HotFreeBooks.com
Tommy
by Joseph Hocking
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

"Shooting's too good for him," thought Tom as he left the room. "What a look he did give me! If a look could murder a man I should not be alive now!"

"Now then," said the President to Waterman, when Tom had gone, "what have you got to say for yourself?"

"Nothing," replied Waterman. He was no longer respectful or polite. His every word suggested insolence.

"You admit, then, that you are guilty of the charges that have been brought against you?"

Waterman shrugged his shoulders scornfully.

"You admit that you, an officer in the British Army, have given away your country's secrets and become an ally to the enemy?"

Waterman laughed. "I have simply tried to serve my own country," was his reply, "the country which will soon conquer yours."

Every eye was fixed upon him; the man's brazen confession almost staggered them.

"Then you are a German!"

"Yes," replied Waterman proudly.

The President looked at him keenly, and then turned towards some papers.

"I see that you claim English birth, that you were educated at an English public school, and that you went into an English house of business."

"That doesn't make me cease to be a German," replied Waterman.

"I find, too, that you boasted of being an Englishman."

"That helped me to do my work," was the jeering answer.

For some seconds there was a deathly silence save for the rustle of the papers which the President read. Each man who sat in the room listened almost breathlessly; each was so intensely interested that no one broke the silence.

"My father and my mother are German," went on Waterman; "when they lived in Germany they spelt their name German fashion, and there were two n's, not one, at the end of my name; but when they were in England they thought it would serve them best to spell it English fashion. But they never ceased being Germans. When I was a boy I was taught to love my country above all things; that was my religion, and I was always faithful to it. When I went to your British school I was always a German at heart; the other boys used to say that I was not a sportsman, and that I could not play the game."

"Evidently they spoke the truth."

Waterman shrugged his shoulders carelessly.

"Then you mean to say that you, born in England, educated in England, and receiving all the benefits of our country, were all the time a German at heart, and sought to act in Germany's interests."

"Certainly."

"And you didn't feel that you were acting meanly, ungratefully?"

"I thought only of my own country," was the reply. "I knew that this war was coming, knew too that I could best serve my country by professing to be an Englishman, and by entering the British Army. I proved myself in the right too," he added significantly.

"But didn't you realise that such conduct as yours must inevitably end in disgrace and death?"

"Disgrace?" cried the other. "No, it is glory. As for death, what does that matter? My death is of no importance; the victory of my country is everything."

"Then you have no sense of shame for what you have done?"

"Shame?" laughed Waterman—"shame in feeling that I have served the Fatherland!"

"What do you think about your action, then?"

"I think what fools you all were and are," and Waterman laughed insolently. "I and others have laughed when you have played into our hands. Why," and here there was a touch of passion in his voice, "your country is simply riddled with friends of Germany. Do you think that because a German becomes naturalised he ceases to be a German? Do you think that, although he protests his loyalty to England, and his desire to help England, that he is the less a German at heart? Do you think that a German, whether naturalised or not, stops at anything in order to serve his country? You have hundreds of Germans in your army to-day, while your public offices are full of men, and women too for that matter, of German parentage and with German sympathies. Yes, you may kill me," and he threw back his shoulders proudly, "but that will not stop us from conquering your country and being your masters."

For a moment he almost seemed to dominate the room. He stood erect, haughty, scornful; it might seem as though he were the accuser and not the accused.

"Of course you know the consequence of your deed?" said the President presently.

Waterman shrugged his shoulders. "I have counted the cost, and am willing to pay the price," was his reply.

When he was led away there was a silence in the room for some seconds. Whatever else he had done he had given his judges to see that he was a brave man; that to him the victory of his country was more than life; that for what he had called the Fatherland he had trampled under his feet all ordinary conventions, all accepted rules of honour and truth. Germany was first, everything else came afterwards.

The Englishman always admires courage, no matter in what form it may appear, and there could be no doubt that Waterman was courageous.

