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   Chapter 23 THE WISDOM OF FATHER S——

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 4639

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


One day, while I was making some sketch-book drawings of bursting shells down in the old water-course, the Roman Catholic padre came along.

"Sketching, Hargrave?"

"Yes, sir."

And then: "I suppose you're Church of England, aren't you?"

"No, sir; I'm down as Quaker."

"Quaker, eh?-that's interesting; I know quite a lot of Quakers in Dublin and Belfast."

Who would expect to find "Father Brown" of G. K. Chesterton fame in a khaki drill uniform and a pith helmet?

A small, energetic man, with a round face and a habit of putting his hands deep into the patch pockets of his tunic. Here was a priest who knew his people, who was a real "father" to his khaki followers. I quickly discovered him to be a man of learning, and one who noticed small signs and commonplace details.

His eyes twinkled and glittered when he was amused, and his little round face wrinkled into wreaths of smiles.

When we moved to the Salt Lake dug-outs he came with us, and here he had a dug-out of his own.

When the day's work was finished, and the moonlight glittered white across the Salt Lake, I used to stroll away for a time by myself before turning in.

It was a good time to think. Everything was so silent. Even my own footsteps were soundless in the soft sand. It was on one of these night-prowls that I spotted the tiny figure of Father S-- jerking across the sands, with that well-known energetic walk, stick in hand.

"Stars, Hargrave?" said the little priest.

"Very clear to-night, sir."

"Queer, you know, Hargrave, to think that those same old stars have looked down all these ages; same old stars which looked down on Darius and his Persians."

He prodded the sand with his walking stick, stuck his cap on one side (I don't think he cared for his helmet), and peered up to the star-spangled sky.

"Wonderful country, all this," said the padre; "it may be across this very Salt Lake that the armies of the ancients fought with sling and stone and spear; St. Paul may have put in here, he was well acquainted with these parts-Lemnos and all round about-preaching and teaching on his travels, you know."

"Talking about Lemnos Island," he went on, "did you notice the series of peaks which run across it in a line?"

"Yes."

"Well, it was on those promontories that Agamemnon, King of M

ycen?, lit a chain of fire-beacons to announce the taking of Troy to his Queen, Clytaemnestra, at Argos-"

Here the little priest, as pleased as a school-boy, scratched a rough sketch map in the sand-

"All the islands round here are full of historical interest, you know; `far-famed Samothrace,' for instance." Father S-- talked much of classical history, connecting these islands with Greek and Roman heroes.

All this was desperately interesting to me. It was picturesque to stand in the sand-bed of the Salt Lake, lit by the broad flood of silver moonlight, with the little priest eagerly scratching like an ibis in the sand with his walking-stick.

I learnt more about the Near East in those few minutes than I had ever done at school.

But besides the interest in this novel history lesson, I was more than delighted to find the padre so correct in his sketch of the island and the coast, and I took down what he told me in a note-book afterwards, and copied his sand-maps also.

After this I came to know him better than I had. I visited his dug-out, and he let me look at his books and Punch and a month-old Illustrated London News, or so. I came to admire him for his simplicity and for his devotion to his men. Every Sunday he held Mass in the trenches of the firing-line, and he never had the least fear of going up.

A splendid little man, always cheerful, always looking after his "flock." Praying with those who were about to give up the ghost; administering the last rites of the Church to those who, in awful agony, were fluttering like singed moths at the edge of the great flame, the Great Life-Mystery of Death.

He wrote beautifully sad letters of comfort to the mothers of boy-officers who were killed. Father S-- knew every man: every man knew Father S-- and admired him.

His dug-out was made in a slope overlooking the bay, and was really a deep square pit in the sand-bank, roofed with corrugated iron and sandbagged all round. Here we talked. I found he knew G. K. C. and Hilaire Belloc. Always he wanted to look at any new drawings in my sketch-books.

It is a relief to speak with some intelligent person sometimes.

Such was Father S--, a very 'cute little man, knowing most of the troubles of the men about him, noticing their ways and keeping in touch with them all.

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