Redmond made a gesture of exasperation. “Ah-h! come off the perch!” he snarled pettishly, “what sort of old ‘batman’s’ gaff are you trying to ‘get my goat’ with?”
His display of irritation drew an explosive, misthievous cachinnation from the trio.
“Old ‘batman’s’ gaff?” echoed the Cockney grinning, “orl right, my fresh cove—this time next week you’ll be tellin’ us wevver it’s old ‘batman’s’ gaff, or not.”
Outside, the blizzard still moaned and beat upon the windows, packing the wind-driven snow in huge drifts about the big main building. Inside, the canteen roared—
boys! who’s for a drink with me?
Rum, tum! tiddledy-um! we’ll have a fair old spree!”
McSporran slid off his cot with surprising alacrity. “Here’s ane!” he announced blithely. Hardy, carefully hanging up his spotless, glossy equipment at the head of his cot, turned to the farrier who was likewise engaged in arranging a bridle and a pipe-clayed headrope.
“Wot abaht it, Mac?” he queried briskly.
McCullough, in turn looked at Redmond. “All right!” responded that young gentleman with a boyish shrug and grin, “come on then, you bloomin’ old sponges! let’s wet my transfer. I’ll have time to pack my kit to-morrow, before the West-bound pulls out.”
Upon their departing ears, grown wearily familiar to its monotonous repetition, fell the parrot’s customary adieu, as that disreputable-looking bird swung rhythmically to and fro on its perch.
“Goo’ bye!” it gabbled, “A soldier’s farewell’ to yeh! goo’ bye! goo’ bye!”
Homeless, ragged and tanned,
Under the changeful sky;
Who so free in the land?
Who so contented as I?.
The long-drawn-out, sweet notes of “Reveille” rang out in the frosty dawn. Reg. No. —— Const George Redmond, engaged at that moment in pulling on his “fatigue-slacks” hummed the trumpet-call’s time-honoured vocal parody—
“I sold a cow, I sold a cow,
an’ bought a donk-ee—’
Oh—what—a silly old sot you were!”
The room buzzed like a drowsy hive with hastily dressing men. Breathing hotly on the frosted window-pane next his cot, George rubbed a clear patch and glued his eye to it. The blizzard had died out during the night leaving the snow-drifted landscape frosty, still and clear. A rapidly widening strip of blended rose and pale turquoise on the eastern horizon gave promise of a fine day.
He turned away with a contented sigh and, descending the stairs, fell in with the rest of the fur-coated, moccasined men on “Morning Stable Parade.”
Three hours later, breakfast despatched, blankets rolled and kit and dunnage bags packed, he received a curt summons from the sergeant-major to attend the Orderly-room. To the brisk word of command he was “quick-marched” “left-wheeled,” and “halted” at “attention” before the desk of the Officer Commanding L. Division.