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Corporal Sam
by [?]

‘What do you say to it?’ asked Captain Archimbeau, with a jerk of his hand towards the great breach.

‘It can be done, sir,’ Sergeant Wilkes answered. ‘Leastways, it ought to be done. But with submission, sir, ’twill be at wicked waste, unless they first clear the hornwork.’

‘They can keep it pretty well swept while we assault. The fact is,’ said Major Frazer, a tall Scotsman, speaking in his slow Scots way, ‘we assault it early to-morrow, and the general has asked me to find volunteers.’

‘For the forlorn hope, sir?’ The sergeant flushed a little, over the compliment paid to the Royals.

Major Frazer nodded. ‘There’s no need to make it common knowledge just yet. I am allowed to pick my men, but I have no wish to spend the night in choosing between volunteers. You understand?’

‘Yes, sir. You will get a plenty without travelling outside the regiment.’

‘Captain Archimbeau goes with us; and we thought, Wilkes, of asking you to join the party.’

‘You are very good, sir.’ There was hesitation, though, in the sergeant’s manner, and Major Frazer perceived it.

‘You understand,’ he said coldly, ‘that there is no obligation. I wouldn’t press a man for this kind of service, even if I could.’

The sergeant flushed. ‘I was thinkin’ of the regiment, sir,’ he answered, and turned to his captain. ‘We shall have our men supportin’?–if I may make bold to ask.’

‘The Royals are to show the way at the great breach, with the 9th in support. The 38th tackle the smaller breach. To make surer (as he says), the general has a mind to strengthen us up in the centre with a picked detachment of the whole division.’

Sergeant Wilkes shook his head. ‘I am sorry for that, sir. ‘Tisn’t for me to teach the general; but I misdoubt all mixin’ up of regiments. What the Royals can do they can best do by themselves.’

‘Hurts your pride a bit, eh, sergeant?’ asked the major, with a short laugh. ‘And yet, my friend, it was only yesterday I overheard you telling your company they weren’t fit to carry the slops of the Fifth division.’

‘It does ’em good, sir. A man, if he wants to do good, must say a trifle more than he means, at times.’

‘You can trust ’em, then?’

‘And that again, sir–savin’ your presence–would be sayin’ more than I mean. For the lads, sir, are young lads, though willing enough; and young lads need to be nursed, however willing. As between you and me, sir’–here he appealed to Captain Archimbeau–‘B Company is the steadiest in the battalion. But if the major takes away its captain, and upon top of him its senior sergeant–well, beggin’ your pardon, a compliment’s a compliment, but it may be bought too dear.’

‘Wilkes is right,’ said the major, after a pause. ‘To take the both of you would be risky; and unless I’m mistaken, Archimbeau, he thinks you will be the easier spared.’

‘I haven’t a doubt he does,’ agreed Captain Archimbeau, laughing.

‘But I do not, sir.’ The sergeant seemed on the point to say more, but checked himself.


‘It’s not for me to give an opinion, sir, unless asked for it.’

‘I ask for it, then–your plain opinion, as a soldier.’

‘An officer’s an officer–that’s my opinion. There’s good and bad, to be sure; but an officer like the captain here, that the men can trust, is harder spared than any sergeant: let alone that you can easily spread officers too thick–even good ones, and even in a forlorn hope.’

‘He wants my place,’ said Captain Archimbeau; ‘and he salves my feelings with a testimonial.’

‘As for that, sir’–the sergeant conceded a grin–‘I reckon you won’t be far behind us when the trouble begins. And if the major wants a good man from B Company, you’ll agree with me, sir, that yonder he goes.’ And Sergeant Wilkes jerked a thumb after the tall young corporal, a moment before the sandhills hid his retreating figure.