The flushed and embarrassed subject of the discussion saw her lips move silently to the word.
"But his name is Trevor. Monsieur Trevor," said Phineas.
She smiled again. And the strange thing about her smile was that it was a matter of her lips and rarely of her eyes, which always maintained the haunting sadness of their tragic depths.
"Monsieur Trevor," she repeated imitatively. "And yours, monsieur?"
"Mac-Fele; c'est assez difficile. And yours?"
Mo guessed. "Shendish," said he.
She repeated that also, whereat Mo grinned fatuously, showing his little yellow teeth beneath his scrubby red moustache.
"My friends call me Mo," said he.
She grasped his meaning. "Mo," she said; and she said it so funnily and softly, and with ever so little a touch of quizzicality, that the sentimental warrior roared with delight.
"You've got it right fust time, miss."
From her two steps' height of vantage, she looked down on the three upturned British faces—and her eyes went calmly from one to the other.
She turned to Doggie. "One would say, monsieur, that you were the Three Musketeers."
"Possibly, mademoiselle," laughed Doggie. He had not felt so light-hearted for many months. "But we lack a d'Artagnan."
"When you find him, bring him to me," said the girl.
"Mademoiselle," said Phineas gallantly, "we would not be such imbeciles."
At that moment the voice of Toinette came from within.
"Ma'amselle Jeanne! Ma'amselle Jeanne!"
"Oui, oui, j'y viens," she cried. "Bon soir, messieurs," and she was gone.
Doggie looked into the empty vestibule and smiled at the friendly brandy cask. Provided it is pronounced correctly, so as to rhyme with the English "Anne," it is a very pretty name. Doggie thought she looked like Jeanne—a Jeanne d'Arc of this modern war.
"Yon's a very fascinating lassie," Phineas remarked soberly, as they started on their stroll. "Did you happen to observe that all the time she was talking so prettily she was looking at ghosts behind us?"
"Do you think so?" asked Doggie, startled.
"Man, I know it," replied Phineas.
"Ghosts be blowed!" cried Mo Shendish. "She's a bit of orl right, she is. What I call class. Doesn't chuck 'erself at yer 'ead, like some of 'em, and, on the other 'and, has none of yer blooming stand-orfishness. See what I mean?" He clutched them each by an arm—he was between them. "Look 'ere. How do you think I could pick up this blinking lingo—quick?"
"Make violent love to Toinette and ask her to teach you. There's nothing like it," said Doggie.
"The nice old lady in the kitchen."
Mo flung his arm away. "Oh, go and boil yourself!" said he.
* * * * *
But the making of love to the old woman in the kitchen led to possibilities of which Mo Shendish never dreamed. They never dawned on Doggie until he found himself at it that evening.
It was dusk. The men were lounging and smoking about the courtyard. Doggie, who had long since exchanged poor Taffy Jones's imperfect penny whistle for a scientific musical instrument ordered from Bond Street, was playing, with his sensitive skill, the airs they loved. He had just finished "Annie Laurie"—"Man," Phineas used to declare, "when Doggie Trevor plays 'Annie Laurie,' he has the power to take your heart by the strings and drag it out through your eyes"—he had just come to the end of this popular and gizzard-piercing tune and received his meed of applause, when Toinette came out of the kitchen, two great zinc crocks in her hands, and crossed to the pump in the corner of the yard. Three or four would-be pumpers, among them Doggie, went to her aid.
"All right, mother, we'll see to it," said one of them.
So they pumped and filled the crocks, and one man got hold of one and Doggie got hold of another, and they carried them to the kitchen steps.
"Merci, monsieur," said Toinette to the first; and he went away with a friendly nod. But to Doggie she said, "Entrez, monsieur." And monsieur carried the two crocks over the threshold and Toinette shut the door behind him. And there, sitting over some needlework in a corner of the kitchen by a lamp, sat Jeanne.
She looked up rather startled, frowned for the brief part of a second, and regarded him inquiringly.
"I brought in monsieur to show him the photograph of mon petiot, the comrade who sent me the snuff," explained Toinette, rummaging in a cupboard.
"May I stay and look at it?" asked Doggie, buttoning up his tunic.
"Mais parfaitement, monsieur," said Jeanne. "It is Toinette's kitchen."
"Bien sur," said the old woman, turning with the photograph, that of a solid young infantryman. Doggie made polite remarks. Toinette put on a pair of silver-rimmed spectacles and scanned the picture. Then she handed it to Jeanne.
"Don't you think there is a great deal of resemblance?"
Jeanne directed a comparing glance at Doggie and smiled.
"Like two little soldiers in a pod," she said.
Toinette talked of her petiot who was at St. Mihiel. It was far away, very far. She sighed as though he were fighting remote in the Caucasus.
Presently came the sharp ring of a bell. Jeanne put aside her work and rose.
"It is my aunt who has awakened."
But Toinette was already at the door. "I will go up, Ma'amselle Jeanne. Do not derange yourself."
She bustled away. Once more the pair found themselves alone together.
"If you don't continue your sewing, mademoiselle," said Doggie, "I shall think that I am disturbing you, and must bid you good night."
Jeanne sat down and resumed her work. A sensation, more like laughter than anything else, fluttered round Doggie's heart.
"Voulez-vous vous asseoir, Monsieur—Trevor?"
"Vous etes bien aimable, Mademoiselle Jeanne," said Doggie, sitting down on a straight-backed chair by the oilcloth-covered kitchen table which was between them.
"May I move the lamp slightly?" he asked, for it hid her from his view.
He moved it somewhat to her left. It threw shadows over her features, accentuating their appealing sadness. He watched her, and thought of McPhail's words about the ghosts. He noted too, as the needle went in and out of the fabric, that her hands, though roughened by coarse work, were finely made, with long fingers and delicate wrists. He broke a silence that grew embarrassing.
"You seem to have suffered greatly, Mademoiselle Jeanne," he said softly.
Her lips quivered. "Mais oui, monsieur."
"Monsieur Trevor," he said.
She put her hands and needlework in her lap and looked at him full.
"And you too have suffered?"
"I? Oh no."
"But, yes. I have seen too much of it not to know. I see in the eyes. Your two comrades to-day—they are good fellows—but they have not suffered. You are different."
"Not a bit," he declared. "We're just little indistinguishable bits of the conglomerate Tommy."
"And I, monsieur, have the honour to say that you are different."
This was very flattering. More—it was sweet unction, grateful to many a bruise.
"How?" said he.
"You do not belong to their world. Your Tommies are wonderful in their kindness and chivalry—until I met them I had never seen an Englishman in my life—I had imbecile ideas—I thought they would be without manners—un peu insultants. I found I could walk among them, without fear, as if I were a princess. It is true."
"It is because you have the air of a princess," said Doggie; "a sad little disguised princess of a fairy-tale, who is recognized by all the wild boars and rabbits in the wood."
She glanced aside. "There isn't a woman in Frelus who is differently treated. I am only an ignorant girl, half bourgeoise, half peasant, monsieur, but I have my woman's knowledge—and I know there is a difference between you and the others. You are a son of good family. It is evident. You have a delicacy of mind and of feeling. You were not born to be a soldier."
"Mademoiselle Jeanne," cried Doggie, "do I appear as bad as that? Do you take me for an embusque manque?"
Now an embusque is a slacker who lies in the safe ambush of a soft job. And an embusque manque is a slacker who fortuitously has failed to win the fungus wreath of slackerdom.
She flushed deep red.
"Je ne suis pas malhonnete, monsieur."
Doggie spread himself elbow-wise over the table. The girl's visible register of moods was fascinating.
"Pardon, Mademoiselle Jeanne. You are quite right. But it's not a question of what I was born to be—but what I was trained to be. I wasn't trained to be a soldier. But I do my best."
She looked at him waveringly.
"Forgive me, mademoiselle."
"But you flash out on the point of honour."
Doggie laughed. "Which shows that I have the essential of the soldier."
Doggie's manner was not without charm. She relented.
"You know very well what I mean," she said rebukingly. "And you don't deserve that I should tell it to you. It was my intention to say that you have sacrificed many things to make yourself a simple soldier."
"Only a few idle habits," said Doggie.
"You joined, like the rest, as a volunteer."
"You abandoned everything to fight for your country?"
Under the spell of her dark eyes Doggie spoke according to Phineas after the going West of Taffy Jones, "I think, Mademoiselle Jeanne, it was rather to fight for my soul."
She resumed her sewing. "That's what I meant long ago," she remarked with the first draw of the needle. "No one could fight for his soul without passing through suffering." She went on sewing. Doggie, shrinking from a reply that might have sounded fatuous, remained silent; but he realized a wonderful faculty of comprehension in Jeanne.
After awhile he said: "Where did you learn all your wisdom, Mademoiselle Jeanne?"
"At the convent, I suppose. My father gave me a good education."
"An English poet has said, 'Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers'"—Doggie had rather a fight to express the meaning exactly in French—"You don't gather wisdom in convents."
"It is true. Since then I have seen many things."
She stared across the room, not at Doggie, and he thought again of the ghosts.
"Tell me some of them, Mademoiselle Jeanne," he said in a low voice.
She shot a swift glance at him and met his honest brown eyes.
"I saw my father murdered in front of me," she said in a harsh voice.
"My God!" said Doggie.
