THE CHAPLAIN

The moon looks down upon a ghost-like figure,
Delving a furrow in the cold, damp sod,
The grave is ready, and the lonely digger
Leaves the departed to their rest and God.
I shape a little cross and plant it deep
To mark the dug-out where my comrades sleep.

“I WISH I was in the Ladies’ Volunteer Corps,” said Bill Teake next
day, as he sat on the fire-step of the trench and looked at the
illustrated daily which had been used in packing a parcel from home.

“Why?” I asked.

“They were in bathing last week,” said Teake. “Their picture is here;
fine girls they are, too! Oh, blimey!” Bill exclaimed as he glanced at
the date on the paper. “This ‘ere photo was took last June.”

“And this is the 28th of September,” said Pryor.

We needed a rest now, but we still were in the trenches by the village,
holding on and hoping that fresh troops would come up and relieve us.

“Anything about the war in that paper, Bill?” someone asked.

“Nuthin’ much,” Bill answered. “The Bishop of —— says this is a ‘oly
war…. Blimey, ‘e’s talkin’ through ‘is ‘at. ‘Oly, indeed, it’s ‘oly
‘ell. D’ye mind when ‘e came out ‘ere, this ‘ere Bishop, an’ told us ‘e
carried messages from our wives, our fathers an’ mothers. If I was a
married bloke I’d ‘ave arst ‘im wot did ‘e mean by takin’ messages from
my old woman.”

“You interpreted the good man’s remarks literally,” said Pryor,
lighting a cigarette. “That was wrong. His remarks were bristling with
metaphors. He spoke as a man of God so that none could understand him.
He said, as far as I can remember, that we could face death without
fear if we were forgiven men; that it was wise to get straight with
God, and the blood of Christ would wash our sins away, and all the rest
of it.”

“Stow it, yer bloomin’ fool,” said Bill Teake. “Yer don’t know what yer
jawin’ about. S’pose a bishop ‘as got ter make a livin’ like ev’ryone
else; an’ ‘e’s got ter work for it. ‘Ere’s somethin’ about parsons in
this paper. One is askin’ if a man in ‘oly Orders should take up arms
or not.”

“Of course not,” said Pryor. “If the parsons take up arms, who’ll
comfort the women at home when we’re gone?”

“The slackers will comfort them,” some one remarked. “I’ve a great
respect for slackers. They’ll marry our sweethearts when we’re dead.”

“We hear nothing of a curates’ regiment,” I said. “In a Holy War young
curates should lead the way.”

“They’d make damned good bomb throwers,” said Bill.

“Would they swear when making a charge?” I inquired.

“They wouldn’t beat us at that,” said Bill.

“The holy line would go praying down to die,” parodied Pryor, and
added: “A chaplain may be a good fellow, you know.”

“It’s a woman’s job,” said Bill Teake. “Blimey! s’pose women did come
out ‘ere to comfort us, I wouldn’t ‘arf go mad with joy. I’d give my
last fag, I’d give—oh! anything to see the face of an English girl
now…. They say in the papers that hactresses come out ‘ere. We’ve
never seen one, ‘ave we?”

“Actresses never come out here,” said Pryor. “They give a performance
miles back to the R.A.M.C., Army Service Corps, and Mechanical
Transport men, but for us poor devils in the trenches there is nothing
at all, not even decent pay.”

“Wot’s the reason that the more danger men go into the less their pay?”
asked Teake. “The further a man’s back from the trenches the more ‘e
gets.”

“Mechanical Transport drivers have a trade that takes a long
apprenticeship,” said Pryor. “Years perhaps——”

“‘Aven’t we a trade, too?” asked Bill. “A damned dangerous trade, the
most dangerous in the world?”

“What’s this?” I asked, peeping over the parados to the road in our
rear. “My God! there’s a transport wagon going along the road!”

“Blimey! you’re sprucing,” said Bill, peeping over; then his eye fell
on a wagon drawn by two mules going along the highway. “Oh, the damned
fools, goin’ up that way. They’ll not get far.”

