The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land by Ralph Connor
Chapter XIX. The Pilot's Last Port
The little Canadian army was done with The Salient. The British tradition established in the third month of the war, in that first terrific twenty-two days' fight by Ypres, that that deadly convex should be no thoroughfare to Calais for the Hun, was passed on with The Salient into Canadian hands in the early months of 1915. How the little Canadian army preserved the tradition and barred "the road-hog of Europe" from the channel coast for seventeen months, let history tell, and at what cost let the dead declare who lie in unmarked graves which, following the curving line of trenches from Langemarck through Hooge and Sanctuary Wood over Observation Ridge to St. Eloi, and the dead under those little crosses that crowd the cemeteries of The Salient and of the clearing stations in the rear, and the living as well, who through life will carry the burden of enfeebled and mutilated bodies.
For seventeen months the Canadians in shallow dugouts and behind flimsy trenches endured the maddening pounding of the Huns' guns, big and little, without the satisfaction of reprisal, except in raid or counter-attack, suffering the loss of two-thirds of their entire force, but still holding. Now at length came the welcome release. They were ordered to the Somme. Welcome not simply because of escape from an experience the most trying to which an army could be subjected, but welcome chiefly because there was a chance of fighting back.
They had no illusions about that great battle area of the south, echoes of whose titanic struggle had reached them, but they longed for a chance to get back at their foe. Besides, the Somme challenged their fighting spirit. That glorious assault of the first of July of the allied armies which flung them upon the scientifically prepared, embattled and entrenched "German Frontier," with its fortified villages, its gun stuffed woods, its massed parks of artillery, and defended by highly disciplined and superbly organised soldiery, stirred them like a bugle call. For two years the master war-makers of the world had employed scientific knowledge, ingenuity and unlimited resources upon the construction of a system of defence by means of which they hoped to defy the world, and upon which when completed they displayed the vaunting challenge, "We are ready for you; come on!"
In that great conflict there was no element of surprise. It was a deliberate testing out of strength, physical and moral. For the first time in the war the British army stood upon something like even terms in manpower and in weight of metal, with, however, the immense handicap still resting upon it that it was the attacking force. The result settled forever the question of the fighting quality of the races. When the first day's fight was done, on a battle front of twenty miles the British armies had smashed a hole seven miles wide, while their gallant allies, fighting on an eight- mile front, had captured the whole line. In two weeks' time, the seven-mile hole was widened to ten. Fortified villages, entrenched redoubts, woods stuffed with guns, great and small, had gone down before that steady, relentless, crushing advance. The full significance of the Somme had not dawned as yet upon the world. The magnitude of the achievement was not yet estimated, but already names hitherto unknown were flung up flaming into the world's sky in letters of eternal fire, Ovillers, Mametz Wood, Trones Wood, Langueval, Mouquet Farm, Deville Wood for the British, with twenty- one thousand prisoners, and Hardecourt, Dompierre, Becquin-Court, Bussu and Fay for the French allies, with thirty-one thousand prisoners.
On that line of carefully chosen and elaborately fortified defences, the proudest of Germany's supermen of war had been beaten at their own game by the civilian soldiers of "effete and luxury loving Britain," and the republican armies of "decadent France," and still the Homeric fight was raging. Foot by foot, yard by yard, the Hun was fighting to hold the line which should make good his insolent claim to the hegemony of the world. Step by step, yard by yard, that line was being torn from his bloody fingers. Into that sea of fire and blood, the Canadians were to plunge. They remembered Langemarck and Sanctuary Wood and St. Eloi, and were not unwilling to make the plunge. They thought of those long months in The Salient, when the ruthless Hun from his vantage ground of overwhelming superiority had poured his deadly hail from right flank, left flank, front and rear, upon them, holding, suffering, dying, day by day, month by month, and they were grimly jubilant over the chance which the Somme offered them of evening somewhat the score.
"We have something to hand Fritzie," young Pickles was heard to remark when he had learned of the quality of the Somme fighting, "and I hope he'll like it, for he's got to take it."
The battalion ranks, both officers and men, had once more been filled up. They had a brief fortnight's training in the new open fighting under barrage and then set off cheerfully for the "Big Game." Ten days they marched and countermarched in the back country, keeping clear of those two mighty streams "up" and "down," that flowed between ditches and hedges along the road that led to the great arena, and catching glimpses and echoes as they marched until, hard, fit, keen, they joined the "upstream" flowing toward Albert. That stream was made up of those various and multifarious elements that go to constitute, equip and maintain a modern army.
There were marching battalions, with their mounted officers, bearing names and insignia famous in the world's wars for two hundred years, and with them battalions who a few brief months ago were peaceful citizens, knowing nothing of war. There were transport columns, ammunition columns, artillery columns, with mounted escorts. There were big guns, on huge caterpillar trucks, shouldering the lighter traffic to the ditches, and little guns slipping meekly in their rear. There were motor lorries, honking and thundering their insistent way through dodging, escaping, cursing infantry, forty-six miles of them to a single army corps. There were strings of mules and horses with weirdly shaped burdens on their pack saddles. There were motor cars bearing "Brass Hats," gentle looking individuals, excessively polite, yet somehow getting men to jump when they spoke, and everywhere ambulances, silent and swift moving, before whose approach the stream parted in recognition of the right of way of these messengers of mercy over all the enginery of war.
