World War II history shines through the pen of a beloved author who lived during it. Grace Livingston Hill introduces readers to three couples who are struggling to find hope in their circumstances. But letters from the home front to the war front and back inspire faith in soldiers under fire and the women who are praying they return. The collection includes All Through the Night, More Than Conqueror, and Through These Fires.
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By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill
All rights reserved.
The sunset was startling that night, bursting angrily through ominous clouds that had seemed impenetrable all day, and fairly tearing them to inky tatters, letting the fire of evening blaze into a terror-stricken world sodden with grief and bewilderment. Like an indomitable flag of mingled vengeance and hope, it pierced the dome of heaven and waved courageously, a call, a summons across the thunderous sky and above a drab, discouraged world. It broke the leaden bars and threw down a challenge to disheartened, straggling fighters who had been brave that morning when the battle began, and who had gone on through a day of horror, seeing their comrades fall about them, facing a cruel foe, fighting on with failing strength, and in the face of what seemed hopeless odds.
And then that fire of glory burst through and flung its challenge, and the leaders seemed to gather courage from the flaming banner in the sky. Herding their scattered comrades together, they took new heart of hope, and turning, renewed the warfare more fiercely than before.
Benedict Barron was one of those discouraged fainting soldiers who had fought all day on very little food, and who more and more was feeling the hopelessness of what he was doing. What useless wasting of life and blood for a mere bare strip of land that didn't seem worth fighting for. And yet he had fought, and would continue to fight, he knew, as long as there was any strength left in him.
Mackenzie, their haggard-faced captain, drew them into a brief huddle and spoke a few low, desperate words, pointing toward that gray distance before them that looked so barren and worthless, so unworthy of struggle.
"Do you see that land ahead?" he asked his men, a fierce huskiness in his vibrant voice. "It looks gray and empty to us now, but it is the way to a great wealth of oil wells! It is the way to victory, for one side or the other. Which shall it be? Victory for us, or for our enemies? If the Germans get those oil wells they undoubtedly will win! We are trying to head them off. Are you game?"
There was a moment of dead silence while his words sank into the tired hearts of the exhausted men, as they looked at their captain's grim, determined face, and thrilled with the words he had spoken. Then those tired soldiers took a deep breath and brought forth a cheer, in which Victory echoed down the gray slopes toward the enemy, Victory for freedom! Not for the enemy! And it was Benedict Barron whose voice led the cheer, and beside him his comrade Sam Newlin took it up.
Oil wells down there in the gray darkness, banner of fire in the sky, lighting the way to victory. Yes, they would go, every one of those tired soldiers, even if it meant giving their lives in the effort. It was worth it. Never would they let the enemy have free access to all that oil. This was what they had left their homes and their dear ones to do, and they would do it, even unto death. Victory! On to Victory!
They plunged down toward the dim gray twilight ahead, Ben Barron's face alight from the brightness above him, his lips set, his gaze ahead, new strength pouring through his veins. The weariness of the day was forgotten. A new impetus had come, a reason for winning the victory. Something to be greatly desired, symbolized by that bright, arrogant banner of fire above them.
Into the dusk Ben Barron plunged with the flaming banner above, looking toward the land they must take and hold at all costs. The dying sun in its downward course shot vividly out with its great red eye, bloodshot, daring the men not to falter. Then suddenly it dropped into its deep blue shroud leaving only shreds of ragged gold as a hint of the glory that might be won. Afterward darkness! For even the edges of glory-gold were blotted out in the darkest night those men had ever known.
A great droning arose in the sky behind, and it seemed to Ben Barron that he was alone with all the responsibility resting on him. There were oncoming planes, an ominous, determined sound, their twinkling lights starring the heavens as if they had a right to be there, reminding one of satanic entrances: "I will be like the most High "—the arrogance of Lucifer.
The men groaned in spirit, and thrust forward. But suddenly came a sound of menace, and like bright, wicked stars, fire dropped from the skies, blazing up in wide fierce waves of flame sweeping before them, filling all the place through which they were supposed to pass.
Bewildered, they looked to their captain, hesitated an instant, until they heard his determined, husky voice ring out definitely:
"Fire!" they breathed in a united voice of anguish.
"Press on!" came Captain Mackenzie's answer swiftly. "You must go through these fires! This land must be held at all costs!"
