This being well known to Second Lieutenant Courtenay, he, after collecting himself, his cycle, and his scattered wits from the ditch and conscientiously cursing the road, the dark, and the wet, duly turned to bless the luck that had brought about an accident right at the doorstep of a section of the Motor Transport. There were about ten massive lorries drawn up close to the side of the road under the poplars, and Courtenay made a direct line for one from which a chink of light showed under the tarpaulin and sounds of revelry issued from a melodeon and a rasping file. Courtenay pulled aside the flap, poked his head in and found himself blinking in the bright glare of an acetylene lamp suspended in the middle of a Mechanical Transport traveling workshop. The walls—tarpaulin over a wooden frame—were closely packed with an array of tools, and the floor was still more closely packed with a work-bench, vice and lathe, spare motor parts, boxes, and half a dozen men. The men were reading newspapers and magazines; one was manipulating the melodeon, and another at the vice was busy with the file. The various occupations ceased abruptly as Courtenay poked his head in and explained briefly who he was and what his troubles were.
“Thought you might be able to do something for me,” he concluded, and before he had finished speaking the man at the vice had laid down his file and was reaching down a mackintosh from its hook. Courtenay noticed a sergeant’s stripes on his sleeve, and a thick and most unsoldierly crop of hair on his head plastered back from the brow.
“Why sure,” the sergeant said. “If she’s anyways fixable, you reckon her as fixed. Whereabouts is she ditched?”
Ten minutes later Courtenay was listening disconsolately to the list of damages discovered by the glare of an electric torch and the sergeant’s searching examination.
“It’ll take ’most a couple of hours to make any sort of a job,” said the sergeant. “That bust up fork alone—but we’ll put her to rights for you. Let’s yank ’er over to the shop.”
Courtenay was a good deal put out by this announcement.
“I suppose there’s no help for it,” he said resignedly, “but it’s dashed awkward. I’m due back at the billets now really, and another two or three hours late—whew!”
“Carryin’ a message, I s’pose,” said the sergeant, as together they seized the cycle and pushed it towards the repair lorry.
“No,” said Courtenay, “I was over seeing another officer out this way.” He had an idea from the sergeant’s free and easy style of address that the mackintosh, without any visible badges and with a very visible spattering of mud, had concealed the fact that he was an officer, and when he reached the light he casually opened his coat to show his belts and tunic. But the sergeant made not the slightest difference in his manner.
“Guess you’d better pull that wet coat right off,” he said casually, “and set down while I get busy. You boys, pike out, hit it for the downy, an’ get any sleep you all can snatch. That break-down will be ambling along in about three hours an’ shoutin’ for quick repairs, so you’ll have to hustle some. That three hours is about all the sleep comin’ to you to-night; so, beat it.”