Sabre took his place in the chain. In one corner of the room a doctor in uniform was testing eyesight. Passed on from there each recruit joined a group wearing only greatcoat or shirt and standing about a stove near the door. At intervals the door opened and three nude men, coat or shirt in hand, entered, and a sergeant bawled, “Next three!”
Sabre was presently one of the three. Of the two who companioned him one was an undersized little individual wearing a truss, the other appeared to be wearing a suit of deep brown tights out of which his red neck and red hands thrust conspicuously. Sabre realised with a slight shock that the brown suit was the grime of the unbathed. Across the passage another room was entered. The recruits dropped their final covering and were directed, one to two sergeants who operated weights, a height gauge and a measuring tape; another to an officer who said, “Stand on one leg. Bend your toes. Now on the other. Toes. Stretch out your arms. Work your fingers. Squat on your heels.” The third recruit went to an officer who dabbed chests with a stethoscope and said, “Had any illnesses?” When the recruit had passed through each performance he walked to two officers seated with enrolment forms at a table, was spoken to, and then recovered his discarded garment and walked out. The whole business took about three minutes. They were certainly whizzing them through.
Sabre came last to the officer with the stethoscope. He was just polishing off the undersized little man with the truss. “Take that thing off. Cough. How long have you had this? Go along.” He turned to Sabre, dabbed perfunctorily at his lungs, then at his heart. “Wait a minute.” He applied his ear to the stethoscope again. Then he looked up at Sabre’s face. “Had any illnesses?” “Not one in my life.” “Shortness of breath?” “Not the least. I was in the XV at school.” Sabre’s voice was tremulous with eagerness. The doctor’s eyes appeared to exchange a message with him. They gave the slightest twinkle. “Go along.”
He went to the table where sat the two officers with the paper forms. “Name?” “Sabre.” The officer nearer him drew a form towards him and poised a fountain pen over it. Sabre felt it extraordinarily odd to be standing stark naked before two men fully dressed. In his rejection at Tidborough the time before this had not happened.
Sabre was surprised at such consideration. He thought the reference was to his treatment during examination. “No.”
The officer, who appeared to be short-tempered, glanced again at the form and then looked quickly at him. “Absolutely nothing wrong with you?”
“Oh, I thought you meant—”
The officer was short-tempered. “Never mind what you thought. You hear what I’m asking you, don’t you?”
It was Sabre’s first experience of a manner with which he was to become more familiar. “Sorry. No, nothing whatever.”