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|Blank Cartridges||Ian Hay|
The Conversion Of Private M'Slattery
|Page 2 of 3||
"I wunner ye jined the Airmy at all, M'Slattery," observed one bold spirit, when the orator paused for breath.
"I wunner myself," said M'Slattery simply. "If I had kent all aboot this 'attention,' and 'stan'-at-ease,' and needin' tae luft your hand tae your bunnet whenever you saw yin o' they gentry-pups of officers goin' by,--dagont if I'd hae done it, Germans or no! (But I had a dram in me at the time.) I'm weel kent in Clydebank, and they'll tell you there that I'm no the man to be wastin' my time presenting airms tae kings or any other bodies."
However, at the appointed hour M'Slattery, in the front rank of A Company, stood to attention because he had to, and presented arms very creditably. He now cherished a fresh grievance, for he objected upon principle to have to present arms to a motor-car standing two hundred yards away upon his right front.
"Wull we be gettin' hame to our dinners now?" he inquired gruffly of his neighbour.
"Maybe he'll tak' a closer look at us," suggested an optimist in the rear rank. "He micht walk doon the line."
"Walk? No him!" replied Private M'Slattery. "He'll be awa' hame in the motor. Hae ony o' you billies gotten a fag?"
There was a smothered laugh. The officers of the battalion were standing rigidly at attention in front of A Company. One of these turned his head sharply.
"No talking in the ranks there!" he said. "Sergeant, take that man's name."
Private M'Slattery, rumbling mutiny, subsided, and devoted his attention to the movements of the Royal motor-car.
Then the miracle happened.
The great car rolled smoothly from the saluting-base, over the undulating turf, and came to a standstill on the extreme right of the line, half a mile away. There descended a slight figure in khaki. It was the King--the King whom Private M'Slattery had never seen. Another figure followed, and another.
"Herself iss there too!" whinnied an excited Highlander on M'Slattery's right. "And the young leddy! Pless me, they are all for walking town the line on their feet. And the sun so hot in the sky! We shall see them close!"
Private M'Slattery gave a contemptuous sniff.
The excited battalion was called to a sense of duty by the voice of authority. Once more the long lines stood stiff and rigid--waiting, waiting, for their brief glimpse. It was a long time coming, for they were posted on the extreme left.
Suddenly a strangled voice was uplifted--"In God's name, what for can they no come tae us? Never heed the others!"
Yet Private M'Slattery was quite unaware that he had spoken.
At last the little procession arrived. There was a handshake for the Colonel, and a word with two or three of the officers; then a quick scrutiny of the rank and file. For a moment--yea, more than a moment--keen Royal eyes rested upon Private M'Slattery, standing like a graven image, with his great chest straining the buttons of his tunic.
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