by May Sinclair
BOOK ONE. CHARLOTTE REDHEAD
BOOK TWO. JOHN RODEN CONWAY
BY MAY SINCLAIR
Every kind and beautiful thing on earth has been made so by some
Saying of the Romantic
BOOK ONE. CHARLOTTE REDHEAD
They turned again at the end of the platform.
The tail of her long, averted stare was conscious of him, of his
big, tweed-suited body and its behaviour, squaring and swelling and
tightening in its dignity, of its heavy swing to her shoulder as they
She could stave off the worst by not looking at him, by looking at
other things, impersonal, innocent things; the bright, yellow, sharp
gabled station; the black girders of the bridge; the white signal post
beside it holding out a stiff, black-banded arm; the two rails curving
there, with the flat white glitter and sweep of scythes; pointed blades
coming together, buried in the bend of the cutting.
Small three-cornered fields, clean edged like the pieces of a
puzzle, red brown and pure bright green, dovetailed under the high
black bar of the bridge. She supposed you could paint that.
Clear stillness after the rain. She caught herself smiling at the
noise her boots made clanking on the tiles with the harsh, joyous
candour that he hated. He walked noiselessly, with a jerk of bluff
knickerbockered hips, raising himself on his toes like a cat.
She could see him moving about in her room, like that, in the half
darkness, feeling for his things, with shamed, helpless gestures. She
could see him tiptoeing down her staircase, furtive, afraid. Always
afraid they would be found out.
That would have ruined him.
Oh well—why should he have ruined himself for her? Why? But she had
wanted, wanted to ruin herself for him, to stand, superb and reckless,
facing the world with him. If that could have been the way of it.
That road over the hill—under the yellow painted canopy sticking
out from the goods station—it would be the Cirencester road, the Fosse
Way. She would tramp along it when he was gone.
He must have seen her looking at the clock. Three minutes more.
Suddenly, round the bend, under the bridge, the train.
He was carrying it off fairly well, with his tight red face and his
stare over her head when she looked at him, his straight smile when she
said “Good-bye and Good-luck!”
And her silly hand clutching the window ledge. She let go, quick,
afraid he would turn sentimental at the end. But no; he was settling
down heavily in his corner, blinking and puffing over his cigar.
That was her knapsack lying on the seat there. She picked it up and
slung it over her shoulder.
Cirencester? Or back to Stow-on-the-Wold? If only he hadn't come
there last night. If only he had let her alone.
She meditated. She would have to wire to Gwinnie Denning to meet her
at Cirencester. She wondered whether Gwinnie's mother's lumbago would
last over the week-end. It was Friday. Perhaps Gwinnie had started.
Perhaps there would be a wire from her at the hotel.
Going on to Cirencester when you wanted to be in Stow-on-the-Wold,
what was it but a cowardly retreat? Driven out of
Stow-on-the-Wold by Gibson? Not she!
Dusk at ten o'clock in the morning under the trees on the mile-long
hill. You climbed up and up a steep green tunnel. The sun would be
blazing at its mouth on the top. Nothing would matter. Certainly not
this affair with Gibson Herbert. She could see clearly her immense,
unique passion thus diminished. Surprising what a lot of it you could
forget. Clean forget. She supposed you forgot because you couldn't bear
But there were days that stood out; hours; little minutes that
thrilled you even now and stung.
This time, two years ago, that hot August. The day in the office
when everything went wrong all at once and the clicking of her
typewriter maddened him and he sent her out of his room.
The day when he kept her over-time. The others had gone and they
were there by themselves, the big man in his big room and she in her
den, the door open between. Suddenly she saw him standing in the
doorway, looking at her. She knew then. She could feel the blood
rushing in her brain; the stabbing click of the typewriter set up
little whirling currents that swamped her thoughts.
Her wet fingers kept slipping from the keys. He came and took her in
his arms. She lay back in his arms, crying. Crying because she was
happy, because she knew.
She remembered now what he had said then. “You must have known. You
must have thought of me. You must have wanted me to take you in my
arms.” And her answer. “No. I didn't. I didn't think of it.”
And his smile. His unbelieving smile. He thought she was lying. He
always thought people were lying. Women. He thought women always lied
about what they wanted.
The first time. In her Bloomsbury room, one evening, and the compact
they made then, sitting on the edge of the sofa, like children, holding
each other's hands and swearing never to go back on it, never to go
back on themselves or on each other. If it ever had to end, a clean
cut. No going back on that either.
The first night, in the big, gloomy bedroom of the hotel in Glasgow.
The thick, grey daylight oozing in at the window out of the black
street; and Gibson lying on his back, beside her, sleeping, the sheet
dragged sideways across his great chest. His innocent eyelids.
And the morning after; the happiness. All day the queer, exalted
feeling that she was herself, Charlotte Redhead, at last, undeceived
The day his wife came into the office. Her unhappy eyes and small,
sharp-pointed face, shrinking into her furs. Her name was Effie.
He had told her in the beginning that he had left off caring for his
wife. They couldn't hurt her; she didn't care enough. She never had
cared. There was another fellow. Effie would be all right.
Yet, after she had seen Effie it had never been the same thing. She
couldn't remember, quite, how it had been.
She could remember the ecstasy, how it would come swinging through
you, making you blind and deaf to impersonal, innocent things while it
lasted. Even then there was always something beyond it, something you
looked for and missed, something you thought would come that never
came. There was something he did. She couldn't remember. That would be
one of the things you wanted to forget. She saw his thick fingers at
dessert, peeling the peaches.
Perhaps his way of calling her “Poor Sharlie?” Things he let out—“I
never thought I could have loved a girl with bobbed hair. A white and
black girl.” There must have been other girls then. A regular
procession. Before he married Effie.
She could see them. Pink and gold girls, fluffy and fat; girls with
red hair; brown haired girls with wide slippery mouths. Then Effie.
Then herself, with her thick bobbed mane and white face. And the
beautiful mouth he praised so.
Was it the disgust of knowing that you were only one of a
procession? Or was it that Effie's sad, sharp face slipped between?
And the end of it. The break-down, when Effie was ill.
His hysterical cries. “My wife, Sharlie, my wife. We oughtn't to
have done it....
“... I can't forgive myself, Sharlie. I've been a brute, a beast, a
“... When I think of what we've done to her—the little innocent
thing—the awful unhappiness—I could kill myself.”
“Do you mean she knows?”
“She thinks. That's bad enough. If she knew, it would kill her.”
“You said she wouldn't care. You said there was another man.”
“You lied, then?”
“Of course I lied. You wouldn't have come to me if I hadn't.”
“You told me you didn't care for her.”
He had met that with his “Well—what did you want?”
She went over and over it, turning it round and round to see if
there was any sort of light it would look a bit better in. She had been
going to give him up so beautifully. The end of it was to have been
wonderful, quiet, like a heavenly death, so that you would get a thrill
out of that beauty when you remembered. All the beauty of it from the
beginning, taken up and held together, safe at the end. You wouldn't
remember anything else. And he had killed it, with his conscience,
suddenly sick, whining, slobbering, vomiting remorse—Turning on her.
“I can't think what you wanted with me. Why couldn't you have let me
Her own voice, steady and hard. “If you feel dirty, go and wash
yourself outside. Don't try and rub it off on me. I want to keep
“Isn't it a bit too late?”
“Not if you clear out at once. This minute.” He called her “a cruel
She could forgive him for that. She could forgive him ending it in
any beastly way he liked, provided he did end it. But not last night.
To come crawling back, three months after, wanting to begin again.
Thinking it was possible.
There had been nothing worse than that. Except that one dreadful
minute last year when he had wanted to raise her
salary—afterwards—and she had said “What for?” And their faces
had turned from each other, flaming with the fire of her refusal.
What had he really thought of her? Did he think she wanted to get
anything out of their passion? What could you want to get out of it, or
give, but joy? Pure joy. Beauty.
At the bend of the road the trees parted. A slender blue channel of
sky flowed overhead between the green tops.
If not joy, then truth; reality. The clear reality of yourself,
Charlotte Redhead. Of Gibson Herbert. Even now it would be all right so
long as you knew what it was and didn't lie about it.
That evening in the office when he came to her—she could remember
the feeling that shot up suddenly and ran over her and shook her brain,
making her want him to take her in his arms. It was that. It had never
been anything but that. She had wanted him to take her, and he
knew it. Only, if he hadn't come to her and looked at her she wouldn't
have thought of it; she would have gone on working for him without
thinking. That was what he didn't know, what he wouldn't have believed
if you had told him.
She had come to the top of the hill. At the crossroads she saw the
grey front of her inn, the bow window jutting, small black shining
panes picked out with the clean white paint of the frame-work.
Upstairs their breakfast table stood in the window bow as they had
left it. Bread he had broken on the greasy plate. His cup with the
coffee he couldn't drink. Pathetic, if you hadn't remembered.
“You might as well. If it isn't you, it'll be another woman,
Sharlie. If it isn't me, it'll be another man.”
That was what he had thought her.
It didn't matter.
She stood at the five roads, swinging her stick, undecided.
The long line of the beeches drew her, their heads bowed to the
north as the south wind had driven them. The blue-white road drew her,
rising, dipping and rising; between broad green borders under grey
She walked. She could feel joy breaking loose in her again, beating
up and up, provoked and appeased by the strong, quick movement of her
body. The joy she had gone to her lover for, the pure joy he couldn't
give her, coming back out of the time before she knew him.
Nothing mattered when your body was light and hard and you could
feel the ripple and thrill of the muscles in your stride.
She wouldn't have to think of him again. She wouldn't have to think
of any other man. She didn't want any more of that again, ever. She
could go on and on like this, by herself, without even Gwinnie; not
caring a damn.
If she had been cruel—if she had wanted to hurt Effie. She hadn't
meant to hurt her.
She thought of things. Places she had been happy in. She loved the
high open country. Fancy sitting with Gibson in his stuffy office, day
after day, for five years. Fancy going to Glasgow with him. Glasgow—
She thought: “I can pretend it didn't happen. Nothing's happened.
I'm myself. The same me I was before.”
Suddenly she stood still. On the top of the ridge the whole sky
opened, throbbing with light, immense as the sky above a plain.
Hills—thousands of hills. Thousands of smooth curves joining and
parting, overlapping, rolling together.
What did you want? What did you want? How could you want anything
but this for ever?
Across the green field she saw the farm. Tall, long-skirted elms
standing up in a row before the sallow ricks and long grey barns. Under
the loaded droop of green a grey sharp-pointed gable, topped by a stone
ball. Four Scotch firs beside it, slender and strange.
She stood leaning over the white gate, looking and thinking.
Funny things, colts grazing. Short bodies that stopped at their
shoulders; long, long necks hanging down like tails, pushing their
heads along the ground. She could hear their nostrils breathing and the
scrinch, scrinch of their teeth tearing the grass.
You could be happy living on a farm, looking after the animals.
You could learn farming. People paid.
Suddenly she knew what she would do. She would do that. It
wasn't reasonable to go on sitting in a stuffy office doing work you
hated when you could pack up and go. She couldn't have stuck to it for
five years if it hadn't been for Gibson—falling in love with him, the
most unreasonable thing of all. She didn't care if you had to pay to
learn farming. You had to pay for everything you learned. There were
the two hundred pounds poor dear Daddy left, doing nothing. She could
She would go down to the farm now, this minute, and see if they
would take her.
As she crossed the field she heard the farmyard gate open and shut.
The man came up towards her in the narrow path. He was looking at
her as he came, tilting his head back to get her clear into his eyes
under the shade of his slouched hat.
She called to him. “Is this your farm?” And he halted.
He smiled; the narrow smile of small, fine lips, with a queer,
winged movement of the moustache, a flutter of dark down. She saw his
eyes, hard and keen, dark blue, like the blade of a new knife.
“No. I wish it was my farm. Why?”
She could see now it wasn't. He was out tramping. The corner of a
knapsack bulged over his right shoulder. Rough greenish coat and
stockings—dust-coloured riding breeches—
But there was something about him. Something tall and distant;
slender and strange, like the fir-trees.
“Because whoever's farm it is I want to see him.”
“You won't see him. There isn't anybody there.”
“Do you know who he is?” she said.
“No. I don't know anything. I don't even know where I am. But I hope
“I'm afraid it isn't. It's Stow-on-the-Wold.”
He laughed and shifted his knapsack to his left shoulder, and held
up his chin. His eyes slewed round, raking the horizon.
“It's all right,” she said. “You can get to Bourton-on-the-Hill.
I'll show you.” She pointed. “You see where that clump of trees
is—like a battleship, sailing over a green hill. That's about where it
“Thanks. I've been trying to get there all afternoon.”
“Where have you come from?”
“Stanway. The other side of that ridge.”
“You should have kept along the top. You've come miles out of your
“I like going out of my way. I did it for fun. For the adventure.”
You could see he was innocent and happy, like a child. She turned
and went with him up the field.
She wouldn't go to Bourton-on-the-Hill. She would go back to the
hotel and see whether there was a wire for her from Gwinnie.... He
liked going out of his way.
“I suppose,” he said, “there's something the other side of
“I hate to tell you. There's a road there. It's your way. The end of
He laughed again, showing small white teeth this time. The gate fell
to with a thud and a click.
“What do I do now?”
“You go north. Straight ahead. Turn down the fifth or sixth lane on
your right—you'll see the sign-post. Then the first lane on your left.
That'll bring you out at the top of the hill.”
“Thanks. Thanks most awfully.” He raised his hat, backing from her,
holding her in his eyes till he turned.
He would be out of sight now at the pace he was going; his young,
slender, skimming stride.
She stood on the top of the rise and looked round. He was halting
down there at the bend by the grey cone of the lime kiln under the
ash-tree. He had turned and had his face towards her. Above his head
the battleship sailed on its green field.
He began to come back, slowly, as if he were looking for something
dropped on his path; then suddenly he stopped, turned again and was
There was no wire from Gwinnie. She had waited a week now. She
wondered how long it would be before Gwinnie's mother's lumbago gave in
and let her go.
* * * * *
She knew it by heart now, the long, narrow coffee-room of the hotel.
The draped chimney piece and little oblong gilt-framed mirror at one
end; at the other the bowed window looking west on to the ash-tree and
the fields; the two straight windows between, looking south on to the
To-night the long table down the middle was set with a white cloth.
The family from Birmingham had come. Father and mother, absurd
pouter-pigeons swelling and strutting; two putty-faced unmarried
daughters, sulking; one married one, pink and proper, and the
son-in-law, sharp eyed and bald-headed. From their table in the centre
they stared at her where she dined by herself at her table in the bow.
Two days. She didn't think she could bear it one day more.
She could see herself as she came down the room; her knitted silk
sport's coat, bright petunia, flaming; thick black squares of her
bobbed hair hanging over eyebrows and ears. And behind, the four
women's heads turning on fat necks to look at her, reflected.
Gwinnie's letter was there, stuck up on the mantel-piece. Gwinnie
could come at the week-end; she implored her to hang on for five days
longer, not to leave Stow-on-the-Wold till they could see it together.
A letter from Gibson, repeating himself.
The family from Birmingham were going through the door; fat faces
straining furtively. If they knew—if they only knew. She stood,
She heard the door shut. She could look in the glass now and amuse
herself by the sight they had stared at. The white face raised on the
strong neck and shoulders. Soft white nose, too thick at the nuzzling
tip. Brown eyes straight and wide open. Deep-grooved, clear-cut
eyelids, heavy lashes. Mouth—clear-cut arches, moulded corners,
brooding. Her eyes and her mouth. She could see they were strange. She
could see they were beautiful.
And herself, her mysterious, her secret self, Charlotte Redhead. It
had been secret and mysterious to itself once, before she knew.
She didn't want to be secret and mysterious. Of all things she hated
secrecy and mystery. She would tell Gwinnie about Gibson Herbert when
she came. She would have to tell her.
Down at the end of the looking-glass picture, behind her, the bow
window and the slender back of a man standing there.
* * * * *
She had got him clear by this time. If he went to-morrow he would
stay, moving about forever in your mind. The young body, alert and
energetic; slender gestures of hands. The small imperious head carried
high. The spare, oval face with the straight-jutting, pointed chin.
Honey-white face, thin dusk and bistre of eyelids and hollow temples
and the roots of the hair. Its look of being winged, lifted up, ready
to start off on an adventure. Hair brushed back in two sleek, dark
wings. The straight slender nose, with the close upward wings of its
nostrils (it wasn't Roman after all). Under it the winged flutter of
his mouth when he smiled.
Black eyebrows almost meeting, the outer ends curling up queerly,
like little moustaches. And always the hard, blue knife-blade eyes.
She knew his name the first day. He had told her. Conway. John Roden
The family from Birmingham had frightened him. So he sat at her
table in the bow. They talked. About places—places. Places they had
seen and hadn't seen; places they wanted to see, and the ways you could
get to places. He trusted to luck; he risked things; he was out, he
said, for risk. She steered by the sun, by instinct, by the map in her
head. She remembered. But you could buy maps. He bought one the next
They went for long walks together. She found out the field paths.
And they talked. Long, innocent conversations. He told her about
himself. He came from Coventry. His father was a motor car
manufacturer; that was why he liked tramping.
She told him she was going to learn farming. You could be happy all
day long looking after animals. Swinging up on the big bare backs of
cart horses and riding them to water; milking cows and feeding calves.
And lambs. When their mothers were dead. They would run to you then,
and climb into your lap and sit there—sucking your fingers.
As they came in and went out together the family from Birmingham
glared at them.
“Did you see how they glared?”
“Do you mind?” he said.
“Not a bit.”
“No more do I. It doesn't matter what people like that do. Their
souls are horrible. They leave a glairy trail everywhere they go. If
they were dead—stretched out on their death beds—you'd see their
souls, like long, fat white slugs stretched out too, glued to their
bodies.... You know what they think? They think we met each other on
purpose. They think we're engaged.”
“I don't care,” she said. “It doesn't matter what they think.”
They laughed at the silliness of the family from Birmingham. He had
been there five days.
* * * * *
Gwinnie's voice drawled in slow meditative surprise.
The brooding curiosity had gone out of her face. Gwinnie's face,
soft and schoolgirlish between the fawn gold bands and plaited ear
bosses of her hair, the pink, pushed out mouth, the little routing
nose, the thick grey eyes, suddenly turned on you, staring.
Gwinnie had climbed up on to the bed to hear about it. She sat
hunched up with her arms round her knees rocking herself on the end of
her spine; and though she stared she still rocked. She was happy and
excited because of her holiday.
“It can't make any difference, Gwin. I'm the same Charlotte. Don't
tell me you didn't know I was like that.”
“Of course I knew it. I know a jolly lot more than you think, kid.”
“I'm not a kid—if you are two years older.”
“Why—you're not twenty-four yet.... It's the silliness of it beats
me. Going off like that, with the first silly cuckoo that turns up.”
“He wasn't the first that turned up, I mean. He was the third that
counted. There was poor Binky, the man I was engaged to. And Dicky
Raikes; he wanted me to go to Mexico with him. Just for a lark, and I
wouldn't. And George Corfield. He wanted me to marry him. And I
“Why didn't you?”
“Because Dicky's always funny when you want to be serious and George
is always serious when you want to be funny. Besides, he's so good. His
goodness would have been too much for me altogether. Fancy beginning
“This seems to have been a pretty rotten beginning, anyway.”
“The beginning was all right. It's the end that's rotten. The really
awful thing was Effie.”
“Look here—” Gwinnie left off rocking and swung herself to the edge
of the bed. Her face looked suddenly mature and full of wisdom. “I
don't believe in that Effie business. You want to think you stopped it
because of Effie; but you didn't. You've got to see it straight.... It
was his lying and funking that finished you. He fixed on the two things
you can't stand.”
The two things. The two things.
“I know what you want. You want to kill him in my mind, so that I
shan't think of him any more. I'm not thinking. I only wanted you to
“Does anybody else know?”
She shook her head.
“Well—don't you let them.”
Gwinnie slid to her feet and went to the looking-glass. She stood
there a minute, pinning closer the crushed bosses of her hair. Then she
“What are you going to do with that walking-tour johnnie?”
“John—Conway? You couldn't do anything with him if you tried. He's
miles beyond all that.”
“The rotten things people do. The rotten things they think. You're
safe with him, Gwinnie. Safe. Safe. You've only to look at him.”
“I have looked at him. Whatever you do, don't tell
Charlotte sat on the top of the slope in the field below Barrow
Farm. John Conway lay at her feet. The tall beeches stood round them in
an unclosed ring.
Through the opening she could see the farmhouse, three ball-topped
gables, the middle one advancing, the front built out there in a huge
door-place that carried a cross windowed room under its roof.
Low heavy-browed mullions; the panes, black shining slits in the
grey and gold of the stone. All their rooms. Hers and Gwinnie's under
the near gable by the fir-trees, Mr. and Mrs. Burton's under the far
gable by the elms, John's by itself in the middle, jutting out.
She could see the shallow garden dammed up to the house out of the
green field by its wall, spilling trails of mauve campanula, brimming
with pink phlox and white phlox, the blue spires of the lupins piercing
up through the froth.
Sunday evening half an hour before milking-time. From September
nineteen-thirteen to December—to March nineteen-fourteen, to June—she
had been at the farm nine months. June—May—April. This time three
months ago John had come.
In the bottom of the field, at the corner by the yard-gate, under
the elms, she could see Gwinnie astride over the tilted bucket, feeding
the calves. It was Gwinnie's turn.
She heard the house door open and shut. The Burtons came down the
flagged path between the lavender bushes, leaving them to their peace
before milking time.
Looking down she saw John's eyes blinking up at her through their
lashes. His chest showed a red-brown V in the open neck of his sweater.
He had been quiet a long time. His voice came up out of his quietness,
sudden and queer.
“Keep your head like that one minute—looking down. I want your
eyelids.... Now I know.”
“What you're like. You're like Jeanne d'Arc.... There's a
picture—the photo of a stone head, I think—in a helmet, looking down,
with big drooped eyelids. If it isn't Jeanne it ought to be. Anyhow
it's you.... That's what's been bothering me. I thought it was just
because you had black hair bobbed like a fifteen century page. But it
isn't that. It's her forehead and her blunt nose, and her innocent,
heroic chin. And the thick, beautiful mouth.... And the look—as if she
could see behind her eyelids—dreadful things going to happen to her.
All the butchery.”
“I don't see any dreadful things going to happen to me.”
“No. Her sight was second sight; and your sight is memory. You never
forget things.... I shall call you Jeanne. You ought to wear armour and
a helmet.” His voice ceased and began again. “What are you thinking
“I don't know. I don't think much, ever.”
She was wondering what he would think if he knew.
She wondered what the farm would be like without him. Would it be
what it was last autumn and winter and in the spring before he came?
But she had been happy all that time without him, even in the hard,
frost-biting winter. When you had gone through that you knew the worst
of Barrow Farm. It made your face coarse, though.
Joan of Arc was a peasant. No wonder she was beginning to look like
her. If John went—
“John, shall you stay on here?”
“I don't know. I shall stick to farming if that's what you mean.
Though it isn't what I wanted.”
“What did you want?”
“To go into the Army.”
“Why didn't you then?”
“They wouldn't have me. There's something wrong with my eyes.... So
the land's got me instead.”
“Me too. We ought to have been doing this all our lives.”
“We'll jolly well have to. We shall never be any good indoors
“Has old Burton said anything?”
“I'm getting on. I can drive as straight a furrow as any man in
Gloucestershire. I've told my father that. He detests me; but he'd say
you ought to work up from the plough-tail, if you must farm. He
turned all of us through his workshops before he took us into the
business. He liked to see us soaked in dirt and oil, crawling on our
stomachs under his engines. He'd simply love to see me here standing up
to my knees in wet cow-dung.”
“He won't mind your leaving him?”
“Not if I make a good thing out of this. Anyhow he knows he can't
keep me off it. If I can't fight I'll farm. It's in my blood and nerves
and memory. He sits there selling motor cars, but his people were
fighting men. They fought to get land; they fought to keep it. My
mother's people, the Rodens, were yeoman farmers. That's why my
furrow's so straight.”
“And that's why you came here?”
“No. That isn't why.”
“Aren't you glad you came? Did you ever feel anything like the peace
“It's not the peace of it I want, Charlotte,—Jeanne, I mean. It's
the fight. Fighting with things that would kill you if you didn't.
Wounding the earth to sow in it and make it feed you. Ploughing,
Charlotte—Jeanne. Feeling the thrust and the drive through, and the
thing listing over on the slope. Seeing the steel blade shine, and the
long wounds coming in rows, hundreds of wounds, wet and shining.”
“What makes you think of wounds?”
“I don't know. I see it like that. Cutting through.”
“I don't see it like that one bit. The earth's so kind, so
beautiful. And the hills—look at them, the clean, quiet backs,
smoothed with light. You could stroke them. And the fields, those
lovely coloured fans opening and shutting.”
“They're lovely because of what's been done to them. If those hills
had been left to themselves there'd have been nothing on them but
trees. Think of the big fight with the trees, the hacking through, the
cutting. The trunks staggering and falling. You'd begin with a little
hole in the forest like that gap in the belt on the sky-line, and you'd
go on hacking and cutting. You'd go on.... If you didn't those damned
trees would come up round you and jam you between their trunks and
crush you to red pulp.... Supposing this belt of beeches drew in and
got tighter and tighter—No. There's nothing really kind and beautiful
on this earth. Except your face. And even your face—”
“Could be cruel. But it never will be. Something's happened
to it. Some cruelty. Some damnable cruelty.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Every kind and beautiful thing on earth, Jeanne, has been made so
by some cruelty.”
