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   Chapter 5 I HEAR OF HAWK

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 5697

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Seldom are we lucky enough to meet in real life a character so strong and vivid, so full of subtle characteristics, that his appearance in a novel would make the author's name. Such a character was Hawk.

When you consider, you find that many an author of note has made a lasting reputation by evolving some such character; and in most cases this character has been "founded on fact." For example, Stevenson's "Long John Silver," Kipling's "Kim," and Rider Haggard's "Alan Quatermain."

Had Kipling met Hawk he would have worked him into a book of Indian soldier life; for Hawk was full of jungle adventures and stories of the Indian Survey Department and the Khyber Pass; while his descriptions of Kashmir and Secunderabad, with its fakirs and jugglers, monkey temples and sacred bulls, were superb.

On the other hand, Haggard would have placed him "somewhere in Africa," a strong, hard man trekking across the African veldt he knew so well; for Hawk had been in the Boer War.

Little did I realise when I met him on the barrack-square at Limerick how fate would throw us together upon the scorching sands and rocky ridges of Gallipoli, nor could either of us foresee the hairbreadth escapes and queer corners in which we found ourselves at Suvla Bay and on the Serbian frontier.

I spotted him in the crowd as the only man on parade with a strong, clear-cut face. I noted his drooping moustache, and especially his keen grey eyes, which glittered and looked through and through. Somewhere, I told myself, there was good blood at the back of beyond on his line of descent. I was right, for, as he told me later, when I had come to know him as a trusty friend, he came from a Norseman stock. The jaw was too square and heavy, but the high-built chiselled nose and the deep-set clear grey eyes were a "throw-back" on the old Viking trail. Although dressed in ragged civilian clothes he looked a huge, full-grown, muscular man; active and well developed, with the arms of a miner and the chest of a gorilla. On one arm I remember he had a heart with a dagger through it tattooed in blue and red.

I heard of him first as one to be shunned and feared. For it was said that "when in drink" he would pick up the barrack-room fender with one hand and hurl it across the room. I was told that he was a master of the art of swearing-that he could pour forth a continual flow of oaths for a full five minutes without repeating one single "cuss."

My interest was immediately aroused. I smelt adventure, and I was on the adventure trail. Hawk was not in my barrack-room, and therefore I knew but little of him while in the old country. I heard that he had been galloper-dispatch-rider to Lord Kitchener in South Africa, and I tried to get him to talk about it. As an "artist's model," for a canvas to be called "The Buccaneer," Hawk was perfec

t. I never saw a man so splendidly developed.

And Hawk was fifty years old! You would take him for thirty-nine or so.

But "drink and the devil had done for the rest"-Hawk himself acknowledged it. His vices were the vices of a strong man, and when he was drunk he was "the very devil."

He was "the old soldier," and knew all the ins and outs of army life. I quickly became entangled in the interest of unravelling his complex nature. On the one hand he was said to be a desperado and double-dyed liar. On the other hand, if he respected you, he would always tell you the naked truth, and would never "let you down." He knew drink was his ruin, but he could not and would not stop it. Yet his advice to me was always good. Indeed, although he had the reputation of a bold, bad blackguard, he never led any one else on the "wrong trail," and his advice to young soldiers in the barrack-rooms was wonderfully clear and useful.

If he respected you, you could trust your life with him. If he didn't, you could "look up" for trouble. He was honest and "square"-if he liked you-but he could make things disappear by "sleight of hand" in a manner worthy of a West End conjurer.

He was a miner, and had a sound knowledge of mining and practical geology which many a science-master might have been proud of. He had the eyes of a trained observer, and I afterwards discovered he was a crack shot.

Some months later, when the A.S.C. ambulance drivers were exercising their horses, he showed himself a good rough-rider, and I recalled his "galloper" days. And again at Lemnos and Suvla he was a splendid swimmer. He was an all-round man. Unlike the other men in barracks-the shop assistants and clerks-Hawk never missed noticing small things, and it was this which first drew my attention to him.

I remember one night hearing a woman's voice wailing a queer Hindoo chant. It came from the barrack-room door. Afterwards I discovered it was Hawk sitting on his trestle bed cross-legged, with a bit of sacking and ashes on his head imitating the death-wail of an Indian woman for her dead husband.

Hawk knew all the rites and ceremonies of the various Hindoo castes, and could act the part of a fakir or a bazaar-wullah with wonderful realism.

By turns Hawk was a heavy drinker and a clear-brained man of action, calm in danger.

In those early days of my "military career" I looked upon him only as an author looks upon an interesting character.

Months afterwards, on the death-swept peninsula, Hawk and I became fast friends. The "bad man" of the ambulance became the most useful, most faithful, in my section. We went everywhere together-like "Horace and Holly" of Rider Haggard fame: he the great, strong man, and I the young artist scout.

If Hawk was out of camp, you could bet I was also-and vice-versa.

Of Hawk more anon.

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