The "down stream" was much the same, with here and there differences. That stream flowed more swiftly. The battalions marched with more buoyant tread. They had done their part and without shame. They had met their foes and seen their backs. The trucks, transport and ammunition wagons were empty and coming with a rush. Only the ambulances moved more slowly. Carefully, with watchful avoidance of ruts and holes, which, in spite of the army of road-mending Huns, broke up the surface of the pavements these ambulances made their way. They must get through no matter what was held up.
And as they flowed these streams ever and anon broke their banks and flooded over in little eddies into villages and fields, there to tarry for a day and a night, only to be caught up again in either one of those resistless inevitable currents of war.
"Look before you, major," said Barry, who was riding with the Headquarters Company at the head of the column, as often now at the invitation of the O. C.
The column was slowly climbing a long gentle sloping hill that reached its apex some two or three miles away. On either side, spread out over the fields, as far as the eye could reach, were military encampments, in tents, in huts and in the open. Infantry units, horse lines, motor truck parks, repair camps for motors and for guns, ammunition dumps with shells piled high, supply sheds bulging with their canvas-covered contents, Red Cross huts and marquees, and Y. M. C. A. tents with their cues of waiting soldiers, getting "eats" and drinks, and comforts of various kinds. The whole countryside was one mighty encampment packed with munitions and supplies and thronging with horses, mules and men.
"This is war on the 'grand scale,'" said the O. C. dropping back beside them. "From the top of this hill we can see Albert and a part of the most famous battle-field of all time. We camp just outside of Albert on what is known as the 'brick field,' and in a couple of days more we shall be in it. Well," he continued, with a glance over the column following, "the boys never were more fit."
"And never more keen," said the major. "They are right on their toes."
"Major, I expect to meet the divisional commander down here, and I want you to be there. Captain Dunbar, you know him, I believe. He has asked especially that you should be there as well."
"Yes, sir, I have met the General. To my mind he is an ideal soldier."
"Yes, and an ideal officer," said the O. C. "He knows his job and he is always fit and keen."
At the top of the hill, a traffic officer, a young lieutenant from the Imperial forces, diverted the column from the road into a field.
"Why is this?" inquired the O. C.
"There's the answer, sir," said the officer coolly.
There was a long drawn whine which rapidly grew into a shriek and an H. E. shell dropped fair in the road, a short distance in front.
"Oh, I see, you have some of these birds down in this country, too."
"Yes, sir, this is their breeding ground," said the young lieutenant.
Once more came the long whining shriek and the terrific blast of the H. E., this time closer.
"I would not delay, sir, if I were you," said the young chap coolly, pulling out his cigarette case. "They get rather ugly at times."
"What about you?" inquired the O. C. moving off.
"Part of my job, sir," replied the youth, saluting.
"Well, good luck, boy," said the O. C., trotting to the head of the column.
"Thank you, sir," said the youth, turning to his job again.
They rode a hundred yards, when another shell came, there was a terrific explosion, apparently just at the spot where the young officer had been standing.
"By Jove! I'm afraid that's got him," said the O. C.
"I'll go and see, sir," said Barry, spurring his horse back to the spot.
"Come back here, Barry," called the major. "Darn him for a fool! What's the use of that? That isn't his job," he added angrily.
"He thinks it is, probably," said the O. C.
Barry found a great hole in the road with the officer's horse lying disembowelled beside it, kicking in his death agony. There was no sign of his rider anywhere. Fortunately there was a gap in the column, so that no one else was near enough to be injured.
As Barry stood gazing about, a voice hailed him from the ditch, which was several feet deep.
"I say, sir," said the voice, "I wouldn't just stay there. They generally send over four of 'em. That's only the third. I find this ditch very convenient, though somewhat mucky."
Barry looked at him in astonishment. He was white and shaken, covered with mud, but trying to get his cigarette case open.
"I'd get off, sir, if I were you," he said, "until the next one comes. Quick, sir, I hear it now."
Barry needed no second invitation. He flung himself headlong into the ditch beside the young fellow, but the shell dropped into the field beyond.
"That's as near as I like 'em," said the young officer, scraping the mud off his clothes. "My poor, old gee-gee got it though." He drew his revolver and shot the wounded animal. "It's hard on the horses. You see, they can't dodge," he added.
"I say, my boy," said Barry, for the lieutenant was only a boy, "that was a near thing for you. What are you going to do now?"
"Oh, just carry on," said the boy. "The relief will be along in a few hours. Beastly mess, eh?" he continued, but whether he referred to the disembowelled horse or the state of his own uniform, Barry could not say.
"You are sure you are all right?" said Barry, as he shook hands with him. "I'm awfully glad you weren't hurt."
