Part 2 out of 4
"Gwinnie--you know why McClane won't have John?"
"I suppose because Mrs. Rankin's keen on him."
"McClane isn't keen on Mrs. Rankin.... Can't you see he's trying to hoof
John out of Belgium, because he wants all the glory to himself? We
wouldn't do that to one of them, even if we were mean enough not to want
them in it."
"He wanted Sutton."
"Oh, Sutton--He wasn't afraid of _him_.... When you think of the war--and
think of people being like that. Jealous. Hating each other--"
* * * * *
You mightn't like Mrs. Rankin, Mrs. Rankin and McClane; but you couldn't
say they weren't splendid.
Five days had passed. On the third day the McClane Corps had been sent
out. (Mrs. Rankin had not dined with the Colonel for nothing.)
It went again and again. By the fifth day they knew that it had
distinguished itself at Alost and Termonde and Quatrecht. The names
sounded in their brains like a song with an exciting, maddening refrain.
October stretched before them, golden and blank, a volume of tense,
Nothing for it but to wait and wait. The summons might come any minute.
Charlotte and Gwinnie had begun by sitting on their drivers' seats in the
ambulances standing in the yard, ready to start the very instant it came.
Their orders were to hold themselves in readiness. They held themselves
in readiness and saw McClane's cars swing out from the rubbered sweep in
front of the Hospital three and four times a day. They stood on their
balcony and watched them rush along the road that led to the battlefields
southeast of the city. The sight of the flat Flemish land and the sadness
of lovely days oppressed them. She felt that it must be partly that. The
incredible loveliness of the days. They sat brooding over the map of
Belgium, marking down the names of the places, Alost, Termonde and
Quatrecht, that McClane had gone to, that he would talk about on his
return, when an awful interest would impel them to listen. He and Mrs.
Rankin would come in about tea-time, swaggering and excited, telling
everybody that they had been in the line of fire; and Alice Bartrum would
move about the room, quiet and sweet, cutting bread and butter and
pretending to be unconcerned in the narration. And in the evening, after
dinner, the discussion went on and on in John's bedroom. He raged against
his infernal luck. If they thought he was going to take it lying down--
"McClane can keep me out of my messroom, but he can't keep me out of my
job. There's room in 'the line of fire' for both of us."
"How are you going to get into it?" said Sutton.
"Same way as McClane. If he can go to Head Quarters, so can I."
"I wouldn't," Sutton said. "It might give a bad impression. Our turn'll
come before long."
Gwinnie laughed. "It won't--unless Charlotte dines with the Colonel."
"It certainly _mayn't_," said Charlotte. "They may commandeer our cars
and give them to McClane."
"They can't," said Gwinnie. "We're volunteers."
"They can do anything they choose. Military necessity."
Gwinnie was thoughtful.
"John," she said, "can I have one of the cars to-morrow afternoon?"
"Never mind. Can I?"
"You can have both the damned things if you like; they're no good to me."
The next afternoon they looked on while Gwinnie, who wore a look of great
wisdom and mystery, slipped her car out of the yard into a side street
and headed for the town. She came back at tea-time, bright-eyed and
"You'll find we shall be sent out to-morrow."
"Oh, shall we!" John said.
"Yes. I've worked it for you."
"Me. They've seen my car."
"The whole lot of them. General Staff. First of all I paraded it all
round the blessed town. Then I turned into the Place d'Armes. I kept it
standing two solid hours outside the Hotel de la Poste where the blooming
brass hats all hang out. In five minutes it collected a small crowd.
First it was only refugees and war correspondents. Then the Colonel came
out and stuck his head in at the back. He got quite excited when he saw
we could take five stretcher cases.
"I showed him our tyres and the electric light, and I ran the stretchers
in and out for him. He'd never seen them with wheels before.... He said
it was 'magnifique'... The old bird wanted to take me into the hotel and
stand me tea."
"Didn't you let him?"
"No. I said I had to stay with my car. And I took jolly good care to let
him know it hadn't been out yet."
"Whatever made you think of it?"
"I don't know. It just sort of came to me."
Next afternoon John had orders to go to Berlaere to fetch wounded.
At the turn of the road they heard the guns: a solemn Boom--Boom coming
up out of hushed spaces; they saw white puffs of smoke rising in the blue
sky. The French guns somewhere back of them. The German guns in front
southwards beyond the river.
Charlotte looked at John; he was brilliantly happy. They smiled at each
other as if they said "_Now_ it's beginning."
Outside the village of Berlaere they were held up by two sentries with
rifles. (Thrilling, that.) Their Belgian guide leaned out and whispered
the password; John showed their passports and they slipped through.
Where the road turned on their left into the street they saw a group of
soldiers standing at the door of a house. Three of them, a Belgian
lieutenant and two non-commissioned officers, advanced hurriedly and
stopped the car. The lieutenant forbade them to go on.
"But," John said, "we've got orders to go on."
A shrug intimated that their orders were not the lieutenant's affair.
They couldn't go on.
"But we _must_ go on. We've got to fetch some wounded."
"There aren't any wounded," said the lieutenant.
Charlotte had an inspiration. "You tell us that tale every time," she
said, "and there are always wounded."
The Belgian guide and the lieutenant exchanged glances.
"I've told you there aren't any," the lieutenant said. "You must go
But instead of explaining the little Belgian backed up the lieutenant by
a refusal on his own part to go on.
"He can please himself. _We're_ going on."
"You don't imagine," Charlotte said, "by any chance that we're _afraid_?"
The lieutenant smiled, a smile that lifted his ferocious, upturned
moustache: first sign that he was yielding. He looked at the sergeant and
the corporal, and they nodded.
John had his foot on the clutch. "We're due," he said, "at the dressing
station by three o'clock."
She thought: He's magnificent. She could see that the lieutenant and the
soldiers thought he was magnificent. Supposing she had gone out with some
meek fool who would have gone back when they told him!
The lieutenant skipped aside before the advancing car. "You can go," he
said, "to the dressing-station."
"They always do that as a matter of form--sort of warning us that it's
our own risk. They won't be responsible."
She didn't answer. She was thinking that when they turned John's driving
place would be towards the German guns.
"I wish you'd let me drive. You know I like driving."
"Not this time."
At the dressing-station, a deserted store, they found a Belgian Army
Medical officer engaged with a tired and flushed and dirty soldier. He
was bandaging his left hand which had made a trail of blood splashes from
the street to the counter. The right hand hung straight down from a nick
in the dropped wrist where a tendon had been severed. He told them that
they had grasped the situation. Seven men waited there for transport.
The best thing--perhaps--He looked doubtfully at Charlotte--would be for
them to take these men back at once. (The tired soldier murmured
something: a protest or an entreaty.) Though they were not exactly urgent
cases. They could wait.
Charlotte suspected a serious reservation. "You mean you have others
The soldier got in his word. "Much more." His lips and eyes moved
excitedly in the flush and grime.
"Well yes," the doctor admitted that they had. Not in the village, but in
a hamlet about a mile outside of it. An outpost. This man and three
others had been holding it with two machine guns. He had had a finger
shot away and his wrist cut open by a shell-burst; the other three were
left there, badly wounded.
"All right, we'll go and fetch them."
"Monsieur, the place is being shelled. You have no orders."
"We've no orders not to."
The doctor spread out helpless palms, palms that disclaimed
"If you go, you go at your own risk. I will not send you."
"That's all right."
"Oh well--But certainly Mademoiselle must be left behind."
"Mademoiselle is much too useful."
Frantic gestures of eyebrows and palms.
"You must not stay there more than three minutes. _Three minutes_."
He turned to the cut tendon with an air of integrity, his conscience
appeased by laying down this time limit.
John released the clutch, and the soldier shouted out something, they
couldn't make out what, that ended with "mitrailleuses."
As they ran down the street the solemn Boom--Boom came right and left;
they were now straight between the two batteries.
"Are you all right, Sharlie?"
The little Belgian by her side muttered, protesting.
"We're not really in any danger. It's all going on over our heads."
"Do you suppose," she said, "they'll get our range?"
"Rather not. Why should they? They've got their range and they'll
stick to it."
The firing on their right ceased.
"They're quiet enough now," she said.
The little Belgian informed her that if they were quiet so much the
worse. They were finding their range.
She thought: We were safe enough before, but--
"Supposing," she said, "they alter their range?"
"They won't alter it just for the fun of killing us. They haven't
spotted the batteries yet. It's the batteries they're trying for, not
But the little Belgian went on protesting.
