The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
The Hole in the Wall
"Dee" Somers got up on his hind legs, knocked the tea-leaves out of his fruit-tin billy, wiped his plate, knife and fork with a couple of sheets of waste-paper from the adjacent remains of a Hun-Jacko orderly room, and remarked: "Think I'll stroll down to the crik. Like to have a look at that funny old hole in the wall with the arches, while I'm down there; might be a few grouters about."
The road is a tortuous, rock-bounded, hilly one, within a few miles of Nablus. "Dee" himself is Bill de Courcy Somers. No superfluous family pride about Bill; but on his leaving the little Illawarra coo-farm for the war, his mother had said: "Don't forget, Bill dear, that you are at least half de Courcy". For the first few weeks Bill had wished that he, or rather others, could forget it, and eventually, on a transfer, managed to camouflage the "de Courcy" into "Dee".
To resume. "Dee", leaving the little orange grove where his mob, a small pat ty of "B" Echelon transport, were camped for afew hours, gotdown to the hole in the wall, and started to investigate. Everything was pleasant and restful, from the quiet little rill coming out of the rock-face, to the vines crawling over the well-turned arches flung out from the entrance of the cave. As "Dee" remarked, "Nobody 'Id believe there's a war on".
Going inside the cave-mouth, "Dee" noted the tooled-out shelves and a bed of twigs and leaves, showing possible signs of recent occupation. Having satisfied his curiosity, the natural thing for "Dee" to do was to sit down on the bench at the entrance, pull out a cigarette, and start to search fora match—and he did it. He didn't find the match, but what he did find was that he was looking into a pair of piercing, though kindly eyes, belonging to a reverend-looking hooded figure.
Spoke the figure: "Thrice welcome, noble lad, and thrice again. For many moons I have awaited thine arrival".
Says "Dee": "Right O, old Dear, but cut out the funny talk. I'm not too quick at follerin' po'try".
Spoke the figure again: "I will make endeavour, most welcome guest, to turn my words to suitthy comprehension. Full well I know that many, many years divide our times. I would crave thy patience, dear lad, for minutes all too short, while I relate the story of my penance in this vale."
"Carry on", says "Dee".
"Twice before my friend and I had met him; but this time he was not dressed as heretofore, being clothed in jewelled silken turban and embroidered robe; though, even now, I saw the steel and silver gleam of a linked mail shirt beneath the silken apparel. His words to us were brief: 'I have sent for you at great cost, both to yourselves and to me, so as to execute a vow. My friend and kinsman, Ali Omar, of this town, was taken by a trick by the Austrians, and I have sworn that he shall be released. My appeals to him you name the Arch Duke—Arch Liar were a better name—have all been treated with discourtesy, and after much thought, 1 have decided to appeal to that most kingly foe, the noble Richard of the Lion Heart. One of you shall stay as hostage, the other shall bear a message to his lord that if, one moon from now, my kinsman Omar be not released by the Teuton Duke, the hostage in my hands will die. Decide between you which goes south and which shall stay'. Back in our chamber, I could see at once that my heart's friend would have it that I return to Richard with the message; and alas, fearing no harm, weakly I gave consent."
"Why", said "Dee"; "what happened?"
"Alack that it should be my lot to tell thee, dearest lad. For a full month on my return I lay delirious with a slow, malignant fever, and e'en the Royal leech could not improve my state. But then at last a day arrived when I remembered, and found with great alarm how time had flown. Makingmineerrand known to Richard, he straightway ordered the release of Omar, and once more I found myself on that rough, hilly track to the Steel City of the North, this time in company with that friend and kinsman of the great Paynim king. I dread to tell you, but my labours were in vain, an angry order of the Saracen, instantly regretted, having sealed the doom of my heart's friend. Imagine, almost son of mine, my agony of mind. On my return I asked for, and obtained permission of my king, to devote my remaining years to prayers for the soul of my dear friend; and hither to this vale I came and made such habitation as you see. And now, dear lad, as guerdon of my love, accept a token I have kept for thee."
"Right O", says "Dee". "A dinkum cove that friend of yours. What was his name?"
"His name was Raoulde Courcy, and that is why I've told the tale to you. And now, farewell, dear lad".
"Dee" rubbed his eyes. The monkish figure was gone, though, strangely enough, "Dee" still held in his hand a small piece of polished, age-blackened wood in the shape of a cross.
"Strike me lucky", he said. "Here's something to put in nex' letter to Mum".