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The Army Of A Dream
by [?]

“Or lose it,” said the sallow Pigeon, and all laughed, as men will, at regimental jokes.

“The Dove never lets me forget that,” said Boy Bayley. “It happened last March. We were out in the Second Northern Area at the top end of Scotland where a lot of those silly deer forests used to be. I’d sooner ‘heef’ in the middle of Australia myself–or Athabasca, with all respect to the Dove–he’s a native of those parts. We were camped somewhere near Caithness, and the Armity (that’s the combined Navy and Army board that runs our show) sent us about eight hundred raw remounts to break in to keep us warm.”

“Why horses for a foot regiment?”

“I.G.’s don’t foot it unless they’re obliged to. No have gee-gee how can move? I’ll show you later. Well, as I was saying, we broke those beasts in on compressed forage and small box-spurs, and then we started across Scotland to Applecross to hand ’em over to a horse-depot there. It was snowing cruel, and we didn’t know the country overmuch. You remember the 30th–the old East Lancashire–at Mian Mir?

“Their Guard Battalion had been ‘heefing’ round those parts for six months. We thought they’d be snowed up all quiet and comfy, but Burden, their C. O., got wind of our coming, and sent spies in to Eschol.”

“Confound him,” said Luttrell, who was fat and well-liking. “I entertained one of ’em–in a red worsted comforter–under Bean Derig. He said he was a crofter. ‘Gave him a drink too.”

“I don’t mind admitting,” said the Boy, “that, what with the cold and the remounts, we were moving rather base over apex. Burden bottled us under Sghurr Mohr in a snowstorm. He stampeded half the horses, cut off a lot of us in a snow-bank, and generally rubbed our noses in the dirt.”

“Was he allowed to do that?” I said.

“There is no peace in a Military Area. If we’d beaten him off or got away without losing anyone, we’d have been entitled to a day’s pay from every man engaged against us. But we didn’t. He cut off fifty of ours, held ’em as prisoners for the regulation three days, and then sent in his bill–three days’ pay for each man taken. Fifty men at twelve bob a head, plus five pounds for the Dove as a captured officer, and Kyd here, his junior, three, made about forty quid to Burden & Co. They crowed over us horrid.”

“Couldn’t you have appealed to an umpire or–or something?”

“We could, but we talked it over with the men and decided to pay and look happy. We were fairly had. The 30th knew every foot of Sghurr Mohr. I spent three days huntin’ ’em in the snow, but they went off on our remounts about twenty mile that night.”

“Do you always do this sham-fight business?” I asked.

“Once inside an Area you must look after yourself; but I tell you that a fight which means that every man-Jack of us may lose a week’s pay isn’t so damn-sham after all. It keeps the men nippy. Still, in the long run, it’s like whist on a P. & O. It comes out fairly level if you play long enough. Now and again, though, one gets a present–say, when a Line regiment’s out on the ‘heef,’ and signifies that it’s ready to abide by the rules of the game. You mustn’t take head-money from a Line regiment in an Area unless it says that it’ll play you; but, after a week or two, those clever Linesmen always think they see a chance of making a pot, and send in their compliments to the nearest I.G. Then the fun begins. We caught a Line regiment single-handed about two years ago in Ireland–caught it on the hop between a bog and a beach. It had just moved in to join its brigade, and we made a forty-two mile march in fourteen hours, and cut it off, lock, stock, and barrel. It went to ground like a badger–I will say those Line regiments can dig–but we got out privily by night and broke up the only road it could expect to get its baggage and company-guns along. Then we blew up a bridge that some Sappers had made for experimental purposes (they were rather stuffy about it) on its line of retreat, while we lay up in the mountains and signalled for the A.C. of those parts.”