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By Jim Burk
Copyright 2011 Jim Burk
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Table of Contents
Chapter 01: A Mission
Chapter 02: The Maid of Gall
Chapter 03: Canadian Trans Atlantic Rail
Chapter 04: The Scrap
Chapter 05: Journey’s End
Chapter 06: Into the Night
Chapter 07: The Gall Light Armoured
Chapter 08: The Chaplain
Chapter 09: Muay Thai
Chapter 10: War Game in the Loch
Chapter 11: Handley Page Hampden Joy Ride
Chapter 12: The Ghurka
Chapter 13: The Bridge
Chapter 14: Colonel Morten
Chapter 15: The Fusiliers and Their Pennant
Chapter 16: Flight
Chapter 17: The Kidnapping
Chapter 18: Interrogated
Chapter 19: A Farewell
Before even thinking about fiction writing, I edited my Dad’s biography, “Horses, Trails and Trophies” where he described key experiences in his life as a husband, father, farmer, rancher and big-game guide. Most of his book focused on guiding trophy hunters for big game in the mountains of Alberta, Northern BC and the Yukon along with buffalo hunting along the Athabasca River in the Northwest Territories. Without Dad’s stories and the many experiences I shared with him I would not have attempted the style of fiction you will find in the Stonechild Chronicles. Thus, thank you to my father, Delos Burk, for a life well lived and stories well-told.
My mother, Bertha Burk, also modeled the life of a pioneer woman who could tackle whatever life threw her way and who undoubtedly serves as a model for characters both female and male appearing in this and other stories of my invention.
I wish I could thank my professional editor for his or her brilliance in proofing and fine-tuning, but an e-book author such as myself must forego that privilege. Rather I must thank my wife, Geneva for reading what I have written, for appreciating the content, and for correcting and commenting. I thank her most of all for patience as I have accumulated boxes and shelves of research material, visited museums, and discussed war stories with anyone who could offer insights. For many years she has brought in a paycheck while I have researched, keystroked, and printed.
Finally, I have to thank the various war vets I have known and admired. Especially those at First Presbyterian Church in Regina, Saskatchewan. These were men of integrity, humour and intelligence. Not the Dirty Dozen prototype one often reads about in fiction, but the kind of individual one would really want as a comrade in arms. These are men with enough backbone to stand alone if necessary, but also with the wisdom to seek strength in cooperation and teamwork. These are men with intelligence enough to reduce risk but courage enough to face danger head on when necessary.
This work of fiction follows real history as closely as possible in terms of dates, events and major characters. Should I have misread history and maligned any good man in my writing, I apologize.
Chapter 01: A Mission
Snow, wind driven, boiled across the smooth surface of Mission Lake, climbed the near shoreline and enveloped Russell Stonechild in a momentary icy embrace. He closed his eyes until the blistering gust evaporated in the wide prairies behind him. Opening his eyes he let them wander again over the white emptiness of snow covered lake. His mind drifted into union with the ghosting whiteness of the moonlit night. He was only vaguely conscious of the low hills on the far bank, slightly darker than the night sky and a defining border to the stark whiteness before him.
Huddled against the near lakeshore and just below lay the vague shadow of the residential school dormitory. Lantern light flickered into being behind one of the small windows. Russell breathed deep, returning from his near trance. Shortly, he would need to wake the younger boys, collect the milk pails and go with them to the cow barn.
He needn’t move yet, though. He had little enough time to be alone with his thoughts and hungered for escape from an endless, confused circle of thought. “I’m probably sixteen years old,” he thought. “And I feel lost.” He pictured his mother’s face and replayed her words as she and his father said “goodbye” the previous autumn. “There’s no future for you in the fur business, Russell. It’s what we know and what you know so far, but the world is changing and you must change with it..”
He ached for his snowshoes, rifle and one hundred and fifty miles of trap line somewhere north of Saskatchewan’s Clearwater River. On the family trap line he was a man. Here, in the Indian Industrial School, he was a boy and for some of his teachers not even a boy but a heathen to be reshaped. He brushed snow from a large boulder and was about to sit when footsteps crunched snow behind him. “ Father Gagliano,” he thought, crossing himself and smiling into the night.
