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The figure upon the prisoner's right suddenly becomes animated. Lance-Corporal Ness, taking a deep breath, and fixing his eyes resolutely on the whitewashed wall above the Captain's head, recites--
"Sirr, at four P.M. on the fufth unst. I was in charge of a party told off for tae scrub the floor of Room Nummer Seeventeen. I ordered the prisoner tae scrub. He refused. I warned him. He again refused."
Click! Lance-Corporal Ness has run down. He has just managed the sentence in a breath.
The figure upon Lance-Corporal Ness's right stiffens, and inflates itself.
"Sirr, on the fufth unst. I was Orderly Sergeant. At aboot four-thirrty P.M., Lance-Corporal Ness reported this man tae me for refusing for tae obey an order. I confined him."
The Captain turns to the prisoner.
"What have you to say, Private Dunshie?"
Private Dunshie, it appears, has a good deal to say.
"I jined the Airmy for tae fight they Germans, and no for tae be learned tae scrub floors--"
"Sirr!" suggests the Sergeant-Major in his ear.
"Sirr," amends Private Dunshie reluctantly. "I was no in the habit of scrubbin' the floor mysel' where I stay in Glesca'; and ma wife would be affronted--"
But the Captain looks up. He has heard enough.
"Look here, Dunshie," he says. "Glad to hear you want to fight the Germans. So do I. So do we all. All the same, we've got a lot of dull jobs to do first." (Captain Blaikie has the reputation of being the most monosyllabic man in the British Army.) "Coals, and floors, and fatigues like that: they are your job. I have mine too. Kept me up till two this morning. But the point is this. You have refused to obey an order. Very serious, that. Most serious crime a soldier can commit. If you start arguing now about small things, where will you be when the big orders come along--eh? Must learn to obey. Soldier now, whatever you were a month ago. So obey all orders like a shot. Watch me next time I get one. No disgrace, you know! Ought to be a soldier's pride, and all that. See?"
"Yes--sirr," replies Private Dunshie, with less truculence.
The Captain glances down at the paper before him.
"First time you have come before me. Admonished!"
"Right turn! Quick march!" thunders the Sergeant-Major.
The procession clumps out of the room. The Captain turns to his disciple.
"That's my homely and paternal tap," he observes. "For first offenders only. That chap's all right. Soon find out it's no good fussing about your rights as a true-born British elector in the Army. Sergeant-Major!"
After the usual formalities, enter Private McNulty and escort. Private McNulty is a small scared-looking man with a dirty face.
"Private McNulty, sirr!" announces the Sergeant-Major to the Company Commander, with the air of a popular lecturer on entomology placing a fresh insect under the microscope.
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