He arrived at last at an officer and at a point where a communication trench entered the firing trench. The officer in very mangled English was attempting to extract some information, when he was interrupted by the arrival from the communication trench of a small party led by an officer, a person evidently of some importance, since the other officer sprang to attention, clicked his heels, saluted stiffly, and spoke in a tone of respectful humility. The new arrival was a young man in a surprisingly clean and beautifully fitting uniform, and wearing a helmet instead of the cloth cap commonly worn in the trenches. His face was not a particularly pleasant one, the eyes close set, hard, and cruel, the jaw thin and sharp, the mouth thin-lipped and shrewish. He spoke to Macalister in the most perfect English.
“Well, swine-hound,” he said, “have you any reason to give why I should not shoot you?” Macalister made no reply. He disliked exceedingly the look of the new-comer, and had no wish to give an excuse for the punishment he suspected would result from the officer’s displeasure. But his silence did not save him.
“Sulky, eh, my swine-hound!” said the officer. “But I think we can improve those manners.”
He gave an order in German, and a couple of men stepped forward and placed their bayonets with the points touching Macalister’s chest.
“If you do not answer next time I speak,” he said smoothly, “I will give one word that will pin you to the trench wall and leave you there. Do you understand!” he snapped suddenly and savagely. “You English dog.”
“I understand,” said Macalister. “But I’m no English. I’m a Scot”
The crashing of a shell and the whistling of the bullets overhead moved the officer, as it had the others, to a more sheltered place. He seated himself upon an ammunition-box, and pointed to the wall of the trench opposite him.
“You,” he said to Macalister, “will stand there, where you can get the benefit of any bullets that come over. I suppose you would just as soon be killed by an English bullet as by a German one.”
Macalister moved to the place indicated.
“I’m no anxious,” he said calmly, “to be killed by either a British or a German bullet.”
“Say ‘sir’ when you speak to me,” roared the officer. “Say ‘sir.’”
Macalister looked at him and said “Sir”—no more and no less.
“Have you no discipline in your English army?” he demanded, and Macalister’s lips silently formed the words “British Army.” “Are you not taught to say ‘sir’ to an officer?”
“Yes—sir; we say ‘sir’ to any officer and any gentleman.”
“So,” said the officer, an evil smile upon his thin lips. “You hint, I suppose, that I am not a gentleman? We shall see. But first, as you appear to be an insubordinate dog, we had better tie your hands up.”
He gave an order, and after some little trouble to find a cord, Macalister’s hands were lashed behind his back with the bandage from a field-dressing. The officer inspected the tying when it was completed, spoke angrily to the cringing men, and made them unfasten and re-tie the lashing as tightly as they could draw it.