From On the Edge

            “His objection to you,” explained Powell to Watkins, “is that you may be a temporary officer but you’re not a gentleman. You can’t be made a temporary gentleman because that’s a condition, not a rank.”
            They were sitting, not at Black Crucifix but inside Watkins’ cubicle at the rear of the building, Watkins on his cot and Powell on a stool, testing the recently deposited German whisky, patriotically and responsibly, to see whether it was poisoned. Outside on the back veranda Watkins’ carrier cum valet cum substitute foot, a very black Kavirondo called Odinga, was attempting to rework Watkins’ prosthetic stump, a contraption of leather and wood.
            Watkins said that many gentlemen considered that they were born gentlemen. Certainly, they often did not actually behave like gentlemen so this must be the case.
            “If he concedes you,” said Powell. “I have to concede Hertzog or Isaacs or Pieters and so on or all of the smelly crew.”
            “One for one only. Just take Hertzog.”
            “Why Hertzog?”
            “He’s dead.”
            “I forgot. Do you think life should be a criterion?”
            “Well, yes. That’s reasonable.”
            “Leviticus says that the crippled or maimed cannot enter a temple.”
            “Black Crucifix is not a temple. Don’t mention it.”  
            “Analogy and precedent.”
            “There’s nothing in the club rules that says a member has to be complete.”
            “A member is not required to have four members?”
            “No. I’m only missing a foot anyway. That’s hardly a member.”
            “I’m injured in a foot, Malan has a leg injury, and you actually don’t have a foot. We could define our club in terms of foot injury.”
            “That would cut out Coetzee.”
            “We could always shoot him in one foot.”
            “Or he could shoot himself if he’s interested.”
            “Self-inflicted injury is a court martial offence.”
            So they had to agree that club membership could not be defined by legs, limbs and numbers thereof.
            Powell had argued with Malan that a racial balance must be kept, two Englishmen for two Boers. Malan said that Powell was not English but Welsh. Powell said that the name Watkins was close to Jenkins which was a Welsh name so that it was two approximate Welsh for two Boers which kept a balance.
            “How could I be Welsh?” said Watkins. “I live in Lincolnshire which is a long way from Wales.”
            “A Welshman could live in Lincoln.”
            “I could be an honorary Abyssinian. They’re Christians. It’s a crucifix club.”
            “We should be Catholics then.”
            “They’re something like Christians.”
            “Abyssinians are black.”
            “Are they? Well, it’s a black crucifix.”
            “The crucifix isn’t a member.”
            “In heaven there is neither Jew nor Gentile.”
            “It’s not heaven. It’s a club.”
            “Heaven is a club. Only the right people go there.”
            “The greater organisation sets the standard for the lower organisation.”
            “Bloody hell,” said Powell. “You can be bloody Field Marshal Emperor Menelik the Second. The club can’t refuse membership to royalty.”
            A little later they admitted, in principle, the recently abandoned neutrals, a Swiss civilian and a Dutchwoman, as well as the Englishman who turned out to be Irish, captured at the battle of Salaita years before.
            “That’ll upset the Boer-Welsh balance.”
            “The Swiss is a German Swiss. The proper Dutch are sort of German, something like the Boers who are themselves only sort of Dutch with French and German bits as well. So, in a sense, that’s something like two more Boers, giving them four.”
            “The Irishman can count as approximately Welsh because we’re all Celts so that makes three of us and four of them.”
            “But the Irishman might be considered old Irish or old English in Ireland which is really English or even Anglo-Norman so he might have a bit of French in him like the Boers.”
            “So they can’t complain because there’s more of their type than our type.”
            They clinked their mugs of German Synthetic Bols, cheering and laughing. Odinga dropped something where he was working to the front of the veranda.
            “How’s Odinga’s English?”
            “He understands most of what I say,” said Watkins. “He says this is true of servants and orderlies and court messengers in British East. They understand much more of what we say than we do of them. It’s a tactical advantage.”
            “We’re not meant to be in conflict.”
            “Politics is natural. Families have politics, religions have politics, tribes have politics. Everybody knows the tricks of politics.”
            “Humanity is humanity.”
            “Humanity is humanity,” said Watkins. “Does the Black Crucifix admit women?”
            “Are women humanity?” asked Powell.
            “About half or a quarter,” said Watkins. “My aunts and elder sister were certainly not humanity.”
            “Something less or something different?”
            “Less – or more different.”
            “This one’s a gentlewoman or nobility.”
            “She wears trousers sometimes. She’s got two feet.”
            “In that case, she can be an honorary man.”
            They laughed again and discussed whether the Dutchwoman would see this as promotion or an insult.
            “That’s enough nonsense,” said Powell and left Watkins to Odinga and stump adjustment.
            The German whisky had not poisoned them. It made Powell optimistic. The war might end quite soon and he could resign from the service, whichever one he was in, or both, collect quite a large amount of back pay, and depart to Gloucester to see what had happened to Lucy. His general health once restored, he would try to get a grip on his feelings and sort out his life which might now be about two-thirds over.

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