Read THE SEARING OF A SOUL : CHAPTER X of Snake and Sword A Novel, free online book, by Percival Christopher Wren, on ReadCentral.com.

MORE MYRMIDONS.

The truly busy man cannot be actively and consciously unhappy. The truly miserable and despondent person is never continuously and actively employed. Fits of deep depression there may be for the worker when work is impossible, but, unless there be mental and physical illness, sleep is the other anæsthetic, refuge and reward.

The Wise thank God for Work and for Sleep and pay large premia of the former as Insurance in the latter.

To Damocles de Warrenne to whom the name “Trooper Matthewson” now seemed the only one he had ever had the craved necessity of life and sanity was work, occupation, mental and physical labour. He would have blessed the man who sentenced him to commence the digging of a trench ten miles long and a yard deep for morning and evening labour, and to take over all the accounts of each squadron, for employment in the heat of the day. There was no man in the regiment so indefatigable, so energetic, so persevering, so insatiable of “fatigues,” so willing and anxious to do other people’s duty as well as his own, so restless, so untiring as Trooper Matthewson of E Troop. For Damocles de Warrenne was in the Land of the Serpent and lived in fear. He lived in fear and feared to live; he thought of Fear and feared to think. He turned to work as, but for the memory of Lucille, he would have turned to drink: he laboured to earn deep dreamless sleep and he dreaded sleep. Awake, he could drug himself with work; asleep, he was the prey the bound, gagged helpless, abject prey of the Snake. The greediest glutton for work in the best working regiment in the world was Trooper Matthewson but for him was no promotion. He was, alas, “unreliable” apt to be “drunk and disorderly,” drunk to the point of “seeing snakes” and becoming a weeping, screaming lunatic a disgusting spectacle. And, when brought up for sentence, would solemnly assure the Colonel that he was a total abstainer, and stick to it when “told-off” for adding impudent lying to shameful indulgence and sickening behaviour. No promotion for that type of waster while Colonel the Earl of A commanded the Queen’s Greys, nor while Captain Daunt commanded the squadron the trooper occasionally disgraced.

But he had his points, mark you, and it was a thousand pities that so fine a soldier was undeniably subject to attacks of delirium tremens and unmistakeably a secret drinker who might at any time have a violent outburst, finishing in screams, sobs, and tears. A most remarkable case! Who ever heard of a magnificent athlete regimental champion boxer and swordsman, admittedly as fine and bold a horseman and horse-master as the Rough-Riding Sergeant-Major or the Riding-Master himself being a sufficiently industrious secret-drinker to get “goes” of “d.t.,” to drink till he behaved like some God-and-man-forsaken wretch that lives on cheap gin in a chronic state of alcoholism. He had his points, and if the Brigadier had ever happened to say to the Colonel: “Send me your smartest, most intelligent, and keenest man to gallop for me at the manoeuvres,” or the Inspector of Army Gymnasia had asked for the regiment’s finest specimen, or if one representative private soldier had to be sent somewhere to uphold the credit and honour of the Queen’s Greys, undoubtedly Trooper Matthewson would have been chosen.

What a splendid squadron-sergeant major, regimental sergeant-major, yea, what a fine officer he would have made, had he been reliable. But there, you can’t have an officer, nor a non-com., either, who lies shrieking and blubbering on the floor coram publico, and screams to God and man to save him from the snakes that exist only in his own drink-deranged mind. For of course it can only be Drink that produces “Snakes”! Yes, it is only through the ghastly alcohol-tinted glasses that you can “see snakes” any fool knows that.

And the fools of the Queen’s Greys knew it, and hoped to God that Matthewson would “keep off it” till after the Divisional Boxing Tournament and Assault-at-Arms, for, if he did, the Queen’s Greys would certainly have the Best Man-at-Arms in the Division and have a mighty good shot at having the Heavy-Weight All-India Champion, since Matthewson had challenged the Holder and held an absolutely unbroken record of victories in the various regimental and inter-regimental boxing tournaments in which he had taken part since joining the regiment. And he had been “up against some useful lads” as Captain Chevalier, the president and Maecenas of the Queen’s Greys’ boxing-club, expressed it. Yes, Matthewson had his points and the man who brought the Regiment the kudos of having best Man-at-Arms and Heavy-Weight Champion of India would be forgiven a lot.

And Damocles de Warrenne blessed the Divisional Boxing Tournament, Assault-at-Arms, and, particularly, the All-India Heavy-Weight Championship.

Occupation, labour, anodyne.... Work and deep Sleep. Fighting to keep the Snake at bay. No, fighting to get away from it there was no keeping it at bay nothing but shrieking collapse when It came....

From parade ground to gymnasium, from gymnasium to swimming-bath, from swimming-bath to running-track, from running-track to boxing-ring, from boxing-ring to gymnasium again. Work, occupation, forgetfulness. Forget the Snake for a little while even though it is surely lurking near waiting, waiting, waiting; nay, even beneath his very foot and moving....

Well, a man can struggle with himself until the Thing actually appears in the concrete, and he goes mad but Night! Oh, God grant deep sleep at night or wide wakefulness and a light. Neither Nightmare nor wakefulness in the dark, oh, Merciful God.

Yes, things were getting worse. He was going mad. MAD. Desert and get out of India somehow?

Never! No gentleman “deserts” anything or anybody.

Suicide and face God unafraid and unashamed?

Never! The worst and meanest form of “deserting”.

No. Stick it. And live to work work to live. And strive and strive and strive to obliterate the image of Lucille that sorrow’s crown of sorrow.

And so Trooper Matthewson’s course of training was a severe one and he appeared to fear rest and relaxation as some people fear work and employment.

His favourite occupation was to get the ten best boxers of the regiment to jointly engage in a ten-round contest with him, one round each. He would frequently finish fresher than the tenth man. Coming of notedly powerful stock on both sides, and having been physically educated from babyhood, Dam, with clean living and constant training, was a very uncommon specimen. There may have been one or two other men in the regiment as well developed, or nearly so; but when poise, rapidity, and skill were taken into account there was no one near him. Captain Chevalier said he was infinitely the quickest heavy-weight boxer he had ever seen and Captain Chevalier was a pillar of the National Sporting Club and always knew the current professionals personally when he was in England. In fact, with the enormous strength of the best heavy-weight, Dam combined the lightning rapidity and mobility of the best feather-weight.

His own doubt as to the result of his contest with the heavy-weight Champion of India arose from the fact that the latter was a person of much lower nervous development, a creature far less sensitive to shock, a denser and more elementary organism altogether, and possessed of a far thicker skull, shorter jaw, and thicker neck. Dam summed him up thus with no sense of contemptuous superiority, but with a plain recognition of the facts that the Champion was a fighting machine, a dull, foreheadless, brutal gladiator who owed his championship very largely to the fact that he was barely sensible to pain, and impervious to padded blows. It was said that he had never been knocked out in all his boxing-career, that the kick of a horse on his chin would not knock him out, that his head was solid bone, and that the shortness of his jaw and thickness of his neck absolutely prevented sufficient leverage between the point of the jaw and the spinal cord for the administration of the shock to the medulla oblongata that causes the necessary ten-seconds’ unconsciousness of the “knock-out”.

