There was a lull in the shelling when Captain Wimsey arrived to take up his command.
"Bit of a stroke of luck there," said the be-medalled Lieutenant who had been charged with showing him around. "It's the first break we've had in three days, and I don't suppose it'll last more than an hour or so. Digs are over here, sir. The men call this one Piccadilly Circus, because it sees so much traffic."
He led the way along a precarious line of planks laid over the mud. The sound of singing, faint at first, grew louder as they approached Piccadilly.
"On Monday I go out with a soldier,
Tuesday I'm taken by a tar ..."
Peering into the trench, Wimsey saw a man in a muddy khaki uniform mincing his way along a plank in a manner suggestive of a rather desperate lady of the night. The rest of the platoon were cheering him on, some clapping in time, others roaring out their appreciation of the singer's charms. Hunched against the mud wall, a pale youth burst into sudden laughter. "Better than the 'alls, this is!" he cried. Wimsey pegged him at sixteen, if he was a day.
"But on Saturday I'm willing," continued the singer, to a chorus of wolf whistles, "if you'll only take the shilling, to make a man of any one of you! To make a man of -"
The Lieutenant, briefly frozen with shock, recovered himself.
"Corporal!" he roared into the trench. "Stop that nonsense at once!"
The female impersonator sprang to attention.
"Is this," the Lieutenant demanded, "any way to win a war?"
"I do not consider it my place, sir," said the Corporal woodenly, "to make suggestions as to how the war might be won. Or not. Sir."
Wimsey, who couldn't seem to help noticing things, noticed how a dull roar had started up in the distance, and how the men were glancing nervously at the sky from the corners of their eyes. The pale youth was shivering, his hand clutching at his rifle.
"Yes, well," he said, cutting off the Lieutenant's reply. "I'm sure there's no harm done. Just don't let me catch you doing it again, Corporal."
If his voice lingered slightly on the word "catch", the Lieutenant did not notice, but the man below him risked a quick glance upwards, and so met his eyes.
"Yes, sir!" said Corporal Bunter.