Afterward it came to Ben to wonder why. Oh, he knew the answer, the oil wells must be held. The enemy must not take them. But why did fires have to come and obstruct the way? It was hard enough before the fires came. How were they to go through fire? Where was God? Had He forgotten them? Why did He allow this fire to come? It seemed a strange thought to come to Ben Barron as he crept stealthily through the shadows into the realm of light where the enemies' guns could so easily be trained upon them. But at the time he was occupied with accomplishing this journey toward the fire, with the firm intention of going through it. There was a job to be done on the other side of this wall of fire, and he must do it!
And then there was the wall of fire, just ahead!
"Here she comes!" yelled Sam. "Let's go!"
Great tongues of flame, roaring and hissing and overhead falling flames! It seemed like the end. And yet Ben knew he must go through. Even if he died doing it, he must go. Those oil wells must be held. The Germans must not get them. Perhaps just his effort was needed for the victory. Perhaps if he failed others would fail also. The circle of defenders must not be broken! The strength of a chain was in its weakest link. He must not be that weakest link. His place in the formation must be steady, held to the end!
How hot the flames! How far that heat reached! He had to turn his face away from the scorch to rest his eyes, or they would not be able to see to go on. And the flaming fields ahead would soon burn over. He must creep through as soon as they were bearable. He must not be turned back nor halted by mere hot earth. It was night, and the wind was cold. They would soon cool off enough for him to go on.
These thoughts raced through his fevered brain, as he crept forward seeing ahead now beyond those dancing fires, the dark forms of other enemies, their guns surely aimed! He could hear the reverberations of their shots as they whistled past him. He had to creep along close to the ground to dodge those bullets.
It seemed an eternity that he was creeping on in the firelit darkness, pausing when more fire came down from above, to hide behind a chance rock, or a group of stark trees that had not been consumed, gasping in the interval to catch a breath that seemed to escape from his control.
At times there came the captain's voice, in odd places, at tense intervals, almost like the voice of God, and Ben's over-weary mind sometimes confused the two, so that they became convinced that it was God who was leading them on, speaking to them out of the fire.
Perhaps it was hunger that made his head feel so light, but he had not thought of food. There were pellets in his wallet that he could take for this, but he was too tired to make the effort to reach them. If only he might close his eyes and sleep for a moment! But there was the fire, and the order was heard again, "Forward!"
They must all pass through. There was no time to wait for the blistering ground to cool. They must pass through quickly. They had been taught their manner of procedure. Through this fire—and then the enemy beyond! There would be bullets. He could hear one singing close now! There would be another close behind that. Their spacing was easy to judge.
There! There it came. A stinging pain pierced his shoulder, and burned down his left arm like liquid fire. But he must not notice it. He was one of a unit. If any in their battalion failed, then others might fail. They must not fail! That rich oil country must be held at any cost. The captain's words seemed to still be on the air, close to his ear, though it was a long time since they had been spoken. But they rang in his heart clearly as at first. "Forward! Through these fires."
There came a moment with clear, ringing words of command when they struggled up to their feet and actually plunged through. The scorching heat! The roaring of the flames! The noise of planes overhead! The falling of more fire! All was confusion! Could they pass through?
Afterward there was fierce fighting. No time to think of wounds and the pain stinging down his arm. It was only a part of his job. He had to hold those oil wells!
The night was long, and there were more fires to cross. More fighting, the ground strewn with wounded and dying, nothing that one would want to remember if one ever got home. Home! Peace! Was there still such a place as home? Was there any peace anywhere?
A strange fleeting vision of a quiet morning, he on his way somewhere importantly, a young schoolboy in a world that still held joy. A little girl in a blue calico dress that matched her eyes, swinging on a gate as he passed. Just a little, little girl, swinging on a gate and giving him a shy smile as he passed. He didn't know the little girl. The family were newcomers in the neighborhood, but he smiled back and said, "Hello! Who are you?" And she had answered sweetly, "I'm Lexie." And he had laughed and said, "That's a cute name! Is it short for Lexicon?" But she had shaken her head and answered, "No. It's Alexia. Alexia Kendall," she replied in quite a reproving tone.
Strange that he should think of this now, so many years later, a brief detached picture of a child on a gate smiling, a cool morning with sunshine and birds, and a syringa bush near the little house that belonged to the midst of this scene of carnage, with the scorching smell of fire on his garments, and in his hair and eyebrows. Just a sweet little stranger in a quiet, bright morning with dew on the grass by the roadside, peace on the hills, and no walls of fire to cross! Strange! Ah! If he might just pause to think of that morning so long ago, it would rest him! But there were those wells, and more fire ahead, and the enemy, and overhead more planes! There came a flock of shells! The enemy again! Was he out of his head? This didn't seem real. Oh, why did these fires have to come? It was bad enough without them!