He was known as the Gorilla by reason of his long arms, incredible strength, beauty, and pleasing habits, and he bore the reputation of a merciless and unchivalrous opponent and one who needed the strictest and most experienced refereeing. It would be a real terrific fight, and that was the main thing to Dam, though he would do his very utmost to win, for the credit of the Queen’s Greys, and would leave no stone unturned to that end. He regretted that he could not get leave and go to Pultanpur to see the Champion box, and learn something of his style and methods when easily defending his title in the Pultanpur tournament. And when the Tournament and Assault-at-Arms were over he must find something else to occupy him by day and tire him before night. Meanwhile life was bearable, with the fight to come except for sentry-go work. That was awful, unspeakable, and each time was worse than the last. Sitting up all night in the guard-room under the big lamp, and perhaps with some other wakeful wretch to talk to, was nothing. That was well enough but to be on a lonely post on a dark night ... well he couldn’t do it much longer.

Darkness and the Snake that was always coming and never came! To prowl round and round some magazine, store, or boundary-stone with his carbine at the “support,” or to tramp up and down by the horse-lines, armed only with his cutting-whip; to stand in a sentry-box while the rain fell in sheets and there was no telling what the next flash of lightning might reveal that was what would send him to a lunatic’s padded cell.

To see the Snake by day would give him a cruel, terrible fit but to be aware of it in the dark would be final and fatal to his reason (which was none too firmly enthroned). No, he had the dreadful feeling that his reason was none too solidly based and fixed. He had horrible experiences, apart from the snake-nightmares, nowadays. One night when he awoke and lay staring up at his mosquito-curtain in the blessed light of the big room-lamp (always provided in India on account of rifle thieves) he had suddenly felt an overwhelming surge of fear. He sat up. God! he was in a marble box! These white walls and roof were not mosquito-netting, they were solid marble! He was in a tomb. He was buried alive. The air was growing foul. His screams would be absolutely inaudible. He screamed, and struck wildly at the cold cruel marble, and found it was soft, yielding netting after all. But it was a worse horror to find that he had thought it marble than if he had found it to be marble. He sprang from his cot.

“I am going mad,” he cried.

“Goin’?... Gorn, more like,” observed the disrobing room-corporal. “Why donchew keep orf the booze, Maffewson? You silly gapin’ goat. Git inter bed and shut yer ’ead or I’ll get yew a night in clink, me lad and wiv’out a light, see?”

Corporal Prag knew his victim’s little weakness and grinned maliciously as Dam sprang into bed without a word.

The Stone Jug without a gleam of light! Could a man choke himself with his own fingers if the worst came to the worst? The Digger and Stygian darkness now when he was going mad! Men could not be so cruel.... But they’d say he was drunk. He would lie still and cling with all his strength and heart and soul to sanity. He would think of That Evening with Lucille and of her kisses. He would recite the Odes of Horace, the Aeneid, the Odyssey as far as he could remember them, and then fall back on Shakespeare and other English poets. Probably he knew a lot more Greek and Latin poetry (little as it was) than he did of English....

Corporal Prag improved the occasion as he unlaced his boots. “Bloomin’ biby! Afraid o’ the dark! See wot boozin’ brings yer to. Look at yer! An’ look at me. Non-c’misshn’d orficer in free an’ a ’arf years from j’inin’. Never tasted alc’ol in me life, an’ if any man offud me a glarse, d’ye know what I’d dew?”

“No, Corporal, I’d like to hear,” replied Dam. (Must keep the animal talking as long as possible for the sake of human company. He’d go mad at once, perhaps, when the Corporal went to bed.)

“I’d frow it strite in ’is faice, I would,” announced the virtuous youth. A big boot flopped heavily on the floor.

“I daresay you come of good old teetotal stock,” observed Dam, to make conversation. Perhaps the fellow would pause in his assault upon the other boot and reply so lengthening out the precious minutes of diversion. Every minute was a minute nearer dawn....

“Do yer? Well, you’re bloomin’ well wrong, Maffewson, me lad. My farver ‘ad a bout every Saturday arternoon and kep’ it up all day a Sund’y, ‘e did an’ in the werry las’ bout ’e ever ’ad ’e bashed ’is olé woman’s ‘ead in wiv’ a bottle.”

“And was hanged?” inquired Dam politely and innocently, but most tactlessly.

“Mind yer own b business,” roared Corporal Prag. “Other people’s farvers wasn’t gallows-birds if yourn was. ’Ow’d you look if I come and punched you on the nose, eh? Wot ‘ud you do if I come an’ set abaht yer, eh?”

“Break your neck,” replied Dam tersely.

“Ho, yus. And wot ’ud yew say when I calls the guard and they frows you into clink? Without no light, Trooper Maffewson!”

Dam shuddered.

Corporal Prag yet further improved the occasion, earning Dam’s heartfelt blessing.

“Don’t you fergit it, Trooper Maffewson. I’m yore sooperier orficer. You may be better’n me in the Ring, praps, or with the sword (Dam could have killed him in five minutes, with or without weapons), but if I ’olds up my little finger you comes to ’eel or other’ow you goes ter clink. ‘Ung indeed! You look after yer own farver an’ don’ pass remarks on yer betters. Why! You boozin’ waster, I shall be Regimental Sargen’ Majer when you’re a bloomin’ discharged private wiv an ’undred ‘drunks’ in red on yer Defaulter’s Sheet. Regimental Sarjen’ Majer! I shall be an Orficer more like, and walk acrost the crossin’ wot you’re asweepin’, to me Club in bloomin’ well Pickerdilly! Yus. This is the days o’ _? Demockerycy_, me lad. ’Good Lloyd George’s golden days’ as they sing and steady fellers like me is goin’ to ave C’missh’ns an’ don’ you fergit it! Farver ’ung indeed!”

“I’m awf’ly sorry, Corporal, really,” apologized Dam. “I didn’t think....”

“No, me lad,” returned the unmollified superior, as he stooped to the other boot, “if you was to think more an’ booze less you’d do better.... ‘Ow an’ where you gets ’old of it, beats me. I’ve seed you in delirium trimmings but I ain’t never seed you drinkin’ nor yet smelt it on yer. You’re a cunnin’ ‘ound in yer way. One o’ them beastly secret-drinkin’ swine wots never suspected till they falls down ‘owlin’ blue ‘orrors an’ seem’ pink toadses. Leastways it’s snakes you sees. See ’em oncte too orfen, you will.... See ’em on p’rade one day in front o’ the Colonel. Fall orf yer long-face an get trampled an’ serve yer glad.... An’ now shut yer silly ‘ed an’ don’t chew the mop so much. Let me get some sleep. I ’as respontsibillaties I do....”

A crossing outside a Club! More likely a padded cell in a troopship and hospital until an asylum claimed him.

In the finals, “Sword versus Sword Dismounted,” Dam had a foeman worthy of his steel.

A glorious chilly morning, sunrise on a wide high open maidan, rows of tents for the spectators at the great evening final, and crowds of officers and men in uniform or gymnasium kit. On a group of chairs sat the Divisional General, his Colonel on the Staff, and Aide-de-Camp; the Brigadier-General, his Brigade-Major, and a few ladies, wives of regimental colonels, officers, and leading Civilians.

Semi-finals of Tent-pegging, Sword v. Sword Mounted, Bayonet-fighting, Tug-of-War, Fencing, and other officers’ and men’s events had been, or were being, contested.

The finals of the British Troops’ Sword v. Sword Dismounted, was being reserved for the last, as of supreme interest to the experts present, but not sufficiently spectacular to be kept for the evening final “show,” when the whole of Society would assemble to be thrilled by the final Jumping, Driving, Tent-pegging, Sword v. Sword Mounted, Bayonet-fighting, Sword v. Lance, Tug-of-War, and other events for British and Indian officers and men of all arms.

