Part 3 out of 4
when John had talked about it she had always felt that he was her lover,
saying the things that other men might not say, things he couldn't have
said to any other woman.
It was inconceivable that he--It couldn't have happened. As he had said
of the defeat of Belgium, it was so bad that it couldn't happen. Odd,
that the other day she had accepted at once a thing she didn't know for
certain, while now she fought fiercely against a thing she knew; and
always the memory of it, returning, beat her down.
She had to make up her mind on what terms she would live with it and
whether she would live with it at all. Supposing it happened again?
Supposing you had always to go in fear of its happening?... It mightn't
happen. Funk might be a thing that attacked you like an illness, or like
drink, in fits, with long, calm intervals between. She wondered what it
would feel like to be subject to attacks. Perhaps you would recover; you
would be on the look-out, and when you felt another fit coming on you
could stave it off or fight it down. And the first time wouldn't count
because you had had no warning. It wouldn't be fair to give him up
because of the first time.
He would have given her up, he would have left her to the Germans--Yes;
but if she broke with him now she would never get beyond that thought,
she would never get beyond yesterday; she would always see it, the
flagged road swinging with the swinging bulge of the stretcher, the
sudden stopping, the Flamand with his wound, the shafts of the stretcher,
suddenly naked, sticking out; and then all the fantastic, incredible
movements of John's flight. Her mind would separate from him on that,
closing everything down, making his act eternal.
And, after all, the Germans hadn't come round the corner. Perhaps he
wouldn't have left her if they had really come. How did she know what he
wouldn't have done?
No. That was thin. Thin. She couldn't take herself in quite in that way.
It was the way she had tried with Gibson Herbert. When he did anything
she loathed she used to pretend he hadn't done it. But with John, if she
didn't give him up, her eyes must always be open. Perhaps they would get
beyond yesterday. Perhaps she would see other things, go on with him to
something new, forgetting. Her unique, beautiful happiness was smashed.
Still, there might be some other happiness, beautiful, though not with
the same beauty.
If John had got the better of his fear--She thought of all the men she
had ever heard of who had done that, coming out in the end heroic,
* * * * *
Three things, three little things that happened that morning, that showed
the way his mind was working. Things that she couldn't get over, that she
would never forget.
John standing on the hospital steps, watching Trixie Rankin and Alice
Bartrum as they started with the ambulances; the fierce fling of his
body, turning away.
His voice saying, "I loathe those women. There's Alice Bartrum--I saw her
making eyes at Sutton over a spouting artery. As for Mrs. Rankin they
ought to intern her. She oughtn't to be allowed within ten miles of any
army. That's one thing I like about McClane. He can't stand that sort of
thing any more than I can."
"How about Gwinnie and me?"
"Gwinnie hangs her beastly legs about all over the place. So do you."
John standing at the foot of the stairs, looking at the Antwerp men.
Their heads and faces were covered with a white mask of cotton wool like
a diver's helmet, three small holes in each white mask for mouth and
eyes. They were the men whose faces had been burned by fire at Antwerp.
"Come away," she said. But he still stood, fascinated, hypnotised by the
"If I were to stick there, doing nothing, looking at the wounded, I
should go off my head."
"My God! So should I. Those everlasting wounds. They make you dream
about them. Disgusting dreams. I never really see the wound, but I'm
just going to see it. I know it's going to be more horrible than any
wound I've ever seen. And then I wake.... That's why I don't look at
them more than I can help."
"You're looking at them now," she said.
"Oh, them. That's nothing. Cotton wool."
And she, putting her hand on his arm to draw him up the stairs, away.
John shaking her hands off and his queer voice rising. "I wish you
wouldn't do that, Charlotte. You know I hate it."
He had never said anything to her like that before. It hadn't struck her
before that, changed to himself, he would change to her. He hadn't got
over last night. She had hurt him; her knowledge of his cowardice hurt
him; and this was how he showed his pain.
She thought: Here's Antwerp falling and Belgium beaten. And all those
wounded. And the dead.... And here am I, bothering about these little
things, as if they mattered. Three little things.
* * * * *
The fire from the battlefield had raked the village street as they came
in; but it had ceased now. The cure had been through it all, going up and
down, helping with the stretchers. John was down there in the wine-shop,
where the soldiers were, looking for more wounded.
They had found five in the stable yard, waiting to be taken away; they
had moved four of them into the ambulance. The fifth, shot through the
back of his head, still lay on the ground on a stretcher that dripped
blood. Charlotte stood beside him.
The cure came to her there. He was slender and lean in his black cassock.
He had a Red Cross brassard on his sleeve, and in one hand he carried his
missal and in the other the Host and the holy oils in a little bag of
purple silk. He looked down at the stretcher and he looked at Charlotte,
"Where is Monsieur?" he said.
"In the wine-shop, looking for wounded."
She thought: He isn't looking, for them. He's skulking there, out of the
firing. He'll always be like that.
It had begun again. The bullets whistled in the air and rapped on the
stone causeway, and ceased. The cure glanced down the street towards the
place they had come from and smiled again.
She liked his lean dark face and the long lines that came in it when it
smiled. It despised the firing, it despised death, it despised everything
that could be done to him there. And it was utterly compassionate.
"Then," he said, "it is for you and me to carry him, Mademoiselle." He
stooped to the stretcher.
Between them they lifted him very slowly and gently into the ambulance.
"There, Monsieur, at the bottom."
At the bottom because of the steady drip, drip, that no bandaging could
staunch. He lay straight and stiff, utterly unconcerned, and his feet in
their enormous boots, slightly parted, stuck out beyond the stretcher.
The four others sat in a row down one side of the car and stared at him.
The cure climbed in after him, carrying the Host. He knelt there,
where the blood from the smashed head oozed through the bandages and
through the canvas of the stretchers to the floor and to the skirts of
The Last Sacrament. Charlotte waited till it was over, standing stolidly
by the tail of the car. She could have cried then because of the sheer
beauty of the cure's act, even while she wondered whether perhaps the
wafer on his tongue might not choke the dying man.
The cure hovered on the edge of the car, stooping with a certain
awkwardness; she took from him his missal and his purple bag as he
gathered his cassock about him and came down.
"Can I do anything, Monsieur?"
"No, Mademoiselle. It _is_ done."
His eyes smiled at her; but his lips were quivering as he took again
his missal and his purple bag. She watched him going on slowly down the
street till he turned into the wine-shop. She wondered: Had he seen?
Did he know why John was there? In another minute John came out,
hurrying to the car.
He glanced down at the blood stains by the back step; then he looked in;
and when he saw the man lying on the stretcher he turned on her in fury.
"What are you thinking of? I told you you weren't to take him."
"I had to. I couldn't leave him there. I thought--"
"You've no business to think."
"Well, but the cure--"
"The cure doesn't know anything about it."
"I don't care. If he's in a clean bed--if they take his boots off--"
"I told you they can't spare clean beds for corpses. He'll be dead before
you can get him there."
"Not if we're quick."
"Nonsense. We must get him out of that."
He seized the handle of the stretcher and began pulling; she hung on to
his arm and stopped that.
"No. No," she said. "You shan't touch him."
He flung her arm off and turned. "You fool," he said. "You fool."
She looked at him steadily, a long look that remembered, that made
"There isn't time," she said. "They'll begin _firing_ in another minute."
"Damn you." But he had turned, slinking round the corner of the hood to
the engine. While he cranked it up she thought of the kit that one of the
men had left there in the yard. She made a dash and fetched it, and as
she threw it on the floor the car started. She snatched at the rope and
swung herself up on to the step. The dying man lay behind her, straight
and stiff; his feet in their heavy boots stuck out close under her hand.
The four men nodded and grinned at her. They protected her. They
If only she could get him into a clean bed. If only she had had time
to take his boots off. It would be all right if only she could bring
him in alive.
He was still alive when they got into Ghent.
She had forgotten John and it was not until they came to take out the
stretcher that she was again aware of him. They had drawn up before the
steps of the hospital; he had got down and was leaning sideways, staring
under the stretcher.
"What is it?"
