Chapter VII The Flag of Their Country - Stalky & Co by Rudyard Kipling
THE FLAG OF THEIR COUNTRY.
It was winter and bitter cold of mornings. Consequently Stalky and
Beetle--McTurk being of the offensive type that makes ornate toilet
under all circumstances-drowsed till the last moment before turning
out to call-over in the gas-lit gymnasium. It followed that they were
often late; and since every unpunctuality earned them a black mark,
and since three black marks a week meant defaulters' drill, equally
it followed that they spent hours under the Sergeant's hand. Foxy
drilled the defaulters with all the pomp of his old parade-ground.
"Don't think it's any pleasure to me" (his introduction never
varied). "I'd much sooner be smoking a quiet pipe in my own
quarters--but I see we 'ave the Old Brigade on our 'ands this
afternoon. If I only 'ad you regular, Muster Corkran," said he,
dressing the line.
"You've had me for nearly six weeks, you old glutton. Number off from
"Not _quite_ so previous, please. I'm taking this drill. Left,
half--turn! Slow--march." Twenty-five sluggards, all old offenders,
filed into the gymnasium. "Quietly provide yourselves with the
requisite dumb-bells; returnin' quietly to your place. Number off
from the right, in a low voice. Odd numbers one pace to the front.
Even numbers stand fast. Now, leanin' forward from the 'ips, takin'
your time from me."
The dumb-bells rose and fell, clashed and were returned as one. The
boys were experts at the weary game.
"Ve-ry good. I shall be sorry when any of you resume your 'abits of
punctuality. Quietly return dumb-bells. We will now try some simple
"Ugh! I know that simple drill."
"It would he 'ighly to your discredit if you did not, Muster Corkran.
_At_ the same time, it is not so easy as it looks."
"Bet you a bob, I can drill as well as you, Foxy."
"We'll see later. Now try to imagine you ain't defaulters at all, but
an 'arf company on parade, me bein' your commandin' officer. There's
no call to laugh. If you're lucky, most of you will 'ave to take
drills 'arf your life. Do me a little credit. You've been at it long
enough, goodness knows."
They were formed into fours, marched, wheeled, and countermarched, the
spell of ordered motion strong on them. As Foxy said, they had been
at it a long time.
The gymnasium door opened, revealing McTurk in charge of an old
The Sergeant, leading a wheel, did not see. "Not so bad," he murmured.
"Not 'arf so bad. The pivot-man of the wheel _honly_ marks time,
Muster Swayne. Now, Muster Corkran, you say you know the drill?
Oblige me by takin' over the command and, reversin' my words step by
step, relegate them to their previous formation."
"What's this? What's this?" cried the visitor authoritatively.
"A--a little drill, sir," stammered Foxy, saying nothing of first
"Excellent--excellent. I only wish there were more of it," he
chirruped. "Don't let me interrupt. You were just going to hand over
to someone, weren't you?"
He sat down, breathing frostily in the chill air. "I shall muck it. I
know I shall," whispered Stalky uneasily; and his discomfort was not
lightened by a murmur from the rear rank that the old gentleman was
General Collinson, a member of the College Board of Council.
"Eh--what?" said Foxy.
"Collinson, K.C.B.--He commanded the Pompadours-my father's old
regiment," hissed Swayne major.
"Take your time," said the visitor. "_I_ know how it feels. Your first
"Yes, sir." He drew an unhappy breath. "'Tention. Dress!" The echo of
his own voice restored his confidence.
The wheel was faced about, flung back, broken into fours, and restored
to line without a falter. The official hour of punishment was long
passed, but no one thought of that. They were backing up
Stalky--Stalky in deadly fear lest his voice should crack.
"He does you credit, Sergeant," was the visitor's comment. "A good
drill--and good material to drill. Now, it's an extraordinary thing:
I've been lunching with your head-master and he never told me you had
a cadet-corps in the College."
"We 'aven't, sir. This is only a little drill," said the Sergeant.
"But aren't they keen on it?" said McTurk, speaking for the first
time, with a twinkle in his deep-set eyes.
"Why aren't you in it, though, Willy?"
"Oh, I'm not punctual enough," said McTurk. "The Sergeant only takes
the pick of us."
"Dismiss! Break off!" cried Foxy, fearing an explosion in the ranks.
"I--I ought to have told you, sir, that--"
"But you should have a cadet-corps." The General pursued his own line
of thought. "You _shall_ have a cadet-corps, too, if my
recommendation in Council is any use. I don't know when I've been so
pleased. Boys animated by a spirit like yours should set an example
to the whole school."