“That's all rot. Utter rot. You don't know what you're talking
about.... It's milking time. There's Gwinnie semaphoring. Do you know
old Burton's going to keep us on? He'll pay us wages from this quarter.
He says we were worth our keep from the third day.”
“Do you want to stay on here?”
“Very well then, so do I. That settles it.”
“Get up,” she said, “and come along. Gwinnie's frantic.”
He sat up, bowed forwards, his hands hanging loose over his knees.
She stood and looked down at him, at the arch of his long, slender back
dropping to the narrow hips. She could feel the sudden crush of her
breath in her chest and the sighing throb in her throat and her lips
He grasped the hands she stretched out to him at arms' length. She
set her teeth and pressed her feet to the ground, and leaned back, her
weight against his weight, tugging.
He came up to his feet, alert, laughing at the heavy strength of her
pull. As they ran down the field he still held, loosely, like a thing
forgotten, her right hand.
* * * * *
Through the long June night on her bed in the room under the
gable—the hot room that smelt of plaster and of the apples stored in
the loft behind it—she lay thinking.
Gwinnie had turned her back, burrowing into her pillow with a final
shrug of her hips. She was asleep now in her corner.
“If I were you I wouldn't think about him, Sharlie”—She knew what
Gwinnie meant. But thinking was one thing and caring was another.
Thinking was the antidote to caring. If she had let her mind play
freely over Gibson Herbert in the beginning—But Gibson stopped her
thinking, and John Conway made her think. That was the difference.
There was nothing about John that was like Gibson. Not a look, not a
gesture, not the least thought in his mind. His mind was like his body,
clean and cold and beautiful. Set on fire only by dreams; loving you in
a dream, a dream that burned him up and left him cold to you. Cold and
There were things she laid up against him, the poor dear; a secret
hoard of grievances now clear to her in the darkness; she found herself
turning them over and over, as if positively her mind owed his romantic
apathy a grudge. Little things she remembered. Three things.
Yesterday in the hayfield, John pitching hay on to the cart, and she
standing on the top of the load, flattening down the piles as he swung
them up. Gwinnie came with a big fork, swanking, for fun, trying to
pitch a whole haycock. In the dark of the room she could see Gwinnie's
little body straining back from the waist, her legs stiffening, her
face pink and swollen; and John's face looking at Gwinnie.
She shouted down at him, “Why can't you take the damned
thing? She'll break her back with it.” And he shouted up, “That's her
look-out.” (But he took it.) He didn't like Gwinnie.
That time. And the time Cowslip calved, the darling choosing the one
night old Burton was away and Jim down with flu. She had to hold the
lantern. Straw littered in the half-lighted shed. Cowslip swinging her
bald-faced head round to you, her humble, sorrowful eyes imploring,
between her groans and the convulsive heavings of her flanks. A noise
between a groan and a bellow, a supreme convulsion. The dark wall, the
white funnel of light from the lantern, and John's face in the
But he had been sorry for Cowslip. Going out with the lantern
afterwards she had found him in the yard, by the wall, bent double,
shivering and retching. And she had sung out to him “Buck up, John.
She's licked it clean. It's the dearest little calf you ever saw.”
Pity. Pity could drag your face tight and hard, like Burton's when
his mare, Jenny, died of colic.
But before that—the night they went to Stow Fair together; crossing
the street at the sharp turn by the church gate, something happened.
They hadn't heard the motor car coming; it was down on them before they
could see it, swerving round her side of the street. He had had his
hand tight on her arm to steer her through the crowd. When the car came
... when the car came ... he let go and jumped clean to the curb. She
could feel the splash-board graze her thigh, as she sprang clear of it,
quick, like a dog.
She was sure he jumped first. She was sure he hadn't let her go
before the car came. She could see the blaze of the lamps and feel his
grip slacken on her arm.
She wasn't sure. He couldn't have jumped. He couldn't have let go.
Of course he hadn't. She had imagined it. She imagined all sorts of
things. If she could make them bad enough she would stop thinking about
him; she would stop caring. She didn't want to care.
* * * * *
“Charlotte—when I die, that's where I'd like to be buried.”
Coming back from Bourton market they had turned into the churchyard
on the top of Stow-hill. The long path went straight between the stiff
yew cones through the green field set with graves.
“On the top, so high up you could almost breathe in your coffin
“I don't want to breathe in my coffin. When I'm dead I'm dead, and
when I'm alive I'm alive. Don't talk about dying.”
“Why not? Think of the gorgeous risk of it—the supreme toss up.
After all, death's the most thrilling thing that happens.”
“Don't talk about it.”
“Your death then.”
“Our death, Jeanne.”
He turned to her in the path. His mouth was hard now, but his eyes
shone at her, smiling, suddenly warm, suddenly tender.
She knew herself then; she knew there was one cruelty, one brutality
beyond bearing, John's death.
John had gone away for a week.
If she could tire herself out, and not dream. In the slack days
between hay-time and harvest she was never tired enough. She lay awake,
teased by the rucking of the coarse hot sheet under her back, and the
sweat that kept on sliding between her skin and her night gown. And she
She was waiting in the beech ring on the top of the field. Inside
the belt of the tree trunks a belt of stones grew up, like the wall of
the garden. It went higher and higher and a hole opened in it, a long
slit. She stuck her head through the hole to look out over the hills.
This was the watch-tower. She knew, as if she remembered it, that
John had told her to go up and wait for him there; she was keeping
watch for him on the tower.
Grey mist flowed over the field like water. He was down there in the
field. If she went to him he would take her in his arms.
She was walking now on the highway to Bourton-on-the-Hill. At the
dip after the turn shallow water came out of the grass borders and ran
across the road, cold to her naked feet. She knew that something was
happening to John. He had gone away and she had got to find him and
bring him back. She had got to find the clear hill where the battleship
sailed over the field.
Instead of the ship she found the Barrow Farm beeches. They stood in
a thick ring round a clearing of grey grass and grey light. John was
standing there with a woman. She turned and showed her sharp face, the
colour of white clay, her long evil nose, her eyes tilted corner and
the thin tail of her mouth, writhing. That was Miss Lister who had been
in Gibson's office. She had John now.
Forms without faces, shrouded white women, larvae slipped from the
black grooves of the beech trunks; they made a ring round him with
their bodies, drew it in tighter and tighter. The grey light beat like
a pulse with the mounting horror.
She cried out his name, and her voice sounded tragic and immense;
sharp like a blade of lightning screaming up to the top of the sky. A
black iron curtain crashed down before her and cut off the dream.
Gwinnie looked up over the crook of her knee from the boot she was
“You made no end of a row in your sleep, Sharlie.”
* * * * *
She had dreamed about him again, the next night. He was walking with
her on the road from the town to the Farm. By the lime kiln at the turn
he disappeared. He had never been there, really.
She had gone out to look for him. The road kept on curling round
like a snake, bringing her back and back to the white gate of the Farm.
When she got through the gate she stepped off the field on to the
low bridge over a black canal. The long, sharp-pointed road cut
straight as a dyke through the flat fields, between two lines of
slender trees, tall poles with tufted tops.
She knew she was awake now because the light whitened and the wind
moved in the tree tufts and the road felt hard under her feet. When she
came to the village, to the long grey walls with narrow shutters, she
knew John was there. He came down the street towards the canal bridge.
A group of women and children walked with him, dressed in black. Dutch
women. Dutch babies. She could see their overalls and high caps and
large, upturned shoes very black and distinct in the white light. This
They pointed their fingers and stared at her with secretive,
inimical faces. Terror crept in over the street, subtle, drifting and
penetrating like an odour.
John's face was happy and excited; that was how she knew him. His
face was real, its happiness and excitement were real. But as he passed
her it changed; it turned on her with a look she didn't know. Eyes of
hatred, eyes that repudiated and betrayed her.
* * * * *
The third night; the third dream.
She had lost John and was looking for him; walking a long time
through a country she could no longer see or remember. She came out of
blank space to the river bridge and the red town. She could see the
road switchbacking over the bridge and turning sharp and slanting up
the river bank to the ramparts.
Red fortresses above the ramparts, a high red town above the
fortresses, a thin red tower above the town. The whole thing looked
dangerous and unsteady, as if any minute it would topple over. She knew
John was there. Something awful was happening to him, and he wanted
When she stepped on the bridge the river swelled and humped itself
up to the arch. It flooded. The bridge walls made a channel for the
gush. It curled over the bank and came curving down the slant road from
the ramparts, heavy and clear, like melted glass.
She climbed up and up through the water and round behind the
fortress to the street at the top. She could see the thin tower break
and lean forward like a red crane above the houses. She had to get to
the top before the street fell down. John was shut up in the last
house. She ran under the tower as it fell.
The house stood still, straight and tall. John was lying in the dark
room behind the closed shutters. He wanted her. She could hear him
calling to her “Jeanne! Jeanne!” She couldn't see in. She couldn't open
The wall split off and leaned forward.
She woke suddenly to the tapping and splashing of the rain.
Feeding time and milking time were done; in his jutting room over
the door-place John was washing and dressing for Sunday evening. He
called out to her through his window, “Go up to our seat and wait for
He had come back again, suddenly, that morning, a day before they
had expected him.
Charlotte came out of the hot field into the cool room of the beech
ring. She sniffed up the clean, sharp smell of sap from the rough seat
that she and John had put up there, sawing and hacking and hammering
all Sunday afternoon. Every evening when the farm work was done they
would sit there together, inside the round screen of the beeches.
The farm people wouldn't disturb them; not even Mr. Burton, now,
looking in, smiling the fat, benevolent smile that blessed them, and
going away; the very calves were so well used to them that they had
left off pushing their noses through the tree trunks and staring.
John's window faced her where she sat; she could see his head
passing and passing across the black window space. To her sharp,
waiting soul Barrow Farm took on a sudden poignant and foreign beauty.
The house was yellow where the rain had soaked it, gold yellow like a
sun-struck southern house, under the black plume of the firs, a yellow
that made the sky's blue solid and thick. The grass, bright green after
the rain, stretched with the tight smoothness of velvet over the slopes
and ridges of the field. A stripe of darker green, where their feet had
trodden down the blades, led straight as a sheep's track from the
garden gate to the opening of the ring.
To think that she had dreamed bad dreams in a place like this. She
thought: “There must be something wrong about me, anyhow, to dream bad
dreams about John.”
John was coming up the field, walking slowly, his hands thrust in
his pockets, his eyes fixed steadily on a point in front of him that
his mind didn't see, drawn back in some intense contemplation. He
strolled into the ring so slowly that she had time to note the
meditative gestures of his shoulders and chin. He stood beside her,
very straight and tall, not speaking, still hiding his hands in his
pockets, keeping up to the last minute his pose of indestructible
tranquillity. He was so close that she could hear his breathing and
feel his coat brushing her shoulder.
He seated himself, slowly, without a break in the silence of his
She knew that something wonderful and beautiful was going to happen.
It had happened; it was happening now, growing more certain and more
real with every minute that she waited for John to say something. If
nothing changed, if this minute that she was living now prolonged
itself, if it went on for ever and ever, that would be happiness
If she could keep still like this for ever—Any movement would be
dangerous. She was afraid almost to breathe.
Then she remembered. Of course, she would have to tell him.
She could feel the jerk and throb in John's breathing, measuring off
the moments of his silence. Her thoughts came and went. “When he says
he cares for me I shall have to tell him”—“This is going on for ever.
If he cared for me he would have said it before now.”—“It doesn't
matter. He can care or not as he likes. Nothing can stop my caring.”
Then she was aware of her will, breaking through her peace, going
out towards him, fastening on his mind to make him care; to make him
say he cared, now, this minute. She was aware of her hands, clenched
and unclenched, pressing the sharp edge of the seat into their palms as
she dragged back her will.
She was quiet now.
John was looking at his own loose clasped hands and smiling. “Yes,”
he said, “yes. Yes.” It was as if he had said, “This will go on.
Nothing more than this can ever happen. But as long as we live it will
She had a sense almost of relief.
“You asked me why I came here. You must have known why.”
“I didn't. I don't.”
“Can't you think?”
“No, John. I've left off thinking. My thinking's never any
“If you did think you'd know it was you.”
“If it wasn't you just at first it was your face. There are faces
that do things to you, that hurt you when they're not there. Faces of
people you don't know in the least. You see them once and they never
let you alone till you've seen them again. They draw you after them,
back and back. You'd commit any sin just to see them again once....
“... You've got that sort of face. When I saw you the first time—Do
you remember? You came towards me over the field. You stopped and spoke
“Supposing I hadn't?”
“It wouldn't have mattered. I'd have followed you just the same.
Wherever you'd gone I'd have gone, too. I very nearly turned back
She remembered. She saw him standing in the road at the turn.
“I knew I had to see you again. But I waited two days to make sure.
Then I came ...
“... And when I'd gone I kept on seeing your face. It made me come
back again. And the other day—I tried to get away from you. I didn't
mean to come back; but I had to. I can't stand being away from you. And
“... Oh well—there it is. I had to tell you ... I couldn't if I
didn't trust you.”
“You tried to get away from me—You didn't mean to come back.”
“I tell you I had to. It's no use trying.”
“But you didn't want to come back.... That's why I dreamed
“Did you dream about me?”
“Yes. Furiously. Three nights running. I dreamed you'd got away and
when I'd found you a black thing came down and cut you off. I dreamed
you'd got away again, and I met you in a foreign village with a lot of
foreign women, and you looked at me and I knew you hated me. You
wouldn't know me. You went by without speaking and left me there.”
“My God—you thought I could do that?”
“I dreamed it. You don't think in dreams. You feel. You see things.”
“You see things that don't exist, that never can exist, things
you've thought about people. If I thought that about myself, Jeanne,
I'd blow my brains out now, so that it shouldn't happen.”
“That wasn't the worst dream. The third was the worst. You were in a
dreadful, dangerous place. Something awful was happening, and you
wanted me, and I couldn't get to you.”
“No, that wasn't the worst dream. I did want you, and you
She thought: “He cares. He doesn't want to care, but he does. And he
trusts me. I shall have to tell him ...”
“There's something,” she said, “I've got to tell you.”
* * * * *
He must have known. He must have guessed.
He had listened with a gentle, mute attention, as you listen to a
story about something that you remember, that interests you still, his
eyes fixed on his own hands, his clear, beautiful face dreamy and
“You see,” he said, “you did trust me. You wouldn't tell me all that
if you didn't.”
“Of course I trust you. I told you because you trusted me. I
thought—I thought you ought to know. I daresay you did know—all the
“No. No, I didn't. I shouldn't have believed it was in you.”
“It isn't in me now. It's gone clean out of me. I shall never want
that sort of thing again.”
“I know that.” He said it almost irritably. “I mean I
shouldn't have thought you could have cared for a brute like that....
But the brutes women do care for ...”
“I suppose I did care. But I don't feel as if I'd cared. I don't
feel as if it had ever really happened. I can't believe it did. You
see, I've forgotten such a lot of it. I couldn't have believed that
once, that you could go and do a thing like that and forget about it.
You'd have thought you'd remember it as long as you lived.”
“You couldn't live if you remembered....”
“Oh, John, do you think it was as horrible as all that?”
His face moved, flashed into sudden passion.
“I think he was as horrible as that. He makes it
“You've told me. He was cruel to you. And he lied and funked.”
“It wasn't like him—it wasn't like him to lie and funk. It
was my fault. I made the poor thing jumpy. I let him run such whopping
risks. The horrible thing is thinking what I made him.”
“He was a liar and a coward, Charlotte; a swine.”
“I tell you he wasn't. Oh, why are we so beastly hard on each
other? Everybody's got their breaking-point. I don't lie about the
things he lied about; I don't funk the things he funked. But when my
time comes I daresay I shall funk and lie.”
“Charlotte—are you sure you don't care for him?”
“Of course I'm sure. I told you I'd forgotten all about it. This
is what I shall remember all my life. Your being here, my being with
you. It's the real thing.”
“You wouldn't want to go back?”
“No. To that sort of thing.”
“You mean with—just anybody?”
“I mean with—somebody you cared about. Could you do without it and
go on caring?”
“Yes. If he could. If he could go on. But he wouldn't.”
“'He' wouldn't, Charlotte. But I would.... You know I do
care for you?”
“I thought you did—I mean I thought you were beginning to.
That's why I told you what happened, though I knew you'd loathe me.”
“I don't. I'm glad you told me. I'm glad it happened. I mean I'm
glad you worked it off on him.... You got it over; you've had your
experience; you know all about it; you know how long that sort of thing
lasts and how it ends. The baseness, the cruelty of it ... I'm like
you, Charlotte, I don't want any more of it.... When I say I care for
you I mean I want to be with you, to be with you always. I'm not
happy when you're not there....
“... I say, I wish you'd leave this place and come away and live
with me somewhere.”
“There's my farm. My father's going to give me one if I stick to
this job. We could run it together. There are all sorts of jolly things
we could do together.... Would you like to live with me, Charlotte, on
“I mean—live with me without that.”
“Yes; without that.”
“It isn't that I don't care for you. It's because I care so awfully,
so much more than anybody else could. I want to go on caring, and it's
the only way. People don't know that. They don't know what they're
destroying with their blind rushing together. All the delicate,
exquisite sensations. Charlotte, I can get all the ecstasy I want by
just sitting here and looking at you, hearing your voice, touching
you—like this.” His finger-tips brushed the bare skin of her arm.
“Even thinking of you ...
“... And all that would go. Everything would go....
“... But our way—nothing could end it.”
“I can see one thing that would end it. If you found somebody you
really cared about.”
“Oh that—You mean if I—It wouldn't happen, and if it did,
what difference would it make?”
“You mean you'd come back?”
“I mean I shouldn't have left you.”
“Still, you'd have gone to her. John, I don't think I could bear
“You wouldn't have to bear it long. It wouldn't last.”
“Why shouldn't it?”
“Because—You don't understand, Charlotte—if I know a woman wants
me, it makes me loathe her.”
“It wouldn't, if you wanted her.”
“That would be worse. I should hate her then if she made me
go to her.”
“You don't know.”
“Oh, don't I!”
“You can't, if you feel like that about it.”
“You say you feel like that about it yourself.”
“That's because I've been through it.”
“Do you suppose,” he said, “I haven't?”
BOOK TWO. JOHN RODEN CONWAY
It was an hour since they had left Newhaven.
The boat went steadily, inflexibly, without agitation, cutting the
small, crisp waves with a sound like the flowing of stiff silk. For a
moment, after the excited rushing and hooting of the ambulance car,
there had been something not quite real about this motion, till
suddenly you caught the rhythm, the immense throb and tremor of the
Then she knew.
She was going out, with John and Gwinnie Denning and a man called
Sutton, Dr. Sutton, to Belgium, to the War. She wondered whether any of
them really knew what it would be like when they got there.—She was
vague, herself. She thought of the war mostly in two pictures: one very
distant, hanging in the air to her right, colourless as an illustration
in the papers, grey figures tumbled in a grey field, white puff-bursts
of shrapnel in a grey sky: and one very near; long lines of stretchers,
wounded men and dead men on stretchers, passing and passing before her.
She saw herself and John carrying a stretcher, John at the head and her
at the foot and Gwinnie and Dr. Sutton with another stretcher.
Nothing for her and John and Gwinnie but field work; the farm had
spoiled them incurably for life indoors. But it had hardened their
muscles and their nerves, it had fitted them for the things they would
have to do. The things they would have to see. There would be blood;
she knew there would be blood; but she didn't see it; she saw white,
very white bandages, and greyish white, sallow-white faces that had no
features that she knew. She hadn't really thought so very much about
the war; there had been too many other things to think about. Their
seven weeks' training at Coventry, the long days in Roden and Conway's
motor works, the long evenings in the ambulance classes; field practice
in the meadow that John's father had lent to the Red Cross; runs along
the Warwickshire roads with John sitting beside her, teaching her to
steer and handle the heavy ambulance car. An endless preparation.
And under it all, like a passion, like a hidden illness, their
impatience, their intolerable longing to be out there.
If there had been nothing else to think about there was John. Always
John. Not that you could think about him without thinking about the
war; he was so thoroughly mixed up with it; you couldn't conceive him
as left out of it or as leaving himself out. It had been an obsession
with him, to get into it, to get into it at once, without waiting. That
was why there was only four of them. He wouldn't wait for more
volunteers. They could get all the volunteers they wanted afterwards;
and all the cars, his father would send out any number. She suspected
John of not really wanting the volunteers, of not even wanting Gwinnie
and Dr. Sutton. She could see he would have liked to have gone with her
alone. Queer, that so long as she had thought he would be going without
her, she had been afraid; she had felt certain he would be killed or
die of wounds. The one unbearable thing was that John should die. But
after it had been settled that she was to go with him as his chauffeur
she hadn't been afraid any more. It was as if she knew that she would
keep him safe. Or perhaps all the time she had been afraid of something
else. Of separation. She had had visions of John without her in another
country; they were coloured, vaguely, with the horror of her dreams. It
had been just that. Anyhow, she hadn't thought any more about John's
It was the old man, his father, who had made her think of it now.
She could see him, the grey, kind, silent man, at the last minute,
standing on the quay and looking at John with a queer, tight look as
though he were sorry about something—oh, but unbearably sorry about
something he'd thought or said or done. He was keeping it all in, it
was a thing he couldn't speak about, but you could see it made him
think John wasn't coming back again.
He had got it into his head that she was going out because of John.
She remembered, before that, his kind, funny look at her when he said
to John, “Mind you take care of her,” and John's “No fear,” and her own
“That's not what he's going out for.” She had a slight pang when she
thought of John's father. He had been good to Gwinnie and to her at
But as for going out because of John, whether he went or not she
would have had to go, so keen that she hated those seven weeks at
Coventry, although John had been there.
With every thud of the engines her impatience was appeased.
And all the time she could hear Gwinnie's light, cool voice
explaining to Dr. Sutton that the British Red Cross wouldn't look at
them and their field ambulance, but the Belgians, poor things, you
know, weren't in a position to refuse. They would have taken almost
Her mind turned to them: to Gwinnie, dressed in their uniform, khaki
tunic and breeches and puttees, her fawn-coloured overcoat belted close
round her to hide her knees. Gwinnie looked stolid and good, with her
face, the face of an innocent, intelligent routing animal, stuck out
between the close wings of her motor cap and the turned-up collar of
her coat. She would go through it all right. Gwinnie was a little
She would plod through the war as she had plodded through her
training, without any fear of tests.
And Dr. Sutton. From time to time she caught him looking at her
across the deck. When Gwinnie's talk dropped he made no effort to
revive it, but stood brooding; a square, thick-set man. His head leaned
forward a little from his heavy shoulders in a perpetual short-sighted
endeavour to look closer; you could see his eyes, large and clear under
the watery wash of his glasses. His features, slightly flattened, were
laid quietly back on his composed, candid face; the dab of docked
moustache rising up in it like a strange note of wonder, of surprise.
There, he was looking at her again. But whether he looked or
listened, or stood brooding, his face kept still all the time, still
and sad. His mouth hardly moved as he spoke to Gwinnie.
She turned from him to the contemplation of their fellow passengers.
The two Belgian boy scouts in capes and tilted caps with tassels
bobbing over their foreheads; they tramped the decks, seizing attention
by their gay, excited gestures. You could see that they were happy.
The group, close by her in the stern, establishing itself there
apart, with an air of righteous possession: five, six, seven men, three
young, four middle-aged, rather shy and awkward, on its fringe. In its
centre two women in slender tailor-made suits and motor veils, looking
like bored uninterested travellers used to the adventure.
They were talking to a little man in shabby tweeds and an
olive-green velvet hat too small for his head. His smooth, innocent
pink face carried its moustache like an accident, a mistake. Once, when
he turned, she met the arched stare of small china-blue eyes; it passed
over her without seeing, cold, dreamy, indifferent.
She glanced again at his women. The tall one drew you every time by
her raking eyes, her handsome, arrogant face, the gesture of her small
head, alert and at the same time set, the predatory poise of an
enormous bird. But the other one was—rather charming. Her features had
a curious, sweet bluntness; her eyes were decorations, deep-set blue in
the flushed gold of her sunburn. The little man straddled as he talked
to them, bobbing forward now and then, with a queer jerking movement
from his hips.
She wondered what they were and decided that they were part of the
Commission for Relief in Belgium, bound for Ostend.
All those people had the look that John had, of having found what
they had wanted, of being satisfied, appeased. Even Sutton had it,
lying on the top of his sadness, like a light. They felt precisely as
she was feeling—all those people.
And through her wonder she remained aware of John Conway as he
walked the deck, passing and passing in front of her.
She got up and walked with him.
The two women stared at them as they passed. One, the tall one,
whispered something to the other.
“John—do my knees show awfully as I walk?”
“No. Of course they don't. Gwinnie's do. She doesn't know what to do
He looked down at her and smiled.
“I like you. I like you in that cap. You look as if you were sailing
fast against a head wind, as if you could cut through anything.”
Their turn brought them again under the women's eyes. He took her
arm and drew her aside to the rail of the boat's stern. They stood
there, watching the wake boiling and breaking and thinning, a white
lace of froth on the glassy green. Sutton passed them.
“What's the matter with him?” she said.
“The War. He's got it on his mind. It's no use taking it like that,
Jeanne, as one consummate tragedy ... How are you feeling about
“I don't think I'm feeling anything—except wanting to get there.
And wanting—wanting frightfully—to help.”
