SIMON CALLED PETER
BY ROBERT KEABLE
AUTHOR OF "THE DRIFT OF PINIONS," "STANDING BY," ETC.
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO JULIE
She never lived, maybe, but it is truer to say that she never dies. Nor shall she ever die. One may believe in God, though He is hard to find, and in Women, though such as Julie are far to seek.
THE AUTHOR TO THE READER
The glamour of no other evil thing is stronger than the glamour of war. It would seem as if the cup of the world's sorrow as a result of war had been filled to the brim again and again, but still a new generation has always been found to forget. A new generation has always been found to talk of the heroisms that the divine in us can manifest in the mouth of hell and to forget that so great a miracle does not justify our creation of the circumstance.
Yet if ever war came near to its final condemnation it was in 1914-1918. Our comrades died bravely, and we had been willing to die, to put an end to it once and for all. Indeed war-weary men heard the noise of conflict die away on November 11, 1918, thinking that that end had been attained. It is not yet three years ago; a little time, but long enough for betrayal.
Long enough, too, for the making of many books about it all, wherein has been recorded such heroisms as might make God proud and such horror as might make the Devil weep. Yet has the truth been told, after all? Has the world realized that in a modern war a nation but moves in uniform to perform its ordinary tasks in a new intoxicating atmosphere? Now and again a small percentage of the whole is flung into the pit, and, for them, where one in ten was heavy slaughter, now one in ten is reasonable escape. The rest, for the greater part of the time, live an unnatural life, death near enough to make them reckless and far enough to make them gay. Commonly men and women more or less restrain themselves because of to-morrow; but what if there be no to-morrow? What if the dice are heavily weighted against it? And what of their already jeoparded restraint when the crisis has thrown the conventions to the winds and there is little to lighten the end of the day?
Thus to lift the veil on life behind the lines in time of war is a thankless task. The stay-at-homes will not believe, and particularly they whose smug respectability and conventional religion has been put to no such fiery trial. Moreover they will do more than disbelieve; they will say that the story is not fit to be told. Nor is it. But then it should never have been lived. That very respectability, that very conventionality, that very contented backboneless religion made it possible—all but made it necessary. For it was those things which allowed the world to drift into the war, and what the war was nine days out of ten ought to be thrust under the eyes of those who will not believe. It is a small thing that men die in battle, for a man has but one life to live and it is good to give it for one's friends; but it is such an evil that it has no like, this drifting of a world into a hell to which men's souls are driven like red maple leaves before the autumn wind.
The old-fashioned pious books made hell stink of brimstone and painted the Devil hideous. But Satan is not such a fool. Champagne and Martinis do not taste like Gregory powder, nor was St. Anthony tempted by shrivelled hags. Paganism can be gay, and passion look like love. Moreover, still more truly, Christ could see the potentiality of virtue in Mary Magdalene and of strength in Simon called Peter. The conventional religious world does not.
A curious feature, too, of that strange life was its lack of consecutiveness. It was like the pages of La Vie Parisienne. The friend of to-day was gone for ever to-morrow. A man arrived, weary and dirty and craving for excitement, in some unknown town; in half an hour he had stepped into the gay glitter of wine and women's smiles; in half a dozen he had been whirled away. The days lingered and yet flew; the pages were twirled ever more dazzlingly; only at the end men saw in a blinding flash whither they had been led.
These things, then, are set out in this book. This is its atmosphere. They are truly set out. They are not white-washed; still less are they pictured as men might have seen them in more sober moments, as the Puritan world would see them now. Nor does the book set forth the author's judgment, for that is not his idea of a novel. It sets out what Peter and Julie saw and did, and what it appeared to them to be while they did it. Very probably, then, the average reader had better read no further than this....
But at any rate let him not read further than is written. The last page has been left blank. It has been left blank for a reason, because the curtain falls not on the conclusion of the lives of those who have stepped upon the boards, but at a psychological moment in their story. The Lord has turned to look upon Peter, and Julie has seen that He has looked. It is enough; they were happy who, going down into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, saw a vision of God's love even there. For the Christ of Calvary moved to His Cross again but a few short years ago; and it is enough in one book to tell how Simon failed to follow, but how Jesus turned to look on Peter.
Ah! is Thy love indeed A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed, Suffering no flowers except its own to mount? Ah! must— Designer infinite!— Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
London lay as if washed with water-colour that Sunday morning, light blue sky and pale dancing sunlight wooing the begrimed stones of Westminster like a young girl with an old lover. The empty streets, clean-swept, were bathed in the light, and appeared to be transformed from the streets of week-day life. Yet the half of Londoners lay late abed, perhaps because six mornings a week of reality made them care little for one of magic.
Peter, nevertheless, saw little of this beauty. He walked swiftly as always, and he looked about him, but he noticed none of these things. True, a fluttering sheet of newspaper headlines impaled on the railings of St. Margaret's held him for a second, but that was because its message was the one that rang continually in his head, and had nothing at all to do with the beauty of things that he passed by.
He was a perfectly dressed young man, in a frock coat and silk hat of the London clergyman, and he was on his way to preach at St. John's at the morning service. Walking always helped him to prepare his sermons, and this sermon would ordinarily have struck him as one well worth preparing. The pulpit of St. John's marked a rung up in the ladder for him. That great fashionable church of mid-Victorian faith and manners held a congregation on Sunday mornings for which the Rector catered with care. It said a good deal for Peter that he had been invited to preach. He ought to have had his determined scheme plain before him, and a few sentences, carefully polished, at hand for the beginning and the end. He could trust himself in the middle, and was perfectly conscious of that. He frankly liked preaching, liked it not merely as an actor loves to sway his audience, but liked it because he always knew what to say, and was really keen that people should see his argument. And yet this morning, when he should have been prepared for the best he could do, he was not prepared at all.
Strictly, that is not quite true, for he had a text, and the text absolutely focused his thought. But it was too big for him. Like some at least in England that day, he was conscious of staring down a lane of tragedy that appalled him. Fragments and sentences came and went in his head. He groped for words, mentally, as he walked. Over and over again he repeated his text. It amazed him by its simplicity; it horrified him by its depth.
Hilda was waiting at the pillar-box as she had said she would be, and little as she could guess it, she irritated him. He did not want her just then. He could hardly tell why, except that, somehow, she ran counter to his thoughts altogether that morning. She seemed, even in her excellent brown costume that fitted her fine figure so well, out of place, and out of place for the first time.
They were not openly engaged, these two, but there was an understanding between them, and an understanding that her family was slowly recognising. Mr. Lessing, at first, would never have accepted an engagement, for he had other ideas for his daughter of the big house in Park Lane. The rich city merchant, church-warden at St. John's, important in his party, and a person of distinction when at his club, would have been seriously annoyed that his daughter should consider a marriage with a curate whose gifts had not yet made him an income. But he recognised that the young man might go far. "Young Graham?" he would say, "Yes, a clever young fellow, with quite remarkable gifts, sir. Bishop thinks a lot of him, I believe. Preaches extraordinarily well. The Rector said he would ask him to St. John's one morning...."
Peter Graham's parish ran down to the river, and included slums in which some of the ladies of St. John's (whose congregation had seen to it that in their immediate neighbourhood there were no such things) were interested. So the two had met. She had found him admirable and likeable; he found her highly respectable and seemingly unapproachable. From which cold elements much more may come than one might suppose.
At any rate, now, Mrs. Lessing said nothing when Hilda went to post a letter in London on Sunday morning before breakfast. She would have mildly remonstrated if the girl had gone to meet the young man. The which was England once, and may, despite the Kaiser, be England yet once more.
"I was nearly going," she declared. "You're a bit late."
"I know," he replied; "I couldn't help it. The early service took longer than usual. But I'm glad to see you before breakfast. Tell me, what does your father think of it all?"
The girl gave a little shrug of the shoulders, "Oh, he says war is impossible. The credit system makes it impossible. But if he really thinks so, I don't see why he should say it so often and so violently. Oh, Peter, what do you think?"
The young man unconsciously quickened his pace. "I think it is certain," he said. "We must come in. I should say, more likely, the credit system makes it impossible for us to keep out. I mean, half Europe can't go to war and we sit still. Not in these days. And if it comes—Good Lord, Hilda, do you know what it means? I can't see the end, only it looks to me like being a fearful smash.... Oh, we shall pull through, but nobody seems to see that our ordinary life will come down like a pack of cards. And what will the poor do? And can't you see the masses of poor souls that will be thrown into the vortex like, like...." He broke off. "I can't find words," he said, gesticulating nervously. "It's colossal."
"Peter, you're going to preach about it: I can see you are. But do take care what you say. I should hate father to be upset. He's so—oh, I don't know!—British, I think. He hates to be thrown out, you know, and he won't think all that possible."
She glanced up (the least little bit that she had to) anxiously. Graham smiled. "I know Mr. Lessing," he said. "But, Hilda, he's got to be moved. Why, he may be in khaki yet!"
"Oh, Peter, don't be silly. Why, father's fifty, and not exactly in training," she laughed. Then, seriously: "But for goodness' sake don't say such things—for my sake, anyway."
Peter regarded her gravely, and held open the gate. "I'll remember," he said, "but more unlikely things may happen than that."
They went up the path together, and Hilda slipped a key into the door. As it opened, a thought seemed to strike her for the first time. "What will you do?" she demanded suddenly.
Mrs. Lessing was just going into the dining-room, and Peter had no need to reply. "Good-morning, Mr. Graham," she said, coming forward graciously. "I wondered if Hilda would meet you: she wanted to post a letter. Come in. You must be hungry after your walk."
