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Deeds Of Darkness

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To-night all M'Snape's soul was set on getting through the enemy's outpost line, and discovering a way of ingress for the host behind him. He had no map, but he had the Plough and a fitful moon to guide him, and he held a clear notion of the disposition of the trenches in his retentive brain. On his left he could hear the distressing sounds of Dunshie's dolorous progress; but these were growing fainter. The reason was that Dunshie, like most persons who follow the line of least resistance, was walking in a circle. In fact, a few minutes later his circuitous path brought him out upon the long straight road which ran up over the hill towards the trenches.

With a sigh of relief Dunshie stepped out upon the good hard macadam, and proceeded with the merest show of stealth up the gentle gradient. But he was not yet at ease. The over-arching trees formed a tunnel in which his footsteps reverberated uncomfortably. The moon had retired behind a cloud. Dunshie, gregarious and urban, quaked anew. Reflecting longingly upon his bright and cosy billet, with the "subsistence" which was doubtless being prepared against his return, he saw no occasion to reconsider his opinion that in the country no decent body should over be called up to go out after dark unaccompanied. At that moment Dunshie would have bartered his soul for the sight of an electric tram.

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The darkness grew more intense. Something stirred in the wood beside him, and his skin tingled. An owl hooted suddenly, and he jumped. Next, the gross darkness was illuminated by a pale and ghostly radiance, coming up from behind; and something brushed past him--something which squeaked and panted. His hair rose upon his scalp. A friendly "Good-night!" uttered in a strong Hampshire accent into his left ear, accentuated rather than soothed his terrors. He sat down suddenly upon a bank by the roadside, and feebly mopped his moist brow.

The bicycle, having passed him, wobbled on up the hill, shedding a fitful ray upon alternate sides of the road. Suddenly--raucous and stunning, but oh, how sweet!--rang out the voice of Dunshie's lifelong friend, Private Mucklewame.

"Halt! Wha goes there!"

The cyclist made no reply, but kept his devious course. Private Mucklewame, who liked to do things decently and in order, stepped heavily out of the hedge into the middle of the road, and repeated his question in a reproving voice. There was no answer.

This was most irregular. According to the text of the spirited little dialogue in which Mucklewame had been recently rehearsed by his piquet commander, the man on the bicycle ought to have said "Friend!" This cue received, Mucklewame was prepared to continue. Without it he was gravelled. He tried once more.

"Halt! Wha goes--"

"On His Majesty's Service, my lad!" responded a hearty voice; and the postman, supplementing this information with a friendly good-night, wobbled up the hill and disappeared from sight.

The punctilious Mucklewame was still glaring severely after this unseemly "gagger," when he became aware of footsteps upon the road. A pedestrian was plodding up the hill in the wake of the postman. He would stand no nonsense this time.

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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