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Edgar Wallace wrote this series of six off-beat war stories for The Novel Magazine, a British monthly published by C. Arthur Pearson, London, where they appeared in 1914-1915. Credit and thanks for making this RGL first edition possible go to Charles Stone-Tolcher, who donated the scanned images of the magazine pages used to create this e-book. —RG.
In this fine series of complete short stories, Mr. Edgar Wallace, the world-famous war correspondent and author, relates the adventures of one, Clarence, who joins the Army as a Private.
FATE played a low trick on a very bright boy when it named the younger son of Colonel Cassidy of the 184th (Winchester Regiment) "Clarence."
The horrid thing was that he looked "Clarence." He was a dear little boy whom, in his earlier youth, people persistently called a dear little girl. He had big solemn blue eyes and hair of ruddy gold. It was nevertheless the fact that, for all his angelic attributes, he had, when annoyed, a trick of saying things which made his victims? hair stand on end, though he was seldom rude and never vulgar. For this reason they christened him in the home circle "Clarence-with-the-awful-tongue."
At school they called him Mary Ann for just as long as it took to lick the school from Branger Major to "Moses" Flackery, for Clarence, despite his outward beauty, was bloody-minded, and had a left hook to the jaw that brought tears to your eyes. But amongst his own ken Mary Ann he remained, and Mary Ann he was to the end of his days.
At twenty he should have been in the Army—his father's last act in this life was to put the boy's name down for a regiment of the Guards—but somehow Sandhurst and he did not agree. He could box, run, swim, row and shoot. He played footer excellently and made forty-seven for Harrow one never-to-be-forgotten day at Lords. If proficiency in sport could qualify a man for a commission, Clarence would have had it, but for reasons best known to (a) the authorities, (b) his tutor, (c) Clarence, he was badly ploughed.
"Dear old fellow," he protested to George, the elder brother, and a major of Rifles, "why the deuce do I want to lumber my head with trigi-thigumy and that sort of rot? I couldn't do it at Harrow, dear old chap, and I can't do it at Sandhurst."
"Mary Ann," said the Major severely, "you're an ass." But for all his severity he said this in some fear, for he shared with the family a wholesome respect for the vocabulary of his youngest brother.
"I dare say, I dare say," admitted Clarence with his most angelic smile, "the fool of the family, dear sir and brother, somebody's got to be it. If they want a real dashin' officer I'm their man, but if they want a beastly brainy professor feller, I'm off the mat. That rotten old examiner had me counted out before half the round was through—knocked me out, sir, and hadn't the decency to give me a count."
George, broad-shouldered and red of face, grinned.
"What are you going to do, son?" he asked.
Clarence pushed his top hat to the back of his head and twirled his gold-headed cane. He was a picture of a youth, speckless and immaculate, and innocent, though of late years his jaw had broadened a little and there was, for the patient observer, more evidence of strength than effeminacy in his face.
"I don't know what I shall do," he said, and looked round vaguely as though expecting to find some inspiration in the solid furniture of the Junior Officers' Club. "Of course I've an idea that I'm cut out for a soldier. I bet I'd knock spots off that beastly old examining feller if it came to a rough and tumble on the gory field of battle. And as for strategy, believe me, I'm Moltke!" He shook his head wisely. "Wouldn't catch me doing frontal attacks. What the devil are you laughing at?"
"I wasn't laughing," replied Major George Cassidy, "I was crying."
He got up from his seat.
"You'll have to pass through, somehow, Mary Ann," he said seriously, as he grasped the boy's hand. "No footling!"
"Not a blooming footle!" said the other heartily.
George Cassidy hesitated.
"What are you doing to-night?"
"A lady," said Clarence mysteriously, "a lady in high society."
"How the dickens do you come to know her?" he asked coarsely.
"You'll discover one of these days," was the prophetic reply.
"Take my tip," said George at parting, "enlist. Go through the ranks. You'll get a commission all right—only——"
"Don't join the 12th Rifles. You see, it would be jolly awkward—"
"Very," Clarence stopped his brother with a lofty wave of his hand. "Though you might be sure I shouldn't boast about it. Even a private soldier doesn't want to own up to some of his relations."
Manfred Cassidy, a lieutenant of the Irish Light Infantry, a rough edition of Clarence, came over to see him. He burst into the Jermyn Street flat one morning and found his brother in a flowered silk dressing-gown nibbling dry toast.
"Mary Ann," said he without any of the affectionate preliminaries which preface brotherly utterances in fiction, "George says they've chucked you out at Sandhurst."
"Neatly put," murmured Clarence. "Have some breakfast?"
"Horrible luck, old man." Manfred slapped him on the shoulder. "But I've got a jolly good idea."
"I'll have it framed," said Clarence, hugging himself tighter in his dressing-gown and gazing benevolently at the other.
"This is the idea," said Manfred, speaking rapidly and with great heartiness, "enlist as a private."
"Ah!" said Clarence politely.
"Only," Manfred hesitated, "perhaps it would be best not to join the Irish Light Infantry. You see, old chap, I'm getting my company next month, and it would be awfully awkward. I hope you understand?"
"Perfectly." Clarence spread a piece of toast with an immense quantity of butter. "But why should you imagine that I'd waste my young life on a third-rate line regiment?"
"You see, my son," Clarence went on deliberately, "as an officer I'd have to take any jolly old regiment that was chucked at me—just as you did." Manfred winced again. "But as a private, dear boy, I have the whole blooming Army to choose from."
"You understand?" pleaded Manfred before he made his departure. "You've got such an awful tongue that I'd be scared of you—"
"Hence!" said his brother sternly, and pointed to the door.
He chuckled all that day good-naturedly, for they were nice brothers, especially William Orlando, who wrote him from Guernsey where he was stationed. The note paper was headed "3rd Doncaster Regiment." and after opening formalities went on:
"I am awfully sick about your being ploughed at Sandhurst. Why not enlist in a good line regiment? You would be pretty sure to get a commission. Perhaps you would do better if you didn't join my regiment because it would be jolly embarrassing if you started cheeking me—"
Clarence put the letter down and laughed, for he had a very keen sense of humour. He laughed for a long time till the louder note sank into a low soft chuckle of sheer enjoyment.
Then he stopped suddenly and sat up thinking hard. He reached out his hand and took a pad of paper and a pencil from his desk, and in his round schoolboy hand he wrote:
"Major George Cassidy, 18th Rifles.
"Captain Manfred Cassidy, Royal Irish Light Infantry.
"Lieutenant William Orlando Cassidy, 3rd Doncaster."
He looked long and thoughtfully at his effort, then he rang the bell for his valet.
"Gathercole," said Clarence to the solemn-faced servitor, "we are on the verge of war."
"Indeed, sir?" said Gathercole, polite, but not greatly interested.
"Indeed," Clarence assured him. "As you know, Gathercole, I am an authority on such matters."
"Yes, sir, I am aware," responded Gathercole, with a little inclination.
"War with Germany," added Clarence unnecessarily. "In which event, the Government will need my services."
"Very naturally, sir," said the agreeable Gathercole, in a tone which implied the absurdity of conducting any war without consulting his employer.
"I shall join the Army," Clarence went on, and Gathercole nodded again. "Other men might join the Navy, but the traditions of my family demand that I should identify myself with the military organisation of the country. I shall join," he added, "as a private."
"A what, sir?" gasped Gathercole, startled out of his reserve.
"I shall join as a private," repeated Clarence firmly.
"But, you will pardon me, sir," protested Gathercole, "isn't that rather low?"
"Very," said Clarence. "It is a painful subject, Gathercole, and we will not discuss it. Is the manicurist person below? If he is, let him come up."
An hour later, Clarence Cassidy, beautiful to behold, stepped from the portals of Jermyn House into his stunningly lacquered little two-seater. His spruce chauffeur swung himself into the dicky seat and Clarence headed for the War Office.
Now the War Office, as everybody knows, is the most jealously guarded public building in London. It is as though heads of departments imagine themselves the subject of some deadly vendetta, and that it is "in the public interest" (to employ a curious figure of speech in vogue in that circle) that any request to see one man should be artfully met by producing another.
Clarence asked to see Lord Vanniker because he knew the Under Secretary of State for War slightly.
"Lord Vanniker, sir?" demanded the dumbfounded messenger. "Have you an appointment?"
"No," said Clarence, "but I hope to have."
True to its traditions, the War Office sent first a junior clerk, then a D.A.A.-G. (which means Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General). But at length Clarence, rejecting all substitutes, was ushered into the office of a real general, and finally came to the presence of his lordship, who scowled at him through a black-rimmed monocle, and asked him as plainly as it was possible to ask a man, what the devil he meant by pushing his way into the Holy of Holies of the Public Services.
"Cassidy?" The Under Secretary read the card. "I think I remember. Your father was the late Colonel Cassidy, was he not? What can I do for you, Mr. Cassidy?"
Clarence, sitting easily in the padded chair by the side of the great man's desk, pushed aside a heap of highly important documents with his elbow, and crossed his legs.
"The fact is, sir," he said, speaking slowly and deliberately, "I saw you less on my own behalf than on behalf of my brothers. Many years ago my father spoke to me of you and told me that if I was ever in a hole to go to you."
"Your father?" said the other quickly. "Not Tynemouth Cassidy?"
Clarence nodded, and the hard face of Lord Vanniker relaxed.
"Your father was one of my dearest friends," he said. "Anything I can do for you, providing of course that it is not contrary to the public interest——"
Thereafter Clarence sat and argued and pleaded for the greater part of half-an-hour.
That night he dressed himself with unusual care, rejecting waistcoat after waistcoat until, a quietly radiant being, he stepped into his car and was whirled off to Hereford Square Gardens.
"She" was a beautiful lady. Dark and clean-featured. A little imperious was she, with a trick of raising her perfect eyebrows in such a way that you might not tell where contempt and amusement began and finished.
She looked approvingly at Clarence as he came into the tiny drawing-room.
"To the minute," she drawled, with a glance at a little French clock. "You are really a very nice boy."
"Something like that has been said about me before," murmured Clarence.
"And how are all your brethren?" she smiled.
"They are pursuing their military avocations with that curious disregard for externals which is the characteristic of my house."
She laughed, and just then her serving-maid announced dinner. Over that meal he spoke of his visit to the War Office, and she was interested.
Lady Sybil Vanniker held a unique position in London Society. She knew people and, she did things. She knew, for instance, that her father, as Under Secretary of State for War, liked to be regarded as a martinet, whereas he was only a fussy old gentleman who hated anybody else to be fussy, and lived in terror lest his daughter communicated to the public press—as she had threatened to do—the fact that he smoked shag in a clay pipe—a vulgar practice carried on behind the locked door of his study.
She listened attentively whilst he described his interview with her father.
"A regiment of sharpshooters?" she repeated, and he nodded.
"A ripping idea," said he firmly, "to have nothing but the very best shots from every regiment—all jolly fine marksmen. It would be invaluable. It doesn't matter whether you take 'em from the regular army or from the territorials so long as you get 'em. See what a wonderful asset it would be to a General to have a regiment which he could use in any old place with the certainty that they could pot off any of the poor dears who stuck their silly noddles up to see what was happening."
She looked at him through her long lashes.
"Sometimes," she said, "I think you are almost clever. When did this brilliant idea strike you?"
"This morning," said Clarence. And added suddenly: "I often think of things in the morning."
It was nearly a week later that Major George Cassidy came to town in a state of great excitement. He sought out his brother to tell him the joyful news.
"A regiment of sharpshooters! Perfectly splendid idea! Did you see it in the papers? I am to be second-in-command, my boy."
Clarence let him babble on.
"I suppose it's because I'm so keen on musketry," the Major said thoughtfully. "It's rather wonderful how the War Office comes to hear of these things."
Manfred arrived late that night and broke in upon the little supper party which George was giving in honour of his appointment.
"What the dickens—?" demanded an astounded George. "I thought you were in Ireland."
Manfred smiled mysteriously.
"Brought back by telegram," he said tersely. "The fact is I've got some jolly good news to give you boys. I've been appointed to a company in the new sharpshooters' battalion."
George rose solemnly and extended his big hand.