A manservant held the door open, and they all went in. That magic sun shone on the silver of the breakfast-table, and lit up the otherwise heavy room. Mrs. Lessing swung the cover of a silver dish and the eggs slipped in to boil. She touched a button on the table and sat down, just as Mr. Lessing came rather ponderously forward with a folded newspaper in his hand.
"Morning, Graham," he said. "Morning, Hilda. Been out, eh? Well, well, lovely morning out; makes one feel ten years younger. But what do you think of all this, Graham?" waving the paper as he spoke.
Peter just caught the portentous headline—
"GERMANY DECLARES WAR ON RUSSIA,"
as he pulled up to the table, but he did not need to see it. There was really no news: only that. "It is certain, I think, sir," he said.
"Oh, certain, certain," said Lessing, seating himself. "The telegrams say they are over the frontier of Luxembourg and massing against France. Grey can't stop 'em now, but the world won't stand it—can't stand it. There can't be a long war. Probably it's all a big bluff again; they know in Berlin that business can't stand a war, or at any rate a long war. And we needn't come in. In the City, yesterday, they said the Government could do more by standing out. We're not pledged. Anderson told me Asquith said so distinctly. And, thank God, the Fleet's ready! It's madness, madness, and we must keep our heads. That's what I say, anyway."
Graham cracked an egg mechanically. His sermon was coming back to him. He saw a congregation of Lessings, and more clearly than ever the other things. "What about Belgium?" he queried. "Surely our honour is engaged there?"
Mr. Lessing pulled up his napkin, visibly perturbed. "Yes, but what can we do?" he demanded. "What is the good of flinging a handful of troops overseas, even if we can? It's incredible—English troops in Flanders in this century. In my opinion—in my opinion, I say—we should do better to hold ourselves in readiness. Germany would never really dare antagonise us. They know what it involves. Why, there's hundreds of millions of pounds at stake. Grey has only to be firm, and things must come right. Must—absolutely must."
"Annie said, this morning, that she heard everyone in the streets last night say we must fight, father," put in Hilda.
"Pooh!" exclaimed the city personage, touched now on the raw. "What do the fools know about it? I suppose the Daily Mail will scream, but, thank God, this country has not quite gone to the dogs yet. The people, indeed! The mass of the country is solid for sense and business, and trusts the Government. Of course, the Tory press will make the whole question a party lever if it can, but it can't. What! Are we going to be pushed into war by a mob and a few journalists? Why, Labour even will be dead against it. Come, Graham, you ought to know something about that. More in your line than mine—don't you think so?"
"You really ought not to let the maids talk so," said Mrs. Lessing gently.
Peter glanced at her with a curiously hopeless feeling, and looked slowly round the room until his eyes rested on Mr. Lessing's portrait over the mantelshelf, presented by the congregation of St. John's on some occasion two years before. From the portrait he turned to the gentleman, but it was not necessary for him to speak. Mr. Lessing was saying something to the man—probably ordering the car. He glanced across at Hilda, who had made some reply to her mother and was toying with a spoon. He thought he had never seen her look more handsome and.... He could not find the word: thought of "solid," and then smiled at the thought. It did not fit in with the sunlight on her hair.
"Well, well," said Mr. Lessing; "we ought to make a move. It won't do for either of us to be late, Mr. Preacher."
The congregation of St. John's assembled on a Sunday morning as befitted its importance and dignity. Families arrived, or arrived by two or three representatives, and proceeded with due solemnity to their private pews. No one, of course, exchanged greetings on the way up the church, but every lady became aware, not only of the other ladies present, but of what each wore. A sidesman, with an air of portentous gravity, as one who, in opening doors, performed an office more on behalf of the Deity than the worshippers, was usually at hand to usher the party in. Once there, there was some stir of orderly bustle: kneelers were distributed according to requirements, books sorted out after the solemn unlocking of the little box that contained them, sticks and hats safely stowed away. These duties performed, paterfamilias cast one penetrating glance round the church, and leaned gracefully forward with a kind of circular motion. Having suitably addressed Almighty God (it is to be supposed), he would lean back, adjust his trousers, possibly place an elbow on the pew-door, and contemplate with a fixed and determined gaze the distant altar.
Peter, of course, wound in to solemn music with the procession of choir boys and men, and, accorded the honour of a beadle with a silver mace, since he was to preach, was finally installed in a suitably cushioned seat within the altar-rails. He knelt to pray, but it was an effort to formulate anything. He was intensely conscious that morning that a meaning hitherto unfelt and unguessed lay behind his world, and even behind all this pomp and ceremony that he knew so well. Rising, of course, when the senior curate began to intone the opening sentence in a manner which one felt was worthy even of St. John's, he allowed himself to study his surroundings as never before.
The church had, indeed, an air of great beauty in the morning sunlight. The Renaissance galleries and woodwork, mellowed by time, were dusted by that soft warm glow, and the somewhat sparse congregation, in its magnificently isolated groups, was humanised by it too. The stone of the chancel, flecked with colour, had a quiet dignity, and even the altar, ecclesiastically ludicrous, had a grace of its own. There was to be a celebration after Matins. The historic gold plate was therefore arranged on the retable with something of the effect of show pieces at Mappin and Webb's. Peter noticed three flagons, and between them two patens of great size. A smaller pair for use stood on the credence-table. The gold chalice and paten, veiled, stood on the altar-table itself, and above them, behind, rose the cross and two vases of hot-house lilies. Suggesting one of the great shields of beaten gold that King Solomon had made for the Temple of Jerusalem, an alms-dish stood on edge, and leant against the retable to the right of the veiled chalice. Peter found himself marvelling at its size, but was recalled to his position when it became necessary to kneel for the Confession.
The service followed its accustomed course, and throughout the whole of it Peter was conscious of his chaotic sermon. He glanced at his notes occasionally, and then put them resolutely away, well aware that they would be all but useless to him. Either he would, at the last, be able to formulate the thoughts that raced through his head, or else he could do no more than occupy the pulpit for the conventional twenty minutes with a conventional sermon. At times he half thought he would follow this easier course, but then the great letters of the newspaper poster seemed to frame themselves before him, and he knew he could not. And so, at last, there was the bowing beadle with the silver mace, and he must set out on the little dignified procession to the great Jacobean pulpit with its velvet cushion at the top.
Hilda's mind was a curious study during that sermon. At first, as her lover's rather close-cropped, dark-haired head appeared in sight, she had studied him with an odd mixture of pride and apprehension. She held her hymn-book, but she did not need it, and she watched surreptitiously while he opened the Bible, arranged some papers, and, in accordance with custom, knelt to pray. She began to think half-thoughts of the days that might be, when perhaps she would be the wife of the Rector of some St. John's, and later, possibly, of a Bishop. Peter had it in him to go far, she knew. She half glanced round with a self-conscious feeling that people might be guessing at her thoughts, and then back, wondering suddenly if she really knew the man, or only the minister. And then there came the rustle of shutting books and of people composing themselves to listen, the few coughs, the vague suggestion of hassocks and cushions being made comfortable. And then, in a moment, almost with the giving out of the text, the sudden stillness and that tense sensation which told that the young orator had gripped his congregation.
Thereafter she hardly heard him, as it were, and she certainly lost the feeling of ownership that had been hers before. As he leaned over the pulpit, and the words rang out almost harshly from their intensity, she began to see, as the rest of the congregation began to see, the images that the preacher conjured up before her. A sense of coming disaster riveted her—the feeling that she was already watching the end of an age.
"Jesus had compassion on the multitude"—that had been the short and simple text. Simple words, the preacher had said, but how when one realised Who had had compassion, and on what? Almighty God Himself, with His incarnate Mind set on the working out of immense and agelong plans, had, as it were, paused for a moment to have compassion on hungry women and crying babies and folk whose petty confused affairs could have seemed of no consequence to anyone in the drama of the world. And then, with a few terse sentences, the preacher swung from that instance to the world drama of to-day. Did they realise, he asked, that peaceful bright Sunday morning, that millions of simple men were at that moment being hurled at each other to maim and kill? At the bidding of powers that even they could hardly visualise, at the behest of world politics that not one in a thousand would understand and scarcely any justify, houses were being broken up, women were weeping, and children playing in the sun before cottage doors were even now being left fatherless. It was incredible, colossal, unimaginable, but as one tried to picture it, Hell had opened her mouth and Death gone forth to slay. It was terrible enough that battlefields of stupendous size should soon be littered with the dying and the dead, but the aftermath of such a war as this would be still more terrible. No one could say how near it would come to them all. No one could tell what revolution in morals and social order such a war as this might not bring. That day God Himself looked down on the multitude as sheep having no shepherd, abandoned to be butchered by the wolves, and His heart beat with a divine compassion for the infinite sorrows of the world.
There was little more to it. An exhortation to go home to fear and pray and set the house in order against the Day of Wrath, and that was all. "My brethren," said the young man—and the intensity of his thought lent a certain unusual solemnity to the conventional title—"no one can tell how the events of this week may affect us. Our feet may even now be going down into the Valley of the Shadow of temptation, of conflict, of death, and even now there may be preparing for us a chalice such as we shall fear to drink. Let us pray that in that hour the compassion of Jesus may be real to us, and we ourselves find a sure place in that sorrowful Heart."
And he was gone from the pulpit without another word. It would have been almost ridiculous if one had noted that the surprised beadle had had no "And now to God the Father ..." in which to reach the pulpit, and had been forced to meet his victim hurrying halfway up the chancel; but perhaps no one but that dignitary, whom the fall of thrones would not shake, had noticed it. The congregation paid the preacher the great compliment of sitting on in absolute silence for a minute or two. For a moment it still stared reality in the face. And then Mr. Lessing shifted in his pew and coughed, and the Rector rose, pompously as usual, to announce the hymn, and Hilda became conscious of unaccustomed tears in her eyes.