“Unless you can go into it as if it was some tremendous, happy
adventure—That's the only way to take it. I shouldn't be any good if I
didn't feel it was the most romantic thing that ever happened to
me.... To have let everything go, to know that nothing matters, that it
doesn't matter if you're killed, or mutilated ... Of course I want to
help, but that would be nothing without the gamble. The danger.”
He stopped suddenly in his turning and held her with his shining,
“War's the most romantic thing that ever happened ... False romance,
my father calls it. Jolly little romance about him. He'll simply
make pots of money out of the war, selling motors to the Government.”
“It's rather—romantic of him to give us those two ambulances, and
pay for us.”
“Is it? Think of the kudos he gets out of it, and the
advertisement for Roden and Conway, the stinking paragraphs he'll put
in the papers about himself: 'His second son, Mr. John Roden Conway, is
taking out two Roden field ambulance cars which he will drive
himself—'Mr. John Roden Conway and his field ambulance car. A Roden,
30 horse power.' He makes me sick.”
She saw again, with a renewal of her pang, the old man, the poor,
kind man. Perhaps he wouldn't put the paragraphs in the papers.
“False romance. He lied. There's no such thing as false romance.
Romance is a state of mind. A state of mind can't be false or true. It
simply exists. It hasn't any relation to reality. It is reality,
the most real part of us. When it's dead we're dead.”
But it was funny to talk about it. About romance and danger.
It made her hot and shy. She supposed that was because she couldn't
take things in. Her fatheadedness. It was easy not to say things if you
didn't feel them. The more John felt them the more he had to say them.
Besides, he never said them to anybody but her. It was really saying
them to himself, a quiet, secret thinking.
He stood close, close in front of her, tall and strong and handsome
in his tunic, knee breeches and puttees. She could feel the vibration
of his intense, ardent life, of his excitement. And suddenly, before
his young manhood, she had it again, the old feeling, shooting up and
running over her, swamping her brain. She wondered with a sort of
terror whether he would see it in her face, whether if she spoke he
would hear it thickening her throat. He would loathe her if he knew.
She would loathe herself if she thought she was going into the war
because of that, because of him. Women did. She remembered Gibson
Herbert. Glasgow.... But this was different. The sea was in it, magic
was in it and romance. And if she had to choose between John and her
wounded it should not be John. She had sworn that before they started.
Standing there close beside him she swore again, secretly to herself,
that it should not be John.
John glanced at Sutton as he passed them.
“I'd give my soul to be a surgeon,” he said. “That's what I wanted.”
“You wanted to be a soldier.”
“It would have been the next best thing.... Did you notice in the
lists the number of Army Medical men killed and missing? Out of all
proportion. That means that they're as much exposed as the combatants.
“... Jeanne—do you realise that if we've any luck, any luck at all,
we shall take the same risks?”
“It's all very well for us. If it was only being killed—But there's
“Of course there's killing. If a man's willing to be killed he's
jolly well earned his right to kill. It's the same for the other
johnnie. If your life doesn't matter a hang, his doesn't either. He's
got his feeling. He's got his romance. If he hasn't—”
“Yes—if he hasn't?”
“He's better dead.”
“Oh no; he might simply go slogging on without feeling anything,
from a sense of duty. That would be beautiful; it would be the
most beautiful thing.”
“There you are, then. His duty's his romance. You can't get away
But she thought: Supposing he went, loathing it, shivering, sick?
Frightened. Well, of course it would be there too, simply because he
went; only you would feel it, not he.
Supposing he didn't go, supposing he stuck, and had to be pushed on,
by bayonets, from behind? It didn't bear thinking of.
John hadn't thought of it. He wouldn't. He couldn't see that some
people were like that.
“I don't envy,” he said, “the chaps who come out to soft jobs in
They had found the little man in tweeds asleep behind the engine
house, his chin sunk on his chest, his hands folded on his stomach. He
had taken off his green velvet hat, and a crest of greyish hair rose up
from his bald forehead, light and fine.
* * * * *
The sun was setting now. The foam of the wake had the pink tinge of
red wine spilt on a white cloth; a highway of gold and rose, edged with
purple, went straight from it to the sun.
After the sunset, land, the sunk lines of the Flemish coast.
There was a stir among the passengers; they plunged into the cabins
and presently returned, carrying things. The groups sorted themselves,
the Commission people standing apart with their air of arrogance and
distinction. The little man in tweeds had waked up from his sleep
behind the engine house, and strolled with a sort of dreamy swagger to
his place at their head. Everybody moved over to the starboard side.
They stood there in silence watching the white walls and domes and
towers of Ostend. Charlotte and Conway had moved close to each other.
She looked up into his face, searching his thoughts there. Suddenly
from somewhere in the bows a song spurted and dropped and spurted again
and shot up in the stillness, slender and clear, like a rod oft white
water. The Belgian boys were singing the Marseillaise. On the deck
their feet beat out the thud of the march.
Charlotte looked away.
“Nothing,” Charlotte said, “is going to be worse than this.”
It seemed to her that they had waited hours in the huge grey hall of
the Hotel-Hospital, she and Sutton and Gwinnie, while John talked to
the President of the Red Cross in his bureau. Everybody looked at them:
the door-keeper, the lift orderly; the ward men and nurses hurrying
past; wide stares and sharp glances falling on her and Gwinnie,
slanting downward to their breeches and puttees, then darting upwards
to their English faces.
Sutton moved, putting his broad body between them and the batteries
of amused and interested eyes.
They stood close together at the foot of the staircase. Above them
the gigantic Flora leaned forward, holding out her flowers to
preoccupied people who wouldn't look at her; she smiled foolishly; too
stupid to know that the Flandria was no longer an hotel but a military
John came out of the President's bureau. He looked disgusted and
“They can put us up,” he said; “but I've got to break it to you that
we're not the only Field Ambulance in Ghent.”
Charlotte said, “Oh, well, we'd no business to suppose we were.”
“We've got to share our quarters with the other one.... It calls
itself the McClane Corps.”
“Shall we have to sleep with it?” Sutton said.
“We shall have to have it in our messroom. I believe it's up there
“Well, that won't hurt us.”
“What'll hurt us is this. It'll be sent out before we are. McClane
was here hours ago. He's been to Head Quarters.”
Sutton's gloom deepened. “How do you know?”
“President says so.”
They went, following the matron, up the grey, tessellated stairs; at
each landing the long, grey corridors were tunnels for the passage of
strange smells, ether and iodine and carbolic and the faint odour of
drains, seeking their outlet at the well of the staircase.
On the third floor, at the turn of the corridor, a small vestibule
between two glass doors led to a room flooded with a blond light from
the south. Beyond the glass doors, their figures softened by the deep,
doubled shimmer of the panes, they saw the little man in shabby tweeds,
the two women, and the seven other men. This, Madame explained, was Dr.
Donald McClane's Field Ambulance Corps. You could see it had thought it
was the only one. As they entered they met the swoop of two beautiful,
indignant eyes, a slow turning and abrupt stiffening of shoulders; the
movement of the group was palpable, a tremor of hostility and
It lasted with no abatement while Madame, standing there in her
gaunt Flemish graciousness, murmured names. “Mrs. Rankin—” Mrs. Rankin
nodded insolently and turned away. “Miss Bartrum—” Miss Bartrum, the
rather charming one, bowed, drawing the shadow of grave eyebrows over
sweet eyes. “Dr. Donald McClane—” As he bowed the Commandant's stare
arched up at them, then dropped, suddenly innocent, suddenly
They looked around. Madame and her graciousness had gone. Nobody
made a place for them at the two long tables set together in the middle
of the room. The McClane Corps had spread itself over all the chairs
and benches, in obstinate possession. They passed out through the open
French windows on to the balcony.
It looked south over the railway towards the country where they
thought the fighting must be. They could see the lines where the troop
trains ran, going northwest and southeast, and the railway station and
post office all in one long red-brick building that had a flat roof
with a crenellated parapet. Grass grew on the roof. And beyond the
black railway lines miles upon miles of flat open country, green
fields, rows of poplars standing up in them very straight; little
woods; here and there a low rise bristling and dark with trees. The
fighting must be over there. Under the balcony the white street ran
southeastward, and scouting cars and ammunition wagons and long lines
of troops were all going that way.
While they talked they remained aware of the others. They could see
McClane rubbing his hands; they heard his brief laugh that had no
amusement in it, and his voice saying, “Anyhow, we've got in first.”
When they came back into the room they found the tables drawn apart
with a wide space between. The Belgian orderlies were removing plates
and cups from one to the other, establishing under the Commandant's
directions a separate mess. By tea-time two chauffeurs had added
themselves to the McClane Corps.
Twelve to four. And they would have to live together nobody knew how
long: as long as the war lasted.
* * * * *
That evening, in the bedroom that John shared with Sutton, they sat
on two beds, discussing their prospects. Gwinnie was voluble.
“They've driven us out of our messroom with their beastliness. We
shall have to sit in our bedrooms all the time.”
“We'd better let the office know we're here,” said Sutton, “in case
we're sent for.”
“Anyhow,” said Charlotte, “I'm not going to bed.”
John smiled. A struggling, dejected smile.
“My dear child, I've told you they're not going to send us out
“I don't know—” said Gwinnie.
“I do know. We shall be lucky if we get a look in when
McClane's cars break down.”
“That's it. Have you seen their cars? I overhauled them this
morning, in the yard. They're nothing but old lorries, converted. And
one of 'em's got solid tyres.”
They waited. Even the McClane Corps had to wait.
* * * * *
“I don't care,” said Charlotte, “how beastly they are to me,
provided they leave John alone.”
“What can they do?” he said. “They don't matter.”
“There's such a lot of them,” said Gwinnie. “It's when they're all
together they're so poisonous.”
“It's when they're separate,” Charlotte said. “I think Mrs.
Rankin does things. And there's McClane swearing he'll get us
out of Belgium. But he won't!”
She didn't care. She had got used to it as she had got used to the
messroom and its furnishings, the basket chairs and backless benches,
the two long tables covered with white marbled American leather, the
photographs of the King and Queen of the Belgians above the chimney
piece. The atmosphere of hostility was thick and penetrating, something
that you breathed in with the smells of ether and iodine and
disinfectant, that hung about the grey, leeking corridors and floated
in the blond light of the room. She could feel a secret threat in it,
as if at any minute it might work up to some pitch still more
malignant, some supreme disaster. There were moments when she wondered
whether McClane had prejudiced the authorities against them. At first
she had regarded the little man as negligible; it was the women who had
fascinated her, as if they had or might come to have for her some
profound importance and significance. She didn't like McClane. He
straddled too much. But you couldn't go on ignoring him. His dreamy,
innocent full face with its arching eyes was a mask, the mask of
dangerous, inimical intentions; his profile was rough cut, brutal,
energetic, you guessed the upper lip thin and hard under the hanging
moustache; the lower one stuck out like a sucker. That was his real
face. It showed an adhesive, exhausting will that squeezed and sucked
till it had got what it wanted out of people. He could work things. So
could Mrs. Rankin. She had dined with the Colonel.
Charlotte didn't care. She liked that beastliness, that
hostility of theirs. It was something you could put your back against;
it braced her to defiance. It brought her closer to John, to John and
Gwinnie, and shut them in together more securely. Sutton she was not
quite so sure about. Through all their depression he seemed to stand
apart somehow by himself in a profounder discontent. “There are only
four of us,” he said; “we can't call ourselves a corps.” You could see
the way his mind was working.
Then suddenly the atmosphere lifted at one point. Mrs. Rankin
changed her attitude to John. You could see her beautiful hawk's eyes
pursuing him about the room. When she found him in the corridors or on
the stairs she stopped him and chattered; under her breath because of
the hushed wards.
He told Charlotte about it.
“That Mrs. Rankin seems inclined to be a bit too friendly.”
“I haven't noticed it.”
“Not with you. With Sutton and—and me.”
“Well, I can't answer for Sutton, but I don't like it. That isn't
what we're out here for.”
They were going into the messroom together towards dinner time. Mrs.
Rankin and Alice Bartrum were there alone, seated at their tables,
ready. Mrs. Rankin called out in her stressed, vibrating voice across
“Mr. Conway, you people ought to come in with us.”
“Because there are only four of you and we're twelve.
Sixteen's the proper number for a unit. Alice, didn't I say, the minute
I saw Mr. Conway with that car of his, didn't I say we ought to
“Thanks. I'd rather take my orders from the Colonel.”
“And I'd rather take mine from you than from McClane.
Fancy coming out at the head of a Field Ambulance looking like that.
Tell you what, Mr. Conway, if you'll join up with us I'll get the
Colonel to make you our commandant.”
Alice Bartrum opened her shadowed eyes. “Trixie—you can't.”
“Can't I? I can make the old boy do anything I like.”
John stiffened. “You can't make me do anything you like, Mrs.
Rankin. You'd much better stick to McClane.”
“What do any of us know about McClane?”
“What do you know about me?”
You could see how he hated her.
“I know you mean business.”
“Don't ask me what he means.”
She shrugged her shoulders violently. “Come over here and sit by me.
I want to talk to you. Seriously.”
She had shifted her seat and made a place for him beside her on the
bench. Her flushed, handsome face covered him with its smile. You could
see she was used to being obeyed when she smiled like that; when she
sent that light out of her eyes men did what she wanted. All her life
the men she knew had obeyed her, all except McClane. She didn't know
He raised his head and looked at her with cool, concentrated
“I'd rather stay where I am if you don't mind. I want to talk to
“Oh—” Mrs. Rankin's flush went out like a blown flame. Her lips
made one pale, tight thread above the set square of her chin. All her
light was in her eyes. They stared before her at the glass door where
McClane was entering.
He came swaggering and slipped into his place between her and Alice
Bartrum with his air of not seeing Mrs. Rankin, of not seeing Charlotte
and John, of not seeing anything he didn't want to see. Presently he
bobbed round in his seat so as to see Sutton, and began talking to him
At the end of it Charlotte and Sutton found themselves alone,
smiling into each other's faces.
“Do you like him?” she said.
“I'm not sure. All the same that isn't a bad idea of Mrs. Rankin's.”
It was Sutton who tried to work it the next morning, sounding
Charlotte was in the space between the glass doors, arranging their
stores in their own cupboard. McClane's stores had overflowed into it
on the lower shelves. She could hear the two men talking in the room,
Sutton's low, persuasive voice; she couldn't hear what he was saying.
Suddenly McClane brought his fist down on the table.
“I'll take you. And I'll take your women. And I'll take your
ambulances. I could do with two more ambulances. But I won't take
“You can't tell him that.”
“What can you say?”
“I can say—”
She pushed open the glass door and went in. McClane was whispering
furtively. She saw Sutton stop him with a look. They turned to her and
“Come in, Miss Redhead. This concerns you. Dr. McClane wants you and
Miss Denning and me to join his corps.”
“And how about Mr. Conway?”
“Well—” McClane was trying to look innocent. “Mr. Conway's just the
difficulty. There can't be two commandants in one corps and he says he
won't take orders from me.”
(Mrs. Rankin must have talked about it, then.)
“Is that what you told Dr. Sutton?”
His cold, innocent blue eyes supported him. He was lying; she knew
he was lying; that was not what he had said when he had whispered.
“You don't suppose,” she said, “I should leave Mr. Conway? And if I
stick to him Gwinnie'll stick.”
“And Dr. Sutton?”
“He can please himself.”
“If Miss Redhead stays I shall stay.”
“John will let you off like a shot, if you don't want to.”
She turned to go and McClane called after her, “My offer remains
open to you three.”
Through the glass door she heard Sutton saying, “If you're right,
McClane, I can't very well leave her with him, can I?”
Sutton was stupid. He didn't understand. Lying on her bed that night
Charlotte made it out.
“Gwinnie—you know why McClane won't have John?”
“I suppose because Mrs. Rankin's keen on him.”
“McClane isn't keen on Mrs. Rankin.... Can't you see he's trying to
hoof John out of Belgium, because he wants all the glory to himself? We
wouldn't do that to one of them, even if we were mean enough not to
want them in it.”
“He wanted Sutton.”
“Oh, Sutton—He wasn't afraid of him.... When you think of
the war—and think of people being like that. Jealous. Hating each
* * * * *
You mightn't like Mrs. Rankin, Mrs. Rankin and McClane; but you
couldn't say they weren't splendid.
Five days had passed. On the third day the McClane Corps had been
sent out. (Mrs. Rankin had not dined with the Colonel for nothing.)
It went again and again. By the fifth day they knew that it had
distinguished itself at Alost and Termonde and Quatrecht. The names
sounded in their brains like a song with an exciting, maddening
refrain. October stretched before them, golden and blank, a volume of
tense, vibrating time.
Nothing for it but to wait and wait. The summons might come any
minute. Charlotte and Gwinnie had begun by sitting on their drivers'
seats in the ambulances standing in the yard, ready to start the very
instant it came. Their orders were to hold themselves in readiness.
They held themselves in readiness and saw McClane's cars swing out from
the rubbered sweep in front of the Hospital three and four times a day.
They stood on their balcony and watched them rush along the road that
led to the battlefields southeast of the city. The sight of the flat
Flemish land and the sadness of lovely days oppressed them. She felt
that it must be partly that. The incredible loveliness of the days.
They sat brooding over the map of Belgium, marking down the names of
the places, Alost, Termonde and Quatrecht, that McClane had gone to,
that he would talk about on his return, when an awful interest would
impel them to listen. He and Mrs. Rankin would come in about tea-time,
swaggering and excited, telling everybody that they had been in the
line of fire; and Alice Bartrum would move about the room, quiet and
sweet, cutting bread and butter and pretending to be unconcerned in the
narration. And in the evening, after dinner, the discussion went on and
on in John's bedroom. He raged against his infernal luck. If they
thought he was going to take it lying down—
“McClane can keep me out of my messroom, but he can't keep me out of
my job. There's room in 'the line of fire' for both of us.”
“How are you going to get into it?” said Sutton.
“Same way as McClane. If he can go to Head Quarters, so can I.”
“I wouldn't,” Sutton said. “It might give a bad impression. Our
turn'll come before long.”
Gwinnie laughed. “It won't—unless Charlotte dines with the
“It certainly mayn't,” said Charlotte. “They may commandeer
our cars and give them to McClane.”
“They can't,” said Gwinnie. “We're volunteers.”
“They can do anything they choose. Military necessity.”
Gwinnie was thoughtful.
“John,” she said, “can I have one of the cars to-morrow afternoon?”
“Never mind. Can I?”
“You can have both the damned things if you like; they're no good to
The next afternoon they looked on while Gwinnie, who wore a look of
great wisdom and mystery, slipped her car out of the yard into a side
street and headed for the town. She came back at tea-time, bright-eyed
and faintly flushed.
“You'll find we shall be sent out to-morrow.”
“Oh, shall we!” John said.
“Yes. I've worked it for you.”
“Me. They've seen my car.”
“The whole lot of them. General Staff. First of all I paraded it all
round the blessed town. Then I turned into the Place d'Armes. I kept it
standing two solid hours outside the Hotel de la Poste where the
blooming brass hats all hang out. In five minutes it collected a small
crowd. First it was only refugees and war correspondents. Then the
Colonel came out and stuck his head in at the back. He got quite
excited when he saw we could take five stretcher cases.
“I showed him our tyres and the electric light, and I ran the
stretchers in and out for him. He'd never seen them with wheels
before.... He said it was 'magnifique'... The old bird wanted to take
me into the hotel and stand me tea.”
“Didn't you let him?”
“No. I said I had to stay with my car. And I took jolly good care to
let him know it hadn't been out yet.”
“Whatever made you think of it?”
“I don't know. It just sort of came to me.”
Next afternoon John had orders to go to Berlaere to fetch wounded.
At the turn of the road they heard the guns: a solemn Boom—Boom
coming up out of hushed spaces; they saw white puffs of smoke rising in
the blue sky. The French guns somewhere back of them. The German guns
in front southwards beyond the river.
Charlotte looked at John; he was brilliantly happy. They smiled at
each other as if they said “Now it's beginning.”
Outside the village of Berlaere they were held up by two sentries
with rifles. (Thrilling, that.) Their Belgian guide leaned out and
whispered the password; John showed their passports and they slipped
Where the road turned on their left into the street they saw a group
of soldiers standing at the door of a house. Three of them, a Belgian
lieutenant and two non-commissioned officers, advanced hurriedly and
stopped the car. The lieutenant forbade them to go on.
“But,” John said, “we've got orders to go on.”
A shrug intimated that their orders were not the lieutenant's
affair. They couldn't go on.
“But we must go on. We've got to fetch some wounded.”
“There aren't any wounded,” said the lieutenant.
Charlotte had an inspiration. “You tell us that tale every time,”
she said, “and there are always wounded.”
The Belgian guide and the lieutenant exchanged glances.
“I've told you there aren't any,” the lieutenant said. “You must go
But instead of explaining the little Belgian backed up the
lieutenant by a refusal on his own part to go on.
“He can please himself. We're going on.”
“You don't imagine,” Charlotte said, “by any chance that we're
The lieutenant smiled, a smile that lifted his ferocious, upturned
moustache: first sign that he was yielding. He looked at the sergeant
and the corporal, and they nodded.
John had his foot on the clutch. “We're due,” he said, “at the
dressing station by three o'clock.”
She thought: He's magnificent. She could see that the lieutenant and
the soldiers thought he was magnificent. Supposing she had gone out
with some meek fool who would have gone back when they told him!
The lieutenant skipped aside before the advancing car. “You can go,”
he said, “to the dressing-station.”
“They always do that as a matter of form—sort of warning us that
it's our own risk. They won't be responsible.”
She didn't answer. She was thinking that when they turned John's
driving place would be towards the German guns.
“I wish you'd let me drive. You know I like driving.”
“Not this time.”
At the dressing-station, a deserted store, they found a Belgian Army
Medical officer engaged with a tired and flushed and dirty soldier. He
was bandaging his left hand which had made a trail of blood splashes
from the street to the counter. The right hand hung straight down from
a nick in the dropped wrist where a tendon had been severed. He told
them that they had grasped the situation. Seven men waited there for
The best thing—perhaps—He looked doubtfully at Charlotte—would be
for them to take these men back at once. (The tired soldier murmured
something: a protest or an entreaty.) Though they were not exactly
urgent cases. They could wait.
Charlotte suspected a serious reservation. “You mean you have others
The soldier got in his word. “Much more.” His lips and eyes moved
excitedly in the flush and grime.
“Well yes,” the doctor admitted that they had. Not in the village,
but in a hamlet about a mile outside of it. An outpost. This man and
three others had been holding it with two machine guns. He had had a
finger shot away and his wrist cut open by a shell-burst; the other
three were left there, badly wounded.
“All right, we'll go and fetch them.”
“Monsieur, the place is being shelled. You have no orders.”
“We've no orders not to.”
The doctor spread out helpless palms, palms that disclaimed
“If you go, you go at your own risk. I will not send you.”
“That's all right.”
“Oh well—But certainly Mademoiselle must be left behind.”
“Mademoiselle is much too useful.”
Frantic gestures of eyebrows and palms.
“You must not stay there more than three minutes. Three minutes.”
He turned to the cut tendon with an air of integrity, his conscience
appeased by laying down this time limit.
John released the clutch, and the soldier shouted out something,
they couldn't make out what, that ended with “mitrailleuses.”
As they ran down the street the solemn Boom—Boom came right and
left; they were now straight between the two batteries.
“Are you all right, Sharlie?”
The little Belgian by her side muttered, protesting.
“We're not really in any danger. It's all going on over our heads.”
“Do you suppose,” she said, “they'll get our range?”
“Rather not. Why should they? They've got their range and they'll
stick to it.”
The firing on their right ceased.
“They're quiet enough now,” she said.
The little Belgian informed her that if they were quiet so much the
worse. They were finding their range.
She thought: We were safe enough before, but—
“Supposing,” she said, “they alter their range?”
“They won't alter it just for the fun of killing us. They haven't
spotted the batteries yet. It's the batteries they're trying for, not
But the little Belgian went on protesting.
“What's the matter with him?”
“He's getting a bit jumpy,” she said, “that's all.”
“Tell him to buck up. Tell him it's all right.”
She translated. The little Belgian shook his head, mournfully
persistent. “Monsieur,” he said, “didn't know.”
“Oh yes, he does know.”
It was absurd of the little man to suppose you didn't know, when the
noise of the French guns told them how near they were to the enemy's
She tried not to listen to him. His mutterings broke up the queer
stillness that held her after she had heard the guns. It was only by
keeping still that you felt, wave by wave, the rising thrill of the
adventure. Only by keeping still she was aware of what was passing in
John's mind. He knew. He knew. They were one in the almost palpable
excitement that they shared; locked close, closer than their bodies
could have joined them, in the strange and poignant ecstasy of danger.
There was the sound of an explosion somewhere in front of them
beyond the houses.
“Did you hear that, Mademoiselle?”
“Miles away,” said John.
She knew it wasn't. She thought: He doesn't want me to know. He
thinks I'll be frightened. I mustn't tell him.
But the Belgian had none of John's scruples. The shell was near, he
said; very near. It had fallen in the place they were going to.
“But that's the place where the wounded men are.”
He admitted that it was the place where the wounded men were.
They were out of the village now. Their road ran through flat open
country, a causeway raised a little above the level of the fields. No
cover anywhere from the fire if it came. The Belgian had begun again.
“What's that he's saying now?”
“He says we shall give away the position of the road.”
“It's the one they told us to take. We've got to go on it. He's in a
beastly funk. That's what's the matter with him.”