"I'm to be second-in-command," he said. "Manfred, I congratulate you on your luck to have a chap like me to look after you."
Yet for all the hilarity there was a certain restraint between the three when they met for lunch the next day, for George and his brother had learnt from the War Office that a third officer to their corps, now mobilising at Aldershot, was Lieutenant William Orlando Cassidy.
"It's very rum," said George. "What do you think about it, Mary Ann?"
"Dear old officer," answered Clarence sententiously, "nothing is rum in this world."
Manfred regarded him solemnly.
"I think I can explain," he said with a knowing smile. "Vanniker was a great pal of the dear old governor's."
"What makes you think that?" demanded George with interest.
Manfred took a letter from his pocket and handed it over.
"Invitation to call at Hereford Square Gardens to tea," he said briefly.
The two exchanged meaning glances.
"By Jove!" said George.
At five o'clock that afternoon two perfectly groomed officers of infantry, in their neatest Aide-de-Camp-to-the-General khaki, sat decorously in the drawing-room at Hereford Square Gardens endeavouring to combine reverence for an Under Secretary of State for War with very human admiration for his beautiful daughter—a trying process demanding that the faces of the young men should be so contorted that the sides nearest the lady should smirk, and the sides presented to the War Lord should bear the stern but thoughtful expression which is demanded from military gentlemen appointed to high commands.
"You have been most kind, sir," said George at parting—earnestness and gratitude to the right—"and you also, Lady Sybil, for your interest"—tenderness and admiration to the left.
"Not at all," said Lord Vanniker gruffly. "I thought the idea of the corps an excellent one. Heartily approved throughout the Service! Wonder nobody thought of it before!" He spoke that way in his official moments.
"There is one thing, sir, that I should like to ask you." George, loyal soul that he was, braced himself for the effort. "I have a brother, Clarence Cassidy, whom you may remember."
Lord Vanniker nodded, and a little gleam of fun came into Lady Sybil's eyes.
"I was thinking, sir," stammered George, very red; "that possibly if he joined a line regiment he might in time get a commission. Not in the Sharpshooters!" he added hastily. "He's an awfully bright boy."
"Very," said Lord Vanniker with a cough, and glanced at his daughter for a lead. "Er—it was his idea."
"Sir?" said the puzzled George.
"His idea," repeated his lordship, "practically he was responsible for the corps, and he's in it."
"In it?" gasped Manfred. "A commission, sir?"
"Private," said the Under Secretary.
"He was the first to join," said Lady Sybil sweetly. "It will be awfully nice for you all—serving in the same regiment— don't you think?"
Manfred favoured her with a ghastly grin which was intended to be pleasant. He knew his Clarence!
No author knows the British Army better than Mr. Edgar Wallace, and in these capital yarns he describes the adventures of Private Clarence Cassidy, of the Sharpshooters.
PRIVATE CLARENCE CASSIDY, untouched and unsoiled by the dust of the long and weary road, displaying even a certain elegance in his tidy shoes, and a greater brilliance in the polished badge of his cap, sat outside the Café Rubens under the striped awning and watched the hurry and bustle of the Grande Place of Mons— that stormy city of Hainault—with a certain pleasurable sense of comfort and security which comes only to the soldier newly released from duty, having in his pocket the wherewithal to supply himself with the creature comforts which a man of leisure desires.
A tiny cup of coffee and cream was at his elbow, a half-finished petit verre of Cognac testified to his intemperance and to his contempt for Army orders, whilst a pad of paper, six sheets of which had been closely written upon, showed his criminal mind for what it was. For Clarence, despite all instructions and high commands, had given a long and very faithful account of his voyage and trials, and had made no attempt either to disguise the localities through which he had passed or to conceal the disposition of His Majesty's forces.
Two months before this story opens, Clarence Cassidy had received some disinterested advice from his three elder brothers. They had advised him—since Sandhurst had been unkind—to enlist. And each and every one of these brothers, representing three separate and distinct regiments of foot, had added an earnest rider that Clarence should choose any other regiment of the line than theirs, for Clarence had a tongue—an unpleasant tongue.
Therefore, there had come into existence a new corps—the Sharpshooters, made up of marksmen drawn from other regiments, for Clarence had secured an interview with the Under Secretary of State for War, and Clarence had dined with the daughter of the same Under Secretary, so that all the impression which he made at the War Office had been driven home by a daughter of whom, so they say, Lord Verriker was in some awe.
The idea was a good one—let there be no doubt of that.
"If the suggestion had been made by a dustman I should have accepted it," said his lordship. But the undoubted fact was that it was made by Clarence; Clarence the exquisite, the driver of lacquered two-seaters, the owner of an expensive flat. If it had been a dustman's suggestion. Major George Cassidy would not have been appointed second in command, or Captain Manfred Cassidy to the command of "A" Company, nor Lieutenant Orlando Cassidy to a platoon of "D" Company. Possibly Clarence himself would not have joined as a private; to the horror and amazement of his brethren, if this mythical dustman had poured into the sympathetic ears of an Under Secretary the necessity for raising a regiment of marksmen.
The Sharpshooters, as we all know, were the first regiment to march into Mons. They came in decorated with flowers, bestowed upon them by an enthusiastic peasantry, and they had marched to the north of the town and dug deep trenches out in the direction of Charleroi. Clarence had seen little of his three eminent brothers. Neither had so much as deigned to honour him with the slightest excuse to break through the rigid barrier of caste which separates the commissioned from the non-commissioned ranks.
On that hot August morning, when every nerve and muscle in Clarence Cassidy's body cried out aloud for relaxation and languid dalliance, he was in no mood to discuss the situation with his brethren. Yet who must loom before him, very hot and very menacing, but the second in command of his battalion. Clarence scowled horribly at his superior officer as the other came into his line of vision.
"I suppose I've got to get up and salute you," he grumbled, and rose stiffly.
"You may sit down," said George, and looked round a little fearfully.
It was a horrible thing for an officer to be seen speaking on equal terms with a private of his own regiment, an unprecedented thing in his own experience, and he had so far avoided the ordeal which he knew awaited him sooner or later.
"Are you going to have a drink, George?" asked Clarence, and beckoned the waiter.
"Look here, old man," said George Cassidy nervously, "you quite understand my position. I wanted to see you, and I heard that you were in the town, so I came in."
"And here you are," said Clarence. "Coffee or cognac, or a nice soft drink? You look a little apoplectic this morning; I should advise a lemon-squash."
George snorted, but allowed the long, cool drink to be placed before him.
"Look here, old boy," he said, more confidentially than ever, and losing all fear of major-generals in his frantic desire to relieve himself and his brothers from an intolerable situation, "can't you see how rotten it is for us?"
"When you say us," interrupted Clarence, "are you speaking for yourself, the Empire, or just editorially?"
"You know jolly well what I mean, Mary Ann!" said his indignant brother. "I'm speaking for Orlando and Manfred and myself. Dash it all, old chap, can't you see how rotten it is? Here are you, a private in the ranks, and here are we, three of your brothers, holding commissions and responsible billets, and here are you—"
"In the ranks," said Clarence, helpfully. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Well, you've got to go!" said the desperate George, and Clarence rose from the table with a pained and saddened expression.
"I've got to go?" he repeated. "Desert my country in her hour of need? Fie upon you—are you in the pay of the Germans, George?" he demanded outrageously.
George choked a little, cast imploring eyes to the cloudless heavens, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, did in fact all the things that a man somewhat sparing of words might be expected to do when he found himself crossing swords with an orator.
"Besides," Clarence went on, "it's my regiment. I suggested it to the War Office; I, so to speak, am the father of the battalion."
He watched his brother as he walked across the place and turned into the Rue d'Havre, then he strolled down the Rue de Clercs to St. Waltrudis. Churches possessed an immense fascination for Clarence and never more so than now.
For the gaiety and the fun of soldiering had died down throughout the battalion to a sober appreciation of all that the fateful days ahead might hold. There was something very sinister in the calm of the countryside about Mons, something very ominous in the procession of motor-'buses that for days had been streaming through the quaint towns of Belgium with their incongruous advertisements and their bizarre destination boards. They were packed with khaki-clad soldiers and reeked with song and enthusiasm. And dusty artillery had been moving slowly along the broad boulevards and were halted in the shade which the Boulevard Dolcz afforded, the drivers dozing contentedly where space offered, the horses, nosebag on head, eating leisurely. Clarence passed into the cool interior of the cathedral and sat down before the high altar in a spirit of calm meditation.
It was so removed from all suggestion of war, this cool placid interior with its soft rose windows and its forest of delicate columns. Midway between himself and the altar a woman knelt, her head bowed, her hands, as he judged, clasped before her. She was slender and young—so he guessed, and he had a critical eye—and he found himself speculating upon her association with this monstrous struggle in which he had elected to play pawn.
A Belgian with a brother at the front, a young wife with a husband in Namur—you could hear the guns about Namur on a calm night—or, maybe, he was mistaken as to her age and she was a mother whose son—
She stood up suddenly, made a graceful genuflection toward the serene and misty altarpiece and turned.
Clarence started. He had not been mistaken as to her age. She was, indeed, little more than a child, slim and beautiful. Her face was pale, her eyes large and sorrowful. The redness of the firm, full, mouth contrasted vividly with the pallor of her cheeks.
For a moment she stood with one hand resting on the back of a prie Dieu, her eyes searching his face gravely. She frowned—a quick involuntary frown. It was a curiously intimate expression of her feeling. It gave this handsome young man in khaki the sense that his presence counted for something, if only it caused her annoyance.
She came down the aisle slowly, her eyes never leaving his. He thought at first that she was mistaking him for somebody else.
As she came abreast of him she stopped.
"You are English," she said in a low voice, and speaking without any trace of a foreign accent. "Will you please tell me where I can find your general?"
"Madame," said Clarence, "I should be delighted, but unfortunately I cannot tell you."
She frowned again, then pursed her lips, thoughtfully looking at him all the time.
Clarence was puzzled. This girl was so self-possessed, so suddenly and unexpectedly business-like, and, moreover, she took things for granted, such as his readiness to answer questions and, moreover, the all-important fact that he was a person of whom questions might be asked without any risk of impertinence.
"There is a regiment entrenched by the canal," she said deliberately; "they have a device on their caps as you have—crossed rifles—who is in command?"
For an instant a smile flickered on the lips of Clarence Cassidy.
"Major Cassidy," he said.
"Is he—" She hesitated and he waited. "Is he—important?"
It was on the tip of Clarence's tongue to give his views on the supreme unimportance of Major Cassidy both as a brother and an officer; he had it within him, indeed, to say that George was growing fat and he viewed with dismay his appointment to the chief command of the battalion—the colonel having broken his collar bone at Boulogne—but in the end he checked himself and lied, going to the other extreme.
"He is an immensely important man," he said in a hushed voice, which even the character of the building did not justify. "Possibly the most important—but I will not bother you with comparisons, mademoiselle."
She looked at him a little puzzled—by his educated accent probably—and walked slowly towards the door of the cathedral.
She did not speak again until he put on his cap in the big entry.
"Has your officer authority to shoot a spy?" she asked suddenly.
A staggering question from a young lady newly come from her devotions!
"We are rather whales on shooting spies," said Clarence.
She was puzzled again, but nodded and smiled.
"Come with me—follow me, please, because I do not wish to attract attention," she said hurriedly. She walked back through the Rue de Clercs, crossed the Grande Place, and where the Palais de Justice confronts the church of St. Elizabeth turned off suddenly into a narrow street.
To say that Private Clarence Cassidy was interested would be grossly understating his condition of excitement. These were ticklish days. The British Army was being rushed up to the frontier, Brussels was in the hands of the enemy, the French, by all report, were already fighting at Charleroi. The one puzzling element in the situation was the British Army, its number and composition. The people of Belgium knew nothing; the enemy knew less. One regiment, the Sharpshooters, a corps made up of the best shots of other regiments, old and trained soldiers, had been hastily sent forward to establish itself at Mons, but the strength and numbers of the divisions which were following none knew.
Clarence had a guilty feeling that in his breast pocket was a letter, addressed, it is true, to the daughter of an Under Secretary of State for War, giving much useful information; and, somehow, he divined that this business of espionage of which the girl spoke had to do with such matters.
