The Man Who Wasn’t
A Short War Novelette, Complete in this Issue
Author of “Kleath," etc
British East Africa,
May 4th, 19—.
DEAR Lady of Another WorldHow distant you and England seem from here! Not the sort of distance which can be lessened by train or boat, by longing or desire, but the awful, hopeless distance of spirit from mortal; the gnawing, isolated sort of distance which is unbridgeable. I am so lonely for you that I ache, and I truly feel as though you were of another world, one I could never reach. I will never see you or touch you again.
Perhaps if you try to understand what this means to me, you will forgive the breaking of my pledge to you—I mean in writing you this letter. I knew when I made it, it would be impossible to keep it. What harm can it do you if I write, if I remind you of a poor devil who loves you? Do you begrudge me even a moment of your thoughts?
I have told Hanson that I’m writing.
never seems to want anything with sufficient ardor to make a sacrifice for it He believes not in going after something which seems impossible of attainment, but in ceasing to want it. Devilish cold philosophy, I call that! Anyway, I don’t care what he does or does not. You had no right to impose this thing upon us, to deprive us of a little rift of joy in the drabness of the long months we are to put in out here.
The more I think of the whole thing the more I want to laugh—sardonically, I admit, and in the way which has so often offended you, dear Lady of a Gentle Spirit. But it does sound so much like the sort of story some ass might write for a bally magazine—Hanson and I, friends from infancy, chums at school and all that sort of rot, falling in love with the same girl who—bless her heart —can’t make up her mind which one of us she will choose. Dash it all, Madeleine, dear, I never have been quite able to convince myself that you don’t know
which one of us is the lucky beggar. It is too utterly unlike you to be so indecisive. Whether your reason is one of cruelty (of the ultra-feminine type) or superlative vanity or misapplied tenderheartedness I don’t know. But you must know. Every one does. Candida knew And after all, you will have to make a choice some day. 1 can’t see for the life of me how you will find it any easier now that we are both out of the way. Indeed, you are most likely to forget many of our virtues, especially mine. That is not fair, for it gives Bev. a big advantage. Don’t you remember what a handy chap I am? It is of me you always asked little things, dear girl; don’t forget that when weighing us in the balance of your wavering affections. And why must we not write you? Are you so doubtful of your heart’s judgment as to fear being swayed by an inanimate bit of paper? By the gods. Madeleine, I hope you will be, for I am going to write you many, many letters.
Now, of course, the obvious thing for you to do, the obvious end to this little triangular farce, is for you to “up and marry’’ neither of us, but some fat-headed Johnny who has a soft berth on the Headquarters Staff. By Jove, girl, the bare hint of such a thing makes a crazed being of me. If I thought it for a moment, seriously, I would negotiate a dishonorable discharge and start home to-morrow. But you wouldn’t. That was not in your mind when you sent us off to this rotten place where one or both of us may be snuffed out by a Hun. I can realize that your problem will be solved if such happens. but if we both come home—what then?
It seems so strange that my overpowering love for you has not begotten love in return. Even granting for the sake of argument that I am worthless, consider the great, noble women who have thrown aw'ay their lives on mere worms of men. Why should this miracle not happen to me? I ask myself the question a million times a day. I am insanely jealous of every beastly Tommy with a ‘ girl. ^ I am jealous of the men of history and fiction who have known the joy of being loved. Any old penny-a-liner can throw me into a perfect fever as I read of the hero’s success in winning the woman he wants. Why can’t I?
I give you my all—my best; my worst. There is no sacrifice too great to daunt me if winning you were the goal. There is no crime so low that it would not be glorified, if by committing it, I could take you in my arms as my very own. Yes,
yes, I know this makes you shudder, but I tell it to you deliberately to show how I, who have always prided myself upon the stainlessness of my honor, would soil even that for you.
As I watch the changing expressions of your face—ever so vividly before me— I can see the appearance of a small fine line between your eyebrows. How familiar and adorable is that little frown! Trite to say sweeter to me than another woman’s smile. Are you really angry, so angry that you will burn my next letter unopened?
Very well, then let us speak of inconsequential things. The trip out was uneventful—and deadly monotonous. Ships and trains filled with soldiers who might have been divided into two classes—those who sneaked off at frequent intervals to write letters, and who wore a look behind their eyes such as I probably wear at this moment; and those who expressed their patriotism with discordant hilarity, those who were frankly impatient to fight, to taste the sting of a Hun bullet, those asses whose faith in their invulnerability is supreme and who count on military distinctions and parades when they are on leave at home.
I was beastly ill—and not ashamed of it. Misery, stark misery, more than a rolling sea, was the cause. Hanson constituted himself my nurse and hardly left me during the voyage. I used to think I would throttle him if I had to look at him much longer. But he was impervious to hints. He rather likes caring for incapables, I think; likes being in demand, is in his element when a dozen people shout for him at the same time. Takes his profession with comic seriousness. Something of a poseur, is old Beverley, don’t you think? However, all physicians have to be—eh, what? Part of their trade— posing, just like the mantle of mystery they will put on when writing their prescriptions in Latin. Might just as well sing a song, like the Medicine Men.
