The Happy Foreigner
by Enid Bagnold
THE HAPPY FOREIGNER
PART I. THE
BLACK HUT AT BAR
CHAPTER I. THE
CHAPTER II. METZ
CHAPTER VI. THE
LOVER IN THE
CHAPTER VII. THE
CHAPTER IX. THE
CHAPTER X. FANNY
CHAPTER XI. THE
LAST NIGHT IN
PART III. THE
CHAPTER XIV. THE
CHAPTER XVI. THE
PART IV. SPRING
THE STUFFED OWL
CHAPTER XX. THE
PROLOGUE. THE EVE
Between the grey walls of its bath—so like its cradle and its
coffin—lay one of those small and lonely creatures which inhabit the
surface of the earth for seventy years.
As on every other evening the sun was sinking and the moon, unseen,
The round head of flesh and bone floated upon the deep water of the
“Why should I move?” rolled its thoughts, bewitched by solitude.
“The earth itself is moving.
“Summer and winter and winter and summer I have travelled in my
head, saying—'All secrets, all wonders, lie within the breast!' But
now that is at an end, and to-morrow I go upon a journey.
“I have been accustomed to finding something in nothing—how do I
know if I am equipped for a larger horizon!...”
And suddenly the little creature chanted aloud:—
“The strange things of travel,
The East and the West,
The hill beyond the hill,—
They lie within the breast!”
PART I. THE BLACK HUT AT BAR
CHAPTER I. THE TRAVELLER
The war had stopped.
The King of England was in Paris, and the President of the United
States was hourly expected.
Humbler guests poured each night from the termini into the
overflowing city, and sought anxiously for some bed, lounge-chair, or
pillowed corner, in which to rest until the morning. Stretched upon the
table in a branch of the Y.W.C.A. lay a young woman from England whose
clothes were of brand-new khaki, and whose name was Fanny.
She had arrived that night at the Gare du Nord at eight o'clock, and
the following night at eight o'clock she left Paris by the Gare de
Just as she entered the station a small boy with a basket of violets
for sale held a bunch to her face.
“No, thank you.”
He pursued her and held it against her chin.
“No, thank you.”
“But I give it to you! I give it to you!”
As she had neither slept on the boat from Southampton nor on the
table of the Y.W.C.A., tears of pleasure came into her eyes as she took
them. But while she dragged her heavy kitbag and her suitcase across
the platform another boy of a different spirit ran beside her.
“Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle! Wait a minute...” he panted.
“Haven't you heard ... haven't you heard! The war is over!”
She continued to drag the weighty sack behind her over the platform.
“She didn't know!” howled the wicked boy. “No one had told her!”
And in the train which carried her towards the dead of night the
taunt and the violets accompanied her.
At half-past two in the morning she reached the station of
Bar-le-Duc. The rain rattled down through the broken roof as she
crossed the lines of the platform on the further side, where, vaguely
expecting to be met she questioned civilians and military police. But
the pall of death that hung over Bar stretched even to the station,
where nobody knew anything, expected anything, cared anything, except
to hurry out and away into the rain.
She, too, followed at last, leaving her bag and box in the corner of
a deserted office, and crossing the station yard tramped out in the
thick mud on to a bridge. The rain was falling in torrents, and
crouching for a minute in a doorway she made her bundles faster and
buttoned up her coat. Roofs jutted above her, pavements sounded under
her feet, the clock struck three near by. If there was an hotel
anywhere there was no one to give information about it. The last train
had emptied itself, the travellers had hurried off into the night, and
not a foot rang upon the pavements. The rain ran in a stream down her
cap and on to her face; down her sleeves and on to her hands.
A light further up the street attracted her attention, and walking
towards it she found that it came from an open doorway above which she
could make out the letters “Y.M.C.A.”
She did not know with what complicated feelings she would come to
regard these letters—with what gratitude mixed with irritation,
self-reproach with greed.
Climbing the steps she looked inside. The hall of the building was
paved with stone, and on a couple of dozen summer chairs of cane sat as
many American officers, dozing in painful attitudes of unrest. By each
ran a stream of water that trickled from his clothes, and the streams,
joining each other, formed aimless rivers upon the floor.
The eye of a captain opened.
“Come in, ma'am,” he said without moving. She wondered whether she
The eye of a lieutenant opened.
“Come in, ma'am,” he said, and rose. “Take my chair.”
“Could you tell me if there is any hotel?”
“There is some sort of a shanty down the street. I'll take you.”
Further up the street a faint light shone under a slit between two
boards. There was no door near it, no keyhole or shutter. The American
thundered at the boards with a tin of jam which he took out of his
pocket. The noise was monstrous in the blackness, but the town had
heard noises more monstrous than that, and it lay in a barred and
blind, unanswering stupor.
“God!” said the American, quickly angered, and kicked the board till
the slit grew larger. The light went out.
“Some one is coming round to the door,” said Fanny, in time to
prevent the destruction of the board.
Higher up the street bolts were being withdrawn and a light fell
upon the pavement.
“Who's there?” creaked a voice. The American moved towards the
“The hotel is shut to Americans,” said the voice.
“The devil it is,” shouted the American. “And why, then?”
“Man killed here last night,” said the voice briefly. Fanny moved
towards the light and saw an old man with a shawl upon his shoulders,
who held a candle fixed in the neck of a bottle.
“I am English,” she said to the old man. “I am alone. I want a room
“I've a room ... If you're not American!”
“I don't know what kind of a hole this is,” said the American
wrathfully. “I think you'd better come right back to the 'Y.' Say,
here, what kind of a row was this last night you got a man killed in?”
“Kind of row your countrymen make,” muttered the old man, and added
Soothing, on the one hand, entreating on the other, the girl got rid
of her new friend, and effected an entrance into the hotel. (“If hotel
it is!” she thought, in the brief passage of a panic while the old man
stooped to the bolts of the door.)
“I've got rooms enough,” he said, “rooms enough. Now they've
gone. Follow me.”
She followed his candle flame and he threw open a door upon the
“I've no light to give you.”
“Yet I must have a light.”
Grumbling, he produced half an inch of wax candle.
“Hurry into bed and that will last you. It's all I have.”
The bed wore a coloured rug, bare and thin, an eiderdown, damp and
musty. Spreading her wet mackintosh on the top she rolled herself up as
well as she could, and developing a sort of warmth towards morning,
slept an hour or two. The daylight showed her nothing to wash in, no
jug, no basin, no bell to pull.
As no one would come to her, as there was nothing to be gained by
waiting, she got up, and going into the hall, entered a dark
coffee-room in which breakfast was served at its lowest ebb, black
coffee, sugarless, and two pieces of dry bread.
Yet, having eaten, she was able to think: “I am a soldier of five
sous. I am here to drive for the French Army.” And her thoughts pleased
her so well that, at the moment when her circumstances were in their
state of least perfection, she exclaimed: “How right I was to come!”
and set off down the street to find her companions.
A mile out of the town upon the banks of a tributary of the Meuse
stood a deserted glass factory which had been converted by the French
into a garage for a fleet of thirty cars. Above the garage was a large
attic used as a dormitory for the mechanics, soldier-cooks, drivers and
clerks. In a smaller room at the end slept the non-commissioned
officers—the brigadier and the two marechaux des logis.
A hundred yards from the factory, built upon the brink of the stream
which was now in flood, and reached from the road by a narrow wooden
bridge, stood a tarred hut of wood and tarpaulin. It was built upon
simple lines. A narrow corridor ran down the centre of it, and on
either hand were four square cells divided one from the other by grey
paper stretched upon laths of wood—making eight in all. At one end was
a small hall filled with mackintoshes. At the other a sitting-room.
This was the home of the women drivers attached to the garage. In
one of these paper cells, henceforward to be her own, Fanny set up her
* * * * *
Outside the black hut the jet-black night poured water down. Inside,
the eight cubicles held each a woman, a bed, and a hurricane lantern.
Fanny, in her paper box, listened to the scratching of a pen next door,
then turned her eyes as a new and nearer scratching caught her ear. A
bright-eyed rat stared at her through the hole it had made in the wall.
“Food is in!”
Out of the boxes came the eight women to eat pieces of dark meat
from a tin set on the top of the sitting-room stove—then cheese and
bread. The watery night turned into sleet and rattled like tin-foil on
“Where is Stewart?”
“She is not back yet.”
Soon the eight crept back to their boxes and sat again by the lamps
to read or darn or write. They lived so close to each other that even
the most genial had learnt to care for solitude, and the sitting-room
The noise of Stewart's feet sounded in the corridor. She swung a
lantern in her hand; her face was shining, her hair streaming.
“Is there any food?”
“It's on the stove.”
“Is it eatable?”
Silence for a while, and then one by one they crept out into the
black mud beyond the hut to fill their cans with hot water from the
cook-house—and so to bed, on stretchers slung on trestles, where those
who did not sleep listened through the long night to those who slept
“Are you awake?” came with the daylight. “Ah, you are washing! You
are doing your hair!” There was no privacy.
“How cold, how cold the water, is!...” sighed Fanny, And a voice
through the paper wall, catching the shivering whisper, exclaimed: “Use
your hot-water bottle!”
“Empty it into your basin. If you have kept it in your bed all night
you will find the water has the chill off.”
Those who had to be out early had left before the daylight, still
with their lanterns swinging in their hands; had battled with the cold
cars in the unlighted garage, and were moving alone across the long
desert of the battlefields.
On the first morning she was tested on an old ambulance, and passed
the test. On the second morning she got her first run upon a Charron
car that had been assigned to her.
Driving into Bar-le-Duc in the early morning under a grey flood of
rain she asked of a passer-by, “Which is the Rue Thierry?” She got no
answer. The French, too poor and wet, did not trouble to reply; the
Americans did not know. As she drove along at the side of the road
there came a roar out of the distance, and a stream of American lorries
thundered down the street. Men, women and children ran for their lives
to gain the pavements, as the lorries passed, a mud-spout covered
Fanny's face and hands, and dripped from her windscreen.
“Why do they drive like that?” she wondered, hunting blindly for her
handkerchief, and mopping at her face. She thought there must be some
desperate need calling for the lorries, and looked after them with
When she had found her street, and fetched her “client,” she drove
at his order to Souilly, upon the great road to Verdun. And all day,
calling at little villages upon the way, where he had business, she
drove with the caution of the newcomer. It seemed to her that she had
need for caution. She saw a Ford roll over, leave the road, and drop
into the ditch. The wild American who had driven it to its death,
pulled himself up upon the road, and limping, hailed a passing lorry,
and went upon his way.
She saw a horse gallop out of a camp with a terrified Annamite upon
its back. Horse and Annamite shot past her on the road, the yellow
man's eyes popping from his head, his body slipping, falling, falling.
When she would have slowed the car to watch the end of the flight her
client cried to her: “Why do you wait?”
Enormous American guns, trailed behind lorries driven by pink-faced
boys swayed from side to side on the greasy road, and threatened to
crush her like an egg-shell.
Everywhere she saw a wild disregard for life, everywhere she winced
before the menace of speed, of weight, of thundering metal.
In the late afternoon, returning home in the half-light, she
overtook a convoy of lorries driven by Annamites.
Hooting with her horn she crept past three lorries and drew abreast
of the fourth; then, misjudging, she let the tip of her low mudguard
touch the front wheel of the foremost lorry. The touch was so slight
that she had passed on, but at a cry she drew up and looked back. The
lorry which she had touched was overhanging the edge of the road, and
its radiator, striking a tree, had dropped down into the valley below.
Climbing from her car she ran back and was instantly surrounded by a
crowd of Annamites who chirped and twittered at her, and wrung their
“What can I do?...” she said to them aloud, in distress.
But they understood nothing, and seemed to echo in their strange
bird language, “What can we do ... what can we do?...”
(“And I...” she thought in consternation, “am responsible for this!”)
But the last lorry had drawn alongside, and a French sergeant
descended from it and joined the Annamites. He walked to the edge of
the road, saw the radiator below upon a rock, and shrugged his
shoulders. Catching sight of Fanny's face of horror he laughed.
“Ne vous en faites pas, mademoiselle! These poor devils sleep
as they drive. Yes, even with their eyes open. We started nine this
morning. We were four when we met you—and now we are three!”
On the third morning the rain stopped for an hour or two. Fanny had
no run till the afternoon, and going into the garage in the morning she
set to work on her car.
“Where can I get water?” she asked a man.
“The pump is broken,” he replied. “I backed my car against it last
night. But there is a tap by that broken wall on the piece of waste
She crossed to the wall with her bucket.
Standing upon the waste ground was an old, closed limousine whose
engine had long been injured past repair. One of the glass windows was
broken, but it was as roomy and comfortable as a first-class railway
carriage, and the men often sat in it in a spare moment.
The yard cleared suddenly for the eleven o'clock meal. As Fanny
passed the limousine a man appeared at the broken window and beckoned
to her. His face was white, and he wore his shirt, trousers, and
braces. She stopped short with the bucket in her hand.
“On est delivre de cette bande!” he said, pointing to the yard, and
she went a little nearer.
“Wait till I get my coat on,” he said softly to her, and struggled
into his coat.
He put both his hands on the window ledge, leant towards her, and
said clearly: “Je suis le president Wilson.”
“You are the President Wilson,” she echoed, hunting for the joke,
and willing to smile. He passed her out his water-bottle and a tin box.
“You must fill these for me,” he said. “Fill the bottle with wine, and
get me bread and meat. Be quick. You know I must be off. The King
Where have you come from?”
“I slept here last night. I have come far. But I must be quick now,
for it's late, and ... I believe in Freedom!” he finished emphatically.
“Well, will you wait till I have made you up a parcel of food?”
“Only be quick.”
“Will you wait in the car? Promise to wait!”
“Yes. Be quick. Look sharp.”
She put down her bucket and stretched up her hand for the bottle and
the box. He held them above her a second, hesitating, then put them
into her hand. She turned from him and went back into the yard. As she
approached the door of the room where the men sat eating she looked
round and saw that he was watching her intently. She waved once,
soothingly, then slipped into the long room filled with the hum of
voices and the smell of gravy.
“There is a poor madman in the yard,” she whispered to the man
nearest her. The others looked up.
“They've lost a man from the asylum. I heard in the town this
morning,” said one. “We must keep him here till we telephone. Have you
told the brigadier, mademoiselle?”
“You tell him. I'll go back and talk to the man. Ask the brigadier
“I'll come with you, mademoiselle,” said another. “Where is he?”
“In the old limousine by the water tap. He is quiet. Don't frighten
him by coming all together.” Chairs and benches were pushed back, and
the men stood up in groups.
“We will go round by the gate in case he makes a run for it. Better
not use force if one can help it....”
Fanny and her companion went out to the car. “Where is my food and
wine?” called the man.
“It's coming,” answered Fanny, “they are doing it up in the
“Well, I can't wait. I must go without it. I can't keep the King
waiting.” And he opened the door of the limousine. As he stood on the
step he held a bundle of rusty weapons.
“What's that you've got?”
“Bosche daggers,” he said. “See!” He held one towards her, without
letting it go from his hand.
“Where did you find those?”
“On the battlefields.” He climbed down the steps.
“Stay a moment,” said Fanny. “I'm in a difficulty. Will you help
“What's that? But I've no time....”
“Do you know about cars?”
“I was in the trade,” he nodded his head.
“I have trouble ... I cannot tell what to do. Will you come and
“If it's a matter of a moment. But I must be away.”
“If you leave all those things in the car you could fetch them as
you go,” suggested Fanny, eyeing the daggers.
The man whistled and screwed up one eye. “When one believes in
Freedom one must go armed,” he said. “Show me the car.”
Going with her to the car-shed he looked at the spark-plugs of the
car, at her suggestion unscrewing three from their seatings. At the
fourth he grew tired, and said fretfully: “Now I must be off. You know
I must. The King expects me.”
He walked to the gate of the yard, and she saw the men behind the
gate about to close on him. “You're not wearing your decorations!” she
called after him. He stopped, looked down, looked a little troubled.
She took the gilt safety pin from her tie, the safety pin that held
her collar to her blouse at the back, and another from the back of her
skirt, and pinned them along his poor coat. An ambulance drove quickly
into the yard, and three men, descending from it, hurried towards them.
At sight of them the poor madman grew frantic, and turning upon Fanny
he cried: “You are against me!” then ran across the yard. She shut her
eyes that she might not see them hunt the lover of freedom, and only
opened them when a man cried in triumph: “We'll take you to the
“Pauvre malheureux!” muttered the drivers in the yard.
Day followed day and there was plenty of work. Officers had to be
driven upon rounds of two hundred kilometres a day—interviewing mayors
of ruined villages, listening to claims, assessing damage caused by
French troops in billets. Others inspected distant motor parks. Others
made offers to purchase old iron among the villages in order to prove
thefts from the battlefields.
The early start at dawn, the flying miles, the winter dusk, the long
hours of travel by the faint light of the acetylene lamps filled day
after day; the unsavoury meal eaten alone by the stove, the book read
alone in the cubicle, the fitful sleep upon the stretcher, filled night
A loneliness beyond anything she had ever known settled upon Fanny.
She found comfort in a look, a cry, a whistle. The smiles of strange
men upon the road whom she would never see again became her social
intercourse. The lost smiles of kind Americans, the lost, mocking
whistles of Frenchmen, the scream of a nigger, the twittering surprise
of a Chinese scavenger.
Yet she was glad to have come, for half the world was here. There
could have been nothing like it since the Tower of Babel. The country
around her was a vast tract of men sick with longing for the four
corners of the earth.
“Have you got to be here?” asked an American.
“No, I wanted to come.”
The eye of the American said “Fool!”
“Are you paid to come here?” asked a Frenchman.
“No. In a sense, I pay to come.” The eye of the Frenchman said,
Each day she drove in a wash of rain. Each night she returned long
after dark, and putting her car in the garage, felt her way up the inky
road by the rushing of the river at its edge, crossed the wooden
bridge, and entered the cell which she tried to make her personal
But if personal, it was the personality of a dog; it had the
character of a kennel. She had brought no furnishings with her from
England; she could buy nothing in the town. The wooden floor was
swamped by the rain which blew through the window; the paper on the
walls was torn by rats; tarry drops from the roof had fallen upon her
The sight of this bed caused her a nightly dismay. “Oh, if I could
but make it in the morning how different this room would look!”
There would be no one in the sitting-room, but a tin would stand on
the stove with one, two, or three pieces of meat in it. By this she
knew whether the cubicles were full or if one or two were empty.
Sometimes the coffee jug would rise too lightly from the floor as she
lifted it, and in an angry voice she would call through the hut: “There
is no coffee!” Silence, silence; till a voice, goaded by the silence,
cried: “Ask Madeleine!”
And Madeleine, the little maid, had long since gone over to laugh
with the men in the garage.
Then came the owners of the second and third piece of meat,
stumbling across the bridge and up the corridor, lantern in hand. And
Fanny, perhaps remembering a treasure left in her car, would rise,
leave them to eat, feel her way to the garage, and back again to the
safety of her room with a tin of sweetened condensed milk under her
arm. So low in comfort had she sunk it needed but this to make her
happy. She had never known so sharp, so sweet a sense of luxury as that
with which she prepared the delicacy she had seized by her own cunning.
It had not taken her long to learn the possibilities of the American
Y.M.C.A., the branch in Bar, or any other which she might pass in her
Shameless she was as she leant upon the counter in some distant
village, cajoling, persuading, spinning some tale of want and necessity
more picturesque, though no less actual, than her own. Secret, too,
lest one of her companions, over-eager, should spoil her hunting
Sitting with her leather coat over her shoulders, happy in her
solitude, she would drink the cup of Benger's Food which she had made
from the milk, and when it was finished, slide lower among the rugs,
put out the lights, and listen to the rustle of the rats in the wall.
“Mary Bell is getting married,” said a clear voice in the hut.
“To the Wykely boy?” answered a second voice, and in a sudden need
of sound the two voices talked on, while the six listeners upon their
stretchers saw in the dark the life and happiness of Mary Bell blossom
before them, unknown and bright.
The alarm clock went off with a scream at five.
“Why, I've hardly been asleep!” sighed Fanny, bewildered, and,
getting up, she lit the lamp and made her coffee. Again there was not
time to make the bed. Though fresh to the work she believed that she
had been there for ever, yet the women with whom she shared her life
had driven the roads of the Meuse district for months before she came
to them, and their eyes were dim with peering into the dark nights, and
they were tired past any sense of adventure, past any wish or power to
better their condition.
On and on and on rolled the days, and though one might add them
together and make them seven, they never made Sunday. For there is no
Sunday in the French Army, there is no bell at which tools are laid
aside, and not even the night is sacred.
On and on rolled the weeks, and the weeks made months, till all
November was gone, and all December, and the New Year broke in fresh
torrents of rain.
Fanny made friends all day and lost them again for ever as she
passed on upon the roads. Sometimes it was a sentry beside whom her
“clients” left her for an hour while they inspected a barracks;
sometimes it was an old woman who called from a doorway that she might
come and warm her hands at the fire; sometimes an American who helped
her to change a tyre.
There were times, further up towards Verdun, where there were no old
women, or young women, or villages, when she thought her friends were
mad, deranged, eccentric in their loneliness.
“My sister has a grand piano ...” said one American to her—opening
thus his conversation. But he mused upon it and spoke no further.
“Yes?” she encouraged. “Yes?”
He did not open his mind until she was leaving, when he said simply
to her: “I wish I was back home.” And between the two sentences all the
pictures of his home were flowing in his thoughts.
An old woman offered her shelter in a village while her clients were
busy with the mayor. In the kitchen there was a tiny fire of twigs.
American boys stamped in and out of the house, laughing, begging the
daughter to sew on a button, sell them an egg, boys of nineteen and
twenty, fair, tall, and good-looking.
“We shall be glad when they are gone,” said the old woman looking at
their gay faces. “They are children,” she added, “with the faults of
“They seem well-mannered.”
“They are beautiful boys,” said the peasant woman, “and
good-mannered. But I'm tired of them. Children are all very well, but
to have your house full of them, your village, your family-life! They
play all day in the street, chasing the dogs, throwing balls. When our
children come out of school there's no holding them, they must be off
playing with the Americans. The war is over. Why don't they take them
“Good-day, ma'am,” said a tall boy, coming up to Fanny. “You're sure
cold. We brought you this.” And he offered her a cup of coffee he had
fetched from his canteen.
“Yes, they're good boys,” said the old woman, “but one doesn't want
other people's children always in one's life.”
“Is this a park?” Fanny asked a soldier in the next village, a
village whose four streets were filled with rows of lorries, touring
cars and ambulances. On every car the iron was frail with rust, the
bonnets of some were torn off, a wheel, two wheels, were missing, the
side ripped open disclosing the rusting bones.
“What are you doing here?”
“We are left behind from the Fourth Army which has gone up to
Germany. I have no tools or I would make one car out of four. But my
men are discouraged and no one works. The war is over.
“Then this is a park?”
“No, madame, it is a cemetery.”
Months went by, and there came a night, as wet and sad as any other,
when no premonitory star showed in the sky, and all that was bright in
Fanny's spirit toned itself to match the monotonous, shadowless pallor
She was upon her homeward journey. At the entrance to the hut she
paused; for such a light was burning in the sitting-room that it
travelled even the dark corridor and wandered out upon the step. By it
she could see the beaded moisture of the rain-mist upon the long hair
escaped from her cap.
A group of women stood within, their faces turned towards the door
as she entered.
“What is it?”
“We are going to Metz! We are ordered to Metz!” Stewart waved a
Was poverty and solitude at an end? They did not know it. In leaving
the Meuse district did they leave, too, the boundless rain, the swollen
rivers, the shining swamps, the mud which ebbed and flowed upon the
land like a tide? Was hunger at an end, discomfort, and poor living?
They had no inkling.
Fanny, indifferent to any change, hoping for nothing better, turned
first to the meat tin, for she was hungry.
“Metz is a town,” she hazarded.
“There will be things to eat there?”
“No, very little. It was fed from Germany; now that it is suddenly
fed from Paris the service is disorganised. One train crosses the
devastated land in the day. I hear all this from the brigadier—who
has, for that matter, never been there.”
“Then we are going for certain?”
“We are sent for. Yes, we are going. We are to be attached to the
Headquarters Staff. Petain is there. It might even be gay.”
Fanny laughed. “Gay!”
“I was thinking of my one pair of silk stockings.”
“You have silk stockings with you!”
“Yes, I ... I am equipped for anything.”
There came a morning, as wet and sad as any other, when Stewart and
Fanny, seated in the back of an ambulance, their feet overhanging the
edge, watched the black hut dwindle upon the road, and wondered how any
one had lived there so long.
PART II. LORRAINE
CHAPTER II. METZ
With its back to the woods and hills of Luxembourg, with its face to
the desolation of Northern France, the city of Metz stood at the entry
of Lorraine like the gate to a new world.
The traveller, arriving after long hours of journey through the
battlefields, might sigh with relief, gape with pleasure, then hurry
away down deflagged streets, beneath houses roped with green-leafed
garlands, to eat divinely at Moitrier's restaurant, and join the
dancing in the hall below.
Not a night passed in Metz without the beat of music upon the frosty
air. It burst into the narrow streets from estaminets where the
soldiers danced, from halls, from drawing-rooms of confiscated German
houses where officers of the “Grand Quartier General” danced a triumph.
Or it might be supposed to be a triumph by the Germans who stayed in
their homes after dark. They might suppose that the French officers
danced for happiness, that they danced because they were French,
because they were victorious, because they were young, because they
It was not, surely, the wild dancing of the host whose party drags a
little, who calls for more champagne, more fiddles?
In the centre of the city of Metz sat the Marechal Petain, and kept
his eye upon Lorraine. He was not a man who cared for gaiety, but
should the Lorraines be insufficiently amused he gave them
balls—insufficiently fed, he sent for flour and sugar; all the flour
and sugar that France could spare; more, much more, than Paris had, and
at his bidding the cake-shops flowered with eclairs, millefeuilles,
brioches, choux a la creme, and cakes more marvellous with German
France, poor and hungry, flung all she had into Alsace and Lorraine,
that she might make her entry with the assuring dazzle of the
benefactress. The Lorraines, like children, were fed with sugar while
the meat shops were empty—were kept dancing in national costume that
they might forget to ask for leather boots, to wonder where wool and
silk were hiding.
Fetes were organised, colours were paraded in the square, torchlight
processions were started on Saturday nights, when the boys of the town
went crying and whooping behind the march of the flares. Artists were
sent for from Paris, took train to Nancy, and were driven laboriously
through hours of snow, over miles of shell-pitted roads, that they
might sing and play in the theatre or in the house of the Governor. To
the dances, to the dinners, to the plays came the Lorraine women,
wearing white cotton stockings to set off their thick ankles, and
dancing in figures and set dances unknown to the officers from Paris.
The Commandant Dormans, head of all motor transport under the Grand
Quartier General, having prepared his German drawing-room as a
ballroom, having danced all the evening with ladies from the
surrounding hills, found himself fatigued and exasperated by the side
of the head of Foreign Units attached to the Automobile Service.
“I thought you had Englishwomen at Bar-le-Duc,” he said to the
“What are they doing at Bar-le-Duc? Get them here.”
“Is there work, sir?”
“Work! They shall work from dawn to sunset so long as they will
dance all night! Englishwomen do dance, don't they?”
“I have never been to England.”
“Get them here. Send for them.”
So through his whim it happened that six days later a little caravan
of women crossed the old front lines beyond Pont-a-Mousson as dusk was
falling, and as dark was falling entered the gates of Metz.
They leant from the ambulance excitedly as the lights of the streets
flashed past them, saw windows piled with pale bricks of butter, bars
of chocolates, tins of preserved strawberries, and jams.
“Can you see the price on the butter?”
“I can't see. Yes.... Twenty-four francs a pound.”
“Ah, is it possible, eclairs?”
And with exclamations of awe they saw the cake shops in the
German boys cried “American girls! American girls!” and threw paper
balls into the back of the ambulance.
“I heard, I heard....”
“What is it?”
“I heard German spoken.”
“Did you think, then, they were all dead?”
“No,” but Fanny felt like some old scholar who hears a dead language
spoken in a vanished town.
They drove on past the Cathedral into the open square of the Place
du Theatre. Half the old French theatre had been set aside as offices
for the Automobile Service, and now the officers of the service, who
had waited for them with curiosity, greeted them on the steps.
“You must be tired, you must be hungry! Leave the ambulance where it
is and come now, as you are, to dine with us!”
In the uncertain light from the lamp on the theatre steps the French
tried to see the English faces, the women glanced at the men, and they
walked together to the oak-panelled Mess Room in a house on the other
side of the empty square. A long table was spread with a white cloth,
with silver, with flowers, as though they were expected. Soldiers
waited behind the chairs.
“Vauclin! That foie gras you brought back from Paris
yesterday... where is it, out with it? What, you only brought two jars!
Arrelles, there's a jar left from yours.”
“Mademoiselle, sit here by Captain Vauclin. He will amuse you. And
you, mademoiselle, by me. You all talk French?”
“And fancy, I never met an Englishwoman before. Never! Your
responsibility is terrible. How tired you must be!... What a journey!
For to-night we have found you billets. We billet you on Germans. It is
more comfortable; they do more for you. What, you have met no Germans
yet? They exist, yes, they exist.”
“Arrelles, you are not talking French! You should talk English. You
can't? Nor I either....”
“But these ladies talk French marvellously....”
Some one in another house was playing an ancient instrument. Its
music stole across the open square. Soldiers passed singing in the
A hundred miles ... a hundred years away ... lay Bar-le-Duc, liquid
in mud, soaked in eternal rain. “What was I?” thought Fanny in
amazement. “To what had I come, in that black hut!” And she thought
that she had run down to the bottom of living, lain on that hard floor
where the poor lie, known what it was to live as the poor live, in a
hole, without generosity, beauty, or privacy—in a hole, dirty and
cold, plain and coarse.
She glanced at her neighbour with wonder and appreciation, delight
and envy. There was a light, clean scent upon his hair. She saw his
hands, his nails. And her own.
A young Jew opposite her had his hair curled, and a faint powdery
bloom about his face.
(“But never mind! That is civilisation. There are people who turn
from that and cry for nature, but I, since I've lived as a dog, when I
see artifice, feel gay!”)
“You don't know with what interest you have been awaited.”
“Ah, yes! And were you pleased to come?”
“We did not know to what we were coming!”
She looked round the table peacefully, listened to the light voices
talking a French she had never heard at Bar.
“I could not make you understand how different....” (No, she would
not tell him how they had lived at Bar. She was ashamed.) But as she
was answering the servant gave him a message and he was called away.
When he returned he said: “The Commandant Dormans is showing himself
The Jew laughed and said: “He wants to see these ladies this
“No, he spares them that, knowing of their journey. He sends a
message by the Capitaine Chatel to tell us that the D.S.A. gives
a dance to-morrow night. The personal invitation will be sent by
messenger in the morning. You dance, mademoiselle?”
“There is a dance, and we are invited? Yes, yes, I dance! You asked
if I was happy now that I am here. To us this might be Babylon, after
“Babylon, the wicked city?”
“The gay, the light, beribboned city! What is the 'D.S.A.'?”
“A power which governs our actions. We are but the C.R.A.... the
regulating control. But they are the Direction. 'Direction Service
Automobile.' They draw up all traffic rules for the Army, dispose of
cars, withdraw them. On them you depend and I depend. But they are
well-disposed towards you.”
“And the Commandant Dormans is the head?”
“The head of all transport. He is a great man. Very peculiar.”
“The Capitaine Chatel?”
“His aide, his right hand, the nearest to his ear.”
Dinner over, the young Jew, Reherrey, having sent for two cars from
the garage, drove the tired Englishwomen to their billets. As the cars
passed down the cobbled streets and over a great bridge, Fanny saw
water gleam in the gulf below.
“What river is that?”
A sentry challenged them on the far side of the bridge. “Now we are
in the outer town, the German quarter.”
In a narrow street whose houses overhung the river each of the
section was put down at a different doorway, given a paper upon which
was inscribed her right to billets, and introduced in Reherry's rapid
German to her landlady.
Fanny in her turn, following the young man through a dark doorway,
found herself in a stone alley and climbed the windings of a stairway.
A girl of twelve or thirteen received her on the upper landing, saying
“Guten Abend,” and looking at her with wonder.
“Where is your mother?” said Reherry.
“She is out with my eldest sister.”
“What is your name?”
“Then, Elsa, look after this lady. Take her to her room, the room I
saw your mother about, give her hot water, and bring her breakfast in
the morning. Take great care of her.”
“Jawohl, mein Herr.”
Reherry turned away and ran down the stairs. Elsa showed Fanny to a
room prepared for her.
“You are English?” said Elsa, and could not take her eyes off her.
“Yes, I am English. And are you German?” (Question so impossible, so
indiscreet in England...)
“I am real German, from Coblentz. How did you come here, Fraeulein?”
“In a car.”
“But from England! Is there not water?”
“I crossed the water in a ship, and afterwards I came here in a
“You have a motor car? But every one is rich in England.”
“Oh, not very...”
“Yes, every one. Mother says so.”
The girl went away, then brought her a jug of hot water.
“I hope,” said Fanny, venturing upon a sea of forgotten German, “I
hope I haven't turned you or your sister out of this room.”
“This is the strangers' room,” said Elsa. “I thank you.”
When she had gone, Fanny looked round the room. It was too German to
be true. The walls were dark red, the curtains dark red, the carpet,
eiderdown, rep cover of the armchair, plush on the photograph frames,
embroidered mats upon the washstand, tiles upon the stove, everything a
deep, dark red. Four mugs stood upon the mantelpiece, and ... she
rubbed her eyes ... was it possible that one had an iron cross upon its
porcelain, one the legend “Got mit uns,” the third the head of the
Kaiser, the fourth the head of the Kaiserin? “That is too much! The
people I shall write to won't believe it!”
Her bed was overhung by a large branch of stag's horn fixed upon the
She felt the bed, counted the blankets, found matches on the
mantelpiece, a candle in the candlestick, room in the stove to boil a
kettle or a saucepan. Hot water steamed from her jug, a hot brick had
been placed to warm her bed, a plate of rye bread cut in slices and
covered with a cloth was upon the table.
Foreign to her own, the eyes which had rejoiced in this room ... yet
the smile of German comfort was upon it.
She lay down beneath the branching antlers, and smiled before she
went to sleep: “One pair of silk stockings ... to dance in Babylon ...”
* * * * *
In the morning a thin woman dressed in black brought her
breakfast—jam, rye bread, coffee and sugar.
“Guten Morgen,” said the woman, and looked at her curiously. But
Fanny couldn't remember which language she ought to talk, and fumbled
in her head so long that the woman went away.
She dressed and went out, meeting Stewart by her doorway. Together
they crossed the bridge, the theatre square, and went towards the
Cathedral with eager faces. They did not look up at the Cathedral, at
the statute of old David upon which the Kaiser had had his own head
carved, and upon whose crossed hands the people had now hung chains
fastened with a padlock—they did not glance at the Hotel de Ville in
the square beyond, but, avoiding the tram which emerged from the narrow
Serpenoise like a monster that had too long been oppressed, they
hurried on up the street with a subdued and hungry gaiety.
There was a Need to be satisfied before anything could be seen,
done, or said. A Need four years old, now knocking at the doors of
heaven, howling to be satisfied.
Before the windows of a shop they paused, but Stewart, standing back
and looking up the street, said: “There is a better further on!” and
when they had gone on a few paces Fanny whispered, hurrying, “A better
still beyond!” At the third shop, the Need, imperative, royal, would
wait no longer, and drove them within.
“How many?” asked the saleswoman at the end of ten minutes.
“Seven eclairs and a cream bun, said Stewart.
“Just nine eclairs,” said Fanny.
“Seventeen francs,” said the woman without moving an eyelash.
This frenzy cooled, their pockets lighter, they walked for pleasure
in the town. The narrow streets streamed with people—French soldiers
and officers, Lorraine women in the costumes of pageantry, and German
children who cried shrilly: “Amerikanerin, Amerikanerin!”
An English major passed them. They recognised his flawless boots
before they realised his nationality. And, following his, the worst
boots in the world—worn by a couple of sauntering Italian officers,
gay in olive and silver uniform. German men in black slouch hats
hurried along the streets.
It had been arranged that they should eat their meals in a room
overlooking the canal, at the foot of the Cathedral—and there at
eleven o'clock they went, to be a little dashed in spirit by the
reappearance of the Bar-le-Duc crockery.
The same yellow dish carried what seemed the same rationed jam; the
square blocks of meat might have been cooked in the Bar cook-hut, and
brought with them over the desert; two heavy loaves stood as usual on
the wooden table. The French Army ration was the same in every town.
“Mesdames,” said the orderly assigned to them, “there are two
sous-officers without who wish to speak with you.”
“Let them come in.”
Two blue figures appeared in the doorway and saluted. The first
brought a card of invitation from the Commandant Dormans. The second
was the brigadier from the garage with a list of the cars assigned to
“Perhaps these ladies would come down and try their cars after
lunch?” he suggested, and lunch being over they walked with him through
the winding streets. At the gates of a great yard he paused and a
sentry swung them open. Behind the gates lay a sandy plain as large as
a parade ground, which, except for gulleys or gangways crossing it at
intervals, was packed from end to end with row after row of cars; cars
in the worst possible condition, torn, twisted, wheelless, cars with
less dramatic and yet fatal injuries; some squatting backwards upon
their haunches, some inclined forwards upon their knees—one, lately
fished up from a river, had slabs and crusts of ice still upon its
seats—one, the last dragged in at the tail of a breakdown lorry, hung,
fore-wheels in the air, helpless upon a crane. Here, in the yard, was
nothing but broken iron and mouldering carriage work—the cemetery of
the Transport of the Grand Quartier.
Lining all one side of the yard ran a shed, closed and warmed and
lighted, where living cars slept in long rows mudguard to mudguard, and
bright lamps facing outward.
As the Englishwomen walked in a soft rustle could be heard up and
down the lighted shed, for each half-hidden driver working by his car
turned and shot a glance, expectant and mocking, towards the door.
“Ben quoi, i'parait qu'c'esst vrai! Tu vois!”
“Qu'est-ce qu'il dit, c'ui-la?”
“C'est les Anglaises, pardi!”
“Tu comprends, j'suis contre tout ca. I'y a des fois ou les femmes
c'est bien. Mais ici ...”
“Tu grognes? On va r'devenir homme, c'est tres bien!”
“C'est idiot! Qu'est-ce qu'elles vont faire ici!”
“On dirait—c'est du militarisme francais!”
“Le militarisme francais j'm'en f——! Tu verra, cela va faire
encore du travail pour nous.”
“Attends un peu!”... And murmurs filled the shed—glances threaded
the shadows, chilling the spirit of the foreign women adventuring upon
“Four Rochets,” said the brigadier, consulting his paper,
“two Delages, two FIATS ... Mademoiselle, here is yours, and yours. The
Lieutenant Denis will be here in a moment. He fears the Rochets will be
too heavy for you, but we must see.”
The lieutenant who had been at dinner the night before entered the
shed, greeted them, and turned to Stewart. “That car is too heavy for
your strength, mademoiselle. It is not a car for a lady.”
“I like the make,” she said stiffly, conscious of the ears which
listened in the shed.
“See if you can start her now, mademoiselle,” said the brigadier, arranging the levers.
There was a still hush in the shed as Stewart bent to the handle.
Fanny, standing by the Rochet which had been assigned to her, felt her
(“Tu vas voir!” whispered the little soldiers watching brightly from
behind the cars. “Attends, attends un peu! Pour les mettre en marche,
les tacots, c'est autre chose!”)
Stewart, seizing the handle, could not turn it. In the false night
of the shed the lights shone on polished lamps, on glass and brass, on
French eyes which said: “That's what comes of it!”—which were ready to
say—“March out again, Englishwomen, ridiculous and eager and
Fanny, looking neither to right nor left, prayed under her breath
—“Stewart, Stewart we can never live in this shed if you can't start
her. And if you can't, nobody else can....”
There was a spurt of life from the engine as it back-fired, and
Stewart sprang away holding her wrist with the other hand. The
lieutenant, the brigadier, and a driver from a car near by crowded
round her with exclamations.
“You advanced the spark too much,” said the driver to the
brigadier. “Tenez! I will retard it.”
“She shan't touch the car again.” said the lieutenant. “It is too
“Leave the controls alone,” said Stewart, scowling at the driver.
“Give me room ...” She caught the handle with her injured hand, and
with a gasp, swung the Rochet into throbbing life.
There was a murmur of voices down the shed, and each man with a
slight movement returned to the work he had been doing; the polishers
polished, the cleaners swept, and a little chink of metal on metal
filled the garage. The women were accepted.
The day had vanished. Cars, yard and garage sank out of sight. Out
in the streets the lamps woke one by one, and from the town came shouts
and the stamp of feet marching. It was Saturday night and a torchlight
procession of soldier and civilians wound down the street. The band
passed first, and after it men carried fire-glares fastened upon
The garage gates turned to rods and bars of gold till the light left
them, and the glare upon the house-fronts opposite travelled slowly
down the street.
Fanny slipped out of the yard and crept along behind the flares like
a shadow on the pavement. At the street corner she passed out on to the
bridge over the Moselle, and leant against the stonework to watch the
plumes of fire as they glittered up the riverside upon the tow-path.
The lights vanished, leaving the darkness so intense that she could
only feel her way over the bridge by holding to the stonework with her
hand. A sentry challenged her and when she had passed him she had
arrived at the door of her German lodging.
Climbing the stairs a slow breeze of excitement filled out the sails
of her spirit. “My silk stockings ... my gold links, and my benzene
bottle!” she murmured happily. Now that of all her life she had the
slenderest toilet to make—three hours was the time she had set aside
CHAPTER III. JULIEN
Earth has her usual delights—which can be met with six days out of
the seven. But here and there upon grey earth there exist, like the
flying of sunlight, celestial pleasures also—and one of these is the
heaven of success. When, puffed-up and glorious, the successful
creature struts like a peacock, gilded in a passing radiance. And in a
radiance, in a magic illumination, the newcomers danced in the
drawing-room of the Commandant Dormans, and tasted that which cannot be
found when sought, nor held when tasted.
Old tapestries of tropical foliage hung around the walls, dusk upon
one wall, dawn upon another. Trees climbed from floor to ceiling laden
with lime-coloured flowers, with birds instead of fruits upon the
When at a touch the yellow dust flew out under the lamplight it
seemed to the mazy eye of the dancer that the trees sent up a mist of
pollen and song.
In this happy summer, Fanny, turning her vain ear to spoken
flattery, her vain eye to mute, danced like a golden gnat in fine
The Commandant Dormans spoke to her. If he was not young he had a
quick voice that was not old. He said: “We welcome you. We have been
waiting for you. We are glad you have come.”
Faces surrounded her which to her fresh eyes were not easy to read.
Names which she had heard last night became young and old men to her
—skins red and pale and dark-white—eyes blue and olive and
black—gay, audacious and mocking features. She was dazzled, she did
not hurry to understand. One could not choose, one floated free of
preference, all men were strangers.
“One day I shall know what they are, how they live, how they think.”
But she did not want that day to come.
The Commandant Dormans said: “You do not regret Bar-le-Duc?”
“No, no, no.”
“I hear you are all voracious for work. I hear that if you do not
drive from morning to night we cannot hope to keep you with us!”
Denis said to her: “Be careful of him! He believes there is no end
to the human strength.”
She replied joyously: “There is no end to our strength!”
When she had eyes to see, to watch, to choose, she found that there
was in the room a man who was graceful and young, whose eyes were a
peculiar shape, who laughed all the time gently as he danced. He never
looked at her, never came near her. This young man was indifferent to
her, he was indifferent to her ... Soon he became a trouble and a
pleasure to her. With whom was he dancing now ... and now? Who was it
that amused him? His eyes and his hair were bright ... but there were
many around her whose eyes and hair were as bright. Before she had seen
that young man laugh her pleasure had been more complete.
While she was talking to Denis a voice said to her: “Won't you dance
Looking up she saw who it was. His mouth smiled, his eyes were
clever and gay.
The moment she danced with him she began to grow proud, she began to
find herself. Someone whispered to her: “The section must leave at such
and such an hour....”
She thought in a flash: “For me the section is dissolved ... I am I,
and the others are the others!”
The evening wore on. The musicians flagged and took up their courage
again. It was late when Stewart, touching Fanny's arm, showed her that
they were almost the only two women in the room.
“Where are the others?”
“In the hall, putting on their coats. We are all going.”
“Aren't they in a hurry?”
“They have had orders, which were brought up just now, for runs
early to-morrow morning. But you and I have nothing, and Denis has
asked us ... if you are quick you can slip away ... to have supper with
him at Moitriers.”
“We can. The others go home in two cars which have been sent for us.
No one will know that we are not in the other car. I'm so hungry.”
“So am I, starving. Very well.”
They joined the others, put on their coats, hunted ostentatiously
for their gloves, then slipped ahead down the dark stairway into the
square below. Denis joined them.
“Splendid. I have my car round that corner. It will be only a matter
of half an hour, but if you are both as hungry as I you will welcome
it. Everything was finished upstairs, every crumb and cake. We must get
a fourth. Who shall I get?”
“Any one whom you would like to bring,” said Stewart. “I don't think
I have mastered the names yet. I really don't mind.”
“And you, mademoiselle?”
“Nor I either,” said Fanny, sniffing at the frosty air, at the fresh
“Whom you like!”
“Then I won't be a moment. I'll bring whom I can.”
“Monsieur!”... as he reached the corner. He turned back.
“There is an artillery captain ... in a black uniform with silver.”
“An artillery captain ...” he paused enquiringly.
“In black and silver. There was no other in the room.”
“Oh, yes, there were two in black and silver!”
“Tall, with ...”
“Ah, tall! The other is very short ... The tall one is the
Commandant's aide, Captain Chatel. He may not be able.... But I will
see!” He disappeared again.
When he returned he had the young man beside him.
“One moment,” said Chatel, as they walked towards the car; “who
asked for me, the girl with the fair hair, or with the dark?”
“With the fair.”
Moitriers was closed when they reached it, and they drove on to the
only other place where food could be bought past the hour of
midnight—the station buffet.
Pushing past the barriers at the entrance to the station they
entered a long corridor filled with heavy civilian life. Men and women
lay, slept and snored upon the stone ledges which lined the side of the
tunnel, their bags and packets stacked around them. Small children lay
asleep like cut corn, heads hanging and nodding in all directions, or
propped against each other in such an intricate combination that if one
should move the whole sheaf of tired heads slipped lower to the floor.
Further on, swing doors of glass led to a waiting-room, and here the
sleeping men and women were so packed upon the ground and around the
little tables that it was difficult to walk between them. Men sat in
groups of nine or ten around a table meant for four each with his head
sunk down between his hands upon the marble surface. On one table a
small child wrapped in shawls lay among the circle of heads, curled
like a snail, its toe in its father's ear. At each end of the room
stood soldiers with fixed bayonets.
Denis paused at the entrance. “Walk round here,” he said, “there is
a gangway for the sentry.”
“If we talk too loud,” said Fanny, “we shall wake them.”
“They must soon wake in any case. It must be near the time for the
train. You know who they are?”
“Germans. Expelled from Metz. They leave in batches for Germany
every night—by a train that comes in and goes out at some horrible
Passing through more glass doors they came to an inner room where,
behind a buffet, a lady in black silk served them with beer and slices
of raw ham and bread.
The four sat down for a moment at a little table—Denis talking of
the system by which the outgoing Germans were nightly weeded from those
who had permission to remain behind in Metz. Julien Chatel joined in
the conversation. He spoke with the others but he glanced at Fanny. For
the briefest of seconds he thought as he looked at her face that he saw
a new interest smile upon it. He did not know that his own face wore
the same look. His look said as he looked at her: “You, you, you!” At
one moment she thought: “Am I pretty?” At the next she was content only
to breathe, and thought no more of herself. She took in now his eyes
which seldom rested on her, now a movement of his lips which made her
feel both happy and miserable, and suddenly she learnt how often his
finger traced some letter upon his cheek.
These things were important. They were like the opening sentences of
a great play to which one must listen, absorbed, for fear of
misunderstanding all the story.
It was not long before they rose, threaded their way back between
the sleeping Germans, regained the car, and drove down the silent
streets towards the Cathedral.
“Have you seen it?” said Julien in a low voice, addressing her
“Yes. I want to show it to you. Will you meet me there to-morrow at
(The others talked and smiled and knew nothing. Whoever has a secret
is stronger than they who know nothing. Fanny thought: “My companions,
to be as you are is not to exist! Whatever you feel, you are feeling
“Yes,” she answered, and joined her hands tightly, for this was
where the play really began.
* * * * *
The sun shone gaily. Here was no mud, no unhappiness, here were no
puzzled women, and touching mayors of ruined villages, but instead gay
goblin houses, pointed churches like sugar cake, the old French theatre
with its stone garlands glittering in the sun; sun everywhere,
streaming over the Place du Theatre, over women shaking coloured rags
from the windows, women washing linen by the river; everything that had
been wet was drying, everything that had savoured of tears and age and
sadness was burning up under the sun, and what moisture remained was
brighter than jewels.
“Suppose he never came!”
“Why, then, be ready for that. Very likely he wouldn't come. Very
likely he would think in daylight—' She is not a woman, but an English
Amazon...'“ Fanny glanced down at her clothes regretfully. She was
ill-equipped for an assignation.
“At least I might have better gloves,” she thought, and walked into
a small shop which advertised men's clothes in German across the
window. She bought yellow washing-leather gloves at twenty-eight francs
a pair, and would have paid a hundred had the salesman insisted.
And now with yellow gloves, silk stockings, shining shoes and a
heart as light as a leaf upon a wind she walked towards the Cathedral.
“He won't come. He won't be there....” She pushed at the east door.
He was under a Madonna, his black and silver hat in his hand, his
eyes critical and pleased as he walked to meet her. They sat down
together on a seat, without speaking. Then, each longing for the other
to speak —“You have come....” he said first. (His face was oval and
his hair was shining.)
“Yes,” she nodded, and noticed a peculiar glory in the Cathedral.
The dark cave shone as white flesh and youth can shine through the
veils of a mourner.
They no longer lived their own separate lives; they had come
together at each other's call.
“I thought you wouldn't come.”
“Why, why did you think that?”
Little questions and little answers fell in a sudden rain from their
lips. Yet while Fanny spoke he did not seem to know what she said, and
answered at random, or sometimes he did not answer at all, but smiled.
Afraid of the fragile avowal of silence, evading it, she found
little words to follow one another. But he answered less and less, and
smiled at her, till his face was full of this smile. So then she said:
“We'll go out and walk by the river,” and he rose at once and followed
her among the forest of wooden chairs. They forgot that he was to have
shown her the Cathedral. In all its length she never saw one statue
except the first Madonna, not one stone face but his young face with
the cold light upon it, his hands as white as stones, as long and fine
as any of the carved fingers which prayed around them.
They walked together down the winding path below the bridge to the
very edge of the Moselle, which lay in light winter sunlight, its banks
buried in shrubberies of green.
Mont St. Quentin, conical, covered with waving trees, shone like a
hill in summer, and beyond it the indigo forest of every Lorraine
horizon floated indefinitely like a cloud.
A young doctor lounged beside them, putty-coloured under his red
plush cap. “Why are all doctors plain in France?” she laughed.
“Hush!” He wound his hand round and round like the player of a
barrel- organ. “I have to stop you when you say silly things like a
phonograph, at so much a metre.”
So he believed he might tease her.... Delighted, she stopped by the
bank of the river and stared into the water. The sun ran over her
shoulders and warmed her hands. The still shine of the river held both
their eyes as movement in a train holds the mind.
“I am enjoying my walk,” he said. He did not mean it like that, or
as a compliment to her. When it was said he thought it sounded banal,
and was sorry. “What a pity!”
But she was not critical because she was looking for living
happiness, and every moment she was more and more convinced that she
would get it. But when he asked her her name and she repeated it, it
sounded so much like an avowal that they both turned together down the
tow-path with a quick movement and spoke of other things, for they were
old enough to be afraid that the vague happiness that fluttered before
them down the path would not be so beautiful when it was caught. And at
this fear she said distinctly to herself: “In love!” and wondered that
she had not said it before.
Coming back to him with her words, she then began to wound and to
delay him. “You mustn't be late for your office....”
“When shall I see you again?”
They dropped into a long silence. She summoned her coquetry that she
called pride. The blue, blue forest at the edge of her sight tilted a
little like a ship, the watery hill-country rolled towards it in
“It is beautiful,” she said clumsily, avoiding his question,
ignoring it. “Yet when I go there it is always more beautiful on the
“I must hurry,” he said at once, “I shall be late at my office.”
“Where is your office?”
He looked round vaguely. “There in that group of pines.” They walked
towards it, they were almost at the door, but he would not repeat his
question. Would he not at the last moment? No. Had it not then been
clear that the living happiness was at her lips? No. Could he let her
go, could it have been a failure? He was holding out one of the stone
hands. He was going.
She looked up and the sun was streaming in his eyes, blinding him,
and without seeing her he stared into the darkness that was her face.
“I have so enjoyed my walk,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”
All her face said “Oh!” in a hurt, frightened stare, but the sun
only came round the edges of her hair and cap and left the panic in a
shifting darkness. He was gone.
She went back to her street. Reaching the big, populous house she
followed the corridor that led from the stone courtyard, climbed to the
first floor and opened the door of her own room. A bitter disillusion
ran through her. The close-packed furniture seemed to say
indifferently, “There's not much room for you!” and she knew quite well
as she sat down on the bed that it was not her room at all, but had
been as public to the birds of passage as the branch of a tree to the
birds of the air.
“I did so little. I did so little. It was such a little mistake!”
Self-pity flooded her.
“And why did he ask me to come to the Cathedral if such a little
thing, such a little thing....” Indignation rose.
“Things don't crumble like that, don't vanish like that!” She
stared, astonished, at the scenes she had left behind her, the shining
of the dark Cathedral, the ripple on the Moselle. “But they do, they
do, they do....”
Down in the street her own name caught her ear, and she went to the
“Are you there, are you there?” cried the voice.
Hanging waist-deep out of the window she received her orders for the
“I came down to tell you now,” said the girl below on the pavement.
“I thought you might have things to do to the car. You must be at the
Hotel Royal, near the station, at half-past six to-morrow morning.”
“Have you any idea whom I'm to take? Or where?”
“I don't know where, but the man is a Russian colonel.”
She drew her head back through the window, and the gay tumble of the
street gave way to the impersonal, heavy room. Cramming her oil-stained
overall into her haversack, she put on her leather coat and went up to
The sun had disappeared. A cold wind struck the silk-clad ankles.
CHAPTER IV. VERDUN
“Come in,” she said in English, lifting her head and all her mind
and spirit out of the pit of the pillow.
Feet came further into the room and a shivering child held a candle
in her face. “Halb sechs, Fraeulein,” it said. But the Fraeulein
continued to stare at him. He thought she was not yet awake—he could
not tell that she was counting countries in her head to find which one
she was in—or that she was inclining towards the theory that she was
at school in Germany. He was very cold in his shirt and little
trousers, and he pulled at her sheets. “Fraeulein!” he said again with
chattering teeth, and when she nodded more collectedly the little ghost
slipped out relieved by the door. “Russian colonel ... I must get up.
Fancy making that boy call me! Why couldn't someone older ... I must
He had left the electric light burning in her room, but out in the
corridor all was black and hushed as she had left it the night before
when she had gone to bed. Behind the kitchen door there was a noise of
water running in the sink. She opened the door, and there was the
wretched child again, still in his shirt, rinsing out her coffee-pot by
the light of one candle. Well, since he was doing it ... Poor child!
But she must have her coffee. By the time she was dressed he tapped
again and brought in the tray with coffee, bread and jam on it. Setting
it down, he looked it over with an anxious face. “Zucker,” he said, and
disappeared to fetch it. She filled her thermos bottle with the rest of
the coffee which she could not finish, and put two of the slices of
grey bread into the haversack, then crept downstairs and out into the
black street where the gas lamps still burnt and the night sentry still
paced up and down in the spectral gloom. Over the river hung a woolly
fog, imprisoning the water; but as she crossed the bridge she noticed
where its solidity was incomplete and torn, and into the dark water
which lay at the bottom of such crevasses a lamp upon the bridge struck
its arrowed likeness. It was a good seven minutes' walk to the garage,
and she tried to get warm by running, but the ice crackling in the
gutters and between the cobble stones defied her, and her hands ached
with cold though she put them in turn right through her blouse against
her heart to warm them as she ran. Fetching her car she drove to the
Hotel Royal, and settled down to wait.
A porter came out and swept the steps of the hotel, and a puff of
his dust caught her in the face. He laid a fibre mat on each stone
step, and clipped them with little metal clips.
“Are you for us?” asked a sous-lieutenant, looking first up
and down the empty street and then at the car. He had blue eyes and a
long, sad moustache that swept down the lower half of his face and even
below his chin, making him look older than he should.
“I am for a Russian colonel,” she said, liking his mild face.
“That's right. Yes, a Russian colonel. Colonel Dellahousse. But can
you manage by yourself? Can you really? I will tell him....”
He disappeared up the steps and through the swing door of the hotel.
A moment later he was out again.
“He will come to you himself, he will see you. But we want to go to
Verdun! Could you drive so far? You could? Yes, yes, perhaps. Yet here
In dark civilian clothes the Russian came down the hotel steps. He
was tall, serious, upright, rich. His face beneath his wide, black hat
was grave and well cared for. The sombre glitter of his eye was grave,
his small dark beard shone in the well-controlled prime of its growth.
From the narrow line of white collar to the narrower thread of French
watchchain—from the lean, long feet to the lean, white hands she took
him in, and braced herself, adjusted herself, to meet his stately
gravity. If there was something of the Mephistopheles in fancy dress
about him, it was corrected by his considerate expression.
“Have you had breakfast?” he began, speaking French with a softly
“How kind of you to think of it! Yes, thank you, monsieur.”
“I have to go to Verdun,” he put it to her. “I have business there.”
It was as though he expected that she would let him off without
difficult explanations, would exclaim: “There is some mistake! Some
other car, some other driver is intended for your work!”
But she remained silent except for a smile of acknowledgment, and
with a sigh he summoned the lieutenant and went back into the hotel. In
a few minutes the Frenchman came out again. “Monsieur Dellahousse would
like to know if you know the way?” he inquired.
“He doesn't want to take me? Isn't that it?” asked Fanny, smiling
“He is a little doubtful,” admitted the lieutenant. “You must
“Perhaps I appear flippant to him. But I am grave, too, grave as he,
and I long to go, and the car and I, we are trustworthy. I do, indeed,
know the way to Verdun.”
He went in again, and for answer the porter brought out the bags,
and Colonel Dellahousse followed, carrying a sealed black bag with care
under his arm. She was sure he had said to the Frenchman: “But what
sort of a woman is she? One does not want to have difficulties.” And as
sure, too, that the other had answered: “I know the English. They let
their women do this sort of thing. I think it will be all right.”
She no longer felt defiant towards the spoken and unspoken criticism
she met everywhere: “What kind of women can these be whose men allow
them to drive alone with us for hours, and sometimes days?” but had
begun to apologise for it even to herself, while it sometimes caused
She drove them back through the waking town and out by the Verdun
gates, and soon up on to the steep heights above the town among frozen
fields and grasslands white with frost. The big stone tombs of 1870
stuck out of a light ground fog like sails upon a grey sea, and it was
not long, at Jeandelize, before the 1914 graves began, small isolated
wooden crosses. They touched the brink of the battlefields; a rain of
dead gunfire began along the sides of the road, shell-holes with hairy
edges of dried thistles and, at the bottom of each, green moss
stiffened with ice. The road grew wilder and wilder and took on the air
of a burnt-out moor, mile after mile of grey, stricken grass, old iron,
and large upturned stones. Wherever a pair of blasted trees was left at
the road's side a notice hung in mid-air, on wires slung from tree to
tree across the road.
“Halt—Autos!” shouted the square, black, German orders from the
boards which swung and creaked in the wind.
“Nach Verdun,” said the monster black arrows painted on trees and
stone, pointing, thick, black and steady, till it seemed that the ghost
of the German endeavour still flung itself along the road. “Nach
Verdun! Nach Verdun!” without a pause, with head down. “Nach Verdun,”
so that no one might go wrong, go aside, go astray, turn back against
the order of the arrow. Not an arrow anywhere answered “Nach Metz.”
For miles and miles nothing living was to be seen, neither animal,
nor motor, nor living man; only the stray fires of the Chinese
fluttered here and there like blue and red marsh fires a mile or so
back from the main road. Once as she flew along she shied like a horse
and twisted the wheel as a wild screaming and twittering rose at the
side of the car, and glancing back she saw three figures wriggle and
laugh in mockery and astonishment. They had risen round the embers of a
dead fire, and stood swaying on their feet and showing white teeth in
orange faces. One had the long hair of a woman flapping about his ears.
They reached Etain, and turned the sharp corner in the street lined
with hollow houses, passed under a tunnel of thick camouflage, leafy as
an arbour, mouldy as the rags upon a corpse, and came on the first
pill-boxes of the Hindenburg line.
Another twelve miles and the twin towers of Verdun appeared over the
brow of a hill.
“I thought it but dust!” exclaimed the Russian. “I thought it a
ruin; it is a town!”
“Wait, wait till you get nearer....”
Then down the last long hill and over the paved Route d'Etain into
the suburbs of Verdun. As they neared it the town began to show its
awful frailty—its appearance of preservation was a mockery. Verdun
stood upright as by a miracle, a coarse lace of masonry—not one house
“Stop!” ordered the Russian, and at the foot of the steep, conical
hill which wore Verdun upon its crest they stopped and stared. The town
was poured over the slopes of the hill as though a titanic tipcart had
let out its rubbish upon the summit. Houses, shops and churches, still
upright, still formed Verdun, kept its shape intact, unwilling that it
should fall to dust while these deadly skeletons could keep their feet.
Light glared through the walls, and upon the topmost point of all the
palace of the bishop was balanced, its bones laced against the sky. The
Russian, who had stood up in the car, sat down. “Now go on....”
The streets which circled the base of the hill had been partially
cleared of fallen rock and stonework, and the car could pick its way
between the crazy shop-fronts, where notices of vanished cobblers,
manicurists, butchers, flapped before caverns hollowed by fire, upon
fingers of stone already touched by moss.
Here and there soldiers moved in bands at their work of clearing.
But the black hat, the drab coat of the civilian had long been left
behind —and here the face of a woman was unknown as the flying dragons
of the world's youth.
Now and then with a crash the remains of a house fell, as the block
of stonework which alone supported it was disarranged by the working
“Where am I to go?” asked Fanny, as the street wound round the base
of the hill.
“I will climb over beside you and direct you,” said the French
lieutenant, and dropped into the front seat.
“Where do these soldiers sleep? Not among these ruins?”
A block of masonry fell ahead of them and split its stones across
“Be careful! You can get round by this side street. Up here.... In
these ruins. No living soul can sleep in Verdun now.”
“Don't you know? They sleep beneath Verdun, in this hill
around which we are circling. I am looking for the entrance.”
“Inside this hill? Under the town?”
“But you've heard of the citadelle?“
“Yes, but... this hill is so big.”
“There are fifteen kilometres of tunnel in this hollow hill, and
hundreds of steps lead up to the top by the palace, where there is a
defence of barbed wire and guns. Look, here is the entrance.”
They left the car. Before them was a small dark hole in the side of
the hill, an entrance not much higher than a man, into which ran a
single rail line of narrow gauge. A sentry challenged them as they
walked towards him.
Entering the hill they found themselves in a tunnel lit by electric
bulbs which hung in a dotted line ahead of them.
“Wait!” ordered the deep voice of the Russian, and he strode from
them into the depths of the tunnel with the Eastern swing of Ali Baba
entering his cave.
Fanny stood by the mild lieutenant, and they waited obediently.
“I must tell you a secret,” he said to her. “Monsieur Dellahousse is
very glad to be here. He said this morning: 'The Governor has sent me a
woman to break my neck!'“
“But he took me....”
“Could he refuse you?—For he felt that it was a glove of challenge
thrown down by the Governor of Metz. They do not get on together.... He
took you with dignity, but he was convinced that he placed himself in
the jaws of death.”
“When do we go back? We cannot now be in Metz before dark.”
“But haven't they told you? Never warned you? How monstrous! We are
“And I return alone?”
“No, you stay too. You are lent to us for five days. They should
have told you!”
“Oh, I stay too. In this tunnel, here! How odd, how amusing!”
“Monsieur Dellahousse has gone to ask the Commandant of the
citadelle to house us all. Here he comes.”
The Russian returned under the chain of lights. “Follow me,” he
said, and led them further into his cavern.
They followed him like children, and as they advanced the lieutenant
whispered: “We are now well beneath the town. It lies like a crust
above our heads. Exactly beneath the palace you will see the steps go
“What is the railway line for?”
“Bread for the garrison. There are great bakeries in the
Further and further still.... Till the Russian turned to the right
and took a branching tunnel. Here, lining the curve of the stone wall
were twenty little cubicles of light wood, raised a few inches from the
moist floor, and roofless except for the arch of the tunnel that ran
equally above them all. These were the rooms assigned to the
officers de passage, officers whom duty kept for a night in Verdun.
Each cubicle held a bed, a tin basin on a tripod, a minute square of
looking-glass, a chair and a shelf, and each bore the name of its
temporary owner written on a card upon the door.
“Twenty ... twenty-one ... and twenty-two,” read the Russian from a
paper he carried, and threw open the door of twenty-two.
“This is yours, mademoiselle”; he bowed and waved her toward it.
Fanny entered the room, which, from his manner, might have been the
gilded ante-chamber of his Tzar.
She heard him enter his own room, and through the partition the very
sighing of his breath was audible as it rustled upon his lips! He tried
to give her the illusion of privacy, for, wishing to speak to her, he
left his room again to tap at her door, though his voice was as near
her ear whether at door or wall.
“I hope you are content, mademoiselle?” he said through the
“You will sleep here,” he continued, as though he suspected her of
sleeping anywhere but there, “and dine with us in the officers' mess at
seven. Until then, please stay in the citadelle in case I need
She heard his footsteps go up the corridor, the lieutenant following
him. “I will unpack,” she thought, and from her knapsack drew what she
had by chance brought with her. Upon the shelf she arranged a tin of
singe—the French bully beef—a gilt box of powder, a toothbrush, a
comb, a map, a packet of letters to be answered, and a magneto spanner.
There was an hour yet before dinner and she wandered out into the
corridors to explore the citadelle. A soldier stood upon a
ladder changing the bulb of an electric light.
Catching sight of her he hurried from his ladder, and passing her
with a stiff face, saluted, and disappeared.
Soon she began to think that this was the busy hour in the fortress:
the corridors rustled gently, the unformed whispering of voices echoed
behind her. The walls seemed to open at a dozen spots as she walked on,
and little men with bright, grave faces hurried past her about their
“Perhaps they are changing the guard....”
Yet a face which had already passed her three times began to impress
its features upon her, and she realised suddenly that it was curiosity,
not duty, that called the soldiers from their burrows. The news was
spreading, for out of the gloom ahead fresh parties of onlookers
appeared, paused disconcerted as she wished them “good evening,” nodded
or saluted her in haste, then hurried by.
An officer with grizzled hair stepped into the passage from a
doorway. As she neared him she saw he wore the badges of a commandant.
“Who is this?” he asked in a low voice of the soldier who followed
at his heels.
“J'n'en sais rien, mon commandant,” The soldier stiffened as a
watch-dog who sees a cat.
Fanny hastened nearer. “I drive a Russian officer,” she explained.
“I hope I have your permission to stay here.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the officer, looking at her in surprise. “Colonel
Dellahousse told me 'a driver'; he did not add that the driver was a
lady. Where have they put you? Not in the cubicles of the officiers
de passage? No, no, that must be changed, that won't do. Come, you
shall sleep in the room next to the bishop's room, as he is absent. It
is in my corridor.”
Fanny followed him, and noticed that the corridor was now clear of
soldiers. The commandant paused before a door decorated with flags and
led her into another corridor lined with cubicles much larger than
those she had seen at first.
“Open number seven.”
The soldier took his bunch of keys and opened the door.
“Now fetch mademoiselle's effects from the other corridor. Which
number was your room, mademoiselle?”
“Twenty-two. But I can fetch them ... I have really nothing.”
The soldier withdrew.
“He will get them. You dine with us, I hope, to-night at seven. Are
you English, mees?”
“Yes, English—with the French Army. I am really so grateful...”
“The other room was not possible. I like the English, mees. I have
known them at my home near Biarritz. You and I must talk a little. Do
you care to read?”
“Oh, yes, if I get time....”
“Any books you may want please take from my sitting-room, number
sixteen in this corridor. Tenez! I have an English book
there—'The Light that Failed'—I will get it for you.”
“Oh! I have read ... But thank you.”
“De rien, de rien! I will get it now.” He hastened up the
corridor and returned with the book in his hand.
The soldier, too, returned, bearing the seven objects which had
accompanied her travels.
“You will clean mademoiselle's shoes, brush her uniform, and bring
her hot water when she needs it,” ordered the commandant, and the
soldier saluted impassively—a watch-dog who had been told that it was
the house-cat after all.
Left alone, she searched all her pockets for some forgotten stick of
chocolate, and finding nothing, sat down upon the bed to wait hungrily
till seven. The air in the tunnels was heavy and dry, and throwing off
her tunic she lay down on the bed and slept until footsteps passing her
door awoke her.
She became aware that the inhabitants of her corridor were washing
their hands for dinner, and sitting up sleepily found that it was
already seven. In a few minutes she hurried from her room and out into
the main tunnel, glad to get nearer the fresh air which filtered in
through the opening at the far end.
Reaching a door which she had noticed before, marked “popote,” she paused a second, listening to the hum of voices within, then
pushed at the door and entered.
Instantly there was a hush of astonishment as seventy or eighty
officers, eating at a long trestle table, sharply turned their heads
towards her, their forks poised for a second, their hands still. Then,
with a quick recovery, all was as before, and the stream of talk flowed
The first section of the table was reserved for strangers passing
through Verdun, and here sat a party of young Russian officers in light
blouse-tunics, an American or two, and a few French officers. At the
next section sat the officers of the citadelle, a passing
general, and at the left hand of the commandant, Monsieur Dellahousse
and the mild lieutenant.
Overhead the stone roof of the tunnel was arched with flags, and
orderlies hurried up and down serving the diners.
Fanny, halfway up the long table, wavered in doubt. Where, after
all, was she supposed to sit? At the top section, as a guest—or, as a
driver, among the whispering Russians at the “stranger” section? Her
anxiety showed in her face as she glanced forwards and backwards and an
orderly hurried towards her. “Par ici, mademoiselle, par ici!” and she
followed him towards the head of the table. Her doubts dissolved as she
saw the gap left for her by the friendly arm of the lieutenant, and,
arrived at the long wooden bench upon which they sat, she bowed to the
commandant, and lifting one leg beneath her skirt as a hen does beneath
its feathers, she straddled the difficult bench and dropped into
“Beer, mademoiselle? Or red wine?” asked the Russian, suddenly
turning to her; and the commandant, released from his conversation,
called out gaily: “The mees will say 'water'—but one must insist. Take
the wine, mees, it is better for you.” The idea of water had never
crossed Fanny's mind, but having decided on beer she changed it
politely to red wine, which she guessed to be no other than the
“I know them...” continued the commandant, smiling at the general.
“I know the English! My home is at Biarritz and there one meets so
And this old man thus addressed, a great star blazing on his breast,
and tears of age trembling in his blue eyes, lifted his hand to attract
her attention, and said to Fanny in gentle English: “Verdun honours a
charming guest, mademoiselle.”
“Verdun ... honours....” His words lingered in her ear. She a
guest, she honoured ... here!
Up till now the novelty of her situation had engrossed her, the
little soldiers watching in the tunnels, the commandant so eager to air
his stumbling English, these had amused her.