She ran quickly up a narrow winding stair, opened a door and entered, Clarence following. It was a poorly furnished sitting-room—obviously a furnished apartment that one might hire in time of peace for a few francs a day. She closed the door behind him and motioned him to a chair.
"I had to speak to someone," she said breathlessly. "I knew no English soldiers, and I want to help France a little." She paused, her hand on her breast, breathing quickly, and her eyes compelling, luminous, ever fixed on his.
"I cannot tell now," she said, "whether I am being foolish. Let me explain briefly: My cousin was an officer in the French Army until he was court-martialled and exiled for striking his superior. I thought he was in China, but yesterday I saw him—here. He was confused, but he told me, for he is fond of me," she faltered a little, "that he knew everything about the British—where they were, the number of guns, the composition of the brigades. Perhaps, he was lying, but if he is not—I want him shot!"
She jerked herself erect as she said this, and stood, her chin pushed out, her head held high, her fine lips set firmly.
"An excellent idea," said Clarence admiringly, "and I should be perfectly charmed to oblige you, but, unfortunately, I have left my gun at home."
Again that puzzled look. She could not penetrate the atmosphere of this strange soldier, and showed herself baffled.
"But," she went on, "I want to know whether he is lying. He says that you have four divisions at Boulogne—that you have no heavy artillery."
"A lie," said Clarence gaily. He was, indeed, immensely pleased with himself of a sudden. "But the fellow you want to see, dear mademoiselle, is my chief; he'll put you right in a jiffy." He looked at his wrist watch. George would he lunching at the Grand Café.
"Come along," said he briskly, and led the way to the street, talking volubly all the time. She would have put aside the trivialities which he poured forth in an endless stream, but he gave her no chance.
George, by good fortune, was at a small table by himself.
At so unexpected a vision as a smart private of his corps accompanied by an indubitably beautiful lady, George's sentiments were of a conflicting nature.
"This lady wishes to see you, sir," said Clarence, saluting stiffly.
George bowed and went red.
"Won't you sit down—have you lunched?" he stammered. With a gracious little inclination she took a chair. Clarence remained most regimentally rigid, and George and the girl looked at him. In the lady's eyes all the tenderness of entreaty was gone. All the soft helplessness which had been directed in appeal had vanished, and in its stead he saw a cold, curious stare.
"Well?" asked George gruffly.
"The lady has a very important communication to make, sir," said Clarence.
"Thank you," growled his superior, but Clarence waited.
"You didn't ask me to stay to lunch, sir, did you?" he asked.
"I did not."
Clarence saluted and went outside to one of the many tables filled at this hour with the apprehensive burghers of Hainault.
He was the object of curiosity, but less than he had been before the motor-'buses with their khaki passengers and their dusty artillery had come.
An officer passed, walking briskly. Top-booted, scarlet breeched, with two bands of gold on his blue képi; Clarence recognised him, and rose with a salute.
The officer checked his walk and came back smiling.
"Hullo, Clarence!" he said, offering his hand. "I haven't seen you since we met at Monte Carlo!"
Baron Henthal, Intelligence Officer, Belgian Army, knew Clarence because everybody who goes to the right places at the right season knew him.
"I heard you were here—you're the chief spy catcher, aren't you?" asked Clarence curiously.
The Baron smiled.
"I am on the Intelligence Department," he said grimly, and then frowned. "It's a rotten job," he went on. "The Germans have got their best people in Belgium. I'll bet there are half-a-dozen watching us now. The men are easy to catch, but the infernal women, and especially Madeline——"
"Madeline," he said abstractedly, "is the lady who finds things out by saying she knows something altogether different, isn't she? Tells the callow officer that there are two batteries on the road and he, poor mug, dashes in to assure her that there are three. She mentions the fact casually that she has an uncle in the Buffs, and he assures her that she means the West Kents, because the Buffs haven't come out."
The Baron eyed him keenly.
"How do you know all this?" he said. "You've described the woman perfectly."
"So long, old bird," said Clarence, ignoring the question. "Don't stand about in the sun or you'll get a headache."
"Wait an' see," said Clarence, and sent a puzzled intelligence officer about his business.
Clarence waited, discussing a modest roll and butter and a sandwich, for the greater part of two hours. At the end of that time came George and his guest. George benevolent and grotesquely fatherly, the girl more clinging, more helpless than ever.
Swiftly Clarence stepped out and followed them as they crossed the place.
"Excuse me, sir."
"Well?" he asked mildly.
"May I be permitted, within the provision of the Army Act, to ask whether you have soothed this lady's apprehensions?" asked Private Clarence respectfully, but with unnecessary verbosity.
His brother smiled.
"I think I may say," he said a little smugly, "that the lady has been unduly alarmed. Patriotism and all that sort of thing, Clarence. Fortunately," he nodded approvingly, "there is no fear of your being indiscreet, so the matter need not go any further. Her brother—"
"Cousin!" corrected Clarence.
"It was my brother," said the girl quickly. "I told you he was my cousin because I did not wish to—to—" She appeared to be on the verge of a breakdown and Major Cassidy scowled horribly at his imperturbable relative.
"I wish to Heaven you'd shut up, Mary Ann," he said irritably, "stickin' your infernal nose into things—anyway, her brother has been trying to frighten her."
"I see," murmured Clarence, "so it isn't four brigades we have but two—not thirty batteries of artillery, but fifteen?"
"Exactly," began George.
"No heavy guns—no wireless section—no reserve division in France yet a while," continued Clarence, with a far-away look, "only a couple of divisions of infantry, a poor old pontoon company of R. E., four regiments of cavalry——"
For a moment the eyes of the men met and George went pale. The girl looked from one to the other in apprehension. Then she turned in a flash and ran. In two strides Clarence had caught up with her and grasped her arm. He came back to his brother.
"Juggins!" he murmured. "Oh, inestimable Juggins!"
Two days later whilst the most trusted spy of the Great General Staff was using language most unbecoming in a lady, as she sat in her cell overlooking—but for frosted glass—the Boulevard des Prisons and listened to the crash of British artillery hammering at the German advance, Clarence crouching in his shelter trench by the centre canal, was pouring sotto voce comments on his superior in that superior's ear.
"You'll never be a general, sir," he hissed, as he pulled back the bolt of his Lee Enfield and thrust another clip of cartridges into the magazine. "Not in a thousand years, sir, unless you listen to your little brother. Couldn't you see she was pumping you? I saw it in a minute."
"We're not all so jolly clever as you!" growled George.
"You never spoke a truer word in your life," said Private Cassidy, and added to the man on his right:
" Sergeant Gathercole, are you trying to shoot Zeppelins?"
"No, sir," answered the sergeant.
"Then aim a little lower, you silly ass!" said Private Cassidy.
The delightful "gentleman ranker," Private Clarence Cassidy, has a remarkable adventure in a German aeroplane.
PRIVATE CLARENCE CASSIDY was doubtless a trial to his good brethren. It was not so much that they were his superiors, holding as they did commissions in His Majesty's Army, whilst he was but a humble private soldier, but that he steadfastly refused to be humble.
Brothers have served before in the same regiment, one in the place of power and the other in the ranks, but the situation has not been embarrassing to either. Clarence was respectful enough—far too respectful, he would salute and click his heels on the slightest provocation. He was punctiliousness itself with his "Yes, sirs," and "No, sirs "; he was obedient and enterprising, shirked no hardship, and asked for no favours. He was, as his own officer said again and again, all a young soldier should be and more, only——
"It is his awful tongue!" groaned Major George Cassidy to sympathetic brother Manfred. "And he gives me cheek when nobody else is around. If we could only get the young devil sent home!"
"Why not post, him to the new battalion they're forming in England?" suggested Manfred.
George's face lit up.
"That's an idea, by Jove!" said he, and sent for Private Clarence.
Clarence came—he was sleeping on the side of the road where the regiment was resting when the summons reached him—and saluted with due formality.
Far away on the right came the dull boom of guns, and overhead in the speckless blue a grey bi-plane buzzed angrily. Clarence stood blinking sleepily in the sunlight, and there was an ominous gleam in his weary eyes that warned George he must be at once brief and overpowering.
"Clarence," he said gruffly, "I've had an application this morning for instructors for the new battalion forming at Aldershot. I'm sending you home—"
"Oh, you are, are you?" interrupted Clarence, with a wicked grin. "And who the blazes told you I could instruct anybody in anything?"
"Now, look here, Mary Ann, old boy," put in the conciliatory Manfred, "there's no need to rag George. Dash it, you oughtn't to speak like that to your C.O., and—"
"You shut up, Manfred," snarled the young man, "and don't call me Mary Ann. You're setting the men a bad example. I'm not going home, and if you start any of that funny business with me I'll desert and join the Germans. After all," he said complacently, "they want a bright strategist or two."
George gasped—he took things very literally and had no sense of humour.
"Your King and your country want you," he said feebly.
"Don't talk as though you were a recruiting poster, George," retorted his younger brother sternly. "Try to realise what a tower of strength I am to the battalion. Remember how I saved you from making an ass of yourself at Mons; recall what I might in all modesty term my peerless strategy at Ham. Who saved you from getting into the wrong trenches at Le Catcau where the devils had you enfiladed and all that? Little brother Clarence!"
George looked appealingly at the handsome youth, brick red of face and shockingly soiled of garb as he was, but Clarence countered the appeal with a cold and unresponsive stare.
"We shall never get rid of the beggar," said George mournfully, after his younger brother, with a vitriolic expression of his views on people who interrupted his sleep, had returned to doze away the hours of rest.
"The best thing to do," said Manfred, profoundly, "is to see what happens."
It was the kind of thing that Manfred was always saying. He was to see "what happened" in a very little time, for even as the sharpshooters dozed, cuddling their rifles, events of some moment were going forward on their left. The 31st (Duke of Kents) Dragoons saw a chance of "pushing in" a too adventurous regiment of Prussians which was deploying across a beautifully open space in defiance of all the laws which govern the tactical offensive.
Sambrey, Colonel of the 31st, a lean and gaunt man, whipped out his sword and sent his charger spinning round to the massed squadrons.
"Thirty-first!" he bellowed. "There is your enemy! Trot! . . . Gallop! . . . Charge!"
Some say that Sambrey, who had hunted Galway regularly for thirty years, and was possessed of a fine eye for country, should have spotted the wire, but the best accounts tally in one respect, namely, that the wire was so artfully concealed that even a trained cavalry officer might be forgiven for his error. Whether the ground scouts had failed in their job will never be known, for they are now dead.
If the Colonel missed the wire, he missed the sunk road, and missed, too, the 8th Brigade of the German Army which held that road. As for the Prussian regiment in the open, that was the bait for the cavalry, and the 31st fell into the trap. Concentrated machine gun and rifle fire sent the 31st into little confused heaps of men and horses struggling on the ground.
"Cavalry charge gone wrong, I think!" said the officer commanding the Sharpshooters watching the proceedings from a gentle rise to the south. "Double forward 'A' and 'B' Companies! Orlando, take the bank of the main road and see what you can do to hold up the enemy till the cavalry get out of their trouble."
Two companies of the Sharpshooters went streaming back along the road, and you heard the clicking of their rifle bolts as they loaded at a run.
The cavalry had reformed and was coming back in open order without any apparent haste. It was not the same regiment that went into action, and in place of the gallant Sambrey there rode at its side, giving the necessary orders, a subaltern officer—the only man of commissioned rank who had escaped whole from that inferno.
A brigade of German infantry had sprung up out of the earth, and was advancing steadily across the ground which was now encumbered by the dead and the dying.
Major George Cassidy looked round at the placid landscape.
"Guns, tor the love of heaven!" he said. And as if in answer to his prayer, from a wood on the right came in rapid succession six quick stabbing pencils of flame and six cracking, crashing explosions.
Over the advancing German infantry the shrapnel burst with extraordinary accuracy. Puffy white balls of whirling smoke appeared in the heavens—"Bong! Bong!"
At the same time a heavy battery on the British left and well out of sight came into action, and the Prussian advance checked.