The Belgian shrugged his shoulders as much as to say he had done his
duty and things might now take their course, and they were mistaken if
for one minute they supposed he was afraid. But they had not gone fifty
yards before he begged to be put down. He said it was absolutely
necessary that he should go back to the village and collect the wounded
there and have them ready for the ambulance on its return.
They let him go. Charlotte looked round the corner of the hood and
saw him running with brief, jerky strides.
“He's got a nerve,” said John, “to be able to do it.”
“What excuse do you think he'll make?”
“Oh, he'll say we sent him.”
The straight dyke of the road went on and on. Seen from the sunk
German lines the heavy ambulance car would look like a house on wheels
running along a wall. She thought again of John on his exposed seat. If
only he had let her drive—But that was absurd. Of course he wouldn't
let her. If you were to keep on thinking of the things that might
happen to John—Meanwhile nothing could take from them the delight of
this dangerous run across the open. She had to remind herself that the
adventure, the romance of it was not what mattered most; it was not the
real thing, the thing they had gone out for.
When they came to the wounded, when they came to the wounded, then
it would begin.
The hamlet began to show now; it sat on one side of the road, low
and alone in the flat land, an open field in front of it, and at the
bottom of the field the river and a line of willows, and behind the
willows the Germans, hidden. White smoke curled among the branches. You
could see it was an outpost, one of the points at which the Germans, if
they broke through, would come into the village. They supposed that the
house where the wounded men were would be the last of the short row.
Here on their right there were no houses, only the long, high flank
of a barn. The parts that had been built out into the field were
shelled away, but the outer wall by the roadside still held. It was all
that stood between them and the German guns. They drew up the car under
its shelter and got down.
They could see all the houses of the hamlet at once on their left;
whitewashed walls; slender grey doors and shutters. The three that
looked out on to the barn were untouched. A few yards ahead a small,
empty wine-shop faced the open field; its doorstep and the path in
front of its windows glittered with glass dust, with spikes and
splinters, and heaped shale of glass that slid and cracked under your
feet. Beyond it, a house with its door and all its windows and the
front slope of its roof blown in. A broken shutter sagged from the
wall. Then the shell of the last house; it pricked up one plastered
gable, white and hard against the blue.
They found the men in the last house but one, the house with the
broken shutter. They went, carrying their stretchers and the haversack
of dressings, under the slanted lintel into the room. The air in there
was hot and stifling and thickened with a grey powdery swarm. Their
feet sank through a layer of pinkish, greyish dust.
The three wounded men lay stretched out on this floor, among
brickbats and broken panes and slabs of dropped plaster. A thin grey
powder had settled on them all. And by the side of each man the dust
was stiffened into a red cake with a glairy pool in the middle of it,
fed from the raw wound; and where two men lay together their pools had
joined and overflowed in a thin red stream.
John put down his stretcher and stood still. His face was very
white, and his upper lip showed in-drawn and dry, and tightened as
though it were glued to his teeth.
“John, you aren't going to faint or be sick or anything?”
“I'm all right.”
He went forward, clenching his fists; moving in a curious drawn way,
like a sleep walker.
They were kneeling in the dust now, looking for the wounds.
“We must do this chap with the arm first. He'll want a tourniquet.”
He spoke in a husky whisper as if he were half asleep....
The wounded head stuck to the floor. They scraped round it, digging
with their hands; it came up wearing a crust of powdered lime. A pad
and a bandage. They couldn't do anything more for that ... The third
man, with the fractured shin-bone and the big flesh-wound in his thigh,
must have splints and a dressing.
She wondered how John would set about his work. But his queer,
hypnotised actions were effectual and clean.
Between them they had fixed the tourniquet.
Through all her preoccupation and the quick, dexterous movement of
her hands she could feel her pity tightening her throat: pity that hurt
like love, that was delicious and exquisite like love. Nothing
mattered, nothing existed in her mind but the three wounded men. John
didn't matter. John didn't exist. He was nothing but a pair of hands
working quickly and dexterously with her own.... She looked up. John's
mouth kept its hard, glued look; his eyes were feverish behind a glaze
of water, and red-rimmed.
She thought: It's awful for him. He minds too much. It hurt her to
see how he minded. After all, he did matter. Deep inside her he
mattered more than the wounded men; he mattered more than anything on
earth. Only there wasn't time, there wasn't time to think of
She turned to the next man and caught sight of the two machine guns
with their tilted muzzles standing in the corner of the room by the
chimney. They must remember to bring away the guns.
John's hypnotic whisper came again. “You might get those splints,
As she crossed the road a shell fell in the open field beyond, and
burst, throwing up a great splash and spray of brown earth. She
stiffened herself in an abrupt gesture of defiance. Her mind retorted:
“You've missed, that time. You needn't think I'm going to put myself
out for you.” To show that she wasn't putting herself out (in
case they should be looking) she strolled with dignity to her car,
selected carefully the kind of splint she needed, and returned. She
thought: Oh well—supposing they do hit. We must get those men
out before another comes.
John looked up as she came to him. His face glistened with pinheads
of sweat; he panted in the choking air.
“Where did that shell burst?”
“Are you certain?”
She lied. Why not? John had been lying all the time. Lying was part
of their defiance, a denial that the enemy's effort had succeeded.
Nothing mattered but the fixing of the splints and the carrying of the
John was cranking up the engine when she turned back into the house.
“I say, what are you doing?”
“Going for the guns.”
There was, she noticed, a certain longish interval between shells.
John and the wounded men would be safe from shrapnel under the shelter
of the wall. She brought out the first gun and stowed it at the back of
the car. Then she went in for the other. It stood on the seat between
them with its muzzle pointing down the road. Charlotte put her arm
round it to steady it.
On the way back to the dressing-station she sat silent, thinking of
the three wounded men in there, behind, rocked and shaken by the
jolting of the car on the uneven causeway. John was silent, too,
absorbed by his steering.
But as they ran into Ghent the romance of it, the romance of it,
came back to her. It wasn't over yet. They would have to go out again
for the wounded they had had to leave behind at Berlaere.
“John—John—It's like nothing else on earth.”
“I told you it would be.”
Slowly realization came to her. They had brought in their wounded
under the enemy's fire. And they had saved the guns.
* * * * *
“Do you mind,” John said, “if Sutton goes instead of me He hasn't
been out yet?”
“N-no. Not if I can go too.”
“Do you want to?”
She had drawn up the ambulance in the Square before the Hospital and
sat in her driver's seat, waiting. Sutton came to her there. When he
saw her he stood still.
“Rather. Do you mind?”
Sutton didn't answer. All the way out to Berlaere he sat stolid and
silent, not looking at anything they passed and taking no more notice
of the firing than if he hadn't heard it. As the car swung into
Berlaere she was aware of his voice, low under the noise of the engine.
“What did you say?”
“Conway told me it was you who saved the guns.”
Suddenly she was humbled.
“It was the men who saved them. We just brought them away.”
“Conway told me what you did,” he said quietly.
Going out with Sutton was a quiet affair.
“You know,” he said presently, “it was against the Hague
“Good heavens, so it was! I never thought of it.”
“You must think of it. You gave the Germans the right to fire on all
our ambulances.... You see, this isn't just a romantic adventure; it's
a disagreeable, necessary, rather dangerous job.”
“I didn't do it for swank. I knew the guns were wanted, and I
couldn't bear to leave them.”
“I know, it would have been splendid if you'd been a combatant.
But,” he said sadly, “this is a field ambulance, not an armoured car.”
She was glad they had been sent out with the McClane Corps to Melle.
She wanted McClane to see the stuff that John was made of. She knew
what had been going on in the commandant's mind. He had been trying to
persuade himself that John was no good, because, from the minute he had
seen him with his ambulance on the wharf at Ostend, from the minute he
had known his destination, he had been jealous of him and afraid. Why,
he must have raced them all the way from Ostend, to get in first.
Afraid and jealous, afraid of John's youth with its secret of triumph
and of courage; jealous of John's face and body that men and women
turned back to look at as they passed; even the soldiers going up to
the battlefields, going up to wounds and death, turned to look at this
creature of superb and brilliant life. Even on the boat he must have
had a dreadful wonder whether John was bound for Ghent; he must have
known from the beginning that wherever Conway placed himself he would
stand out and make other men look small and insignificant. If he wasn't
jealous and afraid of Sutton she supposed it was because John had had
that rather diminishing effect on poor Billy.
If Billy Sutton distinguished himself that would open McClane's eyes
a little wider, too.
She wondered why Billy kept on saying that McClane was a great
psychologist. If it was true that would be very awful for McClane; he
would see everything going on inside people, then, all the things he
didn't want to see; he wouldn't miss anything, and he would know all
the time what John was like. The little man was wilfully shutting his
eyes because he was so mean that he couldn't bear to see John as he
really was. Now he would have to see.
The thought of McClane's illumination consoled her for her own
inferior place in the adventure. This time the chauffeurs would have to
stay at the end of the village with their cars. The three were drawn up
at the street side, close under the house walls, McClane's first. Then
Sutton's, with Gwinnie. Then hers; behind it the short straight road
where the firing would come down.
John stood in the roadway waiting for the others. He had his hand
beside her hand, grasping the arm of the driver's seat.
“I wish you could take me with you,” she said.
“Can't. The orders are, all chauffeurs to stand by the cars.”
... His eyebrows knotted and twitched in sudden anxiety.
“You know, Sharlie, you'll be fired on.”
“I know. I don't mind, John, I don't really. I shall be all right.”
“Yes. You'll be all right.” But by the way he kept on glancing up
and down the road she could see he was uneasy. “If you could have stood
in front of those cars. You're in the most dangerous place
“Somebody's got to be in it.”
He looked at her and smiled. “Jeanne,” he said, “in her armour.”
And they were silent.
“I say, John—my car does cover Gwinnie's a bit, doesn't it?”
“Yes,” he said abruptly.
“That's all right. You must go now. They're coming for the
His face quivered. He thrust out his hand quickly, and as she took
it she thought: He thinks he isn't coming back. She was aware of Mrs.
Rankin and two of the McClane men with stretchers, passing; she could
see Mrs. Rankin looking at them as she came on, smiling over her
shoulder, drawing the men's attention to their leave-taking.
She thought: They don't shake hands when they're going out.
They don't think whether they're coming back or not.... They don't
think at all. But then, none of them were lovers as she and John were
“John, you'd better go and carry Mrs. Rankin's stretcher for her.”
She watched them as they walked together up the short straight road
to the battlefield at the top. Sutton followed with Alice Bartrum; then
the McClane men; they nodded to her and smiled. Then McClane, late,
running, trying to overtake John and Mrs. Rankin, to get to the head of
his unit. Perhaps he was afraid that John, in his khaki, would be
mistaken for the commandant.
How childish he was with his fear and jealousy. Childish. She
thought of his petulant refusal to let John come in with them. As if he
could really keep him out. When it came to action they were one
corps; they couldn't very well be divided, since McClane had more men
than stretchers and John had more stretchers than men. They would all
be infinitely happier, working together like that, instead of standing
stupidly apart, glaring and hating.
Yet she knew what McClane and Mrs. Rankin had been playing for.
McClane, if he could, would have taken their fine Roden cars from them;
he would have taken Sutton. She knew that Mrs. Rankin would have taken
John from her, Charlotte Redhead, if she could.
And when she thought of the beautiful, arrogant woman, marching up
to the battlefield with John, she wondered whether, after all, she
didn't hate her.... No. No. It was horrible to hate a woman who at any
minute might be killed. They said McClane didn't look after his women.
He didn't care how they exposed themselves to the firing; he took them
into unnecessary danger. He didn't care. He was utterly cold, utterly
indifferent to everybody and everything except his work of getting in
the wounded.... Well, perhaps, if he had been decent to John, she
wouldn't have believed a word of it, and anyhow they hadn't come out
there to be protected.
She had a vision of John and McClane carrying Mrs. Rankin between
them on a stretcher. That was what would happen if you hated. Hate
Then John and she were safe. They were lovers. Lovers. Neither of
them had ever said a word, but they owned the wonderful, immaterial
fact in secret to each other; the thought of it moved in secret behind
all their other thoughts. From the moment, just passed, when they held
each other's hands she knew that John loved her, not in a dream, not in
coldness, but with a queer unearthly ardour. He had her in his
incredible, immaterial way, a way that none of them would understand.
From the Barrow Hill Farm time? Or from yesterday? She didn't know.
Perhaps it had gone on all the time; but it would be only since
yesterday that he really knew it.
A line of soldiers marched by, going up to the battlefield. They
looked at her and smiled, a flashing of bright eyes and teeth all down
the line. When they had passed the street was deserted.
... That rattle on the stones was the firing. It had come at last.
She saw Gwinnie looking back round the corner of the hood to see what
it was like. She called to her, “Don't stick your head out, you silly
cuckoo. You'll be hit.” She said to herself, If I think about it I
shall feel quite jumpy. It was one thing to go tearing along between
two booming batteries, in excitement, with an end in view, and quite
another thing to sit tight and still on a motionless car, to be fired
on. A bit trying to the nerves, she thought, if it went on long. She
was glad that her car stood next to the line of fire, sheltering
Gwinnie's, and she wondered how John was getting on up there.
The hands of the ambulance clock pointed to half-past three. They
had been waiting forty minutes, then. She got down to see if any of the
stretcher bearers were in sight.
* * * * *
They were coming back. Straggling, lurching forms. White bandages.
The wounded who could walk came first. Then the stretchers.
Alice Bartrum stopped as she passed Charlotte. The red had gone from
her sunburn, but her face was undisturbed.
“You've got to wait here,” she said, “for Mr. Conway and Sutty. And
Trixie and Mac. They mayn't be back for ages. They've gone miles up the
The front cars had been loaded, had driven off and returned three
times. It was six o'clock before John appeared with Mrs. Rankin.
She heard Mrs. Rankin calling sharply to her to get down and give a
hand with the stretcher.
John and Mrs. Rankin were disputing.
“Can't you shove it in at the bottom?” he was saying.
“No. The first cases must go on top.”
Her mouth snapped like a clamp. Her eyes were blazing. She was
struggling with the head of the stretcher while John heaved at the
foot. He staggered as he moved, and his face was sallow-white and drawn
and glistening. When Charlotte took the shafts from him they were
slippery with his sweat.
“Is he hurt?” she whispered.
“Very badly hurt,” said Mrs. Rankin.
“John, I mean.”
Mrs. Rankin snorted. “You'd better ask him.”
John was slouching round to the front of the car, anxious to get out
of the sight and sound of her. He went with an uneven dropping movement
of one hip. Charlotte followed him.
“Get into your seat, Sharlie. We've got to wait for Billy and
He dragged himself awkwardly into the place beside her.
“John,” she said, “are you hurt?”
“No. But I think I've strained something. That's why I couldn't lift
that damned stretcher.”
* * * * *
The windows stood wide open to the sweet, sharp air. She heard Mrs.
Rankin and Sutton talking on the balcony. In that dreadful messroom you
“What do you suppose it was then?” Mrs. Rankin said.
And Sutton, “Oh, I don't know. Something upset him.”
“If he's going to be upset like that every time he'd better
They were talking—she knew they were talking about John.
“Hallo, Charlotte, we haven't left you much tea.”
“It doesn't matter.”
Her hunger left her suddenly. She stared with disgust at the remains
of the tea the McClane Corps had eaten.
Sutton went on. “He hasn't been sleeping properly. I've made him go
“If you can keep him in bed for the duration of the war—”
“Are you talking about John?”
“I don't know what you're driving at; but I suppose he was sick on
that beastly battlefield. It's all very well for you two; you're a
trained nurse and Billy's a surgeon.... You aren't taken that way when
you see blood.”
“Blood?” said Mrs. Rankin.
“Yes. Blood. He was perfectly all right yesterday.”
Mrs. Rankin laughed. “Yesterday he couldn't see there was any
danger. You could tell that by the idiotic things he said.”
“I saw it. And if I could he could.”
“Funny kid. You'd better get on with your tea. You'll be sent out
again before you know where you are.”
Charlotte settled down. Sutton was standing beside her now, cutting
bread and butter.
“Hold on,” he said. “That tea's all stewed and cold. I'll make you
some of mine.”
She drank the hot, fragrant China tea he brought her.
Presently she stood up. “I think I'll take John some of this.”
“Best thing you can give him,” Sutton said. He got up and opened the
doors for her, the glass doors and the door of the bedroom.
She sat down beside John's bed and watched him while he drank
Sutton's tea. He said he was all right now. No. He hadn't ruptured
anything; he only thought he had; but Sutton had overhauled him and
said he was all right.
And all the time his face was still vexed and drawn. Something must
have happened out there; something that hurt him to think of.
“John,” she said, “I wish I'd gone with you instead of Mrs. Rankin.”
“I wish to God you had. Everything's all right when you're with me,
and everything's all wrong when you're not.”
“How do you mean, wrong?”
He shook his head, frowning slightly, as a sign for her to stop.
Sutton had come into the room.
“You needn't go,” he said, “I've only come for my coat and my case.
I've got to help with the operations.”
He slipped into the white linen coat. There were thin smears of
blood on the sleeves and breast. He groped about the room, peering
short-sightedly for his case of instruments.
“John, was Mrs. Rankin any good?” she asked presently.
John lay back and closed his eyes as if to shut out the sight of
“Don't talk to me,” he said, “about that horrible woman.”
Sutton had turned abruptly from his search.
“Good?” he said. “She was magnificent. So was Miss Bartrum. So was
John opened his eyes. “So was Charlotte.”
“I quite agree with you.” Sutton had found his case. His face was
hidden by the raised lid as he peered, examining his instruments. He
spoke abstractly. “Magnificent.”
When he left the room Charlotte followed him.
He stopped in his noiseless course down the corridor.
“What was it?” she said. “What happened?”
He didn't pretend not to understand her.
“Oh, nothing. Conway and Mrs. Rankin didn't hit it off very well
They spoke in low, rapid tones, conscious, always, of the wards
behind the shut doors. Her feet went fast and noiseless beside his as
he hurried to the operating theatre. They came out on to the wide
landing and waited there by the brass lattice of the lift.
“How do you mean, hit it off?”
“Oh well, she thought he didn't come up quick enough with a
stretcher, and she pitched into him.”
“But he was dead beat. Done. Couldn't she see that?”
“No. I don't suppose she could. She was a bit excited.”
“She was horrible.” Now that Mrs. Rankin was back safe she hated
her. She knew she hated her.
“A bit cruel, perhaps. All the same,” he said, “she was magnif—”
The lift had come hissing and wailing up behind him. The orderly
stood in it, staring at Sutton's back, obsequious, yet impatient. She
thought of the wounded men in the theatre downstairs.
“You mustn't keep them waiting,” she said.
He stepped back into the lift. It lowered him rapidly. His chin was
on a level with the floor when his mouth tried again and succeeded:
And she knew that she had followed him out to near him say that John
had been magnificent, too.
Gwinnie was looking in at the messroom door and saying “Do you know
where Charlotte is?” Mrs. Rankin's voice called out, “I think you'll
find her in Mr. Conway's bedroom.” One of the chauffeurs
laughed. Charlotte knew what they were thinking.
Gwinnie failed to retort. She was excited, shaken out of her
“Oh, there you are! I've got something ripping to tell you. Not in
They slouched, with their arms slung affectionately round each
other's waists, into their own room. Behind the shut door Gwinnie
“The Colonel's most frightfully pleased about Berlaere.”
“Does he think they'll hold it?”
“It isn't that. He's pleased about you.”
“You and John. What you did there. And your bringing back the guns.”
“Who told you that?”
“Mac. The old boy was going on to him like anything about you last
night. It means you'll be sent out every time. Every time there's
anything big on.”
“Oh-h! Let's go and tell John.... I suppose,” she added, “that's
what was the matter with Mrs. Rankin.”
She wondered whether it had been the matter with Billy Sutton too;
if he too were jealous and afraid.
That night Mrs. Rankin told her what the Colonel really had said:
“'C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas—la Croix Rouge.' If you're all
sent home to-morrow it'll serve you jolly well right,” she said.
But somehow she couldn't make it sound as if he had been angry.
John had told her to stay there with the wounded man up the turn of
the stable yard while he went for the stretcher. His car, packed with
wounded, stood a little way up the street, headed for Ghent. Sutton's
car, with one of McClane's chauffeurs, was in front of it, ready; she
could hear the engine purring.
Instead of going at once for the stretcher John had followed Sutton
into the house opposite, the house with the narrow grey shutters. And
he had called to her again across the road to wait for him.
Behind her in the yard the wounded man sat on the cobblestones, his
back propped against the stable wall. He was safe there, safer than he
would have been outside in the ambulance.
It was awful to think that he would have been left behind if they
had not found him at the last minute among the straw.
She went and stood by the yard entrance to see whether John were
coming with the stretcher. A soldier came out of the house with the
narrow shutters, wounded, limping, his foot bound to a splint. Then
Sutton came, hurrying to help him. He shouted to her, “Come on,
Charlotte, hurry up!” and she called back, “I've got to wait here for
She watched them go on slowly up the road to Sutton's car; she saw
them get in; she saw the car draw out and rush away.
Then she saw John come out of the door of the house and stand there,
looking up and down the street. Once she saw him glance back over his
shoulder at something behind him in the room. The same instant she
heard the explosion and saw the shell burst in the middle of the
street, not fifty yards from the ambulance. Half a minute after she saw
John dash from the doorway and run, run at an incredible pace, towards
his car. She heard him crank up the engine.
She supposed that he was going to back towards the yard, and she
wondered whether she could lift up the Belgian and carry him out. She
stooped over him, put her hands under his armpits, raising him and
wondering. Better not. He had a bad wound. Better wait for the
She turned, suddenly, arrested. The noise she heard was not the
grating noise of a car backing, it was the scream of a car getting
away; it dropped to a heavy whirr and diminished.
She looked out. Up the road she saw John's car rushing furiously
The Belgian had heard it. His eyes moved. Black hare's eyes,
terrified. It was not possible, he said, that they had been left
No, it was not possible. John had forgotten them; but he would
remember; he would come back. In five minutes. Seven minutes. She had
The Belgian was muttering something. He complained of being left
there. He said he was not anxious about himself, but about
Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle ought not to have been left. She was sitting
on the ground now, beside him.
“It'll be all right,” she said. “He'll come back.” When he
remembered he would come back.
She had waited half an hour.
Another shell. It had burst over there at the backs of the houses,
beyond the stable.
She wondered whether it would be safer to drag her man across the
street under the wall of the Town Hall. They would be sure to aim at it
and miss it, whereas any minute they might hit the stable.
At the moment while she wondered there was a third tremendous
explosion, the crash and roar of brickwork falling like coal down an
enormous chute. It came from the other side of the street a little way
down. It couldn't be far from the Town Hall. That settled it. Much
better stay where they were. The Belgian had put his arm round her,
drawing her to him, away from the noise and shock of the shell.
It was clear now that John was not coming back. He had forgotten
The Belgian's hold slackened; he dozed, falling against her and
recovering himself with a jerk and begging her pardon. She drew down
his head on to her shoulder and let it rest there. Her mind was soaked
in the smell of his rank breath, of the warm sweat that oozed through
his tunic, the hot, fetid smell that came through his unlaced boots.
She didn't care; she was too sorry for him. She could feel nothing but
the helpless pressure of his body against hers, nothing but her pity
that hurt her and was exquisite like love. Yesterday she had thought it
would be good to die with John. Now she thought it would be good to die
with the wounded Belgian, since John had left her there to die.
And again, she had a vehement desire for life, a horror of the
unjust death John was bringing on them.
But of course there wouldn't be any death. If nobody came she would
walk back to Ghent and bring out the ambulance.
If only he had shouted to her to carry the wounded man and come. In
the minute between the concussion of the shell and the cranking of the
engine. But she could see him rushing. If only she knew why he
had left them.... She wanted to get back to Ghent, to see John, to
know. To know if John—if John really was—Nothing could be
worse than not knowing.
It didn't matter so much his forgetting her. The awful thing was his
forgetting the wounded man. How could you forget a wounded man? When
she remembered the Belgian's terrified hare's eyes she hated John.
And, as she sat there supporting his head with her shoulder, she
thought again. There must have been a wounded man in the house John had
come out of. Was it possible that he had forgotten him, too?... He
hadn't forgotten. She could see him looking back over his shoulder;
looking at something that was lying there, that couldn't be anything
but a wounded man. Or a dead man. Whatever it was, it had been the last
thing he had seen; the last thing he had thought of before he made his
dash. It wasn't possible that he had left a wounded man in there,
alive. It was not possible.
And all the time while she kept on telling herself that it was not
possible she saw a wounded man in the room John had left; she saw his
head turning to the doorway, and his eyes, frightened; she felt his
anguish in the moment that he knew himself abandoned. Not forgotten.
She would have to go over to the house and see. She must know
whether the man was there or not there. She raised the Belgian's head,
gently, from her shoulder. She would have to wake him and tell him what
she was going to do, so that he mightn't think she had left him and be
But the Belgian roused himself to a sudden virile determination.
Mademoiselle must not cross the road. It was too dangerous.
Mademoiselle would be hit. He played on her pity with an innocent,
cunning cajolery. “Mademoiselle must not leave me. I do not want to be
“Only for one minute. One little minute. I think there's a wounded
man, like you, Monsieur, in that house.”
“Ah—h—A wounded man?” He seemed to acknowledge the integrity of
her purpose. “If only I were not wounded, if only I could crawl an
inch, I would go instead of Mademoiselle.”
