The dirty lantern trick

Until I came to be appointed to the post the Inspector- General of Cavalry had always carried out his duties in a gentlemanly way. He sent due warning months before- hand to each Regiment to tell it the date on which he would make his annual inspection of it, giving the full programme of what he would see each Squadron do, and directing that every officer must be present for the inspection. In this way everybody knew what was expected of him, and each Squadron set to work to practise up the particular item of military duty in which it was to be examined. In fact the thing became a sort of game. The Squadron had to be perfect in its subject and the I.G. had to find a fault in it. If he succeeded he won — if he didn’t the Regiment won.

Well, when I was a Captain I had realised this point and also found that it was tactful to let the LG. win ; so, having been warned that my stables would be inspected, I had everything spic and span, straw plaits down, horses filled up with water a few minutes before the General came round (in order to fill up hollow flanks), etc., etc. Everything that spit and polish could do was done ; the betting looked in favour of the Squadron winning.

But I took care that it shouldn’t. One stable lantern was left, hanging cobwebbed, dirty, and uncleaned. The LG. went round, nosing for faults but finding none, and getting more and more on edge as he saw his chances of winning were growing less, every officer and man on tip-toe with anxiety. He had almost passed through the stable when his eye fell on the lantern. Then came the explosion. “ Good —, what’s that? ———, man” — and so on. Then under a good flood of acerbity his rage gradually gave way under the realisation that he had won, and his tone altered to that of the large-minded winner.

‘‘It’s a pity, my dear boy, that there should have been that blot on what I am bound to say was otherwise a most creditable stable ; your horses were good, your men were good, your forage was good, and so on, but really that lantern — ^well — you’ll see to it, won’t you?”

And the great one strutted out fully satisfied with him- self and his win, while a great surge of relief came over every jack man in the stable, for we felt that neither had we lost. Yes — I am inclined to think that tact rather than merit won the day with some inspectors. It was much the same story as school exams, over again ; a general’s inspection was not a real test of the efficiency of a Regiment

-Robert Baden-Powell, Lessons from the Varsity of Life

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