"They do," said McTurk.
"Bless my soul! Can it be so late? I've kept my fly waiting half an
hoar. Well, I must run away. Nothing like seeing things for one's
self. Which end of the buildings does one get out at? Will you show
me, Willy? Who was that boy who took the drill?"
"Corkran, I think his name is."
"You ought to know him. That's the kind of boy you should cultivate.
Evidently an unusual sort. A wonderful sight. Five and twenty boys,
who, I dare say, would much sooner be playing cricket--"(it was the
depth of winter; but grown people, especially those who have lived
long in foreign parts, make these little errors, and McTurk did not
correct him)--"drilling for the sheer love of it. A shame to waste so
much good stuff; but I think I can carry my point."
"An' who's your friend with the white whiskers?" demanded Stalky, on
McTurk's return to the study.
"General Collinson. He comes over to shoot with my father sometimes.
Rather a decent old bargee, too. He said I ought to cultivate your
"Did he tip you?" McTurk exhibited a blessed whole sovereign.
"Ah," said Stalky, annexing it, for he was treasurer. "We'll have a
hefty brew. You'd pretty average cool cheek, Turkey, to jaw about
our keenness an' punctuality."
"Didn't the old boy know we were defaulters?" said Beetle.
"Not him. He came down to lunch with the head. I found him pokin'
about the place on his own hook afterwards, an' I thought I'd show
him the giddy drill. When I found he was so pleased, I wasn't goin'
to damp his giddy ardor. He mightn't ha' given me the quid if I had."
"Wasn't old Foxy pleased? Did you see him get pink behind the ears?"
said Beetle. "It was an awful score for him. Didn't we back him up
beautifully? Let's go down to Keyte's and get some cocoa and
They overtook Foxy, speeding down to retail the adventure to Keyte,
who in his time had been Troop Sergeant-Major in a cavalry regiment,
and now, war-worn veteran, was local postmaster and confectioner.
"You owe us something," said Stalky, with meaning.
"I'm 'ighly grateful, Muster Corkran. I've 'ad to run against you
pretty hard in the way o' business, now and then, but I will say that
outside o' business--bounds an' smokin', an' such like--I don't wish
to have a more trustworthy young gentleman to 'elp me out of a hole.
The way you 'andled the drill was beautiful, though I say it. Now,
if you come regular henceforward--"
"But he'll have to be late three times a week," said Beetle. "You
can't expect a chap to do that--just to please you, Foxy."
"Ah, that's true. Still, if you could manage it--and you, Muster
Beetle--it would give you a big start when the cadet-corps is formed.
I expect the General will recommend it."
They raided Keyte's very much at their own sweet will, for the old
man, who knew them well, was deep in talk with Foxy. "I make what
we've taken seven and six," Stalky called at last over the counter;
"but you'd better count for yourself."
"No--no. I'd take your word any day, Muster Corkran.--In the
Pompadours, was he, Sergeant? We lay with them once at Umballa, I
think it was."
"I don't know whether this ham-and-tongue tin is eighteen pence or one
"Say one an' fourpence, Muster Corkran... Of course, Sergeant, if it
was any use to give my time, I'd be pleased to do it, but I'm too
old. I'd like to see a drill again."
"Oh, come on, Stalky," cried McTurk. "He isn't listenin' to you. Chuck
over the money."
"I want the quid changed, you ass. Keyte! Private Keyte! Corporal
Keyte! Terroop-Sergeant-Major Keyte, will you give me change for a
"Yes--yes, of course. Seven an' six." He stared abstractedly, pushed
the silver over, and melted away into the darkness of the back room.
"Now those two'll jaw about the Mutiny till tea-time," said Beetle.
"Old Keyte was at Sobraon," said Stalky. "Hear him talk about that
sometimes! Beats Foxy hollow."
The head's face, inscrutable as ever, was bent over a pile of
"What do you think?" he said at last to the Reverend John Gillett.
"It's a good idea. There's no denying that--an estimable idea."
"We concede that much. Well?"
"I have my doubts about it--that's all. The more I know of boys the
less do I profess myself capable of following their moods; but I own
I shall be very much surprised if the scheme takes. It--it isn't the
temper of the school. We prepare for the Army."
"My business--in _this_ matter--is to carry out the wishes of the
Council. They demand a volunteer cadet-corps. A volunteer cadet-corps
will be furnished. I have suggested, however, that we need not embark
upon the expense of uniforms till we are drilled. General Collinson
is sending us fifty lethal weapons--cut-down Sniders, he calls
them--all carefully plugged."
