Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ashley Sterne Drummed In



This moderately droll burlesque was republished in The Australian (7 November 1917).


Drummed In

Practically the whole battalion was drawn up on the barrack-square. The only absentees were the sentry, who was engaged in his charitable task of presenting alms at the gate, the guard, who was examining tickets, and the quartermaster, who was swarming up the quarter-mast in order to troop the colours. Even the regimental mascot, Alphonse, the ant-eater, was there, held in leash by two stalwart mascoteers, who alternately fed it with ants to keep it quiet and prevent it from biting the battalion.

Facing the serried ranks of bright, clean faces, with the Adjutant at his side holding the prompt-book, stood the Colonel — a stern, fearless soldier, upon whose breast gleamed the ribbons of the Waterloo Cup, Doggett's Coat and Badge, and the Total Abstinence Pledge. He was obviously distraught, for it might have been observed that he was nervously twiddling the Adjutant's moustache in mistake for his own.

And little wonder he was dispossessed, for it was his duty that day to degrade Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs, the idol of his company, the hero even of his batsman, the most popular figure in the officers' mess, before the whole battalion; to deprive him of the insignia of his rank; to break his sword across his knee and dismiss him from the Service. In short, Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs was to be "drummed out."

And what, you ask, had he done to merit this cruel degradation? Ah, gentle and constant reader (who, I trust, have manifested that constancy by placing a standing order with your newsagent), living in happy ignorance of military procedure, scarcely will you understand the enormity of Captain Carstairs Cathc— — you know whom I mean; I won't swot through it all again — 's offence. Briefly, some days before this incident opens, he had had the temerity to call "six no trumps" over his partner, the Colonel, who, holding the whole thirteen hearts in his hand, had called seven of that suit. The consequences were all too obvious. Captain Carst— — . etc., was at once placed in open arrest; a courtmartial assembled in due course, and sentence was promulgated as already mentioned. The climax was reached this day when, as I have previously explained, the whole battalion was stood up in rows upon the barrack- square, waiting for the revels to commence.

"All present, sir, except the absentees," said the Sergeant-Major, coming briskly to attention and bringing the right hand smartly, with a circular motion, to the head, palm to the front, fingers extended and close together point of the forefinger in f—— (In fact, see Infantry Training. — Ed.)

"The absentees are absent, I suppose?" queried the Colonel, showing that profound knowledge of battalion drill for which all Colonels are justly celebrated.

"At present they're absent, sir," replied the. Sergeant-Major, coming briskly to attention and bringing the right hand smartly, with a circular motion, to the head, palm to the — — (Quite so. We know all that. Get on. — Ed.)

"Then bring in Captain Cathbert Staircase," said the Colonel, who, partly through emotion and partly through the influence of the gin-and-bitters he had taken to steady his nerves, had muddled his words.

A hushed hush pervaded the barrack-square. The chattering in the ranks stopped as if by magic. Even the N.C.O.'s threw away their unfinished cigarettes .and craned their necks in the direction from which Captain Cathcart-Carstairs was expected. Presently he came, manacled and fettered, clanking like a home-made railway engine. Advancing with his burden of ironmongery to the centre of the square, he halted, placed his heels together and in line, feet turned out at an angle of about 45 degrees, knees straight, body erect, and carried evenly over the thighs, with the shoulders — — (In other words he "shunned." —Ed. "L.O.")

Over the scene that followed it were best to draw a veil. Suffice it to say that the hushed hushness remained silent, but for the tink, tink of the buttons and badges as they fell at regular intervals, under the rapidly moving scissors plied by the regimental barber, and the sharp metallic clang that came when the Colonel deftly snapped the captain's sword in two at the spot where it had been neatly sawn almost through (to avoid all risks) earlier in the day.

Then at last was borne on the air the bump-bump-bumpety-bump of the drums, as the Drum-Major gave the signal for the drums to make the noise I said. With downcast head and hands forced tightly into the small of his back (for, in his misguided zeal, the barber had snipped off all the brace buttons), Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs slowly staggered across the barrack-square.

"Brace those knees!" shouted the Sergeant-Major as the forlorn, drooping figure passed him.

"Swing those arms!" bawled the Physical Drill Instructor as the stooping, shrunken form went by.

" 'Old that blinkin' 'ead up!" yelled the Sergeant-Major of the ex-Captain's own company, as with broken, faltering footsteps the unhappy man stumbled along. Only the mascot, Alphonse, the ant-eater, showed any signs of pity for the degraded officer. As he passed it extended a long, curly, sticky tongue and in token of mute sympathy deposited a partially-masticated ant on his knuckles. Then from the street beyond the barrack walls came the shrill cry of a newsboy — "Heligo land declares war on the Isle of Wight." (Another large instalment will appear in a few minutes when I've thought out how to go on.)