But now he was in the thick of the fight again, and his vision cleared. Strange how you could always go on when there was a need and you realized what it meant if you lost the fight! He must go on! Could he weather this awful heat again, with the pain in his shoulder to bear? Back there on that dewy morning going from his home to school, what would he have said if anyone had told him that this was what he had to do to prove his part in the righteousness of the world? Would he have dared to grow up and go on toward this?
But yes! He had to. A boy had to grow into a man. Did everyone have to go through a fire of some kind?
That little girl in the blue dress? Where was she? He had never seen her again since that morning. His parents had moved away from that town, and he had never gone back. Strange that he should remember her, a child. Even remember her name. Alexia Kendall! Would he ever see her again? And if he did, would he know her? Probably not. But if he ever came through this inferno and went back to his own land he would try to find her, and thank her for having come with that cool, happy memory of a little girl swinging on a gate, carefree and smiling. No wall of fire engulfing her! Oh no! God wouldn't ever let that happen to a pretty little thing like that. Little Alexia! She must be safe and happy. Why, that was why he had to win this war, to make the world safe for such little happy girls as that one! Of course! The very thought of it cooled and steadied his brain, kept his mind sane.
There! There came another shower of fire! Fire and dew side by side in his mind. Oh, these were fantastic thoughts! Was he going out of his head again? Oh, for a drop of that dew on the grass, that morning so long ago!
"If I ever get through I'll thank her, if I can find her!" he promised himself. "I'll pay tribute to her for helping me think this thing through."
* * *
Halfway round the earth, Alexia stood in a doorway, holding a telegram in her trembling hand, a cold tremor running over her as she read.
In the house, the same little house with the white fence where she had swung on the gate so many years ago, her bags were all packed to go back to college for her final term, with a delightful, important defense job promised her as soon as she was graduated.
And now here came this telegram right out of the blue, as it were, to hinder all her plans and tie her down to an intolerable existence with no outlook of relief ahead! This message might be laying the burden of a lifetime job on her slender shoulders. It was unthinkable! This couldn't be happening to her after she had worked so hard to get to the place she had reached.
Alexia's father had died a year after she had swung joyously on the gate that spring morning when Benedict Barron had passed by and seen her. But Alexia's mother had worked hard, a little sewing, a little catering, an occasional story or article written in the small hours of the night when her body was weary, but which brought in a small wage, and she had kept her little family together.
The family consisted of the two little girls. One a young stepdaughter a couple of years older than Lexie, and very badly spoiled by an old aunt who had had charge of her since her own mother had died and until her father married again.
It would have been easier for the mother after her husband's death, if this stepdaughter could have gone back to the aunt who had spoiled her and set her young feet in the wrong, selfish way. But the old aunt had died before the father, and there was no one else to care or to come to the rescue, so Alexia's mother did her brave best to teach the other girl to love her, to love her little sister, and to be less self-centered. She worked on, keeping a happy home behind the white gate, and putting away a little here, a little there, for the education she meant for both girls to have. Elaine was as well as her own little girl.
But Elaine was not bent on studies. She skimmed through three years of high school carrying on a lively flirtation with every boy in the grade, and cutting the rules of the institution right and left. Mrs. Kendall often had to go up to the school to meet with the principal and promise to do her best to make Elaine see the world as it was, and not as she wished it to be. And so with many a heartbreak and sigh, with tears of discouragement and prayers for patience, she dragged Elaine through high school by force, as it were, and landed her in a respectable college for young women where the mother hoped she would do better. But Elaine, during the latter half of her first year in college, ran away with a handsome boy from a boys' college not many miles away, and got married. So for a time the mother had only one girl to look after, and the way seemed a little easier. The boy who had married Elaine was the son of wealthy parents, and Mrs. Kendall hoped that at last Elaine would settle down and be happy under ideal circumstances where she could have all the luxury that her lazy little soul desired, and the way would be open for herself to have a little peace.
But they soon found out that they were by no means rid of Elaine. Again and again there would be trouble, and Elaine would come back plaintively to her long-suffering stepmother for help to settle her difficulties. The wealthy parents had not taken a liking to Elaine, in spite of her beauty and grace, and they soon discovered her tricky ways of procuring money from them that they would not have chosen to give. Again and again the stepmother would have to sacrifice something she needed, or something she had hoped to get Alexia, in order to cover some of the other girl's indiscretions. It ended finally in a sharp quarrel and a quick divorce, which not only failed to teach the selfish girl a lesson but also left her bitter and exceedingly hard to live with.
Excerpted from GI Brides by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThrough These Fires,
All Through the Night,
More Than Conqueror,
About the Author,