The English army had, for the time
being, occupied the trenches from which they had driven
the Germans, and for a moment they were safe.
The enemy was moving away towards a distant hill, but
a huge rearguard was on the alert.
The commanding officer knew that although
a slight advantage had been gained, pursuit would
be madness, so, taking advantage of the enemies’
trenches, they decided to await further events.
To Bob, the whole day seemed like
a dream. His encounter with the German private
was like the memory of some event which had taken place
long, long ago. All the same, it was a wonder
to him that he was alive and unwounded.
All around him lay men in various
positions; some never to rise again; some, even if
they recovered, to be mutilated for life. Only
now and then did the rearguard of the enemy’s
army reveal its whereabouts, but all knew that thousands
of men were waiting for any advantage which might
be given to them.
The day was fast dying, and whatever
little wind there had been had nearly sunk to rest.
“Hello, Nancarrow! you here?”
“Pickford! Great heavens, man, whoever
thought of seeing you!”
It was an old school-fellow who spoke
to Bob. They had been four years together at
Clifton, and Pickford had been on the military side
of the school.
When Bob had gone up to Oxford, Pickford
had left for Sandhurst. They had last seen each
other on what they called their breaking-up row at
the school. Both of them had been as wild as
March hares, and they with a hundred others had yelled
like mad at the thought of their school days being
Now they had met on French soil, amidst
carnage and the welter of blood, at the close of a
day which would ever live in Bob’s memory.
“I heard you had refused to enlist, Nancarrow.”
“Who told you?”
“Trevanion: he said you
had shown the white feather over the whole business,
and pretended to excuse yourself by religious scruples.”
Bob was silent for a moment; he scarcely knew how
“I told Trevanion he was altogether
mistaken in you,” went on Pickford; “but
he gave such details of your refusal, and described
in such graphic language what others had said about
you, that it seemed impossible for him to be mistaken.
Some girl gave you a white feather, didn’t
she, at the Public Hall in St. Ia?”
“Did Trevanion tell you that?” and
there was anger in Bob’s voice.
“I thought it was scarcely a
sportsmanlike thing to do,” said Pickford, noticing
the look on Bob’s face; “I told him so,
too. We were talking about you only last night.”
“Is Trevanion here, then?”
“Yes: didn’t you
know? He has been in the thick of it the whole
day. As you know, he is Captain of the Royal
West a fine lot of men he has, too.”
“And he thinks I am still in Cornwall?”
“I suppose so. You see
it was this way: we were talking about certain
swabs of whom we were ashamed, and he mentioned you.”
“Don’t tell him I am here,” said
“Never mind don’t; I daresay
he will find out soon enough.”
“Anyhow,” said Pickford,
“he is awfully popular with himself just now;
I hear he is certain to be a Major in a few days, and
will be Colonel in no time. You know he is engaged?”
“Engaged? To whom?”
“You know her old
Tresize’s daughter; Nancy, I think her name is.
Of course you know her: Penwennack, her father’s
place, is close by St. Ia.”
“And and is he engaged to her?”
“Yes,” replied Pickford.
“Did he tell you so himself?”
“No, not in so many words; but
he spoke of her to one of the other men as his fiancee.”
Bob’s heart sank like lead;
the worst he had feared had come to pass. This,
then, was his reward for his fidelity to his conscience.
He could not understand it. He knew Nancy was
angry with him angry at what she had called
his cowardice, at his refusal to obey the call of
his country. But he was sure she loved him:
had she not told him so? and now, to become
engaged within only a few weeks, to the man she had
spoken of, almost with scorn, was simply unbelievable.
For the moment he had become heedless
of his surroundings; the fact that thousands of soldiers
were crouching in the trenches waiting for any possible
advance of the enemy, the groans of men who were wounded
and perhaps dying, did not exist to him.
At that moment the issue of battles
was less to him than the action of the woman he loved.
“I used to imagine you were
gone on her,” went on Pickford; “I suppose
it was only a boy-and-girl affair.”
Bob did not reply; he could not discuss
the tragedy of his life with his old school-fellow.
“Where is Trevanion now?” he asked presently.
“He must be close by,”
was the reply. “I saw him less than an
hour ago, when the Germans were beginning to give
way. Of course I have always known him to be
a fine soldier, but I never knew he had so much of
the fighting devil in him. Man, you should have
seen his eyes burn red he was just like
a wild savage. I think he forgot his duties as
an officer and gave himself up to the lust of fighting.”
Pickford had scarcely uttered the
words when a man came up to him. “I say,
Trevanion’s missing,” he said.
“Trevanion missing? I
was telling Nancarrow here that I saw him less than
an hour ago.”
“Yes, so did I; but we have
had later reports. Sergeant Beel says he saw
him fall; I think he was wounded by a bullet.
Beel was at that time so hard pressed that he could
do nothing for him.”
