FICTION

Colonels Aren’t Human

GARNETT RADCLIFFE January 1 1935
FICTION

Colonels Aren’t Human

GARNETT RADCLIFFE January 1 1935

Colonels Aren’t Human

FICTION

GARNETT RADCLIFFE

THAT WAS the aphorism Private “Windbag” Bristow flung, apropos of nothing at all, into the Sunday evening calm of the canteen. Most of those present affected deafness and bent more closely over their letters and draughts boards. But a newcomer to the West Rangershires who hadn’t as yet grasped how Windbag had earned his nickname, was rash enough to remark that most of the colonels of his acquaintance hadn’t been such bad old tripehounds—not for colonels, he meant to say.

Windbag moved himself and his tankard nearer his unsuspecting victim and drew a deep breath.

“How long have you been in the army?” he demanded. “You wait till you’ve been booted out of as many regiments as I have, an’ then you won’t say a silly thing like that. Bless you, colonels don’t get born the same as we do. They hatch ’em out in a big refrigerator at Aldershot, fit ’em with a bark and a glare and send ’em round to make the troops unhappy.

“But some of them is worse than others—that I will admit. Our old man here is a bit of a terror when he gets on the hop, but if you was to put him up beside a colonel 1 served under once—Frosty Face Melville of the Fifth Tynesiders, I mean—it would be all the same as if you stuck a little indiarubber duck beside a tiger.

"For Frosty Face was a fierce, hard man. Big thin chap with a monocle and a face like an axe who’d put the fear of the hereafter up the Fifth Tynesiders. An’ I tell you it took more than a soft man to do that. Satan's Own was what those who knew the Fifth best called ’em, an’ they were a rough, tough crowd of stiffs for the most part; which is likely why Melville was given the command, him being a fierce, hard man himself as I’ve said before.

T JOINED at a place called Banjapore which is in India,

along of a big draft just fresh from home. Most of us was old hands, but there was one kid called Simpson who I’m goin’ to tell you about who was a bit younger and softer than the rest. He come from some place in the North an’ he was fair potty with homesickness. He’d no chum, he hated soldierin’ an' he hated India. In fact, before he’d been at Banjapore a week he was so low an’ lonesome I was afraid he’d put his rifle to his head an’ just get (¡úit of it all by that road.

“He didn’t though. W hat happened was that one day when he was mopin’ about the cantonment the wife of one of the padres happened to notice him an’ asked him if he'd like a puppy. She had some she wanted to get rid of, you see. Well, Simpson took the pick of the litter an’ from that day he became a different chap. The pup cured him of the homesickness in quick time. He took him back to barracks an’ fed him, an’ he fussed over him an’ taught him tricks an’ had him to sleep in his cot at nights, an’ he made such a pet of him as you never saw. Micky was what he called the pup, an’ if anyone so much as said a rough word to Micky he got Simpson's fist in the eye before you could say knife. Contrary to that, if anyone shaped to hit Simpson, Micky would go for him all the same as a lion. An’ as he grew up fast into a big strong dog with a dash of the bull in him, I guess he saved young Simpson a good many cuffs he might have got otherwise durin’ his first year with Satan’s Own.

“Well, after we'd had our spell at Banjapore they thought we was fit for the Border, so they shifted us up to a place called Mian Mir—marchin’ on our flat feet, as I needn’t tell you. Simpson came along with the rest of us, an’ nacherally where Simpson went Micky went too, although it was contrary to regulations to take a dog from one station to another. Simpson knew that, of course, an' he was mortal afraid the colonel would notice Micky paddin' along with the transport an’ order him to be sent back.

“ ‘It would about kill me to part with him now,’ I remem-

ber he says to me, for we were pals by that time. ‘He’s the best chum I’ve got in the world, an’ if old Frosty Face says anything I'll tell him to go an’ boil his head.’

“He wouldn’t have done it, though, for he was as scared of the colonel as all the rest of us from the sergeant-major down. An’ anyway the occasion didn't arise, for Frosty Face broke his record for setting delinquencies an’ never noticed Micky at all. No, he never saw him once, though he was ridin’ up an’ down the column tryin’ to find somethin' for which he could give some jxxir beggar C.B. till it would make you giddy. He noticed every button that was undone an’ every rifle that wasn’t sloped quite as it should be, but by some chance he never saw the dog, which was mighty fortunate for Simpson.

“Well, we got to Mian Mir all klim-biw, although the Pathans knew we were a fresh lot an’ gave us a lot of snipin’ an’ night raids just to test us on the march, an’ we settled down in the Mian Mir fort. An’ after a bit the Pathans got to know it didn’t pay to bring out Satan’s Own with Frosty Face Melville at their head, an’ they left us in peace.

