought till they died against overwhelming odds; the fate of the Northumbrian division—fresh from home—who were rushed up in support, and the field behind Fortuin where they were caught by shrapnel, and what was left. These things are outside the scope of my story. Let us go back to the gap.

Hard on the heels of the French came the Germans advancing. For a mile or so they pushed on, and why they stopped when they did is—as far as I am concerned—one of life’s little mysteries. Perhaps the utter success of their gas surprised even them; perhaps they anticipated some trap; perhaps the incredible heroism of the Canadians in hanging up the German left caused their centre to push on too far and lose touch; perhaps—but, why speculate? I don’t know, though possibly those in High Places may. The fact remains they did stop; their advantage was lost and the situation was saved.

Such was the state of affairs when O’Rourke opened his eyes on the morning of Saturday, April[36] 24th. The horses were dimly visible through the heavy mist, his blankets were wringing wet, and hazily he wondered why he had ever been born. Then the cook dropped the bacon in the fire, and he groaned with anguish; visions of yesterday’s grilled kidneys and hot coffee rose before him and mocked. By six o’clock he had fed, and sitting on an overturned biscuit-box beside the road he watched three batteries of French 75’s pass by and disappear in the distance. At intervals he longed to meet the man who invented war. It must be remembered that, though I have given the situation as it really was, for the better understanding of the story, the facts at the time were not known at all clearly. The fog of war still wrapped in oblivion—as far as regimental officers were concerned, at any rate—the events which were taking place within a few miles of them.

When, therefore, Dick O’Rourke perceived an unshaven and unwashed warrior, garbed as a gunner officer, coming down the road from Woesten, and, moreover, recognised him as one of his own term at the “Shop,” known to his intimates as the Land Crab, he hailed him with joy.

“All hail, oh, crustacean!” he cried, as the other came abreast of him. “Whither dost walk so blithely?”[37]

“Halloa, Dick!” The gunner paused. “You haven’t seen my major anywhere, have you?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but as I don’t know your major from Adam, my evidence may not be reliable. What news from the seat of war?”

“None that I know of—except this cursed gun, that is rapidly driving me to drink.”

“What cursed gun? I am fresh from Ciro’s and the haunts of love and ease. Expound to me your enigma, my Land Crab.”

“Haven’t you heard? When the Germans——”

He stopped suddenly. “Listen!” Perfectly clear from the woods to the north of them—the woods that lie to the west of the Woesten-Oostvleteren road, for those who may care for maps—there came the distinctive boom! crack! of a smallish gun. Three more shots, and then silence. The gunner turned to Dick.

“There you are—that’s the gun.”

“But how nice! Only, why curse it?”

“Principally because it’s German; and those four shots that you have just heard have by this time burst in Poperinghe.”

“What!” O’Rourke looked at him in amazement. “Is it my leg you would be pulling?”

“Certainly not. When the Germans came on in the first blind rush after the French two small guns on motor mountings got through behind our lines.[38] One was completely wrecked with its detachment The motor mounting of the other you can see lying in a pond about a mile up the road. The gun is there.” He pointed to the wood.

“And the next!” said O’Rourke. “D’you mean to tell me that there is a German gun in that wood firing at Poperinghe? Why, hang it, man! it’s three miles behind our lines.”

“Taking the direction those shells are coming from, the distance from Poperinghe to that gun must be more than ten miles—if the gun is behind the German trenches. Your gunnery is pretty rotten, I know, but if you know of any two-inch gun that shoots ten miles, I’ll be obliged if you’ll give me some lessons.” The gunner lit a cigarette. “Man, we know it’s not one of ours, we know where they all are; we know it’s a Hun.”

“Then, what in the name of fortune are ye standing here for talking like an ould woman with the indigestion? Away with you, and lead us to him, and don’t go chivying after your bally major.” Dick shouted for his revolver. “If there’s a gun in that wood, bedad! we’ll gun it.”

“My dear old flick,” said the other, “don’t get excited. The woods have been searched with a line of men—twice; and devil the sign of the gun. You don’t suppose they’ve got a concrete mounting and the[39] Prussian flag flying on a pole, do you? The detachment are probably dressed as Belgian peasants, and the gun is dismounted and hidden when it’s not firing.”

But O’Rourke would have none of it. “Get off to your major, then, and have your mothers’ meeting. Then come back to me, and I’ll give you the gun. And borrow a penknife and cut your beard—you’ll be after frightening the natives.”

