Part 4 out of 5
and in ten minutes Foss said: "Try the starting handle."
She heard the efforts, the labour of Alfred at the handle.
"He will kill himself--he will break a blood-vessel," she thought as she
listened to him. Every few minutes someone seized the handle and wound
and wound--as she had never wound in her life--on and on, past the very
limit of endurance. And under her ear, in the cold bones of the car, not
a sign of life! Not a sign of life, and, as though she could hear them,
all the clocks in the world struck nine.
The Guardians of the Honour would be in at breakfast now! they would be
sitting, sitting--discussing her absence. Stewart, upstairs, would be
looking out of the window, watching the river, perhaps answering
questions indifferently with her cool look. "Oh, in the garage--or
walking in the forest. I don't know." Cough! She jumped as the bones in
the bottom of the car moved under her, and the engine breathed. The
noise died out, Foss leapt to the handle and wound and wound, fiercely,
like a man who meant to make her breathe again or die. Again she
struggled to life, lived for a few minutes, choked and was silent.
"How is the handle?"
"Pretty stiff," said Foss, "but getting better. Give me the oil squirt."
Alfred took his place at the handle. Suddenly the car sprang to life
again on a full deep note. Fanny lifted her head a little. Foss was
leaning over the carburettor with his thin anxious look: Alfred stood
in the snow, dark red in the face, and covered with oil. Soon they were
moving along the road, slowly at first, and with difficulty: then faster
and more freely. A little thin warmth began to creep up through the
boards and play about her legs.
She was carried along under her dark rug for another twenty minutes,
then fell against the seat as the car turned sharply into the forsaken
road that led to the broken bridge. In five minutes more the car had
stopped and Alfred was at the door saying: "At last, mademoiselle!" She
stammered her thanks as she tried to step from the car to the ground
--but fell on her knees on the dashboard.
"Have you hurt your foot?" said Alfred, who was hot.
"I am only cold," she said humbly, unwilling to intrude her puny
endurances on their gigantic labours.
She sat on the step of the car rubbing her ankles, and stared at the
meadows of thawing snow, at the open porches of stone which led the road
straight into the river, at the church and the sunlit houses on the
Bidding them good-bye she reached the bank, and climbed down it,
stumbling in the frozen mud and pits of ice till she reached the stiff
reeds at the bank.
The river had floes of ice upon it, green ice which swung and caught
among the reeds at the edge. "It is thin," she thought, pushing her
shoe through it, "it can't prevent the boat from crossing the river."
Yet she was anxious.
There on the other side was the little hut, the steps, the boat tied to
the stone and held rigid in the ice. A shaggy dog ran by her feet to the
river's edge and barked. Feet came clambering down the bank and a
workman followed the dog, with a bag of tools and a basket. He walked up
to the river, and putting his hands in a trumpet to his mouth called in
a huge voice: "Un passant, Margot! Margot!" Fanny remembered her whistle
and blew that too.
There was no sign of life, and the little hut looked as before, like a
brown dog asleep in the sun. Fanny turned to the man, ready to share her
anxiety with him, but he had sat down on the bank and was retying a
bootlace that had come undone.
Margot never showed herself at the hut window, at the hut door. When
Fanny turned back to whistle again she saw her standing up in the boat,
which, freed, was drifting out towards them--saw her scatter the ice
with her oar--and the boat, pushed upstream, came drifting down towards
them in a curve to hit the bank at their feet. The girl stepped out,
smiling, happy, pretty, undimmed by the habit of trade. The man got in
and sat down, the dog beside him.
"I would stand," said Margot to Fanny, "it's so wet."
She made no allusion to the broken appointment for the night before.
Fanny, noticing the dripping boards of the boat, stood up, her hand upon
Margot's shoulder to steady herself. The thin, illusory ice shivered and
broke and sank as the oar dipped in sideways.
Cocks were crowing on the other side--the sun drew faint colours from
the ice, the river clattered at the side of the boat, wind twisted and
shook her skirt, and stirred her hair. All was forgotten in the glory of
the passage of the river.
Margot, smiling up under her damp, brown hair, took her five sous,
pressed her town boots against the wooden bar, and shot the boat up
against the bank.
Fanny went up the bank, over the railway lines, and out into the road.
Two hundred yards of road lay before her, leading straight up to the
house. On the left was a high wall, on the right the common covered with
snow--should some one come out of the house there was no chance of
hiding. She glanced down at her tell-tale silk stockings; yet she could
not hurry on those stiff and painful feet. She was near the door in
She passed in--the dog did not bark; came to the foot of the steps--nobody
looked out of the window; walked into the hall among their hanging coats
and macintoshes, touched them, moved them with her shoulder; heard voices
behind the door of the breakfast room, was on the stairs, up out of sight
past the first bend, up, up, into Stewart's room.
"_Do you know_...?"
"_No one knows_!"
"Oh ... oh...." All her high nerves came scudding and shuddering down
into the meadows of content. Eternal luck.... She crept under Stewart's
eiderdown and shivered.
"Here's the chocolate. I will boil it again on my cooker. Oh, you have
a sort of ague...."
Good friend ... kind friend! She had pictured her like that, anxious,
unquestioning and warm!
Later she went downstairs and opened the door of the breakfast room upon
the Guardians of the Honour.
As she stood looking at them she felt that her clothes were the clothes
of some one who had spent hours in the forest--that her eyes gave out a
gay picture of all that was behind them--her adventures must shout aloud
from her hands, her feet.
"Had your breakfast?" said some one.
"Upstairs," said Fanny, contentedly, and marvelled.
She had only to open and close her lips a dozen times, bid them form
the words: "I have been out all night," to turn those browsing herds
of benevolence into an ambush of threatening horns, lowered at her.
Almost ... she would _like_ to have said the sentence.
But basking in their want of knowledge she sat down and ate her third
A thaw set in.
All night the snow hurried from the branches, slid down the tree trunks,
sank into the ground. Sank into the moss, which suddenly uncovered,
breathed water as a sponge breathes beneath the sea; sank into the Oise,
which set up a roaring as the rising water sapped and tunnelled under
With a noise of thunder the winter roof of the villa slipped down and
fell into the garden--leaving the handiwork of man exposed to the
dawn--streaming tiles, ornamental chimneys, unburied gargoyles, parapet,
and towers of wood.
In a still earlier hour, while darkness yet concealed the change of
aspect, Fanny left the garden with a lantern in her hand. She had a
paper in her pocket, and on the paper was written the order of her
mission; the order ran clearly: "To take one officer to the
demobolisation centre at Amiens and proceed to Charleville"; but the
familiar words "and return" were not upon it.
She cast no glance back, yet in her mind sent no glance forward. She
could not think of what she left; she left nothing, since these romantic
forests would be as empty as tunnels when Julien was not there; but
closing the door of the garden gate softly behind her, she blew out the
lantern and hung it to the topmost spike, that Stewart, who was leaving
for England in the morning, might bequeath it to their landlady.
All night long the Renault had stood ready packed in the road by the
villa--and now, starting the engine, which ran soundlessly beneath the
bonnet--she drove from a village whose strangeness was hidden from her,
followed the Oise, which rumbled on a new note, heard the bubbling of
wild brooks through the trees, and was lost in the steamy moisture of a
There was a sad, a deadly charm still about the journey. There was a
bitter and a sweet comfort yet before her. There were two hours of
farewell to be said at dawn. There was the sight of his face once more
for her. That the man who slipped into the seat beside her at Chantilly
was Julien dissolved her courage and set her heart beating. She glanced
at him in that early light, and he at her. Two hours before them still.
She was to carry him with her only to lose him surely; he was to
accompany her on her journey only to turn back.
All the way to Amiens he reassured himself and her: "In a week I will
come to Charleville."
And she replied: "Yes, this is nothing. I lose you here, but in a week
you will come."
(Why then this dread?)
"In a week--in a week," ran the refrain.
"How will you find me at Charleville? Will you come to the garage?"
"No, I shall write to the 'Silver Lion.' You will find in the middle of
the main street an old inn with mouldering black wood upon the window
sashes. How well I know it! I will write there."
"We are so near the end," she said suddenly, "that to have said
'Good-bye' to you, to leave you at Amiens, is no worse than this."
And faster she hurried towards Amiens to find relief. He did not
contradict her, or bid her go slower, but as they neared Amiens, offered
once more his promise that they would meet again in a week.
"It isn't that," she said. "I know we shall meet again. It isn't that I
fear never to see you again. It is the closing of a chapter."
"I, too, know that."
They drove into Amiens in the streaming daylight.
The rain poured.
"I am sending you to my home," he said. "Every inch of the country is
mine. You go to a town that I know, villages that I know, roads that I
have walked and ridden and driven upon. You go to my country. I like to
think of that."
