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Blank Cartridges Ian Hay

Shooting Straight

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And leaving Bobby and his infant class to practise this new and amusing pastime, Captain Wagstaffe strolls away across the square to where the painstaking Waddell is contending with another squad.

They, too, have a landscape target--a different one. Before it half a dozen rifles stand, set in rests. Waddell has given the order: Four hundred--at the road, where it passes under the viaduct--fire! and six privates have laid the six rifles upon the point indicated. Waddell and Captain Wagstaffe walk down the line, peering along the sights of the rifles. Five are correctly aligned: the sixth points to the spacious firmament above the viaduct.

"Hallo!" observes Wagstaffe.

"This is the man's third try, sir," explains the harassed Waddell. "He doesn't seem to be able to distinguish anything at all."

"Eyesight wrong?"

"So he says, sir."

"Been a long time finding out, hasn't he?"

"The sergeant told me, sir," confides Waddell, "that in his opinion the man is 'working for his ticket.'"


"I did not quite understand the expression, sir," continues the honest youth, "so I thought I would consult you."

"It means that he is trying to get his discharge. Bring him along: I'll soon find out whether he is skrim-shanking or not."

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Private M'Sweir is introduced, and led off to the lair of that hardened cynic, the Medical Officer. Here he is put through some simple visual tests. He soon finds himself out of his depth. It is extremely difficult to feign either myopia, hypermetria, or astigmatism if you are not acquainted with the necessary symptoms, and have not decided beforehand which (if any) of these diseases you are suffering from. In five minutes the afflicted M'Sweir is informed, to his unutterable indignation, that he has passed a severe ocular examination with flying colours, and is forthwith marched back to his squad, with instructions to recognise all targets in future, under pain of special instruction in the laws of optics during his leisure hours. Verily, in K (1)--that is the tabloid title of the First Hundred Thousand--the way of the malingerer is hard.

Still, the seed does not always fall upon stony ground. On his way to inspect a third platoon Captain Wagstaffe passes Bobby Little and his merry men. They are in pairs, indicating targets to one another.

Says Private Walker (oblivious of Captain Wagstaffe's proximity) to his friend, Private M'Leary--in an affected parody of his instructor's staccato utterance--

"At yon three Gairman spies, gaun' up a close for tae despatch some wireless telegraphy--fufty roonds--fire!"

To which Private M'Leary, not to be outdone, responds--

"Public hoose--in the baur--back o' seeven o'clock--twa drams--fower fingers--rapid!"


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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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