Madeleine, for God’s sake tell me, and end this horrible farce. It's na use, dear girl, I can’t bear it—I’ll go under sure as there is a heaven. And I don’t want to rave or drop into melodrama. I’m just telling you. Is it Hanson? Does his ruggedness, his hardness, his unfathomableness appeal to you? Do you like strength —his sort of cruel strength which would bend you or me or any one else to the way he has outlined for us; the sort which unequivocally decrees this or that course of action?
Or does not, rather, the instinct which we are taught to believe is God’s gift to every woman and which we call the “maternal” impel you to lean toward me— weak, pliable, clinging to your strength? Don’t you want to save me, to make me, perhaps. Look here, a thought has just struck me. If you sent me out here to make me, your judgment for once was at fault, dear girl. This life will ruin me unless I have something to look forward to. I can’t do anything without you, Madeleine — here, or anywhere. Can’t you understand that?
After all, I don’t believe it is Beverley. It is I! You were afraid to tell him. I know. I, too, used to be afraid to tell him disagreeable things, things which hurt him. I remember once, long ago, having to tell him that his dog had been killed. Before I began, I was glad the brute was dead, for it had always seemed just about to go for me, without the least reason in the world. But the first sentence choked me, and I never quite re-
covered myself. Finally, after behaving like an ass, I just blurted out the messy facts and sat dumb, waiting. I expected a cry, a curse, some sort of expression of grief. But Bev. sat as still as a statue looking at me as though a mask had been drawn over his face. It made me feel sick, and as though I were inflicting torture upon a person who couldn’t cry or beg for mercy. You know, I am awfully sensitive. Unnecessarily so.
However, he soon got over it. He is like that. He never so much as mentioned the beastly pup again. I never gave him a chance; my wtyole effort was concentrated upon cheering him and making him forget. I can make him do almost anything. Please give this your consideration.
Some one is shouting that a mail is going out. Send me just a tiny word of cheer and forgiveness. I will tell you about our hospital and the country next
Yours for ever and ever,
B.E.A., May 4th, 191—. ILJ ERE begins the first entry in the ** only diary I have ever kept. How I escaped the diary fever when it ran through school, how I stifled the desire for the outpouring of my inmost thoughts and soul’s longings in those days, I have forgotten. Perhaps my own need was lessened because Hugh always allowed me to read what he had written. I believe there were times when I assisted him to edit his diary—that it might look better in print when some fatal accident had befallen him. I seem to remember, too, that these anticipated accidents or life-sapping diseases usually followed punishment, or when his father denied something coveted. I seem to remember, too, that the boys were rather miffed when I did not ask to peep behind the veil of their public life so to speak. It was no less an honor to be asked than to be shown.
I feel now, and probably felt then, that a diary should be, save for the purposes of fiction, either a mere chronicle of happenings and no more private than one’s tobacco tin—a First Aid to Memory, in other words; or it should be an outlet for the unreserved expression of the mind’s ravings, and absolutely sacred to other people. A sort of mirror of the soul, which would be destroyed without question when the soul made its long flight. It should be cremated with the body.
As it is impossible, owing to the thoroughness of the German spy system, to chronicle positions, dates or events with anything approaching accuracy; as I may not even locate myself on the East African map, with any degree of definiteness, my diary, obviously, will not belong to the First Aid to Memory class. And as I don’t allow my mind to rave, or, if I did, should be hesitant about setting forth those ravings on paper, it obviously will not belong to the latter class. Perhaps in view of these things, it can hardly be called a diary at all. Whatever its name, however, I intend to write for the sheer relief of it, and, having read thus far, I trust that no further curiosity will assail the person into whose hands these pages may possibly fall, should a sniper happen to single me out for his prey.
Poor old Hugh has just been in my tent to say that he can’t keep his pledge to Madeleine—that he is going to write her. He's a square chap, is Hugh. He wouldn’t
take advantage of a fellow. He probably thinks that I will feel justified in breaking my word, too. Wish I did, but I don’t. He was pretty bad on the way out—not so much sea-sickness as soulsickness. He was delirious half the time, and calling for M. I felt a little shaky myself when we landed. It was an awful wrench leaving her there on the wet and slimy dock, watching the widening space between the boat and—everything that makes life worth while. It was choky working looking at what soon became a speck to the actual, physical vision, but which grew proportionately to fill the whole horizon of existence, and I am not vouchsafed the relief of babbling my ache in delirium. I go on and on grimly, it is true, but in a state of devastating sanity, a sanity that knows no relaxation, even in sleep.
