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The arms began to flap with returning consciousness. Private Copper rose up and whispered ‘If you open your head, I’ll bash it.’ There was no suggestion of sprain in the flung-back left boot. ‘Now walk m front of me, both arms perpendicularly elevated. I’m only a third-class shot, so, if you don’t object, I’ll rest the muzzle of my rifle lightly but firmly on your collar-button—coverin’ the serviceable vertebree. If your friends see us thus engaged, you pray—’ard.’


This is from “The Comprehension of Private Copper” in Traffics and Discoveries.

During the Second South African War War, out on the veldt, Private Copper is one of a patrol sent out to reconnoitre the ground between the British and the Boer commandoes. Out ahead of his comrades, he is taken prisoner by a Boer sentry, a young ‘burgher’, who hates the British because his father – a loyalist farmer in the Transvaal – has lost everything in the wars.

Despising Copper as a half-educated Englishman of the working classes, a ‘poor Tommy’, and confident of his own superiority, the ‘burgher’ lets him get too near, and Copper turns the tables on him, knocking him out, taking his rifle, and bringing him back to the rest of the patrol at rifle-point