A Deed of Mercy
As Hindenburg and the Kaiser came down, as we read, from Mont d'Hiver, during the recent offensive, they saw on the edge of a crater two wounded British soldiers. The Kaiser ordered that they should be cared for: their wounds were bound up and they were given brandy, and brought round from unconsciousness. That is the German account of it and it may well be true. It was a kindly act.
Probably, had it not been for this, the two men would have died among those desolate craters; no one would have known and no one could have been blamed for it.
The contrast of this spark of imperial kindness against the gloom of the background of the war that the Kaiser made is a pleasant thing to see, even though it illuminates for only a moment the savage darkness in which our days are plunged. It was a kindness that probably will be long remembered to him. Even we, his enemies, will remember it. And who knows but that when most he needs it his reward for it will be given him? For Judas, they say, once gave his cloak in his youth, out of compassion, to a shivering beggar, who sat shaken with ague, in rags, in bitter need. And the years went by and Judas forgot his deed. And long after, in hell, Judas, they say, was given one day's respite at the end of every year because of this one kindness he had done so long since in his youth. And every year he goes, they say, for a day and cools himself among the Arctic bergs; once every year for century after century.
Perhaps some sailor on watch on a misty evening, blown far out of his course away to the North, saw something ghostly once on an iceberg floating by or heard some voice in the dimness that seemed like the voice of man, and came home with this weird story. And perhaps as the story passed from lip to lip men found enough justice in it to believe it true. So it came down the centuries.
Will seafarers ages hence on dim October evenings, or on nights when the moon is ominous through mist, red and huge and uncanny, see a lonely figure sometimes, on the loneliest part of the sea, far north of where the "Lusitania" sank, gathering all the cold it can? Will they see it hugging a crag of iceberg wan as itself; helmet, cuirass and ice pale blue in the mist together? Will it look towards them with ice-blue eyes through the mist, and will they question it, meeting on those bleak seas? Will it answer, or will the north wind howl like voices? Will the cry of seals be heard, and ice-floes grinding, and strange birds lost upon the wind that night? or will it speak to them in those distant years and tell them how it sinned, betraying man?
It will be a grim, dark story in that lonely part of the sea, when he confesses to sailors blown too far north the dreadful thing he plotted against man. The date on which he is seen will be told from sailor to sailor. Queer taverns of distant harbours will know it well. Not many will care to be at sea that day and few will risk being driven by stress of weather on the Kaiser's night among the bergs of the haunted part of the sea.
And yet, for all the grimness of the pale-blue phantom, with cuirass and helmet and eyes shimmering on deadly icebergs; and yet, for all the sorrow of the wrong he did against man, the women drowned and the children, and all the good ships gone -- yet will the horrified mariners meeting him in the mist grudge him no moment of the day he has earned, or the coolness he gains from the bergs, because of the kindness he did to the wounded men. For the mariners in their hearts are kindly men, and what a soul gains from kindness will seem to them well deserved.