I realize, even without reading that last bit over, how fantastic it sounds. Didn’t mean it that way—only meant that where other chaps have a nice dream once in a while to cheer them, I don’t. If my dreams are clear at all, they are always echoes of my waking. Well, anyway, I felt shaky when we landed, having lost a lot of sleep being with Hugh, but now I feel right as a trivet. I’ve got my second wind.
We arrived at our destination last night, after twenty-four hours travelling in a goods wagon. There were so many of us, no one could be comfortable. You were either lying on some one’s legs, or in the pit of some one’s empty tummy— or some one was doing thus to you. I made Hugh as comfortable as I could, and doubled my stalwart length into about as much space as a certain-, little. lady of my acquaintance requires. What, ho ! for the lubricating oil when 'we tried to alight—my joints!
In spite of discomfort, however, the journey was not uninteresting, taking us through the wildest sort of country and showing us every variety of big game from lions to mosquitoes. Especially mosquitoes. We did not actually see a lion, but we heard his mighty roar when we stopped at a certain station on our way up. His bass notes mingled quite harmoniously with the shrill treble of the mosquito.
We are living high, just here, I might say; 3,640 feet above sea level. Our * plateau is surrounded by mountains, and in the distance, though appearing quite near, is the highest peak in South Africa. This grand old fellow rears his head right proudly above the others, and his snowcapped brow is a great relief to the eye, sore from looking at a hideous expanse of red clay. Although we are high we are roasting; for we have no shade. All the bush near about has been cleared as a protection against snakes and beasts of an antagonistic temperament. The bush itself is wonderful. I can’t possibly describe the beauty of the birds and flowers; and the whole place smells like an English conservatory just after it has been watered. The natives lend a suggestion of inharmony to the exotic perfume—and that expresses it mildly and delicately— but they are fine looking chaps, good humored and hard working. I have a Swahili servant called Ali. He can speak no more English than I can Swahili. Our conversations, therefore, are brief and to the point. Strangely enough, even in these few hours, he seems to have taken a violent dislike to Hugh. Queer, too, for most people like old McKinnon.
Our hospital isn’t much. About ten
beds. There seems to be little enough doing in my line. Wish there was lots. If I were kept busy from morning till night. I might drop in my tracks and sleep. Fatigue like that, numbs the mind and one cannot think and—want. Just now, sitting at the door of my tent and writing on my knee by a vile light from an odorous paraffine "lamp. I throb with an ache which seeks to express itself in groans. Isn’t it silly? I feel stirring in me the desire to throw myself on my mat and tear at my body, Yogi-wise. I want to go home, to hear familiar voices, to see the faces I know, and love. I don't want to be here and so horribly alone. (Ass!)
I can see the dark, southern sky flaming with stars, and hear the hum of insects, varied by the far-away cry of a jackal, and it’ seems strange that M. should be on the same planet. I feel so far away, I can't even picture her in these surroundings. I p.lay with a ridiculous idea—suppose she were to come to me, to stand just here at the door of my tent, and say, “Beverley. I love you. Take me.” Suppose-(jolly old ass!)
By Jove, little woman, if such a thing ever happens, do you know I will hesitate—and you will misunderstand me, like as not. But think of Hugh. If you take me, you will have left him out, and what will happen to him? You know Hugh is different. He loves you and you love him, I know it. You couldn’t help it. He can’t bear suffering very well, and I hate to think of him in pain.
The more my mind dwells on this topic, the more I wish we had been told before leaving, just where we stand. The suspense is rather awful—just how awful you, of course, did not realize. But it s bad for Hugh and hard on me. The poor old fellow’s days are divided into periods of confidence and despair. In either state he is pathetic.
B. F. A. and farther down the line, May 19th.
DARLING madeleine,—We have
moved and are nearer the scene of Hun activities. (Even if the censor allows this to pass, you will be no wiser, will you?) I had so hoped to stay where we were until a mail came in. Of course, I may be entertaining a vain hope, but it would be so like you to repent of your severity, dear girl, and to have sent us a letter of good cheer. Now, we won’t likely get any mail for weeks. The dashed postal service requires time to get its various branches in working order. But you will send me some little message, won't you? I’ll get it eventually, and it gives me such courage to feel that it is coming.
I am fed up with the game already. Not the discomfort, the heat, which in the day time varies from summer temperature to hell—not the lotten grub. Nor am I shrinking from a fight. I want to get in it, to see a cursed Fritz curl up before me, nipped in his prime by my gallant hand. But we are not seeing any. We only see what the Germans have left, as we pass shoals of wounded through here to the base. Every day 1 live, I thank God I haven’t Bev.'s job. Good Lord, the sights he sees! He doesn’t seem to mind, however. He’s as untouched and as wooden as a stone. I am convinced that butchers are born, not made. This is not a simile, dear Girl It is merely an
Oh, Madeleine, the days are so long. They are twenty-four hours long, for 1 can’t sleep. Although the nights are cold and I shiver in my blankets, yet I am simply consumed with fever. It’s almost impossible to keep it away. The stillness of the place sets my nerves on edge, and yet, when I am just on the verge of dozing, the infernal night noises suddenly pound against my consciousness with such force that they might as well be the thundering of cannon.
