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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

The Call

page 9

The Call

It came out of the air on a wonderful night in June. Ward could not tell what woke him. He rose from the canvas stretcher and walked to the window. A pale moon showed the milk-white sand and powdered coral where a Line of palms, bowed mourner-like under the invisible hand of the flowing trade wind, separated the sand from the dark green of the hill upon which the bungalow stood. Out beyond the bar the Pacific combers tore themselves into white spume on the teeth of coral. The night air held little perfume pockets, floating oases fragrant of wild thyme and hibiscus.

But it was the silence that impressed Ward. It was an extraordinary silence, and the island seemed to be a vast ear, strained and eagerly waiting for some astonishing piece of news that was due at any moment.

Ward, during his ten years' residence on the island, had never felt such a silence. The call of the cicada, that usually shot the nights with little arrows of sound, was hushed; the moan of the tired waves was throttled by thirsty sands; the cooing of palm doves in the trees below the bungalow was absent.

Then the call came to Ward out of the air—:a voice from far away that found him on the little lonely island in the South Seas. He listened, jaws clenched, eyes wide, forehead moistened with a cold perspiration that came upon him as his ears caught the call. The sound he heard seemed to seep into his body and race wildly through his nerve centres.

Again the silence returned. Ward breathed heavily. A doubt came to him, and he sent a call into space in a desire tp receive a reply. He called again and again, but he got no answer. He wiped his forehead, stared at his clenched fists, and then ran toward a stretcher in the opposite corner of the room. He was a crazed man. Swevson the big Dane and Ward's plantation partner, sat up on the couch and rubbed his eyes.

"What is wrong?" he asked. "You look as if you had seen a ghost."

"Swevson, " cried Ward, " You remember Dick, whose laughter used to be good to hear when he sat in this very hut. I told you that I had a letter from him last week. He was somewhere in Palestine. Swevson, I am as sane as any ten men in the South Seas, but Dick called to me to-night, and his comrades called to me. There were thousands of them, and they wanted help."

The Dane rose to his feet and placed a hand on Ward's shoulder.

"Mate," he said, "you have got a fool idea into your head, and all that you heard was the cry of the gulls on the outer reef."

"No, no," cried Ward. "They called to me. It was the cry of a million fighting men. There are things in this world that you or I, or ten thousand like us, cannot fathom. Sometimes we think that we are very wise, and then we find we are fools. Those men called to me to-night, and I'm going to them. Swevson, I've been a coward, a squirming jellyfish

I let Dick go away alone to fight. I tried to stop him, at first, because up in the back of my head came a picture of battlefields that were to be. " Did you see those papers, Swevson, that came last mail? Did you see the pictures of the battlefields and the men worn and haggard after days of heavy fighting? Do you know that those pictures have been so many lashes that have cut me. Yes, Swevson, I'm going to fight Dunn'ng's schooner leaves for Sydney to-morrow, and I'm going in her."

Swevson stared out of the open window. The moon rode like a queen across the sky, and her silver train made aleague-wide swath across the tops of the palm trees. Then he turned to Ward. "I think you are right", he said. "I do think that you are right. Yes! perhaps those men called to-night. I don't know. There are little things in life which you and I and all the big brains in the world cannot puzzle out."

The Dane again stared out of the window. The cocoanut trees fringing the beach stood out like big soldiers on parade. It seemed to the two men that they were alone in the world—a world that was made up of a forest of palms and a great bowl of open sky.

* * * * * *

For three days and nights the Light Horse and Mounted Rifles had gradually pushed back the Turks. This afternoon, however, the enemy were making a determined stand and the weary horsemen felt that as soon as darkness carpeted the earth they would counter attack. The plain stretched around them in a haze of heat, and in the far distance ahead the mountains of Judea could be seen, blue and instinct.

It was a sergeant, who, while chatting with the men, remarked that a number of reinforcements, recently arrived from Australia, were joining them after dark.

"I think that a brother of mine will be with them," said Corporal Dick Ward. "He came across from the islands and joined up in Sydney. Don't know what made him leave the plantation, for when I left we agreed that he would mind the place until I returned."

The night came down upon the earth like a black cloth of camel hair; and then the Turks charged. Away on the left Corporal Ward and a handful of men found themselves cut off from the main body. They tried to fight their way through a superior number of Turks. It was when the Corporal fell with a bullet through his thigh that he cried for help—a cry that cut through the night like a whiplash, and was heard by one of the reinforcements, who had just arrived and were hastening to the assistance of the isolated men. And it was the elder brother who fought his way to the side of the Corporal and knelt beside him.

"Dick," he cried, "are you all right? I knew that you wanted me, and I came. I heard your call across ten thousand miles of ocean; yes, I heard it on the island. And I told Swevson I was a coward an i that I would come and help you. I only came here an hour ago, but I came in time."

Away on the right the machine guns were still spitting death into the ranks of the enemy, but here, where two brothers talked about the past and an island in the Southern Seas, it was quiet. A groan or a curse from a wounded man was all that told of the fierce fight that had taken place but an hour ago.

The elder brother helped the corporal to his feet. "I wish Swevson could see us now," he said.