The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land by Ralph Connor
Chapter VII. Barricades and Bayonets
The city of Edmonton was in an uproar, its streets thronged with excited men, ranchers and cowboys from the ranches, lumberjacks from the foothill camps, men from the mines, trappers with lean, hard faces, in weird garb, from the north.
The news from the front was ominous. Belgium was a smoking waste. Her skies were black with the burning of her towns, villages and homesteads, her soil red with the blood of her old men, her women and children. The French armies, driven back in rout from the Belgian frontier, were being pounded to death by the German hordes. Fortresses hitherto considered impregnable were tumbling like ninepins before the terrible smashing of Austrian and German sixteen-inch guns. Already von Kluck with his four hundred thousand of conquering warriors was at the gates of Paris.
Most ominous of all, the British army, that gallant, little sacrificial army, of a scant seventy-five thousand men, holding like a bulldog to the flank of von Bulow's mighty army, fifty times as strong, threatened by von Kluck on the left flank and by von Housen on the right, was slowing down the German advance, but was itself being slowly ground into the bloody dust of the northern and eastern roads of Northern and Eastern France.
Black days these were for the men of British blood. Was the world to see something new in war? Were Germans to overcome men of the race of Nelson, and Wellington and Colin Campbell?
At home, hundreds of thousands were battering at the recruiting offices. In the Dominions of the Empire overseas it was the same. In Canada a hundred thousand men were demanding a place in the first Canadian contingent of thirty-five thousand, now almost ready to sail. General Sam at Ottawa was being snowed under by entreating, insistent, cajoling, threatening telegrams. Already northern Alberta had sent two thousand men. The rumour in Edmonton ran that there were only a few places left to be filled in the north Alberta quota. For these few places hundreds of men were fighting in the streets.
Alighting from their train, Duff and his men stood amazed, aghast, gazing upon the scene before them. Duff climbed a wagon wheel and surveyed the crowd packing the street in front of the bulletin boards.
"No use, this way, boys. We'll have to go around. Come on."
They went on. Up side streets and lanes, through back yards and shops they went until at length they emerged within a hundred yards of the recruiting office.
Duff called his men about him.
"Boys, we'll have to bluff them," he said. "You're a party of recruits that Col. Kavanagh expects. You've been sent for. I'm bringing you in under orders. Look as much like soldiers as you can, and bore in like hell. Come on!"
They began to bore. At once there was an uproar, punctuated with vociferous and varied profanity.
Duff proved himself an effective leader.
"Here, let me pass," he shouted into the backs of men's heads. "I'm on duty here. I must get through to Colonel Kavanagh. Keep up there, men; keep your line! Stand back, please! Make way!"
His huge bulk, distorted face and his loud and authoritative voice startled men into temporary submission, and before they could recover themselves he and his little company of hard-boring men were through.
Twenty-five yards from the recruiting office a side rush of the crowd caught them.
"They've smashed the barricades," a boy from a telegraph pole called out.
Duff and his men fought to hold their places, but they became conscious of a steady pressure backwards.
"What's doing now, boy?" shouted Duff to the urchin clinging to the telegraph pole.
"The fusileers--they are sticking their bayonets into them."
Before the line of bayonets the crowd retreated slowly, but Duff and his company held their ground, allowing the crowd to ebb past them, until they found themselves against the line of bayonets.
"Let me through here, sergeant, with my party," said Duff. "I'm under orders of Colonel Kavanagh."
The sergeant, an old British army man, looked them over.
"Have you an order, sir--a written order, I mean?"
"No," said Duff. "I haven't, but the colonel expects us. He is waiting for me now."
"Sorry, sir," replied the sergeant, "my orders are to let no one through without a written pass."
Duff argued, stormed, threatened, swore; but to no purpose. The N. C. O. knew his job.
"Send a note in," suggested Barry in Duff's ear.
"Good idea," replied Duff, and wrote hurriedly.
"Here, take this through to your colonel," he said, passing the note to the sergeant.
Almost immediately Colonel Kavanagh came out and greeted Duff warmly.
"Where in this wide creation have you been, Duff?" he exclaimed. "I've wanted you terribly."
"Here I am now, then," answered Duff. "Six of us. We're going with you."
"It can't be done," said the colonel. "I have only twenty places left; every one promised ten times over."
"That makes it easy, Kavanagh. You can give six of them to us."