Excuse all these distressing details. I do not mistake you for the family physician, truly. But I am quite willing to confess a hope living within me, that if you know how bad it is—half how bad it is—you will relent and give us something in the way of happiness to brighten the endless grey days. I want you so. All the time, without let up. If there were any distraction perhaps things would be easier, though I doubt it. There is no recreation, however, save a little shooting. I go out into the bush nearly every day. I go alone. Prefer it. Just me and my thoughts, which are always of you. I see an orchid—your eyes. I see a rich, brown berry—your hair. I see a wonderful flower drooping from a bough above me—your glorious coloring. I hear a bird note—your laughter. See, dear Phantom, what utter senility parting from you has induced! •
Beverley sometimes takes his rifle and goes off for game. In fact, he pretty nearly supplies our table. A crow couldn’t live on the rations. Bev. always takes his dusky shadow with him—his boy Ali. Awful little sneak, I call him. They tire such thieves, you know. When caught stealing they are given a good, Nicholas Nickleby beating. The Pro-
vost does it. Such squeals. I don’t see how a man can deliver a flogging, much as the blacks deserve it. By Jove, it would make you creep to see them after a good stiff application of the lash. Am I not a cheerful correspondent?
Next week there should be an English mail. I can hardly wait. You will have sent me a little token, won’t you? Oh, Madeleine, do you know I would rather know it is Hanson, almost, than continue to live in this hell-fire of uncertainty. You can't realize, dearest, how it gnaws, gnaws, gnaws. Sometimes I think—-and the thought is ignoble—sometimes I think how easy it would be to step just a little beyond the military bounds, within view of a German sniper. Any of us who go shooting are likely to do that—one can’t sit in a tent all day. You will be horrified at the idea of my considering ending my life, perhaps. But after all, a man’s life is his own. If he is sick of it, why not throw it away and begin somewhere else all over again. I question the right of a physician to struggle to keep breath in the body of some one who is suffering great pain, or one whose mind is hopelessly deranged, or a hideously disfigured or crippled person. Why should a man whose mind is maimed be expected to go on bearing his affliction indefinitely? I can’t pose as much of a hero, can I, dearest woman in all the world? I admit it only after the following explanation— shorn of your presence, I am like Samson shorn of his hair. There is something I ought to have, something vital which has been taken away. I am helpless without it. Do you understand?
British East Africa,
June 3rd, 191—.
T HAD a nasty experience yesterday— A which might have resulted in a much nastier one for Hugh. Ali and I were out in the bush shooting. The bush, of course, means the densest undergrowth imaginable. Weeds, shrubs, young trees, ferns growing higher than my head and connected with the tallest trees by ropes of hanging-vines, trailers and the like. In many places Ali hacks our way with his villainous-looking knife. Parrots and monkeys scream at us, evidently resenting our intrusion upon their territory. We are stalking deer, which helps considerably with the rations, when ping! a bullet sang right by my ear. In fact it nipped a hole in my helmet. Ali and I both dropped and he whispered to ask if I were hurt. Learning that no damage had been done, he bit into the handle of his knife and wiggled off through the bush as noiselessly as a serpent. Pretty soon I heard a yell, and rushing in the direction of the sound, found my faithful black boy was about to bury his knife —not into the carcase of a German sniper —but into Hugh McKinnon!
He was as white as the flowers hanging above us; wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t go a little green myself. Ali’s version to the S.M.O., translated, recounts that we made “much pow-wow, shook much hands and sweated much down the face, which was whiter than white man generally is.” Ali further petitioned that Hugh be induced to take his boy when out shooting, as a precaution against killing off our own men. It wouldn’t be a bad idea.
My wish for more work was slightly premature. There is more of it than I can handle just now. Added to the large numbers of wounded who pass through our hands—and there has been some stiff scrapping down the line—we have almost a third of our own men ill with fever or malaria and other ailments. It seems quite beyond comprehension that a COUDT try which is so gloriously beautiful, a country which has come apparently straight from the hands of the creator, could harbor such horrible diseases. Some of the natives—Ugh! With our men, however, the fault is mostly one of damned carelessness and lack of trouble. They can’t be persuaded to take any sort of precautions, such as wearing sun helmets and spine protectors; sleeping under mosquito bars or taking good heroic doses of quinine in the early stages of illness. Hugh is the happy exception. He goes to the other extreme and gets fearfully grouchy when I poke fun at him for overdoing it. ’Pon my soul, he wouldn’t look out of the door of his tent to see the Kaiser in chains without that precious helmet, and when inside, he draws the veil of mystery—about three layers—between him and the insect-infested world. He sits under his mosquito bar when there are no mosquitoes about. As for quinine, 1 swear he would put it in his coffee, if I allowed him enough. Every day, sure as sun-rise, he comes toddling over to the medical stores for his little dose, inventing all sort of ruses whereby he can get more than his portion. He never had the adventurous spirit of the pioneer who accepts life’s bumps with philosophic fortitude, he never was a good patient, but by the gods, he has gone off his balance lately. If he is too warm, he immediately prepares for a siege of fever; a chill argues an attack Continued on page 90.