"It was on the Retreat. We lived in Cambrai, my father and mother and I. He was a lawyer. When we heard the Germans were coming, my father, somewhat of an invalid, decided to fly. He had heard of what they had already done in Belgium. We tried to go by train. Pas moyen. We took to the road, with many others. We could not get a horse—we had postponed our flight till too late. Only a handcart, with a few necessaries and precious things. And we walked until we nearly died of heat and dust and grief. For our hearts were very heavy, monsieur. The roads, too, were full of the English in retreat. I shall not tell you what I saw of the wounded by the roadside. I sometimes see them now in my dreams. And we were helpless. We thought we would leave the main roads, and at last we got lost and found ourselves in a little wood. We sat down to rest and to eat. It was cool and pleasant, and I laughed, to cheer my parents, for they knew how I loved to eat under the freshness of the trees." She shivered. "I hope I shall never have to eat a meal in a wood again. We had scarcely begun when a body of cavalry, with strange pointed helmets, rode along the path and, seeing us, halted. My mother, half dead with terror, cried out, 'Mon Dieu, ce sont des Uhlans!' The leader, I suppose an officer, called out something in German. My father replied. I do not understand German, so I did not know and shall never know what they said. But my father protested in anger and stood in front of the horse making gestures. And then the officer took out his revolver and shot him through the heart, and he fell dead. And the murderer turned his horse's head round and he laughed. He laughed, monsieur."
"Damn him!" said Doggie, in English. "Damn him!"
He gazed deep into Jeanne's dark tearless eyes. She continued in the same even voice:
"My mother became mad. She was a peasant, a Bretonne, where the blood is fierce, and she screamed and clung to the bridle of the horse. And he rode her down and the horse trampled on her. Then he pointed at me, who was supporting the body of my father, and three men dismounted. But suddenly he heard something, gave an order, and the men mounted again, and they all rode away laughing and jeering, and the last man, in bad French, shouted at me a foul insult. And I was there, Monsieur Trevor, with my father dead and my mother stunned and bruised and bleeding."
Doggie, sensitive, quivered to the girl's tragedy: he said, with tense face:
"God give me strength to kill every German I see!"
She nodded slowly. "No German is a human being. If I were God, I would exterminate the accursed race like wolves."
"You are right," said Doggie. A short silence fell. He asked: "What happened then?"
"Mon Dieu, I almost forget. I was overwhelmed with grief and horror. Some hours afterwards a small body of English infantry came—many of them had bloodstained bandages. An officer who spoke a little French questioned me. I told him what had happened. He spoke with another officer, and because I recognized the word 'Uhlans,' I knew they were anxious about the patrol. They asked me the way to some place—I forget where. But I was lost. They looked at a map. Meanwhile my mother had recovered consciousness. I gave her a little wine from the bottle we had opened for our repast. I happened to look at the officer and saw him pass his tongue over his cracked lips. All the men had thrown themselves down by the side of the road. I handed him the bottle and the little tin cup. To my surprise, he did not drink. He said: 'Mademoiselle, this is war, and we are all in very great peril. My men are dying of thirst, and if you have any more of the wine, give it to them and they will do their utmost to conduct your mother and yourself to a place of safety.' Alas! there were only three bottles in our little basket of provisions. Naturally I gave it all—together with the food. He called a sergeant, who took the provisions and distributed them, while I was tending my mother. But I noticed that the two officers took neither bite nor sup. It was only afterwards, Monsieur Trevor, that I realized I had seen your great English gentlemen.... Then they dug a little grave, for my father.... It was soon finished ... the danger was grave ... and some soldiers took a rope and pulled the handcart, with my mother lying on top of our little possessions, and I walked with them, until the whole of my life was blotted out with fatigue. We got on to the Route Nationale again and mingled again with the Retreat. And in the night, as we were still marching, there was a halt. I went to my mother. She was cold, monsieur, cold and stiff. She was dead."
She paused tragically. After a few moments she continued:
"I fainted. I do not know what happened till I recovered consciousness at dawn. I found myself wrapped in one of our blankets, lying under the handcart. It was the market-square of a little town. And there were many—old men and women and children, refugees like me. I rose and found a paper—a leaf torn from a notebook—fixed to the handcart. It was from the officer, bidding me farewell. Military necessity forced him to go on with his men—but he had kept his word, and brought me to a place of safety.... That is how I first met the English, Monsieur Trevor. They had carried me, I suppose, on the handcart, all night, they who were broken with weariness. I owe them my life and my reason."
"And your mother?"
"How should I know? Elle est restee la-bas," she replied simply.
She went on with her sewing. Doggie wondered how her hand could be so steady. There was a long silence. What words, save vain imprecations on the accursed race, were adequate? Presently her glance rested for a second or two on his sensitive face.
"Why do you not smoke, Monsieur Trevor?"
"Of course. It calms the nerves. I ought not to have saddened you with my griefs."
Doggie took out his pink packet and lit a cigarette.
"You are very understanding, Mademoiselle Jeanne. But it does a selfish man like me good to be saddened by a story like yours. I have not had much opportunity in my life of feeling for another's suffering. And since the war—I am abruti."
"You? Do you think if I had not found you just the reverse, I should have told you all this?"
"You have paid me a great compliment, Mademoiselle Jeanne." Then, after awhile, he asked, "From the market-square of the little town you found means to come here?"
"Alas, no!" she said, putting her work in her lap again. "I made my way, with my handcart—it was easy—to our original destination, a little farm belonging to the eldest brother of my father. The Farm of La Folette. He lived there alone, a widower, with his farm-servants. He had no children. We thought we were safe. Alas! news came that the Germans were always advancing. We had time to fly. All the farm-hands fled, except Pere Grigou, who loved him. But my uncle was obstinate. To a Frenchman, the soil he possesses is his flesh and his blood. He would die rather than leave it. And my uncle had the murder of my father and mother on his brain. He told Pere Grigou to take me away, but I stayed with him. It was Pere Grigou who forced us to hide. That lasted two days. There was a well in the farm, and one night Pere Grigou tied up my money and my mother's jewellery and my father's papers, enfin, all the precious things we had, in a packet of waterproof and sank it with a long string down the well, so that the Germans could not find it. It was foolish, but he insisted. One day my uncle and Pere Grigou went out of the little copse where we had been hiding, in order to reconnoitre, for he thought the Germans might be going away; and my uncle, who would not listen to me, took his gun. Presently I heard a shot—and then another. You can guess what it meant. And soon Pere Grigou came, white and shaking with terror. 'Il en a tue un, et on l'a tue!'"
"My God!" said Doggie again.
"It was terrible," she said. "But they were in their right."
"We lay hidden until it was dark—how they did not find us I don't know—and then we escaped across country. I thought of coming here to my Aunt Morin, which is not far from La Folette, but I reflected that soon the Boches would be here also. And we went on. We got to a high road—and once more I was among troops and refugees. I met some kind folks in a carriage, a Monsieur and Madame Tarride, and they took me in. And so I got to Paris, where I had the hospitality of a friend of the Convent who was married."
"And Pere Grigou?"
"He insisted on going back to bury my uncle. Nothing could move him. He had not parted from him all his life. They were foster-brothers. Where he is now, who knows?" She paused, looked again at her ghosts, and continued: "That is all, Monsieur Trevor. The Germans passed through here and repassed on their retreat, and, as soon as it was safe, I came to help my aunt, who was souffrante, and had lost her son. Also because I could not live on charity on my friend, for, voyez-vous, I was without a sou—all my money having been hidden in the well by Pere Grigou."
Doggie leant his elbows on the table.
"And you have come through all that, Mademoiselle Jeanne, just as you are——?"
"How, just as I am?"
"So gentle and kind and comprehending?"
Her cheek flushed. "I am not the only Frenchwoman who has passed through such things and kept herself proud. But the struggle has been very hard."
Doggie rose and clenched his fists and rubbed his head from front to back in his old indecisive way, and began to swear incoherently in English. She smiled sadly.
"Ah, mon pauvre ami!"
He wheeled round: "Why do you call me 'mon pauvre ami'?"
"Because I see that you would like to help me and you can't."
"Jeanne," cried Doggie, bending half over the table which was between them.
She rose too, startled, on quick defensive. He said, in reply to her glance:
"Why shouldn't I call you Jeanne?"
"You haven't the right."
"What if I gain it?"
"I don't know," said Doggie.
The door burst suddenly open and the anxious face of Mo Shendish appeared.
"'Ere, you silly cuckoo, don't yer know you're on guard to-night? You've just got about thirty seconds."
"Good lord!" cried Doggie, "I forgot. Bon soir, mademoiselle. Service militaire," and he rushed out.
Mo lingered, with a grin, and jerked a backward thumb.
"If it weren't for old Mo, miss, I don't know what would happen to our friend Doggie. I got to look after him like a baby, I 'ave. He's on to relieve guard, and if old Mac—that's McPhail"—she nodded recognition of the name—"and I hadn't remembered, miss, he'd 'ave been in what yer might call a 'ole. Compree?"
"Oui. Yes," she said. "Garde. Sentinelle."
"Sentinel. Sentry. Right."
"He—was—late," she said, picking out her few English words from memory.
"Yuss," grinned Mo.
"Bless you, miss, you talk English as well as I do," cried the admiring Mo. "Yuss. When his turn comes, up and down in the street, by the gate." He saw her puzzled look. "Roo. Port," said he.
"Ah! oui, je comprends," smiled Jeanne. "Merci, monsieur, et bon soir."
"Good night, miss," said Mo.
Some time later he disturbed Phineas, by whose side he slept, from his initial preparation for slumber.
"Mac! Is there any book I could learn this blinking lingo from?"
"Try Ovid—'Art of Love,'" replied Phineas sleepily.