"Duff, it simply can't be done. You know I'd give it to you if I could. I've wires from Ottawa backing up a hundred applicants, actually ordering me to put them on. No! It's no use," continued the colonel, holding up his hand. "Look here, I'll give you a pointer. We have got word to-day that there's to be a second contingent. Neil Fraser is out there in your district, Wapiti, raising a company of two hundred and fifty men. We have stripped that country bare already, so he's up against it. He wants Wapiti men, he says. They are no better than any other, but he thinks they are. You get out there to-night, Duff, and get in on that thing. You will get a commission, too. Now hike! Hike! Go! Honest to God, Duff, I want you with my battalion, and if I can work it afterwards, I'll get you exchanged, but your only chance now is Wapiti. Go, for God's sake, go quick!"
"What do you say, boys?" asked Duff, wheeling upon his men.
"I say, go!" said Knight.
In this decision they all agreed.
"Go it is," said Duff. "Right about turn. Good luck, Kavanagh, damn you. I see you have got a good sergeant there."
"Who? McDowell? None better. You couldn't beat him, eh?" said the colonel with a grin.
The sergeant stood at attention, with a wooden face.
"He's the kind of man they want in the front lines," said Duff. "The devil himself couldn't break through where he is."
"That's why I have him. Good luck. Good-bye!"
Throughout the night they marched, now and then receiving a lift from a ranch wagon, and in the grey of the morning, weary, hungry, but resolute for a place in the Wapiti company, they made the village.
Early as it was, Barry found his father astir, with breakfast in readiness.
"Hello, boy!" cried his father running to him with outstretched hands.
"Hello, dad!" answered Barry. His father threw a searching glance over his son's face as he shook his hand warmly.
"Not a word, Barry, until you eat. Not a word. Go get ready for your bath. I'll have it for you in a minute. No, not one word. Quick. March. That is the only word these days. As you eat I'll give you the news."
Resolutely he refused to talk until he saw his son begin upon his breakfast. Then he poured forth a stream of news. The whole country was aflame with war enthusiasm. Alberta had offered half a million bushels of oats for the imperial army, and a thousand horses or more. The Calgary district had recruited two thousand men, the Edmonton district as many more. All over Canada, from Vancouver to Halifax, it was the same.
From the Wapiti district twenty-six ranchers, furnishing their own horses, had already gone. Ewen Innes was in Edmonton. His brother Malcolm was in uniform, too, and his young brother Jim was keen to enlist. Neil Fraser was busy raising a company of Wapiti men. Young Pickles and McCann had joined up as buglers.
And so the stream flowed, Barry listening with grave face but making no response.
"And I'm glad you're back, my boy. I'm glad you're back," said his father, clapping him on the shoulder.
The rest of the meal was eaten in silence. They were having each his own thoughts, and for the first time in their life together, they kept their thoughts to themselves.
"You're going to your office, Dad," said Barry, when they had cleared away, and set the house in order.
"No, the office is closed, and will be for some time, I imagine. I'm busy with Neil Fraser. I'm acting paymaster, quartermaster, recruiting sergeant, and half a dozen other things."
"I'll go down with you," said Barry, as his father rose to go.
His father came back to him, put his hands on his shoulders, and said:
"Barry, I want you to go to bed."
"Nonsense, dad. I'm all right. I'm going downtown with you."
"Barry," said his father, "we have hard times before us, and you must be fit. I ask you to go to bed and sleep there this forenoon. You're half asleep now. This afternoon we shall face up to our job."
His father's voice was quietly authoritative and Barry yielded.
"All right, dad. I'll do as you say, and this afternoon--well, we'll see."
At the noonday meal they were conscious of a mutual restraint. For the first time in their lives they were not opening to each other their innermost souls. The experience was as distressing as it was unusual. The father, as if in dread of silence, was obviously exerting himself to keep a stream of talk flowing. Barry was listening with a face very grave and very unlike the bright and buoyant face he usually carried. They avoided each other's eyes, and paid little heed to their food.
At length Barry pushed back his chair.
"Will you excuse me, dad," he said. "I think I shall step out a moment into the garden."
"Do, Barry," said his father, in obvious relief. "You are fagged out, my boy."
"Thanks, dad. I am a bit played out."
"And take it easy this afternoon, Barry. To-night you will tell me about your trip, and--and--we'll have a talk."
"Good old dad!" said Barry. "You do understand a chap. See you later, then," he called back as he passed through the door.