The Man Who Wasn’t
Continued from page 22.
of something else. An insect bite presents to him all the symptoms of smallpox or leprosy. Poor old Hugh! He is ill, but his disease is fear—nothing I can cure.
The fact is, Hugh rather avoids me. His manner is the same as in years gone by—oh, many, many years, it seems— when he had been guilty of «ome trick which wasn’t quite on the level and he was ashamed to meet me. Good old McKinnon! I fancy I can guess his secret. He is pouring out his heart to Madeleine and he loathes himself for his weakness and, perhaps he loathes me for my—well, let us call it ability to refrain. If I had time, I could put him at his ease with me, but I am so dashed busy trying to do a part of God’s work—trying to make men out of what German shrapnel has left— Lord, how I hate it — that I can’t get round to him.
Hugh ought never to have come out here. The army makes or unmakes men. There doesn’t seem to be a middle course, and British East Africa presents many bitter morsels for the soul’s digestion. Speaking of morsels, the grub is abominable. Ño vegetables nor melons, meat which is killed so early in the morning that it is suffering a sort of reincarnation by the time we get it, and no more shooting, as we are too near Fritz. Tantalizing, too, for we are in the midst of every kind of game from elephants to prairie chickens. The thought of a prairie chicken makes my mouth water. We practically lived on them varied with
a new breed of pheasant in our last billet. I had let dozens of these same pheasants escape before Ali assured me that they were Mzuri-sana (very good). Having shot them upon his recommendation, I found he had in nowise exaggerated their excellent quali-
It was a sight to see him rush at whatever creature happened to be my victim, slit its throat before it was quite dead and mutter a prayer while slitting. This, he explained, is a good Mohammedan custom which properly performed admitted of his eating food from which, otherwise, he would have to abstain. Oh, to be able to set my teeth into a pheasant right now, I am so hungry that I could eat the sign off Lyons’ window along with the griddle cakes and syrup, if I only had the chance.
My poor pen is inadequate to describe the wonder of the scene which lies before me. It is night and bright with the light from a topaz moon. From where I sit there are miles of country revealed to me, a strange, mysterious country, over which strange, vague, indefinite shapes move in and out of the rustling blackness . . . these are the animals
which come from their hiding places only after nightfall. One rather marvels at their stupidity in venturing out simply because it is “night.” For the land is fairly dripping with moonlight, and the great open spaces look like giant pools bordered by jungle. It gives me the queerest sensation of unreality to see huge shapes lumbering across these
phantom lakes and disappearing on the other side. Uncanny . . . goose-
fleshy . . . Br-r-r-!
I can see, too, the Southern Cross and the Great Bear. The stars glitter and blaze, but with no warmth. A flea bag and blankets are necessary, and even at that I am cold.
We move into German East Africa to-morrow.
British East Africa again.
July 6th, 19—
MADELEINE,—Another mail is in.
The mater sent me some English illustrated papers and from the page of one your dear face looks out at me. I see that you are working hard amongst the wounded and I know that it must require a lot of courage, for you always shrank from the sight of pain. I have looked a long, long time into the eyes of your photograph and I see a new light there; not such a sweet complaisance, not such a twinkle of mischief, not such a cock-sureof-myself-ness as in the old days. Instead. there is a great pity shining out at me, a divine compassion, a lurking sorrow which the unfamiliar little droop of your mouth accentuates. Oh. I can just imagine the tenderness with which you look at these long rows of things which lie on stretchers in Paddington Station, and I wish to God some fat German would get me, so that I might open my eyes to see you bending over me!
How beautiful you are, Madeleine! Not the sort of beauty which is a mere combination of perfect features and coloring, not the stamped on sort of beauty. But that which is more like a glowing, growing radiance—something which shines from within, as though a thin haze or veil kept it from a too dazzling brilliance. Once I saw a rainbow through a fine mist. . . .
I suppose, like every other woman, you dread the fading of your loveliness. You need not. The thing is impossible. That rainbow was bright at first; then, just when the eye was beginning to tire of the colors, it slowly changed to mauve, amethyst, opal shades and gradually merged into the blue of a late summer sky. Each change was more beautiful than the last. . . .