"You can see what it is. Blood."
From the hole in the man's head, through the soaked bandages, it still
dripped, dripped with a light sound; it had made a glairy pool on the
floor of the ambulance.
"Don't look at it," she said. "It'll make you sick. You know you can't
"Oh. I can't _stand_ it, can't I?"
He straightened himself. He threw back his head; his upper lip lifted,
stretched tight and thin above the clean white teeth. His eyes looked
down at her, narrowed, bright slits under dropped lids.
"John--I want to get him in before he dies."
"All right. Get in under there. Take his head."
"Hadn't I better take his feet?"
"You'd better take what you're told to."
She stiffened to the weight, heaved up her shoulder. Two men came running
down the steps to help her as John pulled.
"They'll be glad," he said, "to see him."
* * * * *
She was in the yard of the hospital, swabbing out the car, when John
came to her.
The back and side of the hospital, the long barracks of the annex and the
wall at the bottom enclosed a waste place of ochreish clay. A long wooden
shed, straw-white and new, was built out under the red brick of the
annex. She thought it was a garage. John came out of the door of the
shed. He beckoned to her as he came.
"Come here," he said. "I want to show you something."
They went close together, John gripping her arm, in the old way, to steer
her. As they came to the long wall of the shed his eyes slewed round and
looked at her out of their corners. She had seen that sidelong, attentive
look once before, when she was a little girl, in the eyes of a schoolboy
who had taken her away and told her something horrid. The door of the
shed stood ajar. John half led, half pushed her in.
"Look there--" he said.
The dead men were laid out in a row, on their backs; greyish-white,
sallow-white faces upturned; bodies straight and stiff on a thin litter
of straw. Pale grey light hovered, filtered through dust.
It came from some clearer place of glass beyond that might have been a
carpenter's shop, partitioned off. She couldn't see what was going on
there. She didn't see anything but the dead bodies, the dead faces, and
John's living face.
He leaned against the wall; his head was thrown back, his eyes moved
glistening under the calm lids; the corners of his mouth and the wings of
his nostrils were lifted as he laughed: a soft, thin laugh breathed out
between the edges of his teeth. He pointed.
"There's your man. Shows how much they wanted him, doesn't it?"
He lay there, the last comer, in his uniform and bloody bandages, his
stiff, peaked mouth open, his legs stretched apart as they had sprung in
his last agony.
She cried out in her fright and put her hands over her eyes. She had
always been afraid of the dead bodies. She didn't want to know where they
put them, and nobody told her.
John gripped her wrists so that he hurt her and dragged down her hands.
He looked into her eyes, still laughing.
"I thought you weren't afraid of anything," he said.
"I'm not afraid when we're out there. I'm only afraid of _seeing_ them.
You know I am."
She turned, but he had put himself between her and the door. She wrenched
at the latch, sobbing.
"How could you be so _cruel?_ What did you do it for? What did you
_do_ it for?"
"I wanted you to see what they've done with him. There's his clean bed.
They haven't even taken his boots off."
"You brute. You _utter_ brute!"
A steely sound like a dropped hammer came from behind the glass
partition; then the sliding of a latch. John opened the door a little way
and she slipped out past him.
"_Next time_," he said, "perhaps you'll do as you're told."
She wanted to get away by herself. Not into her own room, where Gwinnie,
who had been unloading ambulance trains half the night, now rested. The
McClane Corps was crowding into the messroom for tea. She passed through
without looking at any of them and out to the balcony, closing the French
window behind her. She could hide there beyond the window where the wall
She leaned back, flattening herself against the wall....
Something would have to be done. They couldn't go on like this.... Her
mind went to and fro, quickly, with short jerky movements, distressed; it
had to do so much thinking in so short a time.
She would always have to reckon with John's fear. And John's fear was not
what she had thought it, a sad, helpless, fatal thing, sad because it
knew itself doom-like and helpless. It was cruel, with a sort of mental
violence in it, worse than the cruel animal fear of the men in the
plantation. She could see that his cowardice had something to do with his
cruelty and that his cruelty was somehow linked up with his cowardice;
but she couldn't for the life of her imagine the secret of the bond. She
only felt that it would be something secret and horrible; something that
she would rather not know about.
And she knew that since yesterday he had left off caring for her. His
love had died a sudden, cruel and violent death. His cowardice had done
that too.... And he had left off caring for the wounded. It was almost as
if he hated them, because they lay so still, keeping him back, keeping
him out under the fire.
Queer, but all those other cowardly things that he had done had seemed to
her unreal even when she had seen him doing them; and afterwards when she
thought about them they were unreal, as if they hadn't happened, as if
she had just imagined them. Incredible, and yet the sort of thing you
_could_ imagine if you tried. But that last devilish thing he did, it had
a hard, absolute reality. Just because it was inconceivable, because you
couldn't have imagined it, you couldn't doubt that it had happened.
It was happening now. As long as she lived it would go on happening in
her mind. She would never get away from it.
There were things that men did, bestial things, cruel things, things they
did to women. But not things like this. They _didn't_ think of them,
because this thing wasn't thinkable.
Why had John done it? Why? She supposed he wanted to hurt her and
frighten her because he had been hurt, because he had been frightened.
And because he knew she loved her wounded men. Perhaps he wanted to make
her hate him and have done with it.
Well, she did hate him. Oh, yes, she hated him.
She heard the window open and shut and a woman's footsteps swishing on
the stone floor. Trixie Rankin came to her, with her quick look that fell
on you like a bird swooping. She stood facing her, upright and stiff in
her sharp beauty; her lips were pressed together as though they had just
closed on some biting utterance; but her eyes were soft and intent.
"What's he done this time?" she said.
"He hasn't done anything."
"Oh yes, he has. He's done something perfectly beastly."
It was no use lying to Trixie. She knew what he was like, even if she
didn't know about yesterday, even if she didn't know what he had done
now. Nobody could know that. She looked straight at Trixie, with broad,
open eyes that defied her to know.
"What makes you think so?"
"Damn my face. It's got nothing to do with you, Trixie."
"Yes it has. If it gives the show away I can't help seeing, can I?"
"You can help talking."
"Yes, I can help talking."
The arrogance had gone out of her face. It could change in a minute from
the face of a bird of prey to the face of a watching angel. It looked at
her as it looked at wounded men: tender and protective. But Trixie
couldn't see that you didn't want any tenderness and protection just
then, or any recognition of your wound.
"You rum little blighter," she said. "Come along. Nobody's going to
There was a stir as Charlotte went in; people shifting their places to
make room for her; McClane calling out to her to come and sit by him;
Alice Bartrum making sweet eyes; the men getting up and cutting bread and
butter and reaching for her cup to give it her. She could see they were
all determined to be nice, to show her what they thought of her; they had
sent Trixie to bring her in. There was something a little deliberate
about it and exaggerated. They were getting it up--a demonstration in her
favour, a demonstration against John Conway.
She talked; but her thoughts ran by themselves on a line separate from
"We got in six wounded." ... "That cure was there again. He was
splendid." ... They didn't know anything. They condemned him on the
evidence of her face, the face she had brought back to them, coming
straight from John. Her face had the mark of what he had done to
her.... "Much firing? Not so very much." ... She remembered what he had
said to her about her face. "Something's happened to it. Some cruelty.
Some damnable cruelty...."
"We'll have to go out there again."
They were all listening, and Alice Bartrum had made fresh tea for her;
McClane was setting down her cup. She was thirsty; she longed for the
fresh, fragrant tea; she was soothed by the kind, listening faces.
Suddenly they drew away; they weren't listening any more. John had come
into the room.
It flashed on her that all these people thought that John was her lover,
her lover in the way they understood love. They were looking at him as if
they hated him. But John's face was quiet and composed and somehow
triumphant; it held itself up against all the hostile faces; it fronted
McClane and his men as their equal; it was the face of a man who has
satisfied a lust. His whole body had a look of assurance and
accomplishment, as if his cruelty had given him power.
And with it all he kept his dreadful beauty. It hurt her to look at him.