"Yes, that is necessary in a school that uses loaded saloon-pistols to
the extent we do." The Reverend John smiled.
"Therefore there will be no outlay except the Sergeant's time."
"But if he fails you will be blamed."
"Oh, assuredly. I shall post a notice in the corridor this afternoon,
"I shall watch the result."
"Kindly keep your 'ands off the new arm-rack." Foxy wrestled with a
turbulent crowd in the gymnasium. "Nor it won't do even a condemned
Snider any good to be continual snappin' the lock, Mr. Swayne.--Yiss,
the uniforms will come later, when we're more proficient; at present
we will confine ourselves to drill. I am 'ere for the purpose o'
takin' the names o' those willin' to join.--Put down that Snider,
"What are you goin' to do, Beetle?" said a voice.
"I've had all the drill _I_ want, thank you."
"What! After all you've learned? Come on! Don't be a scab! They'll
make you corporal in a week," cried Stalky.
"I'm not goin' up for the Army." Beetle touched his spectacles.
"Hold on a shake, Foxy," said Hogan. "Where are you goin' to drill
"Here--in the gym--till you are fit an' capable to be taken out on the
road." The Sergeant threw a chest.
"For all the Northam cads to look at? Not good enough, Foxibus."
"Well, we won't make a point of it. You learn your drill first, an'
later we'll see."
"Hullo," said Ansell of Macrea's, shouldering through the mob. "What's
all this about a giddy cadet-corps?"
"It will save you a lot o' time at Sandburst," the Sergeant replied
promptly. "You'll be dismissed your drills early if you go up with a
good groundin' before'and."
"Hm! 'Don't mind learnin' my drill, but I'm not goin' to ass about the
country with a toy Snider. Perowne, what are you goin' to do? Hogan's
"Don't know whether I've the time," said Perowne. "I've got no end of
extra-tu as it is."
"Well, call this extra-tu," said Ansell. "'Twon't take us long to mug
up the drill."
"Oh, that's right enough, but what about marchin' in public?" said
Hogan, not foreseeing that three years later he should die in the
Burmese sun-light outside Minhla Fort.
"Afraid the uniform won't suit your creamy complexion?" McTurk asked
with a villainous sneer.
"Shut up, Turkey. You aren't goin' up for the Army."
"No, but I'm goin' to send a substitute. Hi! Morrell an' Wake! You two
fags by the arm-rack, you've got to volunteer."
Blushing deeply--they had been too shy to apply before--the youngsters
sidled towards the Sergeant.
"But I don't want the little chaps--not at first," said the Sergeant
disgustedly. "I want--I'd like some of the Old Brigade the
defaulters--to stiffen 'em a bit."
"Don't be ungrateful, Sergeant. They're nearly as big as you get 'em
in the Army now." McTurk read the papers of those years and could be
trusted for general information, which he used as he used his
"tweaker." Yet he did not know that Wake minor would be a bimbashi of
the Egyptian Army ere his thirtieth year.
Hogan, Swayne, Stalky, Perowne, and Ansell were deep in consultation
by the vaulting-horse, Stalky as usual laying down the law. The
Sergeant watched them uneasily, knowing that many waited on their
"Foxy don't like my recruits," said McTurk, in a pained tone, to
Beetle. "You get him some."
Nothing loath, Beetle pinioned two more fags--each no taller than a
carbine. "Here you are, Foxy. Here's food for powder. Strike for your
hearths an' homes, you young brutes--an' be jolly quick about it."
"Still he isn't happy," said McTurk.
"For the way we have with our Army
Is the way we have with our Navy."
Here Beetle joined in. They had found the poem in an old volume of
"Punch," and it seemed to cover the situation:
"An' both of 'em led to adversity,
Which nobody can deny!"
"You be quiet, young gentlemen. If you can't 'elp--don't 'inder."
Foxy's eye was still on the council by the horse. Carter, White, and
Tyrrell, all boys of influence, had joined it. The rest fingered the
rifles irresolutely. "Wait a shake," cried Stalky. "Can't we turn out
those rotters before we get to work?"
"Certainly," said Foxy. "Any one wishful to join will stay 'ere. Those
who do not so intend will go out, quietly closin' the door be'ind
Half a dozen of the earnest-minded rushed at them, and they had just
time to escape into the corridor.
"Well, why don't you join?" Beetle asked, resettling his collar.
"Why didn't you?"