"What's the matter with him?"
"He's getting a bit jumpy," she said, "that's all."
"Tell him to buck up. Tell him it's all right."
She translated. The little Belgian shook his head, mournfully persistent.
"Monsieur," he said, "didn't know."
"Oh yes, he does know."
It was absurd of the little man to suppose you didn't know, when
the noise of the French guns told them how near they were to the
She tried not to listen to him. His mutterings broke up the queer
stillness that held her after she had heard the guns. It was only by
keeping still that you felt, wave by wave, the rising thrill of the
adventure. Only by keeping still she was aware of what was passing in
John's mind. He knew. He knew. They were one in the almost palpable
excitement that they shared; locked close, closer than their bodies could
have joined them, in the strange and poignant ecstasy of danger.
There was the sound of an explosion somewhere in front of them beyond
"Did you hear that, Mademoiselle?"
"Miles away," said John.
She knew it wasn't. She thought: He doesn't want me to know. He thinks
I'll be frightened. I mustn't tell him.
But the Belgian had none of John's scruples. The shell was near, he said;
very near. It had fallen in the place they were going to.
"But that's the place where the wounded men are."
He admitted that it was the place where the wounded men were.
They were out of the village now. Their road ran through flat open
country, a causeway raised a little above the level of the fields. No
cover anywhere from the fire if it came. The Belgian had begun again.
"What's that he's saying now?"
"He says we shall give away the position of the road."
"It's the one they told us to take. We've got to go on it. He's in a
beastly funk. That's what's the matter with him."
The Belgian shrugged his shoulders as much as to say he had done his duty
and things might now take their course, and they were mistaken if for one
minute they supposed he was afraid. But they had not gone fifty yards
before he begged to be put down. He said it was absolutely necessary that
he should go back to the village and collect the wounded there and have
them ready for the ambulance on its return.
They let him go. Charlotte looked round the corner of the hood and saw
him running with brief, jerky strides.
"He's got a nerve," said John, "to be able to do it."
"What excuse do you think he'll make?"
"Oh, he'll say we sent him."
The straight dyke of the road went on and on. Seen from the sunk German
lines the heavy ambulance car would look like a house on wheels running
along a wall. She thought again of John on his exposed seat. If only he
had let her drive--But that was absurd. Of course he wouldn't let her. If
you were to keep on thinking of the things that might happen to
John--Meanwhile nothing could take from them the delight of this
dangerous run across the open. She had to remind herself that the
adventure, the romance of it was not what mattered most; it was not the
real thing, the thing they had gone out for.
When they came to the wounded, when they came to the wounded, then it
The hamlet began to show now; it sat on one side of the road, low and
alone in the flat land, an open field in front of it, and at the bottom
of the field the river and a line of willows, and behind the willows the
Germans, hidden. White smoke curled among the branches. You could see it
was an outpost, one of the points at which the Germans, if they broke
through, would come into the village. They supposed that the house where
the wounded men were would be the last of the short row.
Here on their right there were no houses, only the long, high flank of a
barn. The parts that had been built out into the field were shelled away,
but the outer wall by the roadside still held. It was all that stood
between them and the German guns. They drew up the car under its shelter
and got down.
They could see all the houses of the hamlet at once on their left;
whitewashed walls; slender grey doors and shutters. The three that
looked out on to the barn were untouched. A few yards ahead a small,
empty wine-shop faced the open field; its doorstep and the path in front
of its windows glittered with glass dust, with spikes and splinters, and
heaped shale of glass that slid and cracked under your feet. Beyond it,
a house with its door and all its windows and the front slope of its
roof blown in. A broken shutter sagged from the wall. Then the shell of
the last house; it pricked up one plastered gable, white and hard
against the blue.
They found the men in the last house but one, the house with the broken
shutter. They went, carrying their stretchers and the haversack of
dressings, under the slanted lintel into the room. The air in there was
hot and stifling and thickened with a grey powdery swarm. Their feet sank
through a layer of pinkish, greyish dust.
The three wounded men lay stretched out on this floor, among brickbats
and broken panes and slabs of dropped plaster. A thin grey powder had
settled on them all. And by the side of each man the dust was stiffened
into a red cake with a glairy pool in the middle of it, fed from the raw
wound; and where two men lay together their pools had joined and
overflowed in a thin red stream.
John put down his stretcher and stood still. His face was very white, and
his upper lip showed in-drawn and dry, and tightened as though it were
glued to his teeth.
"John, you _aren't_ going to faint or be sick or anything?"
"I'm all right."
He went forward, clenching his fists; moving in a curious drawn way, like
a sleep walker.
They were kneeling in the dust now, looking for the wounds.
"We must do this chap with the arm first. He'll want a tourniquet."
He spoke in a husky whisper as if he were half asleep....
The wounded head stuck to the floor. They scraped round it, digging with
their hands; it came up wearing a crust of powdered lime. A pad and a
bandage. They couldn't do anything more for that ... The third man, with
the fractured shin-bone and the big flesh-wound in his thigh, must have
splints and a dressing.
She wondered how John would set about his work. But his queer, hypnotised
actions were effectual and clean.
Between them they had fixed the tourniquet.
Through all her preoccupation and the quick, dexterous movement of her
hands she could feel her pity tightening her throat: pity that hurt like
love, that was delicious and exquisite like love. Nothing mattered,
nothing existed in her mind but the three wounded men. John didn't
matter. John didn't exist. He was nothing but a pair of hands working
quickly and dexterously with her own.... She looked up. John's mouth kept
its hard, glued look; his eyes were feverish behind a glaze of water, and
She thought: It's awful for him. He minds too much. It hurt her to see
how he minded. After all, he did matter. Deep inside her he mattered more
than the wounded men; he mattered more than anything on earth. Only there
wasn't time, there wasn't _time_ to think of him.
She turned to the next man and caught sight of the two machine guns with
their tilted muzzles standing in the corner of the room by the chimney.
They must remember to bring away the guns.
John's hypnotic whisper came again. "You might get those splints,
As she crossed the road a shell fell in the open field beyond, and burst,
throwing up a great splash and spray of brown earth. She stiffened
herself in an abrupt gesture of defiance. Her mind retorted: "You've
missed, that time. You needn't think I'm going to put myself out for
_you_." To show that she wasn't putting herself out (in case they should
be looking) she strolled with dignity to her car, selected carefully the
kind of splint she needed, and returned. She thought: Oh well--supposing
they _do_ hit. We must get those men out before another comes.
John looked up as she came to him. His face glistened with pinheads of
sweat; he panted in the choking air.
"Where did that shell burst?"
"Are you certain?"
She lied. Why not? John had been lying all the time. Lying was part of
their defiance, a denial that the enemy's effort had succeeded. Nothing
mattered but the fixing of the splints and the carrying of the men....
John was cranking up the engine when she turned back into the house.
"I _say_, what are you doing?"
"Going for the guns."
There was, she noticed, a certain longish interval between shells. John
and the wounded men would be safe from shrapnel under the shelter of the
wall. She brought out the first gun and stowed it at the back of the car.
Then she went in for the other. It stood on the seat between them with
its muzzle pointing down the road. Charlotte put her arm round it to
On the way back to the dressing-station she sat silent, thinking of
the three wounded men in there, behind, rocked and shaken by the
jolting of the car on the uneven causeway. John was silent, too,
absorbed by his steering.
But as they ran into Ghent the romance of it, the romance of it, came
back to her. It wasn't over yet. They would have to go out again for the
wounded they had had to leave behind at Berlaere.
"John--John--It's like nothing else on earth."
"I told you it would be."
Slowly realization came to her. They had brought in their wounded under
the enemy's fire. And they had saved the guns.
* * * * *
"Do you mind," John said, "if Sutton goes instead of me He hasn't
been out yet?"
"N-no. Not if I can go too."
"Do you want to?"
She had drawn up the ambulance in the Square before the Hospital and sat
in her driver's seat, waiting. Sutton came to her there. When he saw her
he stood still.
"Rather. Do you mind?"
Sutton didn't answer. All the way out to Berlaere he sat stolid and
silent, not looking at anything they passed and taking no more notice of
the firing than if he hadn't heard it. As the car swung into Berlaere she
was aware of his voice, low under the noise of the engine.
"What did you say?"
"Conway told me it was you who saved the guns."
Suddenly she was humbled.
"It was the men who saved them. We just brought them away."
"Conway told me what you did," he said quietly.
Going out with Sutton was a quiet affair.
"You know," he said presently, "it was against the Hague Convention."