* * * * *
The wounded man lay on the floor of the room in his corner by the
fireplace where John had left him. His coat was rolled up under his
head for a pillow. He lay on his side, with humped hips and knees drawn
up, and one hand, half clenched, half relaxed, on his breast under the
drooped chin; so that at first she thought he was alive, sleeping. She
knelt down beside him and clasped his wrist; she unbuttoned his tunic
and put in her hand under his shirt above the point of his heart. He
was certainly dead. No pulse; no beat; no sign of breathing. Yet his
body was warm still, and limp as if with sleep. He couldn't have been
dead very long.
And he was young. A boy. Not more than sixteen. John couldn't have
She wasn't certain. She was no nearer certainty so long as she
didn't know when the boy had died. If only she knew—
They hadn't unfastened his tunic and shirt to feel over his heart if
he were dead. So he couldn't have been dead when they left him.... But
there was Sutton. Billy wouldn't have left him unless he had been dead.
Her mind worked rapidly, jumping from point to point, trying to find
some endurable resting place.... He was so young, so small, so light.
Light. It wouldn't take two to carry him. She could have picked him up
and carried him herself. Billy had had the lame man to look after. He
had left the boy to John. She saw John looking back over his shoulder.
She got up and went through the house, through all the rooms, to see
if there were any more of them that John had left there. She felt tired
out and weak, sick with her belief, her fear of what John had done. The
dead boy was alone in the house. She covered his face with her
handkerchief and went back.
The Belgian waited for her at the entrance to the yard. He had
dragged himself there, crawling on his hands and knees. He smiled when
he saw her.
“I was coming to look for you, Mademoiselle.”
She had him safe beside her against the stable wall. He let his head
rest on her shoulder now, glad of the protecting contact. She tried not
to think about John. Something closed down between them. Black. Black;
shutting him off, closing her heart against him, leaving her heart hard
and sick. The light went slowly out of the street, out of the sky. The
dark came, the dark sounding with the “Boom—Boom” of the guns, lit
with spiked diamond flashes like falling stars.
The Belgian had gone to sleep again when she heard the ambulance
coming down the street.
* * * * *
“Is that you, Charlotte?”
“Billy—! What made you come?”
“Conway. He's in a frantic funk. Said he'd lost you. He thought
you'd gone on with me.”
How awful it would be if Billy knew.
“It was my fault,” she lied. “He told me to go on with you.” She
could hear him telling her to wait for him in the stable yard.
“I'd have come before only I didn't see him soon enough. I had an
operation.... Is that a wounded man you've got there? I suppose he lost
“He didn't know he was here.”
Then she remembered. Billy would know. Billy would tell her.
“Billy—was that boy dead when you left him! The boy in the house
He was stooping to the Belgian, examining his bandages, and he
didn't answer all at once. He seemed to be meditating.
“Was he?” she repeated.
It struck her that Billy was surprised.
“Because—” She stopped there. She couldn't say to him, “I want to
know whether John left him dead or alive.”
“He was dead all right.” Sutton's voice came up slow and muffled out
of his meditation.
It was all right. She might have known. She might have known.
Vaguely for a moment she wondered why Billy had come for her and not
John; then she was frightened.
“Billy—John isn't hurt, is he?”
“No. Rather not. A bit done up. I made him go and lie down.... Look
here, we must get out of this.”
* * * * *
The McClane Corps were gathered on their side of the messroom. They
greeted her with shouts of joy, but their eyes looked at her queerly,
as if they knew something dreadful had happened to her.
“You should have stood in with us, Charlotte,” Mrs. Rankin was
saying. “Then you wouldn't get mislaid among the shells.” She was
whispering. “Dr. McClane, if you took Charlotte out among the shells,
would you run away and leave her there?”
“I'd try not to.”
Oh yes. He wouldn't run away and leave her. But he wouldn't care
where he took her. He wouldn't care whether a shell got her or not. But
John cared. If only she knew why.... Their queer faces sobered
her and suddenly she knew. She saw Sutton coming out of the house with
the narrow shutters; she heard him shouting to her, “Come on,
Charlotte, hurry up!”
John must have heard him. He must really have thought that she had
gone with him.
But he must have known, too, that she wouldn't go. He must have
known that if he told her to wait for him she would wait. So that—
The voices of the McClane women ceased abruptly. One of them turned
round. Charlotte saw John standing between the glasses of the two
doors. He came in and she heard Mrs. Rankin calling out in her hard,
insolent voice, “Well, Mr. Conway, so you've got in safe.”
She was always like that, hard and insolent, with her damned
courage. As if courage were ever anything more than just being decent,
and as if other people couldn't be decent too. She hated John because
she couldn't make him come to her, couldn't make him look with pleasure
at her beautiful, arrogant face. She disliked Sutton and McClane for
the same reason, but she hated John. He treated her face with a
hardness and insolence like her own. You could see her waiting for her
revenge, watching every minute for a chance to stick her blade into
him. He was pretending that he hadn't heard her.
His hair stood up in pointed tufts, rumpled from his pillow. His
eyes had a dazed, stupid look as if he were not perfectly awake. But at
the sound of the rasping voice his mouth had tightened; it was pinched
and sharp with pain. He didn't look at Mrs. Rankin. He came to her,
Charlotte Redhead, straight; straight as if she had drawn him from his
The McClane people got up, one after another, and went out.
“Charlotte,” he said, “did you really think I'd left you?”
“I thought you'd left me. But I knew you hadn't.”
“You knew it wasn't possible?”
“Yes. Inside me I knew.”
“I'm awfully sorry. Sutton told me you were going on with him, and I
thought you'd gone.”
She would remember for ever the talk they had on the balcony that
day while Antwerp was falling.
They were standing there, she and John Conway and Sutton, looking
over the station and the railway lines to the open country beyond: the
fields, the tall slender trees, the low mounds of the little hills,
bristling and dark. Round the corner of the balcony they could see into
the Place below; it was filled with a thick black crowd of
refugees. Antwerp was falling. Presently the ambulance train would come
in and they would have to go over there to the station with their
stretchers and carry out the wounded. Meanwhile they waited.
John brooded. His face was heavy and sombre with discontent. “No,”
he said. “No. It isn't good enough.”
“What we're doing here. Going to all those little tin-pot places.
The real fighting isn't down there. They ought to send us to Antwerp.”
“I suppose they send us where they think we're most wanted.”
“I don't believe they do. We were fools not to have insisted on
going to Antwerp, instead of letting ourselves be stuck here in a
rotten side show.”
“We've had enough to do, anyhow,” said Sutton.
“And there isn't anybody but us and Mac to do it,” Charlotte said.
John's eyebrows twisted. “Yes; but we're not in it. I want to
be in it. In the big thing; the big dangerous thing.”
Sutton sighed and got up and left them. John waited for the closing
of the door.
“Does it strike you,” he said, “that Billy isn't very keen?”
“No. It doesn't. What do you mean?”
“I notice that he's jolly glad when he can get an indoor job.”
“That's because they're short of surgeons. He only wants to do
what's most useful.”
“I didn't say he had cold feet.”
“Of course he hasn't. Billy would go to Antwerp like a shot if
they'd let him. He feels just as we do about it. That's why he got up
and went away.”
“He'd go. But he wouldn't enjoy it.”
“Oh, don't talk about 'enjoying.'“
“Sharlie, you don't mean to say that you're not keen?”
“No. It's only that I don't care as much as I did about what you
call the romance of it; and I do care more about the solid work. It
seems to me that it doesn't matter who does it so long as it's done.”
“I'd very much rather I did it than McClane. So would you.”
“Yes. I would. But I'd be sorry if poor little Mac didn't get any of
it. And all the time I know it doesn't matter which of us it is. It
doesn't matter whether we're in danger or out of danger, or whether
we're in the big thing or a little one.”
“Don't you want to be in the big thing?”
“Yes. I want. But I know my wanting doesn't matter. I don't
matter. None of us matters.”
That was how she felt about it now that it had come to defeat, now
that Antwerp was falling. Yesterday they, she and John, had been vivid
entities, intensely real, living and moving in the war as in a
containing space that was real enough, since it was there, but real
like hell or heaven or God, not to be grasped or felt in its reality;
only the stretch of it that they covered was real, the roads round
Ghent, the burning villages, the places where they served, Berlaere and
Melle, Quatrecht and Zele; the wounded men. Yesterday her thoughts
about John had mattered, her doubt and fear of him and her pain; her
agony of desire that he should be, should be always, what she loved him
for being; and her final certainty had been the one important, the one
real thing. To-day she had difficulty in remembering all that, as if
they hadn't really been. To-day they were unimportant to themselves
and to each other; small, not quite real existences, enveloped by an
immense reality that closed in on them; alive; black, palpitating
defeat. It made nothing of them, of their bodies nothing but the parts
they worked with: feet and hands. Nothing mattered, nothing existed but
the war, and the armies, the Belgian army, beaten.
Antwerp was falling. And afterwards it would be Ghent, and then
Ostend. And then there would be no more Belgium.
But John wouldn't hear of it. Ghent wouldn't fall.
“It won't fall because it isn't a fortified city,” she objected.
“But it'll surrender. It'll have to.”
“It won't. If the Germans come anywhere near we shall drive them
“They are near. They're all round in a ring with only a
little narrow opening up there. And the ring's getting closer.”
“It's easier to push back a narrow ring than a wide one.”
“It's easier to break through a thin ring than a thick one, and
who's going to push?”
“We are. The British. We'll come pouring in, hundreds of thousands
of us, through that little narrow opening up there.”
“If we only would—”
“Of course we shall. If I thought we wouldn't, if I thought we were
going to let the Belgians down, if we betrayed them—My God! I'd
kill myself.... No. No, I wouldn't. That wouldn't hurt enough. I'd give
up my damned country and be a naturalized Belgian. Why, they trust us.
They trust us to save Antwerp.”
“If we don't, that wouldn't be betrayal.”
“It would. The worst kind. It would be like betraying a wounded man;
or a woman. Like me betraying you, Jeanne. You needn't look like that.
It's so bad that it can't happen.”
Through the enveloping sadness she felt a prick of joy, seeing him
so valiant, so unbeaten in his soul. It supported her certainty. His
soul was so big that nothing could satisfy it but the big thing, the
big dangerous thing. He wouldn't even believe that Antwerp was falling.
* * * * *
She knew. She knew. There was not the smallest doubt about it any
more. She saw it happen.
It happened in the village near Lokeren, the village whose name she
couldn't remember. The Germans had taken Lokeren that morning; they
were in Lokeren. At any minute they might be in the village.
You had to pass through a little town to get to it. And there they
had been told that they must not go on. And they had gone on. And in
the village they were told that they must go back and they had not gone
back. They had been given five minutes to get in their wounded and they
had been there three-quarters of an hour, she and John working
together, and Trixie Rankin with McClane and two of his men.
Charlotte had been sorry for Sutton and Gwinnie and the rest of
McClane's corps who had not come out with them to this new place, but
had been sent back again to Melle where things had been so quiet all
morning that they hadn't filled their ambulances, and half of them had
hung about doing nothing. She had fretted at the stupidity which had
sent them where they were not wanted. But here there were not enough
hands for the stretchers, and Charlotte was wanted every second of the
time. From the first minute you could see what you were in for.
And for an instant, in the blind rush and confusion of it, she had
lost sight of John. She had turned the car round and left it with its
nose pointing towards Ghent. Trixie Rankin and the McClane men were at
the front cars taking out the stretchers; John and McClane were going
up the road. She had got out her own stretcher and was following them
when the battery came tearing down the road and cut them off. It tore
headlong, swerving and careening with great rattling and crashing
noises. She could see the faces of the men, thrown back, swaying; there
was no terror in them, only a sort of sullen anger and resentment.
She stood on the narrow sandy track beside the causeway to let it
pass, and when a gap came in the train she dashed through to get to
John. And John was not there. When all the artillery had passed he was
not there; only McClane, going on up the middle of the street by
She ran after him and asked him what had happened to John. He
turned, dreamy and deliberate, utterly unperturbed. John, he said, had
gone on to look for a wounded man who was said to have been taken into
one of those houses there, on the right, in the lane. She went down the
lane with her stretcher and McClane waited for them at the top. The
doors of the houses were open; Flemish women stood outside, looking up
to the street. There was one house with a shut door, a tall green door;
she thought that would be the one that John had gone into. She rapped
and he opened the door and came striding out, holding his head high. He
shut the door quietly and looked at her, an odd look, piercing and
“Dead,” he said.
And when McClane met them he said it again, “Dead.”
The wounded were being brought down from Lokeren in trams that ran
on to a siding behind a little fir plantation outside the village. At
the wide top of the street a table of boards and trestles stood by the
foot track, and the stretchers were laid on it as they came in, and the
wounded had their first bandaging and dressings there. McClane took up
his place by this table, and the stretcher bearers went backwards and
forwards between the village and the plantation.
Beyond the plantation the flagged road stretched flat and grey, then
bent in a deep curve, and on the wider sweep of the curve a row of
tall, slender trees stood up like a screen.
It would be round the turn of the road under the trees that the
Germans would come when they came. You couldn't lose this sense of
them, coming on behind there, not yet seen, but behind, coming on,
pursuing the retreat of the batteries. Every now and then they found
themselves looking up towards the turn. The grey, bending sweep and the
screen of tall trees had a fascination for them, a glamour; and above
the movements of their hands and feet their minds watched, intent,
excited, but without fear. There was no fear in the village. The women
came out of their houses carrying cups of water for the men's thirst;
they seemed to be concerned, not with the coming of the Germans, but
with the bringing in of the wounded and the presence of the English
ambulance in their street.
And the four stretcher bearers came and went, from house to house
and between the village and the plantation, working, working steadily.
Yet they were aware, all the time, of the pursuing terror, behind the
turn of the road; they were held still in their intentness. Over all of
them was a quiet, fixed serenity. McClane's body had lost its eager,
bustling energy and was still; his face was grave, preoccupied and
still; only Trixie Rankin went rushing, and calling out to her quiet
man in a fierce, dominating excitement.
And in John's face and in his alert body there was happiness,
happiness that was almost ecstasy; it ran through and shone from him,
firm and still, like a flame that couldn't go out. It penetrated her
and made her happy and satisfied and sure of him. She had seen it leap
up in him as he swung himself into the seat beside her when they
started. He was restless, restless every day until they were sent out;
he couldn't wait in peace before they had set off on the adventure, as
if he were afraid that at the last minute something would happen to
dash his chance from him. She couldn't find this passionate uneasiness
in herself; she waited with a stolid trust in the event; but she had
something of his feeling. After all, it was there, the romance, the
fascination, the glamour; you couldn't deny it any more than you could
deny the beating of the blood in your veins. It was their life.
They had been in the village three quarters of an hour. John and
Charlotte waited while McClane at his table was putting the last
bandage on the last wound. In another minute they would be gone. It was
then that the Belgian Red Cross man came running to them. Had they
taken a man with a wound in his back? A bad wound? As big as that? No?
Then he was still here, and he had got to take him to the ambulance.
No, he didn't know where he was. He might be in one of those houses
where they took in the wounded, or he might be up there by the tramway
in the plantation. Would they take a stretcher and find him? He
had to go back to the tramway. The last tram was coming in from
Lokeren. He ran back, fussy and a little frightened.
John shouted out, “Hold on, McClane, there's another tram coming,”
and set off up the street. They had taken all the men out of the
houses; therefore the man with the bad wound must have been left
somewhere by the plantation. They went there, carrying their stretcher,
going, going up to the last minute, in delight, in the undying thrill
of the danger.
The wounded man was not in the plantation. As they looked for him
the tram from Lokeren slid in, Red Cross men on the steps, clinging.
The doors were flung open and the wounded men came out, stumbling,
falling, pushing each other. Somebody cried, “No stretchers! Damned bad
management. With the Germans on our backs.” A Red Cross man, with a
puffed white face, stood staring at John and Charlotte, stupefied.
“Are they coming?” John said.
“Coming? They'll be here in ten minutes—five minutes.” He snarled,
a terrified animal.
He had caught sight of their stretcher and snatched at it, thrusting
out his face, the face of a terrified animal, open mouth, and round,
palpitating eyes. He lifted his hand as though he would have struck at
Charlotte, but John pushed him back. He was brutalized, made savage and
cruel by terror; he had a lust to hurt.
“You can't have our stretcher,” Charlotte said.
She could see they didn't want it. This was the last tram. The
serious cases had been sent on first. All these men could walk or
hobble along somehow with help. But they were the last in the retreat
of the wounded; they were the men who had been nearest to the enemy,
and they had known the extremity of fear.
“You can't have it. It's wanted for a badly wounded man.”
“Where is he?”
“We don't know. We're looking for him.”
“Ah, pah! We can't wait till you find him. Do you think we're going
to stand here to be taken?—For one man!”
They went on through the plantation, stumbling and growling,
dragging the wounded out into the road.
“If,” Charlotte said, “we only knew where he was.”
John stood there silent; his head was turned towards the far end of
the wood, the Lokeren end. The terror of the wood held him. He seemed
to be listening; listening, but only half awake.
Here, where the line stopped, a narrow track led downwards out of
the wood. Charlotte started to go along it. “Come on,” she said. She
saw him coming, quickly, but with drawn, sleep-walking feet. The track
led into a muddy alley at the back of the village.
There was a house there and a woman stood at the door, beckoning.
She ran up to them. “He's here,” she whispered, “he's here.”
He lay on his side on the flagged floor of the kitchen. His shirt
was ripped open, and in his white back, below the shoulder blade, there
was a deep red wound, like a pit, with a wide mouth, gaping. He was
ugly, a Flamand; he had a puffed face with pushed out lips and a scrub
of red beard; but Charlotte loved him.
They carried him out through the wood on to the road. He lay inert,
humped up, heavy. They had to go slowly, so slowly that they could see
the wounded and the Red Cross men going on far before them, down the
The flagged road swayed and swung with the swinging bulge of the
stretcher as they staggered. The shafts kept on slipping and slipping;
her grasp closed, tighter and tighter; her arms ached in their sockets;
but her fingers and the palms of her hands were firm and dry; they
could keep their hold.
They had only gone a few yards along the road when suddenly John
stopped and sank his end of the stretcher, compelling Charlotte to
lower hers too.
“What did you do that for?”
“We can't, Charlotte. He's too damned heavy.”
“If I can, you can.”
He didn't move. He stood there, staring with his queer, hypnotised
eyes, at the man lying in the middle of the road, at the red pit in the
white back, at the wide, ragged lips of the wound, gaping.
“For goodness' sake pick him up. It isn't the moment for resting.”
“Look here—it isn't good enough. We can't get him there in time.”
“You're—you're not going to leave him!”
“We've got to leave him. We can't let the whole lot be taken just
for one man.”
“We'll be taken if you stand here talking.”
He went on a step or two, slouching; then stood still, waiting for
her, ashamed. He was changed from himself, seized and driven by the
fear that had possessed the men in the plantation. She could see it in
his retreating eyes.
She cried out—her voice sounded sharp and strange—“John—! You
can't leave him.”
The wounded man who had lain inert, thinking that they were only
resting, now turned his head at her cry. She saw his eyes shaking,
palpitating with terror.
“You've frightened him,” she said. “I won't have him frightened.”
She didn't really believe that John was going. He went slowly, still
ashamed, and stopped again and waited for her.
“Come back,” she said, “this minute, and pick up that stretcher and
“I tell you it isn't good enough.”
“Oh, go then, if you're such a damned coward, and send Mac to me. Or
“They'll have gone.”
He was walking backwards, his face set towards the turn of the road.
“Come on, you little fool. You can't carry him.”
“I can. And I shall, if Mac doesn't come.”
“You'll be taken,” he shouted.
“I don't care. If I'm taken, I'm taken. I shall carry him on my
While John still went backwards she thought: It's all right. If he
sees I'm not coming he won't go. He'll come back to the stretcher.
But John had turned and was running.
Even then she didn't realise that he was running away, that she was
left there with the wounded man. Things didn't happen like that. People
ran away all of a sudden, in panics, because they couldn't help it;
they didn't begin by going slowly and stopping to argue and turning
round and walking backwards; they were gone before they knew where they
were. She believed that he was going for the ambulance. One moment she
believed it and the next she knew better. As she waited in the road
(conscious of the turn, the turn with its curving screen of tall trees)
her knowledge, her dreadful knowledge, came to her, dark and evil,
creeping up and up. John wasn't coming back. He would no more come back
than he had come back the other day. Sutton had come. The other day had
been like to-day. John was like that.
Her mind stood still in amazement, seeing, seeing clearly, what John
was like. For a moment she forgot about the Germans.
She thought: I don't believe Mac's gone. He wouldn't go until he'd
got them all in. Mac would come.
Then she thought about the Germans again. All this was making it
much more dangerous for Mac and everybody, with the Germans coming
round the corner any minute; she had no business to stand there
thinking; she must pick that man up on her back and go on.
She stooped down and turned him over on his chest. Then, with great
difficulty, she got him up on to his feet; she took him by the wrists
and, stooping again, swung him on to her shoulder. These acts,
requiring attention and drawing on all her energy, dulled the pain of
her knowledge. When she stood up with him she saw John and McClane
coming to her. She lowered her man gently back on to the stretcher.
The Flamand, thinking that she had given it up and that he was now
abandoned to the Germans, groaned.
“It's all right,” she said. “He's coming.”
She saw McClane holding John by the arm, and in her pain there was a
sharper pang. She had the illusion of his being dragged back
McClane smiled as he came to her. He glanced at the Flamand lying
heaped on his stretcher.
“He's been too much for you, has he?”
“Too much—? Yes.”
Instantly she saw that John had lied, and instantly she backed his
lie. She hated McClane thinking she had failed; but anything was better
than his knowing the truth.
John and McClane picked up the stretcher and went on quickly.
Charlotte walked beside the Flamand with her hand on his shoulder to
comfort him. Again her pity was like love.
From the top of the village she could see the opening of the lane.
Down there was the house with the tall green door where the dead man
was. John had said he was dead.
Supposing he wasn't? Or supposing he was still warm and limp like
the boy at Melle? She must know; it was a thing she must know for
certain, or she would never have any peace. And when the Flamand was
laid out on McClane's table, while McClane dressed his wound, she
slipped down the lane and opened the green door.
The man lay on a row of packing cases with his feet parted. She put
one hand over his heart and the other on his forehead under the lock of
bloodstained hair. He was dead: stiff dead and cold. His tunic and
shirt had been unbuttoned to ease his last breathing. She had a queer
baffled feeling of surprise and incompleteness, as if some awful sense
in her would have been satisfied if she had seen that he had been
living when John had said that he was dead. To-day would then have been
linked on firmly to the other day.
John stood at the top of the lane. He scowled at her as she came.
“What do you think you're doing!” he said.
“I went to that house—to see if the man was dead.”
“You'd no business to. I told you he was dead.”
“I wanted to make sure.”
* * * * *
That evening she had just gone to her room when somebody knocked at
her door. McClane stood outside, straddling, his way when he had got
something important on hand. He asked if he might come in and speak to
her for a minute.
She sat down on the edge of her bed and he sat on Gwinnie's, elbows
crooked out, hands planted on wide parted knees; he leaned forward,
looking at her, his face innocent and yet astute; his thick,
expressionless eyes clear now and penetrating. He seemed to be fairly
humming with activity left over from the excitement of the day. He was
always either dreamy and withdrawn, or bursting, bursting with energy,
and at odd moments he would drop off suddenly to sleep with his chin
doubled on his breast, recovering from his energy. Perhaps he had just
waked up now to this freshness.
“Look here,” he said. “You didn't break down. That man wasn't too
heavy for you.”
“He was. He was an awful weight. I couldn't have carried him a
“That won't do, Charlotte. I saw you take him on your back.”
She could feel the blood rising up in her face before him. He was
hurting her with shame.
He persisted, merciless. “It was Conway who broke down.”
She had tears now.
“Nobody knows,” he said gently, “but you and me.... I want to talk
to you about him. He must be got away from the Front. He must be got
out of Belgium.”
“You always wanted to get him away.”
“Only because I saw he would break down.”
“How could you tell?”
“I'm a psychotherapist. It's my business to tell.”
But she was still on the defensive.
“You never liked him.”
“I neither like nor dislike him. To me Conway is simply a sick man.
If I could cure him—”
“Not as you think. I can't turn his cowardice into courage. I might
turn it into something else but not that. That's why I say he ought to
go home. You must tell him.”
“I can't. Couldn't Billy tell him?”
“Well, hardly. He's his commandant.”
“Not I. You know what he thinks about me.”
“That I've got a grudge against him. That I'm jealous of him. You
thought it yourself.”
“You did. Look here, I say—I wanted to take you three into my
corps. And you'd have been sent home after the Berlaere affair if I
hadn't spoken for you. So much for my jealousy.”
“I only thought you were jealous of John.”
“Why, it was I who got him sent out that first day.”
“Yes. I wanted to give him his chance. And,” he added meditatively,
“I wanted to know whether I was right. I wanted to see what he would
“I don't think it now,” she said, reverting.
“That's all right.”
He laughed his brief, mirthless laugh, the assent of his egoism. But
his satisfaction had nothing personal in it. He was pleased because
justice, abstract justice, had been done. But she suspected his
sincerity. He did things for you, not because he liked you, but for
some other reason; and he would be so carried away by doing them that
he would behave as though he liked you when he didn't, when all the
time you couldn't for one minute rouse him from his immense
indifference. She knew he liked her for sticking to her post and for
taking the wounded man on her back, because that was the sort of thing
he would have done himself. And he had only helped John because he
wanted to see what he would do. Therefore she suspected his sincerity.
But, no; he wasn't jealous.
