France, 1916. A British Army sapper named Jack Firebrace sits on a trench step recovering from six hours of tunneling under no-man's land. His thoughts turn to his eight-year old son, whose birth and life awakened within Jack a poetry of parental warmth and perception that he had not thought himself capable of feeling:
Eight-and-a-half years earlier, when his wife had given birth to a son, Jack's life had changed.As the child grew, Jack noticed in him some quality he valued and which surprised him. The child was not worn down. In his innocence there was a kind of hope. Margaret laughed when Jack pointed this out to her. "He's only two years old," she said. "Of course he's innocent."
This was not what Jack had meant, but he could not put into words the effect that watching John had on him. He saw him as a creature who had come from another universe; but in Jack's eyes the place from which the boy had come was not just a different world but a better world. His innocence was not the same thing as ignorance; it was a powerful quality of goodness that was available to all people: it was perhaps what the prayer book called a means of grace, or a hope of glory.