And when she had perceived herself rare, unique, she had forgotten
why she was thus rare, and what strange, romantic life she meddled in.
Here in this womanless region, in this fortress, in this room, night
after night, month after month, the commandant and his officers had sat
at table; in this room, which, unlike the tomb, had held only the
living, while the dead and the threatened-with-death inhabited the
They had finished dinner and Monsieur Dellahousse signalled to Fanny
that she might rise. She rose, and at the full sight of her uniform he
remembered her duties and said stiffly: “Be good enough to wait up till
ten to-night. I may need you.”
They passed out again down the length of the tables. Near the door
the Russian paused to speak with his countrymen, who rose and stood
respectfully round him. Fanny and the lieutenant went on alone to the
“You have travelled with him before?” she asked.
“Oh, yes. I am lent to him to help him through the country. He is on
a tour of inspection for the Red Cross; he visits all the camps of
Russian prisoners liberated from Germany.”
“But are there many round Verdun?”
“Thousands. You will see to-morrow. And be prepared for early
rising. If he doesn't send for you by ten to-night I will tell the
orderly to let you know the hour at which you will be wanted to-morrow
morning. The car is all ready to start again?”
“I am going out to her now.”
He turned away to join the Russian, and Fanny passed the sentry at
the tunnel's mouth, and stood in the road outside.
Verdun by night, Verdun by starlight, awaited her.
Up the slopes of the hill, every spar, brick and beam, carried its
bristle of gold. At her own head's imperceptible movement flashes came
and went between the ribs of the Bishop's Palace. The sentry by the
tunnel stood between the upper and the underground:—with his left eye
he could watch the lights that strung back into the hollow hill, with
his right, the smiling and winking of the stars in the sky.
“Fait beau dehors.” His voice startled her. She turned to him, but
he stood immobile in the shadow as though he had never spoken. She
could not be sure that he had indicated to her that every man has his
taste and his choice.
She set to work on her car which stood in the shelter of an archway
opposite, and for half an hour the sky trembled unregarded above her
head. When she had finished she stood back and gazed at the Rochet with
an anxious friendly enmity—the friendship of an infant with a lion.
“The garage is eighty miles away,” she sighed, “with its friendly men
who know all where I know so little.... Ah, do I know enough? What have
I left undone?” For she felt, what was the truth, that the whole
expedition depended on her, that the stately Russian had perhaps never
known what it was to have a breakdown—that in Moscow, in Petrograd, in
his faraway life, he had sat in town cars behind two chauffeurs,
unaware of the deadly traps in rubber and metal.
CHAPTER V. VERDUN
Night was the same as day in the tunnels; the electric light was
always on, and with the morning no daylight crept in to alter it. The
orderly called her at half-past six and she took her “clients” to a
barracks in the suburbs of Verdun, where Russian prisoners “liberated"
from Germany crowded and jostled to see her from behind the bars of the
barrack square, like wild animals in a cage. Armed sentries paced
backwards and forwards across the gateway to the yard. As it came on to
snow a French soldier came out of a guardroom and invited her in by the
Inside, the rest of the guard huddled about the stove, and behind
them a Russian prisoner with a moon face swept up the crumbs from their
“Why do Americans guard the gate?” she asked, “since you are a
“Because we don't shoot with enough goodwill,” grinned a little man.
“But who do you want to shoot?”
“Those fellows!” said the little man, slapping the moon-faced
Russian on the thigh. “We used to guard the gates a week ago. But the
Russians were always escaping, and not enough were shot as they got
over the wall. So they said: 'The Americans are the types for that!'
and they put them on to guard the gates. Look outside! You are having a
Hundreds of Russians stood about together outside, in strange, poor,
scraped-together clothes, just as they had come from Germany, peering
at Fanny in silence through the open doorway.
“But I thought these were liberated prisoners from Germany?”
“Don't ask me!” said the little man disgustedly. “I wish to heaven
they were all back in Germany. Look at me! I've fought in the Somme,
the Aisne, and Verdun, and now at the end of the war I'm left here to
look after these pigs!”
A sergeant entered. “A man to take the prisoner in the fourth cell
up to the doctor,” he said sharply.
“It's not my turn,” said the little man, aggrieved that the eye of
the sergeant should so rest on him. “It's yours!” he said to the man on
the bench beside him. “It's yours!” replied this man to the next.
“Yes, it's Chaumet's! Yes, it's Chaumet's, va-t'en!” they all
said, and a man with a cast in his eye got up slowly, grumbling, and
turned towards the door.
“Here, dress yourself!”
“What, to take a ... to the doctor?”
He pulled his belt and gun off the rack with an ill-will and
disappeared, buckling it on.
“You have Russians in cells, too?”
“Those who won't work, yes. On bread and water. That one has been on
bread and water for five days. In my opinion he'll die.”
“But why won't they work?”
“Work! He won't even clean his own cell out! They say it's because
they are Bolshevists, but I don't know about that. I talk a little
Russian, and I think they are convinced that if they make themselves at
all useful to us we shall never send them home. Some of them think they
are in Germany still. They're an ignorant lot.”
An American came in rather hesitatingly, but without nodding to the
“We've got bacon-chips in our camp,” he said, addressing Fanny
directly. “I don't like to bring them in here, but if you'd just step
across ... it isn't a stone's throw.”
She did not like to desert the French, but she was sick with hunger,
and rose. She knew she would have nothing from the guard-house meal,
for they probably had the same ration as she—one piece of meat, two
potatoes, and one sardine a man.
After all, food was more important than sentiment, and she followed
him out of the hut.
“You won't get anything from those skinflints,” said the American,
“so we thought you'd better come and have some chips.”
“Because they have nothing to give,” she answered, half inclined to
turn back. The American barracks were opposite, and in the yard, under
a shelter of planks, the men were eating round a complicated travelling
kitchen on wheels. “They have all the latest, richest things,” thought
Fanny, jealous for the French, antagonistic, yet hungry. But when she
was among the Americans, they were simple and kind to her, offering her
a great tray of fried bacon chips, concerned that she should have to
eat them with her hand, washing out their tin mugs and filling them
with coffee for her, making her sit on a barrel while she ate. “It's
only that they are so different,” she thought. “So different from the
French that they can never meet without hurting and jarring each
Russians slouched about in the snow, washing the pans. When they had
finished eating the Americans called to the Russians to eat what
remained of the bacon chips. Watching them eat with the hunger of
animals, they said:
“They starve them in the French barracks. We give them food here, or
they'd sure die.”
“They give them what they can in the French barracks; the soldiers
don't get a ration like this, you know, even for themselves.”
“Their fault for not kicking up a shindy,” said the free-born
Americans. “We wouldn't stand it.”
“You have no idea of poverty.”
Food was even lying in the snow. A soldier cook thrust his head out
of a hut, crying: “Any one want any more chips?”
She knew that it was probably true what the Frenchman had said, that
the Americans shot the Russians as lightly as if they were sparrows.
Yet here they wept over the French ration that kept the Russians
hungry, though alive and well. What a curious mixture of sentiment and
brutality they were....
She pulled out her cigarette case and offered a cigarette to a man
standing near her. He took it and answered in a thick, lisping Jewish
accent, soft and uniformed: “I don't smoke, ma'am. But I'll keep it as
a souvenir give to me by the only lady I've seen in three months.”
“That's really true? You haven't seen a woman for three months?”
“No, ma'am. Not a one. It must seem strange to you to hear us say
that. Just as though you were a zebra.”
“There's some one over by your car,” said the sentry, who had no
idea of silence at his post. She got up quickly and flew back to the
other barracks, jumping the deep pools of water and mud and the little
heaps of soiled snow, started up the car and drove back to the
citadelle for lunch.
At one-thirty they started out again, to chase over the grey downs
in search of Russian camps folded away in small depressions and
hollows, invisible from the main roads.
And thus, day after day, for five days, she drove him from morning
to evening, from camp to camp around Verdun, until they had seen many
thousands of Russians. Sometimes the French lieutenant came with them,
and once or twice the Russian gravely invited him to sit in front with
the driver. Then they would talk together a little in English, and once
he said: “Would you like me to tell you something that will surprise
you and interest me?”
She looked round.
“Your employer,” he said, smiling gently over the expression, “is
jealous of you.”
She did not know what to make of this.
“He dislikes it intensely when you talk to the commandant of the
“He does not think you exclusive enough, considering you, as he
does, as his woman.”
“Yes, of course! But you ought to realise that you are the only
woman for miles around, and you belong to us!”
“Well, yes. I have something the same feeling. But his is stronger
because his nature is Oriental. He thinks: 'This woman is a great
curiosity, therefore a great treasure; and this treasure belongs to me.
I brought her here, I am responsible for her, she obeys my orders.'“
“But does he tell you all this, or do you guess it?”
“We talk of this and that.”
That night in the mess-room the Russian leant across the table to
“What is man's mystery to a woman if she lives surrounded by him?”
“Oh, but that's not necessary ... mystery!”
“It is necessary to love.”
“Colonel Dellahousse,” explained the lieutenant, smiling very much,
“does not believe that you can love what you know.”
The Russian nodded. “Love is based on a fabulous belief. An illusory
image which fills the eyes of people who are unused to each other. This
poor lady will soon be used to everything.”
Fanny, who felt momentarily alarmed, suddenly remembered Julien.
“When do we go back?” she asked absently.
The sympathetic eyes of the lieutenant seemed to understand even
that, and he smiled again.
They left next day, after the midday meal.
Before lunch she met a soldier, who stopped her in one of the
“You are going,” he said. “I have a little thing to ask.”
“Mademoiselle, it would not incommode you, it is such a little
thing. Think! We have not seen a woman here so long.”
Still she waited; and he muttered, already abashed:
“One kiss would not hurt you, mademoiselle.”
“Let me pass....” she stammered to this member of the great
He wavered and stood aside, and she went on up the corridor vaguely
ashamed of her refusal.
* * * * *
“We go now,” said the Russian, rising from the luncheon table. “Are
you satisfied with your experience, mademoiselle?”
“Verdun. This life is strange to you. I have seen you reflective.
Now, if you will go out to the car you shall go back to your civilised
town where the Governor so dislikes me, and you shall see your women
friends again! But we are not coming all the way with you.”
“No, we stay at Briey. You return from Briey alone.”
They set out once more upon the roads which ran between the dead
violence of the plains—between trenches that wandered down from the
side of a sandy hillock, by villages which appeared like an illusion
upon the hillside, fading as they passed and reforming into the
semblance of houses in the distance behind them.
The clouds above their heads were built up to a great height, rocky
and cavernous; crows swung on outspread wings, dived and alighted
heavily on the earth like fowls. They came behind the old German lines,
and the road changing led them through short patches of covering woods
filled with instruments. Depot after depot was piled between the trees
and the notices hanging from the branches chattered antique directions
at them. “The drinking trough—the drinking trough!” cried one, but
they had no horse to water. “Take this path!” urged another, “for
the....” but they flew by too fast to read the end of the message,
while the path pursued them a little way among the pines, then turned
abruptly away. “Do not smoke here ... Nicht rauchen,” “NICHT
RAUCHEN,” “Rauchen streng verboten,” cried the notices, in
furious impotent voices. The wood chattered and spat with cries, with
commands for which the men who made them cared no longer. The hungry
noses of old guns snuffed at the car as it rolled by, guns dragging
still upon their flanks the torn cloak of camouflage—small squat guns
which stared idly into the air, or with wider mouths still, like
petrified dogs for ever baying at the moon—long slim guns which lay
along the grass and pushing undergrowth—and one gun which had dipped
forward and, fallen upon its knees, howled silenced imprecations at the
devil in the centre of the earth.
When they had passed the shattered staging of the past they came out
upon the country which had been occupied by Germans but not by warfare.
Here the fields, uncultivated, had grown wild, but round the sparse
villages little patches of ground had been dug and sown. Not a cow
grazed anywhere, not a sheep or a goat. No hens raced wildly across
village streets. Far ahead on the white ribbon of road a black figure
toiled in the gutter, and Fanny debated with herself: “Might I offer a
Looking ahead she saw no village or cottage within sight, and with a
murmured apology to the Russian she pulled up beside the old woman whom
she had overtaken.
“Where are you going?”
“We, too. Get in, madame.”
The Russian made no comment. The old crone, knuckled,
hard-breathing, climbed in, holding uncertainly to the windscreen and
pulling after her her basket and umbrella.
“Cover yourself, madame,” ordered Fanny, as to a child, and handed
her a rug.
“I have never been in an auto before,” whispered the old creature
against a wind which made her breathless. “I have seen them pass.”
“You are not afraid?”
“Cover yourself well, well.”
Gallant old women, toiling like ants upon the long stretches of
road, who, suddenly finding themselves projected through the air at a
pace they had never experienced in their lives before, would say not a
word, though the colour be whipped to their cheeks and their eyes
rained tears until, clinging to the arm of the driver: “Stop here,
mademoiselle!” they would whisper, expecting the car to rear and stop
dead at their own doorstep; and finding themselves still carried on,
and half believing themselves kidnapped: “Ah, mademoiselle, stop,
They slipped down into the pit of Briey where the houses cling to
the sides of a circular hollow, and drew up by a white house which the
The old woman searched, trembling and out of breath for her
handkerchief, and wiped her streaming eyes; then, as she climbed out
backwards, with feet feeling for the ground—“What do I owe you,
“Ah, nothing, nothing.”
“Mais si! I am not at all poor!” and leaving a
twopence-halfpenny piece on the seat, she hurried away.
Colonel Dellahousse came to the side of the car and thanked Fanny
ceremoniously. “And if I do not see you again, mademoiselle,” he said,
“remember what I say and go back to your home before the pleasure of
life is spoilt for you.”
“Good-bye, good-bye,” said the French lieutenant.
Soon after she had left Briey snow began to fall. A river circled at
the foot of a hill, and she followed its windings on a road which ran
just above it. Night wiped out the colours on the hills around her,
until the moon rose and they glowed again, half trees, half light. She
climbed slowly up to a plateau not a dozen miles from Metz.
* * * * *
An hour later, the car put away in the garage, Fanny was tapping at
the window of the bath house in the town. The beautiful fat woman who
prepared the baths answered her tap. “Fraeulein,” said Fanny, “would it
matter if I had a bath? Is it too late? I'll turn it on myself and dry
What did the woman mind if Fanny had a bath? Fat and beautiful, she
had nothing left to wish for, and contentedly she gave her the corner
room overlooking the canal and the theatre square, wishing her a
good-night full of German blessings. The water ran boiling out of the
tap, and the smoke curled up over the looking-glass and the
When the bath was full to the brim she got in, lay back, and pulled
open the window with her toe. The beautiful French theatre, piebald
with snow and shadow, shone over the window-sill. The Cathedral clock
struck out ten chimes, whirling and singing over her head, the voices
of the little boys died down, the last had thrown his last snowball and
gone to bed. The steam rose up like a veil before the window, and once
again, between the grey walls of her bath—so like her cradle and her
coffin—she meditated upon the riches and treasure of the passing days.
“And yet,” echoed the thoughts in that still water travelling still,
“to travel is not to move across the earth.”
Peering back into the past, frowning in the effort to string
forgotten words together, Fanny whispered upon the surface of the
“The strange things of travel,
The East and the West,
The hill beyond the hill—”
But the poem was shattered as the voice of the bath woman called to
her through the door.
“You are well, Fraeulein?”
Fanny turned in her bath astonished. “Why, yes, thank you! Did you
think I was ill?”
“I didn't know. I daren't go to bed till I see you out, for last
week we had a woman who killed herself in here, drowned in the water. I
have just remembered her.”
“Well, I won't drown myself.”
“I can never be sure now. She gave me such shock.”
“Well, I'm getting out,” said Fanny.
“I'm getting out. Listen!” And naked feet padded and splashed down
upon the cork mat. “Now go to bed. I promise you I have no reason to
CHAPTER VI. THE LOVER IN THE LAMP
“How do you know you will meet him?” said the cold morning light;
and when she walked in it the city looked big enough to hide his face.
In the first street a girl said the name of Julien without knowing what
it was she said. But only a child shrieked in answer from a magic
square of chalk upon the pavement.
“You've been away for days and days,” said her companions at the
garage, to show that they had noticed it. “Where have you been?”
The garage faded. “Verdun,” she said; and Verdun lacy and perilous,
hung in her mind.
“Whom did you take?”
She struggled with the confusing image of the Russian. Before she
could reply the other said: “There's to be an inspection of the cars
this morning. You'll have to get something done to your car!”
Outside in the yard the sun was gay upon the thinly frosted-stones,
but in the shadow of the garage the glass and brass of seventy or
eighty cars glowed in a veiled bloom of polish. Only the
Rochet-Schneider, which had been to Verdun, stood unready for the
inspection, coated from wheel to hood with white Meuse mud. There was
nothing to be done with her until she had been under the hose.
Out in the street, where the hose was fastened to the hydrant, the
little pests of Metz clustered eagerly, standing on the hose pipe where
the bursts were tied with string, and by dexterous pressure diverting
the leaks into gay fountains that flew up and pierced the windows
opposite. As the mud rolled off under the blast of the hose and left
the car streaky and dripping, the little boys dipping their feet into
the gutters and paddled.
Soaked and bareheaded, Fanny drove the clean car slowly back into
the garage and set her in her place in the long line.
Stewart, beside her, whispered, “They've come, they've come! They're
starting at the other end. Four officers.”
Fanny pulled her tin of English “Brasso” from a pocket-flap, and
began to rub a lamp. At the far, far end of the long shed four men were
standing with their backs to her, round a car. The globed lamp was
tricky, and the chamois-leather would slip and let her bark her knuckle
on the bracket. But the glow, born in the brass, grew clearer and
clearer, till suddenly, stooping to it, she looked into a mirror and
saw all the garage behind her and the long rows of cars bent in a
yellow curve, and little men and oily women walking incredibly upon the
rounded ball of the world. They hung with their feet on curving walls
running and walking without difficulty, blinking, moving, talking in a
yellow lake of brass.
Julien, Dennis and two others, stopping at car after car, came
nearer and nearer. And Julien, holding the inspection, nodded gravely
to their comments, searching car after car with his eyes as he walked
up the garage, until they rested on the head and the hair of the girl
he knew; then he paused, three cars from her, and watched the head as
it hung motionless, level with the lamp she had just turned into a
And within the field of her vision he had just appeared. He paused,
fantastic, upon the ball of the world, balanced amazingly with his feet
on the slope of a golden corridor, and, hypnotised, she watched his
face, bent into the horn of a young moon—Julien, and yet unearthly and
impossible. There were his two hands, lit in a brassy fire, hanging
down his sides, and the cane which he held in his left went out beyond
the scope of the corridor. The three others hung around him like bent
corn. She watched these yellow shades, as tall as ladders, talk and act
in the little theatre of the lamp.... He was coming up to her, he
became enormous, his head flew out of the top of the world, his feet
ran down into the centre of the earth. He was effacing the garage, he
had eaten up the corridor and all the cars. He must be touching her, he
must have swallowed her too, his voice in her ear said: “You'd gone for
“I ... I had gone?” She drew her gaze out of the mirror.
The world outside let him down again on to his feet, and he stood
beside her and said gently in her ear: “Will you meet me again in the
Cathedral at four to-day?” She nodded, and he turned away, and she saw
that he was so unknown to her that she could hardly tell his uniformed
back from the backs of those about him.
To meet this stranger then at four in the Cathedral she prepared
herself with more care than she would have given to meet her oldest
friend. The gilded day went by while she did little things with the
holy air of a nun at her lamp—polishing her shoes, her belt, her cap
badge, sitting on her bed beneath the stag's horn, an enraptured sailor
upon the deck of the world. Around the old basin on the washstand faded
blue animals chased each other and snapped at ferns and roses: she
lifted the jug and drowned the beasts in water, and even to wash her
hands was a rite which sent a shower of thoughts flying through her
mind. How many before her had called this room a sanctuary, a temple,
and prepared as carefully as she for some charmed meeting in the
crannies of the town? This room? This “corridor.” The passengers,
travellers, soldiers, who had used this bed for a night and passed on,
thought of it only as a segment in the endless chain of rooms that
sheltered them. Bed, washstand, chair, table, rustled with history.
Soldiers resting from the battle out there by Pont-a-Moussons, kissing
the girl who lived in the back room, waking in the morning as darkly as
she, leaving the room to another. Soldiers, new-fledged, coming up from
Germany, trembling in the room as they heard the thunder out at
Pont-a-Moussons. An officer—that ugly, wooden boy who stared at her
from the wall above the mantelpiece. (What a mark he had left on the
household that they should frame him in velvet and keep him staring at
his own bed for ever!) She all but saw spirits—and shivered at the
procession of life. Outside in the street she heard a cry, and her name
called under the window. How like the cry that afternoon a week ago
which had sent her to Verdun! Standing in the shadow of the curtain she
peered cautiously out.
At sight of her, a voice cried up from the street: “There is a fancy
dress dance next Tuesday night! I'm warning every one; it's so hard to
get stuffs.” The voice passed on to the house where Stewart lived.
(“How nice of her!”) This was a good day. (“What shall I wear at the
dance?”) There, about the face of the clock, windless and steady, hung
the hours. Not yet time to start, not yet.
Through the lace of the curtain and the now closed window, the
shadows hurried by upon the pavement, heads bobbed below upon the
Oh Dark, and Pale, and Plain, walking soberly in hat and coat, what
sign in these faces of the silver webbery within the brain, of the
flashing fancies and merry plans, like birds gone mad in a cage! The
tram, as antique as a sedan chair, clanked across the bridge over the
river, and changing its note as it reached firmer land, roared and
bumbled like a huge bee into the little street. Stopping below her
window it was assailed by little creatures who threw themselves as
greedily within as if they were setting out upon a wild adventure.
“All going to meet somebody,” said Fanny, whose mind, drowned in her
happiness, took the narrowest view of life. But for all their push and
hurry the little creatures in the glass cage were forced to unfold
their newspapers and stare at each other for occupation while the
all-powerful driver and Wattmann, climbing down from the
opposite ends of the car, conferred together in the street. “It's
waiting for the other tram!” And even as she said it, she found the
clock behind her back had leapt mysteriously and slyly forward. “I'll
take the other....” And, going downstairs, she stood in the shelter of
her doorway, out of the cold wind that blew along the street. The delay
of the other car brought her well up to her hour. “I'll even be a
little late,” she thought, proud of herself.
“Don't talk to the Wattmann,” said the notices in the tramcar
crossly to her in German as she slipped and slid upon its straining
seats. “Don't spit, don't smoke ... don't....” But she had her revenge,
for across all the notices her side of the war had written
coldly: “You are begged, in the measure possible to you, to talk only
When they got into the narrow town the tramcar, mysteriously
swelling, seemed to chip the shop windows and bump the front doors, and
people upon the pavement scrambled between the glass of the tram and
the glass of the big drapery shop.
They met, as it were, in the very centre of a conversation. “I never
know where you are,” he complained, as though this trouble was so in
his thoughts that he must speak of it at once, “or when I shall see you
again.” She smiled radiantly, busier with greeting, less absorbed than
“You may go away and never come back. You go so far.”
She went away often and far. But that was his trouble, not hers. He,
at least, remained stationary in Metz. She was full of another
thought—the vagueness, the precariousness of the chance that even in
Metz had brought them together.
“How lucky what?”
How lucky? How lucky? He begged, implored, frowned, tried to peer.
He would not let her rest. “Why should you hide what you think? I don't
Oh, no, he did not like it. No one likes to get hint of that
fountain of talk which, sweet or bitter, plays just out of reach of the
ear, just behind the mask of the face.
“How lucky that you held the inspection!” had all but stolen from
her lips. But this implied too clearly that it was lucky for
somebody—for her, for him. And how could she say that? Her thoughts
were so far in advance of her confessions. A dozen sentences rose to
her lips, all too clear, too intimate. So she became silent before the
things that she could not say.
“Of what are you thinking?”
Extortionate question. (“Am I to put all my fortune in your hand
like that? Am I to say, 'Of you, of you'?”) For every word she said
aloud she said a hundred to herself; and after three words between them
she had the impression of a whole conversation.
“One must arrange some plan,” he said, pursuing his perplexity, “so
that I know when you go, and when you come back. I can't always be
holding inspections to find out.”
“It was for that that you held the inspection?”
“Why, of course, of course!”
“But entirely to find out?” (divided between the desire to make him
say it again and the fear of driving his motives into daylight).
“I didn't know what to do. I couldn't telephone and ask whether your
car had returned.”
Wonderful and excellent! She had had the notion while she was at
Verdun that something might be rolling up to her account in the bank at
Metz, and now he was giving her proof after proof of the accumulation.
But from the valley of vanity she suddenly flew up to wonder. “He
does that for me!” looking at herself in the mirror of her mind. “He
does it for me!” But of what use to look at the daylight image of
herself—the khaki figure, the driver? “For he must be looking at glory
as I do.” The Russian said: “Love is an illusory image.” “Isn't it
strange how these human creatures can cast it like a net out of their
personality?...” Vanity, creeping above love, beat it down like a stick
beats down a fire; it was too easy to-day; he gave her nothing left to
wish for; the spell over him, she felt, was complete, and now she had
nothing else to do but develop her own. And this she had instantly less
inclination to do. But, guided by his bright wits, he too withdrew, let
the tacit assumption of intimacy drop between them, and their walk by
the Moselle was filled by her talk of the Russian prisoners and Verdun.
She glanced at him from time to time, and would have grown more
silent, but by his light questions he kept her talking briskly on,
offering her no new proof, until she grew unsure and wondered whether
she had been mistaken; and, the hour striking for her supper in the
town, she went to it, filled anew with his charm and her anxiety. Other
meetings came, when, thrilling with the see-saw of belief and doubt,
they watched each other with absorbed attention, and in their fragile
and unconfessed relationship sometimes one was the victor and sometimes
the vanquished. Yet what was plain to the man who swept the mud from
the streets was not plain to them.
“Does he love me already?”
“Will she love me soon?”
When they saw other couples by the banks of the Moselle, Reason in a
convinced and careless voice said: “That is love!” But on coming
towards each other they were not sure at all, and each said of the
other: “To-morrow he may not meet me....” “To-morrow she will say she
is busy and it will not be true!”
When Fanny said, “He may not meet me,” she was mad. How could he
fail to meet her when the rolling hours hung fire and buzzed about his
head like loaded bees, unable to proceed; when in a lethargy of vision
he signed his name at the bottom of the typewritten sheet, saying
confusedly, “What does she think? Does she think of me?”
When at last they met under the shadow of the Cathedral they would
exclaim in their hearts: “What next?” and hurry off by the Moselle,
looking into the future, looking into the future, and yet warding it
off, aware of the open speech that must soon lie between them, and yet
charmed by the beautiful, the merciful, the delay. And going home, each
would study the hours they had spent together, as a traveller returned
from wonderful lands pores over the cold map which for him sparkles
with mountains and rivers.
That very Saturday night after the early supper in their room in the
town, she had gone out to the big draper's shop which did not close
till seven, almost running into Reherrey on the pavement.
“I'm going to Weile,” he said.
“I'm going there myself.”
“To get your dress?”
They went into the large, empty shop together, to be surrounded at
once by a group of idle girls.
“Stuffs ...” said Fanny, thinking vaguely.
“Black bombazine,” said Reherrey, who had finished his thinking.
Fanny followed Reherrey to a newly-polished counter, backed by rows
of empty shelves. They had no black bombazine.
“Black tulle,” said Reherrey, with his air of cool indifference,
“black gauze, black cotton...”
It had to be black sateen in the end. “Now you!” said Reherrey, when
he had bought six yards at eight francs a yard.
“White ... something ... for me.”
There was white nothing under sixteen francs a yard. “But cheap,
cheap, CHEAP stuff,” she expostulated—“stuff you would make lampshades
of, or dusters. It's only for a fancy dress.” The idle little girls
assumed a special air. Fanny looked round the shop in desperation. It
was like all the shops in Metz—the window dressed, the saleswomen
ready, the shelves scrubbed out and polished, the lady waiting at the
pay desk—but the goods hadn't come!
Here and there a shelf held a roll or two of some material, and
eventually Fanny bought seven yards of white soft stuff at seven francs
“White,” said Reherrey, with a critical look; “how English!”
Fanny had an idea of her own.
“Wo,” she said heavily to Elsa's mother still later in the
evening, “ist eine Schneiderin?“
“A dressmaker who speaks French....”
Elsa took her out into the dark street again, and in at a
neighbouring archway, till at the back of deep courtyards they found a
tiny flat of a little old lady. “Like this,” explained Fanny, drawing
with her pencil.
“Why, my mother had a dress like that!” said the little lady,
pleased. “Before the last war.” She nodded many times. “I know how to
make a crinoline. But when do you want it?”
“For Tuesday night.”
“Ah, dear mademoiselle! How can I! To-day is Saturday. I have only
to-day and Monday. Unless.... Are you a Catholic?”
“Then you can sew on Sunday. You can do the frills.”
All Sunday Fanny sewed frills under the stag's horn, and when she
went to meet Julien in the late afternoon, she had the frills still in
a parcel. “What is that?” he asked, as she unfolded the parcel in the
empty Cathedral, and began to thread her needle.
“My dress for the dance.”
“What is it going to be?”
“Frills. Hundreds of frills.” She shook her lap a little, and yards
and yards of white frills leapt on to the floor in a river.
“Those flowers you bought, look, you have never put them in water!”
He shook his head, and leaning from his chair, stretched out his arm
for the parcel of white paper. “They are dying. Smell them! They yield
more scent when they die.” She sat holding the flowers near her face,
and not thinking of him very distinctly, but not thinking of anything
“But they won't last.”
“They will last this visit. I'll get new ones.”
“Oh, how extravagant you are with happiness!...”
They looked startled and became silent. For every now and then among
their talk some sentence which they had thought discreet rang out with
a clarity which disturbed them.
Between them there had been no avowal, and neither could count on
the other's secret. She was not sure he loved her; and though he
argued, “Why should she come if she does not care?” he watched her sit
by him with as little confidence, with as much despair, as if she sat
on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. “Is it raining again? How dark
it gets. I must soon go.” She made gaps in and scattered that alarming
silence in which the image of each filled and fitted into the thoughts
of the other like an orange into its close rind. Yet so dark and
perfect is the mask of the face, so dull the inner ear, that each
looked uncertainly about, half deaf to the song which issued so plainly
from the other, distracted by the great gaps in the music.
“Won't you stay with me till you have sewn to the end of that
She sat down again without a word. And, greedy after his victory, he
added: “But I oughtn't to keep you?”
“I want to stay, too.”
The frill flowed on with the beat of the Cathedral clock, and came
to an end.
“Now I must go. It's supper—supper in the garage.”
He walked with her almost in silence down the Cathedral steps and to
the door of the house in the dark street by the river.
“You do say good-bye so curiously,” he remarked, “so suddenly.
Perhaps it's English.”
“Perhaps it is,” she agreed, disappearing into the house.
“What have you got there?” said her companions in the lighted room
“My dress for the dance.” But she did not open the parcel to show
them the charmed frills. (“How is it they don't know that I left him in
the street below?”) She looked at the seven travellers who met each
night round the table for dinner, overcome with the mystery of those
uncommunicating, shrouded heads. “What have they all been doing?”
“Has every one had runs?”
“Yes, every one has been out. What have you been doing?”
“I haven't left Metz to-day,” she replied, giddy with the isolation
and the silence of the human mind.
CHAPTER VII. THE THREE “CLIENTS”
“What!” cried Fanny on Monday morning, staring at the brigadier
and at the pink paper he offered her.
“At once, at once, mademoiselle. You ought to have been told last
night. You must go back for your things for the night and then as
quickly as you can to the Hotel de l'Europe. I don't know how many days
you'll be, but here is an order for fifty litres of petrol and a can of
oil, and Pichot is getting you two spare tubes....”
She stared at him in horror a moment longer, then took the pink
order and disappeared through the dark garage door. Her mind was in a
frenzy of protestation. She saw the waiting cars which might have gone
instead, the drivers polishing a patch of brass for want of something
to do, and accident, pure accident, had lighted on her, to sweep
her out of Metz, away from that luminous personality which brooded
over the city like a sunset, out into the nondescript world, the cold
Anywhere. White frills and yards of bleached calico lying at the
dressmaker's cried out to her to stay, to make some protest, to say
something, anything—that she was ill—and stay.
She splashed petrol wastefully into the tank, holding the small blue
tin with firm hands high in the air above the leather strainer and the
“And if I said—(it is mad)—if I said, 'I am in love. I can't go. Send some one who is not in love!'“ She glanced down from her perch on
the footboard at the olive profile bent over the next car. The driver
was sitting on his step with his open hand outstretched to hold a dozen
bright washers which he was stirring with his forefinger. The hand with
the washers sank gently to rest on his knee, and he sighed as he ceased
stirring, and looked absently down the garage, his mystical cloak of
bone and skin shrouding his thoughts. Idle men all down the garage hung
about the cars, each holding within him some private affection, some
close hope, something which sent a spurt of dubious song out of his
mouth, or his eyes, wandering sightless, down the shed.
The tank, resenting her treatment, overflowed violently and drenched
her skirt and feet.
“Are you ready, mademoiselle?”
“Coming. Where are the tubes?”
“I have them.”
She drove through the yard, down the street, and hurried over the
bridge to her room. Nightgown, toothbrush, comb, sponge, and
powder—hating every hour of the days and nights her preparations
At the Hotel de l'Europe, three men waited for her with frowns,
loaded with plaid rugs, mufflers, black bags, and gaping baskets of
food, from which protruded bottles of wine. It was, then, to be one of
those days when they lunched by the wayside in the bitter cold.
She drew up beside them. A huge man with an unclean bearskin coat
and flaccid red cheeks told her she was very late. She listened,
apologising, but intent only on her question.
“And could you tell me—(I'm so dreadfully sorry, but they only told
me very late at the garage)—and would you mind telling me which day
you expect to get back?”
He turned to the others.
“It depends,” said a dry, dark man with a look of rebuke, “on our
work. To-morrow night, perhaps. Perhaps the next morning.”
“Where shall I drive you?”
“Go out by Thionville. We are going up the Moselle to Treves.”
Anxious to dispose of such a mountain of a man, it was suggested
that the Bearskin should climb in beside the driver. Instantly Fanny
was smothered up as he sat down, placing so many packages between
himself and the outer side of the car that he sank heavily against her
arm, and the fur of his coat blew into her mouth.
In discomfort she drove them from the town, brooding over her wheel,
unhappily on and on till Metz had sunk over the edge of the flat
horizon. The weary way to Thionville unfurled before them, furnaces to
the left and flat grass prairie to the right—little villages and
clustering houses went by them, and Thionville itself, with its
tramlines and faint air of Manchester, drew near. Beyond Thionville the
road changed colour abruptly, and stretched red and gravelly before
them. The frost deepened, the wheels bit harder on the road surface,
the grass-fields sparkled with a brittle light, and scanty winter
orchards sprang up beside the road, which narrowed down and became a
lane of beautiful surface. Not for long, however, for the surface
changed again, and long hours set in when the car had to be held
desperately with foot and hand brake to save the springs, and the
accelerator could only be touched to be relinquished.
Fanny, hardly sad any more, but busy and hungry, secretly lifted the
corner of her sleeve to peer at her wrist-watch, and seeing that it was
half-past twelve, began to wonder how soon they would decide to sit
down by the roadside for their lunch. She fumbled in the pocket of the
car, but the last piece of chocolate had either been eaten or had
slipped down between the leather and the wood. She could bring up
nothing better than an old postcard, a hairpin, and a forgotten scrap
At last they stopped for lunch, choosing a spot where a hedge rose
wirily against the midday sky, and spread the rugs on the frozen grass.
The sudden cessation of movement and noise brought a stillness into the
landscape; a child's voice startled them from the outskirts of a
village beyond, and the crackle of a wheelbarrow that was being driven
along the dry road.
