The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land by Ralph Connor
Chapter XIV. A Touch of War
The period of intensive training was drawing to a close. The finishing touches in the various departments that had come to be considered necessary in modern warfare had been given. With the "putting on the lacquer" the fighting spirit of the men had been sharpened to its keenest edge. They were all waiting impatiently for the order to "go up." The motives underlying that ardour of spirit varied with the temperament, disposition and education of the soldier. There were those who were eager to "go up" to prove themselves in that deadly struggle where their fellow Canadians had already won their right to stand as comrades in arms with the most famous fighting battalions of the British army. Others, again, there were in whose heart burned a deep passion to get into grips with those hellish fiends whose cruelties, practised upon defenceless women and children in that very district where they were camped, and upon wounded Canadians, had stirred Canada from Vancouver to Halifax with a desire for revenge.
But, with the great majority there was little of the desire either for military glory or for revenge. Their country had laid upon them a duty for the discharge of which they had been preparing themselves for many months, and that duty they were ready to perform. More than that, they were eager to get at it and get done with it, no matter at what cost. With all this, too, there was an underlying curiosity as to what the thing would be like "up there." Far down below all their feelings there lay an unanswered interrogation which no man dared to put to his comrade, and which indeed few men put to themselves. That interrogation was: "How shall I stand up under the test?"
The camp was overrun with rumours from returning battalions of the appalling horrors of the front line. Ever since that fateful 22nd of April, 1915, that day of tragedy and of glory for the Canadian army, and for the Canadian people, the Ypres salient, the point of honour on the western front from Dixmude to Verdun, had been given into the keeping of the Canadian army. During those long and terrible months, in the face of a continued bombardment and of successive counter-attacks, with the line growing thinner, week by week, hacked up by woefully inadequate artillery, the Canadian army had held on with the grim tenacity of death itself. There was nothing that they could do but hold on. To push the salient deeper into the enemy lines would only emphasise the difficulty and danger of their position. The role assigned them was that of simply holding steady with what ultimate objective in view no one seemed to know.
Week by week, and month after month, the Canadian battalions had moved up into the salient, had done their "tours," building up their obliterated parapets, digging out their choked-up water- courses, revetting their crumbling trenches, and rebuilding their flimsy dugouts, and then returning to their reserve lines, always leaving behind them in hastily dug graves over the parados of their trenches, or in the little improvised cemeteries by Hooge, or Maple Copse or Hill 60, a few more of their comrades, and ever sending down the line their maimed and broken to be refitted for war or discharged again to civilian life. It was altogether a ghastly business, a kind of warfare calling for an endurance of the finest temper and a courage of the highest quality.
From this grim and endless test of endurance, the Canadians had discovered a form of relief known as a "trench raid," a special development of trench warfare which later came to be adopted by their comrades of the French and British armies. It was a form of sport, grim enough, deadly enough, greatly enjoyed by the Canadian soldiers; and the battalion which had successfully pulled off a trench raid always returned to its lines in a state of high exaltation. They had been able to give Fritz a little of what they had been receiving during these weary months.
While the battalion waited with ever-growing impatience for the order that would send them "up the line," a group of officers was gathered in the senior major's hut for the purpose of studying in detail some photographs, secured by our aircraft, of the enemy trenches immediately opposite their own sector of the front line. They had finished their study, and were engaged in the diverting and pleasant exercise of ragging each other. The particular subject of that discussion was their various sprinting abilities, and the comparative usefulness of various kinds of funk-holes as a protection against "J.J.s" (Jack Johnsons), "whizzbangs," or the uncertain and wobbling "minniewafers."
Seldom had Barry found occasion to call upon Major Bustead, with whom he had been unable to establish anything more than purely formal relations. A message, however, from the orderly room to Lieutenant Cameron, which he undertook to deliver, brought him to the senior major's hut.
"Come in, padre," said the major, who of late had become more genial, "and tell us the best kind of a funk-hole for a 'minniewafer.'"
"The deepest and the closest for me, major, I should say," said Barry, "from what I have heard of those uncertain and wobbling beasts."
"I understand that chaplains do not accompany their battalions to the front line, but stay back at the casualty clearing stations," suggested the major. "Wise old birds, they are, too." The major had an unpleasant laugh.
