One of Ours
Part 6 out of 8
heel into the gravel. "Unless I can learn to talk to the CHILDREN
of this country," he muttered, "I'll go home!"
Claude set off to find the Grand Hotel, where he had promised to
dine with Victor Morse. The porter there spoke English. He called
a red-headed boy in a dirty uniform and told him to take the
American to vingt-quatre. The boy also spoke English. "Plenty
money in New York, I guess! In France, no money." He made their
way, through musty corridors and up slippery staircases, as long
as possible, shrewdly eyeing the visitor and rubbing his thumb
nervously against his fingers all the while.
"Vingt-quatre, twen'y-four," he announced, rapping at a door with
one hand and suggestively opening the other. Claude put something
into it--anything to be rid of him.
Victor was standing before the fireplace. "Hello, Wheeler, come
in. Our dinner will be served up here. It's big enough, isn't it?
I could get nothing between a coop, and this at fifteen dollars a
The room was spacious enough for a banquet; with two huge beds,
and great windows that swung in on hinges, like doors, and that
had certainly not been washed since before the war. The heavy red
cotton-brocade hangings and lace curtains were stiff with dust,
the thick carpet was strewn with cigarette-ends and matches.
Razor blades and "Khaki Comfort" boxes lay about on the dresser,
and former occupants had left their autographs in the dust on the
table. Officers slept there, and went away, and other officers
arrived,--and the room remained the same, like a wood in which
travellers camp for the night. The valet de chambre carried away
only what he could use; discarded shirts and socks and old shoes.
It seemed a rather dismal place to have a party.
When the waiter came, he dusted off the table with his apron and
put on a clean cloth, napkins, and glasses. Victor and his guest
sat down under an electric light bulb with a broken shade, around
which a silent halo of flies moved unceasingly. They did not
buzz, or dart aloft, or descend to try the soup, but hung there
in the center of the room as if they were a part of the lighting
system. The constant attendance of the waiter embarrassed Claude;
he felt as if he were being watched.
"By the way," said Victor while the soup plates were being
removed, "what do you think of this wine? It cost me thirty
francs the bottle."
"It tastes very good to me," Claude replied. "But then, it's the
first champagne I've ever drunk."
"Really?" Victor drank off another glass and sighed. "I envy you.
I wish I had it all to do over. Life's too short, you know."
"I should say you had made a good beginning. We're a long way
from Crystal Lake."
"Not far enough." His host reached across the table and filled
Claude's empty glass. "I sometimes waken up with the feeling I'm
back there. Or I have bad dreams, and find myself sitting on that
damned stool in the glass cage and can't make my books balance; I
hear the old man coughing in his private room, the way he coughs
when he's going to refuse a loan to some poor devil who needs it.
I've had a narrow escape, Wheeler; 'as a brand from the burning'.
That's all the Scripture I remember."
The bright red spots on Victor's cheeks, his pale forehead and
brilliant eyes and saucy little moustaches seemed to give his
quotation a peculiar vividness. Claude envied him. It must be
great fun to take up a part and play it to a finish; to believe
you were making yourself over, and to admire the kind of fellow
you made. He, too, in a way, admired Victor,--though he couldn't
altogether believe in him.
"You'll never go back," he said, "I wouldn't worry about that."
"Take it from me, there are thousands who will never go back! I'm
not speaking of the casualties. Some of you Americans are likely
to discover the world this trip . . . and it'll make the hell of
a lot of difference! You boys never had a fair chance. There's a
conspiracy of Church and State to keep you down. I'm going off to
play with some girls tonight, will you come along?"
Claude laughed. "I guess not."
"Why not? You won't be caught, I guarantee."
"I guess not." Claude spoke apologetically. "I'm going out to see
Fanning after dinner."
Victor shrugged. "That ass!" He beckoned the waiter to open
another bottle and bring the coffee. "Well, it's your last chance
to go nutting with me." He looked intently at Claude and lifted
his glass. "To the future, and our next meeting!" When he put
down his empty goblet he remarked, "I got a wire through today;
I'm leaving tomorrow."
Claude took a quick breath. Verdun . . . the very sound of the
name was grim, like the hollow roll of drums. Victor was going
there tomorrow. Here one could take a train for Verdun, or
thereabouts, as at home one took a train for Omaha. He felt more
"over" than he had done before, and a little crackle of
excitement went all through him. He tried to be careless:
"Then you won't get to London soon?"
"God knows," Victor answered gloomily. He looked up at the
ceiling and began to whistle softly an engaging air. "Do you know
that? It's something Maisie often plays; 'Roses of Picardy.' You
won't know what a woman can be till you meet her, Wheeler."
"I hope I'll have that pleasure. I was wondering if you'd
forgotten her for the moment. She doesn't object to these
Victor lifted his eyebrows in the old haughty way. "Women don't
require that sort of fidelity of the air service. Our engagements
are too uncertain."
Half an hour later Victor had gone in quest of amorous adventure,
and Claude was wandering alone in a brightly lighted street full
of soldiers and sailors of all nations. There were black
Senegalese, and Highlanders in kilts, and little lorry-drivers
from Siam,--all moving slowly along between rows of cabarets and
cinema theatres. The wide-spreading branches of the plane trees
met overhead, shutting out the sky and roofing in the orange
glare. The sidewalks were crowded with chairs and little tables,
at which marines and soldiers sat drinking shops and cognac and
coffee. From every doorway music-machines poured out jazz tunes
and strident Sousa marches. The noise was stupefying. Out in the
middle of the street a band of bareheaded girls, hardy and tough
looking; were following a string of awkward Americans, running
into them, elbowing them, asking for treats, crying, "You dance
me Fausse-trot, Sammie?"
Claude stationed himself before a movie theatre, where the sign
in electric lights read, "Amour, quand tu nous tiens!" and stood
watching the people. In the stream that passed him, his eye lit
upon two walking arm-in-arm, their hands clasped, talking eagerly
and unconscious of the crowd,--different, he saw at once, from
all the other strolling, affectionate couples.
The man wore the American uniform; his left arm had been
amputated at the elbow, and he carried his head awry, as if he
had a stiff neck. His dark, lean face wore an expression of
intense anxiety, his eyebrows twitched as if he were in constant
pain. The girl, too, looked troubled. As they passed him, under
the red light of the Amour sign, Claude could see that her eyes
were full of tears. They were wide, blue eyes, innocent looking,
and she had the prettiest face he had seen since he landed. From
her silk shawl, and little bonnet with blue strings and a white
frill, he thought she must be a country girl. As she listened to
the soldier, with her mouth half-open, he saw a space between her
two front teeth, as with children whose second teeth have just
come. While they pushed along in the crowd she looked up intently
at the man beside her, or off into the blur of light, where she
evidently saw nothing. Her face, young and soft, seemed new to
emotion, and her bewildered look made one feel that she did not
know where to turn.
Without realizing what he did, Claude followed them out of the
crowd into a quiet street, and on into another, even more
deserted, where the louses looked as if they had been asleep a
long while. Here there were no street lamps, not even a light in
the windows, but natural darkness; with the moon high overhead
throwing sharp shadows across the white cobble paving. The narrow
street made a bend, and he came out upon the church he and his
comrades had entered that afternoon. It looked larger by night,
and but for the sunken step, he might not have been sure it was
the same. The dark neighbouring houses seemed to lean toward it,
the moonlight shone silver-grey upon its battered front.
The two walking before him ascended the steps and withdrew into
the deep doorway, where they clung together in an embrace so long
and still that it was like death. At last they drew shuddering
apart. The girl sat down on the stone bench beside the door. The
soldier threw himself upon the pavement at her feet, and rested
his head on her knee, his one arm lying across her lap.
In the shadow of the houses opposite, Claude kept watch like a
sentinel, ready to take their part if any alarm should startle
them. The girl bent over her soldier, stroking his head so softly
that she might have been putting him to sleep; took his one hand
and held it against her bosom as if to stop the pain there. Just
behind her, on the sculptured portal, some old bishop, with a
pointed cap and a broken crozier, stood, holding up two fingers.
The next morning when Claude arrived at the hospital to see
Fanning, he found every one too busy to take account of him. The
courtyard was full of ambulances, and a long line of camions
waited outside the gate. A train-load of wounded Americans had
come in, sent back from evacuation hospitals to await
As the men were carried past him, he thought they looked as if
they had been sick a long while--looked, indeed, as if they could
never get well. The boys who died on board the Anchises had never
seemed as sick as these did. Their skin was yellow or purple,
their eyes were sunken, their lips sore. Everything that belonged
to health had left them, every attribute of youth was gone. One
poor fellow, whose face and trunk were wrapped in cotton, never
stopped moaning, and as he was carried up the corridor he smelled
horribly. The Texas orderly remarked to Claude, "In the beginning
that one only had a finger blown off; would you believe it?"
These were the first wounded men Claude had seen. To shed bright
blood, to wear the red badge of courage,--that was one thing; but
to be reduced to this was quite another,. Surely, the sooner
these boys died, the better.
The Texan, passing with his next load, asked Claude why he didn't
go into the office and wait until the rush was over. Looking in
through the glass door, Claude noticed a young man writing at a
desk enclosed by a railing. Something about his figure, about the
way he held his head, was familiar. When he lifted his left arm
to prop open the page of his ledger, it was a stump below the
elbow. Yes, there could be no doubt about it; the pale, sharp
face, the beak nose, the frowning, uneasy brow. Presently, as if
he felt a curious eye upon him, the young man paused in his rapid
writing, wriggled his shoulders, put an iron paperweight on the
page of his book, took a case from his pocket and shook a
cigarette out on the table. Going up to the railing, Claude
offered him a cigar. "No, thank you. I don't use them any more.
They seem too heavy for me." He struck a match, moved his
shoulders again as if they were cramped, and sat down on the edge
of his desk.
"Where do these wounded men come from?" Claude asked. "I just got
in on the Anchises yesterday."
"They come from various evacuation hospitals. I believe most of
them are the Belleau Wood lot."
"Where did you lose your arm?"
"Cantigny. I was in the First Division. I'd been over since last
September, waiting for something to happen, and then got fixed in
my first engagement."
"Can't you go home?"
"Yes, I could. But I don't want to. I've got used to things over
here. I was attached to Headquarters in Paris for awhile."
Claude leaned across the rail. "We read about Cantigny at home,
of course. We were a good deal excited; I suppose you were?"
