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Full text of "The drums of the fore and aft"




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J^UDOLF CREES 




HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY 



1' H I L A D E L r H I A 



THE DRUMS OF THE FORE 
AND AFT. 

In the Army List they still stand as " The 
Fore and Fit Princess Hohenzollern-Sig- 
maringen - Auspach's Merther - Tydfilshire 
Own Eoyal Loyal Light Infantry, Regi- 
mental District 329 A/' bnt the army 
through all its barracks and canteens knows 
them now as the "Fore and Aft." They 
may in time do something that shall make 
their new title honorable, but at present 
they are bitterly ashamed, and the man who 
calls them " Fore and Aft " does so at the 
risk of the head which is on his shoulders. 

Two words breathed into the stables of a 
certain cavalry regiment will bring the men 
out into the streets with belts and mops and 
bad language; but a whisper of " Fore and 
Aft " will bring out this regiment with 
rifles. 

Their one excuse is that they came again 

6 

2054802 



6 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

and did their best to finish the job in style. 
But for a time all their world knows that 
they were openly beaten, whipped, dumb- 
cowed, shaking and afraid. The men know 
it; their officers know it;* the Horse Guards 
know it; and when the next war comes the 
enemy will know it also. There are two or 
three regiments of the line that have a black 
mark against their names which they will 
then wipe out, and it will be excessively in- 
convenient for the troops upon whom they 
do their wiping. 

The courage of the British soldier is offi- 
cially supposed to be above proof, and, as a 
general rule, it is so. The exceptions are de- 
cently shoved out of sight, only to be re- 
ferred to in the freshest of unguarded talk 
that occasionally swamps a mess-table at 
midnight. Then one hears strange and hor- 
rible stories of men not following their offi- 
cers, of orders being given by those w^ho had 
no right to give them, and of disgrace that, 
but for the standing luck of the British 
Army, might have ended in brilliant disas- 



The Drums of the Fore aad Aft. 7 

ter. These are impleasant stories to listen to, 
and the messes tell them under their breath, 
sitting by the big wood fires, and the young 
officer bows his head and thinks to himself, 
please God, his men shall never behave un- 
handily. 

The British soldier is not altogether to be 
blamed for occasional lapses; but this verdict 
he should not know. A moderately intelli- 
gent general will waste six months in mas- 
tering the craft of the particular war that he 
may be waging; a colonel may utterly mis- 
understand the capacity of his regiment for 
three months after it has taken the field; and 
even a company commander may err and be 
deceived as to the temper and temperament 
of his own handful; wherefore the soldier, 
and the soldier of to-day more particularly, 
should not be blamed for falling back. He 
should be shot or hanged afterwards — pour 
encourager les autres — but he should not be 
vilified in newspapers, for that is want of 
tact and waste of space. 

He has, let us say, been in the service of 



8 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

the empress for, perhaps, four years. He 
will leave in another two years. He has no 
inherited morals, and four years are not suf- 
ficient to drive toughness into his fibre, or to 
teach him how holy a thing is his regiment. 
He wants to drink, he wants to enjoy him- 
self — in India he wants to save money — and 
he does not in the least like getting hurt. 
He had received just sufficient education to 
make him understand half the purport of the 
orders he receives, and to speculate on the 
nature of clean, incised, and shattering 
wounds. Thus, if he is told to deploy under 
fire preparatory to an attack, he knows that 
he runs a very great risk of being killed 
while he is deploying, and suspects that he is 
being thrown away to gain ten minutes' 
time. He may either deploy with desperate 
swiftness, or he may shuffle, or bunch, or 
break, according to the discipline under 
which he has lain for four years. 

Armed with imperfect knowledge, cursed 
with the rudiments of an imagination, ham- 
pered by the intense selfishness of the lower 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 9 

classes, and unsupported by any regimental 
associations, this young man is suddenly in- 
troduced to an enemy who in eastern lands 
is always ugly, generally tall and hairy, and 
frequently noisy. If he looks to the right 
and the left and sees old soldiers — men of 
twelve years' service, who, he knows, know 
what they are about — taking a charge, rush, 
or demonstration without embarrassment he 
is consoled, and applies his shoulder to the 
butt of his rifle with a stout heart. His 
peace is the greater if he hears a senior, who 
has taught him his soldiering and broken 
his head on occasion, whispering: " They'll 
shout and carry on like this for five minutes, 
then they'll rush in, and then we've got 'em 
by the short hairs! " 

But, on the other hand, if he sees only 
men of his own term of service, turning 
white and playing with their triggers and 
saying: ''What the helFs up now?" while 
the company commanders are sweating into 
their sword-hilts and shouting: " Front- 
rank, fix bayonets! Steady there — steady I 



10 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

Sight for three hundred — no, for five! Lie 
down, all ! Steady! Front-rank, kneel !" 
and so forth, he becomes unhappy; and 
grows acutely miserable when he hears a 
^comrade turn over wdth the rattle of fire- 
irans falling over the fender, and the grunt 
of a pole-axed ox. If he can be moved about 
a little and allowed to watch the effect of his 
own fire on the enemy, he feels merrier, and 
may be then worked up to the blind passion 
of fighting, which is, contrary to general 
belief, controlled by a chilly devil and shakes 
men like ague. If he is not moved about, 
and begins to feel cold at the pit of the 
stomach, and in that crisis is badly mauled 
and hears orders that were never given, he 
will break, and he will break badly; and of 
all things under the sight of the sun there is 
nothing more terrible than a broken British 
regiment. When the worst comes to the 
worst, and the panic is really epidemic, the 
men must be e'en let go, and the company 
commanders had better escape to the enemy 
and stay there for safety's sake. If they can 



The Drum5 of the Fore and Aft. 11 

be made to come again, they are not pleasant 
men to meet, because they will not break 
twice. 

About thirty years from this date, when 
we have succeeded in half-educating every- 
thing that wears trousers, our army will be 
a beautifully unreliable machine. It will 
know too much, and it will do too little. 
Later still, when all men are at the mental 
level of the officer of to-day, it will sweep 
the earth. Speaking roughly, you must em- 
ploy either blackguards or gentlemen, or, 
best of all, blackguards commanded by gen- 
tlemen, to do butcher^s work with efficiency 
and dispatch. The ideal soldier should, of 
course, think for himself — the pocket-hooik 
says so. Unfortunately, to attain this vir- 
tue, he has to pass through the phase of 
thinking of himself, and that is misdirected 
genius. A blackguard may be slow to think 
for himself, but he is generally anxious to 
kill, and a little punishment teaches him 
how to guard his own skin and perforate 
another's. A powerfully prayerful High- 



12 Tlie Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

land regiment, officered by rank Presbyte- 
rians, is perhaps one degree, more terrible in 
action than a hard-bitten thousand of irre- 
sponsible Irish ruffians, led by most improper 
young unbelievers. But these things prove 
the rule — which is, that the midway men 
are not to be trusted alone. They have ideas 
about the value of life and an up-bringing 
that has not taught them to go on and take 
the chances. They are carefully unprovided 
with a backing of comrades who have been 
shot over, and until that backing is reintro- 
duced, as a great many regimental com- 
manders intend it shall be, they are more 
liable to disgrace themselves than the size 
of the empire or the dignity of the army 
allows. Their officers are as good as good 
can be, because their training begins early, 
and God has arranged that a clean-run youth 
of the British middle classes shall, in the 
matter of backbone, brains, and bowels, sur- 
pass all other youths. For this reason, a 
child of eighteen will stand up, doing noth- 
ing, with a tin sword in his hand and joy 



The Dmmc of the Fore and Aft. 13 

in his heart until he is dropped. If he dies, 
he dies like a gentleman. If he lives, he 
writes home that he has been " potted," 
" sniped,'^ " chipped " or " cut over," and 
sits down to besiege the government for a 
wound-gratuity until the next little war 
breaks out, when he perjures himself before 
a medical board, blarneys his colonel, burns 
incense round his adjutant, and is allov/ed 
to go to the front once more. 

Which homily brings me directly to a 
brace of the most finished little fiends that 
ever banged drum or tooted fife in the band 
of a British regiment. They ended their 
sinful career by open and flagrant mutiny 
and were shot for it. Their names were 
Jakin and Lew — Piggy Lew — and they were 
bold, bad drummer-boys, both of them fre- 
quently birched by the drum-major of the 
Fore and Aft. 