“Il dio li benedice questa mattina, Russell,” the Italian greeting confirmed his guess. He responded in Cree. Father Gagliano continued in Italian. “I answered the phone in the main office last night. Ben and Rachel Silverstein asked permission to visit you this morning.”
Russell slowly digested the Italian words. He felt his heart lift. “Is that ok?” he questioned.
“Certainly,” Gagliano replied, switching from Italian to Cree. “They’ll be here about ten.”
“The Silversteins buy furs from my family,” Russell explained. “We stay in their guest-house every summer while we collect supplies and trade goods for the winter. Rachel’s the same age as my older sister.”
"Are you troubled, Russell?” the priest's question was etched with concern. “I’ve noticed you out here several mornings as I rise to pray.” “
A little,” Russell answered, volunteering nothing further and appreciating the silent acceptance of the older man.
A few hours later Russell met the Silverstein’s in a cloakroom off the main dining room. The smaller Indian kids were thrilled at the novelty of visitors, particularly ones driving a large automobile. Russell tried to shoo them off, but a small parade followed until Russell shut the cloakroom door. Rachel, bundled in furs, dropped her muffs to a chair and threw her arms around Russell. She kissed him on both cheeks before standing back, both hands on his shoulders. “Why, Russell, you’re a grown man. And a handsome one, too!”
Russell felt blood rise to his cheeks. Rachel slipped off coat and hat and held them towards3 Russell. With every coat hook already bulging, Russell awkwardly draped Rachel’s coat over the end of the room’s one small table. He held a chair for Rachel and they all sat, conscious for a moment of smothered giggles beyond the closed door.
Russell waited for Ben or Rachel to open conversation, feeling warmed by their presence. Silence stretched uncomfortably. “Remember my older brother...” Ben’s rumbling bass squeaked and broke. Russell glanced at Rachel. Tears glistened.
“I remember,” answered Russell. “He was with you last summer while we stayed in your guest house. He owns a business in Dresden, Germany but planned to sell and move his family to Canada. He even bought a house in Winnipeg.”
Rachel turned to her father, noted his clenched jaws, and took up where her father had tailed off. “We never heard from Uncle Reuben after he returned to Germany, and news came only last week. He was killed over six months ago. The German police watched while a gang broke into his plant, dragged him onto the street and beat him to death. The police arrested everyone else in our family and the murderers remain unpunished. My aunt and cousins have disappeared without a trace.” Rachel could no longer stop her tears.
Russell’s handkerchief was none too clean, but he offered it. Rachel wiped her eyes and blew her nose. Ben, recovered somewhat, and in an even deeper bass, continued: “Jews, and not only Jews, are disappearing across Germany. Anyone asking questions about those who have disappeared tend to share the same fate. A blanket of fear rests on the good people of Germany while scum and thugs rampage unchecked.”
Russell could find no words of comfort and could only say, “My teacher, Father Gagliano, barely escaped from Italy. Mussolini personally ordered his death.” Russell paused. He searched for more comforting words while he silently wished for action.
Suddenly Ben stood. He reached a hand toward Russell. “We must be going. We’re so glad to have seen you. Please continue to visit us whenever you have a chance.” Rachel hesitated, looked at her father and slowly lifted from her chair.
Ben’s words struck Russell like a blow. He continued sitting, searching for a reason to this abrupt change. He ignored Ben’s outstretched hand and ran his eyes from one to the other. “Please sit,” he requested. They did. “You have something else on your minds, don’t you?”
Rachel blushed. “We thought we had a good idea, Russell, but it wouldn’t work. Please don’t ask questions. When the news of Uncle Reuben’s death hit us, we acted on emotion not reason.”
Russell considered Rachel’s request, and searched for the hidden message behind her words. He could never remember refusing her, but this time was somehow different. “I’m sorry Rachel, but I do have questions. You drove here from Winnipeg to see me. I have a right to know why. I can make my own decisions even though you suddenly seem to think I can’t.”
