The War in the Air – Day 85 of 115

He prodded the floating blue-clad thing with his wand, failed, tried again successfully as it came round, and as it went out into the stream it turned over, the light gleamed on golden hair and–it was Kurt!

It was Kurt, white and dead and very calm. There was no mistaking him. There was still plenty of light for that. The stream took him and he seemed to compose himself in its swift grip as one who stretches himself to rest. White-faced he was now, and all the colour gone out of him.

A feeling of infinite distress swept over Bert as the body swept out of sight towards the fall. “Kurt!” he cried, “Kurt! I didn’t mean to! Kurt! don’ leave me ’ere! Don’ leave me!”

Loneliness and desolation overwhelmed him. He gave way. He stood on the rock in the evening light, weeping and wailing passionately like a child. It was as though some link that had held him to all these things had broken and gone. He was afraid like a child in a lonely room, shamelessly afraid.

The twilight was closing about him. The trees were full now of strange shadows. All the things about him became strange and unfamiliar with that subtle queerness one feels oftenest in dreams. “O God! I carn’ stand this,” he said, and crept back from the rocks to the grass and crouched down, and suddenly wild sorrow for the death of Kurt, Kurt the brave, Kurt the kindly, came to his help and he broke from whimpering to weeping. He ceased to crouch; he sprawled upon the grass and clenched an impotent fist.

“This war,” he cried, “this blarsted foolery of a war.

“O Kurt! Lieutenant Kurt!

“I done,” he said, “I done. I’ve ’ad all I want, and more than I want. The world’s all rot, and there ain’t no sense in it. The night’s coming…. If ’E comes after me–’E can’t come after me–’E can’t!…

“If ’E comes after me, I’ll fro’ myself into the water.”…

Presently he was talking again in a low undertone.

“There ain’t nothing to be afraid of reely. It’s jest imagination. Poor old Kurt–he thought it would happen. Prevision like. ’E never gave me that letter or tole me who the lady was. It’s like what ’e said–people tore away from everything they belonged to–everywhere. Exactly like what ’e said…. ’Ere I am cast away–thousands of miles from Edna or Grubb or any of my lot–like a plant tore up by the roots…. And every war’s been like this, only I ’adn’t the sense to understand it. Always. All sorts of ’oles and corners chaps ’ave died in. And people ’adn’t the sense to understand, ’adn’t the sense to feel it and stop it. Thought war was fine. My Gawd! …

“Dear old Edna. She was a fair bit of all right–she was. That time we ’ad a boat at Kingston….

“I bet–I’ll see ’er again yet. Won’t be my fault if I don’t.”…

Suddenly, on the very verge of this heroic resolution, Bert became rigid with terror. Something was creeping towards him through the grass. Something was creeping and halting and creeping again towards him through the dim dark grass. The night was electrical with horror. For a time everything was still. Bert ceased to breathe. It could not be. No, it was too small!

It advanced suddenly upon him with a rush, with a little meawling cry and tail erect. It rubbed its head against him and purred. It was a tiny, skinny little kitten.

“Gaw, Pussy! ’ow you frightened me!” said Bert, with drops of perspiration on his brow.

He sat with his back to a tree stump all that night, holding the kitten in his arms. His mind was tired, and he talked or thought coherently no longer. Towards dawn he dozed.

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