"So am I," said the boy heartily. "Awfully rotten to be potted out here playing a bally policeman, eh? What? Well, good luck, sir," and Barry rode off to join his column with a deep admiration in his heart for the English school boy who, when war began, was probably a fifth form lad, in whose life the most dangerous episode would be a ball taken full off bat at point, or a low tackle on the Rugby field.
At Divisional Headquarters, they met the general, who after a conversation with the O. C. greeted Barry warmly.
"So you have gone and done it, young man. Well, I admire your nerve, and I congratulate you. I happen to know the family very well. As a matter of fact there is some remote connection, I believe. By the way, I have a communication from London for you," he added, drawing Barry to one side, and giving him a little slip. "I happen to know about it," he continued, while Barry was reading his telegram, "and say, if I can be of any assistance, I shall be very glad. It's a step up, you see. I have no doubt it can be put through quite easily and quickly, and I believe the step is coming to you."
Barry stood with his eyes upon the dispatch. It was an offer of a hospital appointment at the base, and carried with it his majority.
"I have no doubt the missus will be pleased, eh?" said the general with a grin.
Barry pulled out a letter from his pocket, opened it and handed it to the general, pointing to a paragraph. The general took it and read,
"And Barry, dear, remember that though you have a wife now, your duty to your country is still your first duty. I would hate that any thought of me should make it harder for you to carry on."
The general folded up the letter, put it slowly into its envelope, and handed it back to Barry.
"I know her," he said simply. "I should expect nothing else from her. You are a lucky dog, but, of course," he added, with a swift glance at Barry's face, "some one must take that job."
"I fancy, sir, there are many for it, who are hardly fit for this work up here," replied Barry quietly. "I think, sir, I'll just carry on where I am."
"You are quite sure?" inquired the general. "Don't you want a day or two to think it over?"
"I am quite sure, sir," said Barry, "I am quite sure that my wife would approve."
"Very well, then," said the general, "let me handle this for you, and let me say, sir, that I am proud to have you in my division."
So saying, he gripped Barry's hand hard, and turned abruptly away to the others.
They rode to their camp in almost complete silence, except for a grunt or two from the O. C. who seemed in a grumpy mood.
When they arrived at Headquarters, the O. C. drew up his horse and turning to the major, said,
"I don't know just what to do with this Pilot of ours. He is a fool in some ways."
"A darned fool, sir," said the major emphatically.
"And," continued the major, "I am selfish enough to say that I am damned glad--I won't apologise, Pilot--that he decided to stay with us. It would have been just a little harder to carry on if he had left us."
"Yes," growled the major, "but, oh, well, we have got to stick it I guess. The Pilot is a soldier all right."
There was nothing further said about the matter, but next day as Barry walked about the camp, among the men, their eyes followed him as he passed, and every officer in the mess seemed to discover an errand that took him to Barry's tent.
Two days later the Canadians moved up into the line and took over from the Australians. They followed the Bapaume Road toward Pozieres, passing through a country which had seen the heaviest fighting in the war.
"This," said the O. C., drawing aside from the road, and riding to a slightly rising ground, "is La Boiselle, or at least where it was, and that I fancy is the famous mine crater. Sixty thousand pounds of gun cotton blew up that hole."
There was absolutely no sign of the village, the very foundations of the houses, and the cellars having the appearance of a ploughed field.
"That was a desperate fight," continued the O. C. "It was here that the Middlesex men made their great charge. Fifty men reported from the battalion when it was over. In that village they had a whole division fighting before they were through, Middlesex men, Royal Scots and Irish, for three days and three nights."
As they rode along, the guns on either side began their evening chorus and from the far rear came the roaring rush of the H. E.'s like invisible express trains hurtling through the air. It was music to their ears, and they rode forward with a new feeling in their hearts, for there appeared to be almost no reply from the enemy guns.
The battalion took to the trenches at the crossing of the Pozieres Road, and so effective was the counter-battery work that they were able to settle down into their battle positions without casualties. The R. A. P. was in a deep German dug-out thirty feet below the surface, with double entrances and heavily timbered. It had been most elaborately prepared, planked on sides and floor, and fitted with electric lights. There were two main rooms, with a connecting corridor, leading to each entrance. They found an Australian medical officer in charge.
"These chaps were regular settlers, weren't they?" said Barry, after they had exchanged greetings.
"Yes, sir, they intended to sty, apparently," said the Australian, in his slow drawl. "We found some letters on a wounded officer indicating their intention to remyn for the durytion, but we wanted the plyce--couldn't carry on without it in fact. It's quite a good plyce, too," he added with a cheerful grin.
"Why, it's just bully," said the M. O. "I am only sorry that we can't promise you as good in The Salient."
"I hear it is rather rotten, eh, sir?" said the Australian.
"Not as bad as Gallipoli, though," said Barry. "By Jove! You Australian chaps did magnificently down there. Must have been a perfect hell."
"Oh, yes, quite hot for a while, but I fancy you Canydians didn't have any afternoon tea party in The Sylient, eh? My word, there was some fighting there. Oh, there it comes," he added.
As he spoke a muffled explosion was heard, and the dug-out rocked, and the candles flickered.
"Can they get you down here?" inquired the M. O.