"What's the good? We aren't goin' up for the Army. Besides, I know the
drill--all except the manual, of course. 'Wonder what they're doin'
"Makin' a treaty with Foxy. Didn't you hear Stalky say: 'That's what
we'll do--an' if he don't like it he can lump it'? They'll use Foxy
for a cram. Can't you see, you idiot? They're goin' up for Sandhurst
or the Shop in less than a year. They'll learn their drill an' then
they'll drop it like a shot. D'you suppose chaps with their amount of
extra-tu are takin' up volunteerin' for fun?"
"Well, I don't know. I thought of doin' a poem about it--rottin' 'em,
you know--'The Ballad of the Dogshooters'--eh?"
"I don't think you can, because King'll be down on the corps like a
cartload o' bricks. He hasn't been consulted, he's sniffin' round the
notice-board now. Let's lure him." They strolled up carelessly
towards the honse-master--a most meek couple.
"How's this?" said King with a start of feigned surprise. "Methought
you would be learning to fight for your country."
"I think the company's full, sir," said McTurk.
"It's a great pity," sighed Beetle.
"Forty valiant defenders, have we, then? How noble! What devotion! I
presume that it is possible that a desire to evade their normal
responsibilities may be at the bottom of this zeal. Doubtless they
will be accorded special privileges, like the Choir and the Natural
History Society--one must not say Bug-hunters."
"Oh, I suppose so, sir," said McTurk, cheerily. "The head hasn't said
anything about it yet, but he will, of course."
"Oh, sure to."
"It is just possible, my Beetle," King wheeled on the last speaker,
"that the house-masters--a necessary but somewhat neglected factor in
our humble scheme of existence--may have a word to say on the matter.
Life, for the young at least, is not all weapons and munitions of
war. Education is incidentally one of our aims."
"What a consistent pig he is," cooed McTurk, when they were out of
earshot. "One always knows where to have him. Did you see how he rose
to that draw about the head and special privileges?"
"Confound him, he might have had the decency to have backed the
scheme. I could do such a lovely ballad, rottin' it; and now I'll
have to be a giddy enthusiast. It don't bar our pulling Stalky's leg
in the study, does it?"
"Oh, no; but in the Coll. we must be pro-cadet-corps like anything.
Can't you make up a giddy epigram, _a'_la_Catullus_, about King
objectin' to it?" Beetle was at this noble task when Stalky returned
all hot from his first drill.
"Hullo, my ramrod-bunger!" began McTurk. "Where's your dead dog? Is it
Defence or Defiance?"
"Defiance," said Stalky, and leaped on him at that word. "Look here,
Turkey, you mustn't rot the corps. We've arranged it beautifully.
Foxy swears he won't take us out into the open till we say we want to
"_Dis_-gustin' exhibition of immature infants apin' the idiosyncrasies
of their elders. Snff!"
"Have you drawn King, Beetle?" Stalky asked in a pause of the
"Not exactly; but that's his genial style."
"Well, listen to your Uncle Stalky--who is a great man. Moreover and
subsequently, Foxy's goin' to let us drill the corps in
turn--_privatim_et_seriatim_--so that we'll all know how to handle a
half company anyhow. _Ergo_, an' _propter_hoc_, when we go to the
Shop we shall be dismissed drill early; thus, my beloved 'earers,
combinin' education with wholesome amusement."
"I knew you'd make a sort of extra-tu of it, you cold-blooded brute,"
said McTurk. "Don't you want to die for your giddy country?"
"Not if I can jolly well avoid it. So you mustn't rot the corps."
"We'd decided on that, years ago," said Beetle, scornfully. "King'll
do the rottin'."
"Then you've got to rot King, my giddy poet. Make up a good catchy
Limerick, and let the fags sing it."
"Look here, you stick to volunteerin', and don't jog the table."
"He won't have anything to take hold of," said Stalky, with dark
They did not know what that meant till, a few days later, they
proposed to watch the corps at drill. They found the gymnasium door
locked and a fag on guard. "This is sweet cheek," said McTurk,
"Mustn't look through the key-hole," said the sentry.
"I like that. Why, Wake, you little beast, I made you a volunteer."
"Can't help it. My orders are not to allow any one to look."
"S'pose we do?" said McTurk. "S'pose we jolly well slay you?"
"My orders are, I am to give the name of anybody who interfered with
me on my post, to the corps, an' they'd deal with him after drill,
accordin' to martial law."
"What a brute Stalky is!" said Beetle. They never doubted for a moment
who had devised that scheme.
"You esteem yourself a giddy centurion, don't you?" said Beetle,
listening to the crash and rattle of grounded arms within.
"My ordcrs are, not to talk except to explain my orders--they'll lick
me if I do."
