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Live Rounds Ian Hay

The Gathering Of The Eagles

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When this war is over, and the glory and the praise are duly assigned, particularly honourable mention should be made of the inhabitants of a certain ancient French town with a Scottish name, which lies not far behind a particularly sultry stretch of the trenches. The town is subject to shell fire, as splintered walls and shattered windows testify; yet every shop stands open. The town, moreover, is the only considerable place in the district, and enjoys a monopoly of patronage from all the surrounding billeting areas; yet the keepers of the shops have heroically refrained from putting up their prices to any appreciable extent. This combination of courage and fair-dealing has had its reward. The town has become a local Mecca. British soldiers with an afternoon to spare and a few francs to spend come in from miles around. Mess presidents send in their mess-sergeants, and fearful and wonderful is the marketing which ensues.

In remote and rural billets catering is a simple matter. We take what we can get, and leave it at that. The following business-card, which Bobby Little once found attached to an outhouse door in one of his billets, puts the resources of a French hamlet into a nutshell:--


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But in town the shopper has a wider range. Behold Sergeant Goffin, a true-born Londoner, with the Londoner's faculty of never being at a loss for a word, at the grocer's, purchasing comforts for our officers' mess.

"Bong jooer, Mrs. Pankhurst!" he observes breezily to the plump épicière. This is his invariable greeting to French ladies who display any tendency to volubility--and they are many.

"Bon jour, M'sieu le Caporal!" replies the épicière, smiling. "M'sieu le Caporal désire?"

The sergeant allows his reduction in rank to pass unnoticed. He does not understand the French tongue, though he speaks it with great fluency and incredible success. He holds up a warning hand.

"Now, keep your 'and off the tap of the gas-meter for one minute if you please," he rejoins, "and let me get a word in edgeways. I want"--with great emphasis--"vinblank one, vinrooge two, bogeys six, Dom one. Compree?"

By some miracle the smiling lady does "compree," and produces white wine, red wine, candles, and--a bottle of Benedictine! (Sergeant Goffin always names wines after the most boldly printed word upon the label. He once handed round some champagne, which he insisted on calling "a bottle of brute.")

"Combine?" is the next observation.

The épicière utters the series of short sharp sibilants of which all French numerals appear to be composed. It sounds like "song-song-song." The resourceful Goffin lays down a twenty-franc note.

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The First Hundred Thousand
Ian Hay

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