II.

"Name?" said the Recruiting Sergeant.

"Cathcart Carstairs Carstairs-Cathcart," replied the smart, soldierly-looking man.

"Don't make that nasty clicking noise in here," snapped the Sergeant.

"That's my name," explained ex-Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs (for it was he), blushing to think of the hideous deception he was practising in thus giving a false name.

"Sounds more like an attack of hiccups," remarked the Sergeant, with that pungent wit that is invariably associated with the possession of the third stripe. "Age?"

"Thirty-two."

"Trade or profession?"

"Dutch cheese stainer," replied the other, wincing as he uttered this second falsehood.

Then for an hour he stood idly by while the Sergeant painstakingly and laboriously filled in Army Forms Q1973 and X4509 in quadruplicate, just as if there wasn't any war on. At length he finished, and dabbed the papers with a piece of Army blotting-paper, which immediately rendered them totally illegible.

"You will report at once," he said, "at Crippleton Barracks. The 14th Umpshires need one man to fill up a hole in the draft that leaves for the Front next week."

A grim smile stole over the ex-Captain's features. The 14th Umpshires was his old regiment! But little did he fear detection. His hair had turned piebald on the night of the day he had been drummed out, and in the mean time he had shaved off his moustache and eyebrows. It. would have needed a sharp man indeed to recognise in the new recruit who later that same day reported at Crippleton Barracks the one-time popular officer commanding "Z" Company.

III.

(Owing to the paper shortage I regret to say that this section has had to be omitted. Briefly, it deals with C.C.'s heroic rescue of Anzora, the Colonel's daughter, from being gored to death by Alphonse, the ant-eater, who went suddenly mad from hunger in consequence of the ant shortage. A delightfully romantic attachment between the two — Anzora and C.C. I mean, not Anzora and Alphonse — kindly sprang up, in order to make the plot more interesting.)

IV.

The shell burst within a yard of the Colonel. Simultaneously a hand shot out of the dense smoke, while the Colonel staggered, turned round three times, took away the number he first thought of, and would have fallen heavily to the ground had not a strong arm encircled and caught him ere he collapsed. A faint odour of gin-and-bitters made him rally sufficiently to take the bottle that his supporter held to his lips, and drain the contents.

"What has happened?" he gasped, faintly, looking up gratefully at his rescuer.

"Regardless of your rank a shrapnel shell had the impertinence to burst within a yard of you, sir," was the reply.

"Then I am wounded," said the Colonel, peevishly. "See that my photograph is sent at once to the 'Daily M—"

"You are unhurt, sir," interposed the other. "I — I — caught the bullets in my hand."

As he spoke he placed about a stone of neat lead in the Colonel's lap. A great wave of emotion spread over the latter's face as he realised the man's devotion. A tear stood in his eye. Then it lay down and meandered all over his cheek.

"I owe you my life," he said, huskily. "What is your name?"

"Corporal Cathcart Carstairs Carstairs-Cathcart!"

A dim flicker of recognition dimly flickered over the Colonel's dim-flickering organs.

"The noise you made sounds somewhat familiar to me," he observed, scrutinising the other closely, "I once had a captain —"

"I am ex-Captain Carstairs Cathcart Cathcart-Carstairs!"

"You!"

For the space of a minute the two gazed at each other. Then they got sick of it and gazed elsewhere.

"Corporal Broadstairs Cardcase," said the Colonel, at length, "you have saved my life. Just how valuable that life is to the Army I may not tell you. It's a Military Secret. In return for that inestimable service to your country I shall at once recommend that you be reinstated in your former rank. Hand me Army Pencil Mark IV."

From his pocket the Colonel drew a bundle of Army Forms, mostly those for claiming allowances, the monthly filling up of which is the thoroughly efficient officer's first and most important duty. Eventually he found, the one he required — A.F.B. (x2 x y2)/(2xy). He filled it in.

* * *

A week later a brand-new three-star officer turned in the direction of Oxford Street and caught sight of a familiar female figure approaching. It was carrying a sack of coal in one hand and a pound of sugar in the other. The officer's heart beat quickly. Rapidly they drew into alignment. In another moment the air was thick with Derby Brights and Demerara, and two arms encircled the officer's neck. In accordance with A.C.I. 9097 of 1916 which prohibits officers from being embraced in public, he cut away her arms smartly to the side.

"Carstairs!" she whispered, the love-light shining in her eyes.

"Zenoh — I mean Anzora!" he rewhispered, the same mixture gleaming in his own.

And as they both guessed right, I really don't see that any purpose will be served by my unduly prolonging the record of these events. — (By Ashley Sterne in "London Opinion.")


No comments:

Post a Comment