McTurk looked at Beetle. The two shook their heads and turned away.
"I swear Stalky _is_ a great man," said Beetle after a long pause.
"One consolation is that this sort of secret-society biznai will
drive King wild."
It troubled many more than King, but the members of the corps were
muter than oysters. Foxy, being bound by no vow, carried his woes to
"I never come across such nonsense in my life. They've tiled the
lodge, inner and outer guard, all complete, and then they get to
work, keen as mustard."
"But what's it all for?" asked the ex-Troop Sergeant-Major.
"To learn their drill. You never saw anything like it. They begin
after I've dismissed 'em--practisin' tricks; but out into the open
they will _not_ come--not for ever so. The 'ole thing is
pre-posterous. If you're a cadet-corps, _I_ say, be a cadet-corps,
instead o' hidin' be'ind locked doors."
"And what do the authorities say about it?"
"That beats me again." The Sergeant spoke fretfully. "I go to the 'Ead
an' 'e gives me no help. There's times when I think he's makin' fun
o' me. I've never been a Volunteer-sergeant, thank God--but I've
always had the consideration to pity 'em. I'm glad o' that."
"I'd like to see 'em," said Keyte. "From your statements, Sergeant, I
can't get at what they're after."
"Don't ask me, Major! Ask that freckle-faced young Corkran. He's
One does not refuse a warrior of Sobraon, or deny the only pastry-cook
within bounds. So Keyte came, by invitation, leaning upon a stick,
tremulous with old age, to sit in a corner and watch.
"They shape well. They shape uncommon well," he whispered between
"Oh, this isn't what they're after. Wait till I dismiss 'em."
At the "break-off" the ranks stood fast. Perowne fell out, faced them,
and, refreshing his memory by glimpses at a red-bound, metal-clasped
book, drilled them for ten minutes. (This is that Perowne who was
shot in Equatorial Africa by his own men.) Ansell followed him, and
Hogan followed Ansell. All three were implicitly obeyed. Then Stalky
laid aside his Snider, and, drawing a long breath, favored the
company with a blast of withering invective.
"'Old 'ard, Muster Corkran. That ain't in any drill," cried Foxy.
"All right, Sergeant. You never know what you may have to say to your
men.--For pity's sake, try to stand up without leanin' against each
other, you blear-eyed, herrin'-gutted gutter-snipes. It's no pleasure
to me to comb you out. That ought to have been done before you came
here, you--you militia broom-stealers."
"The old touch--the old touch. _We_ know it," said Keyte, wiping his
rheumy eyes. "But where did he pick it up?"
"From his father--or his uncle. Don't ask me! Half of 'em must have
been born within earshot o' the barracks." (Foxy was not far wrong in
his guess.) "I've heard more back-talk since this volunteerin'
nonsense began than I've heard in a year in the service."
"There's a rear-rank man lookin' as though his belly were in the
pawn-shop. Yes, you, Private Ansell," and Stalky tongue-lashed the
victim for three minutes, in gross and in detail.
"Hullo!" He returned to his normal tone. "First blood to me. You
flushed, Ansell. You wriggled."
"Couldn't help flushing," was the answer. "Don't think I wriggled,
"Well, it's your turn now." Stalky resumed his place in the ranks.
"Lord, Lord! It's as good as a play," chuckled the attentive Keyte.
Ansell, too, had been blessed with relatives in the service, and
slowly, in a lazy drawl--his style was more reflective than
Stalky's--descended the abysmal depths of personality.
"Blood to me!" he shouted triumphantly. "You couldn't stand it,
either." Stalky was a rich red, and his Snider shook visibly.
"I didn't think I would," he said, struggling for composure, "but
after a bit I got in no end of a bait. Curious, ain't it?"
"Good for the temper," said the slow-moving Hogan, as they returned
arms to the rack.
"Did you ever?" said Foxy, hopelessly, to Keyte.
"I don't know much about volunteers, but it's the rummiest show I ever
saw. I can see what they're gettin' at, though. Lord! how often I've
been told off an' dressed down in my day! They shape well--extremely
well they shape."
"If I could get 'em out into the open, there's nothing I couldn't do
with 'em, Major. Perhaps when the uniforms come down, they'll change
Indeed it was time that the corps made some concession to the
curiosity of the school. Thrice had the guard been maltreated and
thrice had the corps dealt out martial law to the offender. The
school raged. What was the use, they asked, of a cadet-corps which
none might see? Mr. King congratulated them on their invisible
defenders, and they could not parry his thrusts. Foxy was growing
sullen and restive. A few of the corps expressed openly doubts as to
the wisdom of their course; and the question of uniforms loomed on
the near horizon. If these were issued, they would be forced to wear
But, as so often happens in this life, the matter was suddenly settled
The head had duly informed the Council that their recommendation had
been acted upon, and that, so far as he could learn, the buys were
drilling. He said nothing of the terms on which they drilled.