It was rumoured that there was a Sergeant of Hussars who would give Trooper Matthewson a warm time with the sabre. As the crowd of competitors and spectators gathered round the sabres-ring, and chairs were carried up for the Generals, ladies, and staff, to witness the last and most exciting contest of the morning’s meeting, a Corporal-official of the Assault-at-Arms Executive Committee called aloud, “Sergeant O’Malley, 14th Hussars, get ready,” and another fastened a red band to the Sergeant’s arm as he stepped forward, clad in leather jacket and leg-guards and carrying the heavy iron-and-leather head-guard necessary in sabre combats, and the blunt-edged, blunt-pointed sabre.

Dam approached him.

“Don’t let my point rest on your hilt, Sergeant,” he said.

“What’s the game?” inquired the surprised and suspicious Sergeant.

“My little trick. I thrust rather than cut, you know,” said Dam.

“I’ll watch it, me lad,” returned Sergeant O’Malley, wondering whether Dam were fool or knave.

“Trooper Matthewson, get ready,” called the Corporal, and Dam stepped into the ring, saluted, and faced the Sergeant.

A brief direction and caution, the usual preliminary, and the word

“On guard Play” and Dam was parrying a series of the quickest cuts he had ever met. The Sergeant’s sword flickered like the tongue of a Snake. Yes of a Snake! and even as Dam’s hand dropped limp and nerveless, the Sergeant’s sword fell with a dull heavy thud on his head-guard. The stroke would have split Dam’s head right neatly, in actual fighting.

“Stop,” shouted the referee. “Point to Red.”

“On guard Play”

But if the Sergeant’s sword flickered like the tongue of a snake why then Dam must be fighting the Snake. Fighting the Snake and in another second the referee again cried “Stop!” And added, “Don’t fight savage, White, or I’ll disqualify you”.

“I’m awf’ly sorry,” said Dam, “I thought I was fighting the Sn ”

“Hold your tongue, and don’t argue,” replied the referee sternly.

“On Guard Play.”

Ere the Sergeant could move his sword from its upward-inclined position Dam’s blade dropped to its hilt, shot in over it, and as the Sergeant raised his forearm in guard, flashed beneath it and bent on his breast.

“Stop,” cried the referee. “Point to White. Double” two marks being then awarded for the thrust hit, and one for the cut.

“On guard Play.”

Absolutely the same thing happened again within the next half-second, and Dam had won the British Troops’ Sword v. Sword Dismounted, in addition to being in for the finals in Tent-pegging, Sword v. Sword Mounted, Jumping (Individual and By Sections), Sword v. Lance, and Tug-of-War.

“Now jest keep orf it, Matthewson, and sweep the bloomin’ board,” urged Troop-Sergeant-Major Scoles as Dam removed his fencing-jacket, preparatory to returning to barracks. “You be Best Man-at-arms in the Division and win everythink that’s open to British Troops Mounted, and git the ‘Eavy-Weight Championship from the Gorilla an’ there’ll be some talk about promotion for yer, me lad.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” replied Dam. “I am a total abstainer.”

“Yah! Chuck it,” observed the Sergeant-Major.

Of no interest to Women nor modern civilized Men.

The long-anticipated hour had struck, the great moment had arrived, and (literally) thousands of British soldiers sat in a state of expectant thrill and excited interest, awaiting the appearance of the Gorilla (Corporal Dowdall of the 111th Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery fourteen stone twelve) and Trooper Matthewson (Queen’s Greys fourteen stone) who were to fight for the Elliott Belt, the Motipur Cup, and the Heavy-Weight Championship of India.

The Boxing Tournament had lasted for a week and had been a huge success. Now came the piece de resistance, the fight of the Meeting, the event for which special trains had brought hundreds of civilians and soldiers from neighbouring and distant cantonments. Bombay herself sent a crowded train-load, and it was said that a, by no means small, contingent had come from Madras. Certainly more than one sporting patron of the Great Sport, the Noble Art, the Manly Game, had travelled from far Calcutta. So well-established was the fame of the great Gorilla, and so widely published the rumour that the Queen’s Greys had a prodigy who’d lower his flag in ten rounds or less.

A great square of the grassy plain above Motipur had been enclosed by a high canvas wall, and around a twenty-four foot raised “ring” (which was square) seating accommodation for four thousand spectators had been provided. The front rows consisted of arm-chairs, sofas, and drawing-room settees (from the wonderful stock of Mr. Dadabhoy Pochajee Furniturewallah of the Sudder Bazaar) for the officers and leading civilians of Motipur, and such other visitors as chose to purchase the highly priced reserved-seat tickets.

Not only was every seat in the vast enclosure occupied, but every square inch of standing-room, by the time the combatants entered the arena.

A few dark faces were to be seen (Native Officers of the pultans and rissal of the Motipur Brigade), and the idea occurred to not a few that it was a pity the proceedings could not be witnessed by every Indian in India. It would do them good in more ways than one.

Although a large number of the enormously preponderating military spectators were in the khaki kit so admirable for work (and so depressing, unswanksome and anti-enlistment for play, or rather for walking-out and leisure), the experienced eye could see that almost every corps in India furnished contingents to the gathering. Lancers, dragoons, hussars, artillery, riflemen, Highlanders, supply and transport, infantry of a score of regiments, and, rare sight away from the Ports, a small party of Man-o’-War’s-men in white duck, blue collars, and straw hats (huge, solemn-faced men who jested with grimmest seriousness of mien and insulted each other outrageously). Officers in scarlet, in dark blue, in black and cherry colour, in fawn and cherry colour, in pale blue and silver, in almost every combination of colours, showed that the commissioned ranks of the British and Indian Services were well represented, horse, foot, guns, engineers, doctors, and veterinary surgeons every rank and every branch. On two sides of the roped ring, with its padded posts, sat the judges, boxing Captains both, who had won distinction at Aldershot and in many a local tournament. On another side sat the referee, ex-Public-Schools Champion, Aldershot Light-Weight Champion, and, admittedly, the best boxer of his weight among the officers of the British Army. Beside him sat the time-keeper. Overhead a circle of large incandescent lamps made the scene as bright as day.

“Well, d’you take it?” asked Seaman Jones of Seaman Smith. “Better strike while the grog’s ‘ot. A double-prick o’ baccy and a gallon o’ four-’arf, evens, on the Griller. I ain’t never ‘eard o’ the Griller till we come ’ere, and I never ‘eard o’ t’other bloke neether but I ’olds by the Griller, cos of ’is name and I backs me fancy afore I sees ’em. Loser to ’elp the winner with the gallon.”

“Done, Bill,” replied the challenged promptly, on hearing the last condition. (He could drink as fast as Bill if he lost, and he could borrer on the baccy till it was wore out.) “Got that bloomin’ ‘igh-falutin’ lar-de-dar giddy baccy-pouch and yaller baccy you inwested in at Bombay?” he asked. “Yus, ’Enery,” replied William, diving deeply for it.

“Then push it ‘ere, an’ likewise them bloomin’ ‘igh-falutin’ lar-de-dar giddy fag-papers you fumble wiv’. Blimey! ain’t a honest clay good enough for yer now? I knows wots the matter wiv you, Billy Jones! You’ve got a weather-heye on the Quarter Deck you ’ave. You fink you’re agoin’ to be a blighted perishin’ orficer you do! Yus, you flat-footed matlot not even a blasted tiffy you ain’t, and you buys a blighted baccy-pouch and yaller baccy and fag-pipers, like a Snottie, an’ reckons you’s on the ‘igh road to be a bloomin’ Winnie Lloyd Gorgeous Orficer. ’And ’em ’ere fore I’m sick. Lootenant, Gunnery Jack, Number One, Commerdore!”

