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A Complete Novelette

by W. Townend
Author of "A-Roving," "Private Harris," "Irish," "Oil at San Nicolas," etc.


WAR must always be the great test character. No man can go through the ordeal of fire and emerge unscathed. And to this truth there are no real exceptions. A man may be made by war, or he may be broken, utterly and without redemption, but whatever happens neither he nor his point of view will afterward be quite the same.

Some men will always be cowards in battle. Terror paralyzes their limbs and robs their minds of all sense of shame. Merely to die like soldiers is beyond their strength. This is the one real argument against conscription, which takes all who are sound of body, rejecting none: valuing quantity rather than quality.

Others there are who know fear yet conquer it. The thought of death in all its manifold forms—by bullet, by shell or by bayonet—is terrible, yet far more terrible is the thought of what men might say were they to fail when wanted. Also, the man who turns his back on the enemy has no greater chance of safety than he who advances bravely. Why not, then, die as a man should die, with honor? It is this feeling that makes war possible at all. Many things may be forgiven, but the one unforgivable sin is fear.

But even in these days when science has forged instruments of destruction so wicked that the slaughter of bygone wars is as nothing compared with the carnage of today, there are men who can enter a battle light of heart, seeking danger as the highest earthly prize within their reach. And these are the men who by sheer indifference to death snatch victory from defeat.

Bravery as a virtue is confined to no one nation, country or creed. For that we may offer thanks. But be that as it may, no race under heaven can show such foolhardy and genuine contempt for an enemy—his horse, foot or guns—as the Irish: north, south, east or west—Belfast, Dublin, Cork or Limerick. As they were in the past, so are they now, grim and joyous fighters— impatient, reckless, vengeful—in proof of which many a hard-fought field in France and Belgium, the gossip of trench and billet, and the casualty lists, bear witness.

TONY MALLAGH was a subaltern in the South Irish. This statement should explain a good deal; for the South Irish are particular as to their officers, as many a callow youth has learned to his sorrow and dismay.

In looks and general appearance he was not unlike any other rather ordinary young man of six-and-twenty, who has spent most of his life in the open, being lean and wiry with a good-humored, sunburned face, and eyes in which there seemed always to be lurking a glint of laughter. But Tony Mallagh was not an ordinary young man. Far otherwise. He had faults, of course, as have all of us.

But Tony Mallagh's faults endeared him to people no less than his virtues. He was woefully improvident and a spendthrift, having no sense of the value of money. He bought for the mere pleasure of buying, and mainly for the benefit of others. An appeal for his help, in either time or cash, met with a ready response. He never refused a friend any request, which it might be in his power to grant. He was charitable to a degree of foolishness. He lent where there was no prospect of any return. In times of need, taking no thought for the future he borrowed from a Jew money-lender in London, and when funds were more plentiful, paid back the debt cheerfully. And if to his mind the rate of interest charged for the loan seemed exorbitant and out of all proportion to the benefit received, he let it pass unquestioned. An officer of the South Irish could not, in common justice to himself and his calling, stoop to argument over a matter of borrowed money.

For his poverty, however, Tony Mallagh had no other than himself to thank. At the age of eighteen his mother's brother, a hard-headed ship broker from Glasgow, had offered to take him into his business and to safeguard his interests as if he had been his only son. This offer rejected on the instant, lost Tony a fair chance of being a rich man before he was forty. But there were things in the world that Tony Mallagh valued above mere wealth. As an alternative to amassing a fortune he joined the army, thereby entering on a career that seemed particularly suited to his temperament.

His accomplishments were many and such as earned him the respect of his fellow subalterns. He excelled in sport of every description. He had played Rugby football for his country, he was as good a shot with a rifle as any man in the regiment, there was no horse that he would not ride, or at least try to, and he had boxed as a lightweight in the public-school championships at Aldershot. Moreover, he was absolutely without fear, and had never been known to lose his temper save on one occasion, famous in the annals of the regiment.

