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|Blank Cartridges||Ian Hay|
Deeds Of Darkness
|Page 1 of 10||
A moonlit, wintry night. Four hundred men are clumping along the frost-bound road, under the pleasing illusion that because they are neither whistling nor talking they are making no noise.
At the head of the column march Captains Mackintosh and Shand, the respective commanders of C and D Companies. Occasionally Mackintosh, the senior, interpolates a remark of a casual or professional nature. To all these his colleague replies in a low and reproachful whisper. The pair represent two schools of military thought--a fact of which their respective subalterns are well aware,--and act accordingly.
"In preparing troops for active service, you must make the conditions as real as possible from the very outset," postulates Shand. "Perform all your exercises just as you would in war. When you dig trenches, let every man work with his weather-eye open and his rifle handy, in case of sudden attack. If you go out on night operations don't advertise your position by stopping to give your men a recitation. No talking--no smoking--no unnecessary delay or exposure! Just go straight to your point of deployment, and do what you came out to do."
To this Mackintosh replies,--
"That's all right for trained troops. But ours aren't half-trained yet; all our work just now is purely educational. It's no use expecting a gang of rivet-heaters from Clydebank to form an elaborate outpost line, just because you whispered a few sweet nothings in the dark to your leading section of fours! You simply must explain every step you take, at present."
But Shand shakes his head.
"It's not soldierly," he sighs.
Hence the present one-sided--or apparently one-sided--dialogue. To the men marching immediately behind, it sounds like something between a soliloquy and a chat over the telephone.
Presently Captain Mackintosh announces,--
"We might send the scouts ahead now I think."
Shand gives an inaudible assent. The column is halted, and the scouts called up. A brief command, and they disappear into the darkness, at the double. C and D Companies give them five minutes start, and move on. The road at this point runs past a low mossy wall, surmounted by a venerable yew hedge, clipped at intervals into the semblance of some heraldic monster. Beyond the hedge, in the middle distance, looms a square and stately Georgian mansion, whose lights twinkle hospitably.
"I think, Shand," suggests Mackintosh with more formality, now that he is approaching the scene of action, "that we might attack at two different points, each of us with his own company. What is your opinion?"
The officer addressed makes no immediate reply. His gaze is fixed upon the yew hedge, as if searching for gun positions or vulnerable points. Presently, however, he turns away, and coming close to Captain Mackintosh, puts his lips to his left ear. Mackintosh prepares his intellect for the reception of a pearl of strategy.
But Captain Shand merely announces, in his regulation whisper,--
"Dam pretty girl lives in that house, old man!"
Private Peter Dunshie, scout, groping painfully and profanely through a close-growing wood, paused to unwind a clinging tendril from his bare knees. As he bent down, his face came into sudden contact with a cold, wet, prickly bramble-bush, which promptly drew a loving but excoriating finger across his right cheek.
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