Over the summer of 1915, Robert is assigned to a detail whose job is to break wild mustangs who are intended as mounts for Canadian officers in France. After the horses are corralled, they discover that two are missing. Robert and Clifford Purchas, a former classmate of his at St. Andrew’s, volunteer to ride out into the prairie and look for them. As they ride, they playfully sing old hymns that they learned at school.
The detail’s role of breaking wild horses parallels their own transition from free civilians to enlisted soldiers. Although the young men are eager to prove themselves in war, Robert and Clifford’s lighthearted singing shows that they are not fully ready to surrender their adolescence.
Suddenly, Robert and Clifford come upon a shirtless figure throwing stones at a row of bottles, with a horse and a dog by his side. Clifford tells Robert that the man is Eugene Taffler, a Captain who had been wounded in France and was sent back to Canada. Taffler offers to help them look for the mustangs, but Robert declines. As Taffler throws stones, Clifford muses that it is a shame they are not playing football.
The difference between Clifford and Taffler shows how young men are forced to mature while at war. Though relatively close in age, Taffler is a decorated hero, while Clifford still longs for his innocent pastime of playing sports. This meeting foreshadows that Clifford, too, will undergo a similar transition from boyhood to manhood.
Taffler tells them that there are only one hundred yards between Canadian soldiers and the enemy lines, likening both sides to “one little David against another.” As Robert and Clifford leave, Robert wonders if Taffler really wants the challenge of a Goliath. While they ride away, Robert reflects that distance is the only safety in war.
Taffler’s comment is Robert and Clifford’s first insight into the harsh reality of war. Although they have imagined it to be glorious and have longed to be on the battlefield, Robert begins to feel sobered by the danger he will soon be up against.
Eventually, Robert and Clifford find the missing mustangs. On their way back, Robert thinks that Taffler may be the “model” he has been looking for to teach him how to be a David—someone who welcomes a powerful opponent and is not intimidated by killing.
Robert idolizes Taffler as the heroic soldier that he, too, hopes to become. His desire to learn how to kill without remorse shows that he is eager to make the transition from an innocent teenager to a formidable man.