The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land by Ralph Connor
Chapter XX. "Carry On"
The next day but one they carried the Pilot to his grave in the little plot outside the walled cemetery on the outskirts of the city of Albert. It had been arranged that only a small guard should follow to the grave. But this plan was changed. Sergeant Mackay, who was the only sergeant left after consulting "the boys," came to Major Bayne.
"The boys feel bad, sir," he said, "that they can't go with the Pilot, excuse me, sir, the chaplain."
"Do they?" said the major. "We want to avoid congestion in the streets, and besides we don't want to expose the men. They are still shelling the city, you know."
"I know, sir," replied the sergeant. "The boys have heard the shells before, sir. And there's not so many of them that they will crowd the streets much."
"Let them go, sergeant," said the major, and Sergeant Mackay went back with the word to the men. "And I want you to look like soldiers," said the sergeant, "for remember we are following a soldier to his grave."
And look like soldiers they did with every button and bayonet shining, as they had never shone for battalion inspection.
They had passed through an experience which had left them dazed; they had marched deliberately into the mouth of hell and had come back stunned by what they had seen and heard, incapable of emotion. So they thought, till they learned that the Pilot had been killed. Then they knew that grief was still possible to them. With their grief mingled a kind of inexplicable wrath at the manner of his death.
"If it had been the O. C. now, or any one else but Fatty Matthews," said Sergeant Mackay in disgust, expressing the general opinion. "It is an awful waste."
Under the figure of the Virgin and Child, leaning out in pity and appeal over the shattered city, through marching battalions "going in" and "coming out," the little pitiful remnant made its way, the band leading, the Brigade and Divisional Headquarters Staffs bringing up in the rear. The service was brief and simple, a brother chaplain reading at the major's suggestion the Psalm which Barry had read at his last Parade Service with the battalion.
At the conclusion of the service, the divisional commander stepped forward and said,
"May I offer the officers and men of this battalion my respectful sympathy with them in the loss of their chaplain? During these last weeks, I had come to know him well. Captain Dunbar was a chaplain in his brigade. He was more. He was a gallant officer, a brave soldier, a loyal-hearted Canadian. The morale of this division is higher to-day because he has been with us. He did his duty to his country, to his comrades, to his God. What more can we ask than this, for ourselves and for our comrades?"
Then there was a little pause and Major Bayne began to speak. At first his voice was husky and tremulous, but as he went on, it gathered strength and clearness. He reminded them how, when the chaplain came to them first, they did not understand him, nor treat him quite fairly, but how in these last months, he had carried the confidence, and the love, of every officer and man in the battalion.
"Were the Commanding Officer here to-day, he would tell, as I have often heard him tell, how greatly the chaplain had contributed to the discipline and to the morale of this battalion. He helped us all to be better soldiers and better men. He never shrank from danger. He never faltered in duty. He lived to help his comrades and to save a comrade he gave his life at last."
The major paused, looked round upon the gallant remnant of a once splendid battalion, his lips quivering, his eyes running over with tears. But he pulled himself together, and continued with steady voice to the end.
"But not to say these things am I speaking to you today. I wish only to give you this last message from our Sky Pilot. This is the Pilot's last message: 'Tell the boys that God is good, and when they are afraid, to trust Him, and "carry on."' And for myself, men, I want to say that he was the only man that showed me what God is like."
In that company of men who had looked steadfastly into the face of death, there were no eyes without tears, many of them were openly weeping.
When the major had finished, the officers present, beginning with the divisional commander, came and stood at the head of the open grave for a single moment, then silently saluted and turned away. It was the duty of Bugler Pat McCann to sound "The Last Post," but poor Pat was too overcome with his sobbing at once to perform this last duty. Whereupon the runner Pickles, standing with rigid, stony face beside his chum, took the bugle from his hands and there sounded forth that most beautiful and most poignant of all musical sounds known to British soldiers the world over, "The Last Post," ending with that last, high, long-drawn, heart-piercing note of farewell.
Then, because the war was yet to be won, they "carried on," the battalion marching away to a merry tune.
Beside Barry's grave there still lingered three men, the divisional commander, Major Bayne, and Captain Neil.
"I am thinking of that little girl in London," said the divisional commander, and for the first time his voice broke. The others waited, looking at him. "We will hold back this news for a couple of days, and I think, major, you ought to go and--"
"No, general!--My God, no! Don't ask me!" The major was profoundly agitated. "Send Neil, here. He knows her well, and his wife is her great friend."
