Bill Meilen
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THE ARMORER

 

“No smoking!” R.S.M. Campbell interrupted. “This goddam prairie’s a tinderbox. Ever see prairie fire, sir?”

There was another stretched Gaelic silence. “You will do exactly as I say, Sar-Major. Warn them to take care with their smoking. ‘Anyone who starts a fire may be shot,’ that kind of thing.” He gave a long tight pause. “You can not ask fighting men to go without their wee creature comforts, Sar-Major.”

The R.S.M. looked at the sky. “Next thing we know you’ll be asking me to fix up dates for the bastards with local girls. No goddam way. They are the enemy, sir!” He remembered the attack dogs of Wittenberg, and hated the lenient attitudes of the officer.

“No, they are not, Sar-Major. They were. They are now belligerent aliens in captivity, shorn of weaponry, and under agreement to convey themselves in a military manner. Chivalry is not dead yet, you know. His Majesty King George is truly a merciful King. After all, he is German himself—he knows how it must feel.” Naughty-naughty, Hamish! We did lose at Culloden.

Regimental Sergeant Major Roy Campbell knew the officer’s attitude would not bend nor soften for him. He’s been this way since first he heard my name. What in the hell is wrong with the Limey bastard today, goddam it?!

But Hamish had not yet finished his soliloquy on orders. “The German troops will be moved in platoons of twenty-five, pipes leading the way. They hate the pipes. You, Campbell,” he mouthed the name as though it soiled his palate, “will march there and back, setting a cracking pace in keeping with the dignity of pipe music.” A leaden silence. “Do we make ourselves clear?”

A stamped foot, the strong old hand whirring up in a salute to touch his cap with a quiver. “Is that all, sir?”

Hamish did an about-turn and looked the man daggers in the eyes. “No, that is not all, Sar-Major.”

“Oh? What else would you like me to do, sir?”

“One thing only—remember Glencoe!” the officer hissed, and walked away into the caboose.

“Glenn who?” called Campbell after him. “Coe? There’s nobody of that name here!” He had never heard the name before, for his ancestors had failed to pass down anything of that ancient Montrose skullduggery which had stained his name forever in the eyes of Highlanders.

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