That evening a couple of shots rang out from the same wood, two of the typical shots of a small gun. And then there was silence. A group of men standing by an estaminet on the road affirmed to having heard three faint shots afterwards like the crack of a sporting-gun or revolver; but in the general turmoil of an evening hate which was going on at the same time no one thought much about it. Half an hour later Dick O’Rourke returned, and there was a strange look in his eyes. His coat was torn, his collar and shirt were ripped open, and his right eye was gradually turning black. Of his doings he would vouchsafe no word. Only, as we sat down round the fire to dinner, the gunner subaltern of the morning passed again up the road.

“Got the gun yet, Dick?” he chaffed.

“I have that,” answered O’Rourke, “also the detachment.”[40]

The Land Crab paused. “Where are they?”

“The gun is in a pond where you won’t find it, and the detachment are dead—except one who escaped.”

“Yes, I don’t think.” The gunner laughed and passed on.

“You needn’t,” answered Dick, “but that gun will never fire again.”

It never did. As I say, he would answer no questions, and even amongst the few people who had heard of the thing at all, it soon passed into the limbo of forgotten things. Other and weightier matters were afoot; the second battle of Ypres did not leave much time for vague conjecture. And so when, a few days ago, the question was once again recalled to my mind by no less a person than O’Rourke himself, I had to dig in the archives of memory for the remembrance of an incident of which I had well-nigh lost sight.

“You remember that gun, Bill,” he remarked, lying back in the arm-chair of the farmhouse where we were billeted, and sipping some hot rum—”that German gun that got through in April and bombarded Poperinghe? I want to talk to you about that gun.” He started filling his pipe.

“‘Tis the hardest proposition I’ve ever been up against, and sure I don’t know what to do at all.”[41] He was staring at the fire. “You remember the Land Crab and how he told us the woods had been searched? Well, it didn’t take a superhuman brainstorm to realise that if what he said was right and the Huns were dressed as Belgian peasants, and the gun was a little one, that a line of men going through the woods had about as much chance of finding them as a terrier has of catching a tadpole in the water. I says to myself, ‘Dick, my boy, this is an occasion for stealth, for delicate work, for finesse.’ So off I went on my lonesome and hid in the wood. I argued that they couldn’t be keeping a permanent watch, and that even if they’d seen me come in, they’d think in time I had gone out again, when they noticed no further sign of me. Also I guessed they didn’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest about their ears by killing me—they wanted no vulgar glare of publicity upon their doings. So, as I say, I hid in a hole and waited. I got bored stiff; though, when all was said and done, it wasn’t much worse than sitting in that blessed ploughed field beside the road. About five o’clock I started cursing myself for a fool in listening to the story at all, it all seemed so ridiculous. Not a sound in the woods, not a breath of wind in the trees. The guns weren’t firing, just for the time everything was peaceful. I’d got a caterpillar down my neck, and I was just coming back to get a drink and chuck it[42] up, when suddenly a Belgian labourer popped out from behind a tree. There was nothing peculiar about him, and if it hadn’t been for the Land Crab’s story I’d never have given him a second thought. He was just picking up sticks, but as I watched him I noticed that every now and then he straightened himself up, and seemed to peer around as if he was searching the undergrowth. The next minute out came another, and he started the stick-picking stunt too.”

Dick paused to relight his pipe, then he laughed. “Of course, the humour of the situation couldn’t help striking me. Dick O’Rourke in a filthy hole, covered with branches and bits of dirt, watching two mangy old Belgians picking up wood. But, having stood it the whole day, I made up my mind to wait, at any rate, till night. If only I could catch the gun in action—even if the odds were too great for me alone—I’d be able to spot the hiding-place, and come back later with a party and round them up.

“Then suddenly the evening hate started—artillery from all over the place—and with it the Belgian labourers ceased from plucking sticks. Running down a little path, so close to me that I could almost touch him, came one of them. He stopped about ten yards away where the dense undergrowth finished, and, after looking cautiously round, waved his hand. The other one nipped behind a tree and called out something[43] in a guttural tone of voice. And then, I give you my word, out of the bowels of the earth there popped up a little gun not twenty yards from where I’d been lying the whole day. By this time, of course, I was in the same sort of condition as a terrier is when he’s seen the cat he has set his heart on shin up a tree, having missed her tail by half an inch.

“They clapped her on a little mounting quick as light, laid her, loaded, and, by the holy saints! under my very nose, loosed off a present for Poperinghe. The man on guard waved his hand again, and bedad! away went another. The next instant he was back, again an exclamation in German, and in about two shakes the whole thing had disappeared, and there were the two labourers picking sticks. I give you my word it was like a clown popping up in a pantomime through a trap-door; I had to pinch myself to make certain I was awake.