The third man, who had blackberry eyes, and glasses which enlarged
them, made great preparations over the setting of the meal. They had
forgotten nothing. When they sat down, the Bearskin upon the step of
the motor, the others cross-legged upon the ground, each man had a
napkin as big as a sheet spread across the surface of his coat and
waistcoat, and tied into the band of the overcoat at the side. Bottles
of red wine, and a bottle of white to finish with, lay on a cloth
spread upon the grass. Bread, cheese, sausage, pate, and a slab
of chocolate; knives, forks and a china cup apiece. Fanny, who had
taken her own uneatable lunch from the garage, was made to eat some of
theirs. They were on a high, dry, open plateau of land, and the winter
sun, not strong enough to break the frost, faintly warmed their necks
and hands and the round bodies of the bottles.
It was not unpleasant sitting there with the three white-chested
strangers, watching the sky through the prongs of the bare hedge,
spreading pate on to fresh bread, and balancing her cup half
full of red wine among the fibres and roots of the grass.
“Now that I have started I am well on my way to getting back,” she
thought, and found that within her breast the black despair of the
morning had melted. She watched her companions for amusement.
The Bearskin, cumbrous, high-coloured, and blue-eyed, looked like an
innkeeper in an English tavern. When he took off his cloth hood she
thought she had never seen anything so staring as the pink of his face
against the blue of his cap; but when the cap came off too for a second
that he might stir his forehead with his finger, the blaze and crackle
of his red hair beneath was even more ferocious. Yet he seemed
intimidated by his companions, and kept silence, eating meekly from his
knife, and spreading his napkin with care to the edge of his knees.
The little man with warm black eyes and the colder, thinner man
talked appreciatively together.
“He! The pate is not bad.”
“Not bad at all. And you haven't tried the cheese?”
“No, no. I never touch cheese before the wine; it's a sin. Now the
bottle is all warmed. Try some.”
“What is your father?” said the little man suddenly to Fanny.
“He is in the army.”
“You have no brother—no one to take care of you?”
“You mean, because I come out here? But in England they don't mind;
they think it interesting for us.”
They obviously did not believe her, and turned to other subjects.
But the Bearskin began to move uncomfortably on the step of the car,
and, bending forward to attract their attention, he burst out:
“But, don't you know, mademoiselle is not paid!”
The others reconsidered her.
“How do you live then, mademoiselle? You have means of your own? You
do not buy your clothes yourself? Your Government gives you those, and
that fine leather coat?”
“I bought it myself,” said Fanny, and caused a sensation.
Immediately they put out their delicate hands, and fingers that
loved to appraise, to feel the leather on the lapel.
“How soft! We have no leather now like that in France! How much did
that cost? No, let me guess! You never paid a sou less than—Well, how
The Bearskin, who had sat beside her all the morning, and had now
turned her into an object of interest, took a pride in Fanny.
“The English upbringing is very interesting,” he said, pushing back
his cap and letting out the flame of his hair. “The young ladies become
very serious. I have been in England. I have been in Balham.”
But though, owing to the leather coat, the others seemed to consider
that they had an heiress amongst them, they would not let the big
Bearskin be her impresario or their instructor.
“Divorce is very easy in England,” said the thin man solemnly, and
turned his shoulder slightly on the Bearskin, as though he blamed him
for his stay in Balham.
When the lunch was over and the last fragment of pate drawn
off the last knife upon the crust of bread that remained, Fanny's
restless hopes turned towards packing up; but she counted without the
white wine and the national repose after the midday meal. They washed
their cups with care under the outlet tap of the radiator, and, wiping
them dry to the last corner, sat back under the hedge to drink slowly.
All this time a peculiar quality had been drawing across the sun. It
grew redder and duller, till, blushing, it died out, and Fanny saw that
the morning frost had disappeared. Out to the left a mauve bank of
cloud moved up across the sky like the smoke from a titanic bonfire,
and, with the first drift of moisture towards them, the four shivered
and rose simultaneously to pack the things and put them in the car.
As Fanny stooped to wind up the handle the first snowflake, soft and
wet and heavy, melted on her ear.
“It won't lie,” said the Bearskin. “Shall we draw up the hood?”
They drew it up, but the thin man, huddling himself in the corner of
the back seat, insisted on “side-curtains as well.”
“Then I'm sorry. Will you get out? They are under the seat.”
“Oh, never mind, my dear fellow,” said Blackberry-Eyes.
“No, no. One ought to keep the warmth of food within one.”
And the other got out, and stood shivering while the Bearskin and
Fanny pulled rugs and baskets and cushions out into the road that they
might lift the back seat and find the curtains.
“Oh, how torn!” exclaimed the thin man bitterly, as he saw her drape
the car with leather curtains whose windows of mica had long since been
cracked and torn away. The snow was hissing on the radiator and melting
on the road, and there seemed no wind left anywhere to drive the weight
of the mauve cloud further across the sky. It hung solid and low above
them, so that between the surface of the earth and the floor of the sky
there was only a foggy tunnel in which the road could be seen a few
As they drove forward the windscreen became filmed with melting
snow. Fanny unscrewed it and tilted it open, and the Bearskin fumbled
unhappily at his collar to close every chink and cranny in his mossy
They were climbing higher and higher across an endless plateau, and
at last a voice called from the back, “We must look at the map.” It was
a voice of doubt and distrust that any road could be right road which
held so much discomfort.
Fanny stopped and pulled her map from behind her back, where she was
keeping it dry. “It's all right,” she showed them, leaning over the
back and holding the map towards them. Then she discovered that the
back seat was empty, and her clients were huddled among the petrol tins
and rugs upon the floor.
“You must be miserable! It's so much colder in the back. See, here's
the big road that we must avoid, going off into Luxembourg, and here's
ours, running downhill in another mile.”
They believed her, being too cramped and miserable to take more than
a querulous interest. In another half-hour the snow ceased, and as they
glided down the long hill on the other side of the plateau in a bed of
fresh, unruffled wool, the sun struck out with a suddenness that seemed
to tear the sky in two, and turned the blue snow into a sheet of light
which stretched far below them into a country of pine woods and pits of
shadow. Down, down they ran, till just below lay a village—if village
it was when only a house or two were gathered together for company in
The snow seemed to have lain here for days, for the car slipped and
skidded at the steep entrance, where the boys of the village had made
slides for their toboggans. A hundred feet from the first house a
triumphal arch was built of pine and laurel across the road. On it was
written in white letters “Soyez le Bienvenu.” All the white poor houses
glittered in the snow with flags.
A stream crossed the village street, and a file of geese on its
narrow bridge brought her to a standstill.
“What are the flags for?” she asked of an old man, pressing back
into a safety alcove in the stone wall of the bridge.
“We expect Petain here to-day. He is coming to Thionville.”
“But Thionville is forty miles away—”
“Still, he might pass here—”
Running on and on through forest and hilly country, they left the
snow behind them, and slipped down into greener valleys, till at last
they came upon a single American sentry, and over his head was chalked
upon a board: “This is Germany.”
They pulled up. Germany it might be—but the road to Treves? He did
not know; he knew nothing, except that with his left foot he stood in
Germany, and with his right in France.
CHAPTER VIII. GERMANY
Over the side of the next mountain all Hans Andersen was stretched
before them—tracts of little country, little wooden houses with
pointed roofs, little hills covered with squares of different coloured
woods, and a blue river at the bottom of the valley, white with geese
upon its banks. They held their open mouths insultedly in the air as
the motor passed. The narrow road became like marble, and the car
hissed like a glass ball rolled on a stone step. On every little hill
stood a castle made of brown chocolate, very small, but complete with
turrets. Young horses with fat stomachs and arched necks bolted
sideways off the road in fear, followed by gaily painted lattice-work
carts, and plunged far into the grassland at the side. Old women with
coloured hoods swore at them, and pulled the reins. Many pointed hills
were grey with vine-sticks, and on the crest of each of these stood a
small chapel as if to bless the wine. The countryside was wet and
fresh—white, hardly yellow—with the winter sun; moss by the roadside
still dripped from the night, and small bare orchard trees stood in
“Look! How the grass grows in Germany!”
“Ah, it doesn't grow like that in the valley of the Meuse—”
Every cottage in every village was different; many wore hats instead
of roofs, wooden things like steeples, with deep eaves and carved
fringes, in which were shadowy windows like old eyes. Some were pink
and some were yellow.
Soon they left the woods and came out upon an open plateau
surrounded by wavy hills with castles on them. In the middle of the
plateau was a Zeppelin shed which looked like the work of bigger men
than the crawling peasants in the roads. One side of the shed was open,
and the strange predatory bird within, insensible to the peering eye of
an enemy, seemed lost in thought in this green valley. The camp of huts
beside it was deserted, and there seemed to exist no hand to close the
house door. They rose again on to a hillside, and on every horizon
shone a far blue forest faint like sea or cloud.
Nearer Treves the villages were filled with Americans—Americans
mending the already perfect roads, and playing with the children.
“This is a topsy-turvy country, as it would be in Hans Andersen,”
thought Fanny. “I thought the Germans had to mend the broken roads in
They stayed that night in the Porta-Nigra hotel, which had been
turned into an Allied hostel. The mess downstairs was chiefly filled
with American officers, though a few Frenchmen sat together in one
corner. The food was American—corn cakes, syrup, and white, flaky
“Well, what bread! It's like cake!”
“Oh, the Americans eat well!”
“I don't agree with you. They put money into their food, and they
eat a lot of it, but they can't cook.
“Isn't it astonishing what they eat! It's astonishing what all the
armies eat compared with our soldiers.”
“Now this cake-bread! I should soon sicken of it. But they
will eat sweets and such things all day long.”
“Well, I told you they are children!”
“The Americans here seem different. They behave better than those in
“These are very chics types. Pershing is here. This is the
“Yes, one can see they are different.”
“It appears they get on very well with the Germans.”
“Hsh—not so loud.”
After dinner they strolled out into the town. The Bearskin was very
anxious to get a “genuine iron cross.”
He was offered iron crosses worked on matchboxes, on cigarette
lighters, on ladies' chains.
“But are they genuine?”
He did not know quite what he meant.
“I don't suppose them to be taken from a dead man's neck, but are
In the streets the Germans sold iron crosses from job lots on
barrows for ten francs each.
“But I will get one cheaper!” said the Bearskin, and clambered up
the steps into shop after shop. He found an iron cross on a chain for
seven francs. No one knew what the mark was worth, and the three men,
with the German salesman, bent over the counter adding and subtracting
“How can a goblin countryside breed people who sell iron crosses at
ten francs each?” wondered Fanny.
There was a notice on the other side of the street, “Y.M.C.A., two
doors down the street on your left,” and the thin man stood in the door
of the shop beside Fanny and pointed to it.
“Couldn't you go there and get me cigars? They will be very cheap.
Have you money with you?”
“I'll try,” said Fanny, “I've money. We can settle afterwards,”
inwardly resolving to get as many cigarettes as she could to take back
for the men in the garage. She crossed the street, but looked back to
find the thin man creeping after her. She waited for him, irritated.
“Go back. If the American salesman sees you he'll know it's for the
French, and he won't sell.”
“He knew that quite well,” she thought impatiently to herself, “or
he wouldn't have asked me to buy for him.”
The thin man turned back to the cover of the shop like an eager
little dog which has jumped too quickly for biscuit and been snubbed.
She went down the street and into the Y.M.C.A.
Instantly she was among three or four hundred men, who stood with
their backs to her, in queues up the long wooden hall. Far ahead on the
improvised counter was a guichet marked “Cigars.” She placed
herself at the tail of that queue.
“Move up, lady,” said the man in front of her, moving her forward.
“Say here's a lady. Move her up.”
Men from the other queues looked round, and one or two whistled
slyly beneath their breath, but her own queue adopted her protectingly,
and moved her up to their head, against the counter.
It was out of the question to get cigars now. She had become a
guest, and to get cigars would imply that she was not buying for
herself, but to supply an unknown man without. And the marks on her
uniform showed that the unknown was French.
“One carton of Camels, please,” she said, used to the phraseology.
“Take two if you like,” said the salesman. “We've just got a dump
She took two long cardboard packets of cigarettes, and put down ten
“Only marks taken here,” said the salesman. “You got to make the
change as you come in.”
“Put it down. Put it here. We don't get a lady in every day.”
He gave her the change in marks, which seemed countless.
“I'm sure you've given me too much!”
“Oh no. Marks is goin' just for love in this country. Makes you feel
As she emerged from the hall with her two long cartons under her arm
she found the thin man, the Bearskin and Blackberry-Eyes standing like
children on the doorstep.
It was too much—to give her away like that.
Other Americans, coming out, looked at them as a gentleman coming
out of his own house might look at a party of penguins on his doorstep.
Fanny swept past her friends without a glance and walked on up the
street with her head in the air. They turned and came after her
guiltily. When they caught her up in the next street, she said to the
thin man, “I asked you not to come near while I was buying—”
“Have you got cigars, mademoiselle?”
“No, I couldn't. Why did you come like that? Now I can go in no
more. You'd only to wait two minutes.”
They looked crestfallen, while she held the cigarettes away from
them as a nurse holds sweets from a naughty child.
“I could only get two packets. I can give you one. I'm sorry, but I
promised to get cigarettes for some people in Metz.”
The thin man brightened, and took the big carton of Camels with
“They're good, those!” he said knowingly to the others. “How much
were they, mademoiselle?”
“Five francs twenty the carton.”
“Is it possible? And we have to pay....”
By his tone he made it seem a reflection on the Americans. Why
should a country be so rich when his had been devastated, so thinned,
so difficult to live in? Fanny thought of the poor huddled clients who
had sat on the floor of the car during the snowstorm. It had been a
bitter journey for them.
After all—those rich, those pink and happy Americans,
leather-coated down to the humblest private, pockets full of money, and
fat meals three times a day to keep their spirits up—why shouldn't
they let him have their cigarettes?
“You can have this carton, too, if you like,” she said, offering it.
“I'll manage to slip in to-morrow morning.”
He thanked her, delighted, and they went back to the hotel.
The problem of the kindness of the Americans, and her frequent abuse
of it to benefit the French, puzzled her.
“But, after all, it's very easy to be kind. It's much easier to be
kind if you are American and pink than if you are French and anxious.”
Another difference between the two nations struck her.
“The Americans treat me as if I were an amusing child. The French,
no matter how peculiar their advances, always, always as a woman.”
Next morning, when she got down to breakfast at eight, she found
that the three Frenchmen had already gone out about their work.
“Perhaps I shall get home to-night, after all,” she prayed. She sat
in the hotel and watched the Americans, or wandered about the little
town until eleven. The affair with the cigars was suitably arranged.
The hall was nearly empty when she went in, and the few men who stood
about in it did not disarm her with special kindness. On getting back
to the hotel she found the Bearskin pushing breathlessly and anxiously
through the glass doors.
“Monsieur Raudel has left his cigarettes in his bedroom,” he said,
“unlocked up. He is anxious so I have come back.”
“Well, tell him that if he—tell him quite as a joke, you know—that
if I can get home—”
(Something in his little blue eye shone sympathetically, and she
leant towards him.) “Well, I'll tell you! There is a dance
to-night in Metz, and I am asked. And tell him that I have bought two
boxes of cigars for him!”
The Bearskin, enchanted, promised to do his best.
By half-past twelve the three were back at lunch in the hotel. Over
the coffee Monsieur Raudel looked reflectively at his well-shaped
“Well, mademoiselle, so this is what it is to have a woman
Fanny looked up nervously, regretting her confidence in the
“Apart from the pleasure of your company with us, we get cheap
cigars, and you get your dance, so every one is pleased.”
“Oh!” She was radiant. “But you haven't hurried too much? Are we
really starting back?”
Monsieur Raudel, who was a new man when he wasn't cold, reassured
her, and soon they were all packed in the Renault, and running out of
CHAPTER IX. THE CRINOLINE
That same night as dusk fell she shook the snow from her feet and
clothes and entered the dressmaker's kitchen. Four candles were burning
beside the gas, and the tea-cups lay heaped and unwashed upon the
“Good-evening, good-evening,” murmured a number of voices, German
and French, and the old dressmaker, standing up, her face haggard under
the gas, took both Fanny's hands with a whimper:
“It will never be done! Oh, dear child, it will never be
The crinoline which they were preparing lay in white rags upon the
“Oh, Elsa, that is good! Are you helping too?” Elsa had brought
three of her friends with her, and the four bright, bullety heads bent
over the long frills which moved slowly through their sewing fingers. “
Good Conquered Children!” They were sewing like little machines.
“The Fraeulein Schneiderin,” explained Elsa, “is so upset.”
And this was evident and needed no explaining. The little lady
twisted her fingers, grieved and scolded, snatching at this and that,
and rapping with her scissors upon the table as though she were going
to wear the dress herself.
“Mademoiselle, I had to get them.” She nodded towards the busy
Conquered Children, apologising for them as though she feared Fanny
might think she had done a deal with the devil for her sake.
“Here are my frills,” said Fanny, bringing from her pocket two paper
parcels, one of which she laid in mystery upon the table, the other
opened and shook out her two long frills. She drew off her leather coat
and sat down to sew.
“Oh, how calm you are!” burst out the dressmaker. “How can you be so
calm? It won't be finished.”
“Yes, yes, yes. It's only half-past five. Can I have a needle?”
“My mother had a dress like this before the last war.” (This for the
fiftieth time.) “And will your amoureux be there?” she asked
with the licence of the old.
“Well, yes,” said Fanny smiling, “he will.”
“And what will he wear?”
“Oh, it's a secret. I don't know. But I chose this particular dress
because it is so feminine, and it will be the first time he has seen me
in the clothes of a woman.”
“Children, hurry, hurry!” cried the dressmaker, in a frenzy of
sympathy. “Minette, get down!” She slapped the grey cat tenderly as she
lifted him off the table. “Tell them in their language to hurry!” she
exclaimed. “I never learnt it!”
But, after the breath of excitement, followed her poor despair, and
she dropped her hands in her lap. “It will never be done. I can't do
“Look, my dear, courage! The bodice is already done ... Have you had
“The children ate. I couldn't. I am too excited. But you are so
calm. You have no nerves. It isn't natural!”
Yet she ate a little piece of cake, scolding the cat and the
children with her mouth full, prowling restlessly above their bent
heads as they sewed and solidly sewed.
At the end of an hour and a half the nine frills were on the skirt,
the long hoops of wire had been run in, and the hooks and eyes on the
Often the door opened and shut; visitors came and went in the room;
the milk woman put her head in, crying: “What a party!” and left the
tiny can of milk upon the floor: Elsa's mother came to call her
daughter to supper, but let her stay when she saw the dress still
unfinished. Now and then some one would run out of the flat opposite,
the flat above or the flat next door and, popping a head in at the
door, wish them good luck. All the building seemed to know of the
crinoline that was being made in the kitchen.
“You do not smoke a pipe?...” said the dressmaker softly, with
“But none of us do!”
“Oh, pardon, yes! I saw it yesterday. A great big girl dressed like
you with her hands in her pockets and a pipe in her mouth. It made an
effect on me—you can hardly believe how it startled me! I called
Madame Coppet to see.”
“I know it wasn't one of us. And (it seems rude of me to say so) I
even think the woman you saw was French.”
“Oh, my dear, French women never do that!”
“Well, they do when they get free. They go beyond us in freedom when
they get it The woman you saw (I have seen her, too) works with the
men, shoulder to shoulder, eats with them, smokes with them, drinks
with them, drives all night and all day, and they say she can change a
tyre in two minutes.
“There was a woman, too, who drove a lorry between Verdun and
Bar-le-Duc, not a tender, you know, but a big lorry. She wore a bit of
old ermine round her neck, knickerbockers, and yellow check stockings.
One could imagine she had painted her face by the light of a candle at
four in the morning. She never wore a hat, and her short yellow hair
stuck out over her face which was as bright as a pink lamp shade.”
“She may have been, but she worked hard! She was always on that
road. Or she would disappear for days with her lorry and come back
caked in rouge and mud. I wish I could have got to know her and heard
where she went and the things that happened to her.”
“But, my dear, I keep thinking what a strange life it is for you.
Are you always alone on your car?”
“You are with men alone then all the time?”
“All the time.”
“Well, it's more than I can understand. It's part of the war.”
Elsa bent across the table and picked up the folded bodice,
murmuring that it was done. The dressmaker rose, and reaching for the
hooped skirt, held it up between her two arms. It was a thrilling
moment. Fanny, too, rose. “Put it on a dummy,” she commanded. Candles
were placed around the dummy, who seemed to step forward out of the
shades of the kitchen, and offer its headless body to be hooked and
buttoned into the dress. All the room stood back to look and admire.
“Wie schoen!” said Elsa's shiny-headed friends, peering with their
“Ah, dear child, you were so calm, and now it is done!” said the old
The dress stood stiffly glittering at them, white as snow, the nine
frills pricking away from the great hooped skirt.
Fanny picked up the brown paper parcel she had laid on the dresser,
taking from it a bottle of blue ink, a bottle of green, and a paint
brush, and diluted the inks in a saucer under the tap. There was awe in
the kitchen as she held the brush, filled with colour, in the air, and
began to paint blue flowers on the dress.
At the first touch of the brush the old dressmaker clasped her
hands. “What is she doing, the English girl! And we who have kept it so
“Hush,” said Fanny, stooping towards the bodice, “trust me!”
The children held their breath, except Elsa, who breathed so hard
that Fanny felt her hair stir on her neck. She covered the plain,
tight- waisted bodice with dancing flowers in blue and green.
On the frills of the skirt a dozen large flowers were painted as
though fallen from the bodice. Soon it was done.
“Like that! In five minutes!” groaned the dressmaker, troubled by
the peculiar growth of the flowers.
“Let it dry,” said Fanny. “I'll go home and start doing my hair.
Elsa will bring it round when it's dry.”
The old woman held out both her hands, in a gesture of mute
congratulation and fatigue.
“Now rest,” said Fanny. “Now sleep—and in the morning I will come
and tell you all about it,” and ran out into the snow.
* * * * *
The top hook of the bodice would not meet. With her heart in her
mouth, with despair, she pulled. Then sat down on the bed and stared
blankly before her.
“Then if that won't meet, all, all the dress is wasted. I
can't go. No, right in the front! There is nothing to be done, nothing
to be done!” She sat alone in the room, the five candles she had
lighted guttering and spilling wax. She was in the half-fastened
painted bodice and a fine net petticoat she had bought at Nancy. Even
the green silk bedroom slippers were on, tied round her ankles with
ribbons, the only slippers she had found in Metz, and she had searched
for them for hours.
The room was icy cold, and the hand of the clock chasing towards the
hour for the dance. Should she go in uniform? Not for the world.
She would not meet him, and it seemed as though there could be no
to-morrow, and she would never meet him again in this world. This
meeting had had a peculiar significance—the flouncy, painted dress,
the plans she had made to meet him for once as a woman. Shivering, and
in absurd anguish she sat still on the bed.
“Oh, Elsa, Elsa, look!” Better the child than no one, and the shiny
head was hanging round the door. (“Wie schoen!”)
“But it isn't schoen! Look! It won't meet!”
“Oh!...” Elsa's eyes grew round with horror, and she went to fetch
her mother. “Tanzen!” They talked so much of “tanzen” in that
household. The thin mother was all sympathy, and stood in helpless
sorrow before the gap in the bodice.
“What's all this?” and der Vater stood in the doorway, heavy
as lead, and red as a plum.
“Give her a bunch of flowers,” he said simply, and as if by
accident, and “Oh!...” said Elsa's mother, and disappeared. She came
back with three blue cotton cornflowers out of Elsa's hat, and the gap
in the bodice was hidden.
* * * * *
He was not there. Her eyes flew round the room, searching the
shadows in the corners, searching the faces. In the bitterness of
dismay she could not fully enter the door, but stood a little back,
blocking the entrance, afraid of the certainty which was ready for her
within; but others, less eager, and more hurried, pressed her on, drove
her into the centre of the room, and with a voice of excitement and
distress chattering within her, like some one who has mislaid all he
has, she shook hands with the eighteenth-century general who shrouded
the personality of the Commandant Dormans.
At first she could not recognise any one as she looked round upon
Turks, clowns, Indians, the tinselled, sequined, beaded, ragged flutter
of the room, then from the coloured and composite clothing of a
footballer, clown or jockey grinned the round face and owlish eyes of
little Duval, who flew to her at once to whisper compliments and
stumble on the swelling fortress of her white skirt. She realised dimly
from him that her dress was as beautiful as she had hoped it might be,
but what was the use of its beauty if Julien should be missing? And,
looking over Duval's head, she tried to see through the crowd.
Suddenly she saw him, dressed in the white uniform of a Russian,
standing by a buttress of the wall. His uniform had a faint yellowish
colour, as if it had been laid away for many years against this
evening's dance; the light caught his knees and long boots, but the
shadow of the buttress crept over his face, turned from her towards a
further door. On his head he wore a white hat of curling sheep's wool,
which made him seem fantastically tall.
When Fanny had surveyed him, from the tip of his lit hat to his lit
feet, she was content to leave him in his shadowed corner, and turned
willingly to dance with Duval. The little man offered an arm to hold
her, and, as he came nearer to her, his feet pressed the bottom ring of
wire about her skirt, and the whole bell of flowers and frills swung
backwards and stood out obliquely behind her.
Presently the Jew boy, Reherrey, detached himself from the others
and came out to stand by her and flatter her. He had wound the black
stuff that he had bought three days before so cleverly round his slim
body that he seemed no fatter than a lacquered hairpin. The cynical
flattery of this nineteen-year-old Jew, the plunging admiration which
Duval breathed at her side, the attentive look in the bright eyes of
the Commandant Dormans, who had come near them and stood before her,
filled her with joy. She looked about her, bright rat, tiny and
enormous in her own sight, aware now of her outer, now of her inner
life, and sipped her meed of success, full of the light happiness
fashioned from the admiration of creatures no bigger than herself. She
laughed at one and the other, bending towards them, listening to what
they had to say, without denying, without doubts, with only triumph in
her heart; and, the group shifting a little, a voice was able to say
secretly at her ear, “You look beautiful, but you are not
exclusive....” Her sense of triumph was not dimmed because her quick
ear caught jealousy shading the reproach in his voice.
She did not answer him, except to look at him; but they seemed to
forgive each other mutually as the figure of yellowish-white moved
close enough to tilt the bell skirt and take the figure of bluish-white
into his arms and dance with her. Calico and sheep's wool and painted
flowers went down the room under the low gas brackets, and her eyes,
avoiding his, looked out from a little personal silence into the
far-off whirl of the room, and heard the dimmed music and the scrape of
For him the world was a pale dumb-show, and she the absorbing
centre. For her the world without was lit equally with his personality,
the glamour of which hung over all the scenes before her eyes with the
weight of the sky over the land. So long as he lit the horizon the very
furthest object in it wore a shaft of his light upon its body.
They danced on, not wearing away the shining boards with their feet
half so much as they wore away the thin ice above the enchanted lake.
The Commandant Dormans crossed the room to them.
“She must be drawn. She must go for her portrait. Spare me your
partner. Mademoiselle, we have an artist, a poilu, drawing some
of the dresses. Will you come with me and sit for yours?”
She went into the little room and stood for the drawing; the door
shut on her, and she and the artist faced each other. Through the door
the music came softly, and as she stood, hands resting without a
breath's stir on fold, on frill, head bent and wandering eyes, the
artist with twitching face and moving hand looked up and down, up and
down, and she sank, swaying a little upon her rooted feet, into a
hypnotised tranquillity. She did not care what the man put upon the
white paper with his flying hands; he might draw the flowers upon her
skirt, but not the tall blooming flowers within her, growing fabulously
like the lilies in a dream. Her thoughts went out to meet the waves of
music floating through the door; her rooted body held so still that she
no longer felt it, and her spirit hung unbodied in an exaltation
between love which she remembered and love which she expected. No one
came through the door; they left her in silence, enclosed in the cell
of the room and of her dreams, and she was content to stand without
movement, without act or thought. The near chair, the wall hard by, the
golden room which she had just left so suddenly were alike to her; her
eyes and her imagination were tuned to the same level, and there was no
distinction between what was on her horizon and beyond it. Across the
face of the artist the scenes in the room behind her passed in
unarrested procession, and the voice of an illusory lover in her ear
startled her by its clearness. The music wandered about the room like
visible movement, and the artist, God bless him, never opened his mouth
between his shower of tiny glances.
“Finished, mademoiselle!” and he held the drawing towards her as he
leant back with a sigh. He had made too many drawings that evening, and
any talent he had hung in his mind as wearily as a flag in an airless
room. With an effort she broke her position and moved towards him,
taking up the drawing in her hand with a forced interest. “Yes, thank
you, thank you,” she said, and he took it back and laid it with the
pile he had made. “You don't like it? But I'm so tired. Look at these
others I did earlier in the evening....”
But while she bent over them the door burst open and Dormans came
in, followed by Duval and Dennis. “Is it finished? Let me look! Yes,
yes, very good! Quite good!” They were pleased enough, and drew the
artist away with them to the buffet.
Suddenly Julien was with her and had closed the door. He was
hurried, excited, and it seemed as though he said what he could no
longer contain, as though the thought biggest in his mind broke in a
bound from him. He was white and he exclaimed: “It's terrible how
much you could hurt me if you would!”
He seemed to close his eyes a little then and lean his head towards
her. She looked at the drooping, half-lit head, and she knew that she
had him without fear of escape. Knew too, that the moment was brief.
Their recent, undeclared silence brooded as though still with them,
half regretful and departing angel. “You will have other beauties,” she
said to her heart, “but none like this silence.”
They were breathless. The ice had gone from the lake and the ship
had not yet set sail. In a dream she moved down to the beach. She saw
him open his eyes and stare at her incredulously. “I am going to break
this beauty,” she breathed alone, and put out her hand and launched the
ship. He was by her side, the silence broken, the voyage begun.
CHAPTER X. FANNY ROBBED AND RESCUED
Clouds, yellow, mauve and blue, hung ominously over the road to
Nancy. The valley was filled with shades, but the road itself gleamed
like a bleached bone in a ditch. Seated upon the dashboard of her
wounded car, Fanny had drummed her heels for warmth since morning, and
seemed likely soon to drum them upon a carpet of snow. Beneath the car
a dark stream of oil marked the road, and the oil still dripped from
the differential case, where the back axle lay in two halves.
“I will telephone to your garage,” her “client” had promised, as he
climbed on to a passing lorry and continued his journey into Nancy.
With that she had to be content, while she waited, first without her
lunch, and then without her tea, for the breakdown lorry which his
telephone message would eventually bring to her aid. Now it was nearly
four o'clock. She had been hungry, but was hungry no longer. The bitter
cold made her forehead ache, and though every moment the blue and mauve
shades thickened upon the sky no flake of snow had fallen.
Only last night, only twenty-four hours ago, she had been preparing
for the dance; and only last night she had said to Julien ... What had
she said to Julien? What had he said to her? Again she was deep in a
reverie that had lasted all day, that had kept her warm, had fed her.
She was almost asleep when a man's voice woke her, and she found a
car with three Americans drawn up beside her.
“I guess this is too bad,” said the man who had woken her. “We
passed you this morning on our way into Nancy, and here you are still
looking as though you had never moved. 'Ain't you had any food since
“I haven't been so very hungry.”
“Not hungry? You're sure past being hungry! Lucky we've got food
with us in the car. Pity we've got to hurry, but here's sandwiches and
sandwiches, and cakes and candy, and bits of bunstuff, and an apple.
And here's a cheese that's running out of its wrappin'. When's your
show coming to fetch you? 'Ain't you coming home along with us?”
“They won't be long now. Oh, you are good....” Fanny's hunger
revived as she took the food, and now she was waiting ungratefully for
them to be gone that she might start on her heavensent meal.
“Good-bye, ma'am,” they cried together.
“Good-bye,” she waved, and as their car passed onwards she climbed
up on to the mudguard and spread the rug over her knees.
The slow night grew out of nothing, expanded, and nearly enveloped
the slopes of the hill below. The wind dropped in the cloudy, heavy
twilight, and the papers of the sandwiches did no more than rustle upon
her knees. Not prepared yet to light her car lamps, Fanny laid her
torch upon her lap, and its patch of white light lit her hands and the
piles of bread, cake, and fancy buns.
Across the road in the deeper gloom that dyed the valley and spilt
over its banks, a head rustled in the ragged border of twig and reed,
and eyes watched the brightly-lighted meal which seemed to hang
suspended above the vague shape of the motor car.
With a sense of being perfectly alone, walled round by the gathering
dusk, Fanny made a deep inroad upon her sandwiches and cake, finishing
with the apple, and began to roll up what remained in case of further
need, should no one come to fetch her.
She reflected that her torch would not last her long and that she
ought to put it and light her head and tail lamps instead, but, drowsy
with pleasure in her lonely dinner, she sat on, prolonging the last
moments before she must uncurl her feet and climb down on to the
ground. The torch slipped from her knee on to a lower fold of the rug,
lighting only the corner of a packet in which she had rolled the cake.
Suddenly, while she watched it, the gleam of the corner disappeared.
She stared at the spot intensely, and saw a hand, a shade lighter than
the darkness, travel across the surface of the rug, cover with its
fingers the second parcel and draw it backwards into what had now
become dense night. Her skin stirred as though a million antennae were
alive upon it; she could not breathe lest any movement should fling the
unknown upon her; her eyes were glued to the third packet, and, in a
moment, the hand advanced again. With horror she saw it creep along the
rug, a small brown, fibrous hand, worn with work. The third packet was
eclipsed by the fingers and receded as the others had done, but as it
reached the edge of the rug, overflowing horror galvanised her into
movement, and catching the corners of the rug she threw it violently
after the package and over the hand, at the same moment jumping from
her seat and on to the footboard, to grope wildly for the switch. Her
heart was leaping like a fish just flung into a basket, and every inch
of her body winced from an expected grasp upon it. She flung herself
over the side and into the seat of the car, found the switch and pushed
A dozen Chinese at least were caught in the two long beams that flew
out across the darkness. For a second their wrinkled faces stared, eyes
blinked, and short, unhollowed lips stretched over yellow teeth, then,
with a flutter of dark garments, the Chinese started away from the
fixed beams and were gone into the shadow. Except for the sudden
twitter of a voice, the spurt of a stone flung up against the metal of
the car, they melted silently out of sight and hearing. Sick with
panic, Fanny leant down upon her knees and covered her head with her
two arms, expecting a blow from above. Seconds passed, and ice-cold,
with one leg gone to sleep, she lifted her head, switched off the
lights and stared into the night. She could see nothing, and gradually
becoming accustomed to the darkness, she found that they had completely
disappeared. The rug, too, had gone, and all three packets of
sandwiches. Cautiously, with trembling legs, she stepped upon the
Something hit her softly upon the forehead, but before she had time
to suffer from a new fear her eye caught the glitter of a flake of snow
in its parachute descent across the path of her lamps. “They hate
snow....” she whispered, not knowing whether it was true. She tried to
picture them as a band of workmen, who, content with their little
pillage, were now far from her on their way to some encampment.
Finding the torch still caught between the mudguard and the bonnet,
she prowled round the car, flashing it into corners and pits of
darkness. There was no sign of a lurking face or flutter of garment.
Snow began to fall, patting her noiselessly on her face and hands,
and curling faster and faster across the lights. In twenty minutes the
road around her was lightened, and cones of delicate softness grew
between the spokes of the wheels.
Climbing down again from her perch, Fanny went to the back of the
car, and, taking from beneath the seat her box of tools, she groped in
the hollow under the wood and pulled out an iron bar, stout and
slightly bent, with a knob at one end—the handle of the wheel jack.
* * * * *
Far away, in what seemed another world, equally blind, snowy and
obscure, but divided from this one by fathoms of frozen water, a car
was coming out from Pont-a-Moussons on to the main Nancy road. Its two
head-lamps glowed confusedly under the snow that clung to them, and the
driver, his thick, blue coat buttoned about his chin, leant forward
peering through the open windscreen, stung, blinded, and blinking as
the flakes drove in.
The head-lamps swept the road, the range of the beams reaching out
and climbing the tree trunks in sheltered spots, or flung back and
huddled about the front wheels when a blast of fresh snow was swept in
from the open valley on the left.