"I suppose they go where they are ordered, sir," replied Barry, "but if you will excuse me, I have here a chit for Lieutenant Cameron, sir, which has just come in," and Barry handed Cameron his message.
"Will you allow me, sir?" said Cameron.
"Certainly, go on, read it," said the major.
Cameron read the message, and on his face there appeared a grave and anxious look.
"It's from the casualty clearing station, sir. One of our chaps from Edmonton is there dangerously wounded, and wants to see me. I'd like to go, sir, if I might."
"Oh, certainly. I'll make it all right with the O. C. Get a horse from the transport. Which casualty clearing station is it?"
Cameron looked at his message.
"Menin Mill, sir."
"Menin Mill! By gad, I thought it was Brandthoek, but Menin Mill, good Lord, that's a different proposition. That's way beyond Ypres, you know. Right up on the line. You can't take a horse there. Do you think you ought to go up at all?"
"I think I should like to go, sir," replied Cameron. "I know the chap well. Went to school and college with him."
"Then," said the major, "you had better hurry up and attach yourself to one of the transports going in. You will barely be in time."
"Thank you, sir," said Cameron, and left the room.
Barry went out with him. "Who is it, Cameron?" he said. "Do I know him?"
"I don't know, sir, whether you do or not. It's young McPherson of Edmonton, an awfully decent chap, and my very best friend."
"May I go up with you, Duncan? I know Colonel Tait and Captain Gregg, who are at the Mill, I understand."
"I would be awfully glad if you would, but I hardly liked to ask you. It hasn't the reputation of being a very healthy place, I hear."
"All right, Cameron. I'm going up," said Barry.
Upon enquiry they found that they were too late for the transports, and again the question arose as to whether, in view of the major's order, they should make the attempt by themselves.
"It was not really an order, I think, sir," said Cameron. "It was more in the way of a suggestion. I think I'll go. The note said, 'dangerously wounded,' and he sent for me."
"All right," said Barry, "we'll go on, and we'll almost certainly pick up some one who will be able to direct us to the Mill."
Their road, which took them to Vlammertinghe, led through level fields, lying waste and desolate with rank, overgrowing weeds. As they approached that historic village, they saw on every hand the cruel marks of war. On either side of the road were roofless and shattered cottages, grown around with nettles and briars. Among these ruins, as they found on a later day, were the old garden flowers, pansies and daisies, bravely trying to hold their own. Among the rank weeds was to be seen the half-hidden debris of broken farm gear. Here and there stood the ruins of what had been a thrifty homestead, with its stone-flagged courtyard, around which clustered its stables. Now nettles and briars grew around the broken walls and shattered, staring windows. At rare intervals, a great house appeared, with pretentious gateway, and grass-grown drive winding up between stately and mutilated trees. Over the whole countryside hung a melancholy and weird desolation, cottages, homesteads, fields, the very trees crying aloud to high heaven for pity and vengeance.
At Vlammertinghe, itself, the church tower still stood whole, but the church itself was wrecked, as were most of the village shops and dwellings. In the village was to be seen no living thing except some soldiers, who in the broken cellars were making their bivouacs. The village stood deserted of its inhabitants, ever since the terrific onslaught of the Huns, on the 22nd of April, 1915, which had driven them forth from their homes, a panic- stricken, terror-hunted crowd of old men, women and little babes, while over them broke, with a continuous and appalling roar, a pitiless rain of shells.
At the cross-roads stood a mounted officer, directing the traffic, which here tended to congestion. As they entered the village, the sentry halted them to enquire as to their bona fides. Having satisfied him, they enquired their way to the Menin Mill.
"Menin!" The rising inflection of the sentry's voice expressed a mild surprise. "The old Mill! Are you going there?"
"Yes," said Barry, answering his inflection. "Why not?"
"Well, sir, you know, it's rather a bad road. Warm bit of country up there, but--" He shrugged his shoulders in quite a French manner as if to say it was no business of his. "If you are going to Menin, you keep this road straight through past Wipers past the Cloth Hall, out by the Menin Gate. A hot place, that, sir. Then straight on, taking the right incline for about a mile and a half. You will see a big cemetery on your left. The Mill stands near a big school on your right. But why not drop into the dressing station, here, sir, right here in this old mill, which stands at the cross-roads? You may catch an ambulance going straight up to the Mill."