She rose, leaving her tea untasted, and went out of the room. She
couldn't sit there with him. She had given him up. Her horror of him was
pure, absolute. It would never return on itself to know pity or remorse.
And the next day, as if nothing had happened, he was excited and eager to
set out. He could sleep off his funk in the night, like drink, and get up
in the morning as if it had never been. He was more immune from memory
than any drunkard. He woke to his romance as a child wakes to the renewed
wonder of the world. It was so real to him that, however hardly you
judged him, you couldn't think of him as a humbug or a hypocrite.... No.
He was not that. He was not that. His mind truly lived in a glorious
state for which none of his disgraceful deeds were ever done. It created
a sort of innocence for him. She could forgive him (even after
yesterday), she could almost believe in him again when she saw him coming
down the hall to the ambulance with his head raised and his eyes shining,
gallant and keen.
They were to go to Berlaere. Trixie Rankin had gone on before them with
Gurney, McClane's best chauffeur. McClane and Sutton were at Melle.
They had not been to Berlaere since that day, the first time they had
gone out together. That time at least had been perfect; it remained
secure; nothing could ever spoil it; she could remember the delight of
it, their strange communion of ecstasy, without doubt, without misgiving.
You could never forget. It might have been better if you could, instead
of knowing that it would exist in you forever, to torment you by its
unlikeness to the days, the awful, incredible days that had come
afterwards. There was no way of thinking that John had been more real
that day than he had been yesterday. She was simply left with the
inscrutable mystery of him on her hands. But she could see clearly that
he was more real to himself. Yesterday and the day before had ceased to
exist for him. He was back in his old self.
There was only one sign of memory that he gave. He was no longer her
lover; he no longer recognised her even as his comrade. He was her
commandant. It was his place to command, and hers to be commanded. He
looked at her, when he looked at her at all, with a stern coldness. She
was a woman who had committed some grave fault, whom he no longer
trusted. So masterly was his playing of this part, so great, in a way,
was still his power over her, that there were moments when she almost
believed in the illusion he created. She had committed some grave fault.
She was not worthy of his trust. Somewhere, at some time forgotten, in
some obscure and secret way, she had betrayed him.
She had so mixed her hidden self with his in love that even now, with all
her knowledge of him, she couldn't help feeling the thing as he felt it
and seeing as he saw. Her mind kept on passing in and out of the illusion
with little shocks of astonishment.
And yet all the time she was acutely aware of the difference. When she
went out with him she felt that she was going with something dangerous
and uncertain. She knew what fear was now. She was afraid all the time of
what he would do next, of what he would not do. Her wounded were not safe
with him. Nothing was safe.
She wished that she could have gone out with Billy; with Billy there
wouldn't be any excitement, but neither would there be this abominable
fear. On the other hand you couldn't let anybody else take the risk of
John; and you couldn't, you simply couldn't let him go alone. Conceive
him going alone--the things that might happen; she could at least see
that some things didn't.
It was odd, but John had never shown the smallest desire to go without
her. If he hadn't liked it he could easily have taken Sutton or Gwinnie
or one of the McClane men. It was as if, in spite of his hostility, he
still felt, as he had said, that where she was everything would be right.
And it looked as if this time nothing could go wrong. When they came into
the village the firing had stopped; it was concentrating further east
towards Zele. Trixie's ambulance was packed, and Trixie was excited and
Her gestures waved them back as useless, much too late; without them she
had got in all the wounded. But in the end they took over two of them,
slight cases that Trixie resigned without a pang. She had had to turn
them out to make room for poor Gurney, the chauffeur, who had hurt
himself, ruptured something, slipping on a muddy bank with his stretcher.
Mr. Conway, she said, could drive her back to Ghent and Charlotte could
follow with the two men. She had settled it all, in her bright,
domineering way, in a second, and now swung herself up on the back step
of her car.
They had got round the turn of the village and Charlotte was starting to
follow them when she heard them draw up. In another minute John appeared,
walking back slowly down the street with a young Belgian lieutenant. They
were talking earnestly together. So soon as Charlotte saw the lieutenant
she had a sense of something happening, something fatal, that would
change Trixie's safe, easy programme. John as he came on looked perturbed
and thoughtful. They stopped. The lieutenant was saying something final.
John nodded assent and saluted. The lieutenant sketched a salute and
hurried away in the opposite direction.
John waited till he was well out of sight before he came to her. (She
noticed that.) He had the look at first of being up to something, as if
the devil of yesterday was with him still.
It passed. His voice had no devil in it. "I say, I've got a job for you,
Charlotte. Something you'll like."
There was no devil in his voice, but he stared away from her as he spoke.
"I don't want you to go to Ghent. I want you to go on to Zele."
"Zele? Do I know the way?"
"It's quite easy. You turn round and go the way we went that first
day--you remember? It's the shortest cut from here."
"Pretty bad going though. Hadn't we better go on and strike the
"Yes, if you want to go miles round and get held up by the transport."
"All right--if we can get through."
"You'll get through all right." His voice had the tone of finality.
"I'm to go by myself then?"
"Well--if I've got to drive Mrs. Rankin--"
She thought: It's going to be dangerous.
"By the way, I haven't told her I'm sending you. You don't want her
butting in and going with you."
"No. I certainly don't want Trixie.... And look here, I don't
particularly want those men. Much better leave them here where they're
safe and send in again for them."
"I don't know that I _can_ send in again. We're supposed to have finished
this job. The cars may be wanted for anything. _They'll_ be all right."
"I don't _like_ taking them."
"You're making difficulties," he said. He was irritable and hurried; he
had kept on turning and looking up the street as though he thought the
lieutenant might appear again at any minute.
"When _will_ you learn that you've simply got to obey orders?"
She hadn't a chance with him. Whatever she said and did he could always
bring it round to that, her orders. She thought she knew what _his_
orders had been.
He cranked up the engine. She could see him stooping and rising to it, a
rhythmic, elastic movement; he was cranking energetically, with a sort of
furious, flushed enjoyment of his power.
She backed and turned and he ran forward with her as she started. He
shouted "Don't think about the main road. Get through.... And hurry _up_.
You haven't got too much time."
She knew. It was going to be dangerous and he funked it. He hadn't got to
drive Trixie into Ghent. When the worst came to the worst Trixie could
drive herself. She thought: He didn't tell her because he daren't. He
knew she wouldn't let him send me by myself. She'd _make_ him go. She'd
stand over him and bully him till he had to.
Still, she could do it. She could get through. Going by herself was
better than going with a man who funked it. Only she would have liked it
better without the two wounded men. She thought of them, jostled, falling
against each other, falling forward and recovering, shaken by the jolting
of the car, and perhaps brought back into danger. She suspected that not
having too much time might be the essence of the risk.
Everything was quiet as they ran along the open road from the village to
the hamlet that sat low and humble on the edge of the fields. A few
houses and the long wall of the barn still stood; but by this time the
house she had brought the guns from had the whole of its roof knocked in,
and the stripped gable at the end of the row no longer pricked up its
point against the sky; the front of the hollow shell had fallen forward
and flung itself across the road.
For a moment she thought the way was blocked. She thought: If I can't get
round I must get over. She backed, charged, and the car, rocking a
little, struggled through. And there, where the road swerved slightly,
the high wall of a barn, undermined, bulged forward, toppling. It
answered the vibration of the car with a visible tremor. So soon as she
passed it fell with a great crash and rumbling and sprawled in a smoky
heap that blocked her way behind her.
After that they went through quiet country for a time, but further east,
near the town, the shelling began. The road here was opened up into great
holes with ragged, hollow edges; she had to skirt them carefully, and
sometimes there would not be enough clear ground to move in, and one
wheel of the car would go unsupported, hanging over space.
Yet she had got through.
As she came into Zele she met the last straggling line of the refugees.
They cried out to her not to go on. She thought: I must get those men
before the retreat begins.
* * * * *
Returning with her heavy load of wounded, on the pitch-black road,
half way to Ghent she was halted. She had come up with the tail end of
* * * * *
Trixie Rankin stood on the hospital steps looking out. The car turned in
and swung up the rubber incline, but instead of stopping before the porch
it ran on towards the downward slope. Charlotte jammed on the brakes with
a hard jerk and backed to the level.