"Bring the left half-battalion up," said George to his adjutant brother. "We can hold these beggars till the cows come home." It was not the heroic language which is associated in the popular mind with warfare, but it was expressive and fulfilled the immediate requirements of those concerned.
Later the Anchesters and the Wigshires came up, swearing fearfully, for they had been disturbed in the midst of their dinners.
"These infernal Sharpshooters are always getting in a mess," growled the officer commanding the Wigshires. "It's the worst of having fancy soldiers on active service."
He was to discover that the Sharpshooters had no responsibility for the minor disaster which had overtaken British arms, but that did not alter his opinion of "fancy regiments" and their inutility; though, in justice, he might have admitted that the Sharpshooters were trained and picked men chosen from regular regiments for their marksmanship, and had fought a successful rearguard action for eight days, holding up the enveloping horns of von Kluck's two Army Corps.
There were other facts concerning the Sharpshooters which he could not be expected to know. The first of these was that it owed its existence to the energy and enterprise of one Private Clarence Cassidy, who, having been ploughed at Sandhurst, was urged by his military brethren (there were three, George, Manfred, and Orlando) to enlist and endeavour from humble beginnings to secure a commission in some regiment—any regiment, in fact, save those gallant corps in which the brothers were serving. For none of them had any desire to be saddled with the responsibility of Clarence-with-the-bitter-tongue.
Clarence, in a spirit of cheery malice, had driven his little two-seater to the War Office and had presented himself, immaculate and imposing, to an Under-Secretary of State for War, and had advanced his great idea—namely, that a new corps should be formed composed of marksmen drawn from other regiments; and, with the powerful aid of the Under-Secretary's daughter, had secured the appointment of his three brothers to the new regiment. Then he himself bad enlisted as a private.
That in brief is the secret history of the Sharpshooters, which had already two full-sized battles to its credit. If there were an inner ring of history Private Clarence, bandaging his little finger with great care and thoughtfulness, might have supplied the needful chapters.
Major George Cassidy, hurrying along the road, stopped before his brother.
"Hurt?" he asked.
"Desperately wounded, sir," replied Clarence cheerfully, "in the heroic performance of duty. Any reference you can make to me in dispatches would be greatly appreciated."
The Major continued his walk with a queer look on his homely face. He made a rapid survey of his line and found it good; then he went in search of his brethren. He found Captain Manfred Cassidy at the right of the line.
"Clarence is wounded," he said almost joyously.
Manfred was startled—no less was Lieutenant Orlando Cassidy, but George in a brief sentence allayed their anxiety.
The Germans, driven back by the new British force which had arrived left and right of the position, moved obliquely to the right rear, and the Sharpshooters had a moment to count noses.
A staff officer whizzed along the paved road in his car and flung a word of commendation and inquiry.
"Well done, sir! Bury your dead and get your wounded to the rear, the enemy is concentrating for another attack."
George Cassidy sought the Medical Officer attached to the regiment and poured into his ear the particulars of a great plot.
"Certainly," said the Medical Officer, wiping the perspiration from his brow with a bare arm—he was a busy man that morning, "he can look after the worst cases. I'll have the ambulance waggons up in ten minutes."
It was half-an-hour before the ambulances came.
"M.O. wants to see you, Cassidy," said a sergeant, and Clarence, sitting on the side of the road oiling the bolt of his rifle, looked up in astonishment.
"Me?" he asked incredulously.
"You. Skip lively."
Clarence walked to the dressing station, a prey to various emotions.
"Let me see that finger of yours," said the Medical Officer.
"Which finger would you like to see, sir?" asked Clarence politely.
For answer the Medical Officer caught the hand with the bandaged digit and dexterously unrolled and exposed the injury. A ricochetting Mauser bullet had taken a small piece of flesh away—as much perhaps as a clumsily handled clasp knife would have done.
The surgeon looked at the wound, and Clarence eyed the surgeon suspiciously and resentfully.
"Very serious!" said the doctor, and his voice was solemn.
"Sir," said Clarence, "when I write home I will tell my friends how your humour enlivened my hours of suffering."
The doctor, who knew his Clarence and had, indeed, been his guest on more occasions than one at some of the dainty dinner-parties Clarence was wont to give in his Jermyn Street flat, motioned to an orderly.
"Bring me a dressing—strongly antiseptic," he said.
"Why not amputate?" suggested an exasperated Clarence.
Captain Griersin, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, shook his head.
"Clarence," he said soberly, "you have an infection, my poor boy. I shall have to send you to the base."
Wrath, astonishment and amusement struggled for mastery in the face of Clarence Cassidy.
"Of all the dirty tricks!" he gasped. "Griersin, you're no sportsman!"
George, a little shamefaced but obviously relieved, came to the motor ambulance to say good-bye. He was more relieved when he found his brother in a perfectly resigned mood.
"You'll soon be back with us," he soothed.
"Your smug sympathy makes my finger ache," said Clarence testily.
"You'll be back," said .George ecstatically, "before you know where you are."
"I shall be back," said Clarence with a certain grimness, "before you know where you are!" The ambulance rolled off, leaving three officers of the Sharpshooters looking extremely thoughtful.
To illustrate adequately the further adventures of Clarence would require a large scale map of the north of France, the confidential report of General von Kluck, and the sworn statement of Lieutenant Hermann von der Grotz. As to the map, it may be said that the main road from a point south of Cambrai to the base hospital was not at the moment available for ambulance work. There were certain bridges which the British had prepared for demolition, and some which as a precautionary measure had been blown up.
The driver of the motor ambulance, who in piping times of peace had driven a Cricklewood 'bus, essayed, with the easy confidence of a Londoner, to take a short cut. As a short cut to the base hospital situated some miles in the rear, it was a ghastly failure, but as a short cut to the headquarters of the 9th Corps of the German Army it had its points.
Clarence, sitting in the rear of the ambulance, dozing in the gathering darkness and wondering sleepily where on earth the base of the army could be, heard a guttural challenge, and felt the jar of brakes.
His mind worked swiftly. He knew that the ambulance waggon would be allowed to proceed, but that any of its occupants as lightly wounded us he was would be detained. If he escaped the suspicion that he was a spy, he would certainly be made a prisoner.
He slipped off the rear seat of the ambulance, and glanced cautiously left and right. The car was in a cut road, on either side were stiff banks, and on the crest to the left he saw a shadowy group, and caught in the dusk the glint of bayonets.
Clarence understood and spoke German very well; his earlier education had been received in Heidelberg, and he had no difficulty in following the conversation which was going on between the officer ahead of the car and the sergeant of the R.A.M.C. who sat by the driver.
"We will search the car," the officer was saying, "and you may take your badly wounded on—the others will be taken out."
That was quite enough for Clarence. Crouching low, he edged to the side of the road. He scaled the bank and brought his head cautiously to the level of the edge. For a while he could see nothing, for he was looking down a slope lightly planted with trees to a dark depression, in which two fires indicated their presence by an occasional flicker of flame which leapt higher than the canvas screen which surrounded it.
Noiselessly Clarence drew himself up and rolled over to the slope. There was no sign of a sentry, and he guessed that the unconscious ambulance driver had penetrated further into the German lines than he knew. Probably the Red Cross on the hood of the car had been taken by the enemy for the mark of one of their own ambulance parties.
Clarence went forward cautiously. He avoided the depression, for in addition to the fires there were voices and a constant thud of hoofs coming and going. The road ran due east and west, so much he discovered by consulting his luminous compass.
Throughout that night he moved, as far as he could judge, in the direction of the French lines. Somewhere in the west the 8th Reserve Corps was holding the line of the Somme, and if he could only reach the rear of the German force attacking he might find a way through.
An hour before dawn he had a narrow escape. Coming slap upon a bivouac he was challenged, but fortunately for him the challenge was answered by a German officer, who must have been walking parallel to him.
The bivouac puzzled him. He was able to discern a large number of motor-cars, waggons, and portable forges packed at the side of the road.
He had no time to investigate. Dawn was too near, and already the Eastern sky was grey. He must find a dug-out in which to spend the day. He was turning sharply away, to leave the bivouac on his left, when he heard voices coming towards him.
He crouched down, pressing himself closely to the earth.
They were walking slowly toward him, three men, and they halted not more than a dozen paces from him. From the sharp gruff precision of the German he knew them to be Prussians—and officers.
"I will send out a party to bring the machine in if you think it is necessary, Lieutenant," said one, and the others made little noises of protest.
"It is not necessary, Herr Major," said one. "I purposely dropped outside of the park. If Under-Lieutenant Wessels will start the propeller… clear run across the park… no assistance."
The Major grunted his assent.
"Good luck!" he said. "Remember what you have to discover is… French reserve … Compiègne… the forest."
Clarence listened and pieced together the purport of conversation. These men were German aviators, he gathered, and they were going out on an early morning reconnaissance. Also, this bivouac, which had puzzled him, was the Flying Headquarters of the 9th Corps.
Presently the group split up, one officer returning in the direction of the bivouac, the other two, after standing stiffly for a moment in salute, turning to the west.
Clarence followed in their wake, as noiseless as a cat. They came to a fringe of trees, which he was to discover marked the boundary wall of a big château, and passing through a broken gate, they disappeared. Clarence came after, and caught up with them, still keeping a dozen paces in the rear.
The light was growing, and by the time they reached the big monoplane, objects were visible a quarter of a mile away.
"Hurry," said the senior of the two officers, as he clambered into the pilot's seat. "Put your coat and revolver belt in the machine—the engine works stiffly."
"How am I to get in?" asked the other dubiously.
"Make a jump for it, as the machine moves forward. Quickly!"
Twice—thrice did the panting young officer pull the propeller over without result. He made a supreme effort, sending the great wooden blades spinning. With a roar the engine fired, and the propeller vanished in a circular haze.
"Now," shouted the pilot, as the monoplane jerked forward, increasing its speed with every second.
The officer who had been called Wessels ran clumsily to the side of the machine, ducking under the outspread wings of the "Taube." A moment later the bony fist of Private Clarence Cassidy shot out and caught him under the jaw.
With a leap Clarence swung himself into the frail body of the machine.
"All right," he shouted in German, and the pilot put his elevators for the climb.
In a minute they were circling above the park, Clarence utilising the time to struggle into the fur-lined coat which Lieutenant Wessels had obligingly left for him, and making himself acquainted with the lethal possibilities of that young gentleman's revolver.
For a quarter of an hour the pilot said nothing, being too busy with the purely mechanical side of aviation.
"We go due west," he shouted over his shoulder.
"North-west, I think," said Clarence.
The pilot jerked his head round at the sound of the strange voice, and faced the unsympathetic muzzle of a revolver.
"North-west and a point north," said Clarence gently, "or I shall blow the top of your head off, Herr Lieutenant."
* * * * *
Major George Manfred had given the order to "stand to" with the coming of dawn, and the Sharpshooters, weary and grimy, were lining the trenches into which they had struggled the night before.
"I'm jolly glad Clarence is out of this," he was remarking to his brother when:
"Mark over, sir!" yelled a peculiarly dirty subaltern. "Taube on the right makin' for these lines… Platoon… volley firing… Ready… Present… Fire… Got it, I think, sir?"
Got it, indeed, for the Taube lurched like a wounded bird, and came settling in short, impatient circles before the trenches!
The men scrambled out to greet a very angry young observer.
"Dash it, sir," he said, "you jolly nearly killed me—and you've smashed my steering apparatus!"
"Clarence!" gasped George.
"Clarence it is, sir!" said that young man, stretching his stiff limbs and grinning pleasantly at a scowling young officer of the German Air Service.
Major George said nothing for a while, then:
"Mary Ann," he remarked solemnly, "nothing will kill you—you're like a cat."
"Yes, sir," said Clarence briskly, "the cat that has the disgusting habit of coming back."
Private Clarence Cassidy is a splendid fellow. These stories of his adventures at the war are brim full of humour, pathos, and that real military "atmosphere" at the writing of which his creator, Mr. Edgar Wallace, is such a master.
THE guns were talking incessantly around by Ciry Wood. An angry chatter of machine guns had followed the inquisitive intrusion of two companies of Sharpshooters.