"Thank you very much," said Barry. "We'll do that very thing."
"Good luck, sir," said the sentry, saluting.
They found an ambulance about to start, and asked for a lift.
"All right, sir," said the driver, "but you'd better step in and ask the officer."
They passed into a large and high-vaulted stone building, which in peace days had been a mill. The old-fashioned, massive machinery was still standing intact. Obtaining permission from the officer, they took their places beside the driver of the ambulance, and were soon on their way.
It was already growing dark, but, although the surface of the stone pave was frequently broken with shell-holes, the ambulance, dodging round the holes, rushed without pause along at a high rate of speed.
"You don't use your lights?" asked Barry.
"No, not lately, sir," said the driver. "That's the newest order," he added in a tone of disgust.
The road lay between double rows of once noble trees, centuries old, with the first delicate green of spring softening their bare outlines. Now, splintered, twisted, broken, their wounds showing white in the darkening light through the delicate green, they stood silently eloquent of the terrific force of the H. E. shell.
As they went speeding along the shell-marked road they came upon a huge trunk of a mighty elm, broken clear from its stump, lying partially cross their track, which soldiers were already busy clearing away. Without an instant's pause, the driver wheeled his car off the 'pave', crashed through the broken treetops, and continued on his way.
Barry looked upon the huge trunk with amazement.
"Did a single shell break that tree off like that?" he asked.
"You bet," was the reply, "and all these you see along here. It's the great transport road for our front line, and the boches shell it regularly. Here comes one now," he added, casually.
There was a soft woolly "whoof" far away, a high, thin whine, as from a vicious insect overhead, with every fractional second coming nearer and yet nearer, ever deepening in tone, ever increasing in volume, until, like an express train, with an overwhelming sense of speed and power, and with an appalling roar, it crashed upon them. In the field on their left, there leaped fifty yards into the air a huge mass of earth and smoke. Then a stunning detonation.
Insensibly Barry and Cameron both crouched down in the car, but the driver held his wheel, without the apparent quiver of a muscle.
"There'll be three more, presently, I guess," he said, putting on full speed.
His guess proved right. Again that distant woolly "whoof," the long-drawn whine, deepening to a scream, the appalling roar and crash, and a second shell fell in the road behind them.
"Two," said the driver coolly. "There will be a couple more."
Again and yet again, each time the terror growing deeper in their souls, came the two other shells, but they fell far behind.
"Oh, Fritzie," remonstrated the driver, "that's rotten bad work. You'll have to do better than that."
Again and again, in groups of four, the shells came roaring in, but the car had passed out of that particular zone of danger, and sped safely on its way.
"Do you have this sort of thing every night?" enquired Barry.
"Oh, no," cheerfully replied the driver. "Fritzie makes a lot better practice than that, at times. Do you see this?" He put his finger upon a triangular hole a few inches above his head. "I got that last week. We don't mind so much going up, but it's rather annoying when you're bringing down your load of wounded."
As they approached Ypres, the road became more and more congested, until at length they had to thread their way between two continuous streams of traffic up and down, consisting of marching battalions, transports, artillery wagons, ambulances, with now and then a motor or a big gun.
About a mile from the city, they came to a large red brick building, with pretentious towers and surrounded by a high brick wall.
"An asylum," explained the driver. "Now used as a dressing station. We'll just run in for orders."
At what seemed to Barry reckless speed, he whirled in between the brick posts, and turned into a courtyard, on one side of which he parked his ambulance.
"Better come inside, sir," said the driver. "They sometimes throw a few in here, seeing it's a hospital."
They passed down the wide stairs, the centre of which had been converted into a gangway for the passage of wheeled stretchers, into a large basement, with concrete floors and massive pillars, lit by flaring gasjets. Along the sides of the outer room were rows of wounded soldiers, their bandaged heads and arms no whiter than their faces, a patient and pathetic group, waiting without complaint for an ambulance to carry them down the line.
In an inner and operating room, Barry found two or three medical officers, with assistants and orderlies, intent upon their work. While waiting there for their driver, they heard overhead again that ominous and terrifying whine, this time, however, not long drawn, but coming in with terrific speed, and ending with a sharp and shattering crash. Again and again and again, with hardly a second between, there came the shells. It seemed to Barry as if every crash was fair upon the roof of the building, but no man either of the medical attendants or of the waiting wounded paid the slightest heed.
