THE SEARCH FOR MISSING MEN
And Other Stories of a Canadian V.A.D.
WHEN in one falls narrow France, into a routine,
and fancies one’s own microscopic share in the work is the only part that really matters. Then, one day, a new phase of life knocks at your door,
and your knowledge of your intricacies of the life of the Army becomes fuller and wider.
Shortly after our “Push” in the South, we had been ordered to keep the greater number of our beds vacant, and had evacuated every case fit to be moved. We were, therefore, not quite in the same rush as a few days previously when, early in the afternoon, I was called from the far end of the ward to speak to a middle-aged gentleman in a Red Cross officer’s uniform.
“Good afternoon, Sister, I don’t think you were in this ward when I last had occasion to come.”
“I don’t think so,” I said, studying his face, “I have been in this ward only a few weeks.”
“Then you must let me explain why I am here.
I am one of the searchers for the missing and wounded, and I have quite often been here in your ward, to try and find clues of missing men from your patients.”
“Of course, I have heard of your work, but I must confess I am absolutely ignorant as to how you go about it.”
He paused a moment. “To put it in a few words: There is a little group of us here, and there is in every hospital area, under the Red Cross. We are all over military age, and as we cannot fight, we are giving our time and what ability we may have to do this work. We receive lists of the missing men, from our headquarters, and our business is to find them if they are alive, and bring proof positive if they are dead. We find clues more often, and more easily, in hospitals than anywhere else. You have no objection to my talking to the patients?”
“Assuredly not,” I answered, noticing his keen, clever face. I felt certain he was a lawyer and so he proved to be. Later on, at various times, I met the other men, who formed the group—gentlemen of the keenest intellect, a Bishop from South Africa, a London financier, and the others—lawyers. It seemed a tremendous work to me—to find an individual, in chaotic France!
“Pte. John Graham of the SRegiment, missing
since March 16th,” we read.
And these men with their trained intellects set out to discover in which element of the sphere Pte. John Graham is hidden.
“It is a beautiful name—Searcher,” I thought, and later, when I grew to know this particular searcher better, I asked him if I might not use it for his name.
“The name means so much,”
I explained, “To me you will always seem that—a searcher.”
The “Searcher” At Work
“IS not Pte. Neil Munroe, of the H. L. I., in your ward,
“That is Munroe in the 4th bed, with his head bandaged,” I answered, leading the way.
“Is he well enough to talk to me?”
“He is well enough, but whether he talks to you or not is another story. He is a very silent man—but if you can get him to talk, it will do him no harm in the world.”
The stretcher-bearers arriving for a case to be X-rayed, I went off to see to his removal, leaving Pte. Munroe and the searcher together.
Occasionally, I glanced up, hoping Munroe would not maintain his obstinate silence. It did not look like it, however, his mouth half open, his one visible eye staring vacantly in front of him—very hard and stony soil, I fear !
“Do try to give this gentle-
man all the help he wants, Munroe,” I admonished, thinking how quickly I would have given him over for a bad job, and how wonderfully patient the “Searcher” was. Matron arriving in the ward, I left the two, to make my rounds with her. “I would like you to allow that gentleman to come into the ward any time he chooses,” she said, bowing from a distance to the searcher. “What splendid work
he is doing! What faith and patience and determination! I am afraid they would be sadly lack-
It would seem too like a wild
ing in me ! goose chase.”
“Have you had any satisfaction?” I
asked him later, as we walked down the corridor together, he jotting down notes in a pocket book.
“Nothing at all; Munroe has a bit of the oyster in him. By the way,” he said, turning around to the ward, “have you any Lancashire men here?”
“Sergeant Miller is the only one, and his leg is being massaged at present.”
“I wonder,” I went on hesitatingly, “if you would mind giving» me an idea how you go about such an indefinite piece of work. I have seen the results, the lost found—but I have never seen the machinery at work.”
“It’s very simple, Sister. There’s no mystery. We study the lists of the missing and the dates when they were missed. If the area is small, one searcher works by himself—sometimes two— sometimes half a dozen, as there are here, where there are so many hospitals. Lists of patients admitted are sent to us from the different hospitals. If we find one from the same regiment, as one of our missing men, we go to him, and try to find out when he last saw the missing man, and under what circumstances.
