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|Blank Cartridges||Ian Hay|
Deeds Of Darkness
|Page 4 of 10||
"Halt!" he commanded. "Wha goes there?"
"Hey, Jock," inquired a husky voice, "is that you?"
This was another most irregular answer. Declining to be drawn into impromptu irrelevancies, Mucklewame stuck to his text.
"Advance yin," he continued, "and give the coontersign, if any!"
Private Dunshie drew nearer.
"Jock," he inquired wistfully, "hae ye gotten a fag?"
"Aye," replied Mucklewame, friendship getting the better of conscience.
"Wull ye give a body yin?"
"Aye. But ye canna smoke on ootpost duty," explained Mucklewame sternly. "Forbye, the officer has no been roond yet," he added.
"Onyway," urged Dunshie eagerly, "let nae be your prisoner! Let me bide with the other boys in here ahint the dyke!"
The hospitable Mucklewame agreed, and Scout Dunshie, overjoyed at the prospect of human companionship, promptly climbed over the low wall and attached himself, in the rôle of languishing captive, to Number Two Sentry-Group of Number Three Piquet.
Meanwhile M'Snape had reached the forward edge of the wood, and was cautiously reconnoitring the open ground in front of him. The moon had disappeared altogether now, but M'Snape was able to calculate, by reason of the misdirected exuberance of the vigilant Mucklewame, the exact position of the sentry-group on the left-hand road. About the road on his right he was not so certain; so he set out cautiously towards it, keeping to the edge of the wood, and pausing every few yards to listen. There must be a sentry-group somewhere here, he calculated--say midway between the roads. He must walk warily.
Easier said than done. At this very moment a twig snapped beneath his foot with a noise like a pistol-shot, and a covey of partridges, lying out upon the stubble beside him, made an indignant evacuation of their bedroom. The mishap seemed fatal: M'Snape stood like a stone. But no alarm followed, and presently all was still again--so still, indeed, that presently, out on the right, two hundred yards away, M'Snape heard a man cough and then spit. Another sentry was located!
Having decided that there was no sentry-group between the two roads, M'Snape turned his back upon the wood and proceeded cautiously forward. He was not quite satisfied in his mind about things. He knew that Captain Wagstaffe was in command of this section of the defence. He cherished a wholesome respect for that efficient officer, and doubted very much if he would really leave so much of his front entirely unguarded.
Next moment the solution of the puzzle was in his very hand--in the form of a stout cord stretching from right to left. He was just in time to avoid tripping over it. It was suspended about six inches above the ground.
You cannot follow a clue in two directions at once; so after a little consideration M'Snape turned and crawled along to his right, being careful to avoid touching the cord. Presently a black mass loomed before him, acting apparently as terminus to the cord. Lying flat on his stomach, in order to get as much as possible of this obstacle between his eyes and the sky, M'Snape was presently able to descry, plainly silhouetted against the starry landscape, the profile of one Bain, a scout of A Company, leaning comfortably against a small bush, and presumably holding the end of the cord in his hand.
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