"Very well, major, I think that will be better," said the general in his courteous, gentle voice. "You know her, Captain Fraser, and you can be better spared."
And so it was arranged. Captain Neil telegraphed Paula to meet him at Boulogne, and together they made the journey to London, carrying with them sad and fearful hearts.
They found Phyllis in a little flat which her mother had taken. When she saw them her face went white, and her hands flew to her bosom. Speechless, and with a great fear in her wide-open brown eyes, she stood looking from one to the other, waiting for their message. Paula went to her and without a word put her arms round her, and held her close.
"I know, Paula," she said, putting her gently away from her. "I know what you have to tell me. Barry is dead. My dear love is dead!" Her voice was tender, soft and low. "Don't fear to tell me, Neil," she said. "See, I am quite steady." She put out her hand that he might see that there was no tremour in it.
"Sit down, darling," besought Paula, again winding her arms about her.
"No, no, let me stand, Paula dear. See, I am quite strong. Now tell me about it, Neil--all about it. You were his dear friend, you know."
Her voice, so sweet, so soft, so perfectly controlled, helped Captain Neil with his task. It seemed an offence that he should intrude any exhibition of grief or emotion upon the serene calm of this young girl, standing so straight, so proud, and regarding him with such brave eyes.
Then Captain Neil told his tale. He began with the last service upon the Parade Ground before the battalion moved into action. He told of Barry's bitter disappointment, and of their relief that he was not allowed to accompany them to the front line. He told of Barry's long day at the casualty clearing station, and of his service to the wounded, and of how good the divisional commander had been to him that night.
"It was there he got your letter, Phyllis."
"Oh, he got my letter. I'm so glad," whispered the girl, with a quick breath and a sudden flushing of her pale cheeks. "He knew! He knew!"
"I have his letter in reply here," said Captain Neil, handing it to her.
She took it in both her hands, kissed it tenderly, as if caressing a child, and put it in her bosom.
"Please go on," she said, and Captain Neil took up his tale again. He told how the major tried to persuade him not to go out after the wounded that night.
"But, of course, he would go," the girl said with a proud little smile, at which Captain Neil's self-control quite gave way, and he could only look at her piteously through his tears.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said gently. "Can't you go on? I want to hear so much every bit, but if you can't--"
At which, Captain Neil gripped himself hard and went on, "and so he went out, and they searched the trench from end to end. They found one poor chap, whose leg was badly smashed--"
"Oh, I'm so glad they found him," whispered Phyllis.
"Then Sergeant Matthews got his wound, and the shells began to fall. They took refuge in a shell hole, and there, while covering Fatty Matthews from the breaking shrapnel, Barry got his wound."
Captain Neil was forced to pause again in the recital of his story. After a few minutes, he told of how they carried him to his grave, and laid him in the cemetery outside the city of Albert.
"The boys were all there. There were not many of them left," he said.
"How many?" she asked.
"Seventy only, out of five hundred and four who went over the parapet two nights before."
"Ah, poor, gallant boys! I love them, I love them all!" said the girl, clasping her hands together.
"They were all terribly broken up as they stood about the grave, and no wonder! No wonder! Then the divisional commander made a little speech, and then our own major gave them Barry's last message."
"Tell me," said the girl gently, as Captain Neil paused.
"It was this," said Captain Neil. "'Tell the boys that God is good, and when they are afraid, to trust Him, and "carry on."'"
"That was like him," she said. "That was like Barry! Oh, Paula," she cried, turning to her friend. "I'm so happy! It was a beautiful closing to a beautiful life. He was a beautiful boy, Paula, wasn't he? His body was beautiful, his soul was beautiful, his life was beautiful, and the ending, oh, was beautiful. Oh, Paula, God is good. I am so glad he gave Barry to me, and gave me to him. Oh, I'm so--happy--so--happy." Her voice sank into a whisper. Then after a few moments of silence, with a little piteous cry, she suddenly broke forth, "But Paula! Paula! he is gone. I shall never see him again."
Paula held her arms tightly about her, sobbing as if her own heart were broken, but Phyllis recovered herself quickly.
"No, no," she said softly, as if counselling her own heart. "I must remember. 'God is good,' he said, and so, Paula, I must not be afraid. God was good to him. He will be good to me. He will be good to his child." Her voice sank again into a whisper. She stood silent with eyes looking into the far distance. Then, in a clear, firm voice, she said, "I will not be afraid! God is good! I will 'carry on.'"