“The great art in falling off a horse,” said the White Knight, “is to have another handy to fall on to.”
“But wouldn’t that be rather difficult to arrange?” asked Alice.
“Difficult, of course,” replied the Knight, “but in my Department one has to be provided for emergencies. Now, for instance, have you ever conducted a war in South Africa?”
Alice shook her head.
“I have,” said the Knight, with a gentle complacency in his voice.
“And did you bring it to a successful conclusion?” asked Alice.
“Not exactly to a conclusion–not a definite conclusion, you know–nor entirely successful either. In fact, I believe it’s going on still. . . . But you can’t think how much forethought it took to get it properly started. I dare say, now, you are wondering at my equipment?”
Alice certainly was; the Knight was riding rather uncomfortably on a sober-paced horse that was prevented from moving any faster by an elaborate housing of red-tape trappings. “Of course, I see the reason for that,” thought Alice; “if it were to move any quicker the Knight would come off” But there were a number of obsolete weapons and appliances hanging about the saddle that didn’t seem of the least practical use.
“You see, I had read a book,” the Knight went on in a dreamy, far-away tone, “written by some one to prove that warfare under modern conditions was impossible. You may imagine how disturbing that was to a man of my profession. Many men would have thrown up the whole thing and gone home. But I grappled with the situation. You will never guess what I did.”
Alice pondered. “You went to war, of course—-”
“Yes; but not under modern conditions.”
The Knight stopped his horse so that he might enjoy the full effect of this announcement.
“Now, for instance,” he continued kindly, seeing that Alice had not recovered her breath, “you observe this little short-range gun that I have hanging to my saddle? Why do you suppose I sent out guns of that particular kind? Because if they happened to fall into the hands of the enemy they’d be very little use to him. That was my own invention.”
“I see,” said Alice gravely; “but supposing you wanted to use them against the enemy?”
The Knight looked worried. “I know there is that to be thought of, but I didn’t choose to be putting dangerous weapons into the enemy’s hands. And then, again, supposing the Basutos had risen, those would have been just the sort of guns to drive them off with. Of course they didn’t rise; but they might have done so, you know.”
At this moment the horse suddenly went on again, and the Knight clutched convulsively at its mane to prevent himself from coming off.
“That’s the worst of horses,” he remarked apologetically; “they are so Unforeseen in their movements. Now, if I had had my way I would have done without them as far as possible–in fact, I began that way, only it didn’t answer. And yet,” he went on in an aggrieved tone, “at Cressy it was the footmen who did the most damage.”
“But,” objected Alice, “if your men hadn’t got horses how could they get about from place to place?”
“They couldn’t. That would be the beauty of it,” said the White Knight eagerly; “the fewer places your army moves to, the fewer maps you have to prepare. And we hadn’t prepared very many. I’m not very strong at geography, but,” he added, brightening, “you should hear me talk French.”
” But,” persisted Alice, “supposing the enemy went and attacked you at some other place—-”
“They did,” interrupted the Knight gloomily; “they appeared in strength at places that weren’t even marked on the ordinary maps. But how do you think they got there?”
He paused and fixed his gende eyes upon Alice as she walked beside him, and then continued in a hollow—
“They rode. Rode and carried rifles. They were no mortal foes–they were Mounted Infantry.”
The Knight swayed about so with the violence of his emotion that it was inevitable that he should lose his seat, and Alice was relieved to notice that there was another horse with an empty saddle ready for him to scramble on to. There was a frightful dust, of course, but Alice saw him gathering the reins of his new mount into a bunch, and smiling down upon her with increased amiability.
“It*s not an easy animal to manage,” he called out to hen “but if I pat it and speak to it in French it will probably understand where I want it to go. And,” he added hopefully, “it may go there. A knowledge of French and an amiable disposition will see one out of most things.”
“Well,” thought Alice as she watched him settling down uneasily into the saddle, “it ought not to take long to see him out of that.”