This was soon after he had joined the First Battalion, when he had fought and decisively beaten a brawny greengrocer in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, simply because the said greengrocer, being somewhat exhilarated by strong drink, chose to assert his prerogative as a Briton by slugging his weed of a horse over the head with the butt of his whip. Tony had interfered. The fight was the natural outcome. When the greengrocer, a head taller and perhaps fourteen or so pounds heavier, had been counted out by an enthusiastic crowd of bluejackets, and the police had interfered, and there was every prospect of a fair-sized riot being brought about by the loser's friends and supporters, Tony had settled the matter by offering to purchase the horse and wagon on the spot. The offer was promptly accepted.

This was the reason why ten minutes later Tony's commanding officer, motoring toward Cosham with his wife, had been struck almost speechless by the spectacle of his youngest subaltern, bareheaded and looking slightly the worse for wear, seated on the front of a dilapidated greengrocer's wagon with a policeman by his side, driving a dejected white horse.

"Mr. Mallagh," said the Colonel in mild astonishment, "Mr. Mallagh, may I ask——"

"It's all right, sir," said Tony blandly, "we're just taking this old horse to be destroyed."

"But, really, Mr. Mallagh, do you think that a greengrocer's wagon is er—quite a suitable vehicle? Wouldn't it be as well to er—allow the constable to take charge of the horse alone, without your er—valuable assistance?"

Fortunately none of the spectators of the fight knew that Tony was an officer in the South Irish; fortunately also the Colonel happened to be possessed of feelings somewhat akin to Tony's own. So the matter was dropped. But, so he was told, Tony was never to do anything of the kind again. Officers of His Majesty's Army must not fight in the streets as though they were ordinary mortals. It is not fitting. But the story having leaked out followed Tony out to India and home again when he was transferred to the Second Battalion, and was related as typical of himself and his methods.

Tony, indeed, was unpractical, a visionary, rather given to acting without thought and apt to be led away by a far-fetched sense of humor. His smile won him friends where others found only coldness and hostility. He made no enemies, and his men adored him. Also, though more or less poor, he was always happy.

For the rest, he was Irish, hailing from County Kerry, and in love with the sweetest and dearest girl in the world, as poor and as proud as himself, who lived with an aunt, the widow of a retired admiral, in a small house at Farnborough, within easy reach of the North Camp where Tony was stationed in the Spring of the year, 1914.

Marriage is not a risk to be entered on lightly. For six months Tony Mallagh, rendered strangely cautious by his good fortune, waited until such time as his finances showed signs of improvement. But at the end of the six months, an interminable age, his patience was worn threadbare. The novelty and charm of being engaged, even though it were to the sweetest and dearest of girls, was slightly dimmed.

As a general rule, Tony, though having a host of friends, was disinclined to consult any regarding his own affairs. Nevertheless he felt now that he needed advice. There was only one man in the whole regiment to whom he could go: Shannon, his company commander, and his senior by about ten years.

Tony's attitude of mind toward Shannon was peculiar. He admired him for what he was and for what he had done as a soldier. He had medals for the Tirah expedition in '97, the Soudan in '98, the Boer War, Somaliland, for the northwest frontier six years before, in addition the D. S. O., earned in Natal on the way to Ladysmith. He was a disciplinarian. B Company was the smartest in the battalion. He was sincere, kindly, clever. Yet from Tony Mallagh's view-point he had his failings. He was deliberate, slow in understanding, over methodical, particular as to detail, fussy and, as all confirmed bachelors must at last be, old-maidish in his tastes. But his judgments were to be relied on. He would say what he thought, making no effort to hide his opinion, favorable or not.

So to Shannon, Tony went one morning after parade and stated his case. That Shannon was a man who knew nothing of women, who was commonly reported to despise the sex, was no drawback. His advice would be free from prejudice, one way or the other. Also he knew Sybil's aunt, and Sybil as well.

