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||Blank Cartridges||Ian Hay|
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Presently he rides away; and Captain Blaikie, instead of halting and dismissing us in the street as usual, leads us down an alley into the backyard which serves as our apology for a parade-ground. We form close column of platoons, stand at ease, and wait resignedly.
Then Captain Blaikie's voice falls upon our ears.
"A Company, I have an announcement to make to you. His Majesty the King--"
So that is it. Another Royal Review! Well, it will be a break in the general monotony.
"--who has noted your hard work, good discipline, and steady progress with the keenest satisfaction and pride--"
We are not utterly forgotten, then.
"--has commanded that every man in the battalion is to have seven days' full leave of absence."
"A-a-ah!" We strain our tingling ears.
"We are to go by companies, a week at a time. 'C' will go first."
"C" indeed! Who are "C," to--?
"A Company's leave--our leave--will begin on the twenty-eighth of December, and extend to the third of January."
The staccato words sink slowly in, and then thoughts come tumbling.
"Free--free on New Year's Day! Almichty! Free to gang hame! Free tae--"
Then comes an icy chill upon our hearts. How are we to get home? Scotland is hundreds of miles away. The fare, even on a "soldier's" ticket--
But the Captain has not quite finished.
"Every man will receive a week's pay in advance; and his fare, home and back, will be paid by Government. That is all."
And quite enough too! We rock upon our squelching feet. But the Captain adds, without any suspicion of his parade-ground manner--
"If I may say so, I think that if ever men deserved a good holiday, you do. Company, slope arms! Dis-miss!"
* * * * *
We do not cheer: we are not built that way. But as we stream off to our Irish stew, the dourest of us says in his heart--
"God Save the King!"
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