"I fancy a direct hit from a really big H. E. would disturb our little home, but nothing else would. Of course, a shell in the door wye would be a bit awkward, you knaow," replied the Australian.
The night, however, passed quietly, and except for a few slightly wounded walking cases, there was little work to do. The Canadians decided that in coming to the Somme, they had made a most happy exchange.
A quiet day followed the night, but the whole battalion was keyed up with intense expectation for the attack which they knew was fixed for the night following. With expectation mingled curiosity. They knew all about raiding; that was their own specialty, but they were curious as to the new style of fighting which they knew to be awaiting them, the capturing, holding and consolidating of a line of enemy trenches.
Nightfall brought the opportunity to gratify their curiosity. For two hours before the attack, their guns put down the barrage to cover the front line of enemy trenches, and to dispose of his wire.
The M. O. and Barry, with the Australian and their whole staff, made their way to a ridge a few yards distant to see the show.
"Great Heaven, what is that?" inquired the M. O., pointing to what seemed to be a line of flickering watch fires upon the crest of a neighbouring rising ground.
"Guns! Ours," said the Australian, surprised at the M. O.'s excitement.
"Guns! My Lord, guns, Barry," shouted the M. O.
"Guns? And in the open! And on a hill! And wheel to wheel!" cried Barry. "Thank the good Lord I have lived to see this day. Look at the boys," he added in a low tone, to the Australian beside him.
They glanced over their shoulders and saw two of the orderlies executing a fox-trot in the heavy shell-ploughed soil.
"What's the row?" inquired the Australian.
"Why, my dear chap," replied the M. O., "don't you know we have never seen a gun in action in the open that way. Our guns operated only from holes and corners, from hedges and cellars. Otherwise they'd be spotted and knocked out in an hour."
"Ow!" said the Australian, "our bird men attended to that the first dye of the fight. They sye there was a double line of observation balloons along the lines, ours and theirs up to the 30th of June. The next morning not a Boche balloon was to be seen. Our plynes put their eye out in a single afternoon. Since that time, we hold over them in the air. Ah! There are the heavies coming up now. The full chorus will be on in half a minute."
A few seconds later, the truth of the Australian's prophecy was demonstrated. The full chorus was on. For two hours the barrage raged, and the din was such that they had to shout in each other's ears to be heard. The hilltops were ringed with darting tongues of red flame as though belched out by a thousand fabled dragons. It was as if the air above was filled with millions of invisible demons, whining, moaning, barking, shrieking in a fury of venomous hate, while at regular intervals came the express train roar of the twelve, fifteen and sixteen inch guns.
"It's almost worth while to have lived through those months in The Salient," said Barry, "to get the full enjoyment of this experience. Well do I remember the day when our O. C. asked for 'retaliation,' and was told he could have six rounds, I think it was, or eight. Meanwhile our trenches and dug-cuts were going up in bloody mud."
"I think we might as well go below," said the Australian. "They will be coming in presently."
But Barry and the M. O. remained long after the first coming in shells began to drop around. That barrage so long waited for, and so ardently desired, was worth some risk.
Soon the wounded began to arrive, and throughout the whole night, the M. O. and his staff were busy at their work. On the arrival of the zero hour, the barrage lifted.
"Well, good luck go with the boys," said the Australian, fervently. "They are out and over now. We'll get some of them presently."
Throughout the night, a stream of walking wounded kept flowing in. Jubilant, exultant in spite of their pain, they bore with them the joyful report that they had shifted the Hun from his trenches and his deep dug-outs, and were still advancing. Singing at the top of their voices, they came limping in, bloody and muddy, but wild with exultation and joy. The day long looked for by the Canadians had arrived. They were getting something of their own back.
The next day revealed the full extent of the achievement. The whole Canadian line had swept forward for over a thousand yards, had captured strong points, a fortified sunken road, the famous "sugar refinery" and, overrunning their objective, had captured the village of Courcelette, as well. It was a gallant little fight, and quite a notable achievement.
After two days the battalion was pulled out, having suffered comparatively slight losses, and more than ready to return when the opportunity should come.
The next three weeks were spent in minor operations, consolidating positions, repelling counter-attacks, and preparing for the real "big go," in which the Canadians were to take their part in the advance of the whole allied line, after which the battalion was sent into reserve for a few days' respite.
The Canadian line was gradually wearing thin, but the spirit of those who survived was the spirit of the whole allied line,--the spirit that claimed victory and was not to be denied. As to the nature of the task awaiting them, however, they well knew that it was to be a fight in which the last ounce of resolution and only the last ounce would carry them through to their objective.
The experiences of the allies during the past months had wrought in them a settled conviction that victory was awaiting them, and a settled resolution that that victory they would secure at all cost soever.
At length the day arrived, a dull October day, overhung with rain clouds and thick with chill mist. On the parade ground the battalion was drawn up for the service which always preceded an attack.
The operations of the past month had reduced the battalion to about half its fighting strength. Only some five hundred men, with officers barely sufficient to direct their movements, looked back at Barry through the mist as he faced them for the service.
"Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation," he read. The psalm might have been written for the occasion.