"See what you can find in Ciry Wood," the brigadier had said, and the Sharpshooters had found machine guns. There was no need to make any very close inspection to reveal their presence. Crouching in the shelter of a Heaven-provided sunk road, the Sharpshooters listened to the infernal p-wish! of flying bullets with interest, but without enthusiasm.
"There's a brigade in front of us," said Lieutenant Orlando Cassidy in a fret. "They are working round to the right, too."
His whistle shrilled.
"Company will retire—platoon commanders get your men across that beet field and dig in to the left of that white house."
"May I respectfully suggest, sir," murmured a voice in his ear, "that we remain in our present position until we see what plans our jolly old General has?"
Orlando Cassidy wrinkled his nose in a grimace.
"For the Lord's sake, Clarence, let me run this show!" he begged. And Clarence, private and brother, shrugged his shoulders.
"Our blood be on your head," he said ominously.
How the company crossed the field under a fire which has been variously described as "withering" "deadly" and "devastating" has been told. How it dug itself in on a position which was exposed to heavy shell and machine-gun fire, and how it was eventually rescued from its precarious position by a brilliant bayonet charge executed by "A," "C," and "D" companies of the Sharpshooters, aided by Private Clarence, who virtually directed the retirement, is written largely in the history of the regiment—at any rate, that history for which Clarence himself claims responsibility.
You must remember that Private Clarence Cassidy of the Sharpshooters was no ordinary private. Ordinary privates, or prospective privates, do not importune war ministers with schemes for the formation of a new regiment. Nor do they so lay their plans and urge their arguments, that a member of the Cabinet arranges for this prospective private's brothers to hold commissions in that corps, being transferred from likely regiments for the purpose.
In the ordinary course of affairs, and in consonance with the generally accepted idea of how these things should be, it is the officer who works on behalf of his less fortunate brother in the ranks and utilises his undoubted influence in order to secure his advancement. There could be little doubt that Private Clarence Cassidy caused the 1st Sharpshooters to be formed, for no other reason than to secure a position in a regiment in which his brethren held commissions. It was no strong sense of fraternity that caused him to take this step, but that mordant sense of humour which ever characterised his dealings with his less brainy brothers.
With his eldest brother, George, second in command (and lately actually commanding the regiment); with his second brother, Manfred, lording a company; and his third, Orlando, though but a subaltern officer, commanding his company also, Clarence took some joy in the knowledge that if the worse came to the worst, there would never arise any question as to his next of kin. Nor, thought he comfortably, would he ever disappear into the oblivion which sometimes awaits the man against whose name the word "missing" is appended; for, to be sure, one or the other of his relatives would be on hand to give very definite news to the world of his whereabouts.
The end of the long and trying march from Mons to the Marne found Private Cassidy with two passionate desires uppermost in his mind. The first was for a bath and a complete change of clothing; but the second had directly to do with his private conscience. In the lonely but too short watches of the night, and in the long silence of the dogged march southward, there had dawned upon him a sense of his responsibility.
One night, when the pressure had to some extent been taken off the regiment, and the Sharpshooters were billeting pleasantly in a little town north and east of Paris, Clarence was summoned to the "billet" of his superiors, and was shown into the drawing-room of the little château which was for the moment the headquarters of the battalion, where the anxious Cassidy family awaited him.
"Sorry to bother you," said George, after he had closed the door carefully, that no military ear might be shocked by this flagrant contravention of King's regulations—for your commissioned officer is not enjoined to take too keen an interest in the social welfare of his men. "But the fact is, old man, you have been looking a bit droopy this last day or two. You aren't ill, are you?"
There was a malicious gleam in Clarence's eye, as he caught the uncomfortable gaze of his elder brother.
"Are you thinking of sending me sick?" he asked.
"Good Lord, no!" protested George, with great vigour.
He had once "sent him sick," and had lived to regret it. But that is another story, and besides it has already been told.
"Mary Ann, old man," broke in Manfred, "we don't want you to get a rotten idea of us. I am willing to admit that it was a bad break on all our parts when we tried to get you to enlist in a line regiment, and did our best to keep you out of the battalions in which we were serving."
Clarence looked thoughtfully out of the window at the dusty landscape, the fires that burnt so boldly in the middle of the village street, at the constant procession of dust-stained limbers and weary horses that were passing at a snail's space to the next village and to the greatly desired "billet." He looked so long and so earnest, that they thought he had not heard what George had said; and the cautious Orlando third of the trinity of elder brethren, lank, hard, and sandy, would have called his attention to the handsome admission which Manfred had made, but that Clarence suddenly broke his silence.
"There have been bad breaks all round," he said. "It was a pretty foolish mistake for you fellows to make; but then I ought to have known, and, indeed, I did know, that all you dear chaps are horribly deficient in intelligence."
Nobody winced. They would have been wincing all day long at Clarence-with-the-bitter-tongue, if they noticed a little thing like that.
"It was my mistake entirely," Clarence went on, a little sadly. "And, of course, it was quite unpardonable of me, because, as you know, I have the brains of the family."
Nobody denied this outrageous claim; and, after another brief and gloomy survey of the darkening landscape, Clarence turned with a melancholy shake of his head to his three brothers, alert and on the defensive. They knew that something particularly unpleasant was coming.
"It was an awfully good joke for me," mused Clarence aloud, "getting you three fellows transferred to the regiment in which I was serving as a private; because I know you just hate having me anywhere round, not because you have any unnatural antipathy to me, but because it follows that the clever one of the family always shows the other chaps up."
"It was a joke," said George heartily. "We expected it, and we accept in that spirit. Now we want bygones to be bygones, Mary Ann. We'll start afresh. You'd better accept a commission and come in with us."
But Clarence, staring at him with an unresponsive eye, shook his head again.
"It's worrying me," he said, shortly.
"What is worrying you?"
"You and Manfred and Orlando," said Clarence.
"What the devil is there about us to worry you?" he asked irritably.
Again there was a little pause, and then Clarence spoke.
"I see where I've been wrong," he said. "It wasn't playing the game to get you in a regiment like this."
"But, my dear chap," expostulated George, "It's a jolly good regiment."
"That's what I mean," said Clarence calmly. "It's a jolly sight too good a regiment. You aren't up to the weight, George," he said gently. "Nor is Manfred, nor you, my son." He shook a reproving finger at the outraged Orlando.
There was a period of silence, and then George demanded, with ponderous sarcasm:
"May I ask what you intend to do about it?"
"I'm going to get rid of you," said Clarence.
There was a triple but unanimous gasp.
"Get rid of us?" repeated Manfred incredulously. "Is this a joke or something?"
"It's not a joke," replied Clarence; "but it is—something. I've thought it all over," he went on briskly, "and I've decided that I ought not to have endangered the lives of my comrades by placing chaps like you in a responsible position. I don't exactly know how to get rid of you all"—he looked round a little helplessly—"but it must be done."
"Now, look here, Mary Ann," began Manfred; but Clarence, with a lofty wave of his hand, arrested the eloquence of the other.
"It has to be done," he said solemnly. "What happened the day before yesterday?"
He fixed Orlando with an accusing eye, and his brother went red.
"You entrenched your men in the one place in the whole of France where the enemy could over-shoot you, enfilade you, and surround you."
"A joke's a joke!" said Orlando hotly. "I did the best I could do under the circumstances, and even the General admitted—"
"The General knew a jolly sight less about it than you did," said the calm Clarence. "You must understand that I've studied these matters. I'm a positive whale on strategy and on the technical defensive—the General didn't see what I saw. And anyway, you were out of the trenches because the other companies relieved you before the General came up. No, Orlando, you must go!"
"I think this has gone a little too far," began George.
"I don't want any of your heavy-fatherisms," snarled Clarence. "I've come to deliver my ultimatum. You can either get yourselves killed or can invalid yourselves to the base. Otherwise it will be my painful duty to remove you."
He settled his cap at a rakish angle, saluted stiffly, and was gone before they found their tongues. Then:
"Of all the impudence!" gasped George. And for the rest of the night the conversation mainly centred around Private Clarence Cassidy.
Now it is a fact that Lieutenant Orlando Cassidy, though an excellent musketry instructor, whose knowledge of the rifle and its mysteries fully justified his appointment to the Sharpshooters, had one or two distressing disadvantages from which he could not possibly hope to escape, since even war, revolutionary as it is, neither changes the leopard's spots nor brings to the face of the Ethiopian the milk and roses of the Devonian's complexion.
Orlando was one of those men who from their early youth up assumed the settled habits which are peculiar to the middle-aged. Orlando was a famous "forty-winker," one of those uncomfortable persons to whom a doze between lunch and tea is as part of a solemn ritual. Consequently there may have been some truth in the charge which Clarence promulgated, which was to the effect that Orlando had slept through a certain vicious attack of the enemy upon the Sharpshooters' line, and that an enterprising signaller, seeing his commanding officer sitting in the corner of the trench, looking somewhat unlovely with his mouth agape, had been on the point of reporting his death to Army Headquarters.
Major George Cassidy, therefore, was flying in the face of Providence when on the day following this conversation, under orders from the brigadier to provide a reconnoitering party to move in the direction of the enemy's line, he chose Lieutenant Orlando Cassidy for the service. It was more by accident than design that Private Cassidy himself accompanied this little expedition, which had as its object the seizing of a farmhouse three miles to the left of the line which was now advancing from the Marne to the Aisne, and the reporting upon the enemy's strength in that quarter.
Nobody expected a great number of Germans to be found upon that front, because about this time Von Kluck's corps was edging northward and westward toward the quarries of Soissons. But it was known that there were wandering Uhlan patrols, and that a company of Jaegers had been seen in the neighbourhood. The reconnaissance went off with little incident; a hungry German or two surrendered himself and was sent under escort to the base; but no considerable force was revealed.
"We will entrench beyond the farm," said Orlando to his junior subaltern, "and I will take a couple of men and go forward to see what I can find."
He looked round, hesitated, then beckoned Clarence and another man. He had not forgiven Clarence his insolence, and was inclined to be a little gruff. Making no further remark, he swung off along the white road, climbed through a hedge, and moved cautiously across a deep hill toward a rise on his right, which would give him as he thought an uninterrupted view of the country. He dropped the first man of his private line of communication a mile from the farm, and another mile or so beyond this he turned to Clarence:
"You stay here," he said, "and pass any signal back I give you."
"Yes, sir," answered the obedient Clarence.
"I shall be gone some time," said Orlando, and unconsciously patted his haversack, where a most excellent lunch, prepared that morning at his billet, bulked largely.
Clarence watched his brother move off, saw the khaki figure grow smaller and smaller and finally disappear in a cloud of green undergrowth. Clarence squatted down to wait. The sun was hot, but a little breeze came to him across the scented fields. The guns were far away, and only now and again came to him like the echo of distant thunder. It was curious, he thought, that war was in this pleasant land, with its white châteaux, its grass-green woods, its glimpses of silvery river. And yet that sluggish river, which sent the sunlight flashing back to him where he sat was a great barrier, to cross which thousands of men would sacrifice their lives, and to prevent that crossing thousands of others would die as cheerfully.
He shook his head in wonder at the absurdity of it all, then turned to keep his eye fixed upon the place where Orlando had disappeared. Clarence felt, rather than knew, that there was no danger in the position the company occupied; and that the chance of finding any considerable body on this front was very remote. His brother was less certain, if one could judge by the length of time he took to make his survey. Clarence guessed that Orlando was adding a little pleasure to the business of the moment, and that the excellent luncheon was in course of consumption.
He waited another half-hour, and still there was no sign of Orlando, and he began to be a little alarmed. Unless the officer had found himself unexpectedly in a position which rendered it extremely dangerous for him to move, he should be back by now.
Clarence rose, and, picking up his rifle, followed the way Orlando had gone, keeping his eyes sweeping ahead left and right for any sign of his brother's re-appearance. He reached the thicket, and had no difficulty in finding the path which Orlando—who had no original ideas, and was always prepared to tread the road which somebody else had made—had taken.
There was no sound and no sign of his officer. Clarence came cautiously to open ground, a level stretch of sward which sloped gently down to a little river and to the fringe of a tiny village. He looked around, and then he saw the missing man.
