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   Chapter 46 No.46

The Roll-Call By Arnold Bennett Characters: 3576

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


He prepared to turn in. The process was the simplest in the world. He had only to wrap a pair of blankets round his soaked clothes, and, holding them in place with one hand, creep under the shelter. There were four shelters. The Major had a small one, nearest the trunk of the tree, and the others were double shelters, to hold two officers apiece. He glanced about. The invisible camp was silent and still, save for a couple of lieutenants who were walking to and fro like young ducks in the heavy rain. Faint fires here and there in the distance showed how the troops were spread over the Downs. Heaven and earth were equally mysterious and inscrutable. He inserted himself cautiously into the aperture of the shelter, where Resmith already lay asleep, and, having pushed back his cap, arranged his right arm for a pillow. The clammy ground had been covered with dry horse-litter. As soon as he was settled the noise of the rain ceaselessly pattering on the waterproof became important. He could feel the chill of the wind on his feet, which, with Resmith's, projected beyond the shelter. The conditions were certainly astounding. Yet, despite extreme fatigue, he was not depressed. On the contrary he was well satisfied. He had accomplished something. He had been challenged, and had accepted the challenge, and had won. The demeanour of the mess when he got back to the camp clearly indicated that he had acquired prestige. He was the man who had organized an exhaustive search for the convoy and had found the convoy in the pitchy blackness. He was the man who had saved the unit from an undeserved shame. The mess had greeted him with warm food. Perhaps he had been lucky-the hazard of a lighted cigarette in the darkness! Yes, but luck was in everything. The credit was his, and me

n duly gave it to him, and he took it. He thought almost kindly of Colonel Hullocher, against whom he had measured himself. The result of the match was a draw, but he had provided the efficient bully with matter for reflection. After all, Hullocher was right. When you were moving a Division, jobs had to be done, possible or impossible; human beings had to be driven; the supernatural had to be achieved. And it had been! That which in the morning existed at Wimbledon now existed on the Downs. There it lay, safe and chiefly asleep, in defiance of the weather and of accidents and miscarriage! And the next day it would go on.

The vast ambitions of the civilian had sunk away. He thought, exalted as though by a wonderful discovery:

" There is something in this Army business !"

He ardently desired to pursue it further. He ardently desired sleep and renewal so that he might rise afresh and pursue it further. What he had done and been through was naught, less than naught. To worry about physical discomforts was babyish. Inviting vistas of knowledge, technical attainment, experience, and endurance stretched before him, illuminating the night. His mind dwelt on France, on Mons, on the idea of terror and cataclysm. And it had room too for his wife and children. He had had no news of them for over twenty-four hours; and he had broken his resolve to write to Lois every day; he had been compelled to break it. But in the morning, somehow, he would send a telegram and he would get one.

"If it's true the French Government has left Paris-"

The nocturnal young ducks were passing the shelter.

"And who says it's true? Who told you, I should like to know?"

"The Major has heard it."

"Rats! I lay you a fiver the Allies are in Berlin before Christmas."

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