An ageing ex-army general looks back on his life in the forces, life amongst the Upper Classes and a life of great upheaval. He learns absolutely nothing.
I am an old man now as you can see. My hair has turned the colour of newly fallen snow and I sometimes find it difficult to catch my breath from behind that gracious pipe, which the doctor tells me needs must I have to sacrifice if I want to live much longer than my allotted years of three score and ten. One thing which has really caused me problems over my waning years has been my eyesight. In my golden years, I was renowned across our land as the best undiscovered shot in the country, but now I am forced to rely upon gut instinct and my encyclopaedic knowledge of nature in order to bag my prey on hunting excursions. Indeed, these trips are becoming rarer and rarer, but I try and keep my hand in by taking pot shots out of the window, usually at night. I believe that this tests my skill and also levels out the playing field, taking into account that this means that nobody else can see either.
My midnight shooting escapades have become the stuff of local legend now. I shot a foraging badger in the leg, and his wails woke the nearby village so the constable had to ride to the Hall to put the blighter out of his misery. I also managed to bag a large white owl, whose midnight calls had disturbed my sleep for over a month. The owl had fallen into a trap that my gardener had designed for him and was struggling to get free. The ingenious nature of this net, strung up between the trees, was that the gardener had painted it bright white- a target I could not miss, and I subsequently fired round upon round into the huge white treasure spot and eventually bagged my prize.
I am told now however, that I must lay down my weapons and live the quiet life. The problem being that, whilst loading my shotgun, I pointed it towards the floor to loosen the trigger with some linseed oil and the gun, which had obviously been meddled with, shot me in my slippered foot. Of course, my son, Benedict, was immediately on hand to show off his arrogant youthful humour with cruel japes that I had really ‘shot myself in the foot’ this time. Of course, my son Benedict, was subsequently taught a lesson in mine own traditional humour as I shot him in the leg from close range. Unfortunately, Benedict, with his modern temperament and constitution could not fight off the bullet, and his leg went septic and had to be amputated. I have since been able to teach him life’s lessons much more easily, and have found him to be a receptive student. He now joins me at my window looking for creatures of the night that I can shoot, however his enthusiasm for the sport seems to have waned of late.
Benedict reminds me very much of a corporal in my old regiment during the war years, Evelyn, a man whose initial outstanding natural ability in shooting I took to my heart, and whom I trained as a protégé. Evelyn’s eye could have been a rival to mine own, but there grew into my mind that there was always the obstacle of a gnawing doubt in him, which he never quite overcame. I would take the youngster with me on early morning jaunts into French countryside, and we often practised by marauding through farmland picking off sheep, lambs and goats, which we would then lace with poison in order that any of our enemies happening across the bodies would not be able to eat the prey we had shot. Reminiscing upon this happy time often brings tears to my eyes and I despair over what a weak bunch of young men we have now to defend our country. The young men seem to have developed the warped morals of women these days, believing that the gun is an instrument of evil, when indeed it is only a plaything. These things depend upon your constitution, your sense of humour and your skill. If you can shoot, then you should be able to shoot. If you can afford a gun, then you must be allowed to use one. I notice that many people who protest about guns often have no money, or backbone and hence are protesting through a sense of fear rather than reason.
It was with these thoughts running through my mind, that I attempted to equip Benedict with a sense of pride and survival like that which I and many others had during the war. Each night I decided that I would tell him of the adventures of this time, of men like Cholmondley, of the treacherous Bailey and of Ernest, my faithful Jack Russell, after whom Benedict’s now dead brother was named. Even talking about Ernest now brings a lump to my throat… the way the cocky creature’s hind quarters would attempt to wag, as if he still had a tail… the way he could communicate almost like a human with his master…
Each night, I would sit with Benedict, our light provided only by a single candle and perchance some moonlight. I would perch at one side of the window, and Benedict would face me on the other, and we would take it in turns to look out into the night sky. The youngster could often be peering through a telescope, but I fancied that this was rather to watch the stars than to look out for invading animals. Such nights would often lead me to believe I was back on camp with the rest of the regiment; that I was with poor Evelyn. I would often begin my tales by addressing Benedict as Evelyn, in order that he could understand the nature of communication between us.
“I'm on first watch tonight between the witching hour and four when that ghastly morning dew sets in” I began. Benedict, looked sharply across at me with a cloud of confusion covering his face, however, that was the nature of those times. The soldiers often followed orders, I would have to adhere to the Captain’s barked demands, without fully knowing why and wherefore. I continued… “I shall then blow my horn twice sharply to indicate that you should take over from me. We cannot let Bailey out of our sight for a moment. The other day he endeavoured to shinny down the u-bend of the toilet in his cell and it was only the yapping of Ernest my trusty Jack Russell that we caught the blighter. (That's the reason behind that almighty bruised apple look that his visage has adopted over the past brace of days). Further to your other request, I have cleaned out the blunderbuss and will shoot a deer in the face at first light.”
Imagine, Benedict, imagine that you are there, surrounded by the mists of mystery in the shadows of solemnity in the altogether foreign landscape of confusion. Dark woodland sweeps to the right of the camp, marshland as far as the eye can see to the fore. Behind us lie the farms of the peoples we are endeavouring to liberate into our rule. You are amongst the chosen few who are in my regiment. You are sitting, shotgun in hand, by the fireside and I choose you to confide in, these are the dispatches and orders which you must carry out :
“Captain Bunting will attend camp on the morrow. I for one am suggesting that we maintain the dignified air of solemnity which abound at the moment. I shall be bringing my moustache comb, colonel, and hopefully you may, perchance, be awarded with the opportunity of drawing the teeth across the bristling beast on his upper lip. The deer which I shot in the face will also be presented to the Captain; unfortunately the animal is one unholy mess now, so I have asked the prisoner to clean it up a bit. The blighter asked me why I was forced to shoot the deer in the face when I could so easily have mounted it on my wall, however I stand by my decision. These creatures would shoot us in the face as soon as look at you, and I have seen a deer attempting to use a musket once and their aim is not true . Their hooves get in the way of the trigger, and they are rather like women with guns; you simply have to dive for cover. I have also pickled a brace of coneys which I shall fashion into mittens for the Captain. I could not bring myself to shoot the rabbits, so instead threw some dynamite down a rabbit hole.”
Benedict was staring at me, wide eyed in wonder, speechless with awe. I think that this was the first time he had realised the power and the influence that I, his father had held in that time. If that were how he reacted to my simple scene setting devices, then surely he would not be able to contain his excitement and overflowing respect as I began my tales of what actually happened in the war. I often caught similar expressions in the faces of my troops as I told them of my plans during the war. Perhaps it is in my nature to be a leader of men. Perhaps others were made to be followers. I remember during those special days that the men commanded so much respect for me that they would allow me to sleep in until midday, they would encourage me to carry less weaponry, as they assured me that they would lay down their lives for me. They often would write down my correspondence to Captain Bunting as I dictated it to them, although Bunting perhaps could not read the poor blighter’s writing as when I would refer to them, he would act as though he had no clue what I was talking about.
I believe that the time when their respect began to take the form of near hero worship was the famous Trenches Ghost capture, but there was also my unsurpassed excellence with any weaponry known to man. When I think about the gardener having to set up a huge target in my garden so that I could fire upon something as large as an owl, I can recall times in the camp when it almost seemed as though the weapons were living, breathing parts of myself, where I could simply wish death upon a creature and it would be so. It had an almost God-like quality to it, that feeling of almighty power… As I was slumped in that fading red leather chair, I almost fancied that I could feel the dirt of the battlefield between my toes, feel the bite of the wind on my cheeks…