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The Honours Of War
by [?]


A hooded motor had followed mine from the Guildford Road up the drive to The Infant’s ancestral hall, and had turned off to the stables.

‘We’re having a quiet evening together. Stalky’s upstairs changing. Dinner’s at 7.15 sharp, because we’re hungry. His room’s next to yours,’ said The Infant, nursing a cobwebbed bottle of Burgundy.

Then I found Lieutenant-Colonel A.L. Corkran, I.A., who borrowed a collar-stud and told me about the East and his Sikh regiment.

‘And are your subalterns as good as ever?’ I asked.

‘Amazin’–simply amazin’! All I’ve got to do is to find ’em jobs. They keep touchin’ their caps to me and askin’ for more work. ‘Come at me with their tongues hangin’ out. I used to run the other way at their age.’

‘And when they err?’ said I. ‘I suppose they do sometimes?’

‘Then they run to me again to weep with remorse over their virgin peccadilloes. I never cuddled my Colonel when I was in trouble. Lambs–positive lambs!’

‘And what do you say to ’em?’

‘Talk to ’em like a papa. Tell ’em how I can’t understand it, an’ how shocked I am, and how grieved their parents’ll be; and throw in a little about the Army Regulations and the Ten Commandments. ‘Makes one feel rather a sweep when one thinks of what one used to do at their age. D’you remember–‘

We remembered together till close on seven o’clock. As we went out into the gallery that runs round the big hall, we saw The Infant, below, talking to two deferential well-set-up lads whom I had known, on and off, in the holidays, any time for the last ten years. One of them had a bruised cheek, and the other a weeping left eye.

‘Yes, that’s the style,’ said Stalky below his breath. ‘They’re brought up on lemon-squash and mobilisation text-books. I say, the girls we knew must have been much better than they pretended they were; for I’ll swear it isn’t the fathers.’

‘But why on earth did you do it?’ The Infant was shouting. ‘You know what it means nowadays.’

‘Well, sir,’ said Bobby Trivett, the taller of the two, ‘Wontner talks too much, for one thing. He didn’t join till he was twenty-three, and, besides that, he used to lecture on tactics in the ante-room. He said Clausewitz was the only tactician, and he illustrated his theories with cigar-ends. He was that sort of chap, sir.’

‘And he didn’t much care whose cigar-ends they were,’ said Eames, who was shorter and pinker.

‘And then he would talk about the ‘Varsity,’ said Bobby. ‘He got a degree there. And he told us we weren’t intellectual. He told the Adjutant so, sir. He was just that kind of chap, sir, if you understand.’

Stalky and I backed behind a tall Japanese jar of chrysanthemums and listened more intently.

‘Was all the Mess in it, or only you two?’ The Infant demanded, chewing his moustache.

‘The Adjutant went to bed, of course, sir, and the Senior Subaltern said he wasn’t going to risk his commission–they’re awfully down on ragging nowadays in the Service–but the rest of us–er–attended to him,’ said Bobby.

‘Much?’ The Infant asked. The boys smiled deprecatingly.

‘Not in the ante-room, sir,’ said Eames. ‘Then he called us silly children, and went to bed, and we sat up discussin’, and I suppose we got a bit above ourselves, and we–er–‘

‘Went to his quarters and drew him?’ The Infant suggested.

‘Well, we only asked him to get out of bed, and we put his helmet and sword-belt on for him, and we sung him bits out of the Blue Fairy Book–the cram-book on Army organisation. Oh yes, and then we asked him to drink old Clausewitz’s health, as a brother-tactician, in milk-punch and Worcester sauce, and so on. We had to help him a little there. He bites. There wasn’t much else that time; but, you know, the War Office is severe on ragging these days.’ Bobby stopped with a lopsided smile.