Orlando had assured himself that there was very little to see, and he had lunched, for the remains of his collation were spread upon the white napkin in which they had been wrapped, and his Thermos flask stood most improvidently uncorked by his side. As for Orlando—with his legs stretched wide apart, his arms happily folded, and a beatific smile upon his countenance—he was sleeping gently and sweetly the sleep of a man of habit, who had already accomplished a good half-day's work and is anxious to prepare himself for the second half.
Clarence looked, a big grin upon his face, and he chuckled silently.
Then a sound made him turn swiftly. Somebody was moving through the undergrowth to his left, moving stealthily and furtively, and in few seconds that somebody exposed himself to be a young, very healthy-looking Prussian officer, revolver in hand, and the butt-end of a cigar between his teeth.
He did not see Clarence quite soon enough, and the muzzle of the young man's rifle was aimed directly at his good German heart before ho realised exactly what was going forward, and he dropped his revolver on the turf at his feet and raised his hands.
"Hard luck!" he said, with a gleam of amusement in his eyes. He spoke most excellent English, with an American accent.
"Very hard luck indeed! Do you want to surrender?" asked Clarence.
"Not in the slightest," said the German officer coolly. "As a matter of fact I spotted your company at the farm and was prowling round looking for stragglers." There was a little pause.
"I am afraid that I am booked for one of your excellent concentration camps," went on the German officer. "Tough luck after coming all the way from Philadelphia to serve my country, to find myself in this unhappy predicament!"
"Devilish tough luck!" said Clarence. "But then, you see, it's all the fortune of war, and it might have been the other way round."
A thought came upon him in a flash.
"Are you very keen upon taking a prisoner?" he asked suddenly.
"I am not exactly dying to take one, but I should certainly have liked to return to my regiment with something to my credit."
Clarence grinned, and turned his head. Orlando was still asleep.
"You can have him!" he said. "But don't hurt him: he's my brother."
The German officer looked from one to the other in amazement.
"He's as quiet as a mouse," Clarence went on, tabulating the virtues of the unconscious Orlando. "He won't bite or scratch, but he'll go very quietly. He's a fastidious feeder, but otherwise wants very little."
"I will see that he gets it," said the German gravely.
"Cheer-o!" said Clarence, and held out his hand, and the alien enemy shook it heartily.
"My name is Derndoff," he said. "Look me up if you're ever in New York. Otherwise—"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Look after him," said Clarence, and he tiptoed back down the hill. He moved a little way down and then he turned.
"I forgot to tell you," he said in a loud whisper, "that he answers to the name of Orlando."
Last month Private Clarence Cassidy arranged with an obliging German officer that his superior officer and brother, Lieutenant Orlando Cassidy, should be taken prisoner. This month he sorts out another of his incompetent brethren.
FOUR brothers serving in one regiment are three brothers too many. This was the view held in the 1st Sharpshooters. Not, be it said, by the men themselves, not by Major George Cassidy, commanding that regiment, nor by Captain Manfred Cassidy, nor yet by Lieutenant Orlando Cassidy.
It was, however, very strongly held by Private Clarence Cassidy, who openly expressed his gratification when the news came through that Lieutenant Orlando, his good, but sleepy brother, had been captured by the enemy.
"A jolly good thing for the Army!" he said, speaking privily to his gloomy brethren.
Insubordination could go no further. The subject of Orlando's internment was a constantly recurring one, and Manfred and George enlivened many a weary hour in the trenches with a discussion which raged round the following points of perplexity:
1. Was Orlando asleep when a German officer discovered him? If so, was Orlando liable to a court-martial— for he was scouting at the time?
2. Did Private Clarence Cassidy, who was in support of his brother, hold a long conversation with the German officer who captured Orlando, as some of the men reported?
3. Was Private Cassidy responsible for the internment of Lieutenant Orlando Cassidy, being urged to action by his (Clarence's) contempt for Orlando's military qualities?
"It's a very curious thing," said Major George Cassidy ominously, and shook his head. "Very curious indeed!"
"Have you had any further news?" asked his troubled brother.
Major Cassidy nodded.
"He is a prisoner of war in one of those beastly places in Germany, and he's fairly happy; but how he was taken prisoner without Clarence knowing is a mystery to me."
Captain Manfred Cassidy speared a sardine out of a tin. He was sitting vis-à-vis with his brother in the trenches before the Aisne, and the hour was breakfast time.
"Perhaps he was asleep?" suggested Manfred.
"I do wish you wouldn't make such ridiculous suggestions," said his elder brother testily. "Of course, Orlando wasn't asleep. You know the Cassidy breed; we never sleep, Manfred."
Manfred accepted this startling claim without comment, but from somewhere down the trenches came a little happy chuckle of laughter, and George glared up.
"What is amusing you, Private Cassidy?" he asked.
Private Clarence Cassidy, leaning against the clay side of the trenches, touched his cap humbly.
"I was thinking of a joke, sir—a joke I read in Punch."
"Jokes in Punch wouldn't make you laugh like that," said Manfred suspiciously.
"That, sir," said Clarence, "is a reflection upon England's premier journal of humour, which I shall not fail to convey to the right quarter."
He was left-hand man of his company in the trench line, and his nearest companion was half-a-dozen paces off. For the Sharpshooters were holding a front which, according to all the text books, should have been held by at least two battalions. The conversation, therefore, was restricted to three men. I make this explanation lest it be thought, to Private Clarence Cassidy's discredit, that his attitude of speech and mind should be subservient to military discipline.
"Of course, he wasn't asleep!" said Major George, turning to his brother and lowering his voice a little. "It would have been a dashed unprofessional thing to do."
"You know what Orlando is," said Manfred apologetically.
"I know what our House is!" retorted George loftily. "In such a situation Orlando would have been alert and wakeful, eager for duty."
"Ha, ha!" said the scornful voice of Clarence again; but George ignored the interruption.
"Do you remember," asked Manfred slowly, "how Clarence suggested that you and I and Orlando ought to get out of the army, and how he threatened that he would jolly well get us out?"
Major George Cassidy frowned.
"I remember something about it," he said slowly.
"I wonder," Manfred went on, lowering his voice, "if there was anything in it."
"Nonsense!" said his commanding officer sharply. "You don't suggest that Clarence would go over to the enemy and arrange for them to come and take poor old Orlando prisoner, do you?"
"It was very funny," said Manfred, and that was the only statement he would permit himself to make.
Undoubtedly it was very funny, and undoubtedly Orlando was asleep, on reconnaissance duty; and less doubt is there that Private Clarence—or, as his affectionate family preferred to describe him, "Mary Ann"—had hailed a Heaven-sent German officer, himself engaged in reconnaissance work, and like a modern and unpicturesque Benjamin, Orlando had been handed over to captivity.
There was romance in the beginning of the Sharpshooters; there promised to be greater adventure in its finish, so far as the three brothers of Private Clarence Cassidy were concerned. Clarence had raised the regiment, in the sense that he had conceived the idea of a corps formed from the best shots of other battalions to be employed in pure rifle work. That he had imposed his scheme upon an Undersecretary of State for War, and had exerted his undoubted influence (for Private Clarence Cassidy before he enlisted was a young man of some importance) to induce the War Secretary, in his appointment of officers to the new corps, to choose those three brothers who had separately and severally expressed their passionate desire that Clarence should serve in any other regiment than theirs, was indeed a modern miracle. Seeing them safely attached to the regiment, Clarence had enlisted as a private, and rejecting all blandishments, continued to serve in that humble capacity.
He edged along the trench as his brothers continued their conversation in a low tone, and suddenly broke in upon them, yet without seemingly addressing them directly, for his face was turned towards that patch of country where the enemy was supposed to be and from whence at regular intervals his shells came shrieking overhead to burst in a horrid din at the rear of the trench.
"You chaps are talking about me," he said, not lowering his voice, yet pitching his conversation to such a tone that the other men could not hear him.
"We were talking about poor Orlando," said George gravely.
"Why poor?" asked Clarence, with rare insolence. "He's a jolly sight better off where he is, and so are we."
"That sounds to me like mutiny, Clarence," said George reproachfully. "When you remember what our House has done for the Empire——"
"Dear old thing!" interrupted Clarence, in a voice of pity. "I've done lots of things, not only for the Empire but for the Alhambra and the jolly old Hippodrome, but I never boast about it. And besides, what I say is quite right," he went on; "C" Company would have been carved up if old Orlando had been in charge the other day when we took that beastly river."
"I hope you will not speak disrespectfully of Orlando, Clarence. Do not forget that he is not only your officer but your brother."
Clarence made a strange barking noise which conveyed in some subtle manner his derision and disrespect.
"That's the pathetic part about it," he said. "If he hadn't been my brother I should have written to the Times about him. He can thank his lucky stars that he is my brother, and so can you chaps."
He still talked to the hills to all appearance, not so much as turning his face in the direction of his superior officers. Now and again, in the little pauses which punctuated every sentence, he trimmed his nails with great earnestness and diligence, dividing his attention between his well-kept hands and the enemy ahead.
"What have we been doing?" said Manfred, with some attempt at heavy jocularity.
"Transports," replied Clarence briefly. And at that word Manfred went very hot and squirmed. It was a sore subject, the question of the Sharpshooters' transport. The officer in charge of the waggons had gone sick on the way up to the Aisne, and in his goodness of heart Captain Manfred Cassidy had assumed the responsibilities and duties of regimental Supply officer. The Army Service Corps cannot always be nursing and attending the bleating battalions. Sometimes regiments must fend for themselves, and depend upon their own intelligence and initiative to carry with them to the firing line the munitions of war and the reserves of food which are necessary to their salvation. And Manfred had first lost his regiment and then had lost his supply waggons. That is putting it brutally and briefly, but it describes faithfully exactly what happened.
Manfred talked about wrong roads and bad directions. He even hinted that the General Staff had maliciously issued maps which were specially designed and printed to lead astray an amateur supply officer. To put the matter in a nutshell, the Sharpshooters spent one bitter day and night eating their emergency rations and cursing the regiment, whichsoever it might be, which was at that moment enjoying the bully beef and marmalade intended for the corps commanded by Major George Cassidy. The regiment in question, as it happened, was a Cockney regiment without a conscience, and with an enormous appetite; and when at last the Sharpshooters' supply waggons were sorted out from the division into which they had wrongfully strayed, they were found to be intact in every particular—save in supplies. This was a sore point with the Sharpshooters, but a much sorer point with Manfred Cassidy.
"You know jolly well, Clarence," he said, with a great attempt at sternness, yet with some fearful respect for this Clarence-with-the-bitter-tongue, which all his brothers possessed and which even remote cousins shared. "You know jolly well how the thing happened. It wasn't my fault at all."
"It was the fault of the man who made the roads," said Clarence gently. "Poor old Napoleon—put it on to him. He's dead, anyway."
Manfred relapsed into a dignified silence, but Clarence, after whistling a thoughtful stave, returned to the charge.
"I'm afraid you'll have to go, too, Manfred," he said regretfully. "I don't know how it can be managed, but I feel that somehow Providence in its mercy will show us the way."
"Do you mean to tell me—" began the wrathful George.
"I mean to tell you," said Clarence firmly, "that for the salvation of the Empire about which you were speaking so familiarly a few minutes ago, it is necessary that Manfred direct his undoubted genius to another sphere."
That night, when the Sharpshooters had been relieved by another regiment, and were moving back to their billets in a little French town west of Soissons, George and Manfred walked side by side in earnest consultation.
"If he says he'll do it, he'll do it," said Manfred miserably. "Upon my soul! I'm beginning to get scared of him, George."
"Leave everything to me," replied his elder brother confidently. "I think I know how to manage Mary Ann."
But thereafter Manfred watched his younger brother apprehensively and expectantly. Had Clarence Cassidy been an active member of the Borgia family, and Manfred one who had knowingly or unwittingly trodden upon his moral corn, the young private of the Sharpshooters could not have been an object of more constant vigilance.
Clarence was, to all outward appearance, in his meekest and most amiable mood in these days. He seldom approached his brethren except—in accordance with the King's regulations—accompanied by the inevitable non-commissioned officer; nor did he suggest by his attitude that he was laying any plot for the discomfiture of Manfred.