"Good heavens, so it was! I never thought of it."
"You must think of it. You gave the Germans the right to fire on all our
ambulances.... You see, this isn't just a romantic adventure; it's a
disagreeable, necessary, rather dangerous job."
"I didn't do it for swank. I knew the guns were wanted, and I couldn't
bear to leave them."
"I know, it would have been splendid if you'd been a combatant. But," he
said sadly, "this is a field ambulance, not an armoured car."
She was glad they had been sent out with the McClane Corps to Melle. She
wanted McClane to see the stuff that John was made of. She knew what had
been going on in the commandant's mind. He had been trying to persuade
himself that John was no good, because, from the minute he had seen him
with his ambulance on the wharf at Ostend, from the minute he had known
his destination, he had been jealous of him and afraid. Why, he must have
raced them all the way from Ostend, to get in first. Afraid and jealous,
afraid of John's youth with its secret of triumph and of courage; jealous
of John's face and body that men and women turned back to look at as they
passed; even the soldiers going up to the battlefields, going up to
wounds and death, turned to look at this creature of superb and brilliant
life. Even on the boat he must have had a dreadful wonder whether John
was bound for Ghent; he must have known from the beginning that wherever
Conway placed himself he would stand out and make other men look small
and insignificant. If he wasn't jealous and afraid of Sutton she supposed
it was because John had had that rather diminishing effect on poor Billy.
If Billy Sutton distinguished himself that would open McClane's eyes a
little wider, too.
She wondered why Billy kept on saying that McClane was a great
psychologist. If it was true that would be very awful for McClane; he
would see everything going on inside people, then, all the things he
didn't want to see; he wouldn't miss anything, and he would know all the
time what John was like. The little man was wilfully shutting his eyes
because he was so mean that he couldn't bear to see John as he really
was. Now he would have to see.
The thought of McClane's illumination consoled her for her own inferior
place in the adventure. This time the chauffeurs would have to stay at
the end of the village with their cars. The three were drawn up at the
street side, close under the house walls, McClane's first. Then Sutton's,
with Gwinnie. Then hers; behind it the short straight road where the
firing would come down.
John stood in the roadway waiting for the others. He had his hand beside
her hand, grasping the arm of the driver's seat.
"I wish you could take me with you," she said.
"Can't. The orders are, all chauffeurs to stand by the cars."
... His eyebrows knotted and twitched in sudden anxiety.
"You know, Sharlie, you'll be fired on."
"I know. I don't mind, John, I don't really. I shall be all right."
"Yes. You'll be all right." But by the way he kept on glancing up and
down the road she could see he was uneasy. "If you could have stood in
front of those cars. _You're_ in the most dangerous place here."
"Somebody's got to be in it."
He looked at her and smiled. "Jeanne," he said, "in her armour."
And they were silent.
"I say, John--my car _does_ cover Gwinnie's a bit, doesn't it?"
"Yes," he said abruptly.
"_That's_ all right. You must go now. They're coming for the stretchers."
His face quivered. He thrust out his hand quickly, and as she took it she
thought: He thinks he isn't coming back. She was aware of Mrs. Rankin and
two of the McClane men with stretchers, passing; she could see Mrs.
Rankin looking at them as she came on, smiling over her shoulder, drawing
the men's attention to their leave-taking.
She thought: _They_ don't shake hands when they're going out. They don't
think whether they're coming back or not.... They don't think at all. But
then, none of them were lovers as she and John were lovers.
"John, you'd better go and carry Mrs. Rankin's stretcher for her."
She watched them as they walked together up the short straight road to
the battlefield at the top. Sutton followed with Alice Bartrum; then the
McClane men; they nodded to her and smiled. Then McClane, late, running,
trying to overtake John and Mrs. Rankin, to get to the head of his unit.
Perhaps he was afraid that John, in his khaki, would be mistaken for the
How childish he was with his fear and jealousy. Childish. She thought of
his petulant refusal to let John come in with them. As if he could really
keep him out. When it came to action they _were_ one corps; they couldn't
very well be divided, since McClane had more men than stretchers and John
had more stretchers than men. They would all be infinitely happier,
working together like that, instead of standing stupidly apart, glaring
Yet she knew what McClane and Mrs. Rankin had been playing for. McClane,
if he could, would have taken their fine Roden cars from them; he would
have taken Sutton. She knew that Mrs. Rankin would have taken John from
her, Charlotte Redhead, if she could.
And when she thought of the beautiful, arrogant woman, marching up to the
battlefield with John, she wondered whether, after all, she didn't hate
her.... No. No. It was horrible to hate a woman who at any minute might
be killed. They said McClane didn't look after his women. He didn't
care how they exposed themselves to the firing; he took them into
unnecessary danger. He didn't care. He was utterly cold, utterly
indifferent to everybody and everything except his work of getting in the
wounded.... Well, perhaps, if he had been decent to John, she wouldn't
have believed a word of it, and anyhow they hadn't come out there to be
She had a vision of John and McClane carrying Mrs. Rankin between them on
a stretcher. That was what would happen if you hated. Hate could kill.
Then John and she were safe. They were lovers. Lovers. Neither of them
had ever said a word, but they owned the wonderful, immaterial fact in
secret to each other; the thought of it moved in secret behind all their
other thoughts. From the moment, just passed, when they held each other's
hands she knew that John loved her, not in a dream, not in coldness, but
with a queer unearthly ardour. He had her in his incredible, immaterial
way, a way that none of them would understand.
From the Barrow Hill Farm time? Or from yesterday? She didn't know.
Perhaps it had gone on all the time; but it would be only since yesterday
that he really knew it.
A line of soldiers marched by, going up to the battlefield. They looked
at her and smiled, a flashing of bright eyes and teeth all down the line.
When they had passed the street was deserted.
... That rattle on the stones was the firing. It had come at last. She
saw Gwinnie looking back round the corner of the hood to see what it was
like. She called to her, "Don't stick your head out, you silly cuckoo.
You'll be hit." She said to herself, If I think about it I shall feel
quite jumpy. It was one thing to go tearing along between two booming
batteries, in excitement, with an end in view, and quite another thing to
sit tight and still on a motionless car, to be fired on. A bit trying to
the nerves, she thought, if it went on long. She was glad that her car
stood next to the line of fire, sheltering Gwinnie's, and she wondered
how John was getting on up there.
The hands of the ambulance clock pointed to half-past three. They had
been waiting forty minutes, then. She got down to see if any of the
stretcher bearers were in sight.
* * * * *
They were coming back. Straggling, lurching forms. White bandages. The
wounded who could walk came first. Then the stretchers.
Alice Bartrum stopped as she passed Charlotte. The red had gone from her
sunburn, but her face was undisturbed.
"You've got to wait here," she said, "for Mr. Conway and Sutty. And
Trixie and Mac. They mayn't be back for ages. They've gone miles up
The front cars had been loaded, had driven off and returned three times.
It was six o'clock before John appeared with Mrs. Rankin.
She heard Mrs. Rankin calling sharply to her to get down and give a hand
with the stretcher.
John and Mrs. Rankin were disputing.
_"Can't_ you shove it in at the bottom?" he was saying.
_"No._ The first cases _must_ go on top."
Her mouth snapped like a clamp. Her eyes were blazing. She was struggling
with the head of the stretcher while John heaved at the foot. He
staggered as he moved, and his face was sallow-white and drawn and
glistening. When Charlotte took the shafts from him they were slippery
with his sweat.
"Is he hurt?" she whispered.
"Very badly hurt," said Mrs. Rankin.
"John, I mean."
Mrs. Rankin snorted. "You'd better ask him."
John was slouching round to the front of the car, anxious to get out of
the sight and sound of her. He went with an uneven dropping movement of
one hip. Charlotte followed him.
"Get into your seat, Sharlie. We've got to wait for Billy and McClane."
He dragged himself awkwardly into the place beside her.
"John," she said, "are you hurt?"
"No. But I think I've strained something. That's why I couldn't lift that
* * * * *
The windows stood wide open to the sweet, sharp air. She heard Mrs.
Rankin and Sutton talking on the balcony. In that dreadful messroom you
"What do you suppose it was then?" Mrs. Rankin said.
And Sutton, "Oh, I don't know. Something upset him."
"If he's going to be upset _like that_ every time he'd better go home."
They were talking--she knew they were talking about John.
"Hallo, Charlotte, we haven't left you much tea."
"It doesn't matter."
Her hunger left her suddenly. She stared with disgust at the remains of
the tea the McClane Corps had eaten.
Sutton went on. "He hasn't been sleeping properly. I've made him
go to bed."
"If you can keep him in bed for the duration of the war--"
"Are you talking about John?"
"I don't know what you're driving at; but I suppose he was sick on
that beastly battlefield. It's all very well for you two; you're a
trained nurse and Billy's a surgeon.... You aren't taken that way when
you see blood."
"Blood?" said Mrs. Rankin.
"Yes. Blood. He was perfectly all right yesterday."
Mrs. Rankin laughed. "Yesterday he couldn't see there was any danger. You
could tell that by the idiotic things he said."
"I saw it. And if I could he could."
"Funny kid. You'd better get on with your tea. You'll be sent out again
before you know where you are."
Charlotte settled down. Sutton was standing beside her now, cutting bread
"Hold on," he said. "That tea's all stewed and cold. I'll make you
some of mine."
She drank the hot, fragrant China tea he brought her.
Presently she stood up. "I think I'll take John some of this."
"Best thing you can give him," Sutton said. He got up and opened the
doors for her, the glass doors and the door of the bedroom.
She sat down beside John's bed and watched him while he drank
Sutton's tea. He said he was all right now. No. He hadn't ruptured
anything; he only thought he had; but Sutton had overhauled him and
said he was all right.
And all the time his face was still vexed and drawn. Something must have
happened out there; something that hurt him to think of.
"John," she said, "I wish I'd gone with you instead of Mrs. Rankin."
"I wish to God you had. Everything's all right when you're with me, and
everything's all wrong when you're not."
"How do you mean, wrong?"
He shook his head, frowning slightly, as a sign for her to stop. Sutton
had come into the room.
"You needn't go," he said, "I've only come for my coat and my case. I've
got to help with the operations."
He slipped into the white linen coat. There were thin smears of blood on
the sleeves and breast. He groped about the room, peering short-sightedly
for his case of instruments.
"John, was Mrs. Rankin any good?" she asked presently.
John lay back and closed his eyes as if to shut out the sight of
"Don't talk to me," he said, "about that horrible woman."
Sutton had turned abruptly from his search.
"Good?" he said. "She was magnificent. So was Miss Bartrum. So was
John opened his eyes. "So was Charlotte."
"I quite agree with you." Sutton had found his case. His face was hidden
by the raised lid as he peered, examining his instruments. He spoke
When he left the room Charlotte followed him.
He stopped in his noiseless course down the corridor.
"What was it?" she said. "What happened?"
He didn't pretend not to understand her.
"Oh, nothing. Conway and Mrs. Rankin didn't hit it off very well
They spoke in low, rapid tones, conscious, always, of the wards behind
the shut doors. Her feet went fast and noiseless beside his as he hurried
to the operating theatre. They came out on to the wide landing and waited
there by the brass lattice of the lift.
"How do you mean, hit it off?"
"Oh well, she thought he didn't come up quick enough with a stretcher,
and she pitched into him."
"But he was dead beat. Done. Couldn't she see that?"
"No. I don't suppose she could. She was a bit excited."
"She was horrible." Now that Mrs. Rankin was back safe she hated her. She
knew she hated her.
"A bit cruel, perhaps. All the same," he said, "she was magnif--"
The lift had come hissing and wailing up behind him. The orderly stood in
it, staring at Sutton's back, obsequious, yet impatient. She thought of
the wounded men in the theatre downstairs.
"You mustn't keep them waiting," she said.
He stepped back into the lift. It lowered him rapidly. His chin was on a
level with the floor when his mouth tried again and succeeded:
And she knew that she had followed him out to near him say that John had
been magnificent, too.
Gwinnie was looking in at the messroom door and saying "Do you know where
Charlotte is?" Mrs. Rankin's voice called out, "I think you'll find her
in _Mr. Conway's_ bedroom." One of the chauffeurs laughed. Charlotte knew
what they were thinking.
Gwinnie failed to retort. She was excited, shaken out of her stolidity.
"Oh, there you are! I've got something ripping to tell you. Not in here."
They slouched, with their arms slung affectionately round each other's
waists, into their own room. Behind the shut door Gwinnie began.
"The Colonel's most frightfully pleased about Berlaere."
"Does he think they'll hold it?"
"It isn't that. He's pleased about you."
"You and John. What you did there. And your bringing back the guns."
"Who told you that?"
"Mac. The old boy was going on to him like anything about you last
night. It means you'll be sent out every time. Every time there's
anything big on."
"Oh-h! Let's go and tell John.... I suppose," she added, "that's what was
the matter with Mrs. Rankin."
She wondered whether it had been the matter with Billy Sutton too; if he
too were jealous and afraid.
That night Mrs. Rankin told her what the Colonel really had said: "'C'est
magnifique, mais ce n'est pas--la Croix Rouge.' If you're all sent home
to-morrow it'll serve you jolly well right," she said.
But somehow she couldn't make it sound as if he had been angry.
John had told her to stay there with the wounded man up the turn of the
stable yard while he went for the stretcher. His car, packed with
wounded, stood a little way up the street, headed for Ghent. Sutton's
car, with one of McClane's chauffeurs, was in front of it, ready; she
could hear the engine purring.
Instead of going at once for the stretcher John had followed Sutton into
the house opposite, the house with the narrow grey shutters. And he had
called to her again across the road to wait for him.
Behind her in the yard the wounded man sat on the cobblestones, his back
propped against the stable wall. He was safe there, safer than he would
have been outside in the ambulance.
It was awful to think that he would have been left behind if they had not
found him at the last minute among the straw.
She went and stood by the yard entrance to see whether John were coming
with the stretcher. A soldier came out of the house with the narrow
shutters, wounded, limping, his foot bound to a splint. Then Sutton came,
hurrying to help him. He shouted to her, "Come on, Charlotte, hurry up!"
and she called back, "I've got to wait here for John."
She watched them go on slowly up the road to Sutton's car; she saw them
get in; she saw the car draw out and rush away.
Then she saw John come out of the door of the house and stand there,
looking up and down the street. Once she saw him glance back over his
shoulder at something behind him in the room. The same instant she heard
the explosion and saw the shell burst in the middle of the street, not
fifty yards from the ambulance. Half a minute after she saw John dash
from the doorway and run, run at an incredible pace, towards his car. She
heard him crank up the engine.
She supposed that he was going to back towards the yard, and she wondered
whether she could lift up the Belgian and carry him out. She stooped over
him, put her hands under his armpits, raising him and wondering. Better
not. He had a bad wound. Better wait for the stretcher.
She turned, suddenly, arrested. The noise she heard was not the grating
noise of a car backing, it was the scream of a car getting away; it
dropped to a heavy whirr and diminished.
She looked out. Up the road she saw John's car rushing furiously
The Belgian had heard it. His eyes moved. Black hare's eyes, terrified.
It was not possible, he said, that they had been left behind?
No, it was not possible. John had forgotten them; but he would
remember; he would come back. In five minutes. Seven minutes. She had
The Belgian was muttering something. He complained of being left there.
He said he was not anxious about himself, but about Mademoiselle.
Mademoiselle ought not to have been left. She was sitting on the ground
now, beside him.
"It'll be all right," she said. "He'll come back." When he remembered he
would come back.
She had waited half an hour.
Another shell. It had burst over there at the backs of the houses, beyond
She wondered whether it would be safer to drag her man across the street
under the wall of the Town Hall. They would be sure to aim at it and miss
it, whereas any minute they might hit the stable.
At the moment while she wondered there was a third tremendous explosion,
the crash and roar of brickwork falling like coal down an enormous chute.
It came from the other side of the street a little way down. It couldn't
be far from the Town Hall. That settled it. Much better stay where they
were. The Belgian had put his arm round her, drawing her to him, away
from the noise and shock of the shell.
It was clear now that John was not coming back. He had forgotten them.
The Belgian's hold slackened; he dozed, falling against her and
recovering himself with a jerk and begging her pardon. She drew down his
head on to her shoulder and let it rest there. Her mind was soaked in the
smell of his rank breath, of the warm sweat that oozed through his tunic,
the hot, fetid smell that came through his unlaced boots. She didn't
care; she was too sorry for him. She could feel nothing but the helpless
pressure of his body against hers, nothing but her pity that hurt her and
was exquisite like love. Yesterday she had thought it would be good to
die with John. Now she thought it would be good to die with the wounded
Belgian, since John had left her there to die.
And again, she had a vehement desire for life, a horror of the unjust
death John was bringing on them.
But of course there wouldn't be any death. If nobody came she would walk
back to Ghent and bring out the ambulance.
If only he had shouted to her to carry the wounded man and come. In the
minute between the concussion of the shell and the cranking of the
engine. But she could see him rushing. If only she knew _why_ he had left
them.... She wanted to get back to Ghent, to see John, to know. To know
if John--if John really _was_--Nothing could be worse than not knowing.
It didn't matter so much his forgetting her. The awful thing was his
forgetting the wounded man. How could you forget a wounded man? When she
remembered the Belgian's terrified hare's eyes she hated John.
And, as she sat there supporting his head with her shoulder, she thought
again. There must have been a wounded man in the house John had come out
of. Was it possible that he had forgotten him, too?... He hadn't
forgotten. She could see him looking back over his shoulder; looking at
something that was lying there, that couldn't be anything but a wounded
man. Or a dead man. Whatever it was, it had been the last thing he had
seen; the last thing he had thought of before he made his dash. It
wasn't possible that he had left a wounded man in there, alive. It was
And all the time while she kept on telling herself that it was not
possible she saw a wounded man in the room John had left; she saw his
head turning to the doorway, and his eyes, frightened; she felt his
anguish in the moment that he knew himself abandoned. Not forgotten.
She would have to go over to the house and see. She must know whether the
man was there or not there. She raised the Belgian's head, gently, from
her shoulder. She would have to wake him and tell him what she was going
to do, so that he mightn't think she had left him and be frightened.
But the Belgian roused himself to a sudden virile determination.
Mademoiselle must _not_ cross the road. It was too dangerous.
Mademoiselle would be hit. He played on her pity with an innocent,
cunning cajolery. "Mademoiselle must not leave me. I do not want
to be left."
"Only for one minute. One little minute. I think there's a wounded man,
like you, Monsieur, in that house."
"Ah--h--A wounded man?" He seemed to acknowledge the integrity of her
purpose. "If only I were not wounded, if only I could crawl an inch, I
would go instead of Mademoiselle."
* * * * *
The wounded man lay on the floor of the room in his corner by the
fireplace where John had left him. His coat was rolled up under his head
for a pillow. He lay on his side, with humped hips and knees drawn up,
and one hand, half clenched, half relaxed, on his breast under the
drooped chin; so that at first she thought he was alive, sleeping. She
knelt down beside him and clasped his wrist; she unbuttoned his tunic
and put in her hand under his shirt above the point of his heart. He was
certainly dead. No pulse; no beat; no sign of breathing. Yet his body
was warm still, and limp as if with sleep. He couldn't have been dead
And he was young. A boy. Not more than sixteen. John couldn't have left
She wasn't certain. She was no nearer certainty so long as she didn't
know when the boy had died. If only she knew--
They hadn't unfastened his tunic and shirt to feel over his heart if he
were dead. So he couldn't have been dead when they left him.... But there
was Sutton. Billy wouldn't have left him unless he had been dead. Her
mind worked rapidly, jumping from point to point, trying to find some
endurable resting place.... He was so young, so small, so light. Light.
It wouldn't take two to carry him. She could have picked him up and
carried him herself. Billy had had the lame man to look after. He had
left the boy to John. She saw John looking back over his shoulder.
She got up and went through the house, through all the rooms, to see if
there were any more of them that John had left there. She felt tired out
and weak, sick with her belief, her fear of what John had done. The dead
boy was alone in the house. She covered his face with her handkerchief
and went back.
The Belgian waited for her at the entrance to the yard. He had
dragged himself there, crawling on his hands and knees. He smiled
when he saw her.
"I was coming to look for you, Mademoiselle."
She had him safe beside her against the stable wall. He let his head rest
on her shoulder now, glad of the protecting contact. She tried not to
think about John. Something closed down between them. Black. Black;
shutting him off, closing her heart against him, leaving her heart hard
and sick. The light went slowly out of the street, out of the sky. The
dark came, the dark sounding with the "Boom--Boom" of the guns, lit with
spiked diamond flashes like falling stars.
The Belgian had gone to sleep again when she heard the ambulance coming
down the street.
* * * * *
"Is that you, Charlotte?"
"Billy--! What made you come?"
"Conway. He's in a frantic funk. Said he'd lost you. He thought you'd
gone on with me."
How awful it would be if Billy knew.
"It was my fault," she lied. "He told me to go on with you." She could
hear him telling her to wait for him in the stable yard.
"I'd have come before only I didn't see him soon enough. I had an
operation.... Is that a wounded man you've got there? I suppose he lost
"He didn't know he was here."
Then she remembered. Billy would know. Billy would tell her.
"Billy--was that boy dead when you left him! The boy in the house
He was stooping to the Belgian, examining his bandages, and he didn't
answer all at once. He seemed to be meditating.
"Was he?" she repeated.
It struck her that Billy was surprised.
"Because--" She stopped there. She couldn't say to him, "I want to know
whether John left him dead or alive."
"He was dead all right." Sutton's voice came up slow and muffled out of
It was all right. She might have known. She might have known. Vaguely for
a moment she wondered why Billy had come for her and not John; then she
"Billy--John isn't hurt, is he?"
"No. Rather not. A bit done up. I made him go and lie down.... Look here,
we must get out of this."
* * * * *
The McClane Corps were gathered on their side of the messroom. They
greeted her with shouts of joy, but their eyes looked at her queerly, as
if they knew something dreadful had happened to her.
"You should have stood in with us, Charlotte," Mrs. Rankin was saying.
"Then you wouldn't get mislaid among the shells." She was whispering.
"Dr. McClane, if you took Charlotte out among the shells, would you run
away and leave her there?"
"I'd try not to."
Oh yes. He wouldn't run away and leave her. But he wouldn't care where he
took her. He wouldn't care whether a shell got her or not. But John
cared. If only she knew _why_.... Their queer faces sobered her and
suddenly she knew. She saw Sutton coming out of the house with the narrow
shutters; she heard him shouting to her, "Come on, Charlotte, hurry up!"
John must have heard him. He must really have thought that she had
gone with him.
But he must have known, too, that she wouldn't go. He must have known
that if he told her to wait for him she would wait. So that--
The voices of the McClane women ceased abruptly. One of them turned
round. Charlotte saw John standing between the glasses of the two doors.
He came in and she heard Mrs. Rankin calling out in her hard, insolent
voice, "Well, Mr. Conway, so you've got in safe."
She was always like that, hard and insolent, with her damned courage. As
if courage were ever anything more than just being decent, and as if
other people couldn't be decent too. She hated John because she couldn't
make him come to her, couldn't make him look with pleasure at her
beautiful, arrogant face. She disliked Sutton and McClane for the same
reason, but she hated John. He treated her face with a hardness and
insolence like her own. You could see her waiting for her revenge,
watching every minute for a chance to stick her blade into him. He was
pretending that he hadn't heard her.
His hair stood up in pointed tufts, rumpled from his pillow. His eyes had
a dazed, stupid look as if he were not perfectly awake. But at the sound
of the rasping voice his mouth had tightened; it was pinched and sharp
with pain. He didn't look at Mrs. Rankin. He came to her, Charlotte
Redhead, straight; straight as if she had drawn him from his sleep.
The McClane people got up, one after another, and went out.
"Charlotte," he said, "did you really think I'd left you?"
"I thought you'd left me. But I knew you hadn't."
"You _knew_ it wasn't possible?"
"Yes. Inside me I knew."
"I'm awfully sorry. Sutton told me you were going on with him, and I
thought you'd gone."
She would remember for ever the talk they had on the balcony that day
while Antwerp was falling.
They were standing there, she and John Conway and Sutton, looking over
the station and the railway lines to the open country beyond: the fields,
the tall slender trees, the low mounds of the little hills, bristling and
dark. Round the corner of the balcony they could see into the _Place_
below; it was filled with a thick black crowd of refugees. Antwerp was
falling. Presently the ambulance train would come in and they would have
to go over there to the station with their stretchers and carry out the
wounded. Meanwhile they waited.
John brooded. His face was heavy and sombre with discontent. "No," he
said. "No. It isn't good enough."
"What we're doing here. Going to all those little tin-pot places. The
real fighting isn't down there. They ought to send us to Antwerp."
"I suppose they send us where they think we're most wanted."
"I don't believe they do. We were fools not to have insisted on going
to Antwerp, instead of letting ourselves be stuck here in a rotten
"We've had enough to do, anyhow," said Sutton.
"And there isn't anybody but us and Mac to do it," Charlotte said.
John's eyebrows twisted. "Yes; but we're not _in_ it. I want to be in it.
In the big thing; the big dangerous thing."
Sutton sighed and got up and left them. John waited for the closing
of the door.
"Does it strike you," he said, "that Billy isn't very keen?"
"No. It doesn't. What do you mean?"
"I notice that he's jolly glad when he can get an indoor job."
"That's because they're short of surgeons. He only wants to do what's
"I didn't say he had cold feet."
"Of course he hasn't. Billy would go to Antwerp like a shot if they'd
let him. He feels just as we do about it. That's why he got up and
"He'd go. But he wouldn't enjoy it."
"Oh, don't talk about 'enjoying.'"
"Sharlie, you don't mean to say that _you're_ not keen?"
"No. It's only that I don't care as much as I did about what you call the
romance of it; and I do care more about the solid work. It seems to me
that it doesn't matter who does it so long as it's done."
"I'd very much rather I did it than McClane. So would you."
"Yes. I would. But I'd be sorry if poor little Mac didn't get any of it.
And all the time I know it doesn't matter which of us it is. It doesn't
matter whether we're in danger or out of danger, or whether we're in the
big thing or a little one."
"Don't you want to be in the big thing?"
"Yes. I _want_. But I know my wanting doesn't matter. I don't matter.
None of us matters."
That was how she felt about it now that it had come to defeat, now that
Antwerp was falling. Yesterday they, she and John, had been vivid
entities, intensely real, living and moving in the war as in a
containing space that was real enough, since it was there, but real like
hell or heaven or God, not to be grasped or felt in its reality; only
the stretch of it that they covered was real, the roads round Ghent, the
burning villages, the places where they served, Berlaere and Melle,
Quatrecht and Zele; the wounded men. Yesterday her thoughts about John
had mattered, her doubt and fear of him and her pain; her agony of
desire that he should be, should be always, what she loved him for
being; and her final certainty had been the one important, the one real
thing. To-day she had difficulty in remembering all that, as if _they_
hadn't really been. To-day they were unimportant to themselves and to
each other; small, not quite real existences, enveloped by an immense
reality that closed in on them; alive; black, palpitating defeat. It
made nothing of them, of their bodies nothing but the parts they worked
with: feet and hands. Nothing mattered, nothing existed but the war, and
the armies, the Belgian army, beaten.
Antwerp was falling. And afterwards it would be Ghent, and then Ostend.
And then there would be no more Belgium.
But John wouldn't hear of it. Ghent wouldn't fall.
"It won't fall because it isn't a fortified city," she objected. "But
it'll surrender. It'll have to."
"It won't. If the Germans come anywhere near we shall drive them back."
"They _are_ near. They're all round in a ring with only a little narrow
opening up _there_. And the ring's getting closer."
"It's easier to push back a narrow ring than a wide one."
"It's easier to break through a thin ring than a thick one, and who's
going to push?"
"We are. The British. We'll come pouring in, hundreds of thousands of us,
through that little narrow opening up there."
"If we only would--"
"Of course we shall. If I thought we wouldn't, if I thought we were going
to let the Belgians down, if we _betrayed_ them--My God! I'd kill
myself.... No. No, I wouldn't. That wouldn't hurt enough. I'd give up my
damned country and be a naturalized Belgian. Why, they trust us. They
_trust_ us to save Antwerp."
"If we don't, that wouldn't be betrayal."
"It would. The worst kind. It would be like betraying a wounded man; or a
woman. Like me betraying you, Jeanne. You needn't look like that. It's so
bad that it can't happen."
Through the enveloping sadness she felt a prick of joy, seeing him so
valiant, so unbeaten in his soul. It supported her certainty. His soul
was so big that nothing could satisfy it but the big thing, the big
dangerous thing. He wouldn't even believe that Antwerp was falling.
* * * * *
She knew. She knew. There was not the smallest doubt about it any more.
She saw it happen.
It happened in the village near Lokeren, the village whose name she
couldn't remember. The Germans had taken Lokeren that morning; they were
_in_ Lokeren. At any minute they might be in the village.
You had to pass through a little town to get to it. And there they had
been told that they must not go on. And they had gone on. And in the
village they were told that they must go back and they had not gone back.
They had been given five minutes to get in their wounded and they had
been there three-quarters of an hour, she and John working together, and
Trixie Rankin with McClane and two of his men.
Charlotte had been sorry for Sutton and Gwinnie and the rest of McClane's
corps who had not come out with them to this new place, but had been sent
back again to Melle where things had been so quiet all morning that they
hadn't filled their ambulances, and half of them had hung about doing
nothing. She had fretted at the stupidity which had sent them where they
were not wanted. But here there were not enough hands for the stretchers,
and Charlotte was wanted every second of the time. From the first minute
you could see what you were in for.
And for an instant, in the blind rush and confusion of it, she had lost
sight of John. She had turned the car round and left it with its nose
pointing towards Ghent. Trixie Rankin and the McClane men were at the
front cars taking out the stretchers; John and McClane were going up the
road. She had got out her own stretcher and was following them when the
battery came tearing down the road and cut them off. It tore headlong,
swerving and careening with great rattling and crashing noises. She could
see the faces of the men, thrown back, swaying; there was no terror in
them, only a sort of sullen anger and resentment.
She stood on the narrow sandy track beside the causeway to let it pass,
and when a gap came in the train she dashed through to get to John. And
John was not there. When all the artillery had passed he was not there;
only McClane, going on up the middle of the street by himself.
She ran after him and asked him what had happened to John. He turned,
dreamy and deliberate, utterly unperturbed. John, he said, had gone on to
look for a wounded man who was said to have been taken into one of those
houses there, on the right, in the lane. She went down the lane with her
stretcher and McClane waited for them at the top. The doors of the houses
were open; Flemish women stood outside, looking up to the street. There
was one house with a shut door, a tall green door; she thought that would
be the one that John had gone into. She rapped and he opened the door and
came striding out, holding his head high. He shut the door quietly and
looked at her, an odd look, piercing and grave.
"Dead," he said.
And when McClane met them he said it again, "Dead."
The wounded were being brought down from Lokeren in trams that ran on to
a siding behind a little fir plantation outside the village. At the wide
top of the street a table of boards and trestles stood by the foot track,
and the stretchers were laid on it as they came in, and the wounded had
their first bandaging and dressings there. McClane took up his place by
this table, and the stretcher bearers went backwards and forwards between
the village and the plantation.
Beyond the plantation the flagged road stretched flat and grey, then bent
in a deep curve, and on the wider sweep of the curve a row of tall,
slender trees stood up like a screen.
It would be round the turn of the road under the trees that the Germans
would come when they came. You couldn't lose this sense of them, coming
on behind there, not yet seen, but behind, coming on, pursuing the
retreat of the batteries. Every now and then they found themselves
looking up towards the turn. The grey, bending sweep and the screen of
tall trees had a fascination for them, a glamour; and above the movements
of their hands and feet their minds watched, intent, excited, but without
fear. There was no fear in the village. The women came out of their
houses carrying cups of water for the men's thirst; they seemed to be
concerned, not with the coming of the Germans, but with the bringing in
of the wounded and the presence of the English ambulance in their street.
And the four stretcher bearers came and went, from house to house and
between the village and the plantation, working, working steadily. Yet
they were aware, all the time, of the pursuing terror, behind the turn of
the road; they were held still in their intentness. Over all of them was
a quiet, fixed serenity. McClane's body had lost its eager, bustling
energy and was still; his face was grave, preoccupied and still; only
Trixie Rankin went rushing, and calling out to her quiet man in a fierce,
And in John's face and in his alert body there was happiness, happiness
that was almost ecstasy; it ran through and shone from him, firm and
still, like a flame that couldn't go out. It penetrated her and made her
happy and satisfied and sure of him. She had seen it leap up in him as he
swung himself into the seat beside her when they started. He was
restless, restless every day until they were sent out; he couldn't wait
in peace before they had set off on the adventure, as if he were afraid
that at the last minute something would happen to dash his chance from
him. She couldn't find this passionate uneasiness in herself; she waited
with a stolid trust in the event; but she had something of his feeling.
After all, it was there, the romance, the fascination, the glamour; you
couldn't deny it any more than you could deny the beating of the blood in
your veins. It was their life.
They had been in the village three quarters of an hour. John and
Charlotte waited while McClane at his table was putting the last bandage
on the last wound. In another minute they would be gone. It was then that
the Belgian Red Cross man came running to them. Had they taken a man with
a wound in his back? A bad wound? As big as that? No? Then he was still
here, and he had got to take him to the ambulance. No, he didn't know
where he was. He might be in one of those houses where they took in the
wounded, or he might be up there by the tramway in the plantation. Would
they take a stretcher and find him? _He_ had to go back to the tramway.
The last tram was coming in from Lokeren. He ran back, fussy and a little
John shouted out, "Hold on, McClane, there's another tram coming," and
set off up the street. They had taken all the men out of the houses;
therefore the man with the bad wound must have been left somewhere by the
plantation. They went there, carrying their stretcher, going, going up to
the last minute, in delight, in the undying thrill of the danger.
The wounded man was not in the plantation. As they looked for him the
tram from Lokeren slid in, Red Cross men on the steps, clinging. The
doors were flung open and the wounded men came out, stumbling, falling,
pushing each other. Somebody cried, "No stretchers! Damned bad
management. With the Germans on our backs." A Red Cross man, with a
puffed white face, stood staring at John and Charlotte, stupefied.
"Are they coming?" John said.
"Coming? They'll be here in ten minutes--five minutes." He snarled, a
He had caught sight of their stretcher and snatched at it, thrusting out
his face, the face of a terrified animal, open mouth, and round,
palpitating eyes. He lifted his hand as though he would have struck at
Charlotte, but John pushed him back. He was brutalized, made savage and
cruel by terror; he had a lust to hurt.
"You can't have our stretcher," Charlotte said.
She could see they didn't want it. This was the last tram. The serious
cases had been sent on first. All these men could walk or hobble along
somehow with help. But they were the last in the retreat of the wounded;
they were the men who had been nearest to the enemy, and they had known
the extremity of fear.
"You can't have it. It's wanted for a badly wounded man."
"Where is he?"
"We don't know. We're looking for him."
"Ah, pah! We can't wait till you find him. Do you think we're going to
stand here to be taken?--For one man!"
They went on through the plantation, stumbling and growling, dragging the
wounded out into the road.
"If," Charlotte said, "we only knew where he was."
John stood there silent; his head was turned towards the far end of the
wood, the Lokeren end. The terror of the wood held him. He seemed to be
listening; listening, but only half awake.
Here, where the line stopped, a narrow track led downwards out of the
wood. Charlotte started to go along it. "Come on," she said. She saw him
coming, quickly, but with drawn, sleep-walking feet. The track led into a
muddy alley at the back of the village.
There was a house there and a woman stood at the door, beckoning. She ran
up to them. "He's here," she whispered, "he's here."
He lay on his side on the flagged floor of the kitchen. His shirt was
ripped open, and in his white back, below the shoulder blade, there was a
deep red wound, like a pit, with a wide mouth, gaping. He was ugly, a
Flamand; he had a puffed face with pushed out lips and a scrub of red
beard; but Charlotte loved him.
They carried him out through the wood on to the road. He lay inert,
humped up, heavy. They had to go slowly, so slowly that they could
see the wounded and the Red Cross men going on far before them, down
The flagged road swayed and swung with the swinging bulge of the
stretcher as they staggered. The shafts kept on slipping and slipping;
her grasp closed, tighter and tighter; her arms ached in their sockets;
but her fingers and the palms of her hands were firm and dry; they could
keep their hold.
They had only gone a few yards along the road when suddenly John
stopped and sank his end of the stretcher, compelling Charlotte to
lower hers too.
"What did you do that for?"
"We can't, Charlotte. He's too damned heavy."
"If I can, you can."
He didn't move. He stood there, staring with his queer, hypnotised eyes,
at the man lying in the middle of the road, at the red pit in the white
back, at the wide, ragged lips of the wound, gaping.
"For goodness' sake pick him up. It isn't the moment for resting."
"Look here--it isn't good enough. We can't get him there in time."
"You're--you're _not_ going to leave him!"
"We've got to leave him. We can't let the whole lot be taken just
for one man."
"We'll be taken if you stand here talking."
He went on a step or two, slouching; then stood still, waiting for her,
ashamed. He was changed from himself, seized and driven by the fear that
had possessed the men in the plantation. She could see it in his
She cried out--her voice sounded sharp and strange--"John--! You _can't_
The wounded man who had lain inert, thinking that they were only resting,
now turned his head at her cry. She saw his eyes shaking, palpitating
"You've frightened him," she said. "I won't have him frightened."
She didn't really believe that John was going. He went slowly, still
ashamed, and stopped again and waited for her.
"Come back," she said, "this minute, and pick up that stretcher
and get on."
"I tell you it isn't good enough."
"Oh, go then, if you're such a damned coward, and send Mac to me.
"They'll have gone."
He was walking backwards, his face set towards the turn of the road.
"Come on, you little fool. You can't carry him."
"I can. And I shall, if Mac doesn't come."
"You'll be taken," he shouted.
"I don't care. If I'm taken, I'm taken. I shall carry him on my back."
While John still went backwards she thought: It's all right. If he sees
I'm not coming he won't go. He'll come back to the stretcher.
But John had turned and was running.
Even then she didn't realise that he was running away, that she was left
there with the wounded man. Things didn't happen like that. People ran
away all of a sudden, in panics, because they couldn't help it; they
didn't begin by going slowly and stopping to argue and turning round and
walking backwards; they were gone before they knew where they were. She
believed that he was going for the ambulance. One moment she believed it
and the next she knew better. As she waited in the road (conscious of the
turn, the turn with its curving screen of tall trees) her knowledge, her
dreadful knowledge, came to her, dark and evil, creeping up and up. John
wasn't coming back. He would no more come back than he had come back the
other day. Sutton had come. The other day had been like to-day. John was
Her mind stood still in amazement, seeing, seeing clearly, what John was
like. For a moment she forgot about the Germans.
She thought: I don't believe Mac's gone. He wouldn't go until he'd got
them all in. Mac would come.
Then she thought about the Germans again. All this was making it much
more dangerous for Mac and everybody, with the Germans coming round the
corner any minute; she had no business to stand there thinking; she must
pick that man up on her back and go on.
She stooped down and turned him over on his chest. Then, with great
difficulty, she got him up on to his feet; she took him by the wrists
and, stooping again, swung him on to her shoulder. These acts, requiring
attention and drawing on all her energy, dulled the pain of her
knowledge. When she stood up with him she saw John and McClane coming to
her. She lowered her man gently back on to the stretcher.
The Flamand, thinking that she had given it up and that he was now
abandoned to the Germans, groaned.
"It's all right," she said. "He's coming."
She saw McClane holding John by the arm, and in her pain there was a
sharper pang. She had the illusion of his being dragged back unwillingly.
McClane smiled as he came to her. He glanced at the Flamand lying heaped
on his stretcher.
"He's been too much for you, has he?"
"Too much--? Yes."
Instantly she saw that John had lied, and instantly she backed his lie.
She hated McClane thinking she had failed; but anything was better than
his knowing the truth.
John and McClane picked up the stretcher and went on quickly. Charlotte
walked beside the Flamand with her hand on his shoulder to comfort him.
Again her pity was like love.
From the top of the village she could see the opening of the lane. Down
there was the house with the tall green door where the dead man was. John
had _said_ he was dead.
Supposing he wasn't? Or supposing he was still warm and limp like the boy
at Melle? She must know; it was a thing she must know for certain, or she
would never have any peace. And when the Flamand was laid out on
McClane's table, while McClane dressed his wound, she slipped down the
lane and opened the green door.
The man lay on a row of packing cases with his feet parted. She put one
hand over his heart and the other on his forehead under the lock of
bloodstained hair. He was dead: stiff dead and cold. His tunic and shirt
had been unbuttoned to ease his last breathing. She had a queer baffled
feeling of surprise and incompleteness, as if some awful sense in her
would have been satisfied if she had seen that he had been living when
John had said that he was dead. To-day would then have been linked on
firmly to the other day.
John stood at the top of the lane. He scowled at her as she came.
"What do you think you're doing!" he said.
"I went to that house--to see if the man was dead."
"You'd no business to. I told you he was dead."
"I wanted to make sure."
* * * * *
That evening she had just gone to her room when somebody knocked at her
door. McClane stood outside, straddling, his way when he had got
something important on hand. He asked if he might come in and speak to
her for a minute.
