screamed Abel in anger, as he heard the retreating fire. The doctor made no comment: he had screamed three years before.
'Don't worry about the dead,' was all he said. 'Just see if you can find anyone who is still alive.'
'Over here,' shouted Abel as - he kneeled down beside a sexgeant lying in the German mud. Both his eyes were missing.
'He's dead, Colonel,' said the doctor, not giving the man a second glance. Abel ran to the next body and then the next but it was always the same and only the sight of a severed head placed upright in the mud stopped Abel in his tracks. He kept having to look back at it, like the bust of some Greek god that could no longer move. Abel recited like a child words he had learned at the feet of the Baron: ' "Blood and destruction shall be so in use and dreadful objects so familiar that mothers shall but smile when they behold their infants quarter'd with the hands of war." Does nothing change?' said Abel outraged.
'Only the battlefield,' replied the doctor.
When Abel had checked thirty - or was it forty men? - he once again returned to the doctor who was trying to save the life of a captain who but for a closed eye and his mouth was already swathed in blood - soaked bandages. Abel stood over the doctor watching helplessly, studying the captain's shouldefpatch - the Ninth Armoured - and remembered General Leonard's words, 'God knows how many men we lost today.'
'Fucking Germans,'said AbeL Tes, sir,' said the doctor.
'Is he dead?' asked Abel.
'Might as well be,' replied the doctor mechanically. 'Hes losing so much blood it can only be a matter of time.' He looked up. 'Tbere~s nothing left for you to do here, Colonel, so why don't you try and get the one survivor back to the field hospital before he dies and let the base commander know that I intend to go forward and need every man he can spaW 'Right,' said Abel as he helped the doctor carefully lift the captain on to a stretcher. Abel and the potato peeler tramped slowly back towards the camp, the doctor having warned him that any sudden movement to the stretcher could only result in an even greater loss of blood. Abel didn't let the potato peeler rest for one moment during the entire two - mile trek to the base camp. He wanted to give the man a chance to live and then return to the doctor in the forest.
For over an hour they trudged through the mud and the rain, and Abel felt certain the captain had died. When they finally reached the field hospital both men were exhausted, and Abel handed the stretcher over to a medical team.
As the captain was wheeled slowly away he opened his unbandaged eye which focused on Abel. He tried to raise his arm. Abel saluted and could have leapt with joy at the sight of the open eye and the moving hand. How he prayed that man would live.
He ran out of the hospital, eager to return to the forest with his little band of men when he was stopped by the duty officer.
'Colonel,' he said, 'I have been looking for you everywhere. There are over three hundred men who need feeding. Christ, man, where have you beenT 9)oing something worthwhile for a change.'
Abel thought about the young captain as he headed slowly back to the field kitchen.
For both men the war was over.
The stretcher bearers took the captain into a tent and laid him gently on an operating table. Captain William Kane could see a nurse looking sadly down at him, but he was un - able to hear anything she was saying. He wasn't sure if it was because his head was swathed in bandages or because he was now deaf He watched her lips move, but learned nothing. He shut his eye and thought. He thought a lot about the past; he thought a little about the future; he thought quickly in case he died. He knew if he lived, there would be a long tirne for thinking His mind turned to Kate in New York. She had refused to accept his determination to enlist. He knew she would never understand, and that he would not be able to justify his reasons to her so he had stopped trying.
The memory of her desperate face now haunted him. He never really considered death - no man does - and now he wanted only to live and return to his old life.
William had left Lester's under the joint control of Ted Leach and Tony Simmons until he returned ... until he returned. He had given no instructions for them to follow if he did not return. Both of them had begged him not to go. Two more men who couldnt understand. When he signed up a few days later, he couldnt - face the children. Richard, aged ten, had found his own way to the station; he had held back the tears until his father told him he could not go along with him to fight the Germans.
They sent him first to an Officeril Candidate School in Vermont. Last time he had seen Vermont, he had been siding with Matthew, slowly up the hills and quickly down. Now the journey was slow both ways. The course lasted for three months and made him fit again for the first time since he had left Harvard.