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A Sketch of the New Zealand War

Off to the War III

page 19

Off to the Warpage 20page 21 III

I Was ordered to the seat of war, and paraded with the rest in the barrack square preparatory to the march to Onehunga. I had on my undress staff frock-coat; I have it still. It would not go within six inches of buttoning round my waist now.

The men of the 65th who paraded were shaggy, bearded giants, roughly clad, with their arms in excellent order. In comparison, I looked a dandy, and knew it. I had served recently with the Rifles. The Brigade-Major, mounted on a rough ten-pound animal, rode straight at me, pulled his horse on his haunches, swung him a bit to the left, and shouted out,—

"You think yourself a swell, sir. I am Brigade-Major Slack. You are going to Taranaki. Tell Colonel Gold, sir, he is bitching the whole war. As for Colonel Murray, I shall have him broke, sir, I shall page 22have him broke. I have reported the whole business to the Horse Guards."

He rode off. I smiled, and ranked him a shingle short. We embarked in the ss. Airedale. She was so uncommonly low in the water and so crowded with men that I felt sure she would topple over. With every roll of the boat the soldiers on deck felt their left or their right. The weather fortunately was fine. We arrived off New Plymouth early in the morning, and landed in surf-boats. I was met on the beach by a cheerful-looking young officer with 65 on his forage cap, who said, "You had better go up to the mess-room, and have some breakfast."

I inquired my way, and was directed to a long, two-storied shed; walked upstairs, and entered a bare wooden room with a long trestle table in it. It was apparently empty. A corner was cut off by a rough paper screen.

I walked up to a shabby mirror over the mantelpiece, arranged my hair, and settled my silk stock. I had landed in my undress frock-coat,—in fact, I had never had it off since I left Auckland,—and felt very uncomfortable. A stage-whisper broke on the silence of the room:—

"Begorra, Mick, here is another of them page 23patent-leather French soldiers, just like Captain Richards of the Light Bobs."

To explain this, it is necessary to say that a blue frock-coat is not a regimental uniform.

I was a staff-assistant surgeon, and therefore had no regimental uniform.

I glanced through a chink in the screen, and saw a pair of honest grey eyes contemplating me with scorn. Without turning round, and whilst still arranging my hair, I called for stirabout and milk. There was a smothered guffaw behind the screen. A fine, handsome soldier walked out, and said,—

"Begorra, sir, there is no stirabout and milk in this country at all, at all; but I can order for you rashers and eggs."

"Rashers and eggs by all means let it be."

We were both quite grave, but each had in his eye an amused twinkle that was more eloquent than words. This incident got about amongst the soldiers, and made me free of the 65th Foot.

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