“But you don't get much plucky jxiace in the army for long. No sooner had the Pathans left off annoyin’ us than what must the Brass Hats at Kohat do than send along a nasty little bloke by the name of General Darke to make an inspection. You’d have thought there were enough insects already in Mian Mir, but apparently the Brass Hats didn’t hold that opinion. They sent along General Darke, an’ I tell you when it came to irritatin' the troops that same little man had the insects and the Pathans beaten to a frazzle.

IT WASN’T an inspection he made, it was a blurry inquisition. I tell you there wasn't so much as a rat-hole in Mian Mir that general didn't [xike his nose down. Round an’ round an’ up an' down, with three Brass Hats vappin’ at his heels for all the world like one of those witchdoctors they

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have in Africa smellin' out a murderer.

“But look as he would, there was one thing General Darke couldn’t lind in Mian Mir, an’ that was something that pleased him. Every blessed thing in the whole shoot was rotten. Bayonet fightin’, musketry, company drill an’ general turnout — they were all putrid accordin’ to General Darke. In fact he as good as told the colonel to his face his regiment was a washout an’ a disgrace to the British Army.

“Well, when he couldn’t find anything else to swear at outside, he said he’d like to inspect the livin’ quarters. The last room he come into was the one where No. 5 platoon of ‘B’ Company slept, which was the platoon to which Simpson an’ myself belonged. We’d j everything klim-bim for him to see. Floor i swept, beddin’ folded up, mosquito curtains I pulled hack, rifles an’ equipment hung up i on the proper hooks at the head of each cot an’ us standing rigid to attention at the foot. Never did you see such a turnout in your life. You couldn’t have bettered it if you’d ! been the Brigade of Guards gettin’ ready for : the King.

! “Well, in comes General Darke with Mr.

! Pickering, who was our platoon officer, at his heels. He stands there for a minute sniffin’ j round for somethin’ wrong like a French ^ detective looking for a clue. Then: T want to see the contents of the men’s haversacks,’ I he says. ‘Have them collected an’ brought I here.’

“Mr. Pickering gives the order an’ the platoon sergeant brings the haversacks off the hooks an’ piles them in front of the i general. He starts openin’ them himself an’ pullin’ out the spare socks. Lookin’ for : holes, he was, you see. There was nothing ; else he could pick on in the room to find fault with, but he hoped to find a hole. An’ to help him find one quicker, the Brass Hat that was with him goes down on his knees also lookin’ at the socks. For all the world i like a pair of Jew bagmen they were with us ! standin’ like ramrods in the background i watchin’ them have a field day among our spare socks.

“Sudden the general holds up a sock as pleased as Punch. He’d his hand inside an’ i two fingers stickin’ out of the heel. ‘Look at this,’ he yelps. ‘Of all the disgraceful—’

“But he gets no further than that. Before he could say what he was intendin’ to say there was a great growl at the door an’ in comes Micky with his hackles up an’ his head down an’ his teeth showin’, for he was I a fine watchdog an’ Simpson had him I trained to guard the kit in our room on account of the niggers.

“ ‘Out of this, you two thieves,’ he says, rumblin’ in his throat as plain as if he was ! speakin’ English.

“Never a word says the general. But he j got on his feet as white as pajjer, an’ I don’t blame him either for Micky was a big,

; savage-lookin’ dog who could pin a man, an he got out of that room with no waiting for : further orders. He was that scared he never i even remembered to drop the sock off his ! hand. Out of the room they went, an’ then Mr. Pickering springs to shut the door between them an’ Micky, an’ such a laugh goes up from the platoon as you never heard.

I Discipline or no discipline, we couldn’t help j but roar. There was no one to tell us to i stop, for Mr. Pickering was laughin’ as hard as any.

“Well, that was the finish of the inspection so far as we were concerned. But I guessed to myself the matter wasn’t goin’ to stop there, for the general wasn’t the sort of bloke to take a laugh against himself. I knew he’d get his own back on Micky, an’ I was right. For a week or so nothin’ was said, an’ then Simpson was sent for by Captain Moresby, who commanded B’ Company. I met him cornin’ away from the office. His face was white an’ he’d tears in his eyes.

“‘That general!’ he says. ‘That nasty, vindictive little stoat in field boots!’ he says.

; D’you know what he’s done? He’s written

in to say the dog that attacked him during inspection must he shot immediately. The captain’s had word from the adjutant an’ he’s given me orders I’m to have Micky shot this evenin’. There’s no gettin’ out of it either. The adjutant has to report to the general by phone tomorrow morning that it’s been done.’

WELL, I DIDN’T know what to say.

