I looked around. It was the man who had threatened me. "Say, pal," he said, "I didn't mean no 'arm. These 'ere blokes tell me as yer name's Irvine. Is that so?" I nodded an assent. "Did yer ever 'ave a chum 'oose name was Creedan?" Again I nodded assent. "D'ye know what became ov 'im?" "He was missing on the field," I replied. "'E's dead," said the man.
Creedan had been drafted from the ship in a detachment for the front, and when we met on the desert, we entered into a compact which stipulated that if either of us fell on the field of battle, the survivor was to take charge of the deceased's effects, and visit his people. The arrival of the troops in England was the occasion for an unusual demonstration.
As we became acquainted, I began to suggest some improvements, not only in his manner of writing, but in the matter also. I could not understand how a man could make love with that kind of nature. One day I suggested the idea of rewriting the entire epistle. The effect of it was a huge joke to Creedan. He laughed at the change laughed loud and heartily.
By the time I had exhausted the minor prophets, I was much the stronger man of the two. My opponent was wobbling around in pretty bad shape. Once he was on his knees, and while waiting, I shouted, "I want to be yer friend, Billy Creedan. Shake hands now, you idiot, and behave yourself!" The only answer I got was a string of vile oaths as he staggered to his feet.
He was going home to marry a maiden in Kent whom he described as "a pure good girl." He felt unworthy, for he was a gambler and a periodical drunkard, and he thought that if a man like Creedan could be helped, he could. I struck the iron while it was hot, and said: "There is a good deal to be done for you, but you have to do it yourself!
An officer came along and offered Creedan a mouthful of water, but he refused, saying he was all in, but that he wanted to send a message to his chum, and this is the message he gave to the man who had threatened to punch my head: "Tell Irvine the anchor holds!" I was moved, of course, by the recital of this story; so was the man who told it.
The man I had beaten became one of my closest friends. I wrote his letters home to his mother. A few weeks later, he entrusted me with a more sacred mission the writing of his love letters also. Creedan was a Lancashire man, as angular in speech as in body, and lacking utterly a sense of humour.
"What in 'ell did 'e mean by th' anchor 'oldin'?" the man asked. "Old man," I said, "I had been trying for a long time to lead Creedan to a religious life, and the story you tell is the only evidence that I ever had that he took me seriously." The man looked as if he were going to weep, and in a quivering voice he asked if I could help him.
Then he described to me the last moments of my friend. It appeared that Creedan and this man fell together on the field, Creedan shot through the abdomen; this man, through the shoulder.