The spell of night sentry duty had always been Doggie's black hour. To most of the other military routine he had grown hardened or deadened. In the depths of his heart he hated the life as much as ever. He had schooled himself to go through it with the dull fatalism of a convict. It was no use railing at inexorable laws, irremediable conditions. The only alternative to the acceptance of his position was military punishment, which was far worse—to say nothing of the outrage to his pride. It was pride that kept the little ironical smile on his lips while his nerves were almost breaking with strain. The first time he came under fire he was physically sick—not from fear, for he stood it better than most, keeping an eye on his captain, whose function it was to show an unconcerned face—but from sheer nervous reaction against the hideous noise, the stench, the ghastly upheaval of the earth, the sight of mangled men. When the bombardment was over, if he had been alone, he would have sat down and cried. Never had he grown accustomed to the foulness of the trenches. The sounder his physical condition, the more did his delicately trained senses revolt. It was only when fierce animal cravings dulled these senses that he could throw himself down anywhere and sleep, that he could swallow anything in the way of food or drink. The rats nearly drove him crazy.... Yet, what had once been to him a torture, the indecent, nerve-rasping publicity of the soldier's life, had now become a compensation. It was not so much in companionship, like his friendly intercourse with Phineas and Mo, that he found an anodyne, but in the consciousness of being magnetically affected by the crowd of his fellows. They offered him protection against himself. Whatever pangs of self-pity he felt, whatever wan little pleadings for the bit of fine porcelain compelled to a rough usage which vessels of coarser clay could disregard came lingeringly into his mind, he dared not express them to a living soul around. On the contrary, he set himself assiduously to cultivate the earthenware habit of spirit; not to feel, not to think, only to endure. To a humorously incredulous Jeanne he proclaimed himself abruti. Finally, the ceaseless grind of the military machine left him little time to think.
But in the solitary sleepless hours of sentry duty there was nothing to do but think; nothing wherewith to while away the time but an orgy of introspection. First came the almost paralysing sense of responsibility. He must keep, not only awake, but alert to the slightest sound, the slightest movement. Lives of men depended on his vigilance. A man can't screw himself up to this beautifully emotional pitch for very long and be an efficient sentry. If he did, he would challenge mice and shoot at cloud-shadows and bring the deuce of a commotion about his ears. And this Doggie, who did not lack ordinary intelligence, realized. So he strove to think of other things. And the other things all focussed down upon his Doggie self. And he never knew what to make of his Doggie self at all. For he would curse the things that he once loved as being the cause of his inexpiable shame, and at the same time yearn for them with an agony of longing.
And he would force himself to think of Peggy and her unswerving loyalty. Of her weekly parcel of dainty food, which had arrived that morning. Of the joy of Phineas and the disappointment of the unsophisticated Mo over the pate de foie gras. But his mind wandered back to his Doggie self and its humiliations and its needs and its yearnings. He welcomed enemy flares and star-shells and excursions and alarms. They kept him from thinking, enabled him to pass the time. But in the dead, lonely, silent dark, the hours were like centuries. He dreaded them.
* * * * *
To-night they fled like minutes. It was a pitch-black night, spitting fine rain. It was one of Doggie's private grievances that it invariably rained when he was on sentry duty. One of Heaven's little ways of strafing him for Doggieism. But to-night he did not heed it. Often the passage of transport had been a distraction for which he had longed and which, when it came, was warmly welcome. But to-night, during his spell, the roadway of the village was as still as death, and he loved the stillness and the blackness. Once he had welcomed familiar approaching steps. Now he resented them.
"Who goes there?"
And the officer, recognized, flashing an electric torch, passed on. The diminuendo of his footsteps was agreeable to Doggie's ear. The rain dripped monotonously off his helmet on to his sodden shoulders, but Doggie did not mind. Now and then he strained an eye upwards to that part of the living-house that was above the gateway. Little streaks of light came downwards through the shutter slats. Now it required no great intellectual effort to surmise that the light proceeded, not from the bedroom of the invalid Madame Morin, who would naturally have the best bedroom situated in the comfortable main block of the house, but from that of somebody else. Madame Morin was therefore ruled out. So was Toinette—ridiculous to think of her keeping all night vigil. There remained only Jeanne.
It was supremely silly of him to march with super-martiality of tread up the pavement; but then, it is often the way of young men to do supremely silly things.
* * * * *
The next day was fuss and bustle, from the private soldier's point of view. They were marching back to the trenches that night, and a crack company must take over with flawless equipment and in flawless bodily health. In the afternoon Doggie had a breathing spell of leisure. He walked boldly into the kitchen.
"Madame," said he to Toinette, "I suppose you know that we are leaving to-night?"
The old woman sighed. "It is always like that. They come, they make friends, they go, and they never return."
"You mustn't make the little soldier weep, grand'mere," said Doggie.
"No. It is the grand'meres who weep," replied Toinette.
"I'll come back all right," said he. "Where is Mademoiselle Jeanne?"
"She is upstairs, monsieur."
"If she had gone out, I should have been disappointed," smiled Doggie.
"You desire to see her, monsieur?"
"To thank her before I go for her kindness to me."
The old face wrinkled into a smile.
"It was not then for the beaux yeux of the grand'mere that you entered?"
"Si, si! Of course it was," he protested. "But one, nevertheless, must be polite to mademoiselle."
"Aie! aie!" said the old woman, bustling out: "I'll call her."
Presently Jeanne came in alone, calm, cool, and in her plain black dress, looking like a sweet Fate. From the top of her dark brown hair to her trim, stout shoes, she gave the impression of being exquisitely ordered, bodily and spiritually.
"It was good of you to come," he cried, and they shook hands instinctively, scarcely realizing it was for the first time. But he was sensitive to the frank grip of her long and slender fingers.
"Toinette said you wished to see me."
"We are going to-night. I had to come and bid you au revoir!"
"Is the company returning?"
"So I hear the quartermaster says. Are you glad?"
"Yes, I am glad. One doesn't like to lose friends."
"You regard me as a friend, Jeanne?"
"Pour sur," she replied simply.
"Then you don't mind my calling you Jeanne?" said he.
"What does it matter? There are graver questions at stake in the world."
She crossed the kitchen and opened the yard door which Doggie had closed behind him. Meeting a query in his glance, she said:
"I like the fresh air, and I don't like secrecy."
She leaned against the edge of the table and Doggie, emboldened, seated himself on the corner by her side, and they looked out into the little flagged courtyard in which the men, some in grey shirt-sleeves, some in tunics, were lounging about among the little piles of accoutrements and packs. Here and there a man was shaving by the aid of a bit of mirror supported on a handcart. Jests and laughter were flung in the quiet afternoon air. A little group were feeding pigeons which, at the sight of crumbs, had swarmed iridescent from the tall colombier in the far corner near the gabled barn. As Jeanne did not speak, at last Doggie bent forward and, looking into her eyes, found them moist with tears.
"What is the matter, Jeanne?" he asked in a low voice.
"The war, mon ami," she replied, turning her face towards him, "the haunting tragedy of the war. I don't know how to express what I mean. If all those brave fellows there went about with serious faces, I should not be affected. Mais, voyez-vous, leur gaiete fait peur."
Their laughter frightened her. Doggie, with his quick responsiveness, understood. She had put into a phrase the haunting tragedy of the war. The eternal laughter of youth quenched in a gurgle of the throat.
He said admiringly: "You are a wonderful woman, Jeanne."
Her delicate shoulders moved, ever so little. "A woman? I suppose I am. The day before we fled from Cambrai it was my jour de fete. I was eighteen."
Doggie drew in his breath with a little gasp. He had thought she was older than he.
"I am twenty-seven," he said.
She looked at him calmly and critically. "Yes. Now I see. Until now I should have given you more. But the war ages people. Isn't it true?"
"I suppose so," said Doggie. Then he had a brilliant idea. "But when the war is over, we'll remain the same age for ever and ever."
"Do you think so?"
"I'm sure of it. We'll still both be in our twenties. Let us suppose the war puts ten years of experience and suffering, and what not, on to our lives. We'll only then be in our thirties—and nothing possibly can happen to make us grow any older. At seventy we shall still be thirty."
"You are consoling," she admitted. "But what if the war had added thirty years to one's life? What if I felt now an old woman of fifty? But yes, it is quite true. I have the feelings and the disregard of convention of a woman of fifty. If there had been no war, do you think I could have gone among an English army—sans gene—like an old matron? Do you think a jeune fille francaise bien elevee could have talked to you alone as I have done the past two days? Absurd. The explanation is the war."
Doggie laughed. "Vive la guerre!" said he.
"Mais non! Be serious. We must come to an understanding."
In her preoccupation she forgot the rules laid down for the guidance of jeunes filles bien elevees, and unthinkingly perched herself full on the kitchen table on the corner of which Doggie sat in a one-legged way. Doggie gasped again. All her assumed age fell from her like a garment. Youth proclaimed itself in her attitude and the supple lines of her figure. She was but a girl after all, a girl with a steadfast soul that had been tried in unutterable fires; but a girl appealing, desirable. He felt mighty protective.
"An understanding? All right," said he.
"I don't want you to go away and think ill of me—that I am one of those women—les affranchies I think they call them—who think themselves above social laws. I am not. I am bourgeoise to my finger-tips, and I reverence all the old maxims and prejudices in which I was born. But conditions are different. It is just like the priests who have been called into the ranks. To look at them from the outside, you would never dream they were priests—but their hearts and their souls are untouched."
She was so earnest, in her pathetic youthfulness, to put herself right with him, so unlike the English girls of his acquaintance, who would have taken this chance companionship as a matter of course, that his face lost the smile and became grave, and he met her sad eyes.
"That was very bravely said, Jeanne. To me you will be always the most wonderful woman I have ever known."
"What caused you to speak to me the first day?" she asked, after a pause.