His father sat gazing before him for some moments with a deep shadow on his face.
"There is something wrong with that boy," he said to himself. "I wish I knew what it was."
He set his house in order, moving heavily as if a sudden weight of years had fallen upon his shoulders, and took his way slowly down the street.
"I wonder what it is," he mused, refusing to give form to a horrible thought that hovered like a spectre about the windows of his soul.
The first glance at his son's face at the time of the evening meal made his heart sing within him.
"He's all right again! He's all right!" he said to himself jubilantly.
"Hello, dad," cried Barry, as his father entered the room. "Supper's just ready. How do you feel, eh?"
"Better, my boy--first rate, I mean. I'm properly hungry. You're rested, I can see."
"I'm all right, dad! I'm all right!" cried Barry, in his old cheery way. "Dad, I want to apologise to you. I wasn't myself to- day, but now I'm all right again. Dad, I've joined up. I'm a soldier now," he said with a smile on his face, but with anxious eyes turned on his father.
"Joined up!" echoed his father. "Barry, you have enlisted! Thank God, my boy. I feared--I thought-- No, damned if I did!" he added, with such an unusual burst of passion that Barry could only gaze at him with astonishment.
"Forgive me, my boy," he said, coming forward with outstretched hand. "For a moment I confess I thought--" Again he paused, apparently unable to continue.
"You thought, dad," cried Barry, "and--forgive me, dad--I thought too. I ought to have known you better."
"And I, you, my son."
They shook hands with each other in an ecstasy of jubilation.
"My God, I'm glad that's through," said the older man. "We were both fools, Barry, but thank God that horror is past. Now tell me all about everything--your trip, your plans. Let's have a good talk as we always do."
"Come on then, dad," cried Barry. "Let's have an eat first. By Jove, I feel a thousand years younger. I go to the M. O. to-morrow for an examination."
"He is quite unusually severe in his interpretation of the regulations, I understand," said his father. "He is turning men down right and left. He knows, of course, that there are plenty to choose from. But there is no fear of your fitness, Barry."
"Not much," said Barry, with a gay laugh.
Never had they spent a happier evening together. True, the spectre of war would thrust itself upon them, but they faced it as men-- with a full appreciation of its solemn reality, but without fear, and with a quiet determination to make whatever sacrifice might be demanded of them. The perfect understanding that had always marked their intercourse with each other was restored. The intolerable burden of mutual uncertainty in regard to each other's attitude toward the war was lifted. All shadows that lay between them were gone. Nothing else really mattered.
The day following, Barry received a rude shock. The M. O., after an examination, to his amazement and dismay, pronounced him physically unfit for service.
"And why, pray?" cried his father indignantly, when Barry announced the astounding report. "Is the man a fool? I understood that he was strict. But you! unfit! It is preposterous. Unfit! how?"
"Heart murmur," said Barry. "Sets it down to asthma. You remember I told you I had a rotten attack after my experience last week in the river. He suggested that I apply for a position in an ambulance corps, and he is giving me a letter to Colonel Sidleigh at Edmonton. I am going to-morrow to Edmonton to see Sidleigh, and besides I have some church business to attend to. I must call upon my superintendent. You remember I made an application to him for another mission field."
He found Colonel Sidleigh courteously willing to accept his application, the answer to which, he was informed, he might expect in a fortnight; and so went with a comparatively light heart to his interview with his superintendent.
The interview, however, turned out not entirely as he had expected. He went with an idea of surrendering his appointment. His superintendent made him an offer of another and greater.
"So they turned you down," said the superintendent. "Well, I consider it most providential. You have applied for a position on the ambulance corps. As fine as is that service, and as splendid as are its possibilities, I offer you something much finer, and I will even say much more important to our army and to our cause. We are in need of men for the Chaplain Service, and for this service we demand the picked men of our church. The appointments that have been made already are some of them most unsuitable, some, I regret to say, scandalous. Let me tell you, sir, of an experience in Winnipeg only last week. It was, my fortune to fall in with the commanding officer of a Saskatchewan unit. I found him in a rage against the church and all its officials. His chaplain had become so hilarious at the mess that he was quite unable to carry on."
"Hilarious?" inquired Barry.
