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قراءة كتاب Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 153, July 11, 1917

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‏اللغة: English
Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 153, July 11, 1917

Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 153, July 11, 1917

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 3

sounded on the road and a black cob, bearing a feebly protesting padre upon his fat back, trotted through the gate, up to the lines and began to swop How d'y'do's with my hairies. The little Padre cocked his head on one side and oozed apologies from every pore.

He hadn't meant to intrude, he twittered; Peter had brought him; it was Peter's fault; Peter was very eccentric.

Peter, I gathered, was the fat cob, who by this time had butted into the lines and was tearing at a hay net as if he hadn't had a meal for years.

His alleged master looked at me hopeless, helpless. What was he to do? "Well, since Peter is evidently stopping to tea with my horses," said I, "the only thing you can do is to come to tea with us." So I lifted him down and bore him off to the cow-shed inhabited by our mess at the time and regaled him on chlorinated Mazawattee, marmalade and dog biscuit. An hour later, Peter willing, he left us.

We saw a lot of the Padre after that. Peter, it appeared, had taken quite a fancy to us and frequently brought him round to meals. The Padre had no word of say in the matter. He confessed that, when he embarked upon Peter in the morning, he had not the vaguest idea where mid-day would find him. Nothing but the black cob's fortunate rule of going home to supper saved the Padre from being posted as a deserter.

He had an uneasy feeling that Peter would one day suddenly sicken of the war and that he would find himself in Paris or on the Riviera. We had an uneasy feeling that Peter would one day develop a curiosity as to the Bosch horse rations, and stroll across the line, and we should lose the Padre, a thing we could ill afford to do, for by this time he had taken us under his wing spiritually and bodily. On Sundays he would appear in our midst dragging a folding harmonium and hold Church Parade, leading the hymns in his twittering bird-like voice.

Then the spinster ladies of his old parish of Thorpington Parva gave him a Ford car, and with this he scoured back areas for provisions and threaded his tin buggy in and out of columns of dusty infantry and clattering ammunition limbers, spectacles gleaming, cap slightly awry, while his batman (a wag) perched precariously a-top of a rocking pile of biscuit tins, cigarette cases and boxes of tinned fruit, and shouted after the fashion of railway porters, "By your leave! Fags for the firin' line. Way for the Woodbine Express."

But if we saw a lot of the Padre it was the Antrims who looked upon him as their special property. They were line infantry, of the type which gets most of the work and none of the Press notices, a hard-bitten, unregenerate crowd, who cared not a whit whether Belgium bled or not, but loved fighting for its own sake and put their faith in bayonet and butt. And wherever these Antrims went thither went the Padre also, his harmonium and his Woodbines. I have a story that, when they were in a certain part of the line where the trenches were only thirty yards apart (so close indeed that the opposing forces greeted each other by their first names and borrowed one another's wiring tools), the Padre dragged the harmonium into the front line and held service there, and the Germans over the way joined lustily in the hymns. He kept the men of the Antrims going on canteen delicacies and their officers in a constant bubble of joy. He swallowed their tall stories without a gulp; they pulled one leg and he offered the other; he fell headlong into every silly trap they set for him. Also they achieved merit in other messes by peddling yarns of his wonderful innocence and his incredible absent-mindedness.

"Came to me yesterday, the Dicky Bird did," one of them would relate; "wanted advice about that fat fraud of his, Peter. 'He's got an abrasion on the knob of his right-hand front paw,' says he. 'Dicky Bird,' says I, 'that is no way to describe the anatomy of a horse after all the teaching I've given you.' 'I am so forgetful and horsey terms are so confusing,' he moans. 'Oh, I recollect now—his starboard ankle!' The dear babe!"

In the course of time the Antrims went into the Push, but on this occasion they refused to take the Padre with them, explaining that Pushes were noisy affairs with messy accidents happening in even the best regulated battalions.

The Padre was up at midnight to see them go, his spectacles misty. They went over the bags at dawn, reached their objective in twenty minutes and scratched themselves in. The Padre rejoined them ten minutes later, very badly winded, but bringing a case of Woodbines along with him.

My friend Patrick grabbed him by the leg and dragged him into a shell-hole. Nothing but an inherent respect for his cloth restrained Patrick from giving the Dicky Bird the spanking of his life. At 8 A.M. the Hun countered heavily and hove the Antrims out. Patrick retreated in good order, leading the Padre by an ear. The Antrims sat down, licked their cuts, puffed some of the Woodbines, then went back and pitchforked the Bosch in his tender spots. The Bosch collected fresh help and bobbed up again. Business continued brisk all day, and when night fell the Antrims were left masters of the position.

At 1 A.M. they were relieved by the Rutland Rifles, and a dog weary battered remnant of the battalion crawled back to camp in a sunken road a mile in the rear. One or two found bivouacs left by the Rutlands, but the majority dropped where they halted. My friend Patrick found a bivouac, wormed into it and went to sleep. The next thing he remembers was the roof of his abode caving in with the weight of two men struggling violently. Patrick extricated himself somehow and rolled out into the grey dawn to find the sunken road filled with grey figures, in among the bivouacs and shell holes, stabbing at the sleeping Antrims. Here and there men were locked together, struggling tooth and claw; the air was vibrant with a ghastly pandemonium of grunts and shrieks; the sunken road ran like a slaughter-house gutter. There was only one thing to do, and that was to get out, so Patrick did so, driving before him what men he could collect.

A man staggered past him, blowing like a walrus. It was the Padre's batman, and he had his master tucked under one arm, in his underclothes, kicking feebly.

Patrick halted his men beyond the hill crest, and there the Colonel joined him, trotting on his stockinged feet. Other officers arrived, herding men. "They must have rushed the Ruts., Sir," Patrick panted; "must be after those guns just behind us." "They'll get 'em too," said the Colonel grimly. "We can't stop 'em," said the Senior Captain. "If we counter at once we might give the Loamshires time to come up—they're in support, Sir—but—but, if they attack us, they'll get those guns—run right over us."

The Colonel nodded. "Man, I know, I know; but look at 'em"—he pointed to the pathetic remnant of his battalion lying out behind the crest—"they're dropping asleep where they lie—they're beat to a finish—not another kick left in 'em."

He sat down and buried his face in his hands. The redoubtable Antrims had come to the end.

Suddenly came a shout from the Senior Captain, "Good Lord, what's that fellow after? Who the devil is it?"

They all turned and saw a tiny figure, clad only in underclothes, marching deliberately over the ridge towards the Germans.

"Who is it?" the Colonel repeated. "Beggin' your pardon, the Reverend, Sir," said the Padre's batman as he strode past the group of officers. "'E give me the slip, Sir. Gawd knows wot 'e's up to now." He lifted up his voice and wailed after his master, "'Ere, you come back this minute, Sir. You'll get yourself in trouble again. Do you 'ear me, Sir?" But the Padre apparently did not hear him, for he plodded steadily on his way. The batman gave a sob of despair and broke into a double.

The Colonel sprang to his feet, "Hey, stop him, somebody! Those swine'll shoot him in a second—child