Ralph Connor.

The sky pilot in no man's land online

. (page 20 of 25)
Online LibraryRalph ConnorThe sky pilot in no man's land → online text (page 20 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

In about an hour and a half Barry was on his w^ay
again. He dodged the shelling at the crossroads, and
following a track across the open fields, arrived at the
Zillebeck Bund without adventure.

Here to his relief he found the battalion. He made
his way at once to Headquarters, and walked in upon a
meeting of officers.

"Well, I'm " exclaimed Colonel Leighton, check-
ing himself hard, "who have we here ! What in hell are
you doing here, Pilot? I thought you would be safely
in old Blighty by this time," he added, shaking him
warmly by the hand.

"Oh, you couldn't work that game on me, colonel,"
said Barry cheerily, going round the group of men, who
gave him an eager welcome. "You thought you had
shipped me off, just as the fun was starting, but I got
on to you."

"Well, I'll be darned," said Major Bayne. "How
did you find out?"

Barry told him, adding, "You will have to train your
man to lie more cheerfully."

"That's what comes of a man's environment,'* said
the major, disgustedly. "I was always too truthful,

"Well, sir," said Barry, turning to the colonel. "I'm
awfully glad to find you here. I was afraid I'd lost

"Well, gentlemen," said the colonel, "you have all
got your orders. Does any one want to ask a question?
Well, then, it's pretty simple after all. Two companies
advance as far as Maple Copse, and gradually work


up until they feel the enemy, then put in a block and
hold against attack, at all costs. The other two com-
panies are to follow up in support at Zillebeck Village.
Later on, when our reserves come up, and when our
guns return — I hear they are pushing them up rapidly
— we are promised a go at those devils. Meantime we
have got to hold on, but I expect the battalion will be
pulled out very shortly."

The flickering candles lit up the faces of the men
crowding the dugout. They were elaborately careless
and jolly, but their eyes behed their faces. Under the
careless air there was a tense and stern look of expecta-
tion. They were all sportsmen, and had all experienced
the anxious nervous thrill of the moments preceding a
big contest. Once the ball v/as off, their nervousness
would go, and they would be cool and wary, playing the
gamie for all they had in them.

"Now, gentlemen," said the colonel, as they prepared
to leave the dugout, "before I let you go, there is one
thing I want to say. It's a tradition of the British army
that any soldier or officer who has lost his unit marches
toward the sound of the guns. I am proud to-night
that we have an example of that old tradition here. We
left our chaplain behind, and he didn't know where his
battalion had gone, but he moved toward the sound of
the guns. That is what I would expect from any of
you, gentlemen, but it's none the less gratifying to find
one's expectations realised."

Only his flaming face revealed Barry's emotion as the
colonel was speaking.

"Now then, gentlemen, carry on, and the best of luck."

"Sir," said Barry, "what about a little prayer?"

"Fine," said the colonel heartily, while round the room
there ran a murmur of approval.

Barry pulled out his little Bible and read, not one of
the "fighting psalms" but the tenderly exquisite words
of the Shepherd's song. His voice was clear, steady
and ringing with cheery confidence. His prayer was


in the spirit of the psalm, breathing high courage and
calm trust, even in the presence of the ultimate issue.

In a single sentence he commended his comrades to
the keeping of the Eternal God of Truth and Justice
and Mercy, asking that they might be found steadfast
in their hour of testing and worthy of their country and
their cause.

Together they joined in the Lord's prayer; then lifting
over them his hands, he closed the little service with that
ancient and beautiful formula of blessing, which for
two thousand years has sent men out from the Holy
Place of Meeting to face with hearts resolved whatever
life might hold for them.

One by one, as they passed out the officers shook
hands with Barry, thanking him for the service, and
expressing their delight that he was with them again.

"What are we going to do v/ith you, Pilot?" inquired
the colonel.

''I thought I'd stick around with the boys," said Barry.

"Well," said the colonel, gravely, "of course, there's
no use of your going up to the attack. You vv^ould only
be in the way. You would be an embarrassment to the
officers. That reminds me, there was a call from Menin
Mill for you this afternoon. They are having an awful
rush there. Our own R. A. P. will be in Zillebeck Vil-
lage, and our Headquarters will be there."

"I'll go there, sir, if you agree," said Barry, and after
some discussion the matter was so arranged.