"Yes, we were nervous. We hadn't been under fire, and we'd been
fed up on all that stuff about it's taking fifty years to build a
fighting machine. The Hun had a strong position; we looked up
that long hill and wondered how we were going to behave." As he
talked the boy's eyes seemed to be moving all the time, probably
because he could not move his head at all. After blowing out deep
clouds of smoke until his cigarette was gone, he sat down to his
ledger and frowned at the page in a way which said he was too
busy to talk.
Claude saw Dr. Trueman standing in the doorway, waiting for him.
They made their morning call on Fanning, and left the hospital
together. The Doctor turned to him as if he had something on his
"I saw you talking to that wry-necked boy. How did he seem, all
"Not exactly. That is, he seems very nervous. Do you know
anything about him?"
"Oh, yes! He's a star patient here, a psychopathic case. I had
just been talking to one of the doctors about him, when I came
out and saw you with him. He was shot in the neck at Cantigny,
where he lost his arm. The wound healed, but his memory is
affected; some nerve cut, I suppose, that connects with that part
of his brain. This psychopath, Phillips, takes a great interest
in him and keeps him here to observe him. He's writing a book
about him. He says the fellow has forgotten almost everything
about his life before he came to France. The queer thing is, it's
his recollection of women that is most affected. He can remember
his father, but not his mother; doesn't know if he has sisters or
not,--can remember seeing girls about the house, but thinks they
may have been cousins. His photographs and belongings were lost
when he was hurt, all except a bunch of letters he had in his
pocket. They are from a girl he's engaged to, and he declares he
can't remember her at all; doesn't know what she looks like or
anything about her, and can't remember getting engaged. The
doctor has the letters. They seem to be from a nice girl in his
own town who is very ambitious for him to make the most of
himself. He deserted soon after he was sent to this hospital, ran
away. He was found on a farm out in the country here, where the
sons had been killed and the people had sort of adopted him. He'd
quit his uniform and was wearing the clothes of one of the dead
sons. He'd probably have got away with it, if he hadn't had that
wry neck. Some one saw him in the fields and recognized him and
reported him. I guess nobody cared much but this psychopathic
doctor; he wanted to get his pet patient back. They call him 'the
lost American' here."
"He seems to be doing some sort of clerical work," Claude
"Yes, they say he's very well educated. He remembers the books he
has read better than his own life. He can't recall what his home
town looks like, or his home. And the women are clear wiped out,
even the girl he was going to marry."
Claude smiled. "Maybe he's fortunate in that."
The Doctor turned to him affectionately, "Now Claude, don't begin
to talk like that the minute you land in this country."
Claude walked on past the church of St. Jacques. Last night
already seemed like a dream, but it haunted him. He wished he
could do something to help that boy; help him get away from the
doctor who was writing a book about him, and the girl who wanted
him to make the most of himself; get away and be lost altogether
in what he had been lucky enough to find. All day, as Claude came
and went, he looked among the crowds for that young face, so
compassionate and tender.
Deeper and deeper into flowery France! That was the sentence
Claude kept saying over to himself to the jolt of the wheels, as
the long troop train went southward, on the second day after he
and his company had left the port of debarkation. Fields of
wheat, fields of oats, fields of rye; all the low hills and
rolling uplands clad with harvest. And everywhere, in the grass,
in the yellowing grain, along the road-bed, the poppies spilling
and streaming. On the second day the boys were still calling to
each other about the poppies; nothing else had so entirely
surpassed their expectations. They had supposed that poppies grew
only on battle fields, or in the brains of war correspondents.
Nobody knew what the cornflowers were, except Willy Katz, an
Austrian boy from the Omaha packing-houses, and he knew only an
objectionable name for them, so he offered no information. For a
long time they thought the red clover blossoms were wild
flowers,--they were as big as wild roses. When they passed the
first alfalfa field, the whole train rang with laughter; alfalfa
was one thing, they believed, that had never been heard of
outside their own prairie states.
All the way down, Company B had been finding the old things
instead of the new,--or, to their way of thinking, the new things
instead of the old. The thatched roofs they had so counted upon
seeing were few and far between. But American binders, of
well-known makes, stood where the fields were beginning to
ripen,--and they were being oiled and put in order, not by
"peasants," but by wise-looking old farmers who seemed to know
their business. Pear trees, trained like vines against the wall,
did not astonish them half so much as the sight of the familiar
cottonwood, growing everywhere. Claude thought he had never
before realized how beautiful this tree could be. In verdant
little valleys, along the clear rivers, the cottonwoods waved and
rustled; and on the little islands, of which there were so many
in these rivers, they stood in pointed masses, seemed to grip
deep into the soil and to rest easy, as if they had been there
for ever and would be there for ever more. At home, all about
Frankfort, the farmers were cutting down their cottonwoods
because they were "common," planting maples and ash trees to
struggle along in their stead. Never mind; the cottonwoods were
good enough for France, and they were good enough for him! He
felt they were a real bond between him and this people.
When B Company had first got their orders to go into a training
camp in north central France, all the men were disappointed.
Troops much rawer than they were being rushed to the front, so
why fool around any longer? But now they were reconciled to the
delay. There seemed to be a good deal of France that wasn't the
war, and they wouldn't mind travelling about a little in a
country like this. Was the harvest always a month later than at
home, as it seemed to be this year? Why did the farmers have rows
of trees growing along the edges of every field--didn't they take
the strength out of the soil? What did the farmers mean by
raising patches of mustard right along beside other crops? Didn't
they know that mustard got into wheat fields and strangled the
The second night the boys were to spend in Rouen, and they would
have the following day to look about. Everybody knew what had
happened at Rouen--if any one didn't, his neighbours were only too
eager to inform him! It had happened in the market-place, and the
market-place was what they were going to find.
Tomorrow, when it came, proved to be black and cold, a day of
pouring rain. As they filed through the narrow, crowded streets,
that harsh Norman city presented no very cheering aspect. They
were glad, at last, to find the waterside, to go out on the
bridge and breathe the air in the great open space over the
river, away from the clatter of cart-wheels and the hard voices
and crafty faces of these townspeople, who seemed rough and
unfriendly. From the bridge they looked up at the white chalk
hills, the tops a blur of intense green under the low,
lead-coloured sky. They watched the fleets of broad, deep-set
river barges, coming and going under their feet, with tilted
smokestacks. Only a little way up that river was Paris, the place
where every doughboy meant to go; and as they leaned on the rail
and looked down at the slow-flowing water, each one had in his
mind a confused picture of what it would be like. The Seine, they
felt sure, must be very much wider there, and it was spanned by
many bridges, all longer than the bridge over the Missouri at
Omaha. There would be spires and golden domes past counting, all
the buildings higher than anything in Chicago, and
brilliant--dazzlingly brilliant, nothing grey and shabby about it
like this old Rouen. They attributed to the city of their desire
incalculable immensity, bewildering vastness, Babylonian hugeness
and heaviness--the only attributes they had been taught to admire.
Late in the morning Claude found himself alone before the Church
of St. Ouen. He was hunting for the Cathedral, and this looked as
if it might be the right place. He shook the water from his
raincoat and entered, removing his hat at the door. The day, so
dark without, was darker still within; . . . far away, a few
scattered candles, still little points of light . . . just before
him, in the grey twilight, slender white columns in long rows,
like the stems of silver poplars.
The entrance to the nave was closed by a cord, so he walked up
the aisle on the right, treading softly, passing chapels where
solitary women knelt in the light of a few tapers. Except for
them, the church was empty . . . empty. His own breathing was
audible in this silence. He moved with caution lest he should
wake an echo.
When he reached the choir he turned, and saw, far behind him, the
rose window, with its purple heart. As he stood staring, hat in
hand, as still as the stone figures in the chapels, a great bell,
up aloft, began to strike the hour in its deep, melodious throat;
eleven beats, measured and far apart, as rich as the colours in
the window, then silence . . . only in his memory the throbbing
of an undreamed-of quality of sound. The revelations of the glass
and the bell had come almost simultaneously, as if one produced
the other; and both were superlatives toward which his mind had
always been groping,--or so it seemed to him then.
In front of the choir the nave was open, with no rope to shut it
off. Several .straw chairs were huddled on a flag of the stone
floor. After some hesitation he took one, turned it round, and
sat down facing the window. If some one should come up to him and
say anything, anything at all, he would rise and say, "Pardon,
Monsieur; je ne sais pas c'est defendu." He repeated this to
himself to be quite sure he had it ready.
On the train, coming down, he had talked to the boys about the
bad reputation Americans had acquired for slouching all over the
place and butting in on things, and had urged them to tread
lightly, "But Lieutenant," the kid from Pleasantville had piped
up, "isn't this whole Expedition a butt-in? After all, it ain't
our war." Claude laughed, but he told him he meant to make an
example of the fellow who went to rough-housing.
He was well satisfied that he hadn't his restless companions on
his mind now. He could sit here quietly until noon, and hear the
bell strike again. In the meantime, he must try to think: This
was, of course, Gothic architecture; he had read more or less
about that, and ought to be able to remember something. Gothic .
. . that was a mere word; to him it suggested something very
peaked and pointed,--sharp arches, steep roofs. It had nothing to
do with these slim white columns that rose so straight and
far,--or with the window, burning up there in its vault of gloom
. . . .
While he was vainly trying to think about architecture, some
recollection of old astronomy lessons brushed across his
brain,--something about stars whose light travels through space
for hundreds of years before it reaches the earth and the human
eye. The purple and crimson and peacock-green of this window had
been shining quite as long as that before it got to him . . . .
He felt distinctly that it went through him and farther still . .
. as if his mother were looking over his shoulder. He sat
solemnly through the hour until twelve, his elbows on his knees,
his conical hat swinging between them in his hand, looking up
through the twilight with candid, thoughtful eyes.
When Claude joined his company at the station, they had the laugh
on him. They had found the Cathedral,--and a statue of Richard
the Lion-hearted, over the spot where the lion-heart itself was
buried; "the identical organ," fat Sergeant Hicks assured him.
But they were all glad to leave Rouen.
