It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single company in possession of a good four day pass, must be in want of a safety brief.
However little known the feelings or views of such a company may be on first entertaining the notion of such an enterprise, the truth is so well fixed in the minds of the first sergeant and commander, that they are considered the rightful property to some one or another of their mandatory briefings.
“My dear first sergeant,” said his commander to him one Wednesday, “Have you heard that we are to have a four day pass, at last?”
First Sergeant replied that he had not.
“But it is,” returned he; “For Maj. Long has just been here from battalion, and she told me all about it.”
First Sergeant made no answer.
“Do you not want to know who is on the pass?” cried Capt. Bennet impatiently.
“YOU want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it,” replied the first sergeant, amenably.
That was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear first sergeant, you simply must know, Maj. Long says that we are to have a four day pass and it is to be, command being delighted with us, the whole company! Indeed, I agreed immediately with Maj. Long, and we are to take possession of this leave at once. Oh! And we are to have a special guest, I am assured, to present to us our mandatory briefings on how to keep our soldiers unsullied by the blemishes of vice.”
“What is this guest’s name?”
“Is he staff or line?”
“Oh! Staff, my dear, to be sure. A staff officer of the highest virtue. What a fine thing for our company!”
“How so? How can it affect them?”
“My dear first sergeant,” replied his commander, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of the integrity and virtue of our troops, and this briefing can only further their happy fancies.”
“Is it his design to settle in for a long brief to them?”
“Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he MAY take a fancy to the company and give the whole of the safety brief, and therefore you must attend to him upon his arrival.”
“I see no occasion for that. You and the XO may go, or you may go yourself, which perhaps will still be better, for as you are as capable as any of them, Capt. Bingley may like you the best of the party.”
“My dear first sergeant, you flatter me. I certainly HAVE had my share of excellent evaluations, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When an officer has a full company, he ought to give over thinking of his own career.”
“In such cases, an officer has not often much of a career to think of.”
“First Sergeant, how CAN you abuse me in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear sir. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.”
First Sergeant was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make officers understand his character. THEIR minds were less difficult to develop. They were of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When discontented, they fancied themselves nervous. The business of their lives was to make life more complex for their troops; its solace was found in PowerPoint and doctrine.
An invitation to the safety brief was soon dispatched; and already had the commander planned the order of briefs, by type and length and topic, that were a credit to his organizational style. Thus when Capt. Bingley entered the assembly area — accompanied by a Capt. Darcy, a fine and handsome man — the entire company was gathered in rows pleasing to the eye. That had been the work of first sergeant. The company remarked quietly to itself on its vexation and the disagreeable circumstances that required it to be there, rather than a pleasant and noble romp to the horseless carriages, whence they would speed to the public houses, surely to blemish themselves and sully their names.
Capt. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with the company; he was lively and unreserved, briefed every brief, was angry that the safety brief closed so early, and talked of giving one himself back at battalion. What a contrast between him and his friend! Capt. Darcy briefed only once, and that badly, with a forbidding and disagreeable countenance, and the company hoped that he would never come there again. Indeed, the company hoped never to see another staff officer again, although all agreed upon what a fine and striking countenance that Capt. Bingley had.
“Tell me for once and for all, shall you engage in vice or drive as to endanger your very whole and perfect selves or put off the good and cleansing garment of the yellow belt?” asked Capt. Bingley of the assembled company.
“We will make no promise of the kind,” came back the company, throwing distasteful looks towards the ground.
“Company, I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a reasonable troop. But do not deceive yourselves into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you give me and the safety office the assurance I require.”
The company was of a good and solid stock that did not distress itself over the feelings of officers, nor did it hold truth to be of a sacred nature when speaking with said creatures, and so assented readily to Capt. Bingley’s entreaties. The company cast sidelong glances at each other and then to the ground, mirthful with delight.
Captains Bingley and Darcy departed and scarce could Bingley contain himself over the merits and virtues of the company. Both men were quiet on their return to battalion; Bingley thinking of the pleasant qualities and wholesome nature of the company, and Darcy thinking of breakfast.
Happy for all his feelings was the day on which the commander got rid of his deserving company for the weekend. With what delighted pride he afterwards told the first sergeant, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of the Army, that the accomplishment of his earnest desire in the final safety brief for his company produced so happy an effect as to make them sensible, amiable, and well-informed soldiers; though perhaps it was lucky for the first sergeant, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so an unusual form, that the company still bound itself to being loutish, loud, and decidedly without common sense.
The first sergeant did not miss his company exceedingly; his affection was for his bottle of bourbon, which drew him oftener from home than anything else could. He delighted in going to the tavern, especially when he was least expected.