"I shall go at once to see your house in Revins."
"Yes--oh, you will see it easily--on the banks of the Meuse. I was born
there. In a week, in a few days, in a short time--I will come, too."
She stopped the car in a side street of the town.
Lifting her hands she said: "They want to hold you back." Then placed
them back on the wheel. "They can't," she said, and shook her head.
He took his bag in his hand, and stood by the car, looking at her.
"You take the three o'clock train back to Paris when the papers are
through," she said hurriedly with sudden nervousness. And then: "Oh,
we've said everything! Oh, let's get it over--"
He held the side of the car with his hand, then stepped back sharply.
She drove down the street without looking back.
There was a sort of relief in turning the next corner, in knowing that
if she looked back she would see nothing. A heavy shadow lifted from
her; it was a deliverance. "Good-bye" was said--was over; that pain was
done--now for the next, now for the first of the days without him. She
had slipped over the portal of one sorrow to arrive at another; but she
felt the change, and her misery lightened. This half-happiness lasted
her all the morning.
She moved out of Amiens upon the St. Quentin road, and was almost beyond
the town before she thought of buying food for the day. Unjustly,
violently, she reflected: "What a hurry to leave me! He did not ask if
I had food, or petrol, or a map--"
But she knew in her heart that it was because he was young and in
trouble, and had left her quickly, blindly, as eager as she to loosen
that violent pain.
She bought a loaf of bread, a tin of potted meat, an orange and a small
cheese, and drove on upon the road until she came to Warfusée. Wherever
her thoughts fell, wherever her eye lay, his personality gnawed within
her--and nowhere upon her horizon could she find anything that would do
instead. Julien, who had moved off down the street in Amiens, went
moving off down the street of her endless thought.
"I have only just left him! Can't I go back?" And this cry, carried out
in the nerves of her foot, slowed the car up at the side of the road.
She looked back--no smoke darkened the landscape. Amiens was gone
Again, on. In ten minutes the battlefields closed in beside the road.
Julien was gone. Stewart was gone. Comfort and ease and plenty were
gone. "But _We_ are here again!" groaned the great moors ahead, and on
each hand. The dun grass waved to the very edge of the road cut through
it. Deep and wild stretched the battlefields, and there, a few yards
ahead, were those poor strangers, the scavenging Chinamen.
Upon a large rough signpost the word "Foucaucourt" was painted in white
letters. A village of spars and beams and broken bricks--yet here, as
everywhere, returning civilians hunted like crows among the ruins,
carrying beams and rusty stoves, and large umbrellas for the rain.
At the next corner a Scotch officer hailed her.
"Will you give me a lift?"
He sat down beside her.
"What do you do?" she asked.
"I look after Chinamen."
"Ah, how lonely!"
"It is terrible," he replied. "Look at it! Dead for miles; the army
gone, and I here with these little yellow fellows, grubbing up
She put him down at what he called "my corner"--a piece of ground
indistinguishable from the rest.
"Is that where you live?"
There was a black-boarded hut from whose chimney smoke exuded, and to
this ran a track across the grass. She watched him walk along it, a
friendless, sandy man, left over from the armies which had peopled the
rabbit warren in the ground. The Renault loped on with its wolf-like
action, and she felt a spring of relief that she lived upon moving
ground; passing on down the rickety road she forgot the little man.
Ahead lay the terrible miles. She seemed to make no gain upon them, and
could not alter the face of the horizon, however fast she drove. Iron,
brown grass--brown grass and iron, spars of wood, girders, torn railway
lines and stones. Even the lorries travelling the road were few and far
between. A deep loneliness was settled upon the desert where nothing
grew. Yet, suddenly, from a ditch at the side of the road, a child of
five stared at her. It had its foot close by a stacked heap of hand
grenades; a shawl was wrapped round it and the thin hands held the ends
together. What child? Whose? How did it get here, when not a house stood
erect for miles and miles--when not a coil of smoke touched the horizon!
Yes, something oozed from the ground! Smoke, blue smoke! Was life
stirring like a bulb under this whiter ruin, this cemetery of
She stopped the car. The child turned and ran quickly across a heap of
dust and iron and down into the ground behind a pillar. "It must have a
father or mother below--" The breath of the invisible hearth coiled up
into the air; the child was gone.
A man appeared behind the pillar and came towards the car. Fanny held
out her cigarette-case and offered it to him.
"Have you been here long?" she asked.
"A month, mademoiselle."
"Are there many of you in this--village?" (Not a spar, not a pile of
bricks stood higher than two feet above the ground.)
"There are ten persons now. A family came in yesterday."
"But how are you fed?"
"A lorry passes once a week for all the people in this district--within
fifty miles. There are ten souls in one village, twenty in another, two
in another. They have promised to send us huts, but the huts don't come.
We have sunk a well now and it is drinkable, but before that we got
water by lorry once a week, and we often begged a little from the
radiators of other lorries."
"What have you got down there?"
"It is the cellar of my house, mademoiselle. There are two rooms still,
and one is watertight. The trouble is the lack of tools. I can't build
anything. We have a spade, and a pick and a hammer, which we keep
between the ten of us."
"Take my hammer," said Fanny. "I can get another in the garage."
He took it, pleased and grateful, and she left this pioneer of
recolonisation, this obstinate Crusoe and his family, standing by his
banner of blue smoke.
Another hour and a large signpost arrested her attention.
"This _was_ Villers Carbonel," it told her, and beneath it three roads
ran in different directions. There was no sign at all of the
village--not a brick lay where the signpost stood.
Stopping the car she drew out her map and considered--and suddenly, out
of nowhere, with a rattle and a bang, and a high blast on a mad little
horn, a Ford arrived at her side upon the cross-roads.
"Got no gas?" enquired an American. She looked up into his pink face.
His hood was broken and hung down over one side of the car. One of his
springs was broken and he appeared to be holding the car upright by the
tilt of his body. His tyres were in rags, great pieces of rubber hung
out beyond the mudguards.
"Dandy car you've got!" he said with envy. "French?"
Soon he was gone upon the road to Chaulnes. His retreating back, with
the spindly axle, the wild hood, the torn fragments of tyre flying round
in streamers, and the painful list of the body set her laughing, as she
stood by the signpost in the desert.
Then she took the road to Peronne.
"I won't have my lunch yet--" looking at the pale sun. Her only watch
had stopped long since, resenting the vibrations of the wheel. She
passed Peronne--uprooted railways and houses falling head foremost into
the river, and beyond it, side roads led her to a small deserted
village, oddly untouched by shell or fire. Here the doors swung and
banged, unlatched by any human fingers, the windows, still draped with
curtains, were shut, and no face looked out. Here she ate her lunch.
The rain had ceased and a little pale sunshine cheered the cottages, the
henless, dogless, empty road. A valiant bird sang on a hedge beside her.
With her wire-cutters she opened the tin of potted meat, and with their
handle spread it on the bread.
"Lord, how lonely it is--surely some door might open, some face look
out--" At that a little gust of wind got up, and she jumped in her seat,
for a front door slammed and blew back again.
"I couldn't stay here the night--" with a shiver--and the bird on the
branch sang louder than ever. "It's all very well," she addressed him.
"You're with your own civilisation. I'm right _out_ of mine!"
The day wore on. The white sun, having finished climbing one side of the
sky, came down upon the other.
Here and there a man hailed her, and she gave him a lift to his village,
talked a little to him, and set him down.
A young Belgian, who had learned his English at Eton, was her companion
for half an hour.
"And you are with the French?" he asked. "How do you like the fellows?"
"I like them very much. I like them enormously." (Strange question,
when all France meant Julien!)
"Don't you find they think there is no one else in the world?" he
grumbled. "It is a delicious theory for them, and it must be amusing to
"Little Belgium--jealous young sister, resentful of the charm of the
elder woman of the world!"
A French lieutenant climbed to the seat beside her.
"You are English, mademoiselle?" he said, she thought with a touch of
severity. He was silent for a while. Then: "Ah, none but the English
could do this--"
"Drive as you do, alone, mademoiselle, amid such perils."
She did not ask to what perils he alluded, and she knew that his words
were a condemnation, not a compliment. Ah, she knew that story, that
theory, that implication of coldness! She did not trouble to reply, nor
would she have known how had she wished it.
They passed an inhabited village. From a door flew a man in a green
bonnet and staggered in the street. After him a huge peasant woman came,
and standing in the doorway shook her fist at him. "I'll teach you to
meddle with my daughter--"
"Those are the cursed Italians!" said the French lieutenant, leaning
from the car to watch.
A mile further on they came to a quarry, in which men prowled in rags.
"Those are the Russians!" he said. And these were kept behind barbed
wire, fenced round with armed sentries.
She remembered an incident in Paris, when she had hailed a taxi.
