The case of Crombie: An excellent example of inspired writing III

And now we come to the crux of the matter as it moves towards a resolution due to the Pipey’s cunning. But the best is the RSM’s, old man Mackintosh, attitude. How rather than being a hidebound repository of tradition, he takes a position which is not only moral, but logical at the same time….. the solution was obvious when one looks at it. However, it is an unfortunate fact of life that the moral and logical stand is not that easy to reach…. but let me concentrate on the issue at hand. I am sure there will be time and occacion to dilate on this matter sometime ele…

We had reached the point where the Colonel makes the obvious point. It is followed by the Second-in-Command’s interjection and it is then the Pipey scores a trump… But you read it for yourself. The last word belongs to the Second-in-Command.

The second-in-command said that many black chaps were, in point of fact, extremely musical. Not that the second-in-command was particularly partial to that kind of music. The Adjutant opened his mouth, thought better of it, and the Colonel went on to say that it wasn’t a man’s fault what colour his skin was; on the other hand, it wasn’t a anyone’s fault that a pipe band was expected to present a certain appearance. There he paused, and then the pipe-sergeant, who had held his peace until the time was ripe, said: “Aye, right enough. Folk would laugh at us.” The Colonel, without thinking, said stiffly: “Oh? Who?” “Oh… folk, sir,” said the pipey. “People … and ither regiments … might…”

The Colonel looked at him, carefully, and you could see the die was cast. It wasn’t that the Colonel could be kidded by the pipey; he wasn’t the kind of simpleton who would say “Damn what other people and regiments think, Crombie is going to play in the pipe band, and that’s that.” But if he now made the opposite decision, he might be thought to be admitting that perhaps he did care what other people thought. It was a very nice point, in a delicately balanced question, the pipey had just made it a little more tricky for him, and both the Colonel and the pipey knew it.

“Mr Mackintosh?” said the Colonel at length, and everyone knew he was looking at confirmation. He got it. “The pipe-major, sir, describes Crombie as not bad,” said the R.S.M. slowly. “The pipe-sergeant says he is good. So I take it he can qualify as a probationary piper. That bein’ so – we’ve taken him a soldier. Whatever work he’s suited for, he should be given. If he’s fit to march in a rifle company, I’m poseetive he’s fit to march in the pipe and drums.” And again he looked at the pipe-major. “Good,” said the Colonel, and because he was an honest man he added: “I’m relieved. I’d not have cared to be the man who told Crombie the band couldn’t take him. I’ve no doubt he knows exactly how good a piper he is.” And Crombie played in the pipe-band – having been admitted for all the wrong reasons, no doubt. I’m perfectly certain that the Colonel, the pipe-major, and the pipe-sergeant (in his own perverse way) wished that he just wasn’t there, because he did look odd, in that day and age, and there’s no use pretending he didn’t.

Although, as the second-in-command remarked, some people probably thought that a pipe-band looked a pretty odd thing in the first place; some people thought it sounded odd, too – not as odd as those bands one saw at the cinema, though, with the chap Armstrong and fellows called Duke and Earl something-or-other. Probably not titled men at all, he suspected.


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