By dodging forward to place each blind man’s hand upon the banister, Corporal Smith managed to send off his patients without a stumble. But as the stair inexorably lowered them into the bowels of the earth he realised, only too vividly, what might happen at the foot of the descent. The evening rush of suburb-bound passengers had begun and the staircase was rather crowded. Nobody seemed to realise that the khaki-overcoated men who stood so still upon the steps were not the usual hospital convalescents out on leave and able to look after themselves. Corporal Smith, delayed by one man who had hesitated at the top before taking the plunge, beheld his charges below him, hopelessly dotted, at intervals, amongst the general public. It was impossible for him to struggle down ahead, to the bottom of the staircase, to guide the men off as they arrived. This task, he hoped, would be adequately performed by the one-eyed man.
It might have been. The one-eyed man was game for anything. But Jock, arriving in the highest good humour at the bottom of the staircase, was tilted sideways by the curve, and promptly sat down on the landing-place. Instead of rising, he proclaimed aloud that this was funnier even than England’s pronunciation of the word ‘scone.’ Whereupon various hurrying passengers, including an old lady, tripped over his prone form. The sensation of being kicked and sat upon appealed to Jock’s sense of humour. The more people avalanched across him the more comic he thought it. And in a moment there was quite a pile of wriggling bodies on top of him. For though the public managed on the whole to leap over, or circumvent, the obstacle presented by Jock’s extremely large body, none of his blind comrades did so.
“Every single one of them fell flop,” said Corporal Smith; “I give you my word.”
But were they downhearted? No! They regarded this mysterious hurly-burly of arms and legs as a capital jest. So far from being alarmed or annoyed, they shouted with glee. The old lady, who had gathered herself together and was directing a stream of voluble reproof at Corporal Smith for his “callousness and cruelty to these unhappy blind heroes,” retired discomfited. Jock’s comments routed her more effectively than the Corporal’s assurance that the episode was none of his choosing.
The party at last sorted itself out and was placed upon its feet once more. It was excessively pleased with its exploit. Hilarity reigned. Corporal Smith, relieved, made ready to conduct his squad to the platform.
Alas, a bright idea occurred to Jock. Why not go up the other sliding stair and down again?
Agreed, nem. con. At least, Corporal Smith’s con. was too futile to be worth counting.
“I had to go with the blighters,” said he. “There was no end of a crowd by this time. And Jock and some of the others fell over at the top again. And there was a row with the ticket-collector. And people kept saying they’d report me. Me! And when I’d got my party down to the bottom for the second time, and some of the tube officials had come and said they couldn’t allow it and we must buzz off home, I lined the fellows up to march ’em to the train, and dash me if two weren’t missing. They’d given me the slip.”