"It is no wonder," said the General, as if speaking to himself, "that they are such terrible enemies." No man spoke, but each knew what was in the other's mind.

Of course, there was no doubt about the verdict; Waterman had been guilty of the worst possible crime, and but for the quick wit and prompt action of the Lancashire lad he would doubtless have continued to help the enemy. The paper which Waterman had thrown towards the German lines contained the details of the next plan of attack; details which, known to the Germans, would have nullified the British action, and possibly have led to disaster.

"That young Pollard is a plucky young beggar," remarked the President presently, "he is a lad of brains, too, and has behaved splendidly. Of course what he has done must not be lost sight of."

There was a general assent to this.

He ought to be recommended for his D.C.M. was the general verdict.

Early next morning Waterman was led out to a wall not far from the room where he had been judged. He walked steadily and proudly towards the place of his execution, and then stood erect like a soldier at attention. He faced his dread ordeal with a look of pride on his face.

"Fire!"

Several shots rang out, and he fell heavily to the ground.

"Yon' chap'll never do any more spying," said one soldier to another a little later.

"If I had my way," said the other, "he should not have had such a death as that. When I think of the dirty meanness of these German swine; when I think of spies like that; when I think of poisonous gas, and of all their treachery, I feel as though nothing's too bad for them Germans. At first, when the war commenced I had nowt but kindly feelings towards the soldiers, as soldiers; but now——"



CHAPTER X

It was late in November when the events just recorded took place, and a few days later the English newspapers contained special paragraphs headed "Heroism of a Lancashire Lad." Few details were given about Waterman, but Tom's bravery was fully commented on.

More than one journalist who had obtained details of what Tom had done made special reference to him and spoke of him in glowing terms. Mrs. Pollard received many applications for Tom's photograph, and presently when she learnt that it appeared in newspapers all over the country, she gave expression to remarks more forcible than elegant.

"Our Tom an 'ero, eh?" she laughed. "Weel, I never knowed it afore. I always looked upon him as a bit of a coward, but it's this 'ere sodgering as has done it, I suppose. 'Appen there's summat in th' uniform. When a lad's got sodger's clothes on, I reckon as aa' it makes him feel cocky. But it's a pity he's still such a fool as to keep on wi' Polly Powell. I wrote him a letter a while sin' telling him as aa' Polly wur walking out wi' other lads, but she still boasts as aa' Tom's faithful to her, and that she's got him under her thumb."

"'Appen he will give her the sack now," said a neighbour.

"Nay, our Tom wur always a fool. He might have had Alice Lister if he hadn't been such a ninny, but she's engaged to Harry Briarfield now. I wrote and told him about it only last week. I suppose George Lister is fairly suited about it."

"I hear that Tom's going to have the V.C. or D.C.M. or summat o' that sort," remarked a neighbour; "dost 'a know what that means?"

"Nay, I know nowt about it, but I hope as he will get a bit o' brass wi' it, onyhow."

"Will he come home, dost 'a' think?"

"Nay, I don't know. Why should he leave his job for a thing like that? I expect if he wur to come home they'd stop his pay, and I hope Tom is noan such a fool as to lose his pay, but there, there's no tellin'."

In spite of all this, however, Mrs. Pollard was in no slight degree elated. She knew that Tom was the talk of Brunford, and that special articles were devoted to him in the Brunford newspapers.

"He will be sure to come home," said Ezekiel Pollard to her one night after supper; "when a lad's done a job like that, he's sure to have a bit of a holiday."

"Maybe, and I suppose tha'll be showing him around as though he wur a prize turkey. Ay, but I am glad about this drinking order."

"Why?"

"Because else all th' lads in the town 'ud be wanting to treat our Tom; they 'd be proud to be seen wi' him, and they'd make him drunk afore he know'd where he wur. Our Tom never could sup much beer wi'out it goin' to his head."

