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Bertram Greene, brilliant student, aesthete, intellectual and shy, decides to make his military father proud of him at last and joins the colonial Indian Army Reserve as a second Lieutenant at the start of Great War. Feeling a complete fish out of water, he is dispatched to India without any training whatsoever, and is expected to take charge of a company of native soldiers. He is then posted to East Africa to join the British fighting force there, and finds out what real soldiering means.
347 pages, with a reading time of ~5.5 hours (86,822 words), and first published in 1920. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2017.
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There never lived a more honourable, upright, scrupulous gentleman than Major Hugh Walsingham Greene, and there seldom lived a duller, narrower, more pompous or more irascible one.
Nor, when the Great War broke out, and gave him something fresh to do and to think about, were there many sadder and unhappier men. His had been a luckless and unfortunate life, what with his two wives and his one son; his excellent intentions and deplorable achievements; his kindly heart and harsh exterior; his narrow escapes of decoration, recognition and promotion.
At cards he was not lucky—and in love he … well—his first wife, whom he adored, died after a year of him; and his second ran away after three months of his society. She ran away with Mr. Charles Stayne-Brooker (elsewhere the Herr Doktor Karl Stein-Brücker), the man of all men, whom he particularly and peculiarly loathed. And his son, his only son and heir! The boy was a bitter disappointment to him, turning out badly—a poet, an artist, a musician, a wretched student and “intellectual,” a fellow who won prizes and scholarships and suchlike by the hatful, and never carried off, or even tried for, a “pot,” in his life. Took after his mother, poor boy, and was the first of the family, since God-knows-when, to grow up a dam’ civilian. Father fought and bled in Egypt, South Africa, Burma, China, India; grandfather in the Crimea and Mutiny, great-grandfather in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, ancestors with Marlborough, the Stuarts, Drake—scores of them: and this chap, his son, their descendant, a wretched creature of whom you could no more make a soldier than you could make a service saddle of a sow’s ear!
It was a comfort to the Major that he only saw the nincompoop on the rare occasions of his visits to England, when he honestly did his best to hide from the boy (who worshipped him) that he would sooner have seen him win one cup for boxing, than a hundred prizes for his confounded literature, art, music, classics, and study generally. To hide from the boy that the pæans of praise in his school reports were simply revolting—fit only for a feller who was going to be a wretched curate or wretcheder schoolmaster; to hide his distaste for the pale, slim beauty, which was that of a delicate girl rather than of the son of Major Hugh Walsingham Greene…. Too like his poor mother by half—and without one quarter the pluck, nerve, and “go” of young Miranda Walsingham, his kinswoman and playmate…. Too dam’ virtuous altogether….
Gad! If this same Miranda had only been a boy, his boy, there would have been another soldier to carry on the family traditions, if you like!
But this poor Bertram of his …
His mother, a Girton girl, and daughter of a Cambridge Don, had prayed that her child might “take after” her father, for whom she entertained a feeling of absolute veneration. She had had her wish indeed—without living to rejoice in the fact.
* * * * *
When it was known in the cantonment of Sitagur that Major Walsingham Greene was engaged to Prudence Pym, folk were astonished, and a not uncommon comment was “Poor little girl!” in spite of the fact that the Major was admitted by all to be a most honourable and scrupulous gentleman. Another remark which was frequently made was “Hm! Opposites attract. What?”
For Prudence Pym was deeply religious, like her uncle, the Commissioner of the Sitagur Division; she was something of a blue-stocking as became her famous father’s daughter; she was a musician of parts, an artist of more than local note, and was known to be writing a Book. So that if “oppositeness” be desirable, there was plenty of it—since the Major considered attendance at church to be part and parcel of drill-and-parade; religion to be a thing concerning which no gentleman speaks and few gentlemen think; music to be a noise to be endured in the drawing-room after dinner for a little while; art to be the harmless product of long-haired fellers with shockin’ clothes and dirty finger-nails; and books something to read when you were absolutely reduced to doing it—as when travelling….
When Prudence Walsingham Greene knew that she was to have a child, she strove to steep her soul in Beauty, Sweetness and Light, and to feed it on the pure ichor of the finest and best in scenery, music, art and literature….