"Are you an American?" asked the driver. "For you know I don't much like
"But I am English."
"Well, that's better. I was on the English Front once, driving for the
"Why don't you like Americans?"
"Among other things they give me two francs when three is marked!"
"But once they gave you ten where three was marked!"
"That's all changed!" laughed the taxi-man. "And it's a long story. I
don't like them."
* * * * *
"Go away!" said France restlessly, pushing at the new nations in her
bosom. "It's all done. Go back again!"
"Are you an Ally?" said the Allies to each other balefully, their eyes
no longer lit by battle, but irritable with disillusion--and each told
his women tales of the other's shortcomings.
Along the sides of the roads, in the gutters, picking the dust-heap of
the battlefields, there were representatives of other nations who did
not join in the inter-criticism of the lords of the earth. Chinese,
Arabs and Annamites made signs and gibbered, but none cared whether they
were in amity or enmity.
Only up in Germany was there any peace from acrimony. _There_ the Allies
walked contentedly about, fed well, looked kindly at each other. _There_
were no epithets to fling--they had all been flung long ago.
And the German people, looking curiously back, begged buttons as
souvenirs from the uniforms of the men who spoke so many different
The day wore on--
The sun came lower and nearer, till the half-light ran with her half-
thought, dropping, sinking, dying. "Guise," said the signpost, and
a battlement stared down and threw its shadow across her face. "Is that
where the dukes lived?" She was a speck in the landscape, moving on
wheels that were none of her invention, covering distances of hundreds
of miles without amazement, upon a magic mount unknown to her
forefathers. Dark and light moved across the face of the falling day.
Sometimes when she lifted her eyes great clouds full of rain were
crossing the sky; and now, when she looked again the wind had torn them
to shreds and hunted them away. The shadows lengthened--those of the few
trees falling in bars across the road. A turn of the road brought the
setting sun in her face, and blinded with light, she drove into it. When
it had gone it left rays enough behind to colour everything, gilding the
road itself, the air, the mists that hung in the ditches.
Before the light was gone she saw the Ardennes forests begin upon her
When it was gone, wood and road, air and earth, were alike stone-coloured.
Then the definite night, creeping forward on all sides, painted out all
but the road and the margin of the road--and with the side lights on all
vision narrowed down to the grey snout of the bonnet, the two hooped
mudguards stretched like divers' arms, and the blanched dead leaves which
floated above from the unseen branches of the trees.
Four crazy Fords were drawn up in one village street, and as her lights
flashed on the door she caught sight of the word "Café" written on it.
Placing the Renault beside the Fords she opened the door. Within five
Frenchmen were drinking at one table, and four Americans at another. The
Americans sprang up and claimed her, first as their own kin, and then at
least as a blood sister. They gave her coffee, and would not let her
pay; but she sat uneasily with them.
"For which nation do you work? There are no English here," they said.
"I am in the French Army."
"Gee, what a rotten job!" they murmured sympathetically.
"Where have you come from?"
"We've just come back from Germany, and you bet it's good up there!"
"Every darn thing you want. Good beds, good food, and, thank God, one
can speak the lingo."
"You don't speak French then?"
"You bet not."
"Why don't you learn? Mightn't it be useful to you?"
"Oh, when you get back home. In business perhaps--"
"Ma'am," said the biggest American, leaning earnestly towards her, "let
me tell you one thing. If any man comes up to me back in the States and
starts on me with that darn language--I'll drop him one."
"And German is easier?"
"Oh, well, German we learn in the schools, you see. How far do you make
it to St. Quentin?"
"Are you going there on those Fords?"
"We hope to, ma'am. But we started a convoy of twenty this morning, and
these here four cars are all we've seen since lunch."
"I hardly think you'll get as far as St. Quentin to-night. And there's
little enough to sleep in on the way. I should stay here." She rose. "I
wish you luck. Good-bye."
She thanked them for their coffee, nodded to the quiet French table and
One American followed her.
"Can you buzz her round?" he asked kindly, and taking the handle, buzzed
"I bet you don't get any one to do that for you in your army, do you?"
he asked, as he straightened himself from the starting handle. She put
her gear in with a little bang of anger.
"You're kind," she said, "and they are kind. That you can't see it is
all a question of language. Every village is full of bored Americans
with nothing to do, and never one of them buys a dictionary!"
"If it's villages you speak of, ma'am, it isn't dictionaries is needed,"
he answered, "'tis plumbing!"
She had not left him ten minutes before one of her tyres punctured.
"Alas! I could have found a better use for them than arguing," she
thought ruefully, regretting the friendly Americans, as she changed the
tyre by the roadside under the beam from her own lamps.
When it was done she sat for a few minutes in the silent car. The moon
came up and showed her the battlements of the Ardennes forest standing
upon the crest of the mountains to her left. "That is to be my home--"
Julien was in Paris by now, divested of his uniform, sitting by a great
fire, eating civilised food. A strange young man in dark clothes--she
wondered what he would wear.
He seemed a great many difficult miles away. That he should be in a
heated room with lights, and flowers, and a spread table--and she under
the shadow of the forest watching the moon rise, lengthened the miles
between them; yet though she would have given much to have him with her,
she would have given nothing to change places with him.
The road left the forest for a time and passed over bare grass hills
beneath a windy sky. Then back into the forest again, hidden from the
moon. And here her half-stayed hunger made her fanciful, and she started
at the noise of a moving bough, blew her horn at nothing, and seemed to
hear the overtaking hum of a car that never drew near her.
Suddenly, on the left, in a ditch, a dark form appeared, then another
and another. Down there in a patch of grass below the road she caught
sight of the upturned wheels of a lorry, and stopping, got down, walked
to the ditch and looked over. There, in wild disorder, lay thirty or
forty lorries and cars, burnt, twisted, wheelless, broken, ravaged,
while on the wooden sides the German eagle, black on white, was marked.
"What--what--can have happened here!"
She climbed back into the car, but just beyond the limit of her lights
came on a huge mine crater, and the road seemed to hang on its lip and
die for ever. Again she got down, and found a road of planks, shored up
by branches of trees, leading round on the left edge of the crater to
firm land on the other side. Some of the planks were missing, and moving
carefully around the crater she heard others tip and groan beneath her.
"Could that have been a convoy caught by the mine? Or was it a dumping
ground for the cars unable to follow in the retreat?"
The mine crater, which was big enough to hold a small villa, was
overgrown now at the bottom with a little grass and moss.
On and on and on--till she fancied the moon, too, had turned as the sun
had done, and started a downward course. It grew no colder, she grew no
hungrier--but losing count of time, slipped on between the flying tree
trunks, full of unwearied content. At last a light shone through the
trees, and by a wooden bridge which led over another crater she came on
a lonely house. "Café" was written on the door, but the shutters were
tight shut, and only a line of light shone from a crack.
From within came sounds of laughter and men's voices. She knocked, and
there was an instant silence, but no one came to answer. At length the
bolts were withdrawn and the head of an old woman appeared through the
door, which was cautiously opened a little.
"An omelette? Coffee?"
"You don't know what you speak of! We have no eggs."
"No, no, nothing at all. Go on to Charleville. We have nothing."
"How far is Charleville?"
But the door shut again, the bolts were shot, and a man's voice growled
in the hidden room behind.
"Dubious hole. Yet it looks as though a big town were near----" And down
the next slope she ran into Charleville. The town had been long abed,
the street lamps were out, the cobbles wet and shining.
On the main boulevard one dark figure hurried along.
"Which is the 'Silver Lion'?" she called, her voice echoing in the empty
Soon, between rugs on a bed in the "Silver Lion," between a single sheet
doubled in two, she slept--propping the lockless door with her suitcase.
The Renault slept or watched below in the courtyard, the moon sank, the
small hours passed, the day broke, the first day in Charleville.
SPRING IN CHARLEVILLE
THE STUFFED OWL
A stuffed bird stood upon a windless branch and through a window of blue
and orange squares of glass a broken moon stared in.
A bedroom, formed from a sitting-room, a basin to wash in upon a red
plush table--no glass, no jug, no lock upon the door. Instead, gilt
mirrors, three bell ropes and a barometer. A bed with a mattress upon it
and nothing more.
This was her kingdom.
Beyond, a town without lights, without a station, without a milkshop,
without a meat shop, without sheets, without blankets, crockery, cooking
pans, or locks upon the doors. A population half-fed and poor. A sky
black as ink and liquid as a river.
Prisoners in the streets, moving in green-coated gangs; prisoners in the
gutters, pushing long scoops to stay the everlasting tide of mud; thin,
hungry, fierce and sad, green-coated prisoners like bedraggled parrots,
out-numbered the population.
The candle of the world was snuffed out--and the wick smoked.