She couldn't think how she had let the car do that. She couldn't think
why she was slipping from the edge of it into Trixie's arms. And
stumbling in that ignominious way on the steps with Trixie holding her up
on one side.... It didn't last. After she had drunk the hot black coffee
that Alice Bartrum gave her she was all right.
The men had gone out of the messroom, leaving them alone.
"I'm all right, Trixie, only a bit tired."
"Tired? I should think you _were_ tired. That Conway man's a perfect
devil. Fancy scooting back himself on a safe trip and sending you out to
"McClane doesn't care much where he sends _you_."
"Oh, Mac--As if he could stop us. But he'd draw the line at Zele, with
the Germans coming into it."
"Rot. They weren't coming in for hours and hours."
"Well, anyhow he thought they were."
"He didn't think anything about it. I wanted to go and I went. He--he
couldn't stop me."
"It's no good lying to me, Charlotte. I know too much. I know he had
orders to go to Zele himself and the damned coward funked it. I've a good
mind to report him to Head Quarters."
"No. You won't do that. You wouldn't be such a putrid beast."
"If I don't, Charlotte, it's because I like you. You're the pluckiest
little blighter in the world. But I'll tell you what I _shall_ do. Next
time your Mr. Conway's ordered on a job he doesn't fancy I'll go with him
and hold his nose down to it by the scruff of his neck. If he was _my_
man I'd bloody well tell him what I thought of him."
"It doesn't matter what you think of him. You were pretty well gone on
him yourself once."
"When you wanted to turn Mac out and make him commandant."
"Oh, _then_--I was a jolly fool to be taken in by him. So were you."
She stopped on her way to the door. "I admit he _looks_ everything he
isn't. But that only shows what a beastly humbug the man is."
"No. He isn't a humbug. He really likes going out even if he can't stand
it when he gets there."
"I've no use for that sort of courage."
"It isn't courage. But it isn't humbug."
"I've no use for your fine distinctions either."
She heard Alice Bartrum's voice calling to Trixie as she went out, "It's
jolly decent of her not to go back on him."
The voice went on. "You needn't mind what Trixie says about cold
feet. She's said it about everybody. About Sutton and Mac, and all
our men, and me."
She thought: What's the good of lying when they all know? Still, there
were things they wouldn't know if she kept on lying, things they would
"Trixie doesn't know anything about him," she said. "No more do you. You
don't know what he _was_."
"Whatever he _is_, whatever he's done, Charlotte, you mustn't let it hurt
you. It hasn't anything to do with you. We all know what _you_ are."
"Me? I'm not bothering about myself. I tell you it's not what _you_ think
about him, it's what _I_ think."
"Yes," said Alice Bartrum. Then Gwinnie Denning and John Conway came in
and she left them.
John carried himself very straight, and again Charlotte saw about him
that odd look of accomplishment and satisfaction.
"So you got through?" he said.
"Yes. I got through." They kept their eyes from each other as they spoke.
Gwinnie struck in, "Are you all right?"
"Yes, rather.... The little Belgian Army doctor was there. He was
adorable, sticking on, working away with his wounded, in a sort of
heavenly peace, with the Germans just outside."
"How many did you get?"
"Oh good.... I've the rottenest luck. I'd have given my head to have gone
"I'm glad you didn't. It wasn't what you'd call a lady's tea-party."
"Who wants a lady's tea-party? I ought to have gone in with the Mac
Corps. Then I'd have had a chance."
"Not this time. Mac draws the line somewhere.... Look here, Gwinnie, I
wish you'd clear out a minute and let me talk to John."
Gwinnie went, grumbling.
For a moment silence came down between them. John was drinking coffee
with an air of being alone in the room, pretending that he hadn't heard
and didn't see her.
"John--I didn't mind driving that car. I knew I could do it and I did it.
I won't say I didn't mind the shelling, because I did. Still, shelling's
all in the day's work. And I didn't mind your sending me, because I'd
rather have gone myself than let you go. I don't want you to be killed.
Somehow that's still the one thing I couldn't bear. But if you'd sent
Gwinnie I'd have killed you."
"I didn't send Gwinnie. I gave you your chance. I knew you wanted to cut
Mrs. Rankin out."
"I? I never thought of such a rotten thing."
"Well, you talked about danger as if you liked it."
"So did you."
"Oh--_go_ to hell."
"I've just come from there."
"Oh--so you were frightened, were you?"
"Yes, I was horribly frightened. I had thirteen wounded men with me. What
do you suppose it feels like, driving a heavy ambulance car by yourself?
You can't sit in front and steer and look after thirteen wounded men at
the same time. I had to keep hopping in and out. That isn't nice when
there's shells about. I shall never forgive you for not coming to give a
hand with those men. There's funk you can forgive and--"
She thought: "It's John--John--I'm saying these disgusting things to.
I'm as bad as Trixie, telling him what I bloody well think of him, going
back on him."
"And there's funk--"
"You'd better take care, Charlotte. Do you know I could get you fired out
of Belgium to-morrow?"
"Not after to-night, I think." (It was horrible.)
He got up and opened the door. "Anyhow, you'll clear out of this room
now, damn you."
"I wish you'd heard that Army doctor damning _you_."
"Why didn't he go back with you himself, then?"
"_He_ couldn't leave his wounded."
He slammed the door hard behind her.
That was just like him. Wounded men everywhere, trying to sleep, and he
slammed doors. He didn't care.
She would have to go on lying. She had made up her mind to that. So long
as it would keep the others from knowing, so long as John's awfulness
went beyond their knowledge, so long as it would do any good to John, she
Her time had come. She remembered saying that. She could hear herself
talking to John at Barrow Hill Farm: "Everybody's got their breaking
point.... I daresay when my time comes I shall funk and lie."
Well, didn't she? Funk--the everlasting funk of wondering what John would
do next; and lying, lying at every turn to save him. _He_ was her
She had lied, the first time they went out, about the firing. She
wondered whether she had done it because then, even then, she had been
afraid of his fear. Hadn't she always somehow, in secret, been afraid?
She could see the car coming round the corner by the Church in the narrow
street at Stow, she could feel it grazing her thigh, and John letting her
go, jumping safe to the curb. She had pretended that it hadn't happened.
But that first day--No. He had been brave then. She had only lied because
she was afraid he would worry about her.... Brave then. Could war tire
you and wear you down, and change you from yourself? In two weeks? Change
him so that she had to hate him!
Half the night she lay awake wondering: Do I hate him because he doesn't
care about me? Or because he doesn't care about the wounded? She could
see all their faces: the face of the wounded man at Melle (_he_ had
crawled out on his hands and knees to look for her); the face of the dead
boy who hadn't died when John left him; the Flamand they brought from
Lokeren, lying in the road; the face of the dead man in the shed--And
How could you care for a thing like that? How could you want a thing like
that to care for you?
And she? She didn't matter. Nothing mattered in all the world but Them.
It was Saturday, the tenth of October, the day after the fall of Antwerp.
The Germans were pressing closer round Ghent; they might march in any
day. She had been in Belgium a hundred years; she had lived a hundred
years under this doom.
But at last she was free of John. Utterly free. His mind would have no
power over her any more. Nor yet his body. She was glad that he had not
been her lover. Supposing her body had been bound to him so that it
couldn't get away? The struggle had been hard enough when her first flash
came to her; and when she had fought against her knowledge and denied it,
unable to face the truth that did violence to her passion; and when she
had given him up and was left with just that, the beauty of his body, and
it had hurt her to look at him.
Oh well, nothing could hurt her now. And anyhow she would get through
to-day without being afraid of what might happen. John couldn't do
anything awful; he had been ordered on an absolutely safe expedition,
taking medical stores to the convent hospital at Bruges and convoying
Gurney, the sick chauffeur, to Ostend for England. Charlotte was to go
out with Sutton, and Gwinnie was to take poor Gurney's place. She was
glad she was going with Billy. Whatever happened Billy would go through
it without caring, his mind fixed on the solid work.
