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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint

PART II


 

7:  A FRESH START<

We are to begin again. Taffy, who'd served just before the war with Stiffy in the Guards, saw him after breakfast today and asked that we might be put back to first week. 'I'll put it right with the lads,' he promised, when Stiffy feared that it might daunt us. 'They've been properly buggered these last days.' He very bluntly told the Adjutant the harmfulness of the bullying we'd had.

Taffy's gloating over the way we are to go through it at his hands has a healthy hiccoughing laughter in its background: and we are happy enough with it to cheek him back, off parade. Then he chases us, with surprising speed for a malt-tub, and prods us with the famous stick. On drill he is a queer cat, playing with us, and we are queer individual mice: silent stiffly-jerking mice, and a motionless, not at all silent, cat. The filled parade reminds me of a puppet theatre. Stiffy is a master of drill, and our ignorance his orchestra.

Four of our hospital fellows have missed the flight. They will go back to fatigues, when they are well; and four late-comers to the Depot have been advanced to make up our number. One of them is no gain: a lanky eighteen-year-old, whose legs recurve like a seal's flippers: gawky, uncooked, playful. He powders his cheeks, after scraping the thin down from them with a safety razor, scents his hair, scents his teeth, stinks at the armpits and feet. Sergeant Jenkins, seeing suddenly in the ranks this pasty face and lolloping mouth smiling wetly at him, cried out, 'And who let you into my flight, Gaby?' The name stuck, Gaby proud of it.

October the twentieth was the first dawning altogether too wet for P.T. I marked the salved hour with a white memorial stone. It will save me, if this autumn should prove regularly wet. Our drills went on in a great shed near the dining hail. When, later, we scurried in overcoats down the wet road to school, the tattered elms were sighing, groaning and wheezing in a dreary wind, which was flecked and made chilly by rain. Squalls flung the drops of glittering water from these boughs in showers after our backs. We overtook a woman: so fast did we drive on that in three minutes she was eighty yards behind. 'Flight... about turn' roared Taffy. Back we swung in our tracks, facing the woman. 'Eyes right.' She blushed to her eyes, too: as did some of us. 'Flight about turn.' We chased her down again.

That was yesterday and at night, half an hour after lights out, little Nobby, that honest weakly radish, pulled on his trousers, and crept from bed to the stove whose fire was yet hot, though dying. He shivered, hooked open the hinged lid, and cowered over it. Elsewhere the red coals' glowing lost itself in the bigness of the room: but their first up-light smoothed the modelling of his face, like a faun's face, where he held it between his hands, brooding (do fauns brood?) for long minutes: till I fell asleep




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