The senior curate solemnly uncovered and removed the chalice. Taking bread and wine, he deposited the sacred vessels at the north end of the altar, returned to the centre, unfolded the corporal, received the alms, and as solemnly set the great gold dish on the corporal itself, after the unmeaning custom of the church. And then came the long prayer and the solemn procession to the vestry, while a dozen or two stayed with the senior curate for the Communion.
Graham found himself in the little inner vestry, with its green-cloth table and massive inkstand and registers, and began to unvest mechanically. He got his coat out of the beautiful carved wardrobe, and was folding up his hood and surplice, when the Rector laid a patronising hand on his shoulder. "A good sermon, Graham," he said—"a good sermon, if a little emotional. It was a pity you forgot the doxology. But it is a great occasion, I fear a greater occasion than we know, and you rose to it very well. Last night I had half a mind to 'phone you not to come, and to preach myself, but I am glad now I did not. I am sure we are very grateful. Eh, Sir Robert?"
Sir Robert Doyle, the other warden, was making neat piles of sovereigns on the green cloth, while Mr. Lessing counted the silver as to the manner born. He was a pillar of the church, too, was Sir Robert, but a soldier and a straight speaker. He turned genially to the young man.
"From the shoulder, Rector," he said. "Perhaps it will make a few of us sit up a little. Coming down to church I met Arnold of the War Office, and he said war was certain. Of course it is. Germany has been playing up for it for years, and we fools have been blind and mad. But it'll come now. Thank God, I can still do a bit, and maybe we shall meet out there yet—eh, Mr. Graham?"
Somehow or another that aspect of the question had not struck Peter forcibly till now. He had been so occupied with visualising the march of world events that he had hardly thought of himself as one of the multitude. But now the question struck home. What would he do? He was at a loss for the moment.
The Rector saved him, however. "Well, well, of course, Sir Robert, apart from the chaplains, the place of the clergy will be almost certainly at home. Hospital visiting, and so on, will take a lot of time. I believe the Chaplain-General's Department is fully staffed, but doubtless, if there is any demand, the clergy will respond. It is, of course, against Canon Law for them to fight, though doubtless our young friend would like to do his share in that if he could. You were in the O.T.C. at Oxford, weren't you, Graham?"
"Yes," said Graham shortly.
"The French priests are mobilising with the nation," said Sir Robert.
"Ah, yes, naturally," replied the Rector; "that is one result of the recent anti-clerical legislation. Thank God, this country has been spared that, and in any case we shall never have conscription. Probably the Army will have to be enlarged—half a million will be required at least, I should think. That will mean more chaplains, but I should suppose the Bishops will select—oh, yes, surely their lordships will select. It would be a pity for you to go, Graham; it's rough work with the Tommies, and your gifts are wanted at home. The Vicar of St. Thomas's speaks very highly of your gifts as an organiser, and doubtless some sphere will be opened up for you. Well, well, these are stirring times. Good-morning, Mr. Graham."
He held out his hand to the young man. Mr. Lessing, carefully smoothing his silk hat, looked up. "Come in to luncheon with us, will you, Graham?" he said.
Peter assented, and shook hands all round. Sir Robert and he moved out together, and the baronet caught his eye in the porch. "This'll jog him up a bit, I'm thinking," he said to himself. "There's stuff in that chap, but he's got to feel his legs."
Outside the summer sun was now powerful, and the streets were dusty and more busy. The crowd had thinned at the church door, but Hilda and Mrs. Lessing were waiting for the car.
"Don't let's drive," said Hilda as they came up; "I'd much sooner walk home to-day."
Her father smiled paternally. "Bit cramped after church, eh?" he said. "Well, what do you say, dear?" he asked his wife.
"I think I shall drive," Mrs. Lessing replied; "but if Mr. Graham is coming to luncheon, perhaps he will walk round with Hilda. Will you, Mr. Graham?"
"With pleasure," said Peter. "I agree with Miss Lessing, and the walk will be jolly. We'll go through the park. It's less than half an hour, isn't it?"
It was arranged at that, and the elders drove off. Peter raised his hat to Sir Robert, who turned up the street, and together he and Hilda crossed over the wide thoroughfare and started down for the park.
There was silence for a little, and it was Peter who broke it.
"Just before breakfast," he said, "you asked me what I should do, and I had no chance to reply. Well, they were talking of it in the vestry just now, and I've made up my mind. I shall write to-night to the Bishop and ask for a chaplaincy."
They walked on a hundred yards or so in silence again. Then Hilda broke it. "Peter," she began, and stopped. He glanced at her quickly, and saw in a minute that the one word had spoken truly to him.
"Oh, Hilda," he said, "do you really care all that? You can't possibly! Oh, if we were not here, and I could tell you all I feel! But, dear, I love you; I know now that I have loved you for months, and it is just because I love you that I must go."
"Peter," began Hilda again, and again stopped. Then she took a grip of herself, and spoke out bravely. "Oh, Peter," she said, "you've guessed right. I never meant you to—at least, not yet, but it is terrible to think of you going out there. I suppose I ought to be glad and proud, and in a way I am, but you don't seem the right person for it. It's wasting you. And I don't know what I shall do without you. You've become the centre of my life. I count on seeing you, and on working with you. If you go, you, you may ... Oh, I can't say it! I ought not to say all this. But..." She broke off abruptly.
Graham glanced round him. They were in the park now, and no one in particular was about in the quiet of the sidewalk. He put his hand out, and drew her gently to a seat. Then, leaning forward and poking at the ground with his stick, he began. "Hilda, darling," he said, "it's awful to have to speak to you just now and just like this, but I must. First, about ourselves. I love you with all my heart, only that's so little to say; I love you so much that you fill my life. And I have planned my life with you. I hardly knew it, but I had. I thought I should just go on and get a living and marry you—perhaps, if you would (I can hardly speak of it now I know you would)—and—and—oh, I don't know—make a name in the Church, I suppose. Well, and I hope we shall one day, but now this has come along. I really feel all I said this morning, awfully. I shall go out—I must. The men must be helped; one can't sit still and imagine them dying, wounded, tempted, and without a priest. It's a supreme chance. We shall be fighting for honour and truth, and the Church must be there to bear her witness and speak her message. There will be no end to do. And it is a chance of a lifetime to get into touch with the men, and understand them. You do see that, don't you? And, besides—forgive me, but I must put it so—if He had compassion on the multitude, ought we not to have too? He showed it by death; ought we to fear even that too?"
The girl stole out a hand, and his gripped it hard. Then she remembered the conventions and pulled it away, and sat a little more upright. She was extraordinarily conscious of herself, and she felt as if she had two selves that day. One was Hilda Lessing, a girl she knew quite well, a well-trained person who understood life, and the business of society and of getting married, quite correctly; and the other was somebody she did not know at all, that could not reason, and who felt naked and ashamed. It was inexplicable, but it was so. That second self was listening to heroics and even talking them, and surely heroics were a little out of date.
She looked across a wide green space, and saw, through the distant trees, the procession of the church parade. She felt as if she ought to be there, and half unconsciously glanced at her dress. A couple of terriers ran scurrying across the grass, and a seat-ticket man came round the corner. Behind them a taxi hooted, and some sparrows broke out into a noisy chatter in a bush. And here was Peter talking of death, and the Cross—and out of church, too.
She gave a little shudder, and glanced at a wrist-watch. "Peter," she said, "we must go. Dear, for my sake, do think it over. Wait a little, and see what happens. I quite understand your point of view, but you must think of others—even your Vicar, my parents, and of me. And Peter, shall we say anything about our—our love? What do you think?"
Peter Graham looked at her steadily, and as she spoke he, too, felt the contrast between his thoughts and ordinary life. The London curate was himself again. He got up. "Well, darling," he said, "just as you like, but perhaps not—at any rate until I know what I have to do. I'll think that over. Only, we shan't change, shall we, whatever happens? You do love me, don't you? And I do love you."
Hilda met his gaze frankly and blushed a little. She held out a hand to be helped up. "My dear boy," she said.
After luncheon Peter smoked a cigar in the study with Mr. Lessing before departure. Every detail of that hour impressed itself upon him as had the events of the day, for his mind was strung up to see the inner meaning of things clearly.
They began with the usual ritual of the selection of chairs and cigars, and Mr. Lessing had a glass of port with his coffee, because, as he explained, his nerves were all on edge. Comfortably stretched out in an armchair, blowing smoke thoughtfully towards the empty grate, his fat face and body did not seem capable of nerves, still less to be suffering from them, but then one can never tell from appearances. At any rate he chose his words with care, and Graham, opposite but sitting rather upright, could not but sense his meaning.
"Well, well, well," he said, "to think we should come to this! A European war in this century, and we in it! Not that I'll believe it till I hear it officially. While there's life there's hope, eh, Graham?"
Peter nodded, for he did not know what to say.
"The question is," went on the other, "that if we are carried into war, what is the best policy? Some fools will lose their heads, of course, and chuck everything to run into it. But I've no use for fools, Graham."
"No, sir," said Peter.
