(October 2014)

Format: Triple

My first penitent was all head-bandages—escaped from an Officers’ Hospital, Pentonville way. He asked me in profane Scots how I expected a man with only six teeth and half a lower lip to speak to any purpose, so we compromised on the signs. The next—a New Zealander from Taranaki—reversed the process, for he was one-armed, and that in a sling. I mistrusted an enormous Sergeant-Major of Heavy Artillery, who struck me as much too glib, so I sent him on to Brother Lemming in the next box, who discovered he was a Past District Grand Officer. My last man nearly broke me down altogether. Everything seemed to have gone from him.

‘I don’t blame yer,’ he gulped at last. ‘I wouldn’t pass my own self on my answers, but I give yer my word that so far as I’ve had any religion, it’s been all the religion I’ve had. For God’s sake, let me sit in Lodge again, Brother!’


This is from “In the Interests of the Brethren” in Debits and Credits.

During the War a masonic lodge, Faith and Works 5837, has become a refuge for ex-servicemen, often broken by their experiences in the trenches. Here the writer, himself a freemason as was Kipling, is interviewing new arrivals to verify their masonic credentials.

Then a woman with a nose an’ teeth on ’er, marched up. “What’s all this?” she says. “What do you want?” “Nothing,” I says, “only make Miss Bates, there, stop talkin’ or I’ll die.”

“Miss Bates?” she says. “What in ’Eaven’s name makes you call ’er that?” “Because she is,” I says. “D’you know what you’re sayin’?” she says, an’ slings her bony arm round me to get me off the ground. “’Course I do,” I says, “an’ if you knew Jane you’d know too.” “That’s enough,” says she. “You’re comin’ on this train if I have to kill a Brigadier for you,”


This is from “The Janeites” in Debits and Credits

After the war, a badly shell-shocked heavy guuner tells the story of his Battery, where the officers, and thence the men, had been enthusiasts for Jane Austen. They called their guns Lady Catherine de Burgh and the Reverend Collins, from Pride and Prejudice, and talked endlessly about Austen’s characters. So when the wounded Gunner Humberstall encountered a very talkative woman he called her Miss Bates, from Emma. A senior nurse, another Austen devotee, recognising the reference, had made room for him on a crowded hospital train. saving his life.

He pushed himself forward over a last pit of terror, and touched her. There was no wire, but a tough, thumb-shaped root, sticking out of the sand-wall, had hooked itself into her collar, sprung backwards and upwards, and locked her helplessly by the neck. His fingers trembled so at first that he could not follow the kinks of it. He shut his eyes, and humoured it out by touch, as he had done with wires and cables deep down under the Ridge


This is from “The Woman in his Life”, in Limits and Renewals.

John Marden, a successful engineer, who has served on the Western Front in the Great War, has a breakdown in which he is haunted by the war-time terrors of mining under the Messines Ridge in constant peril of his life. Shingle, his wartime batman (servant), now his valet, gets John a dog, an adorable Aberdeen Terrier puppy named Dinah. One night Dinah is reported missing and John finds her deep in a disused badger hole. To find her he has to crawl along a narrow tunnel, in constant fear of being buried alive, which takes him back to his worst experiences on the Western Front. He overcomes his fears, gets her out, and brings her home. After twelve hours sleep he wakes to find himself fully recovered and ready for work again.