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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint

PART II


 

11:  NOW AND THEN

Things are indeed gentler for us. Tonight even there was a revival of sky-larking in the hut, prolonged after lights out by three irresponsibles, one of whom owned Fane's shriking Cockney voice. Admirable is such unruly energy after the hard day. However, tomorrow we'll all help pay for it; the orderly sergeant banged into the hut on his return from staff parade and hushed us rudely. That means a collective report, and the hatefulness of being punished. What attracted him as much as the noise was our flaring chimney. Fane had piled coal on the stove just at ten o'clock (when, orders say, fires are to be drawn) and now its red top is clattering and its red pipe roaring with the forcible flames. By their changing light I'm note-making, very late, but without comment: for my sleeplessness has become a hut-joke.

They are wrong who imagine that troops today are violent livers. They take nothing soberly enough for that. Twenty years ago - or seventeen years, my limit of direct experience - they were indeed brutal. Then every incident ended in dispute and every dispute either in the ordeal of fists (a forgotten art, today) or in a barrack-court-martial whose sentences were too often massbullying of anyone unlike the mass. Of one unit little stronger than our flight I cannot remember a parade during three months without a discoloured eye. Usually five or six men bore fighting damages. This R.A.F. is a girls' school beside it.

Even our manners are very good: - if our base labelling of one another be discounted. It is not rude when you call him a bloody cunt, upon no grounds at all. He'll only throw lying bastard at you, back. These stingless forms of speech are the free-trade of equals. My fastidious throat chokes over oaths and obscenities: therefore I cannot speak very friendly to their ears: and my not answering them in kind debars them from cursing me. So in small-talk (which besides I've never had) there's an artificial constraint between us. I hate being helped and make their helping me an ungrateful labour. Yet with these exceptions we're on a level and understanding friendship. I find in them an answering male-kindness and natural spark, which makes me curiously safe with them. To live in Hut 4 is to have the feet on solid earth.

Our tangible life has a muscled nudity, joined to such candour of impulse as would (were it coherent, deliberate and expressed) properly be called absolute. But it is dumb. The hut's speech-range is Saxon, and abstract words come from their lips rare and uneven, stinking of print. I suspect that these fluent gestures, the variety of tone, their ceaseless extravagances of body flow in part from verbal poverty and relieve just those emotions which sophisticated man purges, uttered or unuttered, into phrase.

We use each other's things, if we have need, without asking leave. That is common sense. He does my toothbrush no harm that can be felt or seen or smelt: and what other criteria exist? After Tuesday and the emptiness of all pockets, anyone with weekend relics of cigarettes or coppers shares them out naturally or sees them shared. After pay-time on Friday a return is made; more or less, as regards cigarettes: exactly, as regards money. There is no begging: no need for it. Who dare refuse when it may be his necessity next week? In the repayment of a money loan there is charming shyness and punctuality. The precise sum is slipped into your hand, while your eyes and his sedulously avoid meeting or seeing it.

Half-inching is venial, in certain lines of goods: - issues articles, cleaning gear, sealed-pattern equipment, or consumable stores, like soap. Personal kit is borrowed with the high hand (till found out) but not stolen. The victim stamps about raging and the assistance covers him with loud noises of horror - every man of it, except the guilty one, enviously meaning to do the same tomorrow if he can. Yet you help yourself only to fill a deficiency, not to hoard. It's a question of making use. Also none of us has any property we love.




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