THE CROSS IN THE SKY
R. T. M. SCOTT
JACK TURNER, lieutenant in the-battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, stood at the cross-roads of the tiny Belgian village of La Clytte. Amid the roar of transport wagons, motorcycles and ambulances he stood to one side of the road, ankle deep in mud, and scratched his head. He could not make up his mind whether to snatch half an hour for a bite to eat or to push on immediately to his company in the trenches. The question was unexpectedly decided for him by a hearty shout from the door of a nearby estaminet. It was the chaplain’s voice.
“Will you join the Church, Mr. Jack Turner, for some eggs and coffee?”
“That I will,” replied Turner. “I would join the devil for half as much.”
“There will be no devil’outside the German lines if I can help it,” retorted Captain Welton, smiling a welcome as Turner approached. “Come in and leave the devil to me.” Turner entered an dropped his muddy equipment upon the floor just as an enemy shell screamed overhead and burst in a field, not a hundred yards distant. Neither officer paid any attention to the explosion; it was too common an incident. After ordering the food and drink from the old housewife of the estaminet the chaplain drew up a «'hair and looked searchingly at his younger friend. “Anything on in the front line to-night?” he asked.
“No,” said Turner. “Things are pretty quiet. Why do you ask?”
“Well,” said the chaplain, looking down thoughtfully, “I had intended spending to-night with you in the front line but the colonel didn’t seem to want it; said I had better stay near the first field dressing station. It looks like a shove. Sure you have heard nothing?”
“Nothing,” replied Turner emphatically. “You know we usually rehearse an attack behind the lines.”
“Perhaps I am wrong,” continued the chaplain, reaching for his haversack, “but I wish you would take a box of note paper to the boys in your platoon. Some of them may want to write home before it is dark to-night.” He took a small and a large package from the haversack and handed them to Turner before adding: “Sometimes it is very, very dark when things are left unsaid.”
“Hullo!” exclaimed Turner. “The little package is for
“Yes,” explained the chaplain. “It’s a registered package. The transport officer asked me to take it to you
when he heard I was going up to the front line. Know the writing?”
“Mother’s,” was the brief reply and Captain Welton busied himself with a dirty faced urchin that had crawled in from the kitchen.
Inside the small package Jack Turner found a gold cross upon a fine chain. Turning the cross over he found his own name, rank and battalion. It was an identification disc—or so he thought. Slipping the chain around his neck he called to the chaplain.
“I wish mother wouldn’t get morbid and send me such gruesome things.”
'T'HE chaplain looked up in surprise and then raised the *cross tenderly in his hand while he examined it.
“It is beautiful,” he said and tucked the golden emblem underneath the younger man’s shirt. “ Y ou will wear it—” he hesitated—“for His sake?”
“I will wear it for her sake,” replied Turner, a little sulkily.
“It is the same thing.” The chaplain spoke very quietly. "A mother’s love and Christ are not very far apart.”
“Neither,” came the quick response, “will stop the bullets between the trenches which, also, are not very far
“Do not be too sure,” returned the chaplain a little sadly. He looked curiously at Turner before he put a question. “Do you think for one moment that your little cross is an identification disc?”
“What is it,” asked Turner, “if it is not a pretty tag for a dead body?”
“It is the greatest protection that a loyal soldier may carry!” exclaimed the chaplain, his eyes glowing with enthusiasm. Then, lowering his voice, he continued: “My boy, a mother’s love sent you that cross and a mother’s love guards you through that cross. Even if you can not
believe her faith will throw about you some o* the power of the cross you carry.”
Jack Turner was not rude or boorish by nature. Prob ably it was over strain from months of front line work thaï caused him to burst into laughter.
“Chaplains get killed in battle,” he retorted, “and thex have the cross—two of them—sewed upon their uniforme I prefer to keep my gun loaded and my gas-mask dry.” “Chaplains are human and our omelet has arrived,’ returned the chaplain. “Keep your powder dry by ah means and fill your stomach when you get the chance.”