She sat down on the edge of her bed and he sat on Gwinnie's, elbows
crooked out, hands planted on wide parted knees; he leaned forward,
looking at her, his face innocent and yet astute; his thick,
expressionless eyes clear now and penetrating. He seemed to be fairly
humming with activity left over from the excitement of the day. He was
always either dreamy and withdrawn, or bursting, bursting with energy,
and at odd moments he would drop off suddenly to sleep with his chin
doubled on his breast, recovering from his energy. Perhaps he had just
waked up now to this freshness.
"Look here," he said. "You didn't break down. That man wasn't too
heavy for you."
"He was. He was an awful weight. I couldn't have carried him a yard."
"That won't do, Charlotte. I _saw_ you take him on your back."
She could feel the blood rising up in her face before him. He was hurting
her with shame.
He persisted, merciless. "It was Conway who broke down."
She had tears now.
"Nobody knows," he said gently, "but you and me.... I want to talk to
you about him. He must be got away from the Front. He must be got out
"You always wanted to get him away."
"Only because I saw he would break down."
"How could you tell?"
"I'm a psychotherapist. It's my business to tell."
But she was still on the defensive.
"You never liked him."
"I neither like nor dislike him. To me Conway is simply a sick man. If I
could cure him--"
"Not as you think. I can't turn his cowardice into courage. I might turn
it into something else but not that. That's why I say he ought to go
home. You must tell him."
"I can't. Couldn't Billy tell him?"
"Well, hardly. He's his commandant."
"Not I. You know what he thinks about me."
"That I've got a grudge against him. That I'm jealous of him. You thought
"You did. Look here, I say--I wanted to take you three into my corps. And
you'd have been sent home after the Berlaere affair if I hadn't spoken
for you. So much for my jealousy."
"I only thought you were jealous of John."
"Why, it was I who got him sent out that first day."
"Yes. I wanted to give him his chance. And," he added meditatively, "I
wanted to know whether I was right. I wanted to see what he would do."
"I don't think it now," she said, reverting.
"_That's_ all right."
He laughed his brief, mirthless laugh, the assent of his egoism. But his
satisfaction had nothing personal in it. He was pleased because justice,
abstract justice, had been done. But she suspected his sincerity. He did
things for you, not because he liked you, but for some other reason; and
he would be so carried away by doing them that he would behave as though
he liked you when he didn't, when all the time you couldn't for one
minute rouse him from his immense indifference. She knew he liked her for
sticking to her post and for taking the wounded man on her back, because
that was the sort of thing he would have done himself. And he had only
helped John because he wanted to see what he would do. Therefore she
suspected his sincerity.
But, no; he wasn't jealous.
"And now," he went on, "you must get him to go home at once, or he'll
have a bad break-down. You've got to tell him, Charlotte."
She stood up, ready. "Where is he?"
"By himself. In his room."
She went to him there.
He was sitting at his little table. He had been trying to write a letter,
but he had pushed it from him and left it. You could see he was absorbed
in some bitter meditation. She seated herself at the head of his bed, on
his pillow, where she could look down at him.
"John," she said, "you can't go on like this--"
He held his head high; but the excited, happy light had gone out of his
eyes; they stared, not as though they saw anything, but withdrawn, as
though he were contemplating the fearful memory of his fear.
And she was sorry for him, so sorry that she couldn't bear it. She bit
her lip lest she should sob out with pain.
"Oh--" she said, and her pain stopped her.
"I don't know what you're talking about--'going on like this.'
"What's the good? You've had enough. If I were you I should go home. You
know you can't stand it."
"What? Go and leave my cars to Sutton?"
"McClane could take them."
"I don't know how long McClane signed on for. _I_ signed on for the
duration of the war."
"There wasn't any signing on."
"Well, if you like, I swore I wouldn't go back till it was over."
"Yes, and supposing it happens again."
"What _should_ happen again?"
"What happened this afternoon.... And it wasn't the first time."
"Do you _know_ what happened?"
"I _saw_ what happened. You simply went to pieces."
"My dear Charlotte, _you_ went to pieces, if you like."
"I know that's what you told Mac. And _he_ knows how true it is."
"Does he? Well--he shan't have my ambulances. You don't suppose I'm
going to let McClane fire me out of Belgium?... I suppose he put you up
He stood up as a sign to her to leave him. "I don't see that there's
anything more to be said."
"There's one thing." (She slid to her feet.) "_You_ swore you'd stick
till the war's over. _I_ swore, if I had to choose between you and the
wounded, it shouldn't be you."
"You haven't got to choose. You've only got to obey orders...."
His face stiffened. He looked like some hard commander imposing an
"... The next time," he said, "you'll be good enough to remember that I
settle what risks are to be taken, not you."
Her soul stiffened, too, and was hard. She stood up against him with her
shoulder to the door.
"It sounds all right," she said. "But the _next time_ I'll carry him on
my back all the way."
* * * * *
She went to bed with her knowledge. He funked and lied. The two things
she couldn't stand. His funk and his lying were a real part of him. And
it was as if she had always known it, as if all the movements of her mind
had been an effort to escape her knowledge.
She opened her eyes. Something hurt them. Gwinnie, coming late to bed,
had turned on the electric light. And as she rolled over, turning her
back to the light and to Gwinnie, her mind shifted. It saw suddenly the
flame leaping in John's face. His delight in danger, that happiness he
felt when he went out to meet it, happiness springing up bright and new
every day; that was a real part of him. She couldn't doubt it. She knew.
And she was left with her queer, baffled sense of surprise and
incompleteness. She couldn't see the nature of the bond between these two
That was his secret, his mystery.
She woke very early in the morning with one clear image in her mind: what
John had done yesterday.
Her mind seemed to have watched all night behind her sleep to attack her
with it in the first moment of waking. She had got to come to a clear
decision about that. If Billy Sutton had done it, or one of McClane's
chauffeurs, her decision would have been very clear. She would have said
he was a filthy coward and dismissed him from her mind. But John couldn't
be dismissed. His funk wasn't like other people's funk. Coupled with his
ecstatic love of danger it had an unreal, fantastic quality. Somehow she
couldn't regard his love of danger as an unreal, fantastic thing. It had
come too near her; it had moved her too profoundly and too long; she had
shared it as she might have shared his passion.
So that, even in the sharp, waking day she felt his fear as a secret,
mysterious thing. She couldn't account for it. She didn't, considering
the circumstances, she didn't judge the imminence of the Germans to be a
sufficient explanation. It was as incomprehensible to-day as it had been
But there was fear and fear. There was the cruel, animal fear of the
Belgians in the plantation, fear that was dark to itself and had no
sadness in it; and there was John's fear that knew itself and was sad.
The unbearable, inconsolable sadness of John's fear! After all, you could
think of him as a gentle thing, caught unaware in a trap and tortured.
And who was she to judge him? She in her "armour" and he in his coat of
nerves. His knowledge and his memory of his fear would be like a raw open
wound in his mind; and her knowledge of it would be a perpetual irritant,
rubbing against it and keeping up the sore. Last night she hadn't done
anything to heal him; she had only hurt.... And if she gave John up his
wound would never heal. She owed a sort of duty to the wound.
Of course, like John, she would go on remembering what had happened
yesterday. She would never get over it any more than he would. Yet,
after all, yesterday was only one day out of his life. There might never
be another like it. And to set against yesterday there was their first
day at Berlaere and the day afterwards at Melle; there was yesterday
morning and there was that other day at Melle. She had no business to
suppose that he had done then what he did yesterday. They had settled
that once for all at the time, when he said Billy Sutton had told him
she was going back with him. It all hung on that. If that was right, the
rest was right....
Supposing Billy hadn't told him anything of the sort, though? She would
never know that. She couldn't say to Billy: "_Did_ you tell John I was
going back with you? Because; if you didn't--" She would have to leave
that as it was, not quite certain.... And she couldn't be quite certain
whether the boy had been dead or alive. And ... No. She couldn't get over
it, John's cowardice. It had destroyed the unique, beautiful happiness
she had had with him.
For it was no use saying that courage, physical courage, didn't count.
She could remember a long conversation she had had with George Corfield,
the man who wanted to marry her, about that. He had said courage was the
least thing you could have. That only meant that, whatever else you
hadn't, you must have that. It was a sort of trust. You were trusted not
to betray defenceless things. A coward was a person who betrayed
defenceless things. George had said that the world's adoration of courage
was the world's cowardice, its fear of betrayal. That was a question for
cowards to settle among themselves. The obligation not to betray
defenceless things remained. It was so simple and obvious that people
took it for granted; they didn't talk about it. They didn't talk about it
because it was so deep and sacred, like honour and like love; so that,