Shannon, a big man with black hair and a small, close-clipped black mustache, sat in an armchair, smoking a pipe, his eyes half-closed, his square-jawed face giving no clue to what thoughts he might have. Yet Tony was strangely comforted even by the knowledge that he listened.

"So you see how things are, sir! What ought I to do? It's rotten luck on the girl, you know, to be engaged to a fat-headed chump like I am. Lord! We may drift on in this kind of way for about fifteen years, or more, till I'm a Major, if I ever get that far. I'll never have any more money than I have now, apart from my pay, I'm certain. And what's that to a girl as ripping, and as good as Sybil? Nothing—nothing at all. I know, from—well, just from knowing her, that she'd marry me on what I have now. But would it be fair? Would it be playing the game?"

Shannon frowned and looked if anything rather bored.

"She's promised to marry you, has she—some time or other, eh?"

"Rather!" said Tony.

"Said anything to any one?"

"No, sir. You see—well, we've kept it a secret for many reasons."

"Ah! And no one knows?"

"Not a blessed soul!" Tony waited, wondering at the drift of the questions that were asked. "Of course, sir, I might try and exchange into something that's better paid than the line: the A. S. C., or the Army Ordnance, for instance. Or I could get out to Egypt, perhaps, or West Africa, or——"

Shannon leaned forward suddenly.

"What's that? What's that you say? Leave the South Irish! Tony, you're a fool! You can do one thing, so far as I can see, and only one. I know your fiancee—er—well enough to er—realize that if she loves—" the word seemed to worry him—"if she er—cares for you, Tony, and you say she does, money will play only a small part in the er— affair. Poor! Of course you are, and always will be. Even if you had a million, you'd be hard up." He grunted. "Huh! Leave the battalion, indeed! Not if I know it."

"Then you think I ought to marry soon."

"At once, if you can." He hoisted himself out of his chair and stretched out his arms and yawned. "And now, get out! I'm sick and tired of hearing you talk."

Tony grinned and stood up.

"It's jolly good of you, sir, to have bothered. It is, really."

"Get out!" repeated Shannon gruffly. "Don't worry me!"

By his manner he seemed to regard the interview as of no importance, or as merely a waste of time that might be otherwise more usefully employed. But when Tony had closed the door after him, he dropped into his chair once more and stared blindly across the little room, a dull pain in his heart and his teeth pressing deeply into his lower lip.

It seemed impossible. Had his pride been so great that he had been unable to see what was passing before his very eyes? Had others seen and he been ignorant of open warnings? The girl he had thought to marry, the one girl in the whole world a man might worship unashamed, had been taken from him by Tony Mallagh. Tony, the irresponsible, extravagant, happy-go-lucky, reckless, hard-up Tony, had beaten him.

And Sybil! In the depths of his despair there yet remained a feeling of thankfulness that he had been spared the shame of hearing from her own lips what he now knew.

He rose from his chair and stood gazing out of the window on to the barrack square. A sense of his own worthlessness gripped him. What right had he to hope that a girl like Sybil would have chosen a man like himself: a man with no knowledge beyond the Army; a man who could sit tongue-tied and half-frightened in her presence? The thought of his own conceit—which he would have hated in another—sickened him.

But it was all over now and done with. Sybil would marry Tony Mallagh, and they would be very happy together and very poor, and he himself, Captain R. B. Shannon, D. S. O., Second Battalion, Royal South Irish Fusiliers, would work hard and hope for war and try and put out of his mind the picture of the girl whom he had thought his for the mere asking.


NOT even Tony Mallagh, reckless and improvident as he was, would have risked marriage, had not matters taken an unexpected turn. It was while he was in Ireland, on leave, that he read of the death of Sybil's aunt. He left for Aldershot the same evening.

The girl, dressed in deep black, was in the garden at the back of the house when he arrived.

"Sybil," he said presently, after the first greetings were over, "what do you intend to do?"

She gave a little shrug.

