At about the sixth traverse a German spoke to him in fairly good, although strongly accented, English. He asked Macalister his rank and regiment, and Macalister, knowing that the name on his shoulder-straps would expose any attempt at deceit, gave these. Another man asked something in German, which apparently he requested the English speaker to translate.
“He say,” interpreted the other, “Why you English war have made?” Macalister stared at him. “I’m no English,” he returned composedly. “I’m a Scot.”
“That the worse is,” said the interpreter angrily. “Why have it your business of the Scot?”
Macalister knitted his brows over this. “You mean, I suppose, what business is it of ours! Well, it’s just Scotland’s a bit of Britain, so when Britain’s at war, we are at war.”
A demand for an interpretation of this delayed the proceedings a little, and then the English speaker returned to the attack.
“For why haf Britain this war made!” he demanded.
“We didna’ make it,” returned Macalister. “Germany began it.” Excited comment on the translation.
“If you’ll just listen to me a minute,” said Macalister deliberately, “I can prove I am right. Sir Edward Grey——” Bursts of exclamation greeted the name, and Macalister grinned slightly.
“You’ll no be likin’ him,” he said. “An’ I can weel understan’ it.”
The questioner went off on a different line. “Haf your soldiers know,” he asked, “that the German fleet every day a town of England bombard?”
Macalister stared at him. “Havers!” he said abruptly.
The German went on to impart a great deal of astonishing information—of the German advance on Petrograd, the invasion of Egypt, the extermination of the Balkan Expedition, the complete blockade of England, the decimation of the British fleet by submarines.
After some vain attempts to argue the matter and disprove the statements, Macalister resigned himself to contemptuous silence, only rousing when the German spoke of England and English, to correct him to Britain and British.
When at last their interest flagged, the Germans ordered him to move on. Macalister asked where he was going and what was to be done with him, and received the scant comfort that he was being sent along to an officer who would send him back as a prisoner, if he did not have him killed—as German prisoners were killed by the English.
“British, you mean,” Macalister corrected again. “And, besides that, it’s a lie.”
He was told to go on; but as he moved be saw a foot-long piece of barbed wire lying in the trench bottom. He asked gravely whether he would be allowed to take it, and, receiving a somewhat puzzled and grudging assent, picked it up, carefully rolled it in a small coil, and placed it in a side jacket pocket. He derived immense gratification and enjoyment at the ensuing searches he had to undergo, and the explosive German that followed the diving of a hand into the barbed-wire pocket.