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Blank Cartridges Ian Hay

Concert Pitch

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After a fortnight's uneventful dreariness with his platoon, Dunshie joined the machine-gunners, because he had heard rumours that these were conveyed to and from their labours in limbered waggons. But he had been misinformed. It was the guns that were carried; the gunners invariably walked, sometimes carrying the guns and the appurtenances thereof. His very first day Dunshie was compelled to double across half a mile of boggy heathland carrying two large stones, meant to represent ammunition-boxes, from an imaginary waggon to a dummy gun. It is true that as soon as he was out of sight of the corporal he deposited the stones upon the ground, and ultimately proffered two others, picked up on nearing his destination, to the sergeant in charge of the proceedings; but even thus the work struck him as unreasonably exacting, and he resigned, by the simple process of cutting his next parade and being ignominiously returned to his company.

After an unsuccessful application for employment as a "buzzer," or signaller, Dunshie made trial of the regimental transport, where there was a shortage of drivers. He had strong hopes that in this way he would attain to permanent carriage exercise. But he was quickly undeceived. Instead of being offered a seat upon the box of a G.S. waggon, he was bidden to walk behind the same, applying the brake when necessary, for fourteen miles. The next day he spent cleaning stables, under a particularly officious corporal. On the third, he was instructed in the art of grooming a mule. On the fourth, he was left to perform this feat unaided, and the mule, acting under extreme provocation, kicked him in the stomach. On the fifth day he was returned to his company.

But Mecca was at hand. That very morning Dunshie's company commander received the following ukase from headquarters:--

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Officers commanding Companies will render to the Orderly Room without fail, by 9 A.M. to-morrow, the name of one man qualified to act as chiropodist to the Company.

Major Kemp scratched his nose in a dazed fashion, and looked over his spectacles at his Quartermaster-Sergeant.

"What in thunder will they ask for next?" he growled. "Have we got any tame chiropodists in the company, Rae?"

Quartermaster-Sergeant Rae turned over the Company roll.

"There is no--no--no man of that profession here, sirr," he reported, after scanning the document. "But," he added optimistically, "there is a machine-fitter and a glass-blower. Will I warn one of them?"

"I think we had better call for a volunteer first," said Major Kemp tactfully.

Accordingly, that afternoon upon parade, Platoon commanders were bidden to hold a witch hunt, and smell out a chiropodist. But the enterprise terminated almost immediately; for Private Dunshie, caressing his injured abdomen in Number Three Platoon, heard the invitation, and quickly stepped forward.

"So you are a chiropodist as well as everything else, Dunshie!" said Ayling incredulously.

"That's right, sirr," assented Dunshie politely.

"Are you a professional?"

"No exactly that, sirr," was the modest reply.

"You just make a hobby of it?"

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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