with a pair of tongs into a wheel housing, and came out with a pretty but very dead skunk.
The panicked prisoners looked gingerly at each other as it was paraded along the track for all to see. A wave of laughter rippled along their ranks, then they pulled themselves together, sharing in the ridiculous humour of the situation, clambering slowly back into the train. Some took the opportunity to relieve themselves al fresco as a change from the limiting confines of a train latrine. A rank of men straddled and crouched along the ditch, watched by a relieved and somewhat more benign RSM Campbell. Hamish came running up, growling and shining, waving a swagger stick.
“Phewph! What’s that ruddy stink, Sar-Major?”
RSM Campbell leered. “We bulldozed a skunk sir. Jerry thought we were gassing them off and panicked.”
Hamish looked rather dour. “Skunk? Gas? Bloody fools. They’re the ones who did it first, in France! Shit. And where is the wee, sleekit, reeking beastie now?”
“Over by the rail-track there sir.”
“Then pick it up and stuff it.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“Have it taxidermised or whatever you call it.”
“Aye. Stuffed. A right little mascot for Jerry— ‘the skunk that stopped a British troop train.’ Probably get an Iron Cross for that. As soon as these men have finished splashing their boots, hie them back aboard!”
Hamish glared up at the broken window. “And get some shiplap nailed o’er that at our earliest!” he snapped, then strode towards the rear of the train with a casual wave of his swaggerstick, brass buttons twinkling like little yellow lights in the glare of the engineer’s lamp. RSM Campbell watched him walk away, snorted a long sigh, then shouted “Dubinsky! McNeil!”
The two privates came doubling up, Dubinsky shaky and pale and wet all down his back.
“Dubinsky, you stupid jerk, pick up that gawdam skunk and stuff it in a—”
“Stuff it where, sir?”
“In a gawdam box, you stubble-jumping bohunk! Put it safe downwind on the flatcar at the end of the train. Captain Haggis wants it for a mascot.” He watched Dubinsky lumber away. The train waited to get its wheels back into rhythm, hissing impatiently, the face of its fireman a flickering mask on the footplate.
“McNeil, get a hammer and do something about that gawdam window!” He noted his men were doing a good job of keeping the Germans herded along the ballast and the ditched grade beside the track, and marched away about his business.
Rudi Kristl enjoyed passing water over the crackling grass beside the track, listening to the thuds of the hammer as a soldier nailed broken slats back together with scraps of plank. When he had buttoned himself up, he lit a cigarette