The enemy occupied a rise on our right, and a machine gun hidden
somewhere near the trench swept that road all night. The gun was quiet
all day long; no one ventured along there before dusk. A driver sat in
front of the wagon, leaning back a little, a whip in his hand. Beside
him sat another soldier…. Both were going to their death, the road at
a little distance ahead crossed the enemy’s trench.

“They have come the wrong way,” I said. “They were going to Loos, I
suppose, and took the wrong turning at the Vallé Cross-roads. Poor
devils!”

A machine gun barked from the rise; we saw the driver of the wagon
straighten himself and look round. His companion pointed a finger at
the enemy’s trench….

“For Christ’s sake get off!” Bill shouted at them; but they couldn’t
hear him, the wagon was more than a quarter of a mile away from our
trench.

“Damn it!” exclaimed Bill; “they’ll both be killed. There!”

The vehicle halted; the nearside wheeler shook its head, then dropped
sideways on the road, and kicked out with its hind legs; the other
animal fell on top of it. The driver’s whip went flying from his hands,
and the man lurched forward and fell on top of the mules. For a moment
he lay there, then with a hurried movement he slipped across to the
other side of the far animal and disappeared. Our eyes sought the other
soldier, but he was gone from sight, probably he had been shot off his
seat.

“The damned fools!” I muttered. “What brought them up that way?”

“Wot’s that?” Bill suddenly exclaimed. “See, comin’ across the fields
behind the road! A man, a hofficer…. Another damned fool, ‘im; ‘e’ll
get a bullet in ‘im.”

Bill pointed with his finger, and we looked. Across the fields behind
that stretched from the road to the ruined village of Maroc we saw for
the moment a man running towards the wagon. We only had a momentary
glimpse then. The runner suddenly fell flat into a shell-hole and
disappeared from view.

“He’s hit,” said Pryor. “There, the beastly machine gun is going again.
Who is he?”

We stared tensely at the shell-hole. No sign of movement….

“‘E’s done in,” said Bill.

Even as he spoke the man who had fallen rose and raced forward for a
distance of fifty yards and flung himself flat again. The machine gun
barked viciously….

Then followed a tense moment, and again the officer (we now saw that
he was an officer) rushed forward for several yards and precipitated
himself into a shell-crater. He was drawing nearer the disabled wagon
at every rush. The machine gun did not remain silent for a moment now;
it spat incessantly at the fields.

“He’s trying to reach the wagon,” I said. “I don’t envy him his job,
but, my God, what pluck!”

“‘Oo is ‘e?” asked Bill. “‘E’s not arf a brick, ‘ooever ‘e is!”

“I think I know who it is,” said Pryor. “It’s the Roman Catholic
chaplain, Father Lane-Fox. He’s a splendid man. He came over with us in
the charge, and he helped to carry out the wounded till every man was
in. Last night when we went for our rations he was helping the sanitary
squad to bury the dead; and the enemy were shelling all the time. He is
the pluckiest man in Loos.”

“He wanted to come across in the charge,” I said, “but the Brigadier
would not allow him. An hour after we crossed the top I saw him in the
second German trench…. There he is, up again!”

The chaplain covered a hundred yards in the next spurt; then he flung
himself to earth about fifty yards from the wagon. The next lap was the
last; he reached the wagon and disappeared. We saw nothing more of him
that day. At night when I went down to the dressing-station at Maroc I
was told how the chaplain had brought a wounded transport driver down
to the dressing-station after dusk. The driver had got three bullets
through his arm, one in his shoulder, one in his foot, and two in the
calf of his leg. The driver’s mate had been killed; a bullet pierced
his brain.

The London Irish love Father Lane-Fox; he visited the men in the
trenches daily, and all felt the better for his coming.

Often at night the sentry on watch can see a dark form between the
lines working with a shovel and spade burying the dead. The bullets
whistle by, hissing of death and terror; now and then a bomb whirls
in air and bursts loudly; a shell screeches like a bird of prey; the
hounds of war rend the earth with frenzied fangs; but indifferent to
all the clamour and tumult the solitary digger bends over his work
burying the dead.

“It’s old Father Lane-Fox,” the sentry will mutter. “He’ll be killed
one of these fine days.”

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