The light was gone--the blinding light of the Chantilly snows, the
lights on the Précy river--moonlight, sunlight--the little boat
crossing at moonrise, sunrise.
"Ah, that long journey! How I pressed on, how I fled from Amiens!"
"What, not Charleville yet?" I said. "Isn't it Charleville soon? What
hurry was there then to get there?"
The stuffed bird eyed her from his unstirring branch, and that yellow
eye seemed to answer: "None, none..."
"This is his home; his country. He told me it was beautiful. But I
cannot see beauty. I am empty of happiness. Where is the beauty?"
And the vile bird, winking in the candle's light, replied: "Nowhere."
But he lied.
Perhaps she had been sent, stuffed as he was, from Paris. Perhaps he had
never flown behind the town, and seen the wild mountains that began at
the last house on the other bank of the river. Or the river itself,
greener than any other which flowed over black rocks, in cold gulleys
--the jade-green Meuse flowing to Dinant, to Namur. Perhaps from his
interminable boulevard he had never seen the lovely Spanish Square of red
and yellow, its steep-roofed houses standing upon arches--or the proud
Duc Charles de Gonzague who strutted for ever upon his pedestal, his
stone cape slipping from one shoulder, his gay Spaniard's hat upon his
head--holding back a smile from his handsome lips, lest the town which he
had come over the mountains to found should see him tolerant and sin
beneath his gaze.
That bird knew the rain would stop--knew it in his dusty feathers,
but he would not kindle hope. He knew there was a yellow spring at
hand--but he left her to mourn for the white lustre of Chantilly.
Vile bird!... She blew out the candle that he might wink no more.
"To-morrow I will buy a padlock and a key. If among these gilt mirrors I
can have no other charm, I will have solitude!" And having hung a
thought, a plan, a hope before her in the future, she slept till day
broke--the second day in Charleville.
* * * * *
She woke, a mixture of courage and philosophy.
"I can stand anything, and beyond a certain limit misfortune makes me
laugh. But there's no reason why I should stand this!" The key and
padlock idea was rejected as a compromise with happiness.
"No, no, let us see if we can get something better to lock up than that
bird." He looked uncommonly dead by daylight.
"I would rather lock up an empty room, and leave it pure when I must
Dressing, she went quickly down the street to the Bureau de la Place.
The clerks and secretaries nodded and smiled at each other, and bent
their heads over their typewriters when she looked at them.
"Can I see the billeting lieutenant?"
"He is not here."
"I saw him enter."
"We will go and see...."
She drummed upon the table with her fingers and the clerks and
secretaries winked and nodded more meaningly than ever.
"_Entrez_, mademoiselle. He will see you."
The red-haired lieutenant with pince-nez was upon his feet looking at
her curiously as she entered the adjoining room.
"Good morning, mademoiselle. There is something wrong with the billet
that I found you yesterday?"
She looked at him. In his pale-blue eyes there was a beam; in his
creased mouth there was an upward curve. The story of legitimate
complaint that she had prepared drooped in her mind; she looked at
him a little longer, hesitated, then, risking everything:
"Monsieur, there is a stuffed owl in the room."
He did not wince. "Take it out, mademoiselle."
"H'm, yes. I cannot see heaven except through orange glass."
"Open the window."
"It is fixed."
Then he failed her; he was a busy, sensible man.
"Mademoiselle, I find you a billet, I instal you, and you come to me in
the middle of the morning with this ridiculous story of an owl. It isn't
The door opened and his superior officer walked in, a stern captain with
no crease about his mouth, no beam in his olive eye.
Ah, now ... Now the lieutenant had but to turn to his superior officer
and she would indeed be rent, and reasonably so.
"What is the matter?" said the newcomer. "Is something fresh needed?"
The billeting lieutenant never hesitated a second.
"_Mon capitaine_, unfortunately the billet found yesterday for this lady
is unsuitable. The owner of the house returns this week, and needs
"Have you some other lodging for her?"
"Yes, _mon capitaine_, in the Rue de Clèves."
"Good. Then there is no difficulty?"
"None. Follow me, mademoiselle, the street is near. I will take you to
She followed him down the stairs, and caught him up upon the pavement.
"You may think, mademoiselle, that it is because I am young and
"Oh, no, no...."
"Indeed, I _am_ young; But I slept in that room myself the first night I
came to Charleville...."
"My room with the owl? Do you mean that?"
"Yes, I put him upon the landing. But even then I dared not break the
window. Here is the street."
"How you frightened me when your captain came in! How grateful I am, and
how delighted. Is the house here?"
"Mademoiselle, I do not truly know what to do. _It is an empty house._"
"So much the better."
"But you are not afraid?"
"Oh, no, no, not at all. Has it any furniture?"
"Very little. We will see."
He pulled the bell at an iron railing, and the gate opened. A beautiful
face looked out of the window, and a young woman called: "_Eh bien!
More_ officers? I told you, _mon lieutenant_, we have not room for
"Now, come, come, Elsie! Not so sharp. It is for the house opposite this
time. Have you the key?"
"But the house opposite is empty."
"It will not be when I have put mademoiselle into it."
The young _concierge,_ under the impression that he was certainly
installing his mistress, left the window, and came through the gate with
a look of impish reproof in her eyes.
Together they crossed the road and she fitted the key into a green iron
door let into the face of a yellow wall. Within was a courtyard,
leading to a garden, and from the courtyard, steps in an inner wall led
up into the house.
"All this ... all this mine?"
"All yours, mademoiselle."
The garden, a deserted tangle of fruit trees and bushes, fallen statues,
arbours and grass lawn brown with fallen leaves, was walled in by a high
wall which kept it from every eye but heaven's. The house was large, the
staircase wide and low, the rooms square and high, filled with windows
and painted in dusty shades of cream. In every room as they passed
through them lay a drift of broken and soiled furniture as brown and
mouldering as the leaves upon the lawn.
"Who lived here?"
"Who lived here?" echoed the _concierge_, and a strange look passed over
her face. "Many men. Austrians, Turks, Bulgarians, Germans...."
"Were you, then, in Charleville all the time?"
"All the time. I knew them all."
In her eyes there flitted the image of enemies who had cried gaily to
her from the street as she leant out of the open window of the house
opposite. "Take anything," she said, with a shrug, to Fanny. "See what
you can make from it. If you can make one room habitable from this
dust-heap, you are welcome. See, there is at least a saucepan. Take
that. So much has gone from the house in these last years it seems
hardly worth while to retain a saucepan for the owner."
"Who is the owner?"
"A rich lady who can afford it. The richest family in Charleville. She
has turned _méchante_. She will abuse me when she comes here to see
this--as though _I_ could have saved it. Her husband and her son were
killed. Georges et Phillippe. Georges was killed the first day of the
war, and Phillippe ... I don't know when, but somewhere near here."
"You think she will come back?"
"Sometimes I think it. She has such a sense of property. But her
daughter writes that it would kill her to come. Phillippe was the
sun ... was the good God to her."
"I must go back to my work," said the lieutenant. "Can you be happy here
in this empty house? There will be rats...."
"I can be very happy--and so grateful. I will move my things across
to-day. My companions ... that is to say six more of us arrive in convoy
from Chantilly to-morrow."
"Six more! Had you told me that before ... But what more simple! I can
put them all in here. There is room for twenty."
"Oh...." Her face fell, and she stood aghast. "And you gave me this house
for myself. And I was so happy!"
"You are terrible. If my business was to lodge soldiers of your sex
every day I should be grey-haired. You cannot lodge with an owl, you
cannot lodge with your compatriots!..."
"Yet you were joking when you said you would put us all here?"
"I was joking. Take the house--the rats and the rubbish included with
it! No one will disturb you till the owner comes. I have another, a
better, a cleaner house in my mind for your companions. Now, good-bye, I
must go back to my work. Will you ask me to tea one day?"
"I promise. The moment I have one sitting-room ready."
He left her, and she explored the upper storey with the _concierge._
"I should have this for your bedroom and this adjoining for your
sitting-room. The windows look in the street and you can see life."
Fanny agreed. It pleased her better to look in the street than into the
garden. The two rooms were large and square. Old blue curtains of
brocade still hung from the windows; in the inner room was a vast oak
bed and a turkey carpet of soft red and blue. The fireplaces were of
open brick and suitable for logs. Both rooms were bare of any other
"I will find you the mattress to match that bed. I hid it; it is in the
She went away to dust it and find a man to help her carry it across the
road. Fanny fetched her luggage from her previous billet, borrowed six
logs and some twigs from the _concierge,_ promising to fetch her an
ample store from the hills around.
All day she rummaged in the empty house--finding now a three-legged
armchair which she propped up with a stone, now a single Venetian glass
scrolled in gold for her tooth glass.
In a small room on the ground floor a beautiful piece of tapestry lay
rolled in a dusty corner. Pale birds of tarnished silver flew across its
blue ground and on the border were willows and rivers.
It covered her oak bed exactly--and by removing the pillows it looked
like a comfortable and venerable divan. The logs in the fire were soon
burnt through, and she did not like to ask for more, but leaving her
room and wandering up and down the empty house in the long, pale
afternoon, she searched for fragments of wood that might serve her.
A narrow door, built on a curve of the staircase, led to an upper storey
of large attics and her first dazzled thought was of potential loot for
her bedroom. A faint afternoon sun drained through the lattice over
floors that were heaped with household goods. A feathered brush for
cobwebs hung on a nail, she took it joyfully. Below it stood an iron
lattice for holding a kettle on an open fire. That, too, she put aside.
But soon the attics opened too much treasure. The boy's things were
everywhere, the father's and the son's. Her eyes took in the host of
relics till her spirit was living in the lost playgrounds of their
youth, pressing among phantoms.
"Irons ... For ironing! For my collars!"
But they were so small, too small. His again--the son's. "Yet why
shouldn't I use them," she thought, and slung the little pair upon
Crossing to the second attic she came upon all the toys. It seemed as
though nothing had ever been packed up--dolls' houses, rocking-horses,
slates, weighing machines, marbles, picture books, little swords and
guns, and strange boxes full of broken things.
Returning to the floor below with empty hands she brooded by the embers
and shivered in her happy loneliness. Julien was no longer someone whom
she had left behind, but someone whom she expected. He would be here
... how soon? In four days, in five, in six. There would be a letter
to-morrow at the "Silver Lion." Since she had found this house, this
perfect house in which to live alone and happy, the town outside had
changed, was expectant with her, and full of his presence. But, ah ...
inhuman... was Julien alone responsible for this happiness? Was she not
weaving already, from her blue curtains, from her soft embers, from the
branches of mimosa which she had bought in the market-place and placed
in a thin glass upon the mantelpiece, from the gracious silence of the
house, from her solitude?
What a struggle to get wood for that fire? Coal wouldn't burn in the
open hearth. She had begged a little wood from the cook in the garage,
but it was wet and hissed, and all her fire died down. Wood hadn't
proved so abundant on the hills as she had hoped. Either it was cut and
had been taken by the Germans, or grew in solid and forbidding branches.
All the small broken branches and twigs of winter had been collected by
the shivering population of the town and drawn down from the mountains
on trays slung on ropes.
Stooping over her two wet logs she drenched them with paraffin, then,
when she had used the last drop in her tin, got down her petrol bottle.
"I shall lose all my hair one day doing this...."
The white flame licked hungrily out towards her, but it too, died down,
leaving the wet wood as angrily cold as ever.
Going downstairs she searched the courtyard and the hayloft, but the
Bulgarians and Turks of the past had burnt every bit, and any twigs in
the garden were as wet as those which spluttered in the hearth. Then--up
to the attics again.
"I _must_ have wood," she exclaimed angrily, and picked up a piece of
broken white wood from the floor.
It had "Philippe Seret" scrawled across it in pencil. "Why, it's your
name!" she said wonderingly, and held the piece of wood in her hand. The
place was all wood. There was wood here to last her weeks. Mouse
cages--white mouse cages and dormouse cages, a wooden ruler with idle
scratches all over it and "P.S." in the corner--boxes and boxes of
things he wouldn't want; he'd say if he saw them now: "Throw it
away"--boxes of glass tubes he had blown when he was fifteen, boxes of
dried modelling clay....
"I must have wood," she said aloud, and picked up another useless
fragment. It mocked her, it wouldn't listen to her need of wood; it had
"P.S." in clumsy, inserted wires at the back. His home-made stamp.
Under it was a grey book called "Grammaire Allemande." "It wasn't any
use your learning German, was it, Philippe?" she said, then stood still
in a frozen conjecture as to the use and goal of all that bright
treasure in his mind--his glass-blowing, his modelling, the cast head of
a man she had found stamped with his initial, the things he had written
and read, on slates, in books. "It was as much use his learning German
as anything else," she said slowly, and her mind reeled at the edge of
Coming down from the attics again she held one piece of polished
chair-back in her hand.
"How can I live in their family like this," she mused by the fire. "I am
doing more. I am living in the dreadful background to which they can't
or won't come back. I am counting the toys which they can't look at.
Your mother will never come back to pack them up, Philippe!"
She made herself chocolate and drank it from a fine white cup with his
mother's initials on it in gold.
* * * * *
Work was over for the day and she walked down the main street by the
"Silver Lion," from whose windows she daily expected that Julien's voice
would call to her.
"Mademoiselle has no correspondence to-day," said the girl, looking down
at her from her high seat behind the mugs and glasses.
"He ought to be here to-day or to-morrow, as he hasn't written," and
even at that moment thought she heard hurrying feet behind her and
turned quickly, searching with her eyes. An old civilian ran past her
and climbed into the back of a waiting lorry.
"I am in no hurry," she said, sure that he would come, and walked on
into the Spanish Square, to stare in the shops behind the arcaded
pillars. Merchandise trickled back into the empty town in odd ways. By
lorry, train, and touring car, merchants penetrated and filled the
shops with provisions, amongst which there were distressing lacks.
The trains, which had now been extended from Rheims over many laborious
wooden bridges, stopped short of Charleville by four miles, as the
bridges over the Meuse had not yet been made strong enough to support a
railroad. To the passenger train, which left Paris twice a week, one
goods truck full of merchandise was attached--and it seemed as though
the particular truck to arrive was singled out casually, without any
regard to the needs of the town. As yet no dusters, sheets or kitchen
pans could be bought, but to-day in the Spanish Square every shop was
filled to overflowing with rolls of ladies' stays; even the chemist had
put a pair in the corner of his window. Fanny inquired the cause. A
truck had arrived filled with nothing but stays. It was very unfortunate
as they had expected condensed milk, but they had accepted the truck,
as, no doubt, they would find means of selling them--for there were
women in the country round who had not seen a pair for years.
A man appeared in the Square selling boots from Paris--the first to come
to the town with leather soles instead of wooden ones. Instantly there
was a crowd round him.
It was dark now and the electric street lamps were lit round the
pedestal of the Spanish Duke. The organisation of the town was jerky,
and often the lights would come on when it was daylight and often
disappear when it was dark. Where Germans had been there were always
electric light and telephones. No matter how sparse the furniture in the
houses, how ragged the roof, how patched the windows--what tin cans,
paper and rubbish lay heaped upon the floors, the electric light
unfailingly illumined all, the telephone hung upon the wall among the
A little rain began to fall lightly and she hurried to her rooms. There,
once within, the padlock slipped through the rings and locked, the fire
lighted, the lamps lit, the room glowed before her. The turkey carpet
showed all its blues and reds--the mimosa drooped above the mantelpiece,
the willow palm in the jar was turning yellow and shedding a faint down.
"You must last till he comes to tea!" she rebuked it, but down it
fluttered past the mirror on to the carpet.
"He will be here before they all fall," she thought, and propped open
her window that she might hear his voice if he called her from the
She boiled her kettle to make chocolate, hanging it upon a croquet hoop
which she had found in the garden--Philippe's hoop. But Philippe was so
powerless, he couldn't even stop his croquet hoop from being heated
red-hot in the flames as a kettle-holder ... One must be sensible. He
would allow it. That was the sort of device he would have thought
"He rushed about the town on a motor-bicycle," the _concierge_ had
said, when asked about him. But that was later. There had been other
times when he had rocked a rocking-horse, broken a doll's head, sold
meat from a wooden shop, fed a dormouse.
"Did Philippe," she wondered, "have adventures, too, in this street?"
She felt him in the curtains, under the carpet like a little wind.
* * * * *
The days passed.
Each day her car was ordered and ran to Rheims and Chalons through the
battlefields, or through the mountains to Givet, Dinant or Namur.
Changes passed over the mountains as quickly as the shades of flying
clouds. The spring growth, at every stage and age from valley to crest,
shook like light before the eyes. There were signs of spring, too, in
the battlefields. Cowslips grew in the ditches, and grass itself, as
rare and bright as a flower, broke out upon the plains.
A furtive and elementary civilisation began to creep back upon the
borders of the national roads. Pioneers, with hand, dog, and donkey
carts, with too little money, with too many children, with obstinate and
tenacious courage, began to establish themselves in cellars and
pill-boxes, in wooden shelters scraped together from the _débris_ of
their former villages. In those communities of six or seven families
the re-birth and early struggles of civilisation set in. One tilled a
patch of soil the size of a sheet between two trenches--one made a
fowl-yard, fenced it in and placed a miserable hen within. Little
notices would appear, nailed to poles emerging from the bowels of the
earth. "Vin-Café" or "Small motor repairs done here."
All this was noticeable along the great national roads. But in the side
roads, roads deep in yellow mud, uncleared, empty of lorries and cars,
no one set up his habitation.
A certain lawlessness was abroad in the lonelier areas of the
battlefields. Odds and ends of all the armies, deserters, well hidden
during many months, lived under the earth in holes and cellars and used
strange means to gain a living.
There had been rumours of lonely cars which had been stopped and
robbed--and among the settlers a couple of murders had taken place in a
single district. The mail from Charleville to Montmédy was held up at
last by men in masks armed with revolvers. "We will go out armed!"
exclaimed the drivers in the garage, and polished up their rifles.
After that, when the Americans hi the camps around, hungry upon the
French ration, or drunk upon the mixture of methylated spirits and
whisky sold in subterranean _estaminets_ of ruined villages, picked a
quarrel, there were deaths instead of broken heads and black eyes. "They
must ... they MUST go home!" said the French, turning their easy wrath
upon the homesick Americans.
Somewhere beyond Rheims the wreck of a cindery village sprawled along a
side road. Not a chimney, not a pile of bricks, not a finger of wood or
stone reached three feet high, but in the middle, a little wooden stake
rose above the rubbish, a cross-bar pointing into the ground, and the
words "Vin-Café" written in chalk upon it. Fanny, who was thirsty, drew
up her car and climbed across the village to a hole down which the board
pointed. Steps of pressed earth led down, and from the hole rose the
quarrelling, fierce voices of three men. She fled back to the car,
determined to find a more genial _café_ upon a national road.
The same day, upon another side road, she came on the remains of a
village, where the road, instead of leading through it, paused at the
brink of the river, over which hung the end spars of a broken bridge.
"I will make a meal here," she thought, profiting by the check--and
pulled out a packet of sandwiches, driving her car round the corner of a
wall out of the wind. Here, across the road, a donkey cart was standing,
and a donkey was tied to a brick in the gutter.
Upon the steps of a doorway which was but an aperture leading to
nothing, for the house itself lay flat behind it and the courtyard was
filled with trestles of barbed wire, a figure was seated writing
earnestly upon its knees. She went nearer and saw an old man, who
looked up as she approached.
"Sir ..." she began, meaning to inquire about the road--and the wind
through the doorway blew her skirt tight against her.
"I am identifying the houses," he said, as though he expected to be
asked his business. She saw by his face that he was very old--eighty
perhaps. The book upon his knee contained quavering drawings, against
each of which a name was written.
"This is mine," he said, pointing through the doorway on whose step he
sat. "And all these other houses belong to people whom I know. When they
come back here to live they have only to come to me and I can show them
which house to go to. Without me it might be difficult, but I was the
oldest man here and I know all the streets, and all the houses. I carry
the village in my head."
"That is your donkey cart, then?"
"It is my son's. I drive here from Rheims on Saturdays, when he doesn't
He showed his book, the cheap paper filled with already-fading maps,
blurred names and vague sketches. The old man was in his dotage and
would soon die and the book be lost.
"I carry the village in my head," he repeated. It was the only life the
So the days went on, day after day, and with each its work, and still no
letter at the "Silver Lion," Though vaguely ashamed at her mood, she
could not be oppressed by this. Each cold, fine, blooming day in the
mountains made him less necessary to her, and only the delicate memory
of him remained to gild the town. When hopes wither other hopes spring
up. When the touch of charm trembles no more upon the heart it can no
longer be imagined.
The horn of a two days' moon was driving across the window; then stars,
darkness, dawn and sunrise painted the open square; till rustling, and
turning towards the light, she awoke. At the top of the window a magpie
wiped his beak on a branch, bent head, and tail bent to balance him
--then dropped like a mottled pebble out of sight. She sat up, drew the
table prepared overnight towards her, lit the lamp for the chocolate
--thinking of the dim Julien who might pay his beautiful visit in turn
with the moon and the sun.
She got up and dressed, and walked in the spring morning, first to the
bread shop to buy a pound of bread from the woman who wouldn't smile
... so serious and puzzling was this defect that Fanny had once asked
her: "Would you rather I didn't buy my bread here?"
"No, I don't mind."
Then to the market for a bunch of violets and an egg.
And at last through the "Silver Lion"--for luck, opening one door of
black wood, passing through the hot, sunny room, ignoring the thrilled
glances of soldiers drinking at the tables, looking towards the girl at
the bar, who shook her head, saying: "No, no letter for you!" and out
again into the street by the other black door (which was gold inside).
She passed the morning in the garage working on the Renault, cleaning
her, oiling her--then ate her lunch in the garage room with the Section.
Among them there ran a rumour of England--of approaching demobilisation,
of military driving that must come to an end, to give place to civilian
drivers who, in Paris, were thronging the steps of the Ministry of the
"Already," said one, "our khaki seems as old-fashioned as a crinoline.
A man said to me yesterday: 'It is time mademoiselle bought her dress
for the summer!'"
(What dream was that of Julien, and of a summer spent in Charleville!
The noise of England burst upon her ears. She heard the talk at
parties--faces swam so close to hers that she looked in their eyes and
spoke to them.)
And how the town is filling with men in new black coats, and women in
shawls! Every day more and more arrive. And the civilians come first
now! Down in the Co-operative I asked for a tin of milk, and I was told:
'We are keeping the milk for the "Civils."' 'For the "Civils"?' I said,
for we are all accustomed to the idea that the army feeds first."
"Oh, that's all gone! We are losing importance now. It is time to go
As they spoke there came a shrill whistle which sounded through
"Ecoute!" said a man down the street, and the Section, moving to the
window, heard it again, nameless, and yet familiar.
Unseen Charleville lifted its head and said, "Ecoute."
The first train had crawled over the new bridge, and stood whistling its
triumph in the station.
As spring became more than a bright light over the mountains so the town
in the hollow blossomed and functioned. The gate bells rang, the electric
light ceased to glow in the daytime, great cranes came up on the trains
and fished in the river for the wallowing bridges. Workmen arrived in the
streets. In the early summer mornings tapping could be heard all about
the town. Civilians in new black suits, civilians more or less damaged,
limping or one-eyed, did things that made them happy with a hammer and
a nail. They whistled as they tapped, nailed up shutters that had hung
for four years by one hinge, climbed about the roofs and fixed a tile or
two where a hundred were needed, brought little ladders on borrowed
wheelbarrows and set them against the house-wall. In the house opposite,
in the Rue de Clèves, a man was using his old blue puttees to nail up his
All the men worked in new Sunday clothes; they had, as yet, nothing old
to work in. Every day brought more of them to the town, lorries and
horse carts set them down by the "Silver Lion," and they walked along
the street carrying black bags and rolls of carpet, boxes of tools, and
sometimes a well-oiled carbine.
"Yes, we must go home," said the Englishwomen. "It's time to leave the
The "Civils" seemed to drive them out. They knew they were birds of
passage as they walked in the sun in their khaki coats.
The "Civils" were blind to them, never looked at them, hurried on,
longing to grasp the symbolic hammer, to dust, sweep out the German rags
and rubbish, nail talc over the gaping windows, set their homes going,
start their factories in the surrounding mountains, people the houses so
long the mere shelter for passing troops, light the civilian life of the
town, and set it burning after the ashes and dust of war.
There were days when every owner, black-trousered and in his shirt-
sleeves, seemed to be burning the contents of his house in a bonfire in
the gutter. Poor men burned things that seemed useful to the casual eye
--mattresses, bolsters, all soiled, soiled again and polluted by four
years of soldiery.
Idling over the fire in the evening, Fanny's eye was caught by a stain
upon her armchair. It was sticky; it might well be champagne--the
champagne which stuck even now to the bottoms of the glasses downstairs.
"I wonder if they will burn the chair--when _they_ come back." Some one
must come back, some day, even if Philippe's mother never came. She
seemed to see the figure of the Turkish officer seated in her chair,
just as the _concierge_ had described him, stout, fezzed, resting his
legs before her fire--or of the German, stretched back in the chair in
the evening reading the copy of the _Westfälisches Volksblatt_ she had
found stuffed down in the corner of the seat.
How, how did that splash of wax come to be so high up on the face of the
mirror? Had someone, some predecessor, thrown a candle in a temper? It
puzzled her in the morning as she lay in bed.
On the polished wooden foot of the bed was burnt the outline of a face
with a funny nose. A child's drawing. That was Philippe's. The nurse had
cried at him in a rage, perhaps, and snatched the hot poker with which
he drew--and that had made the long rushing burn that flew angrily
across the wood from the base of the face's chin. "Oh, you've made it
worse!" Philippe must have gibed.
("B"--who wrote "B" on the wall? The Bulgarian--)
She fell asleep.
The first bird, waking early, threw the image of the world across her
lonely sleep. He squeaked alone, minute after minute, from his tree
outside the window, thrusting forests, swamps, meadows, mountains in
among her dreams. Then a fellow joined him, and soon all the birds were
shouting from their trees. Slowly the room lightened till on the
mantelpiece the buds of the apple blossom shone, till upon the wall the
dark patch became an oil painting, till the painting showed its features
--a castle, a river and a hill.
In the night the last yellow down had fallen from the palm upon the
The common voice of the tin clock struck seven. And with it came women's
voices--women's voices on the landing outside the door--the voice of
the _concierge_ and another's.'
Some instinct, some strange warning, sent the sleeper on the bed flying
from it, dazed as she was. Snatching at the initialled cup of gold
veining she thrust it behind the curtain on the window sill. An act of
panic merely, for a second glance round the room convinced her that
there was too much to be hidden, if hidden anything should be. With a
leap she was back in bed, and drew the bedclothes up to her neck.
Then came the knock at the door.
"I am in bed," she called.
"Nevertheless, can I come in?" asked the _concierge_.
"You may come in."
The young woman came in and closed the door after her. She approached
the bed and whispered--then glancing round the room with a shrug she
picked up a dressing-gown and held it that Fanny might slip her
arms into it.
"But what a time to come!"
"She has travelled all night. She is unfit to move."
"Must I see her now? I am hardly awake."
"I cannot keep her any longer. She was for coming straight here when the
train came in at five. I have kept her at coffee at my house. _Tant
pis!_ You have a right to be here!"
The _concierge_ drew the curtain a little wider and the cup was exposed.
She thrust it back into the shadow; the door opened and Philippe's
mother walked in. She was very tall, in black, and a deep veil hung
before her face.
"_Bonjour_, madame," she said, and her veiled face dipped in a faint
"Will you sit down?"
She took no notice of this, but leaning a little on a stick she carried,
said, "I understand that it is right that I should find my house
occupied. They told me it would be by an officer. Such occupation I
believe ceases on the return of the owner."
"I am the owner of this house."
"May I ask of what nationality you are?"
The _concierge_ standing behind her, shrugged her shoulders impatiently,
as if she would say, "I have explained, and explained again!"
"I am English, madame."
The lady seemed to sink into a stupor, and bending her head in silence
stared at the floor. Fanny, sitting upright in bed, waited for her to
speak. The _>concierge_, her face still as an image, waited too.
Philippe's mother began to sway upon her stick.
"Do please sit down," said Fanny, breaking the silence at last.
"When will you go?" demanded the old lady, suddenly.
"Who gave you that lamp? That is mine." She pointed to a glass lamp
which stood upon the table.
"It is all yours," said Fanny, humbly.
"Mademoiselle borrowed it," said the voice of the _concierge_. "I lent
it to her."
"Why are my things lent when I am absent? My armchair--dirty, soiled,
torn! Paul's picture--there is a hole in the corner. Who made that hole
in the corner?"
"I didn't," said Fanny feebly, wishing that she were dressed and upon
"Madame, a Turkish officer made the hole. I spoke to him about it; he
said it was the German colonel who was here before him. But I am sure it
was the Turk."
"A Turk!" said Philippe's mother in bewilderment. "So you have allowed a
Turk to come in here!"
"Madame does not understand."
"Oh, I understand well enough that my house has been a den! The house
where I was born--All my things, all my things--You must give that
"Dear madame, I will give everything back, I have hurt nothing--"
"Not ruined my carpet, my mother's carpet! Not soiled my walls, written
your name upon them, cracked my windows, filled my room downstairs with
rubbish, broken my furniture--But I am told this is what I must expect!"
Fanny looked at her, petrified. "But I--" she began.
"You don't understand," said the young _concierge_ fiercely. "Don't you
know who has lived here? In this room, in this bed, Turks, Bulgars,
Germans. Four years of soldiers, coming in one week and gone the next. I
could not stop it! When other houses were burnt I would say to myself,
'Madame is lucky.' When all your china was broken and your chairs used
for firewood, could I help it? Can _she_ help it? She is your last
soldier, and she has taken nothing. So much has gone from this house it
is not worth while to worry about what remains. When you wrote to me
last month to send you the barometer, it made me smile. Your barometer!"
"No, madame, no! Not till you come back with me. They should not have
let you come alone. But you were always wilful. You cannot mean to
"I wish this woman gone to-day. I wish to sleep here to-night."
"No, madame, no. Sleep in the house opposite to-night. Give her time to
find a lodging--"
"A lodging! She will find a lodging soon enough. A town full of
soldiers--" muttered the old woman.
"I think this is a question for the billeting lieutenant," said Fanny.
"He will explain to you that I am billeted here exactly as a soldier,
that I have a right to be here until your arrival. It will be kind of
you to give me a day in which to find another room."
"Where are _his_ things?" said the old woman unheedingly. "I must go up
to the attics."
A vision of those broken toys came to Fanny, the dusty heap of horses,
dolls and boxes--the poor disorder.
"You mustn't, yet!" she cried with feeling. "Rest first. Sit here longer
first. Or go another day!"
"Have you touched _them_?" cried Philippe's mother, rising from the
chair. "I must go at once, at once----" but even as she tried to cross
the room she leant heavily upon the table and put her hand to her heart.
"Get me water, Elsie," she said, and threw up her veil. Her ruined face
was grey even at the lips; her eyes were caverns, worn by the dropping
of water, her mouth was folded tightly that nothing kind or hopeful, or
happy might come out of it again. Elsie ran to the washing-stand.
Unfortunately she seized the glass with the golden scrolling, and when
she held it to the lips of her mistress those lips refused it.
"_That_, too, that glass of mine! Elsie, I wish this woman gone. Why
don't you get up? Where are your clothes? Why don't you dress and go--"
"Madame, hush, hush, you are ill."
"Ah!" dragging herself weakly to the door, "I must take an inventory.
That is what I should have done before! If I don't make a list at once I
shall lose something!"
"Take an inventory!" exclaimed the _concierge_ mockingly, as she
followed her. "The house won't change! After four years--it isn't now
that it will change!" She paused at the door and looked back at Fanny.
"Don't worry about the room, mademoiselle. She is like that--_elle a des
crises._ She cannot possibly sleep here. Keep the room for a day or two
till you find another."
"In a very few days I shall be going to England."
"Keep it a week if necessary. She will be persuaded when she is calmer.
Why did they let her come when they wrote me that she was a dying woman!
But no--_elle est comme toujours--méchante pour tout le monde._"
"You told me she thought only of Philippe."
"Ah, mademoiselle, she is like many of us! She has still her sense of
THE LAST DAY
Around the Spanish Square the first sun-awnings had been put up in the
night, awnings red and yellow, flapping in the mountain wind.
In the shops under the arches, in the market in the centre of the
Square, they were selling anemones.
"But have you any eggs?"
"No eggs this morning."
"None. There has been none these three days."
"A pot of condensed milk?"
"Mademoiselle, the train did not bring any."
"Must I eat anemones? Give me two bunches."
And round the Spanish Square the orange awnings protecting the empty
shop-fronts shuddered and flapped, like a gay hat worn unsteadily when
the stomach is empty.
What was there to do on a last day but look and note, and watch, and
take one's leave? The buds against the twig-laced sky were larger than
ever. To-morrow--the day after to-morrow ... it would be spring in
"_Tenez_, mademoiselle," said the market woman, "there is a little
ounce of butter here that you may have!"
The morning passed and on drifted the day, and all was finished, all was
done, and love gone, too. And with love gone the less divine but wider
world lay open.
In the "Silver Lion" the patient girl behind the counter shook her head.
"There is no letter for you."
"And to-morrow I leave for England."
"If a letter comes where shall I send it on?"
"Thank you, but there will come no letter now. Good-bye."
It was the afternoon. Now such a tea, a happy, lonely tea--the last, the
best, in Charleville! Crossing the road from the "Silver Lion" Fanny
bought a round, flat, sandwich cake, and carried it to the house which
was her own for one more night, placed it in state upon the biggest of
the green and gold porcelain plates, and the anemones in a sugar-bowl
beside it. She lit the fire, made tea, and knelt upon the floor to toast
her bread. There was a half-conscious hurry in her actions.
("So long as nobody comes!" she whispered. "So long as I am left
alone!") she feared the good-byes of the _concierge_, the threatened
inventory of Philippe's mother, a call of state farewell from the
When the toast was done and the tea made, some whim led her to change
her tunic for a white jersey newly back from the wash, to put on the
old dancing shoes of Metz--and not until her hair was carefully brushed
to match this gaiety did she draw up the armchair with the broken leg,
and prop it steadily beside the tea-table.
Who was that knocking on the door in the street?