Ben slowly withdrew his wallet and found a scrap of paper. He dangled the scrap between thumb and forefinger.
Russell took the paper, pressed the wrinkles from a scissored out newspaper ad and read.
Believing war to be ever more imminent, the Gall Light Armoured Battalion seeks recruits willing to fight for King and Country according to need. Successful recruits will be members of the British Army and subject to all its rules and regulations. Candidates must be in good health; able to speak, read and write English and be under the age of twenty-four. The Gall Light Armoured is a progressive battalion. Preferred candidates must have experience in more than one language, be proficient in sums and have experience with motorized transport. Knowledge of firearms an asset.
The ad continued by detailing the location of a recruiting centre in a place called Halifax. Dates of recruitment were March 14th and 15th, 1939. Russell read the ad twice, then a third time, wondering how it could apply to him. Finally, he understood. The Stonechilds and Silversteins, though worlds apart culturally, had for many years been business partners, friends, and, in a strange way, almost family. Helpless in the face of a distant death, the Silversteins had turned to him.
The impact of their trust made him choke back his own tears. Just a few hours earlier he was feeling adrift in an icy mental rapids without paddle or anchor. The Silversteins had not pulled him from the rapids but, just as good, had tossed him a paddle. He read the ad again. From his mission-raised mother he had learned English. Rachel, herself, had provided further tutoring during summer months in Winnipeg. Father Gagliano had exchanged tutoring in Italian for Russell’s knowledge of Cree and Dene. Russell remembered the French absorbed from Metis trappers and thought “I’ve got English and more than one language and I learn fast.”
He had helped his family with the fur trade for years and could work with the multiple currencies of the backwoods trapper; furs, tobacco, fruit, salt, sugar, tea or dollars. The previous fall he had wrestled the shiny new McCormick-Deering tractor while towing a plow over the harvested wheat fields of the Indian Technical Training School. “Driving tractor should count,” he thought, mentally ticking off the requirements of the recruiting ad. “And, I can shoot a rifle with the best.”
“What day is this?”
“It’s Saturday, March 11th,” answered Ben.
Russell pointed at the ad. “This is good. Thank you. How far is Halifax?”
“If you’re sure Russell, “We’ll put you on a train in Winnipeg. It’s a long way to Halifax and you’ll barely make it.” Regret burdened Ben’s words.
Father Gagliano walked with Russell to the car after helping him clear paper work for his departure and taking charge of a letter Russell left for his parents. “I’m going to miss this young man,” Father Gagliano addressed the Silversteins. “He’s been my tutor in Cree and Dene. I’ve always fancied myself a linguist, but Russell’s natural gift puts me to shame. He absorbed Italian more quickly than I learned Cree. He excels in math and is very good with a drafting pencil. We couldn’t get him to sing very well, though,” the priest chuckled; then a cloud erased Gagliano’s smile. “I had fancied having Russell accompany me on my mission to the Cree of northern Alberta.”
Russell sensed some of Father Gagliano’s hidden thoughts. “He thinks I’m just a boy and the Silversteins are sending me off to send men to hell, rather than helping him harvest souls for heaven.” He felt bad, but his heart beat faster as he imagined the adventures to which the Silversteins had opened the door.
Father Gagliano grasped Russell by the shoulders, kissed him on both cheeks; turned straight-shouldered and walked away. Russell watched and drew a ragged breath. “There goes a great man,” he thought. “He’s opened my eyes to many things.”
Chapter 02: The Maid of Gall
Forty raw recruits crowded a water taxi chugging through Bedford Basin off Halifax. Russell Stonechild was one of the forty. Tired of boozy breath and shoulder-to-shoulder contact, Russell looked up and noted the flat roof of the taxi’s cabin. He tossed his battered suitcase onto the roof and then grabbed the roof edge and swung himself to a perch on the cabin roof of the Tiger Shark III. He breathed deeply, flavouring the solitude.
A black face, peering over the edge of the roof, shattered his peace. “Room up there for one more?”