“The next instant into the clearing came two English soldiers, the reason evidently of the sudden dismantling. Had they been armed we’d have had at them then and there; but, of course, so far behind the trenches, they had no rifles. They just peered round, saw the Belgians, and went off again. I heard their steps dying away in the distance, and decided to wait a bit longer. The two men seemed to be discussing what to do, and ultimately moved behind the tree[44] again, where I could hear them talking. At last they came to a decision, and picking up their bundles of sticks came slowly down the path past me. They were not going to fire again that evening.”

Dick smiled reminiscently. “Bill, pass the rum. I’m thirsty.”

“What did you do, Dick?” I asked, eagerly.

“What d’you think? I was out like a knife and let drive with my hand-gun. I killed the first one as dead as mutton, and missed the second, who shot like a stag into the undergrowth. Gad! It was great. I put two more where I thought he was, but as I still heard him crashing on I must have missed him. Then I nipped round the tree to find the gun. The only thing there was a great hole full of leaves. I ploughed across it, thinking it must be the other side, when, without a word of warning, I fell through the top—bang through the top, my boy, of the neatest hiding-place you’ve ever thought of. The whole of the centre of those leaves was a fake. There were about two inches of them supported on light hurdle-work. I was in the robber’s cave with a vengeance.”

“Was the gun there?” I cried, excitedly.

“It was. Also the Hun. The gun of small variety; the Hun of large—very large. I don’t know which of us was the more surprised—him or me; we just stood gazing at one another.[45]

“‘Halloa, Englishman,’ he said; ‘come to leave a card?’

“‘Quite right, Boche,’ I answered. ‘A p.p.c. one.’

“I was rather pleased with that touch at the time, old son. I was just going to elaborate it, and point out that he—as the dear departing—should really do it, when he was at me.

“Bill, my boy, you should have seen that fight. Like a fool, I never saw his revolver lying on the table, and I’d shoved my own back in my holster. He got it in his right hand, and I got his right wrist in my left. We’d each got the other by the throat, and one of us was for the count. We each knew that. At one time I thought he’d got me—we were crashing backwards and forwards, and I caught my head against a wooden pole which nearly stunned me. And, mark you, all the time I was expecting his pal to come back and inquire after his health. Then suddenly I felt him weaken, and I squeezed his throat the harder. It came quite quickly at the end. His pistol-hand collapsed, and I suppose muscular contraction pulled the trigger, for the bullet went through his head, though I think he was dead already.” Dick O’Rourke paused, and looked thoughtfully into the fire.

“But why in the name of Heaven,” I cried, irritably, “have you kept this dark all the while? Why didn’t you tell us at the time?”[46]

For a while he did not answer, and then he produced his pocket-book. From it he took a photograph, which he handed to me.

“Out of that German’s pocket I took that photograph.”

“Well,” I said, “what about it? A very pretty girl for a German.” Then I looked at it closely. “Why, it was taken in England. Is it an English girl?”

“Yes,” he answered, dryly, “it is. It’s Moyra Kavanagh, whom I proposed to forty-eight hours previously at Ciro’s. She refused me, and told me then she was in love with a German. I celebrate the news by coming over here and killing him, in an individual fight where it was man to man.”

“But,” I cried, “good heavens! man—it was you or he.”

“I know that,” he answered, wearily. “What then? He evidently loved her; if not—why the photo. Look at what’s written on the back—’From Moyra—with all my love.’ All her love. Lord! it’s a rum box up.” He sighed wearily and slowly replaced it in his case. “So I buried him, and I chucked his gun in a pond, and said nothing about it. If I had it would probably have got into the papers or some such rot, and she’d have wanted to know all about it. Think of it! What the deuce would I have told her? To sympathise[47] and discuss her love affairs with her in London, and then toddle over here and slaughter him. Dash it, man, it’s Gilbertian! And, mark you, nothing would induce me to marry her—even if she’d have me—without her knowing.”

“But—-” I began, and then fell silent. The more I thought of it the less I liked it. Put it how you like, for a girl to take as her husband a man who has actually killed the man she loved and was engaged to—German or no German—is a bit of a pill to swallow.

After mature consideration we decided to present the pill to her garbed in this form. On me—as a scribbler of sorts—descended the onus of putting it on paper. When I’d done it, and Dick had read it, he said I was a fool, and wanted to tear it up. Which is like a man….

Look you, my lady, it was a fair fight—it was war—it was an Englishman against a German; and the best man won. And surely to Heaven you can’t blame poor old Dick? He didn’t know; how could he have known, how… but what’s the use? If your heart doesn’t bring it right—neither my pen nor my logic is likely to. Which is like a woman.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s