“We must be getting to Marbashe?”
“Hardly yet, mon capitaine. It was unlucky the brigadier
should be at Thionville. I could have mended the spring on the lorry
myself, but it wants two men to tow in the car.”
“This is Marbache!”
In the shelter of the hamlet the lights leapt forward and struck a
handful of houses, thickened and rounded with snow. Almost immediately
darkness swallowed them up, and a drift of snow flung up by the wind
burst in powder over the bonnet and on to the glass.
“The plain outside. Now we go down a long hill. We turn sharp to the
The car entered a tunnel of skeleton trees through which the flakes
drained and flickered, or broke in uneven gusts through the trunks. The
left lamp touched a little wooden hut which stood blinkered and
deserted. Just beyond it was a sharp turn in the road.
A pale light hung in the dark ahead of them.
“Is it a car? No.”
“Yes, lamps. With the beam broken by the snow.”
For fear of blinding the driver of a lighted vehicle which might,
after all, be moving, one of the men put out his hand and switched off
the headlights, and the car glided forward on its own momentum.
Thus they came upon Fanny, in the hollow torn by the lamps out of an
obscurity which whirled like a dense pillar above her, seated on her
mudguard, blanched and still as an image, the iron bar for a weapon in
her right hand, the torch ready as a signal in her left.
“Well, yes, my poor child!” And she saw the man behind him, and
“Help me down. Within and without I am set in plaster.”
“You look like a poor, weather-chipped goddess, or an old stone
pillar with a face.”
“Be careful, that leg will not stand.... Oh, look, look how the snow
clings. It's frozen on my lap.”
“We must be quick. Everything must be quickly done, or we shall all
“Oh, I don't care about that now!”
“What have you got in your hand? Give it to me.”
“That's a weapon. I almost needed it. Where is the lorry?”
“The garage was empty. The brigadier was at Thionville. The
lorry had a spring broken.”
“And they told you?”
“I did not call at the 'C.R.A.' office till late in the day, or you
would have been fetched long ago. Come along! Have you got your things
together? We must take them back in the other car. And the magneto
“We're to leave the car after all my guarding care?”
“No; here's Pichot volunteered to take your place.”
“Has he got food with him and rugs. My rug has gone....”
“He has everything. Come along! Let's put everything of value into
the other car.”
When they had finished the night air was clear of snowflakes; hill,
road and valley were lit by the pallor of the fallen snow.
Fanny followed Julien to the other car. He swung the handle and
jumped into the driving seat. “Come....” he said, and held out a hand.
“Good-night, Pichot. We'll send for you early in the morning.”
“Good-night, mon capitaine. Good-night, mademoiselle.”
They moved forward, and the moon like a wandering lamp lit their
“Blow out, old moon!” said Julien, turning his silvered face and
hair up to the sky. The moon flew behind a cloud.
“Quick!” he said.
... and kissed her. The jacks and tyres and wheels and bolts
fluttered out of Fanny's head like black ravens and disappeared. They
flew on, over the bridge at Pont-a-Moussons, up the shining ruinous
“Crouch lower!” said Julien. “If any one wanted to, they could count
your eyelashes from the windows.”
“Ah, yes, if there was any one to count....” She glanced up at the
fragmentary pronged chimneys, the dark, unstirring caves of brick.
Soon the church clocks of Metz rang out, quarrelling, out of time
with one another.
“Do you know this isn't going to last?” said Julien suddenly, as if
the clocks had reminded him.
She turned swiftly towards him.
“The Grand Quartier is moving?”
“Ah, you knew? You had heard?”
“No, no,” she shook her head. “But do you think I haven't thought of
it? I keep thinking, 'We can't stay here for ever. Some end will come.'
And then—'It will come this way. The Grand Quartier will go.'“
“But you are going with it.”
“Julien! Is that true?”
“Certain. It was settled to-day. We are actually leaving in three
days for Chantilly; and you, with all the garage, all the drivers, and
the offices of the 'C.R.A.' are to be at Precy-sur-Oise, five miles
“But you are at Precy too?”
“No, I have to be at Chantilly. And worse than that ... The bridge
over the Oise at Precy is blown up and all cars have to come sixteen
miles round to Chantilly by another bridge. I am in despair about it. I
have tried every means to get Dormans to fix upon another village, but
he is obstinate, and Precy it must be for you, and Chantilly for me.
But don't let's think of it now. Wait till you've eaten and are warm,
and we can plan. Here are the gates!”
He handed out the paper pass as a red light waved to and from upon
the snow. First the Customs-men, Germans still, in their ancient civic
uniform. “Nothing to declare?” Then the little soldier with the lantern
in his hand: “Your pass, ma belle!” As he caught sight of
Julien, “Pardon, mademoiselle!” Lastly, up the long road into the open
square by the station, down the narrow street, splashing the melted
snow-water against the shop windows, and under the shadow of the
“Put the car away and come and dine with me at Moitriers.”
She looked at him astonished. “The car? Whose car is it? Does it
belong to our garage?”
“It will in future. It arrived last night, fresh from Versailles. I
am arranging with Dennis for you to take it over to-morrow.”
Her eyes sparkled. “A beautiful Renault! A brand new Renault!...”
He laughed. “Hurry, or you will faint with hunger. Put it away and
come, just as you are, to Moitriers, up into the balcony. I am going
there first to order a wonderful dinner.”
In a quarter of an hour they were sitting behind the wooden
balustrade of the balcony at Moitriers—the only diners on the little
landing that overhung the one fashionable restaurant in Metz. It was a
quarter to nine; down below, the room, which was lined with mirrors set
in gilt frames, was filled with light; knives and forks still tapped
upon the plates, but the hour being late many diners leant across the
strewn tablecloths and talked, or sat a little askew in their chairs
and listened. A hum filled the warm air, and what was garish below,
here, behind the balustrade, became filtered and strained to delicate
streaks and bars of light which crossed and recrossed their cloth,
their hands, their faces—what was noisy below was here no more than a
soft insect bustle, a murmurous background to their talk.
The door of the balcony opened behind them, and Madame Berthe, the
proprietress herself, moved at their side; her old-fashioned body,
shaped like an hour-glass, was clothed in rucked black silk, which
flowed over her like a pigment; flowed from her chin to the floor, upon
which it lay stiffly in hills and valleys of braided hem. Her gay gold
tooth gleamed, and the gold in her ears wagged, as she fed them gently
on omelette, chicken and tinned peas, and a souffle ice.
They talked a little, sleepy after the wind, smiling at each other.
“Don't you want more light than that?” said Madame Berthe, coming in
again softly with the coffee.
Fanny shook her head. “Not any more than this.”
Then they were left alone, stirring the coffee, gazing down between
the wooden columns at the diners below.
“Of what are you thinking?” she asked, as a sigh escaped her
“The move to Chantilly. I am so loth to break up all this.”
“Ah, well, it changes, doesn't it? Even if it is no longer the same
landscape it changes!”
After a silence he added: “How fragile it is!”
“You!” He covered her hand with both his. “You! What I think you
are, and what you think I am. Love and illusion. Too fragile to be
given to us with our blunders and our nonsense.”
She watched him, silent, and he went on:
“I don't understand this life. That's why I keep quiet and smile, as
you say I do. There are often things I don't say when I smile.”
“Oh, I wonder how much you believe me. And I listen to that immense
interior life, which talks such a different language. I hate to
move on to Chantilly.”
Suddenly she recognised that they were at a corner which he had
wanted her to turn for days. There had been something he had hinted at,
something he wanted to tell her. He chafed at some knowledge he had
which she did not share, which he wanted her to share.
Once he had said: “I had letters this morning which worried me....”
“One in particular. It hurt me. It gave me pain.”
But she had not wanted to ask what was in the letter. Then he had
grown restless, sighed and turned away, but soon they had talked again
and it had passed.
And now to-night he said:
“Look how detached we are in this town, which is like an island in
the middle of the sea. We behave as though we had no past lives, and
never expected any future. Especially you.”
“You behave as though I was born the day before you met me, and
would die the day after you leave me. You never ask anything about me;
you tell me nothing about yourself. We might be a couple of stars
hanging in mid air shining at each other. And then I have the feeling
that one might drop and the other wouldn't know where to look for it.”
But after a little silence the truth burst out, and he said with
despair: “Don't you want to know anything about me?”
(Yes, that was all very well. She did, she did. But not just this
that was coming!)
And then he told her....
* * * * *
“What is she like ... Violette?”
After several low questions she seemed to stand between them like a
child, thin and fair, delicate and silent, innocently expecting to be
spared all pain.
“No, she doesn't go out very much. She stays indoors and does her
hair, and her nails, and reads a little book.”
“And have you known her for a long time?”
“A long time....”
After this they pretended that she did not exist, and the little
wraith floated back to Paris from which she had come, suddenly, on days
when she had written him certain letters which had brought tears into
CHAPTER XI. THE LAST NIGHT IN METZ:
Fanny turned again to seek the lights of the town and the dagger
points of the churches that climbed against the sky upon the hill
behind her, but all that met her eyes was the blanket of wet darkness,
and the shimmer of the snowflakes under the lamps.
She slipped through the garage gates, touching the iron bars ...
“almost for the last time.”
“But what does it matter? All towns are the same and we sing the
same song in each and wear the same coloured feathers.” She stirred the
snow in the yard with her foot. “An inch already and the Renault has so
little grip upon the snow. Shall we be able to start to-morrow?”
Then she set out to look for a heap of snow chains which she had
noticed before in a corner of the yard. Not far from her another little
torch moved in the darkness, and under its downward ray she caught
sight of a khaki skirt and a foot. “Someone else has thought of chains,
too! And there are so few!” She clicked off her light and moved
stealthily along the forest of cars, her fingers sweeping blankets of
snow from the mudguards. Passing the first line of corpse-cars she saw
the light again. “She's in the wrong place!” she thought, and hurried
on. “Those bags of chains are just behind the Berliet they brought in
backwards.” Behind the Berliet little mounds showed in the snow. She
stooped over them, shading her light with her knees, and dug in the
light powder with her hand, pulling out a small canvas bag which she
dusted and beat with her fingers.
“Are you looking for chains?” she called to the other light, her bag
safely in her arms.
“They are here. Here! In this corner!”
“Who are you?” cried the voice.
But she slipped away in silence to the garage door; for on this last
black and white night in Metz she longed to creep about unspoken to,
unquestioned. A little soldier sat on guard by a brazier of glowing
charcoal near the door. She nodded to him as she moved down the long
line of cars to her own.
There it stood, the light of the brazier falling faintly upon it,
the two points of the windscreen standing up like the ready ears of an
interested dog, the beautiful lines of its body, long bonnet and
mudguards stretched like a greyhound at a gallop, at rest until the
dawn. She flung the bag of chains inside, and, patting the bonnet,
slipped away and out into the street without attempting to try the fit
of the chains upon the wheels.
She slept a last night in the dark red German room three streets
away—first making a little tour of the walls in her nightgown, the
candle flame waving from her hand, the hot wax running in a cascade
over her fingers—and looked at the stag's horn fastened to the bracket
and the cluster of Christmas postcards pinned to the wall.
The postcards arrested her attention, and a light darted in her
mind. They were dark postcards, encrusted with shiny frosting, like the
snow outside. Little birds and goblins, a wreath of holly, and a house
with red mica windows were designed on them. She put out a finger and
gently touched the rough, bright, common stuff; standing opposite them,
almost breathless with a wave of memory. She could see herself no
taller than the nursery fireguard, with round eyes to which every
bright thing was a desire. She could feel herself very small amid the
bustle and clatter of Christmas, blowing dark breath marks against the
bright silver on the table, pulling the fringe round the iced cake,
wetting her finger and picking up “hundreds and thousands” with it from
These postcards now in front of her were made by some one with the
mind of a child. It struck and shook her violently with memory to see
them. “That's why the Germans write good fairy stories!” she thought,
and her eyes passed to the framed photographs that hung near the
postcards, pictures of soldiers in uniform, sitting at a table with the
two daughters of the house. But these wooden faces, these bodies
pressing through unwieldy clothes seemed unrelated to the childish
She went contentedly to her bed, the room, bare of all her
belongings, except the one bag that stood, filled and open, upon the
table; sleeping for the last time in the strange bed in the strange
town which she might never see again. It was time indeed to go.
For days past civilians had crept through the gates of Metz, leading
old horses, drawing ramshackle carts filled with mattresses, faded silk
chairs, gilt ormolu stands, clocks and cloaks and parrot cages; all the
strange things that men and women use for their lives. The furniture
that had fled in other carts from villages now dust upon a dead plain
was returning through all the roads of France, repacked and dusted, to
set up the spirit of civilian life again.
It was time to go, following all the other birds of passage that war
had dragged through the town of Metz—time to make way for the toiling
civilian with his impedimenta of civilisation.
In the morning when she opened her eyes the room was darker than
usual, and the opening of the window but the merest square of light.
Snow was built up round the frame in thick rolls four inches high.
She dressed hurriedly and rolled up the sleeping-sack with her few
last things inside it. Out in the street the snow was dry and thick and
beautifully untrodden. The garage gates looked strange, with a thick
white banner blown down each side of the pillars. She looked inside the
garage shed. Yes, all the cars had gone—hers stood alone, the
suitcases inside, tyres pumped stiff and solid, the hood well buckled
“Mademoiselle hasn't gone with the convoy?” said the marechal des
“Oh, I'm separate,” she laughed.
“But the convoy is gone.”
“I know it. But I'm not with them. It's an order. I'm going alone.”
“Bien. But do you know the route?”
“I'm not going by it.”
He laughed, suddenly giving up all attempt at responsibility, and
bent to catch her starting handle.
“Oh, don't worry.”
“Yes, it's your last day, I may as well help you to go away.”
The engine started easily and she drove out of the garage into the
yard, the wheels flying helplessly in the snow, and flinging up dry
puffs like flour. “Haven't you chains?” said the marechal des logis. But she smiled and nodded and could not wait. “Good-bye—good-bye to
all the garage,” she nodded and waved. The sun broke out from behind a
cloud, her brass and glass caught fire and twinkled gaily, the snow
sparkled, the gate-posts shone at her. She left the garage without a
regret in her heart, with not a thought in her head, save that in a
minute she would be safe, no accident could stop her, she would be
abroad upon the magic, the unbelievable journey.
* * * * *
They were in a small circular room, shaped like an English
oasthouse, its roof running upwards in a funnel to meet the sky. At the
apex was a round porthole of thick glass to let in the light, but as
this was supporting several feet of snow the lighting of the room was
effected only by a large oil-lamp which stood on the blackened table in
the centre. An old woman came forward into the light of the lamp. Her
eyes were fine and black—her mouth was toothless and folded away for
ever, lost in a crevice under her nose. When she smiled the oak-apples
of her cheeks rose up and cut the black eyes into hoops.
“We are on a long journey, madame, to Chantilly. We are cold; can we
She drew out chairs and bade them sit, then placed two tall glasses
of coffee in the ring of light from the lamp, sugar melting in a sandy
heap at the bottom of each.
“What an odd shape your house is!” said Julien, looking round him.
“It's very old, like me. And the light is poor. You have to know it
to get used to it,” she replied.
“You've only that one window?” He stared up the funnel to where he
could see the grey underside of the cone of snow.
“But I can make that one better than it is; and then the lady can
see herself in this little glass!” The old woman moved to the side of
the wall where a rope hung down. “Elle a raison; since she has a
gentleman with her! I was the same—and even not so long ago!”
She put up her thin arm and gave the rope a long pull. She must have
been strong, for the skylight and all its burden opened on a hinge, and
the snow could be seen sliding from it, could be heard in a heavy body
rumbling on the roof. She closed the skylight, and now a wan light
filtered down the funnel and turned their faces green. It was like life
at the bottom of a well, and they felt as though the level of the earth
was far above their heads, and its weighty walls pressing against their
“But why is it built this way?”
“Many houses are,” said the old woman with a shrug. “It's old, older
than my mother.” She sat down beside them. “Soldiers have been drunk in
here many times in the war,” she said. “And in the old war, too. But I
never saw one like you.” She pinched Fanny's sleeve. “Fine stuff,” she
said. “The Americans are rich!”
“I'm not American.”
“Rich they are. But I don't care for them. They have no real feeling
for a woman. You are not stupid, ma belle, to get a Frenchman
for a lover.”
“Don't make him vain.”
“It is the truth. He knows it very well. Why should he be vain? An
American loves a pretty face; but a Frenchman loves what is a woman.”
She rose and lifted the lamp, and let its ray search out a corner of
the room wherein the great bed stood, wooden and square, its posts
black with age, its bedding puffed about it and crowned with a scarlet
eiderdown as solid and deep as the bed itself.
“A fine bed; an old bed; it is possible that you will not believe
me, but I shared that bed with a bishop not two years ago.”
Fanny's eyes were riveted on the bed.
Julien laughed. “In the worst sense, mother?”
“In the best, my son,” bragged the old woman, sliding a skinny
finger to the tip of her nose. “You don't believe me?”
Coming nearer, she stood with the lamp held in her two hands resting
on the table, so that she towered over them in fluttering shawl and
“He arrived in the village one night in a great storm. It was past
the New Year and soldiers had been coming through the street all day to
go up to the lines beyond Pont-a-Moussons. I've had them sleeping in
here on the floor in rows, clearing away the table and lying from wall
to wall so thick that I had to step on them when I crossed the room
with my lamp. But that night there were none; they were all passing
through up to the front lines, and though the other end of the village
was full, no one knocked here. There was snow as there is to-day, but
not lying still on the ground. It was rushing through the air and
choking people and lying heavy on everything that moved outside. That
glass of mine up there was too heavy for me to move so I let it be. A
knock came at the door in the middle of the night, and when I got up to
unbar the door there was a soldier on the doorstep. I said: 'Are you
going to wake me up every night to fill the room with men?' And he
said: 'Not to-night, mother, only one. Pass in, monsieur.'
“It was a bishop, as I told you. Un eveque. A great big man
with a red face shining with the snow. If he had not been white with
snow he would have been as black as a rook. He stamped on the cobbles
by the door and the snow went down off him in heaps, and there he was
in his beautiful long clothes, and I said to myself: 'Whatever shall I
do with him? Not the floor for such a man!' So there we were, I in my
red shawl that hangs on the hook there, and he in his long clothes like
a black baby in arms, and his big man's face staring at me over the
“'I can't put you anywhere but in my bed,' I told him. I told him
like that, quickly, that he might know. And he answered like a
gentleman, the Lord save his soul: 'Madame, what lady could do more!'
“'But there's only one bed' I told him (I told him to make it
clear), 'and I'm not young enough to sleep on the floor.' Not that I'm
an old woman. And he answered like a gentleman, the Lord save him....”
“I will tell you the end,” said the old woman, drawing near
to Julien as he took some money from his pocket to pay for the coffee.
Two hours later they drew up at a cafe in the main square at
Within was a gentle murmur of voices, a smell of soup and baking
bread; warm steam, the glow of oil lamps and reddened faces.
Sitting at a small table, with a white cloth, among the half-dozen
American soldiers who, having long finished their lunch, were playing
cards and dominoes, they ordered bread-soup, an omelette, white wine,
brille cheese and their own ration of bully beef which they had brought
in tins to be fried with onions.
A woman appeared from the door of the kitchen, carrying their bowl
of bread-soup. Across the plains of her great chest shone a white satin
waistcoat fastened with blue glass studs, and above her handsome face
rose a crown of well-brushed hair dyed in two shades of scarlet. A
little maid followed, and they covered the table with dishes, knives
and forks, bread and wine. The woman beamed upon Fanny and Julien, and
laying her hand upon Fanny's shoulder begged them not to eat till she
had fetched them a glass of her own wine.
“You bet it's good, ma'am,” advised a big American sergeant at a
table near them. “You take it.”
She brought them a wine which shone like dark amber in a couple of
glasses, and stood over them listening with pleasure to their
appreciation while each slight movement of her shoulders sent ripples
and rivers of heaving light over the waistcoat of satin.
The butter round the omelette was bubbling in the dish, the brille
had had its red rind removed and replaced by fried breadcrumbs, the
white wine was light and sweet, and with the coffee afterwards they
were given as much sugar as they wished.
“I have seen her before somewhere,” said Julien, as the scarlet head
receded among the shadows of the back room. “I wonder where?”
“One wouldn't forget her.”
“No. It might have been in Paris; it might have been anywhere.”
The little maid was at his elbow. “Madame would be glad if you would
come to her store and make your choice of a cigar, monsieur.”
“Well, I shall know where I met her. Do you mind if I go?”
He followed the girl into the back room. Fanny, searching in her
pocket for her handkerchief, scattered a couple of German iron pennies
on the floor; an American from the table behind picked them up and
returned them to her. “These things are just a weight and a trouble,”
he said. “I think I shall throw mine away?”
“You've come down from Germany, then?”
“Been up at Treves. They do you well up there.”
“Not better than here!”
“No, this is an exception. It's a good place.”
“Madame is a great manager.”
“Hev' you got more German pennies than you know what to do with?”
said the American sergeant who had advised her to drink the wine.
“Because, if you hev' so hev' I and I'll play you at dominoes for
As Julien did not return at once, Fanny moved to his table and piled
her German pennies beside her, and they picked out their dominoes from
“I want to go home,” said the American, and lifted up his big face
and looked at her.
“You all do.”
“That's right. We all do,” assented another and another. They would
make this statement to her at every village where she met them, in
every estaminet, at any puncture on the road over which they
helped her —simply, and because it was the only thing in their minds.
“Do you hev' to come out here?” he enquired.
“Oh, no. We come because we like to.”
Thinking this a trumpery remark he made no answer, but put out
another domino—then as though something about her still intrigued his
heavy curiosity: “You with the French, ain't you?”
“Like that too?”
He sat a little back into his chair as though he felt he had put her
in a corner now, and when she said she even liked that too, twitched
his cheek a little in contempt for such a lie and went on playing.
But the remark worked something in him, for five minutes later he
“I don't see anything in the French. They ain't clean. They ain't
generous. They ain't up-to-date nor comfortable.”
Fanny played out her domino.
“They don't know how to live,” he said more violently than he
had spoken yet.
“What's living?” she said quickly. “What is it to live, if you
“You want to put yourself at something, an' build up. Build up your
fortune and spread it out and about, and have your house so's people
know you've got it. I want to get home and be doing it.”
“Mademoiselle actually knows it!” said Julien in the doorway to the
red-haired woman in the back room, and Fanny jumped up.
The American passed four iron coins across the table. “'Tisn't going
to hinder that fortune I'm going to make,” he said, smiling at last.
“What do I know?” she asked, approaching the doorway, and moving
with him into the back room.
“Madame owns a house in Verdun,” said Julien, “and I tell her you
“I know it?”
“Come and drink this little glass of my wine, mademoiselle,” said
the red-haired woman good-humouredly, “and tell me about my poor little
house. I had a house on the crown of the hill ... with a good view ...
and a good situation (she laughed) by the Cathedral.”
“Had you? Well, there are a great many by the Cathedral,” Fanny
answered cautiously, for she thought she knew the house that was meant.
“But my house looked out on the citadelle, and stood very
high on a rock. Below it there was a drop and steep steps went down to
a street below.”
“Had you pink curtains in the upper windows?”
“Is it not then so damaged?” demanded the woman eagerly, dropping
her smile. “The curtains are left? You can see the curtains?”
“No, no, it is terribly damaged. If it is the house you mean I found
a piece of pink satin and a curtain ring under a brick, and there is a
sad piece which still waves on a high window. But wait a minute, excuse
me, I'll be back.” She passed through the cafe and ran out to the car,
returning in a moment with something in her hand.
“I fear I looted your house, madame,” she said, offering her a small
cylindrical pot made of coarse clouded glass, and half filled with a
yellowish paste. “I found that inside on the ground floor; I don't know
why I took it.”
The woman held it in her hand. “Oh!” she wailed, and sliding down
upon the sofa, found her handkerchief.
“Mais non!” said Julien, “you who have so much courage!”
“But it was my own face!” she cried incoherently, holding out
the little pot. “My poor little cream pot!”
“It was my face cream!”
“I had not used it for a week because they had recommended me a new
one. Ah! miraculous! that so small a thing should follow me!”
She touched her eyes carefully with her handkerchief, but a live
tear had fallen on the waistcoat.
“Tell me, mademoiselle ... sit down beside me, my dear ... the poor
little house is no more good to me? I couldn't live there? Is there a
“You couldn't live in it.”
“But the roof?”
“It was on the point of sliding off; it was worn like a hat over one
ear. The front of the house is gone. Only on the frame of one window
which sticks to the wall could I see your piece of pink curtain which
“My poor, pretty house!” she mused. “My first, you know,” she said
in an undertone to Julien. “Ah, well, courage, as you say!”
“But you are very well here.”
“True, but this isn't my vocation. I shall start again elsewhere.
And Verdun itself, Mademoiselle, can one live in it?”
“No, not yet. Perhaps never.”
“Madame, we must move on again,” interrupted Julien. “We have a long
way to go before night.”
The woman rose, and turning to a drawer, pulled out a heap of soiled
papers, bills and letters. “Wait,” she said, “wait an instant!”
Turning them over she sought and found a couple of old sheets pinned
together, and unpinning them she handed one to Fanny.
“It is the receipt for the cream,” she said, “that I want to give
you. It is a good cream though I left the pot behind.”
* * * * *
The sun sank and the forests around Chantilly grew vague and deep.
White statues stood by the roadside, and among the trees chateaux with
closed eyes slept through the winter. Every tree hung down beneath its
load of snow; the telephone wires drooped like worsted threads across
Fanny, who had left Julien at his new billets in Chantilly, drove on
alone to the little village on the Oise which was to be her home. It
was not long before she could make out the posts and signals of the
railway on her left, and the river appeared in a broad band below her.
The moon rose, and in the river the reeds hung head downwards, staring
up at the living reeds upon the bank.
It gleamed upon a signpost, and turning down a lane on the left she
came on a handful of unlighted cottages, and beyond them a single
village street, soundless and asleep. A chemist's shop full of coloured
glasses was lit from within by a single candle; upon the step the
chemist stood, a skull cap above his large, pitted face.
Somewhere in the shuttered village a roof already sheltered her
companions, but before looking for them she drew up and gazed out
beyond the river and the railway line to where the moon was slowly
lighting hill after hill. But the spectral summer town which she sought
was veiled in the night.
PART III. THE FORESTS OF CHANTILLY
CHAPTER XII. PRECY-SUR-OISE
The light of dawn touched Paris, the wastes of snow surrounding her,
forests, villages scattered in the forest and plains around Senlis,
Chantilly, Boran, Precy. The dark receded in the west; in the east a
green light spread upwards from the horizon, touched the banks of the
black Oise, the roofs of the houses of Precy, the dark window panes,
and the flanks of the granite piers that stood beheaded in the
water—all that was left of the great bridge that had crossed from bank
Above the river stood the station hut and the wooden gates of the
level crossing, upon which the night lantern still hung; above again a
strip of snow divided the railway line from the road, at the other side
of whose stone wall the village itself began, and stretched backwards
up a hill.
Upon a patch of snow above the river and below the road stood a
flourishing little house covered with gables and turrets; and odd
shapes like the newel-posts of staircases climbed unexpectedly about
the roof. In summer, fresh with paint, the outside of the house must
wave its vulgar little hands into the sky, but now, everything that
bristled upon it served only as a fresh support for the snow which hung
in deep drifts on its roof, and around its balconied windows. It stood
in its own symmetrical walled garden, like a cup in a deep saucer, and
within the wall a variety of humps and hillocks showed where the bushes
crouched beneath their unusual blanket. One window, facing towards the
railway and the river, had no balcony clinging to its stonework, and in
the dark room behind it the light of the dawn pressed faintly between
the undrawn curtains. A figure stirred upon the bed within, and Fanny,
not clearly aware whether she had slept or not, longed to search the
room for some heavier covering which, warming her, would let her sink
into unconsciousness. Her slowly gathering wits, together with the
nagging cold, forced her at last from the high bed on to the floor, and
she crossed the room towards the light. In the walled garden below
strange lights of dawn played, red, green and amber, like a crop of
flowers. The railway lines beyond the garden wall disappeared in fiery
bands north and south, lights flashed down from the sky above and
winked in the black and polished river; at the limit of the white plain
beyond, a window caught the sun and turned its burning-glass upon the
“Chantilly....” A word like the dawn, filled with light and the
promise of light! Turning back into the dim room, she flung her coat
upon the bed, climbed in and fell asleep. Three hours later something
pressed against her bed and she opened her eyes again. The room was
fresh with daylight, and Stewart standing beside her carried a rug on
her arm and wore a coat over her nightgown. “I'm coming down to have
chocolate in your room....”
Fanny watched her. Stewart climbed up beside her wrapped in the rug.
A knock at the door heralded the entry of a woman carrying a tray.
Fanny watched her too, and saw that she was fresh, smiling, clean and
big, and that steam flew up in puffs from the tray she carried. The
woman pulled a little table towards the bed and set the tray on it.
“This is Madame Boujan!” said Stewart's voice.
Fanny tried to smile and say “Good morning,” and succeeded. She was
not awake but knew she was in clover. The cups holding the steaming
chocolate were as large as bowls, and painted cherries and leaves
glistened beneath their lustre surface. Beside the cups was a plate
with rolls, four rolls; and there were knives and two big pots which
must be butter and jam.
Fanny rolled nearer to the chocolate, sniffed it and pulled herself
up in bed. The woman, still smiling beside them, turned and hunted
among the clothes upon the chair; then held a jersey towards her
shoulders and guided her arms into its sleeves. Ecstasy stole over
Fanny; other similar wakings strung themselves like beads upon her
memory; nursery wakings when her spirit had been guided into daylight
by the crackle of a fire new-lit, by the movements of just such an
aproned figure as this, by a smile on just such a pink face; or wakings
after illness when her freshening life had leapt in her at the sound of
a blind drawn up, at the sight of the white-cuffed hand that pulled the
Oh, heavenly woman, who stood beside the tray, who fed her and
warmed her while she was yet weak and babyish from sleep! Beyond her
the white plains of beauty shone outside the window.... She sat up and
smiled: “I'm awake,” she said.
And Madame Boujan, having seen that her feet were set upon the
threshold of day, went out of the door and closed it softly.
They held the lustre bowls cupped in their hands and sipped.
* * * * *
During lunch in the little villa, while they were all recounting
their experiences, Madame Boujan came softly to Fanny's side and
“A soldier has brought you a note from Chantilly.”
“Keep it for me in the kitchen,” Fanny answered, under her breath,
helping herself to potatoes.
“Will you come and cut wood for the bedroom fire?” said Stewart,
when lunch was over. “I bought a hatchet in the village this morning.”
“Come down by the river first,” insisted Fanny, who had her note in
“Why? And it gets dark so soon!”
“I want to find a boat.”
“To cross the river.”
“To cross the river! Do you want to see what's on the other side?”
“Julien will be on the other side.... I have had a letter from him.
I am to dine in Chantilly. He will send a car at seven to wait for me
in the fields at the other side of the broken bridge, and trusts to me
to find a boat. Come over the level crossing to the river.”
They passed the station hut and came to a little landing stage near
which a boat was tied.
“There's a boat,” said Stewart. “Shall we ask at that hut?”
The wooden hut stood above their heads on a pedestal of stone; from
its side the haunch of the stone bridge sprang away into the air, but
stopped abruptly where it had been broken off. The hut, once perhaps a
toll-house, was on a level with what had been the height of the bridge,
and now it could be reached by stone steps which wound up to a small
platform in front of the door. From within came men's voices singing.
“Look in here!”
A flickering light issued from a small window, and having climbed
the steps they could see inside. Two boys, about sixteen, a soldier and
an old man, sat round a table beneath a hanging lamp, and sang from
scraps of paper which they held in their hands. Behind the old man a
girl stood cleaning a cup with a cloth.
“They are practising something. Knock!”
But there was no need, for a dog chained in a barrel close to them
set up a wild barking.
“Is he chained? Keep this side. The old man is coming.”
The door opened. The voices ceased; the girl stood by the old man's
“Yes, it could be arranged. People still crossed that way; their
boat was a sort of ferry and there was a charge.
“There might be a little fog to-night, but it didn't matter. Margot
knows the way across blindfold—Margot would row the lady. She would be
waiting with a lantern at five minutes to seven; and again at half-past
nine. Not too late at all! But Margot would not wait on the other side,
it was too cold. They would lend the lady a whistle, and she must blow
on it from the far bank.”
“There's romance!” said Fanny, as they came away.
“Not if you are caught.”
“There's my magic luck!”
“How dare you ask like that? Even if you are not superstitious, even
if you don't believe a word of it, why be so defiant—why not set the
“Oh, my dear Stewart, I hardly care! And to the creature who doesn't
care no suspicion clings. Haven't I an honest face? Would you think it
was me, me, of all the Section, to cross the river to-night, in a
little boat with a lantern, to creep out of the house, out of the
village, to dine forbidden in Chantilly, with some one who enchants me!
You wouldn't. Why, do you know, if I lived up in their house, under
their eyes, I would go out just the same, to cross the river. I
wouldn't climb by windows or invent a wild tale to soothe them, but
open the door and shut the door, and be gone. And would anybody say:
“They might. But they would answer their own question: 'Innocently
sleeping. Innocently working. Innocently darning, reading, writing.' I
don't suspect myself so why should any one else suspect me!”
Fanny broke off and laughed.
“Come along and cut wood!”
They moved off into the woods as people with not a care in the
world, and coming upon a snow-covered stack of great logs which had
been piled by some one else, began to steal one or two and drag them
away into a deep woodland drive where they could cut them up without
fear of being noticed.
They worked on for an hour, and then Stewart drew a packet of cake
from her coat pocket, and sitting upon the logs they had their tea.
Soon Fanny, wringing her hands, cried:
“I'm blue again, stiff again, letting the cold in, letting the snow
gnaw. Where's the hatchet?”
For a time she chopped and hacked, and Stewart, shepherding the
splinters which flew into the snow, piled them—splinters, most
precious of all—petit bois to set a fire alight; and the
afternoon grew bluer, deeper. Stewart worked in a reverie—Fanny in a
heat of expectation. One mused reposedly on life—the other warmly of
the immediate hours before her.
“Now I'm going to fetch the car,” said Stewart at last. “Will you
stay here and go on cutting till I come? There are two more logs.”
She walked away up the drive, and Fanny picked the hatchet out of
the snow and started on the leathery, damp end of a fresh log. It would
not split, the tapping marred the white silence, and yet again she let
the hatchet fall and sat down on the log instead. It was nearly
six—they had spent the whole afternoon splitting up the logs, and
making a fine pile of short pieces for firewood; the forest was
darkening rapidly, blue deepened above the trees to indigo, and black
settled among the trunks. Only the snow sent up its everlasting shine.
Her thoughts fell and rose. Now they were upon the ground busy with a
multitude of small gleams and sparkles—now they were up and away
through the forest tunnels to Chantilly. What would he say first? How
look when he met her?
“Ah, I am a silly woman in a fever! Yet happy—for I see beauty in
everything, in the world, upon strange faces, in nights and days. Upon
what passes behind the glassy eyes” (she pressed her own) “depends
sight, or no sight. There is a life within life, and only I” (she
thought arrogantly, her peopled world bounded by her companions) “am
living in it. We are afraid, we are ashamed, but when one dares talk of
this strange ecstasy, other people nod their heads and say: 'Ah, yes,
we know about that! They are in love.' And they smile. But what a
There was no sound in the forest at all—not the cry of a bird, not
the rustle of snow falling from a branch—but there was something
deeper and remoter than sound, the approach of night. There was a
change on the face of the forest—an effective silence which was not
blankness—a voiceless expression of attention as the Newcomer settled
into his place. Fanny looked up and saw the labyrinth of trees in the
very act of receiving a guest.
“Oh, what wretched earnest I am in,” she thought, suddenly chilled.
