Bill Meilen
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THE ARMORER

IV.

Night Surprise

Beware vengeful Celts
Whose anger enters your ears
In skien dhu stabs.

BELOW the low blue night-lights of the coach, only an occasional snore, snort, grumble or shift of bodies could be heard under the rhythm of steel wheels riding rails. Men lay, sat, or sprawled wherever they could find a modicum of comfort. At the rear end of the compartment a gray- haired Vets’ Guard sergeant in khaki denim uniform, forage cap and full webbing rig peered with nervous eyes through the open door at his sleeping prisoners. Strapped cross-draw to his blanco’d belt was a web holster from which protruded the white-lanyarded butt of a Wobbly Webley Mark IV service revolver, his age-spotted hand shaky on the butt. For a long moment he let his eyes rove watery over the sleeping men, then grumbling to himself, he stepped back from the door and fingered one of the guards to come forward.

“Okay, Dubinsky. Keep an eye peeled on these here sonsabitches, eh? Smells like a dosshouse. Got to ventilate her out. Open the doors for ten minutes every hour on the hour, whether she needs it or not. Leave the door open to allow a good air change, eh.”

The gangling fair-haired youth with cheap wire spectacles and ratty mustard-coloured moustache eased forward and stared into the blue gloom, then withdrew into the corridor, closing the door of the compartment.

“Sure, Sarge,” the tall youth muttered, as though he was there under some kind of pressure. “I still think we ought to have these rifles loaded.”

“Loaded?” the sergeant snorted. “What for? These guys are not going anywhere, for Crissakes. They’re out of the war. You know how to handle yer rifle—hit the bastards with it if they tries anythin’. Poke ‘em in the guts. That stops ‘em dead in their tracks, parsticularly if you got a bayonet on the end of yer rifle, which you ain’t got because yer space is too limited for that, eh.”

The tall soldier sulked. “Then why don’t you give us Stens, or things like you got there?”

The sergeant sneered. “What? Have you writing yer gawdam name in nine millimetres? No fear sirree!”

Private Dubinsky looked down at the elderly sergeant. “But if we got no ammo, what difference do it make, eh? What if they decides to take off on us?”

Something between a grin and a snarl grew on the sergeant’s lined face. His cropped moustache bristled.

“I’ll give you and them a tip, Dubinsky, you long string of Polack piss. Never get off a train facin’ the wrong way. Hamburger. Anyway, where is there to run—who in his right mind would want to run away to fuggin’

 

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