* * * SEVENTH INSTALMENT OF THE "HERALD'S" SECOND PRIZE NOVEL * * *
YOU CAN'T SEE ROUND CORNERS
By JON CLEARY
Illustrated by JAMES PHILLIPS
McCOY stood at the door of
the hut and looked out across the camp to the clear sharp line of hills under the fine early-morning sky. Those hills marked the half-way mark of to-day's route march there and back. They looked a long way off now, and he knew that when he began march- ing, loaded down with full kit and carrying a rifle that gained a pound in weight every mile, they would seem still farther. No, the best thing to do was to find some nice quiet spot retire to it, and doze off, waking in time to meet the mugs coming back their tongues hanging out and their behinds dragging on thc ground. The hard life was not for him; he had never liked walking and he certainly wasn't going to start now, walking all day and carrying a load that would
tax a mule.
He made a pretence of packing his gear. He wanted no questions asked there were several members of the hut, keen on promotion, who had already established reputations for shouldering thc burden of responsi- bility without the official recognition of stripes on their arms. They took it upon themselves to see that every- one strictly observed thc rules and they themselves worked overtime to be on thc side of law and order. The official phrase, '"beyond the call of duty," seemed to have been invented
for them. Crawlers were a nuisance in the army and to be treated with the greatest suspicion; they had loyalty to only one cause, their own ambition. So McCoy went ahead with prepara- tions for the march, and gave no hint
of his intention.
A whistle blew and the men began to file out, swinging their packs on to their backs, hitching them higher on their shoulders, trying to find thc best balance for the weight.
Stewart, with his pack already on, picked up his rifle and slung it across a shoulder. He stood straight and tall, and you knew he would be walk- ing like that at the end of the march. Hard work in the paddock had bred a sinewy toughness in him, and a proud idealism would not let that toughness wilt. If ever he went north to the Islands he would be walking like that when he went into action.
"Coming?" he said.
"Be there in a minute. See you
Then McCoy was alone in the hut. He stood beside the window and fur- tively peered out. The parade was called and the men fell in. He could see Stewart looking wonderingly back at the hut, and he had a temptation to wave and smile, but he resisted it. He might be noticed by one of the ser- geants and, anyhow, Stewart would not understand his attitude. Stewart would never understand anyone who did not like the army.
An order was barked, the ranks turned left, another order was given,
and the column moved off, shuffling along as the men at the rear tried to find the step, then falling into an easy rhythm. McCoy watched the column till it had turned into the road at the top of the parade ground and gone out of sight round the bend, seeing Stewart still looking back toward the hut, smiling to himself at the curiosity that would be itching in Stewart till he came home to find out why McCoy had not gone on the march.
McCoy picked up his pack, rifle, a blanket, and his groundsheet, went out the back door of thc hut, down the steps, ducked under the steps, and went back under the hut. The hut was built lengthwise down a slight slope, and at the rear end of the hut it was possible, by stooping slightly,
to walk beneath it.
HE spread out the ground-sheet, folded the blanket for use as a pillow, and lay down. He had brought the pack and rifle so that their pres- ence in the hut would not arouse the suspicions of the inspecting orderly officer. He would be safe down here.
No one ever inspected underneath thc huts. He lit a cigarette and watched
the smoke curl lazily in a thin spiral till it reached the floor of the hut and flattened out. It looked like a blue glass flower, the long stem and
the . . .
Someone was shaking him, and there was an acrid smell in his nos- trils, and he was lost for the moment as he blinked up at the man standing over him.
"Come on, McCoy, out of there!" He sat up to see the sergeant, whom he now recognised, grinding his boot into the blanket close to where Mc- Coy's head had lain. Smoke was coming from beneath the sergeant's
"You were b—— lucky we smelt that smoke. You might've burnt your head off."
"All right, McCoy, come on!"
He had not noticed the other man standing beyond the hut. Now he could see only the legs but he recog- nised the voice. He stood up and, stooping, walked out into the sun- light and straightened up. The officer; short, young, bumptious, Miller, the Boy B——d, looked up at him. He had gone straight from Public School cadets to an officer training school and he still thought the way he had acted as a prefect at school was the way he should act as an officer. Men, after all, were only boys in long
"What were you doing down there?" He spoke in a purposely deepened voice, trying to add years to his youth. He stood, tapping his dog-stick against his leg, an oddly comic figure in his attempt to be the stern martinet, and McCoy had an almost uncontrollable urge to be
flippant. What was I doing down there? Practising for my driving
"Why aren't you out on thc
He wouldn't like it if I told him, McCoy thought. I'll give him the the old one. "I wasn't feeling too well-sir." The title was an after- thought. It mightn't do any harm
to crawl here.