You couldn’t buck against orders in Satan’s Own while Frosty Melville was in command. It would do no good Simpson refusin', for he’d only get himself into trouble an’ Micky would be shot by someone else.

“Simpson talked a lot of hot air about desertin’ an’ so forth, but after a bit I got him to see reason. If the general wished Micky shot, shot he’d be in the long run, an’ there was nothin’ Simpson or anyone else could do to save him. That’s what I told him, an’ after a bit he listened. But he couldn’t have been more upset if Micky had been his own father. Seein’ the state he was in I offered to put the dog away myself, although I hated it for I'd a great likin’ forMicky. That was in the evenin’, an’ Simpson was lyin’ on the cot with his arm round Micky, who lay beside him.

“ ‘Thanks, mate,’ he says, sort of choking. ‘I’ll trust you to make a clean job of it. Good-by, Micky, old man. Go with him like a good dog an’ let him shoot you for doin’ your duty.’

“Then he lay back with his arm over his face, an' I fetched my rifle an' a clip of ammunition an’ a cleaning cord which I slipped through Micky’s collar, an’ I led him out very quick, feelin’ like a bloomin’ murderer. He came with me gentle as a lamb, for he knew me an’ Simpson had given the order.

“Out on the range where there was no one about was where I’d fixed as the best place to do it. I led him across the football field an’ down past the butts to where there was a post handy. I was just puttin’ a turn of the cord round the post an’ givin’ him a last pat when I heard horses, an’ who should come round a bit of a hillock but old Frosty Face himself with the adjutant behind him. They’d been out ridin’ an’ were on their way back to the fort.

“When they saw me there with Micky, they reined up to watch. I saw the adjutant —Captain Grant was his name—speakin’ low to the colonel, an’ I guessed he was tellin’ him all the facts about Micky. Sudden, Frosty Face claps his spurs into his horse. Straight up to me he gallops —a ramrod of a man with a face on him would chisel wood.

“ ‘So that’s the cur attacked the general,’ he rasps. ‘The vicious, ill-conditioned hound that disgraced my regiment! Ugh, you brute!’ he says, glarin’ at Micky. ‘I’ll shoot you myself to make sure there’s no mistake.’ “Down he springs from his horse. Micky wags his tail an’ fawns, which was unusual for him to do with a stranger, but the colonel took no notice at all. I could see he was in a proper rage. Sudden he rounds on me, sharp as a razor.

“ ‘Give me that rifle,’ he snaps. ‘Nowthen ! Fifteen paces is the regulation distance for a firing squad. Take the horses to the rear, you.’

T TOOK THE HORSES an’ I led them back while he paced the fifteen yards. Then I stood lookin’ toward the fort an’ prayin’ he’d shoot straight so I wouldn’t hear Micky squeal. Five shots went off very quick. There wasn’t so much as a whine from Micky, an’ when I looked round I could see he was lying quite still at the foot of the post. Frosty was handin' the rifle to the adjutant an’ speakin’ in that voice of his would make you think of water drippin from a frozen pump.

“ ‘Captain Grant,’ he says, ‘you will

reixjrt to the general that the dog in question was shot by me personally in accordance with his orders this morning. And, by the way, Grant, in view of General Darke’s statement in his report that there’s not a man in my regiment capable of hitting a haystack at twenty yards, it will be quite unnecessary for you to mention that all the shots most unfortunately went wide. The general,’ he says, growlin’ deep in his throat like a tiger, ‘will doubtless be able to deduce that important fact for himself!’

“Then he jumps on his horse an’ gallops off. When I ran up to the post I found Micky lyin’ down comfortable without so much as a scratch on his body. I untied the cord quick. ‘Micky,’ I says, ‘go back to Simpson an’ report you’ve been shot in accordance with instructions.’ He could understand like a human, that dog could. I le gave me one grin, then off he went like a streak across the dust, never stoppin’ till he

landed plump on Simpson’s chest where the latter was lyin’ blubberin' on his cot thinkin’ he'd never see Micky again . . . Was Simpson happy? Sez you !"

Windbag paused for refreshment from his tankard. As he put it down he went on:

“Now you won’t believe this, but it’s true as I sit here. Not a week later I found myself j on the mat before Frosty Face. Losin’ one j measly round of blank ammunition was the offense. Frosty Face reads the charge sheet, ! then he glares up at me across the desk with I the eyes poppin’ out of his head.

“ ‘Wastin’ Government ammunition?’ he I squeals. ‘I’ll teach you to waste g(xxi j Government ammunition, my man. It’s the | worst offense in the army. Ten days C.B., an’ march him out.’

“An’ that,” said Private Bristow, swirling his tankard for the last few precious drops, j "is why I maintain that colonels aren’t ; human.”