“And it can only have one end—parting.” But she had a power to evade
these moods. She could slip round them and say to herself: “I am old
enough—I have learnt again and again—that there is only one joy—the
Present; only one Perfection—the Present. If I look into the future it
She heard the returning car far up the forest drive, and in a moment
saw the gleam of its two lamps as they rocked and swayed. It drew up,
and Stewart put out the lamps, ever remembering that their logs were
stolen. There was still light enough by which they could pack the car
with wood. As they finished Stewart caught her arm: “Look, a fire!” she
said, pointing into the forest. Through a gap in the trees they could
see a red glow which burst up over the horizon.
“And look behind the trees—the whole sky is illumined—What a
fire!” As they watched, the glare grew stronger and brighter, and
seemed about to lift the very tongue of its flame over the horizon.
“It's the moon!” they cried together.
The cold moon it was who had come up red and angry from some Olympic
quarrel and hung like a copper fire behind the forest branches. Up and
up she sailed, but paling as she rose from red to orange, from orange
to the yellow of hay; and at yellow she remained, when the last branch
had dropped past her face of light, and she was drifting in the height
of the sky.
CHAPTER XIII. THE INN
They drove back to the village and down to their isolated villa, and
here on the road they passed ones and twos of the Section walking into
“How little we have thought out your evasion!” whispered Stewart at
the wheel, as they drew up at the door: “Get out, and go and dress. I
will take the car up to the garage and come back.”
Fanny slipped in through the garden. What they called “dressing” was
a clean skirt and silk stockings—but silk stockings she dared not put
on before her brief appearance at supper. Stuffing the little roll into
her pocket she determined to change her stockings on the boat.
Soon, before supper was ended, she had risen from the table,
unquestioned by the others, had paused a moment to meet Stewart's eye
full of mystery and blessing, had closed the door and was gone.
She slipped down the road and across the field to the railway. There
was a train standing, glowing and breathing upon the lines, and the
driver called to her as she ran round the buffers of the engine. Soon
she was down by the riverside and looking for Margot. Though there was
moonlight far above her the river banks were wrapped in fog that smelt
of water, and Margot's face at the hut window was white, and her wool
dress white, too. She came down and they rowed out into the fog, in an
upward circle because of the stream. Fanny could just see her
companion's little blunt boots, the stretched laces across her instep,
and above, her pretty face and slant eyes. Hurriedly, in the boat she
pulled off the thick stockings, rolled them up, and drew on the silk. A
chill struck her feet. She wrapped the ends of her coat lightly round
her knees and as she did so the roll of thick stockings sprang out of
her lap and fell overboard into the fog and the river.
“Mademoiselle goes to a party?” said Margot, who had not noticed.
The soft sympathetic voice was as full of blessing as Stewart's eyes
“Yes, to a party. And you will fetch me back to-night when I
“Yes. Blow three times, for sometimes in the singing at home I lose
The opposite bank seemed to drift in under the motionless boat, and
she sprang out.
“A tout a l'heure, mademoiselle.”
At the top of the bank the road ran out into the fog, which was
thicker on this side. She walked along it and was lost to Margot's
incurious eyes. Here it was utterly deserted: since the bridge had been
blown up the road had become disused and only the few who passed over
by Margot's boat ever found their way across these fields. She strayed
along by the road's edge and could distinguish the blanched form of a
Strange that the fog should reach so much further inland on this
side of the river. Perhaps the ground was lower. Standing still her ear
caught a rich, high, throaty sound, a choking complaint which travelled
in the air.
“It is the car,” she thought. Far away a patch of light floated in
the sky, like an uprooted searchlight.
“That is the fog, bending the headlights upward.”
She stood in the centre of the road and listened to the sound as it
drew nearer and nearer, till suddenly the headlights came down out of
the sky and pierced her—she stood washed in light, and the car
Beside the driver of the car was, not Julien, but a man with a red,
wooden face like a Hindoo god made out of mahogany. Saluting, he said:
“We are sent to fetch you, mademoiselle.” He held the door of the
closed car open for her, she smiled, nodded, climbed in and sank upon
“When you get to the lights of the houses, mademoiselle, will you
stoop a little and cover yourself with this rug? It is not foggy in
Chantilly and the street is very full.”
“I will,” she said, “I'll kneel down.”
Something about his face distressed her. How came it that Julien
trusted this new man? Perhaps he was some old and private friend of his
who felt antagonistic to her, who disbelieved in her, who would hurt
them both with his cynical impassivity.
“I'm fanciful!” she thought. “This is only some friend of his from
Paris.” Paris sending forth obstacles already!
In Chantilly she crouched beneath the rug—her expectations closing,
unwandering, against her breast. Beams might pierce the glass of the
car and light nothing unusual; what burnt beneath was not a fire that
man could see. Generals in the street walked indifferently to the Hotel
of the Grand Conde. It was their dinner hour, and who cared that an
empty car should move towards a little inn beyond? Now, she held
armfuls of the rug about her, buried from the light, now held her
breath, too, as the car stopped.
And there stood Julien, at the end of the passage, he whom she had
left, sombre and distracted, a long twenty-four hours ago in Chantilly.
She saw the change even while she flew to him. He was gay, he was
excited, he was exciting. He was beautiful, admirable, he admired her.
“Fanny, is it true? You have come?” and “Que vous etes en beaute!”
Within, a table was laid for three—three chairs, three plates,
three covers. He saw her looking at this.
“We dine three to-night. You must condescend to dine with a
sergeant. My old friend—Where is Alfred?”
“I am here.”
“My old friend—four years before the war. The oldest friend I have.
He has heard—”
(“——Of Violette. He has heard of Violette! He is Violette's
friend; he is against me!”)
“I am so glad,” she said aloud, in a small voice, and put out her
hand. She did not like him, she had an instant dread of him, and
thought he beheld it too.
“I did not even know he was here,” said Julien, more gay than ever.
“But he is the sergeant of the garage, and I find him again.
“What a help you'll be, to say the least of it! You will drive her
to the river, you will fetch her from the river! I myself cannot drive,
I am not allowed.”
The impassive man thus addressed looked neither gay nor sad. His
little eyes wandered to Fanny with a faint critical indifference.
(“Julien has made a mistake, a mistake! He is an enemy!”) She could not
clearly decide how much she should allow her evening to be shadowed by
this man, how deeply she distrusted him. But Julien was far from
distrusting him. Through the dinner he seemed silently to brag to
Alfred. His look said, and his smile said: “Is she not this and that,
Alfred? Is she not perfect?” His blue eyes were bright, and once he
said, “Go on, talk, Fanny, talk, Fanny, you have an audience. To-night
you have two to dazzle!” Impossible to dazzle Alfred. Could he not see
that? One might as easily dazzle a mahogany god, a little god alive
beneath its casing with a cold and angry life. Yet though at first she
was silent, inclined to listen to Alfred, to hope that something in his
tones would soothe her enemy fears, soon she could not help following
Julien's mood. Should she want to be praised, she had it from his
eye—or be assured of love, it was there, too, in the eye, the smile,
the soft tone. Because of Alfred, he could put nothing into
words—because he must be dumb she could read a more satisfying
conversation in his face.
She began to think the occasional presence of a third person was an
addition, an exciting disturbance, a medium through which she could
talk with ease two languages at once, French to Alfred, and love to
When they had finished dining Alfred left them, promising to come
back with the car in half an hour, to take Fanny to the river.
“You must like him!” said Julien confidently, when the door had
closed. Fanny said she would. “And do you like him?” Fanny said
“I met him so many years ago. He was suffering very much at the time
through a woman. Now he will tell you he has become a cynic.”
“Did she treat him badly?”
“She ran away from him, taking his carriage and his two horses—”
“A beautiful woman?” interrupted Fanny, who liked details.
“She might equally well have been magnificent or monstrous. She was
over life-size, and Alfred, who is small, adored her. Everything about
her was emphatic. Her hair was heavy-black, her skin too red. And never
still, never in one place. Alfred had a house outside Paris, and
carriage and horses to take him to the station. One night she took the
horses, put them into the carriage and was seen by a villager seated
upon the coachman's box driving along the road. When she had passed him
this man saw her stop and take up a dark figure who climbed to the seat
beside her. They—the woman and her probable lover, who never once had
been suspected, and never since been heard of—drove as far as Persan-Beaumont, near here, where they had an accident, and turned the
carriage into the ditch, killing one of the horses. The other they took
out and coolly tied to the station railings. They took the train and
disappeared, and though she had lived with Alfred two years, she never
left a note for him to tell him that she had gone, she never wired to
him about the roses, she never has written one since.”
“Enough to turn him into a cynic!”
“Not at first. He came to me, spent the night in my flat; he was
distracted. We must have walked together a mile across my little floor.
He couldn't believe she was gone, which was natural. And though next
morning the horses were missing and the coach-house empty, he couldn't
be got to connect the two disappearances. He rang me up from the
country where he went next day, saying earnestly as though to convince
himself, 'You know I've got on to the Paris police about those horses.'
And later in the day, again: 'I hear there has been a good deal of
horse-stealing all over the country.' Then, when the horses were found,
one dead, and the other tied to the station railings, he believed at
once that she had taken them and wouldn't talk one word more upon the
subject. He sold the remaining horse.”
“It was then he grew cool about women!”
“Not yet. It was then that he met, almost at once, a young girl who
insisted in the most amazing fashion, that she loved him. He could not
understand it. He came to me and said: 'Why does she love me?'
“I thought she was merely intriguing to marry him, but no, he said:
'There's something sincere and impressive in her tone; she loves me.
What shall I do?'
'Why shouldn't you marry her?' I said.
And then he was all at once taken with the idea to such a degree
that he became terrified when he was with her. 'Suppose she refuses
me,' he said twenty times a day. 'Ask her. It's simple.' 'It's staking
too much. You say, “Ask her,” when all in a minute she may say no.'
“He got quite ill over it. The girl's mother asked him to the house,
the girl herself, though she saw him less and less alone, smiled at him
as tenderly as ever. And then there came a day when he left me full of
courage, and going to her house he asked her to marry him. He met her
alone by chance, and before asking her mother he spoke to the girl
herself. She said no, point-blank. She said 'Nothing would induce her
to.' He was so astonished that he didn't stay a second longer in the
house. He didn't even come to me, but went back into the country, and
then to England.”
“But why did the girl—?”
“There is nothing to ask. Or, at any rate, there is no answer to
anything. I suppose he asked himself every question about her conduct,
but it was inexplicable.”
“He should have asked her twice.”
“It never occurred to him. And he has told me lately that she
refused him with such considered firmness that it seemed unlikely that
it was a whim.”
“Well—poor Alfred! And yet it was only the merest chance, the
merest run of bad luck—but it leaves him, you say, with the impression
that we are flawed?”
“A terrible flaw. His opinion is that there is a deep coldness in
women. In the brain, too, he feels them mortally unsound. Mad and cold
he says now of all women, and therefore as unlike a normal man as a
creature half-lunatic, half-snake.”
“He thinks that of all women, young or old?”
“Yes, I think so. He tells me that whereas most men make the mistake
of putting down womanly unreason to the score of their having too much
heart, he puts it down to their having no heart at all, which he says
is so mad a state that they are unrecognisable as human creatures.”
“But—(alas, poor Alfred)—you have made a charming confidante for
“Confidante? He will make the best. He is devoted to me.”
“To anything, to any one I care for.”
“Not to me. What you have told me is the key to his expression when
he looks at me. If he is devoted to you it is not an unreasoning
devotion, and he is judging me poisonous to you. As he has himself been
hurt, he will not have you hurt. I wish he had never come. I wish he
might never be my driver to the river, and your friend, and our enemy.”
“I wish it. I am unhappy about him, and unhappiness is always
punished. While we were in Metz every one smiled at us; here every one
will spy us out, scold, frown, punish—”
“And your magic luck?”
“Alfred threatens my luck,” she said. Then, with another look, “Are
you angry with me? Can you love such a character?”
“I love it now.”
“You have never heard me when I scold, or cry or am sulky?...”
“But if I make the experiment?”
“I could make a hundred experiments, but I make none of them. We
cannot know what to-morrow may bring.”
This she remembered suddenly with all her heart.
“Come nearer to me, Fanny. Why are you sitting so far away?”
She sat down nearer to him; she put all her fingers tightly round
“I am not always sure that you are there, Julien; that you exist.”
“Yet I am substantial enough.”
“No, you are most phantom-like. It is the thought of parting that
checks my earnestness; as though I had an impulse to save myself. It is
the thought of parting that turns you into a ghost, already parted
with; that sheds a light of unreality over you when I am distant.
Something in me makes ready for that parting, flees from you, and I
cannot stay it, steals itself, and I cannot break through it. I have
known you so short a time. I have had nothing but pleasure from you;
isn't it possible that I can escape without pain?”
“No, no, no!” She laid her cheek upon his hand. “Do something to
make it easier. Must it be that when you go you go completely? Promise
me at least that it will be gradual, that you will try to see me when
you have taken up your other life.”
“But if I can't? If you are ordered back to Metz?”
“Why should I be? But, if I am, promise me that you will try. If it
is only an artifice, beguile me with it; I will believe in any
“You don't need to ask me to promise; you know you don't need to
make me promise. Wherever you are sent I will try to come. Wherever
—do you hear? Do you think that that 'other' life is a dragon to eat me
up? That it will be such bliss to me that I shall forget you
completely? It isn't to be bliss, but work, hard work, and competition.
It is the work that will keep me to Paris, not my happiness, my gaiety,
my content with other faces. That would comfort me if I were listener,
and you the speaker. But, Fanny, Fanny, I never met any one with such
joy as you—it is you who change the forest and the inns we meet in,
make the journeys a miracle. Don't show me another face. We have been
in love without a cloud, without scenes, without tears. You have
laughed at everything. Don't change, don't show me someone whom I don't
know; not that sad face!”
“This then!” She held up a face in whose eyes and smile was the
hasty radiance his fervour had brought her—and at sight of it the
words broke from him—“Are you happy so quickly?”
“Yes, yes, already happy.”
“Because I speak aloud of what I feel? What a doubting heart you
have within you! And I believe you only pretend to distress yourself,
that you may test whether I am sensitive enough to show the reflection
of it. Come! Well—am I right?”
“Partly. But I need not think. Oh, I am glad your feeling is so like
mine, and mine like yours! I will let the parting take care of itself
—yet there is one thing about which I cannot tell. What does your
heart do in absence, what kind of man are you when there is no one but
Alfred, who will say: 'Forget her'?”
“What kind do you think?”
“While I am here beside you, you cannot even imagine how dim I might
become. Can I tell? Can you assure me?”
Dim she might become to him, but dim she was not now as she besought
him with eyes that showed a quick and eager heart, eyes fixed on his
face full of enquiry, sure of its answer, feigning doubt that did not
“And I to you, and I to you?” he said, speaking in her ear when he
had made her an answer. “Dim, too? Why do we never talk of your
inconstancy? We must discuss it.”
“Inconstancy! That word had not occurred to me. It was your
forgetfulness that I dreaded.”
“I shall not be unforgetful until I am inconstant.”
“You can afford to tease me now you have me in such a mood!”
“In such a mood! Have I, indeed? Yet you will forget me before I
“You tell me to my face that I shall change?” she asked.
“Yes. And since you are bound to forget me, I insist at least that
there shall be a reason for doing so. I would rather be a king
dethroned than allowed to lapse like a poor idiot.”
“You would? You can say that?” Her voice rose.
“One instant, Fanny. Even when my teasing is out of taste, learn to
distinguish it from what I say in earnest. My dear, my dear, why should
you have to listen to the matter of my philosophy and my
experience which tells me all creatures forget and are forgotten! No! I
wipe out! You will not vanish—”
The door opened and Alfred entered the room.
“The car is ready,” he said. “I have had trouble in getting here.”
Fanny turned to him. “I am ready,” she said. “It is dreadful to have
to trouble you to take me so late at night to the river.”
“No, no—” Alfred, glowing from the exercise in the snowy night
outside, was inclined to be more friendly, or at least less sparing of
his words. “Here are some letters that were at your lodging.” He handed
three to Julien.
“When do you dine with me again?” Julien, holding the letters,
placed his hand upon her shoulder.
“I cannot tell what the work will be. Perhaps little, as the snow is
“It is snowing again outside,” said Alfred.
“Then the snow will lie even deeper, and there will be no work.”
“Get her back quickly, Alfred, or the snow will lie too deep for
you. I will send you a note, Fanny.”
“That is quite easy, is it?”
“Easy. But compromising.”
“Oh, surely—not very?”
“In France everything is compromising, mademoiselle,” said Alfred.
“But he will find a way to send it.”
Julien had urged her to hurry, fearing the snow; now he said, “You
are going?” as though it distressed him.
“Yes, you must, you must. Where is your leather coat? Here—”
He found it.
“Stay! I must read this before you go. It is my demobilisation paper
with the final date. I will look—”
“Are you coming?” called Alfred, from the end of the passage. “It is
“There is some mistake,” muttered Julien, his eye searching the
large unfolded document.
“When, when—?” Fanny, hanging on his words, watched him.
“One moment. It is a mistake. Alfred! Alfred, here, a minute!”
“Look,” he said, when Alfred had re-entered the room. He handed the
paper to him, and drew him under the light. “See, they say—ah, wait,
did I register at Charleville or Paris?”
“At Charleville. As an agriculturist. I remember well.”
“Then there is no mistake.” He folded up the paper, pinching the
edges of the folds slowly with his thumb and finger nail.
“Fanny, it has come sooner than I expected.”
She could say nothing, but fastened her gaze upon his lips.
“Much, much sooner, and there is no evading it. Alfred, I will bring
her in a minute.”
“The snow is coming down,” muttered the mahogany god, grown wooden
again under the light, and retreated.
“It is worse for me; it has been done by my own stupidity. But in
those days I didn't know you—”
“Oh, if you are thinking of breaking it to me—only tell me which
day! To-morrow?” She moved up close to him.
“Not to-morrow! No, no,” he said, almost relieved that it was better
than she feared. “In five days, in five days. Oh, this brings it before
me! I have no wish now for that release for which I have longed. Fanny,
it is only a change, not a parting!”
Alfred's voice called sharply from without. “You must come,
mademoiselle! Julien, bring her!”
“One instant. She is coming. Fanny, I must think it out. Until I
go—I shall have time—we will get you sent to Charleville, and
Charleville I must come often to see my land and my factory.”
“Often, I must—”
“Once a week at last. Perhaps more often. If we can only manage
“Julien!” Alfred returned and stood again in the doorway. “This is
absurd. I can never get to the river if you keep her.”
“Go, go. I will arrange! You will have a note from me to-morrow.
Hurry, good-night, good-night!”
She was in the car; now the door was shutting on her; yet once more
he pulled it open, “Ah! Oh, good-night!”
At the side of the car, the snow whirling round his head, Julien
kissed her face in the darkness; Alfred, relentless, drove the car
onward, and the door shutting with a slam, left him standing by the
CHAPTER XIV. THE RIVER
The indifferent Alfred drove his unhappy burden towards the river.
Walled in by the rush of snowflakes about him he made what way he
could, but it was well-nigh impossible to see. The lamps gave no light,
for the flakes had built a shutter across the glass like a policeman's
dark lantern. The flying multitudes in the air turned him dizzy; he
could not tell upon which side of the road he drove, and he could not
tell what he would do when the wall beyond the outskirts of Chantilly
forsook him. As to what was happening below him, what ruts, ditches,
pits or hillocks he was navigating, he had no idea; his ship was afloat
upon the snow, sluggishly rolling and heaving as it met with soft,
Heaviness and gloom sat upon the velvet seat behind him. The white,
wild night outside was playful and waggish compared with the black
dejection behind the opaque glass windows.
Fanny, who could not see her hand move in the darkness, saw clearly
with other miserable and roving eyes the road that lay before her.
“Julien, good-bye. Don't forget me!” That she would say to him in a
few days; that was the gate, the black portal which would lead her into
the road. That she would say, with entreaty, yet no painful tones of
hers would represent enough the entreaty of her heart that neither
would forget the other. She thought of this.
Not in wilful unreason, or in disbelief of his promise, she looked
at this parting as though it might be final. Without him she could see
no charm ahead. And yet.... Tough, leathery heart—indestructible
spinner she knew herself to be—no sooner should the dew fall from this
enchanting fabric, the web itself be torn, than she would set to work
upon the flimsiest of materials to weave another. And with such weaving
comes forgetfulness. She thought of this.
Not four feet away, another mind, inscrutable to hers, was violently
employed upon its own problem. In this wild darkness the wall of
Chantilly had bid him go on alone; it left him first without guide,
second without shelter. He drove into the path of a rough and bitter
storm which was attacking everything in the short plain between the
forest and the town. It leapt upon him in an outbreak of hisses; cut
him with hailstones, swept up false banks of snow before him till the
illusion of a road led him astray. He turned too much to the right,
hung on the lip of a buried ditch, turned back again and saved himself.
He turned too much to the left, tilted, hung, was in danger—yet found
the centre of the road again. Here, on this wild plain, the exposed
night was whiter—blanched enough, foreign enough, fitful enough to
puzzle the most resolved and native traveller.
He arrived at a cross-roads. Yet was it a cross-roads? When roads
are filled in level with the plain around them, the plain itself
wind-churned like a ploughed field, when banks are rompishly erected,
or melt unstably before the blows of the storm, it is hard to choose
the true road from the false. He chose a road which instantly he saw to
be no road. Too late. He pitched, this time not to recover. “A river—a
river-bed!” was his horrified thought. Down went the nose of the car
before him, the steering-wheel hitting him in the chest. Down came
Fanny and all her black thoughts against the glass at his back. The car
had not fallen very far; it had slid forward into a snow-lined dyke,
and remained, resting on its radiator, its front wheels thrust into the
steep walls of the bank, its back wheels in the air. Alfred climbed
down from a seat which had lost its seating power; Fanny opened the
door and stepped from the black interior into the deep snow. The front
lamps were extinguished and buried in the opposite bank, the little red
light at the back shone upwards to heaven.
“Are you hurt?”
“Not at all. And you?”
“Not a bit.”
Their cold relations did not seem one whit changed from what they
had been in the inn. Nothing had intervened but a little reflection, a
little effort, and a vigorous jerk. Why should they change? They stood
side by side in the noisy violence of the storm, and one shouted to the
other: “Can you get her out!” and the other answered, “No.”
“I will walk on to the river.”
“You would never find it.”
The truth of this she saw as she looked round.
Alfred left her and descending into the dyke, went on his knees by
the radiator and fumbled deep in the snow with his hand. A hissing
arose as the heated water ran from the tap he had turned. He emptied
the water from the generator; the tail light sank and went out.
“No one will run into her,” he remarked. “No one will pass.”
Aie—screamed the wind and created a pillar of white powder. Fanny,
losing her balance, one foot sank on the edge of a rut, and she went
down on her hands; to the knees her silk-clad legs met the cold bite of
“You must come back with me,” shouted Alfred in her ear.
That seemed true and necessary; she could not reach the river; she
could not stay where she was. She followed him. At the next ditch he
put out his hand and helped her across. They had no lamp. By the light
of the snow she watched his blue-clad legs as they sank and rose; her
own sinking and rising in the holes he left for her, the buffets of
wind un-steadying her at every step. She followed him. And because she
was as green as a green bough which bursts into leaf around a wound,
the disturbing, the exciting menace of her discovery brightened her
heart, set her mind whirling, and overgrew her dejection.
They gained the Chantilly wall, and experienced at once its
protection. The howling wind passed overhead and left them in a lew;
the dancing snowflakes steadied and dropped more like rain upon them;
she moved up abreast of Alfred.
“I will take you back to the inn,” he said. “They will have a room
“Julien will have left and gone to his lodging.”
“Yes, at the other end of the town,” answered Alfred, she fancied
with grim satisfaction. (“Though it is as well,” she thought; “there
will be less scandal in the eyes of the innkeeper.”)
“To-morrow morning, mademoiselle, I will fetch you at six with
another car and its driver, Foss, a man whom I can trust. We will take
you to the river, and on the return journey drag the car from the
ditch. It should be easy; she has not heeled over on her side.”
“That will be marvellous. I cannot tell you how I apologise.”
This, she began to see, was serious; her debt to the enemy Alfred
was growing hourly.
“No, no,” he said, as though he saw the thing in the light of common
justice. “You have come over to dine with Julien; we must get you back
to the river.”
“Nevertheless it's monstrous,” she thought, “what he has to do for
But Alfred regarded it less as a friendly office towards Julien than
as a duty, an order given by an officer. He was a sergeant, and four
years of war had changed him from an irritable and independent friend
to a dogged and careful subordinate. He did not like Fanny any the more
for the trouble she was giving him; but he did not hold her responsible
for his discomforts. She must be got to the river and to the river he
would get her.
Pray heaven she never crossed it again.
When they arrived on the pavement outside the inn, he said: “Knock,
mademoiselle, and ask if there is a room. It would be better that I
should not be seen. Explain that the snow prevented you from returning.
If there is a room do not come back to tell me, I shall watch you
enter, and fetch you at six in the morning.”
She thanked him again, and following his instructions, found herself
presently in a small room under the eaves—pitied by the innkeeper's
wife, given a hot brick wrapped in flannel by the innkeeper's daughter,
warmed and cheered and, in a very short time, asleep. At half-past five
she was called, dressed herself, and drank a cup of coffee; paying a
fabulous bill which included two francs for the hot brick.
At six came Alfred, in another car, seated beside Foss, the new
driver, a pale man with a grave face. They moved off in the grey dawn
which brightened as they drove. Beyond the Chantilly wall the plain
stretched, and on it the labouring wheel-marks of the night before were
plainly marked. Alfred, beside the driver, let down a pane of glass to
tell her that he had already been out with Foss and towed in the other
car. She saw the ditch into which they had sunk, the scrambled marks
upon the bank where she had been towed out. In ten minutes they were in
the midst of the forest.
Now, Fate the bully, punishing the unlucky, tripping up the hurried,
stepped in again. This car, which had been seized in a hurry by cold
and yawning men, was not as she should be.
“Is she oiled?” Foss had called to the real driver of the car.
“She is ... everything!” answered the man, in a hurry, going off to
his coffee. She was not.
Just as the approaching sun began to clear the air, just as with a
spring at her heart Fanny felt that to be present at the opening of a
fine day was worth all the trouble in the world, the engine began to
knock. She saw Foss's head tilt a little sideways, like a keen dog who
is listening. The knock increased. The engine laboured, a grinding set
in; Foss pulled up at the side of the road and muttered to Alfred. He
opened the bonnet, stared a second, then tried the starting handle. It
would not move. Fanny let down the pane of glass and watched them in
silence. “Not a drop,” said Foss's low voice. And later, “Oil, yes,
but—find me the tin!”
“Do you mean there is no oil, no spare oil—” Alfred hunted vainly
round the car, under the seats, in the tool box. There was no tin of
“If I had some oil,” said Foss, “and if I let her cool a little, I
could manage—with a syringe.”
They consulted together. Alfred nodded, and approached the window.
“Mademoiselle,” he said, “I am going on to the next village to get a
tin of oil. There is a garage. Cars will be passing soon; I must ask
you to lie covered with the rug in the bottom of the car; your uniform
is very visible. Foss will remain with you.”
Fanny lay down in the bottom of the car, fitting her legs among a
couple of empty petrol tins; Foss covered her with the rug. A quarter
of an hour went by, and above her she began to hear the voices of
birds; below her the cold crept up. She had no idea how far the village
might be, and it is possible that Alfred had had no idea either. A
bicycle bell rang at her side; later she heard the noise of a car,
which passed her with a rush. Lying with her ear so close to the poor
body of the motor she felt it to be but cold bones in a cemetery, dead,
Outside in the road, Foss shaded his eyes and looked up the now
sparkling road a hundred times. The motors increased; the morning
traffic between Precy and Chantilly awoke; the cars were going in to
the offices of the G.Q.G. Now and then Foss would come to the window of
the car. “Don't move,” he would say. The floor-boards were rattled by
an icy wind that blew over the face of the snow and up under the car;
the brown, silk legs lay prone and stiff between the petrol cans,
lifeless now to the knee. She was seized with fits of violent
shivering. At one moment she had planned in her despair to call to Foss
and tell him she would walk—but she had let the moment pass and now
she put away the thought of walking on those lifeless feet. Besides,
she would be seen—that well-known cap, bobbing back between the trees
from Chantilly so early in the morning!
“Oh, Honour of the Section, I am guarding you like my life!” She
tried to raise her head a little to ease her neck.
“Don't move,” said Foss.
Feet pattered past her; motors swept by; bicycle bells rang.
“Foss,” she said.
The soldier leant towards her and listened.
“Choose your own time, but you must let me sit up a moment. I am in
“Then, now, mademoiselle!”
She sat up, flinging the rug back, dazzled by the splendour of the
forest, the climbing sun, the heavy-burdened trees. Behind her was a
cart coming up slowly; far ahead a cyclist swayed in the ruts of the
road. As they approached her she pleaded: “They can't know me! Let me
But Foss knew only one master, his sergeant.
“Better go down, mademoiselle.”
She went down again under the black rug, close against the wind that
lifted the floor-boards, wrapping her coat more tightly round her,
folding her arms about her knees.
“It must be nearly eight. I have an hour more before they come in to
breakfast. Ah, and when they do, will one of them go into my bedroom
with my letters?”
She tried to pick out in her mind that one most friendly to her,
that one who was to destroy her. She heard in spirit her cry: “Fanny
She thought of Stewart who would have woken early, planning
anxiously to save her. The faces of the Guardians of the Honour of the
Section began to visit her one by one, and horror spread in her. Then,
pushing them from her, attempting to escape: “They are not all the
world—” But they were all the world—if in a strange land they
were all to frown together. The thought was horrible. Time to get there
yet! Alas, that the car was not facing towards Chantilly—so
early in the morning!
“Foss, Foss, don't you see him coming?”
“The road is full of people.”
A car rushed by them, yet never seemed to pass. The engine slowed
down and a voice called: “What's up? Anything you want?”
It was the voice of Roland Vauclin. Ah, she knew him—that fat,
childish man, who loved gossip as he loved his food. To Fanny it seemed
but a question of seconds before he would lift the rug, say gravely,
“Good morning, mademoiselle,” before he would rush back to his village
spreading the news like a fall of fresh snow over the roofs. She lay
still from sheer inertia. Had Foss answered? She could not hear.
Then she heard him clear his throat and speak.
“The Captain asked me to get a bit of wood for his fire, sir. I have
a man in there gathering branches, while I do a bit of 'business' with
“Oh, right!... Go on!” said Vauclin to his own chauffeur. Again they
were left alone. Talk between them was almost impossible; Fanny was so
muffled, Foss so anxiously watched for Alfred. The reedy singing
between the boards where the wind attacked her occupied all her
attention. The very core of warmth seemed extinguished in her body,
never to be lit again. She remembered their last fourier, or
special body-servant, who had gone on leave upon an open truck, and who
had grown colder and colder—“and he never got warm again and he died,
madame,” the letter from his wife had told them.
“I think he is coming! There is no one else on the road,
mademoiselle. Will you look? I don't see very well—”
She tried to throw off the rug and sit up, but her frozen elbow
slipped and she fell again on the floor of the car. Pulling herself up
she stared with him through the glass. Far up the white road a little
figure toiled towards them, carrying something, wavering as though the
ice-ruts were deep, picking its way from side to side. Neither of them
was sure whether it was Alfred; they watched in silence. Before she
knew it was upon her a car went by; she dived beneath the rug, striking
her forehead on the corner of the folding seat.
“Did they see? Was any one inside?”
“It was an empty car. Please be careful.”
Foss was cold with rebuke. After that she lay still, isolated even
from Foss. Ten minutes went by and suddenly Foss spoke—“Did you have
to go far?”
And Alfred's hard voice answered “Yes.”
Then she heard the two men working, tools clattering, murmured
voices, and in ten minutes Foss said: “Try the starting handle.”
She heard the efforts, the labour of Alfred at the handle.
“He will kill himself—he will break a blood-vessel,” she thought as
she listened to him. Every few minutes someone seized the handle and
wound and wound—as she had never wound in her life—on and on, past
the very limit of endurance. And under her ear, in the cold bones of
the car, not a sign of life! Not a sign of life, and, as though she
could hear them, all the clocks in the world struck nine.
The Guardians of the Honour would be in at breakfast now! they would
be sitting, sitting—discussing her absence. Stewart, upstairs, would
be looking out of the window, watching the river, perhaps answering
questions indifferently with her cool look. “Oh, in the garage—or
walking in the forest. I don't know.” Cough! She jumped as the bones in
the bottom of the car moved under her, and the engine breathed. The
noise died out, Foss leapt to the handle and wound and wound, fiercely,
like a man who meant to make her breathe again or die. Again she
struggled to life, lived for a few minutes, choked and was silent.
“How is the handle?”
“Pretty stiff,” said Foss, “but getting better. Give me the oil
Alfred took his place at the handle. Suddenly the car sprang to life
again on a full deep note. Fanny lifted her head a little. Foss was
leaning over the carburettor with his thin anxious look: Alfred stood
in the snow, dark red in the face, and covered with oil. Soon they were
moving along the road, slowly at first, and with difficulty: then
faster and more freely. A little thin warmth began to creep up through
the boards and play about her legs.
She was carried along under her dark rug for another twenty minutes,
then fell against the seat as the car turned sharply into the forsaken
road that led to the broken bridge. In five minutes more the car had
stopped and Alfred was at the door saying: “At last, mademoiselle!” She
stammered her thanks as she tried to step from the car to the ground
—but fell on her knees on the dashboard.
“Have you hurt your foot?” said Alfred, who was hot.
“I am only cold,” she said humbly, unwilling to intrude her puny
endurances on their gigantic labours.
She sat on the step of the car rubbing her ankles, and stared at the
meadows of thawing snow, at the open porches of stone which led the
road straight into the river, at the church and the sunlit houses on
the other side.
Bidding them good-bye she reached the bank, and climbed down it,
stumbling in the frozen mud and pits of ice till she reached the stiff
reeds at the bank.
The river had floes of ice upon it, green ice which swung and caught
among the reeds at the edge. “It is thin,” she thought, pushing her
shoe through it, “it can't prevent the boat from crossing the river.”
Yet she was anxious.
There on the other side was the little hut, the steps, the boat tied
to the stone and held rigid in the ice. A shaggy dog ran by her feet to
the river's edge and barked. Feet came clambering down the bank and a
workman followed the dog, with a bag of tools and a basket. He walked
up to the river, and putting his hands in a trumpet to his mouth called
in a huge voice: “Un passant, Margot! Margot!” Fanny remembered her
whistle and blew that too.
There was no sign of life, and the little hut looked as before, like
a brown dog asleep in the sun. Fanny turned to the man, ready to share
her anxiety with him, but he had sat down on the bank and was retying a
bootlace that had come undone.
Margot never showed herself at the hut window, at the hut door. When
Fanny turned back to whistle again she saw her standing up in the boat,
which, freed, was drifting out towards them—saw her scatter the ice
with her oar—and the boat, pushed upstream, came drifting down towards
them in a curve to hit the bank at their feet. The girl stepped out,
smiling, happy, pretty, undimmed by the habit of trade. The man got in
and sat down, the dog beside him.
“I would stand,” said Margot to Fanny, “it's so wet.”
She made no allusion to the broken appointment for the night before.
Fanny, noticing the dripping boards of the boat, stood up, her hand
upon Margot's shoulder to steady herself. The thin, illusory ice
shivered and broke and sank as the oar dipped in sideways.
Cocks were crowing on the other side—the sun drew faint colours
from the ice, the river clattered at the side of the boat, wind twisted
and shook her skirt, and stirred her hair. All was forgotten in the
glory of the passage of the river.
Margot, smiling up under her damp, brown hair, took her five sous,
pressed her town boots against the wooden bar, and shot the boat up
against the bank.
Fanny went up the bank, over the railway lines, and out into the
road. Two hundred yards of road lay before her, leading straight up to
the house. On the left was a high wall, on the right the common covered
with snow—should some one come out of the house there was no chance of
hiding. She glanced down at her tell-tale silk stockings; yet she could
not hurry on those stiff and painful feet. She was near the door in the
She passed in—the dog did not bark; came to the foot of the steps
—nobody looked out of the window; walked into the hall among their
hanging coats and macintoshes, touched them, moved them with her
shoulder; heard voices behind the door of the breakfast room, was on
the stairs, up out of sight past the first bend, up, up, into Stewart's
“Do you know...?”