"He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence: I shall not be moved.
"My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from him.
"He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence: I shall not be moved.
"In God is my salvation, and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge is in God.
"Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him. God is a refuge for us."
Barry made only a single comment upon the psalm, "Men, nothing can move God, and nothing can move those whose trust is in God. Remember God is to be trusted."
The reading was followed by the General Confession, the Absolution and a brief extemporary prayer, concluding with the Lord's Prayer. As Barry was mounting his horse a runner brought him an order from his divisional chief, directing him to report at the casualty clearing station in Albert for immediate duty. He carried the order to the O. C.
"Look at this!" he stormed.
"Too bad! Too bad!" said the O. C. "Rotten luck for you."
"Look here, sir," said Barry, "I have always gone up with the battalion, and I think--"
"I fancy they are getting on to you, Dunbar. You know you have rather shirked the C. C. S. duty," said the O. C. with a smile.
"Isn't there some way out of this? If I got a substitute--"
"A soldier obeys orders, Captain Dunbar," said the O. C. gravely.
"Yes, sir, I know, but--"
"And he doesn't say 'but'," continued the O. C. "No, Barry," he added in a kindly voice, "I have no responsibility or authority in this. I'd be glad to have you come up with us. We are going into the 'big thing' this time, I know, but perhaps it's just as well. You go your way and we'll go ours. I'd like to say this to you, however, my boy, you have been a great help to me with the men."
His tone was grave but kind, and it sent to Barry's heart a chill of foreboding. "Good-bye, Barry," he added, shaking hands with him.
"Good-bye, sir. Good luck, sir. May I say, sir," said Barry, "that you have helped me immensely with my duty."
"Do you say so, Barry?" said the O. C., a note of surprise in his voice. "I'm delighted to know that."
"God keep you, sir," said Barry earnestly.
"Thank you, sir. We are in His keeping, aren't we?" and turning in his saddle, he gave the order to advance.
Barry rode with the column to the very mouth of the communication trench running to Pozieres, dropping into step with each company commander for a time, and leaving each with a cheery word of farewell. At the mouth of the trench, he stood watching the men as they stepped down and out of his sight, giving them a word of good cheer and good luck as they passed, and receiving in return answering smiles and greetings. Then with eyes unseeing, he rode back to camp, heavy of heart, for he knew well that many of these faces he would see no more.
The zero hour was fixed for five a. m. the following morning. As the hour drew near, Barry at his work in the C. C. S., found in his heart the words of the psalm, "My soul wait thou only upon God . . . I shall not be moved." That wounds and death were awaiting many of them he well knew, and his prayer was that they might meet the fate appointed them with unshaken faith and courage.
By seven o'clock the wounded began to arrive and an hour later the C. A. M. C. marquee was filled to overflowing with a cue of wounded men forming outside in the falling rain. The suffering in their pale and patient faces stirred in him a poignant sympathy. There was the chaplain service tent adjoining. He ran to find the chaplain in charge.
"Tell me," he said, "may we use your marquee for wounded men?"
"Sure thing. It will never be used for a better purpose."
Barry returned to the O. C. of the C. C. S.
"Why not direct that a part of this stream be sent to the adjoining tent for registration, and for anti-tetanus hypodermics? These poor chaps are standing out in the rain, chilled to the bone and ready to drop."
"For Heaven's sake do it," said the O. C. "We are really up against it here. Can you take that off my hands?"
"I'll try," said Barry.
In a few minutes the congestion at the door of the marquee was relieved and the wounded men, to their own vast comfort, were bestowed upon the benches and chairs in the chaplain service tent. But something further was necessary to their comfort.
"Draper," said Barry to the chaplain in charge of the tent, "you see these men? They have had nothing to eat since last night. They have fought a battle, been wounded, and walked out some five miles or so, since then. It's eight o'clock now. What about it?"
"What about it?" exclaimed the chaplain. "You watch me!"
He ran to the Y. M. C. A. tent, enlisted the secretary's aid and in twenty minutes they together had transported to the chaplain service tent coffee and cocoa urns, and with an organised band of assistants were supplying the wounded with warming and comforting nourishment. Never had those splendid services more quickly and effectively justified their place in the army.
With the wounded came rumours, more or less fantastic, of disaster. Something terrible had befallen the whole Canadian line. It was difficult to get at the truth. As with all rumours, they contradicted each other and left the mind in a chaos of perplexity. The battalion had run into wire, where the machine guns had found it, the battalion was practically wiped out, it had found cover in a trench and was still holding on, the O. C. was wounded, the O. C. was killed, and with him every company commander.
Again and again, Barry sent men to the signals to learn the truth, but it was found impossible to get a message through. That an overwhelming disaster had befallen his battalion was abundantly evident from the numbers of wounded. With his heart growing numb with pain he struggled with his work. Gradually, he was forced to accept as true that a large proportion of the battalion were casualties, that the O. C. was wounded, possibly dying, that many of the officers had fallen and that the remainder were still holding a precarious position, and fighting for their lives.
