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A Conference Of The Powers
by [?]

“Seen service?” said he. Then, as a child might ask, “Tell me. Tell me everything about everything.”

“How do you mean?” said The Infant, delighted at being directly appealed to by the great man.

“Good Heavens! How am I to make you understand, if you can’t see. In the first place, what is your age?”

“Twenty-three next July,” said The Infant promptly.

Cleever questioned the others with his eyes.

“I’m twenty-four,” said Nevin.

“And I’m twenty-two,” said Boileau.

“And you’ve all seen service?”

“We’ve all knocked about a little bit, sir, but The Infant’s the war-worn veteran. He’s had two years’ work in Upper Burma,” said Nevin.

“When you say work, what do you mean, you extraordinary creatures?”

“Explain it, Infant,” said Nevin.

“Oh, keeping things in order generally, and running about after little dakus – that’s dacoits -and so on. There’s nothing to explain.”

“Make that young Leviathan speak,” said Cleever impatiently, above his glass.

“How can he speak?” said I. “He’s done the work. The two don’t go together. But, Infant, you’re ordered to bukb.”

“What about? I’ll try.”

“Bukb about a daur. You’ve been on heaps of ’em,” said Nevin.

“What in the world does that mean? Has the Army a language of its own?”

The Infant turned very red. He was afraid he was being laughed at, and he detested talking before outsiders; but it was the author of “As it was in the Beginning” who waited.

“It’s all so new to me,” pleaded Cleever; “and – and you said you liked my book.” – This was a direct appeal that The Infant could understand, and he began rather flurriedly, with much slang bred of nervousness –

“Pull me up, sir, if I say anything you don’t follow. About six months before I took my leave out of Burma, I was on the Hlinedatalone, up near the Shan States, with sixty Tommies – private soldiers, that is – and another subaltern, a year senior to me. The Burmese business was a subaltern’s war, and our forces were split up into little detachments, all running about the country and trying to keep the dacoits quiet. The dacoits were having a first-class time, y’ know -filling women up with kerosene and setting ’em alight, and burning villages, and crucifying people.”

The wonder in Eustace Cleever’s eyes deepened. He could not quite realise that the cross still existed in any form.

“Have you ever seen a crucifixion?” said he.

“Of course not. ‘Shouldn’t have allowed it if I had; but I’ve seen the corpses. The dacoits had a trick of sending a crucified corpse down the river on a raft, just to show they were keeping their tail up and enjoying themselves. Well, that was the kind of people I had to deal with.”

“Alone?” said Cleever. Solitude of the soul he could understand – none better – but he had never in the body moved ten miles from his fellows.

“I had my men, but the rest of it was pretty much alone. The nearest post that could give me orders was fifteen miles away, and we used to heliograph to them, and they used to give us orders same way – too many orders.”

“Who was your C. 0.?” said Boileau.

“Bounderby – Major. Pukka Bounderby; more Bounder than pukka. He went out up Bhamo way. Shot, or cut down, last year,” said The Infant.

“What are these interludes in a strange tongue?” said Cleever to me.

“Professional information – like the Mississippi pilots’ talk,” said I. “He did not approve of his major, who died a violent death. Go on, Infant.”

“Far too many orders. You couldn’t take the Tommies out for a two days’ daur -that’s expedition – without being blown up for not asking leave. And the whole country was humming with dacoits. I used to send out spies, and act on their information. As soon as a man came in and told me of a gang in hiding, I’d take thirty men with some grub, and go out and look for them, while the other subaltern lay doggo in camp.”