Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ernest Bramah The Recruiting Eye

I have been on an Ernest Bramah kick of late.  Here is a comic article he contributed to Punch, Volume 148, June 23rd 1915, p. 488.

[Note: The word "jibbed" below means balked.  The word "brassard" means armband.]

The Recruiting Eye

by E. B. Smith

The idea started with Mrs. Minter.  Indeed, I think I may say that she is solely and entirely accountable for the business from beginning to end, and as several members of the Corps seem to think that someone ought to be made responsible I do say so.  For I know that it will not trouble Mrs. Minter one little bit.  She is the sort of woman who suggests things, starts them with enthusiasm, and then somehow forgets.  She has a limpid conscience, a vivid eye, a way with her, and an abounding popularity.

"I think the Corps perfectly splendid," she declared after the inspection.  "Only, oh, why don't hundreds more join?"

"They ought to," said Wright with conviction.  "Or, at least, they ought to turn up stronger when they have joined.  At Tuesday's drill, Platoon 6 was forming fours out of two men.  It damps the enthusiasm of recruits when they find that they are practically the same in every formation."

Mrs. Minter flashed an appreciative musical comedy smile, but I suspect that the technicalities do not appeal to her.

"We are agreed, then," she said.  "Now I have an idea.  Listen."

Of course we listened.  I don't think that I have mentioned Mrs. Minter's voice yet, but it has to be taken into account.

"It's just this.  You can all have a most tremendous influence.  You see, you're doing something.  And so you can say to anyone, 'Why aren't you doing something too?'  And you'll get no end of recruits."

It sounded beautifully simple; and Mrs. Minter looked simply beautiful.  Carstairs voiced the general apprehension.

"It's a bit awkward, don't you see, Mrs. Minter.  We don't actually know what another fellow may be doing.  Of course with fellows one really knows it's different.  But generally speaking it's a bit awkward, don't you see?"

Carstairs may not be a stylist, but we felt that the argument was sound.

"I've thought that all out," said the lady airily.  "That's really just what my idea gets over.  You don't say anything.  You just look.  It could be made most tremendously effective.  You are marching along the road, don't you see, doing your bits, and standing watching you as you pass are heaps and heaps of slackers who ought to be either with you or, if they are eligible, in the army.  You don't say anything, but as you pass you just look.  You can put a most frightful lot into a look if you really try.  You must be surprised and hurt and incredulous and disappointed and reproachful and – yes, just a teeny bit appealing, and here and there one of you catching someone's eye and then turning away quickly as though it was really too much, and a few friendly and encouraging, and some quite too saddened to do anything but march bravely one.  It would be ever so much more fetching than the thrilliest poster if it were properly done."

"It would want a bit of doing," said Bowring moodily.  Bowring is a left guide and saw where he would be in it.

"Naturally it would need arranging, but I will help you all I can.  The great thing is to get the right kind of expression for the right kind of face.  Now, Mr. Beeching, for instance..."

You think we jibbed, but then, of course, you don't know Mrs. Minter.  She impartially distributed expression suited to our faces.  I will say nothing of myself except that for show purposes there is a tendency to encourage me to become an even number in the front rank.  But, as Mrs. Minter remarked, grim determination can be as artistically portrayed as any of the subtler shades of emotion.  She was very nice about it.

A couple of days later we had a route march.  Owing to a rather late change in orders, while a few men brought their rifles and turned up in uniform, the great majority did not.  Still we were pleased with the day.  We put up a great tramp, including Murber Bridge, Little Chimpington, Brookleigh and Sturton Much – villages in which a volunteer corps is something of a novelty, I should imagine, by the way the natives turned out.  It was an opportunity, and loyally we responded to Mrs. Minter's instructions.  We flattered ourselves that a recruiting sergeant following our line would have had an easy thing that day, and we openly regretted that we should never know the actual result of our effort.  We were mistaken.

I dropped in to see Wrathby yesterday – he is our Quartermaster.  There were half-a-dozen other people there, all strangers to me, and one or two of them, I found, strangers to the Wrathbys also.  A placid old lady achieving momentary importance by some narration when a word caught my ear –

"It was quite a sensation for Little Chimpington..."

"Little Chimpington!" I exclaimed.

"Mrs. Gapper lives there," explained the lady who had brought her.

'Sensation' sounded promising.  What is termed a denouement was evidently impending.  I made sure of the alignment of my tie.

"I was speaking of a gang of those terrible German spies who were marched through the village recently," explained Mrs. Gapper for my benefit.  "It is a mercy that the Government is interning them at last, for a more desperate type of men one could not imagine.  Fortunately they were kept well under control by a few of our own soldiers, who marched by their sides with loaded rifles; but the glances that the prisoners cast in our direction as they were hurried by showed us plainly, now the masks were off, what we might expect at their hands."

"When was this?" I found myself asking huskily.

"Last Saturday – only last Saturday.  I can see their faces yet.  Such looks of malice, vindictiveness, brutal cunning, hopeless despair and baffled treachery I feel that I shall never be able to forget."

"You are quire sure that they were Germans?" asked her friend.  "There seems to have been a doubt."

"My dear!  With faces like that what else could they have been?  Besides, they were branded."

"Branded!" It was Wrathby's voice, shrunk to a whisper.  He also had heard and been drawn into the denouement.

"Yes; everyone had to wear a wide red band round his arm with the letters A.E.D.C. on – Alien Enemy Detention Camp, of course."

*          *          *          *          *

There is a motion down for the next meeting of the Committee of the A—ton Emergency Defence Corps to substitute for the existing brassard one of the more conventional type.  It is understood that it will be carried unanimously. 

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