Jakin was a stunted child of fourteen, and 
Lew was about the same age. When not 
looked after, they smoked and drank. They 
swore habitually after the manner ©f the 



14 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

barrack-room, wliich is cold-swearing and 
comes from between clenched teeth; and 
they fought religiously once a week. Jakin 
had sprung from some London gutter and 
may or may not have passed through Dr. 
Barnado's hands ere he arrived at the dig- 
nity of a drummer-boy. Lew could remember 
nothing except the regiment and the delight 
of listening to the band from his earliest 
years. He hid somewhere in his grimy lit- 
tle soul a genuine love for music, and was 
most mistakenly furnished with the head of 
a cherub; insomuch that beautiful ladies 
who watched the regiment in church were 
wont to speak of him as a ^^darling." They 
never heard his vitriolic comments on their 
manners and morals, as he walked back to 
barracks with the band and matured fresh 
causes of offense against Jakin. 

The other drummer-boys hated both lads 
on account of their illogical conduct. Jakin 
might be pounding Lew, or Lew might be 
rubbing Jakin's head in the dirt; but any at- 
tempt at aggression on the part of an outsider 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 15 

was met by the combined forces of Lew and 
Jakin, and the consequences were painful. 
The boys were the Ishmaels of the corps, but 
wealthy Ishmaels, for they sold battles in al- 
ternate weeks for the sport of the barracks 
when they were not pitted against other 
boys; and thus amassed money. 

On this particular day there was dissension 
in the camp. They had just been convicted 
afresh of smoking, which is bad for little 
boys who use plug tobacco, and Lew's 
contention was that Jakin had " stunk so 
'orrid bad from keepin' the pipe in his 
pocket," that he and he alone was respon- 
sible for the birching they were both tingling 
under. 

" I tell you I 'id the pipe back o' barricks," 
said Jakin pacifically. 

"You're a bloomin' liar," said Lew with- 
out heat. 

" You're a bloomin' little barstard," said 
Jakin, strong in the knowledge that his own 
ancestry was unknown. 

'Now there is one word in the extended vo- 



16 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

cabulary of barrack-room abuse that cannot 
pass without comment. You may call a man 
a thief and risk nothing. You may even 
call him a coward wdthout finding more 
than a boot whizz past your ear, but you 
must not call a man a bastard unless you are 
prepared to prove it on his front teeth. 

" You might ha' kep' that till I wasn't so 
sore," said Lew, sorrowfully, dodging round 
Jakin's guard. 

" I'll make you sorer," said Jakin, gen- 
ially, and got home on Lew's alabaster fore- 
head. All would have gone well, and this 
story, as the books say, would never have 
been written, had not his evil fate prompted 
the Bazaar-Sergeant's son, a long, employless 
man of five-and-twenty, to put in appear- 
ance after the first round. He was eternally 
in need of money, and knew that the boys 
had silver. 

" Fighting again," said he. " I'll report 
you to my father, and he'll report you to 
the Color-Sergeant." 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 17 

''\Vhat's that to you?" said Jakin, with 
an unpleasant dilation of the nostrils. 

" Oh ! nothing to me. You'll get into 
trouble, and you've been up too often to 
afford that." 

''^What the hell do you know about what 
we've done?" asked Lew, the Seraph. " You 
aren't in the army, you lousy, cadging civil- 
ian!" 

He closed in on the man's left flank. 

"Jes' 'cause you find two gentlemen set- 
tlin' their diff'rences with their fistes, you 
stick in your ugly nose where you aren't 
wanted. Run 'ome to your 'arf-caste slut of 
a ma — or we'll give you what-for/' said 
Jakin. 

The man attempted reprisals by knocking 
the boys' heads together. Tlie scheme would 
have succeeded had not Jakin punched him 
vehemently in the stomach, or had Lew re- 
frained from kicking his shins. They fought 
together, bleeding and breathless, for half an 
hour, and after heavy punishment, triumph- 



18 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

antly pulled down their opponent as terriers 
pull down a jackal. 

" Now" gasped Jakin, " I'll give you what- 
for." He proceeded to pound the man's 
features while Lew stamped on the outlying 
portions of his anatomy. Chivalry is not a 
strong point in the composition of the aver- 
age drummer-boy. He fights, as do his 
betters, to make his mark. 

Ghastly was the ruin that escaped, and 
awful was the wrath of the Bazaar-Sergeant. 
Awful, too, was the scene in the orderly- 
room where the two reprobates appeared to 
answer the charge of half -murdering a '^ ci- 
vilian." The Bazaar-Sergeant thirsted for a 
criminal action, and his son lied. The boys 
stood to attention while the black clouds of 
evidence accumulated. 

" You little devils are more trouble than 
the rest of the regiment put together," said 
the colonel, angrily. " One might as well 
admonish thistledown, and I can't well put 
you in cells or under stoppages. You must 
be flogged again." 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 19 

" Beg y' pardon, sir. Can't we say nothin' 
in our own defense, sir?" shrilled Jakin. 

"Hey! What? Are you going to argue 
with me?" said the colonel. 

" No, sir," said Lew. " But if a man come 
to you, sir, and said he was going to report 
you, sir for 'aving a bit of a turn-up with a 
friend, sir, an' wanted to get money out o' 
you, sir — " 

The orderly-room exploded in a roar of 
laughter. " Well?" said the colonel. 

" That was what that measly jarnwar 
there did, sir, and 'e'd a' done it, sir, if we 
'adn't prevented 'im. We didn't 'it 'im 
much, sir. 'E 'adn't no manner o' right to 
interfere with us, sir. I don't mind bein' 
flogged by the Drum-Major, sir, nor yet re- 
ported by any corp'ral, but I'm — but I don't 
think it's fair, sir, for a civilian to come an' 
talk over a man in the army." 

A second shout of laughter shook the 
orderly-room, but the colonel was grave. 

"What sort of characters have these boys?'^ 
he asked of the regimental sergeant-major. 



20 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

"Accordin' to the Bandmaster, sir/' re- 
turned that revered official — the only soul 
in the regiment whom the boys feared — 
'^'^they do everything tut lie, sir/' 

" Is it like we'd go for that man for fun, 
sir?" said Lew, pointing to the plaintiff. 

"Oh, admonished — admonished I" said the 
colonel, testily, and, when the boys had gone, 
he read the Bazaar-Sergeant's son a lecture 
on the sin of unprofitable meddling and gave 
orders that the Bandmaster should keep the 
drums in better discipline. 

" If either of you come to practice again 
with so much as a scratch on your two ugly 
little faces/' thundered the Bandmaster, "1*11 
iell the Drum-^Iajor to take the skin off 
3^our backs. Understand that, you young 
devils." 

Then he repented of his speech for just the 
length of time that Lew, looking like a ser- 
aph in red-worsted embellishments, took the 
place of one of the trumpets — in hospital — 
and rendered the echo of a battle-piece. Lew 
certainly was a musician, and had often, in 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 21 

his more exalted moments, expressed a yearn- 
ing to master every instrument of the hand. 

" There's nothing to prevent your becom- 
ing a Bandmaster, Lew/' said the Bandmas- 
ter, who had composed waltzes of his own, 
and worked day and night in the interests of 
the band. 

'^^Yhat did he say?" demanded Jaldn^ 
after practice. 

" Said I might he a bloomin' Bandmaster, 
an' be asked in to 'ave a glass o' sherry-wine 
on mess-nights." 

"IIo! Said you might be a bloomin' non- 
combatant, did 'e? That's just about wot 'e 
would say. ^Mien I've put in my boy's ser- 
vice — it's a bloomin' shame that doesn't 
count for pension — I'll take on a privit. 
Then, I'll be a lance in a year — knowin' what 
I know about the ins an' outs o' things. In 
three years, I'll be a bloomin' sergeant. I 
won't marry then, not I! I'll hold on, and 
learn the orf'cers' ways, an' apply for ex- 
change into a reg'ment that doesn't know all 
about me. Then I'll be a bloomin' orf'cer. 



22 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

Then I'll ask you to 'ave a glass o' sherry- 
wine, Mister Lew, an' you'll bloomin' well 
'ave to stay in the hanty-room while the 
mess-sergeant brings it to your dirty 'ands." 

" S'pose I'm going to be a Bandmaster? 
Xot I, quite. I'll be a orf'cer, too. There's 
nothin' like taking to a thing an' stickin' to 
it, the schoolmaster says. The reg'ment don't 
go 'ome for another seven years. I'll be a 
lance then or near to." 

Thus the boy's discussed their futures, and 
conducted themselves with exemplary piety 
for a week. That is to say, Lew started a 
flirtation with the Color-Sergeant's daughter, 
aged thirteen — '' not," as he explained to Ja- 
kin, "with any intention o' matrimony, but 
by way o' keepin' my 'and in." And the 
black-haired Cris Delighan enjoyed that flir- 
tation more than previous ones, and the other 
drummer-boys raged furiously together, and 
Jakin preached sermons on the dangers of 
" bein' tangled 'along o' petticoats." 

But neither love nor virtue would have 
held Lew long in the paths of propriety, had 



The Drums of tlie Fore and Aft. 23 

not the rumor gone abroad that the regiment 
was to be sent on active service, to take part 
in a war which, for the sake of brevit}^ we 
will call " The War of the Lost Tribes." 

The barracks had the rumor almost before 
the mess-room, and of all the nine hundred 
men in barracks not ten had seen a shot fired 
in anger. The colonel had, twenty years 
ago, assisted at a frontier expedition; one 
of the majors had seen service at the Cape; 
a confirmed deserter in E Company had 
helped to clear streets in Ireland; but that 
was all. The regiment had been put by for 
many years. The overwhelming mass of its 
rank and file had from three to four years' 
service; the non-commissioned officers were 
under thirty years old; and men and ser- 
geants alike had forgotten to speak of the 
stories, written in brief upon the colors — the 
new colors that had been formally blessed 
by an archbishop in England ere the regi- 
ment came away. 

They wanted to go to the front — they were 
enthusiastically anxious to go — but they had 



24: The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

no knowledge of what war meant, and there 
was none to tell them. They were an edu- 
cated regiment, the percentage of school cer- 
tificates in their ranks was high, and most of 
the men could do more than read and write. 
They had heen recruited in loyal observance 
of the territorial idea; but they themselves 
had no notion of that idea. They were made 
lip of drafts from an overpopulated manu- 
facturing district. The system had put flesh 
and muscle upon their small bones, but it 
could not put heart into the sons of those 
who for generations had done overmuch 
work for over-scanty pay, had sweated in 
drying-rooms, stooped over looms, coughed 
among white-lead, and shivered on lime- 
barges. The men had found food and rest 
in the army, and now they were going to 
fight ^'^niggers" — people who ran away if you 
shook a stick at them. Wherefore they 
cheered lustily when the rumor ran, and 
the shrewd, clerkly, non-commissioned offi- 
cers speculated on the chances of battle and 
of saving their pay. At head-quarters^ men 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 25 

said : " The Fore and Fit have never heen 
under fire within the last generation. Let 
us, therefore, break them in easily by setting 
them to guard lines of communication." 
And this would have been done but for the 
fact that British regiments were wanted — 
badly wanted — at the front, and there were 
doubtful native regiments that could fill the 
minor duties. " Brigade 'em with two strong 
regiments," said head-quarters. " They may 
be knocked about a bit, but they'll learn 
their business before they come through. 
Nothing like a night-alarm, and a little cut- 
ting-up of stragglers to make a regiment 
smart in the field. Wait till they've had a 
half dozen sentries' throats cut." 

The colonel wrote with delight that the 
temper of his men was excellent, that the 
regiment was all that could be wished, and 
as sound as a bell. The majors smiled with 
a sober joy, and the subalterns waltzed in 
pairs down the mess-room after dinner and 
nearly shot themselves at revolver-practice. 
But there was consternation in the hearts of 



26 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

Jakin and Lew. What was to be done with 
the drums? Would the band go to the 
front? How many of the drums would ac- 
company the regiment? 

They took council together, sitting in a 
tree and smoking. 

" It's more than a bloomin' toss-up they'll 
leave us be'ind at the depot with the women. 
You'll like that," said Jakin, sarcastically. 

"'Cause o' Cris, y' mean? Wot's a w^o- 
man, or a 'ole bloomin' depot o' women, 
'longside o' the chanst of field-service? You 
know I'm as keen on goin' as you," said Lew. 

"Wish I was a bloomin' bugler," said 
Jakin, sadly. "They'll take Tom Kidd 
along, that I can plaster a wall with, an' like 
as not they won't take us." 

" Then let's go an' make Tom Kidd so 
bloomin' sick 'e can't bugle no more. You 
'old 'is 'ands, an' I'll kick him," said Lew, 
wriggling on the branch. 

" That ain't no good, neither. We ain't 
the sort o' characters to presoom on our 
rep'tations — they're bad. If they have the 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 27 

band at the depot we don't go, and no error 
titer e. If they take the band we may get cast 
for medical unfitness. Are you medical fit. 
Piggy? " said Jakin, digging Lew in the ribs 
with force. 

" Yus," said Lew, with an oath. '' The 
doctor says your 'eart's weak through 
smokin' on an empty stummick. Throw a 
chest, an' I'll try yer." 

Jakin threw out his chest, which Lew 
smote with all his might. Jakin turned very 
pale, gasped, crowed, screwed up his eyes, 
and said, " That's all right." 

"You'll do" said Lew. "I've 'card 'o 
men dyin' when you 'it 'em fair on the 
breast-bone." 

" Don't bring us no nearer goin', though," 
said Jakin. " Do you know where we're 
ordered? " 

" Gawd knows, an' 'e won't split on a pal. 
Somewheres up to the front to kill Paythans 
— hairy big beggars that turn you inside 
out if they get 'old of you. They say their 
women are good-looking, too." 



28 Tlie Drum^s of the Fore and Aft. 

"Any loot?" asked the abandoned Jakin. 

" Not a bloomin' anna, - they say, unless 
they dig np the ground an' see what the nig- 
gers 'ave 'id. They're a poor lot." Jakin 
stood upright on the branch and gazed across 
the plain. 

" Lew," said he, " there's the colonel com- 
ing. Colonel's a good old beggar. Let's go 
an' talk to 'im." 

Lew nearly fell out of the tree at the 
audacity ot the suggestion. Like Jakin, he 
feared not God, neither regarded he man, 
but there are limits even to the audacity of 
a drummer-boy, and to speak to a colonel 
was — 

But Jakin had slid down the trunk and 
doubled in the direction of the colonel. 
That officer was walking wrapped in thought 
and visions of a C. B. — yes, even a K. C. B., 
for had he not at command one of the best 
regiments of the line — the Fore and Fit ? 
And he was aware of two small boys charg- 
ing down upon him. Once before, it had 
been solemnly reported to him that " the 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 29 

drums were in a state of mutiny;" Jakin 
and Lew being the ringleaders. This looked 
like an organized conspiracy. 

The boys halted at twenty yards, walked 
to the regulation four paces, and saluted 
together, each as well set-up as a ramrod and 
little taller. 

The colonel was in a genial mood; the boys 
appeared very forlorn and unprotected on 
the desolate plain, and one of them was 
handsome. 

^^ Well ! " said the colonel, recognizing 
them. *^^Are you going to pull me down in 
the open? I'm sure I never interfere with 
you, even though " — he sniffed suspiciously 
— "you have been smoking." 

It was time to strike while the iron was 
hot. Their hearts beat tumultuously. 

" Beg y' pardon, sir," began Jakin. "The 
reg'ment's ordered on active service, sir?" 

" So I believe," said the colonel, courte- 
ously. 

" Is the band goin', sir ? " said both to- 



so The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

gether. Then, without pause, " We're going 
sir, ain't we?" 

"You!" said the colonel, stepping back' 
the more fully to take in the two small 
figures. " You! You'd die in the first 
march." 

" Xo, we wouldn't, sir. We can march 
with the reg'ment anywheres — p'rade an' 
anywhere else," said Jakin. 

" If Tom Kidd goes, 'e'll shut up like a 
clasp-knife," said Lew. " Tom 'as very-close 
veins in both 'is legs, sir." 

" Very how much ? " 

"Very-close veins, sir. That's why they 
swells after long p'rade, sir. If 'e can go, 
we can go, sir." 

Again the colonel looked at them long and 
intently. 

"Yes, the band is going," he said as gravely 
as though he had been addressing a brother 
officer. " Have you any parents, either of 
you two ?" 

"Xo, sir," rejoicingly from Lew and Jakin. 
" We're both orphans, sir. There's no one 
to be considered of on our account, sir." 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 31 

" You poor little sprats, and you want to 
go up to the front with the regiment, do 
you? Why?" 

