The Flag of their Country
IT was winter and bitter cold of mornings. Consequently Stalky and Beetle -- M`Turk being of the offensive type that makes ornate toilet under all circumstnaces -- drowsed till the last moment before turning out to call-over in the gas-lit gymnasium. It followed that they were often late; and since every unpunctuality earned them a black mark, and since three black marks a week meant defaulters' drill, equally it followed that they spent hours under the Sergeant's hand. Foxy drilled the defaulters with all the pomp of his old parade-ground.
`Don't think it's any pleasure to me' (his introduction never varied). `I'd much sooner be smoking a quiet pipe in my own quarters -- but I see we 'ave the Old Brigade on our 'ands this afternoon. If I only 'ad you regular, Muster Corkran,' said he, dressing the line.
`You've had me for nearly six weeks, you old glutton. Number off from the right!'
`Not quite so previous, please. I'm taking this drill. Left, half -- turn! Slow -- march.' Twenty-five sluggards, all old offenders, filed into the gymnasium. `Quietly provide yourselves with the requisite dumb-bells; returnin' quietly to your place. Number off from the right, in a low voice. Odd numbers one pace to the front. Even numbers stand fast. Now, leanin' forward from the 'ips, takin' your time from me.'
The dumb-bells rose and fell, clashed and were returned as one. The boys were experts at the weary game.
`Ve-ry good. I shall be sorry when any of you resume your 'abits of punctuality. Quietly return dumb- bells. We will now try some simple drill.'
`Ugh! I know that simple drill.'
`It would be 'ighly to your discredit if you did not, Muster Corkran. At the same time, it is not so easy as it looks.'
`Bet you a bob, I can drill as well as you, Foxy.'
`We'll see later. Now try to imagine you ain't defaulters at all, but an 'arf company on parade, me bein' your commandin' officer. There's no call to laugh. If you're lucky, most of you will 'ave to take drills 'arf your life. Do me a little credit. You've been at it long enough, goodness knows.'
They were formed into fours, marched, wheeled, and countermarched, the spell of ordered motion strong on them. As Foxy said, they had been at it a long time.
The gymnasium door opened, revealing M`Turk in charge of an old gentleman.
The Sergeant, leading a wheel, did not see. `Not so bad,' he murmured. `Not 'arf so bad. The pivot- man of the wheel honly marks time, Muster Swayne. Now, Muster Corkran, you say you know the drill? Oblige me by takin' over the command and, reversin' my words step by step, relegate them to their previous formation.'
`What's this? What's this?' cried the visitor authoritatively.
`A -- a little drill, sir,' stammered Foxy, saying nothing of first causes.
`Excellent -- excellent. I only wish there were more of it,' he chirruped. `Don't let me interrupt. You were just going to hand over to some one, weren't you?' He sat down, breathing frostily in the chill air.
`I shall muck it. I know I shall,' whispered Stalky uneasily; and his discomfort was not lightened by a murmur from the rear rank that the old gentleman was General Collinson, a member of the College Board of Council.
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