"Hilarious, sir. Yes, plain drunk. Think of it. Think of the crime! the shame of it! A man charged with the responsibility of the souls of these men going to war--possibly to their death-- drunk, in their presence! A man standing for God and the great eternal verities, incapacitated before them! I took the matter up with Ottawa, and I have this satisfaction at least, that I believe that no such appointment will ever be made again. That chaplain, I may say too, has been dismissed. I have here, sir, a mission field suitable to your ability and experience. I shall not offer it to you. I am offering you the position of chaplain in one of our Alberta battalions."
Barry stood before him, dumb with dismay.
"Of course, I want to go to the war," he said at length, "but I am sure, sir, I am not the man for the position you offer me."
"Sir," said the superintendent, "I have taken the liberty of sending in your name. Time was an element. Appointments were being rapidly made, and I was extremely anxious that you should go with this battalion. I confess to a selfish interest. My own boy, Duncan, has enlisted in that unit, and many of our finest young men with him. I assumed the responsibility of asking for your appointment. I must urge you solemnly to consider the matter before you decline."
Eloquently Barry pleaded his unfitness, instancing his failure as a preacher in his last field.
"I am not a preacher," he protested. "I am not a 'mixer.' They all say so. I shall be impossible as a chaplain."
"Young man," said the superintendent, a note of sternness in his voice, "you know not what transformations in character this war will work. Would I were twenty years younger," he added passionately, "twenty years sounder. Think of the opportunity to stand for God among your men, to point them the way of duty, and fit them for it, to bring them comfort, when they need comfort sorely, to bring them peace, when they most need peace."
Barry came away from the interview more disturbed than he had ever been in his life. After he had returned to his hotel, a message from his superintendent recalled him.
"I have a bit of work to do," he said, "in which I need your help. I wish you to join me in a visitation of some of the military camps in this district. We start this evening."
There was nothing for it but to obey his superintendent's orders. The two weeks' experience with his chief gave Barry a new view and a new estimate of the chaplain's work. As he came into closer touch with camp life and its conditions, he began to see how great was the soldier's need of such moral and spiritual support as a chaplain might be able to render. He was exposed to subtle and powerful temptations. He was deprived of the wonted restraints imposed by convention, by environment, by family ties. The reactions from the exhaustion of physical training, from the monotonous routine of military discipline, from loneliness and homesickness were such as to call for that warm, sympathetic, brotherly aid, and for the uplifting spiritual inspiration that it is a chaplain's privilege to offer. But in proportion as the service took on a nobler and loftier aspect, was Barry conscious to a corresponding degree of his own unfitness for the work.
When he returned to the city, he found no definite information awaiting him in regard to a place in the ambulance corps. He returned home in an unhappy and uncertain frame of mind.
But under the drive of war, events were moving rapidly in Barry's life. He arrived late in the afternoon, and proceeding to the military H.Q., he found neither his father nor Captain Neil Fraser in the office.
"Gone out for the afternoon, sir," was the word from the orderly in charge.
Wandering about the village, he saw in a field at its outskirts, a squad of recruits doing military evolutions and physical drill. As he drew near he was arrested by the short, snappy tones of the N. C. O. in charge.
"That chap knows his job," he said to himself, "and looks like his job, too," he added, as his eyes rested upon the neat, upright, soldier-like figure.
Captain Neil he found observing the drill from a distance.
"What do you think of that?" he called out to Barry, as the latter came within hailing distance. "What do you think of my sergeant?"
"Fine," replied Barry. "Where did you get him?"
"What? Look at him!"
"I am. Pretty natty sergeant he makes, too."
"Let's go out there, and I'll introduce him."
As they crossed the parade ground, the sergeant dropped his military tone and proceeded to explain in his ordinary voice some details in connection with the drill. Barry, catching the sound of his voice, stopped short.
"You don't mean it, Captain Neil! Not dad, is it?"
"Nobody else," said Captain Neil. "Wait a minute. Wait and let's watch him at his work."
For some time they stood observing the work of the new sergeant. Barry was filled with amazement and delight.
"What do you think of him?" inquired Captain Neil.
But Barry made no reply.
"My company sergeant major got drunk," continued Captain Neil. "I had no one to take the drill. I asked your father to take it. He nearly swept us off our feet. In consequence, there he stands, my company sergeant major, and let me tell you, he will be the regimental sergeant major before many weeks have passed, or I'm a German."
"But his age," inquired Barry, still in a maze of astonishment.
"Oh, that's all right. You don't want them too young. I assured the authorities that he was of proper military age, telling them, at the same time, that I must have him. He's a wonder, and the men just adore him."