"I've wore the queen's uniform for two 
years/' said Jakin. " It's very 'ard, sir, that 
a man don't get no recompense for doin' 'is 
dooty, sir." 

"An' — an' if I don't go, sir," interrupted 
Lew, " the Bandmaster 'e says 'e'll catch an' 
make a bloo — a blessed musician o' me, sir. 
Before I've seen any service, sir." 

The colonel made no answer for a long 
time. Then he said, quietly: "If you're 
passed by the doctor, I dare say you can go. 
I shouldn't smoke if I were 3^ou." 

The boys saluted and disappeared. The 
colonel walked home and told the story to 
his wife, who nearly cried over it. The 
colonel w^as well pleased. If that was the 
temper of the children, v^hat would not the 
men do? 

Jakin and Lew entered the boys' barrack- 
room with great stateliness, and refused to 



32 Tlic Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

hold any conversation with their comrades 
for at least ten minutes. Then, bursting with 
pride, Jakin drawled : " I've been intervooin' 
the colonel. Good old beggar is the colonel. 
Says I to 'im, Tolonel,' says I, * let me go to 
the front, along o' the reg'ment.' 'To the 
front you shall go,' says 'e, 'an' I only wish 
there was more like you among the dirty 
little devils that bang the bloomin' drums.' 
Kidd, if 3^ou throw your 'couterments at me 
for tellin' you the truth to your own advan- 
tage, your legs '11 swell." 

Xone the less there was a battle-royal in 
the barrack-room, for the boys were con- 
sumed with envy and hate, and neither 
Jakin nor Lew behaved in conciliatory wise. 

" I'm goin' out to say adoo to my girl,'' 
said Le>v, to cap the climax. " Don't none 
o' you touch my kit, because it's wanted for 
active service, me bein' specially invited to 
go by the colonel." 

lie strolled forth and whistled in the 
clump of trees at the back of the married 
quarters till Cris came to him, and, the pre- 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 33 

liminary kisses heing given and taken, Lew 
began to explain the situation. 

''I'm goin' to the front with the regiment/' 
he said, valiantly. 

" Piggy, you're a little liar," said Cris, but 
her heart misgave her, for Lew was not in 
the habit of lying. 

" Liar yourself, Cris," said Lew, slipping 
an arm around her. " I'm goin'. When 
the rcg'ment marches out you'll see me with 
'em, all galliant and gay. Give us another 
kiss, Cris, on the strength of it." 

" If you'd only stayed at the depot — where 
you ouglii to ha' bin — you could get as many 
of 'em as — as you damn please," whimpered 
Cris, putting up her mouth. 

" It's ard, Cris. I grant you, it's 'ard. 
But what's a man to do? If I'd a-stayed at 
the depot, you wouldn't think anything of 
me." 

" Like as not, but I'd 'ave you with me. 
Piggy. An' all the thinkin' in the world 
isn't like kissin'." 

" An' all the kissin' in the world isn't like 



34 The Drums of the Fore and Ait. 

'arin a medal to wear on the front o' your 
coat/' 

" Tou won't get no medal." 

" Oh, yns, I shall, though. Me an' Jakin 
are the only acting-drummers that'll be took 
along. All the rest is full men, an' we'll get 
our medals with them." 

'" They might ha' taken anybody but you. 
Piggy. You'll get killed — you're so ven- 
turesome. Stay with me. Piggy, darlin', 
down at the depot, an' I'll love you true for- 
ever." 

"Ain't you goin' to do that now, Cris? 
You said you was." 

" 0' course I am, but th' other's more 
comfortable. Wait till you've growed a 
bit. Piggy. You aren't no taller than me 
now." 

" I've been in the army for two years an' 
I'm not goin' to get out of a chanst o' seein' 
service an' don't you try to make me do so. 
I'U come back, Cris, an' when I take on as a 
man I'U marry you — marry you when I'm a 
lance." 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 35 

"Promise, Piggy?" 

Lew reflected on the future as arranged by 
Jakin a short time previously, but Cris's 
mouth was very near to his own. 

"I promise, s'elp me Gawd!" said he. 

Cris slid an arm round his neck. 

" I won't 'old you back no more, Piggy. 
Go away an' get your medal, an' I'll make 
you a new button-bag as nice as I know 
how," she whispered. 

" Put some o' your 'air into it, Cris, an^ 
111 keep it in my pocket so long's I'm 
alive." 

Then Cris wept anew, and the interview 
ended. Public feeling among the drummer- 
boys rose to fever pitch, and the lives of 
Jakin and Lew became unenviable. Xot 
only had they been permitted to enlist two 
years before the regulation boy's age — four- 
teen — ^but, by virtue, it seemed, of their ex- 
treme youth, they were allowed to go to the 
front — Avhich thing had not happened to act- 
ing-drummers within the knowledge of boy. 
The band which was to accompany the regi- 



36 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

ment had been cut down to the regulation 
twenty men, the surplus returning to the 
ranks. Jakin and Lew were attached to the 
hand as supernumeraries, though they would 
much have preferred being company bu- 
glers. 

"Don't matter much," said Jakin, aftei 
the medical inspection. " Be thankful that 
we're 'lowed to go at all. The doctor 'e said 
that if we could stand what we took from 
the Bazaar-Sergeant's son, we'd stand pretty 
nigh everything." 

" Which we will," said Lew, looking ten- 
derly at the ragged and ill-made housewife 
that Cris had given him, with a lock of her 
hair worked into a sprawling " L " upon the 
cover. 

" It was the best I could," she sobbed. " I 
wouldn't let mother nor the sergeant's tailor 
'elp me. Keep it always, Piggy, an' re- 
member I love you true." 

They marched to the railway station, nine 
hundred and sixty strong, and every soul in 
cantonments turned out to see them go. The 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 37 

drummers gnashed their teeth at Jakin and 
Lew marching with the band, the married 
women wept upon the platform, and the 
regiment cheered its noble self black in the 
face. 

"A nice level lot," said the colonel to the 
second in command as they watched the first 
four companies entraining. 

" Fit to do anything," said the second in 
conwnand, enthusiastically. " But it seems 
to me they're a thought too young and ten- 
der for the work in hand. It's bitter cold 
up at the front now." 

" They're sound enough," said the colonel. 
" We must take our chance of sick casual- 
ties." 

So they went northward, ever northward, 
past droves and droves of camels, armies of 
camp followers, and legions of laden mules, 
the throng thickening day by day, till with a 
shriek the train pulled up at a hopelessly 
congested junction where six lines of tem- 
porary track accommodated six forty-wagon 
trains; w^here whistles blew, Babus sweated 



38 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

and commissariat officers swore from dawn 
till far into the night amid the wind-driven 
chaff of the fodder-bales and the lowing of 
a thousand steers. 

"Hurry up — you're badly wanted at the 
front," was the message that greeted the 
Fore and Aft, and the occupants of the Eed 
Cross carriages told the same tale. 

"'Tisn't so much the bloomin' fightin'/' 
gasped a headbound trooper of hussars to a 
knot of admiring Fore and Aft's. "'Tisn't 
so much the bloomin fightin', though there's 
enought o' that. It's the bloomin' food an' 
the bloomin' climate. Frost all night 'cept 
when it hails, an' bilin' sun all day, an' the 
water stinks fit to knock you down. I got 
my 'ead chipped like a egg; Fve got pneu- 
monia, too, an' my guts is all out o' order. 
'Tain't no bloomin' picnic in those parts, I 
can tell you." 

"Wot are the niggers like?" demanded a 
private. 

" There's some prisoners in that train yon- 
der. Go an' look at 'em. They're the aris- 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 39 

tocracy o' the country. The common folk 
are a dashed sight uglier. If you want to 
know what they fight with, reach under my 
seat an' pull out the long knife that's there." 

They dragged out and beheld for the first 
time the grim, bone-handled, triangular Af- 
ghan knife. It was almost as long as Lew. 

"That's the think to j'int ye," said the" 
trooper, feebly. " It can take off a man's 
arm at the shoulder as easy as slicing butter. 
I halved the beggar that used that 'un, but 
there's more of his likes up above. They 
don't understand thrustin', but they're devils 
to slice." 

The men strolled across the tracks to in- 
spect the Afghan prisoners. They were 
unlike any "niggers" that the Fore and Aft 
had ever met — these huge, black-haired, 
scowling sons of the Beni-Israel. As the 
men stared, the Afghans spat freely and 
muttered one to another with lowered eyes. 