“And now,” he went on, “you must get him to go home at once, or
he'll have a bad break-down. You've got to tell him, Charlotte.”
She stood up, ready. “Where is he?”
“By himself. In his room.”
She went to him there.
He was sitting at his little table. He had been trying to write a
letter, but he had pushed it from him and left it. You could see he was
absorbed in some bitter meditation. She seated herself at the head of
his bed, on his pillow, where she could look down at him.
“John,” she said, “you can't go on like this—”
He held his head high; but the excited, happy light had gone out of
his eyes; they stared, not as though they saw anything, but withdrawn,
as though he were contemplating the fearful memory of his fear.
And she was sorry for him, so sorry that she couldn't bear it. She
bit her lip lest she should sob out with pain.
“Oh—” she said, and her pain stopped her.
“I don't know what you're talking about—'going on like this.'
“What's the good? You've had enough. If I were you I should go home.
You know you can't stand it.”
“What? Go and leave my cars to Sutton?”
“McClane could take them.”
“I don't know how long McClane signed on for. I signed on for
the duration of the war.”
“There wasn't any signing on.”
“Well, if you like, I swore I wouldn't go back till it was over.”
“Yes, and supposing it happens again.”
“What should happen again?”
“What happened this afternoon.... And it wasn't the first time.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“I saw what happened. You simply went to pieces.”
“My dear Charlotte, you went to pieces, if you like.”
“I know that's what you told Mac. And he knows how true it
“Does he? Well—he shan't have my ambulances. You don't suppose I'm
going to let McClane fire me out of Belgium?... I suppose he put you up
He stood up as a sign to her to leave him. “I don't see that there's
anything more to be said.”
“There's one thing.” (She slid to her feet.) “You swore you'd
stick till the war's over. I swore, if I had to choose between
you and the wounded, it shouldn't be you.”
“You haven't got to choose. You've only got to obey orders....”
His face stiffened. He looked like some hard commander imposing an
“... The next time,” he said, “you'll be good enough to remember
that I settle what risks are to be taken, not you.”
Her soul stiffened, too, and was hard. She stood up against him with
her shoulder to the door.
“It sounds all right,” she said. “But the next time I'll
carry him on my back all the way.”
* * * * *
She went to bed with her knowledge. He funked and lied. The two
things she couldn't stand. His funk and his lying were a real part of
him. And it was as if she had always known it, as if all the movements
of her mind had been an effort to escape her knowledge.
She opened her eyes. Something hurt them. Gwinnie, coming late to
bed, had turned on the electric light. And as she rolled over, turning
her back to the light and to Gwinnie, her mind shifted. It saw suddenly
the flame leaping in John's face. His delight in danger, that happiness
he felt when he went out to meet it, happiness springing up bright and
new every day; that was a real part of him. She couldn't doubt it. She
knew. And she was left with her queer, baffled sense of surprise and
incompleteness. She couldn't see the nature of the bond between these
That was his secret, his mystery.
She woke very early in the morning with one clear image in her mind:
what John had done yesterday.
Her mind seemed to have watched all night behind her sleep to attack
her with it in the first moment of waking. She had got to come to a
clear decision about that. If Billy Sutton had done it, or one of
McClane's chauffeurs, her decision would have been very clear. She
would have said he was a filthy coward and dismissed him from her mind.
But John couldn't be dismissed. His funk wasn't like other people's
funk. Coupled with his ecstatic love of danger it had an unreal,
fantastic quality. Somehow she couldn't regard his love of danger as an
unreal, fantastic thing. It had come too near her; it had moved her too
profoundly and too long; she had shared it as she might have shared his
So that, even in the sharp, waking day she felt his fear as a
secret, mysterious thing. She couldn't account for it. She didn't,
considering the circumstances, she didn't judge the imminence of the
Germans to be a sufficient explanation. It was as incomprehensible
to-day as it had been yesterday.
But there was fear and fear. There was the cruel, animal fear of the
Belgians in the plantation, fear that was dark to itself and had no
sadness in it; and there was John's fear that knew itself and was sad.
The unbearable, inconsolable sadness of John's fear! After all, you
could think of him as a gentle thing, caught unaware in a trap and
tortured. And who was she to judge him? She in her “armour” and he in
his coat of nerves. His knowledge and his memory of his fear would be
like a raw open wound in his mind; and her knowledge of it would be a
perpetual irritant, rubbing against it and keeping up the sore. Last
night she hadn't done anything to heal him; she had only hurt.... And
if she gave John up his wound would never heal. She owed a sort of duty
to the wound.
Of course, like John, she would go on remembering what had happened
yesterday. She would never get over it any more than he would. Yet,
after all, yesterday was only one day out of his life. There might
never be another like it. And to set against yesterday there was their
first day at Berlaere and the day afterwards at Melle; there was
yesterday morning and there was that other day at Melle. She had no
business to suppose that he had done then what he did yesterday. They
had settled that once for all at the time, when he said Billy Sutton
had told him she was going back with him. It all hung on that. If that
was right, the rest was right....
Supposing Billy hadn't told him anything of the sort, though? She
would never know that. She couldn't say to Billy: “Did you tell
John I was going back with you? Because; if you didn't—” She would
have to leave that as it was, not quite certain.... And she couldn't be
quite certain whether the boy had been dead or alive. And ... No. She
couldn't get over it, John's cowardice. It had destroyed the unique,
beautiful happiness she had had with him.
For it was no use saying that courage, physical courage, didn't
count. She could remember a long conversation she had had with George
Corfield, the man who wanted to marry her, about that. He had said
courage was the least thing you could have. That only meant that,
whatever else you hadn't, you must have that. It was a sort of trust.
You were trusted not to betray defenceless things. A coward was a
person who betrayed defenceless things. George had said that the
world's adoration of courage was the world's cowardice, its fear of
betrayal. That was a question for cowards to settle among themselves.
The obligation not to betray defenceless things remained. It was so
simple and obvious that people took it for granted; they didn't talk
about it. They didn't talk about it because it was so deep and sacred,
like honour and like love; so that, when John had talked about it she
had always felt that he was her lover, saying the things that other men
might not say, things he couldn't have said to any other woman.
It was inconceivable that he—It couldn't have happened. As he had
said of the defeat of Belgium, it was so bad that it couldn't happen.
Odd, that the other day she had accepted at once a thing she didn't
know for certain, while now she fought fiercely against a thing she
knew; and always the memory of it, returning, beat her down.
She had to make up her mind on what terms she would live with it and
whether she would live with it at all. Supposing it happened again?
Supposing you had always to go in fear of its happening?... It mightn't
happen. Funk might be a thing that attacked you like an illness, or
like drink, in fits, with long, calm intervals between. She wondered
what it would feel like to be subject to attacks. Perhaps you would
recover; you would be on the look-out, and when you felt another fit
coming on you could stave it off or fight it down. And the first time
wouldn't count because you had had no warning. It wouldn't be fair to
give him up because of the first time.
He would have given her up, he would have left her to the
Germans—Yes; but if she broke with him now she would never get beyond
that thought, she would never get beyond yesterday; she would always
see it, the flagged road swinging with the swinging bulge of the
stretcher, the sudden stopping, the Flamand with his wound, the shafts
of the stretcher, suddenly naked, sticking out; and then all the
fantastic, incredible movements of John's flight. Her mind would
separate from him on that, closing everything down, making his act
And, after all, the Germans hadn't come round the corner. Perhaps he
wouldn't have left her if they had really come. How did she know what
he wouldn't have done?
No. That was thin. Thin. She couldn't take herself in quite in that
way. It was the way she had tried with Gibson Herbert. When he did
anything she loathed she used to pretend he hadn't done it. But with
John, if she didn't give him up, her eyes must always be open. Perhaps
they would get beyond yesterday. Perhaps she would see other things, go
on with him to something new, forgetting. Her unique, beautiful
happiness was smashed. Still, there might be some other happiness,
beautiful, though not with the same beauty.
If John had got the better of his fear—She thought of all the men
she had ever heard of who had done that, coming out in the end heroic,
* * * * *
Three things, three little things that happened that morning, that
showed the way his mind was working. Things that she couldn't get over,
that she would never forget.
John standing on the hospital steps, watching Trixie Rankin and
Alice Bartrum as they started with the ambulances; the fierce fling of
his body, turning away.
His voice saying, “I loathe those women. There's Alice Bartrum—I
saw her making eyes at Sutton over a spouting artery. As for Mrs.
Rankin they ought to intern her. She oughtn't to be allowed within ten
miles of any army. That's one thing I like about McClane. He can't
stand that sort of thing any more than I can.”
“How about Gwinnie and me?”
“Gwinnie hangs her beastly legs about all over the place. So do
John standing at the foot of the stairs, looking at the Antwerp men.
Their heads and faces were covered with a white mask of cotton wool
like a diver's helmet, three small holes in each white mask for mouth
and eyes. They were the men whose faces had been burned by fire at
“Come away,” she said. But he still stood, fascinated, hypnotised by
the white masks.
“If I were to stick there, doing nothing, looking at the wounded, I
should go off my head.”
“My God! So should I. Those everlasting wounds. They make you dream
about them. Disgusting dreams. I never really see the wound, but I'm
just going to see it. I know it's going to be more horrible than any
wound I've ever seen. And then I wake.... That's why I don't look at
them more than I can help.”
“You're looking at them now,” she said.
“Oh, them. That's nothing. Cotton wool.”
And she, putting her hand on his arm to draw him up the stairs,
away. John shaking her hands off and his queer voice rising. “I wish
you wouldn't do that, Charlotte. You know I hate it.”
He had never said anything to her like that before. It hadn't struck
her before that, changed to himself, he would change to her. He hadn't
got over last night. She had hurt him; her knowledge of his cowardice
hurt him; and this was how he showed his pain.
She thought: Here's Antwerp falling and Belgium beaten. And all
those wounded. And the dead.... And here am I, bothering about these
little things, as if they mattered. Three little things.
* * * * *
The fire from the battlefield had raked the village street as they
came in; but it had ceased now. The cure had been through it all, going
up and down, helping with the stretchers. John was down there in the
wine-shop, where the soldiers were, looking for more wounded.
They had found five in the stable yard, waiting to be taken away;
they had moved four of them into the ambulance. The fifth, shot through
the back of his head, still lay on the ground on a stretcher that
dripped blood. Charlotte stood beside him.
The cure came to her there. He was slender and lean in his black
cassock. He had a Red Cross brassard on his sleeve, and in one hand he
carried his missal and in the other the Host and the holy oils in a
little bag of purple silk. He looked down at the stretcher and he
looked at Charlotte, smiling faintly.
“Where is Monsieur?” he said.
“In the wine-shop, looking for wounded.”
She thought: He isn't looking, for them. He's skulking there, out of
the firing. He'll always be like that.
It had begun again. The bullets whistled in the air and rapped on
the stone causeway, and ceased. The cure glanced down the street
towards the place they had come from and smiled again.
She liked his lean dark face and the long lines that came in it when
it smiled. It despised the firing, it despised death, it despised
everything that could be done to him there. And it was utterly
“Then,” he said, “it is for you and me to carry him, Mademoiselle.”
He stooped to the stretcher.
Between them they lifted him very slowly and gently into the
“There, Monsieur, at the bottom.”
At the bottom because of the steady drip, drip, that no bandaging
could staunch. He lay straight and stiff, utterly unconcerned, and his
feet in their enormous boots, slightly parted, stuck out beyond the
stretcher. The four others sat in a row down one side of the car and
stared at him.
The cure climbed in after him, carrying the Host. He knelt there,
where the blood from the smashed head oozed through the bandages and
through the canvas of the stretchers to the floor and to the skirts of
The Last Sacrament. Charlotte waited till it was over, standing
stolidly by the tail of the car. She could have cried then because of
the sheer beauty of the cure's act, even while she wondered whether
perhaps the wafer on his tongue might not choke the dying man.
The cure hovered on the edge of the car, stooping with a certain
awkwardness; she took from him his missal and his purple bag as he
gathered his cassock about him and came down.
“Can I do anything, Monsieur?”
“No, Mademoiselle. It is done.”
His eyes smiled at her; but his lips were quivering as he took again
his missal and his purple bag. She watched him going on slowly down the
street till he turned into the wine-shop. She wondered: Had he seen?
Did he know why John was there? In another minute John came out,
hurrying to the car.
He glanced down at the blood stains by the back step; then he looked
in; and when he saw the man lying on the stretcher he turned on her in
“What are you thinking of? I told you you weren't to take him.”
“I had to. I couldn't leave him there. I thought—”
“You've no business to think.”
“Well, but the cure—”
“The cure doesn't know anything about it.”
“I don't care. If he's in a clean bed—if they take his boots off—”
“I told you they can't spare clean beds for corpses. He'll be dead
before you can get him there.”
“Not if we're quick.”
“Nonsense. We must get him out of that.”
He seized the handle of the stretcher and began pulling; she hung on
to his arm and stopped that.
“No. No,” she said. “You shan't touch him.”
He flung her arm off and turned. “You fool,” he said. “You fool.”
She looked at him steadily, a long look that remembered, that made
“There isn't time,” she said. “They'll begin firing in
“Damn you.” But he had turned, slinking round the corner of the hood
to the engine. While he cranked it up she thought of the kit that one
of the men had left there in the yard. She made a dash and fetched it,
and as she threw it on the floor the car started. She snatched at the
rope and swung herself up on to the step. The dying man lay behind her,
straight and stiff; his feet in their heavy boots stuck out close under
The four men nodded and grinned at her. They protected her. They
If only she could get him into a clean bed. If only she had had time
to take his boots off. It would be all right if only she could bring
him in alive.
He was still alive when they got into Ghent.
She had forgotten John and it was not until they came to take out
the stretcher that she was again aware of him. They had drawn up before
the steps of the hospital; he had got down and was leaning sideways,
staring under the stretcher.
“What is it?”
“You can see what it is. Blood.”
From the hole in the man's head, through the soaked bandages, it
still dripped, dripped with a light sound; it had made a glairy pool on
the floor of the ambulance.
“Don't look at it,” she said. “It'll make you sick. You know you
can't stand it.”
“Oh. I can't stand it, can't I?”
He straightened himself. He threw back his head; his upper lip
lifted, stretched tight and thin above the clean white teeth. His eyes
looked down at her, narrowed, bright slits under dropped lids.
“John—I want to get him in before he dies.”
“All right. Get in under there. Take his head.”
“Hadn't I better take his feet?”
“You'd better take what you're told to.”
She stiffened to the weight, heaved up her shoulder. Two men came
running down the steps to help her as John pulled.
“They'll be glad,” he said, “to see him.”
* * * * *
She was in the yard of the hospital, swabbing out the car, when John
came to her.
The back and side of the hospital, the long barracks of the annex
and the wall at the bottom enclosed a waste place of ochreish clay. A
long wooden shed, straw-white and new, was built out under the red
brick of the annex. She thought it was a garage. John came out of the
door of the shed. He beckoned to her as he came.
“Come here,” he said. “I want to show you something.”
They went close together, John gripping her arm, in the old way, to
steer her. As they came to the long wall of the shed his eyes slewed
round and looked at her out of their corners. She had seen that
sidelong, attentive look once before, when she was a little girl, in
the eyes of a schoolboy who had taken her away and told her something
horrid. The door of the shed stood ajar. John half led, half pushed her
“Look there—” he said.
The dead men were laid out in a row, on their backs; greyish-white,
sallow-white faces upturned; bodies straight and stiff on a thin litter
of straw. Pale grey light hovered, filtered through dust.
It came from some clearer place of glass beyond that might have been
a carpenter's shop, partitioned off. She couldn't see what was going on
there. She didn't see anything but the dead bodies, the dead faces, and
John's living face.
He leaned against the wall; his head was thrown back, his eyes moved
glistening under the calm lids; the corners of his mouth and the wings
of his nostrils were lifted as he laughed: a soft, thin laugh breathed
out between the edges of his teeth. He pointed.
“There's your man. Shows how much they wanted him, doesn't it?”
He lay there, the last comer, in his uniform and bloody bandages,
his stiff, peaked mouth open, his legs stretched apart as they had
sprung in his last agony.
She cried out in her fright and put her hands over her eyes. She had
always been afraid of the dead bodies. She didn't want to know where
they put them, and nobody told her.
John gripped her wrists so that he hurt her and dragged down her
hands. He looked into her eyes, still laughing.
“I thought you weren't afraid of anything,” he said.
“I'm not afraid when we're out there. I'm only afraid of seeing
them. You know I am.”
She turned, but he had put himself between her and the door. She
wrenched at the latch, sobbing.
“How could you be so cruel? What did you do it for? What did
you do it for?”
“I wanted you to see what they've done with him. There's his clean
bed. They haven't even taken his boots off.”
“You brute. You utter brute!”
A steely sound like a dropped hammer came from behind the glass
partition; then the sliding of a latch. John opened the door a little
way and she slipped out past him.
“Next time,” he said, “perhaps you'll do as you're told.”
She wanted to get away by herself. Not into her own room, where
Gwinnie, who had been unloading ambulance trains half the night, now
rested. The McClane Corps was crowding into the messroom for tea. She
passed through without looking at any of them and out to the balcony,
closing the French window behind her. She could hide there beyond the
window where the wall was blank.
She leaned back, flattening herself against the wall....
Something would have to be done. They couldn't go on like this....
Her mind went to and fro, quickly, with short jerky movements,
distressed; it had to do so much thinking in so short a time.
She would always have to reckon with John's fear. And John's fear
was not what she had thought it, a sad, helpless, fatal thing, sad
because it knew itself doom-like and helpless. It was cruel, with a
sort of mental violence in it, worse than the cruel animal fear of the
men in the plantation. She could see that his cowardice had something
to do with his cruelty and that his cruelty was somehow linked up with
his cowardice; but she couldn't for the life of her imagine the secret
of the bond. She only felt that it would be something secret and
horrible; something that she would rather not know about.
And she knew that since yesterday he had left off caring for her.
His love had died a sudden, cruel and violent death. His cowardice had
done that too.... And he had left off caring for the wounded. It was
almost as if he hated them, because they lay so still, keeping him
back, keeping him out under the fire.
Queer, but all those other cowardly things that he had done had
seemed to her unreal even when she had seen him doing them; and
afterwards when she thought about them they were unreal, as if they
hadn't happened, as if she had just imagined them. Incredible, and yet
the sort of thing you could imagine if you tried. But that last
devilish thing he did, it had a hard, absolute reality. Just because it
was inconceivable, because you couldn't have imagined it, you couldn't
doubt that it had happened.
It was happening now. As long as she lived it would go on happening
in her mind. She would never get away from it.
There were things that men did, bestial things, cruel things, things
they did to women. But not things like this. They didn't think
of them, because this thing wasn't thinkable.
Why had John done it? Why? She supposed he wanted to hurt her and
frighten her because he had been hurt, because he had been frightened.
And because he knew she loved her wounded men. Perhaps he wanted to
make her hate him and have done with it.
Well, she did hate him. Oh, yes, she hated him.
She heard the window open and shut and a woman's footsteps swishing
on the stone floor. Trixie Rankin came to her, with her quick look that
fell on you like a bird swooping. She stood facing her, upright and
stiff in her sharp beauty; her lips were pressed together as though
they had just closed on some biting utterance; but her eyes were soft
“What's he done this time?” she said.
“He hasn't done anything.”
“Oh yes, he has. He's done something perfectly beastly.”
It was no use lying to Trixie. She knew what he was like, even if
she didn't know about yesterday, even if she didn't know what he had
done now. Nobody could know that. She looked straight at Trixie, with
broad, open eyes that defied her to know.
“What makes you think so?”
“Damn my face. It's got nothing to do with you, Trixie.”
“Yes it has. If it gives the show away I can't help seeing, can I?”
“You can help talking.”
“Yes, I can help talking.”
The arrogance had gone out of her face. It could change in a minute
from the face of a bird of prey to the face of a watching angel. It
looked at her as it looked at wounded men: tender and protective. But
Trixie couldn't see that you didn't want any tenderness and protection
just then, or any recognition of your wound.
“You rum little blighter,” she said. “Come along. Nobody's going to
There was a stir as Charlotte went in; people shifting their places
to make room for her; McClane calling out to her to come and sit by
him; Alice Bartrum making sweet eyes; the men getting up and cutting
bread and butter and reaching for her cup to give it her. She could see
they were all determined to be nice, to show her what they thought of
her; they had sent Trixie to bring her in. There was something a little
deliberate about it and exaggerated. They were getting it up—a
demonstration in her favour, a demonstration against John Conway.
She talked; but her thoughts ran by themselves on a line separate
from her speech.
“We got in six wounded.” ... “That cure was there again. He was
splendid.” ... They didn't know anything. They condemned him on the
evidence of her face, the face she had brought back to them, coming
straight from John. Her face had the mark of what he had done to
her.... “Much firing? Not so very much.” ... She remembered what he had
said to her about her face. “Something's happened to it. Some cruelty.
Some damnable cruelty....”
“We'll have to go out there again.”
They were all listening, and Alice Bartrum had made fresh tea for
her; McClane was setting down her cup. She was thirsty; she longed for
the fresh, fragrant tea; she was soothed by the kind, listening faces.
Suddenly they drew away; they weren't listening any more. John had come
into the room.
It flashed on her that all these people thought that John was her
lover, her lover in the way they understood love. They were looking at
him as if they hated him. But John's face was quiet and composed and
somehow triumphant; it held itself up against all the hostile faces; it
fronted McClane and his men as their equal; it was the face of a man
who has satisfied a lust. His whole body had a look of assurance and
accomplishment, as if his cruelty had given him power.
And with it all he kept his dreadful beauty. It hurt her to look at
She rose, leaving her tea untasted, and went out of the room. She
couldn't sit there with him. She had given him up. Her horror of him
was pure, absolute. It would never return on itself to know pity or
And the next day, as if nothing had happened, he was excited and
eager to set out. He could sleep off his funk in the night, like drink,
and get up in the morning as if it had never been. He was more immune
from memory than any drunkard. He woke to his romance as a child wakes
to the renewed wonder of the world. It was so real to him that, however
hardly you judged him, you couldn't think of him as a humbug or a
hypocrite.... No. He was not that. He was not that. His mind truly
lived in a glorious state for which none of his disgraceful deeds were
ever done. It created a sort of innocence for him. She could forgive
him (even after yesterday), she could almost believe in him again when
she saw him coming down the hall to the ambulance with his head raised
and his eyes shining, gallant and keen.
They were to go to Berlaere. Trixie Rankin had gone on before them
with Gurney, McClane's best chauffeur. McClane and Sutton were at
They had not been to Berlaere since that day, the first time they
had gone out together. That time at least had been perfect; it remained
secure; nothing could ever spoil it; she could remember the delight of
it, their strange communion of ecstasy, without doubt, without
misgiving. You could never forget. It might have been better if you
could, instead of knowing that it would exist in you forever, to
torment you by its unlikeness to the days, the awful, incredible days
that had come afterwards. There was no way of thinking that John had
been more real that day than he had been yesterday. She was simply left
with the inscrutable mystery of him on her hands. But she could see
clearly that he was more real to himself. Yesterday and the day before
had ceased to exist for him. He was back in his old self.
There was only one sign of memory that he gave. He was no longer her
lover; he no longer recognised her even as his comrade. He was her
commandant. It was his place to command, and hers to be commanded. He
looked at her, when he looked at her at all, with a stern coldness. She
was a woman who had committed some grave fault, whom he no longer
trusted. So masterly was his playing of this part, so great, in a way,
was still his power over her, that there were moments when she almost
believed in the illusion he created. She had committed some grave
fault. She was not worthy of his trust. Somewhere, at some time
forgotten, in some obscure and secret way, she had betrayed him.
She had so mixed her hidden self with his in love that even now,
with all her knowledge of him, she couldn't help feeling the thing as
he felt it and seeing as he saw. Her mind kept on passing in and out of
the illusion with little shocks of astonishment.
And yet all the time she was acutely aware of the difference. When
she went out with him she felt that she was going with something
dangerous and uncertain. She knew what fear was now. She was afraid all
the time of what he would do next, of what he would not do. Her wounded
were not safe with him. Nothing was safe.
She wished that she could have gone out with Billy; with Billy there
wouldn't be any excitement, but neither would there be this abominable
fear. On the other hand you couldn't let anybody else take the risk of
John; and you couldn't, you simply couldn't let him go alone. Conceive
him going alone—the things that might happen; she could at least see
that some things didn't.
It was odd, but John had never shown the smallest desire to go
without her. If he hadn't liked it he could easily have taken Sutton or
Gwinnie or one of the McClane men. It was as if, in spite of his
hostility, he still felt, as he had said, that where she was everything
would be right.
And it looked as if this time nothing could go wrong. When they came
into the village the firing had stopped; it was concentrating further
east towards Zele. Trixie's ambulance was packed, and Trixie was
excited and triumphant.
Her gestures waved them back as useless, much too late; without them
she had got in all the wounded. But in the end they took over two of
them, slight cases that Trixie resigned without a pang. She had had to
turn them out to make room for poor Gurney, the chauffeur, who had hurt
himself, ruptured something, slipping on a muddy bank with his
Mr. Conway, she said, could drive her back to Ghent and Charlotte
could follow with the two men. She had settled it all, in her bright,
domineering way, in a second, and now swung herself up on the back step
of her car.