The great difference between the beauty of flowers and women—some women—is that a flower reaches its highest perfection and falls immediately to pieces. You should see the indescribable ones here in the jungle. They are so gorgeous as to look artificial, but a breath, a touch often, and they are done. You, on the other hand, will never reach your highest perfection. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than your glorious chestnut hair turned white. It will be rather like hoar frost against a pansy, for your eyes can never change. Madeleine, I want you so-
The ache is simply sapping me, but do you know, I feel a tiny mite happier than for several weeks. The reason? I feel certain that you have written to me, even though no letter has come. You could not have that look in your eyes, Madeleine, you could not try to ease the suffering of a hundred utter strangers who mean less than nothing to you, and inflict at the same time such misery upon me. It isn’t like you, dear girl. Why, 1 remember the time I sprained my ankle trying to get a water lily for you and you took care of me—I can’t bear to think of it, now!
There is a Tommy in our hospital who has been out here since January without a letter, a paper, a parcel—without a link of any sort between him and England. To-day he got sixty-seven! You can’t imagine the comfort this is to me. I know for sure, that the rotten postal department has tied up things so badly that your letters to me are in some cursed hole on the way. But they are coming, coming!
The postal department is no worse, however, than the commissary—our grub is absolutely beyond description. I have been pretty seedy mainly owing to that, but due too, to the fact that I can’t get Hanson to do anything for me. Because I keep a stiff upper lip and won’t go to bed, he refuses to see that I am downright off color. A fellow hates to groan and act the old woman. It’s supposed to be a physician’s business to obviate that necessity. A rum chap is Beverley—his hospital is chock full of messy wounded and he has a bunch of natives and Indians to look after so of course I don’t count. He toddles about from one to the other all the time, exactly like a machine, and doesn’t seem to care a cuss.
A bearer has just come in with an invitation to dine at the South African mess. I devoutly hope the name doesn’t describe it. There are quite a lot of decent men, I am told; a tough bunch, viewed according to our standards—very different from our Tommies, less discipline—but good sorts for all that. Perhaps I can get a dose of some kind from their sawbones. The prospect of getting away from this compound has quite cheered me, anyway.
The next day.
On the way to the mess I met some girls ... a bevy of them. They were natives, but so pretty. They exhibited a charming shyness and I shall take pleasure in cultivating them. They speak no English so you can imagine me as a sort of Henry with his French Catherine. Fortunately, love-making is about the same in any language.
I got a little quinine last night and today will make another effort to induce Bev. to give me some—enough to break up my fever and prevent chills at night.
I lie in my bag and my bones rattle like a gourd. The stars seem to send down shafts of ice-laden air. You have written to me I know. I watch the days crawl by like years, and each time a native comes into the compound I trail him until satisfied that he is not hiding my
Yours in a fever of waiting,
July 7th, 19—
T N all these weeks, I had never seen a *■ Queen of the Jungle until yesterday. Oh, my Dolores, but they are a fearcompelling sight! The men of the country are rather fine looking, but the women are hideous. Nearly naked, horribly tatooed, their teeth filed into sharp points and blackened, they look like the living presentment of the bogies of my bad d reams.
Had a ridiculous experience with some of them yesterday when Ali and I were on our way to the South African mess for dinner.
We surprised a regular bevy of them in the jungle, some twenty, I should say. They jumped up, screamed and scattered at the mere sight of us, finding us quite
as distressing, possibly, in point of beauty, as we find them. This was a fact which Hugh, all togged out in his dinner regalia, seemed unable to grasp, and it marks the first and only occasion, I imagine, when he failed to charm a woman.
Poor old boy! He does not look at all fit, but as far as I can make out his nerves are playing the devil with him. Physically he is as good as new. Why he is so jumpy, I don’t know. The other day he followed me into my tent to ask for med. and as I was busy writing and sitting on my one large and elegant homemade chair, I pushed him toward the thing I call a bed. But he shied away in an awful funk. Stammered something about scorpions and dashed out . . .
which reminds me that I have found several in my bed of late or a snake. Neither would harm one to the point of death, but their bite is apt to be very trying. I have seen men beastly sick with scorpion bite.
The grub is pretty bad, and I can’t do any shooting here, as we are too near the German lines. Up to now, however, we have fared pretty well for I have bagged something when allowed to shoot, each day; sometimes, partridge or pheasant—just as often wild turkey, guinea fowl or a Grant’s gazelle. It’s no one’s fault—this shortage of supplies. Merely the result of moving rapidly through precipitous mountain passes and almost impassable jungle. During our last marcl^ we had to blast our own roads and build our own bridges as we advanced.
Since settling here we have had several severe dust storms. I saw one in the distance to-day—an extraordinary sight! A column of red rising straight from the earth to a height of some five hundred feet, and whirling round and round as it moved—directly for our camp. Fortunately, it missed our compound and spent itself in the bush beyond. Such sights make me wish I had not scoffed at diary writing in my school days. A little more practice and I might have perpetrated a second Garden of Allah. Certainly, many of the things I have witnessed out here deserve better telling than I can manage.