At length there came a crash that seemed to break within the very room in which they were gathered. The lights flickered, some of them went out, there was a sound as if a tower had crashed down upon the roof. Dust and smoke filled the room.
"Light up that gas," said the Officer Commanding. An orderly sprang to obey. The gasjets were once more lighted and the work went on.
"Rather near, wasn't that one?" asked Barry of a wounded man at his side.
"Yes," he replied casually, "they got a piece that time," and again he sunk into apathetic silence.
In a few moments the driver had obtained his orders and was ready to set forth.
"Better wait a bit," said the sergeant at the door, "until their Evening Hate is over."
"Oh, that's all right," said the driver. "I guess Fritz is pretty well through. They are rather crowded there at the mill, and I guess we'll go on."
In his heart, Barry earnestly hoped that the sergeant would interpose with a more definite command, but, inasmuch as the bombardment had apparently ceased, and as if it were all in a day's work, the driver, buttoning up his coat, said:
"We'll go, sir, if you are ready."
A few minutes' run brought them to the gate of the ruined city. As the car felt its way through the ghostly town, Barry was only vaguely conscious in the darkness of its ghostly skeletonlike ruins. Fifteen minutes brought them to the Menin gate.
"Sounds rather hot out there," remarked the driver. "Well, Fritzie, I guess we won't join your party this time. We prefer to wait, if you don't mind, really."
He ran the car into the lee of the ramparts, by the side of the gateway, waited there half an hour or so, until the "Evening Hate" was past; then onward again to the Menin Mill.
They lifted the blanket covering the sandbagged entrance, passed through a dark corridor and came into a cellar, lit by lanterns, swinging from the roof, and by candles everywhere upon ledges or upon improvised candlesticks.
No sooner had they come into the light, than Barry saw across the room his friend, Dr. Gregg, his coat off, and his shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows.
"Hello, Dunbar," said the doctor, coming forward. "I guess I won't shake hands just now. Sit down. Won't you have a cup of coffee? Jim," turning to an orderly, "give Captain Dunbar a cup of coffee."
Barry presented Cameron to his friend, and together they sat down and waited. When the doctor was through with his patient, he came and sat down with them.
"We came up to see a young chap named McPherson. I think you sent a note down about him to-day."
"McPherson," said the doctor. "I don't remember, but I will see."
He turned to a desk and turning over the pages of a record, apparently found the name, and returned to Barry.
"I am sorry to say that McPherson died this afternoon," he said.
"Dead," said Barry. He turned to Cameron. "I'm awfully sorry, Duncan."
"Was there anybody with him?" he enquired of the doctor. "He was Lieutenant Cameron's very close friend, and college companion."
"Oh, awfully sorry," replied the doctor. "Yes, I think Captain Winter, the chaplain of the --th, was with him at the last. He's not here just now. I can tell you where to get him. To-morrow is his day here."
"Is--is--is his body still here?" enquired Cameron, after a few moments' silence.
"Yes, it's in the next room. Do you want to see it? He was pretty badly smashed up, I'm afraid."
"I think I should like to see him," said Cameron. "I know his people, you see, and I would like to tell them that I saw him."
"Oh, all right," said the doctor. He called an orderly.
"Come this way, sir," said the orderly.
Together they followed the orderly into the next room, apparently a storehouse for grain. There lying upon the floor they saw three silent shapes, wrapped in grey blankets.
"This is Mcpherson, sir," said the orderly, looking at the card attached to the blanket.
He stooped, drew down the blanket from the face and stepped back. In civil life, both Barry and Cameron had seen the faces of the dead, but only in the coffin, after having been prepared for burial by those whose office it is to soften by their art death's grim austerities.
Cameron gave one swift glance at the shapeless, bloody mass, out of which stared up at him wide-open glassy eyes.
"Oh, my God, my God!" he gasped, gripping Barry by the arm, and staggering back as if he had received a blow. He turned to the door as if to make his escape, but Barry, himself white and shaken, held him firmly.
"Steady, old boy," he said. "Steady, Duncan!"
"Oh, let me go! Let me get out of here!"
"Duncan, there are a lot of wounded chaps out there."
The boy--he was only nineteen--was halted at the word, stood motionless and then muttered:
"You are right, sir. I was forgetting."