"Why didn't you go on sick-par- ade, then? Don't try that stunt. Mc- Coy. I wasn't born yesterday."
Again he wanted to answer back. Now he knew what they meant by arrested development.
"We haven't liked your attitude since you came to this camp." Thc feeling was mutual, but theirs was just a dislike; his was a hate. "We'll see if we can teach you something this time. You're going on a charge sheet. You'll be told later when you have to go up. Perhaps a week or two of detention might wake you up. In the meantime, report to the kitchen and give them a hand there. Tell them you're on duty there for the rest of the day."
McCoy picked up his groundsheet and blanket and went up into the hut. He opened out the blanket and looked at the brown-edged hole that had been burnt in it. The sergeant was right; he had been b——lucky he hadn't been burnt himself. He refolded the blanket, placed it on top of the others on his palliasse, and went out of the hut and up to the kitchen.
The cook was a tall thin man, who always wore a hat, tipped back on his head and with the chin-strap hanging loosely beneath his chin. Working in the kitchen, heading for the showers, writing letters in the hut, he was always to be seen wearing the hat. It was a badge, his mark of
identification. "Well, you can give Charlie and Murph a hand with the vegetables. They'll tell you what's to be done."
McCoy went round the back of the hut where two men sat on logs of wood peeling potatoes that they took from a large bag standing beside them. There was a second bag lean- ing against the wood-heap.
"What's to be done?"
Murphy, a giant, of a man with a broken nose separating small dull eyes, gestured toward the bags with the knife he held.
"You're looking at 'em. One bag of spuds, one bag of beans. You do the beans."
He had strung beans once before
on kitchen duty. He remembered the bottomless depths of a bag of beans. "Like hell I do."
Murphy stood up, stretching him- self to his full height, hunching his shoulders. He did not like McCoy; his own dull mind resented the quick wit, the confidence of the other. He stood up, asserting his giant stature, his physical superiority.
FRANKIE McCOY was an arrogant Paddington larrikin, who
earned his living as a starting-price bookmaker, until he was called up for army service. Now he is a militiaman in a country camp, and hates his military life. McCoy's great love, aside from himself, is a girl in Sydney, Margie Harris, whom he plans to marry. In camp, however, he has made two friends: a boy named Stewart and an older man, Keith Grayson, who has been
evacuated to hospital with tuberculosis.
McCoy saw there was no argu- ment. "Righto, sit down," he said. "I do the beans."
Murphy sat down and Charlie Bates, the other man, a thin-faced bald man with a long red nose and a weak loose mouth, sniggered. He too disliked McCoy.
McCoy ignored him, though he had a strong desire,to smash his fist into the weak snickering face, and, taking hold of the bag of beans, he dragged it round the corner of the kitchen, found a knife, and settled down to
do the chore.