In spite of himself a feeling of joy
shot into Bob’s heart. If Trevanion were
wounded, perhaps he then . . . but he would
not allow himself to complete the thought which had
been born in his mind.
Bob found himself amidst a group of
officers. “It is impossible to do anything
for him,” he heard one say: “I know
where he is, but no man’s life would be worth
a pin’s purchase who tried to get at him.
The Germans are not more than 500 yards away, and
whoever shows himself to them is a dead man.
Only a few minutes ago some men were trying to get
from one trench to another, and they were just mowed
down like grass.”
“But Trevanion may not be killed,”
urged another, “and if he is badly wounded it
might mean death to him if nothing is done for him.
Besides, daylight will be gone in less than an hour,
and if he is not got at at once, it will be impossible
to find him in the dark.”
“And the man who tries to get
at him in the light,” said another, “will
find himself full of bullets.”
Bob listened eagerly to every word
that was said, and again he could not help rejoicing
at what seemed Trevanion’s fate. The fact
that he had discussed his, Bob’s, cowardice
with fellows with whom he had been at school had roused
his anger against him; and when he was told that Trevanion
was engaged to Nancy Tresize, a feeling of mad hatred
“By God,” said one, “but
we cannot leave him out there without trying to get
at him! Isn’t there one of us who will
make the attempt?”
“It would be a madman’s
act,” cried another. “You know they
are waiting for us, and, if any one dares to go out
in the open, he is a dead man.”
“You say you know where he is now?” said
“I know where Sergeant Beel said he saw him,”
was the reply.
“I should like to speak to Beel,”
and Bob’s voice was very quiet as he spoke.
Instantly an order was given, and
a few minutes later Sergeant Beel was saluting him.
“You say you saw Captain Trevanion fall?”
“Can you point out the spot?”
A few minutes later Bob was in possession
of all the information which the Sergeant could give.
“Heavens, you are not going, Nancarrow?”
“I’m going to have a try,” was Bob’s
In the few seconds which it took Sergeant
Beel to tell his story, Bob had been fighting the
greatest battle of his life. It seemed to him
as though thousands of devils were pleading with him
to let his rival die, and all the time every particle
of manhood he possessed was telling him where his
If Nancy Tresize had promised Trevanion
to be his wife, she must love him, and if she loved
him, the death of her lover would be like death to
her. Anyhow, it was for him to make the attempt.
He crept from his place of safety,
and threw himself flat on the ground, while the others,
with whispered exclamations of surprise, watched him.
Keeping his body as close as he could
to the ground, he crawled forward. When he had
been a boy, he, like thousands of other English boys,
had played at fighting Indians, and the old trick of
crawling close to the ground served him well now;
but it was painfully slow, and every yard he took
he expected to hear the whistle of bullets to
feel the baptism of fire.
When he had crawled perhaps one hundred
yards, a rifle shot rang out, and he heard a bullet
cut its way through the leaves of the trees in the
near distance. Was it aimed at him? He
didn’t know, but he did know that the nearer
he went to the enemies’ lines, the greater chance
they would have of seeing him.
“Why should I go any further?”
he asked himself. “It is a madman’s
trick I am playing. No one but an idiot would
take such a risk; besides, it is useless I
can never reach him. Even if I get to the spot
Beel described, I may not find him, and then I shall
have simply thrown away my life for nothing.”
Then for the first time that day he really felt what
Since early morning he had been in
the midst of the fray, now directing his soldiers,
now fighting hand-to-hand battles, but never once had
he felt fear; even when his comrades on his right
hand and on his left had fallen, he had not felt even
a tremor. His nerves had been wrought up to
such a pitch that fear was almost impossible; rather
he had known a kind of mad joy in fighting.
When in answer to the German charge the English soldiers
had rushed forward, bayonets fixed, to meet them, he
knew he had become almost a savage in his lust for
blood. More than once he had laughed aloud as
slowly, amidst cries of pain, savage yells of joy,
and feverish passion, they had fought their way, inch
by inch, and driven the Germans back; but now he felt
It was one thing to rush forward amidst
the clash of arms and the cheers of his comrades;
it was another to crawl along like an Indian savage,
in the silence of the dying day. And for what
purpose? To save a man who, half an hour before,
he had wished dead.
But he knew he could not go back.
Something, he could not explain what, urged him forward.
How could he go back with his purpose unfulfilled?
What would the others say? In spite of the fact
that he had undertaken what every man of them had
said was a madman’s act, they would in their
heart of hearts scorn him for having played the coward.
Every muscle in his body ached; his
hands were torn and bleeding; it seemed to him as
if there were hammers striking his temples; sparks
of fire were in his eyes, still he struggled
He lifted his head and looked around.
Yes, he was near the spot which Sergeant Beel had
described. Daylight was now falling, and half
an hour later darkness would be upon them. If
his mission were not accomplished whilst the light
lasted, the Captain would have to lie until the morning,
and if he were wounded, he might during those hours
die from loss of blood.