"I explained to you—to apologize for staring rudely into your house."
"It was not because you said to yourself, 'Here is a pretty girl looking at me. I'll go and talk to her'?"
Doggie threw his leg over the corner of the table and stood on indignant feet.
"Jeanne! How could you——?" he cried.
She leaned back, her open palms on the table. The rare light came into her eyes.
"That's what I wanted to know. Now we understand each other, Monsieur Trevor."
"I wish you wouldn't call me Monsieur Trevor," said he.
"What else can I call you? I know no other name."
Now he had in his pocket a letter from Peggy, received that morning, beginning "My dearest Marmaduke." Peggy seemed far away, and the name still farther. He was deliberating whether he should say "Appelez-moi James" or "Appelez-moi Jacques," and inclining to the latter as being more picturesque and intimate, when she went on:
"Tenez, what is it your comrades call you? 'Doggie'?"
"Say that again."
He had never dreamed that the hated appellation could sound so adorable. Well—no one except his officers called him by any other name, and it came with a visible charm from her lips. It brought about the most fascinating flash of the tips of her white teeth. He laughed.
"A la guerre comme a la guerre. If you call me that, you belong to the regiment. And I promise you, it is a fine regiment."
"Eh bien, Monsieur Dog-gie——"
"There's no monsieur about it," he declared, very happily. "Tommies are not messieurs."
"I know one who is," said Jeanne.
So they talked in a young and foolish way, and Jeanne for a while forgot the tragedies that had gone and the tragedies that might come; and Doggie forgot both the peacock and ivory room and the fetid hole into which he would have to creep when the night's march was over. They talked of simple things. Of Toinette, who had been with Aunt Morin ever since she could remember.
"You have won her heart with your snuff."
"She has won mine with her discretion."
"Oh-h!" said Jeanne, shocked.
And so on and so forth, as they sat side by side on the kitchen table, swinging their feet. After a while they drifted to graver questions.
"What will happen to you, Jeanne, if your aunt dies?"
"Mon Dieu!" said Jeanne——
"But you will inherit the property, and the business?"
By no means. Aunt Morin had still a son, who was already very old. He must be forty-six. He had expatriated himself many years ago and was in Madagascar. The son who was killed was her Benjamin, the child of her old age. But all her little fortune would go to the colonial Gaspard, whom Jeanne had never seen.
But the Farm of La Folette?
"It has been taken and retaken by Germans and French and English, mon pauvre ami, until there is no farm left. You ought to understand that."
It was a thing that Doggie most perfectly understood: a patch of hideous wilderness, of poisoned, shell-scarred, ditch-defiled, barren, loathsome earth.
And her other relations? Only an uncle, her father's youngest brother, a cure in Douai in enemy occupation. She had not heard of him since the flight from Cambrai.
"But what is going to become of you?"
"So long as one keeps a brave heart what, does it matter? I am strong. I have a good enough education. I can earn my living. Oh, don't make any mistake. I have no pity for myself. Those who waste efforts in pitying themselves are not of the stuff to make France victorious."
"I am afraid I have done a lot of self-pitying, Jeanne."
"Don't do it any more," she said gently.
"I won't," said he.
"If you keep to the soul you have gained, you can't," said Jeanne.
"Toujours la sagesse."
"You are laughing at me."
"God forbid," said Doggie.
Phineas and Mo came strolling towards the kitchen door.
"My two friends, to pay their visit of adieu," said he.
Jeanne slid from the table and welcomed the newcomers in her calm, dignified way. Once more Doggie found himself regarding her as his senior in age and wisdom and conduct of life. The pathetic girlishness which she had revealed to him had gone. The age-investing ghosts had returned.
Mo grinned, interjected a British Army French word now and then, and manifested delight when Jeanne understood. Phineas talked laboriously, endeavouring to expound his responsibility for Doggie's welfare. He had been his tutor. He used the word "tuteur."
"That's a guardian, you silly ass," cried Doggie. "He means 'instituteur.' Go on. Or, rather, don't go on. The lady isn't interested."
"Mais si," said Jeanne, catching at the last English word. "It interests me greatly."
"Merci, mademoiselle," said Phineas grandly. "I only wish to explain to you that while I live you need have no fear for Doggie. I will protect him with my body from shells and promise to bring him safe back to you. And so will Monsieur Shendish."
"What's that?" asked Mo.
"Oui, oui, oui!" said Mo, nodding vigorously.
A spot of colour burned on Jeanne's pale cheek, and Doggie grew red under his tanned skin. He cursed Phineas below his breath, and exchanged a significant glance with Mo. Jeanne said, in her even voice:
"I hope all the Three Musketeers will come back safe."
Mo extended a grimy hand. "Well, good-bye, miss! McPhail here and I must be going."
She shook hands with both, wishing them bonne chance, and they strolled away. Doggie lingered.
"You mustn't mind what McPhail says. He's only an old imbecile."
"You have two comrades who love you. That is the principal thing."
"I think they do, each in his way. As for Mo——"
"Mo?" She laughed. "He is delicious."
"Well——" said he reluctantly, after a pause, "good-bye, Jeanne."
"If I shouldn't come back—I mean if we were billeted somewhere else—I should like to write to you."
"Well—Mademoiselle Bossiere, chez Madame Morin, Frelus. That is the address."
"And will you write too?"
Without waiting for a reply, he scribbled what was necessary on a sheet torn from a notebook and gave it to her. Their hands met.
"Au revoir, Jeanne."
"Au revoir, Dog-gie. But I shall see you again to-night."
"It is my secret. Bonne chance."
She smiled and turned to leave the kitchen. Doggie clattered into the yard.
"Been doin' a fine bit o' coartin', Doggie," said Private Appleyard from Taunton, who was sitting on a box near by and writing a letter on his knees.
"Not so much of your courting, Spud," replied Doggie cheerfully. "Who are you writing to? Your best girl?"
"I be writin' to my own lawful mizzus," replied Spud Appleyard.
"Then give her my love. Doggie Trevor's love," said Doggie, and marched away through the groups of men.
At the entrance to the barn he fell in with Phineas and Mo.
"Laddie," said the former, "although I meant it at the time as a testimony of my affection, I've been thinking that what I said to the young leddy may not have been over-tactful."
"It was taking it too much for granted," explained Mo, "that you and her were sort of keeping company."
"You're a pair of idiots," said Doggie, sitting down between them, and taking out his pink packet of Caporal. "Have a cigarette?"
"Not if I wos dying of——Look 'ere," said Mo, with the light on his face of the earnest seeker after Truth. "If a chap ain't got no food, he's dying of 'unger. If he ain't got no drink, he's dying of thirst. What the 'ell is he dying of if he ain't got no tobakker?"
"Army Service Corps," said Phineas, pulling out his pipe.
* * * * *
It was dark when A Company marched away. Doggie had seen nothing more of Jeanne. He was just a little disappointed; for she had promised. He could not associate her with light words. Yet perhaps she had kept her promise. She had said "Je vous verrai." She had not undertaken to exhibit herself to him. He derived comfort from the thought. There was, indeed, something delicate and subtle and enchanting in the notion. As on the previous day, the fine weather had changed with the night and a fine rain was falling. Doggie, an indistinguishable pack-laden ant in the middle of the four-abreast ribbon of similar pack-laden ants, tramped on in silence, thinking his own thoughts. A regiment going back to the trenches in the night is, from the point of view of the pomp and circumstance of glorious war, a very lugubrious procession. The sight of it would have hurt an old-time poet. An experienced regiment has no lovely illusions. It knows what it is going to, and the knowledge makes it serious. It would much rather be in bed or on snug straw than plodding through the rain to four days and nights of eternal mud and stinking high-explosive shell. It sets its teeth and is a very stern, silent, ugly conglomeration of men.
"—— (the adjective) night," growled Doggie's right-hand neighbour.
"—— (the adjective)" Doggie responded mechanically.
But to Doggie it was less "——" (adjective as before) than usual. Jeanne's denunciation of self-pity had struck deep. Compared with her calamities, half of which would have been the stock-in-trade of a Greek dramatist wherewith to wring tears from mankind for a couple of thousand years, what were his own piffling grievances? As for the "——" night, instead of a drizzle he would have welcomed a waterspout. Something that really mattered.... Let the heavens or the Hun rain molten lead. Something that would put him on an equality with Jeanne.... Jeanne, with her dark haunting eyes and mobile lips, and her slim young figure and her splendid courage. A girl apart from the girls he had known, apart from the women he had known, the women whom he had imagined—and he had not imagined many—his training had atrophied such imaginings of youth. Jeanne. Again her name conjured up visions of the Great Jeanne of Domremy. If only he could have seen her once again!
At the north end of the village the road took a sharp twist, skirting a bit of rising ground. There was just a glimmer of a warning light which streamed athwart the turning ribbon of laden ants. And as Doggie wheeled through the dim ray he heard a voice that rang out clear:
He looked up swiftly. Caught the shadow of a shadow. But it was enough. It was Jeanne. She had kept her promise. The men responded incoherently, waving their hands, and Doggie's shout of "Merci!" was lost. But though he knew, with a wonderful throbbing knowledge, that Jeanne's cry was meant for him alone, he was thrilled by his comrades' instant response to Jeanne's voice. Not a man but he knew that it was Jeanne. But no matter. The company paid homage to Jeanne. Jeanne who had come out in the rain and the wind and the dark, and had waited, waited, to redeem her promise. "C'est mon secret."
He ploughed on. Left, right! Thud, thud! Left, right! Jeanne, Jeanne!