And John, for an hour before he started, had been going about in gloom,
talking of death. _His_ death.
They were looking over the last letter from his father which he had asked
her to answer for him. It seemed that John had told him the chances were
he would be killed and had asked him whether in this case he would allow
the Roden ambulances to be handed over to McClane. And the old man had
given his consent.
"Isn't it a pity to frighten him?" she said.
"He's no business to be frightened. It's _my_ death. If I can face it, he
can. I'm simply making necessary arrangements."
She could see that. At the same time it struck her that he wanted you to
see that he exposed himself to all the risks of death, to see how he
faced it. She had no patience with that talk about death; that pitiful
bolstering up of his romance.
"If McClane says much more you can tell him."
He was counting on this transfer of the ambulances to get credit with
McClane; to silence him.
There were other letters which he had told her to answer. As soon as he
had started she went into his room to look for them. If they were not on
the chimneypiece they would be in the drawer with his razors and
It was John's room, after she had gone through it, that showed her what
he was doing.
Sutton looked in before she had finished. She called to him, "Billy, you
might come here a minute."
He came in, eyebrows lifted at the inquisition.
"I'm afraid John isn't coming back."
"Not coming back? Of course he's coming back."
"No. I think he's--got off."
"You mean he's--"
"What on earth makes you think that?"
"He's taken all sorts of things--pyjamas, razors, all his
pockethandkerchiefs... I _had_ to look through his drawers to find those
letters he told me to answer."
Sutton had gone through into the slip of white tiled lavatory beyond. She
"My God," he said, "yes. He's taken his toothbrush and his sleeping
draught.... You know he tried to get leave yesterday and they wouldn't
give it him?"
"No. That makes it simply awful."
"Billy--we must get him back."
"I--I don't know about that. He isn't much good, is he? I think we'd
better let him go."
"Don't you see how awful it'll be for the Corps?"
"The Corps? Does that matter? McClane would take us all on to-morrow."
"I mean for _us_. You and me and Gwinnie. He's our Corps, and we're it."
"Sharlie--with the Germans coming into Ghent do you honestly believe
anybody'll remember what he did or didn't do?"
"Yes. We're going to stick on with the Belgian Army. It'll be remembered
against _us_. Besides, it'll kill his father."
"He'll do that any way. He's rotten through and through."
"No. He was splendid in the beginning. He might be splendid some day
again. But if we let him go off and do this he's done for."
"He's done for anyhow. Isn't it better to recognize that he's rotten?
McClane wouldn't have him. He saw what he was."
"He didn't see him at Berlaere. He _was_ splendid there."
"My dear child, don't you know why? He didn't see there was any danger.
He was too stupid to see it."
"I saw it."
"You're not stupid."
"He did see it at the end."
"At the end, yes--When he let you go back for the guns."
She remembered. She remembered his face, the little beads of sweat
glittering. He couldn't help that.
"Look here, from the time he realised the danger, did he go out or did he
stay under cover?"
She didn't answer.
"There," he said, "you see."
"Oh, Billy, won't you leave him one shred?"
"No. Not one shred."
Yet, even now, if he could only be splendid--If he could only be it! Why
shouldn't Billy leave him one shred? After all, he didn't know all the
awful things John had done; and she would never tell him.... He did know
two things, the two things she didn't know. She had got to know them. The
desire that urged her to the completion of her knowledge pursued her now.
She would possess him in her mind if in no other way.
"Billy--do you remember that day at Melle, when John lost me? Did you
tell him I was going back with you?"
"No. I didn't."
Then he _had_ left her. And he had lied to both of them.
"Was the boy dead or alive when he left him?"
"He was alive all right. We could have saved him."
He had died--he had died of fright, then.
"You _said_ he was dead."
"I know I did. I lied."
"... And before that--when he was with you and Trixie on that
"Yes. Then, too ... You see there aren't any shreds. The only thing you
can say is he can't help it. Nobody'd have been hard on him if he hadn't
gassed so much about danger."
"That's the part you can't understand.... But, Billy, why did you lie
"Because I didn't want you to know, then. I knew it would hurt you, I
knew it would hurt you more than anything else."
"That was rather wonderful of you."
"Wasn't wonderful at all. I knew because what _you_ think, what _you_
feel, matters more to me than anything else. Except perhaps my job. I
have to keep that separate."
Her mind slid over that, not caring, returning to the object of
"Look here, Billy, you may be right. It probably doesn't matter to us.
But it'll be perfectly awful for him."
"They can't do anything to him, Sharlie."
"It's what he'll do to himself."
"Suicide? Not he."
"I don't mean that. Can't you see that when he gets away to England,
safe, and the funk settles down he'll start romancing all over again.
He'll see the whole war again like that; and then he'll remember what
he's done. He'll have to live all his life remembering...."
"He won't. _You'll_ remember--_You'll_ suffer. You're feeling the shame
he ought to feel and doesn't."
"Well, somebody's got to feel it.... And he'll feel it too. He won't be
let off. As long as he lives he'll remember.... I don't want him to have
"He's brought it on himself, Sharlie."
"I don't care. I don't want him to have it. I couldn't bear it if he
"Of course, if you're going to be unhappy about it--"
"The only thing is, can we go after him? Can we spare a car?"
"Well yes, I can manage that all right. The fact is, the Germans may
really be in to-morrow or Monday, and we're thinking of evacuating all
the British wounded to-day. There are some men here that we ought to take
to Ostend. I've been talking to the President about it."
And in the end they went with their wounded, less than an hour after John
"I don't say I'll bring him back," said Sutton. "But at any rate we can
find out what he's up to." He meditated.... "We mayn't have to bring him.
I shouldn't wonder if he came back on his own. He's like that. He can't
stand danger yet he keeps on coming back to it. Can't leave it alone."
"I know. He isn't quite an ordinary coward."
"I'm not sure. I've known chaps like that. Can't keep away from
But she stuck to it. John's cowardice was not like other people's
cowardice. Other cowards going into danger had the imagination of horror.
He had nothing but the imagination of romantic delight. It was the
reality that became too much for him. He was either too stupid, or too
securely wrapped up in his dream to reckon with reality. It surprised him
every time. And he had no imaginative fear of fear. His fear must have
"He'll have got away from Bruges," she said.
"I don't think so. He'll have to put up at the Convent for a bit, to let
They had missed the Convent and were running down a narrow street towards
the Market Place when they found John. He came on across a white bridge
over a canal at the bottom. He was escorted by some Belgian women,
dressed in black; they were talking and pointing up the street.
He said he had been to lunch in the town and had lost himself there and
they were showing him the way back to the Convent.
She had seen all that before somewhere, John coming over the Canal bridge
with the women in black.... She remembered. That was in one of her three
dreams. Only what she saw now was incomplete. There had been something
more in the dream. Something had happened.
It happened half an hour later when she went out to find John in the
Convent garden where he was walking with the nuns. The garden shimmered
in a silver mist from the canal, the broad grass plots, the clipped
hedges, the cones and spikes of yew, the tall, feathery chrysanthemums,
the trailing bowers and arches, were netted and laced and webbed with the
silver mist. Down at the bottom of the path the forms of John and the
three women showed blurred and insubstantial and still.
Presently they emerged, solid and clear; the nuns in their black habits
and the raking white caps like wings that set them sailing along. They
were showing John their garden, taking a shy, gentle, absorbed
possession of him.
And as she came towards him John passed her without speaking. But his
face had turned to her with the look she had seen before. Eyes of hatred,
eyes that repudiated and betrayed her.
The nuns had stopped, courteously, to greet her; she fell behind with one
of them; the two others had overtaken John who had walked on, keeping up
his stiff, repudiating air.
The air, the turn of the head, the look that she had dreamed. Only in the
dream it had hurt her, and now she was hard and had no pain.
* * * * *
It was in the Convent garden that they played it out, in one final,
The nuns had brought two chairs out on to the flagged terrace and set a
small table there covered with a white cloth. Thus invited, John had no
choice but to take his place beside her. Still he retained his mood.
(The nuns had left them. Sutton was in one of the wards, helping with an
"I thought," he said, "that I was going to have peace...."
It seemed to her that they had peace. They had been so much at the mercy
of chance moments that this secure hour given to them in the closed
garden seemed, in its quietness, immense.
"... But first it's Sutton, then it's you."
"We needn't say anything unless you like. There isn't much to be said."
"Oh, isn't there!"
"Not," she said, "if you're coming back."
"Of course I'm coming back.... Look here, Charlotte. You didn't suppose I
was really going to bolt, did you?"
"Were you going to change into your pyjamas at Ostend?"
"My pyjamas? I brought them for Gurney."
"And your sleeping draught was for Gurney?"
"Of course it was."
"And your razors and your toothbrush, too. Oh, John, what's the good of
lying? You forgot that I helped Alice Bartrum to pack Gurney's things.
You forget that Billy knows."
"Do I? I shan't forget your going back on me; your betraying me," he
And for the first time she realised how alone he was; how horribly alone.
He had nobody but her.
"Who have I betrayed you to?"
"To Sutton. To McClane. To everybody you talked to."
"Yes. And you betrayed me in your thoughts. That's worse. People don't
always mean what they say. It's what they think."
"What was I to think?"
"Why, that all the damnable things you said about me weren't true."
"I didn't say anything."
"You've betrayed me by the things you didn't say."
"Why should I have betrayed you?"
"You know why. When a woman betrays a man it's always for one reason."
He threw his head back to strike at her with his eyes, hard and keen,
dark blue like the blade of a new knife ... "Because he hasn't given her
what she wants."
"Oh, what I want--I thought we'd settled that long ago."
"You've never settled it. It isn't in you to settle it."
"I can't talk to you about that. You're too horrible. But I didn't
"You listened to people who betrayed me. If you cared for me in any
decent way you'd have stood by me."
"I _have_ stood by you through thick and thin. I've lied your lies. There
isn't one of your lies I haven't backed. I've done everything I could
think of to keep people from knowing about you."
"Yet you go and tell Sutton that I've bolted. That I'm a deserter."
"Yes, when it was all over. If you'd got away everybody'd have known. As
it is, only Billy and I know; and he's safe."
"You insist that I was trying to get away? I own I thought of it. But one
doesn't do everything one thinks of.... No.... Don't imagine I was sick
of the war, or sick of Belgium. It's you I'm sick of."
"Yes, you. You had your warning. I told you what would happen if you let
me see you wanted me."
"You think you've seen that?"
"I've seen nothing else."
"Once, perhaps. Twice. Once when you came to me on Barrow Hill. And when
we were crossing; once. And each time you never saw it."
"Anybody can see. It's in your face. In your eyes and mouth. You can't
hide your lust."
"My--'lust.' Don't you know I only cared for you because I'd done
They stopped. The nuns were back again, bringing great cups of hot black
coffee, coming quietly, and going quietly away. It was wonderful, all
that beauty and gentleness and peace existing in the horror of the war,
and through this horror within horror that John had made.
They drank their coffee, slowly, greedily, prolonging this distraction
from their torment. Charlotte finished first.
"You say I want you. I own I did once. But I don't now. Why, I care
more for the scrubbiest little Belgian with a smashed finger than I
do for you."
"I suppose you can satisfy your erotic susceptibilities that way."
"I haven't any, I tell you. I only cared for you because I thought you
were clean. I thought your mind was beautiful. And you aren't clean. And
your mind's the ugliest thing I know. And the cruelest.... Let's get it
right, John. I can forgive your funking. If your nerves are jumpy they're
jumpy. I daresay _I_ shall be jumpy if the Germans come into Ghent before
I'm out of it. I can forgive everything you've done to _me_. I can
forgive your lying. I see there's nothing left for you but to lie.... But
I can't forgive your not caring for the wounded. That's cruel.... You
didn't care for that boy at Melle--"
John's mouth opened as if he were going to say something. He
seemed to gasp.
"--No, you didn't or you wouldn't have left him. Whatever your funk was
like, you couldn't have left him if you'd cared, any more than I could
have left _you_."
"He was dead when I left him."
"He was still warm when I found him. Billy thought you were bringing him
away. He says he wasn't dead."
"He lies, then. But you'll take his word against mine."
"Yes," she said simply. "And he says he _didn't_ tell you I was going
on with him. You don't care for _me_. If you'd cared you couldn't
have left me."
"I thought you said if it was a toss up between you and a wounded man--?
There were wounded men in that car."
"There was a wounded man with me. You left _him_.... Don't imagine I
cared about myself, whether I lived or died. It was because I cared about
you. I cared so awfully."
He jerked out a laugh. One light, short sound of dismissal and contempt.
That light sound he made had ended it.
She remembered it afterwards, not as a thing that hurt her, but as an
unpleasant incident of the day, like the rudeness of a stranger, and yet
not to be forgotten. It had the importance of extreme finality; his
answer to everything, unanswerable.
She didn't care. She had ended it herself and with so clean a cut that
she could afford to let him have that inarticulate last word. She had
left him nothing to do but keep up his pretence that there had never been
so much as a beginning. He gave no sign of anything having been between
them, unless his attitude to Sutton was a sign.
It showed the next day, the terrible Sunday that was ending everything.
Yesterday he had given orders that Charlotte should drive Sutton while he
drove by himself. To-day he had changed all that. Gwinnie was to drive
Sutton and Charlotte was to go out alone. And he had offered himself to
McClane. To McClane. That gave her the measure of his resentment. She
could see that he coupled her with Sutton while he yet tried to keep them
apart. He was not going to have more to do with either of them than he
So that she had hardly seen or heard of him that day. And when the solid
work began she found that she could turn him out of her mind as if he had
never been there. The intolerable burden of him slipped from her; all
morning she had a sense of cold clearness and lightness; and she judged
that her deliverance was complete.
* * * * *
She had waited a long time with her car drawn up close under the house
wall in the long street at Melle. McClane's car stood in front of her,
waiting for John. He was up there on the battlefield, with Sutton and
McClane. McClane had kept him off it all day; he had come to her when
they started and told her not to worry. Conway would be all right. He
would see that he didn't get into places where he--well, unsuitable
places. He would keep him driving. But in the end one of the stretcher
bearers had given in, and John had to take his turn.
He had been keen to go. Keen. She could see him swinging along up the
road to the battlefield and McClane with him, running to keep up with his
She had taken her turn too and she knew what it was like up there.
Endless turnip fields; turnips thrown up as if they had been pulled,
livid roots that rotted, and the wounded and the dead men lying out among
them. You went stumbling; the turnips rolled and slipped under your feet.
Her mind looked the other way, frightened. She was tired out, finished;
she could have gone to sleep now, sitting up there on the car. It would
be disgraceful if she went to sleep....
She mustn't think about the battlefield. She couldn't think; she could
only look on at things coming up in her mind. Hoeing turnips at Barrow
Hill Farm. Supposing you found dead men lying out on the fields at
Stow? You would mind that more; it would be more horrible.... She saw
herself coming over the fields carrying a lamb that she had taken from
its dead mother. Then she saw John coming up the field to their seat in
the beech ring. _That_ hurt her; she couldn't bear it; she mustn't
think about that.
John was all right; he wasn't shirking. They had been away so long now
that she knew they must have gone far down the battlefield, deep into it;
the edges and all the nearer places had been gleaned. It would be dark
before they came back.
It was getting dark now, and she was afraid that when the light went she
would go to sleep. If only she wasn't so tired.
She was so drowsy that at first she didn't hear McClane speaking, she
hadn't seen him come to the step of the car.
McClane's voice sounded soft and unnatural and a little mysterious.
"I'm afraid something's--happened."
The muffled drawl irritated her. Why couldn't he speak out?
"Is John hurt?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Is he killed?"
"Well--I don't know that he can live. A German's put a bullet into him."
"Where is he?"
She jumped down off the car.
McClane laid his hand on her arm. "Don't. We shall bring him in--"
"He's dead then?"
