The damaged cycle was lifted into the lorry and propped up on its stand and before the men had donned their mackintoshes and “beat it,” the sergeant was busy dismembering the damaged fork. Courtenay pulled off his wet coat and settled himself comfortably on a box after offering his assistance and being assured it was not required. The sergeant conversed affably as he worked.
At first he addressed Courtenay as “mister,” but suddenly—“Say,” he remarked, “what ought I to be calling you? I never can remember just what those different stars-an’-stripes fixin’s mean.”
“My name is Courtenay and I’m second lieutenant,” said the other. He was a good deal surprised, for naturally, a man does not usually reach the rank of sergeant without learning the meaning of the badges of rank on an officer’s sleeve.
“My name’s Rawbon—Willard K. Rawbon,” said the sergeant easily. “So now we know where we are. Will you have a cigar, Loo-tenant?” he went on, slipping a case from his pocket and extending it. Courtenay noticed the solidly expensive get-up and the gold initials on the leather and was still more puzzled. He reassured himself by another look at the sergeant’s stripes and the regulation soldier’s khaki jacket. “No, thanks,” he said politely, and struggling with an inclination to laugh, “I’ll smoke a cigarette,” and took one from his own case and lighted it. He was a good deal interested and probed gently.
“You’re Canadian, I suppose?” he said. “But this isn’t Canadian Transport, is it?”
“Not,” said the sergeant “Neither it nor me. No Canuck in mine, Loo-tenant. I’m good United States.”
“I see,” said Courtenay. “Just joined up to get a finger in the fighting?”
“Yes an’ no,” said the sergeant, going on with his work in a manner that showed plainly he was a thoroughly competent workman. “It was a matter of business in the first place, a private business deal that—”
“I beg your pardon,” said Courtenay hastily, reddening to his ear-tips. “Please don’t think I meant to question you. I say, are you sure I can’t help with that? It’s too bad my sitting here watching you do all the work.”
The sergeant straightened himself slowly from the bench and looked at Courtenay, a quizzical smile dawning on his thin lips. “Why now, Loo-tenant,” he said, “there’s no need to get het up none. I know you Britishers hate to be thought inquisitive—’bad form,’ ain’t it!—but I didn’t figure it thataway, not any. I’d forgot for a minute the difference ’tween—” He broke off and looked down at his sleeve, nodding to the stripes and then to the lieutenant’s star. “An’ if you don’t mind I’ll keep on forgetting it meantime. ’Twon’t hurt discipline, seeing nobody’s here anyway. Y’ see,” he went on, stooping to his work again, “I’m not used to military manners an’ customs. A year ago if you’d told me I’d be a soldier, and in the British Army, I’d ha’ thought you clean loco.”