In the village of Frelus life went on as before. The same men, though a different regiment, filled its streets and its houses; for by what signs could the inhabitants distinguish one horde of English infantrymen from another? Once a Highland battalion had been billeted on them, and for the first day or so they derived some excitement from the novelty of the costume; the historic Franco-Scottish tradition still lingered, and they welcomed the old allies of France with especial kindliness; but they found that the habits and customs of the men in kilts were identical, in their French eyes, with those of the men in trousers. It is true the Scotch had bagpipes. The village turned out to listen to them in whole-eyed and whole-eared wonder. And the memory of the skirling music remained indelible. Otherwise there was little difference. And when a Midland regiment succeeded a South Coast regiment, where was the difference at all? They might be the same men.
Jeanne, standing by the kitchen door, watching the familiar scene in the courtyard, could scarcely believe there had been a change. Now and again she caught herself wondering why she could not pick out any one of her Three Musketeers. There were two or three soldiers, as usual, helping Toinette with her crocks at the well. There she was, herself, moving among them, as courteously treated as though she were a princess. Perhaps these men, whom she heard had come from manufacturing centres, were a trifle rougher in their manners than her late guests; but the intention of civility and rude chivalry was no less sincere. They came and asked for odds and ends very politely. To all intents and purposes they were the same set of men. Why was not Doggie among them? It seemed very strange.
After a while she made some sort of an acquaintance with a sergeant who had a few words of French and appeared anxious to improve his knowledge of the language. He explained that he had been a teacher in what corresponded to the French Ecoles Normales. He came from Birmingham, which he gave her to understand was a glorified Lille. She found him very earnest, very self-centred in his worship of efficiency. As he had striven for his class of boys, so now was he striving for his platoon of men. In a dogmatic way he expounded to her ideals severely practical. In their few casual conversations he interested her. The English, from the first terrible day of their association with her, had commanded her deep admiration. But until lately—in the most recent past—her sex, her national aloofness and her ignorance of English, had restrained her from familiar talk with the British Army. But now she keenly desired to understand this strange, imperturbable, kindly race. She put many questions to the sergeant—always at the kitchen door, in full view of the courtyard, for she never thought of admitting him into the house—and his answers, even when he managed to make himself intelligible, puzzled her exceedingly. One of his remarks led her to ask for what he was fighting, beyond his apparently fixed idea of the efficiency of the men under his control. What was the spiritual idea at the back of him?
"The democratization of the world and the universal brotherhood of mankind."
"When the British Lion shall lie down with the German Lamb?"
He flashed a suspicious glance. Strenuous schoolmasters in primary schools have little time for the cultivation of a sense of humour.
"Something of the sort must be the ultimate result of the war."
"But in the meantime you have got to change the German wolf into the petit mouton. How are you going to do it?"
"By British efficiency. By proving to him that we are superior to him in every way. We'll teach him that it doesn't pay to be a wolf."
"And do you think he will like being transformed into a lamb, while you remain a lion?"
"I don't suppose so, but we'll give him his chance to try to become a lion too."
Jeanne shook her head. "No, monsieur, wolf he is and wolf he will remain. A wolf with venomous teeth. The civilized world must see that the teeth are always drawn."
"I'm speaking of fifty years hence," said the sergeant.
"And I of three hundred years hence."
"You're mistaken, mademoiselle."
Jeanne shook her head. "No. I'm not mistaken. Tell me. Why do you want to become brother to the Boche?"
"I'm not going to be his brother till the war's over," said the sergeant stolidly. "At present I am devoting all my faculties to killing as many of him as I can."
She smiled. "Sufficient for the day is the good thereof. Go on killing them, monsieur. The more you kill the fewer there will be for your children and your grandchildren to lie down with."
She left him and tried to puzzle out his philosophy. For the ordinary French philosophy of the war is very simple. They have no high-falutin, altruistic ideas of improving the Boche. They don't care a tinker's curse what happens to the unholy brood beyond the Rhine, so long as they are beaten, humiliated, subjected: so long as there is no chance of their ever deflowering again with their brutality the sacred soil of France. The French mind cannot conceive the idea of this beautiful brotherhood; but, on the contrary, rejects it as something loathsome, something bordering on spiritual defilement....
No; Jeanne could not accept the theory that we were waging war for the ultimate chastening and beatification of Germany. She preferred Doggie's reason for fighting. For his soul. There was something which she could grip. And having gripped it, it was something around which her imagination could weave a web of noble fancy. After all, when she came to think of it, every one of the Allies must be fighting for his soul. For his soul's sake had not her father died? Although she knew no word of German, it was obvious that the Uhlan officer had murdered him because he had refused to betray his country. And her uncle. To fight for his soul, had he not gone out with his heroic but futile sporting gun? And this pragmatical sergeant? What else had led him from his schoolroom to the battlefield? Why couldn't he be honest about it, like Doggie?
She missed Doggie. He ought to be there, as she had often seen him unobserved, talking with his friends or going about his military duties, or playing the flageolet with the magical touch of the musician. She knew far more of Doggie than he was aware of ... And at night she prayed for the little English soldier who was facing Death.
She had much time to think of him during the hours when she sat by the bedside of Aunt Morin, who talked incessantly of Francois-Marie who was killed on the Argonne, and Gaspard who, as a territorial, was no doubt defending Madagascar from invasion. And it was pleasant to think of him, because he was a new distraction from tragical memories. He seemed to lay the ghosts ... He was different from all the Englishmen she had met. The young officers who had helped her in her flight, had very much the same charm of breeding, very much the same intonation of voice; instinctively she knew him to be of the same social caste; but they, and the officers whom she saw about the street and in the courtyard, when duty called them there, had the military air of command. And this her little English soldier had not. Of course, he was only a private, and privates are trained to obedience. She knew that perfectly well. But why was he not commanding instead of obeying? There was a reason for it. She had seen it in his eyes. She wished she had made him talk more about himself. Perhaps she had been unsympathetic and selfish. He assumed, she reflected, a certain cranerie with his fellows—and cranerie is "swagger" bereft of vulgarity—we have no word to connote its conception in a French mind—and she admired it; but her swift intuition pierced the assumption. She divined a world of hesitancies behind the Musketeer swing of the shoulders. He was so gentle, so sensitive, so quick to understand. And yet so proud. And yet again so unconfessedly dependent. Her woman's protective instinct responded to a mute appeal.
"But, Ma'amselle Jeanne, you are wet through, you are perished with cold. What folly have you been committing?" Toinette scolded, when she returned after wishing Doggie the last "bonne chance."
"The folly of putting my Frenchwoman's heart (mon coeur de Francaise) into the hands of a brave little soldier to fight with him in the trenches."
"Mon Dieu, ma'amselle, you had better go straight to bed, and I will bring you a bon tilleul, which will calm your nerves and produce a good perspiration."
So Toinette put Jeanne to bed and administered the infallible infusion of lime leaves, and Jeanne was never the worse for her adventure. But the next day she wondered a little why she had undertaken it. She had a vague idea that it paid a little debt of sympathy.
An evening or two afterwards Jeanne was sewing in the kitchen when Toinette, sitting in the arm-chair by the extinct fire, fished out of her pocket the little olive-wood box with the pansies and forget-me-nots on the lid, and took a long pinch of snuff. She did it with somewhat of an air which caused Jeanne to smile.
"Dites donc, Toinette, you are insupportable with your snuff-box. One would say a marquise of the old school."
"Ah, Ma'amselle Jeanne," said the old woman, "you must not laugh at me. I was just thinking that, if anything happened to the petit monsieur, I couldn't have the heart to go on putting his snuff up my old nose."
"Nothing will happen to him," said Jeanne.
The old woman sighed and re-engulfed the snuff-box. "Who knows? From one minute to another who knows whether the little ones who are dear to us are alive or dead?"
"And this petit monsieur is dear to you, Toinette?" Jeanne asked, in her even voice, without looking up from her sewing.
"Since he resembles my petiot."
"He will come back," said Jeanne.
"I hope so," said the old woman mournfully.
In spite of manifold duties, Jeanne found the days curiously long. She slept badly. The tramp of the sentry below her window over the archway brought her no sense of comfort, as it had done for months before the coming of Doggie. All the less did it produce the queer little thrill of happiness which was hers when, looking down through the shutter slats she had identified in the darkness, on a change of guard, the little English soldier to whom she had spoken so intimately. And when he had challenged the rounds, she had recognized his voice.... If she had obeyed an imbecile and unmaidenly impulse, she would have drawn open the shutter and revealed herself. But apart from maidenly shrinkings, familiarity with war had made her realize the sacred duties of a sentry, and she had remained in discreet seclusion, awake until his spell was over. But now the rhythmical beat of the heavy boots kept her from sleeping and would have irritated her nerves intolerably had not her sound common sense told her that the stout fellow who wore them was protecting her from the Hun, together with a million or so of his fellow-countrymen.
She found herself counting the days to Doggie's return.
"At last, it is to-morrow!" she said to Toinette.
"What is it to-morrow?" asked the old woman.
"The return of our regiment," replied Jeanne.
"That is good. We have a regiment now," said Toinette ironically.
The Midland company marched away—as so many had marched away before; but Jeanne did not go to the little embankment at the turn of the road to wish anyone good luck. She stood at the house door, as she had always done, to watch them pass in the darkness; for there is always something in the sight of men going into battle which gives you a lump in the throat. For Jeanne it had almost grown into a religious practice.
