Private Means, On His Deathbed, Talks To Stevie Smith
When I was young and thought the world, if ‘twere wise, would fashion itself to my whim, I took a fancy for a soldier’s life, and ‘listed with one of the ignorant armies, which were always recruiting. The confused alarums were music to my unformed soul, and no one could beat me in Struggle and Flight. Still, after a bit, the clashing by night began to tell on me. Even the Sergeant Major, that mighty man, could not tell me why it always had to be at night. Couldn’t we clash, say at noon once in a while, saving the nights for carousing. “I’m sure,” I told him, that Arnold wouldn’t mind; it almost scans:
With confused alarums of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies carouse by night.
I still feel that the thing has a much friendlier feel to it, but he would have none of it. I fell into bad company, and when I wasn’t clashing I took to the companionship of the camp followers. Lovely they were, but all flawed in character. None but the meaner beauties of the night for the enlisted man! One of them, Miss Deborah Lint, became my boon companion. She had a tongue like a tailor’s awl, I’ll grant you, but I’d simply clash and so not hear a word. After our first child was born, we both settled some. She became sort of an irritable beauty of the late afternoon, and I applied for a transfer to one of the badly informed armies. The hours were far more regular, and the alarums less confusing. Too, we didn’t perform our exercises on the beach, which was all gravy as far as I was concerned. Sand don’t half foul up your equipment!
It ain’t been a bad old life, all in all. I moved up through the ranks, retiring as aide to General Disaster, and Deb --- well, I’d take her over the moon any day, if the moon were on offer. I know I haven’t much time left, but I’ve few complaints, Miss Smith, and I’m right pleased to know you plans to put me in one of your poems.