"My eyes! Wot awful swine!" said Ja- 
kin, who was in the rear of the procession. 
" Say, old man, how you got puckrowed, eh ? 



40 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

Kisivasti you wasn't hanged for your ugly 
face, hey?" 

The tallest of the company turned, his leg- 
irons clanking at the movement, and stared 
at the boy. " See! " he cried to his fellows 
in Pushto, "they send children against us. 
"What a people, and what fools!" 

"Hya!'^ said Jakin, nodding his head, 
cheerily. " You go down-country. Kliana 
get, peenil^apanee get — live like a bloomin' 
rajah he marfil'. That's a better landolmst 
than baynit get it in your inwards. Good- 
bye, old man. Take care o' your beautiful 
figure-'ed, an' try to look Icusliy.^^ 

The men laughed and fell in for their first 
march, when they began to realize that a sol- 
dier's life was not all beer and skittles. They 
were much impressed with the size and bes- 
tial ferocity of the niggers, whom they had 
now learned to call " Paythans," and more 
with the exceeding discomfort of their own 
surroundings. Twenty old soldiers in the 
corps would have taught them how to make 
themselves moderately snug at night, but 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 41 

they had no old soldiers, and, as the troops 
on the line of march said, "they lived like 
pigs." They learned the heart-breaking cuss- 
edness of camp-kitchens and camels and the 
depravity of an E. P. tent and a wither- 
wrung mule. They studied animalcule in 
water, and developed a few cases of dysen- 
tery in their study. 

• At the end of their third march they were 
disagreeably surprised by the arrival in their 
camp of a hammered iron slug which, fired 
from a steady-rest at seven hundred yards, 
flicked out the brains of a private seated by 
the fire. This robbed them of their peace for 
a night, and was the beginning of a long- 
range fire carefully calculated to that end. 
In the daytime they saw nothing except an 
occasional puff of smoke from a crag above 
the line of march. At night there were dis- 
tant spurts of flame and occasional casual- 
ties, which set the whole camp blazing into 
the gloom, and, occasionally, into opposite 
tents. Then they swore vehemently and 
vowed that this was magnificent but not war. 



4C 'riic Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

liuioed it was not. Tlio vogimcnt could 
not liali for ropvisals aiZ-ainst the sharp- 
shooters of tho country-sido. lis duty was 
to go forward and nuiko oounoctiou with tho 
Scotch and Ciurkha troops with whicii it was 
brigaded. The Afghans knew this, and 
knew, too. after their lirst tentative shots, 
that they were deahng with a raw regiment. 
Thereatter tiiey devoted tiiemselves to the 
task of keeping the Fore and Aft on the 
strain. ^Soi for anything wouhl they have 
taken equal liberties wit It a seasoned corps — 
with the wicked little liurkhas whose delight 
it was to lie otn in tlie o}Hm on a ilark night 
and stalk their stalkers — with the terrible, 
big men dressed in women's clothes, who 
could be heard praying to their lied in tho 
night-watches, and whose peace o( mind no 
amount of "snipping" could shake — or with 
those vile Sikhs, who marched so ostenta- 
tiously unprepared, and who dealt out such 
grim reward to those who tried to }n'otlt by 
that unpreparedness. This white regiment 
was diHerent — quite ditlereut. It slept like 



Tho Drums of tlio Fore and Aft. 43 

a hog, arid, liko a ho;.^, charged in every di- 
rection when it was roused. Its sentries 
walked with a footfall that could he heard 
for a quarter of a mile; would fire at any- 
thing that moved — even a driven donkey — 
and when they had once fired, could be scien- 
tifically "rushed " and laid out a horror and 
an offense against the morning sun. Then 
there were camp-followers who stra;zgled and 
could he cut up without fear. Their shrieks 
would disturb the white boys, and the loss of 
their services would inconvenience them 
sorely. 

Thus, at every march, the hidden enemy 
became bolder and the regiment writhed and 
twisted under attacks it could not avenge. 
The crowning triumph was a sudden night- 
rush ending in the cutting of many tent- 
ropes, the collapse of tlie sudden canvas and 
a glorious knifing of the men who struggled 
and k'icked below. It was a great deed, 
neatly carried out, and it shook the already 
shaken nerves of the Fore and Aft. All the 
courage that they had been required to exer- 



•44 The Drums of tlie Fore and Aft. 

cise np to this point was the "two o'clock in 
the morning courage;" and they, so far, had 
only succeeded in shooting their comrades 
and losing their sleep. 

Sullen, discontented, cold, savage, sick, 
with their uniforms dulled and unclean the 
Fore and Aft joined their brigade. 

" I hear you had a tough time of it coming 
up" said the brigadier. But when he saw 
the hospital-sheets his face fell. 

"This is bad," said he to himself. "They're 
as rotten as sheep." And aloud to the colo- 
nel, " I'm afraid we can't spare you just yet. 
We want all we have, else I should have 
given you ten days to recruit in." 

The colonel winced. " On my honor, sir," 
he returned, "there is not the least necessity 
to think of sparing us. My men have been 
rather mauled and upset without a fair re- 
turn. They only want to go in somewhere 
where they can see what's before them." 

" Can't say I think much of the Fore and 
Aft," said the brigadier in confidence to his 
brigade-major. " They've lost all their sol- 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 45 

diering, and by the trim of them, might have 
marched through the country from the other 
side. A more fagged-out set of men I never 
put eyes on." 

" Oh, they'll improve as the work goes on. 
The parade gloss has been rubbed off a little, 
but they'll put on field polish before long," 
said the brigade-major. " They've been 
mauled, and they don't quite understand it." 

They did not. All the hitting was on one 
side, and it was cruelly hard hitting with ac- 
cessories that made them sick. There was 
also the real sickness that laid hold of a 
strong man and dragged him howling to the 
grave. Worst of all, their officers knew Just 
as little of the country as the men them- 
selves, and looked as if they did. The Fore 
and Aft were in a thoroughly unsatisfactory 
condition, but they believed that all would 
be well if they once got a fair go-in at the 
enemy. Pot-shots up and down the valleys 
were unsatisfactory, and the bayonet never 
seemed to get a chance. Perhaps it was as 
well, for a long-limbed Afghan with a knife 



46 Tlie Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

had a reach of eight feet, and could carry 
away enough lead to disable three English- 
men. The Fore and Aft would like some 
rifle practice at the enemy — all seven hun- 
dred rifles blazing together. That wish 
showed the mood of :he men. 

The Gurkhas walked into their camp, and 
in broken, barrack-room English strove to 
fraternize with them; offered them pipes of 
tobacco, and stood them treat at the canteen. 
But the Fore and Aft, not knowing much of 
the nature of the Gurkhas, treated them as 
they would treat any other "niggers," and 
the little men in green trotted back to their 
firm friends, the Highlanders, and with 
many grins confided to them: "' That damn 
white regiment no damn use. Sulky — ugh ! 
Dirty — ugh! Hya, any tot for Johnny?" 
Whereat the Highlanders smote the Gur- 
khas as to the head, and told them not to 
vilify a British regiment, and the Gurkhas 
grinned cavernously, for the Highlanders 
were their elder brothers and entitled to the 
privileges of kinship. The common soldier 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 47 

who touches a Gurkha is more than likely 
to have his head sliced open. 

Three days later, the brigadier arranged 
a battle according to the rules of war and 
the peculiarity of the Afghan temperament. 
The enemy were massing in inconvenient 
strength among the hills, and the moving of 
many green standards warned him that the 
tribes were "up" in aid of the Afghan regu- 
lar troops. A squadron and a half of Ben- 
gal lancers represented the available cavalry, 
and two screw-guns borrowed from a column 
thirty miles away, the artillery at the gen- 
eral's disposal. 

" If they stand, as I've a very strong no- 
tion that they will, I ?ancy we shall see an 
infantry fight that will be worth watching," 
said the brigadier. "We'll do it in style. 
Each regiment shall be played into action by 
its band, and we'll hold the cavalry in re- 
serve." 

"For all the reserve?" somebody asked. 