In a ruined cellar in the village of Zillebeck, a mile
and a half further in, the R. A. P. was established and
there carried on during the desperate fighting of the next
three days. Through this post a continuous stream of
v/ounded passed, the stretcher cases all night, the walk-
ing cases all day and all night. In spite of its scenes of
horror and suffering the R. A. P. was a cheery spot.
The new M. O. was strange to his front line business,
but he was of the right stuff, cool, quick with his fingers,
and undisturbed by the crashing of bursting shells. The


stretcher bearers and even the wounded maintained an
air of resolute cheeriness, that helped to make bear-
able what otherwise would have been a nightmare of un-
speakable horror. Attached to the R. A. P. was an outer
building wherein the wounded m.en were laid after treat-
ment. Thither in a pause of his woi*k, Barry would run
to administer drinks, ease the strain of an awkward posi-
tion, speak a word of cheer, say a prayer, or sing snatches
of a hymn or psalm. There was little leisure for reflec-
tion, nor if there had been would he have indulged in
reflection, knowing well that only thus could he main-
tain his self-control and "carry on."

With each wounded man there came news of the prog-
ress of the fighting. The boys were holding splendidly,
indeed were gradually eating into the enemy front.
They brought wend stories of his comrades, incidents
pathetic, humorous, ueroic, according to the temperament
of the narrator. But from more than one source came
tales of Knight's machine gun section to which McCuaig
was attached. Knight himself had been killed soon after
entering the line, and about his men conflicting tales
were told : they were holding a strong point, they were
blown up, they had shifted their position, they were
wiped out, they were still "carrying on." McCuaig was
the hero of every tale. He was having the time of his
life. He had gone quite mad. He V\^as for going "out
and over" alone.

The first authentic account came with 5^oung Pickles,
now a runner, who made his way hobbling to Head-
quarters with a message from A Company, and who
reported that he had fallen in v/ith McCuaig by the
way, and by him had been comm^andeered to carry am-
munition, under threat of instant death.

"Where did you see McCuaig first, Pickles?'' Barry
inquired, anxious to learn the truth about his friend.

"Way up Lover's Walk," said young Pickles, who
was in high spirits, "under a pile of brush and trees. I
though it was a wildcat, or something moving and snarl-


ing — the light was kind of dim — and when I went up
there was McCuaig. He was alone. Two or three men
were lying near him, dead, I guess, and he was swearing,
and talking to himself something fierce. I was scart stiff
when he called me to him. I went over, and he says to
me, 'Say, youngster,' just like that, 'you know where
this walk used to drop down into the trench ? Well,
there's a lot of machine gun ammunition over there, all
fixed up and ready. You go and bring it up here.' I
tried to get out of it, sayin' I was bringing a 'hurry up'
message down, but he turns his machine gun on me, and
says, 'Young man, it's only a couple of hundred yards
down there, and fairly good cover. They can't see you.
Go and bring that stuff here. If you don't I'll blow you
to hell just where you stand.' You b^- I promised. I
got that ammunition so quick. Oh, o"f coi^rse, he's crazy,
all right," said young Pickles, "but he is fighting like
hell. I beg pardon, sir."

"Doctor, I'm going after him," said Barry. "He will
stay there until he bleeds to death. He is my oldest

"All right, padre, if you say so," said the M. O., "but
it's a nasty job. I should not care for it."

Barry knew the area thoroughly. He got from young
Pickles an exact description of the location of the spot
where McCuaig had last been seen, and with the return-
ing stretcher bearers set off for the wood, which was
about a thousand yards further on.

The communication trench leading up to the wood,
which had been constructed with such care and of which
the Canadians were so proud, had been blown up from
end to end by the systematic and thorough bombardment
of the three days before. The little party, therefore,
were forced to make their way overland by the light of
the star shells.

They reached the wood in safety. Barry looked about
him in utter bewilderment. Every familiar feature of
the landscape was utterly blotted out. The beautiful


ambrosial wood itself, of heavy trees and thick under-
brush, was a mat of tangled trunks, above which stood
splintered stubs. Not a tree, not a branch, hardly a
green leaf was left. Under that mat of fallen trunks
were A and C Companies, somewhere, holding, blocking,
feeling up toward the Hun.

The shells were whining overhead, going out and com-
ing in, but mostly coming in. None, however, were
falling on the wood because here friend and foe were
lying almost within bayonet length of each other. Only
an occasional burst from a machine gun broke the si-
lence that hung over this place of desolation and death.