B Company reached the training camp at S-- thirty-six men short:
twenty-five they had buried on the voyage over, and eleven sick
were left at the base hospital. The company was to be attached
to a battalion which had already seen service, commanded by
Lieutenant Colonel Scott. Arriving early in the morning, the
officers reported at once to Headquarters. Captain Maxey must
have suffered a shock when the Colonel rose from his desk to
acknowledge his salute, then shook hands with them all around
and asked them about their journey. The Colonel was not a very
martial figure; short, fat, with slouching shoulders, and a
lumpy back like a sack of potatoes. Though he wasn't much over
forty, he was bald, and his collar would easily slip over his
head without being unbuttoned. His little twinkling eyes and
good-humoured face were without a particle of arrogance or
Years ago, when General Pershing, then a handsome young
Lieutenant with a slender waist and yellow moustaches, was
stationed as Commandant at the University of Nebraska, Walter
Scott was an officer in a company of cadets the Lieutenant tools
about to military tournaments. The Pershing Rifles, they were
called, and they won prizes wherever they went. After his
graduation, Scott settled down to running a hardware business in
a thriving Nebraska town, and sold gas ranges and garden hose for
twenty years. About the time Pershing was sent to the Mexican
border, Scott began to think there might eventually be something
in the wind, and that he would better get into training. He went
down to Texas with the National Guard. He had come to France with
the First Division, and had won his promotions by solid,
"I see you're an officer short, Captain _Maxey," the Colonel
remarked at their conference. "I think I've got a man here to
take his place. Lieutenant Gerhardt is a New York man, came over
in the band and got transferred to infantry. He has lately been
given a commission for good service. He's had some experience and
is a capable fellow." The Colonel sent his orderly out to bring
in a young man whom he introduced to the officers as Lieutenant
Claude had been ashamed of Tod Fanning, who was always showing
himself a sap-head, and who would never have got a commission if
his uncle hadn't been a Congressman. But the moment he met
Lieutenant Gerhardt's eye, something like jealousy flamed up in
him. He felt in a flash that he suffered by comparison with the
new officer; that he must be on his guard and must not let
himself be patronized.
As they were leaving the Colonel's office together, Gerhardt
asked him whether he had got his billet. Claude replied that
after the men were in their quarters, he would look out for
something for himself.
The young man smiled. "I'm afraid you may have difficulty. The
people about here have been overworked, keeping soldiers, and
they are not willing as they once were. I'm with a nice old
couple over in the village. I'm almost sure I can get you in
there. If you'll come along, we'll speak to them, before some one
else is put off on them."
Claude didn't want to go, didn't want to accept
favours,--nevertheless he went. They walked together along a
dusty road that ran between half-ripe wheat fields, bordered with
poplar trees. The wild morning-glories and Queen Anne's lace that
grew by the road-side were still shining with dew. A fresh breeze
stirred the bearded grain, parting it in furrows and fanning out
streaks of crimson poppies. The new officer was not intrusive,
certainly. He walked along, whistling softly to himself, seeming
quite lost in the freshness of the morning, or in his own
thoughts. There had been nothing patronizing in his manner so
far, and Claude began to wonder why he felt ill at ease with him.
Perhaps it was because he did not look like the rest of them.
Though he was young, he did not look boyish. He seemed
experienced; a finished product, rather than something on the
way. He was handsome, and his face, like his manner and his walk,
had something distinguished about it. A broad white forehead
under reddish brown hair, hazel eyes with no uncertainty in their
look, an aquiline nose, finely cut,--a sensitive, scornful mouth,
which somehow did not detract from the kindly, though slightly
reserved, expression of his face.
Lieutenant Gerhardt must have been in this neighbourhood for some
time; he seemed to know the people. On the road they passed
several villagers; a rough looking girl taking a cow out to graze,
an old man with a basket on his arm, the postman on his bicycle;
they all spoke to Claude's companion as if they knew him well.
"What are these blue flowers that grow about everywhere?" Claude
asked suddenly, pointing to a clump with his foot.
"Cornflowers," said the other. "The Germans call them
They were approaching the village, which lay on the edge of a
wood,--a wood so large one could not see the end of it; it met
the horizon with a ridge of pines. The village was but a single
street. On either side ran clay-coloured walls, with painted
wooden doors here and there, and green shutters. Claude's guide
opened one of these gates, and they walked into a little sanded
garden; the house was built round it on three sides. Under a
cherry tree sat a woman in a black dress, sewing, a work table
She was fifty, perhaps, but though her hair was grey she had a
look of youthfulness; thin cheeks, delicately flushed with pink,
and quiet, smiling, intelligent eyes. Claude thought she looked
like a New England woman,--like the photographs of his mother's
cousins and schoolmates. Lieutenant Gerhardt introduced him to
Madame Joubert. He was quite disheartened by the colloquy that
followed. Clearly his new fellow officer spoke Madame Joubert's
perplexing language as readily as she herself did, and he felt
irritated and grudging as he listened. He had been hoping that,
wherever he stayed, he could learn to talk to the people a
little; but with this accomplished young man about, he would
never have the courage to try. He could see that Mme. Joubert
liked Gerhardt, liked him very much; and all this, for some
reason, discouraged him.
Gerhardt turned to Claude, speaking in a way which included
Madame Joubert in the conversation, though she could not
understand it: "Madame Joubert will let you come, although she
has done her part and really doesn't have to take any one else
in. But you will be so well off here that I'm glad she consents.
You will have to share my room, but there are two beds. She will
Gerhardt went out of the gate and left him alone with his
hostess. Her mind seemed to read his thoughts. When he uttered a
word, or any sound that resembled one, she quickly and smoothly
made a sentence of it, as if she were quite accustomed to talking
in this way and expected only monosyllables from strangers. She
was kind, even a little playful with him; but he felt it was all
good manners, and that underneath she was not thinking of him at
all. When he was alone in the tile-floored sleeping room
upstairs, unrolling his blankets and arranging his shaving
things, he looked out of the window and watched her where she sat
sewing under the cherry tree. She had a very sad face, he
thought; it wasn't grief, nothing sharp and definite like sorrow.
It was an old, quiet, impersonal sadness,--sweet in its
expression, like the sadness of music.
As he came out of the house to start back to the barracks, he
bowed to her and tried to say, "Au revoir, Madame. Jusq' au ce
soir." He stopped near the kitchen door to look at a
many-branched rose vine that ran all over the wall, full of
cream-coloured, pink-tipped roses, just a shade stronger in
colour than the clay wall behind them. Madame Joubert came over
and stood beside him, looking at him and at the rosier, "Oui,
c'est joli, n'est-ce pas?" She took the scissors that hung by a
ribbon from her belt, cut one of the flowers and stuck it in his
buttonhole. "Voila." She made a little flourish with her thin
Stepping into the street, he turned to shut the wooden door after
him, and heard a soft stir in the dark tool-house at his elbow.
>From among the rakes and spades a child's frightened face was
staring out at him. She was sitting on the ground with her lap
full of baby kittens. He caught but a glimpse of her dull, pale
The next morning Claude awoke with such a sense of physical
well-being as he had not had for a long time. The sun was
shining brightly on the white plaster walls and on the red tiles
of the floor. Green jalousies, half-drawn, shaded the upper part
of the two windows. Through their slats, he could see the forking
branches of an old locust tree that grew by the gate. A flock of
pigeons flew over it, dipping and mounting with a sharp twinkle
of silver wings. It was good to lie again in a house that was
cared for by women. He must have felt that even in his sleep,
for when he opened his eyes he was thinking about Mahailey and
breakfast and summer mornings on the farm. The early stillness
was sweet, and the feeling of dry, clean linen against his body.
There was a smell of lavender about his warm pillow. He lay
still for fear of waking Lieutenant Gerhardt. This was the sort
of peace one wanted to enjoy alone. When he rose cautiously on
his elbow and looked at the other bed, it was empty. His
companion must have dressed and slipped out when day first broke.
Somebody else who liked to enjoy things alone; that looked
hopeful. But now that he had the place to himself, he decided to
get up. While he was dressing he could see old M. Joubert down in
the garden, watering the plants and vines, raking the sand fresh
and smooth, clipping off dead leaves and withered flowers and
throwing them into a wheelbarrow. These people had lost both
their sons in the war, he had been told, and now they were taking
care of the property for their grandchildren,--two daughters of
the elder son. Claude saw Gerhardt come into the garden, and sit
down at the table under the trees, where they had their dinner
last night. He hurried down to join him. Gerhardt made room for
him on the bench.
"Do you always sleep like that? It's an accomplishment. I made
enough noise when I dressed,--kept dropping things, but it never
Madame Joubert came out of the kitchen in a purple flowered
morning gown, her hair in curl-papers under a lace cap. She
brought the coffee herself, and they sat down at the unpainted
table without a cloth, and drank it out of big crockery bowls.
They had fresh milk with it,--the first Claude had tasted in a
long while, and sugar which Gerhardt produced from his pocket.
The old cook had her coffee sitting in the kitchen door, and on
the step, at her feet, sat the strange, pale little girl.
Madame Joubert amiably addressed herself to Claude; she knew that
Americans were accustomed to a different sort of morning repast,
and if he wished to bring bacon from the camp, she would gladly
cook it for him. She had even made pancakes for officers who
stayed there before. She seemed pleased, however, to learn that
Claude had had enough of these things for awhile. She called
David by his first name, pronouncing it the French way, and when
Claude said he hoped she would do as much for him, she said, Oh,
yes, that his was a very good French name, "mais un peu, un peu.
. .romanesque," at which he blushed, not quite knowing whether
she were making fun of him or not.
"It is rather so in English, isn't it?" David asked.
"Well, it's a sissy name, if you mean that."
"Yes, it is, a little," David admitted candidly. The day's work
on the parade ground was hard, and Captain Maxey's men were soft,
felt the heat,--didn't size up well with the Kansas boys who had
been hardened by service. The Colonel wasn't pleased with B
Company and detailed them to build new barracks and extend the
sanitation system. Claude got out and worked with the men.
Gerhardt followed his example, but it was easy to see that he
had never handled lumber or tin-roofing before. A kind of rivalry
seemed to have sprung up between him and Claude, neither of them
Claude could see that the sergeants and corporals were a little
uncertain about Gerhardt. His laconic speech, never embroidered
by the picturesque slang they relished, his gravity, and his
rare, incredulous smile, alike puzzled them. Was the new officer
a dude? Sergeant Hicks asked of his chum, Dell Able. No, he
wasn't a dude. Was he a swellhead? No, not at all; but he wasn't
a good mixer. He was "an Easterner"; what more he was would
develop later. Claude sensed something unusual about him. He
suspected that Gerhardt knew a good many things as well as he
knew French, and that he tried to conceal it, as people sometimes
do when they feel they are not among their equals; this idea
nettled him. It was Claude who seized the opportunity to be
patronizing, when Gerhardt betrayed that he was utterly unable to
select lumber by given measurements.