The sergeant had told her that the new-comers would arrive at dawn. She slept a little; awoke with a start as day began to break; dressed swiftly, and went downstairs to wait. And then her ear caught the rumble and the tramp of the approaching battalion. Presently transport rolled by, and squads of men, haggard in the grey light, bending double under their packs, staggered along to their billets. And then came a rusty crew, among whom she recognized McPhail's tall gaunt figure. She stood by the gateway, bareheaded, in her black dress and blue apron, defying the sharp morning air, and watched them pass through. She saw Mo Shendish, his eyes on the heels of the man in front. She recognized nearly all. But the man she looked for was not there.
He could not have passed without her seeing him; but as soon as the gateway was clear, she ran into the courtyard and fled across it to cut off the men. There was no Doggie. Blank disappointment was succeeded by sudden terror.
Phineas saw her coming. He stumbled up to her, dropped his pack at her feet, and spread out both his hands. She lost sight of the horde of weary clay-covered men around her. She cried:
"Where is he?"
"I don't know."
"He is dead?"
"No one knows."
"But you must know, you!" cried Jeanne, with a new fear in her eyes which Phineas could not bear to meet. "You promised to bring him back."
"It was not my fault," said Phineas. "He was out last night—no, the night before, this is morning—repairing barbed wire. I was not with him."
"Mais, mon Dieu, why not?"
"Because the duties of soldiers are arranged for them by their officers, mademoiselle."
"It is true. Pardon. But continue."
"A party went out to repair wire. It was quite dark. Suddenly a German rifle-shot gave the alarm. The enemy threw up star-shells and the front trenches on each side opened fire. The wiring party, of course, lay flat on the ground. One of them was wounded. When it was all over—it didn't last long—our men got back, bringing the wounded man."
"He is severely wounded? Speak," cried Jeanne.
"The wounded man was not Doggie. Doggie went out with the party, but he did not come back. That's why I said no one knows where he is."
She stiffened. "He is lying out there. He is dead."
"Shendish and I and Corporal Wilson over there, who was with the party, got permission to go out and search. We searched all round where the repair had been going on. But we could not find him."
"Merci! I ought not to have reproached you," she said steadily. "C'est un grand malheur."
"You are right. Life for me is no longer of much value."
She looked at him in her penetrating way.
"I believe you," she said. "For the moment, au revoir. You must be worn out with fatigue."
She left him and walked through the straggling men, who made respectful way for her. All knew of her friendship with Doggie Trevor and all realized the nature of this interview. They liked Doggie because he was good-natured and plucky, and never complained and would play the whistle on march as long as breath enough remained in his body. As his uncle, the Dean, had said, breed told. In a curious, half-grudging way they recognized the fact. They laughed at his singular inefficiency in the multitudinous arts of the handy-man, proficiency in which is expected from the modern private, but they knew that he would go on till he dropped. And knowing that, they saved him from many a reprimand which his absurd efforts in the arts aforesaid would have brought upon him. And now that Doggie was gone, they deplored his loss. But so many had gone. So many had been deplored. Human nature is only capable of a certain amount of deploring while retaining its sanity. The men let the pale French girl, who was Doggie Trevor's friend, pass by in respectful silence—and that, for them, was their final tribute to Doggie Trevor.
Jeanne passed into the kitchen. Toinette drew a sharp breath at the sight of her face.
"Quoi? Il n'est pas la?"
"No," said Jeanne. "He is wounded." It was impossible to explain to Toinette.
"They don't know."
"Oh, la, la!" sighed Toinette. "That always happens. That is what I told you."
"We have no time to think of such things," said Jeanne.
The regimental cooks came up for the hot water, and soon the hungry, weary, nerve-racked men were served with the morning meal. And Jeanne stood in the courtyard in front of the kitchen door and helped with the filling of the tea-kettles, as though no little English soldier called "Dog-gie" had ever existed in the regiment.
The first pale shaft of sunlight fell upon the kitchen side of the courtyard, and in it Jeanne stood illuminated. It touched the shades of gold in her dark brown hair, and lit up her pale face and great unsmiling eyes. But her lips smiled valiantly.
"What do yer think, Mac," said Mo Shendish, squatting on the flagstones, "do you think she was really sweet on him?"
"Man," replied Phineas, similarly engaged, "all I know is that she has added him to her collection of ghosts. It's not an over-braw company for a lassie to live with."
And then, soon afterwards, the trench-broken men stumbled into the barn to sleep, and all was quiet again, and Jeanne went about her daily tasks with the familiar hand of death once more closing icily around her heart.
The sick-room was very hot, and Aunt Morin very querulous. Jeanne opened a window, but Aunt Morin complained of currents of air. Did Jeanne want to kill her? So Jeanne closed the window. The internal malady from which Aunt Morin suffered, and from which it was unlikely that she would recover, caused her considerable pain from time to time; and on these occasions she grew fractious and hard to bear with. The retired septuagenarian village doctor who had taken the modest practice of his son, now far away with the Army, advised an operation. But Aunt Morin, with her peasant's prejudice, declined flatly. She knew what happened in those hospitals where they cut people up just for the pleasure of looking at their insides. She was not going to let a lot of butchers amuse themselves with her old carcass. Oh non! When it pleased the bon Dieu to take her, she was ready: the bon Dieu required no assistance from ces messieurs. And even if she had consented, how to take her to Paris, and once there, how to get the operation performed, with all the hospitals full and all the surgeons at the Front? The old doctor shrugged his shoulders and kept life in her as best he might.
To-day, in the close room, she told a long story of the doctor's neglect. The medicine he gave her was water and nothing else—water with nothing in it. And to ask people to pay for that! She would not pay. What would Jeanne advise?
"Oui, ma tante," said Jeanne.
"Oui, ma tante? But you are not listening to what I say. At the least one can be polite."
"I am listening, ma tante."
"You should be grateful to those who lodge and nourish you."
"I am grateful, ma tante," said Jeanne patiently.
Aunt Morin complained of being robbed on all sides. The doctor, Toinette, Jeanne, the English soldiers—the last the worst of all. Besides not paying sufficiently for what they had, they were so wasteful in the things they took for nothing. If they begged for a few faggots to make a fire, they walked away with the whole woodstack. She knew them. But all soldiers were the same. They thought that in time of war civilians had no rights. One of these days she would get up and come downstairs and see for herself the robbery that was going on.
The windows were tightly sealed. The sunlight hurting Aunt Morin's eyes, the outside shutters were half closed. The room felt like a stuffy, overheated, overcrowded sepulchre. An enormous oak press, part of her Breton dowry, took up most of the side of one wall. This, and a great handsome chest, a couple of tables, a stiff arm-chair, were all too big for the moderately sized apartment. Coloured prints of sacred subjects, tilted at violent angles, seemed eager to occupy as much air-space as possible. And in the middle of the floor sprawled the vast oaken bed, with its heavy green brocade curtains falling tentwise from a great tarnished gilt crown in the ceiling.
Jeanne said nothing. What was the good? She shifted the invalid's hot pillow and gave her a drink of tisane, moving about the over-furnished, airless room in her calm and efficient way. Her face showed no sign of trouble, but an iron band clamped her forehead above her burning eyes. She could perform her nurse's duties, but it was beyond her power to concentrate her mind on the sick woman's unending litany of grievances. Far away beyond that darkened room, beyond that fretful voice, she saw vividly a hot waste, hideous with holes and rusted wire and shapes of horror; and in the middle of it lay huddled up a little khaki-clad figure with the sun blazing fiercely in his unblinking eyes. And his very body was beyond the reach of man, even of the most lion-hearted.
"Mais qu'as-tu, ma fille?" asked Aunt Morin. "You do not speak. When people are ill they need to be amused."
"I am sorry, ma tante, but I am not feeling very well to-day. It will pass."
"I hope so. Young people have no business not to feel well. Otherwise what is the good of youth?"
"It is true," Jeanne assented.
But what, she thought, was indeed the good of youth, in these terrible days of war? Her own was but a panorama of death.... And now one more figure, this time one of youth too, had joined it.
Toinette came in.
"Ma'amselle Jeanne, there are two English officers downstairs who wish to speak to you."
"What do they want?" Jeanne asked wearily.
"They do not say. They just ask for Ma'amselle Bossiere."
"They never leave one in peace, ces gens-la," grumbled Aunt Morin. "If they want more concessions in price, do not let them frighten you. Go to Monsieur le Maire to have it arranged with justice. These people would eat the skin off your back. Remember, Jeanne."
"Bien, ma tante," said Jeanne.
She went downstairs, conscious of gripping herself in order to discuss with the officers whatever business of billeting was in hand. For she had dealt with all such matters since her arrival in Frelus. She reached the front door and saw a dusty car with a military chauffeur at the wheel and two officers, standing on the pavement at the foot of the steps. One she recognized as the commander of the company to which her billeted men belonged. The other was a stranger, a lieutenant, with a different badge on his cap. They were talking and laughing together, like old friends newly met, which by one of the myriad coincidences of the war was really the case. On the appearance of Jeanne they drew themselves up and saluted politely.
"Oui, monsieur." Then, "Will you enter, messieurs?"
They entered the vestibule where the great cask gleamed in its polished mahogany and brass. She bade them be seated.
"Mademoiselle, Captain Willoughby tells me that you had billeted here last week a soldier by the name of Trevor," said the stranger, in excellent French, taking out notebook and pencil.
Jeanne's lips grew white. She had not suspected their errand.
"Did you have much talk with him?"
"Pardon my indiscretion, mademoiselle—it is military service, and I am an Intelligence officer—but did you tell him about your private affairs?"
"Very intimately," said Jeanne.
The Intelligence officer made a note or two and smiled pleasantly—but Jeanne could have struck him for daring to smile. "You had every reason for thinking him a man of honour?"
"What's the good of asking her that, Smithers?" Captain Willoughby interrupted in English. "Haven't I given you my word? The man's a mysterious little devil, but any fool can see that he's a gentleman."
"What do you say?" Jeanne asked tensely.
"Je parle francais tres peu," replied Captain Willoughby with an air of regret.
Smithers explained. "Monsieur le Capitaine says that he guarantees the honesty of the soldier, Trevor."
Jeanne flashed, rigid. "Who could doubt it, monsieur? He was a gentleman, a fils de famille, of the English aristocracy."
"Excuse me for a moment," said Smithers.
He went out. Jeanne, uncomprehending, sat silent. Captain Willoughby, cursing an idiot education, composed in his head a polite French sentence concerning the weather, but before he had finished Smithers reappeared with a strange twisted packet in his hand. He held it out to Jeanne.
"Mademoiselle, do you recognize this?"
She looked at it dully for a moment; then suddenly sprang to her feet and clenched her hands and stared open-mouthed. She nodded. She could not speak. Her brain swam. They had come to her about Doggie, who was dead, and they showed her Pere Grigou's packet. What was the connection between the two?
Willoughby rose impulsively. "For God's sake, Smithers, let her down easy. She'll be fainting all over the place in a minute."
"If this is your property, mademoiselle," said Smithers, laying the packet on the chenille-covered table, "you have to thank your friend Trevor for restoring it to you."
She put up both hands to her reeling head.
"But he is dead, monsieur!"
"Not a bit of it. He's just as much alive as you or I."
Jeanne swayed, tried to laugh, threw herself half on a chair, half over the great cask, and broke down in a passion of tears.
The two men looked at each other uncomfortably.
"For exquisite tact," said Willoughby, "commend me to an Intelligence officer."
"But how the deuce was I to know?" Smithers muttered with an injured air. "My instructions were to find out the truth of a cock-and-bull story—for that's what it seemed to come to. And a girl in billets—well—how was I to know what she was like?"
"Anyhow, here we've got hysterics," said Willoughby.
"But who told her the fellow was dead?"
"Why, his pals. I thought so myself. When a man's missing where's one to suppose him to be—having supper at the Savoy?"
"Well, I give women up," said Smithers. "I thought she'd be glad."
"I believe you're a married man?"
"Yes, of course."
"Well, I ain't," said Willoughby, and in a couple of strides he stood close to Jeanne. He laid a gentle hand on her heaving shoulders.
"Pas tue! Soolmong blesse," he shouted.
She sprang, as it were, to attention, like a frightened recruit.
"He is wounded?"
"Not very seriously, mademoiselle." Smithers, casting an indignant glance at his superior officer's complacent smile, reassumed mastery of the situation. "A Boche sniper got him in the leg. It will put him out of service for a month or two. But there is no danger."
"Grace a Dieu!" said Jeanne.
She leaned for a while against the cask, her hands behind her, looking away from the two men. And the two young men stood, somewhat embarrassed, looking away from her and from each other. At last she said, with an obvious striving for the even note in her voice:
"I ask your pardon, messieurs, but sometimes sudden happiness is more overwhelming than misfortune. I am now quite at your service."
"My God! she's a wonder," murmured Willoughby, who was fair, unmarried, and impressionable. "Go on with your dirty work."
Smithers, conscious of linguistic superiority—in civil life he had been concerned with the wine trade in Bordeaux—proceeded to carry out his instructions. He turned over a leaf in his notebook and poised a ready pencil.
"I must ask you, mademoiselle, some formal questions."
"Perfectly, monsieur," said Jeanne.
"Where was this packet when last you saw it?"
She made her statement, calmly.
"Can you tell me its contents?"
"Not all, monsieur. I, as a young girl, was not in the full confidence of my parents. But I remember my uncle saying there were about twenty thousand francs in notes, some gold—I know not how much—some jewellery of my mother's—oh, a big handful!—rings—one a hoop of emeralds and diamonds—a brooch with a black pearl belonging to my great-grandmother——"
"It is enough, mademoiselle," said Smithers, jotting down notes. "Anything else besides money and jewellery?"
"There were papers of my father, share certificates, bonds—que sais-je, moi?"
Smithers opened the packet, which had already been examined.
"You're a witness, sir, to the identification of the property."
"No," said Willoughby, "I'm just a baby captain of infantry, and wonder why the brainy Intelligence department doesn't hand the girl her belongings and decently clear out."
"I've got to make my report, sir," said Smithers stiffly.
So the schedule was produced and the notes were solemnly counted, twenty-one thousand five hundred francs, and the gold four hundred francs, and the jewels were identified, and the bonds, of which Jeanne knew nothing, were checked by a list in her father's handwriting, and Jeanne signed a paper with Smithers's fountain-pen, and Willoughby witnessed her signature, and thus she entered into possession of her heritage.
The officers were about to depart, but Jeanne detained them.
"Messieurs, you must pardon me, but I am quite bewildered. As far as I can understand, Monsieur Trevor rescued the packet from the well at my uncle's farm of La Folette, and got wounded in doing so."
"That is quite so," said Smithers.
"But, monsieur, they tell me he was with a party in front of his trench mending wire. How did he reach the well of La Folette? I don't comprehend at all."
Smithers turned to Willoughby.
"Yes. How the dickens did he know the exact spot to go for?"
"We had taken over a new sector, and I was getting the topography right with a map. Trevor was near by doing nothing, and as he's a man of education, I asked him to help me. There was the site of the farm marked by name, and the ruined well away over to the left in No Man's Land. I remember the beggar calling out 'La Folette!' in a startled voice, and when I asked him what was the matter, he said 'Nothing, sir!'"
Smithers translated, and continued: "You see, mademoiselle, this is what happened, as far as I am concerned. I belong to the Lancashire Fusiliers. Our battalion is in the trenches farther up the line than our friends. Well, just before dawn yesterday morning a man rolled over the parapet into our trench, and promptly fainted. He had been wounded in the leg, and was half dead from loss of blood. Under his tunic was this package. We identified him and his regiment, and fixed him up and took him to the dressing-station. But things looked very suspicious. Here was a man who didn't belong to us with a little fortune in loot on his person. As soon as he was fit to be interrogated, the C.O. took him in hand. He told the C.O. about you and your story. He regarded the nearness of the well as something to do with Destiny, and resolved to get you back your property—if it was still there. The opportunity occurred when the wiring party was alarmed. He crept out to the ruins by the well, fished out the packet, and a sniper got him. He managed to get back to our lines, having lost his way a bit, and tumbled into our trench."
"But he was in danger of death all the time," said Jeanne, losing the steadiness of her voice.
"He was. Every second. It was one of the most dare-devil, scatter-brained things I've ever heard of. And I've heard of many, mademoiselle. The only pity is that instead of being rewarded, he will be punished."
"Punished?" cried Jeanne.
"Not very severely," laughed Smithers. "Captain Willoughby will see to that. But reflect, mademoiselle. His military duty was to remain with his comrades, not to go and risk his life to get your property. Anyhow, it is clear that he was not out for loot.... Of course, they sent me here as Intelligence officer, to get corroboration of his story." He paused for a moment. Then he added: "Mademoiselle, I must congratulate you on the restoration of your fortune and the possession of a very brave friend."
For the first time the red spots burned on Jeanne's pale face.
"Je vous remercie infiniment, monsieur."
"Il sera all right," said Willoughby.
The officers saluted and went their ways. Jeanne took up her packet and mounted to her little room in a dream. Then she sat down on her bed, the unopened packet by her side, and strove to realize it all. But the only articulate thought came to her in the words which she repeated over and over again:
"Il a fait cela pour moi! Il a fait cela pour moi!"
He had done that for her. It was incredible, fantastic, thrillingly true, like the fairy-tales of her childhood. The little sensitive English soldier, whom his comrades protected, whom she herself in a feminine way longed to protect, had done this for her. In a shy, almost reverent way, she opened out the waterproof covering, as though to reassure herself of the reality of things. For the first time since she left Cambrai a smile came into her eyes, together with grateful tears.
"Il a fait cela pour moi! Il a fait cela pour moi!"
* * * * *
A while later she relieved Toinette's guard in the sick-room.
"Eh bien? And the two officers?" queried Aunt Morin, after Toinette had gone. "They have stayed a long time. What did they want?"
Jeanne was young. She had eaten the bread of dependence, which Aunt Morin, by reason of racial instinct and the stress of sorrow and infirmity, had contrived to render very bitter. She could not repress an exultant note in her voice. Doggie, too, accounted for something; for much.
"They came to bring good news, ma tante. The English have found all the money and the jewels and the share certificates that Pere Grigou hid in the well of La Folette."
"Mon Dieu! It is true?"
"Oui, ma tante."
"And they have restored them to you?"
"It is extraordinary. It is truly extraordinary. At last these English seem to be good for something. And they found that and gave it to you without taking anything?"
"Without taking anything," said Jeanne.
Aunt Morin reflected for a few moments, then she stretched out a thin hand.
"Ma petite Jeanne cherie, you are rich now."
"I don't know exactly," replied Jeanne, with a mingling of truth and caution. "I have enough for the present."
"How did it all happen?"
"It was part of a military operation," said Jeanne.
Perhaps later she might tell Aunt Morin about Doggie. But now the thing was too sacred. Aunt Morin would question, question maddeningly, until the rainbow of her fairy-tale was unwoven. The salient fact of the recovery of her fortune should be enough for Aunt Morin. It was. The old woman of the pain-pinched features looked at her wistfully from sunken grey eyes.
"And now that you are rich, my little Jeanne, you will not leave your poor old aunt, who loves you so much, to die alone?"
"Ah, mais non! mais non! mais non!" cried Jeanne indignantly. "What do you think I am made of?"
"Ah!" breathed Aunt Morin, comforted.
"Also," said Jeanne, in the matter-of-fact French way, "Si tu veux, I will henceforward pay for my lodging and nourishment."
"You are very good, my little Jeanne," said Aunt Morin. "That will be a great help, for, vois-tu, we are very poor."
"Oui, ma tante. It is the war."
"Ah, the war, the war; this awful war! One has nothing left."
Jeanne smiled. Aunt Morin had a very comfortably invested fortune left, for the late Monsieur Morin, corn, hay and seed merchant, had been a very astute person. It would make little difference to the comfort of Aunt Morin, or to the prospects of Cousin Gaspard in Madagascar, whether the present business of Veuve Morin et Fils went on or not. Of this Aunt Morin, in lighter moods, had boasted many times.
"Every one must do what they can," said Jeanne.
"Perfectly," said Aunt Morin. "You are a young girl who well understands things. And now—it is not good for young people to stay in a sick-room—one needs the fresh air. Va te distraire, ma petite. I am quite comfortable."
So Jeanne went out to distract a self already distraught with great wonder, great pride and great fear.
He had done that for her. The wonder of it bewildered her, the pride of it thrilled her. But he was wounded. Fear smothered her joy. They had said there was no danger. But soldiers always made light of wounds. It was their way in this horrible war, in the intimate midst of which she had her being. If a man was not dead, he was alive, and thereby accounted lucky. In their gay optimism they had given him a month or two of absence from the regiment. But even in a month or two—where would the regiment be? Far, far away from Frelus. Would she ever see Doggie again?
To distract herself she went down the village street, bareheaded, and up the lane that led to the little church. The church was empty, cool, and smelt of the hill-side. Before the tinsel-crowned, mild-faced image of the Virgin were spread the poor votive offerings of the village. And Jeanne sank on her knees, and bowed her head, and, without special prayer or formula of devotion, gave herself into the hands of the Mother of Sorrows.
She walked back comforted, vaguely conscious of a strengthening of soul. In the vast cataclysm of things her own hopes and fears and destiny mattered very little. If she never saw Doggie again, if Doggie recovered and returned to the war and was killed, her own grief mattered very little. She was but a stray straw, and mattered very little. But what mattered infinitely, what shone with an immortal flame, though it were never so tiny, was the Wonderful Spiritual Something that had guided Doggie through the jaws of death.
* * * * *
That evening she had a long talk in the kitchen with Phineas. The news of Doggie's safety had been given out by Willoughby, without any details. Mo Shendish had leaped about her like a fox-terrier, and she had laughed, with difficulty restraining her tears. But to Phineas alone she told her whole story. He listened in bewilderment. And the greater the bewilderment, the worse his crude translations of English into French. She wound up a long, eager speech by saying:
"He has done this for me. Why?"
"Love," replied Phineas bluntly.
"It is more than love," said Jeanne, thinking of the Wonderful Spiritual Something.
"If you could understand English," said Phineas, "I would enter into the metaphysics of the subject with pleasure, but in French it is beyond me."
Jeanne smiled, and turned to the matter-of-fact.
"He will go to England now that he is wounded?"
"He's on the way now," said Phineas.
"Has he many friends there? I ask, because he talks so little of himself. He is so modest."
"Oh, many friends. You see, mademoiselle," said Phineas, with a view to setting her mind at rest, "Doggie's an important person in his part of the country. He was brought up in luxury. I know, because I lived with him as his tutor for seven years. His father and mother are dead, and he could go on living in luxury now, if he liked."
"He is then, rich—Doggie?"
"He has a fine house of his own in the country, with many servants and automobiles, and—wait"—he made a swift arithmetical calculation—"and an income of eighty thousand francs a year."
"Comment?" cried Jeanne sharply, with a little frown.
Phineas McPhail was enjoying himself, basking in the sunshine of Doggie's wealth. Also, when conversation in French resolved itself into the statement of simple facts, he could get along famously. So the temptation of the glib phrase outran his discretion.
"Doggie has a fortune of about two million francs."
"Il doit faire un beau mariage," said Jeanne, with stony calm.
Phineas suddenly became aware of pitfalls and summoned his craft and astuteness and knowledge of affairs. He smiled, as he thought, encouragingly.
"The only fine marriage is with the person one loves."
"Not always, monsieur," said Jeanne, who had watched the gathering of the sagacities with her deep eyes. "In any case"—she rose and held out her hand—"our friend will be well looked after in England."
"Like a prince," said Phineas.
He strode away greatly pleased with himself, and went and found Mo Shendish.
"Man," said he, "have you ever reflected that the dispensing of happiness is the cheapest form of human diversion?"
"What've you been doin' now?" asked Mo.
"I've just left a lassie tottering over with blissful dreams."
"Gorblime!" said Mo, "and to think that if I could sling the lingo, I might've done the same!"
But Phineas had knocked all the dreams out of Jeanne. The British happy-go-lucky ways of marriage are not those of the French bourgeoisie, and Jeanne had no notion of British happy-go-lucky ways. Phineas had knocked the dream out of Jeanne by kicking Doggie out of her sphere. And there was a girl in England in Doggie's sphere whom he was to marry. She knew it. A man does not gather his sagacities in order to answer crookedly a direct challenge, unless there is some necessity.
Well. She would never see Doggie again. He would pass out of her life. His destiny called him, if he survived the slaughter of the war, to the shadowy girl in England. Yet he had done that for her. For no other woman could he ever in this life do that again. It was past love. Her brain boggled at an elusive spiritual idea. She was very young, flung cleanly trained from the convent into the war's terrific tragedy, wherein maiden romantic fancies were scorched in the tender bud. Only her honest traditions of marriage remained. Of love she knew nothing. She leaped beyond it, seeking, seeking. She would never see him again. There she met the Absolute. But he had done that for her—that which, she knew not why, but she knew—he would do for no other woman. The Splendour of it would be her everlasting possession.
She undressed that night, proud, dry-eyed, heroical, and went to bed, and listened to the rhythmic tramp of the sentry across the gateway below her window, and suddenly a lump rose in her throat and she fell to crying miserably.
"How are you feeling, Trevor?"
"Nicely, thank you, Sister."
"Glad to be in Blighty again?"
"Good old Blighty!"
"Leg hurting you?"
"A bit, Sister," he replied with a little grimace.
"It's bound to be stiff after the long journey, but we'll soon fix it up for you."
"I'm sure you will," he said politely.
The nurse moved on. Doggie drew the cool clean sheet around his shoulders and gave himself up to the luxury of bed—real bed. The morning sunlight poured through the open windows, attended by a delicious odour which after a while he recognized as the scent of the sea. Where he was he had no notion. He had absorbed so much of Tommy's philosophy as not to care. He had arrived with a convoy the night before, after much travel in ambulances by land and sea. If he had been a walking case, he might have taken more interest in things; but the sniper's bullet in his thigh had touched the bone, and in spite of being carried most tenderly about like a baby, he had suffered great pain and longed for nothing and thought of nothing but a permanent resting-place. Now, apparently, he had found one, and looking about him he felt peculiarly content. He seemed to have seen no cleaner, whiter, brighter place in the world than this airy ward, swept by the sea-breeze. He counted seven beds besides his own. On a table running down the ward stood a vase of sweet-peas and a bowl of roses. He thought there was never in the world so clean and cool a figure as the grey-clad nurse in her spotless white apron, cuffs and cap.
When she passed near him again, he summoned her. She came to his bedside.
"What do you call this particular region of fairyland?"
She stared at him for a moment, adjusting things in her mind; for his name and style were 35792 Private Trevor, J. M., but his voice and phrase were those of her own social class. Then she smiled, and told him. The corner of fairyland was a private auxiliary hospital in a Lancashire seaside town.
"Lancashire," said Doggie, knitting his brow in a puzzled way, "but why have they sent me to Lancashire? I belong to a West Country regiment, and all my friends are in the South."
"What's he grousing about, Sister?" suddenly asked the occupant of the next bed. "He's the sort of chap that doesn't know when he's in luck and when he isn't. I'm in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, I am, and when I was hit before, they sent me to a military hospital in Inverness. That'd teach you, my lad. This for me every time. You ought to have something to grouse at."
"I'm not grousing, you idiot!" said Doggie.
"'Ere—who's he calling an idjit?" cried the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantryman, raising himself on his elbow.
The nurse intervened; explained that no one could be said to grumble at a hospital when he called it fairyland. Trevor's question was that of one in search of information. He did not realize that in assigning men to the various hospitals in the United Kingdom, the authorities could not possibly take into account an individual man's local association.
"Oh well, if it's only his blooming ignorance——"
"That's just it, mate," smiled Doggie, "my blooming ignorance."
"That's all right," said the nurse. "Now you're friends."
"He had no right to call me an idjit," said the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantryman. He was an aggressive, red-visaged man with bristly black hair and stubbly black moustache.
"If you'll agree that he wasn't grousing, Penworthy, I'm sure Trevor will apologize for calling you an idiot."
And into the nurse's eyes crept the queer smile of the woman learned in the ways of children.
"Didn't I say he wasn't grousing? It was only his ignorance?"
Doggie responded. "I meant no offence, mate, in what I said."
The other growled an acceptance, whereupon the nurse smiled an ironic benediction and moved away.
"Where did you get it?" asked Penworthy.
Doggie gave the information and, in his turn, made the polite counter-inquiry.
Penworthy's bit of shrapnel, which had broken a rib or two, had been acquired just north of Albert. When he left, he said, we were putting it over in great quantities.