Part 2 out of 5
for out of the gloom ahead fresh parties of onlookers appeared, paused
disconcerted as she wished them "good evening," nodded or saluted her in
haste, then hurried by.
An officer with grizzled hair stepped into the passage from a doorway.
As she neared him she saw he wore the badges of a commandant.
"Who is this?" he asked in a low voice of the soldier who followed at
"J'n'en sais rien, mon commandant," The soldier stiffened as a watch-dog
who sees a cat.
Fanny hastened nearer. "I drive a Russian officer," she explained. "I
hope I have your permission to stay here."
"Ah!" exclaimed the officer, looking at her in surprise. "Colonel
Dellahousse told me 'a driver'; he did not add that the driver was a
lady. Where have they put you? Not in the cubicles of the _officiers de
passage?_ No, no, that must be changed, that won't do. Come, you shall
sleep in the room next to the bishop's room, as he is absent. It is in
Fanny followed him, and noticed that the corridor was now clear of
soldiers. The commandant paused before a door decorated with flags and
led her into another corridor lined with cubicles much larger than those
she had seen at first.
"Open number seven."
The soldier took his bunch of keys and opened the door.
"Now fetch mademoiselle's effects from the other corridor. Which number
was your room, mademoiselle?"
"Twenty-two. But I can fetch them ... I have really nothing."
The soldier withdrew.
"He will get them. You dine with us, I hope, to-night at seven. Are you
"Yes, English--with the French Army. I am really so grateful...."
"The other room was not possible. I like the English, mees. I have known
them at my home near Biarritz. You and I must talk a little. Do you
care to read?"
"Oh, yes, if I get time...."
"Any books you may want please take from my sitting-room, number
sixteen in this corridor. _Tenez!_ I have an English book there--'The
Light that Failed'--I will get it for you."
"Oh! I have read ... But thank you."
_"De rien, de rien!_ I will get it now." He hastened up the corridor and
returned with the book in his hand.
The soldier, too, returned, bearing the seven objects which had
accompanied her travels.
"You will clean mademoiselle's shoes, brush her uniform, and bring her
hot water when she needs it," ordered the commandant, and the soldier
saluted impassively--a watch-dog who had been told that it was the
house-cat after all.
Left alone, she searched all her pockets for some forgotten stick of
chocolate, and finding nothing, sat down upon the bed to wait hungrily
till seven. The air in the tunnels was heavy and dry, and throwing off
her tunic she lay down on the bed and slept until footsteps passing her
door awoke her.
She became aware that the inhabitants of her corridor were washing their
hands for dinner, and sitting up sleepily found that it was already
seven. In a few minutes she hurried from her room and out into the main
tunnel, glad to get nearer the fresh air which filtered in through the
opening at the far end.
Reaching a door which she had noticed before, marked "_popote_," she
paused a second, listening to the hum of voices within, then pushed at
the door and entered.
Instantly there was a hush of astonishment as seventy or eighty
officers, eating at a long trestle table, sharply turned their heads
towards her, their forks poised for a second, their hands still. Then,
with a quick recovery, all was as before, and the stream of talk
The first section of the table was reserved for strangers passing
through Verdun, and here sat a party of young Russian officers in light
blouse-tunics, an American or two, and a few French officers. At the
next section sat the officers of the _citadelle_, a passing general, and
at the left hand of the commandant, Monsieur Dellahousse and the mild
Overhead the stone roof of the tunnel was arched with flags, and
orderlies hurried up and down serving the diners.
Fanny, halfway up the long table, wavered in doubt. Where, after all,
was she supposed to sit? At the top section, as a guest--or, as a
driver, among the whispering Russians at the "stranger" section? Her
anxiety showed in her face as she glanced forwards and backwards and an
orderly hurried towards her. "Par ici, mademoiselle, par ici!" and she
followed him towards the head of the table. Her doubts dissolved as she
saw the gap left for her by the friendly arm of the lieutenant, and,
arrived at the long wooden bench upon which they sat, she bowed to the
commandant, and lifting one leg beneath her skirt as a hen does beneath
its feathers, she straddled the difficult bench and dropped
"Beer, mademoiselle? Or red wine?" asked the Russian, suddenly turning
to her; and the commandant, released from his conversation, called out
gaily: "The mees will say 'water'--but one must insist. Take the wine,
mees, it is better for you." The idea of water had never crossed Fanny's
mind, but having decided on beer she changed it politely to red wine,
which she guessed to be no other than the everlasting _pinard_.
"I know them...." continued the commandant, smiling at the general. "I
know the English! My home is at Biarritz and there one meets so many."
And this old man thus addressed, a great star blazing on his breast, and
tears of age trembling in his blue eyes, lifted his hand to attract her
attention, and said to Fanny in gentle English: "Verdun honours a
charming guest, mademoiselle."
_"Verdun ... honours...."_ His words lingered in her ear. She a guest,
_she_ honoured ... _here_!
Up till now the novelty of her situation had engrossed her, the little
soldiers watching in the tunnels, the commandant so eager to air his
stumbling English, these had amused her.
And when she had perceived herself rare, unique, she had forgotten why
she was thus rare, and what strange, romantic life she meddled in.
Here in this womanless region, in this fortress, in this room, night
after night, month after month, the commandant and his officers had sat
at table; in this room, which, unlike the tomb, had held only the
living, while the dead and the threatened-with-death inhabited the
They had finished dinner and Monsieur Dellahousse signalled to Fanny
that she might rise. She rose, and at the full sight of her uniform he
remembered her duties and said stiffly: "Be good enough to wait up till
ten to-night. I may need you."
They passed out again down the length of the tables. Near the door the
Russian paused to speak with his countrymen, who rose and stood
respectfully round him. Fanny and the lieutenant went on alone to
"You have travelled with him before?" she asked.
"Oh, yes. I am lent to him to help him through the country. He is on a
tour of inspection for the Red Cross; he visits all the camps of Russian
prisoners liberated from Germany."
"But are there many round Verdun?"
"Thousands. You will see to-morrow. And be prepared for early rising. If
he doesn't send for you by ten to-night I will tell the orderly to let
you know the hour at which you will be wanted to-morrow morning. The
car is all ready to start again?"
"I am going out to her now."
He turned away to join the Russian, and Fanny passed the sentry at the
tunnel's mouth, and stood in the road outside.
Verdun by night, Verdun by starlight, awaited her.
Up the slopes of the hill, every spar, brick and beam, carried its
bristle of gold. At her own head's imperceptible movement flashes came
and went between the ribs of the Bishop's Palace. The sentry by the
tunnel stood between the upper and the underground:--with his left eye
he could watch the lights that strung back into the hollow hill, with
his right, the smiling and winking of the stars in the sky.
"Fait beau dehors." His voice startled her. She turned to him, but he
stood immobile in the shadow as though he had never spoken. She could
not be sure that he had indicated to her that every man has his taste
and his choice.
She set to work on her car which stood in the shelter of an archway
opposite, and for half an hour the sky trembled unregarded above her
head. When she had finished she stood back and gazed at the Rochet with
an anxious friendly enmity--the friendship of an infant with a lion.
"The garage is eighty miles away," she sighed, "with its friendly men
who know all where I know so little.... Ah, do I know enough? What have
I left undone?" For she felt, what was the truth, that the whole
expedition depended on her, that the stately Russian had perhaps never
known what it was to have a breakdown--that in Moscow, in Petrograd, in
his faraway life, he had sat in town cars behind two chauffeurs, unaware
of the deadly traps in rubber and metal.
Night was the same as day in the tunnels; the electric light was always
on, and with the morning no daylight crept in to alter it. The orderly
called her at half-past six and she took her "clients" to a barracks in
the suburbs of Verdun, where Russian prisoners "liberated" from Germany
crowded and jostled to see her from behind the bars of the barrack
square, like wild animals in a cage. Armed sentries paced backwards and
forwards across the gateway to the yard. As it came on to snow a French
soldier came out of a guardroom and invited her in by the fire.
Inside, the rest of the guard huddled about the stove, and behind them a
Russian prisoner with a moon face swept up the crumbs from their last meal.
"Why do Americans guard the gate?" she asked, "since you are a French
"Because we don't shoot with enough goodwill," grinned a little man.
"But who do you want to shoot?"
"Those fellows!" said the little man, slapping the moon-faced Russian on
the thigh. "We used to guard the gates a week ago. But the Russians were
always escaping, and not enough were shot as they got over the wall. So
they said: 'The Americans are the types for that!' and they put them on
to guard the gates. Look outside! You are having a success,
Hundreds of Russians stood about together outside, in strange, poor,
scraped-together clothes, just as they had come from Germany, peering at
Fanny in silence through the open doorway.
"But I thought these were _liberated_ prisoners from Germany?"
"Don't ask me!" said the little man disgustedly. "I wish to heaven they
were all back in Germany. Look at me! I've fought in the Somme, the
Aisne, and Verdun, and now at the end of the war I'm left here to look
after these pigs!"
A sergeant entered. "A man to take the prisoner in the fourth cell up to
the doctor," he said sharply.
"It's not my turn," said the little man, aggrieved that the eye of the
sergeant should so rest on him. "It's yours!" he said to the man on the
bench beside him. "It's yours!" replied this man to the next.