"I don't wonder at that," said Barry.
Together they moved over to the squad. The sergeant, observing his officer, called his men smartly to attention, and greeted the captain with a very snappy salute.
"Sergeant major, let me introduce you to my friend, Mr. Barry Dunbar," said Captain Neil with a grin.
"I say, dad," said Barry, still unable to associate his father with this N. C. O. in uniform who stood before him. "I say, dad, where did you get all that military stuff?"
"I'm very rusty, my boy, very rusty! I hope to brush up, though. The men are improving, I think, sir."
"I'm sure of it," said Captain Neil. "How is that wild man from Athabasca doing?"
"He is finding it hard work, sir, I'm afraid. He finds it difficult to connect up this drill business with the business of war. He wants to go right off and kill Germans. But he is making an effort to put up with me."
"And you, with him, eh, sergeant major? But turn them loose. They have done enough for to-day, and I know your son wants to take you off with him, and get you to explain how you go into the army."
The explanation came as they were walking home together.
"You see, boy, I felt keenly your disappointment in being rejected from the fighting forces of the country. I felt too that our family ought to be represented in the fighting line, so when Captain Fraser found himself in need of a drill sergeant, I could hardly refuse. I would have liked to have consulted you, my boy, but--"
"Not at all, dad; you did perfectly right. It was just fine of you. I'm as proud as Punch. I only wish I could go with you. I'd like to be in your squad. But never mind, I've two jobs open to me now, and I sorely need your advice."
Together they talked over the superintendent's offer of the position of chaplain.
"I can't see myself a chaplain, dad. The position calls for an older man, a man of wider experience. Many of these men would be almost twice my age. Now the superintendent himself would be the man for the job. You ought to see him at his work with the soldiers. I really can't think I'm fit."
In this opinion his father rather concurred.
"An older man would be better, Barry--a man of more experience would be of more service, and, yet I don't know. One thing I am sure of, if you accept the position, I believe you will fill it worthily. After all, in every department, this war is a young man's job."
"Of course," said Barry. "If I went as chaplain, it would be in your unit, dad, and that would be altogether glorious."
"I do hope so. But we must not allow that, however, to influence our decision," replied his father.
"I know, I know!" hurriedly agreed Barry. "I trust I would not be unduly influenced by personal considerations."
This hope, however, was rudely dashed by an unexpected call for a draft of recruits from Captain Neil's company that came through from Colonel Kavanagh to replace a draft suddenly dispatched to make up to strength another western regiment. Attached to the call there was a specific request, which amounted to a demand for the sergeant major, for whose special qualifications as physical and military instructor there was apparently serious need in Colonel Kavanagh's regiment.
With great reluctance, and with the expenditure of considerable profanity, Captain Neil Fraser dispatched his draft and agreed to the surrender of his sergeant major.
The change came as a shock to both Barry and his father. For some days they had indulged the hope that they would both be attached to the same military unit, and unconsciously this had been weighing with Barry in his consideration of his probable appointment as chaplain.
The disappointment of their hope was the more bitter when it was announced that Colonel Kavanagh's battalion was warned for immediate service overseas, and the further announcement that in all probability the new battalion, to which the Wapiti company would be attached, might not be dispatched until some time in the spring.
"But you may catch us up in England, Barry," said his father, when Barry was deploring their ill luck. "No one knows what our movements will be. I do wish, however, that your position were definitely settled."
The decision in this matter came quickly, and was, without his will or desire, materially hastened by Barry himself.
Colonel Kavanagh's battalion being under orders to depart within ten days, a final Church Parade was ordered, at which only soldiers and their kin were permitted to be present. The preacher for the day falling ill from an overweight of war work, and Barry being in the city with nothing to do, the duty of preaching at this Parade Service was suddenly thrust upon him.
To his own amazement and to that of his father, Barry accepted without any fear or hesitation this duty which in other circumstances would have overwhelmed him with dismay. But to Barry the occasion was of such surpassing magnitude and importance that all personal considerations were obliterated.