“For instance, there are two missing men from H. L. I. on my list. When I saw Munroe’s name as one of your patients, coming from the same Regiment, I came to see if I could find out anything from him. Had he been able to give the slighest scrap of information, I would have sent it at once to our headquarters, and it would have been added to the file, with the missing men’s names on it. Another searcher from another area will probably send another scrap of information—and so on. I am coming to-morrow to see that Sergeant from the Lancashire F-.”
Curious Tales of the Missing Men
AFTER he had left, a lively discussion began among the patients-and curious indeed were
the tales told of the discovery of one—and another —and another missing man. I, however, was too much occupied with my new patient of yesterday, to pay much attention to them. On his card was written:
“Pte. Henry Willis. Regiment -, London.”
His head was bound up, and even one cheek covered. When I renewed the dressing, I saw that most of the hair was cropped in the C. C. S. A few tufts of red were left by the amateur barber. His body was horribly torn with barbed wire. Now, when I came to
him, I found him trembling violently with a high temperature.
“How did you ever manage to get so horribly entangled in the wire?” I asked him, using means to abate the fever.
At first he did not answer at all, and when I repeated the question he spoke in such an affected, slow, extraordinary fashion that it was almost grotesque.
“Where do you come from, Willis?”
“I come from Lon-don,” he said, separating each syllable from the other, in a very peculiar way.
“What a victim he will be,” I thought, knowing the ways and habits of my ward. My ward possesses the characteristic which I am absolutely at a loss to destroy—it is ‘mad’ on imitations. For instance, when poor little Nobbs, from Edgeware Road, after the M. O. had examined him and left the ward, eagerly asked:
“H’any ’opes of 'ome, Sister?” the ward was at it in a trice, and now, the minute the door closes behind the M. O., the chorus begins:
“H’any ’opes of ’ome, Sister?”
And when Jock, in an ecstacy of delight over his first steaming bowl of porridge, ejaculated, “Man, but I’m thinkin’ this parritch is graund/” it was just the same. As regularly now as the breakfast is served— like saying Grace—there is a shout of “Man! but I’m thinkin’ the parritch is graund!”
So, I knew how it would be with Willis’s stilted, unnatural voice.
When finally it was heard, after the foreseen shout, I turned to Monks, my New Zealander, and the cleverest man in the ward.
“What do you think of it, Monks?”
“I think—I think, I would keep an eye On that cove, Sister. Sounds to me as if he was tryin’ to hide something.”
By this time Willis was rather annoyed and shouted out something to the aggressive patient opposite— something with a spice of the West in it.
“You’re from Lancashire!” suddenly Monks shouted to him. To my surprise the new patient turned red. “Lan-ca-shire, No! no! I tell you. I come from Lon-don.”
Willis was to have an operation next day, and I found him in a panic of fear over the anaesthetic.
“But what makes you afraid?” I asked curiously-
“When the man in the other hospital had it he spoke a lot of things he didn’t know, perhaps I’ll do that too.” “Exactly!” said Monks, as I passed his bed. “There’s something deuced queer about him.”
Next morning the Searcher came again as he had said—to interview the Lancashire Sergeant.
“Stay if you like, Sister, you are interested, aren’t you?” said the Searcher, as I was about to leave them. I only had time for a minute or two after the first preliminaries.
The Search For Gentles
"D0 you think you remember seeing Gen~1es of the Battalion,sergeant? He hadn't
been very long in the battalion, and he has been missing for almost a year.”
“It was in that action, Sir, almost a year ago.
Aye-I remember Gentles, a young, red-headed
chap. With a scar on his face—and he played the banjo, too, he did. Yes, Sir, but Gentles was shot in the stomach that action, and crawled away into a shell-hole. Last I seen of Gentles, Sir.”
I was quite excited. I turned to the Searcher:
“I’m so glad you found out about him, and in my ward !”
“But you mustn’t make too sure, Sister. Do you know that four different reports have already been sent in about him? See!” and he showed me a business-like looking document.
No. 1. Informant (name, Regiment given) remembers Gentles—fair haired boy—scar on his face. Impetuous—always taking risks. Killed and buried on April 14th.
Note 2. Informant (Corporal in - Regi-
ment) remembers Gentles. Played concertina, or some other instrument. Informant doesn’t remember what—all are same to him.
Was in next trench to him in first week of May.
“Note 3. Informant (name and Regiment) saw Gentles, a Lancashire lad, reddish hair, noisy, sang and played some instrument. Was with him in the rest camp on May 10th.