Naturally, General Collinson was delighted and told his friends. One
of his friends rejoiced in a friend, a Member of Parliament--a
zealous, an intelligent, and, above all, a patriotic person, anxious
to do the most good in the shortest possible time. But we cannot
answer, alas! for the friends of our friends. If Collinson's friend
had introduced him to the General, the latter would have taken his
measure and saved much. But the friend merely spoke of his friend;
and since no two people in the world see eye to eye, the picture
conveyed to Collinson was inaccurate. Moreover, the man was an M.P.,
an impeccable Conservative, and the General had the English soldier's
lurking respect for any member of the Court of Last Appeal. He was
going down into the West country, to spread light in somebody's
benighted constituency. Wouldn't it be a good idea if, armed with the
General's recommendation, he, taking the admirable and newly
established cadet-corps for his text, spoke a few words--"Just talked
to the boys a little--eh? You know the kind of thing that would be
acceptable; and he'd be the very man to do it. The sort of talk that
boys understand, you know."
"They didn't talk to 'em much in my time," said the General,
"Ah! but times change--with the spread of education and so on. The
boys of to-day are the men of to-morrow. An impression in youth is
likely to be permanent. And in these times, you know, with the
country going to the dogs?"
"You're quite right." The island was then entering on five years of
Mr. Gladstone's rule; and the General did not like what he had seen
of it. He would certainly write to the head, for it was beyond
question that the boys of to-day made the men of to-morrow. That, if
he might say so, was uncommonly well put.
In reply, the head stated that he should be delighted to welcome Mr.
Raymond Martin, M.P., of whom he had heard so much; to put him up for
the night, and to allow him to address the school on any subject that
he conceived would interest them. If Mr. Martin had not yet faced an
audience of this particular class of British youth, the head had no
doubt that he would find it an interesting experience.
"And I don't think I am very far wrong in that last," he confided to
the Reverend John. "Do you happen to know anything of one Raymond
"I was at College with a man of that name," the chaplain replied. "He
was without form and void, so far as I remember, but desperately
"He will address the Coll. on 'Patriotism' next Saturday."
"If there is one thing our boys detest more than another it is having
their Saturday evenings broken into. Patriotism has no chance beside
"Nor art either. D'you remember our 'Evening with Shakespeare'?" The
head's eyes twinkled. "Or the humorous gentleman with the magic
"An' who the dooce is this Raymond Martin, M.P.?" demanded Beetle,
when he read the notice of the lecture in the corridor. "Why do the
brutes always turn up on a Saturday?"
"Ouh! Reomeo, Reomeo. Wherefore art thou Reomeo?" said McTurk over his
shoulder, quoting the Shakespeare artiste of last term. "Well, he
won't be as bad as _her_, I hope. Stalky, are you properly patriotic?
Because if you ain't, this chap's goin' to make you."
"Hope he won't take up the whole of the evening. I suppose we've got
to listen to him."
"Wouldn't miss him for the world," said McTurk. "A lot of chaps
thought that Romeo-Romeo woman was a bore. _I_ didn't. I liked her!
'Member when she began to hiccough in the middle of it? P'raps he'll
hiccough. Whoever gets into the Gym first, bags seats for the other
There was no nervousness, but a brisk and cheery affability about Mr.
Raymond Martin, M.P., as he drove up, watched by many eyes, to the
"Looks a bit of a bargee," was McTurk's comment. "Shouldn't be
surprised if he was a Radical. He rowed the driver about the fare. I
"That was his giddy patriotism," Beetle explained. After tea they
joined the rush for seats, secured a private and invisible corner,
and began to criticise. Every gas-jet was lit. On the little dais at
the far end stood the head's official desk, whence Mr. Martin would
discourse, and a ring of chairs for the masters.
Entered then Foxy, with official port, and leaned something like a
cloth rolled round a stick against the desk. No one in authority was
yet present, so the school applauded, crying: "What's that, Foxy?
What are you stealin' the gentleman's brolly for?--We don't birch
here. We cane! Take away that bauble!--Number off from the right"
--and so forth, till the entry of the head and the masters ended all
"One good job--the Common-room hate this as much as we do. Watch King
wrigglin' to get out of the draft."