“Parding me, ’Enery Smiff,” returned William Jones with quiet dignity. “In consequents o’ wot you said, an’ more in consequents o’ yore clumsy fat fingers not been used to ‘andlin’ dellikit objex, and most in consequents o’ yore been a most ontrustable thief, I will perceed to roll you a fag meself, me been ’ighly competent so fer to do. Not but wot a fag’ll look most outer place in your silly great ugly faice.”

The other sailor watched the speaker in cold contempt as he prepared a distinctly exiguous, ill-fed cigarette.

“Harthur Handrews,” he said, turning to his other neighbour, “’Ave yew ’appened to see the Master Sail-maker or any of ’is mermydiuns ’ere-abahts, by any chawnst?”

“Nope. ‘An don’ want. Don’ wan’ see nothink to remind me o’

Ther blue, ther fresh, ther hever free,
Ther blarsted, beastly, boundin’ sea.

Not even your distressin’ face and dirty norticle apparile. Why do you arksk sich silly questchings?”

“Willyerm Jones is amakin’ a needle for ’im.”

“As ’ow?”

“Wiv a fag-paper an’ a thread o’ yaller baccy. ‘E’s makin’ a bloomin’ needle,” and with a sudden grab he possessed himself of the pouch, papers, and finished product of Seaman Jones’s labours and generosity.

Having pricked himself severely and painfully with the alleged cigarette, he howled with pain, cast it from him, proceeded to stick two papers together and to make an uncommonly stout, well-nourished, and bounteous cigarette.

“I ’fought I offered you to make yourself a cigarette, ’Enery,” observed the astounded owner of the materia nicotina.

“I grabbed for to make myself a cigarette, Willyerm,” was the pedantically correct restatement of Henry.

“Then why go for to try an’ mannyfacter a bloomin’ banana?” asked the indignant victim, whose further remarks were drowned in the roars of applause which greeted the appearance from the dressing-tents of the Champion and the Challenger.

Dam and Corporal Dowdall entered the ring from opposite corners, seated themselves in the chairs provided for them, and submitted themselves to the ministrations of their respective seconds.

Trooper Herbert Hawker violently chafed Dam’s legs, Trooper Bear his arms and chest, while Trooper Goate struggled to force a pair of new boxing-gloves upon his hands, which were scientifically bandaged around knuckles, back, and wrist, against untimely dislocations and sprains.

Clean water was poured into the bowls which stood behind each chair, and fresh resin was sprinkled over the canvas-covered boards of the Ring.

Men whose favourite “carried their money” (and each carried a good deal) anxiously studied that favourite’s opponent.

The Queen’s Greys beheld a gorilla indeed, a vast, square, long-armed hairy monster, with the true pugilist face and head.

“Wot a werry ugly bloke,” observed Seaman Arthur Andrews to Seaman Henry Smith. “‘E reminds me o’ Hadmiral Sir Percy ’Opkinton, so ’e do. P’raps ’e’s a pore relation.”

“Yus,” agreed Seaman Smith. “A crost between our beloved ‘Oppy an’ olé Bill Jones ’ere. Bill was reported to ’ave ’ad a twin brother but it was allus serposed Bill ate ’im when ‘e wasn’ lookin’.”

The backers of Corporal Dowdall were encouraged at seeing a man who looked like a gentleman and bore none of the traditional marks of the prize-fighter. His head was not cropped to the point of bristly baldness, his nose was unbroken, his eyes well opened and unblackened, his ears unthickened, his body untattooed. He had the white skin, small trim moustache, high-bred features, small extremities, and general appearance and bearing of an officer.

Ho, G’rilla Dowdall would make short work of that tippy young toff. Why, look at him!

And indeed it made you shudder to think of that enormous ferocity, that dynamic truculence, doing its best to destroy you in a space twenty-four feet square.

Let the challenger wait till G’rilla put his fighting face on fair terrifyin’.

Not an Artilleryman but felt sure that the garrison-gunner would successfully defend the title and “give the swankin’ Queen’s Greys something to keep them choop for a bit. Gettin’ above ’emselves they was, becos’ this bloke of theirs had won Best Man-at-Arms and had the nerve to challenge G’rilla Dowdall, R.G.A.”

Even the R.H.A. admitted the R.G.A. to terms of perfect equality on that great occasion.

But a few observant and experienced officers, gymnasium instructors, and ancient followers of the Noble Art were not so sure.

“Put steel-and-whalebone against granite and I back the former,” said Major Decoulis to Colonel Hanking; “other things being equal of course skill and ring-craft. And I hear that N the Queen’s Greys’ man is unusually fast for a heavy-weight.”

“I’d like to see him win,” admitted the Colonel. “The man looks a gentleman. Doesn’t the other look a Bill Sykes, by Jove!”

The Staff Sergeant Instructor of the Motipur Gymnasium stepped into the ring.

“Silence, please,” he bawled. “Fifteen-round contest between Corporal Dowdall, 111th Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, Heavy-Weight Champion of Hindia, fourteen twelve (Number 1 on my right ’and) and Trooper Matthewson, Queen’s Greys, fourteen stun (Number 2 on my left ‘and). Please keep silence durin’ the rounds. The winner is Heavy-Weight Champion of Hindia, winner of the Motipur Cup and ’older of the Elliott Belt. All ready there?”

Both combatants were ready.

“Come here, both of you,” said the referee.

As he arose to obey, Dam was irresistibly reminded of his fight with Bully Harberth and smiled.

“Nervous sort o’ grin on the figger-’ead o’ the smaller wessel, don’t it,” observed Seaman Smith.

“There wouldn’t be no grin on your fat face at all,” returned Seaman Jones. “It wouldn’t be there. You’d be full-steam-ahead, bearings ‘eated, and showin’ no lights, for them tents when you see wot you was up against.”

The referee felt Dam’s gloves to see that they contained no foreign bodies in the shape of plummets of lead or other illegal gratifications. (He had known a man fill the stuffing-compartments of his gloves with plaster of Paris, that by the third or fourth round he might be striking with a kind of stone cestus as the plaster moulded with sweat and water, and hardened to the shape of the fist.)

As he stepped back, Dam looked for the first time at his opponent, conned his bruiser face and Herculean body, and, with a gasp and shudder, was aware that a huge tattooed serpent reared its head in the centre of his vast chest while smaller ones encircled the mighty biceps of his arms. He clutched the rope and leant trembling against the post as the referee satisfied himself (with very great care in this case) of the innocence of the Gorilla’s gloves.

“I know you of old, Dowdall,” he said, “and I shall only caution you once mind. Second offence and out you go.”

Corporal Dowdall grinned sheepishly. He appeared to think that a delicate and gentlemanly compliment had been paid to his general downiness, flyness, and ring-craft, the last of which, for Corporal Dowdall, included every form of foul that a weak referee would pass, an inexperienced one misunderstand, or a lazy one miss. Major O’Halloran, first-class bruiser himself, was in the habit of doing his refereeing inside the ring and within a foot or two of the principals, where he expected foul play.

As the Major cautioned the Gorilla, Dam passed his hand wearily across his face, swallowed once or twice and groaned aloud.

It was not fair. Why should the Snake be allowed to humiliate him before thousands of spectators? Why should It be brought here to shame him in the utmost publicity, to make him fail his comrades, disgrace his regiment, make the Queen’s Greys a laughing-stock?

