Hide Articles List

10 articles on this Page



MERE VAUCHARD'S CANDLES. [BY LIEUT. C. D. STELLING.] Lieut. Bobby Smart, of the Umpteenth Battalion, London Regiment, was feeling at peace with the world. He strolled along the main street of Vermoulu village, enjoying life, enjoying the war, and enjoying a cigar that had been presented to him by the Brigade Padre. Jolly good fellow the Padre, thought Bobby. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and Bobby felt clean. He had just emerged from a hot bath in a vat belonging to the Brewery now occu- pied by the Field Ambulance. The Umpteenth, relieved that morning after five sleepless nights in the front line, were to spend a day or two in reserve before they went out for several days' rest, D.V. Good enough reason for an Infantry sub- altern to indulge in a well-earned loaf and to whistle The End of a Perfect Day." Bobby's cigar having gone out, he hoisted himself up on a window ledge to relight it, and sit down for a quiet smoke. He drew from his pocket a box of wax vestas. From round the corner where the road leads down to the church appeared the bent figure of an old woman. Bobby remembered her. On his way up into the line a few days before he had learnt something of the story of Mere Vauchard. He recalled that she was waiting in the shell-racked ruins of her native village to keep a home for her ,,e prisoner son to return to, and he remem- bered the little shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows which the old lady tended daily with her own hands. As he watched her approach, he struck a match. The breeze, searching through the windowless cottage behind him, found way to the front and extinguished the flame. He flicked the wax end into the road, and tried to make a draught-proof shelter with his two hands. Three more precious matches were wasted before he could summon up the energy to jump off his perch and seek a less windy spot. At his fifth attempt he succeeded in relight- ing his cigar. It was at this moment that Mere Vauchard reached the cottage. Bon jour, madame," he shouted cheer- fully, and the old woman mumbled a response as she stooped and picked up something from the middle of the road. She stopped and peered eagerly about her. Her eyes found what she sought. She bent and picked up one, two, three more of the spent matches that Smart had flung away, paused, looked round, and moved her head in quick bird-like jerks, seeking the fifth whose flame she had seen. Sud- denly she pounced upon it, and then clat- tered away towards her underground home. The English subaltern had watched her in amazement. What on earth could be the use of wax match-ends to her? He hesitated an instant, and then started in pursuit. He produced a box of matches, opened it, and thrust it in front of the old lady. Mere Vauchard shook her head, and replied to him in the best Anglo-French: I, No bon, no bon." Bobby was puzzled. Why should this strange soul eagerly collect spent matches and refuse the gift of a box of unused ones ? He began to question her, bidding her "I zn reply slowly. By dint of much cross-ques- tioning and gesticulation light gradually dawned on him. The next day was the birthday of her son, Pierre, her only boy, who, fighting with the Territorials before Lille in October, 1914, had fallen into the hands of the accursed Boches. She spoke of him as though he were a stripling in his teens, and it was only by a chance remark that Bobby realised that he had been born, a posthumous only child, after his father's death in the war of '70. To- morrow was his birthday, and Mere Vauchard wanted seven candles to burn before the image of Our Lady in the ruined shrine of the church of the Sacred Heart. But Mere Vauchard had no candles and knew not where to obtain any, nor indeed if she had known had she the wherewithal to pay for them. For many weeks she had been picking up wax matches flung away by the English soldiers, and she hoped that the Blessed Virgin— she crossed I herself agairi-would forgive 0 her if she burnt seven times seven wax matches in lieu of candles. She would surely understand. Bobby felt a lump rising in his throat as the old mother's artless story unfolded itself. He drew out his box of vestas, pressed them into her hand without a word, and hurried away. Bobby rose very early the next morning, and marched himself off with two tin mugs and a little newspaper-wrapped packet in tlrj direction of the Place de TEgl'se. When Mere Vauchard arrived at the shrine of Our Lacly of Sorrows to perform her morning devotions, -he beheld a strange sight, almost, it seemed, a miracle. On either side of the image of the Virgin was a vase of flowers-poppIes and mar- guerites and cornflowers, the tricouleur of France ablaze in the sunlight that streamed down across the battle-lines, And in front of the Lady of Sorrows were ranged seven candles. True, they were not the tall candles that she would have placed there in happier times-two were but as high as her thumbs and none were taller than her middle fin-ers-biit. they would serve, oh, yes! they would serve marvellously. The derelict old lady sank to her knees and poured out tears of joy from a full heart. Now, assuredly, would Our Lady hearken to the humble prayer of Mere Vauchard of Vermoulu. It was nearly a month before the Umpteenth Londons returned to Ver- i moulu, and the incident of the candles had passed out of Lieut. Smart's mind. The sight of the familiar Vennoulu street recalled Mere Vauchard to him. He (Continued at foot of next column.)