"And, Duncan, remember," said Barry, in a quiet and solemn voice, "there's more than that to McPherson. That fine young chap whom you knew and loved is not that poor and battered piece of clay. Your friend has escaped from death and all its horrors."
"Yes, yes, I know," whispered Cameron, still shaking. "We'll go out now, sir. I'll be all right. I assure you I'm all right."
They passed out into the dressing-room again, where the wounded were continuing to arrive. Cameron was for departing at once, but Barry held him back, unwilling that the lad should be driven away beaten and unnerved by what he had seen.
"I say, Duncan, let's see some of these boys. We can perhaps cheer them up a bit. They need it badly enough, God knows."
"All right," muttered Cameron, sitting down upon a bench in the shadow. They waited there till Dr. Gregg came along.
"Hello, Dunbar, you are looking seedy. Feeling rotten, eh?" said the doctor, eying him critically for a few moments.
"Oh, I'm all right," said Barry. "The truth is, I've just been in there with young Cameron. Rather a ghastly sight. Cameron's badly knocked up. Can you do anything for him?"
"Sure thing," said the doctor cheerfully. "Stay right there where you are. I'll bring you something in a moment or two. Now sit right there, do you hear? Don't move."
In a few moments he returned, bringing hot coffee for them both.
"There," he said in a cheerful matter-of-fact voice, "drink that."
Barry gulped it down, Cameron taking his more slowly, and with evident distaste. The doctor continued to converse with them in tones of cheerful and, as Barry thought, of almost careless indifference.
"Now, I must leave you," said the doctor. "I see there's a case of shell shock. We didn't know how to handle that for a while. The British R. A. M. C. for some months declined to recognise it as requiring treatment at all. You might care to look at this chap. Poor devil!"
Barry had been looking at the man ever since he had come into the room, supported by two of his comrades. He was indeed an object of pity. Of splendid physique, six feet and powerfully built, with the fine intelligent face of an educated man, he stood there white, twitching in every muscle, in a state of complete nerve-collapse.
Colonel Tait, who had been observing him keenly ever since his entering the room, now approached him, greeted him with a cheerful "Hello!" took him by the hand and felt his pulse.
"How are you, old chap? Feeling a little better than you were, aren't you?"
"Yes--doc--tor. Rather--rotten--though-- Be all right--to-morrow--"
"Sure you will! Still a little rest won't do you any harm. We'll send you down for a couple of weeks, and then you will be fit enough to have another go at the boche."
So saying he turned him over to an assistant, and went on with his work. At this point Cameron, from whose eyes the look of horror had not yet faded, leaned over to Barry and whispered:
"Let's get out of this. For Heaven's sake, this thing is getting me." He glanced at Barry. "What, are you ill, too?"
"Ill," answered Barry between his clenched teeth. "Ill? No, why should I be ill? Look at these boys. I see myself ill. By Jove!" he added under his breath, "here's another shell shock. Sit down, Cameron!" His voice took on a sterner tone. "Sit down. Don't be an ass!"
Once more Colonel Tait took in hand the shell-shock man. This second was a stretcher case. The man was very violent, requiring two men to hold him on his stretcher.
"Oh, let him go! Let him go!" said Colonel Tait. "What's wrong with you?" he said to the man. "Have you any wounds?"
"No, sir," chattered the man miserably. "Shell--shock,--sir. Buried--twice--by a shell. Oh! Ah!"
The colonel had a few moments' conversation with Gregg, who came over to where Barry was sitting and said:
"I say, Dunbar, watch this case. You will see some fun."
"Fun," echoed Barry, shaken and indignant. "Not much fun for that poor chap."
"Stand up," said the colonel sharply.
The man stood up without much apparent difficulty.
"Ah!" said the colonel. "Shell shock. Bad case, too." His voice was kind and sympathetic. He gripped the man by the arm and ran his hand down his spine until he came to the small of his back.
"Pain there, eh?" he said, giving the man a poke.
"Yes, yes! Ouw! Doctor. Awful."
"Thought so," said the doctor. "Bad case! Poor chap! A curious feeling in the legs, eh?"
The man nodded vigorously, still twitching violently and making animal moanings.
Still pursuing his investigations and continuing to sympathise with his patient, the doctor enquired as to other symptoms, to all of which the patient promptly confessed. When the examination was completed, the doctor gave his man a hearty slap on the back and said:
"You're all right, my boy. Go treat yourself to a cup of cocoa, and a good, thick slice of bread and raspberry jam--raspberry, remember--and to-morrow you can report to your battalion medical officer."
"What!" exclaimed the man. "Doctor, I can't go up again. I'm not fit to go up."
"Oh, yes, you can, my boy. You'll be in good fighting trim to- morrow. You'll see! You'll see! Come back here some day, perhaps, with a V. C."
Thereupon the man began to swear violently.
"Here, none of that," said the doctor sharply, "or up you go to- night."
A grin ran around the dressing station, in which none joined more heartily than the first shell-shock man, waiting to be conveyed down the line.
"They don't get by the old man often, nowadays," was Dr. Gregg's comment.
"You don't often get cases like this, though, do you?" enquired Barry.
"Not often. We have passed through this dressing station some thousands of cases, and we may have had eight or ten malingerers. But this is not all sham. There is a strong mixture of hysteria and suggestion with the sham. A chap with a highly organised temperament gets buried by a shell. That is a terrific nerve shock. He sees two or three chaps blown to bits. Another nerve shock. Now he has heard about shell shock as a result of a similar experience. Immediately the suggestion begins to work and the man discovers in himself the well known symptoms of genuine shell shock, and, begad! I don't wonder. What we have just given him is part of the treatment for hysteria--a little nerve tonic. A good sleep may put him all right by to-morrow morning. The chances are, however, that the O. C. will send him down for a few days' rest and change. If so, the chap will be as happy as a clam. The boys will rag him half to death down there, so that he will be keen to get back again, and the chances are may get his V. C. Oh, we all get scared stiff," laughed Gregg. "We are none of us proud about here. That hero stuff that you read about in the home papers, we don't know much about. We just 'carry on'."
"By Jove, Gregg! That's all right, but to just 'carry on' in this business, it seems to me, calls for some pretty fine hero stuff."
"Well, we don't call it so," said Gregg. "Now I'll see about your ambulance. I believe there's one about ready to go. I think I can find a place for you and your friend, and it will save you a long walk."
They came away from the old mill with mingled feelings. Barry had to a certain extent recovered from his shock, and had himself somewhat firmly in hand. Cameron was still silent and obviously shaken.
It was grey dawn when they arrived at the camp, physically weary, nervously exhausted, and sick at heart. Barry wakened Hobbs, who greeted them with the news that the battalion was under orders to go up that night. By his own state Barry was able to gauge that of his friend Cameron. The experiences of the last ten hours had been like nothing in his previous life. The desolation wrought by war upon the face of the country, upon the bodies of men, upon their souls, had sickened and unnerved him; and this he remembered was an experience of only a brief ten hours. He was conscious of a profound self-distrust and humiliation, as he thought of those other men, those medical officers, with their orderlies, the ambulance drivers, those wounded soldiers. How could they endure this horror, day in and day out, for weeks and for months? In a few hours he would have to meet his fellow officers and the men. They could not fail to read in his face all this that he carried in his heart.
By his grey, haggard face he knew that the same horror and fear had gone deep into his friend's soul. There came to him the sudden thought that Cameron, too, must meet his fellow officers, and must endure their searching chaff, and that he would reveal himself to his undoing; for no man can ever live down in his battalion the whisper that he is a "quitter." That very night Cameron would be forced to lead up his platoon into the front line, and must lead them step by step over that same Vlammertinghe road, where the transports were nightly shelled. In the presence of any danger soever, he must not falter. When the shells would begin to fall, he knew well how the eyes of his men would turn to their leader and search his very soul to see of what quality he was. Far better a man should die than falter. He had not failed to notice the startled look in Cameron's eyes when Hobbs blurted out his news. Some way must be found for the bracing up of the nerve, the steadying of the courage of his friend.
"Come in with me, Cameron," he said, standing at the door of his hut. "I'm dead beat and so are you. We'll have coffee and some grub, and then sleep for a couple of hours until reveille."
Cameron hesitated. The thing he most longed for at that moment was to be alone.
"Come on!" insisted Barry. "Hobbs will have a fire going, and hot coffee in ten minutes. Come on, old chap. I want you to."