"I don't know, Tony. I've got to earn a living somehow, of course."

"Oh!" said Tony sagely. "Indeed. Just so. Earn a living." He looked at her with loving admiration.

"You see, dear," said the girl, "Aunt Jane's income was for life only. And—well, that's all gone. So I must do something, mustn't I?" He said nothing and she continued, "I'm fairly clever at housekeeping, I can look after servants, keep accounts, garden, and so on, so I thought I might be useful as a companion to some one, or a governess, or——"

Tony interrupted with a grunt signifying extreme disapproval and disgust.

"Quite so. A governess, eh! Ye-es. I can just see you governessing, sweetheart. Quite so. You've no people at all, dear have you?"

"Only a sister in Dublin. Her husband's in the engineers. I could go to her for a while, but—well, she's not very well off, and it's better for me to do something for myself, isn't it?"

"No," said Tony decidedly. "It isn't— nothing of the kind. Ridicuious! Wouldn't hear of it. Sybil, my love, let us consider the facts. Why put off any longer what might be done now?"

She watched him in silence, the sunshine making her hair like spun gold, her blue eyes, blue as the sky above, very grave and tender and loving, her cheeks flushed, a little nervous smile on her lips.

"Sweetheart," said Tony, "we've nothing to lose by marriage. Nothing. All to gain. I'm sick of this everlasting waiting. At this rate we won't be married for fifty years, not if we're supposed to be waiting till I can give you what you deserve. Consider the facts, old girl, and decide. What's more, if the money I have now can keep me, * throwing it about like I do and not trying to save, it'll keep the pair of us. That's logic. We'd be poor, of course, but—will you risk it? Could you marry a poor man, Sybil dear, and be happy?"

"It's not myself I'm worried about," she said slowly, "it's you. I've always been poor, but it will be hard on you, Tony, to have to give up——"

"Rubbish and fiddlesticks!" said Tony. He took her into his arms and kissed her. "If that's all, sweetheart, we'll be married just as soon as we jolly well can. I'll tackle the Colonel first thing in the morning. You leave it to me. He won't mind when I tell him everything, I know. He's eating out of my hand these days. Tame as a white rabbit with some green-stuff."

And, allowing for exaggeration, Tony was quite correct. Married subalterns were not approved of in the South Irish for many reasons is, but for once the Colonel raised no objections.

"In your case," he said, "I think it's almost the best thing that could have happened. You've made a most excellent choice—most excellent. And, Tony, if I were you I'd leave all my financial affairs to my wife. From what I know there's more sense in that young lady's little finger than there is in your whole body. Now run along and get married as soon as you please."

And married they were within the month.

Quite the most valuable of their many presents came from Shannon, who, much to his regret, was called up to London on business on the very morning of the wedding. This was in the middle of June.

For a little over five weeks Tony lived in a kind of dream in which fact and fancy seemed strangely mingled. Never before had he known such happiness. Never indeed had he thought such happiness possible. Sybil was wonderful. Each day that passed revealed in her unexpected charms.

Deep down in his heart Tony pitied those less fortunate than himself: not only bachelors, but men with wives less lovely, or less perfect than his wife. For, after all, as he well knew, there was only one Sybil. How he had existed without her puzzled him.

But if marriage brought to him happiness, so also it brought fear. Supposing he were to die, what would become of Sybil? The thought of the future, with all its possibilities of disaster, daunted him. He must make provision, certainly. But how? This was the problem that, try as he might, he could not solve.

Shannon met him one day walking slowly across the parade-ground toward the mess.

"Tony," he said, "what's wrong?"

Tony came to himself with a start. "What's that? Hullo, sir, never saw you. Wrong! Nothing." And as if to prove his words he smiled with the utmost good nature.

Shannon shook his head.

"Known you too long, now, old son, not to know when you're worrying. How's the wife? Quite fit, eh?"

"Rather!" said Tony.

"Well, something's troubling you, I know. ...

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