The war, with its horrors, its losses, its overwhelming sacrifice, its vast and eternal issues, was the single fact that filled his mind. It was this that delivered him from that nervous self- consciousness, the preacher's curse, that paralyses the mental activities, chills the passions, and cloggs the imagination, so that his sermon becomes a lifeless repetition of words, previously prepared, correct, even beautiful, it may be in form, logical in argument, sound in philosophy, but dead, dull and impotent, bereft of the fire that kindles the powers of the soul, the emotion that urges to action, the imagination that lures to high endeavour.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
The voice, clear, vibrant, melodious, arrested with its first word the eyes and hearts of his hearers, and so held them to the end. With the earnest voice there was the fascination of a face alight with a noble beauty, eyes glowing as with lambent flame.
A second time he read the appealing words, then paused and allowed his eyes to wander quietly over the congregation. They represented to him in that hour the manhood and womanhood of his country. Sincerely, with no attempt at rhetoric and with no employment of any of its tricks, he began his sermon.
"This war," he said, "is a conflict of ideals eternally opposed. Our ambitious and ruthless enemy has made the issue and has determined the method of settlement. It is a war of souls, but the method of settlement is not that of reason but that of force--a force that finds expression through your bodies. Therefore the appeal of the Apostle Paul, this old-world hero, to the men of his time reaches down to us in this day, and at this crisis of the world's history. Offer your bodies--these living bodies--these sacred bodies--offer them in sacrifice to God."
There was little discussion of the causes of the war. What need? They knew that this war was neither of their desiring nor of their making. There was no attempt to incite hatred or revenge. There was little reference to the horrors of war, to its griefs, its dreadful agonies, its irreparable losses.
From the first word he lifted his audience to the high plane of sacrament and sacrifice. They were called upon to offer upon the altar of the world's freedom all that they held dear in life--yea, life itself! It was the ancient sacrifice that the noblest of the race had always been called upon to make. In giving themselves to this cause they were giving themselves to their country. They were offering themselves to God. In simple diction, and in clear flowing speech, the sermon proceeded without pause or stumbling to the end. The preacher closed with an appeal to the soldiers present to make this sacrifice of theirs at once worthy and complete. These bodies of theirs were sacred and were devoted to this cause. It was their duty to keep them clean and fit.
For a few brief moments, he turned to the others present at the service--the fathers, mothers, wives and sweethearts of the soldiers, and reminded them in tones thrilling with tenderness and sympathy that though not privileged to share in the soldiers' service in the front lines, none the less might they share in this sacrifice, by patient endurance of the separation and loss, by a cheerful submission to trial, and by continual remembrance in prayer to Almighty God of the sacred cause and its defenders they might help to bring this cause to victory.
In the brief prayer that followed the sermon, in words tender, simple, heart-moving, he led the people in solemn dedication of themselves, soul and body, to their country, to their cause, to their God.
The effect of the sermon and prayer was overpowering. There were no tears, but men walked out with heads more erect, because of the exaltation of spirit which was theirs. And women, fearful of the coming hour of parting, felt their hearts grow strong within them with the thought that they were voluntarily sending their men away. Upon the whole congregation lay a new and solemn sense of duty, a new and uplifting sense of privilege in making the sacrifice of all that they counted precious for this holy cause.
It was the sermon that brought the decision in the matter of Barry's appointment.
"What do you think of that, Colonel Kavanagh?" asked Captain Neil Fraser, who came in for the service.
"A very fine sermon! A very notable sermon!" said the colonel. "Who is he?"
"He is my own minister," said Captain Neil, "and he gave me, to- day, the surprise of my life. I didn't know it was in him. I understand there is a chance of his being our chaplain. He is Sergeant Dunbar's son."
"I wish to Heaven we could take him with us! What about it, Fraser? We've got the father, why not the son, too? They'd both like it."
"I say, Colonel, for Heaven's sake, have a heart. I hated to surrender my company sergeant major. I don't think I ought to be asked to surrender our chaplain."
"All right, Fraser, so be it. But you have got a wonderful chaplain in that boy. What a face! What a voice! And that's the kind of a spirit we want in our men."
That very afternoon, Captain Neil went straight away to Colonel Leighton, the officer commanding the new regiment to which Captain Neil's company belonged. To the colonel he gave an enthusiastic report of the sermon, with Colonel Kavanagh's judgment thereon.
"I would suggest, sir, that you wire Ottawa on the matter," he urged. "If Colonel Kavanagh thought he had a chance, he would not hesitate. We really ought to get this fixed. I assure you he's a find."
"Go to it, then, Fraser. I'm rather interested to see your earnest desire for a chaplain. The Lord knows you need one! Go up to Headquarters and use my name. Say what you like."