"Our Tom has give up that sort o' thing," replied Ezekiel.

"How dost tha' know?"

"I do know, and that's enough," replied Ezekiel, thinking of Tom's last letter, which, by the way, he had never shown to his wife.

I am not going to try to describe Tom's feelings when he was told that he had been recommended for the D.C.M.

"Thank you, sir, but I've done nowt to deserve it," cried the lad, lapsing for the moment into the Lancashire dialect.

Colonel Blount laughed. Ever since Waterman's death he had felt as though a burden had been lifted from him. He felt sure now that his plans would not be frustrated.

"We are the best judges of that, my lad," he said. "You can tell your father and mother that, as a Lancashire man, I'm proud of you."

It was on a Saturday in December when Tom arrived in Brunford on leave of absence. He had spent Friday in London, and caught the ten o'clock train at King's Cross Station. There was no prouder lad in England that day, although, truth to tell, he was not quite happy. Naturally he had read what had been written about him in the newspapers, and reflected upon what the people in Brunford would be saying about him. He imagined meeting people whom he knew, in the Brunford streets, and the greeting they would give him. He knew it would be a great home-coming, and yet he had a heavy heart.

It was several months now since he had left Brunford, and he could not help reflecting on the change that had taken place in him. He still wore a private's uniform, and carried the mud of the trenches on his clothes. But the Tom Pollard who had enlisted at the Mechanics' Institute was not the same lad who now made his way to his Lancashire home. Since then he had been through strange scenes, and had realised wonderful experiences. New facts and new forces had come into his life; day by day he had been face to face with death, and this had led him to touch the very core of life. Thoughts which were unknown to him a year before now possessed his being; powers of which he had never dreamed had been called into life.

Tom could not put these things into words, he didn't even clearly realise them, but he knew that he was different. The very thought that he had looked into the face of death made him realise the wondrousness of life. Tom did not feel that he had been a hero, and yet he knew that the life he had been living, and the work he had been doing, especially during the last few months, had called qualities, which lay latent in his being, into life and action. The war had not made him a different man, it had only aroused dormant qualities within him. The fires through which he had passed had cleansed him, and he knew that life would never be the same again. But more than all that, he, like thousands of others, had learnt the great secret of life, and realised that it was only by opening his life to the Eternal Life that the highest manhood could be known.

And yet he was strangely dissatisfied. He had read his mother's letter telling him that Alice Lister was engaged to Harry Briarfield, and his heart was very sore at the thought of it. Never before had he realised the meaning of the choice he had made, when more than a year before he had left Alice to walk out with Polly Powell. "And yet I loved Alice all the time," he reflected, as the train rushed northward. "I never knew how I did love her till now. I must have been mad and worse than mad!"

For a long time he had ceased to care for Polly Powell; when he was in Surrey his mother's letter had opened his eyes to the kind of girl she really was. He saw her, coarse, loud-talking, and vulgar; a girl who had appealed only to what was coarse in his own nature. And he had yielded to her blandishments; he had left a pure, refined girl for her, and he had lost Alice for ever.

That was the bitterness in Tom's cup of joy. He was proud of what he had done—what fellow situated as he was would not be? His heart thrilled with exultation as he remembered what the Colonel had said and written about him. He remembered with joy, too, what his comrades had said when he left for home, and the cheers they gave him.

Oh, if he hadn't been such a fool!

He thought of what his home-coming might have been if he had remained true to Alice; he fancied the look in her eyes as she greeted him; of the feelings which would fill his heart as he sat by her side in the church which she attended. But that was impossible now; he had made his choice, and she had made hers. Thus his home-coming would be robbed of half its joy. If he saw Alice at all she would be in the company of Harry Briarfield, and Briarfield, he knew, had always looked down upon him. "But there," he said to himself, "I'll bear it like a man. I have done my bit, and that's something, anyhow."

