Oh! Where would I be when my froat was dry?
Oh! Where would I be when the bullets fly?
Oh! Where would I be when I come to die?
Somewheres anigh my chum.
If ‘e’s liquor ‘e’ll give me some,
If I’m dyin’ ‘e’ll ‘old my ‘ead,
An’ ‘e’ll write ‘em ‘Ome when I’m dead.–
Gawd send us a trusty chum!
Barrack Room Ballad.
My friends Mulvaney and Ortheris had gone on a shooting-expedition for one day. Learoyd was still in hospital, recovering from fever picked up in Burma. They sent me an invitation to join them, and were genuinely pained when I brought beer–almost enough beer to satisfy two Privates of the Line … and Me.
“‘Twasn’t for that we bid you welkim, sorr,” said Mulvaney, sulkily. “Twas for the pleasure av your comp’ny.”
Ortheris came to the rescue with–”Well, ‘e won’t be none the worse for bringin’ liquor with ‘im. We ain’t a file o’ Dooks. We’re bloomin’ Tommies, ye cantankris Hirishman; an’ ‘eres your very good ‘ealth!”
We shot all the forenoon, and killed two pariah-dogs, four green parrots, sitting, one kite by the burning-ghaut, one snake flying, one mud-turtle, and eight crows. Game was plentiful. Then we sat down to tiffin–”bull-mate an’ bran-bread,” Mulvaney called it–by the side of the river, and took pot shots at the crocodiles in the intervals of cutting up the food with our only pocket-knife. Then we drank up all the beer, and threw the bottles into the water and fired at them. After that, we eased belts and stretched ourselves on the warm sand and smoked. We were too lazy to continue shooting.
Ortheris heaved a big sigh, as he lay on his stomach with his head between his fists. Then he swore quietly into the blue sky.
“Fwhat’s that for?” said Mulvaney, “Have ye not drunk enough?”
“Tott’nim Court Road, an’ a gal I fancied there. Wot’s the good of sodgerin’?”
“Orth’ris, me son,” said Mulvaney, hastily, “’tis more than likely you’ve got throuble in your inside wid the beer. I feel that way mesilf whin my liver gets rusty.”
Ortheris went on slowly, not heeding the interruption–
“I’m a Tommy–a bloomin’, eight-anna, dog-stealin’ Tommy, with a number instead of a decent name. Wot’s the good o’ me? If I ‘ad a stayed at ‘Ome, I might a married that gal and a kep’ a little shorp in the ‘Ammersmith ‘Igh.–’S. Orth’ris, Prac-ti-cal Taxi-der-mist.’ With a stuff’ fox, like they ‘as in the Haylesbury Dairies, in the winder, an’ a little case of blue and yaller glass-heyes, an’ a little wife to call ’shorp!’ ’shorp!’ when the door-bell rung. As it his, I’m on’y a Tommy–a Bloomin’, Gawd-forsaken, Beer-swillin’ Tommy. ‘Rest on your harms–’versed, Stan’ at–hease; ‘Shun. ‘Verse–harms. Right an’ lef–tarrn. Slow–march. ‘Alt–front. Rest on your harms–’versed. With blank-cartridge–load.’ An’ that’s the end o’ me.” He was quoting fragments from Funeral Parties’ Orders.
“Stop ut!” shouted Mulvaney. “Whin you’ve fired into nothin’ as often as me, over a better man than yoursilf, you will not make a mock av thim orders. ‘Tis worse than whistlin’ the Dead March in barricks. An’ you full as a tick, an’ the sun cool, an’ all an’ all! I take shame for you. You’re no better than a Pagin–you an’ your firin’-parties an’ your glass-eyes. Won’t you stop ut, sorr?”
What could I do? Could I tell Ortheris anything that he did not know of the pleasures of his life? I was not a Chaplain nor a Subaltern, and Ortheris had a right to speak as he thought fit.
“Let him run, Mulvaney,” I said. “It’s the beer.”
“‘No! ‘Tisn’t the beer,” said Mulvaney. “I know fwhat’s comin’. He’s tuk this way now an’ agin, an’ it’s bad–it’s bad–for I’m fond av the bhoy.”
Indeed, Mulvaney seemed needlessly anxious; but I knew that he looked after Ortheris in a fatherly way.