"Where's the Raymondiferous Martin? Punctuality, my beloved 'earers,
is the image o' war--"
"Shut up. Here's the giddy Dook. Golly, what a dewlap!" Mr. Martin, in
evening dress, was undeniably throaty--a tall, generously designed,
pink-and-white man. Still, Beetle need not have been coarse.
"Look at his back while he's talkin' to the head. Vile bad form to
turn your back on the audience! He's a Philistine--a Bopper--a
Jebusite--an' a Hivite." McTurk leaned back and sniffed
In a few colorless words, the head introduced the speaker and sat down
amid applause. When Mr. Martin took the applause to himself, they
naturally applauded more than ever. It was some time before be could
begin. He had no knowledge of the school--its tradition or heritage.
He did not know that the last census showed that eighty per cent. of
the boys had been born abroad--in camp, cantonment, or upon the high
seas; or that seventy-five per cent. were sons of officers in one or
other of the services--Willoughbys, Paulets, De Castros, Maynes,
Randalls, after their kind--looking to follow their fathers'
profession. The head might have told him this, and much more; but,
after an hour-long dinner in his company, the head decided to say
nothing whatever. Mr. Raymond Martin seemed to know so much already.
He plunged into his speech with a long-drawn, rasping "Well, boys,"
that, though they were not conscious of it, set every young nerve
ajar. He supposed they knew--hey?--what he had come down for? It was
not often that he had an opportunity to talk to boys. He supposed
that boys were very much the same kind of persons--some people
thought them rather funny persons--as they had been in his youth.
"This man," said McTurk, with conviction, "is _the_ Gadarene Swine."
But they must remember that they would not always be boys. They would
grow up into men, because the boys of to-day made the men of
to-morrow, and upon the men of to-morrow the fair fame of their
glorious native land depended.
"If this goes on, my beloved 'earers, it will be my painful duty to
rot this bargee." Stalky drew a long breath through his nose.
"Can't do that," said McTurk. "He ain't chargin' anything for his
And so they ought to think of the duties and responsibilities of the
life that was opening before them. Life was not all--he enumerated a
few games, and, that nothing might be lacking to the sweep and impact
of his fall, added "marbles." "Yes, life was not," he said, "all
There was one tense gasp--among the juniors almost a shriek--of
quivering horror, he was a heathen--an outcast---beyond the extremest
pale of toleration--self-damned before all men. Stalky bowed his head
in his hands. McTurk, with a bright and cheerful eye, drank in every
word, and Beetle nodded solemn approval.
Some of them, doubtless, expected in a few years to have the honor of
a commission from the Queen, and to wear a sword. Now, he himself had
had some experience of these duties, as a Major in a volunteer
regiment, and he was glad to learn that they had established a
volunteer corps in their midst. The establishment of such an
establishment conduced to a proper and healthy spirit, which, if
fostered, would be of great benefit to the land they loved and were
so proud to belong to. Some of those now present expected, he had no
doubt--some of them anxiously looked forward to leading their men
against the bullets of England's foes; to confronting the stricken
field in all the pride of their youthful manhood.
Now the reserve of a boy is tenfold deeper than the reserve of a maid,
she being made for one end only by blind Nature, but man for several.
With a large and healthy hand, he tore down these veils, and trampled
them under the well-intentioned feet of eloquence. In a raucous
voice, he cried aloud little matters, like the hope of Honor and the
dream of Glory, that boys do not discuss even with their most
intimate equals, cheerfully assuming that, till he spoke, they had
never considered these possibilities. He pointed them to shining
goals, with fingers which smudged out all radiance on all horizons.
He profaned the most secret places of their souls with outcries and
gesticulations, he bade them consider the deeds of their ancestors in
such a fashion that they were flushed to their tingling ears. Some of
them--the rending voice cut a frozen stillness--might have had
relatives who perished in defence of their country. They thought, not
a few of them, of an old sword in a passage, or above a
breakfast-room table, seen and fingered by stealth since they could
walk. He adjured them to emulate those illustrious examples; and they
looked all ways in their extreme discomfort.
Their years forbade them even to shape their thoughts clearly to
themselves. They felt savagely that they were being outraged by a fat
man who considered marbles a game.
And so he worked towards his peroration--which, by the way, he used
later with overwhelming success at a meeting of electors--while they
sat, flushed and uneasy, in sour disgust. After many, many words, he
reached for the cloth-wrapped stick and thrust one hand in his bosom.