The road to the trenches, which Turner travelled, led up ward to the brow of a hill where was planted a sign-board It did not read “Keep off the Grass” or “Trespassers will b* Prosecuted” but “The Enemy can see you. Beat it! Thif Means You! !” Over the sunny, rolling landscape, befor» him, not a living thing could be seen ; but the rumble of dis tant artillery was in the air and, to his practised ear, cam* the faint rattle of musketry. Near the horizon white gray and black puffs appeared and drifted slowly under th* blue sky—bursting shells of friend and foe. Somewhere beneath the shells, unseen from the hill-top, two lines o' fighting trenches ran in their zig-zag course from Switzer land to the sea. Turner threw back his shoulders, glance« disdainfully at the sign-board and continued his march It was an old scene to him.
The road led gently down the hill and over low, fla« ground toward the crumbling ruins of what had once bee« the tiny village of Neuve Eglise. Turner could see th* toppled masonry before him and, as he looked, a she! burst, sending a tottering wall down into a cloud oí dust Still he kept on. A shell more or less, before or behind, wa* of little account. It was as easy to run into a shell as it was to run away from one—and quite as difficult. That it what Turner taught green officers and he lived up to hit own sermons. It would appear as if his philosophy wat sound as no more shells broke in the village he was ap proaching and a number commenced to fall upon the hill top with the sign-board which he had left behind.
IT WAS unfortunate that the main street of Neuve Eglise ran directly toward the front line trenches since it gave the enemy shrapnel a chance to sweep its entire length. The enemy could do this at any time but they could not see what they were shooting at on account of large jute screens placed by the engineers from alternate sides of the road?at close intervals. The screens were pierced by bullet and shrapnel but they destroyed the view of the enemy. With keen, professional eyes Turner noted the effect of the artillery fire upon the demolished village. He had the feeling of being alone in the deserted place and was startled when a voice—a woman’s voice—called to him from the side of the road.
“Des cigarettes, m’sieu?”
In a broken down doorway, leading into the basement of a ruined house, stood an old peasant woman with brown, wizened face and scraggy, gray hair. She was bare-footed and her clothing was old and falling to pieces like the house above her head with its rickety walls and roofless, skeletonlike rafters. As she stood there a young girl came up the cellar steps bearing a cardboard box in which were a few packages of cheap cigarettes and a few bars of chocolate.
“Des cigarettes, m’sieu?” repeated the old woman while the girl held out her box of wares with the timorous shyness of youth.
“Why don’t you get out of here? It’s dangerous,” said Turner, feeling in his pocket for silver.
“Where shall I go, m’sieu? This ees my home!”
“Where is your husband? Have you no sons?” asked Turner although he knew the answer.
“The war take all, m’sieu,” replied the old woman. “I have only ma petite Marie left. The rest are with le bon
Turner threw a couple of francs into the box, held by the little girl, and started to pick up a package of cigarettes. As he did so a faint whistling sound came to his ears, grew louder and ended in a stupendous crump! A hundred yards down the street a huge smudge of dust, bricks and mortar rose into the air where a howitzer shell had burst. Turner looked to see the effect of the explosion upon his two companions. There was none. They stood calmly waiting for him to make his selection of cigarettes.
Almost immediately the whistling sound returned and this time the air held an increased message, a promise of more terrible things. Turner’s ears told him at once that several shells were in flight together. The old woman and the little girl also recognized the greater menace,for the girl hastily set down the cigarettes and the old woman looked up into the sky. Four concussions, almost as one, shook the ground of the entire village so that walls fell that had not even been touched and the sun became blotted out by dust and black and yellow fumes.
Turner, instinctively, started down the steps into the cellar but the old woman rushed by him dragging the little girl out into the street.