"I think so--You'd better not go to him."
"Of course I'm going to him. Where _is_ he?"
He steered her very quickly and carefully across the street, then led her
with his arm in hers, pressing her back to the dark shelter of the
houses. They heard the barking of machine guns from the battlefield at
the top and the rattle of the bullets on the causeway. These sounds
seemed to her to have no significance. As if they had existed only in
some unique relation to John Conway, his death robbed them of vitality.
The door of the house opened a little way; they slipped into the long
narrow room lighted by a few oil lamps at one end. At the other John's
body lay on a stretcher set up on a trestle table, his feet turned
outwards to the door, ready. The corners at this end were so dark that
the body seemed to stretch across the whole width of the room. A soldier
came forward with a lighted candle and gave it to McClane. And she saw
John's face; the bridge of his nose, with its winged nostrils lifted. His
head was tilted upwards at the chin; that gave it a noble look. His mouth
was open, ever so slightly open ... McClane shifted the light so that it
fell on his forehead.... Black eyebrows curling up like little
moustaches.... The half-dropped eyelids guarded the dead eyes.
She thought of how he used to dream. All his dream was in his dead face;
his dead face was cold and beautiful like his dream.
As she looked at him her breast closed down on her heart as though it
would never lift again; her breath shuddered there under her tightened
throat. She could feel McClane's hand pressing heavily on her shoulder.
She had no strength to shake it off; she was even glad of it. She felt
small and weak and afraid; afraid, not of the beautiful thing that lay
there, but of something terrible and secret that it hid, something that
any minute she would have to know about.
"Where was he hit?"
"In the back."
She trembled and McClane's hand pressed closer. "The bullet passed clean
through his heart. He didn't suffer."
"He was getting in Germans?"
"I don't--quite--know--" McClane measured his words out one by one,
"what--he was doing. Sutton was with him. He knows."
"Where _is_ Billy?"
"Over there. Do you want him?"
A soldier brought a chair for her. She sat down with her back to the
trestle table. At the lighted end of the room she saw Sutton stooping
over a young Belgian captain, buttoning his tunic under the sling he had
adjusted. The captain's face showed pure and handsome, like a girl's,
like a young nun's, bound round and chin-wrapped in the white bandages.
He sat on the floor in front of Sutton's table with his legs stretched
out flat. His back was propped against the thigh of a Belgian soldier
seated on an upturned barrel. Her hurt eyes saw them very plain and with
detail in the light of Sutton's lamp.
That part of the room was full of soldiers. She noticed that they kept
clear of the trestle table as they went in and out. Only one of them, the
soldier who supported the young captain, kept on looking, raising his
head and looking there as if he couldn't turn his eyes away. He faced
her. His rifle stood steadied by his knees, the bayonet pointing up
between his eyes.
She found herself thinking. It was Sutton's back that made her think.
John must have been stooping over the German like that. John's wound
was in his back. But if he was stooping it couldn't have come that
way. The bullet would have gone through his chest.... Perhaps he had
turned to pick up his stretcher. Billy was there. He would tell her
how it had happened.
She thought: No. I've had enough. I shall give it up. I won't ask him.
But she knew that she would ask him. Once started, having gone so far,
flash by flash and step by step, she couldn't give it up; she would go
on, even now, till her knowledge was complete. Then she was aware again
of the soldier's eyes.
They were very large and bright and black in his smooth boy's face; he
had a small innocent boy's mouth that seemed to move, restless and
fascinated, like his eyes. Presently she saw that he was looking at her,
that his eyes returned to her again and again, as if he were aware of
some connection between her and the thing that fascinated him, as if _he_
were somehow connected.
He was listening to her now as Sutton spoke to her.
"We must get him away quick."
"Yes. Do let's get him away."
Sutton shook his head. He was thinking of the wounded captain.
"We can't yet. I'll come back for him."
"Then I'll wait with him here."
"Oh no--I think--"
"I can't leave him."
"It isn't safe. The place may be taken."
"I won't leave him." Sutton hesitated. "I won't, Billy."
"McClane, she says she won't leave him."
"Then," McClane said, "we must take him now. We'll have to make
(To make room for him--somehow.)
Sutton and the soldier carried the captain out and came back for John's
body. The Belgian sprang forward with eager, subservient alacrity to put
himself at the head of the stretcher, but Sutton thrust him aside.
The Belgian shrugged his shoulders and picked up his rifle with an air of
exaggerated unconcern. Sutton and McClane carried out the stretcher.
Charlotte was following them when the soldier stopped her.
He had propped his rifle against the trestles and stood there, groping in
his pocket. A dirty handkerchief, dragged up by his fumbling, hung out by
its corner. All along the sharp crease there was a slender smear of
blood. He looked down at it and pushed it back out of her sight.
He had taken something out of his pocket.
"I will give you this. I found it on the battlefield."
He handed her a small leather pocketbook that was John's. It had her
photograph in it and his, taken together.
* * * * *
They were putting him out of sight, under the hood of the ambulance, and
she waited there when the war correspondent came up.
"_Can_ you tell me the name of the volunteer who's been killed?"
"Conway. John Roden Conway."
"What? _That_ man? The man who raced the Germans into Zele?"
"Yes," she said, "that man."
* * * * *
She was in John's room, packing, gathering together the things she would
have to take to his father. Sutton came to her there.
They had orders to be ready for the retreat any time that night.
Billy had brought her John's wrist watch and cigarette case.
"Billy," she said, "that soldier gave me this."
She showed him the pocketbook.
"The one who was with the captain."
"_He_ gave it you?"
"Yes. He said he found it on the battlefield. It must have dropped out of
"It couldn't have dropped.... I wonder why he kept that."
"But he didn't keep it. He gave it to me."
"He was going to keep it, or he'd have handed it over to me with the
"Does it matter?"
She thought: "Why can't he leave it alone? They _had_ all his things, his
But Sutton was still thoughtful. "I wonder why he gave it you."
"I think he was sorry."
"Sorry for me, I mean."
Sutton said nothing. He was absorbed in contemplating the photograph.
They had been taken standing by the hurdle of the sheepfold, she with the
young lamb in her arms and John looking down at her.
"That was taken at Barrow Hill Farm," she said, "where we were together.
He looked just like that.... Oh, Billy, do you think the past's really
past?... Isn't there some way he could go on being what he _was_?"
"I don't know, Sharlie, I don't know."
"Why couldn't he have stayed there! Then he'd always have been like that.
We should never have known."
"You're not going to be unhappy about him?"
"No. I think I'm glad. It's a sort of relief. I shan't ever have that
awful feeling of wondering what he'll do next.... Billy--you were with
him, weren't you?"
"Was he all right?"
"Would it make you happier to think that he was or to know that he
"Oh--just to _know_."
"Well, I'm afraid he wasn't, quite.... He paid for it, Sharlie. If he
hadn't turned his back he wouldn't have been shot."
"What? You knew?"
"No. No. I wasn't sure."
She was possessed of this craving to know, to know everything. Short of
that she would be still bound to him; she could never get free.
"Billy--what did happen, really? Did he _leave_ the German?"
"Yes. Was that why he shot him?"
"The German didn't shoot him. He was too far gone, poor devil, to shoot
anybody.... It was the Belgian captain that he left.... He was lying
there, horribly wounded. His servant was with him; they were calling out
"_Calling_ to him?"
"Yes. And he was going all right when some shrapnel fell--a regular
shower bath, quite near, like it did with you and me. That scared him and
he just turned and ran. The servant shouted to him to stop, and when he
wouldn't he went after him and put a bullet through his back."
"That Belgian boy?"
"Yes. I couldn't do anything. I had the German. It was all over in a
second.... When I got there I found the Belgian standing up over him,
wiping his bayonet with his pockethandkerchief. He _said_ his rifle went
off by accident."
"Couldn't it? Rifles do."
"Bayonets don't.... I suppose I could get him court martialed if I tried.