The way back was not a pleasant one. It lay through a country where the regiment had to make a long detour to avoid a road commanded by the enemy's batteries. The byways of France, after a week of ceaseless rain, were so many quagmires, and even the little strip of paving which centre some of these roads was little more than an obstacle.
Darkness had set in when the regiment began its march to the billets, and with the dark came a fine drizzle of rain, incessant and uncomfortable. There were convoys moving up from the firing line which had to be avoided, batteries moving forward in the night, which sent the regiment ankle-deep into the loamy fields, and dawn was coming greyly to the east when the regiment arrived at Deny, a village built about a lordly château, one wing of which was a mass of blackened flint and twisted metal, but which nevertheless offered commodious quarters to the weary and bedraggled officers of the Sharpshooters.
The Château Deny was in every sense historic. It was built upon the side of a castle which, in the days of Philip, had dominated the valley of the Aisne, and had been held by one family for close on five hundred years. This, Manfred, marching by the side of his younger brother, and with some desire to propitiate him of the vitriolic tongue, informed Private Clarence.
The present owner, said he, was one of those eccentric persons who had regarded with lofty disdain the advance of the German Army, and had remained in his château, guarding his wonderful Napoleonic relics until he had seen a portion of the house crumble to dust and flames, under the persuasive powers of a twelve-inch howitzer.
"The rum thing is," said Manfred, "that the devils should have left the château without looting it—it is simply filled with valuables."
"Then we may be able to pick up a few things," said Clarence hopefully.
There was enough to pick up, as he discovered later, when he was posted as sentry at the door of the great salon, which housed perhaps the finest private Napoleonic museum in France. For here were not only the relics of the Italian campaign—the chairs, camp-stools, the dinner services, the foot-warmers, and cocked hats of the great general—but with painstaking thoroughness the Comte Deny had had a whole series of uniforms constructed, illustrating the progress of the Little Corporal from barrack-room to Nôtre Dame.
George and Manfred, inspecting the relics, must halt at the door of the salon before a very stiff and formal sentry and talk psychology.
"The very influence of these things which have been touched and used by The Master," said George in an awed voice, "is particularly inspiring. It gives you a sort of—you know what I mean."
"Pain in the neck," murmured a suggestive voice at his elbow.
"I quite understand what you mean, sir," replied Manfred, ignoring the interruption, and punctiliously respectful. "I felt it myself. It sort of bucks you up—makes you feel as though Napoleon himself were watching you."
"He would have laughed his head off if he had watched you this last week or two," said the sentry.
"Particularly inspiring!" said George again, and, arm in arm with his brother, stalked down the corridor to the smaller salon which the officers of the Sharpshooters were using as a messroom.
Private Clarence, whose duty it was to act for the moment as custodian of these treasures, carefully locked the door and put the key in his pocket, and this, with numerous others, he handed over to his relief an hour later.
The news which came in from Divisional Headquarters that night was good. Somewhere behind the forest of Compiègne, hidden away in forest, in town, in great houses chock-a-block with men, had been the new army of the Republic which the baffled airmen of Germany had failed to discover. It had made its rendezvous upon the German right, and von Kluck, swerving away like a frightened horse in the direction of the Marne had felt his first check. He had turned, fighting desperately for the heights of the Aisne and for the barring river, which would give him an hour or two's respite from his ruthless and relentless pursuer.
A position of stalemate had been established, and weary regiments could be relieved for rest and refreshment. For the Sharpshooters, who had fought without ceasing since the days of Mons, the lull was very acceptable indeed.
"I think I shall employ my time in working up my acquaintance with Napoleon," said Manfred importantly.
In his less military moments he was inclined to be a little pompous, and his weakness lay in the direction of exceedingly dull papers, which he insisted upon reading before the Royal United Services Institute.
"I rather fancy," he reflected, "that I could write a little monograph upon the contents of this château alone."
"Which is haunted, sir," chirped a junior subaltern from the other end of the table.
"Haunted my grandmother!" said the practical George. "Pass the pickled onions."
Manfred went to bed that night with two thoughts fighting for the front rank. The first was the uncomfortable feeling which he had had, ever since the unhappy disappearance of Orlando, that Clarence-of-the-bitter-tongue, who had expressed in the frankest terms his contrition that he had ever introduced three such unadulterated duffers into the Sharpshooters, was working steadily to secure the retirement from that regiment of his elders and betters.
Of course, it was all very absurd that a commissioned officer of His Majesty's Army, with some experience in the handling of men and the solving of complex problems, should worry himself for a moment over the machinations of a private soldier of his own regiment. But then Clarence was not an ordinary private. Far more pleasant was it to turn to his second obsession, and drag it into the first place. This monograph on Napoleon would make an excellent paper to read when the war was over, might indeed become a standard monograph, or, with luck, achieve a modest circulation printed in pamphlet form in one of those unattractive covers which invariably conceal the efforts of military genius, at sixpence nett.
Not that Manfred, or any of his brothers, troubled greatly about money, because they were all well provided with this world's goods. None of them, perhaps, was quite so rich as Clarence, who enjoyed three distinct and separate incomes, but they were all fairly rich men. Still, the fact that one could sell one's work gave it a far greater importance than if one merely had it printed for private circulation and distributed it gratis to one's friends.
With these happy speculations Manfred, uttering a sigh of content, turned over in the most comfortable bed he had slept in since he left England, and fell asleep.
What woke him he could not say. It was an indescribable sound, as though a soft hand had brushed along the silken coverlet of the bed.
"Who's there?" he said quickly. But no answer came.
It was a light night, with the moon shining through the long French windows of the big bedroom. They fell aslant of a figure, half in light and half in gloom, which stood brooding at one of the windows.
Manfred's sandy hair almost stood on end. There was no mistaking that personality or that attitude. A stout figure, much taller than Manfred had thought, hands clasped behind his back, chin on his breast, his cocked hat correctly athwart his head. He would have recognised it without the ribbon of an order across the epaulletted coat, or the Hessian boots. Without the little telescope under its arm, or the dim iron sword at its side. The face was in the shadow, but Manfred seemed to trace the familiar lines of the great general. The figure turned so that its back was towards the bed, moving slowly across the room and disappeared through the portiered doorway.
For fully two minutes Manfred sat bolt upright, frozen stiff with astonishment. Then he leapt out of bed, darted through the door and fell full length over a chair which some fool had carelessly placed in the very middle of the corridor. His voice aroused the sleepers. Doors opened, electric torches flashed, and George, in his vivid pyjamas, arrived on the scene with a revolver in one hand and a candle in the other. He recognised the disturber of regimental peace instantly.
"What the devil's the matter with you, Manfred?" he asked, for fraternal affection will not survive a night alarm.
"I've seen him!" said Manfred eagerly.
"Seen who?" asked a dozen scornful voices.
"Napoleon!" said Manfred.
Twelve pairs of eyes looked from one to the other, and then, as if by common consent, stared inquiringly at their commander.
Major George Cassidy shuffled uncomfortably.
"What the deuce were you drinking last night, Manfred?"
"Nothing!" replied the indignant Manfred. "Do you think I've——"
"I think you've been dreaming," said George. "What did you see?"
Briefly Manfred narrated the story of the apparition. It was fortunate that so intelligent a person as Private Clarence Cassidy was on guard at the salon at the other end of the corridor. He had seen nothing and had heard nothing, save the hullaballoo which, he informed his commanding officer with admirable respect, was of such a character as to suggest that some of the gentlemen of the mess had been enjoying a birthday party.
This and other innuendoes, all more or less discreditable to Manfred, were passed over by George as being unworthy of notice, and the officers of the Sharpshooters retired to their interrupted clumbers.
This happened between ten and twelve o'clock at night—for soldiers are folks who go early to bed—and no further sound disturbed the harmony of the Château Deny, until a wild yell, a smothered exclamation, and a most alarming crash, called George again from his bed into the corridor.
He found Manfred slowly picking himself up and disentangling himself from a whole barricade of chairs and small tables which had been set in his path. He was neither inclined to be apologetic nor gentle. He had seen Ney!
The great marshal himself, with his red side-whiskers, had appeared exactly in the same manner as Napoleon had, and had stood brooding out upon the landscape in the half-light and shadow of the moon.
"I think you'd better go to bed," said George gently.
"I'm telling you," said the exasperated Manfred, "that I saw—"
"Yes, yes, I know," said George soothingly, and patted his brother on the back. "I'm sure what we've had to go through this last month or so is enough to upset any fellow."
With the sympathetic murmurs from his brother officers sounding in his ears, Manfred turned with a snarl to his elder brother.
"Do you suggest that I'm mad?" he said.
"No, no, no," said George. "You're all right, old man. I'm standing by you, I'll see you through. Come along to bed, dear chap, and I'll sit by your side."
"Go to the devil!" snapped Manfred, and would have made a dignified exit from the company had his stalk not been pulled up short by the slippery nature of the floor, which some mischievous miscreant had most industriously soaped in the darker hours of the morning.
"What time were you on duty on the night poor old Manfred saw the ghost?" asked Major George Cassidy sternly.
"From ten to twelve, and from four to six, sir," replied Private Clarence, regimentally erect.
George was silent for a little while.
"I suppose you knew we've sent poor old Manfred to the base for a rest cure?" he asked carelessly.
"I heard something about it, sir," said Private Clarence Cassidy.
"You didn't see the ghost yourself?" asked the Major.
Clarence Cassidy shrugged his shoulders.
"My dear old bird," he said, "what perfectly piffling questions you ask a chap! Of course I didn't see the ghost. Although"—he hesitated—"although I fancy I caught a reflection of it."
He didn't trouble to explain his qualifications, but had George Cassidy remembered that the great hall was hung with mirrors at short intervals, or had he taken the trouble on the night of the visitation to inspect the Napoleonic relics, he might have found an explanation for Manfred Cassidy's brain storm.
This is the last adventure of Private Clarence Cassidy, the redoubtable founder of the Sharpshooters. Mr. Wallace has "scored a bull" with these top-hole tales.
AS I have beforetime remarked, the position of Private Clarence in the Sharpshooters was a unique one. That he, "a young man about town," should occupy the position of a private in His Majesty's Army, was not remarkable. The great war produced regiments which were filled with that peculiar phenomenon—the Nut in harness.
Private Clarence Cassidy's uniqueness lay in the fact that he had succeeded in raising the regiment in which he was now serving in so humble a capacity. For he had, as we know, suggested this great idea of drawing from other Line battalions their best shots—much to the disgust of the commanding officers of those battalions—and forming them into a separate and distinct corps under the somewhat bombastic and boastful title of the "Sharpshooters."
That at the beginning of the war Clarence Cassidy should find himself serving in a regiment in which three of his brothers held commissioned rank, was no freak of fate, but rather it was due to his own efforts and the power of that peculiar blarney which is the especial property of the man who is entitled to call himself a Cassidy.
So Clarence had, with fell design, secured the entry of his brethren into this excellent corps by the sheerest intrigue, and he had placed them in their several positions, one, George, as second-in-command; another, Manfred, commanding a company; and a third, Orlando, yet another company-commander, from sheer malice, because they had urged him to enlist, and had been foolish enough to suggest that he should confine his military activities to regiments with which they were not associated.
For the truth was that they stood in awe of their younger brother, whose bitter tongue and lamentable vocabulary of invective were a source of considerable distress to his relations. Then, when the war was at its height, and when the Sharpshooters, fighting an eternal rearguard action, justified the wisdom of their formation, Clarence had been oppressed with his lack of patriotism in securing for this fine corps three officers who, as he stated without consideration for anybody's feelings, and with no very great display of family pride, were wholly unworthy of the part which he had forced upon them.
And this he told them, heeding not their amour propre, and paying no regard to that paragraph of King's Regulations which lays down the attitude which a private soldier shall adopt towards his superior.
