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He Would Not Be Denied
by [?]

“He was achin’ for it–turrible achin’ for it–an’ he would not be denied!” said Sergeant William Connor, of the Berkshire Regiment, in the sergeants’ mess at Suakim, two nights before the attack on McNeill’s zeriba at Tofrik.

“Serve ‘im right. Janders was too bloomin’ suddint,” skirled Henry Withers of the Sick Horse Depot from the bottom of the table.

“Too momentary, I believe you,” said Corporal Billy Bagshot.

At the Sick Horse Depot Connor had, without good cause, made some disparaging remarks upon the charger ridden by Subadar Goordit Singh at the fight at Dihilbat Hill, which towers over the village of Hashin. Subadar Goordit Singh heard the remarks, and, loving his welted, gibbet-headed charger as William Connor loved any woman who came his way, he spat upon the ground the sergeant’s foot covered, and made an evil-smiling remark. Thereupon Connor laid siege to the white-toothed, wild-bearded Sikh with words which suddenly came to renown, and left not a shred of glory to the garment of vanity the hillman wore.

He insinuated that the Sikh’s horse was wounded at Hashin from behind by backing too far on the Guards’ Brigade on one side and on the Royal Mounted Infantry on the other. This was ungenerous and it was not true, for William Connor knew well the reputation of the Sikhs; but William’s blood was up, and the smile of the Subadar was hateful in his eyes. The truth was that the Berkshire Regiment had had its chance at Dihilbat Hill and the Sikhs had not. But William Connor refused to make a distinction between two squadrons of Bengal Cavalry which had been driven back upon the Guards’ square and the Sikhs who fretted on their bits, as it were.

The Berkshire Regiment had done its work in gallant style up the steep slopes of Dihilbat, had cleared the summit of Osman Digna’s men, and followed them with a raking fire as they retreated wildly into the mimosa bushes on the plain. The Berkshires were not by nature proud of stomach, but Connor was a popular man, and the incident of the Sick Horse Depot, as reported by Corporal Bagshot, who kept a diary and a dictionary, tickled their imagination, and they went forth and swaggered before the Indian Native Contingent, singing a song made by Bagshot and translated into Irish idiom by William Connor. The song was meant to humiliate the Indian Native Contingent, and the Sikhs writhed under the raillery and looked black-so black that word was carried to McNeill himself, who sent orders to the officers of the Berkshire Regiment to give the offenders a dressing down; for the Sikhs were not fellaheen, to be heckled with impunity.

That was why, twenty-four hours after the offending song was made, it was suppressed; and in the sergeants’ mess William Connor told the story how, an hour before, he had met Subadar Goordit Singh in the encampment, and the Subadar in a rage at the grin on Connor’s face had made a rush at him, which the Irishman met with his foot, spoiling his wind. That had ended the incident for the moment, for the Sikh remembered in time, and William Connor had been escorted “Berkshire way” by Corporal Bagshot and Henry Withers. As the tale was told over and over again, there came softly from the lips of the only other Irishman in the regiment, Jimmy Coolin, a variant verse of the song that the great McNeill had stopped:

“Where is the shame of it,
Where was the blame of it,
William Connor dear?”

It was well for Graham, Hunter, McNeill, and their brigades that William Connor and the Berkshires and the Subadar Goordit Singh had no idle time in which to sear their difficulties, for, before another khamsin gorged the day with cutting dust, every department of the Service, from the Commissariat to the Balloon Detachment, was filling marching orders. There was a collision, but it was the agreeable collision of preparation for a fight, for it was ordained that the Berkshires and the Sikhs should go shoulder to shoulder to establish a post in the desert between Suakim and Tamai.