But I shan't. After all, it was his captain. I don't blame him,
"No.... It was really you and me, Billy. We brought him back to be
"I don't know that we did bring him--that he wasn't coming by himself. He
couldn't keep off it. Even if we did, you wouldn't be sorry for that,
"No. It was the best thing we could do for him."
But at night, lying awake in her bed, she cried. For then she
remembered what he had been. On Barrow Hill, on their seat in the beech
ring, through the Sunday evenings, when feeding time and milking time
* * * * *
At four o'clock in the morning she was waked by Sutton, standing beside
her bed. The orders had come through to evacuate the hospital. Three
hours later the ambulances had joined the great retreat.
They had halted in Bruges, and there their wounded had been taken into
the Convent wards to rest.
Charlotte and Sutton were sitting out, alone together on the flagged
terrace in the closed garden. The nuns had brought out the two chairs
again, and set again the little table, covered with the white cloth.
Again the silver mist was in the garden, but thinned now to the clearness
of still water.
They had been silent after the nuns had left them. Sutton's sad,
short-sighted eyes stared out at the garden without seeing it. He was
lost in melancholy. Presently he came to himself with a long sigh--
"Charlotte, what are we going to do now? Do you know?"
"_I_ know. I'm going into Mac's corps."
"So am I. That isn't what I meant."
For a moment she didn't stop to wonder what he did mean. She was too full
of what she was going to do.
"Is that wise? I don't altogether trust old Mac. He'll use you till you
drop. He'll wear you to the last shred of your nerves."
"I want to be used till I drop. I want to be worn. Besides, I know I'm
safe with Mac."
His cold, hard indifference made her feel safe. She wasn't really safe
with Billy. His goodness might disarm her any minute, his sadness might
conceivably move her to a tender weakness. But for McClane she would
never have any personal feeling, never any fiery affection, any exalted
devotion. Neither need she be afraid of any profound betrayal. Small
betrayals perhaps, superficial disasters to her vanity, while his egoism
rode over it in triumph. He didn't want affection or anything fiery,
anything that John had had. He would leave her in her hardness; he would
never ask anything but hard, steel-cold loyalty and a willingness to
share his risks.
"What else can I do? I should have come out if John hadn't. Of course I
was glad we could go together, but you mustn't suppose I only went
because of him."
"I don't. I only thought perhaps you wouldn't want to stay on now
"More than ever now he's dead. Even if I didn't want to stay I should
have to now. To make up."
"For what he did. All those awful things. And for what he didn't do. His
dreams. I've got to do what he dreamed. But more than anything I must pay
his debt to Belgium. To all those wounded men."
"You're not responsible for his debts, Charlotte."
"No? Sometimes I feel as if I were. As if he and I were tied up
together. I could get away from him when he was alive. But now he's dead
he's got me."
"It doesn't make him different."
"It makes _me_ different. I tell you, I can't get away from him. And I
want to. I want to cut myself loose; and this is the way."
"Isn't it the way to tie yourself tighter?"
"No. Not when it's _done_, Billy."
"I can see a much better way.... If you married me."
She turned to him, astonished and a little anxious, as though she thought
something odd and dangerous had happened to him.
"Oh, Billy, I--I couldn't do that.... What made you think of it?"
"I've been thinking of it all the time."
"All the time?"
"Well, most of the time, anyhow. But I've loved you all the time. You
know I loved you. That was why I stuck to Conway. I couldn't leave you to
him. I wouldn't even leave you to McClane."
"I didn't know."
"I should have thought it was pretty, obvious."
"It wasn't. I'd have tried to stop it if I'd known."
"You couldn't have stopped it."
"That. It isn't any good. It really isn't."
"Why isn't it? I know I'm rather a queer chap. And I've got an
"I love your _face_...."
She loved it, with its composure and its candour, its slightly flattened
features, laid back; its little surprised moustache, its short-sighted
eyes and its sadness.
"It's the dearest face. But--"
"I suppose," he said, "it sounds a bit startling and sudden. But if you'd
been bottling it up as long as I have--Why, I loved you the first time I
saw you. On the boat.... So you see, it's you. It isn't just anything
"If you knew what I _have_ done, my dear. If you only knew. You wouldn't
want to marry me."
She would have to tell him. That would put him off. That would stop
him. If she had loved him she would have had to tell him, as she had
"I'm going to tell you...."
* * * * *
She wondered whether he had really listened. A queer smile played
about his mouth. He looked as if he had been thinking of something
else all the time.
"What are you smiling at?"
"Your supposing that that would make any difference."
"Not a bit. Not a little bit.... Besides I knew it."
"Who--who told you?"
"The only other person who knew about it, I suppose--Conway."
"He betrayed me?"
"He betrayed you. Is there any vile thing he didn't do?"
And it was as it had been before. The nuns came out again, bringing the
great cups of hot black coffee, coming and going gently. Only this time
she couldn't drink.
"It's awful of us," she said, "to talk about him this way when
"He isn't dead as long as he makes you feel like that. As long as he
keeps you from me."
A long pause. And then, "Billy--he wasn't my lover."
"I know that," he said fiercely. "He took good care to tell me."
"I brought it all on myself. I ought to have given him up instead of
hanging on to him that way. Platonic love--It's all wrong. People aren't
really made like that. It was every bit as bad as going to Gibson
Herbert.... Worse. That was honest. This was all lying. Lying about
myself. Lying about him. Lying about--love."
"Then," he said, "you don't really know what it is."
"I know John's sort. And I know Gibson's sort. And I know there's a
heavenly sort, Billy, in between. But I'm spoiled for it. I think I could
have cared for you if it hadn't been for John.... I shan't ever get away
"Yes. If you can see it--"
"Of course I see it. I can see everything now. All that war-romancing. I
see how awful it was. When I think how we went out and got thrills. Fancy
getting thrills out of this horror."
"Oh well--I think you earned your thrill."
"You can't earn anything in this war. At least _I_ can't. It's paying,
paying all the time. And I've got more things than John to pay for. There
was little Effie."
"Gibson's wife. I didn't _want_ to hurt her.... Billy, are you sure it
makes no difference? What I did."
"I've told you it doesn't.... You mustn't go on thinking about it."
"No. But I can't get over his betraying me. You see, that's the worst
thing he did to _me_. The other things--well, he was mad with fright, and
he was afraid of me, because I knew. I can't think why he did this."
"Same reason. You knew. He was degraded by your knowing, so you had to be
degraded. At least I suppose that's how it was."
She shook her head. He was darker to her than ever and she was no nearer
to her peace. She knew everything and she understood nothing. And that
was worse than not knowing.
"If only I could understand. Then, I believe, I could bear it. I wouldn't
care how bad it was as long as I understood."
"Ask McClane, then. He could explain it to you. It's beyond me."
"He's a psychotherapist. He knows more about people's souls than I know
about their bodies. He probably knows all about Conway's soul."
Silence drifted between them, dim and silvery like the garden mist.
"Charlotte--are we never to get away from him? Is he always to stick
between us? That dead man."
"It isn't that."
"What is it, then?"
"All _this_.... I'd give anything to care for you, Billy dear, but I
don't care. I _can't_. I can't care for anything but the war."
"The war won't last for ever. And afterwards?"
"I can't see any afterwards."
"And yet," he said, "there will be one."
The boat went steadily, cutting the waves with its sound like the flowing
of stiff silk.
Charlotte and Sutton and McClane, stranded at Dunkirk on their way to
England, had been taken on board the naval transport _Victoria_. They
were the only passengers besides some young soldiers, and these had left
them a clear space on the deck. Charlotte was sitting by herself under
the lee of a cabin when McClane came to her there.
He was straddling and rubbing his hands. Something had pleased him.
"I knew," he said, "that some day I should get you three. And that I
should get those ambulances."
She couldn't tell whether he meant that he always got what he wanted
or that he had foreseen John Conway's fate which would ultimately
give it him.
"The ambulances--Yes. You always wanted them."
"Not more than I wanted you and Sutton."
He seemed aware of her secret antagonism, yet without resentment,
waiting till it had died down before he spoke again. He was sitting
beside her now.
"What are you going to do about Conway?"
"Nothing. Except lie about him to his father."