HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY
1' H I L A D E L r H I A
THE DRUMS OF THE FORE
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
Their one excuse is that they came again
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-
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
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
" I tell you I 'id the pipe back o' barricks,"
said Jakin pacifically.
"You're a bloomin' liar," said Lew with-
" 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
" 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
" Fighting again," said he. " I'll report
you to my father, and he'll report you to
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
''^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-
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
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
" 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
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
'^^Yhat did he say?" demanded Jaldn^
" Said I might he a bloomin' Bandmaster,
an' be asked in to 'ave a glass o' sherry-wine
"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
" 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
" Don't bring us no nearer goin', though,"
said Jakin. " Do you know where we're
" 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
" 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
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
The colonel was in a genial mood; the boys
appeared very forlorn and unprotected on
the desolate plain, and one of them was
^^ 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-
" 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
" 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
"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
"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
"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
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
" 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
" 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-
"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
" 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
The Drums of the Fore and Aft. 35
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
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-
"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
" 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
" 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
"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-
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
" 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
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
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
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-
" 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-
"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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"'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
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
And in bitter mockery of the distant mob,
the old tune of the Old Line shrilled and
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
Jakin halted and beat the long roll of the
assembly, while the fife squealed despair-
" Eight about face! Hold up, Lew, you're
drunk," said Jakin. They wheeled and
Those heroes of antiquity
Ne'er saw a cannon-ball,
Nor knew the force o' powder,
" Here they come!" said Jakin. " Go on^
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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
" 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
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