"No use for fools," repeated Mr. Lessing. "I shall carry on with business as usual, and I hope other people will carry on with theirs. There are plenty of men who can fight, and who ought to, without disorganising everything. Hilda would see that too—she's such a sensible girl. Look at that Boer affair, and all that foolery about the C.I.V. Why, I met a South African at the club the other day who said we'd have done ten times as well without 'em. You must have trained men these days, and, after all, it's the men behind the armies that win the war. Men like you and I, Graham, each doing his ordinary job without excitement. That's the type that's made old England. You ought to preach about it, Graham. Come to think, it fits in with what you said this morning, and a good sermon too, young man. Every man's got to put his house in order and carry on. You meant that, didn't you?"
"Something like that," said Peter; "but as far as the clergy are concerned, I still think the Bishops ought to pick their men."
"Yes, yes, of course," said Mr. Lessing, stretching himself a bit. "But I don't think the clergy could be much use over there. As the Canon said, there will be plenty to do at home. In any case it would be no use rushing the Bishops. Let them see what's needed, and then let them choose their men, eh? A man like London's sure to be in the know. Good thing he's your Bishop, Graham: you can leave it to him easily?"
"I should think so, sir," said Peter forlornly.
"Oh, well, glad to hear you say it, I'm sure, Graham, and so will Mrs. Lessing be, and Hilda. We're old-fashioned folk, you know.... Well, well, and I suppose I oughtn't to keep you. I'll come with you to the door, my boy."
He walked ahead of the young man into the hall, and handed him his hat himself. On the steps they shook hands to the fire of small sentences. "Drop in some evening, won't you? Don't know if I really congratulated you on the sermon; you spoke extraordinarily well, Graham. You've a great gift. After all, this war will give you a bit of a chance, eh? We must hear you again in St. John's.... Good-afternoon."
"Good-afternoon, Mr. Lessing," said Graham, "and thank you for all you've said."
In the street he walked slowly, and he thought of all Mr. Lessing had not said as well as all he had. After all, he had spoken sound sense, and there was Hilda. He couldn't lose Hilda, and if the old man turned out obstinate—well, it would be all but impossible to get her. Probably things were not as bad as he had imagined. Very likely it would all be over by Christmas. If so, it was not much use throwing everything up. Perhaps he could word the letter to the Bishop a little differently. He turned over phrases all the way home, and got them fairly pat. But it was a busy evening, and he did not write that night.
Monday always began as a full day, what with staff meeting and so on, and its being Bank Holiday did not make much difference to them. But in the afternoon he was free to read carefully the Sunday papers, and was appalled with the swiftness of the approach of the universal cataclysm. After Evensong and supper, then, he got out paper and pen and wrote, though it took much longer than he thought it would. In the end he begged the Bishop to remember him if it was really necessary to find more chaplains, and expressed his readiness to serve the Church and the country when he was wanted. When it was written, he sat long over the closed envelope and smoked a couple of pipes. He wondered if men were killing each other, even now, just over the water. He pictured a battle scene, drawing from imagination and what he remembered of field-days at Aldershot. He shuddered a little as he conceived himself crawling through heather to reach a man in the front line who had been hit, while the enemies' guns on the crest opposite were firing as he had seen them fire in play. He tried to imagine what it would be like to be hit.
Then he got up and stretched himself. He looked round curiously at the bookcase, the Oxford group or two, the hockey cap that hung on the edge of one. He turned to the mantelpiece and glanced over the photos. Probably Bob Scarlett would be out at once; he was in some Irish regiment or other. Old Howson was in India; he wouldn't hear or see much. Jimmy—what would Jimmy do, now? He picked up the photograph and looked at it—the clean-shaven, thoughtful, good-looking face of the best fellow in the world, who had got his fellowship almost at once after his brilliant degree, and was just now, he reflected, on holiday in the South of France. Jimmy, the idealist, what would Jimmy do? He reached for a hat and made for the door. He would post his letter that night under the stars.
Once outside, he walked on farther down Westminster way. At the Bridge he leaned for a while and watched the sullen, tireless river, and then turned to walk up past the House. It was a clear, still night, and the street was fairly empty. Big Ben boomed eleven, and as he crossed in front of the gates to reach St. Margaret's he wondered what was doing in there. He had the vaguest notion where people like the Prime Minister and Sir Edward Grey would be that night. He thought possibly with the King, or in Downing Street. And then he heard his name being called, and turned to see Sir Robert Doyle coming towards him.
The other's face arrested him. "Is there any news, Sir Robert?" he asked.
Sir Robert glanced up in his turn at the great shining dial above them. "Our ultimatum has gone or is just going to Germany, and in twenty-four hours we shall be at war," he said tersely. "I'm just going home; I've been promised a job."
At 7.10 on a foggy February morning Victoria Station looked a place of mystery within which a mighty work was going forward. Electric lights still shone in the gloom, and whereas innumerable units of life ran this way and that like ants disturbed, an equal number stood about apparently indifferent and unperturbed. Tommies who had found a place against a wall or seat deposited rifle and pack close by, lit a pipe, and let the world go by, content that when the officers' leave train had gone someone, or some Providence, would round them up as well. But, for the rest, porters, male and female, rushed up with baggage; trunks were pushed through the crowd with the usual objurgations; subalterns, mostly loud and merry, greeted each other or the officials, or, more subdued, moved purposefully through the crowd with their women-folk, intent on finding a quieter place farther up the platforms.
There was no mistaking the leave platform or the time of the train, for a great notice drew one's attention to it. Once there, the Army took a man in hand. Peter was entirely new to the process, but he speedily discovered that his fear of not knowing what to do or where to go, which had induced him (among other reasons) to say good-bye at home and come alone to the station, was unfounded. Red-caps passed him on respectfully but purposefully to officials, who looked at this paper and that, and finally sent him up to an officer who sat at a little table with papers before him to write down the name, rank, unit, and destination of each individual destined that very morning to leave for the Army in France.
Peter at last, then, was free to walk up the platform, and seek the rest of his luggage that had come on from the hotel with the porter. He was free, that is, if one disregarded the kit hung about his person, or which, despite King's Regulations, he carried in his hands. But free or not, he could not find his luggage. At 7.30 it struck him that at least he had better find his seat. He therefore entered a corridor and began pilgrimage. It was seemingly hopeless. The seats were filled with coats or sticks or papers; every type of officer was engaged in bestowing himself and his goods; and the general atmosphere struck him as being precisely that which one experiences as a fresher when one first enters hall for dinner at the 'Varsity. The comparison was very close. First-year men—that is to say, junior officers returning from their first leave—were the most encumbered, self-possessed, and asserting; those of the second year, so to say, usually got a corner-seat and looked out of window; while here and there a senior officer, or a subaltern with a senior's face, selected a place, arranged his few possessions, and got out a paper, not in the Oxford manner, as if he owned the place, but in the Cambridge, as if he didn't care a damn who did.
Peter made a horrible hash of it. He tried to find a seat with all his goods in his hands, not realising that they might have been deposited anywhere in the train, and found when it had started, since, owing to a particular dispensation of the high gods, everything that passed the barrier for France got there. He made a dive for one place and sat in it, never noting a thin stick in the corner, and he cleared out with enormous apologies when a perfectly groomed Major with an exceedingly pleasant manner mentioned that it was his seat, and carefully put the stick elsewhere as soon as Peter had gone. Finally, at the end of a carriage, he descried a small door half open, and inside what looked like an empty seat. He pulled it open, and discovered a small, select compartment with a centre table and three men about it, all making themselves very comfortable.
"I beg your pardon," said Peter, "but is there a place vacant for one?"
The three eyed him stonily, and he knew instinctively that he was again a fresher calling on the second year. One, a Captain, raised his head to look at him better. He was a man of light hair and blue, alert eyes, wearing a cap that, while not looking dissipated, somehow conveyed the impression that its owner knew all about things—a cap, too, that carried the Springbok device. The lean face, with its humorous mouth, regarded Peter and took him all in: his vast expanse of collar, the wide black edging to his shoulder-straps, his brand-new badges, his black buttons and stars. Then he lied remorselessly:
"Sorry, padre; we're full up."
Peter backed out and forgot to close the door, for at that moment a shrill whistle was excruciatingly blown. He found himself in the very cab of the Pullman with the glass door before him, through which could be seen a sudden bustle. Subalterns hastened forward from the more or less secluded spots that they had found, with a vision of skirts and hats behind them; an inspector passed aggressively along; and—thanks to those high gods—Peter observed the hurrying hotel porter at that moment. In sixty seconds the door had been jerked open; a gladstone, a suit-case, and a kit-bag shot at him; largesse had changed hands; the door had shut again; the train had groaned and started; and Peter was off to France.
It was with mixed feelings that he groped for his luggage. He was conscious of wanting a seat and a breakfast; he was also conscious of wanting to look at the station he was leaving, which he dimly felt he might never see again; and he was, above all, conscious that he looked a fool and would like not to. In such a turmoil he lugged at the gladstone and got it into a corner, and then turned to the window in the cleared space with a determination. In turning he caught the Captain's face stuck round the little door. It was withdrawn at once, but came out again, and he heard for the second time the unfamiliar title:
"Say, padre; come in here. There's room after all."
Peter felt cheered. He staggered to the door, and found the others busy making room. A subaltern of the A.S.C. gripped his small attache case and swung it up on to the rack. The South African pulled a British warm off the vacant seat and reached out for the suit-case. And the third man, with the rank of a Major and the badge of a bursting bomb, struck a match and paused as he lit a cigarette to jerk out:
"Damned full train! We ought to have missed it, Donovan."
"It's a good stunt that, if too many blighters don't try it on," observed the subaltern, reaching for Peter's warm. "But they did my last leave, and I got the devil of a choking off from the brass-hat in charge. It's the Staff train, and they only take Prime Ministers, journalists, and trade-union officials in addition. How's that, padre?"