The next afternoon, work on the new barracks was called off
because of rain. Sergeant Hicks set about getting up a boxing
match, but when he went to invite the lieutenants, they had both
disappeared. Claude was tramping toward the village, determined
to get into the big wood that had tempted him ever since his
The highroad became the village street, and then, at the edge of
the wood, became a country road again. A little farther on, where
the shade grew denser, it split up into three wagon trails, two
of them faint and little used. One of these Claude followed. The
rain had dwindled to a steady patter, but the tall brakes growing
up in the path splashed him to the middle, and his feet sank in
spongy, mossy earth. The light about him, the very air, was
green. The trunks of the trees were overgrown with a soft green
moss, like mould. He was wondering whether this forest was not
always a damp, gloomy place, when suddenly the sun broke through
and shattered the whole wood with gold. He had never seen
anything like the quivering emerald of the moss, the silky green
of the dripping beech tops. Everything woke up; rabbits ran across
the path, birds began to sing, and all at once the brakes were
full of whirring insects.
The winding path turned again, and came out abruptly on a
hillside, above an open glade piled with grey boulders. On the
opposite rise of ground stood a grove of pines, with bare, red
stems. The light, around and under them, was red like a rosy
sunset. Nearly all the stems divided about half-way up into two
great arms, which came together again at the top, like the
pictures of old Grecian lyres.
Down in the grassy glade, among the piles of flint boulders,
little white birches shook out their shining leaves in the
lightly moving air. All about the rocks were patches of purple
heath; it ran up into the crevices between them like fire. On one
of these bald rocks sat Lieutenant Gerhardt, hatless, in an
attitude of fatigue or of deep dejection, his hands clasped about
his knees, his bronze hair ruddy in the sun. After watching him
for a few minutes, Claude descended the slope, swishing the tall
"Will I be in the way?" he asked as he stopped at the foot of the
"Oh, no!" said the other, moving a little and unclasping his
Claude sat down on a boulder. "Is this heather?" he asked. "I
thought I recognized it, from 'Kidnapped.' This part of the world
is not as new to you as it is to me."
"No. I lived in Paris for several years when I was a student."
"What were you studying?"
"You are a musician?" Claude looked at him wonderingly.
"I was," replied the other with a disdainful smile, languidly
stretching out his legs in the heather.
"That seems too bad," Claude remarked gravely.
"Why, to take fellows with a special talent. There are enough of
us who haven't any."
Gerhardt rolled over on his back and put his hands under his
head. "Oh, this affair is too big for exceptions; it's universal.
If you happened to be born twenty-six years ago, you couldn't
escape. If this war didn't kill you in one way, it would in
another." He told Claude he had trained at Camp Dix, and had come
over eight months ago in a regimental band, but he hated the work
he had to do and got transferred to the infantry.
When they retraced their steps, the wood was full of green
twilight. Their relations had changed somewhat during the last
half hour, and they strolled in confidential silence up the
home-like street to the door of their own garden.
Since the rain was over, Madame Joubert had laid the cloth on the
plank table under the cherry tree, as on the previous evenings.
Monsieur was bringing the chairs, and the little girl was
carrying out a pile of heavy plates. She rested them against her
stomach and leaned back as she walked, to balance them. She wore
shoes, but no stockings, and her faded cotton dress switched
about her brown legs. She was a little Belgian refugee who had
been sent there with her mother. The mother was dead now, and the
child would not even go to visit her grave. She could not be
coaxed from the court-yard into the quiet street. If the
neighbour children came into the garden on an errand, she hid
herself. She would have no playmates but the cat; and now she had
the kittens in the tool house.
Dinner was very cheerful that evening. M. Joubert was pleased
that the storm had not lasted long enough to hurt the wheat. The
garden was fresh and bright after the rain. The cherry tree shook
down bright drops on the tablecloth when the breeze stirred. The
mother cat dozed on the red cushion in Madame Joubert's sewing
chair, and the pigeons fluttered down to snap up earthworms that
wriggled in the wet sand. The shadow of the house fell over the
dinner-table, but the tree-tops stood up in full sunlight, and
the yellow sun poured on the earth wall and the cream-coloured
roses. Their petals, ruffled by the rain, gave out a wet, spicy
M. Joubert must have been ten years older than his wife. There
was a great contentment in his manner and a pleasant sparkle in
his eye. He liked the young officers. Gerhardt had been there
more than two weeks, and somewhat relieved the stillness that
had settled over the house since the second son died in hospital.
The Jouberts had dropped out of things. They had done all they
could do, given all they had, and now they had nothing to look
forward to,--except the event to which all France looked forward.
The father was talking to Gerhardt about the great sea-port the
Americans were making of Bordeaux; he said he meant to go there
after the war, to see it all for himself.
Madame Joubert was pleased to hear that they had been walking in
the wood. And was the heather in bloom? She wished they had
brought her some. Next time they went, perhaps. She used to walk
there often. Her eyes seemed to come nearer to them, Claude
thought, when she spoke of it, and she evidently cared a great
deal more about what was blooming in the wood than about what the
Americans were doing on the Garonne. He wished he could talk to
her as Gerhardt did. He admired the way she roused herself and
tried to interest them, speaking her difficult language with such
spirit and precision. It was a language that couldn't be mumbled;
that had to be spoken with energy and fire, or not spoken at all.
Merely speaking that exacting tongue would help to rally a broken
spirit, he thought.
The little maid who served them moved about noiselessly. Her dull
eyes never seemed to look; yet she saw when it was time to bring
the heavy soup tureen, and when it was time to take it away.
Madame Joubert lad found that Claude liked his potatoes with his
meat--when there was meat--and not in a course by themselves. She
had each time to tell the little girl to go and fetch them. This
the child did with manifest reluctance,--sullenly, as if she were
being forced to do something wrong. She was a very strange little
creature, altogether. As the two soldiers left the table and
started for the camp, Claude reached down into the tool house and
took up one of the kittens, holding it out in the light to see it
blink its eyes. The little girl, just coming out of the kitchen,
uttered a shrill scream, a really terrible scream, and squatted
down, covering her face with her hands. Madame Joubert came out
to chide her.
"What is the matter with that child?" Claude asked as they
hurried out of the gate. "Do you suppose she was hurt, or abused
in some way?"
"Terrorized. She often screams like that at night. Haven't you
heard her? They have to go and wake her, to stop it. She doesn't
speak any French; only Walloon. And she can't or won't learn, so
they can't tell what goes on in her poor little head."
In the two weeks of intensive training that followed, Claude
marvelled at Gerhardt's spirit and endurance. The muscular strain
of mimic trench operations was more of a tax on him than on any
of the other officers. He was as tall as Claude, but he weighed
only a hundred and forty-six pounds, and he had not been roughly
bred like most of the others. When his fellow officers learned
that he was a violinist by profession, that he could have had a
soft job as interpreter or as an organizer of camp
entertainments, they no longer resented his reserve or his
occasional superciliousness. They respected a man who could have
wriggled out and didn't.
On the march at last; through a brilliant August day Colonel
Scott's battalion was streaming along one of the dusty,
well-worn roads east of the Somme, their railway base well behind
them. The way led through rolling country; fields, hills, woods,
little villages shattered but still habitable, where the people
came out to watch the soldiers go by.
The Americans went through every village m march step, colours
flying, the band playing, "to show that the morale was high," as
the officers said. Claude trudged on the outside of the
column,--now at the front of his company, now at the
rear,--wearing a stoical countenance, afraid of betraying his
satisfaction in the men, the weather, the country.
They were bound for the big show, and on every hand were
reassuring signs: long lines of gaunt, dead trees, charred and
torn; big holes gashed out in fields and hillsides, already half
concealed by new undergrowth; winding depressions in the earth,
bodies of wrecked motor-trucks and automobiles lying along the
road, and everywhere endless straggling lines of rusty
barbed-wire, that seemed to have been put there by chance,--with
no purpose at all.
"Begins to look like we're getting in, Lieutenant," said Sergeant
Hicks, smiling behind his salute.
Claude nodded and passed forward.
"Well, we can't arrive any too soon for us, boys?" The Sergeant
looked over his shoulder, and they grinned, their teeth flashing
white in their red, perspiring faces. Claude didn't wonder that
everybody along the route, even the babies, came out to see them;
he thought they were the finest sight in the world. This was the
first day they had worn their tin hats; Gerhardt had shown them
how to stuff grass and leaves inside to keep their heads cool.
When they fell into fours, and the band struck up as they
approached a town, Bert Fuller, the boy from Pleasantville on the
Platte, who had blubbered on the voyage over, was guide right,
and whenever Claude passed him his face seemed to say, "You won't
get anything on me in a hurry, Lieutenant!"
They made camp early in the afternoon, on a hill covered with
half-burned pines. Claude took Bert and Dell Able and Oscar the
Swede, and set off to make a survey and report the terrain.
Behind the hill, under the burned edge of the wood, they found an
abandoned farmhouse and what seemed to be a clean well.
It had a solid stone curb about it, and a wooden bucket hanging
by a rusty wire. When the boys splashed the bucket about, the
water sent up a pure, cool breath. But they were wise boys, and
knew where dead Prussians most loved to hide. Even the straw in
the stable they regarded with suspicion, and thought it would be
just as well not to bed anybody there.
Swinging on to the right to make their circuit, they got into
mud; a low field where the drain ditches had been neglected and
had overflowed. There they came upon a pitiful group of humanity,
bemired. A woman, ill and wretched looking, sat on a fallen log
at the end of the marsh, a baby in her lap and three children
hanging about her. She was far gone in consumption; one had only
to listen to her breathing and to look at her white, perspiring
face to feel how weak she was. Draggled, mud to the knees, she
was trying to nurse her baby, half hidden under an old black
shawl. She didn't look like a tramp woman, but like one who had
once been able to take proper care of herself, and she was still
young. The children were tired and discouraged. One little boy
wore a clumsy blue jacket, made from a French army coat. The
other wore a battered American Stetson that came down over his
ears. He carried, in his two arms, a pink celluloid clock. They
all looked up and waited for the soldiers to do something.
