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A Benevolent Neutral
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" ... the enemy temporarily gained a footing in a portion of our trench, but in our counter-attack we retook this and a part of enemy trench beyond."--EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL DESPATCH.
A wet night, a greasy road, and a side-slipping motor-bike provided the means of an introduction between Second Lieutenant Courtenay of the 1st Footsloggers and Sergeant Willard K. Rawbon of the Mechanical Transport branch of the A.S.C. The Mechanical Transport as a rule extend a bland contempt to motor-cycles running on the road, ignoring all their frantic toots of entreaty for room to pass, and leaving them to scrape as best they may along the narrow margin between a deep and muddy ditch and the undeviating wheels of a Juggernaut Mechanical Transport lorry. But a broken-down motor-cycle meets with a very different reception. It invariably excites some feeling compounded apparently of compassion and professional interest to the cycle, and an unlimited hospitality to the stranded cyclist.
This being well known to Second Lieutenant Courtenay, he, after collecting himself, his cycle, and his scattered wits from the ditch and conscientiously cursing the road, the dark, and the wet, duly turned to bless the luck that had brought about an accident right at the doorstep of a section of the Motor Transport. There were about ten massive lorries drawn up close to the side of the road under the poplars, and Courtenay made a direct line for one from which a chink of light showed under the tarpaulin and sounds of revelry issued from a melodeon and a rasping file. Courtenay pulled aside the flap, poked his head in and found himself blinking in the bright glare of an acetylene lamp suspended in the middle of a Mechanical Transport traveling workshop. The walls--tarpaulin over a wooden frame--were closely packed with an array of tools, and the floor was still more closely packed with a work-bench, vice and lathe, spare motor parts, boxes, and half a dozen men. The men were reading newspapers and magazines; one was manipulating the melodeon, and another at the vice was busy with the file. The various occupations ceased abruptly as Courtenay poked his head in and explained briefly who he was and what his troubles were.
"Thought you might be able to do something for me," he concluded, and before he had finished speaking the man at the vice had laid down his file and was reaching down a mackintosh from its hook. Courtenay noticed a sergeant's stripes on his sleeve, and a thick and most unsoldierly crop of hair on his head plastered back from the brow.
"Why sure," the sergeant said. "If she's anyways fixable, you reckon her as fixed. Whereabouts is she ditched?"
Ten minutes later Courtenay was listening disconsolately to the list of damages discovered by the glare of an electric torch and the sergeant's searching examination.
"It'll take 'most a couple of hours to make any sort of a job," said the sergeant. "That bust up fork alone--but we'll put her to rights for you. Let's yank 'er over to the shop."
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