Red sand ... as far as the eye can see in one direction. We get simply saturated with it. Our clothes are red, our hair, our skins. I managed to purchase a large tin bath tub, which is almost spacious enough for me to sit in, and as our water supply here is jolly good, and our allowance of mottled blue soap—why blue, I cannot say—is still adequate, I am quite happy. The jungle nearabout is particularly treacherous, full of poisonous creatures and shrubs; some of the latter have such horrible thorns that they rip one’s clothes and skin like the blade of a knife. There is a variety called by the natives “Wait-a-bit.” That is not exactly what I would call it, but this is by the way.
There is a rarely beautiful apricot moon swimming across a purply sky, and between me and it swim clouds of insects all of which seem able to hum. In the distance—not too great distance, either— some hyenas are making the beastly wail we humorously called laughter, and near at hand the Moslem members of our camp are lifting their voices to Allah in wild and discordant prayer. This is the ninth month of the Mohammedan year, I believe, the commencement of the fast of Ramazan which is one of the five precepts of Islam. By the gods, I wish they would start on one of the other precepts —to wit, the journey to Mecca. I never
heard such an infernal din! Ali says they will fast from sunrise until sunset every day for a month, which impels the devout hope in my breast that the Germans do not take it into their heads to advance upon our particular camp during this season of abstinence. They would be met with feeble resistance, 1 fear.
As I write, a burst of “Tipperary" quite drowns the prayers of the Faithful. A draft going into the firing line, no doubt
B. E. A.
September 20th, 191— ADELEINE,— I don’t know how ^ many mails have come since I wrote you—three or four, perhaps. It doesn’t matter. Nothing has come to me and I realize that I have been living in a fool’s paradise. You never wrote and do not intend to write.
I take a savage pleasure, therefore, in writing you this brutal letter and telling you how I hate you. I hate everybody. But I hate you most of all. It came to me in the hospital where I have been for a good many weeks—don’t know quite how many—and oh, the relief of being able to hate! The old ache stopped at once, and in its place there came a fierce exultation. I suddenly felt quite strong and able to do anything. It was as though a window had been closed on my hand and it suddenly opened, giving me both freedom from the pain and vivifying air.
I feel so courageous, so honest. I hate openly and don’t care who knows it. For a long time I have hated Hanson, but I tried to hide it. That is all changed now, thank Heaven. When he comes near me I growl like an animal. I curse my nurses and the stinking black boys. I loathe the patients on either side of me and the only pleasure I have is in their suffering.
All this sounds too wild and extravagant to be true, doesn’t it? It sounds like the ravings of a man gone insane. Not at all, my dear. I am the sanest person around this compound and I am a better man for throwing off the deceit and hyprocrisy which have dominated me these many months.
For I have been a hypocrite and I have wallowed in deceit—deceit born of fear. I have sneaked time and again to Beverley Hanson’s tent and have put scorpions in his bed; I have shot at him through the bush and I have been caught, all because I was afraid to show him how I hated him, and kill him openly. What matters it who kills him? Whether it is I or a German? This whole rotten business is murder sanctified under the name of patriotism. . . .
I hired one of the black boys to get me a cobra. It is here in mv hut. As soon as I seal and post this letter, I shall take it to Bev.’s tent and loose it there. A scorpion bite one can recover from. A cobra—well, perhaps1
And you, my little torturer! . . . You will spend many a grim hour pacing your floor and wondering what has happened.
I am hoping that your indecision is a thing of the past, and that your peculiar type of mind is now firm in the belief that you love Hanson. That will make the agony somewhat greater. You will be able to realize a little of what my suffering has been.
Au revoir, my dear. I take great satisfaction in the certainty that your sleepless nights will be colored with thoughts of me. And in closing, I might remark
that if I fail this time, why there is still to-morrow.
Hugh McKinnon. B.E.A., Sept. 20th.
I HAVE just whipped Ali. Flogged him with my cartridge belt. It was the first thing that came to my mind. I never beat any one before ... a damnable experience. I feel rocky. Indeed, I am fed up with this whole game . . . sick of it. It’s hell.
Been working for twenty-six hours on end. Nothing but wounded coming in .
. . . haven't seen a whole man for
days. Been wallowing up to my elbows in blood. Probing, hacking, sewing . . . screams, groans, prayers, curses. Lord, what a day!
Came over here, ready to sleep standing up . . . too tired almost to wash. Odors mean nothing to me any more . .
. dirt? Why, I hardly know how to be clean . . . Found Ali in my hut with
a dead cobra over a stick. On top of sights and sounds and smells, it made me sort of squeamish to think I might have got into bed with the thing.
“Bas McKinnon put him there,” said Ali.
I called him a liar. He repeated it. He said he had caught Hugh turning the snake loose. He said he had caught Hugh putting scorpions in my bed. I beat him. I beat him till I couldn’t lift the belt. I believe I fainted.
Now my eyes are wide open. I feel as though I should never sleep again. Wish I had not flogged that black liar so long. Funny, my pouring out the story on this silly bit of paper. The diary habit without doubt. Why did he say Hugh had put scorpions in my bed, before? He always disliked Hugh. It is late, but I can’t rest. I am going to find out McKinnon and talk to him. . . .
