The Road to the Aide Post
By Olaf Stapledon
This is the earliest published prose fiction by Stapledon.
They brought out the wounded; one moaning, the other silent; the one face half hidden under rugs and miserably moving; the other face wholly hidden under white bandages. The stretchers were soon stowed on board, driver and brancardier took their seats, and the old bus crept down the street.
The moaning man
regularity, save when the car bumped him into a cry. The other lay
What an embusqué slacker I am! » thought the driver
« What must these old
fellows think of me? » The moaning man was a « vieux papa
» for whom war was an
incongruous, last chapter to a life of tilling and begetting. It was
incongruous, but he had not complained. Gallantry was not his line, but
not shirked anything that he was expected to do. Now he lay absorbed in
pain, praying for the end of the journey, or losing himself among
visions of crops and beast and bursting shells, only to find himself
in a furnace of pain. The other lay still; no one can guess where his
wandered, upon the earth or in the hollow sky. « It's a miserable
thought the driver, « Why didn't I enlist long ago? » He
had no peace
principles, and he disliked people, who said they were pacifists. War
a horrible mistake, but his soldier friends in Gallipoli and
So thought the driver, as he drove down moonlit avenues. At the hospital, the car was unloaded, and he saw the two broken men carried through the door that had received so many like them.
Now in the early dawn that driver came hurrying back. There was a rose pink glow in the East, as if no ill had ever come out of that quarter; as if hate were never in this world. Into this fairy land he drove, and the joy of morning began in him. But the gentle appearance of things did not shake his resolution. Surely, surely, he .must enlist, and give his life with his friends. The Red Cross was not a heavy enough cross for such as he. The sunrise swallowed aid that was left of the night; the whole sky was on fire. He would go, he would go. What was he that he should judge, when so many finer men had not hesitated to fight? His Quaker parents would be very grieved, but he must do it. He himself was unhappy thinking of his parents' grief. After all war was indeed a hideous thing. In fact his determination to fight began already his disillusionment. A secret voice saying « You will fight only because you are ashamed not to fight ». « You will fight for you own peace of mind, not for victory, not for the cause. You have not forgotten yourself in the cause. You will not even find the peace of mind you seek ». The sun flashed from behind the Eastern cloudbank and the trees and fields and sparkling canal seemed suddenly to laugh, so bright they grew. « Oh God, what a world! » cried the driver aloud while the car roared along. The sun and the countryside undoubtedly confirmed that secret voice now that he allowed himself to attend to them.
He had heard someone say that just as private killing went out of date so will war someday go also, and that this War is but the red dawn of a new age wherein many obscurities will be enlightened. Surely if Peace and Goodwill could not be the idea of to-day they would be the idea of to-morrow. Woe unto those who, having any inkling of that great idea of to-morrow, desert it even for the highest of to-day's ideals. The Fates had made him to have some glimpse of the dawn, before his fighting friends: Woe to him if he closed his eyes.
Not happy, nor content, nor even positive, was he on his return; but very sure that he would not fight. His vision of the new idea (which is also so old an idea) was very faint; but it was a vision, and commanded his allegiance. Perhaps after all he was making a mistake; but it was a noble mistake. The vision must be followed even at the risk of his soul's life.
The driver backed his car into its place; stumped into the camp, pulled his best enemy out of bed, persuaded the puppy to lick the cook's slumbering face; and began his morning toilet. Many tunes again he was tempted in that wilderness of doubt. Each time the vision was a little clearer than before.
He is a type, is he not?
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