He had sent a telegram to his mother the day before, telling her of the time he expected to arrive in Brunford, and presently when the train drew into the station he looked out of the window eagerly expectant, and with fast-beating heart.

Yes, there his father and mother were, waiting for him. But what was the meaning of the crowd?

No sooner did he set foot on the platform than a great cheer arose.

"There he is! There's Tom Pollard!"

"Gi't tongue, lads! Gi't tongue! Hip! hip! hip! hoorah!"

Tom, heedless of the cheering and shouting, went straight to his mother. For a second this lady looked at him, and seemed to be on the point of greeting him with a caustic remark; then her mother's heart melted.

"Ay, Tom, I'm fair glad to see thee," she sobbed.

"And I am glad to see you, mother. Ay, father, it is good to see you, it is."

"And I am fair proud on you, Tom," and Ezekiel Pollard's voice was hoarse as he shook his son's hand.

"But, Tom," cried Mrs. Pollard, wiping her eyes, "thy clothes be dirty; I shall have a rare job to get th' muck out of 'em."

This was followed by a general laugh by those who had come to greet Tom and bid him welcome.

"Ay, and thou look'st as though thou hasn't weshed for a week. I thought as aa' sodjers kept theirsens clean."

"I'll wash right enough when I get home, mother," laughed Tom.

"Holloa, Tom. I am glad to see you," and Polly Powell made her way through the crowd.

"Thank you," replied Tom quietly; "have you brought one of your young men with you, Polly?"

"I have not got any young men," was Polly's reply. Whereupon there was a general laugh of incredulity.

Polly, heedless of the crowd, and although angered at the remarks that were made, still held her ground.

"You are coming down to the Thorn and Thistle, aren't you, Tom?" she said; "mother and father are expecting you."

"No, thank you, Polly," said Tom. "I am going home with my mother and father. Besides, I don't want to play gooseberry."

At this there was general cheering. It was evident that Polly Powell was ready to give up her latest lover in order that the glory of Tom's lustre might shine upon her; but her power over him had gone.

"Nay, thou'lt come down to the Rose and Crown wi' us, won't 'a'?" cried another.

"No, I am not going to the Rose and Crown," replied Tom.

"Nay, you doan't mean to say you've turned teetotaler?"

"Ay, that I have," replied the lad, "you see I'm following the example of the King." Whereupon Polly went away abashed.

All the way Tom's progress down Liverpool Road was a great procession of people. On every hand he was greeted and cheered. Other soldiers who had gone out from Brunford had returned; some had been wounded, and many had done brave deeds, but Tom's action had laid hold of the imagination of the people. To discover a German spy in Waterman, whom many in the town knew; to bring him to justice; to risk his life in order to render his country a service; to face almost certain death that he might obtain the plans which had been intended to help the enemy, made him a hero.

Perhaps there are few parts of the world where the people are more hearty and more generous than the dwellers in those busy manufacturing towns in the North, and Tom was their own townsboy. He had been reared amongst them, had gone out from them, and so they gave him a great welcome.

No words can tell the joy which Mrs. Pollard felt when she found that Tom was going straight home with her. As she said, she had got the best dinner in Brunford for him, but she was afraid that Tom would yield to all the inducements which would be held out to him.

"Never mind," she said to the neighbour whom she had asked to get everything in readiness by the time she returned, "we'll have everything as though we were sure he wur coming 'ome. Nobody shall say as 'ow I didn't prepare a good dinner for my boy when he returned from the War."

Thus when Tom had refused the invitation to go to the Rose and Crown, and declared his intention of going straight home, her joy knew no bounds.

"Dost 'a' really mean, Tom, as thou'rt coming straight home with thee feyther and me?"

"Ay, I do," replied Tom, "there's no place but home for me to-day."

"Ay, then I mun kiss thee agean," she sobbed, throwing her arms around his neck.

