The Rough Road

Page 4 of 24


The first thing that brought the seriousness of the war home to Doggie was a letter from John Fox. John Fox, a major in a Territorial regiment, was mobilized. He regretted that he could not give his personal attention to the proposed alterations at Denby Hall. Should the plans be proceeded with in his absence from the office, or would Mr. Trevor care to wait till the end of the war, which, from the nature of things, could not last very long? Doggie trotted off to Peggy. She was greatly annoyed.

"What awful rot!" she cried. "Fox, a major of artillery! I'd just as soon trust you with a gun. Why doesn't he stick to his architecture?"

"He'd be shot or something if he refused to go," said Doggie. "But why can't we turn it over to Sir Owen Julius?"

"That old archological fossil?"

Peggy, womanlike, forgot that they had approached him in the first place.

"He'd never begin to understand what we want. Fox hinted as much. Now Fox is modern and up to date and sympathetic. If I can't have Fox, I won't have Sir Owen. Why, he's older than Dad! He's decrepit. Can't we get another architect?"

"Do you think, dear," said Doggie, "that, in the circumstances, it would be a nice thing to do?"

She flashed a glance at him. She had woven no young girl's romantic illusions around Marmaduke. Should necessity have arisen, she could have furnished you with a merciless analysis of his character. But in that analysis she would have frankly included a very fine sense of honour. If he said a thing wasn't quite nice---well, it wasn't quite nice.

"I suppose it wouldn't," she admitted. "We shall have to wait. But it's a rotten nuisance all the same."

Hundreds of thousands of not very intelligent, but at the same time by no means unpatriotic, people, like Peggy, at the beginning of the war thought trivial disappointments rotten nuisances. We had all waxed too fat during the opening years of the twentieth century, and, not having a spiritual ideal in God's universe, we were in danger of perishing from Fatty Degeneration of the Soul. As it was, it took a year or more of war to cure us.

It took Peggy quite a month to appreciate the meaning of the mobilization of Major Fox, R.F.A. A brigade of Territorial artillery flowed over Durdlebury, and the sacred and sleepy meadows became a mass of guns and horse-lines and men in khaki, and waggons and dingy canvas tents---and the old quiet streets were thick with unaccustomed soldiery. The Dean called on the Colonel and officers, and soon the house was full of eager young men holding the King's commission. Doggie admired their patriotism, but disliked their whole-hearted embodiment of the military spirit. They seemed to have no ideas beyond their new trade. The way they clanked about in their great boots and spurs got on his nerves. He dreaded also lest Peggy should be affected by the meretricious attraction of a uniform. There were fine hefty fellows among the visitors at the Deanery, on whom Peggy looked with natural admiration. Doggie bitterly confided to Goliath that it was the "glamour of brawn." It never entered his head during those early days that all the brawn of all the manhood of the nation would be needed. We had our well-organized Army and Navy, composed of peculiarly constituted men whose duty it was to fight; just as we had our well-organized National Church, also composed of peculiarly constituted men whose duty it was to preach. He regarded himself as remote from one as from the other.

Oliver, who had made a sort of peace with Doggie and remained at the Deanery, very quickly grew restless.

One day, walking with Peggy and Marmaduke in the garden, he said: "I wish I could get hold of that confounded fellow, Chipmunk!"

Partly through deference to the good Dean's delicately hinted distaste for that upsetter of decorous households, and partly to allow his follower to attend to his own domestic affairs, he had left Chipmunk in London. Fifteen years ago Chipmunk had parted from a wife somewhere in the neighbourhood of the East India Docks. Both being illiterate, neither had since communicated with the other. As he had left her earning good money in a factory, his fifteen years' separation had been relieved from anxiety as to her material welfare. A prudent, although a beer-loving man, he had amassed considerable savings, and it was the dual motive of sharing these with his wife and of protecting his patron from the ever-lurking perils of London, that had brought him across the seas. When Oliver had set him free in town, he was going in quest of his wife. But as he had forgotten the name of the street near the East India Docks where his wife lived, and the name of the factory in which she worked, the successful issue of the quest, in Oliver's opinion, seemed problematical. The simple Chipmunk, however, was quite sanguine. He would run into her all right. As soon as he had found her he would let the Captain know. Up to the present he had not communicated with the Captain. He could give the Captain no definite address, so the Captain could not communicate with him. Chipmunk had disappeared into the unknown.

"Isn't he quite capable of taking care of himself?" asked Peggy.

"I'm not so sure," replied Oliver. "Besides, he's hanging me up. I'm kind of responsible for him, and I've got sixty pounds of his money. It's all I could do to persuade him not to stow the lot in his pocket, so as to divide it with Mrs. Chipmunk as soon as he saw her. I must find out what has become of the beggar before I move."

"I suppose," said Doggie, "you're anxious now to get back to the South Seas?"

Oliver stared at him. "No, sonny, not till the war's over."