Claude approached the woman, and touching the rim of his helmet,
began: "Bonjour, Madame. Qu'est que c'est?"
She tried to speak, but went off into a spasm of coughing, only
able to gasp, "'Toinette, 'Toinette!"
'Toinette stepped quickly forward. She was about eleven, and
seemed to be the captain of the party. A bold, hard little face
with a long chin, straight black hair tied with rags, uneasy,
crafty eyes; she looked much less gentle and more experienced
than her mother. She began to explain, and she was very clever at
making herself understood. She was used to talking to foreign
soldiers,--spoke slowly, with emphasis and ingenious gestures.
She, too, had been reconnoitering. She had discovered the empty
farmhouse and was trying to get her party there for the night.
How did they come here? Oh, they were refugees. They had been
staying with people thirty kilometers from here. They were trying
to get back to their own village. Her mother was very sick,
presque morte and she wanted to go home to die. They had heard
people were still living there; an old aunt was living in their
own cellar,--and so could they if they once got there. The point
was, and she made it over and over, that her mother wished to die
chez elle, comprenez-vous? They had no papers, and the French
soldiers would never let them pass, but now that the Americans
were here they hoped to get through; the Americans were said to
be toujours gentils.
While she talked in her shrill, clicking voice, the baby began to
howl, dissatisfied with its nourishment. The little girl
shrugged. ''Il est toujours en colere," she muttered. The woman
turned it around with difficulty--it seemed a big, heavy baby,
but white and sickly--and gave it the other breast. It began
sucking her noisily, rooting and sputtering as if it were
famished. It was too painful, it was almost indecent, to see this
exhausted woman trying to feed her baby. Claude beckoned his men
away to one side, and taking the little girl by the hand drew her
"Il faut que votre mere--se reposer," he told her, with the grave
caesural pause which he always made in the middle of a French
sentence. She understood him. No distortion of her native tongue
surprised or perplexed her. She was accustomed to being addressed
in all persons, numbers, genders, tenses; by Germans, English,
Americans. She only listened to hear whether the voice was kind,
and with men in this uniform it usually was kind.
Had they anything to eat? "Vous avez quelque chose a manger?
"Rien. Rien du tout."
Wasn't her mother "trop malade a marcher?
She shrugged; Monsieur could see for himself.
And her father?
He was dead; "mort à la Marne, en quatorze".
"At the Marne?" Claude repeated, glancing in perplexity at the
nursing baby. Her sharp eyes followed his, and she instantly
divined his doubt. "The baby?" she said quickly. "Oh, the baby is
not my brother, he is a Boche."
For a moment Claude did not understand. She repeated her
explanation impatiently, something disdainful and sinister in her
metallic little voice. A slow blush mounted to his forehead.
He pushed her toward her mother, "Attendez la."
"I guess we'll have to get them over to that farmhouse," he told
the men. He repeated what he had got of the child's story. When
he came to her laconic statement about the baby, they looked at
each other. Bert Fuller was afraid he might cry again, so he kept
muttering, "By God, if we'd a-got here sooner, by God if we had!"
as they ran back along the ditch.
Dell and Oscar made a chair of their crossed hands and carried
the woman, she was no great weight. Bert picked up the little boy
with the pink clock; "Come along, little frog, your legs ain't
Claude walked behind, holding the screaming baby stiffly in his
arms. How was it possible for a baby to have such definite
personality, he asked himself, and how was it possible to dislike
a baby so much? He hated it for its square, tow-thatched head and
bloodless ears, and carried it with loathing . . . no wonder it
cried! When it got nothing by screaming and stiffening, however,
it suddenly grew quiet; regarded him with pale blue eyes, and
tried to make itself comfortable against his khaki coat. It put
out a grimy little fist and took hold of one of his buttons.
"Kamerad, eh?" he muttered, glaring at the infant. "Cut it out!"
Before they had their own supper that night, the boys carried hot
food and blankets down to their family.
Four o'clock . . . a summer dawn . . . his first morning in the
Claude had just been along the line to see that the gun teams
were in position. This hour, when the light was changing, was a
favourite time for attack. He had come in late last night, and
had everything to learn. Mounting the firestep, he peeped over
the parapet between the sandbags, into the low, twisting mist.
Just then he could see nothing but the wire entanglement, with
birds hopping along the top wire, singing and chirping as they
did on the wire fences at home. Clear and flute-like they sounded
in the heavy air,--and they were the only sounds. A little breeze
came up, slowly clearing the mist away. Streaks of green showed
through the moving banks of vapour. The birds became more
agitated. That dull stretch of grey and green was No Man's Land.
Those low, zigzag mounds, like giant molehills protected by wire
hurdles, were the Hun trenches; five or six lines of them. He
could easily follow the communication trenches without a glass.
At one point their front line could not be more than eighty yards
away, at another it must be all of three hundred. Here and there
thin columns of smoke began to rise; the Hun was getting
breakfast; everything was comfortable and natural. Behind the
enemy's position the country rose gradually for several miles,
with ravines and little woods, where, according to his map, they
had masked artillery. Back on the hills were ruined farmhouses
and broken trees, but nowhere a living creature in sight. It was
a dead, nerveless countryside, sunk in quiet and dejection. Yet
everywhere the ground was full of men. Their own trenches, from
the other side, must look quite as dead. Life was a secret, these
It was amazing how simply things could be done. His battalion had
marched in quietly at midnight, and the line they came to relieve
had set out as silently for the rear. It all took place in utter
darkness. Just as B Company slid down an incline into the shallow
rear trenches, the country was lit for a moment by two star
shells, there was a rattling of machine guns, German Maxims,--a
sporadic crackle that was not followed up. Filing along the
communication trenches, they listened anxiously; artillery fire
would have made it bad for the other men who were marching to the
rear. But nothing happened. They had a quiet night, and this
morning, here they were!
The sky flamed up saffron and silver. Claude looked at his watch,
but he could not bear to go just yet. How long it took a Wheeler
to get round to anything! Four years on the way; now that he was
here, he would enjoy the scenery a bit, he guessed. He wished his
mother could know how he felt this morning. But perhaps she did
know. At any rate, she would not have him anywhere else. Five
years ago, when he was sitting on the steps of the Denver State
House and knew that nothing unexpected could ever happen to him .
. suppose he could have seen, in a flash, where he would be
today? He cast a long look at the reddening, lengthening
landscape, and dropped down on the duckboard.
Claude made his way back to the dugout into which he and Gerhardt
had thrown their effects last night. The former occupants had
left it clean. There were two bunks nailed against the side
walls,--wooden frames with wire netting over them, covered with
dry sandbags. Between the two bunks was a soap-box table, with a
candle stuck in a green bottle, an alcohol stove, a bainmarie,
and two tin cups. On the wall were coloured pictures from Jugend,
taken out of some Hun trench.
He found Gerhardt still asleep on his bed, and shook him until he
"How long have you been out, Claude? Didn't you sleep?"
"A little. I wasn't very tired. I suppose we could heat shaving
water on this stove; they've left us half a bottle of alcohol.
It's quite a comfortable little hole, isn't it?"
"It will doubtless serve its purpose," David remarked dryly. "So
sensitive to any criticism of this war! Why, it's not your
affair; you've only just arrived."
"I know," Claude replied meekly, as he began to fold his
blankets. "But it's likely the only one I'll ever be in, so I may
as well take an interest."
The next afternoon four young men, all more or less naked, were
busy about a shellhole full of opaque brown water. Sergeant Hicks
and his chum, Dell Able, had hunted through half the blazing hot
morning to find a hole not too scummy, conveniently, and even
picturesquely situated, and had reported it to the Lieutenants.
Captain Maxey, Hicks said, could send his own orderly to find his
own shellhole, and could take his bath in private. "He'd never
wash himself with anybody else," the Sergeant added. "Afraid of
exposing his dignity!"
Bruger and Hammond, the two second Lieutenants, were already out
of their bath, and reclined on what might almost be termed a
grassy slope, examining various portions of their body with
interest. They hadn't had all their clothes off for some time,
and four days of marching in hot weather made a man anxious to
look at himself.
"You wait till winter," Gerhardt told them. He was still
splashing in the hole, up to his armpits in muddy water. "You
won't get a wash once in three months then. Some of the Tommies
told me that when they got their first bath after Vimy, their
skins peeled off like a snake's. What are you doing with my
"Hunting for your knife. I dropped mine yesterday, when that
shell exploded in the cut-off. I darned near dropped my old nut!"
"Shucks, that wasn't anything. Don't keep blowing about it--shows
you're a greenhorn."
Claude stripped off his shirt and slid into the pool beside
Gerhardt. "Gee, I hit something sharp down there! Why didn't you
fellows pull out the splinters?"
He shut his eyes, disappeared for a moment, and came up
sputtering, throwing on the ground a round metal object, coated
with rust and full of slime. "German helmet, isn't it? Phew!" He
wiped his face and looked about suspiciously.
"Phew is right!" Bruger turned the object over with a stick. "Why
in hell didn't you bring up the rest of him? You've spoiled my
bath. I hope you enjoy it."
Gerhardt scrambled up the side. "Get out, Wheeler! Look at that,"
he pointed to big sleepy bubbles, bursting up through the thick
water. "You've stirred up trouble, all right! Something's going
very bad down there."
Claude got out after him, looking back at the activity in the
water. "I don't see how pulling out one helmet could stir the
bottom up so. I should think the water would keep the smell
"Ever study chemistry?" Bruger asked scornfully. "You just opened
up a graveyard, and now we get the exhaust. If you swallowed any
of that German cologne--Oh, you should worry!"
Lieutenant Hammond, still barelegged, with his shirt tied over
his shoulders, was scratching in his notebook. Before they left
he put up a placard on a split stick.
No Public Bathing! ! Private Beach
C. Wheeler, Co. B. 2-th Inf'ty.
. . . . . . . . . .
The first letters from home! The supply wagons brought them up,
and every man in the Company got something except Ed Drier, a
farm-hand from the Nebraska sand hills, and Willy Katz, the
tow-headed Austrian boy from the South Omaha packing-houses.
Their comrades were sorry for them. Ed didn't have any "folks" of
his own, but he had expected letters all the same. Willy was sure
his mother must have written. When the last ragged envelope was
given out and he turned away empty-handed, he murmured, "She's
Bohunk, and she don't write so good. I guess the address wasn't
plain, and some fellow in another comp'ny has got my letter."