Thus it came that the following day Barry was informed by wire of his appointment as chaplain of the new regiment of Alberta rangers.
"It's at least a relief to have the matter settled," said his father, to whom Barry brought his wire. "Barry, I'm glad of the opportunity to tell you that since yesterday, my mind has undergone considerable change. I am not sure but that you have found your place and your work in the war."
"No, dad," answered Barry, "I wasn't responsible for that sermon yesterday. The war was very near and very real to me. Those boys were looking up at me, and you were there, dad. You drew that sermon stuff out of me."
"If once, why not again? At any rate, it greatly rejoiced me to know that it was there in you. I don't say I was proud of you, my boy. I was proud of you, but that is not the word that I should like to use. I was profoundly grateful that I was privileged to hear a sermon like that from a son of mine. Now, Barry," continued his father, "this is our last day together for some months, perhaps forever," he added in a low tone.
"Don't, daddy, don't," cried Barry, "I can't bear to think of that to-day."
"All right, Barry, but why not? It is really far better that we should face all the possibilities. But now that we have this day-- and what a perfect day it is--for our last day together, what shall we do with it?"
"I know, dad--I think you would wish that we take our ride into the foothills to-day."
"It was in my mind, my boy. I hesitated to suggest it. So let us go."
It was one of those rare November days that only Alberta knows, mellow with the warm sun, and yet with a nip in it that suggested the coming frost, without a ripple of the wind that almost constantly sweeps the Alberta ranges. In the blue sky hung motionless, like white ships at sea, bits of cloud. The long grass, brown, yellow and green in a hundred shades, lay like a carpet over the rolling hills and wide spreading valleys, reaching up on every side to the horizon, except toward the west, where it faded into the blue of the foothills at the bases of the mighty Rockies.
Up the long trail, resilient to their horses' feet, they cantered where the going was good, or picked their way with slow and careful tread where the rocky ridges jutted through the black soil.
They made no effort to repulse the thought that this was their last day together, nor did they seek to banish the fact of the war. With calm courage and hope they faced the facts of their environment, seeking to aid each other in readjusting their lives to those facts. They were resolutely cheerful. The day was not to be spoiled with tears and lamentations. Already each in his own place and time had made his sacrifice of a comradeship that was far dearer than life. The agony of that hour, each had borne in silence and alone. No shadow should fall across this sunny day.
By the side of the grave, in its little palisaded enclosure, they lingered, the father recalling the days of his earlier manhood, which had been brightened by a love whose fragrance he had cherished and shared with his son through their years together, Barry listening with reverent attention and tender sympathy.
"I had always planned that I too should be laid here, Barry," said his father, as they prepared to take their departure, "but do you know, boy, this war has made many changes in me and this is one. It seems to me a very little thing where my body lies, if it be offered, as you were saying so beautifully yesterday, in sacrifice to our cause."
Barry could only nod his head in reply. He was deeply moved.
"You are young, Barry," said his father, noting his emotion, "and life is very dear to you, my boy."
"No, dad, no! Not life," said Barry brokenly. "Not life, only you, dad. I just want you, and, oh dad!" continued the boy, losing hold of himself and making no effort to check or hide the tears that ran down his face, "if one of us is to go in this war,--as is likely enough,--I only want that the other should be there at the time. It would be--terribly--lonely--dad--to go out myself-- without you. Or to have you go out--alone.--We have always been together--and you have been--so very good to me, dad. I can't help this, dad,--I try--but I am not strong enough--I'm not holding back from the sacrifice, dad," hurrying his words,--"No, no, not that, but perhaps you understand."
For answer, his father put both his arms around his son, drew his head down to his breast, as if he had been a child.
"There, there, laddie," he said, patting him on the shoulder, "I know, I know! Oh God, how I know. We have lived together very closely, without a shadow ever between us, and my prayer, since this war began, has been that in death, if it had to be, we might be together, and, Barry, somehow I believe God will give us that."
"Good old dad, good old boy! What a brick you are! I couldn't help that, dad. Forgive me for being a baby, and spoiling the day--"
"Forgive you, boy," still with his arms around his son, "Barry, I love you for it. You've never brought me one sorrow nor will you. To-day and every day I thank God for you, my son."
They rode back through the evening toward the camp. By the time they arrived there, the sun had sunk behind the mountains, and the quiet stars were riding serenely above the broken, floating clouds, and in their hearts was peace.