"Thanks," said Peter, subsiding. "It's jolly good of you to take me in. I thought I'd got to stand from here to Folkestone."
H.P. Jenks, Second-Lieutenant A.S.C., regarded him seriously. "It couldn't be done, padre," he said, "not at this hour of the morning. I left Ealing about midnight more or less, got sandwiched in the Metro with a Brigadier-General and his blooming wife and daughters, and had to wait God knows how long for the R.T.O. If I couldn't get a seat and a break after that, I'd be a casualty, sure thing."
"It's your own fault for going home last night," observed the Major judiciously. (Peter noticed that he was little older than Jenks on inspection.) "Gad, Donovan, you should have been with us at the Adelphi! It was some do, I can tell you. And afterwards..."
"Shut up, Major!" cut in Jenks. "Remember the padre."
"Oh, he's broad-minded I know, aren't you, padre? By the way, did you ever meet old Drennan who was up near Poperinghe with the Canadians? He was a sport, I can tell you. Mind you, a real good chap at his job, but a white man. Pluck! By jove! I don't think that chap had nerves. I saw him one day when they were dropping heavy stuff on the station, and he was getting some casualties out of a Red Cross train. A shell burst just down the embankment, and his two orderlies ducked for it under the carriage, but old Drennan never turned a hair. 'Better have a fag,' he said to the Scottie he was helping. 'It's no use letting Fritz put one off one's smoke.'"
Peter said he had not met him, but could not think of anything else to say at the moment, except that he was just going out for the first time.
"You don't say?" said Donovan dryly.
"Wish I was!" ejaculated Jenks.
"Good chap," replied the Major. "Pity more of your sort don't come over. When I was up at Loos, September last year, we didn't see a padre in three months. Then they put on a little chap—forget his name—who used to bike over when we were in rest billets. But he wasn't much use."
"I was in hospital seven weeks and never saw one," said Jenks.
"Good heavens!" said Graham. "But I've been trying to get out for all these years, and I was always told that every billet was taken and that there were hundreds on the waiting list. Last December the Chaplain-General himself showed me a list of over two hundred names."
"Don't know where they get to, then, do you, Bevan?" asked Jenks.
"No," said the Major, "unless they keep 'em at the base."
"Plenty down at Rouen, anyway," said Donovan. "A sporting little blighter I met at the Brasserie Opera told me he hadn't anything to do, anyway."
"I shall be a padre in the next war," said Jenks, stretching out his legs. "A parade on Sunday, and you're finished for the week. No orderly dog, no night work, and plenty of time for your meals. Padres can always get leave too, and they always come and go by Paris."
Donovan laughed, and glanced sideways at Peter. "Stow it, Jenks," he said. "Where you for, padre?" he asked.
"I've got to report at Rouen," said Peter. "I was wondering if you were there."
"No such luck now," returned the other. "But it's a jolly place. Jenko's there. Get him to take you out to Duclair. You can get roast duck at a pub there that melts in your mouth. And what's that little hotel near the statue of Joan of Arc, Jenks, where they still have decent wine?"
Peter was not to learn yet awhile, for at that moment the little door opened and a waiter looked in. "Breakfast, gentlemen?" he asked.
"Oh, no," said Jenks. "Waiter, I always bring some rations with me; I'll just take a cup of coffee."
The man grinned. "Right-o, sir," he said. "Porridge, gentlemen?"
He disappeared, leaving the door open and, Donovan opening a newspaper, Graham stared out of window to wait. From the far corners came scraps of conversation, from which he gathered that Jenks and the Major were going over the doings of the night before. He caught a word or two, and stared the harder out of window.
Outside the English country was rushing by. Little villas, with back-gardens running down to the rail, would give way for a mile or two to fields, and then start afresh. The fog was thin there, and England looked extraordinarily homely and pleasant. It was the known; he was conscious of rushing at fifty miles an hour into the unknown. He turned over the scrappy conversation of the last few minutes, and found it savoured of the unknown. It was curious the difference uniform made. He felt that these men were treating him more like one of themselves than men in a railway-carriage had ever treated him before; that somehow even his badges made him welcome; and yet that, nevertheless, it was not he, Peter Graham, that they welcomed, or at least not his type. He wondered if padres in France were different from priests in England. He turned over the unknown Drennan in his mind. Was it because he was a good priest that the men liked him, or because they had discovered the man in the parson?
The waiter brought in the breakfast—porridge, fish, toast, and the rest—and they fell to, a running fire of comments going on all the time. Donovan had had Japanese marmalade somewhere, and thought it better than this. The Major wouldn't touch the beastly margarine, but Jenks thought it quite as good as butter if taken with marmalade, and put it on nearly as thickly as his toast. Peter expanded in the air of camaraderie, and when he leaned back with a cigarette, tunic unbuttoned and cap tossed up on the rack, he felt as if he had been in the Army for years. He reflected how curious that was. The last two or three years or so of Boy Scouts and hospitals and extra prayer-meetings, attended by the people who attended everything else, seemed to have faded away. There was hardly a gap between that first war evening which he remembered so clearly and this. It was a common experience enough, and probably due to the fact that, whereas everything else had made little impression, he had lived for this moment and been extraordinarily impressed by that Sunday. But he realised, also, that it was due as much to his present companions. They had, seemingly, accepted him as he had never been accepted before. They asked practically no questions. So far as he could see, he made no difference to them. He felt as if he were at last part of a great brotherhood, in which, chiefly, one worried about nothing more important than Japanese marmalade and margarine.
"We're almost there, boys," said Bevan, peering out of window.
"Curse!" ejaculated Jenks. "I hate getting my traps together in a train, and I loathe the mob on the boat."
"I don't see why you should," said Donovan. "I'm blest if I bother about anything. The R.T.O. and the red-caps do everything, and you needn't even worry about getting a Pullman ticket this way over. Hope it's not rough, though." He let a window down and leaned out. "Looks all right," he added.
Peter got up with the rest and began to hang things about him. His staringly new Sam Browne irritated him, but he forgot it as the train swung round the curve to the landing-stage.
"Get a porter and a truck, Donovan," said the Major, who was farthest from the door.
They got out nonchalantly, and Peter lit a cigarette, while the others threw remarks at the man as to luggage. Then they all trooped off together in a crowd that consisted of every variety of rank and regiment and section of the British Empire, plus some Waacs and nurses.
The Pride of Folkestone lay alongside, and when they got there she seemed already full. The four of them got jammed at the gangway and shoved on board, handing in and receiving papers from the official at the head as they passed him. Donovan was in front, and as he stepped on deck he swung his kit-bag back to Peter, crying:
"Lay hold of that, padre, and edge across the deck. Get up ahead of the funnel that side. I'll get chairs. Jenko, you rotter, get belts, and drop eyeing the girl!"
"Jolly nice bit of fluff," said Jenks meditatively, staring fixedly across the deck.
"Where?" queried the Major, fumbling for his eyeglass.
"Get on there, please, gentlemen," called a ship's official.
"Damn it! mind my leg!"
"Cheerio, old son, here we are again!"
"I say, Tommy, did you get to the Alhambra last night, after all? What? Well, I couldn't see you, anyhow."
To which accompaniment, Peter pushed his way across the deck. "Sorry, padre," said a V.A.D. who blocked the way, bending herself back to let him pass, and smiling. "Catch hold," called out Donovan, swinging a couple of chairs at him. "No, sir, it's not my chair"—to a Colonel who was grabbing at one already set out against the rail.
The Colonel collected it and disappeared, Jenks appearing a moment later, red-faced, through the crush. "You blamed fool," he whispered, "it's that girl's. I saw her put one here and edged up on it, only some fool got in my way. Still (hopefully), perhaps she'll come back."
Between them they got four chairs into a line and sat down, all, that is, save Jenks, who stood up, in a bland and genial way, as if to survey the crowd impartially. How impartially soon appeared. "Damn!" he exploded. "She's met some other females, weird and woolly things, and she's sitting down there. No, by Jove! she's looking this way."
He made a half-start forward, and the Major kicked his shins. "Blast!" he exploded; "why did you do that, you fool?"
"Don't be an infant, Jenko, sit down. You can't start a flirtation across the blooming deck. Here, padre, can't you keep him in order?"
Peter half raised himself from his chair at this, and glanced the way the other was looking. Through the crush he saw, clearly enough for a minute, a girl of medium height in a nurse's uniform, sideways on to him. The next second she half-turned, obviously smiling some remark to her neighbour, and he caught sight of clear brown eyes and a little fringe of dark hair on the forehead of an almost childish face. The eyes met his. And then a sailor blundered across his field of vision.
"Topping, isn't she?" demanded Jenks, who had apparently been pulled down into his chair in the interval.
"Oh, I don't know," said Graham, and added deliberately: "Rather ordinary, I thought."
Jenks stared at him. "Good Lord, padre," he said, "where are your eyes?"
Peter heard a little chuckle behind, and glanced round to see Donovan staring at him with amusement written all across his face. "You'll do, padre," he said, taking a pipe from his pocket and beginning to fill it. Peter smiled and leant back. Probably for the first time in five years he forgot for a moment what sort of a collar it was around his neck.
Sitting there, he began to enjoy himself. The sea glittered in the sun and the Lees stretched out opposite him across the shining gulf. Sea-birds dipped and screamed. On his left, Major Bevan was talking to a flying man, and Peter glanced up with him to see an aeroplane that came humming high up above the trees on the cliff and flew out to sea.
"Damned fine type!" said the boy, whose tunic, for all his youth, sported wings. "Fritz can't touch it yet. Of course, he'll copy it soon enough, or go one better, but just at present I think it's the best out. Wish we'd got some in our circus. We've nothing but ..." and he trailed off into technicalities.