“But,” I gasped dumbfounded, “how can they all be true? Buried in April, and playing the banjo in May?”
“They do sound rather extraordinary,” agreed the Searcher. “They are all sent back to headquarters to Gentles’ file, as I told you. Presently, when we have added every item of information possible, wise heads will sift it, and with a few further inquiries, often arrive at the truth.”
“Often!” I repeated.
“Certainly, not always, Sister. Many, many of the missing will remain so till earth itself yields the secret.”
I entered my ward next day to find Monks and others chuckling with glee.
“What’s the joke, Monks?”
Amidst grins and chuckles, he at last made himself understood :
“It’s that cove in the corner, what had the operation to-day—Willis.”
“Oh, I was out when he had the operation. Did it go all right?”
“Rather, Doc gave him the dope to knock him out and when the cove came round, he opens his mouth, and let sling the greatest bunch o’ Lancashire lingo, y’ever heard in your life. Forgot all that tomfoolery, sissy rot he talks, an’ let her go in real old Lancashire !”
“But why on earth could he try to hide that he’s from Lancashire?” I asked, really puzzled.
“An’ that’s just what I’m goin’ to find out,” said Monks, suddenly sobered.
I DECIDED not to mention this fact to Willis him-self-for the present at least-and once more he
began to speak with affected deliberation as before. He tried hard to find out what he had said under the anaesthetic, but I simply told him I wasn’t there, and he seemed relieved. At my request, the men took no notice of his sudden lapse into Lancashire. Two days later the Searcher appeared again.
“Any more Lancashire F-s, Sister? I’m really
anxious to find something definite about Gentles. Headquarters writes that his people—at least his father and mother—are writing most pathetic appeals. Seems that he was married—since the war—and the father and mother didn’t think much of the girl. He had met her in London, since he had enlisted, and married her.
Though they didn’t like the girl—and small blame to them evidently—they kept in touch with her. Some months ago, she wrote to them that as the papers had said Gentles was missing and reported dead, she supposed he was dead, and was going to marry again, which she had done.”
“How disgraceful!” I interrupted.
“But not so unusual as you might imagine, Sister.” “It would be rather unpleasant for her if you did find him,” I suggested.
“I’m not thinking much about her felings, but I am anxious to find out about him for these poor people’s sake—the Father and Mother.”
“I have reason to believe we have another Lancashire man in the ward,” I said, and told him about Willis.
“It is strange that he should be so anxious to hide his birth place,” and he walked slowly down the ward. Watching, I saw Willis give a tremendous start as the Searcher, instead of passing his bed as usual, took a chair and sat down beside him. “If he has anything to hide, he won’t keep it long,” I thought, looking at the clever profile of the Searcher’s face.
Minutes passed—half an hour. I was deep in temperatures and pulses, and paid no heed to the familiar figure of the Searcher. At last, hearing a frightened sound, between a gasp and a cry, I hurried from the end of the wrard. Willis lay, his eyes popping out of his head, his face white, and his breath coming in quick gasps. The man was frightened, terrified.
“I am indeed sorry, Sister,” said the Searcher very quietly, “to have put your patient in this condition.”
Mysterious Gentles is Discovered "WILL you wait for me at my desk in the centre room,” I said, noticing that his presence caused Willis such alarm. With great difficulty, I finally quieted the man, remaining beside him till he seemed ready to fall asleep. It took some time, but the Searcher was still there, when I came to the ante-room, walking up and down excitedly.
“What is it? What have you discovered? What put him in such a panic?” I know my questions tumbled out one over the other. I was so impatient.
“The most extraordinary thing has happened, Sister. But then my days are filled with extraordinary things, only one can’t always see it so plainly.” The Searcher’s eyes were very bright.
“Your patient Willis is not Willis at all.”
“Not Willis! Who is he then?”
“Not Willis,” repeated the Searcher, “but Gentles!”
“What!” I gasped.
“He is indeed! He is the Gentles who has been on the missing lists for months; he is the Gentles whom one man saw disappear in a shell hole in April, and another saw playing the banjo in May.” “But how—why?”
“Caused by a most extraordinary mix up of human emotion—love—fear—self-sacrifice—-desperation !
“Love!” I echoed.