Russell recognized a new acquaintance from the recruiting centre. Two days before, he had been standing behind the black man in queue, silently wondering at a skin colour he had never seen before. As one male sizing another, he’d also been admiring the man’s breadth of shoulder and short, muscled neck. He had been highly embarrassed when the black man turned around and held out his hand. “Hello, I’m Harold Bingeman.”
A conversation followed and they exchanged backgrounds. “I’m from Mississippi,” noted Harold. “White folks in the US won’t let us black folks fight in their armies. My teacher, Miss Hobbs, has been following stories of Hitler and Mussolini and she found the recruiting ad that brought me up here. She even loaned me twenty dollars to help pay my fare.”
On his perch and remembering Harold, Russell still hesitated. He looked at the roof and then at Harold’s bulk and wondered at the wisdom of their combined weights on that surface. Choosing friendship over safety he stretched out his hand and Harold rolled up beside him clutching a meagerly filled gunnysack. The cabin roof held without even a creak or groan. They silently watched as their little craft passed ship after ship cramming the harbour of Bedford Basin. When the Tiger Shark III turned towards a rust streaked hull showing The Maid of Gall in worn red paint, Russell pulled in a ragged breath.
A crewman on the Tiger Shark grasped netting tossed down from the high walls of the other ship and spread it out on deck. “Give me your personal effects,” he ordered.
Harold dropped to the deck with his sack and held out his arms for Russell’s suitcase. The filled net was gathered and Russell watched his possessions go bumping up the side of what was probably going to be his new home. New home for a while at least.
Other netting came tumbling over the side of the marine monstrosity as the water taxi held its precarious position under the towering hull. The little boat bobbed unsteadily nearly tangling with the netting one second and sliding away from it the next. Someone shouted down to them, “Up with the lot of you. We don’t have time for babies.” Back on the roof beside Russell, Harold grinned, “I guess there’s worse ways of committing suicide.” He dropped off the front of the cabin, stepped to the edge of the boat, leaned over and caught the mesh and began hauling himself skyward. Russell followed.
Once onto the solid deck of the Maid Russell turned to Harold and gave a mocking salute. Harold showed a set of shiny teeth before they turned to the railing to watch others grope clumsily upward. Finally, Russell saw only the forlorn figure of Michael Moretti on the deck of the Tiger Shark III. Michael had introduced himself to Russell and Harold just before they departed the recruiting centre. “
Come on Michael,” Russell breathed.
The Maid of Gall began to tremble as her motors revved and gave warning she would not wait for one terrified recruit. Without warning Harold vaulted over the railing and scrambled down the netting. In mere seconds, Harold swung to the Tiger Shark’s , hoisted Moretti over his shoulders, and balanced himself on the little boat’s rail. Harold teetered, released his hold on Michael and leapt across to grasp the scrambling net. Michael’s arms and legs flailed wildly. The other recruits surged to the rails to watch Harold’s climb. Michael’s weight and erratic movements meant Harold had to struggle for every inch of progress. “Betcha two bucks he doesn’t make it,” a voice scoffed to Russell’s left. Someone laughed nervously. Russell took his eyes off Harold to see two of the largest of the new recruits leaning over the rail, obviously enjoying the struggle.
He knew the names, Marvin Ramsay and Tim Murphy. They had been loud and obnoxious in the recruiting hall. “He’ll make it!” Russell snarled, and leaned back over the rail. It seemed forever before Russell could take Harold’s searching hand and help lever him over the railing with Michael still clinging fast. Russell grasped Michael under the armpits and eased him to a deck that seemed ready to shake itself into fragments as the ship’s propeller beat against the water.
Russell followed Harold to where their personal effects rested in wild disarray on the cargo netting. Russell breathed easier when he found his suitcase still shut tightly in its wrapping of twine string. It took an hour for the Maid of Gall to clear Bedford Basin, pass through the narrows, clear Halifax Harbour and push into the open sea. With land no longer surrounding them, Russell and Harold moved to the stern. They watched as the landmass representing North America dropped gradually below the horizon. Michael joined them as they all watched the last smudge of land disappear.
