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Grandpa Beckett's Compass (part 2)

So, with nary a question as to his real age, Billy Boy took the Queen’s Shilling. They put him on a train to Aldershot barracks. he'd never been on a train before, and thought the adventure already had a fine start. At the barracks however, they shaved his head, deloused him even though he didn’t need it, and then beat him until he learned how to march in step with a horde of other malcontents.

It seemed to Billy Boy that they kept him awake for the greater part of the three weeks he was there. But they fed him bully beef and hardtack, and for that he was grateful.

Finally they showed him approximately which end of a rifle was which. The rifle they issued him looked as if it would just as likely blow off his own head as anyone he might fire it at.

Three weeks later he found himself crammed, along with a couple of thousand other recruits, aboard a rat-infested troop ship. He spent most of the first few days at sea trying for the most part unsuccessfully not to puke down the front of his redcoat. At least his tunic started out looking almost new, several of his comrades had jackets that all too clearly bore evidence of badly darned bullet holes and poorly stitched bayonet slashes.

During the voyage he mostly managed to keep himself to himself, only getting in two fights. The first was to hold onto his rations, the second his virginity intact. After the second fight, a short, vicious bout in which Billy Boy's hobnail boots made a right mess of the balls of a northern lout almost twice his size, everyone kept a respectful distance from billy Boy and his hammock.

They disembarked into a hundred and fifteen degrees of mid-afternoon heat, but even this was something of a relief after the claustrophobia of the ship’s hold. They were herded from the ship to a dockside barracks so filthy Billy Boy doubted cattle back home would have had anything to do with.

Home? How far away was that now? And yet, despite the rigors of the voyage, the fire of adventure yet to come still burned in him.

He bunked down next to a garrulous Scot by the name of McGruder whom he knew slightly from the crossing. McGruder had won a small packet betting on the outcome of Billy Boy’s first fight — his second fight had erupted and ended so abruptly that there hadn’t been time to get a book started on it.

The Scot, who was a couple of years older than Billy Boy, loved to tell his tale and cared not a fig whether anyone listened, much less believed him. He claimed to be of noble birth, from one of the oldest and wealthiest Glaswegian families and that he had been slumming it in a Gorbles drinking pit when they had pressed Her Britannic Majesty’s shilling into his hand and bludgeoned his lights out.

“Aye," he insisted, "and it’s only on account of yon wee tap on tha noggin’ that ah now talk like this. Afore that I talked right posh and proper like, d’yuh ken?”