"Why, you wouldn't be in any great danger out there, would you?"

Oliver laughed. "You're the funniest duck that ever was, Doggie. I'll never get to the end of you." And he strolled away.

"What does he mean?" asked the bewildered Doggie.

"I think," replied Peggy, smiling, "that he means he's going to fight."

"Oh," said Doggie. Then after a pause he added, "He's just the sort of chap for a soldier, isn't he?"

The next day Oliver's anxiety as to Chipmunk was relieved by the appearance of the man himself, incredibly dirty and dusty and thirsty. Having found no trace of his wife, and having been robbed of the money he carried about him, he had tramped to Durdlebury, where he reported himself to his master as if nothing out of the way had happened.

"You silly blighter," said Oliver. "Suppose I had let you go with your other sixty pounds, you would have been pretty well in the soup, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, Cap'en," said Chipmunk.

"And you're not going on any blethering idiot wild-goose chases after wives and such-like truck again, are you?"

"No, Cap'en," said Chipmunk.

This was in the stable-yard, after Chipmunk had shaken some of the dust out of his hair and clothes and had eaten and drunk voraciously. He was now sitting on an upturned bucket and smoking his clay pipe with an air of solid content. Oliver, lean and supple, his hands in his pockets, looked humorously down upon him.

"And you've got to stick to me for the future, like a roseate leech."

"Yes, Cap'en."

"You're going to ride a horse."

"A wot?" roared Chipmunk.

"A thing on four legs, that kicks like hell."

"Wotever for? I ain't never ridden no 'osses."

"You're going to learn, you unmilitary-looking, worm-eaten scab. You've got to be a ruddy soldier."

"Gorblime!" said Chipmunk, "that's the first I 'eard of it. A 'oss soldier? You're not kiddin', are you, Cap'en?"

"Certainly not."

"Gorblime! Who would ha' thought it?" Then he spat lustily and sucked at his pipe.

"You've nothing to say against it, have you?"

"No, Cap'en."

"All right. And look here, when we're in the army you must chuck calling me Cap'en."

"What shall I have to call yer? Gineral?" Chipmunk asked simply.

"Mate, Bill, Joe---any old name."

"Ker-ist!" said Chipmunk.

"Do you know why we're going to enlist?"

"Can't say as 'ow I does, Cap'en."

"You chuckle-headed swab! Don't you know we're at war?"

"I did 'ear some talk about it in a pub one night," Chipmunk admitted. "'Oo are we fighting? Dutchmen or Dagoes?"


Chipmunk spat in his horny hands, rubbed them together and smiled. As each individual hair on his face seemed to enter into the smile, the result was sinister.

"Do you remember that Dutchman at Samoa, Cap'en?"

Oliver smiled back. He remembered the hulking, truculent German merchant whom Chipmunk, having half strangled, threw into the sea. He also remembered the amount of accomplished lying he had to practise in order to save Chipmunk from the clutches of the law and get away with the schooner.

"We leave here to-morrow," said Oliver. "In the meanwhile you'll have to shave your ugly face."

For the first time Chipmunk was really staggered. He gaped at Oliver's retiring figure. Even his limited and time-worn vocabulary failed him. The desperate meaning of the war has flashed suddenly on millions of men in millions of different ways. This is the way in which it flashed on Chipmunk.

He sat on his bucket pondering over the awfulness of it and sucking his pipe long after it had been smoked out. The Dean's car drove into the yard and the chauffeur, stripping off his coat, prepared to clean it down.

"Say, guv'nor," said Chipmunk hoarsely, "what do you think of this 'ere war?"

"Same as most people," replied the chauffeur tersely. He shared in the general disapproval of Chipmunk.

"But see 'ere. Cap'en he tells me I must shave me face and be a 'oss soldier. I never shaved me face in me life, and I dunno 'ow to do it, just as I dunno 'ow to ride a 'oss. I'm a sailorman, I am, and sailormen don't shave their faces and ride 'osses. That's why I arsked yer what yer thought of this 'ere war."

The chauffeur struggled into his jeans and adjusted them before replying.

"If you're a sailor, the place for you is the navy," he remarked in a superior manner. "As for the cavalry, the Cap'en, as you call him, ought to have more sense------"

Chipmunk rose and swung his long arms threateningly.

"Look 'ere, young feller, do you want to have your blinkin' 'ead knocked orf? Where the Cap'en goes, I goes, and don't you make any mistake about it!"

"I didn't say anything," the chauffeur expostulated.

"Then don't say it. See? Keep your blinkin' 'ead shut and mind your own business."

And, scowling fiercely and thrusting his empty pipe into his trousers pocket, Chipmunk rolled away.