Michael cleared his throat. “Sorry fellas. My pa’s a riveter and I’ve worked with him on high-rise construction for the last two years. I could have gone up that netting like a cat on a curtain, but the water froze me stiff. I’m really not yellow, I just don’t like water.”
Harold gave him a thump. “Forget it. We’ll each get our own chance to be scared silly. Next time you’ll probably help me out.” Russell examined Harold, noting the muscled frame and the calm face with its promise of inner strength. He drew a mental picture of Michael carrying Harold. “Not likely,” he thought and turned to observe activities on deck. A few sailors pursued obscure duties, oblivious to their new guests. He almost smiled as he watched green fellow recruits setting down bags and suitcases and then nervously picking them up again as though fearing someone would snatch them. Some recruits, thinly dressed, huddled against shelter as the wind whipped up the occasional dash of spray. Russell, though, found the early March weather of Halifax quite mild. He surveyed the ship’s deck noting tightly lashed, canvas-covered objects forming a nearly solid wall of cargo along the deck.
His searching eyes paused abruptly on something hugely out of place. A railway car, absent its running gear, and fastened in place with a girdling of steel chains squatted awkwardly and exposed among the canvas-covered cargo. Except for short sections on either end of the cars all the windows were boarded. With no one to say “yes”, or “no”, Russell moved towards the car. He turned the latch on the nearest door. It opened. He entered, and felt immediate relief from the outside cold. Harold and Michael followed.
The railway car had been stripped to its walls. There were none of the carefully crafted benches, or sleeping berths of the normal railroad car. Instead, rough, narrow, wooden bunks stacked three high ran along each wall. Two box stoves filled a niche at either end of the car. Russell threw his belongings to the top bunk nearest the doorway opposite the stove. Harold and Michael took the ones beneath. Soon, other recruits straggled in with the look of kids trespassing in a graveyard.
Russell walked behind the stove and peered through dirty, iron grated windows where he noted most of the recruits still milling uncertainly. They seemed to expect more substantial quarters than a castaway railway car on the exposed deck of a dirty, coal-hauling steamer.
As he watched, an erect figure in uniform carrying some sort of wand strutted towards the uncertain recruits. The wand pointed this way and that and in short order the recruits who had remained outside were lined up, standing erect, baggage neatly set aside. Russell felt a sudden tug of misgiving as the new symbol of authority turned towards the railroad car. He gathered his belongings and edged toward the door. When a voice bellowed, “All fall out!” he was first to obey.
He rushed to join a line already formed. When the recruits settled into ragged array, the stranger spoke. “Master Sergeant, Jock McAlister,” the uniformed man tapped his chest with his little whip. "I have a single purpose. That purpose is to assure that none of you has a moment’s boredom on this ocean cruise. Coal and recruits are cargo on this voyage. Coal won’t change, but you will. Now follow me to draw uniforms, blankets, duffel bags and haversacks. The uniforms, duffel bags and haversacks are your responsibility and will disembark with you in Scotland.”
Several of the recruits looked perplexed when the sergeant mentioned Scotland as their destination.
The dark, heavy-jowled individual, who had bet against Harold’s ability to haul Michael up the side of the Maid, questioned, “Sir,” What is this about Scotland? We expected London?”
Jock stiffened. “Your name recruit?”
“Marvin, Marvin Ramsay” stuttered the questioner.
“Well, well, Mr. Ramsay, so you expected London,” scoffed Jock, “And I suppose you also expected a personal welcome from the King of England. Doubtless you surmised the Pommies do their own fighting and you’re just along for the ride? Not bloody likely! The Brits provide the officers who wouldn’t give you or I the time of day. Best remember your station. Each of you is a colonial along with the Maoris, the Aussies, the Indians, and the Sudanese. You’ll take the king’s shilling and you’ll bleed and die for a few pounds a month and the glory of the British Empire. Rest assured, you’ll not be seeing much of Englishmen or the streets of London neither. And the less you see, the better off you’ll be.”
