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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint


 

2:   THE GATE

Our sergeant, trimly erect in creaseless blue uniform, hesitated as we left the station yard. Your fighting-man is shy of giving orders to people possibly disobedient, for an ignored command disgraces would-be authority; and Englishmen (being what they are) resent being bossed except as law or imperious circumstance directs. Then in unconvincing offhand, 'I'm going over to that shop a moment. You fellows keep along this foot-path till I give you a shout' and he crossed the sunny street to pop slickly in and out of a tobacconist's. I suppose he has done such conducting duty daily for months: but he needn't care for the feelings of us six shambling ones. We are moving in a dream.

This main street of an old-fashioned country town clanks with hulking trams labelled Shepherd's Bush. Invaders. We walk till on our left rise the bill-boards of eligible plots and heavy elms bulge through the wall of a broken park. The tyre-polished tarmac glistens before and after these umbrellas of shade. Here is a gateway, high and brick-pillared with bombs atop: and by it a blue sentry with a rifle. A momentary drawing-together of our group. But head in air on the opposite pavement the sergeant strides forward, looking hard to his front. The stone flags ring under the ferrule of his planted stick

Our sun-softened asphalt declines into a dusty gravel. Shuffle shuffle goes the loose crowd of us, past another gate. The wall gives place to park-paling and wire: there are khaki men in the park, distant. A third gate. The sergeant crosses towards it, heading us off. With a wave of his stick he shepherds our little mob past the sentry who stands firm before a box. For a moment we glance back over the bayonet at the gleaming road with its traffic and its people strolling, freely, in a world that we have quitted.




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