Peter found himself studying Donovan, who lay back beyond Jenks turning the pages of an illustrated magazine and smoking. The eyes interested him; they looked extraordinarily clear, but as if their owner kept hidden behind them a vast number of secrets as old as the universe. The face was lined—good-looking, he thought, but the face of a man who was no novice in the school of life. Peter felt he liked the Captain instinctively. He carried breeding stamped on him, far more than, say, the Major with the eyeglass. Peter wondered if they would meet again.
The siren sounded, and a bustle began as people put on their life-belts. "All life-belts on, please," said a young officer continually, who, with a brassard on his arm, was going up and down among the chairs. "Who's that?" asked Peter, struggling with his belt.
"Some poor bloke who has been roped in for crossin' duty," said Jenks. "Mind my chair, padre; Bevan and I are going below for a wet. Coming, skipper?"
"Not yet," said Donovan; "the bar's too full at first for me. Padre and I'll come later."
The others stepped off across the crowded deck, and Donovan pitched his magazine into Bevan's chair to retain it.
"You're from South Africa?" queried Peter.
"Yes," replied the other. "I was in German West, and came over after on my own. Joined up with the brigade here."
"What part of Africa?" asked Peter.
"Basutoland, padre. Not a bad place in a way—decent climate, topping scenery, but rather a stodgy crowd in the camps. One or two decent people, but the majority mid-Victorian, without a blessed notion except the price of mealies, who quarrel about nothing half the time, and talk tuppenny-ha'penny scandal the rest. Good Lord! I wish we had some of the perishers out here. But they know which side of the bread the butter is. Bad time for trade, they say, and every other trader has bought a car since the war. Of course, there's something to be said for the other side, but what gets my goat is their pettiness. I'm for British East Africa after the war. There's a chap written a novel about Basutoland called 'The Land of To-morrow,' but I'd call it 'The Land of the Day before Yesterday.' I suppose some of them came over with an assortment of ideas one time, but they've struck no new ones since. I don't advise you to settle in a South African dorp if you can help it, padre."
"Don't suppose I shall," said Peter. "I've just got engaged, and my girl's people wouldn't let her out of England."
"Engaged, are you? Thank your stars you aren't married. It's safer not to be out here."
Donovan looked at him curiously. "Oh, you'll find out fast enough, padre," he said. "Wonder what you'll make of it. Rum place just now, France, I can tell you. There's the sweepings of half the world over there, and everything's turned upside down. Fellows are out for a spree, of course, and you can't be hard on a chap down from the line if he goes on the bust a bit. It's human nature, and you must allow for it; don't you think so?"
"Human nature can be controlled," said Peter primly.
"Can it?" retorted the other. "Even the cloth doesn't find it too easy, apparently."
"What do you mean?" demanded Peter, and then added: "Don't mind telling me; I really want to know."
Donovan knocked out his pipe, and evaded. "You've got to be broad-minded, padre," he said.
"Well, I am," said Peter. "But ..."
"Come and have a drink then," interrupted the other. "Jenko and the Major are coming back."
"Damned poor whisky!" said the latter, catching the rail as the boat heaved a bit, "begging your pardon, padre. Better try brandy. If the war lasts much longer there'll be no whisky worth drinking this side. I'm off it till we get to the club at Boulogne."
Peter and Donovan went off together. It was a new experience for Peter, but he wouldn't have owned it. They groped their way down the saloon stairs, and through a crowd to the little bar. "What's yours?" demanded Donovan.
"Oh, I'll take the Major's advice," said Peter. "Brandy-and-soda for me."
"Soda finished, sir," said the bar steward.
"All right: two brandies-and-water, steward," said Donovan, and swung a revolving seat near round for Graham. As he took it, Peter noticed the man opposite. His badge was a Maltese Cross, but he wore a flannel collar and tie. Their eyes met, but the other stared a bit stonily. For the second time, Peter wished he hadn't a clerical collar. The next he was taking the glass from the South African. "Cheerio," said Donovan.
"Here's to you," said Peter, and leaned back with an assumption of ease.
He had a strange sense of unreality. No fool and no Puritan, he had naturally, however, been little in such an atmosphere since ordination. He would have had a drink in Park Lane with the utmost ease, and he would have argued, over it, that the clergy were not nearly so out of touch with men as the papers said. But down here, in the steamer's saloon, surrounded by officers, in an atmosphere of indifference to him and his office, he felt differently. He was aware, dimly, that for the past five years situations in which he had been had been dominated by him, and that he, as a clergyman, had been continually the centre of concern. Talk, conduct, and company had been rearranged when he came in, and it had happened so often that he had ceased to be aware of it. But now he was a mere unit, of no particular importance whatever. No one dreamed of modifying himself particularly because a clergyman was present. Peter clung to the belief that it was not altogether so, but he was sufficiently conscious of it. And he was conscious of liking it, of wanting to sink back in it as a man sinks back in an easy-chair. He felt he ought not to do so, and he made a kind of mental effort to pull himself together.
Up on the deck the world was very fair. The French coast was now clearly visible, and even the houses of the town, huddled together as it seemed, but dominated by a church on the hill. Behind them, a sister ship containing Tommies ploughed steadily along, serene and graceful in the sunlight, and above an airship of silvery aluminum, bearing the tricoloured circle of the Allies, kept pace with the swift ship without an effort. Four destroyers were visible, their low, dark shapes ploughing regularly along at stated intervals, and someone said a fifth was out of sight behind. People were already beginning to take off their life-belts, and the sailors were clearing a place for the gangway. Peter found that Donovan had known what he was about, for his party would be close to the gangway without moving. He began to wonder uneasily what would be done on landing, and to hope that Donovan would be going his way. No one had said a word about it. He looked round for Jenks' nurse, but couldn't see her.
It was jolly entering the port. The French houses and fishing-boats looked foreign, although one could hardly say why. On the quay was a big notice: "All officers to report at once to the M.L.O." Farther on was a board bearing the letters "R.T.O." ... But Peter hardly liked to ask.
In fact, everything went like clockwork. He presently found himself in a queue, behind Donovan, of officers who were passing a small window like a ticket office. Arriving, he handed in papers, and was given them back with a brief "All right." Beyond, Donovan had secured a broken-down-looking one-horse cab. "You'll be coming to the club, padre?" he asked. "Chuck in your stuff. This chap'll take it down and Bevan with it. Let's walk. It isn't far."
Jenks elected to go with his friend the Major, and Donovan and Peter set off over the cobbles. They joined up with another small group, and for the first time Peter had to give his name as he was introduced. He forgot the others, as soon as he heard them, and they forgot his. A big Dublin Fusilier officer with a tiny moustache, that seemed ludicrous in his great face, exchanged a few sentences with him. They left the quay and crossed a wide space where a bridge debouched towards the railway-station. Donovan, who was walking ahead, passed on, but the Fusilier suggested to Peter that they might as well see the R.T.O. at once about trains. Entering the station gates, the now familiar initials appearing on a row of offices before them to the left, Peter's companion demanded the train to Albert.
"Two-thirty a.m., change at Amiens, sir," said a clerk in uniform within, and the Fusilier passed on.
"What time is the Rouen train?" asked Peter in his turn, and was told 9.30 p.m.
"You're in luck, padre," said the other. "It's bally rotten getting in at two-thirty, and probably the beastly thing won't go till five. Still, it might be worse. You can get on board at midnight, and with luck get to sleep. If I were you, I'd be down here early for yours—crowded always, it is. Of course, you'll dine at the club?"
Peter supposed he would.
The club entrance was full up with officers, and more and more kept pouring in. Donovan was just leaving the counter on the right with some tickets in his hand as they pushed in. "See you later," he called out. "I've got to sleep here, and I want to leave my traps."
Peter wondered where, but was too much occupied in keeping well behind the Fusilier to think much. At a kind of counter a girl in a W.A.A.C. uniform was serving out tickets of one sort and another, and presently the two of them were before her. For a few francs one got tickets for lunch, dinner, bed, a bath, and whatever else one wanted, but Peter had no French money. The Fusilier bought him the first two, however, and together they forced their way out into the great lounge. "Half an hour before lunch," said his new companion, and then, catching sight of someone: "Hullo, Jack, you back? Never saw you on the boat. Did you ..." His voice trailed off as he crossed the room.
Peter looked around a little disconsolately. Then he made his way to a huge lounge-chair and threw himself into it.
All about him was a subdued chatter. A big fire burned in the stove, and round it was a wide semicircle of chairs. Against the wall were more, and a small table or two stood about. Nearly every chair had its occupant—all sorts and conditions of officers, mostly in undress, and he noticed some fast asleep, with muddied boots. There was a look on their faces, even in sleep, and Peter guessed that some at least were down from the line on their way to a brief leave. More and more came in continuously. Stewards with drinks passed quickly in and out about them. The Fusilier and his friend were just ordering something. Peter opened his case and took out a cigarette, tapping it carefully before lighting it. He began to feel at home and lazy and comfortable, as if he had been there before.
An orderly entered with envelopes in his hand. "Lieutenant Frazer?" he called, and looked round inquiringly. There was no reply, and he turned to the next. "Captain Saunders?" Still no reply. "Lieutenant Morcombe?" Still no reply. "Lieutenant Morcombe," he called again. Nobody took any interest, and he turned on his heel, pushed the swing-door open, and departed.
Then Donovan came in, closely followed by Bevan. Peter got up and made towards them. "Hullo!" said Bevan. "Have an appetiser, padre. Lunch will be on in twenty minutes. What's yours, skipper?"