So Clarence openly stated his intention of ridding the regiment of those three officers, and it is a fact that two at least had gone. I have already related the circumstances of their disappearance. Orlando, addicted to postprandial weariness, had been taken prisoner when on reconnaissance duty. Manfred, the romantic, had seen the ghost of Napoleon, followed instantly by the martial apparition of the great Ney. And, though he had argued most strenuously with a speciously sympathetic medical officer, his case had been diagnosed as nerve strain, and he had been sent home to recuperate, to his intense disgust, for no sooner had he made a good recovery than he was most incontinently bagged for depot duty with the Wigshire Light Infantry. For in these days the War Office had no respect for the wishes of officers on leave, and would have as soon taken a rifleman and put him in command of a Highland regiment as not.
When the British Army was withdrawn from Soissons and rushed up to the north of France, and spread thinly even farther north along the banks of the Lys, the Sharpshooters was one of the first regiments to move and to be brought into operation. They were ordered, vaguely enough, to "make good the ground" north of a river which, even in their wildest geographical moments, they never dreamt had any existence, and to hold a trench line against the scattered units of the enemy, who, as we understand, had precisely the same instructions, only the other way about.
No man knew better the difficulties of the task assigned to them than Lieutenant-Colonel George Cassidy, who had received his promotion when his appointment to the command of the Sharpshooters had been confirmed. He sent for his younger brother before the regiment left its billets to march on its new front, and Private Cassidy came without the chaperonage which Regulations direct should be the lot of the private soldier when he confronts the majesty of commissioned rank.
George waited till Clarence closed the door behind him, then he got up from his chair.
"Mary Ann," he said, using the old family name which Clarence disliked, but which, nevertheless, he took a certain pleasure at this moment in hearing, "I've sent for you because we're going out on a pretty rotten job."
"And thinking I was a pretty rotter," suggested Clarence, "you wanted to tell me all about it."
George shook his head with a half smile. He opened his mouth to speak, but remained silent, his eyes gazing into space as one who was considering what was the best opening to a rather critical conversation. .
"The fact is, Mary Ann," said he, "a little time ago you suggested that Manfred Orlando and I ought to clear out of the regiment because we weren't quite good enough to associate with chaps like your nibs."
"Vulgarly put," said an admiring Clarence, "and as near the truth as makes no difference."
"H'm!" said George. "Well, Orlando disappeared and Manfred is gone, and I'm left. Now, what's your little scheme in regard to me? You see, Mary Ann, it's rather a serious business for me," he went on soberly, "because I'm commanding this regiment, and I want to keep all my wits about me for the next week or two."
"I think we'll call a truce till this affair is over," said Clarence, with a grin. "Really, George, you're not half a bad chap, and I've got ever so much more confidence in you than I had."
"You don't mean that, Mary Ann?" said his Colonel, with pathetic eagerness.
Clarence nodded solemnly.
"Yes. I think you're much smarter than people think you are," he said. "I'm getting quite a pleasant feeling about you. But"—he raised a warning finger—"don't get puffed up about this."
George Cassidy was not easily amused, save at a certain type of joke which blushes pinkly in a weekly journal; but here the humour of the situation seized him and he collapsed into his chair in a paroxysm of laughter.
"You always were a bully, Mary Ann," he said when he had exhausted himself. "Even as a kid you used to boss the whole house. But it is funny to realise that here am I, the Colonel of a regiment, taking my instructions meekly from a pup of a private."
"Are you trying to be offensive, George?" asked Private Cassidy severely.
"Get out!" said George, jerking his head at the door. "We march at dawn, but you needn't mention the fact. You're going to see some gory fighting, my son. If you ever live to wear a medal you're going to earn it."
Clarence stood at the door and gazed admiringly at his brother.
"You've been reading Old Moore's Almanack!" he accused. "And—what's that?"
George had taken a book out of the pocket of his overcoat. It was a peculiar book, if for no other reason because of its cover.
This was red—but a shade of red so bright and so brilliant as to be almost startling. It was a red that flamed vividly, turning all other reds to dinginess.
It was of a handy shape, something larger than a drill book and smaller than the conventional octavo of a novel.
"You'll have a copy to-night," said George. "The sergeant-major has one for every man of the battalion; in fact, the whole division is receiving a copy."
He placed the book in the outstretched hand of the other. On the cover in neat gold letters were the words:
The cover was not the only remarkable feature.
"Why, it's chocolate!" said Clarence, conducting a rapid investigation.
"The best ever," chuckled George.
Chocolate it was, more carefully packed than any that Clarence, an authority upon confectionery, had ever seen. Tissue cover of red; foil cover of the same colour; and then, to ensure its safety, thin paper shavings—all of the same hue. The chocolate bore a label:
With the Compliments of
"He's sent books to the gunners—they're blue—and books for the howitzer batteries—they're white," explained George. "He's a devil of a patriot, that young fellow!"
Clarence looked at the book thoughtfully, then he made his way to his billet to prepare for the coming trial.
No light trial was this, for which a little section of the British Army had prepared itself. Its task was to be immensely active and considerably offensive. The situation was best described in Clarence's own language.
"This jolly old regiment has got to make a noise like an Army Corps," said he, and that was pretty well the task which was allotted to the Sharpshooters.
For behind the screen it made long troop trains were running into small stations and disgorging thousands upon thousands of khaki-clad troops, and flat trucks stored with stained and weather-beaten guns; big horse-boxes, white-washed and littered, were turning out their reluctant passengers on to the sloping platforms; and in one small town, of which one had never heard till the war began, staff officers with their red-tabbed collars were as active as a hive of bees. Above circled a guardian aeroplane. Through the streets of the little town the cramped infantry stretched their legs with joyous freedom. Grimy cavalry passed in long streams through its crooked, narrow byways, and pottering asthmatic traction engines hauled guns of incredible size over its cobbled roadways. .
But whilst these gentlemen in khaki came at their leisure, the Sharpshooters and the Yorkshire regiment, with a regiment of rifles on their right, were making a noise not so much like an army corps as like an army itself. They dug trenches with furious haste; they submitted, in cold blooded inaction, to the sweeping rake of shrapnel and to the spraying fire of machine-guns; and all the time they were haunted with the knowledge that they neither knew where they were, nor exactly on what side they might expect to be attacked.
It was raining as it had rained ever since the Army came to Belgium. The ground over which the men marched to reach their fire trenches was a quagmire. The trenches were no sooner dug than they fell in, burying a struggling mass of swearing humanity which had to be rescued at some peril to the rescuer.
For a time it seemed that the enemy were content to play light with such a little force, but then one morning the German General Staff saw the danger and guessed the importance of the operations which were developing behind this frantic little screen. Against three battalions holding this forward line the enemy sent a division and a half of his best troops. Roughly speaking, in a division and a half there are 30,000 men, so that at the moment the odds against the front line were something like ten to one.
The German plan was obvious. It was to throw back the screen in disorder, unveil the enemy's weakness, and to strike swiftly a staggering blow at the disorganised—as he had judged it to be—mass of the detraining infantry, before it had time to form and deploy. It was a great scheme, and quite susceptible of execution, but for one important factor which the German General did not take into account.
That factor was the extraordinary density of the British soldier, who, having seen himself unquestionably enveloped on both flanks and outnumbered by a whole cloud of advancing Jaegers, yet nevertheless declined to accept the decision, violent as it was, as final. For when driven from his trenches by well-aimed shrapnel and by heavy gun fire, which crumbled the edge of the trenches and buried men alive so that they had to be dug out under a heavy fire, this British soldier again returned to the charge, and created for himself, on new and eccentric lines, new and more excellent trenches, firing back on the "victor" with such effect as to send him scurrying to the place from whence he came.
Clarence, crouched by the side of his brother, whose long-barrelled Browning rattled spasmodically, felt a sharp pain above his right eye and experienced a curious dampness all down one side of his face. He blinked back the blood, felt gingerly for the injury, and correctly diagnosed it as a flesh wound without complications. He whipped the little field-dressing from his inside pocket, and deftly fixed the bandage over his eye.
George looked round with a malicious little smile.
"Getting more and more like a wounded hero every day!" he said.
"Don't be disgusting," replied Clarence sternly.
The grey mass before them, swept back by rifle fire, had reformed. From the wood to the right came a new note of terror.
"Howitzers!" said George briefly. "Dig, you devils!"
And dig the Sharpshooters most assuredly did. Frantically, furiously, they struck down at the soft earth with their little spades and for all the world like a crowd of supers on a pantomime "trap" they began to sink deeper and deeper into the earth.
There followed a lull. Reinforcements were being hurried up. The boom of concealed howitzer batteries and the ceaseless crash of the British artillery brought a new note into the battle. The enemy was frankly bewildered. He expected to meet with little resistance, and had found himself driven back by an enemy which, he had been told, was numerically his inferior. The grey masses melted into their trenches, and a quarter of an hour after the battle had been at its height the field was bare of men, save the quiet figures which lay all along the British front.
Dusk came, and with it an order to improve the trench lines and to dig dummies; for, if there was one thing more necessary than another, it was to maintain the illusion that a strong force was holding the line.
Throughout the dark hours of the night, disturbed only by an occasional star shell, the brigade worked incessantly, concealing their own trench lines from the observer, turning the earth elsewhere to create spurious trench lines to invite the enemy's shelling, and planting before them rows of posts which from a distance would deceive the enemy into believing that they were protected by barbed-wire entanglements.
"We've got to hold on to the last man," said George, when he found a moment to speak in private to his brother. "Those are the Brigadier's orders, and apparently we can't possibly be reinforced for another three days."
Strangely enough, the attack next day was confined to artillery fire, and no attempt was made to shell the infantry. The British artillery were not so fortunate. The gunners' captain came up into the trenches for a closer view of his enemy.
"I can't understand it," he said. "As often as we shift our position the beggars discover us, though we cover the guns with grasses and the branches of trees."
"Their airmen," suggested George.
The other shook his head.
"It can't be that, though we've had their airmen over. We're too well concealed," he said. "Why, I've even got my men lying out as if they were infantry! And it's just the same with the howitzer people. The enemy's big guns have been shelling them all the morning, and their shells have been getting precious close."
For the rest of that day the artillery were more harassed than they had been for many months. No sooner did a battery shift its position than it was immediately located.
"They've got some system of signaling, I expect," said George, watching through his glasses the bursting shells.
Clarence, to whom he addressed his remark, started suddenly.
"Good Lord!" he gasped. And then: "I'd like you to let me go back, sir, along the communicating trench and try to reach the Brigadier," he said.
"What's the idea?" asked George curiously.
"If you'll allow me, I should like to go," insisted Clarence.
Five minutes later he was making the best of his way across a country raked by shell fire. He reached the Brigadier's headquarters and made his report, and two hours later was returning to the trench lines.
"You've been well out of it," said George. "The devils have been dropping shrapnel all over us, and I believe every regiment has been suffering the same."
"Did they shell the dummy trenches?"
"Not a bit," replied George gloomily. "We shall have to go out and improve those to-night. They wouldn't deceive a gas-pipe."
That evening Clarence made an extraordinary proposition to his commanding officer—a proposition which would have been violently rejected but for the fact that it was supported, a few minutes after the suggestion had been made, by a general order.
The next day, after the German aviators had come streaking across the trench lines, a heavy bombardment began from the German guns, and this time the shells were bursting with extraordinary accuracy over a line of trenches which contained nothing more important than a number of scattered little red books, placed in artistic disorder at regular intervals.
"I tumbled to it as soon as I saw the unnecessary inside packing to the chocolate," explained Clarence to his admiring brother. "I knew that that red had been chosen with great care, as it was not a usual colour. The inside wrappers, the shavings—all of the same vivid colour. Naturally our chaps would chuck the paper about. And the aviator, circling overhead, could always be pretty sure that in every trench one or two of these infernal red wrappers would be showing. That was how he found the artillery, and that was the way he spotted the howitzers—blue wrappers for one and white for the others. I should like to know who was the bright lad who thought out the scheme?"
There was a pause.
"You've done well out of it," said George, after a while.
He was obviously uncomfortable and avoided the steely suspicion in his brother's eyes.
"Fact is, old man," he blurted "the General asked me if I would recommend you for a commission and I said 'Yes.'"
The face of Clarence Cassidy fell.
"Dirty trick!" he hissed, and was genuinely upset.
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