" For all the reserve; because we're going 
to crumple them up," said the brigadier, who 



48 Th.e Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

was an extraordinary brigadier, and did not 
believe in tlie value of a reserve when deal- 
ing with Asiatics. And indeed, when you 
come to think of it, had the British army 
consistently waited for reserves in all its 
little affairs, the boundaries of our empire 
would have stopped at Brighton beach. 
That battle was to be a glorious battle. 
The three regiments debouching from 
three separate gorges, after duly crowning 
the heights above, were to converge from the 
center, left, and right upon what we will call 
the Afghan army, then stationed toward the 
lower extremity of a flat-bottomed valley. 
Thus it will be seen that three sides of the 
valley practically belonged to the English, 
while the fourth was strictly Afghan prop- 
erty. In the event of defeat, the Afghans 
had the rocky hills to fly to, where the fire 
from the guerilla tribes in aid would cover 
their retreat. In the event of victory, these 
same tribes would rush down and lend their 
weight to the rout of the British. 

The screw-guns were to shell the head of 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 49^ 

each Afghan rush that was made in close 
formation, and the cavalry, held in reserve 
in the right valley, were to gently stimulate 
the break-up which would follow on the 
combined attack. The brigadier, sitting 
upon a rock overlooking the valley, would 
watch the battle unrolled at his feet. The 
Fore and Aft would debouch from the cen- 
tral gorge, the Gurkhas from the left, and 
the liighlanders from the right, for the 
reason that the left flank of the enemy 
seemed as though it required the most ham- 
mering. It was not every day that an Af- 
ghan force would take ground in the open, 
and the brigadier was resolved to make the 
most of it. 

" If we only had a few more men," he 
said plaintively, " we could surround the 
creatures and crumble 'em up thoroughly. 
As it is, I'm afraid we can only cut them up 
as they run. It's a great pity." 

The Fore and Aft had enjoyed unbroken 
peace for five days, and were beginning, in 
spite of dysentery, to recover their nerve.. 



50 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

Eut they were not happy, for they did not 
know the work in hand, and had they 
known, would not have known how to do 
it. Throughout those five days in which old 
.soldiers might have taught them the craft of 
the game, they discussed together their mis- 
adventures in the past — how such an one 
was alive at dawn and dead ere the dusk, 
and with what shrieks and struggles such 
another had given up his soul under the 
Afghan knife. Death was a new and horri- 
ble thing to the sons of mechanics who were 
used to die decently of zymotic disease; and 
their careful conservation in barracks had 
done nothing to make them look upon it 
with less dread. 

Very early in the dawn the bugles began 
to blow, and the Fore and Aft filled with a 
misguided enthusiasm, turned out without 
waiting for a cup of coffee and a biscuit ; 
and were rewarded by being kept under 
arms in the cold while the other regiments 
leisurely prepared for the fray. All the 
world knows that it is ill taking the breeks 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 51 

off a Highlander. It is much iller to try to 
make him stir unless he is convinced of the 
necessity for haste. 

The Fore and Aft waited, leaning upon 
their rifles and listening to the protests of 
their empty stomachs. The colonel did his 
best to remedy the default of lining as soon 
as it was borne in upon him that the affair 
would not begin at once, and so well did he 
succeed that the coffee was just ready when 
— the men moved off, their band leading. 
Even then there had been a mistake in time, 
and the Fore and Aft came out into the 
valley ten minutes before the proper hour. 
Their band wheeled to the right after reach- 
ing the open, and retired behind a little 
rocky knoll, still playing while the regiment 
went past. 

It was not a pleasant sight that opened on 
the unobstructed view, for the lower end of 
the valley appeared to be filled by an army 
in position — real and actual regiments at- 
tired in red coats, and — of this there was no 
doubt — firing Martini-Henri bullets which 



52 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

cut up the ground a hundred j^ards in front 
of the leading company. Over that pock- 
marked ground the regiment had to pass, 
and it opened the ball with a general and 
profound courtesy to the piping pickets ; 
ducking in perfect time, as though it had 
been brazed on a rod. Being half capable 
of thinking for itself, it fired a volley by 
the simple process of pitching its rifle into 
its shoulder and pulling the trigger. The 
bullets may have accounted for some of 
the watchers on the hill-side, but they cer- 
tainly did not affect the mass of enemy in 
front, while the noise of the rifles drowned 
any orders that might have been given. 

"Good God!" said the brigadier, sitting 
on the rock high above all. " That regi- 
ment has spoiled the whole show. Hurry 
up the others, and let the screw-guns get 
off." 

But the screw-guns, in working round the 
heights, had stumbled upon a wasp's nest of 
a small mud fort which they incontinently 
shelled at eight hundred yards, to the huge 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 53 

discomfort of the occupants, who were -un- 
accustomed to weapons of such devilish pre- 
cision. 

The Fore and Aft continued to go for- 
ward, but with shortened stride. Where 
were the other regiments, and why did these 
niggers use Martinis? They took open order 
instinctively, lying down and firing at ran- 
dom, rushing a few paces forward and lying 
down again, according to the regulations. 
Once in this formation each man felt him- 
self desperately alone, and edged in toward 
his fellow for comfort's sake. 

Then the crack of his neighbor's rifle at 
his ear led him to fire as rapidly as he could 
— again for the sake of the comfort of the 
noise. The reward was not long delayed. 
Five volleys plunged the files in banked 
smoke impenetrable to the eye, and the 
bullets began to take ground twenty or thirty 
yards in front of the firers, as the weight of 
the bayonet dragged down, and the right 
arms wearied with holding the kick of the 
leaping Martini. The company commanders 



54 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

peered helplessly through the smoke, the 
more nervous mechanically trying to fan it 
away with their helmets. 

" High and to the left I " bawled a captain 
till he was hoarse. " Xo good! Cease firing, 
and let it drift away a bit." 

Three or four times the bugles shrieked 
the order, and when it was obeyed the Fore 
and Aft looked that their foe should be lying 
before them in mown swaths of men. A 
light wind drove the smoke to leeward, and 
showed the enemy still in position and appar- 
ently unaffected. A quarter of a ton of lead 
had been buried a furlong in front of them, 
as the ragged earth attested. 

That was not demoralizing. They were 
waiting for the mad riot to die down, and 
were firing quietly into the heart of the 
smoke. A private of the Fore and Aft spun 
up his company shrieking with agony, 
another was kicking the earth and gasping, 
and a third, ripped through the lower intes- 
tines by a jagged bullet, was calling aloud 
on his comrades to put him out of his pain. 



The Drums of t'le Fore and Aft. 55 

These were the casualties, and they were 
not sootliing to hear or see. The smoke 
cleared to a dull haze. 

Then the foe began to shout with a great 
shouting and a mass — a black mass — de- 
tached itself from the main body, and rolled 
over the ground at horrid speed. It wa& 
composed of, perhaps, three hundred men,, 
who would shout and fire and slash if the 
rush of their fifty comrades, who were de- 
termined to die, carried home. The fifty 
were Ghazis, half-maddened with drugs and 
wholly mad with religious fanaticism. 
^Yhen they rushed, the British fire ceased, 
and in the lull the order was given to close 
ranks and meet them with the bayonet. 

Any one who knew the business could 
have told the Fore and Aft that the only 
way of dealing with a Ghazi rush is by vol- 
leys at long ranges; because a man who 
means to die, who desires to die, who will 
gain heaven by dying, must, in nine cases 
out of ten, kill a man who has a lingering 
prejudice in favor of life if he can close with 



56 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

the latter. Where they should have closed 
and gone forward, the Fore and Aft opened 
out and skirmished, and where they should 
have opened out and fired, they closed and 
waited. 

A man dragged from his blankets half 
■awake and unfed is never in a pleasant frame 
of mind. Xor does his happiness increase 
when he watches the whites of the eyes of 
three hundred six-foot fiends upon whose 
beards the foam is lying, upon whose tongues 
is a roar of wrath, and in whose hands are 
three-foot knives. 

The Fore and Aft heard the Gurkha 
bugles bringing that regiment forward at the 
double, while the neighing of the Highland 
pipes came from the left. They strove to 
stay where they were, though the bayonets 
wavered down the line like the oars of a 
ragged boat. Then they felt body to body 
the amazing physical strength of their foes; 
a shriek of pain ended the rush, and the 
knives fell amid scenes not to be told. The 
men clubbed together and smote blindly — as 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 57 

often as not at their own fellows. Their 
front crumpled like paper, and the fifty 
Ghazis passed on; their backers, now drunk 
with success, fighting as madly as they. 

Then the rear ranks were bidden to close 
up, and the subalterns dashed into the stew 
— alone. For the rear rank had heard the 
clamor in front, the yells and the howls of 
pain, and had seen the dark stale blood that 
makes afraid. They were not going to stay. 
It was the rushing of the camps over again. 
Let their officers go to hell, if they chose; 
they would get away from the knives. 