The three of them moved on to Peter's chair, and Bevan dragged up another. Peter subsided, and Donovan sat on the edge. Peter pulled out his cigarette-case again, and offered it. Bevan, after one or two ineffectual attempts, got an orderly at last.
"Well, here's fun," he said.
"Cheerio," said Peter. He remembered Donovan had said that in the saloon.
Jenks being attached to the A.S.C. engaged in feeding daily more than 100,000 men in the Rouen area, Peter and he travelled together. By the latter's advice they reached the railway-station soon after 8.30, but even so the train seemed full. There were no lights in the siding, and none whatever on the train, so that it was only by matches that one could tell if a compartment was full or empty, except in the case of those from which candle-light and much noise proclaimed the former indisputably. At last, however, somewhere up near the engine, they found a second-class carriage, apparently unoccupied, with a big ticket marked "Reserved" upon it. Jenks struck a match and regarded this critically. "Well, padre," he said, "as it doesn't say for whom it is reserved, I guess it may as well be reserved for us. So here goes." He swung up and tugged at the door, which for some time refused to give. Then it opened suddenly, and Second-Lieutenant Jenks, A.S.C., subsided gracefully and luridly on the ground outside. Peter struck another match and peered in. It was then observed that the compartment was not empty, but that a dark-haired, lanky youth, stretched completely along one seat, was regarding them solemnly.
"This carriage is reserved," he said.
"Yes," said Jenks cheerfully, "for us, sir. May I ask what you are doing in it?"
The awakened one sighed. "It's worked before, and if you chaps come in and shut the door quickly, perhaps it will work again. Three's not too bad, but I've seen six in these perishing cars. Come in quickly, for the Lord's sake!"
Peter looked round him curiously. Two of the four windows were broken, and the glory had departed from the upholstery. There was no light, and it would appear that a heavier body than that designed for it had travelled upon the rack. Jenks was swearing away to himself and trying to light a candle-end. Peter laughed.
"Got any cards?" asked the original owner.
"Yes," said Jenks. "Got any grub?"
"Bath-olivers and chocolate and half a water-bottle of whisky," replied the original owner. "And we shall need them."
"Good enough," said Jenks. "And the padre here has plenty of sandwiches, for he ordered a double lot."
"Do you play auction, padre?" queried what turned out, in the candle-light, to be a Canadian.
Peter assented; he was moderately good, he knew.
This fairly roused the Canadian. He swung his legs off the seat, and groped for the door. "Hang on to this dug-out, you men," he said, "and I'll get a fourth. I kidded some fellows of ours with that notice just now, but I know them, and I can get a decent chap to come in."
He was gone a few minutes only; then voices sounded outside. "Been looking for you, old dear," said their friend. "Only two sportsmen here and a nice little show all to ourselves. Tumble in, and we'll get cheerful. Not that seat, old dear. But wait a jiffy; let's sort things out first."
* * * * *
They snorted out of the dreary tunnel into Rouen in the first daylight of the next morning. Peter looked eagerly at the great winding river and the glory of the cathedral as it towered up above the mists that hung over the houses. There was a fresh taste of spring in the air, and the smoke curled clear and blue from the slow-moving barges on the water. The bare trees on the island showed every twig and thin branch, as if they had been pencilled against the leaden-coloured flood beneath. A tug puffed fussily upstream, red and yellow markings on its grimy black.
Jenks was asleep in the corner, but he woke as they clattered across the bridge. "Heigh-ho!" he sighed, stretching. "Back to the old graft again."
Yet once more Peter began to collect his belongings. It seemed ages since he had got into the train at Victoria, and he felt particularly grubby and unshaven.
"What's the next move?" he asked.
Jenks eyed him. "Going to take a taxi?" he queried.
"Where to?" said Peter.
"Well, if you ask me, padre," he replied, "I don't see what's against a decent clean-up and breakfast at the club. It doesn't much matter when I report, and the club's handy for your show. I know the A.C.G.'s office, because it's in the same house as the Base Cashier, and the club's just at the bottom of the street. But it's the deuce of a way from the station. If we can get a taxi, I vote we take it."
"Right-o," agreed Peter. "You lead on."
They tumbled out on the platform, and produced the necessary papers at the exit labelled "British Officers Only." A red-capped military policeman wrote down particulars on a paper, and in a few minutes they were out among the crowd of peasantry in the booking-hall. Jenks pushed through, and had secured a cab by the time Peter arrived. "There isn't a taxi to be got, padre," he said, "but this'll do."
They rolled off down an avenue of wintry trees, passed a wooden building which Peter was informed was the English military church, and out on to the stone-paved quay. To Peter the drive was an intense delight. A French blue-coated regiment swung past them. "Going up the line," said Jenks. A crowd of black troops marched by in the opposite direction. "Good Lord!" said Jenks, "so the S.A. native labour has come." The river was full of craft, but his mentor explained that the true docks stretched mile on mile downstream. By a wide bridge lay a camouflaged steamer. "Hospital ship," said Jenks. Up a narrow street could be seen the buttresses of the cathedral; and if Peter craned his head to glance up, his companion was more occupied in the great cafe at the corner a little farther on. But it was, of course, deserted at that early hour. A flower-stall at the corner was gay with flowers, and two French peasant women were arranging the blooms. And then the fiacre swung into the Rue Joanne d'Arc, and opposite a gloomy-looking entrance pulled up with a jerk. "Here we are," said Jenks. "It's up an infernal flight of steps."
The officers' club in Rouen was not monstrously attractive, but they got a good wash in a little room that looked out over a tangle of picturesque roofs, and finally some excellent coffee and bacon and eggs.
Jenks lit a cigarette and handed one to Peter. "Better leave your traps," he said. "I'll go up with you; I've nothing to do."
Outside the street was filling with the morning traffic, and the two walked up the slight hill to the accompaniment of a running fire of comments and explanations from Jenks, "That's Cox's—useful place for the first half of a month, but not much use to me, anyway, for the second.... You ought to go to I that shop and buy picture post-cards, padre; there's a topping girl who sells 'em.... Rue de la Grosse Horloge—you can see the clock hanging over the road. The street runs up to the cathedral: rather jolly sometimes, but nothing doing now.... What's that? I don't know. Yes, I do, Palais de Justice or something of that sort. Pretty old, I believe.... In those gardens is the picture gallery; not been in myself, but I believe they've got some good stuff.... That's your show, over there. Don't be long; I'll hang about."
Peter crossed the street, and, following directions ascended some wooden stairs. A door round the corner at the top was inscribed "A.C.G. (C. of E.)," and he went up to it. There he cogitated: ought one to knock, or, being in uniform, walk straight in? He could not think of any reason why one should not knock being in uniform, so he knocked.
"Come in," said a voice.
He opened the door and entered. At a desk before him sat a rather elderly man, clean-shaven, who eyed him keenly. On his left, with his back to him, was a man in uniform pattering away busily on a typewriter, and, for the rest, the room contained a few chairs, a coloured print of the Light of the World over the fireplace, and a torn map. Peter again hesitated. He wondered what was the rank of the officer in the chair, and if he ought to salute. While he hesitated, the other said: "Good-morning. What can I do for you?"
Peter, horribly nervous, made a half-effort at saluting, and stepped forward. "My name's Graham, sir," he said. "I've just come over, and was told in the C.G.'s office in London to report to Colonel Chichester, A.C.G., at Rouen."
The other put him at his ease at once. He rose and held a hand out over the littered desk. "How do you do, Mr. Graham?" he said. "We were expecting you. I am the A.C.G. here, and we've plenty for you to do. Take a seat, won't you? I believe I once heard you preach at my brother's place down in Suffolk. You were at St. Thomas's, weren't you, down by the river?"
Peter warmed to the welcome. It was strangely familiar, after the past twenty-four hours, to hear himself called "Mr." and, despite the uniforms and the surroundings, he felt he might be in the presence of a vicar in England. Some of his old confidence began to return. He replied freely to the questions.
Presently the other glanced at his watch. "Well," he said, "I've got to go over to H.Q., and you had better be getting to your quarters. Where did I place Captain Graham, Martin?"
The orderly at the desk leaned sideways and glanced at a paper pinned on the desk. "No. 5 Rest Camp, sir," he said.
"Ah, yes, I remember now. You can get a tram at the bottom of the street that will take you nearly all the way. It's a pretty place, on the edge of the country. You'll find about one thousand men in camp, and the O.C.'s name is—what is it, Martin?"
"Captain Harold, sir."
"Harold, that's it. A decent chap. The men are constantly coming and going, but there's a good deal to do."
"Is there a chapel in the camp?" asked Peter.
"Oh, no, I don't think so. You'll use the canteen. There's a quiet room there you can borrow for celebrations. There's a P.O.W. camp next door one way and a South African Native Labour Corps lot the other. But they have their own chaplains. We'll let you down easy at first, but you might see if you can fix up a service or so for the men in the forest. There's a Labour Company out there cutting wood. Maybe you'll be able to get a lift out in a car, but get your O.C. to indent for a bicycle if there isn't one. Drop in and see me some day and tell me how you are getting on, I'll find you some more work later on."
Peter got up. The other held out his hand, which Peter took, and then, remembering O.T.C. days at Oxford, firmly and, unblushingly saluted. The Colonel made a little motion. "Good-bye," he said, and Peter found himself outside the door.
"No. 5 Rest. Camp;" said Jenks a moment later: "you're in luck, padre. It's a topping camp, and the skipper is an awfully good sort. Beast of a long way out, though. You'll have to have a taxi now."
"The A.C.G. said a tram would do," said Peter.
"Then he talked through his blooming hat," replied the other. "He's probably never been there in his little life. It's two miles beyond the tram terminus if it's a yard. My place is just across the river, and there's a ferry that pretty well drops you there. Tell you what I'll do. I'll see you down and then skip over."
"What about your stuff, though?" queried Peter.
"Oh? bless you, I can get a lorry to collect that. That's one use in being A.S.C., at any rate."
"It's jolly decent of you," said Peter.
"Not a bit, old dear," returned the other. "You're the right sort, padre, and I'm at a loose end just now. Besides, I'd like to see old Harold. He's one of the best. Come on."
They found a taxi this time, near the Gare du Vert, and ran quickly out, first over cobbles, then down a wide avenue with a macadamised surface which paralleled the river, downstream.
"Main road to Havre," volunteered Jenks. "I've been through once or twice with our stuff. It's a jolly pretty run, and you can lunch in Candebec with a bit of luck, which is one of the beauty-spots of the Seine, you know."
The road gave on open country in a few miles, though there were camps to be seen between it and the river, with wharves and buildings at intervals, and ahead a biggish waterside village. Just short of that they pulled up. A notice-board remarked "No. 5 Rest Camp," and Peter saw he had arrived.
The sun was well up by this time, and his spirits with it. The country smiled in the clear light. Behind the camp fields ran up to a thick wood through which wound a road, and the river was just opposite them. A sentry came to attention as they passed in, sloped arms, and saluted. Peter stared at him. "You ought to take the salute, padre," said Jenks; "you're senior to me, you know."
They passed down a regular street of huts, most of which had little patches of garden before them in which the green of some early spring flowers was already showing, and stopped before the orderly-room. Jenks said he would look in and see if "the skipper" were inside, and in a second or two came out with a red-faced, cheerful-looking man, whom he introduced as Captain Harold. With them was a tall young Scots officer in a kilt, whom Peter learned was Lieutenant Mackay of their mess.
"Glad to see you, padre," said Harold. "Our last man wasn't up to much, and Jenks says you're a sport. I've finished in there, so come on to the mess and let's have a spot for luck. Come on, Scottie. Eleven o'clock's all right for you, isn't it?"
"Shan't say no," said the gentleman addressed, and they passed behind the orderly-room and in at an open door.
Peter glanced curiously round. The place was very cheerful—a fire burning and gay pictures on the wall. "Rather neat, isn't it, padre?" queried Harold. "By the way, you've got to dub up a picture. Everyone in the mess gives one. There's a blank space over there that'll do nicely for a Kirschner, if you're sport enough for that, Jenko'll show you where to get a topper. What's yours, old son?"
"Same as usual, skipper," said Jenks, throwing himself into a chair.
Harold walked across to a little shuttered window and tapped. A man's face appeared in the opening, "Four whiskies, Hunter—that's all right, padre?"
"Yes," said Peter, and walked to the fire, while the talk became general.
"First time over?" queried Mackay.
"Well, how's town?" asked Harold. "Good shows on? I ought to be due next month, but I think I'll! wait a bit. Want to get over in the spring and see a bit of the country too. What do they think of the war over there, Jenko?"
"It's going to be over by summer. There's a big push coming off this spring, and Fritz can't stand much more. He's starving, and has no reserves worth talking of. The East does not matter, though the doings at Salonika have depressed them no end. This show's going to be won on the West, and that quickly. Got it, old bean?"
"Good old Blighty!" ejaculated Harold. "But they don't really believe all that, do they, padre?"
"They do," said Peter. "And, to tell you the truth, I wondered if I'd be over in time myself. Surely the Yanks must come in and make a difference."
"This time next year, perhaps, though I doubt it. What do you think, Scottie?"
"Oh, ask another! I'm sick of it. Say, skipper, what about that run out into the forest you talked of?"
"Good enough. Would you care to go, padre? There's a wood-cuttin' crowd out there, and I want to see 'em about firewood. There's a car possible to-day, and we could all pack in."
"Count me out," said Jenks. "I'll have to toddle over and report. Sorry, all the same."
"I'd love it," said Peter. "Besides, the A.C.G. said I was to look up those people."
"Oh, well done. It isn't a joy-ride at all, then. Have another, padre, and let's get off. No? Well, I will. How's yours, Scottie?"
Ten minutes later the three of them got into a big car and glided smoothly off, first along the river, and then up a steep road into the forest. Peter, fresh from London, lay back and enjoyed it immensely. He had no idea Normandy boasted such woods, and the world looked very good to him. It was all about as different from what he had imagined as it could possibly have been. He just set himself to appreciate it.
The forest was largely fir and pine, and the sunlight glanced down the straight trunks and patterned on the carpet beneath. Hollies gleamed green against the brown background, and in an open space of bare beech trees the littered ground was already pricked with the new green of the wild hyacinth. Now and again the rounded hills gave glimpses of the far Normandy plain across the serpentine river, then would as suddenly close in on them again until the car seemed to dart between the advancing battalions of the forest as though to escape capture. At length, in one such place, they leaped forward up a short rise, then rushed swiftly downhill, swung round a corner, and came out on what had become all but a bare tableland, set high so that one could see distant valleys—Boscherville, Duclair—and yet bare, for the timber had been all but entirely cut down.
Five hundred yards along this road brought them to a small encampment. There were some lines of Nysson huts, a canteen with an inverted triangle for sign, some tents, great stacks of timber and of smaller wood, a few lorries drawn up and silent, and, beyond, two or three buildings of wood set down by themselves, with a garden in front, and a notice "Officers' Quarters." Here, then, Captain Harold stopped the car, and they got out. There were some jovial introductions, and presently the whole party set off across the cleared space to where, in the distance, one could see the edge of the forest.
Peter did not want to talk, and dropped a little behind. Harold and the O.C. of the forestry were on in front, and Mackay, with a junior local officer, were skirmishing about on the right, taking pot-shots with small chunks of wood at the stumps of trees and behaving rather like two school-boys.
The air was all heavy with resinous scent, and the carpet beneath soft with moss and leaves and fragrant slips of pine. Here and there, on a definite plan, a small tree had been spared, and when he joined the men ahead, Peter learned how careful were the French in all this apparently wholesale felling. In the forest, as they saw as they reached it, the lines were numbered and lettered and in some distant office every woodland group was known with its place and age. There are few foresters like the French, and it was cheering to think that this great levelling would, in a score of years, do more good than harm.
Slowly biting into the untouched regiments of trees were the men, helped in their work by a small power engine. The great trunks were lopped and roughly squared here, and then dragged by motor traction to a slide, which they now went to view. It was a fascinating sight. The forest ended abruptly on a high hill, and below, at their feet, wound the river. Far down, working on a wharf that had been constructed of piles driven into the mud, was a Belgian detachment with German prisoners, and near the wharf rough sheds housed the cutting plant. Where they stood was the head of a big slide, with back-up sides, and the forest giants, brought to the top from the place where they were felled, were levered over, to swish down in a cloud of dust to the waiting men beneath.
"Well, skipper, what about the firewood?" asked Harold as they stood gazing.
"How much do you want?" asked the O.C. Forestry.
"Oh, well, what can you let me have? You've got stacks of odd stuff about; surely you can spare a bit."
"It's clean agin regulations, but could you send for it?"
"Rather! There's an A.S.C. camp below us, and the men there promised me a lorry if I'd share the spoils with them. Will that do?"
"All right. When will you send up?"
"What's to-day? Wednesday? How about Sunday? I could put some boys on to load up who'd like the jaunt. How would Sunday do?"
"Capital. My chaps work on all day, of course, and I don't want to give them extra, so send some of yours."
Peter listened, and now cut in.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but I was told I ought to try and get a service of some sort out here. Could I come out on the lorry and hold one?"
"Delighted, padre, of course. I'll see what I can do for you. About eleven? Probably you won't get many men as there are usually inspection parades and some extra fatigues on Sunday, but I'll put it in orders. We haven't had a padre for a long time."
"Eleven would suit me," said Peter, "if Captain Harold thinks the lorry can get up here by that time. Will it, sir?"
"Oh, I should think so, and, anyway, an hour or so won't make much difference. If I can, I'll come with you myself. But, I say, we ought to be getting back now. It will be infernally late for luncheon."
"Come and have a drink before you start, anyway," said the O.C.; and he led the way back to the camp and into an enclosure made of bushes and logs in the rear of the mess, where rustic seats and a table had been constructed under the shade of a giant oak. "It's rattling here in summer," he said, "and we have most of our meals out of doors. Sit down, won't you? Orderly!"
"By Jove! you people are comfortable out here," said Harold. "Wish I had a job of this sort."
"Oh, I don't know, skipper; it would feed you up after a while, I think. It's bally lonely in the evening, and we can't always get a car to town. It's a damned nuisance getting out again, too." Then, as the orderly brought glasses and a bottle: "Have a spot. It's Haig and Haig, Mackay, and the right, stuff."
"Jolly good, sir," said that worthy critically. "People think because I don't talk broad Scots I'm no Highlander, but when it comes to the whisky I've got a Scottish thirst. Say when, sir."
Peter had another because he was warm with the sense of good comradeship, and was warmer still when he climbed into the car ten minutes later. Life seemed so simple and easy; and he was struck with the cheeriness of his new friends, and the ready welcome to himself and his duty. He waved to the O.C. "See you Sunday, sir," he called, out, "'bout eleven. You won't forget to put it in orders, will you? Cheerio."
"Let's go round by the lower road, skipper," said Mackay. "We can look in at that toppin' little pub—what's its name, Croix something?—and besides, the surface is capital down there."