At first he found difficulty in hand- ling the small vegetable, slicing off and throwing away more of the bean than he was putting in the dish be- tween his feet. Time dragged by and there seemed to be no diminishing of thc size of the bag, and his eyes were sore from the concentration on
the wielding of the knife. He grinned sourly to himself: why hadn't Christ used beans to feed the multitude? There was no end to a bag of beans: you could go on and on and still you never reached the bottom. He re- signed himself to the job, plying the knife automatically, turning his mind away from it, thinking now of the position he was in and the probable
Confidence drained out of him, running out of him through his ex- tremities like sand from a stuffed doll, leaving him weak, and the knife slipped in his hand and the bean was chopped in half. He squeezed the halves in his hand and savagely threw them away. They had him this time unless he could think up a good one. And he couldn't think up a good one. They had caught him red-handed, with his pants down, and he had no alibi; he could have been the mur- derer drawing the blood-stained knife from his victim while the police shone their torches on him, the thief walking out of the house into the arms of the police. There was no alibi; they had him. The future, rolled before him like pic- tures on a revolving cylinder; a series rotating time and time again before his eyes. He knew monotony now, but it would be exciting and unexpected variety to the dull routine that would be prescribed for him when he came up for sentence. Con- finement to barracks, pack drill every morning and night, half-hourly report- ing to the orderly sergeant; they might not teach him to like the Army, they could never do that, but they would break his spirit. Independence had been the marrow of his spirit, the blood that coursed in his confidence;
they would cut it from him, bleed him, substituting obedience to disci- pline, and the Army would have scored its final victory. He heard thc words of thc old sergeant, the dogma of experience: You can't beat thc
You could not beat the Army if you stayed in it. And that was his only answer, the only escape. He unbelievably reached the bottom of the bag, dropped the last bean into the dish, and stood up. He had made up his mind. They had him—if he stayed. But he was not staying. He looked about thc camp, already saying good-bye to it, a welcome farewell. He would be gone from here to-
HE lay on his blankets and planned the escape. He lay looking relaxed,
his hands behind his head, smoke curling limply from the cigarette in his mouth,' but the coming break, the future freedom, were like ice in his belly, tightening him, drawing him into himself. He wanted to tell every- one of his intention, to shout aloud his defiance, to ask the others to bear witness to his independence and initiative, but he was afraid. There could be no confidences about this, not even to Grayson or Stewart. This was a lone wolf's game. He thrilled to the name. He had been a lone wolf till he joined the army, he would go back to being one. It was the only way to be successful, to keep ahead of the mob. Self became something tangible, blood in his veins; it coursed through him, pounded in his temples, making him dizzy. He was alone and the rest were sheep looking for a leader, scared to move without command; he was alone and he could beat the army, could beat the system, could beat the whole wide world. They couldn't hold him.
A train pulled into the local town some time after midnight, coming from the north-west. That would do fine. He could change trains at Strathfield and finish the journey to Central by electric train, mingling with the early morning workers to dodge the provosts. Once he left the camp there was to be no coming back; the break had to be clean, final. He could not come back: there would be shame as well as defeat, the shame of not being smart enough, and that he would not be able to stand.
The cigarette burned out and he rolled over, reaching into his pocket for his matches. Coins clinked against the tin and suddenly he re- membered. He pushed his hand deep into his pocket, pulling out the money and dropping the match tin on the
blankets. Just as he thought: the coins lay silver and brown in the electric light, two sixpences, a three- pence, a penny. His wealth of the moment; he cursed and the poverty of the past came up and laughed at him. The one time in weeks when he needed money and he had not enough to pay even train-fare. And he needed train-fare. At Central he had to walk past thc ticket-collector without any fuss, with a ticket, as if everything was all right. There was to be no argument, no calling of the provosts; he had to get out of the station unobtrusively; to the pro- vosts, he must be the shadow in the night, gone before they were aware of him, before they could question
He turned to Stewart, lying on his bed, writing to his father. Old Man Stewart was the focal point of the boy's life; he rarely mentioned his mother. McCoy had noticed it: Stewart thought the sun shone out of his father, but McCoy was willing to bet the mother sometimes tired of standing in the glare of it.
"Hey, can you give me that dollar I lent you yesterday?"
Stewart looked up from his writing pad. "If I could give it to you now I wouldn't have borrowed it yester- day." The familiarity with McCoy, the constant audience to his wit, showed its effect: the worm turned. "What did you think I wanted it for —plug a hole in my shoe?"
McCoy automatically thought, the kid's getting smart. A regular wise
"All right." he said. "Forget it. I was just hoping."
"We get paid to-morrow," Stewart said. "I'll give it to you then. What the hell do you want with it at this time of night, anyhow?"
McCoy wasn't going to be beaten at his own game: Stewart had left the opening for the crack. "A cove just offered to sell me the camp. I didn't want to let the chance go past."
Stewart grinned, admitting his de- feat, and went back to his letter. He would tell his father of the encounter; his mother would hear of it second-hand.
McCoy looked again at the money lying on the blanket. The light winked from the silver, impudently, derisively; the King on the penny turned a cold cheek to him. He picked up the coins and put them back in his pocket: they were of no use to him unless he could add to them. And where was he going to get more money? lt was too late now to go over and borrow from Grayson: he would not be allowed in the hospital. Too, he did not want to take Grayson into his confi- dence; Grayson would lend him the money, he knew, but there would be a lecture accompanying the loan and he was in no mood for advice. He had made up his mind: he was leav-
ing to-night, even if he had to steal
his train fare.