He threw his arm around Cameron's shoulder and dragged him in. The boy dropped onto Barry's cot, and, as he was, boots and coat on, was asleep before the coffee was ready. His boyish face, with its haggard look, struck pity to Barry's heart, and recalled his father's words, "These boys need their mothers." If ever a lad needed his mother, it was young Cameron, and just in that hour.
He woke the boy up, gave him his coffee, had Hobbs remove his boots, made him undress and covered him up in his blankets. Then, taking his own coffee, he lay down on Hobbs' bed.
"Harry," he said, "give us every minute of sleep you can. Wake us just one-half hour before reveille with coffee and everything else good you can rustle, and, Harry, waken me before Mr. Cameron."
When he lay down to sleep he made an amazing discovery--that his own horror and fear and self-distrust had entirely passed away. He felt himself quite prepared to "carry on." How had this thing come to pass? His physical recuperation by means of coffee and food? This doubtless in part, but only in part. In his concern for his friend he had forgotten himself, and in forgetting himself he had forgotten his fear. It was an amazing discovery.
"Thank the good God," he said. "He never forgets a fellow, and I won't forget that."
He woke to find Hobbs at his side, with coffee, toast and bacon, and on the floor beside his cot his tub awaiting him--the tub being a rubber receptacle exactly eighteen inches in diameter.
He hurried through his dressing, and his breakfast, all the while Cameron lying like a dead man, and with almost a dead man's face.
Barry hated to waken him, but reveille was but a bare thirty minutes off, and he had an experiment to work upon his friend.
"Bring the coffee, Harry. Not the bacon, yet," he ordered.
"Hello, Cameron, old boy! Wake up."
Cameron rolled over with a groan and opened his eyes, still dull and heavy with sleep.
"Here you are. Pipe this down your tunnel and look lively, too. You have got thirty minutes--twenty-five, really--to reveille, and you have your toilet to perform--shave, massage, manicure and all the rest--so go to it. Here's your tub. You can't get into it, but soap yourself over, and Hobbs will sluice you with a pail or two outside."
"Why all this Spartan stuff? It's awfully cold. I think I'll content myself with a nose rub this morning."
"Get out of bed, and be quick about it," commanded Barry, "unless you'd rather take your tub where you are."
So saying he jerked the clothes clear off the cot, threatening Cameron with the tub. Cameron sprang up, stripped, soaped himself over, groaning and shivering the while; then stood outside in the open, while Hobbs administered the order of the bath, and after a vigorous rub, came in glowing.
"By jingo! That's bully! It's a pity a fellow can't always feel just how bully it is before he takes it."
"Na-a-w then! a little snap!" ordered Barry, in attempted imitation of the inimitable Sergeant Major Hackett. "A little speed, ple-ease! That's better. I've seen worse--not often!"
And so he rattled on through Cameron's dressing and shaving operations.
"Now then, 'Obbs, a little Delmonico 'ere. Shove this bacon against your fice, Cameron."
"What about yours, sir?" said Cameron, as he sat down to the luxuries which somehow Hobbs had "rustled."
"Had it, you slacker." Then with a swift change of voice and manner he added: "Listen to me, Cameron. I'm going to have my prayers. You won't bother me any, and if you don't mind I'll do them out loud. Don't you stop eating, though. Hobbs, stop your wandering around there and sit down and listen." Barry took his Bible.
"Cameron," he said, "one comfort in reading the Bible to a chap with a father like yours is that you know all about the thing already--context, historical references and theological teaching-- therefore, no need of comment. Also you have a good imagination to see things. Turn on the juice while I read. Hobbs, you waken up, too."
Then he began to read the vivid words which picture as in miniature etchings the life stories of the heroes of Faith who in their day held their generation steady and pointed the way to duty and victory. As he read his face became alight, his dark eyes glowed, his voice thrilled under the noble passion of the words he read. Then he came to this stately peroration:
"And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon," and so on through the list of heroes, "Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, (of whom the world was not worthy). Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Both reader and hearers were swept along upon the tide of dramatic passion. They were themselves a part of the great and eternal conflict there pictured; they, too, were called upon to endure the cross.
Cameron had forgotten his breakfast, and with his kindling eyes fastened upon the reader's face, was listening to the noble music of the thrilling words.
Barry closed his book and laid it down.