They had got round the turn of the village and Charlotte was
starting to follow them when she heard them draw up. In another minute
John appeared, walking back slowly down the street with a young Belgian
lieutenant. They were talking earnestly together. So soon as Charlotte
saw the lieutenant she had a sense of something happening, something
fatal, that would change Trixie's safe, easy programme. John as he came
on looked perturbed and thoughtful. They stopped. The lieutenant was
saying something final. John nodded assent and saluted. The lieutenant
sketched a salute and hurried away in the opposite direction.
John waited till he was well out of sight before he came to her.
(She noticed that.) He had the look at first of being up to something,
as if the devil of yesterday was with him still.
It passed. His voice had no devil in it. “I say, I've got a job for
you, Charlotte. Something you'll like.”
There was no devil in his voice, but he stared away from her as he
“I don't want you to go to Ghent. I want you to go on to Zele.”
“Zele? Do I know the way?”
“It's quite easy. You turn round and go the way we went that first
day—you remember? It's the shortest cut from here.”
“Pretty bad going though. Hadn't we better go on and strike the main
“Yes, if you want to go miles round and get held up by the
“All right—if we can get through.”
“You'll get through all right.” His voice had the tone of finality.
“I'm to go by myself then?”
“Well—if I've got to drive Mrs. Rankin—”
She thought: It's going to be dangerous.
“By the way, I haven't told her I'm sending you. You don't want her
butting in and going with you.”
“No. I certainly don't want Trixie.... And look here, I don't
particularly want those men. Much better leave them here where they're
safe and send in again for them.”
“I don't know that I can send in again. We're supposed to
have finished this job. The cars may be wanted for anything. They'll
be all right.”
“I don't like taking them.”
“You're making difficulties,” he said. He was irritable and hurried;
he had kept on turning and looking up the street as though he thought
the lieutenant might appear again at any minute.
“When will you learn that you've simply got to obey orders?”
She hadn't a chance with him. Whatever she said and did he could
always bring it round to that, her orders. She thought she knew what
his orders had been.
He cranked up the engine. She could see him stooping and rising to
it, a rhythmic, elastic movement; he was cranking energetically, with a
sort of furious, flushed enjoyment of his power.
She backed and turned and he ran forward with her as she started. He
shouted “Don't think about the main road. Get through.... And hurry
up. You haven't got too much time.”
She knew. It was going to be dangerous and he funked it. He hadn't
got to drive Trixie into Ghent. When the worst came to the worst Trixie
could drive herself. She thought: He didn't tell her because he
daren't. He knew she wouldn't let him send me by myself. She'd make
him go. She'd stand over him and bully him till he had to.
Still, she could do it. She could get through. Going by herself was
better than going with a man who funked it. Only she would have liked
it better without the two wounded men. She thought of them, jostled,
falling against each other, falling forward and recovering, shaken by
the jolting of the car, and perhaps brought back into danger. She
suspected that not having too much time might be the essence of the
Everything was quiet as they ran along the open road from the
village to the hamlet that sat low and humble on the edge of the
fields. A few houses and the long wall of the barn still stood; but by
this time the house she had brought the guns from had the whole of its
roof knocked in, and the stripped gable at the end of the row no longer
pricked up its point against the sky; the front of the hollow shell had
fallen forward and flung itself across the road.
For a moment she thought the way was blocked. She thought: If I
can't get round I must get over. She backed, charged, and the car,
rocking a little, struggled through. And there, where the road swerved
slightly, the high wall of a barn, undermined, bulged forward,
toppling. It answered the vibration of the car with a visible tremor.
So soon as she passed it fell with a great crash and rumbling and
sprawled in a smoky heap that blocked her way behind her.
After that they went through quiet country for a time, but further
east, near the town, the shelling began. The road here was opened up
into great holes with ragged, hollow edges; she had to skirt them
carefully, and sometimes there would not be enough clear ground to move
in, and one wheel of the car would go unsupported, hanging over space.
Yet she had got through.
As she came into Zele she met the last straggling line of the
refugees. They cried out to her not to go on. She thought: I must get
those men before the retreat begins.
* * * * *
Returning with her heavy load of wounded, on the pitch-black road,
half way to Ghent she was halted. She had come up with the tail end of
* * * * *
Trixie Rankin stood on the hospital steps looking out. The car
turned in and swung up the rubber incline, but instead of stopping
before the porch it ran on towards the downward slope. Charlotte jammed
on the brakes with a hard jerk and backed to the level.
She couldn't think how she had let the car do that. She couldn't
think why she was slipping from the edge of it into Trixie's arms. And
stumbling in that ignominious way on the steps with Trixie holding her
up on one side.... It didn't last. After she had drunk the hot black
coffee that Alice Bartrum gave her she was all right.
The men had gone out of the messroom, leaving them alone.
“I'm all right, Trixie, only a bit tired.”
“Tired? I should think you were tired. That Conway man's a
perfect devil. Fancy scooting back himself on a safe trip and sending
you out to Zele. Zele!”
“McClane doesn't care much where he sends you.”
“Oh, Mac—As if he could stop us. But he'd draw the line at Zele,
with the Germans coming into it.”
“Rot. They weren't coming in for hours and hours.”
“Well, anyhow he thought they were.”
“He didn't think anything about it. I wanted to go and I went.
He—he couldn't stop me.”
“It's no good lying to me, Charlotte. I know too much. I know he had
orders to go to Zele himself and the damned coward funked it. I've a
good mind to report him to Head Quarters.”
“No. You won't do that. You wouldn't be such a putrid beast.”
“If I don't, Charlotte, it's because I like you. You're the
pluckiest little blighter in the world. But I'll tell you what I
shall do. Next time your Mr. Conway's ordered on a job he doesn't
fancy I'll go with him and hold his nose down to it by the scruff of
his neck. If he was my man I'd bloody well tell him what I
thought of him.”
“It doesn't matter what you think of him. You were pretty well gone
on him yourself once.”
“When you wanted to turn Mac out and make him commandant.”
“Oh, then—I was a jolly fool to be taken in by him. So were
She stopped on her way to the door. “I admit he looks
everything he isn't. But that only shows what a beastly humbug the man
“No. He isn't a humbug. He really likes going out even if he can't
stand it when he gets there.”
“I've no use for that sort of courage.”
“It isn't courage. But it isn't humbug.”
“I've no use for your fine distinctions either.”
She heard Alice Bartrum's voice calling to Trixie as she went out,
“It's jolly decent of her not to go back on him.”
The voice went on. “You needn't mind what Trixie says about cold
feet. She's said it about everybody. About Sutton and Mac, and all our
men, and me.”
She thought: What's the good of lying when they all know? Still,
there were things they wouldn't know if she kept on lying, things they
would never guess.
“Trixie doesn't know anything about him,” she said. “No more do you.
You don't know what he was.”
“Whatever he is, whatever he's done, Charlotte, you mustn't
let it hurt you. It hasn't anything to do with you. We all know what
“Me? I'm not bothering about myself. I tell you it's not what you
think about him, it's what I think.”
“Yes,” said Alice Bartrum. Then Gwinnie Denning and John Conway came
in and she left them.
John carried himself very straight, and again Charlotte saw about
him that odd look of accomplishment and satisfaction.
“So you got through?” he said.
“Yes. I got through.” They kept their eyes from each other as they
Gwinnie struck in, “Are you all right?”
“Yes, rather.... The little Belgian Army doctor was there. He was
adorable, sticking on, working away with his wounded, in a sort of
heavenly peace, with the Germans just outside.”
“How many did you get?”
“Oh good.... I've the rottenest luck. I'd have given my head to have
gone with you.”
“I'm glad you didn't. It wasn't what you'd call a lady's tea-party.”
“Who wants a lady's tea-party? I ought to have gone in with the Mac
Corps. Then I'd have had a chance.”
“Not this time. Mac draws the line somewhere.... Look here, Gwinnie,
I wish you'd clear out a minute and let me talk to John.”
Gwinnie went, grumbling.
For a moment silence came down between them. John was drinking
coffee with an air of being alone in the room, pretending that he
hadn't heard and didn't see her.
“John—I didn't mind driving that car. I knew I could do it and I
did it. I won't say I didn't mind the shelling, because I did. Still,
shelling's all in the day's work. And I didn't mind your sending me,
because I'd rather have gone myself than let you go. I don't want you
to be killed. Somehow that's still the one thing I couldn't bear. But
if you'd sent Gwinnie I'd have killed you.”
“I didn't send Gwinnie. I gave you your chance. I knew you wanted to
cut Mrs. Rankin out.”
“I? I never thought of such a rotten thing.”
“Well, you talked about danger as if you liked it.”
“So did you.”
“Oh—go to hell.”
“I've just come from there.”
“Oh—so you were frightened, were you?”
“Yes, I was horribly frightened. I had thirteen wounded men with me.
What do you suppose it feels like, driving a heavy ambulance car by
yourself? You can't sit in front and steer and look after thirteen
wounded men at the same time. I had to keep hopping in and out. That
isn't nice when there's shells about. I shall never forgive you for not
coming to give a hand with those men. There's funk you can forgive
She thought: “It's John—John—I'm saying these disgusting things
to. I'm as bad as Trixie, telling him what I bloody well think of him,
going back on him.”
“And there's funk—”
“You'd better take care, Charlotte. Do you know I could get you
fired out of Belgium to-morrow?”
“Not after to-night, I think.” (It was horrible.)
He got up and opened the door. “Anyhow, you'll clear out of this
room now, damn you.”
“I wish you'd heard that Army doctor damning you.”
“Why didn't he go back with you himself, then?”
“He couldn't leave his wounded.”
He slammed the door hard behind her.
That was just like him. Wounded men everywhere, trying to sleep, and
he slammed doors. He didn't care.
She would have to go on lying. She had made up her mind to that. So
long as it would keep the others from knowing, so long as John's
awfulness went beyond their knowledge, so long as it would do any good
to John, she would lie.
Her time had come. She remembered saying that. She could hear
herself talking to John at Barrow Hill Farm: “Everybody's got their
breaking point.... I daresay when my time comes I shall funk and lie.”
Well, didn't she? Funk—the everlasting funk of wondering what John
would do next; and lying, lying at every turn to save him. He
was her breaking point.
She had lied, the first time they went out, about the firing. She
wondered whether she had done it because then, even then, she had been
afraid of his fear. Hadn't she always somehow, in secret, been afraid?
She could see the car coming round the corner by the Church in the
narrow street at Stow, she could feel it grazing her thigh, and John
letting her go, jumping safe to the curb. She had pretended that it
But that first day—No. He had been brave then. She had only lied
because she was afraid he would worry about her.... Brave then. Could
war tire you and wear you down, and change you from yourself? In two
weeks? Change him so that she had to hate him!
Half the night she lay awake wondering: Do I hate him because he
doesn't care about me? Or because he doesn't care about the wounded?
She could see all their faces: the face of the wounded man at Melle (
he had crawled out on his hands and knees to look for her); the face
of the dead boy who hadn't died when John left him; the Flamand they
brought from Lokeren, lying in the road; the face of the dead man in
the shed—And John's face.
How could you care for a thing like that? How could you want a thing
like that to care for you?
And she? She didn't matter. Nothing mattered in all the world but
It was Saturday, the tenth of October, the day after the fall of
Antwerp. The Germans were pressing closer round Ghent; they might march
in any day. She had been in Belgium a hundred years; she had lived a
hundred years under this doom.
But at last she was free of John. Utterly free. His mind would have
no power over her any more. Nor yet his body. She was glad that he had
not been her lover. Supposing her body had been bound to him so that it
couldn't get away? The struggle had been hard enough when her first
flash came to her; and when she had fought against her knowledge and
denied it, unable to face the truth that did violence to her passion;
and when she had given him up and was left with just that, the beauty
of his body, and it had hurt her to look at him.
Oh well, nothing could hurt her now. And anyhow she would get
through to-day without being afraid of what might happen. John couldn't
do anything awful; he had been ordered on an absolutely safe
expedition, taking medical stores to the convent hospital at Bruges and
convoying Gurney, the sick chauffeur, to Ostend for England. Charlotte
was to go out with Sutton, and Gwinnie was to take poor Gurney's place.
She was glad she was going with Billy. Whatever happened Billy would go
through it without caring, his mind fixed on the solid work.
And John, for an hour before he started, had been going about in
gloom, talking of death. His death.
They were looking over the last letter from his father which he had
asked her to answer for him. It seemed that John had told him the
chances were he would be killed and had asked him whether in this case
he would allow the Roden ambulances to be handed over to McClane. And
the old man had given his consent.
“Isn't it a pity to frighten him?” she said.
“He's no business to be frightened. It's my death. If I can
face it, he can. I'm simply making necessary arrangements.”
She could see that. At the same time it struck her that he wanted
you to see that he exposed himself to all the risks of death, to see
how he faced it. She had no patience with that talk about death; that
pitiful bolstering up of his romance.
“If McClane says much more you can tell him.”
He was counting on this transfer of the ambulances to get credit
with McClane; to silence him.
There were other letters which he had told her to answer. As soon as
he had started she went into his room to look for them. If they were
not on the chimneypiece they would be in the drawer with his razors and
It was John's room, after she had gone through it, that showed her
what he was doing.
Sutton looked in before she had finished. She called to him, “Billy,
you might come here a minute.”
He came in, eyebrows lifted at the inquisition.
“I'm afraid John isn't coming back.”
“Not coming back? Of course he's coming back.”
“No. I think he's—got off.”
“You mean he's—”
“What on earth makes you think that?”
“He's taken all sorts of things—pyjamas, razors, all his
pockethandkerchiefs... I had to look through his drawers to find
those letters he told me to answer.”
Sutton had gone through into the slip of white tiled lavatory
beyond. She followed him.
“My God,” he said, “yes. He's taken his toothbrush and his sleeping
draught.... You know he tried to get leave yesterday and they wouldn't
give it him?”
“No. That makes it simply awful.”
“Billy—we must get him back.”
“I—I don't know about that. He isn't much good, is he? I think we'd
better let him go.”
“Don't you see how awful it'll be for the Corps?”
“The Corps? Does that matter? McClane would take us all on
“I mean for us. You and me and Gwinnie. He's our Corps, and
“Sharlie—with the Germans coming into Ghent do you honestly believe
anybody'll remember what he did or didn't do?”
“Yes. We're going to stick on with the Belgian Army. It'll be
remembered against us. Besides, it'll kill his father.”
“He'll do that any way. He's rotten through and through.”
“No. He was splendid in the beginning. He might be splendid some day
again. But if we let him go off and do this he's done for.”
“He's done for anyhow. Isn't it better to recognize that he's
rotten? McClane wouldn't have him. He saw what he was.”
“He didn't see him at Berlaere. He was splendid there.”
“My dear child, don't you know why? He didn't see there was any
danger. He was too stupid to see it.”
“I saw it.”
“You're not stupid.”
“He did see it at the end.”
“At the end, yes—When he let you go back for the guns.”
She remembered. She remembered his face, the little beads of sweat
glittering. He couldn't help that.
“Look here, from the time he realised the danger, did he go out or
did he stay under cover?”
She didn't answer.
“There,” he said, “you see.”
“Oh, Billy, won't you leave him one shred?”
“No. Not one shred.”
Yet, even now, if he could only be splendid—If he could only be it!
Why shouldn't Billy leave him one shred? After all, he didn't know all
the awful things John had done; and she would never tell him.... He did
know two things, the two things she didn't know. She had got to know
them. The desire that urged her to the completion of her knowledge
pursued her now. She would possess him in her mind if in no other way.
“Billy—do you remember that day at Melle, when John lost me? Did
you tell him I was going back with you?”
“No. I didn't.”
Then he had left her. And he had lied to both of them.
“Was the boy dead or alive when he left him?”
“He was alive all right. We could have saved him.”
He had died—he had died of fright, then.
“You said he was dead.”
“I know I did. I lied.”
“... And before that—when he was with you and Trixie on that
“Yes. Then, too ... You see there aren't any shreds. The only thing
you can say is he can't help it. Nobody'd have been hard on him if he
hadn't gassed so much about danger.”
“That's the part you can't understand.... But, Billy, why did you
lie about him?”
“Because I didn't want you to know, then. I knew it would hurt you,
I knew it would hurt you more than anything else.”
“That was rather wonderful of you.”
“Wasn't wonderful at all. I knew because what you think, what
you feel, matters more to me than anything else. Except perhaps my
job. I have to keep that separate.”
Her mind slid over that, not caring, returning to the object of its
“Look here, Billy, you may be right. It probably doesn't matter to
us. But it'll be perfectly awful for him.”
“They can't do anything to him, Sharlie.”
“It's what he'll do to himself.”
“Suicide? Not he.”
“I don't mean that. Can't you see that when he gets away to England,
safe, and the funk settles down he'll start romancing all over again.
He'll see the whole war again like that; and then he'll remember what
he's done. He'll have to live all his life remembering....”
“He won't. You'll remember—You'll suffer. You're
feeling the shame he ought to feel and doesn't.”
“Well, somebody's got to feel it.... And he'll feel it too. He won't
be let off. As long as he lives he'll remember.... I don't want him to
have that suffering.”
“He's brought it on himself, Sharlie.”
“I don't care. I don't want him to have it. I couldn't bear it if he
“Of course, if you're going to be unhappy about it—”
“The only thing is, can we go after him? Can we spare a car?”
“Well yes, I can manage that all right. The fact is, the Germans may
really be in to-morrow or Monday, and we're thinking of evacuating all
the British wounded to-day. There are some men here that we ought to
take to Ostend. I've been talking to the President about it.”
And in the end they went with their wounded, less than an hour after
John had started.
“I don't say I'll bring him back,” said Sutton. “But at any rate we
can find out what he's up to.” He meditated.... “We mayn't have to
bring him. I shouldn't wonder if he came back on his own. He's like
that. He can't stand danger yet he keeps on coming back to it. Can't
leave it alone.”
“I know. He isn't quite an ordinary coward.”
“I'm not sure. I've known chaps like that. Can't keep away from the
But she stuck to it. John's cowardice was not like other people's
cowardice. Other cowards going into danger had the imagination of
horror. He had nothing but the imagination of romantic delight. It was
the reality that became too much for him. He was either too stupid, or
too securely wrapped up in his dream to reckon with reality. It
surprised him every time. And he had no imaginative fear of fear. His
fear must have surprised him.
“He'll have got away from Bruges,” she said.
“I don't think so. He'll have to put up at the Convent for a bit, to
let Gurney rest.”
They had missed the Convent and were running down a narrow street
towards the Market Place when they found John. He came on across a
white bridge over a canal at the bottom. He was escorted by some
Belgian women, dressed in black; they were talking and pointing up the
He said he had been to lunch in the town and had lost himself there
and they were showing him the way back to the Convent.
She had seen all that before somewhere, John coming over the Canal
bridge with the women in black.... She remembered. That was in one of
her three dreams. Only what she saw now was incomplete. There had been
something more in the dream. Something had happened.
It happened half an hour later when she went out to find John in the
Convent garden where he was walking with the nuns. The garden shimmered
in a silver mist from the canal, the broad grass plots, the clipped
hedges, the cones and spikes of yew, the tall, feathery chrysanthemums,
the trailing bowers and arches, were netted and laced and webbed with
the silver mist. Down at the bottom of the path the forms of John and
the three women showed blurred and insubstantial and still.
Presently they emerged, solid and clear; the nuns in their black
habits and the raking white caps like wings that set them sailing
along. They were showing John their garden, taking a shy, gentle,
absorbed possession of him.
And as she came towards him John passed her without speaking. But
his face had turned to her with the look she had seen before. Eyes of
hatred, eyes that repudiated and betrayed her.
The nuns had stopped, courteously, to greet her; she fell behind
with one of them; the two others had overtaken John who had walked on,
keeping up his stiff, repudiating air.
The air, the turn of the head, the look that she had dreamed. Only
in the dream it had hurt her, and now she was hard and had no pain.
* * * * *
It was in the Convent garden that they played it out, in one final,
The nuns had brought two chairs out on to the flagged terrace and
set a small table there covered with a white cloth. Thus invited, John
had no choice but to take his place beside her. Still he retained his
(The nuns had left them. Sutton was in one of the wards, helping
with an operation.)
“I thought,” he said, “that I was going to have peace....”
It seemed to her that they had peace. They had been so much at the
mercy of chance moments that this secure hour given to them in the
closed garden seemed, in its quietness, immense.
“... But first it's Sutton, then it's you.”
“We needn't say anything unless you like. There isn't much to be
“Oh, isn't there!”
“Not,” she said, “if you're coming back.”
“Of course I'm coming back.... Look here, Charlotte. You didn't
suppose I was really going to bolt, did you?”
“Were you going to change into your pyjamas at Ostend?”
“My pyjamas? I brought them for Gurney.”
“And your sleeping draught was for Gurney?”
“Of course it was.”
“And your razors and your toothbrush, too. Oh, John, what's the good
of lying? You forgot that I helped Alice Bartrum to pack Gurney's
things. You forget that Billy knows.”
“Do I? I shan't forget your going back on me; your betraying me,” he
And for the first time she realised how alone he was; how horribly
alone. He had nobody but her.
“Who have I betrayed you to?”
“To Sutton. To McClane. To everybody you talked to.”
“Yes. And you betrayed me in your thoughts. That's worse. People
don't always mean what they say. It's what they think.”
“What was I to think?”
“Why, that all the damnable things you said about me weren't true.”
“I didn't say anything.”
“You've betrayed me by the things you didn't say.”
“Why should I have betrayed you?”
“You know why. When a woman betrays a man it's always for one
He threw his head back to strike at her with his eyes, hard and
keen, dark blue like the blade of a new knife ... “Because he hasn't
given her what she wants.”
“Oh, what I want—I thought we'd settled that long ago.”
“You've never settled it. It isn't in you to settle it.”
“I can't talk to you about that. You're too horrible. But I didn't
“You listened to people who betrayed me. If you cared for me in any
decent way you'd have stood by me.”
“I have stood by you through thick and thin. I've lied your
lies. There isn't one of your lies I haven't backed. I've done
everything I could think of to keep people from knowing about you.”
“Yet you go and tell Sutton that I've bolted. That I'm a deserter.”
“Yes, when it was all over. If you'd got away everybody'd have
known. As it is, only Billy and I know; and he's safe.”
“You insist that I was trying to get away? I own I thought of it.
But one doesn't do everything one thinks of.... No.... Don't imagine I
was sick of the war, or sick of Belgium. It's you I'm sick of.”
“Yes, you. You had your warning. I told you what would happen if you
let me see you wanted me.”
“You think you've seen that?”
“I've seen nothing else.”
“Once, perhaps. Twice. Once when you came to me on Barrow Hill. And
when we were crossing; once. And each time you never saw it.”
“Anybody can see. It's in your face. In your eyes and mouth. You
can't hide your lust.”
“My—'lust.' Don't you know I only cared for you because I'd done
They stopped. The nuns were back again, bringing great cups of hot
black coffee, coming quietly, and going quietly away. It was wonderful,
all that beauty and gentleness and peace existing in the horror of the
war, and through this horror within horror that John had made.
They drank their coffee, slowly, greedily, prolonging this
distraction from their torment. Charlotte finished first.
“You say I want you. I own I did once. But I don't now. Why, I care
more for the scrubbiest little Belgian with a smashed finger than I do
“I suppose you can satisfy your erotic susceptibilities that way.”
“I haven't any, I tell you. I only cared for you because I thought
you were clean. I thought your mind was beautiful. And you aren't
clean. And your mind's the ugliest thing I know. And the cruelest....
Let's get it right, John. I can forgive your funking. If your nerves
are jumpy they're jumpy. I daresay I shall be jumpy if the
Germans come into Ghent before I'm out of it. I can forgive everything
you've done to me. I can forgive your lying. I see there's
nothing left for you but to lie.... But I can't forgive your not caring
for the wounded. That's cruel.... You didn't care for that boy at
John's mouth opened as if he were going to say something. He seemed
“—No, you didn't or you wouldn't have left him. Whatever your funk
was like, you couldn't have left him if you'd cared, any more than I
could have left you.”
“He was dead when I left him.”
“He was still warm when I found him. Billy thought you were bringing
him away. He says he wasn't dead.”
“He lies, then. But you'll take his word against mine.”
“Yes,” she said simply. “And he says he didn't tell you I was
going on with him. You don't care for me. If you'd cared you
couldn't have left me.”
“I thought you said if it was a toss up between you and a wounded
man—? There were wounded men in that car.”
“There was a wounded man with me. You left him.... Don't
imagine I cared about myself, whether I lived or died. It was because I
cared about you. I cared so awfully.”
He jerked out a laugh. One light, short sound of dismissal and
That light sound he made had ended it.
She remembered it afterwards, not as a thing that hurt her, but as
an unpleasant incident of the day, like the rudeness of a stranger, and
yet not to be forgotten. It had the importance of extreme finality; his
answer to everything, unanswerable.
She didn't care. She had ended it herself and with so clean a cut
that she could afford to let him have that inarticulate last word. She
had left him nothing to do but keep up his pretence that there had
never been so much as a beginning. He gave no sign of anything having
been between them, unless his attitude to Sutton was a sign.
It showed the next day, the terrible Sunday that was ending
everything. Yesterday he had given orders that Charlotte should drive
Sutton while he drove by himself. To-day he had changed all that.
Gwinnie was to drive Sutton and Charlotte was to go out alone. And he
had offered himself to McClane. To McClane. That gave her the measure
of his resentment. She could see that he coupled her with Sutton while
he yet tried to keep them apart. He was not going to have more to do
with either of them than he could help.
So that she had hardly seen or heard of him that day. And when the
solid work began she found that she could turn him out of her mind as
if he had never been there. The intolerable burden of him slipped from
her; all morning she had a sense of cold clearness and lightness; and
she judged that her deliverance was complete.