This--this was the concrete symbol of their land--worthy of all honor
and reverence! Let no boy look on this flag who did not purpose to
worthily add to its imperishable lustre. He shook it before them--a
large calico Union Jack, staring in all three colors, and waited for
the thunder of applause that should crown his effort.
They looked in silence. They had certainly seen the thing before--down
at the coastguard station, or through a telescope, half-mast high
when a brig went ashore on Braunton Sands; above the roof of the
Golf-club, and in Keyte's window, where a certain kind of striped
sweetmeat bore it in paper on each box. But the College never
displayed it; it was no part of the scheme of their lives; the head
had never alluded to it; their fathers had not declared it unto them.
It was a matter shut up, sacred and apart. What, in the name of
everything caddish, was he driving at, who waved that horror before
their eyes? Happy thought! Perhaps he was drunk.
The head saved the situation by rising swiftly to propose a vote of
thanks, and at his first motion, the school clapped furiously, from a
sense of relief.
"And I am sure," he concluded, the gaslight full on his face, "that
you will all join me in a very hearty vote of thanks to Mr. Raymond
Martin for the most enjoyable address he has given us."
To this day we shall never know the rights of the case. The head vows
that he did no such thing; or that, if he did, it must have been
something in his eye; but those who were present are persuaded that
he winked, once, openly and solemnly, after the word "enjoyable." Mr.
Raymond Martin got his applause full tale. As he said, "Without
vanity, I think my few words went to their hearts. I never knew boys
could cheer like that."
He left as the prayer-bell rang, and the boys lined up against the
wall. The flag lay still unrolled on the desk, Foxy regarding it with
pride, for he had been touched to the quick by Mr. Martin's
eloquence. The head and the Common-room, standing back on the dais,
could not see the glaring offence, but a prefect left the line,
rolled it up swiftly, and as swiftly tossed it into a glove and foil
Then, as though he had touched a spring, broke out the low murmur of
content, changing to quick-volleyed hand-clapping.
They discussed the speech in the dormitories. There was not one
dissentient voice. Mr. Raymond Martin, beyond question, was born in
a gutter, and bred in a board-school, where they played marbles. He
was further (I give the barest handful from great store) a Flopshus
Cad, an Outrageous Stinker, a Jelly-bellied Flag-flapper (this was
Stalky's contribution), and several other things which it is not
seemly to put down.
The volunteer cadet-corps fell in next Monday, depressedly, with a
face of shame. Even then, judicious silence might have turned the
Said Foxy: "After a fine speech like what you 'eard night before last,
you ought to take 'old of your drill with _re_-newed activity. I
don't see how you can avoid comin' out an' marchin' in the open now."
"Can't we get out of it, then, Foxy?" Stalky's fine old silky tone
should have warned him.
"No, not with his giving the flag so generously. He told me before he
left this morning that there was no objection to the corps usin' it
as their own. It's a handsome flag."
Stalky returned his rifle to the rack in dead silence, and fell out.
His example was followed by Hogan and Ansell. Perowne hesitated.
"Look here, oughtn't we--?" he began.
"I'll get it out of the locker in a minute," said the Sergeant, his
back turned. "Then we can--"
"Come on!" shouted Stalky. "What the devil are you waiting for?
Dismiss! Break off."
"Why--what the--where the--?"
The rattle of Sniders, slammed into the rack, drowned his voice, as
boy after boy fell out.
"I--I don't know that I shan't have to report this to the head," he
"Report, then, and be damned to you," cried Stalky, white to the lips,
and ran out.
"Rummy thing!" said Beetle to McTurk. "I was in the study, doin' a
simply lovely poem about the Jelly-Bellied Flag-Flapper, an' Stalky
came in, an' I said 'Hullo!' an' he cursed me like a bargee, and then
he began to blub like anything. Shoved his head on the table and
howled. Hadn't we better do something?"
McTurk was troubled. "P'raps he's smashed himself up somehow."
They found him, with very bright eyes, whistling between his teeth.
"Did I take you in, Beetle? I thought I would. Wasn't it a good draw?
Didn't you think I was blubbin'? Didn't I do it well? Oh, you fat old
ass!" And he began to pull Beetle's ears and checks, in the fashion
that was called "milking."
"I knew you were blubbin'," Beetle replied, composedly. "Why aren't
you at drill?"
"Drill! What drill?"
"Don't try to be a clever fool. Drill in the Gym."
"'Cause there isn't any. The volunteer cadet-corps is broke
up--disbanded--dead--putrid--corrupt---stinkin'. An' if you look at
me like that, Beetle, I'll slay you too... Oh, yes, an' I'm goin' to
be reported to the head for swearin'."
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