“No one knows!”
“Oh ... oh....” All her high nerves came scudding and shuddering
down into the meadows of content. Eternal luck.... She crept under
Stewart's eiderdown and shivered.
“Here's the chocolate. I will boil it again on my cooker. Oh, you
have a sort of ague....”
Good friend ... kind friend! She had pictured her like that,
anxious, unquestioning and warm!
Later she went downstairs and opened the door of the breakfast room
upon the Guardians of the Honour.
As she stood looking at them she felt that her clothes were the
clothes of some one who had spent hours in the forest—that her eyes
gave out a gay picture of all that was behind them—her adventures must
shout aloud from her hands, her feet.
“Had your breakfast?” said some one.
“Upstairs,” said Fanny, contentedly, and marvelled.
She had only to open and close her lips a dozen times, bid them form
the words: “I have been out all night,” to turn those browsing herds of
benevolence into an ambush of threatening horns, lowered at her. Almost
... she would like to have said the sentence.
But basking in their want of knowledge she sat down and ate her
CHAPTER XV. ALLIES
A thaw set in.
All night the snow hurried from the branches, slid down the tree
trunks, sank into the ground. Sank into the moss, which suddenly
uncovered, breathed water as a sponge breathes beneath the sea; sank
into the Oise, which set up a roaring as the rising water sapped and
tunnelled under its banks.
With a noise of thunder the winter roof of the villa slipped down
and fell into the garden—leaving the handiwork of man exposed to the
dawn—streaming tiles, ornamental chimneys, unburied gargoyles,
parapet, and towers of wood.
In a still earlier hour, while darkness yet concealed the change of
aspect, Fanny left the garden with a lantern in her hand. She had a
paper in her pocket, and on the paper was written the order of her
mission; the order ran clearly: “To take one officer to the
demobolisation centre at Amiens and proceed to Charleville”; but the
familiar words “and return” were not upon it.
She cast no glance back, yet in her mind sent no glance forward. She
could not think of what she left; she left nothing, since these
romantic forests would be as empty as tunnels when Julien was not
there; but closing the door of the garden gate softly behind her, she
blew out the lantern and hung it to the topmost spike, that Stewart,
who was leaving for England in the morning, might bequeath it to their
All night long the Renault had stood ready packed in the road by the
villa—and now, starting the engine, which ran soundlessly beneath the
bonnet—she drove from a village whose strangeness was hidden from her,
followed the Oise, which rumbled on a new note, heard the bubbling of
wild brooks through the trees, and was lost in the steamy moisture of a
There was a sad, a deadly charm still about the journey. There was a
bitter and a sweet comfort yet before her. There were two hours of
farewell to be said at dawn. There was the sight of his face once more
for her. That the man who slipped into the seat beside her at Chantilly
was Julien dissolved her courage and set her heart beating. She glanced
at him in that early light, and he at her. Two hours before them still.
She was to carry him with her only to lose him surely; he was to
accompany her on her journey only to turn back.
All the way to Amiens he reassured himself and her: “In a week I
will come to Charleville.”
And she replied: “Yes, this is nothing. I lose you here, but in a
week you will come.”
(Why then this dread?)
“In a week—in a week,” ran the refrain.
“How will you find me at Charleville? Will you come to the garage?”
“No, I shall write to the 'Silver Lion.' You will find in the middle
of the main street an old inn with mouldering black wood upon the
window sashes. How well I know it! I will write there.”
“We are so near the end,” she said suddenly, “that to have said
'Good-bye' to you, to leave you at Amiens, is no worse than this.”
And faster she hurried towards Amiens to find relief. He did not
contradict her, or bid her go slower, but as they neared Amiens,
offered once more his promise that they would meet again in a week.
“It isn't that,” she said. “I know we shall meet again. It isn't
that I fear never to see you again. It is the closing of a chapter.”
“I, too, know that.”
They drove into Amiens in the streaming daylight.
The rain poured.
“I am sending you to my home,” he said. “Every inch of the country
is mine. You go to a town that I know, villages that I know, roads that
I have walked and ridden and driven upon. You go to my country. I like
to think of that.”
“I shall go at once to see your house in Revins.”
“Yes—oh, you will see it easily—on the banks of the Meuse. I was
born there. In a week, in a few days, in a short time—I will come,
She stopped the car in a side street of the town.
Lifting her hands she said: “They want to hold you back.” Then
placed them back on the wheel. “They can't,” she said, and shook her
He took his bag in his hand, and stood by the car, looking at her.
“You take the three o'clock train back to Paris when the papers are
through,” she said hurriedly with sudden nervousness. And then: “Oh,
we've said everything! Oh, let's get it over—”
He held the side of the car with his hand, then stepped back
sharply. She drove down the street without looking back.
There was a sort of relief in turning the next corner, in knowing
that if she looked back she would see nothing. A heavy shadow lifted
from her; it was a deliverance. “Good-bye” was said—was over; that
pain was done—now for the next, now for the first of the days without
him. She had slipped over the portal of one sorrow to arrive at
another; but she felt the change, and her misery lightened. This
half-happiness lasted her all the morning.
She moved out of Amiens upon the St. Quentin road, and was almost
beyond the town before she thought of buying food for the day.
Unjustly, violently, she reflected: “What a hurry to leave me! He did
not ask if I had food, or petrol, or a map—”
But she knew in her heart that it was because he was young and in
trouble, and had left her quickly, blindly, as eager as she to loosen
that violent pain.
She bought a loaf of bread, a tin of potted meat, an orange and a
small cheese, and drove on upon the road until she came to Warfusee.
Wherever her thoughts fell, wherever her eye lay, his personality
gnawed within her—and nowhere upon her horizon could she find anything
that would do instead. Julien, who had moved off down the street in
Amiens, went moving off down the street of her endless thought.
“I have only just left him! Can't I go back?” And this cry, carried
out in the nerves of her foot, slowed the car up at the side of the
road. She looked back—no smoke darkened the landscape. Amiens was gone
Again, on. In ten minutes the battlefields closed in beside the
Julien was gone. Stewart was gone. Comfort and ease and plenty were
gone. “But We are here again!” groaned the great moors ahead,
and on each hand. The dun grass waved to the very edge of the road cut
through it. Deep and wild stretched the battlefields, and there, a few
yards ahead, were those poor strangers, the scavenging Chinamen.
Upon a large rough signpost the word “Foucaucourt” was painted in
white letters. A village of spars and beams and broken bricks—yet
here, as everywhere, returning civilians hunted like crows among the
ruins, carrying beams and rusty stoves, and large umbrellas for the
At the next corner a Scotch officer hailed her.
“Will you give me a lift?”
He sat down beside her.
“What do you do?” she asked.
“I look after Chinamen.”
“Ah, how lonely!”
“It is terrible,” he replied. “Look at it! Dead for miles; the army
gone, and I here with these little yellow fellows, grubbing up the
She put him down at what he called “my corner”—a piece of ground
indistinguishable from the rest.
“Is that where you live?”
There was a black-boarded hut from whose chimney smoke exuded, and
to this ran a track across the grass. She watched him walk along it, a
friendless, sandy man, left over from the armies which had peopled the
rabbit warren in the ground. The Renault loped on with its wolf-like
action, and she felt a spring of relief that she lived upon moving
ground; passing on down the rickety road she forgot the little man.
Ahead lay the terrible miles. She seemed to make no gain upon them,
and could not alter the face of the horizon, however fast she drove.
Iron, brown grass—brown grass and iron, spars of wood, girders, torn
railway lines and stones. Even the lorries travelling the road were few
and far between. A deep loneliness was settled upon the desert where
nothing grew. Yet, suddenly, from a ditch at the side of the road, a
child of five stared at her. It had its foot close by a stacked heap of
hand grenades; a shawl was wrapped round it and the thin hands held the
ends together. What child? Whose? How did it get here, when not a house
stood erect for miles and miles—when not a coil of smoke touched the
horizon! Yes, something oozed from the ground! Smoke, blue smoke! Was
life stirring like a bulb under this whiter ruin, this cemetery of
She stopped the car. The child turned and ran quickly across a heap
of dust and iron and down into the ground behind a pillar. “It must
have a father or mother below—” The breath of the invisible hearth
coiled up into the air; the child was gone.
A man appeared behind the pillar and came towards the car. Fanny
held out her cigarette-case and offered it to him.
“Have you been here long?” she asked.
“A month, mademoiselle.”
“Are there many of you in this—village?” (Not a spar, not a pile of
bricks stood higher than two feet above the ground.)
“There are ten persons now. A family came in yesterday.”
“But how are you fed?”
“A lorry passes once a week for all the people in this
district—within fifty miles. There are ten souls in one village,
twenty in another, two in another. They have promised to send us huts,
but the huts don't come. We have sunk a well now and it is drinkable,
but before that we got water by lorry once a week, and we often begged
a little from the radiators of other lorries.”
“What have you got down there?”
“It is the cellar of my house, mademoiselle. There are two rooms
still, and one is watertight. The trouble is the lack of tools. I can't
build anything. We have a spade, and a pick and a hammer, which we keep
between the ten of us.”
“Take my hammer,” said Fanny. “I can get another in the garage.”
He took it, pleased and grateful, and she left this pioneer of
recolonisation, this obstinate Crusoe and his family, standing by his
banner of blue smoke.
Another hour and a large signpost arrested her attention.
“This was Villers Carbonel,” it told her, and beneath it
three roads ran in different directions. There was no sign at all of
the village—not a brick lay where the signpost stood.
Stopping the car she drew out her map and considered—and suddenly,
out of nowhere, with a rattle and a bang, and a high blast on a mad
little horn, a Ford arrived at her side upon the cross-roads.
“Got no gas?” enquired an American. She looked up into his pink
face. His hood was broken and hung down over one side of the car. One
of his springs was broken and he appeared to be holding the car upright
by the tilt of his body. His tyres were in rags, great pieces of rubber
hung out beyond the mudguards.
“Dandy car you've got!” he said with envy. “French?”
Soon he was gone upon the road to Chaulnes. His retreating back,
with the spindly axle, the wild hood, the torn fragments of tyre flying
round in streamers, and the painful list of the body set her laughing,
as she stood by the signpost in the desert.
Then she took the road to Peronne.
“I won't have my lunch yet—” looking at the pale sun. Her only
watch had stopped long since, resenting the vibrations of the wheel.
She passed Peronne—uprooted railways and houses falling head foremost
into the river, and beyond it, side roads led her to a small deserted
village, oddly untouched by shell or fire. Here the doors swung and
banged, unlatched by any human fingers, the windows, still draped with
curtains, were shut, and no face looked out. Here she ate her lunch.
The rain had ceased and a little pale sunshine cheered the cottages,
the henless, dogless, empty road. A valiant bird sang on a hedge beside
With her wire-cutters she opened the tin of potted meat, and with
their handle spread it on the bread.
“Lord, how lonely it is—surely some door might open, some face look
out—” At that a little gust of wind got up, and she jumped in her
seat, for a front door slammed and blew back again.
“I couldn't stay here the night—” with a shiver—and the bird on
the branch sang louder than ever. “It's all very well,” she addressed
him. “You're with your own civilisation. I'm right out of mine!”
The day wore on. The white sun, having finished climbing one side of
the sky, came down upon the other.
Here and there a man hailed her, and she gave him a lift to his
village, talked a little to him, and set him down.
A young Belgian, who had learned his English at Eton, was her
companion for half an hour.
“And you are with the French?” he asked. “How do you like the
“I like them very much. I like them enormously.” (Strange question,
when all France meant Julien!)
“Don't you find they think there is no one else in the world?” he
grumbled. “It is a delicious theory for them, and it must be amusing to
“Little Belgium—jealous young sister, resentful of the charm of the
elder woman of the world!”
A French lieutenant climbed to the seat beside her.
“You are English, mademoiselle?” he said, she thought with a touch
of severity. He was silent for a while. Then: “Ah, none but the English
could do this—”
“Drive as you do, alone, mademoiselle, amid such perils.”
She did not ask to what perils he alluded, and she knew that his
words were a condemnation, not a compliment. Ah, she knew that story,
that theory, that implication of coldness! She did not trouble to
reply, nor would she have known how had she wished it.
They passed an inhabited village. From a door flew a man in a green
bonnet and staggered in the street. After him a huge peasant woman
came, and standing in the doorway shook her fist at him. “I'll teach
you to meddle with my daughter—”
“Those are the cursed Italians!” said the French lieutenant, leaning
from the car to watch.
A mile further on they came to a quarry, in which men prowled in
“Those are the Russians!” he said. And these were kept behind barbed
wire, fenced round with armed sentries.
She remembered an incident in Paris, when she had hailed a taxi.
“Are you an American?” asked the driver. “For you know I don't much
like driving Americans.”
“But I am English.”
“Well, that's better. I was on the English Front once, driving for
the French Mission.”
“Why don't you like Americans?”
“Among other things they give me two francs when three is marked!”
“But once they gave you ten where three was marked!”
“That's all changed!” laughed the taxi-man. “And it's a long story.
I don't like them.”
* * * * *
“Go away!” said France restlessly, pushing at the new nations in her
bosom. “It's all done. Go back again!”
“Are you an Ally?” said the Allies to each other balefully, their
eyes no longer lit by battle, but irritable with disillusion—and each
told his women tales of the other's shortcomings.
Along the sides of the roads, in the gutters, picking the dust-heap
of the battlefields, there were representatives of other nations who
did not join in the inter-criticism of the lords of the earth. Chinese,
Arabs and Annamites made signs and gibbered, but none cared whether
they were in amity or enmity.
Only up in Germany was there any peace from acrimony. There
the Allies walked contentedly about, fed well, looked kindly at each
other. There were no epithets to fling—they had all been flung
And the German people, looking curiously back, begged buttons as
souvenirs from the uniforms of the men who spoke so many different
CHAPTER XVI. THE ARDENNES
The day wore on—
The sun came lower and nearer, till the half-light ran with her
half- thought, dropping, sinking, dying. “Guise,” said the signpost,
and a battlement stared down and threw its shadow across her face. “Is
that where the dukes lived?” She was a speck in the landscape, moving
on wheels that were none of her invention, covering distances of
hundreds of miles without amazement, upon a magic mount unknown to her
forefathers. Dark and light moved across the face of the falling day.
Sometimes when she lifted her eyes great clouds full of rain were
crossing the sky; and now, when she looked again the wind had torn them
to shreds and hunted them away. The shadows lengthened—those of the
few trees falling in bars across the road. A turn of the road brought
the setting sun in her face, and blinded with light, she drove into it.
When it had gone it left rays enough behind to colour everything,
gilding the road itself, the air, the mists that hung in the ditches.
Before the light was gone she saw the Ardennes forests begin upon
When it was gone, wood and road, air and earth, were alike stone-coloured. Then the definite night, creeping forward on all sides,
painted out all but the road and the margin of the road—and with the
side lights on all vision narrowed down to the grey snout of the
bonnet, the two hooped mudguards stretched like divers' arms, and the
blanched dead leaves which floated above from the unseen branches of
Four crazy Fords were drawn up in one village street, and as her
lights flashed on the door she caught sight of the word “Cafe” written
on it. Placing the Renault beside the Fords she opened the door. Within
five Frenchmen were drinking at one table, and four Americans at
another. The Americans sprang up and claimed her, first as their own
kin, and then at least as a blood sister. They gave her coffee, and
would not let her pay; but she sat uneasily with them.
“For which nation do you work? There are no English here,” they
“I am in the French Army.”
“Gee, what a rotten job!” they murmured sympathetically.
“Where have you come from?”
“We've just come back from Germany, and you bet it's good up there!”
“Every darn thing you want. Good beds, good food, and, thank God,
one can speak the lingo.”
“You don't speak French then?”
“You bet not.”
“Why don't you learn? Mightn't it be useful to you?”
“Oh, when you get back home. In business perhaps—”
“Ma'am,” said the biggest American, leaning earnestly towards her,
“let me tell you one thing. If any man comes up to me back in the
States and starts on me with that darn language—I'll drop him one.”
“And German is easier?”
“Oh, well, German we learn in the schools, you see. How far do you
make it to St. Quentin?”
“Are you going there on those Fords?”
“We hope to, ma'am. But we started a convoy of twenty this morning,
and these here four cars are all we've seen since lunch.”
“I hardly think you'll get as far as St. Quentin to-night. And
there's little enough to sleep in on the way. I should stay here.” She
rose. “I wish you luck. Good-bye.”
She thanked them for their coffee, nodded to the quiet French table
and went out.
One American followed her.
“Can you buzz her round?” he asked kindly, and taking the handle,
buzzed her round.
“I bet you don't get any one to do that for you in your army, do
you?” he asked, as he straightened himself from the starting handle.
She put her gear in with a little bang of anger.
“You're kind,” she said, “and they are kind. That you can't see it
is all a question of language. Every village is full of bored Americans
with nothing to do, and never one of them buys a dictionary!”
“If it's villages you speak of, ma'am, it isn't dictionaries is
needed,” he answered, “'tis plumbing!”
She had not left him ten minutes before one of her tyres punctured.
“Alas! I could have found a better use for them than arguing,” she
thought ruefully, regretting the friendly Americans, as she changed the
tyre by the roadside under the beam from her own lamps.
When it was done she sat for a few minutes in the silent car. The
moon came up and showed her the battlements of the Ardennes forest
standing upon the crest of the mountains to her left. “That is to be my
Julien was in Paris by now, divested of his uniform, sitting by a
great fire, eating civilised food. A strange young man in dark
clothes—she wondered what he would wear.
He seemed a great many difficult miles away. That he should be in a
heated room with lights, and flowers, and a spread table—and she under
the shadow of the forest watching the moon rise, lengthened the miles
between them; yet though she would have given much to have him with
her, she would have given nothing to change places with him.
The road left the forest for a time and passed over bare grass hills
beneath a windy sky. Then back into the forest again, hidden from the
moon. And here her half-stayed hunger made her fanciful, and she
started at the noise of a moving bough, blew her horn at nothing, and
seemed to hear the overtaking hum of a car that never drew near her.
Suddenly, on the left, in a ditch, a dark form appeared, then
another and another. Down there in a patch of grass below the road she
caught sight of the upturned wheels of a lorry, and stopping, got down,
walked to the ditch and looked over. There, in wild disorder, lay
thirty or forty lorries and cars, burnt, twisted, wheelless, broken,
ravaged, while on the wooden sides the German eagle, black on white,
“What—what—can have happened here!”
She climbed back into the car, but just beyond the limit of her
lights came on a huge mine crater, and the road seemed to hang on its
lip and die for ever. Again she got down, and found a road of planks,
shored up by branches of trees, leading round on the left edge of the
crater to firm land on the other side. Some of the planks were missing,
and moving carefully around the crater she heard others tip and groan
“Could that have been a convoy caught by the mine? Or was it a
dumping ground for the cars unable to follow in the retreat?”
The mine crater, which was big enough to hold a small villa, was
overgrown now at the bottom with a little grass and moss.
On and on and on—till she fancied the moon, too, had turned as the
sun had done, and started a downward course. It grew no colder, she
grew no hungrier—but losing count of time, slipped on between the
flying tree trunks, full of unwearied content. At last a light shone
through the trees, and by a wooden bridge which led over another crater
she came on a lonely house. “Cafe” was written on the door, but the
shutters were tight shut, and only a line of light shone from a crack.
From within came sounds of laughter and men's voices. She knocked,
and there was an instant silence, but no one came to answer. At length
the bolts were withdrawn and the head of an old woman appeared through
the door, which was cautiously opened a little.
“An omelette? Coffee?”
“You don't know what you speak of! We have no eggs.”
“No, no, nothing at all. Go on to Charleville. We have nothing.”
“How far is Charleville?”
But the door shut again, the bolts were shot, and a man's voice
growled in the hidden room behind.
“Dubious hole. Yet it looks as though a big town were near——” And
down the next slope she ran into Charleville. The town had been long
abed, the street lamps were out, the cobbles wet and shining.
On the main boulevard one dark figure hurried along.
“Which is the 'Silver Lion'?” she called, her voice echoing in the
Soon, between rugs on a bed in the “Silver Lion,” between a single
sheet doubled in two, she slept—propping the lockless door with her
The Renault slept or watched below in the courtyard, the moon sank,
the small hours passed, the day broke, the first day in Charleville.
PART IV. SPRING IN CHARLEVILLE
CHAPTER XVII. THE STUFFED OWL
A stuffed bird stood upon a windless branch and through a window of
blue and orange squares of glass a broken moon stared in.
A bedroom, formed from a sitting-room, a basin to wash in upon a red
plush table—no glass, no jug, no lock upon the door. Instead, gilt
mirrors, three bell ropes and a barometer. A bed with a mattress upon
it and nothing more.
This was her kingdom.
Beyond, a town without lights, without a station, without a
milkshop, without a meat shop, without sheets, without blankets,
crockery, cooking pans, or locks upon the doors. A population half-fed
and poor. A sky black as ink and liquid as a river.
Prisoners in the streets, moving in green-coated gangs; prisoners in
the gutters, pushing long scoops to stay the everlasting tide of mud;
thin, hungry, fierce and sad, green-coated prisoners like bedraggled
parrots, out-numbered the population.
The candle of the world was snuffed out—and the wick smoked.
The light was gone—the blinding light of the Chantilly snows, the
lights on the Precy river—moonlight, sunlight—the little boat
crossing at moonrise, sunrise.
“Ah, that long journey! How I pressed on, how I fled from Amiens!”
“What, not Charleville yet?” I said. “Isn't it Charleville soon?
What hurry was there then to get there?”
The stuffed bird eyed her from his unstirring branch, and that
yellow eye seemed to answer: “None, none...”
“This is his home; his country. He told me it was beautiful. But I
cannot see beauty. I am empty of happiness. Where is the beauty?”
And the vile bird, winking in the candle's light, replied:
But he lied.
Perhaps she had been sent, stuffed as he was, from Paris. Perhaps he
had never flown behind the town, and seen the wild mountains that began
at the last house on the other bank of the river. Or the river itself,
greener than any other which flowed over black rocks, in cold gulleys
—the jade-green Meuse flowing to Dinant, to Namur. Perhaps from his
interminable boulevard he had never seen the lovely Spanish Square of
red and yellow, its steep-roofed houses standing upon arches—or the
proud Duc Charles de Gonzague who strutted for ever upon his pedestal,
his stone cape slipping from one shoulder, his gay Spaniard's hat upon
his head—holding back a smile from his handsome lips, lest the town
which he had come over the mountains to found should see him tolerant
and sin beneath his gaze.
That bird knew the rain would stop—knew it in his dusty feathers,
but he would not kindle hope. He knew there was a yellow spring at
hand—but he left her to mourn for the white lustre of Chantilly. Vile
bird!... She blew out the candle that he might wink no more.
“To-morrow I will buy a padlock and a key. If among these gilt
mirrors I can have no other charm, I will have solitude!” And having
hung a thought, a plan, a hope before her in the future, she slept till
day broke—the second day in Charleville.
* * * * *
She woke, a mixture of courage and philosophy.
“I can stand anything, and beyond a certain limit misfortune makes
me laugh. But there's no reason why I should stand this!” The key and
padlock idea was rejected as a compromise with happiness.
“No, no, let us see if we can get something better to lock up than
that bird.” He looked uncommonly dead by daylight.
“I would rather lock up an empty room, and leave it pure when I must
Dressing, she went quickly down the street to the Bureau de la
Place. The clerks and secretaries nodded and smiled at each other, and
bent their heads over their typewriters when she looked at them.
“Can I see the billeting lieutenant?”
“He is not here.”
“I saw him enter.”
“We will go and see....”
She drummed upon the table with her fingers and the clerks and
secretaries winked and nodded more meaningly than ever.
“Entrez, mademoiselle. He will see you.”
The red-haired lieutenant with pince-nez was upon his feet looking
at her curiously as she entered the adjoining room.
“Good morning, mademoiselle. There is something wrong with the
billet that I found you yesterday?”
She looked at him. In his pale-blue eyes there was a beam; in his
creased mouth there was an upward curve. The story of legitimate
complaint that she had prepared drooped in her mind; she looked at him
a little longer, hesitated, then, risking everything:
“Monsieur, there is a stuffed owl in the room.”
He did not wince. “Take it out, mademoiselle.”
“H'm, yes. I cannot see heaven except through orange glass.”
“Open the window.”
“It is fixed.”
Then he failed her; he was a busy, sensible man.
“Mademoiselle, I find you a billet, I instal you, and you come to me
in the middle of the morning with this ridiculous story of an owl. It
The door opened and his superior officer walked in, a stern captain
with no crease about his mouth, no beam in his olive eye.
Ah, now ... Now the lieutenant had but to turn to his superior
officer and she would indeed be rent, and reasonably so.
“What is the matter?” said the newcomer. “Is something fresh
The billeting lieutenant never hesitated a second.
“Mon capitaine, unfortunately the billet found yesterday for
this lady is unsuitable. The owner of the house returns this week, and
needs the room.”
“Have you some other lodging for her?”
“Yes, mon capitaine, in the Rue de Cleves.”
“Good. Then there is no difficulty?”
“None. Follow me, mademoiselle, the street is near. I will take you
to the concierge.”
She followed him down the stairs, and caught him up upon the
“You may think, mademoiselle, that it is because I am young and
“Oh, no, no....”
“Indeed, I am young; But I slept in that room myself the
first night I came to Charleville....”
“My room with the owl? Do you mean that?”
“Yes, I put him upon the landing. But even then I dared not break
the window. Here is the street.”
“How you frightened me when your captain came in! How grateful I am,
and how delighted. Is the house here?”
“Mademoiselle, I do not truly know what to do. It is an empty
“So much the better.”
“But you are not afraid?”
“Oh, no, no, not at all. Has it any furniture?”
“Very little. We will see.”
He pulled the bell at an iron railing, and the gate opened. A
beautiful face looked out of the window, and a young woman called: “
Eh bien! More officers? I told you, mon lieutenant, we have
not room for one more.”
“Now, come, come, Elsie! Not so sharp. It is for the house opposite
this time. Have you the key?”
“But the house opposite is empty.”
“It will not be when I have put mademoiselle into it.”
The young concierge, under the impression that he was
certainly installing his mistress, left the window, and came through
the gate with a look of impish reproof in her eyes.
Together they crossed the road and she fitted the key into a green
iron door let into the face of a yellow wall. Within was a courtyard,
leading to a garden, and from the courtyard, steps in an inner wall led
up into the house.
“All this ... all this mine?”
“All yours, mademoiselle.”
The garden, a deserted tangle of fruit trees and bushes, fallen
statues, arbours and grass lawn brown with fallen leaves, was walled in
by a high wall which kept it from every eye but heaven's. The house was
large, the staircase wide and low, the rooms square and high, filled
with windows and painted in dusty shades of cream. In every room as
they passed through them lay a drift of broken and soiled furniture as
brown and mouldering as the leaves upon the lawn.
“Who lived here?”
“Who lived here?” echoed the concierge, and a strange look
passed over her face. “Many men. Austrians, Turks, Bulgarians,
“Were you, then, in Charleville all the time?”
“All the time. I knew them all.”
In her eyes there flitted the image of enemies who had cried gaily
to her from the street as she leant out of the open window of the house
opposite. “Take anything,” she said, with a shrug, to Fanny. “See what
you can make from it. If you can make one room habitable from this
dust-heap, you are welcome. See, there is at least a saucepan. Take
that. So much has gone from the house in these last years it seems
hardly worth while to retain a saucepan for the owner.”
“Who is the owner?”
“A rich lady who can afford it. The richest family in Charleville.
She has turned mechante. She will abuse me when she comes here
to see this—as though I could have saved it. Her husband and
her son were killed. Georges et Phillippe. Georges was killed the first
day of the war, and Phillippe ... I don't know when, but somewhere near
“You think she will come back?”
“Sometimes I think it. She has such a sense of property. But her
daughter writes that it would kill her to come. Phillippe was the sun
... was the good God to her.”
“I must go back to my work,” said the lieutenant. “Can you be happy
here in this empty house? There will be rats....”
“I can be very happy—and so grateful. I will move my things across
to-day. My companions ... that is to say six more of us arrive in
convoy from Chantilly to-morrow.”
“Six more! Had you told me that before ... But what more simple! I
can put them all in here. There is room for twenty.”
“Oh....” Her face fell, and she stood aghast. “And you gave me this
house for myself. And I was so happy!”
“You are terrible. If my business was to lodge soldiers of your sex
every day I should be grey-haired. You cannot lodge with an owl, you
cannot lodge with your compatriots!...”
“Yet you were joking when you said you would put us all here?”
“I was joking. Take the house—the rats and the rubbish included
with it! No one will disturb you till the owner comes. I have another,
a better, a cleaner house in my mind for your companions. Now,
good-bye, I must go back to my work. Will you ask me to tea one day?”
“I promise. The moment I have one sitting-room ready.”
He left her, and she explored the upper storey with the
“I should have this for your bedroom and this adjoining for your
sitting-room. The windows look in the street and you can see life.”
Fanny agreed. It pleased her better to look in the street than into the
garden. The two rooms were large and square. Old blue curtains of
brocade still hung from the windows; in the inner room was a vast oak
bed and a turkey carpet of soft red and blue. The fireplaces were of
open brick and suitable for logs. Both rooms were bare of any other
“I will find you the mattress to match that bed. I hid it; it is in
the house opposite.”
She went away to dust it and find a man to help her carry it across
the road. Fanny fetched her luggage from her previous billet, borrowed
six logs and some twigs from the concierge, promising to fetch
her an ample store from the hills around.
All day she rummaged in the empty house—finding now a three-legged
armchair which she propped up with a stone, now a single Venetian glass
scrolled in gold for her tooth glass.
In a small room on the ground floor a beautiful piece of tapestry
lay rolled in a dusty corner. Pale birds of tarnished silver flew
across its blue ground and on the border were willows and rivers.
It covered her oak bed exactly—and by removing the pillows it
looked like a comfortable and venerable divan. The logs in the fire
were soon burnt through, and she did not like to ask for more, but
leaving her room and wandering up and down the empty house in the long,
pale afternoon, she searched for fragments of wood that might serve
A narrow door, built on a curve of the staircase, led to an upper
storey of large attics and her first dazzled thought was of potential
loot for her bedroom. A faint afternoon sun drained through the lattice
over floors that were heaped with household goods. A feathered brush
for cobwebs hung on a nail, she took it joyfully. Below it stood an
iron lattice for holding a kettle on an open fire. That, too, she put
But soon the attics opened too much treasure. The boy's things were
everywhere, the father's and the son's. Her eyes took in the host of
relics till her spirit was living in the lost playgrounds of their
youth, pressing among phantoms.
“Irons ... For ironing! For my collars!”
But they were so small, too small. His again—the son's. “Yet why
shouldn't I use them,” she thought, and slung the little pair upon one
Crossing to the second attic she came upon all the toys. It seemed
as though nothing had ever been packed up—dolls' houses,
rocking-horses, slates, weighing machines, marbles, picture books,
little swords and guns, and strange boxes full of broken things.
Returning to the floor below with empty hands she brooded by the
embers and shivered in her happy loneliness. Julien was no longer
someone whom she had left behind, but someone whom she expected. He
would be here ... how soon? In four days, in five, in six. There would
be a letter to-morrow at the “Silver Lion.” Since she had found this
house, this perfect house in which to live alone and happy, the town
outside had changed, was expectant with her, and full of his presence.
But, ah ... inhuman... was Julien alone responsible for this happiness?
Was she not weaving already, from her blue curtains, from her soft
embers, from the branches of mimosa which she had bought in the
market-place and placed in a thin glass upon the mantelpiece, from the
gracious silence of the house, from her solitude?
CHAPTER XVIII. PHILIPPE'S HOUSE
What a struggle to get wood for that fire? Coal wouldn't burn in the
open hearth. She had begged a little wood from the cook in the garage,
but it was wet and hissed, and all her fire died down. Wood hadn't
proved so abundant on the hills as she had hoped. Either it was cut and
had been taken by the Germans, or grew in solid and forbidding
branches. All the small broken branches and twigs of winter had been
collected by the shivering population of the town and drawn down from
the mountains on trays slung on ropes.
Stooping over her two wet logs she drenched them with paraffin,
then, when she had used the last drop in her tin, got down her petrol
bottle. “I shall lose all my hair one day doing this....”
The white flame licked hungrily out towards her, but it too, died
down, leaving the wet wood as angrily cold as ever.
Going downstairs she searched the courtyard and the hayloft, but the
Bulgarians and Turks of the past had burnt every bit, and any twigs in
the garden were as wet as those which spluttered in the hearth.
Then—up to the attics again.
“I must have wood,” she exclaimed angrily, and picked up a
piece of broken white wood from the floor.
It had “Philippe Seret” scrawled across it in pencil. “Why, it's
your name!” she said wonderingly, and held the piece of wood in her
hand. The place was all wood. There was wood here to last her weeks.
Mouse cages—white mouse cages and dormouse cages, a wooden ruler with
idle scratches all over it and “P.S.” in the corner—boxes and boxes of
things he wouldn't want; he'd say if he saw them now: “Throw it
away”—boxes of glass tubes he had blown when he was fifteen, boxes of
dried modelling clay....
“I must have wood,” she said aloud, and picked up another useless
fragment. It mocked her, it wouldn't listen to her need of wood; it had
“P.S.” in clumsy, inserted wires at the back. His home-made stamp.
Under it was a grey book called “Grammaire Allemande.” “It wasn't
any use your learning German, was it, Philippe?” she said, then stood
still in a frozen conjecture as to the use and goal of all that bright
treasure in his mind—his glass-blowing, his modelling, the cast head
of a man she had found stamped with his initial, the things he had
written and read, on slates, in books. “It was as much use his learning
German as anything else,” she said slowly, and her mind reeled at the
edge of difficult questions.
Coming down from the attics again she held one piece of polished
chair-back in her hand.
“How can I live in their family like this,” she mused by the fire.
“I am doing more. I am living in the dreadful background to which they
can't or won't come back. I am counting the toys which they can't look
at. Your mother will never come back to pack them up, Philippe!”
She made herself chocolate and drank it from a fine white cup with
his mother's initials on it in gold.
* * * * *
Work was over for the day and she walked down the main street by the
“Silver Lion,” from whose windows she daily expected that Julien's
voice would call to her.
“Mademoiselle has no correspondence to-day,” said the girl, looking
down at her from her high seat behind the mugs and glasses.
“He ought to be here to-day or to-morrow, as he hasn't written,” and
even at that moment thought she heard hurrying feet behind her and
turned quickly, searching with her eyes. An old civilian ran past her
and climbed into the back of a waiting lorry.
“I am in no hurry,” she said, sure that he would come, and walked on
into the Spanish Square, to stare in the shops behind the arcaded
pillars. Merchandise trickled back into the empty town in odd ways. By
lorry, train, and touring car, merchants penetrated and filled the
shops with provisions, amongst which there were distressing lacks.
The trains, which had now been extended from Rheims over many
laborious wooden bridges, stopped short of Charleville by four miles,
as the bridges over the Meuse had not yet been made strong enough to
support a railroad. To the passenger train, which left Paris twice a
week, one goods truck full of merchandise was attached—and it seemed
as though the particular truck to arrive was singled out casually,
without any regard to the needs of the town. As yet no dusters, sheets
or kitchen pans could be bought, but to-day in the Spanish Square every
shop was filled to overflowing with rolls of ladies' stays; even the
chemist had put a pair in the corner of his window. Fanny inquired the
cause. A truck had arrived filled with nothing but stays. It was very
unfortunate as they had expected condensed milk, but they had accepted
the truck, as, no doubt, they would find means of selling them—for
there were women in the country round who had not seen a pair for
A man appeared in the Square selling boots from Paris—the first to
come to the town with leather soles instead of wooden ones. Instantly
there was a crowd round him.