"Come on!" shrieked the subalterns, and 
their men, cursing them, drew back, each 
closing into his neighbor and wheeling 
round. 

Charteris and Devlin, subalterns of the 
last company, faced their death alone in the 
belief that their men would follow. 

" xou've killed me, you cowards," sobbed 
Devlin, and dropped, cut from the shoulder- 
strap to the centre of the chest, and a fresh 
detachment of his men retreating, always 



58 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

retreating, trampled him nnder foot as they 
made for the pass whence they had emerged. 

I kissed her in the kitchen and I kissed her in the hall. 

Child' un, child' un follow me ! 
Oh, Gollv, said the cook, is he gwine to kiss us all ? 

Halla— Halla— Halla— Halliijah ! 

The Gurkhas were pouring through the 
left gorge and over the heights at the double 
to the invitation of their regimental quick- 
step. The black rocks were crowned with 
dark-green spiders as the bugles gave tongue 
jubilantly: 

In the morning ! In the morning by the bright light ! 
"When Gabriel blows his trumpet in the morning I 

The Gurkha rear companies tripped and 
blundered over loose stones. The front files 
halted for a moment to take stock of the 
valley and to settle stray boot-laces. Then 
a happy little sigh of contentment soughed 
down the ranks, and it was as though the 
land smiled, for behold there below was the 
enemy, and it was to meet them that the 
Gurkhas had doubled so hastily. There was 
much enemy. There would be amusement. 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 59 

The little men hitched their TcuJcris well to 
hand, and gaped expectantly at their officers 
as terriers grin ere the stone is cast for them 
to fetch. The Gurkhas' ground sloped down- 
ward to the valley, and they enjoyed a fair 
view of the proceedings. They sat upon the 
bowlders to watch, for their officers were not 
going to waste their wind in assisting to re- 
pulse a Ghazi rush more than half a mile 
away. Let the white men look to their own 
front. 

"Hi! yi !" said the Subadar major, who 
was sweating profusely. " Dam fools yon- 
der stand close-order! This is no time for 
close-order, it's the time for volleys. Ugh! " 
Horrified, amused, and indignant, the Gur- 
khas beheld the retirement — let us be gentle 
— of the Fore and Aft with a running chorus 
of oaths and commentaries. 

"They run! The white men run! Colonel 
Sahib, may we also do a little running ? " 
murmured Eunbir Thappa, the senior Jem- 



But the colonel would have none of it. 



60 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

" Let the beggars be cut up a little/'' said he, 
wrathfully. " Serves 'em right. They'll be 
prodded into facing round in a minute." He 
looked through his field-glasses, and caught 
the glint of an officer's sword. 

" Beating 'em with the flat — damned con- 
scripts! IIow the Ghazis are walking into 
them! " said he. 

The Fore and Aft, heading back, bore with 
them their officers. The narrowness of the 
pass forced the mob into solid formation, and 
the rear rank delivered some sort of a waver- 
ing volley. The Ghazis drew off, for they 
did not know what reserves the gorge might 
hide. Moreover, it was never wise to chase 
white men too far. They returned as wolves 
return to cover, satisfied with the slaughter 
that they had done, and only stopping to 
slash at the wounded on the ground. A 
quarter of a mile had the Fore and Aft re- 
treated, and now, jammed in the pass, was 
quivering with pain, shaken and demoralized 
with fear, while the officers, maddened be- 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 61 

yond control, smote the men with the hilts 
and the flats of their swords. 

"Get back! Get back, you cowards — you 
women! Eight about face — column of com- 
panies, form — you hounds!" shouted the 
colonel, and the subalterns swore aloud. 
But the regiment wanted to go — to go any- 
were out of the range of those merciless 
knives. It swayed to and fro irresolutely 
with shouts and outcries, while from the 
right the Gurkhas dropped volley after vol- 
ley of cripple-stopper Snider bullets at long 
range into the mob of the Ghazis returning 
to their own troops. 

The Fore and Aft band, though protected 
from direct fire by the rocky knoll under 
which it had sat down, fled at the first rush. 
Jakin and Lew would have fled also, but 
their short legs left them fifty yards in the 
rear, and by the time the band had mixed 
with the regiment, they were painfully aware 
that they would have to close in alone and 
unsupported. 



62 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

" Get back to that rock," gasped Jakin. 
" They won't see us there." 

And they returned to the scattered instru- 
ments of the hand; their hearts nearly burst- 
ing their ribs. 

" Here's a nice show for t/s/' said Jakin, 
throwing himself full length on the ground. 
"A bloomin' fine show for British infantry! 
Oh, the devils! They've gone and left us 
here alone! Wot'll we do?" 

Lew took possession of a cast-off water- 
bottle, which naturally was full of canteen 
rum, and drank till he coughed again. 

" Drink," said he shortly. " They'll come 
back in a minute or two — you see." 

Jakin drank, but there was no sign of the 
regiment's return. They could hear a dull 
clamor from the head of the valley of re- 
treat, and saw the Ghazis slink back, quick- 
ening their pace as the Gurkhas fired at 
them. 

"We're all that's left of the band, an' 
we'll be cut up as sure as death," said Jakin. 

" I'll die game, then," said Lew thickly, 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. G3 

fumbling with his tiny drummer's sword. 
The drink was working on his brain as it was 
on Jakin's. 

"'Old on! I know something better than 
fightin'," said Jakin, stung by the splendor 
of a sudden thought, due chiefly to rum. 
" Tip our bloomin' cowards yonder the word 
to come back. The Paythan beggars are 
well away. Come on, Lewi We won't get 
hurt. Take the fife an' give me the drum. 
The Old Step for all your bloomin' guts are 
worth! There's a few of our men coming 
back now. Stand up, ye drunken little 
defaulter. By your right — quick march!" 

He slipped the drum-sling over his shoul- 
ders, thrust the fife into Lew's hand, and the 
two boys marched out of the cover of the 
rock into the open, making a hideous hash 
of the first bars of the " British Grenadiers." 

As Lew had said, a few of the Fore and 
Aft were coming back sullenly and shame- 
facedly under the stimulus of blows and 
abuse; their red coats shone at the head of 
the valley, and behind them were wavering 



G4 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

bayonets. But between this shattered line 
and the enemy, who with Afghan suspicion 
feared that the hasty retreat meant an am- 
bush, and had not moved therefore, lay half 
a mile of level ground dotted only by the 
wounded. 

The tune settled into full swing, and the 
boys kept shoulder to shoulder, Jakin bang- 
ing the drum as one possessed. The one 
fife made a thin and pitiful squeaking, but 
the tune carried far, even to the Gurkhas. 

"Come on, you dogs!'' muttered Jakin to 
himself. "Are we to play forever?" Lew 
was staring straight in front of him and 
marching more stiffly than he had ever done 
on parade. 

And in bitter mockery of the distant mob, 
the old tune of the Old Line shrilled and 
rattled: 

Some talk of Alexander, 

And some of Hercules ; 
Of Hector and Lysander, 

And such great names as these. 

There was a far-off clapping of hands from 
the Gurkhas, and a roar from the Highland- 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 65 

ers in the distance, but never a shot was fired 
by British or Afghan. The two little red 
dots moved forward in the open parallel to 
the enemy's front. 

But of all the world's great heroes 
There' s none that can compare, 

With a tow-row-row-row-row-row, 
To the British Grenadier ! 

The men of the Fore and Aft were gather- 
ing thick at the entrance into the plain. 
The brigadier on the heights far above was, 
speechless with rage. Still no movement 
from the enemy. The day stayed to watch 
the children. 

Jakin halted and beat the long roll of the 
assembly, while the fife squealed despair- 
ingly. 

" Eight about face! Hold up, Lew, you're 
drunk," said Jakin. They wheeled and 
marched back: 

Those heroes of antiquity 
Ne'er saw a cannon-ball, 
Nor knew the force o' powder, 

" Here they come!" said Jakin. " Go on^ 
Lew:" 

To scare their foes wiihal ! 



m The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

The Fore and Aft were pouring out of 
the valley. What officers had said to men in 
that time of shame and humiliation will 
never be known, for neither officers nor men 
speak of it now. 

" They are coming anew!" shouted a priest 
among the Afghans. ^^Do not kill the boys! 
Take them alive, and they shall be of our 
faith." 

But the first volley had been fired, and 
Lew dropped on his face. Jakin stood for a 
minute, spun round, and collapsed as the 
Fore and Aft came forward, the maledictions 
of their officers in their ears, and in their 
hearts the shame of open shame. 