Throughout the whole of the afternoon and evening Ezekiel Pollard's house was besieged with visitors. Reporters came from the newspapers in order to hear any details which had been missed concerning Tom's exploits. Relations whom Tom had not seen for years came to bid him welcome, while the neighbours thronged the doors.

"Ay, it's good to be home again," said Tom, standing on the doorstep and watching the last visitor depart that night, "I never thought that it would be like this."

"Art 'a' tired, lad?" asked his father.

"Just a bit," said Tom. "I couldn't sleep last night, I was thinking all the time about coming home, and now——"

"Ay, lad, I'm proud of thee," said his father for the hundredth time.

"Thou art a fool, lad," said his mother, "but thou'rt noan such a fool as I feared. Thou'st done vary weel too, vary weel."

"Father," said Tom when they had entered the house and closed the door, "do you ever pray now?"

"I hadna prayed for years," said Ezekiel Pollard, "till thou went to the Front, but every night sin' I have asked God to take care o' thee. I have asked nowt for myself," he added almost proudly. "I didn't deserve it; but I've asked God to take care o' thee."

"So have I," said his mother. "I never towd anybody about it; I wur a bit ashamed, I reckon, but I have prayed twenty times a day."

"Then," said Tom, "let us kneel down and thank God for His goodness."

And the three knelt down together.



CHAPTER XI

It was nearly midday when Tom awoke. The church bells had ceased ringing for nearly an hour, indeed at nearly all the churches the congregations were being dismissed. The Town Hall clock chimed a quarter to twelve, but all else seemed strangely silent. Tom rose in his bed, and rubbed his eyes.

"Where am I?" he gasped; "this is—this is—ay, where am I? Why, I'm home! I'm home!"

Immediately he jumped out of bed, and pulling up the blinds looked out upon the smoky town.

"Dear old Brunford, dear old Brunford," he said; "ay, this is a change!"

"Art 'a' got up, Tom?"

"Ay, mother."

"Make haste, then, I'll have dinner ready for thee by the time thou'rt ready."

"Ay, it's good to be home," said Tom, and then he sighed. "I wonder now, I wonder——" and then he sighed again.

"I mean to go to chapel to-day," he said to his mother when he presently appeared.

"Chapel!" said his mother, "I thought thou'd given up going to chapel."

"I am going to-day, anyhow," said Tom. "It would be grand if you and father would come with me to-night."

"Then us will," said Ezekiel quietly.

That night Tom, together with his father and mother, found their way to the church which he had attended years before. Many eyes were upon him as he was shown into the pew. All the town had heard of Tom Pollard's return, but few expected to see him at church that night. For some time Tom was very self-conscious, and it is to be feared that he thought little of the service; more than once, too, he caught himself gazing furtively around the building, but he did not see the face he longed yet feared to see. Since his return he had asked no questions about Alice Lister, and neither his mother nor his father had volunteered any information about her.

"Well," said Tom, "I must drive her out of my mind. What a fool I was!"

How beautiful it was to be singing the old hymns again! The Sunday before he had been in Ypres, and instead of church bells he had heard the boom of guns; instead of the music of hymns, the shrieking of shells; instead of the scenes of home, and the loved ones, were the blackened ruins of an ancient town which had been ruthlessly destroyed. Oh, how Tom wished the War were over! How he dreaded the idea of going back again! Yet he knew he must go, knew that he and thousands of others must fight on, until those who had made war should be powerless to make it again.

Presently the service was over, and Tom made his way towards the vestibule of the church. Scores of hands were held out to him, hundreds of greetings were offered to him. Many congratulated him on his bravery, and on his distinction.

Then suddenly Tom's heart ceased to beat, for standing before him was Alice Lister.

Tom felt his tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth. He could not speak, while Alice seemed almost as much wrought upon as he.

He looked around as if in expectation of seeing Harry Briarfield, but Harry was nowhere present. What did it mean?

Afterwards Tom wondered at his temerity; wondered that he should dare to speak to her at all. But some power which was stronger than himself compelled him to do so. He held out his hand to her.