The thought hit him with the icy shock of a snowball and, quickly following, there was contempt for himself. He was going to pick some- one's pocket; he had sneered at the mean small outlook of others, at those who counted pennies, and now he was going back to the small-time himself. He felt no twinge of con- science: thc contempt came only from his own retrogression: he had gone back and the days of his poverty,
of the time when he had counted pennies, had caught up with him. He had failed; Grayson had been right: he had not been smart all thc time. Had he been smart, he would have always had money on hand. That was a lesson he had learned; he must remember it in the future.
HE looked along the hut, at the nominees for the prospective vic- tim. He looked, at them, estimating their potential wealth, their use to him, dismissing some with a glance, staring at others. Finally, he decided upon a young Italian named Castelli. McCoy had heard them talking about the money he had won at the two-up school down by the creek. McCoy looked at him with almost a cynical tenderness. Castelli, my pal, he thought, right now you're McCoy's
He stood up, taking off his outer clothes but retaining his underclothes and socks, then slipped between his blankets. He lay beneath them, feeling cold, fretting with impatience. He looked at his watch; time was moving slowly, burdened by his
At last the bugle blew for lights out, and a minute later the hut was in darkness. But the talk continued; the darkness had eliminated only the sound of boots on the floor, of thuds as a couple of the youngsters wrestled, of movement. The men still talked, of events of the day, of the past, of their wives and girl friends, of nothing of any signifi- cance lo McCoy and he silently cursed. Go to sleep, you b——ds. Go to sleep and let me go home from this fag-end of the world."
Slowly the talking diminished and at last the hut was silent but for the snoring of someone half-way down the hut. McCoy lay still, curbing his impatience. He looked at his watch; eleven o'clock. He would have to begin moving now or he would miss the train. He eased back the blankets and stood up. He shivered as the cold hit him. He put on his uniform then, his eyes seeing clearly in the dark now, he moved silently in his socks down the hut toward Castelli's bed.
He heard someone move in his bed
and he dropped to his hands and knees, below the outline of any win- dow; he did not want to be silhouetted against any of the dim pale squares of night-sky. He was glad there was no moon to throw bands of lights across the floor of the hut; the dark- ness itself was an unreliable ally, likely to be dispelled any moment by a lighted match raised to a cigarette, without running the gauntlet of the strips of moonlight. He raised him- self and bent to the waist, crept on down the hut. A board creaked beneath his feet and he stepped quickly off it, as if it was a trap clutching at his foot.
He stopped. He had counted the windows he had passed, three, and now he was opposite Castelli's bed. He moved in against the wall and stood up. His hands were wet with sweat and he could feel the sweat turning cold, lying like water in his palms. He was suddenly nervous; he had stolen before, fruit from the Chinaman's waggon, cakes from the counter of the shop, money from the clothes in thc dressing-sheds, but there had been a suddenness, the technique of grab and run, about those thefts that had left no time for nervousness. This, premeditation, this silent movement lest he be discovered, was unnatural to him. He stood quite still, holding himself, drawing his flesh tight about his bones, listening to the steady breathing of Castelli at his feet and the sibilant hissing of the man be- side him. They were both sleeping soundly. Quickly, quietly, he searched Castelli's clothes without taking them from the hook on the wall. He drew out a wallet and opened it. His fingers could feel the thick wad of notes and, feeling it, he got the old thrill that money always gave him; the touch of it was like a current running through him; it was inde- pendence, luxury, power, and right now it was escape. He had almost withdrawn the notes from the wallet when suddenly he pushed them back in, took only one, making sure by the size that it was a pound note and not ten shillings, and put the wallet back in the pocket from which he had taken it. When he left here he wanted no chains other than those of the army and those he could soon forget; he did not want the police after him to arrest him on a civil charge. Castelli would not report the theft of a pound to the police; it would be a different story if a wal- let full of notes were taken from him.
McCoy put the pound in his pocket: and, crouching once more, went quickly back to his own bed. The worst part was over; escape was now only a matter of train journey.