Someone whispered. “I should have stayed on pogey. Welfare beats this, hands down.”
Jock paused, seeming surprised at his own outburst. “Follow me,” he growled and proceeded to a group of waterproof chests tucked between two lifeboats. He removed a batch of keys from a uniform pocket and snapped open a series of large padlocks. He stood back and swept his hand dramatically towards the open chests. “You have the privilege of wearing the clothes of real men. After the Great War these uniforms were stored against such a time as this. What you wear, wear with pride!”
Before them, stacked in neat piles, were shirts, tunics, pants, socks, underclothes and greatcoats. The choices were small, medium and large. Jock laid a sample of each on the deck to help them choose. Obviously “small” was not intended for the general use of the Canadians. Russell saw only one recruit who might qualify. While there were a couple of extra large uniforms and greatcoats, Marvin and Tim pushed to the front and grabbed these before others of similar size had opportunity. Harold held up the largest tunic he could find and shook his head.
As Russell stepped forward to make his selection, he noticed Jock’s eyes fixed beyond the ship’s rail. With Jock distracted, Russell thought about potential tailoring to meet Harold’s dilemma. “I’ll bet we could make two uniforms into one,” he thought. He selected duplicate supplies and bundled them inside a greatcoat before turning to follow Jock’s gaze. Jock was not the only one staring out to sea. Every person on deck stood as though frozen, eyes pointing out to sea.
Not one hundred yards from the Maid a strange-looking boat bobbed on the waves. Jock’s face had turned red and twisted with rage, and he spoke in a strangled whisper. “Those dirty, bleeding Nazis. We aren’t at war yet and they’ve crossed the ocean to leave their calling card. They’re sending a message, pure and simple. ‘Don’t mess with the Nazis, or you’ll dine with Davy Jones.’ Take a good look boyos. The next time one of those gets close the only thing you’ll see is the track of her torpedoes. Just be glad you’re infantry. Better to die on the sharp end of a bayonet than out here on the cold Atlantic. Of course, if your great Prime Minister, McKenzie King has his way, you might be the only Canadians to see Hitler’s sharp end!”
Russell thought the cigar shaped craft lying on the surface looked pretty harmless and questioned, “What is that sir?”
“It’s a submarine!” answered Jock, “A rotten, Nazi sub! A murderer’s tool. It sneaks around under the water looking for unprotected ships like ours. Each sub is loaded with motorized bombs that can rip out a ship’s guts and send it to the bottom before a person can even holler ‘lifeboats’.”
Exaggeration, Russell hoped.
As the coal-laden Maid of Gall churned by the sub, a hatch opened on the tower and an officer stepped through. Gold braid glittered on his shoulder boards and tall peaked cap. Russell had seen pictures of the ugly Nazi cross, and now the real thing stared at him from the sub’s tower. Two other submariners joined the first officer on the tiny deck. They stood three abreast, bathed in the dull red of the setting sun. Three arms thrust forward in unison and faintly across the waves came the words, “Heil Hitler!”
Russell dropped his newly acquired dry goods and, propelled by an invisible force, ran to one of the covered lifeboats and scrambled to its surface. He stood looking down at the submariners below. Hatless, he snapped a hand to his forehead, elbow straight. He held the position for several seconds. He hoped he was close to military standard. Dropping the salute, he spat over the side.
Embarrassed at his impulsive action, Russell swung down to the ship’s deck and found his shipmates staring in disbelief. Michael’s mouth hung open. Jock’s face rippled with tension. His eyes ranged. Back and forth. Back and forth. First to Russell; then to the submarine.
Finally Jock’s mouth opened. “Right then! Back to business!” Ignoring Jock’s order, Russell dashed to his battered suitcase and scrabbled for his spyglass. He broke the twine-string bindings, snapped open the fastening latches and threw back the lid. He grasped his final gift from the Silversteins, a spyglass, tore off the chamois case, stuffed it in a pocket and sped to the railing. He focused on the Nazi officers still hungrily watching the Maid of Gall. With the twelve-power enlargement he could almost tell the colour of their eyes.