"I shall not be moved," he had read to them last night. The promise was being fulfilled in the men of his battalion. They could die at the wire or in the trench, but they could not be moved. While mechanically carrying on his work, his mind was with the fighting, dying remnant of his comrades. The O. C. of the C. C. S. passing on his rounds found Barry carrying on with tears blinding his eyes so that he could hardly see the figures he was entering in his record.
"Your men are having a hell of a time, I hear," said the O. C. "I say, boy," he added, glancing at Barry's haggard face, "let up for a while."
"I'm all right, sir," said Barry, through his teeth. "Excuse me, really I'm all right. It is a bit difficult to carry on when you know that your friends are being cut to pieces, but I'm all right, sir."
"All right, my boy," said the O. C., "we're up against it to-day. I'll come for you in a few minutes, and we'll have a bit to eat."
Barry shook his head. He was too sick to eat, but the O. C. knew better than he just what he wanted. In a few minutes he returned with an assistant who took Barry's place.
"Come along, boy," said the O. C. cheerfully. "We have got to feed the living that we may care for the wounded and dying."
"You are quite right, sir," said Barry. "I am ashamed of myself. I'll be fit in a few minutes."
"Don't apologise for one moment," said the colonel, "if you felt any less deeply than you do, you'd be something less than a man. We'll get into touch with the Divisional Headquarters, and try to get the facts."
He had no sooner reached his private room than his signaller informed him that Divisional Headquarters had just been trying to get him. It took some time, however, to get the message through. Meantime, the Colonel was handling Barry with a wise and skillful touch. He made him eat and eat heartily, seeking to divert his mind in the meantime from the disaster that had befallen the battalion to the big issues at stake, and pointing out with resolute cheerfulness that the calamity that had befallen the battalion was only a temporary setback.
"We're winning, my boy, and we're paying the price," he said.
At length signals got the D. H. Q. and called the colonel to the phone. After a few minutes' conversation, the O. C. called Barry.
"The general wants to speak to you, padre," and Barry with an apprehensive heart went to the phone.
"Oh, that you, Captain Dunbar?" It was the general's voice and somehow it carried with it an atmosphere of calm and cheerful confidence. "How are you getting on?"
"Oh, sir, very well. We are terribly anxious, of course."
"That's natural," said the general quietly. "We have had rather a serious reverse. Your whole brigade met with wire, and I fear they suffered heavily. The men behaved with great steadiness and are still splendidly holding. We are, of course, making every effort to relieve them, and with good hope of success."
"Have you heard of my O. C.?" inquired Barry.
"I fear rather bad news, Dunbar. Indeed, I fear he is seriously wounded. We have sent him straight on to Contay. Your officers have suffered quite severely."
"Have you heard what the casualties are, sir?"
"Not exactly," replied the General. "We shall not know until evening, but we must be prepared for a heavy loss. By the way, can you be spared from the casualty clearing station? I hear you are doing fine work there. If you can run up, I can send my car for you."
"I'm afraid not, sir, just now. Perhaps later on in the afternoon."
"Let me speak to Colonel James," said the general.
The O. C. came to the phone.
"Yes, sir," he said.--"Well, we are short handed just now.--He is really necessary at the present moment.--Yes, later on we'll send him up.--Very well, sir.--We are doing our best."
The calm and confident bearing of his superior officer, made Barry ashamed of the unnerving emotion from which he had been suffering all morning. He returned to his work resolved to put aside all personal considerations. The thing in which they were engaged was vastly more important than the fate of any individual or of any battalion. Victory was necessary, was guaranteed, and was demanding its price. That price was being paid, and to that price every man must make his contribution.
Toward night the stream of wounded gradually grew less, and the O. C. sent Barry, in a returning ambulance, up to the Divisional Headquarters. The serenity with which the general received him did much to restore Barry's poise, which had been severely shaken by the strain of the night and day with the wounded in the casualty clearing station and by the heartracking agony he had suffered over the loss of his comrades.
"Come in, Dunbar," said the general kindly. "Take a seat for a few minutes. Have a cigar. These you will find are good, I think."
"Thank you, sir. I will take a cigarette, if I may," said Barry, helping himself from a box on the table.
He had not been many minutes in the dug-out until he began to catch the reactions of the place. The spirit was one of controlled but concentrated energy. It was the spirit of the divisional commander, and it passed from him to the humblest orderly in the room. There was swiftness of action, alertness of mind, and with these a complete absence of hurry or confusion. Runners were continually arriving with urgent messages, phones insisting upon immediate answer, officers coming in with business of vast importance, but with no sign of flurry, the work of the Divisional Headquarters went swiftly and smoothly on.
At length there was a pause in the rush of calls upon the general's attention.
"Come in this way," he said to Barry, and led him to a smaller room at the back of the dug-out.
"Very comfortable quarters these. They seem to have done themselves quite well, haven't they? It is most convenient, for we certainly should not have taken pains to construct such elaborate dug-outs as these we have fallen heir to. Find a seat, Dunbar. I have got the latest reports." His voice was very gentle and very kindly. "Yes," he continued, "we have had a bad night's work. Uncut wire and an enfilade from a redoubt which should have been blown up. The casualties are very heavy."
