“It’s lifted, sir.”
He called: “Come on, boys!” and went forward, stooping. A bullet struck his rifle. The shock made him stagger and sent an electric shock spinning up his arm. ‘Luck again!’ he thought. ’Now for it! I haven’t seen a German yet!’ He leaped forward, spun round, flung up his arms, and fell on his back, shot through and through....
The position was consolidated, as they say, and in the darkness stretcher-bearers were out over the half-mile. Like will-o’-the-wisps, with their shaded lanterns, they moved, hour after hour, slowly quartering the black honeycomb which lay behind the new British line. Now and then in the light of some star-shell their figures were disclosed, bending and raising the forms of the wounded, or wielding pick and shovel.
From the shaded lantern, lowered to just above the body, a yellowish glare fell on face and breast. The hands of the searcher moved in that little pool of light. The bearer who was taking notes bent down.
“Another boy,” he said. “That all he has?”
The searcher raised himself.
“Just those, and a photo.”
“Dispatch-case; pound loose; cigarette-case; wristwatch; photo. Let’s see it.”
The searcher placed the photo in the pool of light. The tiny face of a girl stared up at them, unmoved, from its short hair.
“Noel,” said the searcher, reading.
“H’m! Take care of it. Stick it in his case. Come on!”
The pool of light dissolved, and darkness for ever covered Cyril Morland.
When those four took their seats in the Grand Circle at Queen’s Hall the programme was already at the second number, which, in spite of all the efforts of patriotism, was of German origin—a Brandenburg concerto by Bach. More curious still, it was encored. Pierson did not applaud, he was too far gone in pleasure, and sat with a rapt smile on his face, oblivious of his surroundings. He remained thus removed from mortal joys and sorrows till the last applause had died away, and Leila’s voice said in his ear:
“Isn’t it a wonderful audience, Edward? Look at all that khaki. Who’d have thought those young men cared for music—good music—German music, too?”
Pierson looked down at the patient mass of standing figures in straw hats and military caps, with faces turned all one way, and sighed.