One of the Section coming on a message? The _brigadier_ to tell her that
she had some last duty still?
"Shall I go to the window?" (creeping nearer to it). Then, with a glance
back at the tea-table, "No, let them knock!"
But how they knocked! Persistent, gentle--could one sit peacefully at
tea so called and so besought! She went up to the blue curtains, and
standing half-concealed, saw the _concierge_ brooding in the sunlight of
"Is _nobody_ there?" said a light voice in the hidden street below, and
at that she peered cautiously over the edge of the stonework, and saw a
pale young man in grey before the door.
She watched him. She watched him gravely, for he had come too late. But
tenderly, for she had been in love with him. The _concierge_ raised her
two black brows in her expressive face and looked upwards. Her look
said: "Why don't you let him in?"
Yet Fanny stood inactive, her hands resting on the sun-warmed stone.
"Julien is here--is here! And does not know that I go to-morrow!"
But she put _to-morrow_ from her, and in the stillness she felt her
spirit smiling for pleasure in him. She had mourned him once; she never
In her pocket lay the key of the street door, and the curtain-cord, long
rotted and useless, dangled at her cheek. With a quick wrench she
brought its length tumbling beside her on the sill, then knotted it to
the key and let it down into the street.
The young man saw it hang before his eyes.
"Are you coming in?" said a voice above him. "Tea is ready."
"It has been ready for six weeks."
"Only wait--" He was trying the key in the door.
"What--still longer?" said the voice.
He was gone from the pavement, he had entered her house, he was on her
stair--the grey ghost of the soldier!
She had a minute's grace. Slipping her hand into the cupboard she drew
out another cup and saucer, and laid the table for two.
There was his face--his hands--at her door! But what a foreign grey
"Come in, Ghost!" she said, and held out her hands--for now she cared at
least for "he who cared"--lest that, too, be lost! Does a ghost kiss?
Yes, sometimes. Sometimes they are ghosts who kiss.
"Oh, Fanny!" Then, with a quick glance at the table, "You are expecting
"You. How late you come to tea with me!"
"But I--You didn't know."
"I waited tea for you," she said, and turning to a calendar upon a
wooden wheel, she rolled it back a month.
She made him sit, she made him drink and eat. He filled the room with
his gaiety. He had no reasons upon his tongue, and no excuses; she no
reproaches, no farewell.
A glance round the room had shown her that there were no signs of her
packing; her heavy kitbag was at the station, her suitcase packed and in
the cupboard. She put her gravest news away till later.
"You came by the new train--that has arrived at last in Charleville?"
"Yes, and I go up to Revins to-night."
She paused at that. "But how?"
"I don't know," he answered, smiling at her.
Her eyes sparkled. "Could I?" (She had that morning delivered the car to
its new driver.) "Of course. I could! I will, I will, I'll manage! You
counted on me to drive you to Revins?"
"Will it be difficult to manage?"
"No--o--But I must get the car out before dark or there will be no
excuse--" She pushed back her chair and went to the window. The sun was
sinking over the mountains and the scenery in the western sky was
reflected in the fiery pools between the cobbles in the street.
"I must go soon and get it. But how--"
She paused and thought. "How do you come down to-morrow?"
"I don't. I go on to Brussels. There is a car at Revins belonging to my
agent. He will take me to Dinant for the Brussels train."
"You are bound for Brussels? Yet you could have gone straight from Paris
"Yet I didn't because I wanted to see you!"
She took down her cap and coat from the nail on which they were hanging.
"Need you go yet?" he said, withdrawing the clothes from her arm, and
laying them upon a chair. She sat down again.
"The sun is sinking. The town gets dark so quickly here, though it's
light enough in the mountains. If I leave it later the men will be gone
home, and the garage key with them."
"You're right," he said. "Put them on," and he held the coat for her.
"But once you have the car there's no hurry over our drive. Yes, fetch
it quickly, and then we'll go up above Revins and I'll show you the
things I have in mind."
He drew out a fat, red note-book and held it up.
"It's full of my thoughts," he said. "Quick with the car, and we'll get
up there while it's light enough to show you!"
She slipped out under the apple-red sky, through the streets where the
shadows of the houses lay black as lacquer.
Before the locked gates of the garage the _brigadier_ lounged smoking
his little, dry cigarettes.
"We are on fire," he said, pointing up the street at the mountain. "What
"Yes, and my last!" she said. "Oh, may I have the key of the garage?"
"But you've given up the car."
"Yes, I have, but--after to-morrow I shall never use your petrol again!
And there are my bags to be taken to the station. Ah, let me have the
He gave her the key.
"Don't be long then. Yet I shall be gone in a few minutes. When you come
in hang the key on the nail in the office."
Once more she wound up the Renault, drove from the garage, regained the
Rue de Clèves, and saw Julien leaning from her window sill.
"Come down, come down!" she called up to him, and realised that it would
have been better to have made her revelation to him before they started
on this journey. For now he was staring at the mountains in an absorbed
excited fashion, and she would have to check his flow of spirits, spoil
their companionable gaiety, and precipitate such heavy thoughts upon him
as might, she guessed, spread to herself. Between his disappearance
from the window and the opening of the street door she had a second in
which to fight with her disinclination.
"And yet, if I've neglected to tell him in the room," she argued, "I
can't tell him in the street!"
For looking up she saw, as she expected, the deep eyes of the
_concierge_ watching her as impersonally as the mountains watched
"There'll come a moment," she said to herself as the street door opened
and he joined her and climbed into the car, "when it'll come of itself,
when it will be easy and natural."
By back streets they left the town, and soon upon the step road had
climbed through the belt of trees and out on to bare slopes.
As they wound up the mountain, sitting so dose together, she felt how
familiar his company was to her, and how familiar his silence. Their
thoughts, running together, would meet presently, as they had often met,
at the juncture when his hand was laid upon hers at the wheel: But when
he spoke he startled her.
"How long has the railway been extended to Charleville?"
"A fortnight," she answered upon reflection.
"How about the big stone bridge on this side? The railway bridge?"
"Why that lies at the bottom of the river as usual."
"And haven't they replaced it yet by a wooden one?"
"No, not yet."
"And no one is even working there?"
"I haven't been there lately," she answered. "Maybe they are by now. Is
it your railway to Revin you are thinking of?"
He was fingering his big note book.
"I can't start anything till the railway runs," he answered, tapping on
the book, "but when it runs--I'll show you when we get up there."
They came to a quagmire in the red clay of the road. It was an ancient
trap left over from the rains of winter, strewn with twigs and small
branches so that light wheels might skim, with luck, over its shaking
"You see," he said, pursuing his thought, "lorries wouldn't do here.
"They would," she agreed, and found that his innocence of her secret
locked her words more tightly in her throat. Far above, from an iron
peak, the light of the heavy sun was slipping. Beneath it they ran in
shadow, through rock and moss. Before the light had gone they had
reached the first crest and drew up for a moment at a movement of
Looking back to Charleville, he said, "See where the river winds. The
railway crosses it three times. Can we see from here if the bridges are
all down?" And he stood up and, steadying himself upon her shoulder,
peered down at Charleville, to where man lived in the valleys. But
though the slopes ahead of them were still alight, depths, distance, the
crowding and thickening of twilight in the hollows behind them offered
"I fear they are," she said, gazing with him. "I think they are. I think
I can remember that they are."
Soon they would be at the top of the long descent on Revins. Should she
tell him, he who sat so close, so unsuspecting? An arrowy temptation
shot through her mind.
"Is it possible--Why not write a letter when he is gone!"
She saw its beauty, its advantages, and she played with it like someone
who knew where to find strength to withstand it.
"He is so happy, so gay," urged the voice, "so full of his plans! And
you have left it so late. How painful now, just as he is going, to bid
him think: 'I will never see her face again!'"
(How close he sat beside her! How close her secret sat within her!)
"Think how it is with you," pursued the tempting voice. "It is hard to
part from a face, but not so hard to part from the writer of a letter."
Over the next crest the Belgian Ardennes showed blue and dim in the
"Stop!" he said, holding up his hand again.
They were on the top of a high plateau; she drew up. A large bird with
red under its wings flapped out and hung in the air over the precipice.
"See--the Meuse!" he said. "See, on its banks, do you see down there?
Come to the edge."
Hundreds of feet below lay a ribbon-loop of dark, unstirring water. They
stood at the edge of the rock looking down together. She saw he was
excited. His usually pale face was flushed.
"Do you see down there, do you see in this light--a village?"
She could see well enough a village.
"That's Revins. And those dark dots beyond----"
"I see them."
"My factories. Before the summer you'll see smoke down there! They are
partially destroyed. One can't see well, one can't see how much--"
"Have you never been back? Have you never seen what's happened?"
She had not guessed this: she was not prepared for this. This was the