Half the men had seen the drummers die, 
and they made no sign. They did not even 
shout. They doubled out straight across the 
plain in open order, and they did not fire. 

" This," said the Colonel of the Gurkhas, 
softly, " is the real attack, as it ought to have 
been delivered. Come on, my children." 

" Ulu-lu-lu-lu!" squealed the Gurkhas, 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 67 

and came down with a joyful clicking of 
Tcukris — those vicious Gurkha knives. 

On the right there was no rush. The 
Highlanders cannily commending their souls 
to God (for it matters as much to a dead 
man whether he has been shot in a border 
scuffle or at Waterloo), opened out and fired 
according to their custom; that is to sa}^, 
without heat and without intervals, while 
the screw-guns, having disposed of the im- 
pertinent mud fort afore-mentioned, dropped 
shell after shell into the clusters round the 
flickering green standards on the heights. 

" Charging is an unfortunate necessity,'^ 
murmured the color-sergeant of the right 
company of the Highlanders. 

"It makes the men sweer so, but I am 
thinkin'that it will come to a charrge if these 
black devils stand much longer. Stewarrt, 
man, you're firing into the eye of the sun, 
and he'll not take any harm for government 
ammuneetion. A foot lower and a great 
deal slower! What are the English doing? 



68 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

They're very quiet there in the centre. Run- 
ning again?" 

The English were not running. They 
were hacking and hewing and stabbing, for 
though one white man is seldom physically a 
match for an Afghan in a sheep-skin or 
wadded coat, yet, through the pressure of the 
many white men behind, and a certain thirst 
for revenge in his heart, he becomes capable 
of doing much with both ends of his rifle. 
The Fore and Aft held their fire till one 
bullet could drive through five or six men, 
and the front of the Afghan force gave on 
the volley. They then selected their men 
and slew them with deep gasps and short 
hacking coughs, and groanings of leather 
belts against strained bodies, and realized for 
the first time that an Afghan attacked is far 
less formidable than an Afghan attacking ; 
which fact old soldiers might have told them. 

But they had no old soldiers in their 
ranks. 

The Gurkhas' stall at the bazaar was the 
noisiest, for the men were engaged — to a 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 69 

nast}^ noise as of beef being cut on the block 
— with the Icukri, which they preferred to 
the bayonet; well knowing how the Afghan 
hates the half-moon blade. 

As the Afghans wavered, the green stand- 
ards on the mountain moved down to assist 
them in a last rally; which was imwise. The 
lancers chafing in the right gorge had thrice 
dispatched their only subaltern as galloper 
to report on the progress of affairs. On the 
third occasion he returned, with a bullet- 
graze on his knee, swearing strange oaths in 
Hindoostanee, and saying that all things 
were ready. So that squadron swung round 
the right of the Highlanders with a wicked 
whistling of wind in the pennons of its 
lances, and fell upon the remnant just when, 
according to the rules of war, it should have 
waited for the foe to show more signs of 
wavering. 

But it was a dainty charge, deftly deliv- 
ered, and it ended by the cavalry finding 
itself at the head of the pass by which the 
Afghans intended to retreat; and down the 



70 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

track that the lances had made streamed two 
companies of the Highlanders, which was 
never intended by the brigadier. The new 
development was successful. It detached 
the enemy from his base as a sponge is torn 
from a rock, and left him ringed about with 
fire in that pitiless plain. And as a sponge 
is chased round the bath-tub by the hand of 
the bather, so were the Afghans chased till 
they broke into little detachments much 
more difficult to dispose of than large masses. 

"See!" quoth the brigadier. "Every- 
thing has come as I arranged. We've cut 
their base, and now we'll bucket 'em to 
pieces." 

A direct hammering was all that the 
brigadier had dared to hope for, considering 
the size of the force at his disposal; but men 
who stand or fall by the errors of their op- 
ponents may be forgiven for turning Chance 
into Design. The bucketing went forward 
merrily. The Afghan forces were upon the 
run — the run of wearied wolves who snarl 
and bite over their shoulders. The red 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 71 

lances dipped by twos and threes, and, with 
a shriek, up rose the lance-butt, like a spar 
on a stormy sea, as the trooper cantering 
forward cleared his point. The lancers kept 
between their prey and the steep hills, for all 
who could were trjdng to escape from the 
valley of death. The Highlanders gave the 
fugitives two hundred yards' law, and then 
brought them down, gasping and choking, 
ere they could reach the protection of the 
bowlders above. The Gurkhas followed 
suit; but the Fore and Aft were killing on 
their own account, for they had penned a 
mass of men between their bayonets and a 
wall of rock, and the flash of the rifles was 
lighting the wadded coats. 

"We can not hold them. Captain Sahib!" 
panted a ressaidar of lancers. " Let us try 
the carbine. The' lance is good, but it wastes 
time." 

They tried the carbine and still the enemy 
melted away — fled up the hills by hundreds 
when there were only twenty bullets to stop 
them. On the heights the screw-guns ceased 



72 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

firing — they had run out of ammunition — • 
and the brigadier groaned, for the musketry 
fire could not sufficiently smash the retreat. 
Long before the last volleys were fired the 
litters- were out in force looking for the 
wounded. The 'battle .was over, and, but for 
want of> fresh troops, the Afghans would 
Ihave been wiped off the earth. As it was 
they counted their dead by hundreds, and 
nowhere were the dead thicker than in the 
track of the Fore and Aft. 

But the regiment did not cheer with the 
HigManders, nor did they dance uncouth 
dances .^ntli the Gurldias among the dead. 
They looked under their brows at the colonel 
as they leaned upon their rifles and panted. 

" Get back to camp, you! Haven't you 
disgraced yourself enough for one day? Go 
and look to the wounded. It's all you're fit 
for," said the colonel. Yet 'for the past hour 
the' Fore and Aft had been doing all that 
mortal commander could expect. They had 
lost heavily because they did not know how 
to. set about their business with proper skill. 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 73 

but they had borne themselves gallantly, and 
this was their reward. 

A young and sprightly color-sergeant, who 
had begun to imagine himself a hero, offered 
his water-bottle to a Highlander, whose 
tongue was black with thirst. " I drink with 
no cowards/' answered the youngster, husk- 
ily, and turning to a Gurkha, said, "Hya, 
Johnny! Drink water got it?" The Gurkha 
grinned and passed his bottle. The Fore and 
x\ft said- no word. 

They went back to camp when the field 
of strife had been a little mopped up and 
made presentable and the brigadier, who 
saw himself a knight in three months, was 
the only soul who was complimentary to 
them. The colonel was heart-broken and 
the officers were savage and sullen. 

"Well," said the brigadier, "they are 
young troops, of course, and it was not un- 
natural that they should retire in disorder 
for a bit." 

" Oh, my only Aunt Maria!" murmured a 



74 The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 

junior staff officer. " Retire in disorder ! 
It was a bully run!" 

"But they came again as we all know," 
cooed tlie brigadier, the colonel's ashy-white 
face before him, " and they behaved as well 
as could possibly be expected. Behaved 
beautifully indeed. I was watching them. 
It's not a matter to take to heart, colonel. 
As some German general said of his men, 
they wanted to be shooted over a little, that 
was all." To himself he said: — "Now they're 
blooded I can give 'em responsible work. It's 
as "well that they got what they did. Teach 
'em more than half-a-dozen rifle flirtations, 
that will — later — run alone and bite. Poor 
old colonel, though." 

All that afternoon the heliograph winked 
and flickered on the hills, striving to tell the 
good news to a mountain forty miles away. 
And in the evening there arrived — dusty, 
sweating, and sore — a' misguided correspond- 
ent who had gone out to 'assist at a trumpery 
village-burning and who had read off the 



The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 75 

message from afar, cursing his luck the 
while. 

" Let's have the det^ls somehow — as full 
as ever you can, please. It's the first time 
Fve ever been left this campaign," said the 
correspondent to the brigadier; and the 
brigadier, nothing loath, told him how an 
army of communication had been crumpled 
up, destroyed, and all but annihilated by the 
craft, strategy, wisdom, and foresight of the 
brigadier. 

But some say, and among these be the 
Gurkhas who watched on the hill-side, that 
that battle was won by Jakin and Lew, whose 
little bodies were borne up just in time to fit 
two gaps at the head of the big ditch-grave 
for the dead under the heights of Jagai. 



B 000 002 374 7