"Yes, it's Chaumet's! Yes, it's Chaumet's, _va-t'en_!" they all said,
and a man with a cast in his eye got up slowly, grumbling, and turned
towards the door.
"Here, dress yourself!"
"What, to take a ... to the doctor?"
He pulled his belt and gun off the rack with an ill-will and
disappeared, buckling it on.
"You have Russians in cells, too?"
"Those who won't work, yes. On bread and water. That one has been on
bread and water for five days. In my opinion he'll die."
"But why won't they work?"
"Work! He won't even clean his own cell out! They say it's because they
are Bolshevists, but I don't know about that. I talk a little Russian,
and I think they are convinced that if they make themselves at all
useful to us we shall never send them home. Some of them think they are
in Germany still. They're an ignorant lot."
An American came in rather hesitatingly, but without nodding to the
"We've got bacon-chips in our camp," he said, addressing Fanny directly.
"I don't like to bring them in here, but if you'd just step
across ... it isn't a stone's throw."
She did not like to desert the French, but she was sick with hunger, and
rose. She knew she would have nothing from the guard-house meal, for
they probably had the same ration as she--one piece of meat, two potatoes,
and one sardine a man.
After all, food was more important than sentiment, and she followed him
out of the hut.
"You won't get anything from those skinflints," said the American, "so
we thought you'd better come and have some chips."
"Because they have nothing to give," she answered, half inclined to
turn back. The American barracks were opposite, and in the yard, under a
shelter of planks, the men were eating round a complicated travelling
kitchen on wheels. "They have all the latest, richest things," thought
Fanny, jealous for the French, antagonistic, yet hungry. But when she
was among the Americans, they were simple and kind to her, offering her
a great tray of fried bacon chips, concerned that she should have to eat
them with her hand, washing out their tin mugs and filling them with
coffee for her, making her sit on a barrel while she ate. "It's only
that they are so different," she thought. "So different from the French
that they can never meet without hurting and jarring each other."
Russians slouched about in the snow, washing the pans. When they had
finished eating the Americans called to the Russians to eat what
remained of the bacon chips. Watching them eat with the hunger of
animals, they said:
"They starve them in the French barracks. We give them food here, or
they'd sure die."
"They give them what they can in the French barracks; the soldiers don't
get a ration like this, you know, even for themselves."
"Their fault for not kicking up a shindy," said the free-born Americans.
"We wouldn't stand it."
"You have no idea of poverty."
Food was even lying in the snow. A soldier cook thrust his head out of a
hut, crying: "Any one want any more chips?"
She knew that it was probably true what the Frenchman had said, that the
Americans shot the Russians as lightly as if they were sparrows. Yet
here they wept over the French ration that kept the Russians hungry,
though alive and well. What a curious mixture of sentiment and brutality
She pulled out her cigarette case and offered a cigarette to a man
standing near her. He took it and answered in a thick, lisping Jewish
accent, soft and uniformed: "I don't smoke, ma'am. But I'll keep it as a
souvenir give to me by the only lady I've seen in three months."
"That's really true? You haven't seen a woman for three months?"
"No, ma'am. Not a one. It must seem strange to you to hear us say that.
Just as though you were a zebra."
"There's some one over by your car," said the sentry, who had no idea of
silence at his post. She got up quickly and flew back to the other
barracks, jumping the deep pools of water and mud and the little heaps
of soiled snow, started up the car and drove back to the _citadelle_
At one-thirty they started out again, to chase over the grey downs in
search of Russian camps folded away in small depressions and hollows,
invisible from the main roads.
And thus, day after day, for five days, she drove him from morning to
evening, from camp to camp around Verdun, until they had seen many
thousands of Russians. Sometimes the French lieutenant came with them,
and once or twice the Russian gravely invited him to sit in front with
the driver. Then they would talk together a little in English, and once
he said: "Would you like me to tell you something that will surprise you
and interest me?"
She looked round.
"Your employer," he said, smiling gently over the expression, "is
jealous of you."
She did not know what to make of this.
"He dislikes it intensely when you talk to the commandant of the
"He does not think you exclusive enough, considering you, as he does,
as _his woman_."
"Yes, of course! But you ought to realise that you are the only woman
for miles around, and you belong to us!"
"Well, yes. I have something the same feeling. But his is stronger
because his nature is Oriental. He thinks: 'This woman is a great
curiosity, therefore a great treasure; and this treasure belongs to me.
I brought her here, I am responsible for her, she obeys my orders.'"
"But does he tell you all this, or do you guess it?"
"We talk of this and that."
That night in the mess-room the Russian leant across the table to Fanny.
"What is man's mystery to a woman if she lives surrounded by him?"
"Oh, but that's not necessary ... mystery!"
"It _is_ necessary to love."
"Colonel Dellahousse," explained the lieutenant, smiling very much,
"does not believe that you can love what you know."
The Russian nodded. "Love is based on a fabulous belief. An illusory
image which fills the eyes of people who are unused to each other. This
poor lady will soon be used to everything."
Fanny, who felt momentarily alarmed, suddenly remembered Julien.
"When do we go back?" she asked absently.
The sympathetic eyes of the lieutenant seemed to understand even that,
and he smiled again.
They left next day, after the midday meal.
Before lunch she met a soldier, who stopped her in one of the branching
"You are going," he said. "I have a little thing to ask."
"Mademoiselle, it would not incommode you, it is such a little thing.
Think! We have not seen a woman here so long."
Still she waited; and he muttered, already abashed:
"One kiss would not hurt you, mademoiselle."
"Let me pass...." she stammered to this member of the great "monastery."
He wavered and stood aside, and she went on up the corridor vaguely
ashamed of her refusal.
* * * * *
"We go now," said the Russian, rising from the luncheon table. "Are you
satisfied with your experience, mademoiselle?"
"Verdun. This life is strange to you. I have seen you reflective. Now,
if you will go out to the car you shall go back to your civilised town
where the Governor so dislikes me, and you shall see your women friends
again! But we are not coming all the way with you."
"No, we stay at Briey. You return from Briey alone."
They set out once more upon the roads which ran between the dead
violence of the plains--between trenches that wandered down from the
side of a sandy hillock, by villages which appeared like an illusion
upon the hillside, fading as they passed and reforming into the
semblance of houses in the distance behind them.
The clouds above their heads were built up to a great height, rocky and
cavernous; crows swung on outspread wings, dived and alighted heavily on
the earth like fowls. They came behind the old German lines, and the
road changing led them through short patches of covering woods filled
with instruments. Depôt after depôt was piled between the trees and the
notices hanging from the branches chattered antique directions at them.
"The drinking trough--the drinking trough!" cried one, but they had no
horse to water. "Take this path!" urged another, "for the...." but they
flew by too fast to read the end of the message, while the path pursued
them a little way among the pines, then turned abruptly away. "Do not
smoke here ... _Nicht rauchen_," "NICHT RAUCHEN," "_Rauchen streng
verboten_," cried the notices, in furious impotent voices. The wood
chattered and spat with cries, with commands for which the men who made
them cared no longer. The hungry noses of old guns snuffed at the car as
it rolled by, guns dragging still upon their flanks the torn cloak of
camouflage--small squat guns which stared idly into the air, or with
wider mouths still, like petrified dogs for ever baying at the
moon--long slim guns which lay along the grass and pushing
undergrowth--and one gun which had dipped forward and, fallen upon its
knees, howled silenced imprecations at the devil in the centre of
When they had passed the shattered staging of the past they came out
upon the country which had been occupied by Germans but not by warfare.
Here the fields, uncultivated, had grown wild, but round the sparse
villages little patches of ground had been dug and sown. Not a cow
grazed anywhere, not a sheep or a goat. No hens raced wildly across
village streets. Far ahead on the white ribbon of road a black figure
toiled in the gutter, and Fanny debated with herself: "Might I offer
Looking ahead she saw no village or cottage within sight, and with a
murmured apology to the Russian she pulled up beside the old woman whom
she had overtaken.
"Where are you going?"
"We, too. Get in, madame."
The Russian made no comment. The old crone, knuckled, hard-breathing,
climbed in, holding uncertainly to the windscreen and pulling after her
her basket and umbrella.
"Cover yourself, madame," ordered Fanny, as to a child, and handed her
"I have never been in an auto before," whispered the old creature
against a wind which made her breathless. "I have seen them pass."
"You are not afraid?"
"Cover yourself well, well."
Gallant old women, toiling like ants upon the long stretches of road,
who, suddenly finding themselves projected through the air at a pace
they had never experienced in their lives before, would say not a word,
though the colour be whipped to their cheeks and their eyes rained tears
until, clinging to the arm of the driver: "Stop here, mademoiselle!"
they would whisper, expecting the car to rear and stop dead at their own
doorstep; and finding themselves still carried on, and half believing
themselves kidnapped: "Ah, mademoiselle, stop, stop...."
They slipped down into the pit of Briey where the houses cling to the
sides of a circular hollow, and drew up by a white house which the
The old woman searched, trembling and out of breath for her
handkerchief, and wiped her streaming eyes; then, as she climbed out
backwards, with feet feeling for the ground--"What do I owe you,
"Ah, nothing, nothing."
"_Mais si_! I am not at all poor!" and leaving a twopence-halfpenny
piece on the seat, she hurried away.
Colonel Dellahousse came to the side of the car and thanked Fanny
ceremoniously. "And if I do not see you again, mademoiselle," he said,
"remember what I say and go back to your home before the pleasure of
life is spoilt for you."
"Good-bye, good-bye," said the French lieutenant.
Soon after she had left Briey snow began to fall. A river circled at the
foot of a hill, and she followed its windings on a road which ran just
above it. Night wiped out the colours on the hills around her, until the
moon rose and they glowed again, half trees, half light. She climbed
slowly up to a plateau not a dozen miles from Metz.
* * * * *
An hour later, the car put away in the garage, Fanny was tapping at the
window of the bath house in the town. The beautiful fat woman who
prepared the baths answered her tap. "Fräulein," said Fanny, "would it
matter if I had a bath? Is it too late? I'll turn it on myself and dry
What did the woman mind if Fanny had a bath? Fat and beautiful, she had
nothing left to wish for, and contentedly she gave her the corner room
overlooking the canal and the theatre square, wishing her a good-night
full of German blessings. The water ran boiling out of the tap, and the
smoke curled up over the looking-glass and the window-sill.
When the bath was full to the brim she got in, lay back, and pulled open
the window with her toe. The beautiful French theatre, piebald with snow
and shadow, shone over the window-sill. The Cathedral clock struck out
ten chimes, whirling and singing over her head, the voices of the little
boys died down, the last had thrown his last snowball and gone to bed.
The steam rose up like a veil before the window, and once again,
between the grey walls of her bath--so like her cradle and her
coffin--she meditated upon the riches and treasure of the passing days.
"And yet," echoed the thoughts in that still water travelling still, "to
travel is not to move across the earth."
Peering back into the past, frowning in the effort to string forgotten
words together, Fanny whispered upon the surface of the water:
"The strange things of travel,
The East and the West,
The hill beyond the hill--"
But the poem was shattered as the voice of the bath woman called to her
through the door.
"You are well, Fräulein?"
Fanny turned in her bath astonished. "Why, yes, thank you! Did you think
I was ill?"
"I didn't know. I daren't go to bed till I see you out, for last week we
had a woman who killed herself in here, drowned in the water. I have
just remembered her."
"Well, I won't drown myself."
"I can never be sure now. She gave me such shock."
"Well, I'm getting out," said Fanny.
"I'm getting out. Listen!" And naked feet padded and splashed down upon
the cork mat. "Now go to bed. I promise you I have no reason to
THE LOVER IN THE LAMP
"How do you know you will meet him?" said the cold morning light; and
when she walked in it the city looked big enough to hide his face. In
the first street a girl said the name of Julien without knowing what it
was she said. But only a child shrieked in answer from a magic square of
chalk upon the pavement.
"You've been away for days and days," said her companions at the garage,
to show that they had noticed it. "Where have you been?"
The garage faded. "Verdun," she said; and Verdun lacy and perilous, hung
in her mind.
"Whom did you take?"
She struggled with the confusing image of the Russian. Before she could
reply the other said: "There's to be an inspection of the cars this
morning. You'll have to get something done to your car!"
Outside in the yard the sun was gay upon the thinly frosted-stones, but
in the shadow of the garage the glass and brass of seventy or eighty
cars glowed in a veiled bloom of polish. Only the Rochet-Schneider,
which had been to Verdun, stood unready for the inspection, coated from
wheel to hood with white Meuse mud. There was nothing to be done with
her until she had been under the hose.
Out in the street, where the hose was fastened to the hydrant, the
little pests of Metz clustered eagerly, standing on the hose pipe where
the bursts were tied with string, and by dexterous pressure diverting
the leaks into gay fountains that flew up and pierced the windows
opposite. As the mud rolled off under the blast of the hose and left the
car streaky and dripping, the little boys dipping their feet into the
gutters and paddled.
Soaked and bareheaded, Fanny drove the clean car slowly back into the
garage and set her in her place in the long line.
Stewart, beside her, whispered, "They've come, they've come! They're
starting at the other end. Four officers."
Fanny pulled her tin of English "Brasso" from a pocket-flap, and began
to rub a lamp. At the far, far end of the long shed four men were
standing with their backs to her, round a car. The globed lamp was
tricky, and the chamois-leather would slip and let her bark her knuckle
on the bracket. But the glow, born in the brass, grew clearer and
clearer, till suddenly, stooping to it, she looked into a mirror and saw
all the garage behind her and the long rows of cars bent in a yellow
curve, and little men and oily women walking incredibly upon the rounded
ball of the world. They hung with their feet on curving walls running
and walking without difficulty, blinking, moving, talking in a yellow
lake of brass.
Julien, Dennis and two others, stopping at car after car, came nearer
and nearer. And Julien, holding the inspection, nodded gravely to their
comments, searching car after car with his eyes as he walked up the
garage, until they rested on the head and the hair of the girl he knew;
then he paused, three cars from her, and watched the head as it hung
motionless, level with the lamp she had just turned into a mirror.
And within the field of her vision he had just appeared. He paused,
fantastic, upon the ball of the world, balanced amazingly with his feet
on the slope of a golden corridor, and, hypnotised, she watched his
face, bent into the horn of a young moon--Julien, and yet unearthly and
impossible. There were his two hands, lit in a brassy fire, hanging down
his sides, and the cane which he held in his left went out beyond the
scope of the corridor. The three others hung around him like bent corn.
She watched these yellow shades, as tall as ladders, talk and act in the
little theatre of the lamp.... He was coming up to her, he became
enormous, his head flew out of the top of the world, his feet ran down
into the centre of the earth. He was effacing the garage, he had eaten
up the corridor and all the cars. He must be touching her, he must have
swallowed her too, his voice in her ear said: "You'd gone for ever...."
"I ... I had gone?" She drew her gaze out of the mirror.
The world outside let him down again on to his feet, and he stood
beside her and said gently in her ear: "Will you meet me again in the
Cathedral at four to-day?" She nodded, and he turned away, and she saw
that he was so unknown to her that she could hardly tell his uniformed
back from the backs of those about him.
To meet this stranger then at four in the Cathedral she prepared herself
with more care than she would have given to meet her oldest friend. The
gilded day went by while she did little things with the holy air of a
nun at her lamp--polishing her shoes, her belt, her cap badge, sitting
on her bed beneath the stag's horn, an enraptured sailor upon the deck
of the world. Around the old basin on the washstand faded blue animals
chased each other and snapped at ferns and roses: she lifted the jug and
drowned the beasts in water, and even to wash her hands was a rite which
sent a shower of thoughts flying through her mind. How many before her
had called this room a sanctuary, a temple, and prepared as carefully as
she for some charmed meeting in the crannies of the town? This room?
This "corridor." The passengers, travellers, soldiers, who had used this
bed for a night and passed on, thought of it only as a segment in the
endless chain of rooms that sheltered them. Bed, washstand, chair,
table, rustled with history. Soldiers resting from the battle out there
by Pont-à-Moussons, kissing the girl who lived in the back room, waking
in the morning as darkly as she, leaving the room to another. Soldiers,
new-fledged, coming up from Germany, trembling in the room as they heard
the thunder out at Pont-à-Moussons. An officer--that ugly, wooden boy
who stared at her from the wall above the mantelpiece. (What a mark he
had left on the household that they should frame him in velvet and keep
him staring at his own bed for ever!) She all but saw spirits--and
shivered at the procession of life. Outside in the street she heard a
cry, and her name called under the window. How like the cry that
afternoon a week ago which had sent her to Verdun! Standing in the
shadow of the curtain she peered cautiously out.
At sight of her, a voice cried up from the street: "There is a fancy
dress dance next Tuesday night! I'm warning every one; it's so hard to
get stuffs." The voice passed on to the house where Stewart lived.
("How nice of her!") This was a good day. ("What shall I wear at the
dance?") There, about the face of the clock, windless and steady, hung
the hours. Not yet time to start, not yet.
Through the lace of the curtain and the now closed window, the shadows
hurried by upon the pavement, heads bobbed below upon the street.
Oh Dark, and Pale, and Plain, walking soberly in hat and coat, what sign
in these faces of the silver webbery within the brain, of the flashing
fancies and merry plans, like birds gone mad in a cage! The tram, as
antique as a sedan chair, clanked across the bridge over the river, and
changing its note as it reached firmer land, roared and bumbled like a
huge bee into the little street. Stopping below her window it was
assailed by little creatures who threw themselves as greedily within as
if they were setting out upon a wild adventure.
"All going to meet somebody," said Fanny, whose mind, drowned in her
happiness, took the narrowest view of life. But for all their push and
hurry the little creatures in the glass cage were forced to unfold their
newspapers and stare at each other for occupation while the all-powerful
driver and _Wattmann_, climbing down from the opposite ends of the car,
conferred together in the street. "It's waiting for the other tram!" And
even as she said it, she found the clock behind her back had leapt
mysteriously and slyly forward. "I'll take the other...." And, going
downstairs, she stood in the shelter of her doorway, out of the cold
wind that blew along the street. The delay of the other car brought her
well up to her hour. "I'll even be a little late," she thought, proud
"Don't talk to the _Wattmann_," said the notices in the tramcar crossly
to her in German as she slipped and slid upon its straining seats.
"Don't spit, don't smoke ... don't...." But she had her revenge, for
across all the notices _her_ side of the war had written coldly: "You
are begged, in the measure possible to you, to talk only French."
When they got into the narrow town the tramcar, mysteriously swelling,
seemed to chip the shop windows and bump the front doors, and people
upon the pavement scrambled between the glass of the tram and the glass
of the big drapery shop.
They met, as it were, in the very centre of a conversation. "I never
know where you are," he complained, as though this trouble was so in his
thoughts that he must speak of it at once, "or when I shall see you
again." She smiled radiantly, busier with greeting, less absorbed
"You may go away and never come back. You go so far."
She went away often and far. But that was his trouble, not hers. He, at
least, remained stationary in Metz. She was full of another thought--the
vagueness, the precariousness of the chance that even in Metz had
brought them together.
"How lucky what?"
How lucky? How lucky? He begged, implored, frowned, tried to peer. He
would not let her rest. "Why should you hide what you think? I don't
Oh, no, he did not like it. No one likes to get hint of that fountain of
talk which, sweet or bitter, plays just out of reach of the ear, just
behind the mask of the face.
"How lucky that you held the inspection!" had all but stolen from her
lips. But this implied too clearly that it was lucky for somebody--for
her, for him. And how could she say that? Her thoughts were so far in
advance of her confessions. A dozen sentences rose to her lips, all too
clear, too intimate. So she became silent before the things that she
could not say.
"Of what are you thinking?"
Extortionate question. ("Am I to put all my fortune in your hand like
that? Am I to say, 'Of you, of you'?") For every word she said aloud she
said a hundred to herself; and after three words between them she had
the impression of a whole conversation.
"One must arrange some plan," he said, pursuing his perplexity, "so that
I know when you go, and when you come back. I can't always be holding
inspections to find out."
"It was for that _that_ you held the inspection?"
"Why, of course, of course!"
"But entirely to find out?" (divided between the desire to make him say
it again and the fear of driving his motives into daylight).
"I didn't know what to do. I couldn't telephone and ask whether your car
Wonderful and excellent! She had had the notion while she was at Verdun
that something might be rolling up to her account in the bank at Metz,
and now he was giving her proof after proof of the accumulation.
But from the valley of vanity she suddenly flew up to wonder. "He does
that for me!" looking at herself in the mirror of her mind. "He does it
for me!" But of what use to look at the daylight image of herself--the
khaki figure, the driver? "For he must be looking at glory as I do." The
Russian said: "Love is an illusory image." "Isn't it strange how these
human creatures can cast it like a net out of their personality?..."
Vanity, creeping above love, beat it down like a stick beats down a
fire; it was too easy to-day; he gave her nothing left to wish for; the
spell over him, she felt, was complete, and now she had nothing else to
do but develop her own. And this she had instantly less inclination to
do. But, guided by his bright wits, he too withdrew, let the tacit
assumption of intimacy drop between them, and their walk by the Moselle
was filled by her talk of the Russian prisoners and Verdun.
She glanced at him from time to time, and would have grown more silent,
but by his light questions he kept her talking briskly on, offering her
no new proof, until she grew unsure and wondered whether she had been
mistaken; and, the hour striking for her supper in the town, she went to
it, filled anew with his charm and her anxiety. Other meetings came,
when, thrilling with the see-saw of belief and doubt, they watched each
other with absorbed attention, and in their fragile and unconfessed
relationship sometimes one was the victor and sometimes the vanquished.
Yet what was plain to the man who swept the mud from the streets was not
plain to them.
"Does he love me already?"
"Will she love me soon?"
When they saw other couples by the banks of the Moselle, Reason in a
convinced and careless voice said: "That is love!" But on coming towards
each other they were not sure at all, and each said of the other:
"To-morrow he may not meet me...." "To-morrow she will say she is busy
and it will not be true!"
When Fanny said, "He may not meet me," she was mad. How could he fail to
meet her when the rolling hours hung fire and buzzed about his head like
loaded bees, unable to proceed; when in a lethargy of vision he signed
his name at the bottom of the typewritten sheet, saying confusedly,
"What does she think? Does she think of me?"
When at last they met under the shadow of the Cathedral they would
exclaim in their hearts: "What next?" and hurry off by the Moselle,
looking into the future, looking into the future, and yet warding it
off, aware of the open speech that must soon lie between them, and yet
charmed by the beautiful, the merciful, the delay. And going home, each
would study the hours they had spent together, as a traveller returned
from wonderful lands pores over the cold map which for him sparkles with
mountains and rivers.
That very Saturday night after the early supper in their room in the
town, she had gone out to the big draper's shop which did not close till
seven, almost running into Reherrey on the pavement.
"I'm going to Weile," he said.
"I'm going there myself."
"To get your dress?"
They went into the large, empty shop together, to be surrounded at once
by a group of idle girls.
"Stuffs ..." said Fanny, thinking vaguely.
"Black bombazine," said Reherrey, who had finished his thinking.
Fanny followed Reherrey to a newly-polished counter, backed by rows of
empty shelves. They had no black bombazine.
"Black tulle," said Reherrey, with his air of cool indifference, "black
gauze, black cotton..."
It had to be black sateen in the end. "Now you!" said Reherrey, when he
had bought six yards at eight francs a yard.
"White ... something ... for me."
There was white nothing under sixteen francs a yard. "But cheap, cheap,
CHEAP stuff," she expostulated--"stuff you would make lampshades of,
or dusters. It's only for a fancy dress." The idle little girls assumed
a special air. Fanny looked round the shop in desperation. It was like
all the shops in Metz--the window dressed, the saleswomen ready, the
shelves scrubbed out and polished, the lady waiting at the pay desk--but
the goods hadn't come!
Here and there a shelf held a roll or two of some material, and
eventually Fanny bought seven yards of white soft stuff at seven
francs a yard.
"White," said Reherrey, with a critical look; "how _English_!"
Fanny had an idea of her own.
"_Wo_," she said heavily to Elsa's mother still later in the evening,
"_ist eine Schneiderin?_"
"A dressmaker who speaks French...."
Elsa took her out into the dark street again, and in at a neighbouring
archway, till at the back of deep courtyards they found a tiny flat of a
little old lady. "Like this," explained Fanny, drawing with her pencil.
"Why, my mother had a dress like that!" said the little lady, pleased.
"Before the last war." She nodded many times. "I know how to make a
crinoline. But when do you want it?"
"For Tuesday night."
"Ah, dear mademoiselle! How can I! To-day is Saturday. I have only
to-day and Monday. Unless.... Are you a Catholic?"
"Then you can sew on Sunday. You can do the frills."
All Sunday Fanny sewed frills under the stag's horn, and when she went
to meet Julien in the late afternoon, she had the frills still in a
parcel. "What is that?" he asked, as she unfolded the parcel in the
empty Cathedral, and began to thread her needle.
"My dress for the dance."
"What is it going to be?"
"Frills. Hundreds of frills." She shook her lap a little, and yards and
yards of white frills leapt on to the floor in a river.
"Those flowers you bought, look, you have never put them in water!"
He shook his head, and leaning from his chair, stretched out his arm for
the parcel of white paper. "They are dying. Smell them! They yield more
scent when they die." She sat holding the flowers near her face, and not
thinking of him very distinctly, but not thinking of anything else.
"But they won't last."
"They will last this visit. I'll get new ones."
"Oh, how extravagant you are with happiness!..."
They looked startled and became silent. For every now and then among
their talk some sentence which they had thought discreet rang out with
a clarity which disturbed them.
Between them there had been no avowal, and neither could count on the
other's secret. She was not sure he loved her; and though he argued,
"Why should she come if she does not care?" he watched her sit by him
with as little confidence, with as much despair, as if she sat on the
other side of the Atlantic Ocean. "Is it raining again? How dark it
gets. I must soon go." She made gaps in and scattered that alarming
silence in which the image of each filled and fitted into the thoughts
of the other like an orange into its close rind. Yet so dark and perfect
is the mask of the face, so dull the inner ear, that each looked
uncertainly about, half deaf to the song which issued so plainly from
the other, distracted by the great gaps in the music.
"Won't you stay with me till you have sewn to the end of that frill?"
She sat down again without a word. And, greedy after his victory, he
added: "But I oughtn't to keep you?"
"I want to stay, too."
The frill flowed on with the beat of the Cathedral clock, and came to an
"Now I must go. It's supper--supper in the garage."
He walked with her almost in silence down the Cathedral steps and to the
door of the house in the dark street by the river.
"You do say good-bye so curiously," he remarked, "so suddenly. Perhaps
"Perhaps it is," she agreed, disappearing into the house.
"What have you got there?" said her companions in the lighted room
"My dress for the dance." But she did not open the parcel to show them
the charmed frills. ("How is it they don't know that I left him in the
street below?") She looked at the seven travellers who met each night
round the table for dinner, overcome with the mystery of those
uncommunicating, shrouded heads. "What have they all been doing?"
"Has every one had runs?"
"Yes, every one has been out. What have you been doing?"
"I haven't left Metz to-day," she replied, giddy with the isolation and
the silence of the human mind.
THE THREE "CLIENTS"
"What!" cried Fanny on Monday morning, staring at the _brigadier_ and at
the pink paper he offered her.
"At once, at once, mademoiselle. You ought to have been told last night.
You must go back for your things for the night and then as quickly as
you can to the Hôtel de l'Europe. I don't know how many days you'll be,
but here is an order for fifty litres of petrol and a can of oil, and
Pichot is getting you two spare tubes...."
She stared at him in horror a moment longer, then took the pink order
and disappeared through the dark garage door. Her mind was in a frenzy
of protestation. She saw the waiting cars which might have gone instead,
the drivers polishing a patch of brass for want of something to do, and
accident, pure accident, had lighted on _her_, to sweep _her_ out of
Metz, away from that luminous personality which brooded over the city
like a sunset, out into the nondescript world, the cold _Anywhere_.
White frills and yards of bleached calico lying at the dressmaker's
cried out to her to stay, to make some protest, to say something,
anything--that she was ill--and stay.
She splashed petrol wastefully into the tank, holding the small blue
tin with firm hands high in the air above the leather strainer and
"And if I said--(it is mad)--if I said, 'I am in love. _I can't go_.
Send some one who is not in love!'" She glanced down from her perch on
the footboard at the olive profile bent over the next car. The driver
was sitting on his step with his open hand outstretched to hold a dozen
bright washers which he was stirring with his forefinger. The hand with
the washers sank gently to rest on his knee, and he sighed as he ceased
stirring, and looked absently down the garage, his mystical cloak of
bone and skin shrouding his thoughts. Idle men all down the garage hung
about the cars, each holding within him some private affection, some
close hope, something which sent a spurt of dubious song out of his
mouth, or his eyes, wandering sightless, down the shed.
The tank, resenting her treatment, overflowed violently and drenched her
skirt and feet.
"Are you ready, mademoiselle?"
"Coming. Where are the tubes?"
"I have them."
She drove through the yard, down the street, and hurried over the bridge
to her room. Nightgown, toothbrush, comb, sponge, and powder--hating
every hour of the days and nights her preparations meant.
At the Hôtel de l'Europe, three men waited for her with frowns, loaded
with plaid rugs, mufflers, black bags, and gaping baskets of food, from
which protruded bottles of wine. It was, then, to be one of those days
when they lunched by the wayside in the bitter cold.
She drew up beside them. A huge man with an unclean bearskin coat and
flaccid red cheeks told her she was very late. She listened, apologising,
but intent only on her question.
"And could you tell me--(I'm so dreadfully sorry, but they only told me
very late at the garage)--and would you mind telling me which day you
expect to get back?"
He turned to the others.
"It depends," said a dry, dark man with a look of rebuke, "on our work.
To-morrow night, perhaps. Perhaps the next morning."
"Where shall I drive you?"
"Go out by Thionville. We are going up the Moselle to Trèves."
Anxious to dispose of such a mountain of a man, it was suggested that
the Bearskin should climb in beside the driver. Instantly Fanny was
smothered up as he sat down, placing so many packages between himself
and the outer side of the car that he sank heavily against her arm, and
the fur of his coat blew into her mouth.
In discomfort she drove them from the town, brooding over her wheel,
unhappily on and on till Metz had sunk over the edge of the flat
horizon. The weary way to Thionville unfurled before them, furnaces to
the left and flat grass prairie to the right--little villages and
clustering houses went by them, and Thionville itself, with its
tramlines and faint air of Manchester, drew near. Beyond Thionville the
road changed colour abruptly, and stretched red and gravelly before
them. The frost deepened, the wheels bit harder on the road surface, the
grass-fields sparkled with a brittle light, and scanty winter orchards
sprang up beside the road, which narrowed down and became a lane of
beautiful surface. Not for long, however, for the surface changed again,
and long hours set in when the car had to be held desperately with foot
and hand brake to save the springs, and the accelerator could only be
touched to be relinquished.
Fanny, hardly sad any more, but busy and hungry, secretly lifted the
corner of her sleeve to peer at her wrist-watch, and seeing that it was
half-past twelve, began to wonder how soon they would decide to sit down
by the roadside for their lunch. She fumbled in the pocket of the car,
but the last piece of chocolate had either been eaten or had slipped
down between the leather and the wood. She could bring up nothing better
than an old postcard, a hairpin, and a forgotten scrap of
At last they stopped for lunch, choosing a spot where a hedge rose
wirily against the midday sky, and spread the rugs on the frozen grass.
The sudden cessation of movement and noise brought a stillness into the
landscape; a child's voice startled them from the outskirts of a village
beyond, and the crackle of a wheelbarrow that was being driven along
the dry road.
The third man, who had blackberry eyes, and glasses which enlarged them,
made great preparations over the setting of the meal. They had forgotten
nothing. When they sat down, the Bearskin upon the step of the motor,
the others cross-legged upon the ground, each man had a napkin as big as
a sheet spread across the surface of his coat and waistcoat, and tied
into the band of the overcoat at the side. Bottles of red wine, and a
bottle of white to finish with, lay on a cloth spread upon the grass.
Bread, cheese, sausage, _pâté_, and a slab of chocolate; knives, forks
and a china cup apiece. Fanny, who had taken her own uneatable lunch
from the garage, was made to eat some of theirs. They were on a high,
dry, open plateau of land, and the winter sun, not strong enough to
break the frost, faintly warmed their necks and hands and the round
bodies of the bottles.
It was not unpleasant sitting there with the three white-chested
strangers, watching the sky through the prongs of the bare hedge,
spreading _pâté_ on to fresh bread, and balancing her cup half full of
red wine among the fibres and roots of the grass.
"Now that I have started I am well on my way to getting back," she
thought, and found that within her breast the black despair of the
morning had melted. She watched her companions for amusement.
The Bearskin, cumbrous, high-coloured, and blue-eyed, looked like an
innkeeper in an English tavern. When he took off his cloth hood she
thought she had never seen anything so staring as the pink of his face
against the blue of his cap; but when the cap came off too for a second
that he might stir his forehead with his finger, the blaze and crackle
of his red hair beneath was even more ferocious. Yet he seemed
intimidated by his companions, and kept silence, eating meekly from his
knife, and spreading his napkin with care to the edge of his knees.
The little man with warm black eyes and the colder, thinner man talked
"_Hé!_ The _pâté_ is not bad."
"Not bad at all. And you haven't tried the cheese?"
"No, no. I never touch cheese before the wine; it's a sin. Now the
bottle is all warmed. Try some."
"What is your father?" said the little man suddenly to Fanny.
"He is in the army."
"You have no brother--no one to take care of you?"
"You mean, because I come out here? But in England they don't mind; they
think it interesting for us."
They obviously did not believe her, and turned to other subjects. But
the Bearskin began to move uncomfortably on the step of the car, and,
bending forward to attract their attention, he burst out:
"But, don't you know, mademoiselle is not paid!"
The others reconsidered her.
"How do you live then, mademoiselle? You have means of your own? You do
not buy your clothes yourself? Your Government gives you those, and that
fine leather coat?"
"I bought it myself," said Fanny, and caused a sensation.
Immediately they put out their delicate hands, and fingers that loved to
appraise, to feel the leather on the lapel.
"How soft! We have no leather now like that in France! How much did that
cost? No, let me guess! You never paid a sou less than--Well, how much?"
The Bearskin, who had sat beside her all the morning, and had now turned
her into an object of interest, took a pride in Fanny.
"The English upbringing is very interesting," he said, pushing back his
cap and letting out the flame of his hair. "The young ladies become very
serious. I have been in England. I have been in Balham."
But though, owing to the leather coat, the others seemed to consider
that they had an heiress amongst them, they would not let the big
Bearskin be her _impresario_ or their instructor.
"Divorce is very easy in England," said the thin man solemnly, and
turned his shoulder slightly on the Bearskin, as though he blamed him
for his stay in Balham.
When the lunch was over and the last fragment of _pâté_ drawn off the
last knife upon the crust of bread that remained, Fanny's restless hopes
turned towards packing up; but she counted without the white wine and
the national repose after the midday meal. They washed their cups with
care under the outlet tap of the radiator, and, wiping them dry to the
last corner, sat back under the hedge to drink slowly.
All this time a peculiar quality had been drawing across the sun. It
grew redder and duller, till, blushing, it died out, and Fanny saw that
the morning frost had disappeared. Out to the left a mauve bank of cloud
moved up across the sky like the smoke from a titanic bonfire, and, with
the first drift of moisture towards them, the four shivered and rose
simultaneously to pack the things and put them in the car.
As Fanny stooped to wind up the handle the first snowflake, soft and wet
and heavy, melted on her ear.
"It won't lie," said the Bearskin. "Shall we draw up the hood?"
They drew it up, but the thin man, huddling himself in the corner of the
back seat, insisted on "side-curtains as well."
"Then I'm sorry. Will you get out? They are under the seat."
"Oh, never mind, my dear fellow," said Blackberry-Eyes.
"No, no. One ought to keep the warmth of food within one."
And the other got out, and stood shivering while the Bearskin and Fanny
pulled rugs and baskets and cushions out into the road that they might
lift the back seat and find the curtains.
"Oh, how torn!" exclaimed the thin man bitterly, as he saw her drape the
car with leather curtains whose windows of mica had long since been
cracked and torn away. The snow was hissing on the radiator and melting
on the road, and there seemed no wind left anywhere to drive the weight
of the mauve cloud further across the sky. It hung solid and low above
them, so that between the surface of the earth and the floor of the sky
there was only a foggy tunnel in which the road could be seen a few
As they drove forward the windscreen became filmed with melting snow.
Fanny unscrewed it and tilted it open, and the Bearskin fumbled unhappily
at his collar to close every chink and cranny in his mossy hide.
They were climbing higher and higher across an endless plateau, and at
last a voice called from the back, "We must look at the map." It was a
voice of doubt and distrust that any road could be right road which
held so much discomfort.
Fanny stopped and pulled her map from behind her back, where she was
keeping it dry. "It's all right," she showed them, leaning over the back
and holding the map towards them. Then she discovered that the back seat
was empty, and her clients were huddled among the petrol tins and rugs
upon the floor.
"You must be miserable! It's so much colder in the back. See, here's the
big road that we must avoid, going off into Luxembourg, and here's ours,
running downhill in another mile."
They believed her, being too cramped and miserable to take more than a
querulous interest. In another half-hour the snow ceased, and as they
glided down the long hill on the other side of the plateau in a bed of
fresh, unruffled wool, the sun struck out with a suddenness that seemed
to tear the sky in two, and turned the blue snow into a sheet of light
which stretched far below them into a country of pine woods and pits of
shadow. Down, down they ran, till just below lay a village--if village
it was when only a house or two were gathered together for company in
The snow seemed to have lain here for days, for the car slipped and
skidded at the steep entrance, where the boys of the village had made
slides for their toboggans. A hundred feet from the first house a
triumphal arch was built of pine and laurel across the road. On it was
written in white letters "Soyez le Bienvenu." All the white poor houses
glittered in the snow with flags.
A stream crossed the village street, and a file of geese on its narrow
bridge brought her to a standstill.
"What are the flags for?" she asked of an old man, pressing back into a
safety alcove in the stone wall of the bridge.
"We expect Pétain here to-day. He is coming to Thionville."
"But Thionville is forty miles away--"
"Still, he might pass here--"
Running on and on through forest and hilly country, they left the snow
behind them, and slipped down into greener valleys, till at last they
came upon a single American sentry, and over his head was chalked upon a
board: "This is Germany."
They pulled up. Germany it might be--but the road to Tréves? He did not
know; he knew nothing, except that with his left foot he stood in
Germany, and with his right in France.
Over the side of the next mountain all Hans Andersen was stretched
before them--tracts of _little_ country, little wooden houses with
pointed roofs, little hills covered with squares of different coloured
woods, and a blue river at the bottom of the valley, white with geese
upon its banks. They held their open mouths insultedly in the air as the
motor passed. The narrow road became like marble, and the car hissed
like a glass ball rolled on a stone step. On every little hill stood a
castle made of brown chocolate, very small, but complete with turrets.
Young horses with fat stomachs and arched necks bolted sideways off the
road in fear, followed by gaily painted lattice-work carts, and plunged
far into the grassland at the side. Old women with coloured hoods swore
at them, and pulled the reins. Many pointed hills were grey with
vine-sticks, and on the crest of each of these stood a small chapel as
if to bless the wine. The countryside was wet and fresh--white, hardly
yellow--with the winter sun; moss by the roadside still dripped from the
night, and small bare orchard trees stood in brilliant grass.
"Look! How the grass grows in Germany!"
"Ah, it doesn't grow like that in the valley of the Meuse--"
Every cottage in every village was different; many wore hats instead of
roofs, wooden things like steeples, with deep eaves and carved fringes,
in which were shadowy windows like old eyes. Some were pink and some
Soon they left the woods and came out upon an open plateau surrounded by
wavy hills with castles on them. In the middle of the plateau was a
Zeppelin shed which looked like the work of bigger men than the crawling
peasants in the roads. One side of the shed was open, and the strange
predatory bird within, insensible to the peering eye of an enemy, seemed
lost in thought in this green valley. The camp of huts beside it was
deserted, and there seemed to exist no hand to close the house door.
They rose again on to a hillside, and on every horizon shone a far blue
forest faint like sea or cloud.
Nearer Tréves the villages were filled with Americans--Americans mending
the already perfect roads, and playing with the children.
"This is a topsy-turvy country, as it would be in Hans Andersen,"
thought Fanny. "I thought the Germans had to mend the broken roads
They stayed that night in the Porta-Nigra hotel, which had been turned
into an Allied hostel. The mess downstairs was chiefly filled with
American officers, though a few Frenchmen sat together in one corner.
The food was American--corn cakes, syrup, and white, flaky bread.
"Well, what bread! It's like cake!"
"Oh, the Americans eat well!"
"I don't agree with you. They put money into their food, and they eat a
lot of it, but they can't cook.
"Isn't it astonishing what they eat! It's astonishing what all the
armies eat compared with our soldiers."
"Now this cake-bread! I should soon sicken of it. But _they_ will eat
sweets and such things all day long."
"Well, I told you they are children!"
"The Americans here seem different. They behave better than those in
"These are very _chics types_. Pershing is here. This is the
"Yes, one can see they are different."
"It appears they get on very well with the Germans."
"Hsh--not so loud."
After dinner they strolled out into the town. The Bearskin was very
anxious to get a "genuine iron cross."
He was offered iron crosses worked on matchboxes, on cigarette lighters,
on ladies' chains.
"But are they genuine?"
He did not know quite what he meant.
"I don't suppose them to be taken from a dead man's neck, but are they
In the streets the Germans sold iron crosses from job lots on barrows
for ten francs each.
"But I will get one cheaper!" said the Bearskin, and clambered up the
steps into shop after shop. He found an iron cross on a chain for seven
francs. No one knew what the mark was worth, and the three men, with the
German salesman, bent over the counter adding and subtracting on paper.
"How can a goblin countryside breed people who sell iron crosses at ten
francs each?" wondered Fanny.
There was a notice on the other side of the street, "Y.M.C.A., two doors
down the street on your left," and the thin man stood in the door of the
shop beside Fanny and pointed to it.
"Couldn't you go there and get me cigars? They will be very cheap. Have
you money with you?"
"I'll try," said Fanny, "I've money. We can settle afterwards," inwardly
resolving to get as many cigarettes as she could to take back for the
men in the garage. She crossed the street, but looked back to find the
thin man creeping after her. She waited for him, irritated.
"Go back. If the American salesman sees you he'll know it's for the
French, and he won't sell."
"He knew that quite well," she thought impatiently to herself, "or he
wouldn't have asked me to buy for him."
The thin man turned back to the cover of the shop like an eager little
dog which has jumped too quickly for biscuit and been snubbed.
She went down the street and into the Y.M.C.A.
Instantly she was among three or four hundred men, who stood with their
backs to her, in queues up the long wooden hall. Far ahead on the
improvised counter was a _guichet_ marked "Cigars." She placed herself
at the tail of that queue.
"Move up, lady," said the man in front of her, moving her forward. "Say
here's a lady. Move her up."
Men from the other queues looked round, and one or two whistled slyly
beneath their breath, but her own queue adopted her protectingly, and
moved her up to their head, against the counter.
It was out of the question to get cigars now. She had become a guest,
and to get cigars would imply that she was not buying for herself, but
to supply an unknown man without. And the marks on her uniform showed
that the unknown was French.
"One carton of Camels, please," she said, used to the phraseology.
"Take two if you like," said the salesman. "We've just got a dump in."
She took two long cardboard packets of cigarettes, and put down ten
"Only marks taken here," said the salesman. "You got to make the change
as you come in."
"Put it down. Put it here. We don't get a lady in every day."
He gave her the change in marks, which seemed countless.
"I'm sure you've given me too much!"
"Oh no. Marks is goin' just for love in this country. Makes you feel
As she emerged from the hall with her two long cartons under her arm she
found the thin man, the Bearskin and Blackberry-Eyes standing like
children on the doorstep.
It was too much--to give her away like that.
Other Americans, coming out, looked at them as a gentleman coming out of
his own house might look at a party of penguins on his doorstep.
Fanny swept past her friends without a glance and walked on up the
street with her head in the air. They turned and came after her
guiltily. When they caught her up in the next street, she said to the
thin man, "I asked you not to come near while I was buying--"
"Have you got cigars, mademoiselle?"
"No, I couldn't. Why did you come like that? Now I can go in no more.
You'd only to wait two minutes."
They looked crestfallen, while she held the cigarettes away from them as
a nurse holds sweets from a naughty child.
"I could only get two packets. I can give you one. I'm sorry, but I
promised to get cigarettes for some people in Metz."
The thin man brightened, and took the big carton of Camels with delight.
"They're good, those!" he said knowingly to the others. "How much were
"Five francs twenty the carton."
"Is it possible? And we have to pay...."
By his tone he made it seem a reflection on the Americans. Why should a
country be so rich when his had been devastated, so thinned, so difficult
to live in? Fanny thought of the poor huddled clients who had sat on the
floor of the car during the snowstorm. It had been a bitter journey for
After all--those rich, those pink and happy Americans, leather-coated
down to the humblest private, pockets full of money, and fat meals three
times a day to keep their spirits up--why shouldn't they let him have
"You can have this carton, too, if you like," she said, offering it.
"I'll manage to slip in to-morrow morning."
He thanked her, delighted, and they went back to the hotel.
The problem of the kindness of the Americans, and her frequent abuse of
it to benefit the French, puzzled her.
"But, after all, it's very easy to be kind. It's much easier to be kind
if you are American and pink than if you are French and anxious."
Another difference between the two nations struck her.
"The Americans treat me as if I were an amusing child. The French, no
matter how peculiar their advances, always, always as a woman."
Next morning, when she got down to breakfast at eight, she found that
the three Frenchmen had already gone out about their work.
"Perhaps I shall get home to-night, after all," she prayed. She sat in
the hotel and watched the Americans, or wandered about the little town
until eleven. The affair with the cigars was suitably arranged. The hall
was nearly empty when she went in, and the few men who stood about in it
did not disarm her with special kindness. On getting back to the hotel
she found the Bearskin pushing breathlessly and anxiously through the
"Monsieur Raudel has left his cigarettes in his bedroom," he said,
"unlocked up. He is anxious so I have come back."
"Well, tell him that if he--tell him quite as a joke, you know--that if
I can get home--"
(Something in his little blue eye shone sympathetically, and she leant
towards him.) "Well, I'll tell _you_! There is a dance to-night in Metz,
and I am asked. And tell him that I have bought two boxes of cigars
The Bearskin, enchanted, promised to do his best.
By half-past twelve the three were back at lunch in the hotel. Over the
coffee Monsieur Raudel looked reflectively at his well-shaped nails.
"Well, mademoiselle, so this is what it is to have a woman chauffeur--"
Fanny looked up nervously, regretting her confidence in the Bearskin.
"Apart from the pleasure of your company with us, we get cheap cigars,
and you get your dance, so every one is pleased."
"Oh!" She was radiant. "But you haven't hurried too much? Are we really
Monsieur Raudel, who was a new man when he wasn't cold, reassured her,
and soon they were all packed in the Renault, and running out of Tréves.
That same night as dusk fell she shook the snow from her feet and
clothes and entered the dressmaker's kitchen. Four candles were burning
beside the gas, and the tea-cups lay heaped and unwashed upon
"Good-evening, good-evening," murmured a number of voices, German and
French, and the old dressmaker, standing up, her face haggard under the
gas, took both Fanny's hands with a whimper:
"It will never be done! Oh, dear child, it will _never_ be done!"
The crinoline which they were preparing lay in white rags upon the
"Oh, Elsa, that is good! Are you helping too?" Elsa had brought three of
her friends with her, and the four bright, bullety heads bent over the
long frills which moved slowly through their sewing fingers. "_Good_
Conquered Children!" They were sewing like little machines.
"The Fräulein Schneiderin," explained Elsa, "is so upset."
And this was evident and needed no explaining. The little lady twisted
her fingers, grieved and scolded, snatching at this and that, and
rapping with her scissors upon the table as though she were going to
wear the dress herself.
"Mademoiselle, I had to get them." She nodded towards the busy Conquered
Children, apologising for them as though she feared Fanny might think
she had done a deal with the devil for her sake.
"Here are my frills," said Fanny, bringing from her pocket two paper
parcels, one of which she laid in mystery upon the table, the other
opened and shook out her two long frills. She drew off her leather coat
and sat down to sew.
"Oh, how calm you are!" burst out the dressmaker. "How can you be so
calm? It won't be finished."
"Yes, yes, yes. It's only half-past five. Can I have a needle?"
"My mother had a dress like this before the last war." (This for the
fiftieth time.) "And will your _amoureux_ be there?" she asked with the
licence of the old.
"Well, yes," said Fanny smiling, "he will."
"And what will he wear?"
"Oh, it's a secret. I don't know. But I chose this particular dress
because it is so feminine, and it will be the first time he has seen me
in the clothes of a woman."
"Children, hurry, hurry!" cried the dressmaker, in a frenzy of sympathy.
"Minette, get down!" She slapped the grey cat tenderly as she lifted him
off the table. "Tell them in their language to hurry!" she exclaimed.
"_I_ never learnt it!"
But, after the breath of excitement, followed her poor despair, and she
dropped her hands in her lap. "It will never be done. I can't do it."
"Look, my dear, courage! The bodice is already done ... Have you had any
"The children ate. I couldn't. I am too excited. But you are so calm.
You have no nerves. It isn't natural!"
Yet she ate a little piece of cake, scolding the cat and the children
with her mouth full, prowling restlessly above their bent heads as they
sewed and solidly sewed.
At the end of an hour and a half the nine frills were on the skirt, the
long hoops of wire had been run in, and the hooks and eyes on the belt.
Often the door opened and shut; visitors came and went in the room; the
milk woman put her head in, crying: "What a party!" and left the tiny
can of milk upon the floor: Elsa's mother came to call her daughter to
supper, but let her stay when she saw the dress still unfinished. Now
and then some one would run out of the flat opposite, the flat above or
the flat next door and, popping a head in at the door, wish them good
luck. All the building seemed to know of the crinoline that was being
made in the kitchen.
"You do not smoke a pipe?..." said the dressmaker softly, with
"But none of us do!"
"Oh, pardon, yes! I saw it yesterday. A great big girl dressed like you
with her hands in her pockets and a pipe in her mouth. It made an effect
on me--you can hardly believe how it startled me! I called Madame
Coppet to see."
"I know it wasn't one of us. And (it seems rude of me to say so) I even
think the woman you saw was French."
"Oh, my dear, French women never do that!"
"Well, they do when they get free. They go beyond us in freedom when
they get it The woman you saw (I have seen her, too) works with the men,
shoulder to shoulder, eats with them, smokes with them, drinks with
them, drives all night and all day, and they say she can change a tyre
in two minutes.
"There was a woman, too, who drove a lorry between Verdun and Bar-le-Duc,
not a tender, you know, but a big lorry. She wore a bit of old ermine
round her neck, knickerbockers, and yellow check stockings. One could
imagine she had painted her face by the light of a candle at four in the
morning. She never wore a hat, and her short yellow hair stuck out over
her face which was as bright as a pink lamp shade."
"She may have been, but she worked hard! She was always on that road. Or
she would disappear for days with her lorry and come back caked in rouge
and mud. I wish I could have got to know her and heard where she went
and the things that happened to her."
"But, my dear, I keep thinking what a strange life it is for you. Are
you always alone on your car?"
"You are with men alone then all the time?"
"All the time."
"Well, it's more than I can understand. It's part of the war."
Elsa bent across the table and picked up the folded bodice, murmuring
that it was done. The dressmaker rose, and reaching for the hooped
skirt, held it up between her two arms. It was a thrilling moment.
Fanny, too, rose. "Put it on a dummy," she commanded. Candles were
placed around the dummy, who seemed to step forward out of the shades of
the kitchen, and offer its headless body to be hooked and buttoned into
the dress. All the room stood back to look and admire. "Wie schön!" said
Elsa's shiny-headed friends, peering with their mouths open.
"Ah, dear child, you were so calm, and now it is done!" said the old
The dress stood stiffly glittering at them, white as snow, the nine
frills pricking away from the great hooped skirt.
Fanny picked up the brown paper parcel she had laid on the dresser,
taking from it a bottle of blue ink, a bottle of green, and a paint
brush, and diluted the inks in a saucer under the tap. There was awe in
the kitchen as she held the brush, filled with colour, in the air, and
began to paint blue flowers on the dress.
At the first touch of the brush the old dressmaker clasped her hands.
"What is she doing, the English girl! And we who have kept it so
"Hush," said Fanny, stooping towards the bodice, "trust me!"
The children held their breath, except Elsa, who breathed so hard that
Fanny felt her hair stir on her neck. She covered the plain, tight-
waisted bodice with dancing flowers in blue and green.
On the frills of the skirt a dozen large flowers were painted as though
fallen from the bodice. Soon it was done.
"Like that! In five minutes!" groaned the dressmaker, troubled by the
peculiar growth of the flowers.
"Let it dry," said Fanny. "I'll go home and start doing my hair. Elsa
will bring it round when it's dry."
The old woman held out both her hands, in a gesture of mute
congratulation and fatigue.
"Now rest," said Fanny. "Now sleep--and in the morning I will come and
tell you all about it," and ran out into the snow.
* * * * *
The top hook of the bodice would not meet. With her heart in her mouth,
with despair, she pulled. Then sat down on the bed and stared blankly
"Then if _that_ won't meet, all, all the dress is wasted. I can't go.
No, right in the front! There is nothing to be done, nothing to be
done!" She sat alone in the room, the five candles she had lighted
guttering and spilling wax. She was in the half-fastened painted bodice
and a fine net petticoat she had bought at Nancy. Even the green silk
bedroom slippers were on, tied round her ankles with ribbons, the only
slippers she had found in Metz, and she had searched for them for hours.
The room was icy cold, and the hand of the clock chasing towards the
hour for the dance. Should she go in uniform? Not for the world.
She would not meet him, and it seemed as though there could be no
to-morrow, and she would never meet him again in this world. This
meeting had had a peculiar significance--the flouncy, painted dress, the
plans she had made to meet him for once as a woman. Shivering, and in
absurd anguish she sat still on the bed.
"Oh, Elsa, Elsa, look!" Better the child than no one, and the shiny head
was hanging round the door. ("Wie schön!")
