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21. The Little Hill
It was a wise man who said that the biggest kind of courage was to be able to sit still. I
used to feel that when we were getting shelled in the reserve trenches outside
Vermelles. I felt it before we went over the parapets at Loos, but I never felt it so much
as on the last two days in that cellar. I had simply to set my teeth and take a pull on
myself. Peter had gone on a crazy errand which I scarcely believed could come off.
There were no signs of Sandy; somewhere within a hundred yards he was fighting his
own battles, and I was tormented by the thought that he might get jumpy again and
wreck everything. A strange Companion brought us food, a man who spoke only
Turkish and could tell us nothing; Hussin, I judged, was busy about the horses. If I could
only have done something to help on matters I could have scotched my anxiety, but
there was nothing to be done, nothing but wait and brood. I tell you I began to
sympathize with the general behind the lines in a battle, the fellow who makes the plan
which others execute. Leading a charge can be nothing like so nerve-shaking a
business as sitting in an easy-chair and waiting on the news of it.
It was bitter cold, and we spent most of the day wrapped in our greatcoats and buried
deep in the straw. Blenkiron was a marvel. There was no light for him to play Patience
by, but he never complained. He slept a lot of the time, and when he was awake talked
as cheerily as if he were starting out on a holiday. He had one great comfort, his
dyspepsia was gone. He sang hymns constantly to the benign Providence that had
squared his duodenum.
My only occupation was to listen for the guns. The first day after Peter left they were
very quiet on the front nearest us, but in the late evening they started a terrific racket.
The next day they never stopped from dawn to dusk, so that it reminded me of that
tremendous forty-eight hours before Loos. I tried to read into this some proof that Peter
had got through, but it would not work. It looked more like the opposite, for this
desperate hammering must mean that the frontal assault was still the Russian game.
Two or three times I climbed on the housetop for fresh air. The day was foggy and
damp, and I could see very little of the countryside. Transport was still bumping
southward along the road to the Palantuken, and the slow wagon-loads of wounded
returning. One thing I noticed, however; there was a perpetual coming and going
between the house and the city. Motors and mounted messengers were constantly
arriving and departing, and I concluded that Hilda von Einem was getting ready for her
part in the defence of Erzerum.
These ascents were all on the first day after Peter's going. The second day, when I tried
the trap, I found it closed and heavily weighted. This must have been done by our
friends, and very right, too. If the house were becoming a place of public resort, it would
never do for me to be journeying roof-ward.