“La Croix! La Croix!” she screamed. “Vite! Vite!” Turner paused in his descent of the steps. He knew that the cellar, barring a direct hit, was comparatively safe but he could not let a woman run frantically into the greatest danger with no other protection than the cry of “The Cross!” upon her lips. He followed. In the street, blinded by the clouds of dust, he could just see the flying forms ahead of him. Fifty yards from the cellar there was a little square in the very heart of the village, where once had been a church. When Turner reached the square he found the peasant woman and the little girl kneeling before a post, which had once held a gate. From the upper hook, which had held the gate, was suspended a ■imall crucifix.
“Come along!” exclaimed Turner. “Let’s get out to the fields where it’s safer.”
^[EITHER the woman nor the girl moved. As he looked Turner saw their lips moving in prayer, but he saw more than this. He saw peace and confidence upon the upturned faces. It was as if two children had struggled into their mother’s arms—secure against all danger.
It was perhaps the most exposed place in all the village but, strangely enough, Turner could not bring himself to drag those two helpless creatures out into the fields where reason told him they would be safer. Neither could he go away and leave them.
So he stood there while more whinings from the great, wobbling, howitzer shells brought their warnings of impending disaster. Explosion after explosion occurred in various parts of the village.
The enemy were making sure that no observers were perched upon any of the crumbling ruins of Neuve Eglise. A great, jagged piece of metal screamed by Turner’s head and penetrated a wall not a dozen yards from his side.
“Come quick, m’sieu! La Croix! La Croix!”
A little hand tugged at Turner’s sleeve. In the confusion he had not noticed the girl leave her kneeling position before the crucifix. She was urging him to come to her shelter. Turner experienced a curious feeling that it would be better for the girl to get back to her cross as soon as possible—and the quickest way to get her there was to go with her. So he went and the same little hand tugged
him down upon his knees. Almost as Turner’s knees touched the ground a shell fell behind him. penetrated the ground and burst, digging a crater that reached within a few inches of his feet. The detonation was tremendous and the impact from the air threw the three’figures flat upon the ground. The force of the explosion, since the shell had penetrated before bursting, had been upwards in a widening cone; only so could it have failed utterly to destroy the kneeling trio.
Deafened and covered with earth the three raised themselves again to their knees. Turner could see that the top of the gate-post had been blown away by some flying fragment but, from the rusty, iron hook, still dangled the crucifix.
It was over as abruptly as it had commenced and the three stood up and brushed the dirt from their clothes. Almost at once the woman and the girl knelt again in prayer before the crucifix. For a few minutes Turner stood silently watching them. Something antagonistic rose within him and, with an impatient shrug, he turned and continued his way through the wrecked village. As he passed the cellar where he had purchased the cigarettes he noticed that one of the ponderous shells had pierced the place. There was no roof left—nothing but a hole in the ground. Again there was an impatient shrug of the shoulders; yet Turner was puzzled at the very irritation within
Through the long, winding communication-trench, which led up to the front line, Turner trudged his way. There was but little trench matting and often he was more than ankle deep in mud. Rifle bullets, from long distance fire, began to buzz and sing like angry bees above his head. As he approached his journey’s end the buzzing and singing became shorter and sharper and changed to the whip-like crack of the intimate shot which passes from trench to trench. Turner recognized the normal sounds of ordinary trench warfare without any indication of a forward movement from either side. Dusk grew and darkness fell as he emerged from his tortuous lane and found, confronting him, the familiar outlines of the parapet beyond which lay seventy yards of disputed ground and the enemy.
SHORTLY after the period of “stand to,” about an hour at sunset, a handful of officers gathered in the company commander’s dugout for a hasty supper and smoke before settling down lor routine night work. A sergeant pulled aside the rubber sheet which hung over the doorway.
“Just returning from leave, sir,” he reported. “I met the chaplain at La Clytte and he asked me to bring down a bundle of lead pencils. He said that he forgot to give them to Mr. Turner and he would be much obliged if you would advise all the men to write home to-night.”
“The Church has a case of nerves,” laughed a young officer. “Thinks we are in for a show to-night.”
There was a slight titter which died away at a frown from the company commander and Turner rose suddenly, his eyes staring at something which the sergeant held in his hand.
“Where did you get that?” he exclaimed.
“Picked it up in Neuve Eglise, sir,” answered the sergeant. “Place was all blown to—and I found this little cross hanging on the stump of a gate-post.”
To the surprise of his brother officers, Turner stretched
out his hand for the cross.
“I would consider it a very great favor, sergeant, if you would give me that cross.” he said somewhat constrainedly.
“Glad to let you have it, sir,” replied the sergeant and it was easy to see by his smile that Turner was a favorite with the rank and file.
Scarcely had the sergeant withdrawn when a cheery voice came from the darkness without.
“Which way to the War Office?”
The next minute Captain Welton, chaplain of the Nth battalion, lurched out of the muddy trench and into the candle-lighted dugout.
“I have no business to be here,” he said, “but I came down to Neuve Eglise to see if that obstinate, old peasant woman survived the afternoon shelling; and, being so near,
I just dropped in without anybody’s leave.”
Everybody loved the chaplain, except on church parade, and a shout of welcome received him. Pulling out his pipe he filled it from the pouch of the young officer who had suggested that the Church had a case of nerves. Conversation turned to the attitude of the enemy and the possibility of a forward move by either side. Several times the chaplain glanced at the cross which Turner still held in his hand but he said nothing and, in the end, Turner himself brought up the subject.
“You were saying something about an old woman in the shelled village,” suggested the company commander.
“Couldn’t find a trace of her to-night.” returned the chaplain. “She has insisted on sticking to her old home ever since the place was first wrecked. After this afternoon’s bombardment I thought that something drastic had better be done to get her out but I couldn’t find her. If she hasn’t fled, she is probably buried under the ruins.”
“She wasn’t killed during the bombardment,” interrupted Turner. “I was with her through it all.”
“Do you mean to say that you were in this afternoon’s mess at .Neuve Eglise?” asked the company commander. “You didn’t stay through the whole thing, did you?”
“I got caught in it, sir,” went on Turner, “and you know my theory; you can’t run away from a shçll any more than you can run away from lightning. Besides, the old woman and her little girl wouldn’t move.”
THE chaplain gave a slight start and looked very keenly at Turner.
“Was the little girl—back again?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Turner. “As a matter of fact the girl saved my life by pulling me out of the way of a shell that burst only a few seconds later. The woman and the girl were both kneeling before an old gate-post upon which hung this crucifix during the worst of the shelling.”
“Are you sure,” asked the chaplain, “that it was the little girl and not the old woman who pulled you down out of the way of the shell?”
“Positive,” replied Turner. “Would you mind, sir,”— turning to his company commander—“if I took a couple of hours off to take back the cross? Everything seems very quiet.”
“I think,” said the old company commander very slowly, “that the chaplain had better take the cross and do—anything that is—necessary.”
“Come, my boy,”—the chaplain knocked out his pipe and rose—“let us distribute the writing material together. There art! some stars to be seen and the heavens have a message for such problems as these.”
Nobody spoke and the two passed out into the night together, Turner still carrying the little wooden cross. The night was clear except for a low bank of clouds close to the northern horizon. Only an occasional bullet cracked over their heads as the two proceeded along the trench. It was a very quiet night. Turner stopped to speak to the sentries in the different bays as he passed along while the chaplain shoved his head into dugouts and handed out paper and pencils.
“Outgoing mail closes at nine sharp, boys,” called the chaplain as he left each dugout. “Don’t forget to write home. I’ll be back at nine for your letters.”
“Anything to report?” Turner continued to ask the night sentries as he rounded each traverse and entered a new bay.
“All quiet, sir,” was the reply until, about half way down the company frontage, Turner received a most unusual report.
“Well, sir,” replied the sentry when questioned,
'“the Hun has a new signal in the sky unless it’s one of ours.”
“What do you mean?” asked Turner, looking in vain for any unusual light coming from the enemy.
“There it is, sir,” said the sentry, pointing up into the sky somewhat to the rear. “I was just going to call the sergeant when I heard you talking in the next bay.”
Turner saw a huge cross, light yellow in color and extending aver about one quarter of the southern portion of the sky. The two lines of light, forming the cross, were not exactly straight lines. This slight crookedness convinced Turner that the huge cross was not formed by the crossing of two searchlights. As he looked a sergeant came along, searching for the officer on duty. He said that his attention had been called to the cross by other sentries and that he thought he ought to report it to an officer.
“What do you think of it?” Turner asked.
“I don’t know, sir,” replied the sergeant, “but the men all think it’s some new devilment of the enemy.”
“Captain Welton,” asked Turner as the chaplain joined them, “can you explain that?”
UNCONSCIOUSLY Turner had pointed up into the sky with the hand which held the little wooden cross. The chaplain looked first at the small cross and then at the great one in the sky. He seemed a little dazed and sat down upon the fire-step and buried his head in his hands. “Do the men all see it?” he asked.
“Of course,” replied Turner. “We all see it. What's the matter? Aren’t you feeling well?”
“I feel so tired,” went on the chaplain. “O, I wish I could do something but—I don’t know what to do.”
Turner shrugged his shoulders impatiently and turned to the sergeant.
“I will report this thing to the company commander," he said, “but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. No doubt it’s just a trick of nature.”
Turner took the chaplain by the arm and walked him out of earshot of the men who had gathered about.
“You are all in,” he said, “and must have a rest.”
T know I am tired,” the chaplain admitted, “but there is something more than that. I feel a sense of impending calamity but I am so sleepy that I can’t think properly.” He looked up at the yellow cross in the sky. “Thy will be done,” he said.
A man brushed by them in the gloom and then stopped. “Message for you, Mr. Turner.”
Turner took the bit of paper and bent down into a corner of the trench to read the pencilled words by the light of his trench-torch.
“You are detailed,” he read, “to report at once for special duty at brigade headquarters.” It was initialled by the company commander and underneath was an added line: “Try to take the chaplain with you; he is out of his element here.”
Turner glanced at his wrist-watch. It was nine o’clock. “I am ordered back to brigade headquarters,” he said. “1 wish you would walk back with me, Captain Welton. It’s a lonely walk.”
The chaplain, who had been staring up into the sky, turned without a word and they walked back toward the company commander’s dugout. The night was exceptionally still. Even the monotonous rumble of distant guns had lulled and not a rifle shot occurred along their immediate front. Sentries stood motionless in their bays and no conversation issued from the dugouts as they passed. Only once more did the chaplain speak to Turner while they were in the trench.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Just nine,” replied Turner and wondered if Captain Welton would remember what he had said about collecting the mail at that hour.
The chaplain, however, walked along as if in a dream and Turner did not remind him of the letters. He thought that
they could go out in the morning just as well. To collect them now would cause an unnecessary delay. Both he and the chaplain were very tired and they had a long walk ahead of them.
At the dugout of the company commander, Turner swept aside the rubber sheet and the two stepped in. The officers were sitting quietly, much as they had been doing when Turner and the chaplain had left to distribute the writing material. The company commander looked up
and, strangely enough, addressed only the chaplain. T J
“Tell them at headquarters, Captain Welton,” he said very quietly,
“that we saw the cross in the sky and that everything is quiet now.”
The chaplain seemed to take the message as an order and turned at once to leave. Turner followed without speaking. He felt that, for some reason or other, the company commander wished to get rid of the chaplain diplomatically and, so long as the chaplain was willing to go, it was better to say nothing.
DURING the walk through the long communication trench, the chaplain seemed to recover himself somewhat. He began to talk and, much to Turner’s relief, to appear more natural. Several times he mentioned the old woman in the village of Neuve Eglise which they were approaching and, at these times, he shot odd questions at Turner regarding the little girl whom Turner had seen with the old woman. Once he took the little wooden cross from Turner and examined it carefully by means of his flash-light.
“We will hang it on the gate-post as we pass through,” he said, handing it back.
The night was very quiet when they at last reached the wrecked village of Neuve Eglise and commenced winding their way between the jute screens which jutted alternately from the sides of the main street. There was just enough moonlight to give the ruins a ghostly semblance of unreality. Turner could not remember so still a night in war-trembling Belgium. At the little square, where the church had once stood so peacefully through the years, the chaplain laid his hand upon his companion’s shoulder.
“Do you see anything—anybody?” he asked quietly. Turner shook his head.
“It was there,” he said. “That shadow is the post. I see nothing moving.”
The two moved forward and circled a great shell crater.
"That was the shell that nearly did for me,” commented Turner.
On the opposite side of the crater they were very near the old gate-post. They could see it now, even the iron hook. A dark shadow lay at the base of the post. Turner threw a shaft of light from his electric torch upon the ground and bent forward with a sudden exclamation.
Stretched upon the ground, face downward, lay the old peasant woman of the village. At the very base of the post she lay, her arms circling it-outstretched in the mud beyond her head. Her gray, scraggy hair waved a little in a current of air. All else was still and suddenly cold, it seemed, to the two men—as cold as her forehead where Turner placed his hand—and empty as the iron hook.
Slowly Turner hung the cross upon the post but the chaplain took it down and laid it against the cold face upon the ground.
“The work of the earthly cross is finished,” he said.
“But the little girl?” returned Turner with a strange irritation at the words of his companion. “The work of the cross may be done but our work is not finished until we find the little girl and get her out of here.”
“Are you sure that you can not see her?” asked the chaplain.
“Certainly,” replied Turner very curtly.
The chaplain walked away into the darkness.
“She is here, asleep,” he called.
Turner stumbled forward through the shadows and found his friend kneeling beside a little wooden cross upon which the light from his trench torch revealed the one word: “Marie.”
“I buried her here,” the chaplain said, “one month ago. The old woman would never believe that her granddaughter was dead and insisted that she saw little Marie every day and talked to her. I thought she had lost her mind until you, too, saw Marie.”
“You mean,” questioned Turner in amazement, “that there was no Marie when I passed through this village to-day?”
“You know what you saw,” returned the chaplain very quietly, “and I know the child who lies in this grave. There was only one Marie.”
'T'URNERpeered uneasilyinto theshadows A but, before he could reply, a distant rumbling came to him through the still night.
As he listened it grew louder and louder until the first of a string of motor-buses burst into the village. Bus after bus careened dangerously along the village street, all but carrying away some of the screens in their mad rush. They were crammed with men.
“Emergency reinforcements for the front line!” exclaimed Turner. “I can not understand it on such a quiet night.”
As the last bus roared into view Turner saw a frail, little figure flit out into the street and then hesitate as if terror stricken directly in front of the on-coming monster. With a bound he sprang into the street and missed the bus by a foot as he swept the slight figure into safety upon the other side. She seemed to weigh very nearly nothing as he set her down. He had not believed that the Marie, who sold him cigarettes that afternoon, could weigh so little. Yet it was she; he had known it when her little gray shape had first hesitated in the dim light before the swaying bus.
A cry rang out—perhaps from the chaplain—and, as Turner glanced back, the child darted up the road in the direction from which the buses had come. It was scarcely a second before he was after her. He could see the flying shadow before him and then, in a bit of heavy shadow, it disappeared. He raced on to the end of the village and slowed down to a walk. In the road ahead of him, leading into the country, he again thought he saw the fugitive figure standing beside a clump of bushes. He walked slowly forward and, when he reached the bushes, thp little girl came out and put her hand confidently into his.
“Why do you run away?” asked Turner.
“I am afraid of your friend, the padre,” returned the child, speaking English with surprising clearness.
"But why?” asked Turner. “He would not hurt you?” “Because he thinks I’m dead,” asserted the girl. She added vehemently: “You don’t think I’m dead?”
“Of course not,” replied Turner soothingly. “How could you be?”
She did not answer and the two walked on down the road hand in hand. It. was not so far to brigade headquarters. As they drew near to the cross-roads of La Clytte, Turner’s curiosity got the better of him.
“What were you doing when I found you to-night?” he asked.
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Continued from page 26
“Looking for the cross,” the child answered. “Somebody must have taken it from the post, for I can find it nowhere.”
She stopped and tried to pull her hand
“I must go back and look again. Oh, monsieur, the cross is to me—my life! 1 must go.”
She struggled to leave him but Turner held fast to the little hand.
“See!” he said. “I have a cross—a golden cross—and I will give it to you.”
From his neck he slipped the chain and pulled the tiny cross from underneath his jacket. Warm from his body, it seemed to glow in the faint light as he held it out to her upon the palm of his hand.
“Oh, monsieur!” she exclaimed and took the cross and held it to her breast. “It has much love. It has the love of—my— mother!”
Turner put the chain around her neck and they continued their way, hand in hand. At the outskirts of La Clytte, the girl again stopped and looked up at her companion.
“Monsieur,” she said, "you will tell the padre that Marie still lives?”
BEFORE he could answer, she had bent and kissed his hand and was off, like a flash, down a little lane. Turner did not follow. She was with other living people now—men and women of her kind. He hurried on, mounted some steps and entered an outer room where a typewriter rattled. A non-commissioned officer looked up as he entered.
“Lieutenant Turner reporting for duty from the Nth Battalion,” he stated.
The N.C.O. stood up very suddenly and stared at him. Without a word he left the room but returned almost at once.
“Colonel Rogers will see you at once, sir,” he said holding the door open.
As Turner entered several officers looked up from a map-littered table. Their gaze seemed to search his face and he felt a strange nervousness creeping over him. He tried to make himself feel at ease but only succeeded in becoming more nervous. “Your name?” a sharp voice demanded. “Lieutenant Turner, sir.”
“Battalion?” the voice seemed farther off.
“Nth Battalion, sir. Number one com-
“Who sent, you here?”
“My company commander, sir,” replied Turner, his nervousness becoming more and more acute.
“When?” demanded the questioner, coming over and looking straight into Turner’s eyes.
“I left the front trench, sir, at nine o’clock.”
An exclamation burst from everyone present. Turner, too, gave an exclamation of surprise, but at something quite different. On a couch at one side of the room, he suddenly saw Captain Welton, the chaplain, fast asleep.
“Captain Welton and I left the front line together at exactly nine o’clock,” exclaimed Turner, dazedly pointing at his sleeping friend.
“Captain Welton has been asleep for the last two hours,” the sharp voice continued, but now it seemed as if it were inside Turner’s head. “It is now only half past nine and you couldn’t possibly have travelled that distance in half an hour— even if we had sent for you, which we
“I don’t—understand—what—happened,” murmured Turner very slowly.
“What happened,” went on the sharp voice, now miles away, “was that number one company of the Nth Battalion was mined and blown out of existence at exactly nine o’clock.”
It was very quiet in the room, Turner thought, now that nobody was speaking. The light, too, seemed very dim and he felt himself swaying in the shadows.
An officer with the winding snake of the Medical Service stepped forward and put his arm about Turner’s shoulders. Another officer helped him and they laid him on a bench.
“Unbutton his coat,” said the medical officer as he felt for the pulse. “Acute case of shell shock, colonel,” he added.
From the unbuttoned coat the little golden cross slipped out and dangled from its chain. In the commotion Captain Welton had wakened and risen. He took the little cross and slipped it under Turner’s
“Strange,” he said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, “I dreamed he gave the cross to an old peasant woman.”