General Brice raised his eyebrows.
“Are you off again?” he asked.
“I am going to see that young man’s General,” Thomson replied. “I shall cross over to-day and be back to-morrow night or Saturday morning.”
General Brice nodded thoughtfully.
“Perhaps you are right,” he assented. “Yes, I shall have a few reports. You’d better let them know at the Admiralty, and what time you want to go over.”
Surgeon-Major Thomson shook hands with the General and turned towards the door.
“When I come back,” he said, “I hope I’ll be able to convince even you, sir.”
Surgeon-Major Thomson awoke about twelve hours later with a start. He had been sleeping so heavily that he was at first unable to remember his whereabouts. His mind moved sluggishly across the brief panorama of his hurried journey—the special train from Victoria to Folkestone; the destroyer which had brought him and a few other soldiers across the Channel, black with darkness, at a pace which made even the promenade deck impossible; the landing at Boulogne, a hive of industry notwithstanding the darkness; the clanking of waggons, the shrieking of locomotives, the jostling of crowds, the occasional flashing of an electric torch. And then the ride in the great automobile through the misty night. He rubbed his eyes and looked around him. A grey morning was breaking. The car had come to a standstill before a white gate, in front of which was stationed a British soldier, with drawn bayonet. Surgeon-Major Thomson pulled himself together and answered the challenge.
“A friend,” he answered,—“Surgeon-Major Thomson, on his Majesty’s service.”
He leaned from the car for a moment and held out something in the hollow of his hand. The man saluted and drew back. The car went along a rough road which led across a great stretch of pastureland. On the ridge of the hills on his right, little groups of men were at work unlimbering guns. Once or twice, with a queer, screeching sound, a shell, like a little puff of white smoke, passed high over the car and fell somewhere in the grey valley below. In the distance he could see the movements of a body of troops through the trees, soldiers on the way to relieve their comrades in the trenches. As the morning broke, the trenches themselves came into view—long, zig-zag lines, silent, and with no sign of the men who crawled about inside like ants. He passed a great brewery transformed into a canteen, from which a line of waggons, going and returning, were passing all the time backwards and forwards into the valley. Every now and then through the stillness came the sharp crack of a rifle from the snipers lying hidden in the little stretches of woodland and marshland away on the right. A motor-omnibus, with its advertisement signs still displayed but a great red cross floating above it, came rocking down the road on its way to the field hospital in the distance. As yet, however, the business of fighting seemed scarcely to have commenced.