A few hours later Oliver, entering his room to dress for dinner, found him standing in the light of the window laboriously fitting studs into a shirt. The devoted fellow having gone to report to his master, had found Burford engaged in his accustomed task of laying out his master's evening clothes---Oliver during his stay in London had provided himself with these necessaries. A jealous snarl had sent Burford flying. So intent was he on his work, that he did not hear Oliver enter. Oliver stood and watched him. Chipmunk was swearing wholesomely under his breath. Oliver saw him take up the tail of the shirt, spit on it and begin to rub something.

"Ker-ist!" said Chipmunk.

"What in the thundering blazes are you doing there?" cried Oliver.

Chipmunk turned.

"Oh, my God!" said Oliver.

Then he sank on a chair and laughed and laughed, and the more he looked at Chipmunk the more he laughed. And Chipmunk stood stolid, holding the shirt of the awful, wet, thumb-marked front. But it was not at the shirt that Oliver laughed.

"Good God!" he cried, "were you born like that?"

For Chipmunk, having gone to the barber's, was clean-shaven, and revealed himself as one of the most comically ugly of the sons of men.

"Never mind," said Oliver, after a while, "you've made the sacrifice for your country."

"And wot if I get the face-ache?"

"I'd get something that looked like a face before I'd talk of it," grinned Oliver.

At the family dinner-table, Doggie being present, he announced his intentions. It was the duty of every able-bodied man to fight for the Empire. Had not half a million just been called for? We should want a jolly sight more than that before we got through with it. Anyway, he was off to-morrow.

"To-morrow?" echoed the Dean.

Burford, who was handing him potatoes, arched his eyebrows in alarm. He was fond of Oliver.

"With Chipmunk."

Burford uttered an unheard sigh of relief.

"We're going to enlist in King Edward's Horse. They're our kind. Overseas men. Lots of 'em what you dear good people would call bad eggs. There you make the mistake. Perhaps they mayn't be fresh enough raw for a dainty palate---but for cooking, good hard cooking, by gosh! nothing can touch 'em."

"You talk of enlisting, dear," said Mrs. Conover. "Does that mean as a private soldier?"

"Yes---a trooper. Why not?"

"You're a gentleman, dear. And gentlemen in the Army are officers."

"Not now, my dear Sophia," said the Dean. "Gentlemen are crowding into the ranks. They are setting a noble example."

They argued it out in their gentle old-fashioned way. The Dean quoted examples of sons of family who had served as privates in the South African War.

"And that to this," said he, "is but an eddy to a maelstrom."

"Come and join us, James Marmaduke," said Oliver across the table. "Chipmunk and me. Three 'sworn brothers to France.'"

Doggie smiled easily. "I'm afraid I can't undertake to swear a fraternal affection for Chipmunk. He and I would have neither habits nor ideals in common."

Oliver turned to Peggy. "I wish," said he, with rare restraint, "he wouldn't talk like a book on deportment."

"Marmaduke talks the language of civilization," laughed Peggy. "He's not a savage like you."

"Don't you jolly well wish he was!" said Oliver.

Peggy flushed. "No, I don't!" she declared.

The Dean being called away on business immediately after dinner, the young men were left alone in the dining-room when the ladies had departed. Oliver poured himself out a glass of port and filled his pipe---an inelegant proceeding of which Doggie disapproved. A pipe alone was barbaric, a pipe with old port was criminal. He held his peace however.

"James Marmaduke," said Oliver, after a while, "what are you going to do?" Much as Marmaduke disliked the name of "Doggie," he winced under the irony of the new appellation.

"I don't see that I'm called upon to do anything," he replied.

Oliver smoked and sipped his port. "I don't want to hurt your feelings any more," said he gravely, "though sometimes I'd like to scrag you---I suppose because you're so different from me. It was so when we were children together. Now I've grown very fond of Peggy. Put on the right track, she might turn into a very fine woman."

"I don't think we need discuss Peggy, Oliver," said Marmaduke.

"I do. She is sticking to you very loyally." Oliver was a bit of an idealist. "The time may come when she'll be up the devil's own tree. She'll develop a patriotic conscience. If she sticks to you while you do nothing she'll be miserable. If she chucks you, as she probably will, she'll be no happier. It's all up to you, James Doggie Marmaduke, old son. You'll have to gird up your loins and take sword and buckler and march away like the rest. I don't want Peggy to be unhappy. I want her to marry a man. That's why I proposed to take you out with me to Huaheine and try to make you one. But that's over. Now, here's the real chance. Better take it sooner than later. You'll have to be a soldier, Doggie."

His pipe not drawing, he was preparing to dig it with the point of a dessert-knife, when Doggie interposed hurriedly.

"For goodness' sake, don't do that! It makes cold shivers run down my back!"

Oliver looked at him oddly, put the extinct pipe in his dinner-jacket pocket and rose.

"A flaw in the dainty and divine ordering of things makes you shiver now, old Doggie. What will you do when you see a fellow digging out another fellow's intestines with the point of a bayonet? A bigger flaw there somehow!"

"Don't talk like that. You make me sick," said Doggie.

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