"What are they?" Barry asked.
"Quite heavy, Dunbar, I'm afraid. Only some fifty have reported so far."
"Fifty!" cried Barry. "Out of five hundred!"
"There will doubtless some more drop in," added the general, "but we must be prepared for a heavy loss, far heavier, both in officers and men, than we can afford. The Battalion Headquarters was terribly wrecked by a succession of direct hits. Only a few of the staff escaped unhurt. Colonel Leighton was a fine officer. I had a great admiration, indeed, affection, for him. I know how you felt towards him, and he to you."
The steadiness in his voice brought quiet, but the kindness in it brought strength, and comfort. Barry became suddenly aware of the crushing load of responsibility upon this gentle-voiced man. He was eager to help.
"I wish I could help you, sir," he said. "I am sure we are all ready to do our best."
"I know that, Dunbar, and all are needed. Major Duff has gone out badly injured. The only officers remaining unhurt in the front line are Major Bayne and Captain Fraser, both of whom are splendidly carrying on. And you, too, have given great help to-day. Colonel James assures me that your initiative and resourcefulness were of the greatest service to him. Oh, by the way, a message came through in a letter the other day, that I should have sent you, but other things put it out of my mind, I am sorry to say." He touched a bell. "You see I had to tell your wife, Dunbar, of your determination to stay by us," he added with a smile. "Get me my private post-bag, please," he said to the orderly. He selected a letter from a packet, opened it, and pointed to a page. Barry recognised the handwriting as his wife's. He read:
"I need not assure you it was none of my family's doing to get that appointment for Barry. I was not surprised that he declined it, but then you see I know Barry. He is at the place where I would want him to be."
Barry kept his eyes steadily upon the words until he should be sure of his voice. His heart was thrilling with pride in the girl who had given herself to him. As the moments passed, he there and then vowed that by God's grace, he would not shame her nor belie her trust in him.
"Thank you, sir," he said quietly, handing the letter back.
"Helps a bit, eh, what?" said the general. "We can't let our women down, can we?"
"No, sir," said Barry. "Is there nothing I can do?" His voice was as steady and quiet as the general's.
"Oh, thank you, just the C. C. S., I fancy, at present."
At that point the door opened, and the corps commander came in, wearing a very tired and anxious face.
"Bad business, general," he said, with a single word of greeting and ignoring Barry.
"Yes, a very bad business, sir," said the divisional commander, and Barry fancied he caught a new note in his voice, a note of sternness, almost of challenge.
"Seems that we missed that wire, eh, along here?" said the corps commander, putting his finger upon a map which lay on the table.
"We must have that patrolled very carefully, you know." There was a note of criticism in his voice.
"Yes, sir," replied the corps commander courteously. "I wasn't at all sure that the wire was cut, and so reported."
"This strong point should have been removed," continued the divisional commander, putting his finger upon a point of junction. "That I asked to be done, but McDowell seems to have missed it."
"The enfilade got us from that point, of course." There was no mistaking the implication in the general's words.
"Ah! You reported that, eh?"
"You will find it in my report, sir. My division has suffered very heavily from that strong point."
The corps commander turned, and apparently observing Barry for the first time started and said,
"My friend, Captain Dunbar," said the general.
"Ah, Captain Dunbar," said the corps commander, obviously annoyed at his presence at the interview. "I trust Captain Dunbar is quite--"
"Captain Dunbar's reticence," said the general with quiet courtesy, "can be entirely trusted. He has just been doing some fine work at the C. C. S."
"Ah, yes. You are a padre, Dunbar? Oh, I remember to have heard about you. Very glad, indeed, to meet you, sir. Well, I must be off. We'll see to that strong point at once, general. Good-night-- good-night, Dunbar."
The general returned from seeing his visitor out. "Of course, we keep these things to ourselves."
"Of course," answered Barry.
"And now," said the general with a kindly smile, "I have kept the good news to the last. Your majority is coming through, and here is a letter which came in my care. Now, if you will excuse me, I'll leave you to take a bit of a rest. There's a cot, if you want to lie down. Then we'll have a bite to eat later."
"Oh, thank you very much," said Barry eagerly, taking the letter. "This is good news, indeed. My letters have been going astray somehow. I have not had one for a week."
"As long as that," said the general with uplifted brows.
One sentence in his letter made music in Barry's heart.
"And oh, my heart's beloved, God has been good to me and to you, for when the war is over, I hope there will be two of us to welcome daddy back." To which sentence Barry in his letter, written in immediate reply, said,
"Yes, dear, dear heart, God has been good to us, in that he has given us to each other, and to us both this wonderful new life to carry on when we are done."
When the general returned, he found Barry with his face on his arms and dead asleep.
"Poor chap," he said to his batman, "he is done up. Let him rest a bit."
They gave him an hour, after which they had their bite together.
"Now, general," said Barry, "I should like to run up to Battalion Headquarters. I might be of use there."
"That's quite all right," said the general. "You will be glad to know that that strong point has already been attended to. You didn't hear the row, did you?"
"Well the relief is going in and your men will soon be out."