But he had fought an emissary of the Snake before and he had won. This villainous-looking pugilist was perhaps the Snake Itself in human form and, see, he was free, he was in God’s open air, no chains bound him, he was not gagged, this place was not a pit dug beneath the Pit itself! This was all tangible and real. He would have fair play and be able to defend himself. This was not a blue room with a mud floor. Nay, he would be able to attack to fight, fight like a wounded pantheress for her cubs. This accursed Snake in Human Form would only be able to use puny fists. Mere trivial human fists and human strength. Everything would be on the human plane. It would be unable to wrap him in its awful coils and crush and crush the soul and life and manhood out of him, as it did at night before burrowing its way ten million miles below the floor of Hell with him, and immuring him in a molten incandescent tomb where he could not even scream or writhe.

“Get to your corners,” said the referee, and Dam returned to his place with a cruel smile upon his compressed lips. By the Merciful Living God he had the Snake Itself delivered unto him in human form to do with as he could. Oh, that It might last out the fifteen times of facing him in his wrath, his pent-up vengeful wrath at a ruined life, a dishonoured name and a lost Lucille!

When would they give the word for him to spring upon it and batter it lifeless to the ground?

“Don’t grind yer silly teeth like that,” whispered Hawker, his grim ugly face white with anxiety and suspense (for he loved Damocles de Warrenne as the faithfullest of hounds loves the best of masters). “You’re awastin’ henergy all the time.”

“God! if they don’t give the word in a minute I shall be unable to hold off It,” replied Dam wildly.

“That’s the sperrit, Cocky,” approved Hawker, “but donchew fergit you gotter larst fifteen bloomin’ rahnds. ’Taint no kindergarters. ‘E’ll stick it orlrite, an’ you’ll avter win on points ”

“Seconds out of the Ring,” cried the time-keeper, staring at his watch.

“Don’t get knocked out, dear boy,” implored Trooper Bear. “Fight to win on points. You can’t knock him out. I’m going to pray like hell through the rounds ”

"Time" barked the time-keeper, and, catching up the chair as Dam rose, Trooper Bear dropped down from the boards of the ring to the turf, where already crouched Hawker and Goate, looking like men about to be hanged.

The large assembly drew a deep breath as the combatants approached each other with extended right hands Dam clad in a pair of blue silk shorts, silk socks and high, thin, rubber-soled boots, the Gorilla in an exiguous bathing-garment and a pair of gymnasium shoes.

Dam a picture of the Perfect Man, was the taller, and the Gorilla, a perfect Caliban, was the broader and had the longer reach. Their right hands touched in perfunctory shake, Dam drew back to allow the Snake to assume sparring attitude, and, as he saw the huge shoulders hunch, the great biceps rise, and the clenched gloves come to position, he assumed the American “crouch” attitude and sprang like a tiger upon the incarnation of the utter Damnation and Ruin that had cursed his life to living death.

The Gorilla was shocked and pained! The tippy pink-and-white blasted rookie was “all over him” and he was sent staggering with such a rain of smashing blows as he had never, never felt, nor seen others receive. The whole assembly of soldiers, saving the Garrison Artillerymen, raised a wild yell, regardless of the referee’s ferocious expostulations (in dumb-show) and even the ranks of the Horse-Gunners could scarce forbear to cheer. The Queen’s Greys howled like fiends and Hawker, unknown to himself, punched the boards before him with terrific violence. Never had anything like it been seen. Matthewson was a human whirlwind, and Dowdall had not had a chance to return a blow. More than half the tremendous punches, hooks and in-fighting jabs delivered by his opponent had got home, and he was “rattled”. A fair hook to the chin might send him down and out at any moment.

Surely never had human being aimed such an unceasing, unending, rain of blows in the space of two minutes as had Trooper Matthewson. His arms had worked like the piston rods of an express engine as fast and as untiringly. He had taken the Gorilla by surprise, had rushed him, and had never given him a fraction of time in which to attack. Beneath the rain of sledge-hammer blows the Gorilla had shrunk, guarding for dear life. Driven into a corner, he cowered down, crouched beneath his raised arms, and allowed his face to sink forward. Like a whirling piece of machinery Dam’s arm flew round to administer the coup-de-grace, the upper cut, that would lay the Snake twitching and unconscious on the boards.

The Gorilla was expecting it.

As it came, his bullet head was jerked aside, and as the first swung harmlessly up, he arose like a flash, and, as he did so, his mighty right shot up, took Darn on the chin and laid him flat and senseless in the middle of the ring.

The Gorilla breathed heavily and made the most of the respite. He knew it must be about “Time,” and that he had not won. If it wasn’t “Time,” and the cub arose he’d knock him to glory as he did so. Yes, the moment the most liberal-minded critic could say he was just about on his feet, he’d give him a finisher that he’d bear the mark of. The bloomin’ young swine had nearly “had” him him, the great G’rilla Dowdall, about to buy himself out with his prize-money, and take to pugilism as a profession.

“One two three four,” counted the timekeeper amid the most deathly silence, and, as he added, "five six Time," a shout arose that was heard for miles.

Trooper Matthewson was saved if his seconds could pull him round in time.

At sound of the word “Time,” the seconds leapt into the ring. Hawker and Bear rushed to the prostrate Dam, hauled him to his feet, and dragged him to the chair which Goate had placed ready. As he was dropped into it, a spongeful of icy water from Goate’s big sponge brought Dam to consciousness.

“Breave for all y’r worf,” grunted Hawker, as he mightily swung a big bath-towel in swift eddies, to drive refreshing air upon the heaving, panting body of his principal.

Bear and Goate applied massaging hands with skilled violence.

“By Jove, I thought you had him,” panted Goate as he kneaded triceps and biceps. “And then I thought he had you. It’s anybody’s fight, Matty but don’t try and knock him out. You couldn’t do it with an axe.”

“No,” agreed Bear. “You’ve got to keep on your feet and win on points.”

“I’ve got to kill the Snake,” hissed Dam, and his seconds glanced at each other anxiously.

He felt that nothing could keep him from victory. He was regaining his faith in a just Heaven, now that the Snake had been compelled to face him in the puny form of a wretched pugilist. Some one had said something about an axe. It would be but fair if he had an axe, seeing that hitherto the Snake had had him utterly defenceless while exercising its own immeasurable and supernatural powers, when torturing him to its heart’s content for endless aeons. But no since it was here in human form and without weapons, he would use none, and would observe the strictest fairness in fight, just as he would to a real human enemy.

“Abaht that there little bet, ’Enery,” observed Seaman Jones, “I fink we’ll alter of it. I don’t wish to give no moral support to this ’ere Griller. T’other bloke’s only jus’ fresh from the Novice Class, I reckon, jedgin’ by ‘is innercent young faice, an’ e’s aputtin’ up the werry best fight as ever I see. We’ll chainge it like this ’ere. We backs the ’orse-soldier to win, and, if he do, we drinks a gallon between us. If ’e don’t, we drinks two fer to console ‘im, an’ drahn sorrer, wot?”

“So it are, Will’m,” agreed Henery. “Then we wins either way! You got a ‘ead fer logger-rhythms. Oughter been a bloomin’ bookie. They ‘as to be big an’ ugly ”

“Seconds out of the Ring,” called the referee, and a hush fell upon the excited throng.

Bear and Goate dropped to the ground, Hawker splashed water all over Dam’s body and, as he rose on the word “Time” snatched away the chair and joined his colleagues, who crouched with faces on a level with the boards.

