'As quiet as the valley,' George agreed. 'The trees in the park are pretty.'
The two soldiers came together face to face, halted with muffled thuds of their feet, and
slowly began to turn about.
'Saw your Polly tonight,' David said between closed teeth, as he performed his motions.
'She asked where you were. Said you'd missed a treat tonight. Where were you?'
'Cleaning the colonel's copper scuttles, worse luck!' George explained. 'That was the
greatest mistake I made.'
'Tell you next time,' George said over his shoulder, for they were now standing back to
back. 'Was Polly peevish I wasn't there?'
'You're right. She said to tell you to be there tomorrow or she'll look around. You're
seldom there, she said, when the time's most right.'
Though they spoke no word aloud, both men stepped smartly off, making back to their
boxes with unhurried tread.
'I'll be there!' George told himself. Somehow he would have to arrange it that the
colonel's lady called for someone else to clean her scuttles the next time she thought in necessary.
The short walk had done a little towards restoring his circulation, and he settled back into
his box, the valley forgotten, what he had missed put out of his mind by the anticipatory warmth
of his meeting with Polly tomorrow. The pleasure he was experiencing, however, was not so allembracing
as to prevent him from ruminating on the dictatorial propensities of womenkind. For
in her way, Poll was little different from Geronwy Williams, or Gladys Evans, or Blodwen
Richards, when it came to the point. Nevertheless, of the half-dozen or so girls whom he had
known in the way that he had known Polly, she was the one with whom he felt most safe; safe
enough to marry, later on perhaps-if he could get out of cleaning copper scuttles at unpropitious
Once more the quietness all around made itself known to him. Once more he looked
across at the trees in St. James's Park, and remarked to himself how pretty they were. Odd
though it might seem, he found himself sighing with contentment.
Suddenly, however, his peace with the world was shattered, the pretty trees in the park
sent scurrying from his thoughts, and all his limbs were seized with a cramping coldness that had
nothing to do with the snow or the frost. Had some emergency arisen now, he could not have
dealt with it, for he was clamped to the spot, unable to move even those muscles which would
have allowed him to cry for help, while his eyes were rooted to a spot on the ground before him
from which the cause of his terror slowly rose.
From the hard and graveled surface of the parade-ground, at a spot where no manhole
cover was, not four feet away from him, with slightly swaying motion, ascended a figure of a
woman. In the moonlight George could clearly discern the pattern of her gown; it was of cream
satin with broad red stripes, and between the stripes were vertical rows of red spots. When she
emerged to the height of her waist, a curiously phosphorescent mist gradually began to form
about her, and as more of her appeared, until at last the hem of her gown swept the ground, so it
enveloped her, and yet did not envelope her, but swirled about her in a kind of eddying frame.
Her very appearance, as George was later to confess, would have been enough to throw
him off balance; but there was one specific feature of her that was the real cause of his terror.
She had no head!
The stump of her neck, jagged and torn and raw, rose up out of a lace ruffled collar. It
swayed a little towards him two or three times, as if, had there been a head, its owner were
addressing herself to him.
Completely paralyzed though he was, George knew that he ought to challenge the
apparition, but when he tried to speak he could force no sound from tongue or lips.
For fully two minutes, he afterwards deposed, the apparition stood there facing him. Then
slowly it turned about and began to walk with slow stately stride across the parade-ground
towards the park. When it was some fifty yards from him, it disappeared from his sight.
Only when it had gone did George regain the power of movement. So well had his drill
sergeants down their work, however, that without any outward panic he stepped out of his box,
and marched to the half-way point between his box and that of David Rees. There he paused.
'David! David!' he called quietly. 'Come here, quick!'
'Don't be a damn fool!' he heard David call back. 'Do you want us both in the guard
'David, please come here!' George called again. 'I'm not fooling. I've seen something.'
'I'll knock the daylight out of you,' David replied,' if you are fooling.' But he had
detected an unwonted urgency in George's voice, and swung out of the box and marched smartly
When George had told him what had happened, David replied that it must have been a
trick of the moonlight on the snow.
'It wasn't, I tell you!' George insisted. 'It was a woman, and she had no head. She stood
there for fully two minutes, before she turned and walked off across the square. If it had been a
trick of the moonlight it wouldn't have lasted so long. What do you think I ought to do?'
'You'll have to tell the orderly officer and the sergeant of the guard who are just coming
up behind you,' his friend told him.
'What do you think you two med are doing?' the sergeant asked sharply when he came
up. 'Don't you realize that you both risk a charge for leaving your post while on guard duty?'
'Jones says he's just seen a ghost, sir.'
'That's likely!' snapped the disbelieving sergeant.
'Well,' said George. 'It can't have been a living person, because it had no head.'
'There are no ghosts in the Recruit House,' affirmed the sergeant. 'I'll deal with you
when you're relived. Come to me in the guard-house as soon as you've handed in your weapon.'
'Sergeant!' George replied smartly.
'Get back to your posts, both of you.'
As the sergeant and orderly officer walked away, the sergeant quite forgetting that the
Ensign's name was ap Rice, said, 'Bloody Welsh! They're as bad as the Scots when it come to
'I would suggest that you might be mistaken,' replied the recently-joined young Ensign
'I beg pardon, sir,' the sergeant apologized. 'But your countrymen are...'
'Shall we say more sensitive than you very practical Englishmen?' the Ensign suggested.