"How are you, Alice?" he said.

Alice gave him her hand, but did not reply, save that her fingers trembled in his.

A thousand hopes, fancies, and fears flashed through his mind and heart; then Alice shyly lifted her eyes to his.

"May I walk home with you, Alice?" he stammered.

"Yes, if you will, Tom," and the two walked away, side by side.

They walked up Liverpool Road together for some time without speaking a word. On every side the crowd passed them, but Tom did not heed, his heart was too full for words, his mind too occupied with wild, turbulent fancies. Presently they passed into a quiet lane where they were apparently alone.

"Alice," said Tom at length, "I'm fair ashamed of myself, I—I'm just a——"

"No," and Alice interrupted him, "you are a hero, Tom, you have done wonderful things."

"Ah, but that is nothing," was Tom's reply, "I could not help doing that, no decent lad could. But the other now—ay, Alice, I am ashamed of myself. I was such a fool too!"

Alice did not speak; perhaps she was delighted at Tom's self-condemnation, or perhaps, which was more likely, she was eagerly waiting for him to say more.

"Is it true what mother told me?" he asked, after what seemed a long silence.

"What did she tell you?"

"That you are engaged to Harry Briarfield."

"No!" replied the girl eagerly, "I never was!"

"Then is it that young parson?"

"No, Tom; who could have told you such lies?"

Lancashire people are very undemonstrative in their love-making, as in most of their things, and although Tom was nearly swept off his feet with joy at what Alice had said, he still walked on by her side quietly, and for some seconds did not speak again.

"I never really cared about Polly Powell," he said presently, "even at the time I—I——"

"I knew, Tom," and the girl almost sobbed as she spoke, "I knew all the time you could never really care for her, and—and that you would come back to me. That was why——"

"Why what?" asked Tom.

"Why there was never anybody else but you, Tom."

"Do you mean it, Alice? do you really mean it?" and Tom's voice was hoarse and tremulous. "Can you forgive me? I chucked Polly Powell long ago, and I let her know it yesterday when I came home. She met me at the station with the others, and I never knew what a fool I had been till I saw her just as she was. Ay, I must have been mad!"

"I heard all about it," replied the girl, "but it didn't need that to tell me that you would come back to me, Tom."

"Ay," said Tom, "but I feel so ashamed. I feel as though I have nothing to offer you. I am only a poor Tommy with a bob a day, but will you wait for me, Alice, till the war is over?—and then if God spares my life I will work for you night and day, and I will give you as good a home as there is in Brunford."

"I can't help waiting for you," sobbed Alice.

"Can't help! Why?" asked Tom.

"Because—because—— oh, you know."

It was not until an hour later that Tom and Alice appeared at George Lister's house. During that time Tom had told Alice the story of his life since he had parted from her. Told her of the influences which had been at work, how he had been led to pray, and how his heart had all the time been longing for her. In spite of Alice's repeated questions he had said very little about his hour of peril, when he had risked his life to serve his country; that seemed of little importance to him. His one thought was to make Alice know that he was ashamed of himself for leaving her, and that he loved her all the time.

"Ay," said George Lister to his wife when Tom had left the house, "our Alice is a fool."

"'Appen she is," replied Mrs. Lister, "but yon's a grand lad, a fair grand lad!"

"He may be a grand lad," retorted her husband, "and I don't deny that he has behaved vary weel, but how can he keep a wife? What sort of a home can he give our Alice?"

"A lad that can do what he has done," replied Mrs. Lister, "will make his way anywhere. If God spares his life, he will come back when the war's over, and you will not have any reason to be ashamed of him. He is not earning any brass now, and that's right, for he's serving his King and Country, and doing his duty like a man; but wait till we have licked the Germans, then Tom will let you know."