"That's the company Headquarters," said the stretcher
bearer, pointing to what looked like a bear den, under
some fallen trees. Barry pushed aside the blanket and
poking his head in, found Duff and a young lieutenant
working at a table by the light of a guttering candle.

"For the love of God, Pilot," exclaimed Duff, spring-
ing up and gripping Barry's hand, "it's good to see you,
but what are you doing here?"

"I came up for McCuaig," said Barry, after a warm
greeting to botb.

"Oh, say, that's good. We have got him as far as the
next dugout here, the old bear. I've been trying to get
him out for half a day. There's a soldier for you ! He's
been potting Boches with his blessed machine gun, scout-
ing from one hole to another for the last two days, and
he's got a nasty wound. I'm awfully glad you have

"How are things going, Duff?"

"We have got the s so that they can't move a

foot, and we'll hold them, unless they bring up a lot of

"By Jove ! Duff, you boys are wonderful."

"I say," said Duff, brushing aside the compliment,
"did young Pickles get through? That young devil is
the limit. You'd have thought he was hunting coyotes."


"Yes, he got through. Got a blighty though, I guess.
It was he that told me about McCuaig."

"Well, Pilot, old man," said Duff, taking him by the
arm, "get out ! Get out ! Don't waste time. There may
be a break any minute. Get out of here."

Duff was evidently in a fever of anxiety. "You had
no right to come up here anyway; though, by Jove, I'm
glad to see you."

"What's the fuss, Duff?" said Barry. "Am I in any
more danger than you? I say," he continued, with tense
enthusiasm, "do you realise, Duff, that as long as Canada
lasts they will talk of what you are doing up here these

"For Pleaven's sake. Pilot, get out," said Duff crossly.
"You make me nervous. Besides, you have got to get
that wounded man out, you know. Come along."

He hustled Barry out and over to the neighbouring
dugout, where they found McCuaig with his beloved
machine gun still at his side. The wounded man was
very pale, but extremely cheerful, smoking a cigarette.

"I'm glad to see you, sir," he said quietly, reaching
out his hand.

"Good old man," said Barry, gripping his hand hard,
"but you are a blamed old fool, you know."

McCuaig made no reply, but there was a happy light
on his face. Under Duff's compelling urging they got
the wounded man on a stretcher and started on their
long and painful carry.

"Now, boys," warned Duff, "you are all right up here,
except for machine guns, but don't take any chances
further out. That's where the danger is. When the
shells come, don't rush things. Take your time. Now,
good-bye, Pilot, it's worth a lot to have seen you any-

"Good-bye, old man," said Barry, smiling at him.
"You're the stuff. Good luck, old man. God keep


Duff nodded, and waved him away. The return trip
was made in comparative quiet.

"What do you think, doctor?" said Barry, after the
M. O. had completed his examination.

"Oh, we'll pull him through all right," said the M. O.
"When did you get this, McCuaig ?" he continued, touch-
ing a small wound over the kidney.

"Dunno, rightly. Guess I got it when we was blown
up, yesterday."

"Then why didn't you come in at once?" inquired the
M. O. indignantly.

McCuaig looked at him in mild surprise.

"Why, they was all blown up, and there wasn't any-
body to run the gun."

The M. O. examined the wound more closely and
shook his head at Barry.

"We won't touch that now. We'll just bandage it up.
Are you feeling pretty comfortable?"

"Fine," said McCuaig with cheerful satisfaction.
"We held them up, I guess. They thought they was
going to walk right over us. They was comin' with
their packs on their backs. But the boys changed their
minds for them, I guess."

A reminiscent smile lingered upon the long, eaglelike

Half an hour later Barry found a minute to run into
the adjoining room where the wounded lay.

"Anything you want, McCuaig?" he asked.

"A drink, if you ain't too busy, but I hate to take
your time."

"Oh, you go to thunder," said Barry. "Take my
time! What am I for? Any pain, Mac?"

"No, not much. Fm a little sleepy."

Barry turned the flash-light on his face. He was
startled to find it grey and drawn. He brought the M.
O., who examined the wounded man's condition.

"No pain, eh, Mac?"

"No, sir," said McCuaig cheerfully.


"All right, boy, just lie still," said the M. O., beckon-
ing Barry after him.

"He is going out," he said when they reached the
dressing room, "and he's going fast. That wound in
the back has been bleeding a long time."

"Oh, doctor, can't anything be done ? You know he's
got a remarkable constitution. Can't something be

"There are times when a doctor wishes he had some
other job," said the M. O., "and this is one of them."

"I say, doctor, will you get along without me for a
while?" said Barry.

"Go on," said the M. O., nodding to him.

Barry took a candle and went in beside his friend.
As he sat there gazing upon the greying face, the
wounded man opened his eyes.

"That you, Barry?" he asked with a quiet smile.

Barry started. Only in the very first weeks of their
acquaintance had McCuaig called him by his first name,
and never during the past months had he used anything
but his rank title. Now all rank distinctions were obliter-
ated. They were as man to man.

"Yes, Mac, it's me. Do you know what I was think-
ing about? I was thinking of the first time I saw you
coming down that rapid in your canoe."

"I remember well, Barry. I often think of it. It's
a long time ago," said McCuaig in his soft, slow voice.
"I've never been sorry but once that I come, and that
time it was my own fault, but I didn't understand the

"You've made a great soldier, Mac. We are all proud
of you," said Barry, putting his hand upon McCuaig's.
McCuaig's long thin fingers tightened upon Barry's

"I think I'm going out," he said, with his eyes on
Barry's face. "What do you think?"

It was the time for truth telling.

"Oh, Mac, old man," said Barry, putting his head


down close to him to hide from him the rush of tears
that came to his eyes, "I'm afraid you are, and I hate
to have you go."

"Why, Barry, you crying for me?" asked McCuaig in
a kind of wonder. "Say, boy, I'm awful glad you feel
that way. Somehow I don't feel quite so lonely now."

"Oh, Mac, you are my oldest, my best friend in the bat-
talion, in all the world," said Barry.

"Oh, I just love to hear you say that, boy. Do you
know I wanted to tell you how I felt about that time
on the boat, you remember?" Barry nodded. "Barry,
tell me, honest Injun, did I make good as a soldier?"

"The best ever," said Barry. "They all say so, offi-
cers and men. I heard the colonel say so the other day."

Again the smile came.

"Barry, it was you that done that for me. You
showed me, and you done it so nice. I never forgot
that, and I always wanted to tell you how I felt about
it. Barry, you done a lot for me."

"Oh, Mac, don't talk like that," said Barry, trying to
keep his voice steady. "I did so little and I wanted to
do so much."

"Say, I like to hear you. I'd like to stay a little longer
just to be with you, Barry. I've watched you just like
you was my own boy, and I've been awful proud of you,
but I didn't like to say so."

The uncovering of the great love of this simple, hum-
ble hearted man broke down Barry's self-control. He
made no effort to check his falling tears.

"I'm getting — kind of weak, Barry," whispered Mc-
Cuaig. "I guess I won't be long, mebbe."

His words recalled Barry's nerve.

"Mac, v/ould you like me to say a prayer?" he asked.
"Just as you feel about it, you know."

"Yes — I would — but I ain't — your religion — you
know — though — I like — awful well — the way — you talk
about — Him."

"I know you are R. C, Mac, but after all you know


we have just the one Father in Heaven and the one

*'Yes, — I know, Barry. It's all the same.''

Barry had a sudden inspiration.

"Wait, Mac, a minute," he said.

He hurried out to the dressing room, seeking a cruci-
fix, but could find none there.

"I'll run across to Headquarters," he said.

"Say, there's a machine gun playing that street awful,"
said the M. O.'s sergeant, "to say nothing of whizz-

"Oh, that's all right," said Barry. "I'll make a dash
for it."

But at Headquarters he was no more successful. He
went out into the garden in the rear of the R. A. P.,
and returned with two small twigs. The M. O. bound
them together in the form of a cross. Barry took it and
hastened to McCuaig's side.

The hurried breathing and sunken cheeks of the
wounded man showed that the end was not far. As
Barry knelt beside him, he opened his eyes. There was
a look of distress upon his face, which Barry understood.
God was near. And God was terrible. He wanted his

"Barry," he whispered, "I've not — ^been a good man.
I haven't been — mean to anybody, — ^but I used — to swear
— and fight, and "

"Mac, listen to me. We're all the same," said Barry,
in a quiet, clear voice. "Suppose I'd injured you."

"You wouldn't — Barry."

"But suppose I did some real mean thing to you, and
then came and said I was sorry, would you forgive me?"

"Would I — I'd never think — of anything — you did —
to me, Barry."

"Mac, that's the way your Father in Heaven feels to
you. We have all done wrong, but He says, 'I will blot
out all your sins.' You needn't fear to trust Him, Mac."

"I guess — that's so, Barry — I guess that's — all right."


"Yes, it's all right. Now I'll say a prayer. Look,

He held up the little wooden cross before his eyes. A
smile of joy and surprise transfigured the dying face.

"I see it ! — I see — it !" he whispered, and made a move-
ment with his lips. Barry laid the cross upon them, and
with that symbol of the Divine love and of the Divine
sacrifice pressed to the dying lips, he prayed in words
such as a child might use.

For some time after the prayer McCuaig lay with his
eyes shut, then with a sudden accession of strength, he
opened them and looking up into Barry's eyes, said:

"Barry, I'm all right now. . . . You helped me

The long thin hands, once of such iron strength,
began to wander weakly over the blanket, until touching
Barry's they closed upon it, and held it fast.

"I — won't — forget — you — ever " he whispered.

The nerveless fingers with difficulty lifted Barry's hand
to the cold lips. "Good — bye — Bar — ry " he said.

"Good-bye, dear old comrade. Good-bye, dear old
friend," said Barry in a clear quiet voice, gazing through
his falling tears straight into the dying eyes.

"Good — night " The whisper faded into silence.

A quiet smile lay on the white face. The eyes closed,
there was a little tired sigh, and the brave tender spirit
passed on to join that noble company of immortals who
abide in the Presence of the Eternal God of Truth and
Love, and "go no more out forever," because they are
akin to Him.

In the sorely tortured graveyard, beside the little shell-
wrecked Zillebeck church, in a hole made by an enemy
shell, they laid McCuaig — a fitting resting place for one
who had lived his days in the free wild spaces of the
Canadian west, a fitting tomb for as gallant a soldier as
Canada ever sent forth to war to make the world free.

That night the battalion was relieved. Worn, spent,
but with spirit unbroken, they crawled out from under


that matted mass of tangled trunks, sending out their
wounded before them, and leaving their buried dead be-
hind them, to hold with other Canadian dead the line
which from St. Julien, by Hooge, Sanctuary Wood, and
Maple Copse, and Mount Sorel, and Hill 60, and on to
St. Eloi, guards the way to Ypres and to the sea. To
Canada every foot of her great domain, from sea to
sea, is dear, but while time shall last Canada will hold
dear as her own that bloodsoaked sacred soil which her
dead battalions hold for Honour, Faith and Freedom.

' I



THE leave train pulled into the Boulogne station ex-
actly twenty-six hours late. As Barry stepped off
the train he was met by the R. T. O., an old Imperial
officer with a brisk and important military manner.

''You are the O. C. train, sir?" he inquired.

"I am, sir," replied Barry, saluting.

"You have had a hard time, I understand," said the
R. T. O., drawing him off to one side and speaking in a
low tone.

"Yes sir, we have had a hard time,'' replied Barry,
"at least the men have. This is my report, sir."

The R. T. O. took the document, opened it, glanced
hurriedly through it.

"Ah," he said, "ninety-seven casualties, thirteen fatal.
Very bad. Six burned. This is truly terrible."

"There were only two soldiers burned, sir," replied
Barry, "but it is terrible, especially when you think that
the men were going on leave and were supposed to have
got quit of the danger zone."

"Very, very terrible," said the officer. "You ran off
the track, I understand."

"No, sir, it was a collision. There must have been
gross carelessness, sir," said Barry. "I trust there will
be an investigation. I have taken the liberty to suggest
that, sir, in my report."

Barry's voice was stern.

"You need have no apprehension on that score, sir,"
said the R. T. O., with his eyes still upon the report.
"This is very clear and concise. I see you make no
mention of your own services in connection with the af-



fair, but others have. I have had a most flattering tele-
gram from the officer commanding the R. A. M. C,
as also from the Divisional Commander, mentioning
your initiative and resourcefulness. I assure you this
v^ill not be forgotten. I understand you are a padre?"

"Yes, sir," replied Barry, who was getting rather
weary of the conversation.

"All I have to say, then, sir, is that the Canadian army
must be rich in combatant officers for, if you will pardon
me, it strikes me that there is a damned good combatant
officer lost in you."

"If I were a better padre," replied Barry, "I would
be content."

"I fancy you have little ground for complaint on that
score," said the R. T. O., for the first time smiling at

"May I ask, sir," replied Barry, "if my responsibility

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryRalph ConnorThe sky pilot in no man's land → online text (page 20 of 25)