‘Mathews,’ said Dick weakly, ’how was it—you were on guard—last night? Was it just an accident?’
’Yes, sir. Just a accident. Well, not precisely a accident neither, sir. I be what the War Office calls “a headquarter troop,” and do odd jobs behind the lines. Sometimes I dig graves, and other times I be a officer’s servant, and likewise do a turn o’ sentry-go. Well, sir, when I heard that you was a prisoner and was goin’ for to be shot, I persuades the corp’l to put me on guard, exchangin’ a diggin’ job with a bloke by the name o’ Griggs, so as not to incormode the records o’ the War Office. That’s all, sir. There I were, and here we be; and arter you’ve had a sleep, you and me will have a jaw on our immed’ate future. ’Ave a good snooze, Mas’r Dick, and I’ll keep an eye trimmed on the road.’
With the same boyishness he had shown that night in Selwyn’s rooms, Dick put out his hand and pressed the old groom’s arm. With a paternal air, Mathews patted the hand with his own and reached for his pipe, explaining that he would steal a smoke before daylight. But the lad did not hear him. He was lost in a deep, dreamless sleep.
THE FIGHT FOR THE BRIDGE.
It was nearly noon when the tired youth awoke. He looked wonderingly about, and there was a haunting fear in his light eyes, like those of a stag that dreads the hunters. From the north there came the sound of drum-fire, a weird, almost tedious, rhythm of guns working at a feverish pace; and the near-by road was a mass of jumbled traffic. Ambulances, supply-wagons, field-artillery, lorries, with jingling harness or snorting engines—streams of vehicles moved slowly up and down their channel. At a reckless speed motorcyclists, carrying urgent messages, swerved through it all; and in the ditches that ran alongside, refugees were stumbling on, fleeing from the new terror, their crouching, misshapen figures like players from a grotesque drama of the Macabre.
‘The sausage-eaters,’ said Mathews philosophically, ‘must be feelin’ their oats, sir.’
At the sound of the familiar voice the fear passed from Dick’s face. Memory had returned, and he smiled, though his body trembled as if with a chill. ‘I’m starved,’ he said, ’and I have nothing with me. How long did I sleep, Mathews?’
’Pretty near seven hours, Mas’r Dick. Here you are, sir—feedin’-time, and the bugle’s went.’
He handed Durwent a sandwich, which the young man devoured ravenously, washing it down with some cold tea. Mathews also munched at a sandwich, and through the cornstalks they watched the two currents of war-traffic eddying past each other. There was a roar of engines behind them, and, flying low, a formation of sixteen British aeroplanes made in a straight line for the battle area.