“Oh, buck him up, good Lord, and put ginger in his short-arm work, and O Lord, take care of his chin and mark,” prayed Trooper Bear, with deep and serious devoutness.

No need to shake hands this bout not again till the fifteenth, noted Dam, as he arose and literally leapt at his opponent with a smashing drive of his right and a feint of his left which drew the Gorilla’s guard and left his face exposed. The Gorilla received Dam’s full weight and full strength, and, but for the ropes, would have been knocked among the spectators.

A tremendous yell went up, led by the Queen’s Greys.

As the tautening of the ropes swayed the Gorilla inward again, Dam delivered a brace of lightning strokes that, though they did not find the chin, staggered and partly stunned him, and, ere he could pull himself together, Dam was inside his guard, almost breast to breast with him, and raining terrific blows, just above the belt. Left, right, left, right, and no chance for the Gorilla to get his own hands up for a couple of seconds, and, when he could, and drove an appalling blow at Dam’s chin, it was dodged and he received a cross-counter that shook him. He must sham weariness and demoralization, lead the tippy rookie on to over-confidence and then land him clean over the ropes. A sullen rage grew in the Gorilla’s heart. He wasn’t doing himself justice. He wasn’t having a fair show. This blasted half-set pink and white recruit hadn’t given him time to settle down. A fifteen-round contest shouldn’t be bustled like this! The bloke was more like a wild-cat than a sober heavyweight boxer.

He received a heavy blow in the face and, as he shook his head with an evil grin, according to his custom when well struck, he found it followed practically instantaneously by another. The swab was about the quickest thing that ever got into a ring. He was like one of these bloomin’, tricky, jack-in-the-box featherweights, instead of a steady lumbering “heavy”. And the Gorilla allowed himself to be driven to a corner again, and let his head sink forward, that the incautious youth might again put all his strength into an upper-cut, miss as the other dodged, and be at the mercy of the Gorilla as the errant fist completed its over-driven swing.

But Damocles de Warrenne fought with his brain as well as his strength and skill. He had learnt a lesson, and no dull-witted oaf of a Gorilla was going to have him like that twice. As the Gorilla cowered and crouched in simulated defeat and placed his face to tempt the coup de grace which he would see swinging up, and easily dodge, Dam swiftly side-stepped and summoning every ounce of strength, rage, and mad protesting frenzy against the life-long torturing tyrant, he delivered a Homeric blow at the champion’s head, beside and behind the ear. (Since he was indestructible by the ordinary point-of-the-chin knock-out, let him make the best of that fearful blow upon the base of the brain and spinal cord, direct.)

Experienced men said it was the heaviest blow they had ever seen struck with the human fist. It was delivered slightly downward, coolly, at measured distance, with change from left foot to right in the act of delivery, and with the uttermost strength of a most powerful athlete in perfect training and Hate Incarnate lent the strength of madness to the strength of training and skill.

THUD! and the Gorilla dropped like a log.

"One two three four five six seven “ counted the time-keeper, as men scarcely breathed in the dead silence into which the voice cut sharply "eight “ and, in perfect silence, every man of those thousands slowly rose to his feet "nine OUT!" and such a roar arose as bade fair to rend the skies. "Outed” in two rounds! Men howled like lunatics, and the Queen’s Greys behaved like very dangerous lunatics. Hawker flung his arms round Dam and endeavoured to raise him on his shoulders and chair him unaided. Bear and Goate got each a hand and proceeded to do their best to crush it.

Seamen Jones and Smith exchanged a chaste kiss.

Damocles de Warrenne was the hero of the Queen’s Greys. Best Man-at-Arms in the Division, winner in Sword v. Sword Mounted and Dismounted, Tent-pegging, Sword v. Lance, and Individual Jumping, and in the winning teams for Tug-of-War, Section Jumping, and Section Tent-pegging!

“Give him a trial as Corporal then, from the first of next month, sir, if there’s no sign of anything wrong during the week,” agreed Captain Daunt, talking him over with the Colonel, after receiving through Troop-Sergeant-Major Scoles a petition to promote the man.

Within twenty-four hours of his fight with the Gorilla, Dam found himself on sentry-go over what was known in the Regiment as “the Dead ’Olé” which was the mortuary, situated in a lonely, isolated spot beyond a nullah some half-furlong from the Hospital, and cut off from view of human habitation by a belt of trees.

On mounting guard that evening, the Sergeant of the Guard had been informed that a corpse lay in the mortuary, a young soldier having been taken ill and having died within a few hours, of some disease of a distinctly choleraic nature.

“I’ll tell you orf for that post, Matthewson,” said the Sergeant. “P’raps you’ll see ghosties there, for a change,” for it was customary to mount a sentry over “the Dead ’Olé” when it contained an occupant, and one of the sentry’s pleasing duties was to rap loudly and frequently upon the door throughout the night to scare away those vermin which are no respecters of persons when the persons happen to be dead and the vermin ravenous.

“I’m not afraid of ghosts, Sergeant,” replied Dam though his heart sank within him at the thought of the long lonely vigil in the dark, when he would be so utterly at the mercy of the Snake the Snake over whom he had just won a signal victory, and who would be all the more vindictive and terrible in consequence. Could he keep sane through the lonely darkness of those dreadful hours? Perhaps if he kept himself in some severe physical agony. He would put a spur beneath his tight-drawn belt and next to his skin, he would strike his knee frequently with the “toe of the butt” of his carbine, he would put pebbles in his boots, and he would cause cramp in his limbs, one after the other. Any kind of pain would help.

It must be quarter of an hour since he had rapped on the mortuary door and sent his messages of prohibition to mouse, rat, bandicoot, civet-cat, wild-cat or other vermin intruder through the roof-ventilation holes. He would knock again. A strange thing this knocking at a dead man’s door in the middle of the night. Suppose the dead man called “Come in!” It would be intensely interesting, but in no wise terrifying or horrible. Presumably poor young Trooper Priddell was no more dangerous or dreadful in the spirit than he had been in the flesh.... Fortunate young man! Were he only on sentry-go outside the peaceful mortuary and Damocles de Warrenne stretched on the bier within, to await the morrow and its pomp and ceremony, when the carcass of the dead soldier would receive honours never paid to the living, sentient man, be he never so worthy, heroic, virtuous and deserving. Oh, to be lying in there at rest, to be on the other side of that closed door at peace!...

To-morrow that poor dead yokel’s body would receive a “Present Arms” (as though he were an armed party commanded by an Officer) from the Guard, which the sentry would turn out as the coffin passed the Guard-room. For the first and last time in his life, he would get a “Present Arms”. It wouldn’t be in his life though. For the first and last time in his death? That didn’t sound right either. Anyhow he would get it, and lots of strange, inexplicable, origin-forgotten rites would be observed over this piece of clay hitherto so cheaply held and roughly treated.

Queer! As “Trooper Priddell” he was of no account. As a piece of fast-decaying carrion he would be the centre of a piece of elaborate ceremonial! His troop would parade in full dress and (save for a firing-party of twelve who would carry carbines) without arms. A special black horse would be decked out with a pall of black velvet and black plumes. Across this horse the spurred jackboots of the dead man would be slung with toes pointing to the rear. Two men, wearing black cloaks, would lead the horse by means of new handkerchiefs passed through the bridoon rings of its bridle, handkerchiefs which would become their perquisites and memento mori.

With crape-draped drums, the band, in silence, would lead the troop to the mortuary where would await it a gun-carriage with its six horses and coffin-supporting attachment. Here the troop would break ranks, file into the mortuary and bare-headed take, each man, his last look at the face of the dead as he lay in his coffin. The lid would then be screwed on, the troop would form a double line, facing inward, the firing-party would “present arms,” and six of the dead man’s more particular pals, or of his “townies,” would bear the coffin out and place it upon the gun-carriage. It would then be covered with a Union Jack and on it would be placed the helmet, sword, and carbine of the deceased trooper, the firing-party standing meanwhile, leaning on their reversed carbines, with bowed heads.

As the melancholy procession formed up for its march to the graveyard, the smallest and junior men would take front place, the bigger and senior men behind them, non-commissioned officers would follow, and subalterns and captain last of all. In stepping off from the halt, all would step off with the right foot instead of with the left. Apparently the object was to reverse ordinary procedure to the uttermost which would but be in keeping with the great reversal of showing honour to such an unhonoured thing as a private soldier one of the despised and rejected band that enable the respectable, wealthy, and smug to remain so; one of the “licentious soldiery” that have made, and that keep, the Empire of which the respectable wealthy and smug are so proud.

At the “slow march,” and in perfect silence until beyond hearing by the inmates of the Hospital, the cortege would proceed. Anon the band would call heaven and earth to mourn with the sonorous dreadful strains of the Dead March; whereafter the ordinary “quick march” would bring the funeral party to the cemetery, in sight of which the “slow march” would be resumed, and the Chaplain, surpliced, book-bearing, come forth to put himself at its head, leading the way to the grave-side where, with uncovered heads, the mourners would listen to the impressive words with feelings varying as their education, religion, temperament, and digestion impelled.

At the close of the service, the firing-party in their places, six on either side of the grave, would fire three volleys into the air, while the band breathed a solemn dirge.

And perhaps most impressively tragic touch of all the party would march briskly off to the strains of the liveliest air in the whole repertoire of the band.

Why should John Humphreyville Priddell doubtless scion of the great Norman houses of Humphreyville and Paradelle, who shared much of Dorsetshire between them from Domesday Book to Stuart downfall have been born in a tiny village of the Vale of Froom in “Dorset Dear,” to die of cholera in vile Motipur? Was some maid, in barton, byre, or dairy, thinking of him but now with an ill-writ letter in her bosom, a letter beginning with “I now take up my pen to right you these few lines hopping they find you the same which they now leave me at present” according to right tradition and proper custom, and continuing to speak of homesick longings, dreams of furlough, promotion, marrying “on the strength,” and retirement to green fair Dorset Dear on a Sergeant-Major’s pension?

What was the meaning of it all? Was it pure chance and accident or had a Living, Scheming, Purposeful Deity a great wise object in this that John Humphreyville Priddell should have been born and bred and nurtured in the Vale of Froom to be struck from lusty life to a death of agony in a few hours at Motipur in the cruel accursed blighted land of Ind?

Well, well! high time to rap again upon the door, the last door, of John Humphreyville Priddell, Trooper, ex-dairyhand, decaying carrion, and scare from his carcass such over-early visitants as anticipated....

How hollowly the blows re-echoed. Did they strike muffled but murderous upon the heart of the thousand-league distant dairymaid, or of the old cottage-mother whose evenings were spent in spelling out her boy’s loving letters that so oft covered a portion of his exiguous pay?...

Was that a scuttling within? Quite probably. It might be rats, it might be a bandicoot; it could hardly be a jackal; it might be a SNAKE, and Trooper Matthewson’s carbine clattered to the ground and his knees smote together as he thought the word. Pulling himself together he hastily snatched up his carbine with a flush of shame at the slovenly unsoldierly “crime” of dropping it. He’d be dropping his arms on parade next! But it might be a snake for he had certainly heard the sound of a movement of some sort. The strong man felt faint and leant against the mortuary wall for a moment.

Oh, that the wretched carbine were a sword! A man could feel a man with a sword in his hand. He could almost face the Snake, even in Snake form, if he had a sword ... but what is a carbine, even a loaded Martini-Henry carbine with its good soft man-stopping slug? There are no traditions to a carbine nothing of the Spirit of one’s Ancestors in one a vile mechanic thing of villainous saltpetre. How should the Snake fear that? Now a sword was different. It stood for human war and human courage and human deeds from the mistiest past, and behind it must be a weight of human wrath, feats, and tradition that must make even the Snake pause. Oh, for his sword if the Snake came upon him when he had but this wretched carbine he would probably desert his post, fling the useless toy from him, and flee till he fell blind and fainting on the ground.... And what would the Trooper of the Queen get who deserted his sentry-post, threw away his arms and fled and explained in defence that he had seen a snake? Probably a court-martial would give him a spell of Military Prison. Yes Jail.... What proportion of truth could there be in the firmly-held belief of the men that “crimes” are made so numerous and so inevitable, to the best-meaning and most careful, because there exist a great Military Prison System and a great Military Prison personnel and that “criminals” are essential to the respective proper inhabitation and raison d’etre thereof that unless a good supply of military “criminals” were forthcoming there might have to be reductions and curtailments loss of snug billets.... Certainly soldiers got years of imprisonment for “crimes” for which civilians would get reprimands or nominal fines, and, moreover, when a man became a soldier he certainly lost the elementary fundamental rights guaranteed to Englishmen by Magna Charta among them the right of trial by his peers....

Would poor Priddell mind if he did not knock again? If it were the Snake it could do Priddell no harm now he being happily dead whereas, if disturbed, it might emerge to the utter undoing mind, body, and soul of Trooper Matthewson. It would certainly send him to Jail or Lunatic Asylum probably to both in due succession, for he was daily getting worse in the matter of the Snake.

No it was part of his orders, on this sentry-post, to knock at the door, and he would do his duty, Snake or not. He had always tried to do his duty faithfully and he would continue....

Once more to knock at a dead man’s door....

Bump, Bump: Bump, Bump: Bump, Bump.

“You’ll soon be at rest, Priddell, old chap and I wish I could join you,” called Dam, and it seemed to his excited brain that a deep hollow groan replied.

“By Jove! He’s not dead,” coolly remarked the man who would have fled shrieking from a harmless blind-worm, and, going round to the back of the building, he placed his carbine against the wall and sprang up at a kind of window-ledge that formed the base of a grated aperture made for purposes of ventilation. Slowly raising his body till his face was above the ledge, he peered into the dimly moonlit cell and then dropped to the ground and, catching up his carbine, sprinted in the direction of the Hospital Guard-room.

There arrived, he shouted for the Corporal of the Guard and was quickly confronted by Corporal Prag.

“Wot the devil you deserted yore".... he began.

“Get the key of the mortuary, send for the Surgeon, and come at once,” gasped Dam as soon as he could speak. “Priddell’s not dead. Must be some kind of catalepsy. Quick, man"....

“Catter wot? You drunken ’og,” drawled the Corporal. “Catter_waulin’_ more like it. Under arrest you goes, my lad. Now you ’ave done it. ’Ere, ‘Awker, run down an’ call up the Sergeant o’ the Guard an’ tell ’im Maffewson’s left ’is post. ’E’ll ’ave to plant annuvver sentry. Maffewson goes ter clink.”

“Yes but send for the Surgeon and the key of the mortuary too,” begged Dam. “I give you fair warning that Priddell is alive and groaning and off the bier ”

“Pity you ain’t ‘off the beer’ too,” said the Corporal with a yawn.

“Well there are witnesses that I brought the report to you. If Priddell is found dead on the ground to-morrow you’ll have to answer for manslaughter.”

“’Ere, chuck it you snaike-seeing delirying trimmer, will yer! Give anyone the ’orrers to listen to yer! When Priddell is wrote off as ‘Dead’ ’e is dead, whether ’e likes it or no,” and he turned to give orders to the listening guard to arrest Trooper Matthewson.

The Sergeant of the Guard arrived at the “double,” followed by Trooper Bear carrying a hurricane-lamp.

“What’s the row?” panted the Sergeant. “Matthewson on the booze agin?”

“I report that there is a living man in the mortuary, Sergeant,” replied Dam. “Priddell is not dead. I heard him groan, and I scrambled up to the grating and saw him lying on the ground by the door.”

“Well, you’ll see yerself groanin’ an’ lyin’ on the ground in the Digger, now,” replied the Sergeant, and, as much in sorrow as in anger, he added, “An’ you’re the bloke I signed a petition for his permotion are yer? At it agin a’ready!”

“But, good Heavens, man, can’t you see I’m as sober as you are, and much less excited? Can’t you send for the key of the mortuary and call the doctor? The poor chap may die for your stupidity.”

“You call me a ‘man’ again, my lad, an’ I’ll show you what a Sergeant can do fer them as ’e don’t like! As fer ’sober’ I’ve ’ad enough o’ you ‘sober’. W’y, in two ticks you may be on the ground ‘owlin’ and bellerin’ and squealin’ like a Berkshire pig over the blood-tub. Sober! Yus I seen you at it.”

“Why on earth can’t you come and prove I’m drunk or mad,” besought Dam. “Open the mortuary and prove I’m wrong and then put me under arrest. Call the Surgeon and say the sentry over the mortuary reports the inmate to be alive he has heard of catalepsy and comatose collapse simulating death if you haven’t.”

“Don’ use sech ’orrible languidge,” besought the respectable Corporal Prag.

“Ho, yus! I’m agoin’ to see meself whipt on the peg fer turnin’ out the Surgin from ‘is little bed in the middle o’ the night to come an’ ’ave a look at the dead corpse ’e put in orders fer the Dead ’Olé, ain’t I? Jest becos the champion snaike-seer o’ E Troop’s got ’em agin, wot?”

Corporal Prag laughed merrily at the wit of his superior.

Turning to Bear, whom he knew to be as well educated as himself, Dam remarked:

“Poor chap has rallied from the cholera collapse and could probably be saved by stimulants and warmth. This suspended animation is common enough in cholera. Why, the Brahmíns have a regular ritual for dealing with cases of recovery on the funeral pyre purification after defilement by the corpse-washers or something of the sort. These stupid oafs are letting poor Priddell die ”

“What! you drunken talkin’ parrot,” roared the incensed Sergeant. “’Ere, sling ’is drunken rotten carkis ”

“What’s the row here?” cut in a quiet curt voice. “Noise enough for a gang of crows ”

Surgeon-Captain Blake of the Royal Army Medical Corps had just left the Hospital, having been sent for by the night Nursing Sister. The men sprang to attention and the Sergeant saluted.

“Drunk sentry left ’is post, Sir,” he gabbled. “’Spose the Dead ’Olé er Morshuerry, that is, Sir, got on ’is nerves. ’E’s given to secret boozin’, Sir ”

“Excuse me, Sir,” broke in Dam, daring to address an Officer unbidden, since a life was at stake, “I am a total abstainer and Trooper Priddell is not dead. It must have been cataleptic trance. I heard him groan and I climbed up and saw him lying on the ground.”

“This man’s not drunk,” said Captain Blake, and added to himself, “and he’s an educated man, and a cultured, poor devil.”

“Oh, that’s how ‘e goes on, Sir, sober as a judge you’d say, an’ then nex’ minnit ‘e’s on the floor aseein’ blue devils an’ pink serpients ”

“The man’s dying while we talk, Sir,” put in Dam, whose wrath was rising. (If these dull-witted ignorant louts could not tell a drunken man from a sober, nor realize that a certified dead man may not be dead, surely the doctor could.)

The Sergeant and the Corporal ventured on a respectful snigger.

“Bring me that lamp,” said Captain Blake, and Trooper Bear raised it to his extended hand. Lifting it so that its light shone straight in Dam’s face the doctor scanned the latter and examined his eyes. This was not the face of a drunkard nor was the man in any way under the influence of liquor now. Absurd! Had he fever? Was he of deranged intellect? But, alas, the light that shone upon Dam’s face also shone upon Captain Blake’s collar and upon the badge of his Corps which adorned it and that badge is a serpent entwining a rod.

It was the last straw! Dam had passed through a most disturbing night; he had kept guard in the lonely Snake-haunted darkness, guard over a mortuary in which lay a corpse; he had had to keep knocking at the corpse’s door, his mind had run on funerals, he had thought he heard the dead man groan, he believed he had seen the dead man moving, he had wrestled with thick intelligences who held him drunk or mad while precious moments passed, and he had had the Snake before his mental vision throughout this terrible time and here was another of its emissaries wearing its badge, an emissary of high rank, an Officer-Emissary!... Well, he was in the open air, thank God, and could put up a fight as before.

Like a panther he sprang upon the unfortunate officer and bore him to the ground, with his powerful hands enclosing the astounded gentleman’s neck, and upon the couple sprang the Sergeant, the Corporal, and the Hospital Guard, all save the sentry, who (disciplined, well-drilled man!) brought his carbine to the “order” and stood stiffly at “attention” in a position favourable for a good view of the proceedings though strictly on his beat.

Trooper Bear, ejaculating “Why do the heathen rage furiously together,” took a running jump and landed in sitting posture on the heap, rolled off, and proceeded to seize every opportunity of violently smiting his superior officers, in his apparent zeal to help to secure the dangerous criminal-lunatic. Thoughts of having just one punch at a real Officer (if only a non-combatant still a genuine Commissioned Officer) flashed across his depraved mind.

It was a Homeric struggle. Captain Blake was himself an old Guy’s Rugger three-quarter and no mean boxer, and the Sergeant, Corporal, and Guard, were all powerful men, while Dam was a Samson further endowed with the strength of undeniable madness. When at length he was dragged from Captain Blake’s recumbent form, his hands torn from that officer’s throat, and the group stood for a second panting, Dam suddenly felled Corporal Prag with such a blow as had been the undoing of the Gorilla, sent Sergeant Wotting head over heels and, ere the Guard could again close with him, drove his fist into the face of the supposed myrmidon of the Snake and sprang upon his body once more....

It was some time before seven strong men could pinion him and carry him on a stretcher to the Guard-room, and, of those seven strong men, only Trooper Bear bore no mark of serious damage. (Trooper Bear had struck two non-commissioned officers with great violence, in his misdirected zeal, and one Commissioned Officer though only playfully and for the satisfaction of being able to say that he had done so.) That night, half dead, wholly mad, bruised and bleeding, Damocles de Warrenne lay in the dark cell awaiting trial on a charge of assaulting an Officer, striking his superior officers, resisting the Guard, deserting his sentry-post, and being drunk and disorderly.

“What’ll he get, d’you think?” sadly asked Trooper Goate of Trooper Hawker.

“Two stretch ‘ard laiber and discharged from the Army wiv’ iggernerminny,” groaned Trooper Hawker. “Lucky fer ’im floggin’s erbolished in the British Army.”

When the mortuary door was unlocked next morning a little force was required to open it, some obstacle apparently retarding its inward movement. The obstacle proved to be the body, now certainly the dead body, of Trooper Priddell who had died with his fingers thrust under the said door.