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|Blank Cartridges||Ian Hay|
|Page 3 of 12||
"Upon the skyline we notice--Squad, 'shun!"
Captain Wagstaffe has strolled up. He is second in command of A Company. Bobby explains to him modestly what he has been trying to do.
"Yes, I heard you," says Wagstaffe. "You take a breather, while I carry on for a bit. Squad, stand easy, and tell me what you can see on that target. Lance-Corporal Ness, show me a pit-head."
Lance-Corporal Ness steps briskly forward and lays a grubby forefinger on Bobby's "mine."
"Private Mucklewame, show me a burn."
The brook is at once identified.
"Private M'Leary, shut your eyes and tell me what there is just to the right of the windmill."
"A wee knowe, sirr," replies M'Leary at once. Bobby recognises his "low knoll"--also the fact that it is no use endeavouring to instruct the unlettered until you have learned their language.
"Very good!" says Captain Wagstaffe. "Now we will go on to what is known as Description and Recognition of Targets. Supposing I had sent one of you forward into that landscape as a scout.--By the way, what is a scout?"
Dead silence, as usual.
"Come along! Tell me, somebody! Private Mucklewame?"
"They gang oot in a procession on Setter-day efternoons, sirr, in short breeks," replies Mucklewame promptly.
"A procession is the very last thing a scout goes out in!" raps Wagstaffe. (It is plain to Mucklewame that the Captain has never been in Wishaw, but he does not argue the point.) "Private M'Micking, what is a scout?"
"A spy, sirr," replies the omniscient one.
"Well, that's better; but there's a big difference between the two. What is it?"
This is a poser. Several men know the difference, but feel quite incapable of explaining it. The question runs down the front rank. Finally it is held up and disposed of by one Mearns (from Aberdeen).
"A spy, sirr, gets mair money than a scout."
"Does he?" asks Captain Wagstaffe, smiling. "Well, I am not in a position to say. But if he does, he earns it! Why?"
"Because if he gets catched he gets shot," volunteers a rear-rank man.
"Right. Why is he shot?"
This conundrum is too deep for the squad. The Captain has to answer it himself.
"Because he is not in uniform, and cannot therefore be treated as an ordinary prisoner of war. So never go scouting in your nightshirt, Mucklewame!"
The respectable Mucklewame blushes deeply at this outrageous suggestion, but Wagstaffe proceeds--
"Now, supposing I sent you out scouting, and you discovered that over there--somewhere in the middle of this field"--he lays a finger on the field in question--"there was a fold in the ground where a machine-gun section was concealed: what would you do when you got back?"
"I would tell you, sirr," replied Private M'Micking politely.
"Tell me what?"
"That they was there, sirr."
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