"Great, eh! Wonderful company! All the finest and the best of the war's heroes are in it. Now, then, prayer--" He dropped on his knees, Cameron and Hobbs following his example.
It was a prayer chiefly of thanksgiving for those who in their day and in the face of anguish and terror and death had kept the faith; of thanksgiving, too, for all who in this present day of sacrifice in the home land and of sacrifice upon the field of battle were keeping that same faith for the Empire and for this same sacred cause of humanity. The prayer closed with a simple petition that they in the battalion might be found worthy of a humble place in that great company.
As they were repeating together the prayer "Our Father," the notes of the reveille sounded shrilly over the camp.
"Go out, Hobbs, for a minute," said Barry after they had risen from their prayer. He knew well that Cameron would want a few minutes with him alone.
"Sir," said the boy, and his voice was quiet and steady, "I'm not going to try to thank you, but I believe I can 'carry on' now."
"You bet you can," said Barry, gripping his hand. "You bet you can! It's the point of view after all, old man, isn't it? For ourselves it doesn't matter, but we have got to think of the boys, and we have got to stay with the game."
Eighteen hours later the relief was completed, and the battalion was in its place in the line, all but the sentries asleep in their flimsy dugouts and behind their rotten parapets.
An hour later, Barry, who was sleeping with the M. O. in the regimental aid post, was wakened from a dead sleep by the M. O.
"There's something doing out there," he said. "Listen!"
There was a quick succession of sharp explosions.
"Bombs!" said the M. O.
The explosions were followed by the rat-tat-tat--tat-tat--tat-tat- tat of the machine guns. Instantly they were both on their feet and out in the trench.
"I guess Fritzie is trying to put something over on us, being our first night," said the M. O. "I'll get my boys out."
He ran to the adjoining dugout, where his corporal and stretcher bearers were sleeping, roused them and sent them up the trench. There was the sound of subdued voices and of quick marching feet along the communication trench a few yards away. They stood together listening for a few minutes.
"I'm going," said Barry, hurrying off in the direction of the sound. "Come on."
"Captain Dunbar," called the M. O. sharply, "my place is here, and I think this is where you will be most useful as well. They will bring the wounded to us right here."
In a few minutes all was still again, except for the machine guns, which still kept up their incessant tattoo.
The M. O. was correct in his forecast. In a few minutes down the communication trench came a wounded man walking, jubilant in spite of his wounds.
"Fritzie tried to put one over on us," he exclaimed, while the doctor was dabbing with iodine and tying up his wounded arm, "but I think he's got another guess coming. You ought to have seen our officer," he added. "The first one in the bunch to be 'at 'em.' With a bayonet, too, mind you. Grabbed one from a private as he ran past, and bombs bursting like hell all around. Beg pardon, sir," he added, turning to Barry. "He's some kid, poor chap. He's got his, I guess."
"Who is he?" asked the M. O.
"Lieutenant Cameron, sir."
"Cameron!" cried Barry. "Where is he?"
"They are carrying the stretcher cases right down to the dressing station, I hear," said the man.
"I'm going, doc," said Barry, and was off at a run.
At the casualty clearing station there was no excitement, the doctors and orderlies "carrying on" as usual, receiving the wounded, dressing their wounds, sending them down with the smoothness and despatch characteristic of their department.
"Cameron?" said the doctor in answer to Barry's question. "Why certainly, I'll show you." And he led him to Cameron's cot.
"Well, old chap," said the doctor cheerily, "we're going to send you down in a minute or two. Now don't talk."
Cameron's eyes welcomed Barry.
"Dear old boy," said Barry, dropping on his knees beside him. "I'm awfully sorry."
"It's all right," whispered Cameron. "They--never--knew.--You'll write dad--and tell him--I kept--" The voice trailed off into silence. The morphia was doing its merciful work.
"Kept the faith," said Barry.
"Yes," whispered Cameron with a smile, faint but exultant.
"Good old boy," whispered Barry.
"Yes, I--kept--I kept--"
The bearers came to carry out the stretcher.
"Will he recover?" whispered Barry to the doctor.
"Recover? Surest thing you know," said the doctor in a loud cheery voice. "We can't spare this kind of stuff, you know."
And again Barry leaned over the stretcher and said, patting Cameron on the shoulder:
"Good old boy. You make us proud of you. You kept the faith."