When Barry entered the Battalion Headquarters, he found only Major Bayne and Captain Neil, with a signaller and a couple of runners, completing the arrangements for the relief.
"You! Pilot!" exclaimed the major, as he gripped his hand. "Now what the devil brought you here?"
"Couldn't help it, major. Simply had to come. I have been trying to get you all day," said Barry.
"Awfully glad to see you, old chap," said Captain Neil, for the major was finding difficulty with his speech.
"How many left, major?" said Barry.
"Five officers and seventy men," said the major in a husky voice. "My God, how those boys stuck."
"I shall not be moved," quoted Barry.
"That's it! That's it!" said the major. "Not the devil himself, let alone the Huns, could move them back from that wire. What is it, Sergeant Matthews?" he inquired of the sergeant who came in at that moment. "Have you completed your work?"
Sergeant Matthews was pale, panting and exhausted. "Yes, sir," he said, "I think so. I didn't--I didn't--go quite the full length of the trench. The boys said there was no one up there."
"But, Sergeant Matthews," thundered the major, "your orders were to go to the very end of the trench. You know this battalion never goes out leaving its wounded behind."
"We had a full load, sir," said the sergeant, leaning against the wall.
"Well, you will have to go back," said the major, "and complete the job. Can you carry on?"
"Yes, sir, I think so, sir."
As he spoke Sergeant Matthews swayed along the wall and collapsed onto a bench.
"Give him a shot of rum," said the major curtly to a runner.
"Let me go, major. I'll take the party," said Barry eagerly. "The sergeant is all in. I've had an hour's sleep and a feed and I feel quite fit."
"Oh, nonsense, the sergeant will be all right soon," said the major impatiently.
"But, major, I should like to go. The sergeant is played out and I am perfectly fit. We can't take the risk of leaving wounded men up there in that trench. Besides, there's little danger now. The strong point is blown up, so the general told me before I left."
"No, Barry, I won't allow it. I won't take the chance," said the major. "My God, man! there are only five officers left. I have lost every friend I have got in the battalion, except Neil here and you. I'm damned if I'm going to let you go out over No Man's Land."
"Steady, now, major," said Barry. "I'm going to take a walk to the end of that trench, just in case one of the boys should be there. Don't say no. It must be done and done carefully."
"All right, Barry," said the major, suddenly yielding. "Better take the sergeant with you. He knows the way, and I guess he's all right now."
The major and Captain Neil followed the party up the stairs and out into the trench. It was a beautiful starry night, and all was quiet now along the front.
"I don't like it," said the major, as he and Captain Neil stood together watching the party away. "I feel queer about it, Neil. I tell you I wish I hadn't let him go, but he is so darned stubborn about what he thinks is his duty."
"By Jove! Major, he always bucks me up somehow," said Captain Neil.
"Bucks us all up," said the major, and he turned to take up again the heavy burden of responsibility so suddenly and so terribly laid upon him. The relief had been completed, and the last N. C. O. had just reported "all clear." The Headquarters Company, now reduced to a poor half dozen, were standing ready to move, when the telephone rang.
"Yes, doctor," said the major, answering it. "Oh, my God! My God! Not that, doctor! Oh, God help us all! I'll be right down. It's the Pilot, Neil," he said, turning to his friend. "Just take charge, will you please. I must run."
Breathless he arrived at the R. A. P.
"Any chance, doctor?" he asked of the M. O. who was standing awaiting him at the door.
"Not the very least, major, and he only has a few minutes. He wants you."
"Now, may God help me," said the major standing quite still a moment or two. "How did he get it?" he asked of a stretcher bearer. "Do you know?"
"Yes, sir, we had just picked up the last man. Sergeant Matthews got a wound in the leg, and we had to carry him. Just as we started, they got to shelling pretty bad and we dropped into a hole. I looked over my shoulder and there was the Pilot, the chaplain, sir, I mean, with his body spread over Sergeant Matthews, to keep off the shrapnel. It was there he got it."
"Damn Sergeant Matthews," exclaimed the major, and passed on.
Barry was lying on a stretcher, very white and very still, but the smile with which he welcomed the major was very bright.
"Awfully sorry--for you,--old chap," he whispered. "Couldn't really--help--it--you know--we--got--them all--I'm--awfully--glad-- to see you--just a minute--before--before--"
The major, by this time, was weeping quietly.
"You have--been--a good friend--to me--major--. We--have had--a good--time--together--. Say--goodbye--to--the boys--for--me--and-- --to--to--Neil."
"Oh, Barry, boy," said the major, brokenly. "It's hard to have you go. You have helped us all."
Barry fumbled with weak fingers at his breast. The major opened his tunic thinking that he needed air.
"My--my--let-ter--" he whispered.
The major took the letter from his breast pocket, and put it in his hand. Barry held it a moment, then carried it to his lips.
"Now--that's--all--major," he whispered. "Tell--her--I--thank-- God--for--her--and--for--the--other. Major--tell--the boys--that-- God--is good--. Never--to be--afraid--but to--carry on--"
It was his last word, and there could be no better. "God is good. Never be afraid but carry on."