* * * * *
She had waited a long time with her car drawn up close under the
house wall in the long street at Melle. McClane's car stood in front of
her, waiting for John. He was up there on the battlefield, with Sutton
and McClane. McClane had kept him off it all day; he had come to her
when they started and told her not to worry. Conway would be all right.
He would see that he didn't get into places where he—well, unsuitable
places. He would keep him driving. But in the end one of the stretcher
bearers had given in, and John had to take his turn.
He had been keen to go. Keen. She could see him swinging along up
the road to the battlefield and McClane with him, running to keep up
with his tall stride.
She had taken her turn too and she knew what it was like up there.
Endless turnip fields; turnips thrown up as if they had been pulled,
livid roots that rotted, and the wounded and the dead men lying out
among them. You went stumbling; the turnips rolled and slipped under
your feet. Seeing things.
Her mind looked the other way, frightened. She was tired out,
finished; she could have gone to sleep now, sitting up there on the
car. It would be disgraceful if she went to sleep....
She mustn't think about the battlefield. She couldn't think; she
could only look on at things coming up in her mind. Hoeing turnips at
Barrow Hill Farm. Supposing you found dead men lying out on the fields
at Stow? You would mind that more; it would be more horrible.... She
saw herself coming over the fields carrying a lamb that she had taken
from its dead mother. Then she saw John coming up the field to their
seat in the beech ring. That hurt her; she couldn't bear it; she
mustn't think about that.
John was all right; he wasn't shirking. They had been away so long
now that she knew they must have gone far down the battlefield, deep
into it; the edges and all the nearer places had been gleaned. It would
be dark before they came back.
It was getting dark now, and she was afraid that when the light went
she would go to sleep. If only she wasn't so tired.
She was so drowsy that at first she didn't hear McClane speaking,
she hadn't seen him come to the step of the car.
McClane's voice sounded soft and unnatural and a little mysterious.
“I'm afraid something's—happened.”
The muffled drawl irritated her. Why couldn't he speak out?
“Is John hurt?”
“I'm afraid so.”
“Is he killed?”
“Well—I don't know that he can live. A German's put a bullet into
“Where is he?”
She jumped down off the car.
McClane laid his hand on her arm. “Don't. We shall bring him in—”
“He's dead then?”
“I think so—You'd better not go to him.”
“Of course I'm going to him. Where is he?”
He steered her very quickly and carefully across the street, then
led her with his arm in hers, pressing her back to the dark shelter of
the houses. They heard the barking of machine guns from the battlefield
at the top and the rattle of the bullets on the causeway. These sounds
seemed to her to have no significance. As if they had existed only in
some unique relation to John Conway, his death robbed them of vitality.
The door of the house opened a little way; they slipped into the
long narrow room lighted by a few oil lamps at one end. At the other
John's body lay on a stretcher set up on a trestle table, his feet
turned outwards to the door, ready. The corners at this end were so
dark that the body seemed to stretch across the whole width of the
room. A soldier came forward with a lighted candle and gave it to
McClane. And she saw John's face; the bridge of his nose, with its
winged nostrils lifted. His head was tilted upwards at the chin; that
gave it a noble look. His mouth was open, ever so slightly open ...
McClane shifted the light so that it fell on his forehead.... Black
eyebrows curling up like little moustaches.... The half-dropped eyelids
guarded the dead eyes.
She thought of how he used to dream. All his dream was in his dead
face; his dead face was cold and beautiful like his dream.
As she looked at him her breast closed down on her heart as though
it would never lift again; her breath shuddered there under her
tightened throat. She could feel McClane's hand pressing heavily on her
shoulder. She had no strength to shake it off; she was even glad of it.
She felt small and weak and afraid; afraid, not of the beautiful thing
that lay there, but of something terrible and secret that it hid,
something that any minute she would have to know about.
“Where was he hit?”
“In the back.”
She trembled and McClane's hand pressed closer. “The bullet passed
clean through his heart. He didn't suffer.”
“He was getting in Germans?”
“I don't—quite—know—” McClane measured his words out one by one,
“what—he was doing. Sutton was with him. He knows.”
“Where is Billy?”
“Over there. Do you want him?”
A soldier brought a chair for her. She sat down with her back to the
trestle table. At the lighted end of the room she saw Sutton stooping
over a young Belgian captain, buttoning his tunic under the sling he
had adjusted. The captain's face showed pure and handsome, like a
girl's, like a young nun's, bound round and chin-wrapped in the white
bandages. He sat on the floor in front of Sutton's table with his legs
stretched out flat. His back was propped against the thigh of a Belgian
soldier seated on an upturned barrel. Her hurt eyes saw them very plain
and with detail in the light of Sutton's lamp.
That part of the room was full of soldiers. She noticed that they
kept clear of the trestle table as they went in and out. Only one of
them, the soldier who supported the young captain, kept on looking,
raising his head and looking there as if he couldn't turn his eyes
away. He faced her. His rifle stood steadied by his knees, the bayonet
pointing up between his eyes.
She found herself thinking. It was Sutton's back that made her
think. John must have been stooping over the German like that. John's
wound was in his back. But if he was stooping it couldn't have come
that way. The bullet would have gone through his chest.... Perhaps he
had turned to pick up his stretcher. Billy was there. He would tell her
how it had happened.
She thought: No. I've had enough. I shall give it up. I won't ask
him. But she knew that she would ask him. Once started, having gone so
far, flash by flash and step by step, she couldn't give it up; she
would go on, even now, till her knowledge was complete. Then she was
aware again of the soldier's eyes.
They were very large and bright and black in his smooth boy's face;
he had a small innocent boy's mouth that seemed to move, restless and
fascinated, like his eyes. Presently she saw that he was looking at
her, that his eyes returned to her again and again, as if he were aware
of some connection between her and the thing that fascinated him, as if
he were somehow connected.
He was listening to her now as Sutton spoke to her.
“We must get him away quick.”
“Yes. Do let's get him away.”
Sutton shook his head. He was thinking of the wounded captain.
“We can't yet. I'll come back for him.”
“Then I'll wait with him here.”
“Oh no—I think—”
“I can't leave him.”
“It isn't safe. The place may be taken.”
“I won't leave him.” Sutton hesitated. “I won't, Billy.”
“McClane, she says she won't leave him.”
“Then,” McClane said, “we must take him now. We'll have to make room
(To make room for him—somehow.)
Sutton and the soldier carried the captain out and came back for
John's body. The Belgian sprang forward with eager, subservient
alacrity to put himself at the head of the stretcher, but Sutton thrust
The Belgian shrugged his shoulders and picked up his rifle with an
air of exaggerated unconcern. Sutton and McClane carried out the
Charlotte was following them when the soldier stopped her.
He had propped his rifle against the trestles and stood there,
groping in his pocket. A dirty handkerchief, dragged up by his
fumbling, hung out by its corner. All along the sharp crease there was
a slender smear of blood. He looked down at it and pushed it back out
of her sight.
He had taken something out of his pocket.
“I will give you this. I found it on the battlefield.”
He handed her a small leather pocketbook that was John's. It had her
photograph in it and his, taken together.
* * * * *
They were putting him out of sight, under the hood of the ambulance,
and she waited there when the war correspondent came up.
“Can you tell me the name of the volunteer who's been
“Conway. John Roden Conway.”
“What? That man? The man who raced the Germans into Zele?”
“Yes,” she said, “that man.”
* * * * *
She was in John's room, packing, gathering together the things she
would have to take to his father. Sutton came to her there.
They had orders to be ready for the retreat any time that night.
Billy had brought her John's wrist watch and cigarette case.
“Billy,” she said, “that soldier gave me this.”
She showed him the pocketbook.
“The one who was with the captain.”
“He gave it you?”
“Yes. He said he found it on the battlefield. It must have dropped
out of John's pocket.”
“It couldn't have dropped.... I wonder why he kept that.”
“But he didn't keep it. He gave it to me.”
“He was going to keep it, or he'd have handed it over to me with the
“Does it matter?”
She thought: “Why can't he leave it alone? They had all his
things, his poor things.”
But Sutton was still thoughtful. “I wonder why he gave it you.”
“I think he was sorry.”
“Sorry for me, I mean.”
Sutton said nothing. He was absorbed in contemplating the
photograph. They had been taken standing by the hurdle of the
sheepfold, she with the young lamb in her arms and John looking down at
“That was taken at Barrow Hill Farm,” she said, “where we were
together. He looked just like that.... Oh, Billy, do you think the
past's really past?... Isn't there some way he could go on being what
“I don't know, Sharlie, I don't know.”
“Why couldn't he have stayed there! Then he'd always have been like
that. We should never have known.”
“You're not going to be unhappy about him?”
“No. I think I'm glad. It's a sort of relief. I shan't ever have
that awful feeling of wondering what he'll do next.... Billy—you were
with him, weren't you?”
“Was he all right?”
“Would it make you happier to think that he was or to know that he
“Oh—just to know.”
“Well, I'm afraid he wasn't, quite.... He paid for it, Sharlie. If
he hadn't turned his back he wouldn't have been shot.”
“What? You knew?”
“No. No. I wasn't sure.”
She was possessed of this craving to know, to know everything. Short
of that she would be still bound to him; she could never get free.
“Billy—what did happen, really? Did he leave the German?”
“Yes. Was that why he shot him?”
“The German didn't shoot him. He was too far gone, poor devil, to
shoot anybody.... It was the Belgian captain that he left.... He was
lying there, horribly wounded. His servant was with him; they were
calling out to Conway—”
“Calling to him?”
“Yes. And he was going all right when some shrapnel fell—a regular
shower bath, quite near, like it did with you and me. That scared him
and he just turned and ran. The servant shouted to him to stop, and
when he wouldn't he went after him and put a bullet through his back.”
“That Belgian boy?”
“Yes. I couldn't do anything. I had the German. It was all over in a
second.... When I got there I found the Belgian standing up over him,
wiping his bayonet with his pockethandkerchief. He said his
rifle went off by accident.”
“Couldn't it? Rifles do.”
“Bayonets don't.... I suppose I could get him court martialed if I
tried. But I shan't. After all, it was his captain. I don't blame him,
“No.... It was really you and me, Billy. We brought him back to be
“I don't know that we did bring him—that he wasn't coming by
himself. He couldn't keep off it. Even if we did, you wouldn't be sorry
for that, would you?”
“No. It was the best thing we could do for him.”
But at night, lying awake in her bed, she cried. For then she
remembered what he had been. On Barrow Hill, on their seat in the beech
ring, through the Sunday evenings, when feeding time and milking time
* * * * *
At four o'clock in the morning she was waked by Sutton, standing
beside her bed. The orders had come through to evacuate the hospital.
Three hours later the ambulances had joined the great retreat.
They had halted in Bruges, and there their wounded had been taken
into the Convent wards to rest.
Charlotte and Sutton were sitting out, alone together on the flagged
terrace in the closed garden. The nuns had brought out the two chairs
again, and set again the little table, covered with the white cloth.
Again the silver mist was in the garden, but thinned now to the
clearness of still water.
They had been silent after the nuns had left them. Sutton's sad,
short-sighted eyes stared out at the garden without seeing it. He was
lost in melancholy. Presently he came to himself with a long sigh—
“Charlotte, what are we going to do now? Do you know?”
“I know. I'm going into Mac's corps.”
“So am I. That isn't what I meant.”
For a moment she didn't stop to wonder what he did mean. She was too
full of what she was going to do.
“Is that wise? I don't altogether trust old Mac. He'll use you till
you drop. He'll wear you to the last shred of your nerves.”
“I want to be used till I drop. I want to be worn. Besides, I know
I'm safe with Mac.”
His cold, hard indifference made her feel safe. She wasn't really
safe with Billy. His goodness might disarm her any minute, his sadness
might conceivably move her to a tender weakness. But for McClane she
would never have any personal feeling, never any fiery affection, any
exalted devotion. Neither need she be afraid of any profound betrayal.
Small betrayals perhaps, superficial disasters to her vanity, while his
egoism rode over it in triumph. He didn't want affection or anything
fiery, anything that John had had. He would leave her in her hardness;
he would never ask anything but hard, steel-cold loyalty and a
willingness to share his risks.
“What else can I do? I should have come out if John hadn't. Of
course I was glad we could go together, but you mustn't suppose I only
went because of him.”
“I don't. I only thought perhaps you wouldn't want to stay on now
“More than ever now he's dead. Even if I didn't want to stay I
should have to now. To make up.”
“For what he did. All those awful things. And for what he didn't do.
His dreams. I've got to do what he dreamed. But more than anything I
must pay his debt to Belgium. To all those wounded men.”
“You're not responsible for his debts, Charlotte.”
“No? Sometimes I feel as if I were. As if he and I were tied up
together. I could get away from him when he was alive. But now he's
dead he's got me.”
“It doesn't make him different.”
“It makes me different. I tell you, I can't get away from
him. And I want to. I want to cut myself loose; and this is the way.”
“Isn't it the way to tie yourself tighter?”
“No. Not when it's done, Billy.”
“I can see a much better way.... If you married me.”
She turned to him, astonished and a little anxious, as though she
thought something odd and dangerous had happened to him.
“Oh, Billy, I—I couldn't do that.... What made you think of it?”
“I've been thinking of it all the time.”
“All the time?”
“Well, most of the time, anyhow. But I've loved you all the time.
You know I loved you. That was why I stuck to Conway. I couldn't leave
you to him. I wouldn't even leave you to McClane.”
“I didn't know.”
“I should have thought it was pretty, obvious.”
“It wasn't. I'd have tried to stop it if I'd known.”
“You couldn't have stopped it.”
“That. It isn't any good. It really isn't.”
“Why isn't it? I know I'm rather a queer chap. And I've got an ugly
“I love your face....”
She loved it, with its composure and its candour, its slightly
flattened features, laid back; its little surprised moustache, its
short-sighted eyes and its sadness.
“It's the dearest face. But—”
“I suppose,” he said, “it sounds a bit startling and sudden. But if
you'd been bottling it up as long as I have—Why, I loved you the first
time I saw you. On the boat.... So you see, it's you. It isn't just
anything you've done.”
“If you knew what I have done, my dear. If you only knew. You
wouldn't want to marry me.”
She would have to tell him. That would put him off. That would stop
him. If she had loved him she would have had to tell him, as she had
“I'm going to tell you....”
* * * * *
She wondered whether he had really listened. A queer smile played
about his mouth. He looked as if he had been thinking of something else
all the time.
“What are you smiling at?”
“Your supposing that that would make any difference.”
“Not a bit. Not a little bit.... Besides I knew it.”
“Who—who told you?”
“The only other person who knew about it, I suppose—Conway.”
“He betrayed me?”
“He betrayed you. Is there any vile thing he didn't do?”
And it was as it had been before. The nuns came out again, bringing
the great cups of hot black coffee, coming and going gently. Only this
time she couldn't drink.
“It's awful of us,” she said, “to talk about him this way when he's
“He isn't dead as long as he makes you feel like that. As long as he
keeps you from me.”
A long pause. And then, “Billy—he wasn't my lover.”
“I know that,” he said fiercely. “He took good care to tell me.”
“I brought it all on myself. I ought to have given him up instead of
hanging on to him that way. Platonic love—It's all wrong. People
aren't really made like that. It was every bit as bad as going to
Gibson Herbert.... Worse. That was honest. This was all lying. Lying
about myself. Lying about him. Lying about—love.”
“Then,” he said, “you don't really know what it is.”
“I know John's sort. And I know Gibson's sort. And I know there's a
heavenly sort, Billy, in between. But I'm spoiled for it. I think I
could have cared for you if it hadn't been for John.... I shan't ever
get away from him.”
“Yes. If you can see it—”
“Of course I see it. I can see everything now. All that
war-romancing. I see how awful it was. When I think how we went out and
got thrills. Fancy getting thrills out of this horror.”
“Oh well—I think you earned your thrill.”
“You can't earn anything in this war. At least I can't. It's
paying, paying all the time. And I've got more things than John to pay
for. There was little Effie.”
“Gibson's wife. I didn't want to hurt her.... Billy, are you
sure it makes no difference? What I did.”
“I've told you it doesn't.... You mustn't go on thinking about it.”
“No. But I can't get over his betraying me. You see, that's the
worst thing he did to me. The other things—well, he was mad
with fright, and he was afraid of me, because I knew. I can't think why
he did this.”
“Same reason. You knew. He was degraded by your knowing, so you had
to be degraded. At least I suppose that's how it was.”
She shook her head. He was darker to her than ever and she was no
nearer to her peace. She knew everything and she understood nothing.
And that was worse than not knowing.
“If only I could understand. Then, I believe, I could bear it. I
wouldn't care how bad it was as long as I understood.”
“Ask McClane, then. He could explain it to you. It's beyond me.”
“He's a psychotherapist. He knows more about people's souls than I
know about their bodies. He probably knows all about Conway's soul.”
Silence drifted between them, dim and silvery like the garden mist.
“Charlotte—are we never to get away from him? Is he always to stick
between us? That dead man.”
“It isn't that.”
“What is it, then?”
“All this.... I'd give anything to care for you, Billy dear,
but I don't care. I can't. I can't care for anything but the
“The war won't last for ever. And afterwards?”
“I can't see any afterwards.”
“And yet,” he said, “there will be one.”
The boat went steadily, cutting the waves with its sound like the
flowing of stiff silk.
Charlotte and Sutton and McClane, stranded at Dunkirk on their way
to England, had been taken on board the naval transport Victoria. They were the only passengers besides some young soldiers, and these
had left them a clear space on the deck. Charlotte was sitting by
herself under the lee of a cabin when McClane came to her there.
He was straddling and rubbing his hands. Something had pleased him.
“I knew,” he said, “that some day I should get you three. And that I
should get those ambulances.”
She couldn't tell whether he meant that he always got what he wanted
or that he had foreseen John Conway's fate which would ultimately give
“The ambulances—Yes. You always wanted them.”
“Not more than I wanted you and Sutton.”
He seemed aware of her secret antagonism, yet without resentment,
waiting till it had died down before he spoke again. He was sitting
beside her now.
“What are you going to do about Conway?”
“Nothing. Except lie about him to his father.”
“That's all right as long as you don't lie about him to yourself.”
“I've lied about him to other people. Never to myself. I was in love
with him, if that's what you mean. But he finished that. What's
finished is finished. I haven't a scrap of feeling for him left.”
“Are you quite sure?”
“Quite. I'm not even sorry he's dead.”
“You've forgiven him?”
“I'm not always sure about that. But I'm trying to forget him.”
McClane looked away.
“Do you ever dream about him, Charlotte?”
“Never. Not now. I used to. I dreamed about him once three nights
He looked at her sharply. “Could you tell me what you dreamed?”
She told him her three dreams.
“You don't suppose they meant anything?” she said.
“I do. They meant that part of you was kicking. It knew all the time
what he was like and was trying to warn you.”
“To keep me off him?”
“To keep you off him.”
“I see.... The middle one was funny. It happened. The day we
were in Bruges. But I can't make out the first one with that awful
woman in it.”
“You may have been dreaming something out of his past. Something he
“Well anyhow I don't understand the last one.”
“But I dreamed he wanted me. Frightfully. And he didn't.”
“He did. He wanted you—'frightfully'—all the time. He went to
pieces if you weren't there. Don't you know why he took you out with
him everywhere? Because if he hadn't he couldn't have driven half a
mile out of Ghent.”
“That's one of the things I'm trying to forget.”
“It's one of the things you should try to remember.”
He grasped her arm.
“And, Charlotte, look here. I want you to forgive him. For your own
She stiffened under his touch, his look, his voice of firm, intimate
authority. His insincerity repelled her.
“Why should you? You don't care about him. You don't care about me.
If I was blown to bits to-morrow you wouldn't care.”
He laughed his mirthless, assenting laugh.
“You don't care about people at all. You only care about their
diseases and their minds and things.”
“I think I care a little about the wounded.”
“You don't really. Not about them. You care about getting in
more of them and quicker than any other field ambulance on the front. I
can't think why you're bothering about me now.”
“That's why. If I'm to get in more wounded I can't have anybody in
my corps who isn't fit.”
“I'm fit. What's the matter with me?”
“Not much. Your body's all right. And your mind was all right
till Conway upset it. Now it's unbalanced.”
“Just the least little bit. There's a fight going on in it between
your feeling for Conway and your knowledge of him.”
“I've told you I haven't any feeling.”
“Your memory of your feeling then. Same thing. You know he was cruel
and a liar and a coward. And you loved him. With you those two states
are incompatible. They struggle. And that's bad for you. If it goes on
you'll break down. If it stops you'll be all right.... The way to stop
it is to know the truth about Conway. The truth won't clash with
“Don't I know it?”
“Not all. Not the part that matters most. You know he was all wrong
morally. You don't know why.... Conway was an out and out
degenerate. He couldn't help that. He suffered from some
physical disability. It went through everything. It made him so that he
couldn't live a man's life. He was afraid to enter a profession. He was
afraid of women.”
“He wasn't afraid of me. Not in the beginning.”
“Because he felt your strength. You're very strong, Charlotte. You
gave him your strength. And he could feel passion, mind you,
though he couldn't act it.... I suppose he could feel courage, too,
only somehow he couldn't make it work. Have you got it clear?”
She nodded. So clear that it seemed to her he was talking about a
thing she had known once and had forgotten. All the time she had known
John's secret. She knew what would come next: McClane's voice saying,
“Well then, think—think,” and his excited gestures, bobbing forward
suddenly from the hips. He went on.
“The balance had to be righted somehow. His whole life must have
been a struggle to right it. Unconscious, of course. Instinctive. His
platonics were just a glorifying of his disability. All that romancing
was a gorgeous transformation of his funk.... So that his very lying
was a sort of truth. I mean it was part of the whole desperate effort
after completion. He jumped at everything that helped him to get
compensation, to get power. He jumped at your feeling for him because
it gave him power. He jumped at the war because the thrill he got out
of it gave him the sense of power. He sucked manhood out of you. He
sucked it out of everything—out of blood and wounds.... He'd have been
faithful to you forever, Charlotte, if you hadn't found him out.
That upset all his delicate adjustments. The war upset him. I think
the sight of blood and wounds whipped up the naked savage in him.”
“But—no. He was afraid of that.”
“He was afraid of himself. Of what was in him. That fear of his was
his protection, like his fear of women. The war broke it down. Then he
was cruel to you.”
“Yes. He was cruel.” Her voice sounded flat and hard, without
feeling. She had no feeling; she had exhausted all the emotions of her
suffering. And her knowledge of his cruelty was absolute. To McClane's
assertion of the fact she had no response beyond that toneless
“Taking you into that shed—”
He had roused her.
“How on earth did you know that? I've never told a single soul.”
“It was known in the hospital. One of the carpenters saw the whole
thing. He told one of our orderlies who told my chauffeur Gurney who
“It doesn't matter what he did to me. I can't get over his
not caring for the wounded.”
“He was jealous of them, because you cared for them.”
“Oh no. He'd left off caring for me by then.”
“Had he?” He gave a little soft, wise laugh. “What makes you
“That. His cruelty.”
“Love can be very cruel.”
“Not as cruel as that,” she said.
“Yes. As cruel as that.... Remember, it was at the bottom of the
whole business. Of his dreams. In a sense, the real John Conway was the
man who dreamed.”
“If you're right he was the man who was cruel, too. And it's his
cruelty I hate.”
“Don't hate it. Don't hate it. I want you to understand his cruelty.
It wasn't just savagery. It was something subtler. A supreme effort to
get power. Remember, he couldn't help it. He had to right
himself. Supposing his funk extinguished something in him that could
only be revived through cruelty? You'll say he could help betraying
“To you, too?”
“To me, too. When you lost faith in him you cut off his main source
of power. You had to be discredited so that it shouldn't count. You
mustn't imagine that he did anything on purpose. He was driven. It
sounds horrible, but I want you to see it was just his way of saving
his soul, the only way open to him. You mustn't think of it as a bad
way. Or a good way. It wasn't even his way. It was the way of
something bigger than he was, bigger than anything he could ever be.
Bigger than badness or goodness.”
“Did 'it' do cowardly things to 'save' itself?”
“No. If Conway could have played the man 'it' would have been
satisfied. It was always urging him.” ... “Try,” he said, and she knew
that now at any rate he was sincere; he really wanted to help her; he
was giving her his best. His voice was very quiet now, his excited
gestures had ceased. “Try and think of it as something more real, more
important and necessary than he was; or you and I. Something that is
always struggling to be, to go on being. Something that degeneracy is
always trying to keep under.... Power. A power in retreat, fighting to
get back its lost ground.”
Then what she had loved was not John Conway. What she had hated was
not he. He was this Something, tremendous and necessary, that escaped
your judgment. You couldn't hurt it with your loving or hating or your
ceasing to love and hate. Something that tortured you and betrayed you
because that was the only way it knew to save itself.
Something that couldn't save itself altogether—that clung to you
and called to you to save it.
But that was what she had loved. Nothing could touch it.
For a moment while McClane was talking she saw, in the flash he gave
her, that it was real. And when the flash went it slipped back into her
But on the deck in front of her she could see John walking up and
down. She could see the wide road of gold and purple that stretched
from the boat's stern to the sun. John's head was thrown back; he
looked at her with his shining, adventurous eyes. He was happy and
excited, going out to the war.
And she saw them again: the batteries, the cars and the wagons. Dust
like blown smoke, and passing in it the long lines of beaten men,
reeling slowly to the footway, passing slowly, endlessly, regiment by
regiment, in retreat.