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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint


 

18:  BAKER'S ROLL CALL

Tonight's crash of the stick on the hut door at roll call was terrific; and the door slammed back nearly off its hinges. Into the light strode Baker, V.C., a corporal who assumed great licence in the camp because of his war decoration. He marched down my side of the hut, checking the beds. Little Nobby, taken by surprise, had one boot on and another off. Corporal Baker stopped. 'What's the matter with YOU?' 'I was knocking out a nail which hurts my foot.' 'Put your boot on at once. Your name?' He passed on to the end door and there whirled round, snorting, 'Clarke.' Nobby properly cried, 'Corporal' and limped down the alley at a run (we must always run when called) to bring up stiffly at attention before him. A pause, and then curtly, 'Get back to your bed.'

Still the Corporal waited and so must we, lined up by our beds. Again, sharply, 'Clarke.' The performance was repeated, over and over, while the four files of us looked on, bound fast by shame and discipline. We were men, and a man over there was degrading himself and his species, in degrading another. Baker was lusting for trouble and hoped to provoke one of us into some act or word on which to base a charge. Nobby limped submissively up and down perhaps eight times, before the other door admitted Corporal Abner. Baker wheeled and vanished. When Abner heard our story he went out of the hut again and came back just before lights out, smiling grimly.

A private affair lightened the hour for me. Day by day I had been putting down these notes on our Depot life, often writing in bed from roll call till lights out, using any scrap of paper. So I seemed only to be writing letters. They were now grown to an unmanageable crumpled bulk. Yet I could not send the earlier ones away, for often I went back with fuller understanding to a past experience and implemented it; or ran the collected impressions of, say, three fire-pickets into one. At last there came to my memory a loose-leaf notebook, blank, among my papers in London; and I wrote for it. It had come today and I now unpacked it to begin transcribing: but as I gave the pages a preliminary shake, there dropped out on the floor my parchment patent of long ago, as Minister Plenipotentiary: - 'George' you know 'to his Trusty and Well-beloved'... with a seal on it as red and nearly as broad as my face. 'What's that?' asked Peters, the inquisitive. 'My birth-certificate' I said glibly, shovelling it out of sight.




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