"I don't deny that he's a sharp, capable lad," said George, "and it's easy to see that our Alice is fair gone on him. That's why she had nowt to do wi' the young parson, and wi' Harry Briarfield. Well, I want Alice to be happy, and marriage without love is a poor thing, however much brass you may have. 'Appen I can put Tom in the way of getting on when the war's over. Ay, he's a grand lad, as you say, and it was real plucky the way he nabbed that German spy and got the papers. No wonder the King thinks such a lot of him."

Upon this George Lister filled his pipe slowly, and there was a look of pride in his eyes.

As for Alice, she sobbed for very joy when she went to her room that night. "Oh, thank God, thank God," cried her heart, "and he is coming early in the morning too!"

"Well, mother," said Tom when he reached home, "I have made it up with Alice Lister."

"Tha' never ses!" and Mrs. Pollard's voice was very caressing. "That's one for Polly Powell, anyhow. She wur never thy sort, Tom—a lass wi' a mother like that can never be ony good."

"Ay, and she's the finest lass i' Brunford, is Alice Lister," said Ezekiel contentedly; "and is she willing to wait for thee, Tom?"

Tom laughed joyfully.

"Maybe they will make an officer of thee," said Mrs. Pollard.

"No," said Tom, "I shall never be an officer, I don't belong to that class; perhaps I will be a sergeant, or something like that, but that's as may be; anyhow, I'll do my bit."

When Tom's leave was up, George Lister said he had business in London, so Alice accompanied him. Truth to tell, the business which George had was only a secondary matter; he saw that Alice wanted to accompany her lover as far as she could, and the business was a pretext. I also made my way to Waterloo Station to see Tom off; that was only a few days ago, and what I saw and heard is fresh in my memory. But however long I may live, I shall never forget the look in Tom's eyes as he stood on the platform with Alice by his side. A great light was burning there, the light of love, and duty, and faith, and chastened joy.

"Don't fear, Alice," said the lad, "I will come back again all right."

"You—you are sure you will take care of yourself, Tom," and Alice's voice was husky, although she was evidently making a great effort to be brave.

"Ay, that I will," said Tom.

Crowds of soldiers thronged the platform, while hundreds of their friends who came to see them off made it difficult to move; many of the Tommies were shouting and cheering, while others found their way into the carriages as if anxious to be quiet.

"They seem splendid fellows," said Alice, "but some of them are very rough, aren't they?"

"Just a bit rough," replied Tom, "but they are all right. Some of those very chaps who look rough and common are just heroes, you know; they would face any kind of danger to do a pal a good turn. Perhaps you may not think it to look at them, but their hearts are true as gold. This war has made a wonderful difference in them."

Alice pressed his arm convulsively.

"You know that book you lent me the other day," went on Tom, "that book of Kipling's where there is a story about a ship that found herself. It means a lot, does that story. That's what this war has done for a lot of us chaps, it's helped us to find ourselves."

The guard blew his whistle, and there was a slamming of doors.

"Good-bye, Alice," and Tom held her close to his heart. "The war will be over soon, and then, please God, I will come back again."

"Yes, yes, Tom, and—and you know I will be always thinking of you, and praying for you."

"Ay, lass, I do, that's why I'm not a bit afraid. It's not good-bye, Alice, it's only au revoir as the French say. You will be brave, won't you?"

"Yes, Tom," she spoke bravely, although her voice was husky; "and—and, Tom"—this with a sob—"I shall be loving you—loving you all the time."

Slowly the train left the station. At the carriage windows hundreds of men stood waving their hands, and shouting. They were going back to the grim, cold trenches, going to danger, and possible death; but they were going with brave hearts and the light of resolution in their eyes. Amongst them was Tom. He, too, was waving his hand, although his lips were tremulous.

"God help me to do my bit, and then take me back to her," he prayed.

Will he come back again, or will he be one of those who give their lives for the defence of honour and home? This I know: he with a great host of others will fight on, and hold on until victory is won, the victory which means peace.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse