Part 3 out of 5
twilight, and the papers of the sandwiches did no more than rustle upon
her knees. Not prepared yet to light her car lamps, Fanny laid her torch
upon her lap, and its patch of white light lit her hands and the piles
of bread, cake, and fancy buns.
Across the road in the deeper gloom that dyed the valley and spilt over
its banks, a head rustled in the ragged border of twig and reed, and
eyes watched the brightly-lighted meal which seemed to hang suspended
above the vague shape of the motor car.
With a sense of being perfectly alone, walled round by the gathering
dusk, Fanny made a deep inroad upon her sandwiches and cake, finishing
with the apple, and began to roll up what remained in case of further
need, should no one come to fetch her.
She reflected that her torch would not last her long and that she ought
to put it and light her head and tail lamps instead, but, drowsy with
pleasure in her lonely dinner, she sat on, prolonging the last moments
before she must uncurl her feet and climb down on to the ground. The
torch slipped from her knee on to a lower fold of the rug, lighting only
the corner of a packet in which she had rolled the cake.
Suddenly, while she watched it, the gleam of the corner disappeared. She
stared at the spot intensely, and saw a hand, a shade lighter than the
darkness, travel across the surface of the rug, cover with its fingers
the second parcel and draw it backwards into what had now become dense
night. Her skin stirred as though a million antennae were alive upon it;
she could not breathe lest any movement should fling the unknown upon
her; her eyes were glued to the third packet, and, in a moment, the hand
advanced again. With horror she saw it creep along the rug, a small
brown, fibrous hand, worn with work. The third packet was eclipsed by
the fingers and receded as the others had done, but as it reached the
edge of the rug, overflowing horror galvanised her into movement, and
catching the corners of the rug she threw it violently after the package
and over the hand, at the same moment jumping from her seat and on to
the footboard, to grope wildly for the switch. Her heart was leaping
like a fish just flung into a basket, and every inch of her body winced
from an expected grasp upon it. She flung herself over the side and into
the seat of the car, found the switch and pushed it.
A dozen Chinese at least were caught in the two long beams that flew out
across the darkness. For a second their wrinkled faces stared, eyes
blinked, and short, unhollowed lips stretched over yellow teeth, then,
with a flutter of dark garments, the Chinese started away from the fixed
beams and were gone into the shadow. Except for the sudden twitter of a
voice, the spurt of a stone flung up against the metal of the car, they
melted silently out of sight and hearing. Sick with panic, Fanny leant
down upon her knees and covered her head with her two arms, expecting a
blow from above. Seconds passed, and ice-cold, with one leg gone to
sleep, she lifted her head, switched off the lights and stared into the
night. She could see nothing, and gradually becoming accustomed to the
darkness, she found that they had completely disappeared. The rug, too,
had gone, and all three packets of sandwiches. Cautiously, with
trembling legs, she stepped upon the footboard.
Something hit her softly upon the forehead, but before she had time to
suffer from a new fear her eye caught the glitter of a flake of snow in
its parachute descent across the path of her lamps. "They hate snow...."
she whispered, not knowing whether it was true. She tried to picture
them as a band of workmen, who, content with their little pillage, were
now far from her on their way to some encampment.
Finding the torch still caught between the mudguard and the bonnet, she
prowled round the car, flashing it into corners and pits of darkness.
There was no sign of a lurking face or flutter of garment.
Snow began to fall, patting her noiselessly on her face and hands, and
curling faster and faster across the lights. In twenty minutes the road
around her was lightened, and cones of delicate softness grew between
the spokes of the wheels.
Climbing down again from her perch, Fanny went to the back of the car,
and, taking from beneath the seat her box of tools, she groped in the
hollow under the wood and pulled out an iron bar, stout and slightly
bent, with a knob at one end--the handle of the wheel jack.
* * * * *
Far away, in what seemed another world, equally blind, snowy and obscure,
but divided from this one by fathoms of frozen water, a car was coming
out from Pont-à-Moussons on to the main Nancy road. Its two head-lamps
glowed confusedly under the snow that clung to them, and the driver, his
thick, blue coat buttoned about his chin, leant forward peering through
the open windscreen, stung, blinded, and blinking as the flakes drove in.
The head-lamps swept the road, the range of the beams reaching out and
climbing the tree trunks in sheltered spots, or flung back and huddled
about the front wheels when a blast of fresh snow was swept in from the
open valley on the left.
"We must be getting to Marbashe?"
"Hardly yet, _mon capitaine_. It was unlucky the _brigadier_ should be
at Thionville. I could have mended the spring on the lorry myself, but
it wants two men to tow in the car."
"This is Marbache!"
In the shelter of the hamlet the lights leapt forward and struck a
handful of houses, thickened and rounded with snow. Almost immediately
darkness swallowed them up, and a drift of snow flung up by the wind
burst in powder over the bonnet and on to the glass.
"The plain outside. Now we go down a long hill. We turn sharp to the
The car entered a tunnel of skeleton trees through which the flakes
drained and flickered, or broke in uneven gusts through the trunks. The
left lamp touched a little wooden hut which stood blinkered and
deserted. Just beyond it was a sharp turn in the road.
A pale light hung in the dark ahead of them.
"Is it a car? No."
"Yes, lamps. With the beam broken by the snow."
For fear of blinding the driver of a lighted vehicle which might, after
all, be moving, one of the men put out his hand and switched off the
headlights, and the car glided forward on its own momentum.
Thus they came upon Fanny, in the hollow torn by the lamps out of an
obscurity which whirled like a dense pillar above her, seated on her
mudguard, blanched and still as an image, the iron bar for a weapon in
her right hand, the torch ready as a signal in her left.
"Well, yes, my poor child!" And she saw the man behind him, and laughed.
"Help me down. Within and without I am set in plaster."
"You look like a poor, weather-chipped goddess, or an old stone pillar
with a face."
"Be careful, that leg will not stand.... Oh, look, look how the snow
clings. It's frozen on my lap."
"We must be quick. Everything must be quickly done, or we shall all stay
"Oh, I don't care about that now!"
"What have you got in your hand? Give it to me."
"That's a weapon. I almost needed it. Where is the lorry?"
"The garage was empty. The _brigadier_ was at Thionville. The lorry had
a spring broken."
"And they told you?"
"I did not call at the 'C.R.A.' office till late in the day, or you
would have been fetched long ago. Come along! Have you got your things
together? We must take them back in the other car. And the magneto too."
"We're to leave the car after all my guarding care?"
"No; here's Pichot volunteered to take your place."
"Has he got food with him and rugs. My rug has gone...."
"He has everything. Come along! Let's put everything of value into the
When they had finished the night air was clear of snowflakes; hill, road
and valley were lit by the pallor of the fallen snow.
Fanny followed Julien to the other car. He swung the handle and jumped
into the driving seat. "Come...." he said, and held out a hand.
"Good-night, Pichot. We'll send for you early in the morning."
"Good-night, _mon capitaine._ Good-night, mademoiselle."
They moved forward, and the moon like a wandering lamp lit their faces.
"Blow out, old moon!" said Julien, turning his silvered face and hair up
to the sky. The moon flew behind a cloud.
"Quick!" he said.
... and kissed her. The jacks and tyres and wheels and bolts fluttered
out of Fanny's head like black ravens and disappeared. They flew on,
over the bridge at Pont-à-Moussons, up the shining ruinous street.
"Crouch lower!" said Julien. "If any one wanted to, they could count
your eyelashes from the windows."
"Ah, yes, if there was any one to count...." She glanced up at the
fragmentary pronged chimneys, the dark, unstirring caves of brick.
Soon the church clocks of Metz rang out, quarrelling, out of time with
"Do you know this isn't going to last?" said Julien suddenly, as if the
clocks had reminded him.
She turned swiftly towards him.
"The Grand Quartier is moving?"
"Ah, you knew? You had heard?"
"No, no," she shook her head. "But do you think I haven't thought of it?
I keep thinking, 'We can't stay here for ever. Some end will come.' And
then--'It will come this way. The Grand Quartier will go.'"
"But you are going with it."
"Julien! Is that true?"
"Certain. It was settled to-day. We are actually leaving in three days
for Chantilly; and you, with all the garage, all the drivers, and the
offices of the 'C.R.A.' are to be at Précy-sur-Oise, five miles away."
"But you are at Précy too?"
"No, I have to be at Chantilly. And worse than that ... The bridge over
the Oise at Précy is blown up and all cars have to come sixteen miles
round to Chantilly by another bridge. I am in despair about it. I have
tried every means to get Dormans to fix upon another village, but he is
obstinate, and Précy it must be for you, and Chantilly for me. But don't
let's think of it now. Wait till you've eaten and are warm, and we can
plan. Here are the gates!"
He handed out the paper pass as a red light waved to and from upon the
snow. First the Customs-men, Germans still, in their ancient civic
uniform. "Nothing to declare?" Then the little soldier with the lantern
in his hand: "Your pass, _ma belle!_" As he caught sight of Julien,
"Pardon, mademoiselle!" Lastly, up the long road into the open square by
the station, down the narrow street, splashing the melted snow-water
against the shop windows, and under the shadow of the cathedral.
"Put the car away and come and dine with me at Moitriers."
She looked at him astonished. "The car? Whose car is it? Does it belong
to our garage?"
"It will in future. It arrived last night, fresh from Versailles. I am
arranging with Dennis for you to take it over to-morrow."
Her eyes sparkled. "A beautiful Renault! A brand new Renault!..."
He laughed. "Hurry, or you will faint with hunger. Put it away and come,
just as you are, to Moitriers, up into the balcony. I am going there
first to order a wonderful dinner."
In a quarter of an hour they were sitting behind the wooden balustrade
of the balcony at Moitriers--the only diners on the little landing that
overhung the one fashionable restaurant in Metz. It was a quarter to
nine; down below, the room, which was lined with mirrors set in gilt
frames, was filled with light; knives and forks still tapped upon the
plates, but the hour being late many diners leant across the strewn
tablecloths and talked, or sat a little askew in their chairs and
listened. A hum filled the warm air, and what was garish below, here,
behind the balustrade, became filtered and strained to delicate streaks
and bars of light which crossed and recrossed their cloth, their hands,
their faces--what was noisy below was here no more than a soft insect
bustle, a murmurous background to their talk.
The door of the balcony opened behind them, and Madame Berthe, the
proprietress herself, moved at their side; her old-fashioned body,
shaped like an hour-glass, was clothed in rucked black silk, which
flowed over her like a pigment; flowed from her chin to the floor, upon
which it lay stiffly in hills and valleys of braided hem. Her gay gold
tooth gleamed, and the gold in her ears wagged, as she fed them gently
on omelette, chicken and tinned peas, and a _soufflé_ ice.
They talked a little, sleepy after the wind, smiling at each other.
"Don't you want more light than that?" said Madame Berthe, coming in
again softly with the coffee.
Fanny shook her head. "Not any more than this."
Then they were left alone, stirring the coffee, gazing down between the
wooden columns at the diners below.
"Of what are you thinking?" she asked, as a sigh escaped her companion.
"The move to Chantilly. I am so loth to break up all this."
"Ah, well, it changes, doesn't it? Even if it is no longer the same
landscape it changes!"
After a silence he added: "How fragile it is!"
"You!" He covered her hand with both his. "You! What I think you are,
and what you think I am. Love and illusion. Too fragile to be given to
us with our blunders and our nonsense."
She watched him, silent, and he went on:
"I don't understand this life. That's why I keep quiet and smile, as you
say I do. There are often things I don't say when I smile."
"Oh, I wonder how much you believe me. And I listen to that immense
interior life, which talks such a different language. I _hate_ to move
on to Chantilly."
Suddenly she recognised that they were at a corner which he had wanted
her to turn for days. There had been something he had hinted at,
something he wanted to tell her. He chafed at some knowledge he had
which she did not share, which he wanted her to share.
Once he had said: "I had letters this morning which worried me...."
"One in particular. It hurt me. It gave me pain."
But she had not wanted to ask what was in the letter. Then he had grown
restless, sighed and turned away, but soon they had talked again and it
And now to-night he said:
"Look how detached we are in this town, which is like an island in the
middle of the sea. We behave as though we had no past lives, and never
expected any future. Especially you."
"You behave as though I was born the day before you met me, and would
die the day after you leave me. You never ask anything about me; you
tell me nothing about yourself. We might be a couple of stars hanging in
mid air shining at each other. And then I have the feeling that one
might drop and the other wouldn't know where to look for it."
But after a little silence the truth burst out, and he said with
despair: "Don't you want to know _anything_ about me?"
(Yes, that was all very well. She did, she did. But not just this that
And then he told her....
* * * * *
"What is she like ... Violette?"
After several low questions she seemed to stand between them like a
child, thin and fair, delicate and silent, innocently expecting to be
spared all pain.
"No, she doesn't go out very much. She stays indoors and does her hair,
and her nails, and reads a little book."
"And have you known her for a long time?"
"A long time...."
After this they pretended that she did not exist, and the little wraith
floated back to Paris from which she had come, suddenly, on days when
she had written him certain letters which had brought tears into
THE LAST NIGHT IN METZ: THE JOURNEY
Fanny turned again to seek the lights of the town and the dagger points
of the churches that climbed against the sky upon the hill behind her,
but all that met her eyes was the blanket of wet darkness, and the
shimmer of the snowflakes under the lamps.
She slipped through the garage gates, touching the iron bars ... "almost
for the last time."
"But what does it matter? All towns are the same and we sing the same
song in each and wear the same coloured feathers." She stirred the snow
in the yard with her foot. "An inch already and the Renault has so
little grip upon the snow. Shall we be able to start to-morrow?"
Then she set out to look for a heap of snow chains which she had noticed
before in a corner of the yard. Not far from her another little torch
moved in the darkness, and under its downward ray she caught sight of a
khaki skirt and a foot. "Someone else has thought of chains, too! And
there are so few!" She clicked off her light and moved stealthily along
the forest of cars, her fingers sweeping blankets of snow from the
mudguards. Passing the first line of corpse-cars she saw the light
again. "She's in the wrong place!" she thought, and hurried on. "Those
bags of chains are just behind the Berliet they brought in backwards."
Behind the Berliet little mounds showed in the snow. She stooped over
them, shading her light with her knees, and dug in the light powder with
her hand, pulling out a small canvas bag which she dusted and beat with
"Are you looking for chains?" she called to the other light, her bag
safely in her arms.
"They are here. Here! In this corner!"
"Who are you?" cried the voice.
But she slipped away in silence to the garage door; for on this last
black and white night in Metz she longed to creep about unspoken to,
unquestioned. A little soldier sat on guard by a brazier of glowing
charcoal near the door. She nodded to him as she moved down the long
line of cars to her own.
There it stood, the light of the brazier falling faintly upon it, the
two points of the windscreen standing up like the ready ears of an
interested dog, the beautiful lines of its body, long bonnet and
mudguards stretched like a greyhound at a gallop, at rest until the
dawn. She flung the bag of chains inside, and, patting the bonnet,
slipped away and out into the street without attempting to try the fit
of the chains upon the wheels.
She slept a last night in the dark red German room three streets
away--first making a little tour of the walls in her nightgown, the
candle flame waving from her hand, the hot wax running in a cascade over
her fingers--and looked at the stag's horn fastened to the bracket and
the cluster of Christmas postcards pinned to the wall.
The postcards arrested her attention, and a light darted in her mind.
They were dark postcards, encrusted with shiny frosting, like the snow
outside. Little birds and goblins, a wreath of holly, and a house with
red mica windows were designed on them. She put out a finger and gently
touched the rough, bright, common stuff; standing opposite them, almost
breathless with a wave of memory. She could see herself no taller than
the nursery fireguard, with round eyes to which every bright thing was a
desire. She could feel herself very small amid the bustle and clatter of
Christmas, blowing dark breath marks against the bright silver on the
table, pulling the fringe round the iced cake, wetting her finger and
picking up "hundreds and thousands" with it from a bag.
These postcards now in front of her were made by some one with the mind
of a child. It struck and shook her violently with memory to see them.
"That's why the Germans write good fairy stories!" she thought, and her
eyes passed to the framed photographs that hung near the postcards,
pictures of soldiers in uniform, sitting at a table with the two
daughters of the house. But these wooden faces, these bodies pressing
through unwieldy clothes seemed unrelated to the childish postcards.
She went contentedly to her bed, the room, bare of all her belongings,
except the one bag that stood, filled and open, upon the table; sleeping
for the last time in the strange bed in the strange town which she might
never see again. It was time indeed to go.
For days past civilians had crept through the gates of Metz, leading old
horses, drawing ramshackle carts filled with mattresses, faded silk
chairs, gilt ormolu stands, clocks and cloaks and parrot cages; all the
strange things that men and women use for their lives. The furniture
that had fled in other carts from villages now dust upon a dead plain
was returning through all the roads of France, repacked and dusted, to
set up the spirit of civilian life again.
It was time to go, following all the other birds of passage that war had
dragged through the town of Metz--time to make way for the toiling
civilian with his impedimenta of civilisation.
In the morning when she opened her eyes the room was darker than usual,
and the opening of the window but the merest square of light. Snow was
built up round the frame in thick rolls four inches high.
She dressed hurriedly and rolled up the sleeping-sack with her few last
things inside it. Out in the street the snow was dry and thick and
beautifully untrodden. The garage gates looked strange, with a thick
white banner blown down each side of the pillars. She looked inside the
garage shed. Yes, all the cars had gone--hers stood alone, the suitcases
inside, tyres pumped stiff and solid, the hood well buckled back.
"Mademoiselle hasn't gone with the convoy?" said the _maréchal des
"Oh, I'm separate," she laughed.
"But the convoy is gone."
"I know it. But I'm not with them. It's an order. I'm going alone."
"_Bien_. But do you know the route?"
"I'm not going by it."
He laughed, suddenly giving up all attempt at responsibility, and bent
to catch her starting handle.
"Oh, don't worry."
"Yes, it's your last day, I may as well help you to go away."
The engine started easily and she drove out of the garage into the yard,
the wheels flying helplessly in the snow, and flinging up dry puffs like
flour. "Haven't you chains?" said the _maréchal des logis_. But she
smiled and nodded and could not wait. "Good-bye--good-bye to all the
garage," she nodded and waved. The sun broke out from behind a cloud,
her brass and glass caught fire and twinkled gaily, the snow sparkled,
the gate-posts shone at her. She left the garage without a regret in her
heart, with not a thought in her head, save that in a minute she would
be safe, no accident could stop her, she would be abroad upon the magic,
the unbelievable journey.
* * * * *
They were in a small circular room, shaped like an English oasthouse,
its roof running upwards in a funnel to meet the sky. At the apex was a
round porthole of thick glass to let in the light, but as this was
supporting several feet of snow the lighting of the room was effected
only by a large oil-lamp which stood on the blackened table in the
centre. An old woman came forward into the light of the lamp. Her eyes
were fine and black--her mouth was toothless and folded away for ever,
lost in a crevice under her nose. When she smiled the oak-apples of her
cheeks rose up and cut the black eyes into hoops.
"We are on a long journey, madame, to Chantilly. We are cold; can we
She drew out chairs and bade them sit, then placed two tall glasses of
coffee in the ring of light from the lamp, sugar melting in a sandy heap
at the bottom of each.
"What an odd shape your house is!" said Julien, looking round him.
"It's very old, like me. And the light is poor. You have to know it to
get used to it," she replied.
"You've only that one window?" He stared up the funnel to where he
could see the grey underside of the cone of snow.
"But I can make that one better than it is; and then the lady can see
herself in this little glass!" The old woman moved to the side of the
wall where a rope hung down. "_Elle a raison_; since she has a gentleman
with her! I was the same--and even not so long ago!"
She put up her thin arm and gave the rope a long pull. She must have
been strong, for the skylight and all its burden opened on a hinge, and
the snow could be seen sliding from it, could be heard in a heavy body
rumbling on the roof. She closed the skylight, and now a wan light
filtered down the funnel and turned their faces green. It was like life
at the bottom of a well, and they felt as though the level of the earth
was far above their heads, and its weighty walls pressing against
"But why is it built this way?"
"Many houses are," said the old woman with a shrug. "It's old, older
than my mother." She sat down beside them. "Soldiers have been drunk in
here many times in the war," she said. "And in the old war, too. But I
never saw one like you." She pinched Fanny's sleeve. "Fine stuff," she
said. "The Americans are rich!"
"I'm not American."
"Rich they are. But I don't care for them. They have no real feeling for
a woman. You are not stupid, _ma belle_, to get a Frenchman for a lover."
"Don't make him vain."
"It is the truth. He knows it very well. Why should he be vain? An
American loves a pretty face; but a Frenchman loves what is a woman."
She rose and lifted the lamp, and let its ray search out a corner of the
room wherein the great bed stood, wooden and square, its posts black
with age, its bedding puffed about it and crowned with a scarlet
eiderdown as solid and deep as the bed itself.
"A fine bed; an old bed; it is possible that you will not believe me,
but I shared that bed with a bishop not two years ago."
Fanny's eyes were riveted on the bed.
Julien laughed. "In the worst sense, mother?"
"In the best, my son," bragged the old woman, sliding a skinny finger to
the tip of her nose. "You don't believe me?"
Coming nearer, she stood with the lamp held in her two hands resting on
the table, so that she towered over them in fluttering shawl and shadow.
"He arrived in the village one night in a great storm. It was past the
New Year and soldiers had been coming through the street all day to go
up to the lines beyond Pont-à-Moussons. I've had them sleeping in here
on the floor in rows, clearing away the table and lying from wall to
wall so thick that I had to step on them when I crossed the room with my
lamp. But that night there were none; they were all passing through up
to the front lines, and though the other end of the village was full, no
one knocked here. There was snow as there is to-day, but not lying still
on the ground. It was rushing through the air and choking people and
lying heavy on everything that moved outside. That glass of mine up
there was too heavy for me to move so I let it be. A knock came at the
door in the middle of the night, and when I got up to unbar the door
there was a soldier on the doorstep. I said: 'Are you going to wake me
up every night to fill the room with men?' And he said: 'Not to-night,
mother, only one. Pass in, monsieur.'
"It was a bishop, as I told you. _Un éveque_. A great big man with a red
face shining with the snow. If he had not been white with snow he would
have been as black as a rook. He stamped on the cobbles by the door and
the snow went down off him in heaps, and there he was in his beautiful
long clothes, and I said to myself: 'Whatever shall I do with him? Not
the floor for such a man!' So there we were, I in my red shawl that
hangs on the hook there, and he in his long clothes like a black baby
in arms, and his big man's face staring at me over the top.
"'I can't put you anywhere but in my bed,' I told him. I told him like
that, quickly, that he might know. And he answered like a gentleman, the
Lord save his soul: 'Madame, what lady could do more!'
"'But there's only one bed' I told him (I told him to make it clear),
'and I'm not young enough to sleep on the floor.' Not that I'm an old
woman. And he answered like a gentleman, the Lord save him...."
"I will tell _you_ the end," said the old woman, drawing near to Julien
as he took some money from his pocket to pay for the coffee.
Two hours later they drew up at a _café_ in the main square at Ligny.
Within was a gentle murmur of voices, a smell of soup and baking bread;
warm steam, the glow of oil lamps and reddened faces.
Sitting at a small table, with a white cloth, among the half-dozen
American soldiers who, having long finished their lunch, were playing
cards and dominoes, they ordered bread-soup, an omelette, white wine,
brille cheese and their own ration of bully beef which they had brought
in tins to be fried with onions.
A woman appeared from the door of the kitchen, carrying their bowl of
bread-soup. Across the plains of her great chest shone a white satin
waistcoat fastened with blue glass studs, and above her handsome face
rose a crown of well-brushed hair dyed in two shades of scarlet. A
little maid followed, and they covered the table with dishes, knives and
forks, bread and wine. The woman beamed upon Fanny and Julien, and
laying her hand upon Fanny's shoulder begged them not to eat till she
had fetched them a glass of her own wine.
"You bet it's good, ma'am," advised a big American sergeant at a table
near them. "You take it."
She brought them a wine which shone like dark amber in a couple of
glasses, and stood over them listening with pleasure to their
appreciation while each slight movement of her shoulders sent ripples
and rivers of heaving light over the waistcoat of satin.
The butter round the omelette was bubbling in the dish, the brille had
had its red rind removed and replaced by fried breadcrumbs, the white
wine was light and sweet, and with the coffee afterwards they were given
as much sugar as they wished.
"I have seen her before somewhere," said Julien, as the scarlet head
receded among the shadows of the back room. "I wonder where?"
"One wouldn't forget her."
"No. It might have been in Paris; it might have been anywhere."
The little maid was at his elbow. "Madame would be glad if you would
come to her store and make your choice of a cigar, monsieur."
"Well, I shall know where I met her. Do you mind if I go?"
He followed the girl into the back room. Fanny, searching in her pocket
for her handkerchief, scattered a couple of German iron pennies on the
floor; an American from the table behind picked them up and returned
them to her. "These things are just a weight and a trouble," he said.
"I think I shall throw mine away?"
"You've come down from Germany, then?"
"Been up at Trêves. They do you well up there."
"Not better than here!"
"No, this is an exception. It's a good place."
"Madame is a great manager."
"Hev' you got more German pennies than you know what to do with?" said
the American sergeant who had advised her to drink the wine. "Because,
if you hev' so hev' I and I'll play you at dominoes for them."
As Julien did not return at once, Fanny moved to his table and piled her
German pennies beside her, and they picked out their dominoes from
"I want to go home," said the American, and lifted up his big face and
looked at her.
"You all do."
"That's right. We all do," assented another and another. They would make
this statement to her at every village where she met them, in every
_estaminet_, at any puncture on the road over which they helped her
--simply, and because it was the only thing in their minds.
"Do you hev' to come out here?" he enquired.
"Oh, no. We come because we like to."
Thinking this a trumpery remark he made no answer, but put out another
domino--then as though something about her still intrigued his heavy
curiosity: "You with the French, ain't you?"
"Like that too?"
He sat a little back into his chair as though he felt he had put her in
a corner now, and when she said she even liked that too, twitched his
cheek a little in contempt for such a lie and went on playing.
But the remark worked something in him, for five minutes later he
"I don't see anything in the French. They ain't clean. They ain't
generous. They ain't up-to-date nor comfortable."
Fanny played out her domino.
"They don't know how to _live_," he said more violently than he had
"What's living?" she said quickly. "What is it to live, if _you_ know?"
"You want to put yourself at something, an' build up. Build up your
fortune and spread it out and about, and have your house so's people
know you've got it. I want to get home and be doing it."
"Mademoiselle actually knows it!" said Julien in the doorway to the
red-haired woman in the back room, and Fanny jumped up.
The American passed four iron coins across the table. "'Tisn't going to
hinder that fortune I'm going to make," he said, smiling at last.
"What do I know?" she asked, approaching the doorway, and moving with
him into the back room.
"Madame owns a house in Verdun," said Julien, "and I tell her you know
"_I_ know it?"
"Come and drink this little glass of my wine, mademoiselle," said the
red-haired woman good-humouredly, "and tell me about my poor little
house. I had a house on the crown of the hill ... with a good view
... and a good situation (she laughed) by the Cathedral."
"Had you? Well, there are a great many by the Cathedral," Fanny answered
cautiously, for she thought she knew the house that was meant.
"But my house looked out on the _citadelle_, and stood very high on a
rock. Below it there was a drop and steep steps went down to a street
"Had you pink curtains in the upper windows?"
"Is it not then so damaged?" demanded the woman eagerly, dropping her
smile. "The curtains are left? You can see the curtains?"
"No, no, it is terribly damaged. If it is the house you mean I found a
piece of pink satin and a curtain ring under a brick, and there is a sad
piece which still waves on a high window. But wait a minute, excuse me,
I'll be back." She passed through the café and ran out to the car,
returning in a moment with something in her hand.
"I fear I looted your house, madame," she said, offering her a small
cylindrical pot made of coarse clouded glass, and half filled with a
yellowish paste. "I found that inside on the ground floor; I don't know
why I took it."
The woman held it in her hand. "Oh!" she wailed, and sliding down upon
the sofa, found her handkerchief.
"_Mais non!_" said Julien, "you who have so much courage!"
"But it was my own _face_!" she cried incoherently, holding out the
little pot. "My poor little cream pot!"
"It was my face cream!"
"I had not used it for a week because they had recommended me a new one.
Ah! miraculous! that so small a thing should follow me!"
She touched her eyes carefully with her handkerchief, but a live tear
had fallen on the waistcoat.
"Tell me, mademoiselle ... sit down beside me, my dear ... the poor
little house is no more good to me? I couldn't live there? Is there
"You couldn't live in it."
"But the roof?"
"It was on the point of sliding off; it was worn like a hat over one
ear. The front of the house is gone. Only on the frame of one window
which sticks to the wall could I see your piece of pink curtain
"My poor, pretty house!" she mused. "My first, you know," she said in an
undertone to Julien. "Ah, well, courage, as you say!"
"But you are very well here."
"True, but this isn't my vocation. I shall start again elsewhere. And
Verdun itself, Mademoiselle, can one live in it?"
"No, not yet. Perhaps never."
"Madame, we must move on again," interrupted Julien. "We have a long way
to go before night."
The woman rose, and turning to a drawer, pulled out a heap of soiled
papers, bills and letters. "Wait," she said, "wait an instant!"
Turning them over she sought and found a couple of old sheets pinned
together, and unpinning them she handed one to Fanny.
"It is the receipt for the cream," she said, "that I want to give you.
It is a good cream though I left the pot behind."
* * * * *
The sun sank and the forests around Chantilly grew vague and deep. White
statues stood by the roadside, and among the trees chateaux with closed
eyes slept through the winter. Every tree hung down beneath its load of
snow; the telephone wires drooped like worsted threads across the road.
Fanny, who had left Julien at his new billets in Chantilly, drove on
alone to the little village on the Oise which was to be her home. It was
not long before she could make out the posts and signals of the railway
on her left, and the river appeared in a broad band below her. The moon
rose, and in the river the reeds hung head downwards, staring up at the
living reeds upon the bank.
It gleamed upon a signpost, and turning down a lane on the left she came
on a handful of unlighted cottages, and beyond them a single village
street, soundless and asleep. A chemist's shop full of coloured glasses
was lit from within by a single candle; upon the step the chemist stood,
a skull cap above his large, pitted face.
Somewhere in the shuttered village a roof already sheltered her
companions, but before looking for them she drew up and gazed out beyond
the river and the railway line to where the moon was slowly lighting
hill after hill. But the spectral summer town which she sought was
veiled in the night.
THE FORESTS OF CHANTILLY
The light of dawn touched Paris, the wastes of snow surrounding her,
forests, villages scattered in the forest and plains around Senlis,
Chantilly, Boran, Précy. The dark receded in the west; in the east a
green light spread upwards from the horizon, touched the banks of the
black Oise, the roofs of the houses of Précy, the dark window panes, and
the flanks of the granite piers that stood beheaded in the water--all
that was left of the great bridge that had crossed from bank to bank.
Above the river stood the station hut and the wooden gates of the level
crossing, upon which the night lantern still hung; above again a strip
of snow divided the railway line from the road, at the other side of
whose stone wall the village itself began, and stretched backwards up
Upon a patch of snow above the river and below the road stood a
flourishing little house covered with gables and turrets; and odd shapes
like the newel-posts of staircases climbed unexpectedly about the roof.
In summer, fresh with paint, the outside of the house must wave its
vulgar little hands into the sky, but now, everything that bristled upon
it served only as a fresh support for the snow which hung in deep
drifts on its roof, and around its balconied windows. It stood in its
own symmetrical walled garden, like a cup in a deep saucer, and within
the wall a variety of humps and hillocks showed where the bushes
crouched beneath their unusual blanket. One window, facing towards the
railway and the river, had no balcony clinging to its stonework, and in
the dark room behind it the light of the dawn pressed faintly between
the undrawn curtains. A figure stirred upon the bed within, and Fanny,
not clearly aware whether she had slept or not, longed to search the
room for some heavier covering which, warming her, would let her sink
into unconsciousness. Her slowly gathering wits, together with the
nagging cold, forced her at last from the high bed on to the floor, and
she crossed the room towards the light. In the walled garden below
strange lights of dawn played, red, green and amber, like a crop of
flowers. The railway lines beyond the garden wall disappeared in fiery
bands north and south, lights flashed down from the sky above and winked
in the black and polished river; at the limit of the white plain beyond,
a window caught the sun and turned its burning-glass upon the snow.
"Chantilly...." A word like the dawn, filled with light and the promise
of light! Turning back into the dim room, she flung her coat upon the
bed, climbed in and fell asleep. Three hours later something pressed
against her bed and she opened her eyes again. The room was fresh with
daylight, and Stewart standing beside her carried a rug on her arm and
wore a coat over her nightgown. "I'm coming down to have chocolate in
Fanny watched her. Stewart climbed up beside her wrapped in the rug. A
knock at the door heralded the entry of a woman carrying a tray. Fanny
watched her too, and saw that she was fresh, smiling, clean and big, and
that steam flew up in puffs from the tray she carried. The woman pulled
a little table towards the bed and set the tray on it.
"This is Madame Boujan!" said Stewart's voice.
Fanny tried to smile and say "Good morning," and succeeded. She was not
awake but knew she was in clover. The cups holding the steaming
chocolate were as large as bowls, and painted cherries and leaves
glistened beneath their lustre surface. Beside the cups was a plate with
rolls, four rolls; and there were knives and two big pots which must be
butter and jam.
Fanny rolled nearer to the chocolate, sniffed it and pulled herself up
in bed. The woman, still smiling beside them, turned and hunted among
the clothes upon the chair; then held a jersey towards her shoulders and
guided her arms into its sleeves. Ecstasy stole over Fanny; other
similar wakings strung themselves like beads upon her memory; nursery
wakings when her spirit had been guided into daylight by the crackle of
a fire new-lit, by the movements of just such an aproned figure as this,
by a smile on just such a pink face; or wakings after illness when her
freshening life had leapt in her at the sound of a blind drawn up, at
the sight of the white-cuffed hand that pulled the cord.
Oh, heavenly woman, who stood beside the tray, who fed her and warmed
her while she was yet weak and babyish from sleep! Beyond her the white
plains of beauty shone outside the window.... She sat up and smiled:
"I'm awake," she said.
And Madame Boujan, having seen that her feet were set upon the threshold
of day, went out of the door and closed it softly.
They held the lustre bowls cupped in their hands and sipped.
* * * * *
During lunch in the little villa, while they were all recounting their
experiences, Madame Boujan came softly to Fanny's side and whispered:
"A soldier has brought you a note from Chantilly."
"Keep it for me in the kitchen," Fanny answered, under her breath,
helping herself to potatoes.
"Will you come and cut wood for the bedroom fire?" said Stewart, when
lunch was over. "I bought a hatchet in the village this morning."
"Come down by the river first," insisted Fanny, who had her note in her
"Why? And it gets dark so soon!"
"I want to find a boat."
"To cross the river."
"To cross the river! Do you want to see what's on the other side?"
"Julien will be on the other side.... I have had a letter from him. I am
to dine in Chantilly. He will send a car at seven to wait for me in the
fields at the other side of the broken bridge, and trusts to me to find
a boat. Come over the level crossing to the river."
They passed the station hut and came to a little landing stage near
which a boat was tied.
"There's a boat," said Stewart. "Shall we ask at that hut?"
The wooden hut stood above their heads on a pedestal of stone; from its
side the haunch of the stone bridge sprang away into the air, but
stopped abruptly where it had been broken off. The hut, once perhaps a
toll-house, was on a level with what had been the height of the bridge,
and now it could be reached by stone steps which wound up to a small
platform in front of the door. From within came men's voices singing.
"Look in here!"
A flickering light issued from a small window, and having climbed the
steps they could see inside. Two boys, about sixteen, a soldier and an
old man, sat round a table beneath a hanging lamp, and sang from scraps
of paper which they held in their hands. Behind the old man a girl stood
cleaning a cup with a cloth.
"They are practising something. Knock!"
But there was no need, for a dog chained in a barrel close to them set
up a wild barking.
"Is he chained? Keep this side. The old man is coming."
The door opened. The voices ceased; the girl stood by the old man's
"Yes, it could be arranged. People still crossed that way; their boat
was a sort of ferry and there was a charge.
"There might be a little fog to-night, but it didn't matter. Margot
knows the way across blindfold--Margot would row the lady. She would be
waiting with a lantern at five minutes to seven; and again at half-past
nine. Not too late at all! But Margot would not wait on the other side,
it was too cold. They would lend the lady a whistle, and she must blow
on it from the far bank."
"There's romance!" said Fanny, as they came away.
"Not if you are caught."
"There's my magic luck!"
"How dare you ask like that? Even if you are not superstitious, even if
you don't believe a word of it, why be so defiant--why not set the
"Oh, my dear Stewart, I hardly care! And to the creature who doesn't
care no suspicion clings. Haven't I an honest face? Would you think it
was me, me, of all the Section, to cross the river to-night, in a little
boat with a lantern, to creep out of the house, out of the village, to
dine forbidden in Chantilly, with some one who enchants me! You
wouldn't. Why, do you know, if I lived up in their house, under their
eyes, I would go out just the same, to cross the river. I wouldn't climb
by windows or invent a wild tale to soothe them, but open the door and
shut the door, and be gone. And would anybody say: 'Where's Fanny?'"
"They might. But they would answer their own question: 'Innocently
sleeping. Innocently working. Innocently darning, reading, writing.'
I don't suspect myself so why should any one else suspect me!"
Fanny broke off and laughed.
"Come along and cut wood!"
They moved off into the woods as people with not a care in the world,
and coming upon a snow-covered stack of great logs which had been piled
by some one else, began to steal one or two and drag them away into a
deep woodland drive where they could cut them up without fear of
They worked on for an hour, and then Stewart drew a packet of cake from
her coat pocket, and sitting upon the logs they had their tea.
Soon Fanny, wringing her hands, cried:
"I'm blue again, stiff again, letting the cold in, letting the snow
gnaw. Where's the hatchet?"
For a time she chopped and hacked, and Stewart, shepherding the
splinters which flew into the snow, piled them--splinters, most precious
of all--_petit bois_ to set a fire alight; and the afternoon grew bluer,
deeper. Stewart worked in a reverie--Fanny in a heat of expectation. One
mused reposedly on life--the other warmly of the immediate hours
"Now I'm going to fetch the car," said Stewart at last. "Will you stay
here and go on cutting till I come? There are two more logs."
She walked away up the drive, and Fanny picked the hatchet out of the
snow and started on the leathery, damp end of a fresh log. It would not
split, the tapping marred the white silence, and yet again she let the
hatchet fall and sat down on the log instead. It was nearly six--they
had spent the whole afternoon splitting up the logs, and making a fine
pile of short pieces for firewood; the forest was darkening rapidly,
blue deepened above the trees to indigo, and black settled among the
trunks. Only the snow sent up its everlasting shine. Her thoughts fell
and rose. Now they were upon the ground busy with a multitude of small
gleams and sparkles--now they were up and away through the forest
tunnels to Chantilly. What would he say first? How look when he met her?
"Ah, I am a silly woman in a fever! Yet happy--for I see beauty in
everything, in the world, upon strange faces, in nights and days. Upon
what passes behind the glassy eyes" (she pressed her own) "depends
sight, or no sight. There is a life within life, and only I" (she
thought arrogantly, her peopled world bounded by her companions) "am
living in it. We are afraid, we are ashamed, but when one dares talk of
this strange ecstasy, other people nod their heads and say: 'Ah, yes, we
know about that! They are in love.' And they smile. But what a
There was no sound in the forest at all--not the cry of a bird, not the
rustle of snow falling from a branch--but there was something deeper and
remoter than sound, the approach of night. There was a change on the
face of the forest--an effective silence which was not blankness--a
voiceless expression of attention as the Newcomer settled into his
place. Fanny looked up and saw the labyrinth of trees in the very act of
receiving a guest.
"Oh, what wretched earnest I am in," she thought, suddenly chilled. "And
it can only have one end--parting." But she had a power to evade these
moods. She could slip round them and say to herself: "I am old enough--I
have learnt again and again--that there is only one joy--the Present;
only one Perfection--the Present. If I look into the future it is lost."
She heard the returning car far up the forest drive, and in a moment saw
the gleam of its two lamps as they rocked and swayed. It drew up, and
Stewart put out the lamps, ever remembering that their logs were stolen.
There was still light enough by which they could pack the car with wood.
As they finished Stewart caught her arm: "Look, a fire!" she said,
pointing into the forest. Through a gap in the trees they could see a
red glow which burst up over the horizon.
"And look behind the trees--the whole sky is illumined--What a fire!" As
they watched, the glare grew stronger and brighter, and seemed about to
lift the very tongue of its flame over the horizon.
"It's the moon!" they cried together.
The cold moon it was who had come up red and angry from some Olympic
quarrel and hung like a copper fire behind the forest branches. Up and
up she sailed, but paling as she rose from red to orange, from orange to
the yellow of hay; and at yellow she remained, when the last branch had
dropped past her face of light, and she was drifting in the height
of the sky.
They drove back to the village and down to their isolated villa, and
here on the road they passed ones and twos of the Section walking
"How little we have thought out your evasion!" whispered Stewart at the
wheel, as they drew up at the door: "Get out, and go and dress. I will
take the car up to the garage and come back."
Fanny slipped in through the garden. What they called "dressing" was a
clean skirt and silk stockings--but silk stockings she dared not put on
before her brief appearance at supper. Stuffing the little roll into her
pocket she determined to change her stockings on the boat.
Soon, before supper was ended, she had risen from the table,
unquestioned by the others, had paused a moment to meet Stewart's eye
full of mystery and blessing, had closed the door and was gone.
She slipped down the road and across the field to the railway. There was
a train standing, glowing and breathing upon the lines, and the driver
called to her as she ran round the buffers of the engine. Soon she was
down by the riverside and looking for Margot. Though there was moonlight
far above her the river banks were wrapped in fog that smelt of water,
and Margot's face at the hut window was white, and her wool dress white,
too. She came down and they rowed out into the fog, in an upward circle
because of the stream. Fanny could just see her companion's little blunt
boots, the stretched laces across her instep, and above, her pretty face
and slant eyes. Hurriedly, in the boat she pulled off the thick stockings,
rolled them up, and drew on the silk. A chill struck her feet. She wrapped
the ends of her coat lightly round her knees and as she did so the roll
of thick stockings sprang out of her lap and fell overboard into the fog
and the river.
"Mademoiselle goes to a party?" said Margot, who had not noticed. The
soft sympathetic voice was as full of blessing as Stewart's eyes had
"Yes, to a party. And you will fetch me back to-night when I whistle?"
"Yes. Blow three times, for sometimes in the singing at home I lose the
The opposite bank seemed to drift in under the motionless boat, and she
"A tout à l'heure, mademoiselle."
At the top of the bank the road ran out into the fog, which was thicker
on this side. She walked along it and was lost to Margot's incurious
eyes. Here it was utterly deserted: since the bridge had been blown up
the road had become disused and only the few who passed over by
Margot's boat ever found their way across these fields. She strayed
along by the road's edge and could distinguish the blanched form of
Strange that the fog should reach so much further inland on this side of
the river. Perhaps the ground was lower. Standing still her ear caught a
rich, high, throaty sound, a choking complaint which travelled in the air.
"It is the car," she thought. Far away a patch of light floated in the
sky, like an uprooted searchlight.
"That is the fog, bending the headlights upward."
She stood in the centre of the road and listened to the sound as it drew
nearer and nearer, till suddenly the headlights came down out of the sky
and pierced her--she stood washed in light, and the car stopped.
Beside the driver of the car was, not Julien, but a man with a red,
wooden face like a Hindoo god made out of mahogany. Saluting, he said:
"We are sent to fetch you, mademoiselle." He held the door of the closed
car open for her, she smiled, nodded, climbed in and sank upon the seat.
"When you get to the lights of the houses, mademoiselle, will you stoop
a little and cover yourself with this rug? It is not foggy in Chantilly
and the street is very full."
"I will," she said, "I'll kneel down."
Something about his face distressed her. How came it that Julien trusted
this new man? Perhaps he was some old and private friend of his who felt
antagonistic to her, who disbelieved in her, who would hurt them both
with his cynical impassivity.
"I'm fanciful!" she thought. "This is only some friend of his from
Paris." Paris sending forth obstacles already!
In Chantilly she crouched beneath the rug--her expectations closing,
unwandering, against her breast. Beams might pierce the glass of the car
and light nothing unusual; what burnt beneath was not a fire that man
could see. Generals in the street walked indifferently to the Hotel of
the Grand Condé. It was their dinner hour, and who cared that an empty
car should move towards a little inn beyond? Now, she held armfuls of
the rug about her, buried from the light, now held her breath, too, as
the car stopped.
And there stood Julien, at the end of the passage, he whom she had left,
sombre and distracted, a long twenty-four hours ago in Chantilly. She
saw the change even while she flew to him. He was gay, he was excited,
he was exciting. He was beautiful, admirable, he admired her.
"Fanny, is it true? You have come?" and "Que vous êtes en beauté!"
Within, a table was laid for three--three chairs, three plates, three
covers. He saw her looking at this.
"We dine three to-night. You must condescend to dine with a sergeant.
My old friend--Where is Alfred?"
"I am here."
"My old friend--four years before the war. The oldest friend I have.
He has heard--"
("----Of Violette. He has heard of Violette! He is Violette's friend;
he is against me!")
"I am so glad," she said aloud, in a small voice, and put out her hand.
She did not like him, she had an instant dread of him, and thought he
beheld it too.
"I did not even know he was here," said Julien, more gay than ever. "But
he is the sergeant of the garage, and I find him again.
"What a help you'll be, to say the least of it! You will drive her to
the river, you will fetch her from the river! I myself cannot drive, I
am not allowed."
The impassive man thus addressed looked neither gay nor sad. His little
eyes wandered to Fanny with a faint critical indifference. ("Julien has
made a mistake, a mistake! He is an enemy!") She could not clearly
decide how much she should allow her evening to be shadowed by this man,
how deeply she distrusted him. But Julien was far from distrusting him.
Through the dinner he seemed silently to brag to Alfred. His look said,
and his smile said: "Is she not this and that, Alfred? Is she not
perfect?" His blue eyes were bright, and once he said, "Go on, talk,
Fanny, talk, Fanny, you have an audience. To-night you have two to
dazzle!" Impossible to dazzle Alfred. Could he not see that? One might
as easily dazzle a mahogany god, a little god alive beneath its casing
with a cold and angry life. Yet though at first she was silent, inclined
to listen to Alfred, to hope that something in his tones would soothe
her enemy fears, soon she could not help following Julien's mood. Should
she want to be praised, she had it from his eye--or be assured of love,
it was there, too, in the eye, the smile, the soft tone. Because of
Alfred, he could put nothing into words--because he must be dumb she
could read a more satisfying conversation in his face.
She began to think the occasional presence of a third person was an
addition, an exciting disturbance, a medium through which she could talk
with ease two languages at once, French to Alfred, and love to Julien.
When they had finished dining Alfred left them, promising to come back
with the car in half an hour, to take Fanny to the river.
"You must like him!" said Julien confidently, when the door had closed.
Fanny said she would. "And _do_ you like him?" Fanny said she did.
"I met him so many years ago. He was suffering very much at the time
through a woman. Now he will tell you he has become a cynic."
"Did she treat him badly?"
"She ran away from him, taking his carriage and his two horses--"
"A beautiful woman?" interrupted Fanny, who liked details.
"She might equally well have been magnificent or monstrous. She was over
life-size, and Alfred, who is small, adored her. Everything about her
was emphatic. Her hair was heavy-black, her skin too red. And never
still, never in one place. Alfred had a house outside Paris, and
carriage and horses to take him to the station. One night she took the
horses, put them into the carriage and was seen by a villager seated
upon the coachman's box driving along the road. When she had passed him
this man saw her stop and take up a dark figure who climbed to the seat
beside her. They--the woman and her probable lover, who never once had
been suspected, and never since been heard of--drove as far as Persan-
Beaumont, near here, where they had an accident, and turned the carriage
into the ditch, killing one of the horses. The other they took out and
coolly tied to the station railings. They took the train and disappeared,
and though she had lived with Alfred two years, she never left a note
for him to tell him that she had gone, she never wired to him about the
roses, she never has written one since."
"Enough to turn him into a cynic!"
"Not at first. He came to me, spent the night in my flat; he was
distracted. We must have walked together a mile across my little floor.
He couldn't believe she was gone, which was natural. And though next
morning the horses were missing and the coach-house empty, he couldn't
be got to connect the two disappearances. He rang me up from the country
where he went next day, saying earnestly as though to convince himself,
'You know I've got on to the Paris police about those horses.' And later
in the day, again: 'I hear there has been a good deal of horse-stealing
all over the country.' Then, when the horses were found, one dead, and
the other tied to the station railings, he believed at once that she had
taken them and wouldn't talk one word more upon the subject. He sold the
"It was then he grew cool about women!"
"Not yet. It was then that he met, almost at once, a young girl who
insisted in the most amazing fashion, that she loved him. He could not
understand it. He came to me and said: 'Why does she love me?'
"I thought she was merely intriguing to marry him, but no, he said:
'There's something sincere and impressive in her tone; she loves me.
What shall I do?'
'Why _shouldn't_ you marry her?' I said.
And then he was all at once taken with the idea to such a degree that
he became terrified when he was with her. 'Suppose she refuses me,' he
said twenty times a day. 'Ask her. It's simple.' 'It's staking too much.
You say, "Ask her," when all in a minute she may say no.'
"He got quite ill over it. The girl's mother asked him to the house, the
girl herself, though she saw him less and less alone, smiled at him as
tenderly as ever. And then there came a day when he left me full of
courage, and going to her house he asked her to marry him. He met her
alone by chance, and before asking her mother he spoke to the girl
herself. She said no, point-blank. She said 'Nothing would induce her
to.' He was so astonished that he didn't stay a second longer in the
house. He didn't even come to me, but went back into the country, and
then to England."
"But why did the girl--?"
"There is nothing to ask. Or, at any rate, there is no answer to
anything. I suppose he asked himself every question about her conduct,
but it was inexplicable."
"He should have asked her twice."
"It never occurred to him. And he has told me lately that she refused
him with such considered firmness that it seemed unlikely that it was
"Well--poor Alfred! And yet it was only the merest chance, the merest
run of bad luck--but it leaves him, you say, with the impression that we
"A terrible flaw. His opinion is that there is a deep coldness in
women. In the brain, too, he feels them mortally unsound. Mad and cold
he says now of all women, and therefore as unlike a normal man as a
creature half-lunatic, half-snake."
"He thinks that of all women, young or old?"
"Yes, I think so. He tells me that whereas most men make the mistake of
putting down womanly unreason to the score of their having too much
heart, he puts it down to their having no heart at all, which he says
is so mad a state that they are unrecognisable as human creatures."
"But--(alas, poor Alfred)--you have made a charming confidante for us!"
"Confidante? He will make the best. He is devoted to me."
"To anything, to any one I care for."
"Not to me. What you have told me is the key to his expression when he
looks at me. If he is devoted to you it is not an unreasoning devotion,
and he is judging me poisonous to you. As he has himself been hurt, he
will not have you hurt. I wish he had never come. I wish he might never
be my driver to the river, and your friend, and our enemy."
"I wish it. I am unhappy about him, and unhappiness is always punished.
While we were in Metz every one smiled at us; here every one will spy
us out, scold, frown, punish--"
"And your magic luck?"
"Alfred threatens my luck," she said. Then, with another look, "Are you
angry with me? Can you love such a character?"
"I love it now."
"You have never heard me when I scold, or cry or am sulky?..."
"But if I make the experiment?"
"I could make a hundred experiments, but I make none of them. We cannot
know what to-morrow may bring."
This she remembered suddenly with all her heart.
"Come nearer to me, Fanny. Why are you sitting so far away?"
She sat down nearer to him; she put all her fingers tightly round his
"I am not always sure that you are there, Julien; that you exist."
"Yet I am substantial enough."
"No, you are most phantom-like. It is the thought of parting that checks
my earnestness; as though I had an impulse to save myself. It is the
thought of parting that turns you into a ghost, already parted with;
that sheds a light of unreality over you when I am distant. Something in
me makes ready for that parting, flees from you, and I cannot stay it,
steals itself, and I cannot break through it. I have known you so short
a time. I have had nothing but pleasure from you; isn't it possible that
I can escape without pain?"
"No, no, no!" She laid her cheek upon his hand. "Do something to make it
easier. Must it be that when you go you go completely? Promise me at
least that it will be gradual, that you will try to see me when you have
taken up your other life."
"But if I can't? If you are ordered back to Metz?"
"Why should I be? But, if I am, promise me that you will try. If it is
only an artifice, beguile me with it; I will believe in any promise."
"You don't need to ask me to promise; you know you don't need to make me
promise. Wherever you are sent I will try to come. _Wherever_--do you
hear? Do you think that that 'other' life is a dragon to eat me up? That
it will be such bliss to me that I shall forget you completely? It isn't
to be bliss, but work, hard work, and competition. It is the work that
will keep me to Paris, not my happiness, my gaiety, my content with
other faces. That would comfort me if I were listener, and you the
speaker. But, Fanny, Fanny, I never met any one with such joy as you--it
is you who change the forest and the inns we meet in, make the journeys
a miracle. Don't show me another face. We have been in love without a
cloud, without scenes, without tears. You have laughed at everything.
Don't change, don't show me someone whom I don't know; _not that
"This then!" She held up a face in whose eyes and smile was the hasty
radiance his fervour had brought her--and at sight of it the words broke
from him--"Are you happy so quickly?"
"Yes, yes, already happy."
"Because I speak aloud of what I feel? What a doubting heart you have
within you! And I believe you only pretend to distress yourself, that
you may test whether I am sensitive enough to show the reflection of it.
Come! Well--am I right?"
"Partly. But I need not think. Oh, I am glad your feeling is so like
mine, and mine like yours! I will let the parting take care of itself
--yet there is one thing about which I cannot tell. What does your
heart do in absence, what kind of man are you when there is no one but
Alfred, who will say: 'Forget her'?"
"What kind do you think?"
"While I am here beside you, you cannot even imagine how dim I might
become. Can I tell? Can you assure me?"
Dim she might become to him, but dim she was not now as she besought him
with eyes that showed a quick and eager heart, eyes fixed on his face
full of enquiry, sure of its answer, feigning doubt that did not
"And I to you, and I to you?" he said, speaking in her ear when he had
made her an answer. "Dim, too? Why do we never talk of your inconstancy?
We must discuss it."
"Inconstancy! That word had not occurred to me. It was _your_
forgetfulness that I dreaded."
"I shall not be unforgetful until I am inconstant."
"You can afford to tease me now you have me in such a mood!"
"In such a mood! Have I, indeed? Yet you will forget me before I forget
"You tell me to my face that I shall change?" she asked.
"Yes. And since you are bound to forget me, I insist at least that there
shall be a reason for doing so. I would rather be a king dethroned than
allowed to lapse like a poor idiot."
"You would? You can say that?" Her voice rose.
"One instant, Fanny. Even when my teasing is out of taste, learn to
distinguish it from what I say in earnest. My dear, my dear, why should
you have to listen to the matter of _my_ philosophy and _my_ experience
which tells me all creatures forget and are forgotten! No! I wipe out!
You will not vanish--"
The door opened and Alfred entered the room.
"The car is ready," he said. "I have had trouble in getting here."
Fanny turned to him. "I am ready," she said. "It is dreadful to have to
trouble you to take me so late at night to the river."
"No, no--" Alfred, glowing from the exercise in the snowy night outside,
was inclined to be more friendly, or at least less sparing of his words.
"Here are some letters that were at your lodging." He handed three
"When do you dine with me again?" Julien, holding the letters, placed
his hand upon her shoulder.
"I cannot tell what the work will be. Perhaps little, as the snow is
"It is snowing again outside," said Alfred.
"Then the snow will lie even deeper, and there will be no work."
"Get her back quickly, Alfred, or the snow will lie too deep for you.
I will send you a note, Fanny."
"That is quite easy, is it?"
"Easy. But compromising."
"Oh, surely--not very?"
"In France everything is compromising, mademoiselle," said Alfred. "But
he will find a way to send it."
Julien had urged her to hurry, fearing the snow; now he said, "You are
going?" as though it distressed him.
"Yes, you must, you must. Where is your leather coat? Here--"
He found it.
"Stay! I must read this before you go. It is my demobilisation paper
with the final date. I will look--"
"Are you coming?" called Alfred, from the end of the passage. "It is
"There is some mistake," muttered Julien, his eye searching the large
"When, when--?" Fanny, hanging on his words, watched him.
"One moment. It is a mistake. Alfred! Alfred, here, a minute!"
"Look," he said, when Alfred had re-entered the room. He handed the
paper to him, and drew him under the light. "See, they say--ah, wait,
did I register at Charleville or Paris?"
"At Charleville. As an agriculturist. I remember well."
"Then there is no mistake." He folded up the paper, pinching the edges
of the folds slowly with his thumb and finger nail.
"Fanny, it has come sooner than I expected."
She could say nothing, but fastened her gaze upon his lips.
"Much, much sooner, and there is no evading it. Alfred, I will bring her
in a minute."
"The snow is coming down," muttered the mahogany god, grown wooden again
under the light, and retreated.
"It is worse for me; it has been done by my own stupidity. But in those
days I didn't know you--"
"Oh, if you are thinking of breaking it to me--only tell me _which_ day!
To-morrow?" She moved up close to him.
"Not to-morrow! No, no," he said, almost relieved that it was better
than she feared. "In five days, in five days. Oh, this brings it before
me! I have no wish now for that release for which I have longed. Fanny,
it is only a change, not a parting!"
Alfred's voice called sharply from without. "You must come, mademoiselle!
Julien, bring her!"
"One instant. She is coming. Fanny, I must think it out. Until I go--I
shall have time--we will get you sent to Charleville, and Charleville I
must come often to see my land and my factory."
"Often, I must--"
"Once a week at last. Perhaps more often. If we can only manage that!"
"Julien!" Alfred returned and stood again in the doorway. "This is
absurd. I can never get to the river if you keep her."
"Go, go. I will arrange! You will have a note from me to-morrow. Hurry,
She was in the car; now the door was shutting on her; yet once more he
pulled it open, "Ah! Oh, good-night!"
At the side of the car, the snow whirling round his head, Julien kissed
her face in the darkness; Alfred, relentless, drove the car onward, and
the door shutting with a slam, left him standing by the inn.
The indifferent Alfred drove his unhappy burden towards the river.
Walled in by the rush of snowflakes about him he made what way he could,
but it was well-nigh impossible to see. The lamps gave no light, for the
flakes had built a shutter across the glass like a policeman's dark
lantern. The flying multitudes in the air turned him dizzy; he could not
tell upon which side of the road he drove, and he could not tell what he
would do when the wall beyond the outskirts of Chantilly forsook him. As
to what was happening below him, what ruts, ditches, pits or hillocks he
was navigating, he had no idea; his ship was afloat upon the snow,
sluggishly rolling and heaving as it met with soft, mysterious
Heaviness and gloom sat upon the velvet seat behind him. The white, wild
night outside was playful and waggish compared with the black dejection
behind the opaque glass windows.
Fanny, who could not see her hand move in the darkness, saw clearly with
other miserable and roving eyes the road that lay before her.
"Julien, good-bye. Don't forget me!" That she would say to him in a few
days; that was the gate, the black portal which would lead her into the
road. That she would say, with entreaty, yet no painful tones of hers
would represent enough the entreaty of her heart that _neither would
forget the other_. She thought of this.
Not in wilful unreason, or in disbelief of his promise, she looked at
this parting as though it might be final. Without him she could see no
charm ahead. And yet.... Tough, leathery heart--indestructible spinner
she knew herself to be--no sooner should the dew fall from this
enchanting fabric, the web itself be torn, than she would set to work
upon the flimsiest of materials to weave another. And with such weaving
comes forgetfulness. She thought of this.
Not four feet away, another mind, inscrutable to hers, was violently
employed upon its own problem. In this wild darkness the wall of
Chantilly had bid him go on alone; it left him first without guide,
second without shelter. He drove into the path of a rough and bitter
storm which was attacking everything in the short plain between the
forest and the town. It leapt upon him in an outbreak of hisses; cut him
with hailstones, swept up false banks of snow before him till the
illusion of a road led him astray. He turned too much to the right, hung
on the lip of a buried ditch, turned back again and saved himself. He
turned too much to the left, tilted, hung, was in danger--yet found the
centre of the road again. Here, on this wild plain, the exposed night
was whiter--blanched enough, foreign enough, fitful enough to puzzle the
most resolved and native traveller.
He arrived at a cross-roads. Yet was it a cross-roads? When roads are
filled in level with the plain around them, the plain itself
wind-churned like a ploughed field, when banks are rompishly erected, or
melt unstably before the blows of the storm, it is hard to choose the
true road from the false. He chose a road which instantly he saw to be
no road. Too late. He pitched, this time not to recover. "A river--a
river-bed!" was his horrified thought. Down went the nose of the car
before him, the steering-wheel hitting him in the chest. Down came Fanny
and all her black thoughts against the glass at his back. The car had
not fallen very far; it had slid forward into a snow-lined dyke, and
remained, resting on its radiator, its front wheels thrust into the
steep walls of the bank, its back wheels in the air. Alfred climbed down
from a seat which had lost its seating power; Fanny opened the door and
stepped from the black interior into the deep snow. The front lamps were
extinguished and buried in the opposite bank, the little red light at
the back shone upwards to heaven.
"Are you hurt?"
"Not at all. And you?"
"Not a bit."
Their cold relations did not seem one whit changed from what they had
been in the inn. Nothing had intervened but a little reflection, a
little effort, and a vigorous jerk. Why should they change? They stood
side by side in the noisy violence of the storm, and one shouted to the
other: "Can you get her out!" and the other answered, "No."
"I will walk on to the river."
"You would never find it."
The truth of this she saw as she looked round.
Alfred left her and descending into the dyke, went on his knees by the
radiator and fumbled deep in the snow with his hand. A hissing arose as
the heated water ran from the tap he had turned. He emptied the water
from the generator; the tail light sank and went out.
"No one will run into her," he remarked. "No one will pass."
Aie--screamed the wind and created a pillar of white powder. Fanny,
losing her balance, one foot sank on the edge of a rut, and she went
down on her hands; to the knees her silk-clad legs met the cold bite
of the snow.
"You must come back with me," shouted Alfred in her ear.
That seemed true and necessary; she could not reach the river; she could
not stay where she was. She followed him. At the next ditch he put out
his hand and helped her across. They had no lamp. By the light of the
snow she watched his blue-clad legs as they sank and rose; her own
sinking and rising in the holes he left for her, the buffets of wind
un-steadying her at every step. She followed him. And because she was as
green as a green bough which bursts into leaf around a wound, the
disturbing, the exciting menace of her discovery brightened her heart,
set her mind whirling, and overgrew her dejection.
They gained the Chantilly wall, and experienced at once its protection.
The howling wind passed overhead and left them in a lew; the dancing
snowflakes steadied and dropped more like rain upon them; she moved up
abreast of Alfred.
"I will take you back to the inn," he said. "They will have a room
"Julien will have left and gone to his lodging."
"Yes, at the other end of the town," answered Alfred, she fancied with
grim satisfaction. ("Though it is as well," she thought; "there will be
less scandal in the eyes of the innkeeper.")
"To-morrow morning, mademoiselle, I will fetch you at six with another
car and its driver, Foss, a man whom I can trust. We will take you to
the river, and on the return journey drag the car from the ditch. It
should be easy; she has not heeled over on her side."
"That will be marvellous. I cannot tell you how I apologise."
This, she began to see, was serious; her debt to the enemy Alfred was
"No, no," he said, as though he saw the thing in the light of common
justice. "You have come over to dine with Julien; we must get you back
to the river."
"Nevertheless it's monstrous," she thought, "what he has to do for me."
But Alfred regarded it less as a friendly office towards Julien than as
a duty, an order given by an officer. He was a sergeant, and four years
of war had changed him from an irritable and independent friend to a
dogged and careful subordinate. He did not like Fanny any the more for
the trouble she was giving him; but he did not hold her responsible for
his discomforts. She must be got to the river and to the river he
would get her.
Pray heaven she never crossed it again.
When they arrived on the pavement outside the inn, he said: "Knock,
mademoiselle, and ask if there is a room. It would be better that I
should not be seen. Explain that the snow prevented you from returning.
If there is a room do not come back to tell me, I shall watch you enter,
and fetch you at six in the morning."
She thanked him again, and following his instructions, found herself
presently in a small room under the eaves--pitied by the innkeeper's
wife, given a hot brick wrapped in flannel by the innkeeper's daughter,
warmed and cheered and, in a very short time, asleep. At half-past five
she was called, dressed herself, and drank a cup of coffee; paying a
fabulous bill which included two francs for the hot brick.
At six came Alfred, in another car, seated beside Foss, the new driver,
a pale man with a grave face. They moved off in the grey dawn which
brightened as they drove. Beyond the Chantilly wall the plain stretched,
and on it the labouring wheel-marks of the night before were plainly
marked. Alfred, beside the driver, let down a pane of glass to tell her
that he had already been out with Foss and towed in the other car. She
saw the ditch into which they had sunk, the scrambled marks upon the
bank where she had been towed out. In ten minutes they were in the midst
of the forest.
Now, Fate the bully, punishing the unlucky, tripping up the hurried,
stepped in again. This car, which had been seized in a hurry by cold and
yawning men, was not as she should be.
"Is she oiled?" Foss had called to the real driver of the car.
"She is ... everything!" answered the man, in a hurry, going off to his
coffee. She was not.
Just as the approaching sun began to clear the air, just as with a
spring at her heart Fanny felt that to be present at the opening of a
fine day was worth all the trouble in the world, the engine began to
knock. She saw Foss's head tilt a little sideways, like a keen dog who
is listening. The knock increased. The engine laboured, a grinding set
in; Foss pulled up at the side of the road and muttered to Alfred. He
opened the bonnet, stared a second, then tried the starting handle. It
would not move. Fanny let down the pane of glass and watched them in
silence. "Not a drop," said Foss's low voice. And later, "Oil, yes,
but--find me the tin!"
"Do you mean there is no oil, no spare oil--" Alfred hunted vainly round
the car, under the seats, in the tool box. There was no tin of oil.
"If I had some oil," said Foss, "and if I let her cool a little, I could
manage--with a syringe."
They consulted together. Alfred nodded, and approached the window.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "I am going on to the next village to get a tin
of oil. There is a garage. Cars will be passing soon; I must ask you to
lie covered with the rug in the bottom of the car; your uniform is very
visible. Foss will remain with you."
Fanny lay down in the bottom of the car, fitting her legs among a couple
of empty petrol tins; Foss covered her with the rug. A quarter of an
hour went by, and above her she began to hear the voices of birds; below
her the cold crept up. She had no idea how far the village might be, and
it is possible that Alfred had had no idea either. A bicycle bell rang
at her side; later she heard the noise of a car, which passed her with
a rush. Lying with her ear so close to the poor body of the motor she
felt it to be but cold bones in a cemetery, dead, dead.
Outside in the road, Foss shaded his eyes and looked up the now sparkling
road a hundred times. The motors increased; the morning traffic between
Précy and Chantilly awoke; the cars were going in to the offices of the
G.Q.G. Now and then Foss would come to the window of the car. "Don't
move," he would say. The floor-boards were rattled by an icy wind that
blew over the face of the snow and up under the car; the brown, silk legs
lay prone and stiff between the petrol cans, lifeless now to the knee.
She was seized with fits of violent shivering. At one moment she had
planned in her despair to call to Foss and tell him she would walk--but
she had let the moment pass and now she put away the thought of walking
on those lifeless feet. Besides, she would be seen--that well-known cap,
bobbing back between the trees from Chantilly so early in the morning!
"Oh, Honour of the Section, I am guarding you like my life!" She tried
to raise her head a little to ease her neck.
"Don't move," said Foss.
Feet pattered past her; motors swept by; bicycle bells rang.
"Foss," she said.
The soldier leant towards her and listened.
"Choose your own time, but you must let me sit up a moment. I am in
"Then, now, mademoiselle!"
She sat up, flinging the rug back, dazzled by the splendour of the
forest, the climbing sun, the heavy-burdened trees. Behind her was a
cart coming up slowly; far ahead a cyclist swayed in the ruts of the
road. As they approached her she pleaded: "They can't know me! Let
me sit up--"
But Foss knew only one master, his sergeant.
"Better go down, mademoiselle."
She went down again under the black rug, close against the wind that
lifted the floor-boards, wrapping her coat more tightly round her,
folding her arms about her knees.
"It must be nearly eight. I have an hour more before they come in to
breakfast. Ah, and when they do, will one of them go into my bedroom
with my letters?"
She tried to pick out in her mind that one most friendly to her, that
one who was to destroy her. She heard in spirit her cry: "Fanny
She thought of Stewart who would have woken early, planning anxiously to
save her. The faces of the Guardians of the Honour of the Section began
to visit her one by one, and horror spread in her. Then, pushing them
from her, attempting to escape: "They are not all the world--" But they
_were_ all the world--if in a strange land they were all to frown
together. The thought was horrible. Time to get there yet! Alas, that
the car was not facing _towards_ Chantilly--so early in the morning!
"Foss, Foss, don't you see him coming?"
"The road is full of people."
A car rushed by them, yet never seemed to pass. The engine slowed down
and a voice called: "What's up? Anything you want?"
It was the voice of Roland Vauclin. Ah, she knew him--that fat, childish
man, who loved gossip as he loved his food. To Fanny it seemed but a
question of seconds before he would lift the rug, say gravely, "Good
morning, mademoiselle," before he would rush back to his village
spreading the news like a fall of fresh snow over the roofs. She lay
still from sheer inertia. Had Foss answered? She could not hear.
Then she heard him clear his throat and speak.
"The Captain asked me to get a bit of wood for his fire, sir. I have a
man in there gathering branches, while I do a bit of 'business' with
"Oh, right!... Go on!" said Vauclin to his own chauffeur. Again they were
left alone. Talk between them was almost impossible; Fanny was so
muffled, Foss so anxiously watched for Alfred. The reedy singing between
the boards where the wind attacked her occupied all her attention. The
very core of warmth seemed extinguished in her body, never to be lit
again. She remembered their last _fourier_, or special body-servant, who
had gone on leave upon an open truck, and who had grown colder and
colder--"and he never got warm again and he died, madame," the letter
from his wife had told them.
"I think he is coming! There is no one else on the road, mademoiselle.
Will you look? I don't see very well--"
She tried to throw off the rug and sit up, but her frozen elbow slipped
and she fell again on the floor of the car. Pulling herself up she
stared with him through the glass. Far up the white road a little figure
toiled towards them, carrying something, wavering as though the ice-ruts
were deep, picking its way from side to side. Neither of them was sure
whether it was Alfred; they watched in silence. Before she knew it was
upon her a car went by; she dived beneath the rug, striking her forehead
on the corner of the folding seat.
"Did they see? Was any one inside?"
"It was an empty car. Please be careful."
Foss was cold with rebuke. After that she lay still, isolated even from
Foss. Ten minutes went by and suddenly Foss spoke--"Did you have to go
And Alfred's hard voice answered "Yes."
Then she heard the two men working, tools clattering, murmured voices,