No second class matter was sent up,--the boys had hoped for
newspapers from home to give them a little war news, since they
never got any here. Dell Able's sister, however, had enclosed a
clipping from the Kansas City Star; a long account by one of the
British war correspondents in Mesopotamia, describing the
hardships the soldiers suffered there; dysentery, flies,
mosquitoes, unimaginable heat. He read this article aloud to a
group of his friends as they sat about a shell-hole pool where
they had been washing their socks. He had just finished the story
of how the Tommies had found a few mud huts at the place where
the original Garden of Eden was said to have been,--a desolate
spot full of stinging insects--when Oscar Petersen, a very
religious Swedish boy who was often silent for days together,
opened his mouth and said scornfully,
"That's a lie!"
Dell looked up at him, annoyed by the interruption. "How do you
know it is?"
"Because; the Lord put four cherubims with swords to guard the
Garden, and there ain't no man going to find it. It ain't
intended they should. The Bible says so."
Hicks began to laugh. "Why, that was about six thousand years
ago, you cheese! Do you suppose your cherubims are still there?"
"'Course they are. What's a thousand years to a cherubim?
The Swede rose and sullenly gathered up his socks.
Dell Able looked at his chum. "Ain't he the complete bonehead?
Oscar wouldn't listen further to a "pack of lies" and walked off
with his washing.
. . . . . . . . . .
Battalion Headquarters was nearly half a mile behind the front
line, part dugout, part shed, with a plank roof sodded over. The
Colonel's office was partitioned off at one end; the rest of the
place he gave over to the officers for a kind of club room. One
night Claude went back to make a report on the new placing of the
gun teams. The young officers were sitting about on soap boxes,
smoking and eating sweet crackers out of tin cases. Gerhardt was
working at a plank table with paper and crayons, making a clean
copy of a rough map they had drawn up together that morning,
showing the limits of fire. Noise didn't fluster him; he could
sit among a lot of men and write as calmly as if he were alone.
There was one officer who could talk all the others down,
wherever he was; Captain Barclay Owens, attached from the
Engineers. He was a little stumpy thumb of a man, only five feet
four, and very broad,--a dynamo of energy. Before the war he was
building a dam in Spain, "the largest dam in the world," and in
his excavations he had discovered the ruins of one of Julius
Caesar's fortified camps. This had been too much for his
easily-inflamed imagination. He photographed and measured and
brooded upon these ancient remains. He was an engineer by day and
an archaeologist by night. He had crates of books sent down from
Paris,--everything that had been written on Caesar, in French and
German; he engaged a young priest to translate them aloud to him
in the evening. The priest believed the American was mad.
When Owens was in college he had never shown the least interest
in classical studies, but now it was as if he were giving birth
to Caesar. The war came along, and stopped the work on his dam.
It also drove other ideas into his exclusively engineering
brains. He rushed home to Kansas to explain the war to his
countrymen.. He travelled about the West, demonstrating exactly
what had happened at the first battle of the Marne, until he had
a chance to enlist.
In the Battalion, Owens was called "Julius Caesar," and the men
never knew whether he was explaining the Roman general's
operations in Spain, or Joffre's at the Marne, he jumped so from
one to the other. Everything was in the foreground with him;
centuries made no difference. Nothing existed until Barclay Owens
found out about it. The men liked to hear him talk. Tonight he
was walking up and down, his yellow eyes rolling, a big black
cigar in his hand, lecturing the young officers upon French
characteristics, coaching and preparing them. It was his legs
that made him so funny; his trunk was that of a big man, set on
two short stumps.
"Now you fellows don't want to forget that the night-life of
Paris is not a typical thing at all; that's a show got up for
foreigners . . . . The French peasant, he's a thrifty fellow . .
. . This red wine's all right if you don't abuse it; take it
two-thirds water and it keeps off dysentery . . . . You don't
have to be rough with them, simply firm. Whenever one of them
accosts me, I follow a regular plan; first, I give her
twenty-five francs; then I look her in the eye and say, 'My girl,
I've got three children, three boys.' She gets the point at once;
never fails. She goes away ashamed of herself."
"But that's so expensive! It must keep you poor, Captain Owens,"
said young Lieutenant Hammond innocently. The others roared.
Claude knew that David particularly detested Captain Owens of the
Engineers, and wondered that he could go on working with such
concentration, when snatches of the Captain's lecture kept
breaking through the confusion of casual talk and the noise of
the phonograph. Owens, as he walked up and down, cast furtive
glances at Gerhardt. He had got wind of the fact that there was
something out of the ordinary about him.
The men kept the phonograph going; as soon as one record buzzed
out, somebody put in another. Once, when a new tune began, Claude
saw David look up from his paper with a curious expression. He
listened for a moment with a half-contemptuous smile, then
frowned and began sketching in his map again. Something about his
momentary glance of recognition made Claude wonder whether he had
particular associations with the air,--melancholy, but beautiful,
Claude thought. He got up and went over to change the record
himself this time. He took out the disk, and holding it up to the
light, read the inscription
"Meditation from Thais--Violin solo--David Gerhardt."
When they were going back along the communication trench in the
rain, wading single file, Claude broke the silence abruptly.
"That was one of your records they played tonight, that violin
solo, wasn't it?"
"Sounded like it. Now we go to the right. I always get lost
"Are there many of your records?"
"Quite a number. Why do you ask?"
"I'd like to write my mother. She's fond of good music. She'll
get your records, and it will sort of bring the whole thing
closer to her, don't you see?"
"All right, Claude," said David good-naturedly. "She will find
them in the catalogue, with my picture in uniform alongside. I
had a lot made before I went out to Camp Dix. My own mother gets
a little income from them. Here we are, at home." As he struck a
match two black shadows jumped from the table and disappeared
behind the blankets. "Plenty of them around, these wet nights.
Get one? Don't squash him in there. Here's the sack."
Gerhardt held open the mouth of a gunny sack, and Claude thrust
the squirming corner of his blanket into it and vigorously
trampled whatever fell to the bottom. "Where do you suppose the
other is?" "He'll join us later. I don't mind the rats half so
much as I do Barclay Owens. What a sight he would be with his
clothes off! Turn in; I'll go the rounds." Gerhardt splashed out
along the submerged duckboard. Claude took off his shoes and
cooled his feet in the muddy water. He wished he could ever get
David to talk about his profession, and wondered what he looked
like on a concert platform, playing his violin.
The following night, Claude was sent back to Division
Head-quarters at Q-- with information the Colonel did not care to
commit to paper. He set off at ten o'clock, with Sergeant Hicks
for escort. There had been two days of rain, and the
communication trenches were almost knee-deep in water. About half
a mile back of the front line, the two men crawled out of the
ditch and went on above ground. There was very little shelling
along the front that night. When a flare went up, they dropped
and lay on their faces, trying, at the same time, to get a squint
at what was ahead of them.
The ground was rough, and the darkness thick; it was past
midnight when they reached the east-and-west road--usually full
of traffic, and not entirely deserted even on a night like this.
Trains of horses were splashing through the mud, with shells on
their backs, empty supply wagons were coming back from the front.
Claude and Hicks paused by the ditch, hoping to get a ride. The
rain began to fall with such violence that they looked about for
shelter. Stumbling this way and that, they ran into a big
artillery piece, the wheels sunk over the hubs in a mud-hole.
"Who's there?" called a quick voice, unmistakably British.
"American infantrymen, two of us. Can we get onto one of your
trucks till this lets up?"
"Oh, certainly! We can make room for you in here, if you're not
too big. Speak quietly, or you'll waken the Major." Giggles and
smothered laughter; a flashlight winked for a moment and showed a
line of five trucks, the front and rear ones covered with
tarpaulin tents. The voices came from the shelter next the gun.
The men inside drew up their legs and made room for the
strangers; said they were sorry they hadn't anything dry to offer
them except a little rum. The intruders accepted this gratefully.
The Britishers were a giggly lot, and Claude thought, from their
voices, they must all be very young. They joked about their Major
as if he were their schoolmaster. There wasn't room enough on the
truck for anybody to lie down, so they sat with their knees under
their chins and exchanged gossip. The gun team belonged to an
independent battery that was sent about over the country,
"wherever needed." The rest of the battery had got through, gone
on to the east, but this big gun was always getting into trouble;
now something had gone wrong with her tractor and they couldn't
pull her out. They called her "Jenny," and said she was taken
with fainting fits now and then, and had to be humoured. It was
like going about with your grandmother, one of the invisible
Tommies said, "she is such a pompous old thing!" The Major was
asleep on the rear truck; he was going to get the V.C. for
sleeping. More giggles.
No, they hadn't any idea where they were going; of course, the
officers knew, but artillery officers never told anything. What
was this country like, anyhow? They were new to this part, had
just come down from Verdure.
Claude said he had a friend in the air service up there; did they
happen to know anything about Victor Morse?
Morse, the American ace? Hadn't he heard? Why, that got into the
London papers. Morse was shot down inside the Hun line three
weeks ago. It was a brilliant affair. He was chased by eight
Boche planes, brought down three of them, put the rest to flight,
and was making for base, when they turned and got him. His
machine came down in flames and he jumped, fell a thousand feet
"Then I suppose he never got his leave?" Claude asked.
They didn't know. He got a fine citation.
The men settled down to wait for the weather to improve or the
night to pass. Some of them fell into a doze, but Claude felt
wide awake. He was wondering about the flat in Chelsea; whether
the heavy-eyed beauty had been very sorry, or whether she was
playing "Roses of Picardy" for other young officers. He thought
mournfully that he would never go to London now. He had quite
counted on meeting Victor there some day, after the Kaiser had
been properly disposed of. He had really liked Victor. There was
something about that fellow . . . a sort of debauched baby, he
was, who went seeking his enemy in the clouds. What other age
could have produced such a figure? That was one of the things
about this war; it took a little fellow from a little town, gave
him an air and a swagger, a life like a movie-film,--and then a
death like the rebel angels.
A man like Gerhardt, for instance, had always lived in a more or
less rose-colored world; he belonged over here, really. How could
he know what hard moulds and crusts the big guns had broken open
on the other side of the sea? Who could ever make him understand
how far it was from the strawberry bed and the glass cage in the
bank, to the sky-roads over Verdure?
By three o'clock the rain had stopped. Claude and Hicks set off
again, accompanied by one of the gun team who was going back to
get help for their tractor. As it began to grow light, the two
Americans wondered more and more at the extremely youthful
appearance of their companion. When they stopped at a shellhole
and washed the mud from their faces, the English boy, with his
helmet off and the weather stains removed, showed a countenance
of adolescent freshness, almost girlish; cheeks like pink apples,
yellow curls above his forehead, long, soft lashes.
"You haven't been over very long, have you?" Claude asked in a
fatherly tone, as they took the road again.
"I came out in 'sixteen. I was formerly in the infantry."
The Americans liked to hear him talk; he spoke very quickly, in a
high, piping voice.
"How did you come to change?"
"Oh, I belonged to one of the Pal Battalions, and we got cut to
pieces. When I came out of hospital, I thought I'd try another
branch of the service, seeing my pals were gone."
"Now, just what is a Pal Battalion?" drawled Hicks. He hated all
English words he didn't understand, though he didn't mind French
ones in the least.
"Fellows who signed up together from school," the lad piped,
Hicks glanced at Claude. They both thought this boy ought to be
in school for some time yet, and wondered what he looked like
when he first came over.
"And you got cut up, you say?" he asked sympathetically.
"Yes, on the Somme. We had rotten luck. We were sent over to take
a trench and couldn't. We didn't even get to the wire. The Hun
was so well prepared that time, we couldn't manage it. We went
over a thousand, and we came back seventeen."
"A hundred and seventeen?"
Hicks whistled and again exchanged looks with Claude. They could
neither of them doubt him. There was something very unpleasant
about the idea of a thousand fresh-faced schoolboys being sent
out against the guns. "It must have been a fool order," he
commented. "Suppose there was some mistake at Headquarters?"
"Oh, no, Headquarters knew what it was about! We'd have taken it,
if we'd had any sort of luck. But the Hun happened to be full of
fight. His machine guns did for us."
"You were hit yourself?" Claude asked him.
"In the leg. He was popping away at me all the while, but I
wriggled back on my tummy. When I came out of the hospital my leg
wasn't strong, and there's less marching in the artillery.
"I should think you'd have had about enough."
"Oh, a fellow can't stay out after all his chums have been
killed! He'd think about it all the time, you know," the boy
replied in his clear treble.
Claude and Hicks got into Headquarters just as the cooks were
turning out to build their fires. One of the Corporals took them
to the officers' bath,--a shed with big tin tubs, and carried away
their uniforms to dry them in the kitchen. It would be an hour
before the officers would be about, he said, and in the meantime
he would manage to get clean shirts and socks for them.
"Say, Lieutenant," Hicks brought out as he was rubbing himself
down with a real bath towel, "I don't want to hear any more about
those Pal Battalions, do you? It gets my goat. So long as we were
going to get into this, we might have been a little more
previous. I hate to feel small." "Guess we'll have to take our
medicine," Claude said dryly, "There wasn't anywhere to duck, was
there? I felt like it. Nice little kid. I don't believe American
boys ever seem as young as that."
"Why, if you met him anywhere else, you'd be afraid of using bad
words before him, he's so pretty! What's the use of sending an
orphan asylum out to be slaughtered? I can't see it," grumbled
the fat sergeant. "Well, it's their business. I'm not going to
let it spoil my breakfast. Suppose we'll draw ham and eggs,
After breakfast Claude reported to Headquarters and talked with
one of the staff Majors. He was told he would have to wait until
tomorrow to see Colonel James, who had been called to Paris for a
general conference. He had left in his car at four that morning,
in response to a telephone message.
"There's not much to do here, by way of amusement," said the
Major. "A movie show tonight, and you can get anything you want
at the estaminet,--the one on the square, opposite the English
tank, is the best. There are a couple of nice Frenchwomen in the
Red Cross barrack, up on the hill, in the old convent garden.
They try to look out for the civilian population, and we're on
good terms with them. We get their supplies through with our own,
and the quartermaster has orders to help them when they run
short. You might go up and call on them. They speak English
Claude asked whether he could walk in on them without any kind of
"Oh, yes, they're used to us! I'll give you a card to Mlle.
Olive, though. She's a particular friend of mine. There you are:
'Mlle. Olive de Courcy, introducing, etc.' And, you understand,"
here he glanced up and looked Claude over from head to foot,
"she's a perfect lady."
Even with an introduction, Claude felt some hesitancy about
presenting himself to these ladies. Perhaps they didn't like
Americans; he was always afraid of meeting French people who
didn't. It was the same way with most of the fellows in his
battalion, he had found; they were terribly afraid of being
disliked. And the moment they felt they were disliked, they
hastened to behave as badly as possible, in order to deserve it;
then they didn't feel that they had been taken in--the worst
feeling a doughboy could possibly have!
Claude thought he would stroll about to look at the town a
little. It had been taken by the Germans in the autumn of 1914,
after their retreat from the Marne, and they had held it until
about a year ago, when it was retaken by the English and the
Chasseurs d'Alpins. They had been able to reduce it and to drive
the Germans out, only by battering it down with artillery; not
one building remained standing.
Ruin was ugly, and it was nothing more, Claude was thinking, as
he followed the paths that ran over piles of brick and plaster.
There was nothing picturesque about this, as there was in the war
pictures one saw at home. A cyclone or a fire might have done
just as good a job. The place was simply a great dump-heap; an
exaggeration of those which disgrace the outskirts of American
towns. It was the same thing over and over; mounds of burned
brick and broken stone, heaps of rusty, twisted iron, splintered
beams and rafters, stagnant pools, cellar holes full of muddy
water. An American soldier had stepped into one of those holes a
few nights before, and been drowned.
This had been a rich town of eighteen thousand inhabitants; now
the civilian population was about four hundred. There were people
there who had hung on all through the years of German occupation;
others who, as soon as they heard that the enemy was driven out,
came back from wherever they had found shelter. They were living
in cellars, or in little wooden barracks made from old timbers
and American goods boxes. As he walked along, Claude read
familiar names and addresses, painted on boards built into the
sides of these frail shelters: "From Emery Bird, Thayer Co.
Kansas City, Mo." "Daniels and Fisher, Denver, Colo." These
inscriptions cheered him so much that he began to feel like going
up and calling on the French ladies.
The sun had come out hot after three days of rain. The stagnant
pools and the weeds that grew in the ditches gave out a rank,
heavy smell. Wild flowers grew triumphantly over the piles of
rotting wood and rusty iron; cornflowers and Queen Anne's lace
and poppies; blue and white and red, as if the French colours
came up spontaneously out of the French soil, no matter what the
Germans did to it.
Claude paused before a little shanty built against a
half-demolished brick wall. A gilt cage hung in the doorway, with
a canary, singing beautifully. An old woman was working in the
garden patch, picking out bits of brick and plaster the rain had
washed up, digging with her fingers around the pale carrot-tops
and neat lettuce heads. Claude approached her, touched his
helmet, and asked her how one could find the way to the Red
She wiped her hands on her apron and took him by the elbow. "Vous
savez le tank Anglais? Non? Marie, Marie!"
(He learned afterward that every one was directed to go this way
or that from a disabled British tank that had been left on the
site of the old town hall.)
A little girl ran out of the barrack, and her grandmother told
her to go at once and take the American to the Red Cross. Marie
put her hand in Claude's and led him off along one of the paths
that wound among the rubbish. She took him out of the way to show
him a church,--evidently one of the ruins of which they were
proudest,--where the blue sky was shining through the white
arches. The Virgin stood with empty arms over the central door; a
little foot sticking to her robe showed where the infant Jesus
had been shot away.
"Le bebe est casse, mais il a protege sa mere," Marie explained
with satisfaction. As they went on, she told Claude that she had
a soldier among the Americans who was her friend. "Il est bon, il
est gai, mon soldat," but he sometimes drank too much alcohol,
and that was a bad habit. Perhaps now, since his comrade had
stepped into a cellar hole Monday night while he was drunk, and
had been drowned, her "Sharlie" would be warned and would do
better. Marie was evidently a well brought up child. Her father,
she said, had been a schoolmaster. At the foot of the convent
hill, she turned to go home. Claude called her back and awkwardly
tried to give her some money, but she thrust her hands behind her
and said resolutely, "Non, merci. Je n'ai besoin de rien," and
then ran away down the path.
As he climbed toward the top of the hill he noticed that the
ground had been cleaned up a bit. The path was clear, the bricks
and hewn stones had been piled in neat heaps, the broken hedges
had been trimmed and the dead parts cut away. Emerging at last
into the garden, he stood still for wonder; even though it was in
ruins, it seemed so beautiful after the disorder of the world
The gravel walks were clean and shining. A wall of very old
boxwoods stood green against a row of dead Lombardy poplars.
Along the shattered side of the main building, a pear tree,
trained on wires like a vine, still flourished,--full of little
red pears. Around the stone well was a shaven grass plot, and
everywhere there were little trees and shrubs, which had been too
low for the shells to hit,--or for the fire, which had seared the
poplars, to catch. The hill must have been wrapped in flames at
one time, and all the tall trees had been burned.
The barrack was built against the walls of the cloister,--three
arches of which remained, like a stone wing to the shed of
planks. On a ladder stood a one-armed young man, driving nails
very skillfully with his single hand. He seemed to be making a
frame projection from the sloping roof, to support an awning. He
carried his nails in his mouth. When he wanted one, he hung his
hammer to the belt of his trousers, took a nail from between his
teeth, stuck it into the wood, and then deftly rapped it on the
head. Claude watched him for a moment, then went to the foot of
the ladder and held out his two hands. "Laissez-moi," he
The one aloft spat his nails out into his palm, looked down, and
laughed. He was about Claude's age, with very yellow hair and
moustache and blue eyes. A charming looking fellow.
"Willingly," he said. "This is no great affair, but I do it to
amuse myself, and it will be pleasant for the ladies." He
descended and gave his hammer to the visitor. Claude set to work
on the frame, while the other went under the stone arches and
brought back a roll of canvas,--part of an old tent, by the look
"Un heritage des Boches," he explained unrolling it upon the
grass. "I found it among their filth in the cellar, and had the
idea to make a pavilion for the ladies, as our trees are
destroyed." He stood up suddenly. "Perhaps you have come to see
Very well, the boy said, they would get the pavilion done for a
surprise for Mlle. Olive when she returned. She was down in the
town now, visiting the sick people. He bent over his canvas
again, measuring and cutting with a pair of garden shears, moving
round the green plot on his knees, and all the time singing.
Claude wished he could understand the words of his song.
While they were working together, tying the cloth up to the
frame, Claude, from his elevation, saw a tall girl coming slowly
up the path by which he had ascended. She paused at the top, by
the boxwood hedge, as if she were very tired, and stood looking
at them. Presently she approached the ladder and said in slow,
careful English, "Good morning. Louis has found help, I see."
Claude came down from his perch.
"Are you Mlle. de Courcy? I am Claude Wheeler. I have a note of
introduction to you, if I can find it."
She took the card, but did not look at it. "That is not
necessary. Your uniform is enough. Why have you come?"
He looked at her in some confusion. "Well, really, I don't know!
I am just in from the front to see Colonel James, and he is in
Paris, so I must wait over a day. One of the staff suggested my
coming up here--I suppose because it is so nice!" he finished
"Then you are a guest from the front, and you will have lunch
with Louis and me. Madame Barre is also gone for the day. Will you
see our house?" She led him through the low door into a living
room, unpainted, uncarpeted, light and airy. There were coloured
war posters on the clean board walls, brass shell cases full of
wild flowers and garden flowers, canvas camp-chairs, a shelf of
books, a table covered by a white silk shawl embroidered with big
butterflies. The sunlight on the floor, the bunches of fresh
flowers, the white window curtains stirring in the breeze,
reminded Claude of something, but he could not remember what.
"We have no guest room," said Mlle. de Courcy. "But you will come
to mine, and Louis will bring you hot water to wash."
In a wooden chamber at the end of the passage, Claude took off
his coat, and set to work to make himself as tidy as possible.
Hot water and scented soap were in themselves pleasant things.
The dresser was an old goods box, stood on end and covered with
white lawn. On it there was a row of ivory toilet things, with
combs and brushes, powder and cologne, and a pile of white
handkerchiefs fresh from the iron. He felt that he ought not to
look about him much, but the odor of cleanness, and the
indefinable air of personality, tempted him. In one corner, a
curtain on a rod made a clothes-closet; in another was a low iron
bed, like a soldier's, with a pale blue coverlid and white
pillows. He moved carefully and splashed discreetly. There was
nothing he could have damaged or broken, not even a rug on the
plank floor, and the pitcher and hand-basin were of iron; yet he
felt as if he were imperiling something fragile.
When he came out, the table in the living room was set for three.
The stout old dame who was placing the plates paid no attention
to him,--seemed, from her expression, to scorn him and all his
kind. He withdrew as far as possible out of her path and picked
up a book from the table, a volume of Heine's Reisebilder in
Before lunch Mlle. de Courcy showed him the store room in the
rear, where the shelves were stocked with rows of coffee tins,
condensed milk, canned vegetables and meat, all with American
trade names he knew so well; names which seemed doubly familiar
and "reliable" here, so far from home. She told him the people in
the town could not have got through the winter without these
things. She had to deal them out sparingly, where the need was
greatest, but they made the difference between life and death.
Now that it was summer, the people lived by their gardens; but
old women still came to beg for a few ounces of coffee, and
mothers to get a can of milk for the babies.
Claude's face glowed with pleasure. Yes, his country had a long
arm. People forgot that; but here, he felt, was some one who did
not forget. When they sat down to lunch he learned that Mlle. de
Courcy and Madame Barre had been here almost a year now; they
came soon after the town was retaken, when the old inhabitants
began to drift back. The people brought with them only what they
could carry in their arms.
"They must love their country so much, don't you think, when they
endure such poverty to come back to it?" she said. "Even the old
ones do not often complain about their dear things--their linen,
and their china, and their beds. If they have the ground, and
hope, all that they can make again. This war has taught us all
how little the made things matter. Only the feeling matters."
Exactly so; hadn't he been trying to say this ever since he was
born? Hadn't he always known it, and hadn't it made life both
bitter and sweet for him? What a beautiful voice she had, this
Mlle. Olive, and how nobly it dealt with the English tongue. He
would like to say something, but out of so much . . . what? He
remained silent, therefore, sat nervously breaking up the black
war bread that lay beside his plate.
He saw her looking at his hand, felt in a flash that she regarded
it with favour, and instantly put it on his knee, under the
"It is our trees that are worst," she went on sadly. "You have
seen our poor trees? It makes one ashamed for this beautiful part
of France. Our people are more sorry for them than to lose their
cattle and horses."
Mlle. de Courcy looked over-taxed by care and responsibility,
Claude thought, as he watched her. She seemed far from strong.
Slender, grey-eyed, dark-haired, with white transparent skin and a
too ardent colour in her lips and cheeks,--like the flame of a
feverish activity within. Her shoulders drooped, as if she were
always tired. She must be young, too, though there were threads
of grey in her hair,--brushed flat and knotted carelessly at the
back of her head.
After the coffee, Mlle. de Courcy went to work at her desk, and
Louis took Claude to show him the garden. The clearing and
trimming and planting were his own work, and he had done it all
with one arm. This autumn he would accomplish much more, for he
was stronger now, and he had the habitude of working
single-handed. He must manage to get the dead trees down; they
distressed Mademoiselle Olive. In front of the barrack stood four
old locusts; the tops were naked forks, burned coal-black, but
the lower branches had put out thick tufts of yellow-green
foliage, so vigorous that the life in the trunks must still be
sound. This fall, Louis said, he meant to get some strong
American boys to help him, and they would saw off the dead limbs
and trim the tops flat over the thick boles. How much it must
mean to a man to love his country like this, Claude thought; to
love its trees and flowers; to nurse it when it was sick, and
tend its hurts with one arm. Among the flowers, which had come
back self-sown or from old roots, Claude found a group of tall,
straggly plants with reddish stems and tiny white blossoms,-- one
of the evening primrose family, the Gaura, that grew along the
clay banks of Lovely Creek, at home. He had never thought it very
pretty, but he was pleased to find it here. He had supposed it
was one of those nameless prairie flowers that grew on the
prairie and nowhere else.
When they went back to the barrack, Mlle. Olive was sitting in
one of the canvas chairs Louis had placed under the new pavilion.
"What a fine fellow he is!" Claude exclaimed, looking after him.
"Louis? Yes. He was my brother's orderly. When Emile came home on
leave he always brought Louis with him, and Louis became like one
of the family. The shell that killed my brother tore off his arm.
My mother and I went to visit him in the hospital, and he seemed
ashamed to be alive, poor boy, when my brother was dead. He put
his hand over his face and began to cry, and said, 'Oh, Madame,
il etait toujours plus chic que moi!'"
Although Mlle. Olive spoke English well, Claude saw that she did
so only by keeping her mind intently upon it. The stiff sentences
she uttered were foreign to her nature; her face and eyes ran
ahead of her tongue and made one wait eagerly for what was
coming. He sat down in a sagging canvas chair, absently twisting
a sprig of Gaura he had pulled.
"You have found a flower?" She looked up.
"Yes. It grows at home, on my father's farm."
She dropped the faded shirt she was darning. "Oh, tell me about
your country! I have talked to so many, but it is difficult to
understand. Yes, tell me about that!"
Nebraska--What was it? How many days from the sea, what did it
look like? As he tried to describe it, she listened with
half-closed eyes. "Flat-covered with grain-muddy rivers. I think
it must be like Russia. But your father's farm; describe that to
me, minutely, and perhaps I can see the rest."
Claude took a stick and drew a square in the sand: there, to
begin with, was the house and farmyard; there was the big
pasture, with Lovely Creek flowing through it; there were the
wheatfields and cornfields, the timber claim; more wheat and
corn, more pastures. There it all was, diagrammed on the yellow
sand, with shadows gliding over it from the half-charred locust
trees. He would not have believed that he could tell a stranger
about it in such detail. It was partly due to his listener, no
doubt; she gave him unusual sympathy, and the glow of an unusual
mind. While she bent over his map, questioning him, a light dew
of perspiration gathered on her upper lip, and she breathed
faster from her effort to see and understand everything. He told
her about his mother and his father and Mahailey; what life was
like there in summer and winter and autumn--what it had been like
in that fateful summer when the Hun was moving always toward
Paris, and on those three days when the French were standing at
the Marne; how his mother and father waited for him to bring the
news at night, and how the very cornfields seemed to hold their
Mlle. Olive sank back wearily in her chair. Claude looked up and
saw tears sparkling in her brilliant eyes. "And I myself," she
murmured, "did not know of the Marne until days afterward, though
my father and brother were both there! I was far off in Brittany,
and the trains did not run. That is what is wonderful, that you
are here, telling me this! We, we were taught from childhood that
some day the Germans would come; we grew up under that threat.
But you were so safe, with all your wheat and corn. Nothing could
touch you, nothing!"
Claude dropped his eyes. "Yes," he muttered, blushing, "shame
could. It pretty nearly did. We are pretty late." He rose from
his chair as if he were going to fetch something . . . . But
where was he to get it from? He shook his head. "I am afraid," he
said mournfully, "there is nothing I can say to make you
understand how far away it all seemed, how almost visionary. It
didn't only seem miles away, it seemed centuries away."
"But you do come,--so many, and from so far! It is the last
miracle of this war. I was in Paris on the fourth day of July,
when your Marines, just from Belleau Wood, marched for your
national fete, and I said to myself as they came on, 'That is a
new man!' Such heads they had, so fine there, behind the ears.
Such discipline and purpose. Our people laughed and called to
them and threw them flowers, but they never turned to look . . .
eyes straight before. They passed like men of destiny." She threw
out her hands with a swift movement and dropped them in her lap.
The emotion of that day came back in her face. As Claude looked
at her burning cheeks, her burning eyes, he understood that the
strain of this war had given her a perception that was almost
like a gift of prophecy.
A woman came up the hill carrying a baby. Mlle. de Courcy went to
meet her and took her into the house. Clause sat down again,
almost lost to himself in the feeling of being completely
understood, of being no longer a stranger. In the far distance
the big guns were booming at intervals. Down in the garden Louis
was singing. Again he wished he knew the words of Louis' songs.
The airs were rather melancholy, but they were sung very
cheerfully. There was something open and warm about the boy's
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