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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint




Today opens our third week on square; everybody and everything tightens on us. Taffy gave us warning that we'd be for it if Stiffy caught a glimpse of clumsiness or hesitation henceforward in our motions. Corporal Hemmings had taken us for the dawn P.T. We slacked with him, and not we only. The whole body of recruits has a dislike for him and, when he commands, the entire parade goes listless. We dislike him enough to be keener on earning his curses than his praise.

Stiffy came across during first period and put us through a racing performance of nearly all the drill manual. 'They're a very promising lot,' he told the Sergeant, afterwards, apart. That a hint of praise might not spoil our trying, he kept his face and manner from all sign of satisfaction. When his eye first swept along our flight, it filled suddenly. He sent Garner and myself back into the rear rank, and warned Sergeant Jenkins there'd be trouble if any pale-headed men were seen in the front again. 'White hair, white liver' he said. 'Those are the first sort of chaps to run in a scrap.' During his ten minutes eighteen names were booked for extra drills. Of course we do not do them; but Stiffy, not knowing that, went off rubbing his hands at the good morning. We delayed to rub ours till he was out of sight.

I was entertaining a sharp dose of malaria and most of the day passed hazily. Apparently I stumbled and shambled through. My neighbours each side would see to that and the rear rank is cushy. Corporal Hardy is very short and cannot watch it without stretching a-tiptoe. Nor was he caring, today, about our correctness. He was angry because Stiuffy had told him off for drilling us always in the far arm of the parade ground where the cook-house buildings hid us from sight.

At three o'clock he was in more trouble for keeping the flight ten minutes overtime on musketry. He saluted and yelled, 'Yes, Sir,' with loud joy as for a favour when Stiffy swore he'd put him on the report. Five minutes later as we were marching out towards the gymnasium across the empty square, the Corporal gave an explosive 'Eyes right' to Stiffy remotely descried behind the notice-board away up on the main road. This was open cheek: but Hardy had tried that morning to resign his stripes, in an effort to escape the Depot where life pinched him after the affair of Benson. The Adjutant would not grant him either posting or reversion and Hardy's out for mischief.

The next thing I remembered was Cook's waking me up, where I lay in bed sweating under about seven men's blankets. The hut lights were on and he had brought me a tin of tea and a hot sausage roll. 'Scran up!' he called in his sailor's belling tone against my ear, which buzzed for minutes after.

'What's all this in aid of?' I asked, stupidly.

'Well, you're a bit crabbed-like, mate.' He scratched his cheek.

'And the time?'

'It's gone rounds, long ago.' Three minutes later went Last Post. Sailor came over to borrow my Don Quixote, an excuse to sit on the bed and ask if I were going sick in the morning. The shivers of my fever had frightened everybody. Sailor had been one of the gang who had undressed me after gym, which, it seems, I'd got through without comment from the instructor.

What troubles me there when I'm well is partly a physical repugnance (I hate cozening my body, even by order) and partly fear. The question I set myself as often as I think of it and now we have P.T. twice daily is not whether I'll break down at it, but when. This breaking point is always within reach; and some day my distaste will conquer me and strike. The nervous anticipation of that moment waits for me round every corner and is breaking me. Physically I'm good enough to down any man of my weight in the hut. Only they love P.T. as I loathe it. They feel and flex their lithe bodies, even in spare hours, for delight in them.

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