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The Winter Offensive
by [?]

N.B.–Having regard to the eccentricities of the Law of Libel it must be distinctly understood that the following does not refer to the distinguished officer, Lieut. Troup Horne, of the Inns of Court. Anybody trying to cause mischief between a civilian of eight stone and a soldier of seventeen by a statement to the contrary will hear from my solicitors.

Aug. 29, 1916.–We returned from the sea to find our house still our own, and the military still in undisputed possession of the remains of the grass in the fields of Berkhamsted Place. As in previous years, it was impossible to go in search of wild-flowers without stumbling over sleeping members of the Inns of Court; but war is war, and we grumble as little as possible.

Sept. 28.–Unpleasant rumours to the effect that several members of the Inns of Court had attributed cases of curvature of the spine to sleeping on ground that had been insufficiently rolled. Also that they had been heard to smack their lips and speak darkly of featherbeds. Respected neighbour of gloomy disposition said that if Pharaoh were still alive he could suggest an eleventh plague to him beside which frogs and flies were an afternoon’s diversion.

Oct. 3.–Householders of Berkhamsted busy mending bedsteads broken by last year’s billets, and buying patent taps for their beer-barrels.

Oct. 15.–Informed that a representative of the Army wished to see me. Instead of my old friend Q.M.S. Beddem, who generally returns to life at this time of year, found that it was an officer of magnificent presence and two pips. A fine figure of a man, with a great resemblance to the late lamented Bismarck, minus the moustache and the three hairs on the top of the head. Asked him to be seated. He selected a chair that was all arms and legs and no hips to speak of and crushed himself into it. After which he unfastened his belt and “swelled wisibly afore my werry eyes.” Said that his name was True Born and asked if it made any difference to me whether I had one officer or half-a-dozen men billeted on me. Said that he was the officer, and that as the rank-and-file were not allowed to pollute the same atmosphere, thought I should score. After a mental review of all I could remember of the Weights and Measures Table, accepted him. He bade a lingering farewell to the chair, and departed.

Oct. 16.–Saw Q.M.S. Beddem on the other side of the road and gave him an absolutely new thrill by crossing to meet him. Asked diffidently–as diffidently as he could, that is–how many men my house would hold. Replied eight–or ten at a pinch. He gave me a surprised and beaming smile and whipped out a huge note-book. Informed him with as much regret as I could put into a voice not always under perfect control, that I had already got an officer. Q.M.S., favouring me with a look very appropriate to the Devil’s Own, turned on his heel and set off in pursuit of a lady-billetee, pulling up short on the threshold of the baby-linen shop in which she took refuge. Left him on guard with a Casablanca-like look on his face.

Nov. 1.–Lieut. True Born took up his quarters with us. Gave him my dressing-room for bedchamber. Was awakened several times in the night by what I took to be Zeppelins, flying low.

Nov. 2.–Lieut. True Born offered to bet me five pounds to twenty that the war would be over by 1922.

Nov. 3.–Offered to teach me auction-bridge.

Nov. 4.–Asked me whether I could play “shove ha’penny.”

Nov. 10.–Lieut. True Born gave one of the regimental horses a riding- lesson. Came home grumpy and went to bed early.

Nov. 13.–Another riding-lesson. Over-heard him asking one of the maids whether there was such a thing as a water-bed in the house.

Nov. 17.–Complained bitterly of horse-copers. Said that his poor mount was discovered to be suffering from saddle-soreness, broken wind, splints, weak hocks, and two bones of the neck out of place.