"But it isn't _schön_! Look! It won't meet!"
"Oh!..." Elsa's eyes grew round with horror, and she went to fetch her
mother. "Tanzen!" They talked so much of "tanzen" in that household. The
thin mother was all sympathy, and stood in helpless sorrow before the
gap in the bodice.
"What's all this?" and _der Vater_ stood in the doorway, heavy as lead,
and red as a plum.
"Give her a bunch of flowers," he said simply, and as if by accident,
and "Oh!..." said Elsa's mother, and disappeared. She came back with
three blue cotton cornflowers out of Elsa's hat, and the gap in the
bodice was hidden.
* * * * *
_He was not there_. Her eyes flew round the room, searching the shadows
in the corners, searching the faces. In the bitterness of dismay she
could not fully enter the door, but stood a little back, blocking the
entrance, afraid of the certainty which was ready for her within; but
others, less eager, and more hurried, pressed her on, drove her into
the centre of the room, and with a voice of excitement and distress
chattering within her, like some one who has mislaid all he has, she
shook hands with the eighteenth-century general who shrouded the
personality of the Commandant Dormans.
At first she could not recognise any one as she looked round upon Turks,
clowns, Indians, the tinselled, sequined, beaded, ragged flutter of the
room, then from the coloured and composite clothing of a footballer,
clown or jockey grinned the round face and owlish eyes of little Duval,
who flew to her at once to whisper compliments and stumble on the
swelling fortress of her white skirt. She realised dimly from him that
her dress was as beautiful as she had hoped it might be, but what was
the use of its beauty if Julien should be missing? And, looking over
Duval's head, she tried to see through the crowd.
Suddenly she saw him, dressed in the white uniform of a Russian,
standing by a buttress of the wall. His uniform had a faint yellowish
colour, as if it had been laid away for many years against this
evening's dance; the light caught his knees and long boots, but the
shadow of the buttress crept over his face, turned from her towards a
further door. On his head he wore a white hat of curling sheep's wool,
which made him seem fantastically tall.
When Fanny had surveyed him, from the tip of his lit hat to his lit
feet, she was content to leave him in his shadowed corner, and turned
willingly to dance with Duval. The little man offered an arm to hold
her, and, as he came nearer to her, his feet pressed the bottom ring of
wire about her skirt, and the whole bell of flowers and frills swung
backwards and stood out obliquely behind her.
Presently the Jew boy, Reherrey, detached himself from the others and
came out to stand by her and flatter her. He had wound the black stuff
that he had bought three days before so cleverly round his slim body
that he seemed no fatter than a lacquered hairpin. The cynical flattery
of this nineteen-year-old Jew, the plunging admiration which Duval
breathed at her side, the attentive look in the bright eyes of the
Commandant Dormans, who had come near them and stood before her, filled
her with joy. She looked about her, bright rat, tiny and enormous in her
own sight, aware now of her outer, now of her inner life, and sipped her
meed of success, full of the light happiness fashioned from the
admiration of creatures no bigger than herself. She laughed at one and
the other, bending towards them, listening to what they had to say,
without denying, without doubts, with only triumph in her heart; and,
the group shifting a little, a voice was able to say secretly at her
ear, "You look beautiful, but you are not exclusive...." Her sense of
triumph was not dimmed because her quick ear caught jealousy shading the
reproach in his voice.
She did not answer him, except to look at him; but they seemed to
forgive each other mutually as the figure of yellowish-white moved close
enough to tilt the bell skirt and take the figure of bluish-white into
his arms and dance with her. Calico and sheep's wool and painted flowers
went down the room under the low gas brackets, and her eyes, avoiding
his, looked out from a little personal silence into the far-off whirl of
the room, and heard the dimmed music and the scrape of feet.
For him the world was a pale dumb-show, and she the absorbing centre.
For her the world without was lit equally with his personality, the
glamour of which hung over all the scenes before her eyes with the
weight of the sky over the land. So long as he lit the horizon the very
furthest object in it wore a shaft of his light upon its body.
They danced on, not wearing away the shining boards with their feet half
so much as they wore away the thin ice above the enchanted lake.
The Commandant Dormans crossed the room to them.
"She must be drawn. She must go for her portrait. Spare me your partner.
Mademoiselle, we have an artist, a _poilu_, drawing some of the dresses.
Will you come with me and sit for yours?"
She went into the little room and stood for the drawing; the door shut
on her, and she and the artist faced each other. Through the door the
music came softly, and as she stood, hands resting without a breath's
stir on fold, on frill, head bent and wandering eyes, the artist with
twitching face and moving hand looked up and down, up and down, and she
sank, swaying a little upon her rooted feet, into a hypnotised
tranquillity. She did not care what the man put upon the white paper
with his flying hands; he might draw the flowers upon her skirt, but not
the tall blooming flowers within her, growing fabulously like the lilies
in a dream. Her thoughts went out to meet the waves of music floating
through the door; her rooted body held so still that she no longer felt
it, and her spirit hung unbodied in an exaltation between love which
she remembered and love which she expected. No one came through the
door; they left her in silence, enclosed in the cell of the room and of
her dreams, and she was content to stand without movement, without act
or thought. The near chair, the wall hard by, the golden room which she
had just left so suddenly were alike to her; her eyes and her
imagination were tuned to the same level, and there was no distinction
between what was on her horizon and beyond it. Across the face of the
artist the scenes in the room behind her passed in unarrested
procession, and the voice of an illusory lover in her ear startled her
by its clearness. The music wandered about the room like visible
movement, and the artist, God bless him, never opened his mouth between
his shower of tiny glances.
"Finished, mademoiselle!" and he held the drawing towards her as he
leant back with a sigh. He had made too many drawings that evening, and
any talent he had hung in his mind as wearily as a flag in an airless
room. With an effort she broke her position and moved towards him,
taking up the drawing in her hand with a forced interest. "Yes, thank
you, thank you," she said, and he took it back and laid it with the pile
he had made. "You don't like it? But I'm so tired. Look at these others
I did earlier in the evening...."
But while she bent over them the door burst open and Dormans came in,
followed by Duval and Dennis. "Is it finished? Let me look! Yes, yes,
very good! Quite good!" They were pleased enough, and drew the artist
away with them to the buffet.
Suddenly Julien was with her and had closed the door. He was hurried,
excited, and it seemed as though he said what he could no longer contain,
as though the thought biggest in his mind broke in a bound from him. He
was white and he exclaimed: "It's terrible how _much_ you could hurt me
if you would!"
He seemed to close his eyes a little then and lean his head towards her.
She looked at the drooping, half-lit head, and she knew that she had him
without fear of escape. Knew too, that the moment was brief. Their recent,
undeclared silence brooded as though still with them, half regretful and
departing angel. "You will have other beauties," she said to her heart,
"but none like this silence."
They were breathless. The ice had gone from the lake and the ship had
not yet set sail. In a dream she moved down to the beach. She saw him
open his eyes and stare at her incredulously. "I am going to break this
beauty," she breathed alone, and put out her hand and launched the ship.
He was by her side, the silence broken, the voyage begun.
FANNY ROBBED AND RESCUED
Clouds, yellow, mauve and blue, hung ominously over the road to Nancy.
The valley was filled with shades, but the road itself gleamed like a
bleached bone in a ditch. Seated upon the dashboard of her wounded car,
Fanny had drummed her heels for warmth since morning, and seemed likely
soon to drum them upon a carpet of snow. Beneath the car a dark stream
of oil marked the road, and the oil still dripped from the differential
case, where the back axle lay in two halves.
"I will telephone to your garage," her "client" had promised, as he
climbed on to a passing lorry and continued his journey into Nancy. With
that she had to be content, while she waited, first without her lunch,
and then without her tea, for the breakdown lorry which his telephone
message would eventually bring to her aid. Now it was nearly four
o'clock. She had been hungry, but was hungry no longer. The bitter cold
made her forehead ache, and though every moment the blue and mauve
shades thickened upon the sky no flake of snow had fallen.
Only last night, only twenty-four hours ago, she had been preparing for
the dance; and only last night she had said to Julien ... What had she
said to Julien? What had he said to her? Again she was deep in a reverie
that had lasted all day, that had kept her warm, had fed her.
She was almost asleep when a man's voice woke her, and she found a car
with three Americans drawn up beside her.
"I guess this is too bad," said the man who had woken her. "We passed
you this morning on our way into Nancy, and here you are still looking
as though you had never moved. 'Ain't you had any food since then?"
"I haven't been so very hungry."
"Not hungry? You're sure past being hungry! Lucky we've got food with us
in the car. Pity we've got to hurry, but here's sandwiches and sandwiches,
and cakes and candy, and bits of bunstuff, and an apple. And here's a
cheese that's running out of its wrappin'. When's your show coming to
fetch you? 'Ain't you coming home along with us?"
"They won't be long now. Oh, you are good...." Fanny's hunger revived as
she took the food, and now she was waiting ungratefully for them to be
gone that she might start on her heavensent meal.
"Good-bye, ma'am," they cried together.
"Good-bye," she waved, and as their car passed onwards she climbed up on
to the mudguard and spread the rug over her knees.
The slow night grew out of nothing, expanded, and nearly enveloped the
slopes of the hill below. The wind dropped in the cloudy, heavy