It was dark now and the electric street lamps were lit round the
pedestal of the Spanish Duke. The organisation of the town was jerky,
and often the lights would come on when it was daylight and often
disappear when it was dark. Where Germans had been there were always
electric light and telephones. No matter how sparse the furniture in
the houses, how ragged the roof, how patched the windows—what tin
cans, paper and rubbish lay heaped upon the floors, the electric light
unfailingly illumined all, the telephone hung upon the wall among the
A little rain began to fall lightly and she hurried to her rooms.
There, once within, the padlock slipped through the rings and locked,
the fire lighted, the lamps lit, the room glowed before her. The turkey
carpet showed all its blues and reds—the mimosa drooped above the
mantelpiece, the willow palm in the jar was turning yellow and shedding
a faint down.
“You must last till he comes to tea!” she rebuked it, but down it
fluttered past the mirror on to the carpet.
“He will be here before they all fall,” she thought, and propped
open her window that she might hear his voice if he called her from the
She boiled her kettle to make chocolate, hanging it upon a croquet
hoop which she had found in the garden—Philippe's hoop. But Philippe
was so powerless, he couldn't even stop his croquet hoop from being
heated red-hot in the flames as a kettle-holder ... One must be
sensible. He would allow it. That was the sort of device he would have
thought well of.
“He rushed about the town on a motor-bicycle,” the concierge
had said, when asked about him. But that was later. There had been
other times when he had rocked a rocking-horse, broken a doll's head,
sold meat from a wooden shop, fed a dormouse.
“Did Philippe,” she wondered, “have adventures, too, in this
street?” She felt him in the curtains, under the carpet like a little
* * * * *
The days passed.
Each day her car was ordered and ran to Rheims and Chalons through
the battlefields, or through the mountains to Givet, Dinant or Namur.
Changes passed over the mountains as quickly as the shades of flying
clouds. The spring growth, at every stage and age from valley to crest,
shook like light before the eyes. There were signs of spring, too, in
the battlefields. Cowslips grew in the ditches, and grass itself, as
rare and bright as a flower, broke out upon the plains.
A furtive and elementary civilisation began to creep back upon the
borders of the national roads. Pioneers, with hand, dog, and donkey
carts, with too little money, with too many children, with obstinate
and tenacious courage, began to establish themselves in cellars and
pill-boxes, in wooden shelters scraped together from the debris
of their former villages. In those communities of six or seven families
the re-birth and early struggles of civilisation set in. One tilled a
patch of soil the size of a sheet between two trenches—one made a
fowl-yard, fenced it in and placed a miserable hen within. Little
notices would appear, nailed to poles emerging from the bowels of the
earth. “Vin-Cafe” or “Small motor repairs done here.”
All this was noticeable along the great national roads. But in the
side roads, roads deep in yellow mud, uncleared, empty of lorries and
cars, no one set up his habitation.
A certain lawlessness was abroad in the lonelier areas of the
battlefields. Odds and ends of all the armies, deserters, well hidden
during many months, lived under the earth in holes and cellars and used
strange means to gain a living.
There had been rumours of lonely cars which had been stopped and
robbed—and among the settlers a couple of murders had taken place in a
single district. The mail from Charleville to Montmedy was held up at
last by men in masks armed with revolvers. “We will go out armed!”
exclaimed the drivers in the garage, and polished up their rifles.
After that, when the Americans hi the camps around, hungry upon the
French ration, or drunk upon the mixture of methylated spirits and
whisky sold in subterranean estaminets of ruined villages,
picked a quarrel, there were deaths instead of broken heads and black
eyes. “They must ... they MUST go home!” said the French, turning their
easy wrath upon the homesick Americans.
Somewhere beyond Rheims the wreck of a cindery village sprawled
along a side road. Not a chimney, not a pile of bricks, not a finger of
wood or stone reached three feet high, but in the middle, a little
wooden stake rose above the rubbish, a cross-bar pointing into the
ground, and the words “Vin-Cafe” written in chalk upon it. Fanny, who
was thirsty, drew up her car and climbed across the village to a hole
down which the board pointed. Steps of pressed earth led down, and from
the hole rose the quarrelling, fierce voices of three men. She fled
back to the car, determined to find a more genial cafe upon a
The same day, upon another side road, she came on the remains of a
village, where the road, instead of leading through it, paused at the
brink of the river, over which hung the end spars of a broken bridge.
“I will make a meal here,” she thought, profiting by the check—and
pulled out a packet of sandwiches, driving her car round the corner of
a wall out of the wind. Here, across the road, a donkey cart was
standing, and a donkey was tied to a brick in the gutter.
Upon the steps of a doorway which was but an aperture leading to
nothing, for the house itself lay flat behind it and the courtyard was
filled with trestles of barbed wire, a figure was seated writing
earnestly upon its knees. She went nearer and saw an old man, who
looked up as she approached.
“Sir ...” she began, meaning to inquire about the road—and the wind
through the doorway blew her skirt tight against her.
“I am identifying the houses,” he said, as though he expected to be
asked his business. She saw by his face that he was very old—eighty
perhaps. The book upon his knee contained quavering drawings, against
each of which a name was written.
“This is mine,” he said, pointing through the doorway on whose step
he sat. “And all these other houses belong to people whom I know. When
they come back here to live they have only to come to me and I can show
them which house to go to. Without me it might be difficult, but I was
the oldest man here and I know all the streets, and all the houses. I
carry the village in my head.”
“That is your donkey cart, then?”
“It is my son's. I drive here from Rheims on Saturdays, when he
doesn't want it.”
He showed his book, the cheap paper filled with already-fading maps,
blurred names and vague sketches. The old man was in his dotage and
would soon die and the book be lost.
“I carry the village in my head,” he repeated. It was the only life
the village had.
So the days went on, day after day, and with each its work, and
still no letter at the “Silver Lion,” Though vaguely ashamed at her
mood, she could not be oppressed by this. Each cold, fine, blooming day
in the mountains made him less necessary to her, and only the delicate
memory of him remained to gild the town. When hopes wither other hopes
spring up. When the touch of charm trembles no more upon the heart it
can no longer be imagined.
CHAPTER XIX. PHILIPPE'S MOTHER
The horn of a two days' moon was driving across the window; then
stars, darkness, dawn and sunrise painted the open square; till
rustling, and turning towards the light, she awoke. At the top of the
window a magpie wiped his beak on a branch, bent head, and tail bent to
balance him —then dropped like a mottled pebble out of sight. She sat
up, drew the table prepared overnight towards her, lit the lamp for the
chocolate —thinking of the dim Julien who might pay his beautiful
visit in turn with the moon and the sun.
She got up and dressed, and walked in the spring morning, first to
the bread shop to buy a pound of bread from the woman who wouldn't
... so serious and puzzling was this defect that Fanny had once
asked her: “Would you rather I didn't buy my bread here?”
“No, I don't mind.”
Then to the market for a bunch of violets and an egg.
And at last through the “Silver Lion”—for luck, opening one door of
black wood, passing through the hot, sunny room, ignoring the thrilled
glances of soldiers drinking at the tables, looking towards the girl at
the bar, who shook her head, saying: “No, no letter for you!” and out
again into the street by the other black door (which was gold inside).
She passed the morning in the garage working on the Renault,
cleaning her, oiling her—then ate her lunch in the garage room with
Among them there ran a rumour of England—of approaching
demobilisation, of military driving that must come to an end, to give
place to civilian drivers who, in Paris, were thronging the steps of
the Ministry of the Liberated Regions.
“Already,” said one, “our khaki seems as old-fashioned as a
crinoline. A man said to me yesterday: 'It is time mademoiselle bought
her dress for the summer!'“
(What dream was that of Julien, and of a summer spent in
Charleville! The noise of England burst upon her ears. She heard the
talk at parties—faces swam so close to hers that she looked in their
eyes and spoke to them.)
And how the town is filling with men in new black coats, and women
in shawls! Every day more and more arrive. And the civilians come first
now! Down in the Co-operative I asked for a tin of milk, and I was
told: 'We are keeping the milk for the “Civils.”' 'For the “Civils”?' I
said, for we are all accustomed to the idea that the army feeds first.”
“Oh, that's all gone! We are losing importance now. It is time to go
As they spoke there came a shrill whistle which sounded through
“Ecoute!” said a man down the street, and the Section, moving to the
window, heard it again, nameless, and yet familiar.
Unseen Charleville lifted its head and said, “Ecoute.”
The first train had crawled over the new bridge, and stood whistling
its triumph in the station.
As spring became more than a bright light over the mountains so the
town in the hollow blossomed and functioned. The gate bells rang, the
electric light ceased to glow in the daytime, great cranes came up on
the trains and fished in the river for the wallowing bridges. Workmen
arrived in the streets. In the early summer mornings tapping could be
heard all about the town. Civilians in new black suits, civilians more
or less damaged, limping or one-eyed, did things that made them happy
with a hammer and a nail. They whistled as they tapped, nailed up
shutters that had hung for four years by one hinge, climbed about the
roofs and fixed a tile or two where a hundred were needed, brought
little ladders on borrowed wheelbarrows and set them against the
house-wall. In the house opposite, in the Rue de Cleves, a man was
using his old blue puttees to nail up his fruit-trees.
All the men worked in new Sunday clothes; they had, as yet, nothing
old to work in. Every day brought more of them to the town, lorries and
horse carts set them down by the “Silver Lion,” and they walked along
the street carrying black bags and rolls of carpet, boxes of tools, and
sometimes a well-oiled carbine.
“Yes, we must go home,” said the Englishwomen. “It's time to leave
The “Civils” seemed to drive them out. They knew they were birds of
passage as they walked in the sun in their khaki coats.
The “Civils” were blind to them, never looked at them, hurried on,
longing to grasp the symbolic hammer, to dust, sweep out the German
rags and rubbish, nail talc over the gaping windows, set their homes
going, start their factories in the surrounding mountains, people the
houses so long the mere shelter for passing troops, light the civilian
life of the town, and set it burning after the ashes and dust of war.
There were days when every owner, black-trousered and in his shirt-sleeves, seemed to be burning the contents of his house in a bonfire in
the gutter. Poor men burned things that seemed useful to the casual eye
—mattresses, bolsters, all soiled, soiled again and polluted by four
years of soldiery.
Idling over the fire in the evening, Fanny's eye was caught by a
stain upon her armchair. It was sticky; it might well be champagne—the
champagne which stuck even now to the bottoms of the glasses
“I wonder if they will burn the chair—when they come back.”
Some one must come back, some day, even if Philippe's mother never
came. She seemed to see the figure of the Turkish officer seated in her
chair, just as the concierge had described him, stout, fezzed,
resting his legs before her fire—or of the German, stretched back in
the chair in the evening reading the copy of the Westfaelisches
Volksblatt she had found stuffed down in the corner of the seat.
How, how did that splash of wax come to be so high up on the face of
the mirror? Had someone, some predecessor, thrown a candle in a temper?
It puzzled her in the morning as she lay in bed.
On the polished wooden foot of the bed was burnt the outline of a
face with a funny nose. A child's drawing. That was Philippe's. The
nurse had cried at him in a rage, perhaps, and snatched the hot poker
with which he drew—and that had made the long rushing burn that flew
angrily across the wood from the base of the face's chin. “Oh, you've
made it worse!” Philippe must have gibed.
(“B”—who wrote “B” on the wall? The Bulgarian—)
She fell asleep.
The first bird, waking early, threw the image of the world across
her lonely sleep. He squeaked alone, minute after minute, from his tree
outside the window, thrusting forests, swamps, meadows, mountains in
among her dreams. Then a fellow joined him, and soon all the birds were
shouting from their trees. Slowly the room lightened till on the
mantelpiece the buds of the apple blossom shone, till upon the wall the
dark patch became an oil painting, till the painting showed its
features —a castle, a river and a hill.
In the night the last yellow down had fallen from the palm upon the
The common voice of the tin clock struck seven. And with it came
women's voices—women's voices on the landing outside the door—the
voice of the concierge and another's.'
Some instinct, some strange warning, sent the sleeper on the bed
flying from it, dazed as she was. Snatching at the initialled cup of
gold veining she thrust it behind the curtain on the window sill. An
act of panic merely, for a second glance round the room convinced her
that there was too much to be hidden, if hidden anything should be.
With a leap she was back in bed, and drew the bedclothes up to her
Then came the knock at the door.
“I am in bed,” she called.
“Nevertheless, can I come in?” asked the concierge.
“You may come in.”
The young woman came in and closed the door after her. She
approached the bed and whispered—then glancing round the room with a
shrug she picked up a dressing-gown and held it that Fanny might slip
her arms into it.
“But what a time to come!”
“She has travelled all night. She is unfit to move.”
“Must I see her now? I am hardly awake.”
“I cannot keep her any longer. She was for coming straight here when
the train came in at five. I have kept her at coffee at my house.
Tant pis! You have a right to be here!”
The concierge drew the curtain a little wider and the cup was
exposed. She thrust it back into the shadow; the door opened and
Philippe's mother walked in. She was very tall, in black, and a deep
veil hung before her face.
“Bonjour, madame,” she said, and her veiled face dipped in a
“Will you sit down?”
She took no notice of this, but leaning a little on a stick she
carried, said, “I understand that it is right that I should find my
house occupied. They told me it would be by an officer. Such occupation
I believe ceases on the return of the owner.”
“I am the owner of this house.”
“May I ask of what nationality you are?”
The concierge standing behind her, shrugged her shoulders
impatiently, as if she would say, “I have explained, and explained
“I am English, madame.”
The lady seemed to sink into a stupor, and bending her head in
silence stared at the floor. Fanny, sitting upright in bed, waited for
her to speak. The >concierge, her face still as an image, waited
Philippe's mother began to sway upon her stick.
“Do please sit down,” said Fanny, breaking the silence at last.
“When will you go?” demanded the old lady, suddenly.
“Who gave you that lamp? That is mine.” She pointed to a glass lamp
which stood upon the table.
“It is all yours,” said Fanny, humbly.
“Mademoiselle borrowed it,” said the voice of the concierge.
“I lent it to her.”
“Why are my things lent when I am absent? My armchair—dirty,
soiled, torn! Paul's picture—there is a hole in the corner. Who made
that hole in the corner?”
“I didn't,” said Fanny feebly, wishing that she were dressed and
upon her feet.
“Madame, a Turkish officer made the hole. I spoke to him about it;
he said it was the German colonel who was here before him. But I am
sure it was the Turk.”
“A Turk!” said Philippe's mother in bewilderment. “So you have
allowed a Turk to come in here!”
“Madame does not understand.”
“Oh, I understand well enough that my house has been a den! The
house where I was born—All my things, all my things—You must give
that lamp back!”
“Dear madame, I will give everything back, I have hurt nothing—”
“Not ruined my carpet, my mother's carpet! Not soiled my walls,
written your name upon them, cracked my windows, filled my room
downstairs with rubbish, broken my furniture—But I am told this is
what I must expect!” Fanny looked at her, petrified. “But I—” she
“You don't understand,” said the young concierge fiercely.
“Don't you know who has lived here? In this room, in this bed, Turks,
Bulgars, Germans. Four years of soldiers, coming in one week and gone
the next. I could not stop it! When other houses were burnt I would say
to myself, 'Madame is lucky.' When all your china was broken and your
chairs used for firewood, could I help it? Can she help it? She
is your last soldier, and she has taken nothing. So much has gone from
this house it is not worth while to worry about what remains. When you
wrote to me last month to send you the barometer, it made me smile.
“No, madame, no! Not till you come back with me. They should not
have let you come alone. But you were always wilful. You cannot mean to
“I wish this woman gone to-day. I wish to sleep here to-night.”
“No, madame, no. Sleep in the house opposite to-night. Give her time
to find a lodging—”
“A lodging! She will find a lodging soon enough. A town full of
soldiers—” muttered the old woman.
“I think this is a question for the billeting lieutenant,” said
Fanny. “He will explain to you that I am billeted here exactly as a
soldier, that I have a right to be here until your arrival. It will be
kind of you to give me a day in which to find another room.”
“Where are his things?” said the old woman unheedingly. “I
must go up to the attics.”
A vision of those broken toys came to Fanny, the dusty heap of
horses, dolls and boxes—the poor disorder.
“You mustn't, yet!” she cried with feeling. “Rest first. Sit here
longer first. Or go another day!”
“Have you touched them?” cried Philippe's mother, rising from
the chair. “I must go at once, at once——” but even as she tried to
cross the room she leant heavily upon the table and put her hand to her
heart. “Get me water, Elsie,” she said, and threw up her veil. Her
ruined face was grey even at the lips; her eyes were caverns, worn by
the dropping of water, her mouth was folded tightly that nothing kind
or hopeful, or happy might come out of it again. Elsie ran to the
washing-stand. Unfortunately she seized the glass with the golden
scrolling, and when she held it to the lips of her mistress those lips
“That, too, that glass of mine! Elsie, I wish this woman
gone. Why don't you get up? Where are your clothes? Why don't you dress
“Madame, hush, hush, you are ill.”
“Ah!” dragging herself weakly to the door, “I must take an
inventory. That is what I should have done before! If I don't make a
list at once I shall lose something!”
“Take an inventory!” exclaimed the concierge mockingly, as
she followed her. “The house won't change! After four years—it isn't
now that it will change!” She paused at the door and looked back at
Fanny. “Don't worry about the room, mademoiselle. She is like that—
elle a des crises. She cannot possibly sleep here. Keep the room for
a day or two till you find another.”
“In a very few days I shall be going to England.”
“Keep it a week if necessary. She will be persuaded when she is
calmer. Why did they let her come when they wrote me that she was a
dying woman! But no—elle est comme toujours—mechante pour tout le
“You told me she thought only of Philippe.”
“Ah, mademoiselle, she is like many of us! She has still her sense
CHAPTER XX. THE LAST DAY
Around the Spanish Square the first sun-awnings had been put up in
the night, awnings red and yellow, flapping in the mountain wind.
In the shops under the arches, in the market in the centre of the
Square, they were selling anemones.
“But have you any eggs?”
“No eggs this morning.”
“None. There has been none these three days.”
“A pot of condensed milk?”
“Mademoiselle, the train did not bring any.”
“Must I eat anemones? Give me two bunches.”
And round the Spanish Square the orange awnings protecting the empty
shop-fronts shuddered and flapped, like a gay hat worn unsteadily when
the stomach is empty.
What was there to do on a last day but look and note, and watch, and
take one's leave? The buds against the twig-laced sky were larger than
ever. To-morrow—the day after to-morrow ... it would be spring in
“Tenez, mademoiselle,” said the market woman, “there is a
little ounce of butter here that you may have!”
The morning passed and on drifted the day, and all was finished, all
was done, and love gone, too. And with love gone the less divine but
wider world lay open.
In the “Silver Lion” the patient girl behind the counter shook her
“There is no letter for you.”
“And to-morrow I leave for England.”
“If a letter comes where shall I send it on?”
“Thank you, but there will come no letter now. Good-bye.”
It was the afternoon. Now such a tea, a happy, lonely tea—the last,
the best, in Charleville! Crossing the road from the “Silver Lion"
Fanny bought a round, flat, sandwich cake, and carried it to the house
which was her own for one more night, placed it in state upon the
biggest of the green and gold porcelain plates, and the anemones in a
sugar-bowl beside it. She lit the fire, made tea, and knelt upon the
floor to toast her bread. There was a half-conscious hurry in her
(“So long as nobody comes!” she whispered. “So long as I am left
alone!”) she feared the good-byes of the concierge, the
threatened inventory of Philippe's mother, a call of state farewell
from the billeting lieutenant.
When the toast was done and the tea made, some whim led her to
change her tunic for a white jersey newly back from the wash, to put on
the old dancing shoes of Metz—and not until her hair was carefully
brushed to match this gaiety did she draw up the armchair with the
broken leg, and prop it steadily beside the tea-table.
Who was that knocking on the door in the street?
One of the Section coming on a message? The brigadier to tell
her that she had some last duty still?
“Shall I go to the window?” (creeping nearer to it). Then, with a
glance back at the tea-table, “No, let them knock!”
But how they knocked! Persistent, gentle—could one sit peacefully
at tea so called and so besought! She went up to the blue curtains, and
standing half-concealed, saw the concierge brooding in the
sunlight of her window-sill.
“Is nobody there?” said a light voice in the hidden street
below, and at that she peered cautiously over the edge of the
stonework, and saw a pale young man in grey before the door.
She watched him. She watched him gravely, for he had come too late.
But tenderly, for she had been in love with him. The concierge
raised her two black brows in her expressive face and looked upwards.
Her look said: “Why don't you let him in?”
Yet Fanny stood inactive, her hands resting on the sun-warmed stone.
“Julien is here—is here! And does not know that I go to-morrow!”
But she put to-morrow from her, and in the stillness she felt
her spirit smiling for pleasure in him. She had mourned him once; she
never would again.
In her pocket lay the key of the street door, and the curtain-cord,
long rotted and useless, dangled at her cheek. With a quick wrench she
brought its length tumbling beside her on the sill, then knotted it to
the key and let it down into the street.
The young man saw it hang before his eyes.
“Are you coming in?” said a voice above him. “Tea is ready.”
“It has been ready for six weeks.”
“Only wait—” He was trying the key in the door.
“What—still longer?” said the voice.
He was gone from the pavement, he had entered her house, he was on
her stair—the grey ghost of the soldier!
She had a minute's grace. Slipping her hand into the cupboard she
drew out another cup and saucer, and laid the table for two.
There was his face—his hands—at her door! But what a foreign grey
“Come in, Ghost!” she said, and held out her hands—for now she
cared at least for “he who cared”—lest that, too, be lost! Does a
ghost kiss? Yes, sometimes. Sometimes they are ghosts who kiss.
“Oh, Fanny!” Then, with a quick glance at the table, “You are
“You. How late you come to tea with me!”
“But I—You didn't know.”
“I waited tea for you,” she said, and turning to a calendar upon a
wooden wheel, she rolled it back a month.
She made him sit, she made him drink and eat. He filled the room
with his gaiety. He had no reasons upon his tongue, and no excuses; she
no reproaches, no farewell.
A glance round the room had shown her that there were no signs of
her packing; her heavy kitbag was at the station, her suitcase packed
and in the cupboard. She put her gravest news away till later.
“You came by the new train—that has arrived at last in
“Yes, and I go up to Revins to-night.”
She paused at that. “But how?”
“I don't know,” he answered, smiling at her.
Her eyes sparkled. “Could I?” (She had that morning delivered the
car to its new driver.) “Of course. I could! I will, I will, I'll
manage! You counted on me to drive you to Revins?”
“Will it be difficult to manage?”
“No—o—But I must get the car out before dark or there will be no
excuse—” She pushed back her chair and went to the window. The sun was
sinking over the mountains and the scenery in the western sky was
reflected in the fiery pools between the cobbles in the street.
“I must go soon and get it. But how—”
She paused and thought. “How do you come down to-morrow?”
“I don't. I go on to Brussels. There is a car at Revins belonging to
my agent. He will take me to Dinant for the Brussels train.”
“You are bound for Brussels? Yet you could have gone straight from
Paris to Brussels?”
“Yet I didn't because I wanted to see you!”
She took down her cap and coat from the nail on which they were
“Need you go yet?” he said, withdrawing the clothes from her arm,
and laying them upon a chair. She sat down again.
“The sun is sinking. The town gets dark so quickly here, though it's
light enough in the mountains. If I leave it later the men will be gone
home, and the garage key with them.”
“You're right,” he said. “Put them on,” and he held the coat for
her. “But once you have the car there's no hurry over our drive. Yes,
fetch it quickly, and then we'll go up above Revins and I'll show you
the things I have in mind.”
He drew out a fat, red note-book and held it up.
“It's full of my thoughts,” he said. “Quick with the car, and we'll
get up there while it's light enough to show you!”
She slipped out under the apple-red sky, through the streets where
the shadows of the houses lay black as lacquer.
Before the locked gates of the garage the brigadier lounged
smoking his little, dry cigarettes.
“We are on fire,” he said, pointing up the street at the mountain.
“What an evening!”
“Yes, and my last!” she said. “Oh, may I have the key of the
“But you've given up the car.”
“Yes, I have, but—after to-morrow I shall never use your petrol
again! And there are my bags to be taken to the station. Ah, let me
have the key!”
He gave her the key.
“Don't be long then. Yet I shall be gone in a few minutes. When you
come in hang the key on the nail in the office.”
Once more she wound up the Renault, drove from the garage, regained
the Rue de Cleves, and saw Julien leaning from her window sill.
“Come down, come down!” she called up to him, and realised that it
would have been better to have made her revelation to him before they
started on this journey. For now he was staring at the mountains in an
absorbed excited fashion, and she would have to check his flow of
spirits, spoil their companionable gaiety, and precipitate such heavy
thoughts upon him as might, she guessed, spread to herself. Between his
disappearance from the window and the opening of the street door she
had a second in which to fight with her disinclination.
“And yet, if I've neglected to tell him in the room,” she argued, “I
can't tell him in the street!”
For looking up she saw, as she expected, the deep eyes of the
concierge watching her as impersonally as the mountains watched the
“There'll come a moment,” she said to herself as the street door
opened and he joined her and climbed into the car, “when it'll come of
itself, when it will be easy and natural.”
By back streets they left the town, and soon upon the step road had
climbed through the belt of trees and out on to bare slopes.
As they wound up the mountain, sitting so dose together, she felt
how familiar his company was to her, and how familiar his silence.
Their thoughts, running together, would meet presently, as they had
often met, at the juncture when his hand was laid upon hers at the
wheel: But when he spoke he startled her.
“How long has the railway been extended to Charleville?”
“A fortnight,” she answered upon reflection.
“How about the big stone bridge on this side? The railway bridge?”
“Why that lies at the bottom of the river as usual.”
“And haven't they replaced it yet by a wooden one?”
“No, not yet.”
“And no one is even working there?”
“I haven't been there lately,” she answered. “Maybe they are by now.
Is it your railway to Revin you are thinking of?”
He was fingering his big note book.
“I can't start anything till the railway runs,” he answered, tapping
on the book, “but when it runs—I'll show you when we get up there.”
They came to a quagmire in the red clay of the road. It was an
ancient trap left over from the rains of winter, strewn with twigs and
small branches so that light wheels might skim, with luck, over its
“You see,” he said, pursuing his thought, “lorries wouldn't do here.
“They would,” she agreed, and found that his innocence of her secret
locked her words more tightly in her throat. Far above, from an iron
peak, the light of the heavy sun was slipping. Beneath it they ran in
shadow, through rock and moss. Before the light had gone they had
reached the first crest and drew up for a moment at a movement of his
Looking back to Charleville, he said, “See where the river winds.
The railway crosses it three times. Can we see from here if the bridges
are all down?” And he stood up and, steadying himself upon her
shoulder, peered down at Charleville, to where man lived in the
valleys. But though the slopes ahead of them were still alight, depths,
distance, the crowding and thickening of twilight in the hollows behind
them offered no detail.
“I fear they are,” she said, gazing with him. “I think they are. I
think I can remember that they are.”
Soon they would be at the top of the long descent on Revins. Should
she tell him, he who sat so close, so unsuspecting? An arrowy
temptation shot through her mind.
“Is it possible—Why not write a letter when he is gone!”
She saw its beauty, its advantages, and she played with it like
someone who knew where to find strength to withstand it.
“He is so happy, so gay,” urged the voice, “so full of his plans!
And you have left it so late. How painful now, just as he is going, to
bid him think: 'I will never see her face again!'“
(How close he sat beside her! How close her secret sat within her!)
“Think how it is with you,” pursued the tempting voice. “It is hard
to part from a face, but not so hard to part from the writer of a
Over the next crest the Belgian Ardennes showed blue and dim in the
“Stop!” he said, holding up his hand again.
They were on the top of a high plateau; she drew up. A large bird
with red under its wings flapped out and hung in the air over the
“See—the Meuse!” he said. “See, on its banks, do you see down
there? Come to the edge.”
Hundreds of feet below lay a ribbon-loop of dark, unstirring water.
They stood at the edge of the rock looking down together. She saw he
was excited. His usually pale face was flushed.
“Do you see down there, do you see in this light—a village?”
She could see well enough a village.
“That's Revins. And those dark dots beyond——”
“I see them.”
“My factories. Before the summer you'll see smoke down there! They
are partially destroyed. One can't see well, one can't see how much—”
“Have you never been back? Have you never seen what's happened?”
She had not guessed this: she was not prepared for this. This was
the secret, then of his absorption.
“I've not seen it yet. I've not been able to get away. And the Paris
factories have held me every minute. But now I'm here, I'm—I'm
wondering—You see that dot beyond, standing separate?”
“That's where I sleep to-night. That's the house.”
“But can you sleep there?” she asked, still shocked that she had not
realised what this journey was to him.
“I mean is the house ruined?”
“Oh, the house is in bad order,” he said. “Not ruined. 'Looted,' my
old concierge writes. She was my nurse a hundred years ago. She
has been there through the occupation. I wrote to her, and she expects
me to-night. To-night it will be too dark, but to-morrow before I leave
I shall see what they have done to the factories.”
“Don't you know at all how bad they are?”
“I've had letters. The agent went on ahead five days ago and he has
settled there already. But letters don't tell one enough. There are
little things in the factories—things I put in myself—” He broke off
and drew her to another side of the plateau. “See down there! That
unfortunate railway crosses two more bridges. I can't see now, but
they're blown up, since all the others are. And such a time for
business! It hurts me to think of the things I can't set going till
that railway works. Every one is crying out for the things that I can
On and on he talked in his excitement, absorbed and planning,
leading her from one point of view on the plateau to another. Her eyes
followed his pointing hands from crest to crest of the mountains their
neighbours, till the valleys were full of creeping shadows. Even when
the shades filmed his eager hand he held it out to point here and there
as though the whole landscape of the mountains was printed in immortal
daylight on his mind.
“I can't see,” she said. “It's so dark down there. I can't see it,”
as he pointed to the spot where the Brussels railway once ran.
“Well, it's there,” he said, staring at the spot with eyes that
The blue night deepened in the sky; from east, west, north, south,
sprang the stars.
“Fanny, look! There's a light in my house!”
Fathoms of shade piled over the village and in the heart of it a
light had appeared. “Marie has lit the lamp on the steps. I mustn't be
too late for her—I must soon go down.”
“What, you walk? Is there a footpath down?”
“I shall go down this mountain path below. It's a path I know,
shooting hares. Soon I shall be back again. Brussels one week; then
Paris; then here again. I'll see what builders can be spared from the
Paris factories. They can walk out here from Charleville. Ten miles,
that's nothing! Then we'll get the stone cut ready in the quarries. Do
you know, during the war, I thought (when I thought of it), 'If the
Revins factories are destroyed it won't be I who'll start them again. I
won't take up that hard mountain life any more. If they're destroyed,
it's too discouraging, so let them lie!' But now I don't feel
discouraged at all. I've new ideas, bigger ones. I'm older, I'm going
to be richer. And then, since they're partly knocked down I'll rebuild
them in a better way. And it's not only that—See!” He was carried away
by his resolves, shaken by excitement, and pulling out his note-book he
tilted it this way and that under the starlight, but he could not read
it, and all the stars in that sky were no use to him. He struck a match
and held the feeble flame under that heavenly magnificence, and a puff
of wind blew it out.
“But I don't need to see!” he exclaimed, and pointing into the night
he continued to unfold his plans, to build in the unmeaning darkness,
which, to his eyes, was mountain valleys where new factories arose,
mountain slopes whose sides were to be quarried for their stony ribs,
rivers to move power-stations, railways to Paris and to Brussels. As
she followed his finger her eyes lit upon the stars instead, and now he
said, “There, there!” pointing to Orion, and now “Here, here!” lighting
As she followed his finger her thoughts were on their own paths,
thinking, “This is Julien as he will be, not as I have known him.” The
soldier had been a wanderer like herself, a half-fantastic being. But
here beside her in the darkness stood the civilian, the Julien-to-come,
the solid man, the builder, plotting to capture the future.
For him, too, she could no longer remain as she had been. Here,
below her was the face, the mountain face, of her rival. Unless she
became one with his plans and lived in the same blazing light with
them, she would be a separate landscape, a strain upon his focus.
Then she saw him looking at her. Her face, silver-bright in the
starlight, was as unreadable as his own note-book.
“Are you sure,” he was saying, “that you won't be blamed about the
“Sure, quite sure. The men have all gone home.”
“But to-morrow morning? When they see it has been out?”
“Not—to-morrow morning. No, they won't say anything to-morrow
morning. Oh, dear Julien—”
“I think, I hope you are going to have a great success here. And
don't forget—me—when you—”
“—When I come back in a week!”
“But your weeks—are so long.”
“Yet you will be happy without me,” he said suddenly.
“What makes you say that?”
“You've some solace, some treasure of your own.” He nodded. “In a
way,” he said, “I've sometimes thought you half out of reach of pain.”
She caught her breath, and the starry sky whirled over her head.
“You're a happy foreigner!” he finished. “Did you know? Dormans
called you that after the first dance. He said to me: 'I wonder if they
are all so happy in England! I must go and see.'“
“You too, you too!” she said, eagerly, and she wanted him to admit
it. “See how happy, how busy, how full of the affairs of life you soon
will be! Difficulties of every sort, and hard work and triumph—”
“And you'll see, you'll see, I'll do it,” he said, catching fire
again. “I'll grow rich on these bony mountains—it isn't only the
riches, mind you, but they are the proof—I'll wring it out in triumph,
not in water, but in gold—from the rock!”
He stood at the edge of the path, a little above her, blotting out
the sky with his darker shape, then turning, kissed her.
“For the little time!” he said, and disappeared.
The noise of his footsteps descended in the night below. Ten minutes
passed, and as each step trod innocently away from her for ever she
continued motionless and silent to listen from her rock. The noises all
but faded, yet, loth to put an end to the soft rustle, she listened
while it grew fainter and less human to her ear, till it mingled at
last with the rustle of nature, with the whine of the wind and the
pit-pat of a little creature close at hand.
She stirred at last, and turned; and found herself alone with that
flock of enormous companions, the hog-backed mountains, like cattle
feeding about her. Above, uniting craggy horn to horn, was an
architrave of stars.
“Good-bye”—to the light in the valley, and starting the car she
began the descent on Charleville. There are moments when the roll of
the world is perceptible to the extravagant senses. There are moments
when the glamour of man thins away into oblivion before the magic of
night, when his face fades and his voice is silenced before that wind
of excited perception that blows out of nowhere to shake the soul.
In such a mood, in such a giddy hour, seated in person upon her car,
in spirit upon her imagination, Fanny rode down the mountain into the
She was invincible, inattentive to the voice of absent man, a hard,
hollow goddess, a flute for the piping of heaven—composing and
chanting unmusical songs, her inner ear fastened upon another melody.
And heaven, protecting a creature at that moment so estranged from
earth, led her down the wild road, held back the threatening forest
branches, brought her, all but standing up at the wheel like a lunatic,
safely to the foot of the last hill.
Recalled to earth by the light of Charleville she drove slowly up
the main street, replaced the car in the garage, and returned to her
house in the Rue de Cleves.
“It is true,” she whispered, as she entered the room, “that I am
half out of reach of pain—” and long, in plans for the future, she
hung over the embers.
The gradual sinking of the light before her reminded her of the
present. “The last night that the fire burns for me!” She heaped on all
“Little pannikin of chocolate, little companion!” Hunger, too,
awoke, and she dropped two sticks of chocolate into the water. “The
fire dies down to-night. To-morrow I shall be gone.” A petal from the
apple blossom on the mantelpiece fell against her hand.
“To-morrow I shall be gone. The apple blossom is spread to large wax
flowers, and the flowers will fall and never breed apples. They will
sweep this room, and Philippe's mother will come and sit in it and make
it sad. So many things happen in the evening. So many unripe thoughts
ripen before the fire. Turk, Bulgar, German—Me. Never to return. When
she comes into this room the apple flowers will stare at her across the
desert of my absence, and wonder who she is! I wonder if
I can teach her anything. Will she keep the grid on the wood fire? And
the blue birds flying on the bed? It is like going out of
life—tenderly leaving one's little arrangements to the next comer—”
And drawing her chair up to the table, she lit the lamp, and sat
down to write her letter.