Again there was a crack of rifles,
and he heard the whistle of bullets as they passed
by him; one of these was not more than a yard away.
What the Germans meant, he did not know, neither could
he tell whether he had been seen, but he was sure
that his life was not worth a pin’s purchase.
He had left his sword behind that
was of no use to him now and would be only an encumbrance but
he had his revolver ready to hand.
Feverishly he looked around him, but
nowhere could he see the man he sought. Still,
he had done his duty; he could go back to Pickford
and the other fellows and tell them he had done his
best and had failed.
But he stayed where he was.
He realised that he was faint and
hungry. Since, early that Sunday morning he
had scarcely partaken of food; all day long there had
been mad fighting and deadly carnage, and in his excitement
he had forgotten hunger; now he thought he was going
to faint. Then suddenly every nerve became tense
again. He saw not more than a dozen yards away
a man in German uniform; like lightning his hand flew
to his revolver, and he held himself in readiness.
Scarcely had he done so, when he heard a groan.
The German also evidently heard it, for he quickly
made his way towards the spot from which the sound
A moment later Bob heard the German
give a low laugh as if he were pleased, but the laugh
died in its birth; before it was finished, a bullet
from Bob’s revolver had pierced his brain.
Forgetful of danger, he rushed forward, and saw that
he had not been a moment too soon. The German
was about to drive his sword into the body of a prostrate
“It is he!” cried Bob,
in a hoarse whisper; he had found the man he had come
to seek. There, partly hidden by a small bush,
lay Captain Trevanion, and on his face was a pallor
like the pallor of death.
“He is alive,” reflected
Bob; “I heard him groan just now.”
He put his ear close to Trevanion’s
heart and listened. Yes, he was faintly breathing,
but his clothes were saturated with blood.
With trembling hands Bob undid the
other’s uniform, and was not long in finding
a wound from which oozed his life’s blood.
He called to mind all the medical knowledge he had,
and set to work to stop the bleeding; in a few minutes
had partially succeeded.
But how to get him back to the English
lines! That was the question. He did not
think Trevanion was in any immediate danger now.
All he could do was to wait until the daylight was
gone, and then carry the wounded man to a place of
safety. But he dared not wait. The wound
began bleeding again. Trevanion was a heavy man,
almost as heavy as Bob himself, and in carrying him
he knew that he must expose himself to the German
fire; but that risk must be taken.
He thought he might carry him two
or three hundred yards before being shot, and by that
time he would be near enough to the English lines to
enable those who were watching, to reach them.
Bob could never call clearly to mind
any details of the next few minutes. He knew
that he was stumbling along in the twilight, bearing
a heavy burden knew, too, that bullets whizzed
by him; but, heedless of everything, he plodded forward.
He had a vague idea, too, that he must be seen; but
all thought of danger had gone.
If he were killed, he was killed, and that was all.
Then suddenly cheers reached him.
It seemed to him as though a thousand arms were around
him, and wild excited cries filled the air. After
that he knew no more.
When he came to himself again, he
was lying in a tent, and bending over him was a face
he had never seen before.
“There, you’ll do now; you’re all
“Who are you?” asked Bob.
“I’m Doctor Grey; but
that doesn’t matter. You haven’t
a wound or a scratch, my dear chap; you just fainted that
was all. How the devil you got through, I don’t
know; but there it is, you’re as right as rain.”
“Have I been long here?”
“Not more than five minutes.
Heavens, man, it was the maddest thing I ever heard
of! Trevanion is in a bad way; whether he’ll
pull through or not, I don’t know; but if he
does, he’ll owe his life to you. He was
slowly bleeding to death, and of course your getting
him here didn’t help him. Still, he’s
in good hands.”
“He’s alive, then?”
“Oh, yes, he’s alive,
and I think he’ll live; still, he’ll have
a bad time. Oh, yes, you can get up, if you
want; you’re all right. When did you have
“I don’t think I remember,”
said Bob. “It must have been about midday,
“I thought so. Now drink
this. Do you mind seeing the fellows? That’s
right; here they come. Now, Pringle oh,
yes, and Colonel Sapsworth too no wonder
you are proud of your subaltern; there are men who’ve
got the Victoria Cross for less.”
Colonel Sapsworth caught Bob’s
hand and wrung it without a word.
Bob saw his lips tremble beneath his
grey moustache, saw too that his eyes were filled
with tears; but Colonel Sapsworth was a man who didn’t
talk much. “You’re a plucky young
devil,” he said, “but I thought you had
it in you. There, there, do you feel better now?
By Jove, you’re the talk of the whole division!
Yes, Trevanion will do all right at least,
I hope so,” and then the Colonel rubbed his eyes.
“That is enough,” said
Dr. Grey. “I’m chief in command here;
he wants a few hours’ rest, and then he’ll
be as right as ever. Meanwhile, let him alone;
the young beggar has had a hard day.”