“Yes, I believe that Lancashire lad truly loved that worthless girl. For the powder and paint that covered her face, he had no eyes. To him she was the most beautiful woman in the world!” “You said Gentles didn’t write home for six months. How was that, if he was so fond of her?” “Did you ever realize, Sister, how difficult it is for a Tommy to write, when so many things are barred? He wants to tell them about the place they are in—the country—the billets. • Not allowed! He wants to tell about the regiment that used to be very near them at home, and is near them here. Not allowed! He wants to tell about the wonderful attack he has been through, and the wonderful escape he has had. Not allowed! Then, Tommy, not having, perhaps, a very keen imagination, and not caring to write about his feelings, gets tired writing ‘that he hopes this finds them well as it leaves him,’ and he gradually puts off till leave, and drops off sometimes, altogether— especially if his letter from Blighty gets lost, or doesn’t reach him.”
“How do you know all of these things?” I asked.
“It is what I have studied from school days, little Sister—Human Nature.”
“And Gentlest—after not writing for six months?”
“Then he was hit by shrapnel—as the Sergeant told us—and lay in the shell hole till he was carried, in an unconscious state, to a French hospital. When he was better and allowed out, he met a man from home, in a canteen, who had just come back from leave, and who told him his people thought he was dead, and his wife had married again.” “Are you telling me the story of Enoch Arden?” I asked.
“When you search for the missing, Sister, you find things, ten times stranger than fiction.”
“What did he do then?”
“Here the best part of the man’s nature came out. In his cot—in that hospital, surrounded by foreigners, he seems to have fought out this crisis in his life. If he went home now, this worthless, self-seeking woman, whom he had idealized,—would be known as a bigamist! Therefore he decided he would not go home.
"HE deliberately lost his badges, claimed to belong to a London Regiment, drifted half over France, and finally landed with a London Regiment, which was just going into action. Got entangled in the enemy’s barbed wire, and here he is!”
“But why—why did he try to pretend he hadn’t come from Lancashire?”
“Because he heard me asking for Lancashire men and was afraid he might be detected.”
“Tell me, Searcher, do you often come across such wonderful revelations?”
“Not often as complete as this.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“There is only one thing I can do. I am sent out here to discover the missing. I have found one, and I am in duty bound to report it.”
When I re-entered the ward the look of despair on
Continued on page 75
Continued from page 28
Gentles’s face was pitiful to see. Poor Gentles! His problem was soon solved. After some communication between the Searcher and the home people, the news had to be broken to him that his wife, on her way to Australia, with the man who believed himself to be her husband, had been torpedoed and drowned.
Another side issue of war!
* # * * * *
The Young Flyer’s Story
EVERY nurse or V. A. D., especially those who have served in France, will recall nights when she has sat by some patient—just letting him talk, talk, talk. We oflen discussed what we were told in these night watches, of course, violating no confidence. This story was told one night:
Well, you know, I have only been on night duty for a week or so. I always feel at night, somehow, when it is silent and dark, the men are a little—different from in the sunshine. Things that have happened—terrible things sometimes— come crowding back to their minds, they become nervous, and often call you and ask for something, not because they really want it, but because they want to hear you and feel that something human and awake is near; you have noticed that, haven’t you?
Well, in my last -ward was a young Air Service Officer, who had no wounds, but was a nerve case—a regular nervous break down—very sudden—he had had. He was sent down the line and on to us. He used to be there, absolutely silent, never speaking, unless when it was really necessary, with the most lonely and despairing eyes I have ever seen. He looked as if he lived in a world of his own, that he could not reach. His body was there in the ward but his eyes seemed to say that he was not one of us, that he was as far removed as if he belonged to another sphere. I had the greatest desire to make him speak, to reach him, as it were, to make him express emotion, to make him one of us. Even to have seen him suffer pain would have been better than this horrible apathy.
When I asked him if he wanted anything—if I could bring him anything— books, flowers—be answered very quietly and courteously:
“Nothing, thank you, Sister. I have everything.”
The M. O.’s were at a loss. They could not rouse him. They could not get at the root of the trouble.
“I wish you could make him talk, Sister,” they used to say. “Something is on his mind, and until we can get at it, we cannot help him. If he shows any inclination to talk at any time, encourage him.”
You know that, as a rule, the doctors don't want us to encourage the patients to talk about their experiences up the line. They rather want them to forget them. But now they told me to do everything in my power to make this one talk. Naturally then, I did my best— starting all kinds of subjects. He always answered in the same toneless way as if he were too much taken up with what he was thinking of, to be interested in anything I could say.
Often through the night, when I made my rounds of the ward, with my little electric torch, I would find him lying motionless, with eyes strained wide open, staring into the darkness.
One night when the others were all asleep, I stood by his bed. It seemed to me that night as if a lost spirit dwelt in his eyes.
“Talk to me a little,” I said. “Sometimes I feel lonely in the night, when everyone is asleep around me. Talk to me.” The ghost of a smile seemed to flicker about his lips.
“Lonely, Sister, lonely? Do you think you really know what that word means?”
Threw His Pal to Destruction
JUST at that moment, a patient, one of the very highly strung, excitable kind, began to sing in his sleep, that
song that a sergeant of the Fusiliers wrote. You know the men have been singing it a lot lately.
“Keep your head down. Chummy, keep your nut well down.
When you’re in the trenches, keep your napper down.
Bullets are a-flyin’, nasty bits of lead. It’s all up with you, Matey, if you stop one with your head.”
“Keep your head down, Chummy,” repeated the boy, “Aye, he’s trying to save his pal, hut what would you think of a man, Sister, who threw his pal out to destruction?”
“It’s coming! It’s coming!” I thought, and stood very still, thankful that the noisy, wakeful patient had turned and was sleeping quietly.
“Tell me,” I said, for it seemed as if the load were about to be lifted.
“Tell you, Sister! Shall I? Shall I show you the horrible depths to which a man may fall? That would be from the beginning. Sister, when I was only a kid, when I first remember hearing people say: ‘What an imagination that child has got!’ And as a kid, I could say to myself, ‘What does that mean? Does it mean that I see things when people only speak of them? Does it mean that when Dad told Mother about the launch bursting up, I could see it flaming to the sky, and see the sailors sizzle in the flames! Ough! Is that imagination? I don’t want it! I don’t like it!’
“It followed me, though, Sister, through the school years. It was so vivid. I called it my Devil Imagination, and indeed it was more of a curse than a blessing.
Waiting For the Whistle “HpHEN the war broke out, and of course, I joined up. I joined an Infantry Corps first, and if I am to tell you the truth, a truth which has never crossed my lips before, I felt even then that I was a coward. Nobody knew it, of course, for I acted a part, but deep in my heart I knew what to fear when I went to France. I feared Fear.
“Well, we went over, and finally came to our time in the trenches. We were going to attack. The zero hour was given. When the whistle blew we were to go over the top.”
“Who was to blow the whistle?” I asked, simply for the sake of stopping, for an instant, that tense voice in its terrible monotony.
“I was to blow the whistle. I stood leaning against the parapet—all my preparations were made. I was picturing what was going to happen, the shells bursting, the bayonets, the wounds! Nothing in reality ever came near the ghostly pictures in my mind then.
“I began to feel cold and physically sick.
“The men were standing waiting for the sound of the whistle. They were laughing, talking—even joking.
“How much of it is real? I wondered.
“Some of them reminded me of hunting dogs straining at the leash—their blood was up—the years of civilization had rolled away—they were back to the elemental things.
“They were old hands. How I envied them ! How I honored them ! I wondered if they could read my thoughts in my face.”
“Stop for a minute,” I interrupted him, “you must not let yourself get so excited. Wait till you rest—”
“It is now or never, Sister, and up till to-night I thought it would be bever. I raised the whistle to my lips, wondering how I could blow it, when the time came. In doing so. I knocked out my cigarette, which indeed, I was scarcely conscious of holding. Quite mechanically I took out my case for another cigarette. That case, Sister, was given me, when I joined up, by a gh’l who lived near my home in the country, and who played at Soldiers with me when we were kids. She was with her father on the ‘Lusitania’ when it went down ! God ! I could see her tossed by the water! Her white, upturned
face was more real to me, than vours is now! The curls, that, as a kid, I teased her about, were dripping and filled with sea-weed—she was choking, struggling! !
“That saved me, Sister. For once my imagination had helped me. The blood beat back into my brain—my bands twitched to be at the throats of the Boches who had murdered her. I forgot everything else. Thank Gad ! the sign was given, I blew my whistle ;l my ears almost burst. I scrambled with shouts, over the top—I—”
More of the Devil Imagination
A MOTHER patient had wakened, 4i. calling for me, and I went—remaining as long as possible to enforce a little rest on the boy. Whenever I hiyl finished, however, a hoarse whisper called me.
“Come back, Sister, I’ll fin;sh now and never again shall I speak of it— “The horrible spell was broken— you’ve been told already, Sister, what ‘over the top’ means—the shells screaming and whining, the rattle of the machine guns, the face-to-face playing with Death, the falling into shell holes; the sudden victorious dash into the enemy front trench!! You’ve heard it all before. I should have been dead half a dozen times. The earth was ripped up behind me, before me, the bullets s-mg past my ears, but I was so thankful that the horrible nightmare of fear had left me. I opened my arms, and I almost think I sang aloud.
“Well, when this Hell was over, and those of us, who were left, were panting for breath : some of -ns dazed with '-he terrible noise, and the remains of the gas. here was I, w'th nothing but a "ere skin wound, and an obsession to be at their throats again.”
“Well. yon. see.” I broke in relieved. “It was only that horrible phvsica1 sense of fear which almost eA'ery man owns up to. at one time or another. You know, this is the first War that men have n°t been afraid to say they were afraid!”
“That is not all. Sister. . . . After a few months several of our company resigned in order to join the Air Force.
I decided to do the same. I can’t tell you exactly why I did it, unless, because the Air Service is supposed to be one of the most dangerous, and I was absolutely determined to bring that Devil Imagination of mine face to face with every kind of horrible facts, until I had brought it completely under my control. I knew the Air Service would give me lots of opportunity. I won’t bore you much longer, Sister.”
uPlease, please don’t use that horrible word. You know that instead of bored, I am interested beyond words,”
I said. “Only I don’t want you to do yourself harm with so much excitement.”
“Well, I soon became an old hand at it, and France soon followed. The mighty stunts over the enemy trenches, over the clouds! It satisfied me, somehow. I think I was nearer being really happy then, Sister, than for years. One night I was given a special commission.
“One of our Secret Intelligence men was to be taken behind the enemy lines, where he was to descend by parachute. My business was to get him there, and at a given sign, the next night, bring him back if he were lucky enough to be still alive. He was to do the rest. All the details of course are secret. You understand that, and I shall not give you them. This special information which Headquarters required was absolutely' necessary, but would be gained at the imminent risk of his life. It was only one chance in many that he could keep out of the hands of the Boches. The night came and he arrived, disguised in a German uniform.” “Did you know him before?” I asked. “No, I had never seen him though I had often heard of him and the wonderful work he had done. Jove! these fellows have brains and pluck!”
The Skinny', Insignificant Hero
“TAID he look the part?” I queried,
with the usual woman’s curiosity. “Far from it—a small, skinny, insignificant looking soul. I suppose we will always have the old idea that a
hero must be a broad-shouldered 6fcoter—though as a matter of fact it is generally the contrary. Nothing to mark the brains a man of his kind must have, except one quick, penetrating glance at the beginning, keen enough to reach your very marrow. It wasn’t the first time by many he had been up in a machine, and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy the motion. We went up with the other machines, on their way to the nightiv stunt, but presently, we went a little higher, a little further ‘port’ and after awhile shot up suddenly and found ourselves on a plane by ourselves—”
He stormed there, and, I hoped the story was finished or practically so. He was utterly exhausted; his white face shining out in the darkness. There was a kind of unnatural element in the whole thing. I had left him two or three times to see about other patients but something always drew me back. Of course, as I told you, the doctor had insisted there was something on his mind, preventing his recovery, so I thought it bost to let him go on. Do you think I was right, girls?
“Assuredly,” we answered, and she went on.
“People often ask me if the stillness, the utter silence, up in the clouds, does n~t seem uncanny.” went on the boy. “They forget that the noise of the machine is so loud that the Pilot can hardly carry on any conversation with the Observer, without shouting at the pitch of his voice. One seldom speaks to the other, when the machine is going, unless necessary.
“Well, I carried my passenger over our front line, and over the enemy lines, and presently arrived, as near as I could judge, over the place where I thought he might descend by the parachute. I motioned to him to prepare, and he adjusted the belt. It was the minute for him to drop cff the plane.”
“To di-op into nothingness!” I shuddered.
“Yes, Sister, to leave our tiny ark of safety, floating in immeasurable space, and plunge into that gulf of blackness, which surrounded us. Of course he was attached to the parachute, but what if it did not open? Dropping into that horrible emptiness!
“I Poked swiftly at him, and in h's face, I could read his thoughts as if they were my own.
“He had lost his nerve!
“D'd one wonder? A mere atom, like a gram of dust, to be dangling in space! Was he looking at the picture now as I was? I was giddy at the thought. It was a hideous nightmare. Two atoms of humanity penetrating the clouds, the immeasurable space which terrifies the bruited mind of man! Held up by a few boards and rods of steel, and to suddenly plunge from it—into what?”
“And we never heard of these terrible deeds men are doing for us,” I interrupted.
“You will hear, S'ster, when it is all over—I am sure vou understand how necessary it is to keep everything possible secret now.”
“Indeed I do—Go en !” I urged, for the very first beginning of dawn was glimmering through the windows.
“His white face told me that his nerves had got the better of him, and that he was trying to shout to me. H:s voice came faintly above the noise of the engines:
“‘Take me back! I can’t do it! I tell veu I can’t! I can’t leap into that horrible space!’
“Thei-e we were, we two, alone in the world as it seemed, and to all intents and purposes we were. The occasional stars peering at us. seemed almost nearer to us than the world which we could not see, hut which we knew to be at our feet. Here, with me, the only other speck of humanity was trying.^o rise above the horrible fears, that flesh had made him heir to. I knew of the record of brave deeds which he had built for himself, and the invaluable service he had done his country. I had been told of the imminent danger, upon .which he. without th¡e sbghtest hesitation, had thrust himself. I know-he had played with the chance of Death!
The Lurking of Imp Imagination “ AND, therefore, I knew that in this
-¿A-man’s brain lurked that imp Imagination which had turned me into a coward, that first day before I went over the top, and that it was now about to wreck his career.
“Supposing I listened to him, and carried him safely back to earth?
“He must then return to his Headquarters and confess that their orders were not carried out, because he had not the courage to do so; that the trust they had placed in him w-as misplaced because he was a coward. In other words that his honor was torn to rags. What must happen, could I keep a fellow-man to this? Could I allow him to yield to that physical sickening sense of fear, which had him in its power for the moment? Would life be worth living, Sister, after that? Would it?”
“No—” I said hes tatingly, “I suppose—”
“You do not suppose, Sister, you know. To a brave woman, honor is as
dear as to a man-1 made up my
mind hurriedly. I motioned to him as if I could not hear. I saw that he was still attached to the parachute—or vice versa—and I motioned to him to come near, as if I wanted to hear better. Nearer! nearer! He was standing, now quite close to me. With a sudden jerk of my wrist, I caught him and— pushed him into that black abyss.”
The bov’s voice trailed off, and he lay shuddering beneath the sheet.
For a minute I could say nothing. Then he broke in again.
“It was his scream, Sister, when he v/ent over! To the end of my days, that awful, horrible, despairing scream will ring in my ears !”
“But what is the end?” I hurried on. “You said he was attached to the parachute. Perhaps he landed safely. Did you not find out?”
“I had no time. I became ill immediately after, and was sent down here. I picture him every minute of the day, S'ster, as he fell cfF the plane. I hear his cry at nights.”
“But we will find out about him,” I insisted. “I shall see that it is done.”
Well, I told the M. O. the whole story except that, of course. I could not give names—as I did not know them.
The boy would not even give names, to the M. O. He said after all he had told, it was impossible for him to tall the man’s name. The doctor came to the conclusion, however, that only if the boy’s mind were refieved, could he ever get better. Thev thought accordingly that they were justified in laying the case before Headquarters—keeping
back as much of the story as possible.
They discovered that the Secret Service Member had arrived safely on German territory, had found cut his information, but had been takan prisoner.
A few days later further word was sent that he had escapad and was in Holland.
A Canadian Hero “Goes West”
I WAS detailed, at very brief notice, to accompany a hospital train to the Ba^e. I was kopt on duty with this train much longer than I had expected.
One afternoon, late, I stood with the M. O. at the side of one of our worst eases. II” was n Canadian, and this was his first “Blighty” since he had crossed the seas three years ago. It was a leg case, crushed and broken, and because he had been lying out in “No Man’s Land” for a considerable time, the mud and dirt had soaked into h-.s wound, and it was septic. The M. O.’s face was very grave and thoughtf ul.
“I don’t want to amputate, if I can possibly help it.” he said. “I have tried every possible thing but ;t s^ems to me a mmstion of his leg or his life.”
* MÍ ill ¡t be in time when we arrive at the Base?” I asked.
„“Scarcely. I couldn’t take the risk. No, Sister, I shall have to do it on the train. It is very rarely that we stop the train ourselves. though often enough we have to wait on a siding for hours to let another train pass. This is serious enough, however, to warrant it.”
He hurried off to give orders to have
the train backed into a siding, and soon ¡ we had stopped. The little theatre was in a state of complete readiness for an emergency operation, such as this would be. In a few minutes I had to prepare the lad for his operation. I spoke to him very softly, that the other cases, so very near, might not be disturbed.
“The doctor has told you it is necessary to amputate.”
“You’re a brave lad to take it so quietly,” I couldn’t help saying.
“If I . . . if anything goes wrong, Sister, will you write to my folks? They live down East in America. I guess you’ve got the address, all right.” The stretcher-bearers arrived to carry him into the theatre. Heads were raised from pillow’s as he was carried past. As the orderlies, with their burden, picked their steps among the mattresses, I coming behind, we passed a little, bald-headed man of more than forty, whose nerve was gone, and who was sobbing with pain.
“Cheer-o, old buck,” came from the young Canadian who was about to lose his leg. “Cheer up! see you later!” I could not help taking his hand in mine and saying:
“You deserve to win out, Canada, and I believe you will.”
Now that the train had stopped, it seemed unnaturally quiet. One missed the rumbling and the noise in w’hich one lived one’s life. One forgot, wdien the operation was being skilfully and quickly carried on, that one was not in a regular hospital, but instead on a train, in a desolate little siding, miles away from town and village. It was completed and the boy was carried . back to his berth. I left a train orderly to watch him until he came out of the anaesthetic, and went on with my dressings.
I went back to my Canadian. He was out of the anaesthetic and was perfectly conscious and sensible. But he was in a terrible state of weakness. I sent for the M.O.
“There is a poor chance in any case, Sister. Try to brace up his heart. . . .”
W3 had started again now and I went to the Canadian’s berth. He was sinking. It was too evident. The M.O. came at the same moment and examined him.
“I’m afraid there is no hope, Sister.
It was the only chance, and it has failed. Do what you can for him, but I am afraid it will soon be all over.” Presently’ the Canadian opened his eyes:
“It’s about time to write that letter, Sister,” he said, in weak tones, but a smile in his eyes. I knew it was true;
I brought a writing pad, and took out my fountain pen. He thought a few moments, and with a far-away look in his eyes, began :
I have had a corking time. I wouldn't have given up my place here for anything in the world. I am jolly glad I came, Dad. Sorry you'll be alone, but this would 'hame been hard on Mother.
It takes its men for war, don't it, dad?
“That’s all, Sister. Thanks.”
I waited with him, till I was obliged to change some dressing further down the coach. Presently I looked up and saw the orderly, who had been left with him, sign to me. I hurried to his side and took his hand in mine.
“Brave! Brave boy!” I whispered to him. He opened his eyes, to smile, and . ... his life was over.
An Enemy Asked For Water
THE train was rumbling along at a _ very easy pace to prevent more jolting than was necessary. Suddenly a voice from above my head startled me: “Geben sie mir wasser.” (Give me water). German! I raised myself on tiptoes and looked into the cot. A fairhaired boy of seventeen was there, a weak, gentle lad, for all the world like my small brother at home.
“And this is my enemy,” I thought. “Or would be, only that in hospital one does not distinguish betw’een an enemy and a friend—they are all patients. He
looked at me with alarm and much pain in his softened blue eyes.
“Where are you hurt?”
“It is mein beine” (leg), he whispered, and I found a smashed bone in the lower leg and the blood oozing from the wound. He already had been dressed at the Field Ambulance. I got off the splint, cleaned and dressed the wound, and arranged the slight, fair-haired boy as comfortably as I could.
“Gut! gut!” be kept whispering, “Schister is gut!” and he looked up at me with eyes like a dumb animal trying to show his thanks.
Below him on the mattress was a young Londoner from the Artists’ Rifles. His was not a serious wound,
and I noticed how he watched with great interest the dressing of the little prisoner’s wound.
“Say, Boche, where do you come from?” he called up in German, and the boy turned up his young, white face, gazed at him earnestly and answered :
“Von den walde.” (From the woods.)
“Thought so,” muttered the Artist, for he happened to be one of the Artists’ Rifles who really was an artist.
“Sister, there is a face—look at it— in which there is no guile.” And looking at the face, I knew what he meant.
“Yes, I suppose they have dragged the children of the forest, too, into this devilish business,” I replied, hurrying on to the next case.