The faces wavered as he tried to hold the glass steady against the ship’s heave. The faces were suddenly right before him. Pale, taut, disciplined, haughty and cold. These, then, were the enemy. Such as these made possible the extermination of families like the Silversteins. Each face etched itself into memory, but in moments they grew small and lost detail. He exhaled and began retracing his steps towards his suitcase when he noticed Marvin on an intersecting course. Marvin’s sidekick, Tim Murphy, followed nervously.
Suddenly Marvin pretended to stumble, kicking Russell’s open case and scattering his few possessions across the deck. Before either Harold or Russell could respond, the smallest recruit on board placed himself in front of the two large buffoons. “I say there,” growled the little man, “You did that on purpose. Now pick up that stuff and apologize or I’ll chuck you both over the side!” Once more, the band of recruits stood in stunned silence.
The two bullies froze in momentary shock. Marvin’s face turned beet red and his fists clenched. Russell lifted a foot, ready to propel himself into a fight, he would sooner avoid. However, Jock’s bellow “Ten-shun!” halted further action. Then, ignoring the potential conflict, Jock pointed to another open locker. “Two blankets each and two towels. Line up, come by one at a time then form into rows as before. When you have your blankets, place uniform and blankets in your duffel, don your coats, pick up a knapsack and I’ll assign quarters. You’ll get boots tomorra.”
As Russell knelt by his suitcase, his belligerent ally began helping collect the few scattered belongings. Russell sheathed his glass, returned it to the suitcase, and fastened the latches. “Thanks,” he said. Then jokingly, “You had those two shaking like rabbits in front of a coyote. I’m Russell Stonechild and in your debt.”
“Mickey O’Reilly,” responded the other. “And you have no debt with me. That big galoot, Marvin Ramsay, has been on my case for a couple of days. I’ll be bashing him before this trip’s out, mark my words. The sooner the better!” Then, without pause, “That’s quite a glass. Are you a sailor?”
“Oh no,” answered Russell, remembering his farewell in Winnipeg. “A family friend, Mr. Silverstein, thought it was a good tool for a soldier. Mr. Silverstein’s brother was an optician in Germany and this is supposed to be the best glass his firm ever made.”
“Was an optician?” questioned Mickey.
“The Nazis killed him. He was Jewish,” noted Russell without elaboration.
“Show me how it works, sometime,” said Mickey.
After adding blankets to his growing stack, Russell found a place in one of the lines facing Jock, who stood silently examining his new charges. Russell may have imagined a slight grimace touching his face before he spoke. “We have two sources of accommodation. There’s the railcar,” Jock pointed, “and we have a limited number of berths below deck. All those wishing berths below deck step forward.” Bodies surged.
Marvin and his buddy were at the forefront once again. Russell and Harold, having already mentally accepted the railcar as home, stayed put. Michael moved; then seeing Harold and Russell standing firm, changed his mind. The exposed deck was clearly not to his liking, but with Harold and Russell making it their choice, he wasn’t about to break a fragile bond.
Mickey, seeing Marvin at the front of the berth-below-pack, snorted and let others scramble by. “Can’t have all of you,” grumbled Jock. “Only room for twenty.” He moved through the group of those who had rushed forward. Seemingly at random he touched several with his little whip. “Railcar,” he said to each one touched.
Finished with his selection, Jock pulled a silver whistle from a pocket and blew an ear-piercing note. “That sound orders you to stop all activities within the bounds of safety, look for me, and line up in five rows. The last five in line will do thirty pushups. You are now in the employ of His Majesty, the King of England and tomorrow you will start earning your pay. The Earl of Gall is your patron. I expect you to be lined up facing the flag tomorrow morning at 0700 hours. You will commence training at that time. It will be my pleasure to assure you are never bored.”
“This guy doesn’t like boredom,” Russell commented to himself as Jock pointed to two sailors standing nearby.
Gesturing to the sailor on his right, Jock noted: “Mr. Stewart will explain the on deck quarters and Mr. McNaughton will attend those going below.”
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