A CABLEGRAM from Miss Madeleine Cavendish to Major Beverley Hanson,
A.S.M.C. in charge of-Hospital Unit,
British East Africa.
Are you all right? Answer.
• Nov. 1st.
A CABLEGRAM from Major BeverleyHanson, A.S.M.C.,.to Miss Madeleine Cavendish, Merton Manor, Merton, Hants.
Topping. Coming home with Hugh. Three months leave.
Dec. 17th, 191—
MADELEINE,—Do not, I beg, shrink in utter loathing from this letter. It has taken a long time for me to gather sufficient courage to write you, and I would not obtrude myself upon you, nor cause you one second’s annoyance, did I not feel that at last I have something to say which you will be glad to hear . . . not things about myself—no retrospection, pleadings, excuses; no description even of my mental state during those dark days which preceded and followed the writing of my last letter to you. You have already guessed the horrible truth. You must know that I was mad.
Insanity was one of the few diseases I felt reasonably secure from; murder, a vice which never had appealed to me. _ Yet I contracted the one and almost committed the other. And when I walked out of the hot, red mist which had surrounded me for weeks, and learned that periods
of control which you would call sanity are likely to be brief, when I learned that this double-headed monster will threaten me from now until the end, 1 tried to do the only thini; there seemed left . . • i
Beverley Hanson prevented me from doing it. It is of Hanson I would write; the man I tried to kill not once but often; the man who was always hidden somewhere in that baffling red mist. It was to bis ’ hand I clung when from terror and the very horror of the thing I used to lie in my bed and scream aloud.
Even you who will know him best, can ; never appreciate his work in Africa. He won’t speak of it, and the men who should j will be busy seeing that their own particular little jobs receive adequate recognition. There will be knighthoods given i —batches of them, but Beverley won’t get one. He will help some other fellow get his. Granted that he is the last man under heaven who would want a title, he should be given it, as a fitting public reward for his service to the Empire. Why, his organization of our hospital camps alone should make his name a by-word throughout England. If I were to tell you half of the obstacles he surmounted in putting them on a working basis, you would not believe me. People at home i can’t realize the bigness and importance j of his work: he did it too uuietly and with too little fuss. They don’t know what it meant in physical labor, to say nothing 1 of the strain, to personally attend to the hundreds of sick and wounded who passed , through our hands. Why, there were days when he was operating all dav long They don’t know how our little British force came perilously near to being wiped out by an epidemic which he got under control by plain unremitting, indefatigable labor.
But I want you to know. I want you ' to know that the headquarters people always came to him when they had got things into such a tangle that extrication looked impossible; that the natives adored him with the sort of idolatry they usually reserve for their gods; that even the German prisoners showed signs of humanity when he went amongst them, and I want you to know that he saved me from something worse than death and j German mutilation and put me in the ! fighting line once more.
For I am going to fight as I never fought before. ... I am going to fight for England and my manhood. I am going into the Flying Corps.
You are surprised. Beverley did it. It was his patience and perseverance which made the transfer possible. A few cables to the War Office, a few letters to headquarters out there, and the thing was done, even though I am considerably beyond the age of most men in the Service.
We land somewhere on the south coast of blessed old England. I shall take the first train for Dover, and almost by the time you receive this, I shall be in France.
I go without illusions and without fear, except that the red mist should close round me before my work is done, or that I should be mangled and yet alive, like some of the wrecks of men I have seen. But there is very little chance of that for an aviator.
I go with an earnest prayer that I may have the privilege of exterminating many of the Teuton vermin who have murdered our women and children, before one of them gets me. I feel as though the mercury of the McKinnon honor had fallen very low, but for every Hun machine I
wreck and for every Hun I put beyond the doing of any more damage, it will rise until, if I am spared, it will stand at the high point it had reached when the Governor turned it over into my keeping.
I am not going to see the Mater. Blue funk, I suppose, hut mothers seem to care so! Perhaps you will go to see her, or have I forfeited the right to ask that of you?
And there is one more thing. . . Long, long ago I wrote you a letter in which I accused you of sending us out there because you did not know your own mind; because you could not decide which was the better man.
How pathetic an object I must have looked in your eyes, oh wise-little-womanbeyond-your-years ! Egotism blinded me to what must have been apparent to every one else; selfishness and conceit obscured my vision and prevented me from seeing that you sent us off not because you were in any doubt as to which was the better— the more worthy man, but that I might discover him.
And oh, my dear, I am not he!
But I can think of you and Beverley without envy and without bitterness in the light of my new understanding. And this was also part of your far-seeing plan, wasn’t it? What I feel toward you, you already know. The best of my love has not changed. What I feel toward Hanson, a man made in God’s image, if there ever was one, cannot be set down on paper. I hope that he—that you—I wish—
God bless you!